This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it three times a week.
America’s technology companies could have done more to keep Americans informed about the coronavirus and to help people and businesses that have struggled. But they have also been decisive trend setters in keeping their workers and the rest of us safer from the virus.
Last year, some high-profile tech companies were relatively early to close their corporate offices as coronavirus outbreaks started in the United States, and they continued to pay many hourly workers who couldn’t do their jobs remotely. Those actions from companies including Microsoft, Salesforce, Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter probably helped save lives in the Bay Area and perhaps beyond.
Now many of the same tech companies – along with schools and universities, health care institutions and some government employers in the United States – have started to announce vaccine mandates for staff, the resumption of requirements to wear masks, delayed reopenings of offices or on- site workplace vaccinations to help slow the latest wave of infections.
America’s tech companies, which deserve criticism for misusing their power, also should get credit for using their power to take decisive action in response to virus risks.
Those steps helped make it palatable for other organizations to follow. And in some cases, tech companies have acted more quickly in response to health threats and communicated about them more effectively than federal or local government leaders.
I get that readers will disagree over whether employers should require vaccinations or other health measures. I also get that tech companies have many advantages over other kinds of employers, including workers who can largely do their jobs away from an office. Companies that manufacture cars or airplanes, serve food or run hospitals don’t have that luxury.
And tech companies based in left-leaning parts of the United States including the Bay Area and Seattle are less likely to encounter backlash from staff or local politicians for requiring vaccinations. Having infinite dollars also gives tech companies the ability to do what they believe is best.
July 30, 2021, 1:59 pm ET
But other affluent corporations mostly haven’t been as visible in leading the way for how large employers should aid in the country’s pandemic response.
Technology companies cannot and should not replace effective government. The collaboration of private industry and the US government was instrumental in the development and delivery of extremely effective vaccines, and it was the federal government’s actions that significantly reduced poverty in America in a time of crisis.
It’s appropriate to worry that tech superpowers and other private companies have too much influence. But in this case, technology companies have been flexing their might to make us all a little safer.
Understand the State of Vaccine Mandates in the US
Before we go …
A MeToo reckoning in video games: Many employees of the video game company Activision Blizzard are protesting what they say is routine workplace harassment and unfair pay for women. The video game industry has traditionally shrugged off claims of sexism and mistreatment of women, but now a “critical mass of the industry’s own workers are indicating they will no longer tolerate such behavior,” my colleagues Kellen Browning and Mike Isaac write.
Related: Women at Google complained about mistreatment by their bosses. They were offered mental health counseling, and in at least one case the company asked for access to an employee’s patient records, Alisha Haridasani Gupta and Ruchika Tulshyan report.
America’s drivers are the unwitting guinea pigs: Greg Bensinger, a member of The New York Times’s editorial board, writes that Tesla puts everyone at risk by overstating the capabilities of driver assistance technologies in the company’s cars.
We can’t blame only the internet companies: It’s a mistake to overstate the influence of online misinformation on anti-vaccine beliefs in the United States, a Wired writer says. There’s also a risk of the public and news media using “misinformation” as an overly broad term for posts that aren’t objectively false but contain cherry-picked statistics or misleading interpretations of facts.
Hugs to this
Watch the family of the Olympic gymnast Sunisa Lee erupting in joy when she won a gold medal.
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don’t already get this newsletter in your inbox, please sign up here. You can also read past On Tech columns.