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This Week in Business: Coronavirus Could Complicate Everything


So the impeachment trial is over. Now you can catch up on all the business and tech news you missed while President Trump was taking his victory lap. Here are the top stories to prep you for the week ahead. (Not included: the Valentine’s Day plans you’ve been meaning to make. Go do that afterward.)

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Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

The Iowa caucuses have never been simple. (Picture lots of spreadsheets and manual data entry.) But a new smartphone app was supposed to streamline the system when Iowa Democrats selected their presidential nominee on Monday night — until the process became a disaster. Party officials stopped short of blaming the app for mistakes that riddled the caucus results, which were mostly due to human error, but reports say the software was hastily put together and not properly tested. It’s an inauspicious beginning to an election where the role of technology already has some voters spooked.

  • Updated Feb. 5, 2020

    • Where has the virus spread?
      You can track its movement with this map.
    • How is the United States being affected?
      There have been at least a dozen cases. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and several airlines have canceled flights. Many travelers have been left in limbo while looking to change or cancel bookings.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

You may have thought it was creepy when the police started using facial recognition surveillance on streets and sidewalks. Now, it’s being used to monitor a new population: children. A public school district in Lockport, N.Y., became one of the country’s first to install facial recognition software on its campus for security purposes. Proponents say it will help fight crime, prevent mass shootings and stop sexual predators. But critics say that common concerns about facial recognition technology — privacy, accuracy and racial bias — are even more worrisome when it comes to minors.

President Trump pledged his support for a paid family leave plan during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. But the bill he’s backing, which was proposed in December, doesn’t quite do what he implied. For starters, it doesn’t actually “pay” anyone — it simply allows parents to borrow money from their future selves by collecting a portion of their child tax credits early, and receiving a smaller credit for the next 10 to 15 years. (The credits are worth up to $2,000 total, per child.) It also doesn’t guarantee job protection for the person on leave, and it only applies to parents of babies or newly adopted children under 6 — not anyone taking time off to care for an older family member.

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Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

And maybe it’ll work this time! Samsung will unveil new products at its annual showcase in San Francisco, including a clamshell smartphone that folds into the size of a pocket square. The design features a touch screen with super-thin glass that’s flexible enough to bend in half — at least, that’s the hope. You may recall that Samsung’s first foray into this type of product, the Galaxy Fold, was a debacle last year when early reviewers found that the screens bulged oddly and died unexpectedly. The new version is known as the Galaxy Z Flip, and rumored to retail at $1,400 — a steal compared with the nearly $2,000 price tag of the original Fold.

True to its word in the recent trade pact with Washington, China said it would cut tariffs on $75 billion in United States goods, effective Feb. 14 (aw). The announcement shows that Beijing intends to fulfill its end of the agreement, but the deadly coronavirus outbreak may complicate matters. The deal requires China to make big purchases of American products, but its economy is now reeling from the fallout of the illness, which has infected tens of thousands of people in the past few weeks and caused a widespread lockdown within the country. Since travel to and within China has been restricted (and in some cases, banned), fewer goods are being imported, and its population is staying home and shopping less.

Reports say that Google is considering selling its third-party advertising arm. The company has been under increasing bipartisan pressure from Washington (especially the Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren) to break up its business, which some lawmakers have argued has gotten too big. Regardless of the company’s size, the one-two punch of Google’s advertising and search technologies is a bit like the internet snake eating its own tail. Critics say that the company unfairly combines these tools to lead users back to its own services, like YouTube and Google Maps.

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