May 19, 2024

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Coronavirus jolts tech firms: Facebook cancels F8 conference; Microsoft, Apple warn


A new coronavirus is spreading.

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The novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in the global technology industry with three big conferences — Facebook’s F8, the Geneva Motor Show and Mobile World Congress — being called of because the outbreak.

On Thursday, Facebook said it is canceling its F8 developer conference, a widely anticipated event at which CEO Mark Zuckerberg updates the world on Facebook’s developments and challenges. The reason for the cancellation of the May gathering: concerns about COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Then on Friday, the organizers of the Geneva Motor Show canceled that event after the Swiss government banned all events of 1,000 people or more due to the first cases appearing in the country. Originally scheduled to begin March 3, the event is one of the largest car shows of the year.

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The scrubbing of F8 and Geneva follow the cancellation of Mobile World Congress, an annual industry gathering that had been scheduled to open on Feb. 24 in Barcelona. Facebook also canceled a March marketing summit. Similarly, IBM, Verizon and AT&T Cybersecurity dropped out of the RSA Conference, which took place this week in San Francisco. The annual cybersecurity gathering typically draws more than 40,000 people. Also, the annual Game Developers Conference, originally scheduled to take place in San Francisco in two weeks, has been postponed to an unspecified date after exhibitors like Amazon, Microsoft, Epic Games, Sony, EA and Facebook dropped out.

The cancellations come as global technology companies weather the impact of the new virus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, which has shuttered factories, offices and stores, as well as limiting travel. That’s caused companies like Apple and Microsoft to warn they might miss quarterly revenue forecasts.  

COVID-19 has generated concerns around the world since January, when the World Health Organization declared the illness a public health emergency of international concern. The UN health body cited worries about the virus’ spread, particularly to countries “with weaker health systems.” The disease has killed more than 2,800 people, and more than 82,500 people have been infected.

The new coronavirus was discovered in the Wuhan region of Hubei province late last year and has symptoms similar to those of pneumonia. It was first reported to the WHO on Dec. 31, with Chinese scientists linking the disease to a family of viruses that includes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). Infections have been found in 38 countries, including more than 50 infections in the US

Here’s how the outbreak is affecting some of the biggest names in technology.


The giant social network canceled F8, its biggest event of the year, and instead will hold local gatherings for developers, as well as conduct online events. 

“This was a tough call to make — F8 is an incredibly important event for Facebook and it’s one of our favorite ways to celebrate all of you from around the world — but we need to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on,” Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of developer platforms and programs, said in a statement. 

Previously, Facebook had curtailed employee travel to China and canceled a marketing summit scheduled for early March, which was expected to draw 4,000 people. It also reportedly expects delays in production of its Oculus VR headset and has banned ads that promise a coronavirus cure.


The iPhone maker said it would miss its quarterly revenue guidance because of the effects of the coronavirus. The forecast followed news that the company had temporarily shuttered all of its 42 stores in mainland China, one of its biggest and most important markets. Apple also has temporarily closed its corporate offices and contact centers in China. 

Apple has suppliers in the Wuhan area but also has alternative sources for the components they provide. The company is “working on mitigation plans to make up any expected production loss,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said. What’s less clear is how the coronavirus will impact suppliers in other parts of China, he said. 


The search giant said Jan. 29 that it’s temporarily closing all its offices in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan because of the health threat. The tech giant has also placed restrictions on business travel to China and Hong Kong.

Google employees in China and those with immediate family members returning from China have been told to work from home for at least 14 days. Google’s China business focuses mainly on sales and engineering for its advertising business.

On Friday, the company said an employee in its Zurich office had been diagnosed with coronavirus, though the office itself remains open. Separately, Google said it is cancelling its Google News Initiative Summit because of concerns over the coronavirus. The conference, which was scheduled for late April in Sunnyvale, California, brings together hundreds of people across the media industry. As of this writing, though, the company still has plans to hold its annual developer conference, called Google I/O, scheduled for May.


On Thursday, the company said it had removed more than 1 million listings for items claiming to cure or defend against the coronavirus, according to a report from Reuters. The company also said it removed thousands of items from merchants for price gouging. 


Foxconn has reportedly told its employees not to come back to work at its offices in Shenzhen, China, until further notice. Though Foxconn last month said the coronavirus wouldn’t stop it from hitting its production targets, the iPhone builder is now working “to safeguard everyone’s health and safety and comply with government virus prevention measures,” Bloomberg reported Feb. 7, citing an internal memo. 

“We urge you not to return to Shenzhen,” Foxconn reportedly said in a text message to employees. Foxconn didn’t respond to a request for comment.


The home-rental service said it would offer guests and hosts affected by coronavirus the opportunity to cancel reservations without penalty. The policy applies to hosts or guests in Hubei Province, where Wuhan is located, with reservations through April 1, as well as any guests already staying in Hubei. 


The ride-hailing giant has temporarily suspended roughly 240 user accounts in Mexico to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In a statement on Twitter, Uber said it suspended the accounts because those users had come in contact with two drivers possibly exposed to the virus. The company acted after receiving information from the Mexico City health department about a passenger who may have been a carrier of the virus. The affected accounts include two drivers who transported the individual, along with about 240 passengers who came in contact with those drivers.


The electric-car maker closed its new plant in Shanghai for a planned week and a half after the Chinese government told private companies to temporarily cease operations. CFO Zack Kirkhorn told investors about the mandatory closure during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. The shutdown may “slightly” affect first-quarter profits, he said. 

The closure came shortly after Tesla had begun ramping up production at the facility. All private facilities were to remain closed until Feb. 9, though utility firms and health care industries remained open.


Nintendo reportedly said production of its popular Switch handset in China was “seeing some impact from the coronavirus.” Five factories that make LCD and OLED panels are expected to see slowdowns in production, according to IHS Markit, a research firm.

The show must (not) go on

Before MWC organizer the GSMA pulled the plug on the conference, more than 20 companies said they’d either limit their participation or not attend at all. They included:

It’ll take a while before we know what the impact of the show’s cancellation will be on the mobile industry. Many companies use MWC as the stage to unveil new devices, from phones to virtual reality headsets. And since many companies also have canceled their companion events to MWC, new phone launches will be delayed.

CNET’s Corinne Reichert, Ben Fox Rubin, Jackson Ryan, Shara Tibken, Lynn La, Sean Szymkowski, Dara Kerr, Queenie Wong, Oscar Gonzalez, Dan Ackerman, Stephen Shankland, Chris Paukert and Edward Moyer contributed to this report. Originally published in January, this story is updated as new information becomes available.

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