June 18, 2024

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Facebook’s F8 cancellation puts spotlight on other big tech events

The scene outside Facebook's F8 conference

Facebook on Thursday canceled its developer conference in San Jose because of coronavirus concerns. Last year, the event attracted more than 5,000 people from around the globe.

James Martin/CNET

Alejandro Cantu, an app maker, had been looking forward to attending Facebook’s F8 developer conference in May. The entrepreneur, who created an earthquake warning app called SkyAlert that lets people log in through their Facebook and Google accounts, enjoys developer conferences because they give him the opportunity to network, see other products and learn about the future of huge online platforms, like Facebook. 

So when Facebook scrubbed the San Jose gathering on Thursday, citing the risk of the novel coronavirus, Cantu began wondering what the cancellation might mean for other big tech events he’s planning to attend. Google I/O, the search giant’s annual event, is scheduled for May 12-14, and Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference usually takes place in June.

“This raises the attention for everybody else in the industry,” said Cantu, a chief executive who splits his time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Mexico City. “All of our tech partners [will have] to really start to consider more seriously what’s happening with the coronavirus and how can we respond appropriately.”

The novel coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the global tech industry, disrupting supply chains, closing factories and shutting retail stores. Most companies have limited travel to China, the epicenter of both the virus and global tech manufacturing, to only the necessary visits.

Earlier this month, the organizer of Mobile World Congress decided to cancel the annual event in Barcelona after companies such as Amazon and Samsung said they’d skip the show or limit participation. And on Friday, the Geneva Motor Show, one of the world’s biggest car events, was canceled; Google scrapped its News Initiative Summit, originally scheduled for April in Sunnyvale, California; and Canadian e-commerce company Shopify canceled its annual developer conference three months ahead of schedule. The Game Developers Conference, set to take place in March, was postponed until the summer, after Facebook, Microsoft and other big tech firms pulled out of the San Francisco conference. Also Friday, Google said one of its employees has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, in Zurich. 

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The coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, causes a respiratory illness that has killed almost 2,900 people since it was discovered in Wuhan, China, late last year. The World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern in January. More than 83,000 people have been infected with the virus, which can develop into a disease called COVID-19. 

The spread of the coronavirus hasn’t stopped all gatherings. The RSA Conference is currently taking place in San Francisco, though big names like IBM and Verizon dropped out. Even if Google and Apple don’t cancel their events, participants will have to decide if the opportunity is worth the potential health risk.

A Google spokesman said Thursday that I/O is expected to go on as planned. Apple didn’t respond when asked if WWDC would take place as it usually does in June.

Vicente Hernández, the co-founder and chief technology officer of the Mexican artificial intelligence company Artificial Nerds, said that outside of F8 he was also planning to attend the Ingram Micro Cloud Summit in Miami Beach in May. Ingram Micro Cloud didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

He’s talking to his team about whether they should travel to Florida for the summit, which also attracts attendees from the world. That conference, he said, provides the company an opportunity to present its product. But he’s also concerned that the coronavirus outbreak could get worse. 

Saiph Savage, a research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said that attending F8 last year opened doors for her career. Savage said she won $22,000 in an F8 hackathon for helping to build a tool designed to assist immigrants transitioning to a new city. The prize created opportunities for her to collaborate with the Mexican government.  

Savage, who is currently in Seattle, said she was given a free ticket and trip to San Francisco to attend F8 again this year. Still, she’s glad Facebook’s canceled the event.

“That takes guts to do because it’s putting value on people’s health,” she said.

Savage said that she had another conference coming up in Asia that hasn’t been canceled yet. She didn’t name the conference, but said she was “upset” it was still scheduled. Facebook’s move was “eye-opening,” she said, and has made her think about whether she should attend the other event. 

“I do have to rethink about whether or not I would go because it could be dangerous for my own health,” Savage said. “I think I’m not going to risk it, to be honest.” 

Cantu, the SkyAlert founder and CEO, said he might still attend Google I/O and Apple’s WWDC, assuming they aren’t called off. The decision will depend on whether he thinks the virus is still a risk when the events come around, he said. The situation, though, seems to only be getting worse. 

“It does get us to ask the question to ourselves, ‘Are we being paranoid or not?” said Cantu, who’s been to F8 six times. “Are there real reasons for us to be worried?”

Originally published Feb. 28, 10:27 a.m. PT.
Updates, 12:29 p.m.: Adds info about conferences canceled by Google and Shopify; 4:20 p.m.: Includes mention of GDC postponement.

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