Tech conferences continue to suffer from concerns about the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, now called COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, as an additional conference was canceled and another lost a key participant.
The GSM Association’s MWC or Mobile World Conference, the annual smartphone event in Barcelona that attracts more than 100,000 visitors, was the first major tech conference to be canceled, on Feb. 12. The organizers were left with little choice but to cancel the show, slated to start Feb. 24, after a string of major exhibitors, including Nvidia Corp., Amazon.com Inc., ZTE Corp. and others, pulled out.
Not making nearly as many headlines, Fortinet Inc.’s annual Accelerate 2020 conference scheduled for Feb. 16-19 in Barcelona was also canceled last week on coronavirus concerns.
Facebook Inc. was the next in line, cancelling its Global Marketing Conference that was to be held in San Francisco’s Moscone Center March 9-12. “Out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. About 4,000 people were expected to attend.
While still going ahead as of the time of writing, the next conference at risk is the annual RSA Conference 2020 scheduled for San Francisco Feb. 24-28. International Business Machines Corp. late last week became the first major company to withdraw from the conference, again citing coronavirus fears.
“The health of IBMers continues to be our primary concern as we monitor upcoming events and travel relative to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19),” an IBM spokesperson said in a statement. “As a result, we are cancelling our participation in this year’s RSA conference.” As a consequence of its withdrawal, IBM has also canceled a speaking event scheduled for Feb. 25 at the conference, “Defending Cities Against Ransomware,” and a party scheduled the same evening.
IBM Security was one of nine Platinum Sponsors of the event, the second-highest level of sponsorship behind Diamond Sponsorship, according to CRN.
Big Blue is not alone either. Six companies from mainland China scheduled to exhibit at the event have canceled as well, along with one from Canada.
RSA said Friday that while it understands and respects the decision by IBM to withdraw from the conference, it’s still planning to proceed as scheduled. The organization said it would add several new health and safety measures at the event, which primarily consist of disinfecting surfaces and offering attendees disinfection options.
The line RSA is taking in moving ahead with the conference is that the risk of coronavirus contagion is low in the U.S., particularly given that most attendees are not from outside the country. “As of today, approximately 82% of our current registered attendees are from the United States as are 82% of our exhibiting organizations… according to the CDC’s latest situation summary, the health risk from coronavirus for the general American public is considered low at this time.”
That may well be true, but Facebook and now IBM have erred on the side of caution instead and they’re highly unlikely to be the last tech companies to do so.
Photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Maurizio Pesce/Wikimedia Commons
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