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Recode Daily: Tax filing season starts today — and the IRS may not be ready

Plus: The 2019 IPO pipeline is squeezed by a shutdown-fueled slowdown; what is “digital detox” — and does it really work?; these new sci-fi stories from The Verge are optimistic about the future.

the top left corner of an IRS refund check showing the words “United States Treasury” and a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

As income tax filing season opens today, a sweeping tax code overhaul and the lingering effects of a government shutdown could squeeze taxpayers’ refund checks — and delay them, too. The month-long government shutdown coincided with one of the busiest times for the Internal Revenue Service, and while 46,000 employees were called back to work without pay, many did not show up; it will take time to get parts of the IRS running smoothly again. Meanwhile, a cloud of confusion loomed over the impending tax season even before the shutdown: The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that took effect at the beginning of 2018 lowered individual income tax rates, doubled the standard deduction, and eliminated or capped many personal exemptions and tax breaks, such as the state and local tax deduction. A crucial unknown for most Americans: Just how big will their refunds be? [Jim Tankersley and Matt Phillips / The New York Times]

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The longest-ever government shutdown is over — for now. But the problems resulting from it aren’t. The 2019 IPO pipeline — which was supposed to see tech darlings like Uber, Pinterest, and Peleton going public — now finds itself doubly squeezed by two factors beyond its control: The shutdown created a weeks-long backlog of needy startups seeking guidance from a shuttered SEC, which will now have to handle a big workload. And shaping the back half of the year is an economy that is showing flashes of a looming recession, meaning that startups are racing to go public sooner than once anticipated. Meanwhile, here’s a look at Lyft CEO Logan Green, who has mostly shunned public attention up till now but is racing to take his company public before its much larger rival Uber gets there.[Theodore Schleifer / Recode]

Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are among the big tech companies reporting fourth-quarter results this week — Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, respectively. Their numbers will offer clues for investors waiting to see whether the sector can resume its role powering the stock market higher with robust sales growth. Apple’s results, in particular, will be scrutinized heavily after a rare cut to its quarterly revenue forecast sent stocks tumbling on January 3. Other closely watched Silicon Valley firms are also reporting, including Facebook, Tesla, Qualcomm (Wednesday), and Alphabet (February 4). A rare confluence of those financial results with a Federal Reserve meeting, monthly jobs report, and scheduled trade talks in Washington between the US and China could upend the recent stretch of quiet trading in financial markets. [Amrith Ramkumar / The Wall Street Journal]

It sure feels like regulation is coming for Facebook. The FTC is considering slapping Facebook with a reported “record-setting” fine for abusing its users’ data and privacy. And last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg published an op-ed called “The Facts About Facebook,” basically declaring, “Hands off our ad business,” and bringing his argument for why Facebook doesn’t need to be babysat — “we give people complete control” — to a news outlet that should reach the people who might disagree. In a New York Times op-ed, Kara Swisher “translates” Zuckerberg’s essay paragraph by paragraph. [Kurt Wagner / Recode]

What’s all this fuss about “digital detox” — and does it really work? As we’ve gone from inbox zero to inbox infinity, it has become clear that staring at our phones all day probably isn’t great for our health. Here’s a look at a few of the coping strategies and solutions out there for our always-connected overwhelm — from a 30-day cellphone cleanse to self-limiting apps and “dumb phones” to expensive unplugged retreats — that demonstrate what happens when people are left to fighting their own devices. And while we’re talking about being “always on,” when did #hustle culture and “performative workaholism” become a lifestyle? [Shirin Ghaffary / Recode]

Top stories from Recode

Facebook will start tracking political ads around the world. Facebook is preparing for important international elections this year in Europe, India and Israel. [Kurt Wagner]

Will Tesla change the world or go out of business? Yes. On the latest episode of Pivot, Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher discuss Tesla, Tucker Carlson, Fyre Festival, and the MAGA teens from Covington Catholic. [Kara Swisher]

Attorney Laura Wasser talks about making a “TurboTax for divorce.” On the latest Recode Decode, Wasser talks about her online platform, It’s Over Easy, which is aimed at people who couldn’t afford her $850/hour fees. [Kara Swisher]

This is cool

There must be a better world somewhere: Because contemporary science fiction so often feels like dark amplifications of the greatest terrors of the present, The Verge is taking its first step into fiction with Better Worlds: 10 original fiction stories, five animated adaptations, and five audio adaptations by a diverse roster of science fiction authors who take a more optimistic view of what lies ahead in ways both large and small, fantastical and everyday.

Case in point: Is Alibaba’s robot-staffed “FlyZoo” hotel in Hangzhou, China cool — or creepy?

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