Employee Sues Google Over Strict Privacy Rules

22 December 2016

From PC Magazine:

Google’s “don’t be evil” mantra apparently doesn’t apply to the confidentiality agreements it requires its employees to sign, according to a lawsuit against the tech giant filed by one of its employees.

The suit, filed Tuesday in California Superior Court, describes a system of tight control over what Google employees can say about their employer, The Information reported. Rules prohibit employees from writing about potential illegal activity within the company, and even from writing works of fiction based on their experiences there.

Besides being uncomfortably Big Brother-ish, the policies also violate California labor laws, the lawsuit alleges.

“The unnecessary and inappropriate breadth of the policies are intended to control Google’s former and current employees, limit competition, infringe on constitutional rights, and prevent the disclosure and reporting of misconduct,” according to the lawsuit.

. . . .

“We will defend this suit vigorously because it’s baseless,” a [Google] spokesperson told The Verge. “We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information. Transparency is a huge part of our culture. Our employee confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.”

Link to the rest at PC Magazine and thanks to Deb for the tip.

PG is not familiar with the lawsuit in questions and hasn’t seen the Google employee confidentiality agreement. However, he will observe that corporate legal departments can attract individuals who are prone to overreach.

Additionally, standard corporate documents inevitably seem to grow and almost never shrink. As unusual circumstances arise which may not be clearly addressed in the contract, the solution is always to add a paragraph or a section.

Attorneys who are too close to such documents are sometimes incapable of pulling back to consider whether a document has, in its totality, become unreasonable.

Google Books will now make better suggestions on what to read next

22 September 2016

From TechCrunch:

Google today is launching a new feature for Google Books which aims to offer a better challenge to Amazon’s Kindle app when it comes to helping you find new things to read. Called “Discover,” this new section in the Google Books application will help point users to new content, including both personalized suggestions as well as other recommendations based on what’s currently popular with the wider community.

Amazon, of course, has historically offered personalized recommendations in Kindle’s software as well as across its website. In its Kindle app, Amazon highlights books you may want to read based on your prior shopping history.

Google Books’ recommendations will work much in the same way. The company says it will offer up new stories based on what you read on Google Books. However, it will also automatically suggest books that are mentioned in an article or mentioned in a video you watch, elsewhere in the app – like in the new “Weekly Highlights” section.

. . . .

For comparison’s sake, Amazon’s “Book Browser” is the primary way Kindle mobile app users would find new content, but it’s more of a categorical listing of books. For example, beyond the suggestions powered by your shopping history, the app may showcase things like “Books with Narration,” or “Trending Now” selections, but not much more. Other book categories are found at the bottom of the screen, but only as standard navigation.

Meanwhile, Amazon has largely failed to capitalize on its Goodreads acquisition as a means of adding a more social experience when it comes to discovery and recommendations. In fact, the Kindle app’s latest update just oddly crammed a tiny “Goodreads” button on top of the “All Items” screen, so you can tap to see updates from that network.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Bailey for the tip.

Why Can’t Apple and Google Sell More Ebooks?

8 June 2016

From Vearsa:

As a veteran of the digital publishing era (slightly depressing at my age) one question has persistently bothered me. It’s about the limited routes to market for publishers. It’s not, “why does Amazon have such market share?” That answer is pretty obvious – innovative, aggressive, admirable focus. Instead, we should be asking is: why Apple and Google (two of the biggest companies in the world) only sell somewhere in the region of 8% of book publishers’ eBooks?

. . . .

In 2007 and 2010 Apple released the iconic and genuinely groundbreaking iPhone and iPad devices. Heralding an era of unforeseen mobility and connectivity, these devices would immediately redefine personal communication and computing.

With an intense focus on quality and the customer experience, Apple has emerged as the premiere luxury brand in the world. They may produce fantastic hardware but in many ways they are selling a lifestyle, as evident in unprecedented consumer demands and queues, as well as socio-economic trends.

But the key here is that Apple has always been about selling hardware and devices that enable creativity and progress rather than content. Apple’s current mission statement starts with the line, “We believe that we’re on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing.” Content is important to Apple only insofar as it helps to sell and sustain hardware.

. . . .

So for Apple, there is not a compelling, core reason to sell books. They are happy to let others sell eBooks through their app store – and gain 30% commission on sales for little effort.

. . . .

Google on the other hand is the company I expect more from. Their official, oft-quoted mantra is “Do no Evil,” but it’s mission is actually stated to be “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s philosophy is a world of transparency and collaboration– open source, the collective, the universal struggle for betterment and progress. As part of that mission there are now over 1.4 billion active android devices worldwide.

Yet why does more than 1 billion devices worldwide, in all socioeconomic strata and often most dominant in emerging markets, only account for 6% of publishers’ sales typically? Unlike Apple, Google does not have a compelling reason to prefer hardware over content. They do benefit greatly from Android license fees, but they generally suck when it comes to hardware (note the poor performance of the Nexus lines of phones and tablets as well as the failed Google Glass).

In actuality, their fierce defiance on the Google Book Library project and their willingness to battle for what they believe to be the necessary accessibility of humanity to knowledge and education seems to further contradict their poor bookselling performance.

. . . .

In my time in the industry I’ve come to this somewhat depressing conclusion: Neither Apple nor Google really care about books.

What I mean is that part of Amazon’s success and dominance is predicated on Jeff Bezos’ genius, his uncanny ability to see “a bookstore as a means to world domination.” In Apple and Google’s case books are a small line item for companies focused on hardware and advertising respectively.

. . . .

Ultimately, what Amazon achieved through Kindle was to give those people who are educated and have disposable income a simple entry point to e-commerce: books. Way ahead of its time, Amazon focused on gaining market share ahead of exclusivity, prestige or a higher purpose. It wanted user’s credit card details because it believed it could build a better commerce experience and value proposition on the back of loyal customers and scale.

Apple have been focused on your point of sale dollars for hardware. Google by its very DNA doesn’t generally share this aggressive, mercurial streak.

Link to the rest at Vearsa and thanks to William for the tip.

Rousting the Book Pirates From Google

30 August 2015

From The New York Times:

The Haggler will now don his professorial tweeds because he starts this episode in teacher mode. All of the action below revolves around the Google Play store.

. . . .

In Forbes recently, Erik Kain called Google Play “an ugly, poorly organized store filled with myriad knockoffs, dubious ‘games’ and other apps.” That sounds a bit harsh to the Haggler, a Google Play regular who has had mostly positive experiences.

That said, the site has problems.

Q. Book piracy has taken a new form. Someone scanned my entire e-book, “Graphic Design Solutions,” created a new cover and is selling it on Google Play. It is the same e-book, verbatim, and inside are the same images, same layout and the same interviews. The only difference is the name of the author. A person named Jazmin Bonilla gets the credit.

My royalties have plummeted, which affects my ability to donate to scholarships for my university students. Both my publisher and I have notified Google, but no action has been taken. Maybe the company will listen to you.


. . . .

[The Haggler’s] first thought was that if e-book piracy were a serious issue on Google Play, there would be other examples. There are many. A quick search led the Haggler to a site called The Digital Reader. There, the writer Nate Hoffelder detailed “rampant” e-book piracy, as he put it in a May post, in Google Play. He found that one shop was selling more than 100 pirated versions of best sellers by authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Sidney Sheldon and Ellery Queen.

They cost $2.11 each. But even these oddly priced bargains were kind of a rip-off. Mr. Hoffelder downloaded a few and found they “were clearly inferior copies with missing formatting, generic or outdated covers, and other problems,” he wrote.

. . . .

Mr. Hoffelder said that Google was aware of the problem but responded slowly to complaints from authors and publishers and sometimes did not respond at all. As bad, when the company acted, he stated, it would often remove pirated e-books but allow e-book pirates to remain on the site.

. . . .

So the Haggler contacted Google. He included a link to both the authentic “Graphic Design Solutions” in Google Play as well as the fake. A guy named Matt McLernon immediately got in touch. Like many members of Google’s public relations staff, Mr. McLernon was exceptionally pleasant — and hamstrung. Google is forever worried that the details of its inner workings will be used to game its algorithms and filters and secret sauces by an assortment of miscreants. So its P.R. team is filled with really bright, really friendly people who dearly wish they could be more helpful.

That said, we have enough light to see what happened. About 18 months ago, Google Play started selling self-published e-books. Any author could post and sell his or her work on the site. But in February — and why this started then is a mystery that Mr. McLernon did not explain — a wave of piracy was spotted by book publishers.

“It was mostly e-books in the science fiction genre,” said Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer at HarperCollins. “So we had a number of calls with Google.”

It emerged that the pirated books were being uploaded by people using Google Play through its self-publishing channel. People were opening accounts, ostensibly to publish their own work, and then selling digital copies of popular, and not so popular, e-books that they had not written.

“I don’t know if it is my immense power,” Ms. Restivo-Alessi said, “or if they were having similar conversations with other publishers at the time, but they listened to me, and they shut down the point of entry for these pirates.”

Mr. McLernon confirmed this. In May, Google stopped enrolling any new self-publishing authors. At the same time, a team of employees went through all of the complaints filed by publishers. Pirate accounts were deleted. (The company eventually plans to restart the program.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Google Shutters Its Play Books Publisher Portal in Order to “Improve Its Content Management Capabilities”

26 May 2015

From Ink, Bits & Pixels:

Do you know how I’ve been harping on the rampant commercial piracy in Google Play Books (four posts in the past month)?

I think Google finally got the message. I’ve just read on Twitter, and confirmed from a second source, that Google has closed the Google Play Books Partner Center to new users.

The Partner Center is Google’s name for the place where authors and publishers upload books to sell in Google Play.

. . . .

[A] Google rep posted the text in the support forums:

We’ve temporarily closed new publisher sign ups in the Play Books Partner Center, so we can improve our content management capabilities and our user experience. We’re working to reopen this to new publishers soon. Thanks for your patience.

. . . .

The Partner Center has been locked for 5 days now while Google is doing something behind the scene. They have yet to share any details but let’s hope that includes adding ways to detect pirates.

Link to the rest at Ink, Bits & Pixels and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Can Google Outsell Amazon and eBay?

18 May 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Google Inc. will launch buy buttons on its search-result pages in coming weeks, a controversial step by the company toward becoming an online marketplace rivaling those run by Inc. and eBay Inc.

The search giant will start showing the buttons when people search for products on mobile devices, according to people familiar with the launch.

The buttons will accompany sponsored—or paid—search results, often displayed under a “Shop on Google” heading at the top of the page. Buttons won’t appear with the nonsponsored results that are driven by Google’s basic search algorithm.

If shoppers click on the buy buttons, they will be taken to another Google product page to complete the purchase, the people explained. On that page, they will be able to pick sizes and colors and shipping options, as well as complete the purchase, one of the people said.

The products will still be provided and sold by retailers, rather than by Google. Retailers including Macy’s Inc. are in talks with Google about taking part in the launch, the people added. A Macy’s spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday.

. . . .

Some retailers said they worry the move will turn Google from a valuable source of traffic into a marketplace where purchases happen on Google’s own websites. The retailers, who wouldn’t voice their concerns publicly, fear such a move will turn them into back-end order takers, weakening their relationships with shoppers.

Retailers currently send Google data feeds on the products they are selling online, and then pay Google when shoppers click through to their websites.

To mollify retailers’ concerns, Google will allow consumers to opt into the same marketing programs that they would be exposed to had they made the purchase on the retailers’ own websites, one of the people said. That means retailers will get address information and likely email addresses for future marketing efforts as long as shoppers opt in.

. . . .

Google won’t send those payment details to the retailers, one of the people said. After Google gets the money from shoppers it will pass the payment on to the retailer. Depending on how the consumer chooses to pay, Google or the retailer may show up on customer billing statements, one of the people said.

. . . .

Google will still be paid by retailers through its existing advertising model, rather than taking a cut of the sales price of items—the usual way online marketplaces like Amazon’s and eBay’s work.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Google Removes News Snippets From Complaining Publications In Germany; Publications Claim It’s ‘Blackmail’

3 October 2014

It’s not just Amazon under siege by the entitled old guard special snowflakes:

Earlier this year, we noted a somewhat ridiculous and cynical attempt by some German newspapers to demand payment from Google for sending them traffic via Google News — and not just a little bit, but 11% of gross worldwide revenue on any search that showed one of their snippets. There were a few issues that we noted here: first, anyone not wanting to appear in Google News can quite easily opt-out. Second, Google News in Germany doesn’t show any ads. Third, those very same newspapers were using Google’s own tools to appear higher in search, suggesting that they certainly believed they were getting value out of being in Google’s index.

While German regulators rejected this request from the news publication industry group VG Media, Google has now decided to remove all news snippets from VG Media publications. It will still display results from those publications, but only in pure link/title format. Google claims it’s doing this to “remove [the] legal risks” from ongoing legal action from VG Media, but it seems equally likely that this will also decrease the traffic to those publishers’ websites.

VG Media’s spokesperson seems to honestly think that there’s some sort of moral requirement for Google to both pay for and show snippets. Again from Meyer:
The spokesman said VG Media was still in talks with the regulator about the case, and would add a complaint about this latest move. But how does this move harm consumers? I asked him. “Because they won’t have quality content in the future” if Google doesn’t pay for the snippets it uses, he claimed.

But surely Google actually helps publishers by sending traffic their way — do the publishers really believe that anyone sees a sentence-or-two-long snippet in Google News and then goes “Eh, that’s enough, I don’t need to click through”?
It’s difficult to see how this is anything other than “We failed to develop our own business model, so the company that did ought to just give us money.”

The message here is the same as with the Amazon complaints: they can’t compete under the rules they themselves crafted so the goverment has to step in to help them.

Good snark at TechDirt:

In Google Books appeal, Authors Guild decries Google’s impact on Amazon sales

12 April 2014

From TeleRead:

The Authors Guild is appealing Google’s November fair use win in its Google Book scanning case. The Guild says that Google is “yanking readers out of online bookstores” and stifling online bookstore competition with its digitized books.

“Google emptied the shelves of libraries and delivered truckloads of printed books to scanning centers, where the books were converted into digital format,” the Guild’s lawyers said.

They wrote that the library project was designed to lure potential book purchasers away from online retailers like and drive them to Google.

Wait, what?

. . . .

Second, this is the same Authors Guild that blamed lax antitrust enforcement for Amazon’s domination of the online book sales market, called Amazon “anticompetitive,” and insisted that the DoJ antitrust suit against the publishers was only going to help Amazon.

Now they’re suddenly all concerned over Google’s impact on Amazon’s wellbeing? Seriously?

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Appeals Court Tosses Out Class Action Status in Google Books Lawsuit

1 July 2013

From The Digital Reader:

Remember that lawsuit that the Authors Guild and the AAP filed against Google over Google Print Google Book Search Google Books in 2005?

A 3 judge panel on the 2nd Court of Appeals just ruled that Judge Denny Chin erred in certifying that the plaintiffs could act as a class. Instead the 3 judges believed he should have first considered Google’s argument of a fair use defense.

“Putting aside the merits of Google’s claim that plaintiffs are not representative of the certified class — an argument which, in our view, may carry some force — we believe that the resolution of Google’s fair use defense in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues,” the 2nd Circuit said.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

More from Paid Content:

The new ruling (see below) is a blow to the Authors Guild, which revived the original law suit in late 2011, because it unplugs Chin’s earlier decision to let the case proceed as a class action — allowing every registered author in America to sue together. Google had objected to the class action status, claiming it forced authors who liked the scanning project into a lawsuit with those who didn’t. The appeals court appeared to agree with Google’s position, writing that is “an argument which, in our view, may carry some force.”

But the most significant part of the ruling is that Chin must now directly rule on whether Google’s activities are “fair use” — a four-part test that looks at issues like the purpose of the copying and its effect on market sales. Google has long argued that its scanning of more than 20 million books has not hurt authors, but helps to make forgotten or hard-to-find works available to larger audience.

. . . .

Finally, the new ruling raises questions on how much longer the Authors Guild is willing to continue the expensive litigation. The appeals court’s decision to decertify the class action likely crushes the Guild’s hopes of a big settlement payoff.

Link to the rest at Paid Content

How Amazon’s Rising Headwaters Could Threaten Google

20 May 2013

From ReadWrite:

From the earliest days, it was clear to me (and a few others, obviously) that Amazon was no ordinary company, at any level. However, three attributes set it (far) apart in my mind:

  1. Vision and ambition that were orders of magnitude beyond those of others team that I encountered (until, that is, I met Google);
  2. A cult-like dedication to customer experience/satisfaction that permeated every decision made by every person at the company; and,
  3. A business model that not only valued long-term cash flow and absolute profit potential, but also deemed near-term profits and profit margin largely irrelevant.

Individually, these characteristics have been powerful; in combination, they have been revolutionary. Jeff Bezos’ worldview gave his entire team permission — in fact, it gave them the mandate — to think Big, with a capital “B.” Customers’ pure delight with every Amazon interaction gave the company permission to sell (almost) anything to (almost) anyone.

And, finally, management’s clarity of financial intent (i.e., to perpetually focus on long-term potential) has, from day one, conditioned shareholders and Wall Street to expect a business that will forever be amorphous and unpredictable, with razor-thin margins.

. . . .

Liberated from more typical corporate constraints, Amazon has evolved like few other companies in history — from its humble origins as an online bookstore into: Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute, Amazon Marketplace, Amazon Flexible Payments Service, state-of-the-art warehouses (~70) everywhere, Amazon Cloud Player, AmazonFresh, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Prime, A9, Amazon Simple Storage Service,, Silk, Amazon Cloud Drive, Zappos, Amazon CloudFront, Kindle, and so on.

Sound familiar? It should, because this transformation mirrors that of Google, itself, which began as “just” a search engine company focused on “organizing the world’s information,” and has now become: Gmail, Maps, Apps, Drive, Chrome, Android, Motorola, YouTube, Wallet, Voice, Google Cloud Storage, Shopping, Chromebook, Google App Engine, Google+, and so on.

While not perfectly matching each other solution-for-solution, Amazon and Google now find themselves overlapping across, and competing within, most major categories of Internet-fueled technology and business.

. . . .

I actually think there’s one final aspect to Amazon’s business with which Google cannot (yet) directly compete, and which may prove to be the difference-maker in this faux-ish battle: Data.

With 17+ years of history and hundreds of millions of transactions across almost every category of goods, Amazon now has massive quantities of data about the actual buying habits of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of consumers around the globe.

. . . .

Armed with this unique transaction- and SKU-specific data, at scale, has the potential to become one of, if not the most signficant advertising platforms in the world, in my view — matching, if not besting, Google.

. . . .

For instance, do you think Volvo, Toyota, Lexus, Ford, et al., might be willing to pay a small fortune to be introduced to an individual in Huntington Beach, CA, who suddenly begins buying newborn diapers by the pallet? What about Gymboree? Gerbers? Whole Foods? Safeway? Fab? Gap? Pottery Barn? Ross? Home Depot?

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

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