French Media Complain About Google

From The Japan Times:

French media organizations lodged a complaint against Google to the country’s competition authority Wednesday over the U.S. internet giant’s refusal to pay for displaying their content.

The move sets up a legal fight with Google over a new EU copyright law that could have huge repercussions for the future of the press.

Earlier this year France became the first country to ratify the law, which aims to ensure publishers are compensated when their work is displayed online.

The APIG press alliance, which groups dozens of national and regional newspapers, the union of magazine editors as well as AFP, which has brought a separate complaint, argued that Google is flouting the law.

. . . .

But Google — which holds a virtual monopoly on internet searches — said articles, pictures and videos will be shown in search results only if media groups consent to let the tech giant use them for free.

If they refuse, only a headline and a bare link to the content will appear, Google said, almost certainly resulting in a loss of visibility and potential ad revenue for the publisher.

Google was effectively offering the press a choice about how it would like to die — “either from cholera or the plague,” said Jean-Michel Baylet, the APIG president.

. . . .

“Google helps internet users find news content from many sources and the results are always based on relevance, not trade agreements,” it said in a statement to AFP last month.

The company insisted that “publishers have never had so many choices about how their content is displayed on Google.”

“The law does not impose a fee for posting links, and European news publishers already derive significant value from the 8 billion visits they receive each month from internet users who do searches on Google,” it said.

But French President Emmanuel Macron has already voiced his support for the press, saying that no company can “break free” of the law in France.

Link to the rest at The Japan Times

Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police

Not actually to do with writing (except for crime novelists), but interesting and creepy – a little Monday paranoia pick-me-up.

From The New York Times:

When detectives in a Phoenix suburb arrested a warehouse worker in a murder investigation last December, they credited a new technique with breaking open the case after other leads went cold.

The police told the suspect, Jorge Molina, they had data tracking his phone to the site where a man was shot nine months earlier. They had made the discovery after obtaining a search warrant that required Google to provide information on all devices it recorded near the killing, potentially capturing the whereabouts of anyone in the area.

Investigators also had other circumstantial evidence, including security video of someone firing a gun from a white Honda Civic, the same model that Mr. Molina owned, though they could not see the license plate or attacker.

But after he spent nearly a week in jail, the case against Mr. Molina fell apart as investigators learned new information and released him. Last month, the police arrested another man: his mother’s ex-boyfriend, who had sometimes used Mr. Molina’s car.

. . . .

The warrants, which draw on an enormous Google database employees call Sensorvault, turn the business of tracking cellphone users’ locations into a digital dragnet for law enforcement. In an era of ubiquitous data gathering by tech companies, it is just the latest example of how personal information — where you go, who your friends are, what you read, eat and watch, and when you do it — is being used for purposes many people never expected. As privacy concerns have mounted among consumers, policymakers and regulators, tech companies have come under intensifying scrutiny over their data collection practices.

The Arizona case demonstrates the promise and perils of the new investigative technique, whose use has risen sharply in the past six months, according to Google employees familiar with the requests. It can help solve crimes. But it can also snare innocent people.

Technology companies have for years responded to court orders for specific users’ information. The new warrants go further, suggesting possible suspects and witnesses in the absence of other clues. Often, Google employees said, the company responds to a single warrant with location information on dozens or hundreds of devices.

. . . .

The practice was first used by federal agents in 2016, according to Google employees, and first publicly reported last year in North Carolina. It has since spread to local departments across the country, including in California, Florida, Minnesota and Washington. This year, one Google employee said, the company received as many as 180 requests in one week.

. . . .

The technique illustrates a phenomenon privacy advocates have long referred to as the “if you build it, they will come” principle — anytime a technology company creates a system that could be used in surveillance, law enforcement inevitably comes knocking. Sensorvault, according to Google employees, includes detailed location records involving at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide and dating back nearly a decade.

The new orders, sometimes called “geofence” warrants, specify an area and a time period, and Google gathers information from Sensorvault about the devices that were there. It labels them with anonymous ID numbers, and detectives look at locations and movement patterns to see if any appear relevant to the crime. Once they narrow the field to a few devices they think belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the users’ names and other information.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

A quick search disclosed a couple of interesting articles about erasing your mobile history. PG can’t assess the efficacy of these solutions because they rely on whether large organizations who create software that exists on your mobile phone really erase all the history they have acquired about you or not.

How to stop Google from tracking everything you do online

How to Clear History on an iPhone

If you would like to make certain your phone won’t collect location information when you’re not actively using it, you can acquire a Faraday Bag to prevent your phone from sending or receiving electronic signals so long as it is in the bag. A Faraday Bag is a smaller version of a Faraday Cage.

During his brief excursion into electronic tracking, PG learned that police are urged to place cell phones and laptops they have seized as evidence in criminal investigations inside Faraday Evidence Bags to protect them from being remotely erased or broadcasting their locations to bad guys and bad gals.

Logic Bombs

In true spy vs. spy traditions, Faraday Evidence Bags may not solve all evidence preservation problems.

From Forensic Magazine:

The Faraday bag will not prevent the device from internal data alteration by items such as logic bombs. A logic bomb is set to go off if certain conditions are met. If a person was supposed to simultaneously press a set of keys daily to keep a destructive program from running on the cell phone, this would be one example of a logic bomb. The phone that was seized from someone may be protected from outside control of hackers with the use of a Faraday bag, but the phone may be victim to a logic bomb if certain conditions are not met while the phone is in possession of the CCE.

Link to the rest at Forensic Magazine

Google Exposed User Data, Feared Repercussions of Disclosing to Public

From The Wall Street Journal:

Google exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users of the Google+ social network and then opted not to disclose the issue this past spring, in part because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage, according to people briefed on the incident and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

As part of its response to the incident, the Alphabet Inc. unit plans to announce a sweeping set of data privacy measures that include permanently shutting down all consumer functionality of Google+, the people said. The move effectively puts the final nail in the coffin of a product that was launched in 2011 to challenge Facebook Inc. and is widely seen as one of Google’s biggest failures.

A software glitch in the social site gave outside developers potential access to private Google+ profile data between 2015 and March 2018, when internal investigators discovered and fixed the issue, according to the documents and people briefed on the incident. A memo reviewed by the Journal prepared by Google’s legal and policy staff and shared with senior executives warned that disclosing the incident would likely trigger “immediate regulatory interest” and invite comparisons to Facebook’s leak of user information to data firm Cambridge Analytica.

. . . .

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai was briefed on the plan not to notify users after an internal committee had reached that decision, the people said.

The planned closure of Google+ is part of a broader review of privacy practices by Google that has determined the company needs tighter controls on several major products, the people said.

. . . .

The episode involving Google+, which hasn’t been previously reported, shows the company’s concerted efforts to avoid public scrutiny of how it handles user information, particularly at a time when regulators and consumer privacy groups are leading a charge to hold tech giants accountable for the vast power they wield over the personal data of billions of people.

The snafu threatens to give Google a black eye on privacy after public assurances that it was less susceptible to data gaffes like those that have befallen Facebook. It may also complicate Google’s attempts to stave off unfavorable regulation in Washington. Mr. Pichai recently agreed to testify before Congress in the coming weeks.

“Whenever user data may have been affected, we go beyond our legal requirements and apply several criteria focused on our users in determining whether to provide notice,” a Google spokesman said in a statement.

In weighing whether to disclose the incident, the company considered “whether we could accurately identify the users to inform, whether there was any evidence of misuse, and whether there were any actions a developer or user could take in response,” he said. “None of these thresholds were met here.”

The internal memo from legal and policy staff says the company has no evidence that any outside developers misused the data but acknowledges it has no way of knowing for sure.

. . . .

In the announcement expected on Monday, Google plans to clamp down on the data it provides outside developers through APIs, two people briefed on the matter said. The company will stop letting most outside developers gain access to SMS messaging data, call log data and some forms of contact data on Android phones, and Gmail will only permit a small number of developers to continue building add-ons for the email service, the people said.

Google faced pressure to rein in developer access to Gmail earlier this year, after a Wall Street Journal examination found that developers commonly use free email apps to hook users into giving up access to their inboxes without clearly stating what data they collect. In some cases, employees at these app companies have read people’s actual emails to improve their software algorithms.

. . . .

In March of this year, Google discovered that Google+ also permitted developers to retrieve the data of some users who never intended to share it publicly, according to the memo and two people briefed on the matter. Because of a bug in the API, developers could collect the profile data of their users’ friends even if that data was explicitly marked nonpublic in Google’s privacy settings, the people said.

During a two-week period in late March, Google ran tests to determine the impact of the bug, one of the people said. It found 496,951 users who had shared private profile data with a friend could have had that data accessed by an outside developer, the person said. Some of the individuals whose data was exposed to potential misuse included paying users of G Suite, a set of productivity tools including Google Docs and Drive, the person said. G Suite customers include businesses, schools and governments.

. . . .

The bug existed since 2015, and it is unclear whether a larger number of users may have been affected over that time.

Google believes up to 438 applications had access to the unauthorized Google+ data, the people said. Strobe investigators, after testing some of the apps and checking to see if any of the developers had previous complaints against them, determined none of the developers looked suspicious, the people said. The company’s ability to determine what was done with the data was limited because the company doesn’t have “audit rights” over its developers, the memo said. The company didn’t call or visit with any of the developers, the people said.

The question of whether to notify users went before Google’s Privacy and Data Protection Office, a council of top product executives who oversee key decisions relating to privacy, the people said.

Internal lawyers advised that Google wasn’t legally required to disclose the incident to the public, the people said. Because the company didn’t know what developers may have what data, the group also didn’t believe notifying users would give any actionable benefit to the end users, the people said.

The memo from legal and policy staff wasn’t a factor in the decision, said a person familiar with the process, but reflected internal disagreements over how to handle the matter.

The document shows Google officials knew that disclosure could have serious ramifications. Revealing the incident would likely result “in us coming into the spotlight alongside or even instead of Facebook despite having stayed under the radar throughout the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” the memo said. It “almost guarantees Sundar will testify before Congress.”

. . . .

Google could also face class action lawsuits over its decision not to disclose the incident, Mr. Saikali said. “The story here that the plaintiffs will tell is that Google knew something here and hid it. That by itself is enough to make the lawyers salivate,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes that Google removed its well-known motto, “Don’t be evil,” from its Code of Conduct earlier this year.

Given all the negative publicity originating in large tech firms in recent months, PG wonders if, as a group, tech startups are more reliable than the established tech giants. He also notes that, when the code underlying a product or service becomes sufficiently complex, it becomes more and more difficult to locate and identify flaws in that code.

Twenty Years with Google Books Searches

Google is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

One of the ways it is doing so is to track the most commonly-searched topics on a year-by-year basis. It’s broken these topics into various areas of interest.

One of these areas is Books.

The Books page provides you with a variety of insights including the following:

  • The peak number of searches for To Kill a Mockingbird was from 2014 to 2018
  • Lolita was the most searched book from 1999 to 2002.
  • Hamlet was the 3rd most searched book of 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2005.

There is also an Authors page which shows that during each of the past twenty years, the most common Author search was for Martin Luther King.

Here’s a link to insights about Google searches on Les Misérables

You can hover and click on any portion of the resulting graphs for additional information.

Is Google Attempting to Hack the EU Parliament with Robo Calls, Emails and Fake News?

From The Trichordist:

Think it’s a coincidence that Google’s search algorithm returns exclusively negative or outright fake news on EU proposed copyright revisions? 

Google is the first imperialist power of the 21st century.  It has no qualms about subverting democratic processes whenever those processes threaten it’s profits.  Most of the time we see these power grabs in the US.  For instance Google used stolen emails to derail a Mississippi State investigation into it’s advertising practices. Most recently Google used it’s pet Senator (Ron Wyden) to try to derail an anti child sex trafficking bill. Wyden was one of only two Senators to oppose the overwhelmingly popular bill.  WTF right?  Makes you wonder what they have on him.

There are so many cases of Google strong arming government officials it would take fifty pages to list them all.  Suffice it to say that in almost all these cases Google upends the democratic processes when government actions in some small way threaten googles internet advertising and web hosting businesses.  From Google’s perspective it makes sense as Google is willing to monetizes any and all web traffic with no oversight, and with no regard to how abhorrent that traffic may be. Google does not give a shit that it may be enabling child prostitution rings, the opioid crisis, or radicalizing lone wolf terrorists.  Any regulation that requires even minimal oversight and might cut into Google’s $110 billion yearly profit(profit not revenue) is attacked by Googles vast network of lobbyists, astroturf groups, google-funded think tanks, paid bloggers, and academics.

The last few years we have seen Google turn their efforts towards subverting democratic processes outside the US.  In some ways they have been more effective in places like EU where they are unaccustomed to the kind of subversive political/academic/NGO practices honed by Big Tobacco.  In the U.S. we have been partially inoculated. Europeans fall hook line and sinker for this shit.

Case in point.

The EU parliament legal affairs committee (recently) voted to approve a new copyright directive  giving authors, performers and songwriters much more control over how their work appears online. The directive would require online platforms to pro-actively manage their platforms so that creators could decide when and if their content appears on digital platforms and under what financial terms.

This does not make Google/YouTube very happy because currently they enjoy an massive subsidy from creators because they essentially use whatever they want  whenever they want. As usual they claim that it is their “users” who are doing the infringing. Not Google. Never mind that Google is making billions slinging ads against all this unlicensed content.

. . . .

In the U.S. Google has consistently used  groups like Fight For The Future.   Fight For The Future purports to be a grassroots organization but it is actually run by a Google lobbyist. Despite claiming to have millions of followers, when they tried to stage a protest in San Francisco before a copyright roundtable they couldn’t get a single real individual to show up. Astroturf.  Fake.

. . . .

During the last round of Copyright Office hearings on safe harbors we observed that the vast majority of tweets against copyright reform were coming from anonymous accounts that were only active when copyright issues were being considered. Fake.

. . . .

Fight for the Future the astroturf group run by Google lobbyist has repeatedly bombarded congress, and federal agencies with identical automated emails and comments. We demonstrated that the “tool” they provided from their website, didn’t verify identity; allowed users from outside US to vote; and allowed repeated voting by simply reloading page.

Link to the rest at The Trichordist

How Google and Facebook Are Monopolizing Ideas

From The Wall Street Journal:

In early May Google banned bail-bond companies from advertising on its platforms. Such companies profit from “communities of color and low income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable,” it explained in a blog post. They use “opaque financing offers that can keep people in debt for months or years.”

That Google can ban ads from an industry that offends its values is not, by itself, noteworthy. Media companies have long decided what content or ads to carry for the same reason. The difference is that even after decades of consolidation, no media company enjoys a U.S. market share as dominant as Google’s in Internet search (close to 90%) or Facebook Inc.’s in social networking. Like earlier bans on payday-loan ads, Google’s bail-bond ad ban, which Facebook copied the next day, effectively kicked an entire industry out of a major advertising channel.

The debate over whether Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., and Facebook are too big usually revolves around economics: Do they suppress competition for goods and services? The bail-bond ad ban raises a different, and potentially more troubling, possibility: that they also undermine competition for values and ideas. While Google and Facebook claim to be neutral platforms connecting users, advertisers and content providers, decisions about which ads to ban and which content to delete or reclassify are inherently value-laden, even when those values are embedded in an algorithm.

Data monopolies “can actually be more dangerous than traditional monopolies,” Maurice Stucke, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville specializing in antitrust, wrote earlier this year in Harvard Business Review. “They can affect not only our wallets but our privacy, autonomy, democracy, and well-being.”

Bail bonds aren’t a sympathetic industry. For a steep fee, agents agree to pay the court’s required bail if the client doesn’t show up for a court date. They are, however, legal and, in most states, regulated. And the industry says it serves low-income and minority clients because they are caught up in the criminal-justice system without the means to post bail on their own.

Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, whose members insure bail agents, says Google gave the industry no opportunity to comment on or appeal the ban. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment. Facebook did consult with both the industry and criminal-justice-reform groups after announcing its ban, a spokesman said.

Bail-bond agents used to advertise in the yellow pages, but as the public abandoned phone books for Google, so did the industry. “There are just no other options,” Mr. Clayton said. The ban doesn’t extend to regular search results, but it makes it harder for individual companies to stand out.

Conservatives tend to see tech companies’ progressive leanings at work in what gets banned or reclassified—for example, Facebook’s labeling of videos by two prominent supporters of President Donald Trump as “unsafe.” Bail bonds and payday loans have long been targets of progressive activist groups.

But as the companies come under growing pressure to police their platforms and weed out “fake news,” a growing range of content gets banned, labeled or deleted for often opaque or arbitrary reasons. ProPublica and Reveal, both nonprofit news publications, have had content dealing with hate groups and immigrant children, respectively, deleted or rejected by Instagram or Facebook. Video artists complain of viewership and ads being restricted because their content violated YouTube’s community standards.

Unhappy users, advertisers and content providers wouldn’t have as much to complain about if Google (which bought YouTube in 2006) and Facebook (which acquired Instagram in 2012) had strong competitors to which they could switch.

Absent such competition, expect pressure for the government to regulate it. But that’s a slippery slope. Politically appointed overseers may simply replace the companies’ judgments with their own. For that reason the Federal Communications Commission long ago gave up policing the nation’s airwaves for fairness.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

How to Keep Google From Owning Your Online Life

From The Wall Street Journal:

About 10 minutes after I decided to try temporarily removing Google from my life—an experiment I hoped would illuminate how much Alphabet’s giant dominates online existence—I messed it all up.

I spotted a video of Donald Glover, co-star of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” giving a Millennium Falcon tour. Even on my most careful guard, I still clicked the red play button. A few seconds in, I realized I was watching YouTube—Google’s YouTube.

Google is so woven into the fabric of the internet it’s all but impossible to avoid. It’s where billions of users find, create and store important information, where they work and distract themselves from working. You can quit Facebook or take a Twitter break and barely notice, save for an increased sense of boredom in the Starbucks line. Google, you’d miss.

But even more than other companies offering free services, Google collects astounding amounts of data about you and uses it to sell ads. I’m happy with Google, because to date there haven’t been reports of catastrophic breaches or data-sharing scandals on the level of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica nightmare. If Google springs a leak, it could be disastrous.

. . . .

Quitting Google takes more than just typing “” I deleted 16 apps from my phone, from Gmail to Google Maps to Google Photos. I unplugged my Google Home, yanked the Chromecast from the back of my TV, and powered down my Chromebook. Luckily I don’t own a Nest thermostat, or this would have become a construction project.

I hadn’t realized before how my life had come to revolve around Google products. To replace them, I brought in an Amazon Echo and a Microsoft Surface Laptop. I used the Notion app and Dropbox Paper for notes and documents, and switched cord-cutting allegiance from YouTube TV to Sling. I deleted the Chrome browser from all my devices, and installed Firefox in its place.

Most Google services have straightforward replacements: Microsoft’s free Office Online for Docs and Sheets; Signal for Hangouts; Evernote for Keep; and Flipboard for Google News. In many cases you can download your Google data using its Takeout service, upload it to a new app—for instance, bringing email and calendars into Outlook—and hardly miss a beat. iPhone users who switch their search engine to Bing or DuckDuckGo and use Apple’s productivity apps seldom encounter Google.

. . . .

As Google products have taken over, they’ve also become more insular and closed. Google Search tries to answer your questions without ever taking you to another site. Gmail’s best security features are a hassle to use, except for other Gmail users. The Chrome browser is the worst offender: Some Google services, like Google Earth, work only in Chrome—though Google says it’s changing that.

. . . .

Chrome commands nearly 60% market share, according to analytics company Statcounter—over four times as large as second-place Safari. It has outsize influence over the future of the web. Companies such as Airbnb and Bank of America have directed users to Chrome for the “optimized” versions of their sites. If you use a Google product in another browser, Google frequently prompts you to download Chrome. (Google says it is dedicated to supporting other browsers.)

By almost any measure, Google collects more data than Facebook. I recommend doing a thorough audit of your My Activity page, which displays everything Google watches you do. You should also manage and delete data through Google’s privacy and security checkups.

On a recent day, Google tracked me in 468 different activities—many that had nothing to do with Google, except that I did them using a Chromebook, Android phone or Chrome browser.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

The Antitrust Case Against Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple

From The Wall Street Journal:

Standard Oil and Co. and American Telephone and Telegraph Co. were the technological titans of their day, commanding more than 80% of their markets.

Today’s tech giants are just as dominant: In the U.S., Alphabet Inc.’s Google drives 89% of internet search; 95% of young adults on the internet use a Facebook Inc. product; and Inc. now accounts for 75% of electronic book sales. Those firms that aren’t monopolists are duopolists: Google and Facebook absorbed 63% of online ad spending last year; Google and Apple Inc. provide 99% of mobile phone operating systems; while Apple and Microsoft Corp. supply 95% of desktop operating systems.

A growing number of critics think these tech giants need to be broken up or regulated as Standard Oil and AT&T once were. Their alleged sins run the gamut from disseminating fake news and fostering addiction to laying waste to small towns’ shopping districts. But antitrust regulators have a narrow test: Does their size leave consumers worse off?

By that standard, there isn’t a clear case for going after big tech—at least for now. They are driving down prices and rolling out new and often improved products and services every week.

That may not be true in the future: if market dominance means fewer competitors and less innovation, consumers will be worse off than if those companies had been restrained. “The impact on innovation can be the most important competitive effect” in an antitrust case, says Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University economist who served in the Justice Department’s antitrust division under Barack Obama.

. . . .

“Forty percent of Google search is local,” says Luther Lowe, the company’s head of public policy. “There should be hundreds of Yelps. There’s not. No one is pitching investors to build a service that relies on discovery through Facebook or Google to grow, because venture capitalists think it’s a poor bet.”

There are key differences between today’s tech giants and monopolists of previous eras. Standard Oil and AT&T used trusts, regulations and patents to keep out or co-opt competitors. They were respected but unloved. By contrast, Google and Facebook give away their main product, while Amazon undercuts traditional retailers so aggressively it may be holding down inflation. None enjoys a government-sanctioned monopoly; all invest prodigiously in new products. Alphabet plows 16% of revenue back into research and development; for Facebook it’s 21%—ratios far higher than other companies. All are among the public’s most loved brands, according to polls by Morning Consult.

Yet there are also important parallels. The monopolies of old and of today were built on proprietary technology and physical networks that drove down costs while locking in customers, erecting formidable barriers to entry. Just as Standard Oil and AT&T were once critical to the nation’s economic infrastructure, today’s tech giants are gatekeepers to the internet economy. If they’re imposing a cost, it may not be what customers pay but the products they never see.

. . . .

The story of AT&T is similar. It owed its early growth and dominant market position to Alexander Graham Bell’s 1876 patent for the telephone. After the related patents expired in the 1890s, new exchanges sprung up in countless cities to compete.

Competition was a powerful prod to innovation: Independent companies, by installing twisted copper lines and automatic switching, forced AT&T to do the same. But AT&T, like today’s tech giants, had “network effects” on its side.

“Just like people joined Facebook because everyone else was on Facebook, the biggest competitive advantage AT&T had was that it was interconnected,” says Milton Mueller, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has studied the history of technology policy.

Early in the 20th century, AT&T began buying up local competitors and refusing to connect independent exchanges to its long-distance lines, arousing antitrust complaints. By the 1920s, it was allowed to become a monopoly in exchange for universal service in the communities it served. By 1939, the company carried more than 90% of calls.

Though AT&T’s research unit, Bell Labs, became synonymous with groundbreaking discoveries, in telephone innovation AT&T was a laggard. To protect its own lucrative equipment business it prohibited innovative devices such as the Hush-a-Phone, which kept others from overhearing calls, and the Carterphone, which patched calls over radio airwaves, from connecting to its network.

After AT&T was broken up into separate local and long-distance companies in 1982, telecommunication innovation blossomed, spreading to digital switching, fiber optics, cellphones—and the internet.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal