Posts tagged ‘Google’


The EU lands Google with another fine—but will Google change?

19.07.2018


Zain Ali

The EU gets it when it comes to fines. Rather than the paltry US$17 million certain US states’ attorneys-general stung Google with some years ago for hacking Iphones, they’ve now fined the search engine giant €4,340 million, on top of its earlier fine of €2,420 million over anticompetitive behaviour.
   That US$17 million, I mentioned at the time, amounted to a few hours’ income at Google.
   As the EU’s competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager noted on Twitter, ‘Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits. It’s illegal under EU antitrust rules. @Google now has to stop it’.
   Google forces manufacturers to preinstall Chrome if they want to install Google Play. The EU also notes that virtually all Android devices have Google Search preinstalled, and most users never download competing apps, furthering Google’s dominance of search. Google pays manufacturers and cellphone networks to preinstall the Google search app on their phones, and prevented manufacturers from installing Google apps if their versions of Android were not approved by Google.
   DuckDuckGo, my search engine of choice, welcomed the decision. It noted:

   This last Tweet is particularly damning about Google’s deceptive practices (or, as I call them, ‘business as usual’ for Google):

   That’s consumer confusion on top of restrictive contracts that promote market dominance and anti-competitive behaviour.
   This is a very petty company, one that shut down Vivaldi’s Adwords account after its CEO gave some interviews about privacy.
   Of course I’m biased, and I make no apology for it—and anyone who has followed my journey on this blog from being a Google fan to a Google-sceptic over the last decade and a half will know just how Google’s own misleading and deceptive conduct helped changed my mind.
   Google’s argument, that many Android manufacturers installed rival apps, clearly fell on deaf ears, and understandably so. While I’m sure Android experts can think up examples, as a regular person who occasionally looks at phones, even those ones with rival apps still ship with the Google ones. In other words, there’s simply more bloat. I’ve yet to see one in this country ship without a Chrome default and Google Play installed, often in such a way that you can’t delete it, and Google Services, without getting your phone rooted.
   I did read this in the Murdoch Press and thought it was a bit of a laugh, but then maybe my own experience isn’t typical:

The impact of any changes mandated by the EU decision on Google’s ability to target ads to users—and to its profitability—is an open question. The two apps targeted in the EU decision, Google’s search and its Chrome browser, are extremely popular in their own right. Consumers are likely to seek them out from an app store even if they weren’t preinstalled on the phone, said Tarun Pathak, an analyst at research firm Counterpoint.

   I just don’t believe they would, and I made it a point to get a phone that would, happily, have neither. By buying a Chinese Android phone, I escape Google’s tracking; by seeking out the Firefox browser, I get to surf the way I want. That choice is going to create competition, something that Google is worried about.
   The Wall Street Journal also states that despite the earlier fine, Google’s shopping rivals said little or nothing has actually happened.
   With all of Google’s misdeeds uncovered on this blog over the years, I’m really not surprised.
   The EU is, at the very least, forcing some to examine just how intrusive Google is. It might soon discover how uncooperative Google can be.

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The decline continues: Facebook pages no longer accept YouTube links

18.07.2018

Many of you know that I no longer use Facebook for my personal stuff. However, there are still work things to do, although I’ve noticed Facebook pages get more and more useless by the day. Here are the stats for my Facebook page:

   Strangely, I can see the stats on a page that’s not even mine, and for which I have no role:

   And now, you can no longer post links to YouTube videos on to pages. Facebook just gets stuck, trying to ‘import’ the link. I’ve tried this from different accounts and had to give up, opting to upload directly into Facebook, which is probably their (unannounced) plan anyway.

   YouTube’s uploading took ages, too. Or, rather, it took ages to find an uploading link. Dailymotion and Vimeo have, by far, superior interfaces.
   Yet, ladies and gentlemen, these are among the top three websites in the world. You truly have to wonder why, in the face of overwhelming evidence of tracking in one case, and privacy breaches in another.
   Facebook had been pretty hopeless as a traffic referrer anyway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others woke up to the fact it is worsening as a business platform.

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Why you shouldn’t build projects on Google Cloud (or, why are we still having these conversations?)

01.07.2018

This story on Medium, about Google Cloud, is all too familiar to me (hat tip to Donkey). It mirrors my experiences with Google in 2009 and 2013.
   A company monitoring solar plants and wind turbines had Google pull their account twice. The Googlebot falsely claimed there was suspicious activity, with Google threatening to delete their account in three days. If their CFO, whose credit card was linked to the account, hadn’t replied in time, that would have been millions of dollars down the gurgler.
   The company’s warning: don’t build stuff on Google Cloud. Apparently AWS is safer.
   They were very lucky, because Google’s forums are littered with people whose accounts have also been unilaterally terminated, and they were never recovered. Some have lost income streams. Most went through the “proper channels”.
   My experience in helping a friend recover his blog nearly a decade ago showed just how unreliable these channels were, with a Google forum volunteer going out of his way to be obstructive, because you dared question the big G. Most volunteers actually seem offended you questioned Google, such is their adherence to the cult.
   Mind you, I’m still waiting, three years later, for an explanation about why our Amazon Associates’ account, nearly two decades old, was unilaterally deleted. Amazon claimed six months ago that the matter had been ‘escalated’. Still waiting. Google, too, gets back to you initially, but escalation results in nought.
   When things go wrong, US Big Tech doesn’t work, does it? We’ve actively avoided Google for nearly a decade, and began posting warnings about Facebook around that time, too.
   Thank goodness for companies like Zoho: in the 2010s, Indian tech works better, and people take greater responsibility.

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The end of US ’net neutrality: another step toward the corporate internet

11.06.2018

That’s it for ’net neutrality in the US. The FCC has changed the rules, so their ISPs can throttle certain sites’ traffic. They can conceivably charge more for Americans visiting certain websites, too. It’s not a most pessimistic scenario: ISPs have attempted this behaviour before.
   It’s another step in the corporations controlling the internet there. We already have Google biasing itself toward corporate players when it comes to news: never mind that you’re a plucky independent who broke the story, Google News will send that traffic to corporate media.
   The changes in the US will allow ISPs to act like cable providers. I reckon it could give them licence to monitor Americans’ traffic as well, including websites that they mightn’t want others to know they’re watching.
   As Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, puts it: ‘We’re talking about it being just a human right that my ability to communicate with people on the web, to go to websites I want without being spied on is really, really crucial.’
   Of course I have a vested interest in a fair and open internet. But everyone should. Without ’net neutrality, innovators will find it harder to get their creations into the public eye. Small businesses, in particular, will be hurt, because we can’t pay to be in the “fast lane” that ISPs will inevitably create for their favoured corporate partners. In the States, minority and rural communities will likely be hurt.
   And while some might delight that certain websites pushing political viewpoints at odds with their own could be throttled, they also have to remember that this can happen to websites that share their own views. If it’s an independent site, it’s likely that it will face limits.
   The companies that can afford to be in that “fast lane” have benefited from ’net neutrality themselves, but are now pulling the ladder up so others can’t climb it.
   It’s worth remembering that 80 per cent of Americans support ’net neutrality—they are, like us, a largely fair-minded people. However, the FCC is comprised of unelected officials. Their “representatives” in the House and Senate are unlikely, according to articles I’ve read, to support their citizens’ will.
   Here’s more on the subject, at Vox.
   Since China censors its internet, we now have two of the biggest countries online giving their residents a limited form of access to online resources.
   However, China might censor based on politics but its “Great Wall” won’t be as quick to block new websites that do some good in the world. Who knew? China might be better for small businesses trying to get a leg up than the United States.
   This means that real innovation, creations that can gain some prominence online, could take place outside the US where, hopefully, we won’t be subjected to similar corporate agenda. (Nevertheless, our own history, where left and right backed the controversial s. 92A of the Copyright Act, suggests our lawmakers can be malleable when money talks.)
   These innovations mightn’t catch the public’s imagination in quite the same way—the US has historically been important for getting them out there. Today, it got harder for those wonderful start-ups that I got to know over the years. Mix that with the US’s determination to put up trade barriers based on false beliefs about trade balances, we’re in for a less progressive (and I mean that in the vernacular, and not the political sense) ride. “The rest of the world” needs to pull together in this new reality and ensure their subjects still have a fair crack at doing well, breaking through certain parties’ desire to stunt human progress.
   Let Sir Tim have the last word, as he makes the case far more succinctly than I did above: ‘When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world, companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today [in April 2017] suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?’

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A quick read from Prof Stephen Hawking in Wired UK

14.03.2018

The late Prof Stephen Hawking’s interview with Condé Nast’s Wired UK is excellent, and a quick read. For those following me on the duopoly of Facebook and Google, here’s what the professor had to say:

I worry about the control that big corporations have over information. The danger is we get into the situation that existed in the Soviet Union with their papers, Pravda, which means “truth” and Izvestia, which means “news”. The joke was, there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia. Corporations will always promote stories that reflect well on them and suppress those that don’t.

   That last bit definitely applies to a lot of the media today, especially those owned outside our country.
   The rest makes for a great read as Prof Hawking talks about AI, the anti-science movement, Donald Trump, and what humanity needs to do urgently in science. Here’s that link again.

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It can’t be that hard to rank media meritoriously, if only the big players had the will

14.03.2018


US Department of Defense

Keen to be seen as the establishment, and that means working with the military–industrial complex, Google is making software to help the Pentagon analyse drone footage, and not everyone’s happy with this development.

The World Economic Forum’s ‘This is the future of the internet’ makes for interesting reading. It’s not so much about the future, but what has happened till now, with concerns about digital content (“fake news”), privacy and antitrust.
   Others have written a lot about search engines and social media keeping people in bubbles (or watch the video below, but especially from 5′14″), but the solution isn’t actually that complex. It’s probably time for search engines to return to delivering what people request, rather than anticipate their political views and feed them a hit of dopamine. They seem to have forgotten that they exist as tools, not websites that reinforce prejudices.
   Duck Duck Go has worked well for me because it has remained true to this; but others can do it, too.
   However, there needs to be one more thing. Instead of Facebook’s botched suggestion of having everyday people rate news sources, which I believe will actually result in more “bubbling”, why not rank websites based on their longevity and consistency of delivering decent journalism? Yes, I realize both Fox News and MSNBC will pass this test. As will the BBC. But this weeds out splogs, content mills, and websites that steal content through RSS. It actually takes out the “fake news” (and I mean this in the proper sense, not the way President Trump uses it). The websites set up by fly-by-nighters to make a quick buck, or Macedonian teenagers to fool American voters, just disappear down the search-engine indices. Facebook can analyse the same data to check whether a source is credible and rank them the same way.
   It could be done through an analysis of the age of the content, and whether the domain name had changed hands over the years. A website with a healthy archive going back many years would be ranked more highly; as would one where the domain had been owned by the same party for a long period.
   Google’s Pagerank used to look at incoming links, and maybe this can still be a factor, even if link-exchanging is no longer one of the basic tenets of the web.
   There’s so much good work being done by independent media all over the world, and they deserve to be promoted in a truly meritorious system, which the likes of Google used to deliver. Shame they do not today.
   We do know that its claim that analysing the content on the page to determine rank hasn’t worked, if some of the results that pop up are any indication. Instead, we see Google News permit the most ridiculous content-mill sites and treat them as legitimate sources; in 2005 such behaviour would be unthinkable by the big G. As to Facebook, they’ll boost whomever gives them money, so ethics don’t really score big there.
   Both these companies must realize they have a duty to do right by the public, but they should also know that it’s in their own interests to be honest to their users. If trust increases, so can usage. They might even ward off some of the antitrust forces looming on the horizon; fairness certainly will help Google’s future in Europe. But they seem to have forgotten they are providers of tools, perhaps reflecting their principals’ desires to be seen as tech celebrities or power-players.
   Google already has the technology to deliver a fairer web, but I sense it doesn’t have the desire to. I miss the days when Google, in particular, was an enfant terrible, there to shake things up. Now it exists to boost its own properties or rub shoulders with the military–industrial complex. Everyone’s keeping an eye on Alphabet’s share price. Forget the people or ‘Don’t be evil.’
   As I have said often on this blog, there lies a grand opportunity for others to fill the spaces that Google and Facebook have left. A new site can play a far more ethical game, maybe even combine what these two giants offer. If Altavista, once the world’s biggest website, and Myspace, once the king of social networks, can be toppled, then so can these two. Yet at their peak, neither appeared to be vulnerable. Who would have thought back in 1998 that Altavista would be toast? (The few that did, and you are out there, are visionaries.)
   So who is best poised out there to deliver such tools? It would seem now is the time to start, and as people realize that this way is better, be prepared to scale, scale, scale. Remember, Google once did the same thing to oust Altavista, by figuratively building a better mousetrap. Someone just needs to take that first step.

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Has Facebook stopped forcing its “malware scanner” on to users after being busted by Wired?

10.03.2018

Since Louise Matsakis’s story on Facebook’s malware scanner came out in Wired, the number of hits to my pieces about my experience has dwindled.
   This can mean one of two things: (a) Wired’s getting the hits, which I don’t mind, considering they are the only tech media who had the cohones to talk about it; (b) Facebook, after being busted by the mainstream media, has stopped falsely accusing its users of having malware on their systems.
   Certainly on Twitter, although Twitter has broken its search function recently, far fewer Tweets with Facebook malware appear in a search.
   Of the two, (b) is more likely, because in previous circumstances, Facebook has only backed down after being embarrassed by the media, or after they receive a threat that could land them in an embarrassing situation.
   That includes the times it kicked off drag queens and kings, only to have them fight back with the media’s help; or leave porn and kiddie porn up, till they’re threatened with reports to the authorities.
   Otherwise, they ignore you—as they have done with users who have complained about the malware scanner for four years.
   It’s not unlike Google, who only stopped hacking Iphones in 2012 after The Wall Street Journal busted them for doing so, or only changed their cookie policies to be in line with their own claims after I busted them in 2011 to the Network Advertising Initiative for lying.
   These firms do have too much power because the law means nothing to them, but embarrassment in the court of public opinion does.
   After Louise’s article came out, Bloomberg did a story on it, as did one independent media outlet.
   So while a very small part of me isn’t thrilled that my hits on this blog have dropped, I’m actually far more pleased to know far fewer people are being lied to by Facebook about having malware on their systems. I’m also happy that tens of thousands, maybe even millions, aren’t wasting their time downloading and running a fake scanner which sends their private data to Facebook.
   It’s also interesting how quickly Facebook switched off their fake-warning system, within days of Louise’s article.
   It wasn’t as quick as Google switching off their Iphone privacy circumventing after the WSJ (same day) but the speed at which Facebook ceased telling people they have malware does suggest that those warnings were, as I said all along, fake. Louise asked the right questions and none of Facebook’s answers made sense.
   Facebook has plenty more misdeeds, and, in time, I am sure the tech media will get to them.
   It may find that despite its wealth, on a lot of things it actually needs to play by the very rules it claims to follow. And that means no more forced downloads of software that send your private data to them.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Kylie Jenner Tweets, Snapchat’s value down US$1,300 million

23.02.2018

All it takes is a single Tweet from Kylie Jenner—and Snapchat’s value drops 6 per cent, or US$1,300 million. (Hat tip to Sarah Lacy of Pando.)

   Speaking for myself (which won’t affect Snap’s valuation at all), I could never get it to run. It said it needed Google Services, something which I don’t have and don’t want. Who wants Google tracking them all day long—while using up your own phone’s battery power?
   As Sarah points out in a Tweet, this is why ‘you don’t build a $30b co off one generation’s fads’. Twitter should heed this make their experience better rather than have double standards, keeping one particular user on because they know they’re getting attention. (On that note, why is Twitter search so broken today?)

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Does TPPA redux protect Big Tech?

25.01.2018


SumOfUs/Creative Commons

Prof Jane Kelsey, in her critique of the still-secret Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (formerly the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement [TPPA]) notes in The Spinoff:

The most crucial area of the TPPA that has not received enough attention is the novel chapter on electronic commerce—basically, a set of rules that will cement the oligopoly of Big Tech for the indefinite future, allowing them to hold data offshore subject to the privacy and security laws of the country hosting the server, or not to disclose source codes, preventing effective scrutiny of anti-competitive or discriminatory practices. Other rules say offshore service providers don’t need to have a presence inside the country, thus undermining tax, consumer protection and labour laws, and governments can’t require locally established firms to use local content or services.

   If this new government is as digitally illiterate as the previous one, then we are in some serious trouble.
   I’m all for free trade but not at the expense of my own country’s interests, or at the expense of real competition, and the Green Party’s position (I assume in part operating out of caution due to the opaqueness of the negotiations) is understandable.
   Protecting a partly corrupt oligopoly is dangerous territory in a century that will rely more heavily on digital commerce.
   While there may be some valid IP reasons to protect source code, these need to be revealed in legal proceedings if it came to that—and one hopes there are provisions for dispute settlement that can lift the veil. But we don’t really know just how revised those dispute settlement procedures are. Let’s hope that Labour’s earlier stated position on this will hold.
   Google has already found itself in trouble for anticompetitive and discriminatory practices in Europe, and if observations over the last decade count for anything, it’s that they’ll stop at nothing to try it on. Are we giving them a free ride now?
   Despite Prof Kelsey’s concerns, I can accept that parties need not have a presence within a nation or be compelled to use local content or services. But the level of tax avoidance exhibited by Google, Facebook, Apple et al is staggering, and one hopes that our new government won’t bend over quite as easily. (While I realize the US isn’t part of this agreement, remember that big firms have subsidiaries in signatory countries through which they operate, and earlier trade agreements have shown just how they have taken on governments.)
   She claims that the technology minister, the Hon Clare Curran, has no information on the ecommerce chapter’s analysis—and if she doesn’t have it, then what are we signing up to?
   However, Labour’s inability to be transparent—something they criticized the previous government on—is a weak point after a generally favourable start to 2018. The Leader of the Opposition is right to call the government out on this when his comment was sought: basically, they were tough on us when we were in government, so we hope they’ll live up to their own standards. Right now, it doesn’t look like it. I suspect Kelsey is now the National Party fan’s best friend after being vilified for years. Bit like when Nicky Hager (whom one very respected MP in the last Labour government called a right-wing conspiracy theorist) wrote Seeds of Distrust.
   And the solutions that Kelsey proposes are so simple and elegant that it’s daft they weren’t followed, since they are consistent with the Labour brand. I know, trade agreements can stay confidential at this stage and this isn’t unprecedented. But that’s not what Labour said it wanted. At least these suggestions would have shown some consistency with Labour’s previous positions, and given some assurance that it’s in charge.

What should a Labour-led government have done differently? First, it should have commissioned the revised independent economic assessment and health impact analyses it called for in opposition. Second, it should have shown a political backbone, like the Canadian government that also inherited the deal. Canada played hardball and successful demanded side-letters to alter its obligations relating to investment and auto-parts. Not great, but something. New Zealand should have demanded similar side-letters excluding it from ISDS as a pre-requisite for continued participation. Third, it should have sought the suspension of the UPOV 1991 obligation, which has serious Treaty implications, and engaged with Māori to strengthen the Treaty of Waitangi exception, as the Waitangi Tribunal advised. Fourth, it should have withdrawn its agreement to the secrecy pact.

   I once joked that National and Labour were basically the same, plus or minus 10 per cent. On days like this, I wonder if I was right.

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, politics, technology | 1 Comment »


Even before the exposés, I never used Über

28.12.2017

I really don’t know why anyone would use Über.
   All the sexism and misogyny aside, I actually don’t know how anyone could use it.
   For example, on my phone, I installed it (before I learned about their totally inappropriate behaviour), tried to log in, and the app would tell me I have used too many log-in attempts. Well, if one is too many (and no, I didn’t get my password wrong) then that’s fine. I don’t need to use it.
   Today my other half wondered just how bad the app was. Unlike me, she has a locally bought Android phone, so it has some Google software on it.
   After signing up, and unlike me she was able to log in, the app said she needed to update her Google services.
   She actually set up a Google account and a Gmail (you all know how I feel about this), so now her phone is spied on by a horribly invasive company. She didn’t want anything to do with Google, but she is now linked to them, and her phone is tracked by them in her Google account. (We’ll soon be deleting all the Google stuff off it as it really has no utility.)
   Still no go. She gets in but the app insists we live next door. You simply cannot feed in our address.
   A Visa card has already been added to her account. As far as she knows, she has never done this.
   We tried to add in an address in Tawa but it wouldn’t stick (despite it appearing in the pull-down menu). I tried to correct our address, and it plotted a route to Paraparaumu. Again, one that neither of us had ever added.
   My suspicion is that the Visa card is our neighbour’s and that we could probably steal rides off that pretty easily. Not that we ever would: we like our neighbours. I also believe the route to Paraparaumu could be one she fed in.
   Basically, Über has an app that is deeply invasive and doesn’t actually work, pays their drivers badly, and has a sexist and misogynist work culture. Do they have any redeeming qualities?
   If we’re not driving, then we’re all for superior public transport and professional taxi drivers. I see that as a good thing.

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