Life with a Digital Father: An Interesting View of Employee Protests at Google

December 14, 2018

I noted “The ‘father of the internet’ says that Google employee backlash to its defense work was just ‘a lot of misunderstanding’.” Someone told me that I should locate this article.

I did.

Here’s the paragraph I circled in very bright yellow:

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the positive benefits of working with [and] in the public sector, the military being a part of that.

The speaker is Vint Cerf, the chief evangelist for Google.

The “that” is a contract with the Department of Defense.

The misunderstanding is or was in the minds of Googlers.

The “positive benefit” may be selling more work to the US government, that is, the military with an interest in smart drones to do the find, fix, and finish business.

After watching most of Google’s testimony before a committee of US elected officials, I do not understand how any Google level person could misunderstand what Google’s senior management says.

Crystal. Clear.

Stephen E Arnold, December 14, 2018

Belgium and the GOOG

December 14, 2018

In 2012, Google cut a deal with Belgium publishers over content scraping. The idea was that indexing public Web sites was not something that put a smile on some Belgium publishers’ faces. Google’s approach to settlements has warranted its own news item on a Harvard Web site.

Belgium — for the most part — is a quiet, western European country that accepts a couple of languages as standard and cranks out pretty good waffles. Apparently, Belgium does not like it when Google exposes its top secret military bases. Yes, I think exposing a nation’s national secrets is a good reason to be mad and sue. Fast Company reports that, “Belgium Is Suing Google Over Satellite Images Of Military Bases” and Google is not listening to them.

Belgium has asked Google to blur out images of its military bases from its satellite photographs. The country has also requested Google blur out its nuclear power plants and air bases as well. Belgium is not happy:

“The defense ministry made the request citing national security. It’s not clear why Google has not honored that request, as it is a standard one for governments to make of the search giant, which in the past had no problem obscuring images of sensitive military sites. We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update this post if we hear back.”

A Belgian Google representative explained that his company has worked closely with the Belgium Department of Defense before to change Google’s maps and is disappointed they are now being sued. Google plans to continue working with the Belgian government to resolve the issue.

It is reassuring that Google methods do not discriminate based on the size of a country.

Whitney Grace, December 14, 2018

Google: Death Unsolved but Health of Interest

December 13, 2018

By now, data collection has become either a fact of life for many, or a daily battle for others. One major fork in the road for users has become Google’s efforts to acquire data via healthcare. It’s a confusing dive that was made clearer by a recent TechRadar Pro story, “DeepMind’s Big Betrayal? Coming to Terms with Data-Driven Healthcare.”

According to the story:

“By moving DeepMind Health’s Stream team into the main arm of the organization – its parent company Google – concerns were raised over its commitment to patient data privacy. This came with assertions from the organization in 2016 that the patient data would never be used or connected with Google accounts and products.”

Of course, Google denies that they will merge the two datasets. However, Wired brought up some troubling history to the contrary. Namely, the company’s 2008 purchase of DoubleClick, and it’s promise then not to merge data…which, it did.

We’re monitoring Google’s progress on solving death.

Patrick Roland, December 13, 2018

MIT Thinks Google Is Reentering the Chinese Market

December 13, 2018

I was surprised to read that Google is actually reentering the Chinese market. “What Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s Visit to Congress Taught Us (Spoiler: Not a Lot)” states:

Despite his best evasive efforts, Pichai confirmed Google is working on re-entering the Chinese market—referring to the controversial search project “Dragonfly.” In a series of carefully-worded statements Pichai said the project was an “internal” one and that there were no plans to launch a product in China “right now.”

I thought Google had shelved this idea. MIT sees it differently.

With rumors of about 100 people working on a Chinese search engine, I thought it was obvious that Google had no intention to make another valiant attempt to tap into the Chinese revenue stream. Chinese regulations are easy to understand: Censorship, surveillance, and social scores are steps on the path to resolving “dominant contradictions.”

As Mao Zedong allegedly said, “To read too many books is harmful.” Filtered search results are definitely okay I assume.

Stephen E Arnold, December 13, 2018

Ombudsman or Enforcement Official?

December 11, 2018

As Google’s CEO prepares to read his testimony today (December 11, 2018), I noted this passage from the prepared statement:

Users also look to us to provide accurate, trusted information. We work hard to ensure the integrity of our products, and we’ve put a number of checks and balances in place to ensure they continue to live up to our standards. I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against  our core principles and our business interests. (See this link for the statement.)

I thought about the recent security lapse at Google Plus. Yes, that was the service which was the trigger for a compensation goodie.

But what’s important today is not the reading of Silicon Valley spin.

I suggest that the article “Facebook, Google scramble to contain global fallout from ACCC plan” may have more oomph in the long run. The Australian government appears to be inching toward clamping down on the Google and Facebook. I noted this statement:

Declaring the digital giants have “substantial” market power, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) wants to create an ombudsman to investigate complaints from consumers, media companies and marketers about Google and Facebook over issues such as defamatory comments and fake ads.

As a member of Five Eyes, Australia may be pointing the direction in which Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US will move.

In this context, the Google statement does little to change the reality of what the company does and how it operates. For example, there is employee push back. Another example, there is the behavior of senior executives. One more: There are the claims of Foundem and other vendors who allege that Google willfully took steps to swizzle the search results.

The question becomes, “Is Australia appointing an ombudsman to deal with Google and Facebook or an enforcement officer?”

Enforcement? Laws, I assume, will follow.

Stephen E Arnold, December 11, 2018

Australia: A Government Watch Dog with Two Companies to Monitor

December 11, 2018

Australia has become the first country to pass a law requiring that encrypted messages have to be unlocked for law enforcement. That means WhatsApp and a gaggle of other secret messaging apps.

Now Australia has another interesting idea, reported by Business Daily in Africa. The Australian government wants a regulator to monitor Facebook and Google. According to the report I saw:

Australia’s competition watchdog on Monday [December 10, 2018]  recommended tougher scrutiny and a new regulatory body to check the dominance of tech giants Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google in the country’s online advertising and news markets.

The source document cited a familiar refrain:

The two firms have already promised to do more to tackle the spread of fake news and, in submissions to the ACCC, said they provided users access to global news articles while providing advertisers a cheap way of reaching big audiences.

Australia is a member of Five Eyes, and the country may be setting a path which Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US may follow.

In short, the good old days of Wild West digital services may find the prairie managed in part by barbed wire fences, gates, and folks with badges and six shooters and maybe an automatic weapon too.

Stephen E Arnold, December 11, 2018

Alphabet Google: The Wing Clipping Accelerates

December 9, 2018

It is not a great time to be a tech titan. Facebook and Google and their peers seem to be embroiled in daily dilemmas. These kings of the internet are taking it on the chin regarding privacy, fake news, and more. And, yet, we are still surprised when their names pop up in the news feed. Such was the case with a recent Vulture piece, “Google Accused of GDPR Privacy Violations By Seven Countries.”

According to the article:

“The complaints, which each group has issued to their national data protection authorities in keeping with GDPR rules, come in the wake of the discovery that Google is able to track user’s location even when the “Location History” option is turned off. A second setting, “Web and App Activity,” which is enabled by default, must be turned off to fully prevent GPS tracking.”

As detailed in the New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg’s strategy of “Deflect, Deny, Delay” has been keeping them out of any serious legal hot water. Google’s challenge may rip headlines from the Zuckerberg connection machine.

The reason? Information is now becoming available about Google’s malicious ad network flaws.  Since Google found inspiration in GoTo, Overture, and Yahoo’s pay to play system, Google is now talking about ad abuse; for example, “Tackling Ads Abuse in Apps and SDKs.”

What worse? Siphoning data or failing to identify issues which undermine the Madison Avenue way?

Ad fraud? Facebook and Google alike but different except to regulators in Europe.

Stephen E Arnold, December 9, 2018

Patrick Roland, November 30, 2018

Google Explains: Yes, We Ignore Do Not Track

December 8, 2018

I love explanations which raise more questions than they answer. Facebook is good at this approach to governance, editorial policy, and decision making fantasy prose. But Google is Googley.

I read “Turn Do Not Track On or Off.” Here’s the passage I noted:

Most websites and web services, including Google’s, don’t change their behavior when they receive a Do Not Track request. Chrome doesn’t provide details of which websites and web services respect Do Not Track requests and how websites interpret them.

With Microsoft throwing in the towel on Edge, I think that most people using a browser are going to be tracked. In short, Chromium based browsers are not playing a gatekeeper role for their users.

I may be wrong, but I did not find the article helpful.

I do think that Google is thinking about Google. I assume that is why Marine General Joseph Dunbar wanted to know why Google will work with China but not with the US military.

Yes, we do not work with some requests. Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2018

Google: Innovation Desperation or Innovation Innovation

December 5, 2018

Google has an innovation problem. The company has tried 20 percent free time. Engineers were supposed to work on personal projects. Google tried creating investment units. Google has acquired companies, often in time frames that seemed compressed. Anyone remember buying Motorola Mobility in 2011? Google created a super secret innovation center because the ageing Google Labs was not up to the task of creating Loon balloons and solving death. There have been competitions to identity bright young sprouts who can bring new ideas to the Google. If I dig through my files, there are probably innovation initiatives I have forgotten. Google is either a forward looking outfit, or it is struggling to do more than keep the 20 year old system looking young.

Image result for archimedes eureka

Has Google tried thinking in the hot tub like Archimedes? Google has bean bags, volleyball courts, and Foosball. But real innovations like those AltaVista mechanisms or GoTo’s pay to play for search visibility? There is Web Accelerator, of course.

I read “An Exclusive look inside Google’s in-house incubator Area 120.” The write up reports that a wizard Googler allegedly said and may actually believe:

“We built a place and a process to be able to have those folks come to us and then select what we thought were the most promising teams, the most promising ideas, the most promising markets,” explains managing director Alex Gawley, who has spent a decade at Google and left his role as product manager for Google Apps (since renamed G Suite) to spearhead this new effort. Employees “can actually leave their jobs and come to us to spend 100% of their time pursuing something that they are particularly passionate about,” he says.

Okay, Area 120. That even more mysterious than the famous Area 51. I am thinking of the theme from “Outer Limits.”

The Googlers “pitch” ideas in the hope of getting funding. A Japanese management expert explained a somewhat similar approach to keeping smart employees innovating. See Kuniyasu Sakai’s explanations of the method in “To Expand We Divide.” You probably have this and his other management writings on your desk, right? Someone at Google seems to have brushed against these concepts. In Fast Company / Google speak, these new companies are “hatchlings.”

Several observations:

  1. Innovation is a problem as companies become larger. Google illustrates this problem.
  2. Google’s approach to innovation is bifurcated. Most of its “innovations” originated elsewhere; for example, IBM Clever, AltaVista technology, GoTo-Overture “pay to play” advertising. The company’s goal is to innovate using original ideas, not refinements of other innovators’ breakthroughs.
  3. Google faces an innovation free environment. A recent example may be found in the wild and crazy Amazon announcements at its Re:Invent conference. Somewhere in the jet blast of announcements, there were a couple of substantive innovations. Google does phones with problems and wraps search in layers of cotton wool. Amazon, its seems, is sucking search innovation from Google.

For these reasons Google is gasping. Even rah rah write ups about Google like the recent encomium to Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat (both AltaVista veterans) is a technical “You Can’t Go Home Again” description of the good old days.

On one hand, Google’s efforts to become innovative are admirable. Persistence, patience, investment—yada yada. On the other hand, Google remains trapped as a servant to its Yahoo (GoTo and Overture) business model for online advertising.

The PR will continue to flow, but innovations? Maybe.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2018

Google and AltaVista

December 5, 2018

I read “The Friendship That Made Google Huge.” Interesting. I would like to ask,

Why isn’t AltaVista’s contribution to Google search put front and center?

And

Were other AltaVista’s veterans hired by the Google to jump start the engineering of the system?

Google was “clever”, and the company surfed on the missteps of Hewlett Packard. Google also borrowed some inspiration from GoTo-Overture-Yahoo. In short, Google’s story is more nuanced than some retellings of history suggest.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2018

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