Google and Its Amazing, Proliferating Services

August 22, 2019

It is all about the live streaming, backed by strong DVR capabilities. Digital Trends asks and answers, “What Is YouTube TV? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.” At a pricy $50 a month (minimum), the service is quite the entertainment investment. For some, though, it may be worth it. Writer Josh Levenson insists that the available features, particularly YouTube TV’s version of a cloud-storage DVR, more than make up for its limitations. These shortfalls include fewer channels than competitors, like AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) and Sling TV, and support for fewer devices. He tells us:

“Out of all the various features baked into YouTube TV, one stands out from the crowd: Cloud DVR. Granted, that’s a tool that most live TV streaming services offer these days, but Google has hit the nail on the head offering a more natural experience—letting you record as much content as you want, which can be stored for up to nine months at an end, putting an end to the storage limits that most competitors impose. …

We also noted:

“Like most streaming services, YouTube TV also offers its customers the option to watch the content on multiple screens at once. To be specific, you’ll have the option to create up to six sub-accounts for family members, of which three can watch at the same time. There is no option to upgrade to a higher plan, either—so that’s a firm cap at three streams at the same time, but that should be more than enough for most families.”

But will most households have a device on hand that can play YouTube TV? To run the service on a 4K television, one needs a set-top stream-capable box or a dedicated streaming stick. And as with any service but PlayStation Vue, viewing on a Playstation 4 is out, but all Xbox Ones are supported. It can be run through a Chrome or Firefox browser on a PC or from the operating system on Android and Apple devices. YouTube TV is also supported on Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku OS, Vizio SmartCast televisions, and post-2016 smart TVs from LG and Samsung.

Yes, most could probably find something on which to watch YouTube TV. Is it worth the monthly cost? How long will Google stick with the service? Who has time for multiple streaming services? What about Twitch.tv? How can a YouTuber message another? What about child suitable options? Perhaps benched AI whiz Mustafa Suleyman is available to contribute to resolving thorny YouTube questions?

Many questions for a company with remarkable management acumen.

Cynthia Murrell, August 22, 2019

YouTube: Wobbling Toward Responsibility

August 17, 2019

With all the problems plaguing YouTube these days, the issue of its copyright infringement reporting system may seem easily overlooked. However, we learn the company has not forgotten about that particular headache in Gizmodo’s article, “YouTube Announces Some Changes to Its Infamously Awful Copyright Infringement System.” While it is important to protect the rights of copyright holders, YouTube’s system for handling infringement claims is famously easy to abuse. Users have often cited videos as violating their own copyrights either in error, by not confirming the use is a violation, or maliciously, as a tool to censor critics or monetize the work of others. Due to the liability rules the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, the platform has reason to err on the side of those who make these claims. Content creators wrongly accused suffer takedowns and, often, financial losses as a result. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, among other critics, have objected to the disparity.

Now, though, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has promised several changes meant to curtail such abuses. First up—narrowing the window of accusation. Writer Tom McKay explains:

“The biggest change is that anyone filing such a copyright claim will have to enter exact timestamps of the alleged violation, which is intended to prevent copyright holders form flagging entire videos in violation willy-nilly. … This is important because creators previously could be left in the dark as to precisely which content was supposedly infringing, whether the video was 10 seconds or multiple hours. YouTube added that it will be reviewing the accuracy of timestamps and ‘copyright owners who repeatedly fail to provide accurate data will have their access to manual claiming revoked.’ (This seems kind of like something that should have already been happening, but okay.)”

Indeed. McKay also observes:

“While these changes will provide some much-needed clarity for YouTubers plagued by copyright claims, they notably don’t do much to level the playing field between rights holders and individuals claiming fair use of material for purposes like criticism, education, news, or research.”

TechCrunch reported that YouTube is changing its music copyright posture. DarkCyber noted this statement in “YouTube Shuts Down Music Companies’ Use of Manual Copyright Claims to Steal Creator Revenue”:

Going forward, copyright owners will no longer be able to monetize creator videos with very short or unintentional uses of music via YouTube’s “Manual Claiming” tool. Instead, they can choose to prevent the other party from monetizing the video or they can block the content. However, YouTube expects that by removing the option to monetize these sorts of videos themselves, some copyright holders will instead just leave them alone.

Quite a situation? Yes, indeed.

Cynthia Murrell, August 17, 2019

Tech Giants Are Classy and Semi Clever

August 16, 2019

I read “Google Attacks Windows by Comparing It to a Broken-Down Car.” Classy on two criteria:

  1. TechRadar’s story title. DarkCyber loved the “broken down” bound phrase
  2. Google’s decision to diminish the Microsoft system.

The Google has coveted Microsoft’s position in the computing world. The company rolled out its word processing, presentation, and ledger software specifically to undermine Microsoft Office. Years ago a Googler explained the strategy. (Sorry. I can’t tell you why a real Googler was talking to a person who lives in rural Kentucky.)

Humor is useful, particularly for stand up comedians. Jack Benny made fun of Fred Allen. The two had a feud.

The difference is that from where I view the world across the hollows and streams filled with mine drainage:

  1. Both companies deliver software and services which are deeply problematic. Whether it is Google’s irrelevant results on ad choked page or Microsoft’s updates which kill systems upon which people rely for “work” — both outfits have some technical work to do.
  2. Both companies are monopolies in distinct ways. Google controls a number of services; for example, content delivery via the Android complex. Microsoft dominates in business software.
  3. Both companies have an arrogance which surfaces in product support and public messaging.

To sum up, two deeply flawed organizations sniping at one another is less amusing than what flows from professional comedians.

The ad and the news giant reporting about the ad remind me of individuals who think that their insights are really clever.

Maybe they are, but will high school antics determine what type of laptop computer I will buy? Nope. I am happy with an eight year old Mac Air. No reason to change because advances in the tools I use on a day to day basis are not changing in a meaningful, useful manner.

When innovation stalls and creativity wanes, why not go for jokes?

Stephen E Arnold, August 16, 2019

Google Petitions: Like a High School Student Council Campaign

August 15, 2019

Is DarkCyber is getting tired of Googlers who protest Google? Not. The antics are amusing. Has anyone said, “Hey, high schoolers, you took the job. You get money. You are not running the company”?

I read “Google Employees Refuse to Be Complicit in Border Agency Cloud Contract.” The petition, the protests, and the rest of the adolescent antics are getting stale.

I learned:

In a petition circulated today inside Google and on Medium, a group of employees said immigration officials are “perpetrating a system of abuse and malign neglect” at the border. The employees point to the Trump administration’s family separation policy and the recent deaths of children in immigration officials’ custody. “These abuses are illegal under international human rights law, and immoral by any standard,” the petition reads. In the hours after it was released, hundreds of employees added their signatures to the petition.

Are the Googlers unaware of the AI institute in China? Are Googlers aware of the YouTubers who find themselves marginalized? Are Googlers fighting for small companies whose Google traffic disappears overnight? Are Googlers worrying about Android malware? Are Googlers concerned about their contributions to assisting a system which defines reality for grade school children?

There are quite a few problems at the GOOG. Approaching them the way a candidate for a high school student council seat is not likely to be effective.

Why not quit? Why not run for office and work for change? Why not get out of the hypocritical position of accepting a paycheck and demanding that a commercial enterprise change because you don’t like competing for government contracts.

Quick tip: Anduril is thrilled with your high school student campaign.

And a question for Google personnel: “When are you going to do quit your job and embrace the stand up comedy opportunity?” You can sell merch and turn down gigs at military bases too.

Stephen E Arnold, August 15, 2019

Has Google Outfoxed Its Anti Military Staff?

August 15, 2019

Last year, Google faced a strong employee backlash when it was revealed the company had been working with the Department of Defense on its AI drone program through the secretive Project Maven. Lest anyone thought the company’s supposed change of heart was genuine, it seems it has simply become more underhanded about it. The Intercept reports, “Google Continues Investments in Military and Police AI Technology Through Venture Capital Arm.” Writer Lee Fang reveals:

“Rather than directly engage in controversial contracts, Google is providing financial, technological, and engineering support to a range of startups through Gradient Ventures, a venture capital arm that Google launched in 2017 to nurture companies deploying AI in a range of fields. Google promises interested firms access to its own AI training data and sometimes places Google engineers within the companies as a resource. The firms it supports include companies that provide AI technology to military and law enforcement. …”

Evidence? There are emails:

“Google employees — who spoke anonymously, fearing reprisal — said the work embraced by Gradient Ventures startups appears to circumvent the commitment by their employer to carefully vet and disclose military and law enforcement applications of AI technology. The startups not only receive financial support from Google. Google employees shared internal company emails with The Intercept that stated that all firms backed by Gradient Ventures ‘will be able to access vast swaths of training data that Google has accumulated to train their own AI systems’ and ‘will have the opportunity to receive advanced AI trainings from Google.’”

These internal emails also reveal that senior Google engineers rotate into firms backed by Gradient Ventures. This includes CAPE Productions, which supplies drone-surveillance technology to U.S. law enforcement, and Cogniac, which does the same for both law enforcement and the military. See the article for more on each of these companies.

Naturally, Google tries to dismiss the arrangements as run-of-the mill investments with minimal involvement on their part. A company called Enduril may be one beneficiary of Google’s anti government actions, and the company is hiring.

Cynthia Murrell, August 15, 2019

Accusing the Google: A New Blood Sport?

August 14, 2019

Years ago Google provided a Web search system. People used the system because it provided more comprehensive results than AltaVista, Lycos, and similar systems. People accepted Google. There are online users who use no other mechanism for locating online information.

Google was mostly above criticism. Stakeholders were happy. Employees were happy. Search engine optimization experts were happy. The only people who were not happy were a small minority of online users.

Now, accusing Google, seems to be a new a cottage industry.

Sometime today (Wednesday,August 14, 2019), an anonymous Xoogler (the term for a former Google employee) will allegedly leak internal and presumably confidential documents. These documents will explain how objective algorithms allegedly have been adjusted to return non-objective search results. You can read this pre announcement of the alleged Google document dump at “”The Distortion Is Grotesque” – Google Insider Turns Over 950 Pages Documenting Bias To DoJ.”

SparkToro published “Less Than Half of Google Searches Now Result in a Click” contains allegedly accurate information which suggests that Google’s online advertising has a dark side. Here’s a statement which caught DarkCyber’s attention:

We’ve passed a milestone in Google’s evolution from search engine to walled-garden. In June of 2019, for the first time, a majority of all browser-based searches on Google.com resulted in zero-clicks.

If this assertion is accurate, Google is auctioning off the possibility that an ad will yield an interested buyer. There would be no purchase, but the likelihood is that a human would read an ad and then visit the advertiser’s landing page or Web site exists.

This article says that less than half of the Google ads produce a click. There’s a chart which makes the point clear:

image

The black solid color reports / shows that 50.33 percent of the data collected and compiled by Jumpshot illustrates ads which produce no clicks.

Sounds horrible, right? But advertisers are buying the possibility of a click, not a click. Advertisers don’t pay if there is no click.

Google, if these data are correct, is inefficient for advertisers. Google is also inefficient for users. Google is assumed to be efficient.

DarkCyber interprets these data in a different way:

  • Google is rife with inefficiency, at least in the ad click function
  • Advertisers may have one perception, and the user behavior illustrates a reality: Ads are not delivering what advertisers need them to deliver; namely, eyeballs
  • The erosion of relevance in results and ads combine to suggest that users may be faced with query results which are dissonant; that is, the expected results are supposed to be relevant but may not be and the ads displayed in the results list and around the results list are slightly off kilter. This evokes, at least in my research team’s experience, a statement like “Google is not returning results which match my query.”

Mobile presents another problem. Due to limited screen real estate and embedded ads presented as objective data, the results are difficult to see across a span of hits. A single hit is presented, and most users assume that the search result if the most relevant. DarkCyber has written about the Cuba Libre result before. Standing in front of the restaurant, Google did not display the restaurant on a Google Map. The former Gizmo editor for USA Today was in my group, and that individual pointed out the anomaly. The answer I offered was a question, “Do you think Google’s database is objective?” The tech reporter looked at me and asked, “What?”

So, it’s now early in the US Eastern time zone, 545 am to be exact. Will the Google document dump take place today? Will the Sparktoro data capture attention?

DarkCyber believes that most people are now conditioned by direct and indirect means to perceive Google as objective, essential, an information utility like a 24×7 old school public library reference desk librarian.

Changing user habits and perceptions is difficult. Talking about how search can work, should work, and does work is more difficult. And most difficult is the job of explaining to the goldfish that the school of chums are in something called “water” is most difficult.

Philosophy aside, these two “real news” stories are examples of a new blood sport: Slashing at the GOOG. A thousand cuts will kill. Isn’t that’s the assumption in this catchphrase.

Stephen E Arnold, August 14, 2019

Google and Russia: Maybe an Educational Joint Venture for AI?

August 12, 2019

DarkCyber noted Russia’s demand that Google not advertise on YouTube illegal events. The demand was reported by the real news outfit Thomson Reuters. You can read the story at this link. Russia experienced some protests over the weekend. Roscomnadzor, an information watchdog, concluded that YouTube was a vector for dissemination of information about the protests.

WWGD (What would Google do)?

Google does not want to lose traction in the Russian market. Yandex is an issue, and that service seems somewhat compliant.

What are the options?

Google could man up to Russia and refuse. Russia would then take steps to block access to YouTube. Even if those in Russia find a work around, traffic would probably decline. Reduced traffic means less revenue. Plus, irritating Russian regulators could have an impact of Google business, employees, and access to permits.

Google could roll over. Revenues would be preserved, but Google would face direct and indirect pressure to provide more data to Russian authorities. The compliant Google might find itself facing tough decision after tough decision as it tries to preserve revenue and deflect attempts to become a cat’s paw for Russian authorities.

Google could try to craft a China play. On the surface, Google could appear to play hardball. At the same time, the world’s largest search engine finds ways to wedge into a big market. In China, Google has played the education card. A China Google institute for artificial intelligence research has been funded, and it is publishing papers, doing research, and engaging in information sharing.

Which option will Google exercise in Russia?

DarkCyber is not much in the prediction business. But option 3 or “have your cake and it it too but in secret” may be a contender.

The problem for Google is that it operates like a country, and it is not too keen to have its power threatened. But Google does not have a leader like Mr. Putin, nor an army, nor a Roscomnadzor.

Worth watching because it may be difficult to block content that Russia decides is inappropriate. Russia would prefer to control YouTube content available in Russia directly. Google activity is likely to be undesirable. Will Google declare war on Russia, or will it channel Chamberlain?

Stephen E Arnold, August 12, 2019

Clever or Clumsy? Attempts to Achieve Lock In from Nervous Giants

August 9, 2019

The master of lock in is Amazon. (Lock in means that a company finds a way to ensure that a customer remains a customer. The term, as DarkCyber uses it, refers to the golden age of IBM. Remember that era?)

Apple and Google don’t have the Prime play. But both companies are trying, and their efforts are interesting. DarkCyber finds these “moves” amusing.

First, Apple is going to annoy customers of iPhones who try to get a battery replaced at a non Apple service location. Beta News explains this stroke of genius in “Apple Is Discouraging the Installation of Third Party Batteries by Displaying Battery Health Warnings.” The “you may get harmed” angle is fascinating. The write up states:

While it could be argued that Apple is concerned that iPhone users might install low quality batteries in their handsets, the more cynical response would be that the company is trying to scare people into buying more expensive batteries direct from Apple rather than a third party. This is not the first time Apple has been caught blocking or discouraging the use of third-party components; similar activity has been seen in relation to replacement screens and  home buttons.

With Apple stores becoming less and less friendly, now an iPhone customer has to deal with a click through annoyance and a message from the Apple chief parent. What’s the goal? Simple. Control, money, and interactions with the customer. Yes, some of the ingredients of lock in. Not an Amazon Prime grade play, but it is interesting and a bit sad for some black turtleneck wearers.

Second, the Google has an anti-Prime play. Amazon charges people to become a member of a virtual Costco. Google pays people to join. Here’s how this works if DarkCyber understands the implicit message in “Google Flights Will Offer Money-Back Price Guarantees.” Uber Gizmo states:

Google has announced that they will be introducing a money-back price guarantee feature to Google Flights. This means that you won’t need to worry about finding the best price as Google will refund you the difference. According to Google, “When we predict the price won’t decrease for select itineraries booked between August 13 and September 2, we’ll guarantee the price won’t drop, and we’ll refund you the difference if it does. We’ll monitor the price for you and if the price drops any time before departure, we’ll send you an email letting you know once your flight takes off–so there’s no work on your end.”

Our conclusion: Use our service, and the Google will provide you with an Amazon Prime type benefit for free. Is the benefit free? DarkCyber does not believe that any Google service is “free.” Google wants traffic, and it wants to provide a cash benefit for trusting Mother Google.

What do these two examples suggest?

  1. Prime envy is real
  2. Apple and Google are trying to generate what DarkCyber interprets as “millennial loyalty”
  3. The “plays” are not exactly subtle.

Net net: Apple and Google have adopted “marketing” tactics which call attention to a a subtle shift from a “power” position to a “threatened” position. Prime case examples, right?

Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2019

Google Maps and Blurry Areas

August 9, 2019

Google Maps is an increasingly difficult and frustrating interactive map providing ad delivery.

Google Maps has political and physical views, plus Street View is opaque, falling behind a good old paper map. Due to Google’s wiring of its services, Google Maps can still help people get where they are going, sometimes saving time but possibly creating traffic jams in farms. Google Maps has recorded a good portion of the planet, except some areas, like the Canadian wilderness and and North Korea. Lad Bible investigates, “Google Earth: The Mystery Behind The Areas They Don’t Want You To See.”

North Korea and Area 51 are not the only places you cannot view on Google Earth. Most of them are confidential areas that technically we are not supposed to know exist. They are blocked because governments tell Google to block them or else. When the US government tells you or else, it is usually a good idea to listen. For the other blocked areas, there are conspiracy theories as to why Google will not let them be seen.

Different parts of the world are blocked out like an area in Russia that was possibly a base for nuclear development or a Százhalombattaoil refinery in Hungary that requested to be blurred, but specifically in green. That last one is weird. The top of Kangtega mountain in Nepal is blacked out. Maybe the government wanted to hide a huge pit of dead mountain climbers, but given the amount of bodies piled up on Everest it remains doubtful. The Keowee Dam in South Caroline is pixelated, probably because it supplies hydroelectric power to Oconee Power Plant. Part of Valencia City in the Philippines, home to more than 180,000, is blurred too. Is it a national security reason? Maybe.

The Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands has the most legitimate conspiracy theory about being pixelated on Google Earth:

“There’s actually quite a convincing theory behind this one. The former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Ruud Lubbers, claimed that there are 22 US nuclear bombs at this site. They are stored in the bunkers of the air bases that feature there. This includes B61 thermonuclear bombs and a device said to be four times as powerful as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Mr Lubbers featured in a National Geographic documentary and said: “I would never have thought those silly things would still be there in 2013. I think they are an absolutely pointless part of a tradition in military thinking.’”

The most likely and reasonable explanations for these blurred sites are that they are tied to national security and nuclear weapons. One big questions: What is the mechanism between Google and “others” which works out what one can see on a Google Map. We understand the pizza joints. But the blurry areas suggests a higher level interaction. That mechanism is blurry too.

Whitney Grace, August 9, 2019

Google Pumps Cash into DeepMind: A Cost Black Hole Contains Sour Grapes

August 8, 2019

DarkCyber believes that some of the major London newspapers are not wearing happy face buttons when talking about Google. The reasons boil down to money. Google has it in truckloads courtesy of advertising. London newspapers don’t because advertisers love print less these days.

I read “DeepMind Losses Mount as Google Spends Heavily to Win AI Arms Race.” The write up is a good example of bad decisions the now ageing whiz kids are making. Sour grapes? More like sour grapes journalism.

Straight away smart software is going to migrate through many human performed activities. Getting software to work, not send deliveries to the wrong house, pick out the exact person of interest from a sea of faces, and make decisions which are slightly more reliable than the LIBOR folks delivered — this is the future.

The future is expensive unless one gets really lucky. Right, that’s like the “I’m feeling lucky” thing Google provides courtesy of advertisers’ spending.

Back to the bitter vintage write up: The London newspaper states:

Its annual accounts from Companies House show losses of more than £470m in 2018, up from £302m the year before, and its expenses rose from £334m to £568m. Of the £1.03bn due for repayment this year, £883m is owed to parent company Alphabet.

Okay, investments (losses). This is not news. What is news is the tiny hint that there may be some value in looking at the repayments issue? Well, why not look into the tax implications of such inside debts?

Another non news factoid: It costs money to hire people who can make AI work. What about the future of AI if a company does not have smart people? There are some case examples about this type of misstep in non Googley businesses. What are the differences? Similarities? How about a smidgen of research and analysis.

Recycling numbers without context is — to be frank — like a commercial database summarizing an article from a linguistics journal published a year ago. Great for some, but for most, nothing substantive or useful.

Poor Google. The company is investing in a city and country which has the distinction of newspapers which grouse incessantly about a company that’s been around 20 or so years.

Will Google deploy its technology to report the news? Perhaps that would make an interesting write up. Recycling public financial data with a couple of ounces of lousy whine is not satisfying to those in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky.

Stephen E Arnold, August 8, 2019

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