As Google Relies More on Its Smart Software, Smart Software Sells Protective Masks. Really?

March 19, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Senators Blast Google For Facemask Ads Amid Coronavirus, Demand FTC Action.” The senators are Mark Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

What agitated these luminaries? The write up reports:

…despite Google announcing a ban on ads for protective facemasks last week, their staff were easily able to find Google ads for facemasks over the past week.

Who blew the whistle on Google’s smart software and ad serving machine?

The write up reports:

The senators told the FTC, “our staffs were consistently served dozens of ads for protective masks and hand sanitizer,” often when browsing news stories about the coronavirus.

DarkCyber thought big contributors and lobbyists were best positioned to pass information to these stalwarts of democracy.

The write up further offers this factoid:

“These ads, from a range of different advertisers, were served by Google on websites for outlets such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, CNBC, The Irish Times, and myriad local broadcasting affiliates,” the senators told the FTC. Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy,” they added.

Perhaps the humans at Google agreed to stop these ads. However, the memo may not have been processed by the smart ad sales system. Latency happens.

Some humans with knowledge of the offending module appear to have implemented a fix. (DarkCyber thought that Google’s code was not easily modified. Objectivity, relevance, and maybe revenue.

We were not able to get Google to display surgical mask ads as of 0947 Eastern on March 18, 2020. Progress and evidence that Google can control some of what appears in search results pages. Contradiction? Nope, just great software, managers, and engineers.

Stephen E Arnold, March 19, 2020

The Google: Geofence Misdirection a Consequence of Good Enough Analytics?

March 18, 2020

What a surprise—the use of Google tracking data by police nearly led to a false arrest, we’re told in the NBC News article, “Google Tracked his Bike Ride Past a Burglarized Home. That Made him a Suspect.” Last January, programmer and recreational cyclist Zachary McCoy received an email from Google informing him, as it does, that the cops had demanded information from his account. He had one week to try to block the release in court, yet McCoy had no idea what prompted the warrant. Writer Jon Schuppe reports:

“There was one clue. In the notice from Google was a case number. McCoy searched for it on the Gainesville Police Department’s website, and found a one-page investigation report on the burglary of an elderly woman’s home 10 months earlier. The crime had occurred less than a mile from the home that McCoy … shared with two others. Now McCoy was even more panicked and confused.”

After hearing of his plight, McCoy’s parents sprang for an attorney:

“The lawyer, Caleb Kenyon, dug around and learned that the notice had been prompted by a ‘geofence warrant,’ a police surveillance tool that casts a virtual dragnet over crime scenes, sweeping up Google location data — drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular connections — from everyone nearby. The warrants, which have increased dramatically in the past two years, can help police find potential suspects when they have no leads. They also scoop up data from people who have nothing to do with the crime, often without their knowing ? which Google itself has described as ‘a significant incursion on privacy.’ Still confused ? and very worried ? McCoy examined his phone. An avid biker, he used an exercise-tracking app, RunKeeper, to record his rides.”

Aha! There was the source of the “suspicious” data—RunKeeper tapped into his Android phone’s location service and fed that information to Google. The records show that, on the day of the break-in, his exercise route had taken him past the victim’s house three times in an hour. Eventually, the lawyer was able to convince the police his client (still not unmasked by Google) was not the burglar. Perhaps ironically, it was RunKeeper data showing he had been biking past the victim’s house for months, not just proximate to the burglary, that removed suspicion.

Luck, and a good lawyer, were on McCoy’s side, but the larger civil rights issue looms large. Though such tracking data is anonymized until law enforcement finds something “suspicious,” this case illustrates how easy it can be to attract that attention. Do geofence warrants violate our protections against unreasonable searches? See the article for more discussion.

Cynthia Murrell, March 18, 2020

Click Money from Google: A Digital Dodo?

March 15, 2020

At the beginning of 2020, Google released its 2019 end of year financial report and some amazing surprises were revealed. ZDNet has the details in the article, “The Mysterious Disappearance Of Google’s Click Metric.” For the first time since acquiring YouTube, Google shared revenue for YouTube and its cloud IT business, but they removed information about how much money the company made from clicks or the Cost-per-Click (CPC) plus its growth.

What does this mean for Google? It is even more confusing that the Wall Street analysts did not question the lack of information. The truth is something that Google might not want to admit, but the key to their revenue is dying and they are not happy.

“Google has a rapidly deflating advertising product, sometimes 29% less revenue per click, every quarter, year-on-year, year after year…. Every three months Google has to find faster ways of expanding the total number of paid clicks by as much as 66%. How is this a sustainable business model?  There is an upper limit to how much more expansion in paid links can be found especially with the shift to mobile platforms and the constraints of the display. And what does this say about the effectiveness of Google’s ads? They aren’t very good and their value is declining at an astounding and unstoppable pace.”

Google might start placing more ads on its search results and other services. It sounds like, however, Google will place more ineffective ads in more places. Google’s ads have eroded efficiency for years, plus there is the question of whether more bots, less humans are clicking these ads. Clicks do not create brands and most people ignore ads. Don’t you love ads?

Whitney Grace, March 15, 2015

Google and Amazon: Two Dominant Dogs Snap and Snarl at One Another

March 13, 2020

DarkCyber read “How Google Kneecapped Amazon’s Smart TV Efforts.” The uptake on criminal lingo continues. For those not hip to the argot of some technology savvy professionals, the Urban Dictionary defines the concept this way:

The act of permanently destroying someone’s kneecaps. Often done with a firearm (as popularized in film and television), a baseball bat or lead pipe or other blunt instrument, or a power drill (often used in conjunction with a countersunk drill bit and popular with the IRA).

Yes, the elegance of business competition requires these metaphors it seems. DarkCyber thinks the article is “about” the collision of cleverness and rapaciousness. But enough of our philosophical wanderings. What did Google do to Amazon, assuming online services have joints which keep bone and joint doctors busy?

The write up states:

Any company that licenses Google’s Android TV operating system for some of its smart TVs or even uses Android as a mobile operating system has to agree to terms that prevent it from also building devices using forked versions of Android like Amazon’s Fire TV operating system, according to multiple sources. If a company were to break those terms, it could lose access to the Play Store and Google’s apps for all of its devices.

Ah, ha! The kneecapping is not physical; those making devices sign a contract.

Plus, there’s another Googley twist of the 6 mm drill bit, a metaphor for kneecapping explained above:

At the center of Google’s efforts to block Amazon’s smart TV ambitions is the Android Compatibility Commitment — a confidential set of policies formerly known as the Anti-Fragmentation Agreement — that manufacturers of Android devices have to agree to in order to get access to Google’s Play Store. Google has been developing Android as an open-source operating system, while at the same time keeping much tighter control of what device manufacturers can do if they want access to the Play Store as well as the company’s suite of apps. For Android TV, Google’s apps include a highly customized launcher, or home screen, optimized for big-screen environments, as well as a TV version of its Play Store. Google policies are meant to set a baseline for compatible Android devices and guarantee that apps developed for one Android device also work on another. The company also gives developers some latitude, allowing them to build their own versions of Android based on the operating system’s open source code, as long as they follow Google’s compatibility requirements.

Interesting.

How will the issue be resolved? Legal eagles will flap and squawk. Customers can vote with their purchases. But TVs cost very little because “advertising” and data are often useful sources of revenue. Regulators can regulate, just as they have since Google and Amazon discovered the benefits of their interesting business activities.

Regardless of the outcome between the assailant and the victim, the article reveals some of the more charming facets of two “must have” businesses. How can a person advance his or her understanding of the kneecapping allegation.

DarkCyber will run a Google query for business ethics and purchase a copy of Business Ethics: Best Practices for Designing and Managing Ethical Organizations from Amazon. You have to find your own way through the labyrinths of the underworld, you gangster, no mercy, no malice, as the pundit, scholar, entrepreneur, and media phenomenon Scott Gallaway has said.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2020

Google Creates a Podcast about Marketing

March 13, 2020

Just a quick note. Google now outputs “Think with Google Podcast.” You can listen to show #2 at this link. the subject is “Captivating Creative.” Not much in terms of technical information, but the Mad Ave types may go ga-ga with the breezy style and fluffy content. One amusing aspect of the show is that Google wants to know more about you. Listeners are enjoined to take a survey about the show. The appeal takes place before the show. Imagine. Google wants to know more about you. What a surprise. Now how about a search engine for podcasts? Oh, right. Google has one. It’s super too.

Stephen E Arnold, March 13, 2020

Oracle: A Gentle, Dulcet Reminder of What It Takes to Survive in the Digital Jungle

March 12, 2020

Before It Sued Google for Copying from Java, Oracle Got Rich Copying IBM’s SQL” is a deerskin moccasin stroll through a dark, dangerous thicket. A company with a penchant for oatmeal container architecture and renaming roadways should serve as a flashing yellow light.

The write up uses phrases like those favored by DarkCyber; for example:

Oracle’s history highlights a possible downside to its stance on API copyrights.

Yeah, but history is a consequence of bright individuals who seize on a particular molecule from the event stream. History does not highlight anything. Humans like lawyers, analysts, and writers do. The “possible downside” is a hedge against a former Marine who can be — ah, what is the word, — “frisky”.

The write-up says:

Oracle got its start in the 1970s selling a database product based on the then-new structured query language (SQL). SQL was invented by IBM. And Oracle doesn’t seem to have gotten a license to use it.

Yikes. What’s this mean? DarkCyber turns to the article for guidance:

Oracle got its start copying IBM’s software interface.

Yes, that’s clear.

Plus, there’s a molecule from the event stream; specifically:

Around 1977, Larry Ellison and his co-founders spotted an opportunity. They had recently started a software consulting company called Software Development Laboratories, but they wanted to transition to selling a software product. Ellison realized there was enough detail in IBM’s white papers to clone IBM’s database technology. He also realized that it would provide a credibility boost if he could say that their new Oracle database was fully compatible with IBM’s SQL standard. According to one of SQL’s designers, Donald Chamberlin, Ellison was so determined to achieve compatibility with IBM’s technology that he called Chamberlin in 1978 seeking more details about IBM’s implementation of SQL.

The digital equivalent of the two largest blocks in the former Soviet union sat down to talk turkey about Java. Oracle “owned” it; Google had some Sun Microsystems’ employees who had a bit of experience with the “write once, run anywhere” methods.

The write up states:

Google claims that “negotiations broke down over issues unrelated to money.” Google says Sun sought more control over the evolution of the Android platform than Google was willing to offer. So Google decided to build its own version of Java without a license from Sun.

The river flowed, and the rushing waters are behaving with the oddball physics of fluid dynamics. Oracle was thrashed; Google was cyclonic.

The roaring river of legal fees has reached the Supreme Court. Will the legal dam of the copyright crowd hold, or will the “let the digital water flow” of the Google crowd prevail?

The write up creeps quietly away, offering this statement:

…fair use is a notoriously complex and subjective legal standard. Any company wanting to make its software interoperable with a competitor’s product would have to worry that the competitor could sue, arguing that this use wasn’t as fair as Google’s use of Java. Most software companies don’t have Google’s legal resources or staying power, so the prospect of a lawsuit—even one they’re likely to win—could be a major deterrent to building interoperable software.

The shadow of no or reduced interoperability falls. On the other hand, consultants, integrators, resellers, and innovators see a new dawn rising.

Go with history. The sun comes up every day, at least so far.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2020

Google Stadia: Google Wood or Just Recycled Cardboard?

March 12, 2020

DarkCyber does not play games. Sure, there are some young-at-heart DarkCyber games, but I ignore them. One of these hard-working individuals spotted “Google Stadia Hits an All-Time Low With This Embarrassing Tweet.” I am not much of a tweeter.

Apparently someone at Google does read tweets and noted one that contained this high school cheer / acrostic thing:

image

Note that there is no game for I.

A Googler replied, with a tweet, of course: “Why would you bring attention to this?”

I assume the answer is one of these choices:

a. It’s millennial or Gen X, Y, or Z humor

b. Stadia is not performing

c. Someone actually cares about Stadia to try to spell a word using the first letter of games on the service

d. There is a game on Stadia which uses the “what’s up” emoji instead of words.

The write up states:

Clearly, whoever is in charge of the Google Stadia Twitter account has stopped caring. It’s probably for the best since everyone else stopped caring about it months ago.

Google Stadia seemed doomed from the start, and things haven’t gotten much better. It lacks games, has a terrible monetization system, and generally isn’t all that convenient. It even pales in comparison to other similar systems like GeForce Now and Project xCloud. If the state of their social media is anything to go by, Google is already well on its way to just checking out and letting the system die. It’s hard to blame them. So far, Google Stadia seems like it was just a horrible idea.

DarkCyber has little insight to how things work at Google. I would surmise that whoever worked on Stadia has made an effort to catch on with a hot project team. No, not solving Death. Solving Stadia, however, may be a comparable challenge.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2020

WhatsApp: Indexed by Google

March 11, 2020

The Orissa Post reports, “Google Indexes Private WhatsApp Group Chat Links.” As a result of the search indexing, assorted private chat groups were summarily forced open for anyone to join. Writer Ians reports,

“According to a report in Motherboard, invitations to WhatsApp group chats were being indexed by Google. The team found private groups using specific Google searches and even joined a group intended for NGOs accredited by the UN and had access to all the participants and their phone numbers. Journalist Jordan Wildon said on Twitter that he discovered that WhatsApp’s ‘Invite to Group Link’ feature lets Google index groups, making them available across the internet since the links are being shared outside of WhatsApp’s secure private messaging service. ‘Your WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are,’ Wildon tweeted Friday, adding that using particular Google searches, people can discover links to the chats. According to app reverse-engineer Jane Wong, Google has around 470,000 results for a simple search of ‘chat.whatsapp.com’, part of the URL that makes up invites to WhatsApp groups.”

A spokesperson for WhatsApp confirmed that publicly posted invite links would be available to other WhatsApp users, and insists folks should not have to worry their private invites may be made public in this way. On the other hand, Google’s public search liaison seemed to place the blame squarely on WhatsApp. He tweets:

“Search engines like Google & others list pages from the open web. That’s what’s happening here. It’s no different than any case where a site allows URLs to be publicly listed. We do offer tools allowing sites to block content being listed in our results.”

Perhaps both companies could have handled this issue with more consideration. We wonder whether WhatsApp has since taken advantage of those content-blocking tools.

Cynthia Murrell, March 11, 2020

Factoids about the Cloud Battles

March 10, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Stress Test the Cloud: Alibaba Cloud, AWS, Azure, GCP.” The write up presents “factoids” and observations based on these factoids in a helpful way. Here are the points which captured DarkCyber’s attention:

The cloud will be the way of the future in computing. The meltdown of Robinhood’s trading platform was pegged on stress. When a cloud system is stressed, it may and will fail.

Amazon Web Services
  • “Amazon’s e-commerce business is the market leader in the U.S., Europe, and close to number 1 in India”
  • “AWS is very much battle-tested and constantly “stressed out” by its parent company’s core e-commerce operation. It has moved all of its businesses onto AWS, and off of other systems like Oracle, after a multi-year effort.”
  • Amazon’s businesses are generally not prone to unexpected spikes in traffic, which happens more to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Weibo.”

Amazon’s system may not be optimal for surprise spikes.

Alibaba Cloud
  • “Alibaba’s core e-commerce business has many similarities to Amazon’s…”
  • “This accomplishment is well-deserved; Alibaba has basically created and survived the mother of all stress tests.” The reference is to the large volume of sales on Singles Day.
  • “Alibaba Cloud’s technical and operational expertise can certainly be applied in regions outside of China, but only until there’s customer demand and the data centers to serve it.”

Alibaba dumped American vendors as part of its journey.

Google Cloud
  • “Google has arguably the only, truly global infrastructure, because its services and users are global.”
  • “Google‘s services cannot anticipate traffic spikes, unlike a planned shopping holiday, and must be ready wherever, whenever it happens.”
  • “Google’s products do not naturally lead to processing many complex transactions, like online shopping orders, offline delivery, or payments.”

Google can accommodate stress, but it’s not so good in Amazon-style transaction complexity.

Microsoft Azure
  • “None of these [Microsoft] businesses have to be “always on”, in the same way that an e-commerce marketplace or a search engine needs to be on.”
  • “Azure is still doing amazingly well from a revenue and market share standpoint. This success has more to do with Microsoft’s years of experience in selling products into large enterprises and aggressively moving users of its non-cloud license-based products onto the same products that are now on-cloud and subscription-based. Microsoft is very good at being “enterprise ready”, but not that good at being “Internet ready”.”
  • “It [Microsoft]  has by far the most number of Single-AZ Regions, which has led to outages and issues that could’ve been avoided with a multi-AZ design. Multi-AZ Region is the default in AWS, GCP, and most of Alibaba Cloud.”

Microsoft is good at sales, not so good at the cloud.

Net Net

Alibaba is darned good. At any time the company can push into other markets and create some pain for the American companies it seems.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2020

SEO Alert: A New Way to Rank Number One on a Google Search Results Output?

March 8, 2020

The search engine optimization crowd may find “Spanish Court: Google Search Must Show Man’s Acquittal First” useful. Those who wonder about Google’s ability to structure search results to put certain citations in a specific place in the results list will find the article suggestive.

The story concerns an individual’s effort to return search results from a Google query that accurately reflected legal facts. I don’t want to go down the rat hole of “legal facts,” “accurately,” or bias in search engines.

I circled this statement in the article:

A [Spanish] National Court decision Friday said that freedom of expression took precedence over personal data protection in this case. However, given the case’s special circumstances, the person’s acquittal must appear in first place in internet searches, it ruled.

Will Google comply? Will the Spanish court be satisfied? Will the person acquitted of a criminal charge become a happy camper?

Several observations:

  1. The Spanish court does not know or does not care that Google’s search results are objective, determined by a black box algorithm. If manipulated results are displayed, does that question Google’s objectivity?
  2. If Google can tweak court results to conform, will search engine optimization experts have a new path to influence search results?
  3. Does the Google system have other search results which create that a fact like an acquittal is effectively buried, thus distorting reality?

DarkCyber does not have answers to these questions. Could this Spanish court order create another crack in the online ad giant’s objective algorithmic system?

Worth monitoring the outcome.

Stephen E Arnold, March 8, 2020

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