Tweet Insight: Half Right

January 23, 2020

DarkCyber spotted a Tweet about Google search results. You can find the information at this link. The insight is that:

There’s something strange about the recent design change to google search results, favicons and extra header text: they all look like ads, which is perhaps the point?

What if every search result is an ad, an ad driver, or an ad component?

The idea is that the results are shaped to generate revenue, not information.

Stephen E Arnold, January 23, 2020

Google: Cake, Ice Cream, and Presents. Outsiders Not Really Wanted

January 21, 2020

Sundar Pichai is generating some PR buzz. The topic is, on the surface, regulating artificial intelligence. News flash: Barn burned, horses gone, and a new data center has been constructed on the site. Google’s been doing the smart software thing for decades. The evidence is publicly available. Just read Google’s patent applications. There are smart “janitors.” There are intelligent advertising dashboards. There are the hundreds of “signals” processed to make sure that search results are just wonderfully useful. To whom? Well, to Google and maybe advertisers.

The write up “Google Boss Sundar Pichai Calls for AI Regulation” provides an interesting take on Google’s PR play. DarkCyber noted this statement in the Beeb’s article:

Writing in the Financial Times, Sundar Pichai said it was “too important not to” impose regulation but argued for “a sensible approach”. He said that individual areas of AI development, like self-driving cars and health tech, required tailored rules.

None of the examples provided in the first paragraph to this blog post are mentioned.


Google wants to have its cake, ice cream, and presents. The existing smart software is just fine. The future stuff which Google and others have not been able to convert to an online ad scale cash stream can be regulated. Autonomous weapons? Maybe?

The Beeb states:

Google launched its own independent ethics board in 2019, but shut it down less than two weeks later following controversy about who had been appointed to it.

Yeah, regulation. The Google way.

Stephen E Arnold, January 21, 2020

Google Allegedly Ostracized

January 18, 2020

I worked in the San Francisco area once affectionately known as Plastic Fantastic. My recollection is that most of the people with whom I worked and socialized were flexible. There was the occassional throwback who longed for the rigidity of the Midwestern farm life. But overall, chill was the word. The outfit who paid me to do whatever it was they thought I was my skill was an easy going money machine. Most of the high technology outfits were just starting to get a sense of the power and impact afforded those who were comfortable with online technologies, nifty must have gadgets, and a realization that members of the high school science club could call the shots.

Imagine my surprise when I read the allegedly accurate “San Francisco Pride Members Pass Resolution to Ban Google, YouTube from Future Parades.” The write up states:

Members of the LGBTQ+ organization say they passed an amendment to ban Google, YouTube and Alphabet, as well as the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, from future celebrations after a vote at their monthly membership meeting Wednesday night. In a statement released to SFGATE on Thursday, SF Pride members and former Google engineers Laurence Berland and Tyler Breisacher said they are now urging the board of directors to formally approve the motion at their upcoming meeting on Feb. 5.

Remarkable if true. The Google HR and marketing departments will have to step up their efforts. Recruitment may become more difficult. The PR vibes are doing the Hopf fibration thing. (This is a nice way of saying, “Difficult to understand.”)

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2020

The New Doing Gooder Google

January 17, 2020

Google’s cheerleading unit likes to remind us, amid the constant criticisms, that the company makes some positive contributions to society. For example, it seems their AI has gotten good at detecting cancer. We learn from AndoridCentral that “Google’s AI Is Better at Detecting Cancer than Doctors, Says Study.” About the same research, Ausdroid reports, “Google Publish their Impressive Breast Cancer Screening Using AI Results.” The capabilities are courtesy of technology developed by Google acquisition DeepMind. The study was performed by Google Health in conjunction with Cancer Research UK Imperial Centre, Northwestern University, and Royal Surrey County Hospital. Researchers used deep-learning tools to create AI detection models and applied them to almost 30,000 patients for whom results were already known. Muhammad Jarir Kanji of AndroidCentral writes:

“The system was trained using a large dataset of mammograms from women in the two countries. Even more telling than its better accuracy than doctors was the fact that it did so with far less information than the radiologists it was competing with, who also had access to the patients’ medical history and previous mammograms in their deliberations. … While the paper noted that ‘AI may be uniquely poised to help with’ the challenge of detecting breast cancer, Darzi said the system was not yet at a stage where it could replace a human reader.”

Emphasis on “yet.” Meanwhile, Ausdroid’s Scott Plowman emphasizes:

“The data sets were also NOT used to train the AI system and thus we totally unknown to the system.

Comparing the positive results from the AI to those patients who ended up having biopsy-confirmed breast cancer the AI demonstrated a ‘statistically significant’ improvement in ‘absolute specificity’ of 1.2% (UK – double read), and 5.7% (USA – single read) and an improvement in absolute sensitivity of 2.7% (UK) and 9.4% (USA). For reference, sensitivity is the ability to correctly identify lesions and specificity is how accurate it is at identifying those without lesions. This means that it has a reduction in both false positives and false negatives.”

If Google’s PR team spins more stories like this one, they just might be able to burnish the company’s reputation.

Cynthia Murrell, January 08, 2020

An Interesting Hypothesis about Google Indexing

January 15, 2020

We noted “Google’s Crawl-Less Index.” The main idea is that something has changed in how Google indexes. We circled in yellow this statement from the article:

[Google’ can do this now because they have a popular web browser, so they can retire their old method of discovering links and let the users do their crawling.

The statement needs context.

The speculation is that Google indexes a Web page only when a user visits a page. Google notes the behavior and indexes the page.

What’s happening, DarkCyber concludes, is that Google no longer brute force crawls the public Web. Indexing takes place when a signal (a human navigating to a page) is received. Then the page is indexed.

Is this user-behavior centric indexing a reality?

DarkCyber has noted these characteristics of Google’s indexing in the last year:

  1. Certain sites are in the Google indexes but are either not updated or updated selectively; for example, the Railway Pension Retiriement Board, MARAD, and similar sites
  2. Large sites like the Auto Channel no longer have backfiles indexed and findable unless the user resorts to Google’s advanced search syntax. Then the results display less speedily than more current content probably due to the Google caches not having infrequently accessed content in a cache close to that user
  3. Current content for many specialist sites is not available when it is published. This is a characteristic of commercial sites with unusual domains like dot co and for some blogs.

What’s going on? DarkCyber believes that Google is trying to reduce the increasing and very difficult to control costs associated with indexing new content, indexing updated content (the deltas), and indexing the complicated content which Web sites generate in chasing the dream of becoming number one for a Google query.

Search efficiency, as we have documented in our write ups, books, and columns about Google, boils down to:

  1. Maximizing advertising value. That’s one reason why query expansion is used. Results match more ads and, thus, the advertiser’s ads get broader exposure.
  2. Getting away from the old school approach of indexing the billions of Web pages. 90 percent of these Web pages get zero traffic; therefore, index only what’s actually wanted by users. Today’s Google is not focused on library science, relevance, precision, and recall.
  3. Cutting costs. Cost control at the Google is very, very difficult. The crazy moonshots, the free form approach to management, the need for legions of lawyers and contract workers, the fines, the technical debt of a 20 year old company, the salaries, and the extras—each of these has to be controlled. The job is difficult.

Net net: Even wonder why finding specific information is getting more difficult via Google? Money.

PS: Finding timely, accurate information and obtaining historical content are more difficult, in DarkCyber’s experience, than at any time since we sold our ThePoint service to Lycos in the mid 1990s.

Stephen E Arnold, January 15, 2020

MIT and Ethics for the 21st Century: A New Spin on Academia, Ethics, and Technology

January 13, 2020

Yes, a new spin. There is nothing like spin, particularly when an august institution has accepted money from an interesting person. Who is this fascinating individual?

Jeffrey Epstein, alleged procurer, human trafficker, and hobnobber with really great and wonderful people.

I read, with some disgust, “Eight Revelations from MIT’s Jeffrey Epstein Report,” which was conveniently published in Technology Review, an organ of truth and insight affiliated with MIT. For context, I had just completed “Alphabet’s Top Lawyer to Retire after Google Founders Leave,” which appeared in the Bloomberg news-iverse. You remember Bloomberg, the outfit which reported with some nifty assertions that motherboard spying was afoot.

But to MIT and Epstein, then a comment about the sterling outfit Google.

MIT’s write up explained that MIT was prudent. Instead of accepting $10 million from the interesting and now allegedly deceased Mr. Epstein, the university accepted a mere $800,000. Such restraint. And that’s the subtitle for the write up!

What are the eight teachings derived from the fraternization, support, and joy of accepting the interesting Mr. Epstein? Here you go, gentle reader:

  1. The relationship for money extended over 15 years. Such tenacity.
  2. The hook up with Mr. Epstein were happenstance. Maybe MIT was seduced?
  3. The $10 million didn’t happen, but the donations had to be anonymous. Such judgment.
  4. It was the MIT Corporation, not the real school.
  5. Mr. Epstein prevaricated about his donations. Quite a surprise, of course. Lies, deception, manipulation, etc. etc.
  6. Mr. Epstein attended real MIT events, like the funeral for “AI pioneer Marvin Minsky.” An icon, of course.
  7. No big wheels like Bill Gates were involved in directing Mr. Epstein’s money. Perhaps a bit of color on this point would be helpful.
  8. A real MIT professional asserted that Mr. Epstein was a person whom MIT “should treat with respect.”

And the write up concludes, “The Media Lab [a unit of MIT] rejected $25,000, Mr. Epstein tried to donate in 2019. Another example of judgment.

To sum up, quite a write up about an institution which I assume offers a course in ethics. Well, maybe not. Full disclosure: I was quote in the MIT Technology Review late in 2019. I was not thrilled with that association with an outfit will to treat Mr. Epstein with respect.

Now to the Google. The world’s largest online advertising agency seems to be channeling the antics of Madison Avenue in the 1950s. In this episode of the Science Club Explores Biological Impulses”, I learned:

David Drummond, the legal chief of Google parent Alphabet Inc. and a company veteran, stepped down following questions about his conduct at the technology giant.

The conduct may have involved another Googler. What do two Googlers create? Why another Googler it seems. Who knew that Madison Avenue extended from New York City to Mountain View, California.

Net net: Two outfits with people who should have known about propriety demonstrated poor judgment. Look for slightly used ethical compasses on eBay. Lightly used but likely to manifest flawed outputs.

I would suggest that certain non technical behaviors qualify as grounds for viewing MIT and Google as very poorly managed institutions staffed by individuals who operate from a position above the “madding crowd.”

Stephen E Arnold, January 13, 2020

Looking at Some Research Made Public by Google

January 10, 2020

The today Google is different from the yesterday Google. When I began work on the Google Legacy in 2002, I was able to locate Google presentations in PowerPoint form, Google papers posted on Google sub sites, and from Googlers who staffed booths at trade shows. Often these individuals would email me links to public information stored on obscure online urls.

Today figuring out where often obscure Google information is located is very difficult. Google is not so much secretive and really disorganized. Now that’s saying something because the early days of Google were comparable to predicting which way a squirrel would jump when a driver honked at a critter sitting in the road.

You can access some Google documents, often for a limited period of time, in the Google Research publication database. Today version of the service looks like this:


The service has about 6,000 papers posted. Some of these are full text; others are bibliographic citations. Some papers disappear.

In its present form, one can get some insight into what Google wants to expose to the public. Thus, the listing has a bit of marketing and PR spin to it. If you want to know about Alon Halevy’s Transformics technology, this collection is not for you. Ramanathan Guha has a single citation.

The good news is that the service is online. As you use the resource as a complement to other research, the limitations of the service become visible.

What’s Google philosophy of research? The Web site contains a link to the Google research philosophy. There you go. And I did not spot any advertising on the pages I examined…yet.

Stephen E Arnold, January 10, 2020

YouTube: Adulting Continues

January 9, 2020

YouTube is taking a step designed to protect children on its platform, despite concerns that the move may decrease revenue for the creators of children’s content. CBS News shares their six minute Privacy Watch segment, “YouTube to Limit Kids Video Data Collection.” Specifically, the platform will no longer attach personalized advertising to children’s content. The video description states:

“YouTube will be limiting the amount of data it collects on children. Going forward, videos made for children won’t have personalized ads. Creators are concerned this could result in less revenue, and ultimately less content for children. CNET senior producer Dan Patterson joins CBSN to discuss the development.”

The segment begins by explains what personalized ads are, then covers who pushed for this change: privacy and security experts, regulators, and even YouTube’s parent company. As we are reminded, Google was sued last year over the issue of children’s privacy on that platform. Now, in fact, the company is trying to assert the platform is not for children under age 13 at all. That declaration rings hollow, though. As the Privacy Watch host notes, kids “live on YouTube, they consume videos for hours at a time. It’s basically their Netflix.” Just try to rebottle that genie.

The interview also discusses the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, the speed at which laws get outdated, and the sophistication of today’s ad technology. We also learn that generalized ads will still be included in children’s content, but those creating that content worry that will not be enough to maintain their revenue streams. Perhaps, but let us ask this—if the platform is no longer intended for those under 13, shouldn’t many of those operations be shuttering or shifting to another platform, anyway?

Cynthia Murrell, January 9, 2020

Google Wants to Help. Really Help

January 8, 2020

We noted “Google Assistant Now Lets You Torment Roommates with Household Notes.” The evil thing and all the world’s information are long gone. But the write up reminded the DarkCyber team of what Google is now embracing digital notes. These are reminders or what some Okay, boomers call nags. The write up states in prose which we have edited to make semi tasteful:

You’ll feel a little prouder when you pretentiously remind your roommate they [failed at a task] because you no longer have to waste paper on post-it notes to teach your fellow basement dwellers proper manners.

Which is more impressive? Google Assistant with a notes (nag) function or the write up by an aspiring Hemingway type?

Stephen E Arnold, January 8, 2020

Google and Open Innovation: A Tiny Ripple, the Flap of a Butterfly Wing?

January 7, 2020

The US government is rethinking its approach to commercial artificial intelligence or to application programming interfaces nature. “The Case for Open Innovation” is interesting.

The write up, allegedly written by a senior vice president and legal eagle at Google, states:

Software programs work better when they work together. Open software interfaces let smartphone apps and other services connect across devices and operating systems. And interoperability—the ability of different software systems to exchange information—lets people mix and match great features, and helps developers create new products that work across platforms. The result? Consumers get more choices for how they use software tools; developers and startups can challenge bigger incumbents; and businesses can move data from one platform to another without missing a beat. This kind of open and collaborative innovation, from scientific peer-reviewed papers to open-source software, has been key to America’s achievements in science and technology.

The Googler emphasizes that Google is fighting Oracle’s claim that the online ad company improperly used Oracle’s intellectual property.

The write up claims:

That’s why today we filed our opening Supreme Court brief in Oracle’s lawsuit against us. We’re asking the Court to reaffirm the importance of the software interoperability that has allowed millions of developers to write millions of applications that work on billions of devices.

After reading this, I jotted down factors which have facilitated information exchange:

  • Technical experts from other countries working for US companies in the US
  • Desire to reduce costs
  • Need to piggyback to avoid reinventing the wheel
  • Presence of staff who worked on a technology when it was developed at a different company
  • Importance of an acquiring firm to maximize the financial return of its purchase of a company and technology; for example, Sun Microsystems and Java.

Also, the ideas of openness and interoperability are interesting, particularly when articulated by commercial firms eager to establish revenue, user, and customer locks. The context of the actions taken by the US government to address export of smart software may be sucked into this particular legal dispute. Export controls seem to be different from the intent of open innovation.

The timing is important. In this particular case of Google versus Oracle, timing play a significant role. The court’s decision or non decision might unsettle today’s context of commerce and politics.

Stephen E Arnold, January 7, 2020

Next Page »

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta