The Google Virtual Private Network Is Sufficiently Unprivate So Google Can Show You Ads

October 20, 2022

Ads are as American as apple pie for Internet users. Ads allow companies and smaller businesses to make a profit from their products and services. Usually, ad revenues help keep products and services free. Large tech companies, like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, have other income streams than ads, so ad blockers are not harming their bottom lines. Google, however, is counting every red cent, because they are pulling the plug on VPN ad blockers says Blokada: “Google Cracks Down On VPN Based Adblockers.”

Under the guise of improving performance and security, Google has revamped its developer policy for the Play Store. The changes go into effect throughout the remainder of 2022. Changes to VPN ad blockers take effect in November 2022:

“One of the main policy changes concerns the VPN Service which will take effect on November 1, 2022: Google claims to be cracking down on apps that are using the VPN service to track user data or rerouting user traffic to earn money through ads. However, these policy changes also apply to apps that use the service to filter traffic locally on the device. Apps such as Blokada v5 and Duck Duck Go. Specifically the policy does not allow for ‘Manipulating ads that can impact apps monetization’.”

Blokada is a popular ad blocked for mobile and VPN services. The new Google Play Store policy sounds like it would hurt Blokada users, but its developers found a way to circumvent it. Blokada no longer requires a local VPN, instead, it uses cloud filtering. The advantage to cloud filtering, other than not violating Google policy, is it does not affect network speed, device speed, or battery life.

Other VPN users will be viewing ads, lots of ads, if they do not find their own Play Store policy loophole. Google will probably find a way to prevent these loopholes because innovative Google has improved the GoTo, Overture, and Yahoo systems, of course.

Whitney Grace, October 20, 2022

Why Is Google on the Hot Seat in India? Does the Indian Government Understand Being Googley?

October 19, 2022

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is piling up allegations against Google faster than they can be resolved. The Indian Express reports, “CCI Orders Another Probe Against Google.” At issue is the company’s allegedly self-serving terms for news organizations. Gee, what do India’s regulators sense that US regulators seem to overlook? (And Europe‘s, for that matter.) We learn:

“The News Broadcasters & Digital Association had alleged that its members are forced to provide their news content to Google in order to prioritize their weblinks in the Search Engine Result Page (SERP) of Google. As a result, Google free rides on the content of the members without giving them adequate compensation, as per the complaint. Among others, it was alleged that Google exploited the dependency of the members on the search engine offered by Google for referral-traffic to build services such as Google News, Google Discover and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). The search engine major provides news content to user through Google Search and through news aggregator vertical, Google News. According to the complaint, in Google Search, users can either search directly for news through News Tab or receive news through result in SERPs. Google incorporated news content in its SERPs through featured snippets including ‘Top Stories’ carousels. However, the revenue distributed by Google to news publishers doesn’t compensate for the real contribution made by the association’s members to these platforms, it added.”

The latest probe is being consolidated with two similar ones already in progress. Those claimants are the Digital News Publishers Association and the Indian Newspaper Society. How many more plaintiffs will join the fray before the combined investigation concludes? More importantly, will any penalties be imposed that can even scratch the tech powerhouse?

Cynthia Murrell, October 19, 2022

Google: Clever Cost Cutting

October 18, 2022

Most web searchers do not make it past the first page or two of Google results. But even if one has the patience to go all the way to the end, it seems one can only see a fraction of the results promised at the top of each page. According to a blog post from web scraper SerpApi, “Google’s ‘Millions of Search Results’ Are Not Being Served in the Later Pages Search Results.” Writer Justin O’Hara reports:

“A misconception regarding Google’s search results is that all of the results are being served to the user conducting that particular search. Those 2 billion search results can’t be gotten through Google’s pagination, and it seems that this number is somewhat arbitrary to the search, or commonality of the keyword. I rarely go past the 2nd or 3rd page of Google’s search results for any kind of query anymore, but these rankings of results are big business with Search Engine Optimization. I wanted to do a little case study on the actual amount of searches that get served to users for a couple different searches.”

O’Hara experimented by searching for his company’s name and could see only 146 results out of the 166,000 Google said it found. Repeating the search with omitted results included, as Google offers, garnered only 369 results. But why? Cost cutting? Or perhaps information shaping? We may never know. Not surprisingly, O’Hara emphasizes SerpApi’s Google Search API can scrape the results Google itself does not deign to pass on to users.

Cynthia Murrell, October 18, 2022

Google: Business Intelligence, Its Next Ad Business

October 11, 2022

Google has been a busy beaver. One example popped out of a ho hum write up about Google management’s approach to freebies. The write up “Google’s CEO Faced Intense Pushback from Employees at a Town Hall. His 2-Sentence Response was Smart Leadership” contains a rather startling point, if the article is accurate. Here’s the passage which is presumably a direct quote from Sundar Pichai, the top Googler:

Look, I hope all of you are reading the news, externally. The fact that you know, we are being a bit more responsible through one of the toughest macroeconomic conditions underway in the past decade, I think it’s important that as a company, we pull together to get through moments like this.

Did you see the crazy admission: “being a bit more responsible”. Doesn’t this mean that the company has been irresponsible prior to this announcement. I find that amusing: More responsible. Does responsibility extend beyond Foosball and into transparency about alleged online ad fraud or the handling of personnel matters such as the Dr. Timnit Gebru example?

But to the business at hand: Business intelligence. Like enterprise search and artificial intelligence, I am not exactly sure what business intelligence means. To the people who use spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel, rows and columns of data are “business intelligence.” But there must be more than redos of Lotus 1-2-3?

Yes, there are different ways to “do” business intelligence. These range from listening in a coffee shop to buying data from a third party provider and stuffing the information into Maltego to spot previously unnoticed relationships. And there are, of course, companies eager to deliver search based applications to make finding a competitor’s proposal to a government agency easier than figuring out which Google Dork to use.

Google Days It’s Cracked the Code to Business Intelligence” explains that the Google is going to make BI as business intelligence is known to those in the know the King of the Mountain. I noted this passage:

In business intelligence [BI], “there was always this idea of governing BI and of self-service, and there was no reconciliation of the degree of trust and the degree of flexibility,” Google’s Gerrit Kazmaier told reporters last week, ahead of the Google Cloud Next conference. “At Google, I think we have cracked that code to how you get trust and confidence of data with the flexibility and agility of self-service.”

This buzzword infused statement raises several fascinating ideas. Let’s look at a couple of them, shall we?

First, the idea of “governance.” That’s a term to which I can say I don’t know what the heck it means. But the notion of “governance” and “trust” is that somehow the two glittering generalities are what Google has “cracked.” I must say, “What’s the meaning, Gerrit Kazmaier?”

Second, I noted three buzzwords strung together like faux silver skulls on a raver’s necklace: Trust, confidence,  flexibility, and agility. To me, these words mean that more users want a point-and-click solution to answer a question about a competitor or the downstream impacts of an event like sanctions on China. The reality is that like the first buzzword, these don’t communicate, they evoke. The intention is that Mother Google will deliver business intelligence.

The solution, however, is not one Google crafted. The company’s professionals could not develop a business intelligence solution. Google had to buy one. Thus, the code cracking was purchased in the form of a company called Looker. The appeal of the Looker solution is that the user does not have to figure out data sources, determine if the data are valid, wrestle to get the data normalized, run tests to determine if the data set meets the requirements of a first year statistics class problem, and figure out what one needs to know. Google will make these steps invisible and reduce knowledge work to clicking an icon. There you go. To be fair, other companies have similar goals. These range from well known US companies to small firms in Armenia. Everyone wants to generate money from easy business intelligence.

Google is an online advertising business. The company wants to knock Microsoft off its perch as the default vendor to business and government. The Department of Defense is going to embrace the Google Cloud. I am not sure that some DoD analysts will release their grip on Microsoft PowerPoint, however.

Can a company trust Google? Does Google have a mechanism for governance for data handling, managing its professional staff (hello, Dr. Gebru), and ensuring that automated advertising systems are straight and true? Does Google abandon projects without thinking too much about consequences (hello, Stadia developers and customers)?

My hunch is that reducing business intelligence from a craft to a mouse click sets the stage for:

  1. Potential embedded and intentional data bias
  2. Rapid ill-informed decisions by users
  3. A way to inject advertising into a service application and personalization.

Will the days of the free car washes return to the Google parking lot? Will having meetings in a tree house in the London office become a thing again? Will Google displace other vendors delivering search based applications which engage the user in performing thoughtful analyses?

Time will provide the answer or rather Looker will provide the answer. Google will collect the money.

Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2022

Gmail Is for the Googley

October 11, 2022

I spotted an interesting Twitter thread about Google and its beneficial two factor authentication system. You can in theory view the sequence of tweets at this url. The prime mover is Twitter user @chadloder.

The main point is that the Google requires account verification several times a year. Individuals who are in a life condition that pivots on free phones called Obamaphones in the string of tweets lose their account. The phones are lost, broken, stolen, and replaced in many cases. However, these phones often come with a different phone number.

The result is that these individuals cannot provide the “verification” that Google requires. One of @chadloder’s tweets states:

Not only do many of these benefits sites fail to function properly on mobile devices, but if you lose access to your GMail account, your caseworker will close your case for non-response and you have to start all over again.

Let’s look at this issue from a different point of view. I hypothesize the following:

  1. Google’s executives did not think about homeless Gmail users as individuals
  2. The optimal Gmail user consumes Google advertising
  3. Individuals who do not have a home are not the targets of Google’s advertising system
  4. Those who cannot verify are not part of the desired user cluster.

To sum up, when one is Googley, these problems do not manifest themselves. Advertisers want the plump targets with money to spend.

Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2022

Gee, A Button Does Not Work? Does It Have Something to Do with Ads?

October 11, 2022

YouTube’s Interactive Rating Buttons Do Not Work

Oh, YouTube! What mistakes will are being made on the video-hosting platform now? According to The Verge, YouTube’s newest changes to its likes and dislikes features do not work: Dislike YouTube runs on a series of complex algorithms that rely on user feedback. The feedback tells the algorithms whether or not a user enjoys suggested content. As the algorithms are supposed to learn what videos users like and curate individualized content.

It is not working.

Mozilla researchers discovered that the YouTube buttons “dislike,” “not interested,” “stop recommending channel,” and “remove from watch history” do not remove the unwanted videos. Users are still plagued with more than half of the videos they do not want to see. Mozilla researchers collected their data with volunteer help:

“Mozilla researchers enlisted volunteers who used the foundation’s RegretsReporter, a browser extension that overlays a general “stop recommending” button to YouTube videos viewed by participants. On the back end, users were randomly assigned a group, so different signals were sent to YouTube each time they clicked the button placed by Mozilla — dislike, not interested, don’t recommend channel, remove from history, and a control group for whom no feedback was sent to the platform.

Using data collected from over 500 million recommended videos, research assistants created over 44,000 pairs of videos — one “rejected” video, plus a video subsequently recommended by YouTube. Researchers then assessed pairs themselves or used machine learning to decide whether the recommendation was too similar to the video a user rejected.”

It turns out that the “dislike” and “not interested” buttons were “marginally effective” at preventing 12% of poor recommendations. The “don’t recommend channel” and “remove from history” buttons were slightly better at 43% and 29% respectively.

Elena Hernandez, a YouTube spokesperson, explained that these buttons are not meant to block all content about a topic. Hernandez criticized the Mozilla team’s report, because it was not taken into consideration that the buttons are designed to not create echo chambers nor how the algorithms work. She did state, however, that YouTube welcomes academic research and that is why YouTube expanded its Data API through the YouTube Researcher Program.

TikTok and Instagram have similar feedback tools and user response is similar to what the Mozilla researchers found out about YouTube. Google, YouTube’s parent company, and the other video platforms are not interested in keeping users happy. They want to keep users engaged and continue clicking on the platform. It is a known Internet fact that when people are upset they are glued to the screen more. Are YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram purposely frustrating users?

Whitney Grace, October 11, 2022

Google Quirks Identified

October 3, 2022

Stadia went away. The Hacker News thread “Stadia Died Because No One Trusts Google” included some comments which identified what some perceive as inherent Google defects. My hunch is that these defects can be stretched to cover other Google services, maybe the firm’s approach to advertising and “artificial intelligence.”

Here are a handful of comments which I found interesting:

h0l0cube: Google, Facebook, etc. are victims of early success. They made their billions on low hanging fruit, by throwing a lot of resources at problems with very high demand for a solution that weren’t yet tackled well (e.g. query the internet, keep in touch with friends). So it’s no wonder that in this day in age they are incapable of understanding product market fit, innovating, or competing in a market with competent players and a lower barrier to entry.

vxNsr: Google isn’t especially excited by OS, because their bread and butter is all in the cloud they just don’t have the institutional energy to care about consumer software for the consumer’s sake.

marcinzm: Even Google’s more public attempts at innovation are toys rather than useful products.

bitcharmer: These days their [Google’s] DNA is ads.

chopface: … Googlers just don’t care about people. They care about puzzles and systematicity.

josephg: Every time Google shuts down a product, they hurt their reputation. They’re pissing in the pool that future Google products need to survive. At this point I don’t know if Google can make successful new products because nobody trusts their follow through.

hinkley: IMO, Google died the day they announced they weren’t going to work on anything with less than a billion dollar revenue potential. It sounds like a financially smart thing to do but it cuts your legs out because nobody is doing research anymore, and you select for people with half a billion potential and an eagerness to lie.

Interesting to me, probably not to Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind, definitely not to DeepMind. I can hear this echoing in my mind, “Senator, thank you for the question.”

Stephen E Arnold, October 3, 2022

Will Simplicity Sprint Help Google Contend with iPhone Rise?

September 30, 2022

It appears Android users have just been relegated to the minority in the US, at least for the moment. Apple Insider reports, “There Are More iPhones in Use in the USA than Android Phones.” Writer William Gallagher tells us:

“Counterpoint Research has previously reported that on a quarterly basis, Apple’s sales of the iPhone are growing. New research from Counterpoint discusses the total installed pool of smartphones that are actually in active use — and iPhones now account for just slightly over 50% of actively used smartphones in the States. According to the Financial Times, Counterpoint analysts have said that this is Apple’s highest-ever share of active smartphone users since the original iPhone launch in 2007.”

So, what is Google’s next phone move? Perhaps it will be another “Simplicity Sprint” like the one CEO Sundar Pichai recently launched in the face of dismal productivity numbers: the company’s second-quarter revenue growth was a mere 13%, down from 62% a year before. The project is asking employees for ideas to boost efficiency. Historically, Google has been considered the most worker-centric big tech company (contrast to Amazon, for example). Some have said that culture is changing; perhaps employees will wax nostalgic on their feedback forms.

Whatever the results, writer and programmer Pen Magnet thinks Pichai would do better to consider some factors unique to programming. In “Why Google Employees Don’t Work,” published at Level Up Coding, they write:

“When it comes to productivity, quarterly and yearly figures don’t matter much for huge companies. They have decade-long product-rollout plans. If something is looking bad today, it’s more likely to be rooted in someone’s bad judgment 5 years ago, who is currently out of the blame-game horizon. … As a 2-decade veteran programmer, every time I think of productivity, all I can think of is excellence. In other words, the fastest way to do something is to do it right, no matter how long it takes.”

If that apparent contradiction piques your interest, see the write-up for more discussion. Will Google find a way to better compete with Apple, or will iOS capture more of the upscale US market for mobile phones?

Cynthia Murrell, September 30, 2022

Google and Its Smart Software: Marketing Fodder and Investment Compost

September 29, 2022

Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind is “into” smart software. The idea is that synthetic data, off-the-shelf models, and Google’s secret sauce will work wonders. Now this series of words is catnip for AGYD’s marketing and sales professionals. Grrrreat, as Tony the Tiger used to say about a fascinating cereal decades ago. Grrreat!

However, there may be a slight disconnect between the AGYD smart software papers, demonstrations, and biology-shaking protein thing and the cold, hard reality of investment payback. Keep in mind that AGYD is about money, not the social shibboleths in the stream of content marketing.

Google Ventures Shelves Its Algorithm” states:

Google Ventures has mothballed an algorithm that for years had served as a gatekeeper for new investments… GV [Google Ventures] still relies heavily on data. After all, this is the corporate venture arm of Google. But data has been relegated to its original role as aide, rather than arbiter.

I interpreted the report to mean: Yikes! It does not work and Googley humans have to make decisions about investments.

The spin is that the algos are helpful. But the decision is humanoid.

I wonder, “What other AGYD algos don’t deliver what users, advertisers, and Googlers expected?”

Google listens to those with lots of money at risk. Does Google listen to other constituencies? Did Google take the criticism of its smart software to heart?

My hunch is that the smart software is lingo perfect for marketing outputs. Some of the outputs of the smart software are compost, rarely shown to the public and not sniffed by too many people. Will Tony the Tiger inhale and growl, “Grrreat”? Sure, sure, Tony will.

Stephen E Arnold, September 29, 2022

Google: Fraying Comes with Graying

September 28, 2022

At a conference last week, I had to work hard to avoid getting annoyed at 20 somethings: Fiddling with mobiles, looking bored, and tapping on laptops. I stayed on course.

Not at the Google apparently. “Google CEO Pichai Tells Employees Not to ‘Equate Fun with Money’ in Heated All-Hands Meeting.” I have zero idea if this news story is spot on, nor do I care. The factoids might be disinformation bought and paid for by a disgruntled lobbying or a person unhappy with Google’s objective search results spiel.

But the write up is entertaining and it is suggestive, at least to me.

First, I chuckled at the “heated” all hands meeting. I have heard that in the Brin Page do no evil era, meetings were often fun. Heck, I have reasonably accurate information about Mr. Brin’s arriving at a meeting with Sumner Redstone. Mr. Brin exuded fun because he had been roller blading and arrived with skates on and fruit bootin garb. Mr. Redstone was not amused too much. If the write up’s headline reflects reality and not a quest for clicks, “heated” does not refer to sweaty wizards. Heated means angry, annoyed, maybe out of control? Huh, not cool.

Second, I spotted this comment in the write up:

Pichai admitted that it’s not just the economy that’s caused challenges at Google but also an expanding bureaucracy at Google.

High school science club management appears to fall short of what’s needed to make the Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind entity walk like a neurological digital dinosaur should. Wobblies and poor coordination do not send positive signals to big time Wall Street wolves.

Third, this compensation point resonated with me:

Pichai dodged employee questions asking about cost-cutting executive compensation. Pichai brought in total pay last year of $6.3 million, while other top executives made more than $28 million.

Is “dodged” the right word? Probably not, but to a wizard manager getting plastered with the word “dodged” is not positive PR. But, hey, this is the outfit which fired Dr. Timnit Gebru for pointing out one type of error association with Google’s smart software. Does that lack of intelligence extend to the managing humanoids at the Google? What about Google’s compensation plan for leadership versus a young programmer working on single sign on? Good question maybe?

Fourth, I found this passage thought provoking:

“I’m a bit concerned that you think what we’ve done is what you would define as aggressive cost saving,” he said. “I think it’s important we don’t get disconnected. You need to take a long-term view through conditions like this.” He added that the company is “still investing in long-term projects like quantum computing,” and said that at times of uncertainty, it’s important “to be smart, to be frugal, to be scrappy, to be more efficient.”

I think this illustrates what I would call a disconnect between the life in carpet land and the programmer-eat-marketer environment of the Foosball table. Disconnects? Is Android fragmented? Does Google have what it takes to catch up with Amazon and Microsoft in cloud space?

Has AGYD solved death? I know that Google may be looking a bit like a senior citizen struggling with the reality of arteriosclerosis. Will walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs be on display at the next big time all hands meeting?

That would be a significant signal in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2022

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