Google: Ever Flexible, Ever Accommodating to Its Values

July 7, 2019

Is Google taking its workers’ concerns seriously? Business magazine Inc. levels some strong criticism at the company in its piece, “Google Rejected Employees’ Plea to Reform its Sexual Harassment Policy. Here’s Why that Is a Big Mistake.” Sure, Google did make a few changes to its policy after last year’s walkout, but those changes fell short of employee demands. Shareholders attempted to remedy that at their June meeting with a simple proposal:

“RESOLVED, Shareholders request management review its policies related to sexual harassment to assess whether the Company needs to adopt and implement additional policies and to report its findings, omitting proprietary information and prepared at a reasonable expense by December 31, 2019.”

Sounds reasonable to right? Not, apparently, to Google’s board of directors, which recommended against the resolution, or Larry Page or Sergey Brin, who’s “no” votes held the weight of their combined 51% of the vote. (The two cofounders together own only 13% of the stock, but that’s a paradox for another time.) On top of that, company brass demonstrated their disdain for the issue: CEO Sundar Pichai refused to answer questions at the meeting, and neither Page nor Brin even bothered to show up. Writer Suzanne Lucas reproaches the company:

“Rejecting a proposal to assess sexual harassment policies basically states, ‘We’re happy as we are.’ Except, the ‘we’ here includes all employees (and contractors) who aren’t happy. And Alphabet leadership blatantly indicated that they were not interested in listening to the little people. … “When you don’t show up, you don’t answer questions, and the voting is ‘ceremonial’ rather than meaningful, you’re screaming, ‘I don’t care!’ And while businesses exist to make money, you can’t keep a business going with unhappy employees. If you don’t listen to reasonable proposals, you’re not going to keep people happy.”

Indeed. Lucas outlines four components she says make for an effective sexual harassment policy: bright-line rules; investigating each and every claim, preferably through an outside entity if executives are involved; making no exceptions for the most valuable employees; and open reporting within the company (without naming names). See the write-up for details on each of these points.

Will Google change its tune, or will it continue to pretend it does not have a sexual harassment problem? Time’s up. A or B?

Cynthia Murrell, July 7, 2019

Google: Instructional Hacking Policy Is Nothing New

July 6, 2019

I read “YouTube Says Its Policy on Instructional Hacking Videos Isn’t New.” The subtitle for the article is:

But a specific ban against instructional hacking could have negative consequences.

Maybe bad publicity?

The write up states:

This week Kody Kinzie, co-founder of the ethical hacker group Hacker Interchange, reported that its YouTube channel had received a strike for breaking one of its rules. Which rule? A ban against “Instructional hacking and phishing: Showing users how to bypass secure computer systems.” Fellow information security professionals and others — including some Google employees — came out in support of the Null Byte channel and its Cyber Weapons Lab series, while YouTube retracted the strike and reinstated the removed videos.

Yes, information is bad, no good. Plus, flip flops are part of a busy, bright Googler’s day.

The article includes a list of bad things one must not do on the Google. Examples include eating disorders and instructional theft. What is “instructional theft”? Stealing Sony Vegas 15? I noted this statement in what appears to be an official Google statement of policy:

Please note this is not a complete list.

DarkCyber has come across information designed to meet the needs of individuals with an unusual interest in the behaviors of young children, data about hacking commercial software, videos supporting the for fee activities of “talent” who collect money via “donations”, and similar topics. Example? Sure, how about this:


Several observations:

  • Policies are a bit like those implemented by parents who say, “Because I said so.”
  • Google generates situational decisions because its policy appears to be “react”, handwave, and move on
  • Responsibility for what Apple’s Tim Cook calls chaos is an uncomfortable burden and best left for others to shoulder. Interns? New hires? People who cannot catch on with a hot project team? Castoffs from Dodgeball, Orkut, WebAccelerator, etc.?

Fascinating stuff, particularly the “Please note this is not a complete list.” Perhaps there is no list, just whatever whatever is needed to douse a brush fire and generate clouds of smoke to season red herrings?

Stephen E Arnold, July 6, 2019

Microsoft and Data Practices: No Backups as a Little Aerial Burst Burns Backup Floppies

July 4, 2019

I read “Microsoft Restores Deleted Technet and MSDN Blogs.” The title is incorrect. DarkCyber suggests “Microsoft Cannot Restore Deleted Blogs Because Backup Practices Fail.” I rarely pay attention to old Microsoft anything. Sure, we noticed that a desktop computer reported that the registration code was no longer valid. We plugged in another legal code and forgot about Microsoft’s odd ineptness with any type of data management. Hey, where are my digital books?

The point of this write up deep in the hollows of rural Kentucky is encapsulated in this passage from the write up:

The problem with the above delete and restore operation: Apparently there was no backup, but you had to restore it from any backups. There is a risk that parts will be lost or that the structure will not return in its old form.

Ever wonder why backups of SQLServer don’t work? Ever wonder where documents went in SharePoint? What happened to historical data in Bing queries?

If the above statement highlight in red is accurate, the reason is that Microsoft’s data practices leave something to be desired; for example, stringent application of such mantras as 1, 2, 3 backup procedures and software that sort of actually works. Hey, where are those restore points?

In the last few days, Facebook nuked itself. Google undergoes self inflicted carpet bombing consistently. Now Microsoft reveals that a fundamental function has been ignored or simply does not work.

What’s up? Complexity hides problems until the fragility of the super duper structures break down. Of course, if the write up is sour grapes, Microsoft remains just the wonderfulest outfit in the digital world.

Stephen E Arnold, July 4, 2019

Bilderberg Attendees

June 28, 2019

Who attended the exclusive Bilderberg meeting this year?

It is the most prestigious and consequential meeting you may never have heard of, and it has been going on since 1954. The Bilderberg Meeting is an annual conference where elites from Europe and North America discuss the fate of the world. Originally formed to avoid another World War, the gathering includes some 120 to 150 of the world’s top movers and shakers in politics, industry, finance, academics, and the media. This year’s meeting was held in Dresden, Germany, the first week of June and, thanks to From the Trenches World Report, we know who was invited—just see the “Bilderberg 2019 Annotated Members List.” Blogger Video Rebel introduces their roster:

“I prefer an in depth look at the participants which is why I have been doing annotated Bilderberg participants lists for several years. This year has lots of AI experts. As usual lots of military experts and bankers plus media and politicians. But lots of experts in populist revolts and movements. Based on their invitations to attend, they seem to want to co-opt gender studies, Gays, Greens and the Trump administration.”

We are interested to see the increase in AI experts; that makes sense right now. Navigate to the write-up for the full list, but here are some names that caught my eye: Jared Cohen, Jared Kushner, Eric Schmidt, and Peter Thiel. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for some of those conversations!

Cynthia Murrell, June 24, 2019

The Jedi Return: Page and Brin Address Those Perceived to Be Really Smart

June 11, 2019

I read “Elusive Google Co-Founders Make Rare Appearance at Town Hall Meeting.” What these fine innovators do is not likely to become a talking point in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. I did note this passage in the write up:

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have long been the stars of the search giant’s weekly “TGIF” town hall meetings. But for the past six months, the pair had been no-shows, an absence that coincided with Google controversies over antitrust concerns, work in China and military contracts.

Interesting but what happened to the discrimination and sexual harassment dust ups? I assume that certain management flubs are more important than others. It is clear that the researcher working on this CNet article did not come across information about a certain liaison which triggered a divorce and an attempted suicide. And what about the Googler, the yacht, the alleged female of ill repute, and a drug overdose? Obviously fake, irrelevant, or long-forgotten items I assume.

I also noted this passage:

The disappearing act drew criticism from those who see Page’s and Brin’s absence as dodging accountability during the most tumultuous period in the company’s 20-year history.

What’s that reminder about correlation and causation? Probably the six month hiatus is a refine of the firm’s management techniques. Are there antecedents? What about restructuring to Alphabet to provide more insulation in the Googleplex from the heat of certain investigations? What about the “Gee, we’re not really working on a China centric search system”?

How about this statement from the article?

But as Google’s issues mount, the company’s co-founders have faded into the background.

There’s even a reference to the YouTube clown car.

Most recently, Google-owned YouTube drew blowback last week after the service refused to take down the channel of Steven Crowder, a conservative comedian who hurled homophobic slurs at Carlos Maza, a Vox journalist and video host who is gay.

And the discrimination and retribution approach to human resources warranted a comment:

One of the questions during the Q&A portion of the May 30 TGIF concerned alleged retaliation from management against employees, according to a partial transcript viewed by CNET. The question was about the departure of Claire Stapleton, a Google walkout organizer who said she was unfairly targeted because of her role in the protest. Stapleton announced her resignation in a blog post Friday. The questioner asked if “outside objectivity” could be added to HR investigations.

The write up is interesting, but there are aspects of the Google matter which warrant amplification, if not by the real new outfit CNet, then some other entity, perhaps former MBA adjunct professors embracing the gig economy of the MBA implosion?

What the write up makes clear but does not explain is the unwillingness of the Google to be forthright about what it has done, when it began to implement certain interesting monetization procedures, and how it decided upon certain management processes to deflect criticism and understanding of the firm’s Titanic algorithms.

The CNet write up is interesting, not for what it reveals, but for its omissions. Today that’s real news.

Stephen E Arnold, June 11, 2019

Japan Times Interprets Google Behavior and Gomen Nasai Will Not Be Enough

April 3, 2019

I don’t want the Japan Times analyzing my behavior. Google, however, gets to enjoy this East Meets West experience. You can too. Just navigate to “Google Needs a Lesson in Patriotism.” The article is authored by Hal Brands, Johns Hopkins University.

The hook for the criticism of Google is the world’s largest online ad supported search system’s work on Dragonfly. That is/was the code word for a search engine tailored to meet the tastes of the Chinese government’s leaders.

Google tap-danced around Dragonfly, but the fact of creating a search system which would fit the needs of China’s leader like a personalized online ad annoyed some people. One of those who interpreted Google’s actions as unpalatable was General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General Dunford, according to the Japan Times’ article, turned the spotlight on a

“larger problem with Google’s behavior. A company that prides itself on seeing around the corner of history is living in a world that no longer exists.”

In short, smart Google is stupid.

The article points out:

It is no surprise, then, that Dunford and other U.S. officials have been seething over Google’s behavior. A company that has grown fantastically wealthy, in part because it is based in the United States and benefits from the American-led global order, has decided that its “values” don’t allow it to cooperate with Washington, but that it is happy to help the Chinese Communist Party defend an authoritarian political system and scale the commanding heights of global technological superiority. Google’s conduct, in turn, reveals a deeper intellectual failing: The inability to see, or perhaps the refusal to acknowledge, that the post-Cold War era has ended and the world has entered the Age of Rivalry.

The bro culture may be leading Google into a “showdown with an angry Congress—or an angry president—in the future.

Messrs. Page and Brin, the prime movers of the culture of exceptionalism, have distanced themselves from Google. The current management team may not be able to fancy dance their way into the finals of the marathon which awaits them.

And once the US prom wraps up, other countries will strike up their bands. Google may end up with more than sore feet and some taps from an academic.

Why did the Japan Times run this essay? Google’s behaviors have offended more than General Dunford. I surmise that Google is indifferent to criticism of its business practices.

The article references a lack of patriotism, but it implies a much deeper problem. A serious malfunction which a simple fix cannot repair. Sad.

Stephen E Arnold, April 3, 2019

Google and Anti Disinformation

March 19, 2019

Lest anyone wonder what, exactly, Google is doing to fight disinformation on its platforms, the company has compiled that information in a white paper presented at the recent Munich Security Conference. Techspot tells us, “Google Presents Its Anti-Fake News System in Detail.” Reporter Greg Synek gives us the highlights; we learn:

“An important fact about Google’s algorithms are that they ‘do not make subjective determinations about the truthfulness of webpages.’ Instead, only measurable and verifiable data is used to give a trust score of sorts. The number of other websites linking to or referencing a page and authority rank are contributing factors. Once a web page meets enough of Google’s criteria to be considered legitimate and of good quality, it is given a boost in results. Google News imposes even stricter guidelines for what will be prominently featured because timeliness is a major factor in ranking. All of the news produced on any given day that Google crawls through can be used to determine when and which topics are considered important.

We also noted this statement:

“Following the automated filters in place, extra context is being given to ‘Your Money or Your Life’ pages. Google looks for medical, legal, financial, and public information pages that may be used to make critical decisions. These YMYL category pages receive special ranking consideration based on authority and user trust. For example, anti-vaccine campaigns may be moved down rankings considerably due to their provably false information being spread. Humans are involved in rating some of these pages, but do not determine the absolute rank of any site or individual web page.”

As for Google-owned YouTube, it can be a bit more complex to manage as we learned when the controversial New Zealand video surfaced and surfaced and surfaced.

Readers can download the full pdf here.

Cynthia Murrell, March 19, 2019

Facebook and Digital Money

March 4, 2019

Digital currency like Bitcoin is often associated with cyber crime. Rightly or wrongly, Bitcoin evokes images of Dark Web markets selling drugs, an association reinforced by the Silk Road bust.

Facebook, on the other hand, evokes smiles from grandmothers, but a UK investigative body characterized Facebook is more negative terms. My recollection is that the British government sees Facebook as an example of Wild West capitalism which intentionally or unintentionally enables outfits like the now defunct Cambridge Analytica.

I thought about these associations when I worked my way through “Regarding Facebook’s Cryptocurerncy.” The write up asserted:

just because Facebook launches a stablecoin cryptocurrency for peer-to-peer payments doesn’t mean people will actually use it.

Facebook’s possible angle is getting money. The write up points out:

Remittances are the obvious target market here. And it would be huge, and important, and wonderful, if Facebook were to make remittances 10x cheaper and faster … but that would require much more than fast international stablecoin transfers, because, again, those stablecoins are not legal tender at their destination, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but businesses tend to have this whole thing about receiving legal tender.

The fix is for Facebook to find ways to get organizations to accept Facecoins.

The other angle is:

for Facebook to establish relationships with cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, or — even more dramatically — become or sponsor exchanges themselves.

The write up is interesting, but it left me with several questions zipping through my admittedly limited brain:

  1. How could bad actors make use of Facecoin?
  2. Will Facebook provide these digital currency data to government authorities?
  3. What third party services will Facebook enable through an existing or new API?
  4. What audit mechanisms are in place?
  5. What if Facebook’s presumed digital currency is used for illegal activities?

I would suggest that when digital currency becomes part of an organization which the British government views in a less than positive manner, regulatory authorities may be sitting on the sidelines.

Stephen E Arnold, March 4, 2019

Google Adds to Its Fancy Dancing Repertoire

February 21, 2019

I assume that someone at Google learned about the UK report hashtagging Facebook as a “digital gangster.”

Google is almost certainly aware that regulatory scrutiny of the firm’s practices is likely to increase in 2019. One of Google’s easier dance moves is reported in “Google Exec Reorganizes Policy Shop as Global Threats Loom.” Nothing solves problems like influencers, insiders and money. The write up asserted:

“Public Policy,” will become “Government Affairs and Public Policy.”

Ah, wordsmithing.

Tougher to explain is the report is another wave of advertisers (many of which have no other way to promote their products and services) are finding themselves taking a mor-tical stand. (That’s a combo of moral and ethical, a neologism for online marketing.)

I noted “Nestle, Disney Pull YouTube Ads, Joining Furor Over Child Videos.” The sometimes source free Bloomberg reports:

Walt Disney Co. is said to have pulled its advertising spending from YouTube, joining other companies including Nestle SA, after a blogger detailed how comments on Google’s video site were being used to facilitate a “soft-core pedophilia ring.” Some of the videos involved ran next to ads placed by Disney and Nestle.

Bloomberg, true to real news norms, adds this statement:

YouTube on Tuesday released an updated policy about how it will handle content that “crosses the line” of appropriateness.

I don’t want to dwell on appropriateness, lobbying, or the cycle of surprise, apologies, and remediation which seems more like a visit to the previously owned and lightly used shop.

Like Facebook, Google has some interesting methods of generating revenue as it continues to avoid the “digital gangster” moniker. Inappropriate kiddie content is, however, problematic for any organization. How? Why? How much? Who? — Questions which may warrant answers some day. Maybe.

It may be time for the founders to distance themselves even more from the online ad giant. The quite valuable 25 year old teapot may be reaching it limit for safe operation.

Stephen E Arnold, February 21, 2019

Ombudsman or Enforcement Official?

December 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enforcement? Laws, I assume, will follow.

Stephen E Arnold, December 11, 2018

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