Loon Balloon Crashes in Kenya. Legal Eagles Take Flight

January 5, 2018

A few days ago I read “Google High Altitude Balloon Crashes in Meru Miraa Farm.” I bopped over to Google Maps and plugged in “Nthambiro, Meru, Kenya.” As you can tell from the screen shot of this “location,” Google Maps provides modest detail and no coordinates for Nthambiro, Meru.


The primary school in the picture is interesting, but I have zero idea where the Loon balloon crashed.

One of my newsfeeds spit out this article today: “Farmer Threatens to Slap Google with Suit over Balloon Crash.”

The lawyers involved in the issue could locate the farm and track down Joseph Nguthari, whose property was trampled by neighbors who wanted to check out the Loon balloons. The write up asserts:

Mr Nguthari says curious residents trampled on his maize, beans and green grams crop while some helped themselves to his Miraa trees causing ‘massive’ damage.

The write up explains that people came in “droves.” Seven acres of crops were “trampled.”

The write up reports that Mr. Nguthari stated:

“The damage was made worse after police officers shot in the air to disperse the crowd that was keen to see the device. People were running in all directions destroying my farm produce. My farmhand also left on that day,” he added. The device was one of 10 balloons deployed for testing in Nakuru, Nanyuki, Nyeri and Marsabit in July last year. It was being navigated remotely to land in a less populated area but strong winds led it to Mr Nguthari’s farm.

I ran the query for the location on Bing Maps. Zip.

From my point of view, legal eagles are able to pinpoint the location of an event which can be converted into a high profile legal attack on Google.

No update is available to us in Harrod’s Creek about the Loon balloons that were to provide Internet access to Puerto Rico.

We’re confident that the alleged “damage” to the crops is no big deal. Google’s legal team can deal with any litigation. However, Google Maps may not be all that helpful.

Stephen E Arnold, January 5, 2018

Sisyphus Gets a Digital Task: Defining Hate Speech, Fake News, and Illegal Material

January 2, 2018

I read “Germany Starts Enforcing Hate Speech Law.” From my point of view in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, defining terms and words is tough. When I was a debate team member, our coach Kenneth Camp insisted that each of the “terms” in our arguments and counter arguments be defined. When I went to college and joined the debate team, our coach — a person named George Allen — added a new angle to the rounded corners of definitions. The idea was “framing.” As I recall, one not only defined terms, but one selected factoids, sources, and signs which would  put our opponents in a hen house from which one could escape with scratches and maybe a nasty cut or two.

The BBC and, of course, the author of the article, Germany, and the lawmakers were not thinking about definitions (high school), framing (setting up the argument so winning was easier), or the nicks and bumps incurred when working free of the ramshackle structure.

The write up states:

Germany is set to start enforcing a law that demands social media sites move quickly to remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material.

So what’s hate speech, fake news, and illegal material? The BBC does not raise this question.

I noted:

Germany’s justice ministry said it would make forms available on its site, which concerned citizens could use to report content that violates NetzDG or has not been taken down in time.

And what do the social media outfits have to do?

As well as forcing social media firms to act quickly, NetzDG requires them to put in place a comprehensive complaints structure so that posts can quickly be reported to staff.

Is a mini trend building in the small pond of clear thinking? The BBC states:

The German law is the most extreme example of efforts by governments and regulators to rein in social media firms. Many of them have come under much greater scrutiny this year as information about how they are used to spread propaganda and other sensitive material has come to light. In the UK, politicians have been sharply critical of social sites, calling them a “disgrace” and saying they were “shamefully far” from doing a good job of policing hate speech and other offensive content. The European Commission also published guidelines calling on social media sites to act faster to spot and remove hateful content.

Several observations:

  1. I am not sure if there are workable definitions for the concepts. I may be wrong, but point of view, political orientation, and motivation may be spray painting gray over already muddy concepts.
  2. Social media giants do not have the ability to move quickly. I would suggest that the largest of these targeted companies are not sure what is happening amidst their programmers, algorithms, and marketing professionals. How can one react quickly when one does not know who, what, or where an action occurs.
  3. Attempts to shut down free flowing information will force those digital streams into the murky underground of hidden networks with increasingly labyrinthine arabesques of obfuscation used to make life slow, expensive, and frustrating for enforcement authorities.

Net net: We know that the BBC does  not think much about these issues; otherwise, a hint of the challenges would have filtered into the write up. We know that the legislators are interested in getting control of social media communications, and filtering looks like a good approach. We know that the social media “giants” are little more than giant, semi-organized ad machines designed to generate data and money. We know that those who allegedly create and disseminate “hate speech, fake news and illegal material” will find communication channels, including old fashioned methods like pinning notes on a launderette’s bulletin board or marking signs on walls.

Worth watching how these “factors” interact, morph, and innovate.

Stephen E Arnold, January 2, 2018

Foreign Agent Designation: Excitement for Some Folks and Some Possible Consequences, Mom

November 29, 2017

I read “In Retaliatory Move, Putin Signs Media Foreign Agents’ Law.” The write up explains:

Russian officials have said the change is a retaliatory response to the US government’s request that RT, the Russian TV network, register its American arm as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Is FARA extensible to the families of those who work for “foreign agents”? What downstream consequences will the designation “foreign agent” have for students, academics “on loan”, and others involved with research or work for the companies so designated?

My thought: Enforcement of rules can be tight or loose, logical or illogical. The families of Russian citizens with relatives working in “foreign agent” companies may be asking similar questions.

Stephen E Arnold, November 26, 2017

I Hear the Crows Cawing: A Newspaper Revels in Alleged Silicon Valley Flubs

November 2, 2017

I read “How to Stop Google and Facebook from Becoming Even More Powerful.” The write up appeared in a British newspaper, one which has embraced the digital revolution. Well, I should say, “Tries to embrace the digital revolution.”

I learned that “banning these tech giants from buying any more companies would prevent them from entrenching their monopoly position and help protect our freedom.

I assume that if Facebook or Google tried to buy the Guardian, the newspaper would tell these giants to take their money and get back to solving death or paying lobbyists. When a certain person with oodles of money approached the estimable Washington Post, my recollection is that the Bezos bucks convinced the stakeholders of the Washington Post to accept the cash. But not the Guardian’s stakeholders, right? Of course not! Money. Filthy lucre.

I also noted this passage:

these institutions are designed to gather vast amounts of information about every American, but they are not built to manage that information in the interest of those individuals or the public as a whole…

What’s a company supposed to do? Should Facebook and Google refuse to sell ads? Is it the nature of a corporate entity to have a heart, a soul, an obligation to save the whales, and preserve the rain forest?

Nope. A corporate entity has an obligation to make money. if one does not make money or at least try to make money, in the US the Internal Revenue Service is suspicious of deductable expenditures I hear.

I circled this statement as well:

If it’s clear that Facebook and Google can’t manage what they already control, why let those corporations own more? America’s antitrust enforcers can impose such a rule almost immediately.

The Guardian has first hand experience with the bureaucracy of the US government I assume. In my experience, the phrase “almost immediately” does not match what appears to be the velocity at which government agencies can operate. Immediately does not capture the reality of certain government functions in the US. Obviously the Guardian knows better than I how to make the Bugatti Chiron of the US government burn off a ridiculous acceleration down the virtual political Nürburgring that is Constitution Avenue.

What’s clear to me is that Facebook and Google are in for more scrutiny, criticism, and pundit pummeling.

Let’s see. Google’s been chugging along for 20 years. Facebook has fewer miles on its odometer, but it’s no spring chicken.

Yep, let make changes immediately. Sounds good from the point of view of a newspaper dutifully reporting the thrill ride of Brexit. But I keep coming back to this question, “Would the Guardian sell itself if either Facebook or Google showed up with a lorry filled with cash, stock, and a promise of technological heaven?”

Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2017

Are Facebook and Google News Organizations, Not Just News Linkers?

October 13, 2017

I read “UK Leapfrogs U.S. on Regulating Bad Content.” The point that the UK may regulate Facebook and Google as news organizations is important. Facebook and Google have been drivers of the “news” for years. The companies have been viewed as magic Silicon Valley disrupters. News organizations are neither magic nor particularly disrupting. But the most interesting information in the article in my opinion is this statement:

The speed of the UK’s actions means that the United States is falling behind, even though it was the U.S. election nearly a year ago that drew the most attention to the issue. While May and her Cabinet rush to stop fake news and terrorism from spreading — threatening steep fines — in the United States, Congress has yet to hold its first hearing with the companies. Silicon Valley has also responded more slowly stateside than in Europe.

Interesting notion that “falling behind.”

Stephen E Arnold, October 13, 2017

Attia Boy: Interesting Allegation about Google Innovation

October 9, 2017

I read “Google Rccused of Racketeering in Lawsuit Claiming Pattern of Trade Secrets Theft.”

The main idea, in my opinion, is that Google is accused by Attia of sucking in good ideas, systems, and methods. Then Google uses these to benefit Google.

Eli Attia is a person who is an architect who allegedly developed “engineered architecture.” Globes, an Israel based news service, reported several years ago:

Google estimates Engineered Architecture has $120 billion potential annual revenue. Attia and Max Sound are suing for compensation.

The article I read in today’s San Jose Morning News is pegged to an expansion of the original complaint. Google not only allegedly uses others’ intellectual property, the practice is identified as “racketeering.”

The San Jose Morning News story is a recounting of Attia’s allegations by an attorney representing Attia. I highighted the allegations and selected three which I found interesting:

Statement 1 by Attia source:

Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.

Statement 2 by Attia source:

It’s cheaper to steal than to develop your own technology.

Statement 3 by Attia source:

Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.

Why are people hassling the Google?

Perhaps the court proceedings will provide something like facts, not allegations?

Stephen E Arnold, October 9, 2017




NLP Noise Almost Swamps a Google Reshuffle

September 20, 2017

Natural language processing. Understanding human utterance. Sensitivity to human emotion. I have heard this before. Does Google have “real” NLP processing for cloud applications? Maybe. The news sites this morning fill my digital skies with chaff about smart software. Is the core technology Google’s or is a third party’s contribution? Google’s innovation track record makes fewer headlines than its legal struggles.

My radar picked up a blip of a more interesting development. Let’s face it. The NLP thing is not exactly a new new thing. Google’s alleged shake up in the team working on the European Union litigation seems to be a “real real” thing.

I noted an article called “Google Shuffles Top Policy Team Amid Ongoing EU Antitrust Row.” I noted this statement:

The staffing shakeup comes as the Alphabet Inc unit negotiates terms in the European Union in the aftermath of a record antitrust fine and big technology companies face rising regulatory scrutiny in the US, including a renewed call for tougher competition enforcement.

So management fancy dancing.

And tucked into the article was this statement:

In the wake of the EU ruling, some Google critics have called on US enforcement agencies to investigate the the company over its dominance in online search. Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner, said in a tweet on Monday that she had visited her counterparts at the US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. “Good, constructive cooperation,” Vestager wrote.

NLP is fine, but the management shifts at Google suggest that moe practical considerations related to business practices are evident. NLP is easy to talk about. Dealing with government inquiries may be more difficult.

Stphen E Arnold, September 20, 2017

Annoyed Xooglers and Lawyers: A Volatile Mixture

September 15, 2017

Straightaway you will want to read the “real” news story from a “real” newspaper. The write up is “Former Employees Sue Google Alleging Bias against Women in Pay and Promotion.” (The story is online as 5 15 pm Eastern US time on September 14, 2017. Any other time? Who knows? The Guardian, another “real news” outfit jumped on the story as well at this link.)

The main point is in my opinion to help more criticism on the Alphabet Google thing.

I highlighted this passage:

Three female former employees of Alphabet Inc’s Google filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the tech company of discriminating against women in pay and promotions. The proposed class action lawsuit, filed in California state court in San Francisco, comes as Google is facing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor into sex bias in pay practices.

Since I am not a woman, I have zero knowledge about what did or did not happen when the GOOG decided what to pay each person. The write up suggests that Google is a throwback because “its treatment of female employees has not entered the 21st century.”

I think the GOOG is an innovative and progressive outfit. The company creates new products and services using multiple tactics. It is socially progressive because, like Walmart, it allows employees to park their campers in the Google parking lots.

The paragraph which raised my eyebrows was this one:

The department [of labor] last month appealed an administrative judge’s July decision that rejected its request for contact information for more than 20,000 Google employees.

My recollection is that Google is on record with a factual statement revealing that collecting certain employee compensation data is a job that is too difficult.

Why can’t regulators and lawyers trust Alphabet Google the way we do in Harrod’s Creek.

Gathering information about a closed domain of employees is tough. Accept the Google fact. And Google is progressive. Some employees are allowed to live in their trucks, emulating a parking policy of Walmart’s.

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2017

Online Ad Fraud? You Must Be Joking

July 25, 2017

Years ago a New York conference organizer who specialized in early morning breakfast meetings asked me, “Will you do an exposé about online advertising fraud?” My response to this question was, “No.”

Why did I drag my feet? Three reasons:

In the research for my first Google book “The Google Legacy,” which is now out of print but I sell pre-publication versions 13 years after I wrote it, I realized that online ads were easy to manipulate. Here’s one example. Write a script which visits a page and clicks on an ad. The poor advertiser’s account can be consumed in a nonce. No one paid much attention to this “feature,” and I had zero desire to get involved with ad types. Who wanted hassles when I was still working? Not me.

Second, explaining the who, what, why, and how involved imparting technical information to decidedly non tech type people. Sorry, that’s not for me. Leave that work to those who have the patience and personality to deal with jazzed Madison Avenue types.

Third, none of my contacts wanted to reveal that click fraud was a problem. The approach was similar to the memorable statement, “Android fragmentation? There’s no Android fragmentation.” Yeah, right.

Now there are some brave souls stepping forward in what may become a darned interesting interpersonal, intercompany, and legal battle. This possible dust up is one which I will watch far from the fray.,

To get a sense of what’s about the become either “real” or “fake” news, navigate to “Online Ad Fraud Is a Widespread Problem, Google and Other Big Ad Platforms Admit.” Now the “big” online ad platforms boil down to a two horse race. I suppose the smaller folks like the vendors of annoying weird links, annoying pop ups, and looped videos with raucous sound tracks may be keeping some secrets under a rock, there are people who just want to see those online ad accounts depleted by a software robot. Click, click, click, and the pre paid ad accounts goes down, down, down.

The write up points out:

Google-run tests found evidence of fake ad spaces sold on Google and Oath-owned programmatic ad platforms, as well as well as on PubMatic and AppNexus.

The point, I think, is that the vendors of online ads want to “prove” and “remove doubt” that online ads work. One should keep in mind that almost everything online is an ad. Amazon, for example, is one giant Sears catalog with manufacturers and sellers desperate for positive reviews and placement on the first page of Amazon’s result pages. Do you every look at page 14 when searching for cufflinks which hide USB drives?

The write up focuses on spoofing, offering:

The method is used to trick ad buyers into purchasing advertising space on websites that don’t exist, or that the sellers don’t have access to. Because of the speed and volume of advertising online when bought programmatically, it’s virtually impossible to check if an ad ran where sellers say it was supposed to run.

As long ago as 2003, i noticed that there are many ways and many reasons for fiddling with online ads.

Perhaps Facebook and Google, among others, will share their knowledge, concerns, and ideas. The thrill of losing ad revenue should make for some interesting PR and, possibly, legal activity.

Stephen E Arnold, July 25, 2017

Loon Balloons: An Uber and Out?

July 10, 2017

I read a long write up in Wired Magazine. The story is titled “The Lawsuit That Could Pop Alphabet’s Project Loon Balloons.” The main point of the write up is that Google may have poked itself with an intellectual property X-Acto knife blade. An outfit named Space Data has been into balloons and other assorted activities for years. The key passage for me was this statement:

It [Space Data] convinced the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel most of one of Project Loon’s foundational patents, and say that Space Data came up with the idea first. Loon’s patent for changing a balloon’s direction by adjusting its altitude—a core feature of both systems—is now legally back in Space Data’s hands.

To make a long story short, the Google is now the Uber-type outfit to Space Data which is wearing a Googley T shirt. I assume that Space Data will create Google style flashing badges with the words “patent infringement” blinking cheerfully.

I have loved the idea of Loon balloons. Actually, not me. The Beyond Search goose has a soft spot for loons. I think our goose once dallied aloft with a svelte loon.

Stephen E Arnold, July 10, 2017

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