Google Is a Curious Outfit: Who, How, Why, Where, Buy, and Build?

July 16, 2019

Ah, the familiar Silicon Valley question: Buy or build?

Reuters, a “real news” outfit, published “Google Accused of Ripping Off Digital Ad Technology in U.S. Lawsuit.” DarkCyber has no idea if the alleged lawsuit is valid or if Google “ripped off” a company called Impact Engine.

According to the “real news” story:

Impact Engine Inc filed the complaint in federal court in San Diego, California, alleging various Google online advertising platforms, including Google Ads and Google AdSense, infringed on six patents.

DarkCyber believes that Impact Engine is convinced that Googlers took technology developed by the smaller firm. Google’s present senior management is probably unaware of the actions of young at heart Googlers.

Based on DarkCyber’s experience interacting with large, successful corporations, Google-type outfits ask a lot of questions. But these are predictable and probably should not be answered without prior thought. Scripting answers is a reasonable way to prepare for a lunch with a predator.

Now what about the basic questions. Here are a few I have experienced:

  • Who are you?
  • Who developed the innovation?
  • Why was it developed?
  • Why is it better than existing innovations?
  • When did you develop the innovation?
  • Did you patent the innovation and receive a patent?
  • Where can this innovation be implemented?
  • How much of a revenue boost does the innovation represent?
  • How much did you spend in cash to create the innovation?
  • How long did it take to create the innovation?
  • How many people worked on the innovation in [a] its preliminary phase, [b] its testing phase, and [c] its commercialization phase?
  • What is the programming language used?
  • Does the innovation run from the cloud or on premises?
  • What are the next series of enhancements you plan to add to your innovation?
  • How long will those take?
  • How much money do you need to implement the enhancements in half your time estimate?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What are the gotchas in your innovation?
  • Who is your nightmare competitor?
  • What do you worry about relative to this innovation when you go to bed at night?
  • If you had a magic wand, what changes would you make in the innovation as it exists at this time?
  • Would you rough out a block diagram of the major components of the innovation?
  • Would you walk us through your basic slide deck?

There are other questions, of course.

Now a company talking with a Google-type firm is likely to be darned excited to be in proximity to a deep pocket power center. Consequently the visitors are probably going to say too much, be too specific, and reveal more than the visiting team thought was possible.

Yep, well, there’s the fact that power and potential money loosens lips.

What happens when the small outfit leaves with booth leftovers in hand, a reasonable vegan lunch, and worshipful praise from the big company’s “team players”?

Let me boil down the gist of the debriefs in which I have participated:

  1. Is this innovation any good?
  2. Can we duplicate it quickly and easily? (Build?)
  3. If not, how much do you think the innovation is worth?
  4. Can we just license the innovation? (Semi-buy?)
  5. Should we forget this outfit and go to the competitors named in the meeting?
  6. Don’t we already have this functionality?
  7. Does anybody remember meeting with this company or anyone who works there before?
  8. Should we buy this outfit?

There are other considerations, of course.

In short, when big Google type outfits meet with small innovative outfits, the expectations of the small company are likely to be different from those at the big company.

Therefore, the legal dust up. Worth monitoring this particular action. But the matter of patents, prior art, and the patents which the big company may have tucked in their cloud storage device are likely to have some bearing on the matter.

One thing is certain: The lawyers involved will get paid a lot of money. And the money people? Sure. Money people.

Stephen E Arnold, July 16, 2019

Facebook: Fine and a Reminder of Ozymandius?

July 13, 2019

I just wanted to document that Facebook will have to pay a fine. Well. allegedly. On the other hand, the rumored penalty evokes the trunkless legs of stone. Ozymandius time in Silicon Valley. For details, navigate to “Facebook Reportedly Fined $5B over Cambridge Analytica Fiasco.” No high flier wants to wear a t shirt with the word “fiasco” stenciled in red. Perhaps if it were paired with the Nike Betsy Ross shoes and “fiasco” spelled “phiasco”, the label could be trendy. The t shirt would collect likes like a hamburger gathers flies at a picnic on a 90 degree day in Mountain View. I noted this statement in the write up:

The FTC approved the settlement in a 3-to-2 vote with Republican commissioners in favor and Democrats opposing, according to Wall Street Journal sources. The arrangement and further details have yet to be confirmed publicly, and any agreement will still have to be reviewed by the Department of Justice.

Yep, some money, just a bit tardy.

Stephen E Arnold, July 13, 2019

Exclusive: DataWalk Explained by Chris Westphal

July 9, 2019

An Interview with Chris Westphal” provides an in-depth review of a company now disrupting the analytic and investigative software landscape.

DataWalk is a company shaped by a patented method for making sense of different types of data. The technique is novel and makes it possible for analysts to extract high value insights from large flows of data in near real time with an unprecedented ease of use.

DarkCyber interviewed in late June 2019 Chris Westphal, the innovator who co-founded Visual Analytics. That company’s combination of analytics methods and visualizations was acquired by Raytheon in 2013. Now Westphal is applying his talents to a new venture DataWalk.

Westphal, who monitors advanced analytics, learned about DataWalk and joined the firm in 2017 as the Chief Analytics Officer. The company has grown rapidly and now has client relationships with corporations, governments, and ministries throughout the world. Applications of the DataWalk technology include investigators focused on fraud, corruption, and serious crimes.

Unlike most investigative and analytics systems, users can obtain actionable outputs by pointing and clicking. The system captures these clicks on a ribbon. The actions on the ribbon can be modified, replayed, and shared.

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Westphal, DarkCyber learned:

The [DataWalk] system gets “smarter” by encoding the analytical workflows used to query the data; it stores the steps, values, and filters to produce results thereby delivering more consistency and reliability while minimizing the training time for new users. These workflows (aka “easy buttons”) represent domain or mission-specific knowledge acquired directly from the client’s operations and derived from their own data; a perfect trifecta!

One of the differentiating features of DataWalk’s platform is that it squarely addresses the shortage of trained analysts and investigators in many organizations. Westphal pointed out:

…The workflow idea is one of the ingredients in the DataWalk secret sauce. Not only do these workflows capture the domain expertise of the users and offer management insights and metrics into their operations such as utilization, performance, and throughput, they also form the basis for scoring any entity in the system. DataWalk allows users to create risk scores for any combination of workflows, each with a user-defined weight, to produce an overall, aggregated score for every entity. Want to find the most suspicious person? Easy, just select the person with the highest risk-score and review which workflows were activated. Simple. Adaptable. Efficient.

Another problem some investigative and analytic system developers face is user criticism. According to Westphal, DataWalk takes a different approach:

We listen carefully to our end-user community. We actively solicit their feedback and we prioritize their inputs. We try to solve problems versus selling licenses… DataWalk is focused on interfacing to a wide range of data providers and other technology companies. We want to create a seamless user experience that maximizes the utility of the system in the context of our client’s operational environments.

For more information about DataWalk, navigate to www.datawalk.com. For the full text of the interview, click this link. You can view a short video summary of DataWalk in the July 2, 2019, DarkCyber Video available on Vimeo.

Stephen E Arnold, July 9, 2019

Google to Kiwis: You Are Flightless Birds, Not Us

July 5, 2019

I read “Google Suspends Trends Email Alerts in New Zealand after Breaching Court Order.” The headline caught my attention. New Zealand? Home of Kim Dotcom. Get away spot for some Silicon Valley Lord of the Rings admirers? A handy place to experience earth tremors.

The write up reminded me:

Google has backed down in a spat with the New Zealand government after its email alert system Trends breached a court order suppressing details of a high-profile murder case. According to Reuters and AFP, Google has suspended its Trends feature in the country following outcry from the New Zealand government.

I can understand Google’s point of view. New Zealand is a mere country and a small one at that. It is far away, and it does not click as much as an important country’s residents.

The hassle surfaced because an automated Google alert named the person who killed another. Stating the alleged killer’s name was a no no. Google ignored that court order.

Google said, “Yo, we’re sorry.” However, Google was not too keen on making changes to its systems because a mere country wanted the US firm to follow the laws of that lesser nation state.

Here’s the nifty part. The write up reported:

New Zealand politicians reacted strongly to this reply, with justice minister Andrew Little accusing Google of “flipping the bird” at the country’s legal system.

What’s the problem with Google (a big virtual country) doing what’s good for itself. Plus, little countries have to be careful because Google has digital firepower and could use it to send a message. Oil embargo? Forget that? How about no email and no Web traffic?

The write up included this statement:

In the UK, for example, politicians have argued that Facebook is incapable of policing “harmful” content on its platform, and needs to be overseen by domestic regulators. In France, Google has been fined millions of dollars for failing to meet EU data privacy laws. And in New Zealand, Facebook was strongly criticized by prime minister Jacinda Ardern for failing to stop the spread of videos of the Christchurch terrorist attacks. “They are the publisher not just the postman,” said Arden in March. “There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility.”

Get real. This is the Google politicians and officials are irritating. What about removing New Zealand and the UK from Google Maps?

If you are not on Google, you don’t exist. Understand?

Stephen E Arnold, July 5, 2019

GDPR Violators: A List

June 26, 2019

If you want to know who and what have violated GDPR rules, navigate to GDPR Enforcement Tracker on the Enforcement Tracker Web site. Here a three interesting names on the list:

  • Google
  • Italian political party Movimento 5 Stelle
  • Mayor’s Office of the city of Kecdkemét, Hungary.

Stephen E Arnold, June 26, 2019

Google: A Tuneful Allegation about Indexing and Search Results

June 17, 2019

Google continues to attract criticism. DarkCyber noted an interesting twist on cleverness. Google has been a clever outfit. Now there may be evidence that a company with song lyrics may be slightly more clever. According to Boy Genius Report, a company with a database of song lyrics allegedly believed that Google was copying the lyrics and using them without permission. Remember. This is an allegation, and anyone not clever can make an allegation do a two step. The company with the lyrics is named Genius, and allegedly Genius inserted a coded message within its lyrics. Thus, when Google acquired these lyrics, Genius alleges that the coded messages appeared in Google’s lyrics. Smoking gun? How long has Genius been aware of the GOOG’s alleged improper use of lyrics? The answer, according to the article, is two years.

Several observations:

  1. This is an allegation, so it seems that legal eagles will take flight
  2. The use of “codes” is interesting because it suggests that the intake, indexing, and content processing system in use at Google may operate in an indiscriminate manner. The scraping may give a bad actor an idea for injecting certain types of data into a Google system. (I cover this type of exploit in my lectures about the flaws in the most widely used algorithms in content processing. Now we have allegations of a big time use case.)
  3. The allegation may provide some additional information about how Google allegedly favors its own content over that of third parties. The idea which could inspire some legal analysis is that: [a] Google knows via its analytics which content is hot, [b] Google seeks to acquire that content in some manner; and [c] when a query is run for something in that corpus, Google displays its content, not that of a third party.

Net net: Google is indeed clever, but this may be an example of a smaller company being clever-er. Worth watching what fancy dancing the Google uses to deal with this allegation of “genius.”

Stephen E Arnold, June 17, 2019

HP-Autonomy and the KPMG Due Diligence Document

June 15, 2019

I noted this article in The Register, a UK online publication: “HP CFO Cathie Lesjak Didn’t Even Read KPMG’s Autonomy Due Diligence Before $11bn Biz Gobble.” The write up reports that Hewlett Packard professionals did not read a report about Autonomy prepared by the accounting and consulting services firm KPMG. DarkCyber finds the information in the article interesting. We noted this statement in the Register’s write up:

Barrister Robert Miles QC asked her: “I think you didn’t, yourself, read a due diligence report prepared by KPMG, is that right?” Lesjak replied: “I did not.”

As intriguing as this exchange between Autonomy’s attorney and an HP executive involved in the astounding $11 billion purchase, the Register provides a link to the “confidential” and “draft” report about the finances of Autonomy.

Image result for buyer beware

The document is available at this link. Note: that confidential documents can be removed from public access at any time. DarkCyber, an organization with more time but fewer resources than HP, read the document online.

DarkCyber’s conclusion is that HP’s failure to read the KPMG draft deprived the HP executives of information germane to the purchase price of $11 billion.

Other items of interest to DarkCyber in the KPMG document dated August 9, 2011, were:

  • KPMG itself lacked access to certain information; for example, certain details related to Autonomy’s income taxes
  • Autonomy’s financials (top line revenue and profits) were softening after the $870 million in revenue reported in FY2010
  • Autonomy used a method known as “Tower” in order to achieve certain financial objectives; namely, obtain maximum financial benefits from its activities such as loans.

The KPMG report is a “draft” and its authors presented sufficient information (even though that information is incomplete) to call into question the purchase of Autonomy for $11 billion.

The deal did not work out for either HP or Autonomy. HP lost traction with its shareholders. Autonomy found itself mired in an unpleasant and highly visible legal battle.

DarkCyber’s view is that companies engaged in search, retrieval, content processing, and allied disciplines have an unusual track record. For example, a number of little known companies simply failed to meet their revenue objectives and went out of business. Examples include Delphes (Canada), Entopia (Israel), InQuire, and others.

Other firms engaged in Autonomy-type software and services sought buyers in order to avoid financial problems. Examples include Exalead (acquired by Dassault), Vivisimo (acquired by IBM), and others.

Convera and Fast Search & Transfer are examples of enterprise search and Autonomy-type services caught in the same business quagmire as Autonomy; that is, robust promises about technology, difficulties generating sustainable revenue, problems in satisfying customers, and problems controlling infrastructure, R&D, and customer support costs. Convera (once Excalibur) was rescued by Allen & Company but was unable to deliver satisfactory solutions to information processing needs at Intel and the NBA. Fast Search & Transfer was involved in a financial investigation related to the company’s balance sheets. Microsoft stepped in and bought Fast Search in 2008.

Most of these problems with Autonomy-type companies stemmed from a combination of these miscalculations, errors in judgment, or over optimistic marketing:

  1. Search and retrieval is difficult to define; therefore, whatever system is installed at an organization will disappoint most of a system’s users. For this reason, large companies have a specialized system for legal, one for bench chemists, one for marketing, etc. Due to disenchantment, competitors can make a sale only to face clamors for engineering fixes or termination of the contract. Sustainable revenues are, therefore, a characteristic of Autonomy-type companies. (The KPMG report makes clear that Autonomy relied on acquisitions to increase its top line revenue.)
  2. Enterprise search vendors typically over promise and under deliver. Sales professionals and marketers glibly explain the value of unlocking the hidden value of an organization’s data. The reality is that the costs of determining what data are available, who can view certain data, cleansing and validating that data, indexing the data, and then keeping the indexes up to date and in line with access privileges is a significant burden. The cost of “unlocking’ exceed the available resources and appetite for investment in many licensees of Autonomy-type search systems. (The KPMG rolls these costs into undifferentiated line items, a serious omission. These costs help explain the “you can’t get there from here” problem inherent in Autonomy-type software.)
  3. Autonomy-type systems from the period covered in the KPMG report were mostly proprietary code. Over time, these code bases became increasingly complex and at the same time more fragile. As a result, the costs of standing up a system, fine tuning it, and then tailoring it to the needs of the licensee grew over time. Like the content preparation work in item 2, the ongoing costs of the Autonomy-type system added another set of hard to control costs. (The KPMG report does not provide detail related to the costs of triage engineering to fix urgent problems, on-going fixes, and work needed to keep the foundation system current with competitors’ innovations.)

There are other issues with the KPMG which DarkCyber noticed.

Net net: KPMG did a good job making clear that the deal was likely to be a difficult one due to the tax methods, the intra company financial processes, and the mechanisms used to allow Autonomy to demonstrate growth and reasonable margins over the period of time covered by the KPMG professionals.

HP seemed oblivious to the issues “enterprise search” posed; specifically, enterprise search is a niche business delivering expensive, proprietary solutions which rarely satisfy its users regardless of the vendor involved.

HP wanted to buy and buy big and fast. Autonomy appeared to be the solution to HP’s problems. KPMG identified the issues. Impulse buy? Maybe. Uninformed buy? Looks like it. Did Autonomy buff its show car software? Of course, getting the customer to buy is the objective.

Profiles of selected Autonomy-type software vendors are available without charge at the Xenky.com Vendors Web page. You can find that collection of vendor profiles at this link.

Stephen E Arnold, June 15, 2019

Alphabet: Make It Separate Letters, Toss a Few

June 1, 2019

What Rupert Murdoch Really Wants from Google and Facebook,” published by The Sydney Morning Herald,  points out that political opposites Rupert Murdoch and Elizabeth Warren agree on one thing—Google has too much power. While Warren vows to promote tech competition by breaking up Google (along with Amazon and Facebook), should she become US president, Murdoch’s company News Corp has petitioned its country’s regulatory agency to do the same. Writer John McDuling observes that it is unlikely, for several reasons, that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will take such an action. He writes:

“So, what are Murdoch and News Corp really up to then? Playing hardball, as usual. The call to break up Google kept the pressure on the search giant, and made the ACCC’s existing proposals to regulate it (and Facebook) seem tame by comparison. Back in December, the ACCC proposed a new body to scrutinize the opaque algorithms that power Google searches and Facebook’s news feed, and their conduct in the ad market. The tech giants and their supporters have dismissed the proposal as a weird, intrusive overreach. But now, all of a sudden, with the global media talking about a Google split, it seems relatively uncontroversial.

We noted this statement too:

“[News Corp] also proposed a system where Google (and presumably Facebook) could pay ‘license fees’ to publishers to compensate them for the benefit they derived from their content. … The new proposal sounds more like the systems used around the world to decide royalties paid by streaming services and radio stations to songwriters and record labels. It would involve a new statutory framework, and independent economic analysis of the benefits of news to the platforms to help determine payments to publishers.”

As for Warren, the article notes voters across the US political spectrum are nervous about the power wielded by tech giants, implying she is after political points. (Whether the famously divided US Congress can or will actually do anything about the issue remains to be seen, we’re reminded.) Another wrinkle, McDuling observes, is the growing “tech-driven cold war” between the US and China. Anything that disempowers the companies in question could help China—a talking point they are likely to wield in their defense. Apparently, the conversation around the power of tech giants is just getting started.

Cynthia Murrell, June 1, 2019

Criticizing the Digital Czarina of Silicon Valley

May 31, 2019

DarkCyber would not criticize Kara Swisher. We think that her method of talking over those whom she interviews is just an outstanding way to deliver understandable audio. We find her summaries of her stellar career in journalism necessary because some of the DarkCyber team (like me) has a lousy memory for some crucial information. We enjoy her interactions with the kind, patient, and deeply informed author of The Algebra of Happiness a remarkable opportunity to learn how life is to be lived in the 21st century.

image

But TechDirt has a different point of view, expressed clearly in “Dear Kara Swisher: Don’t Let Your Hatred of Facebook Destroy Free Speech Online.” See, that’s what a brave person, steeped in the law, will share about a digital czarina of Silicon Valley.

We noted this statement in the 1362 word epistle:

This is wrong on so many levels that it makes me wonder where Swisher is getting her information from.

The “wrong” refers to Ms. Swisher’s posture toward Facebook censorship.

We also circled in blue, this statement:

…her analysis is simply incorrect.

Yikes. An error in analysis. The “incorrect” refers to Section 230 and other legal matters.

We also underlined this passage:

For quite some time now, we’ve been talking about the “impossibility” of doing content moderation at scale well. There are always going to be disagreements. But Section 230 is what allows for experimentation. People can (and should) criticize Facebook when they think the company made the wrong call, but to blithely toss Section 230 under the bus as the reason for Facebook failing to meet her own exacting standards, Swisher is actually throwing the open internet and free speech under the bus instead. It’s a horrifically bad take, and one that Swisher should know better about.

There it is. Ms. Swisher is not fully informed. (My mother used to tell me “You should know better.” I assume this phrasing is part of the adulting movement.

To wrap up, my hunch is that two important people in the world of Silicon Valley may exchange further communications.

Will the Czarina respond directly, or will a colleague or former colleague (of which there appear to be many) pick up the gauntlet and slap TechDirt in the head in order to knock some sense and appreciation into it?

Worth watching. There’s nothing like a lawyer and czarina dust up to reveal why Silicon Valley is held in such high regard by millions of people. DarkCyber will watch from a safe distance, of course. When elephants fight, only the grass suffers.

Stephen E Arnold, May 31, 2019

Amazon Twitch Shakes Its Digital Fist Which Hits the Bits

May 29, 2019

In my talk on June 4, 2019, I have a couple of comments to make about illegal streaming services. One of my examples of outright copyright violation is Twitch. The DarkCyber team has been tracking popular music streamed during “game related chats” like pole dancing and body stretching exercise sessions. Individuals who play US television shows dubbed in Russian are waving their Fortnite weapons at US television producers. We also have examples of a Russia Today affiliate streaming the more visual incidents associated with yellow jacket protects. There are other examples of how the game streaming system is being manipulated. No Dark Web needed.

Amazon Twitch tries to curtail these activities. Some of them are just futile. There is a streamer from Florida who happily drives and live streams. The “star” often moves the camera around. Distracted driving? No just another example of what gamers can access without doing much more than clicking a link and popping a word or phrase into the Twitch search system.

Now the “real” media has discovered what the young at heart have known for quite a while: Amazon Twitch, like Facebook and YouTube live video, is a bit of a challenge. “Twitch Is Temporarily Suspending New Creators from Streaming after Troll Attack” documents one facet of the “live streaming” problem. From banning BadBunny (a star whom one pays to insult her followers) to SweetSaltyPeach (a star known for wearing interesting clothing and assembling toys), Amazon Twitch needs a rethink. DarkCyber is not sure cursing, soft porn, and stolen content are what some individuals think the service should be delivering. But there’s always the chance that DarkCyber cannot divine the master plan of the Bezos bulldozer.

The write up points out:

Twitch’s statement acknowledged that they “became aware of a number of accounts targeting the Artifact game directory” over the weekend. Twitch’s team also recognized trolls were using the category “to share content that grossly violates our terms of service.” The majority of the accounts that “shared and viewed content were automated.”

Now about Amazon’s Sagemaker system. Is it able to deal with Amazon Twitch? Humans to the bulldozer controls. On the double.

Stephen E Arnold, May 29, 2019

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