Google CEO Named in Copyright Violation Suit: Travel Plans to India This Week, Mr. Pichai?

January 26, 2022

YouTube, Google, and copyright are a long-term threesome. Reports like “Suneel Darshan Files Complaint, Mumbai Police Books Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Others for Copyright Act Violation” are not likely to be a tweeter meme in the US. However, for the Indian film maker Suneel Darshan, it’s a big deal. Mr. Darshan appears to be unhappy with Google’s smart YouTube copyright violation system powered by Google’s deep diving, snorkel equipped machine learning systems for artificial intelligence.

Mr. Darshan — either for public relations or a desire to amp up his viewpoint — has filed what’s called in India a FIR or First Information Report. Named in the alleged copyright violation is Sundar Pichai and a handful of other Googlers.

So what? Several thoughts from my hollow in rural Kentucky:

  1. Lawyers will descend on the government offices and the zippy Indian legal system will move forward. In time, something will happen. In the meantime, it’s business as usual for the Google.
  2. Mr. Darshan captures the attention of television news hawks and tweeters and generates more interest in the allegedly pirate film “Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha”.
  3. Indian authorities put Mr. Pichai and the other Googlers named in the copyright violation matter on a watch list.

Business trips to India could create some unexpected customs and immigration activity for Mr. Pichai and the Googlers identified by the aggrieved Mr. Darshan.

Does Mr. Pichai have upcoming travel plans to India? Compared to the Dark Patterns matter, spending a few extra minutes in the Mumbai International Airport may not make much difference unless the Googlers are hauled off to the Mumbai police headquarters. Take some tchotchkes maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2022

Facebook: Reluctant But Why?

January 26, 2022

The write up concerns Facebook in Australia. Australia has good relationships with the US. The bonds between Australia and the United Kingdom seem to be in reasonable shape as well. Australia, it seems to me, has been an origin point for some interesting ideas related to online.

Meta Most Reluctant to Work with Government: Home Affairs” points out that Meta (originally just plain old super community minded Facebook) is less enthusiastic about working with Australia’s government than some of its very large, possibly monopolistic fellow travelers.

The write up reports:

In a submission to the House Select Committee Inquiry into Social Media and Online Safety, Home Affairs criticized Meta for not doing enough to protect its users and for not adequately engaging with the government on these issues. In its own submission, Meta said it has “responded constructively” to Australian government inquiries and is “highly responsive” to local regulators.

I think this means that Meta is doing a better job at foot dragging than some other big technology firms. Like Meta’s recognition as the worst company in the United States, the highly responsive outfit has tallied points in the “less enthusiastic” competition.

The Australian government and Meta have other issues which have caused the US company to arm wrestle with Australian officials; for example, encryption of Facebook Messenger content, dealing with Australian media’s interest in compensation for its content, and ideas about privacy.

The write up does not answer the question “But why?”

To fill the void, may I suggest a cou8ple of reasons:

  1. Keep people in the dark. Disclosures about Meta technology, business practices, or data systems might inform the Australian government. With the information, the Australian government could formulate some new ideas about fining or controlling the community focused US outfit. In short, Meta information may lead to meta prosecution perhaps?
  2. Take steps to prevent data moving around the Five Eyes. Information disclosed in Australia might find its way to the US and the UK. Despite these countries’ security methods, some of that disclosed data could seep into the efficient machinery of the European Union. It is conceivable that the risk of becoming even more responsive to Australia increases the risk of EU action with regard to the community oriented social media company.
  3. Circle the wagons to prevent user defections. Cooperating in any way that become public could cause some Meta users to delete their accounts and prevent others in their span of control from using Meta services. This means a loss of revenue, and a loss of revenue has downside consequences; namely, encouragement for other high technology companies to nose into Meta territory.

I want to emphasize none of these ideas appear in the write up cited above. Furthermore, these are views which I developed talking with my colleagues about Meta.

Net net: Meta does not want information about its systems, methods, research, and policies. Frances Haugen, it seems, did not get that email.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2022

Excited about Microsoft and Games? What about Other Issues? Like, Uh, Security?

January 25, 2022

We learn of a recent complaint against SolarWinds from GitHub contributor jaybobo, who helpfully shares both the full filing and key highlights. The case was filed in Delaware’s Court of Chancery by shareholders, including the Construction Industry Laborers Pension Fund and the Central Laborers’ Pension Fund. In light of the Sunburst hack, the plaintiffs assert the company failed to appropriately secure their investments against cybersecurity risks. The complaint alleges:

“SolarWinds: (i) used weak passwords for its software download webpages such as ‘solarwinds123;’ (ii) did not properly segment its IT network; (iii) directed its clients to disable antivirus scanning and firewall protection on its Orion software; (iv) cut investments in cybersecurity; and (v) listed its sensitive and high-value clients on its webpage for anyone to see.”

Oof—these are indeed the opposite of security best practices. The parties insist this alleged negligence allowed the Sunburst attack to succeed, tanking their investments. The filing describes the impact:

“In the days following the Company’s initial public disclosure of SUNBURST in December 2020, SolarWinds’ stock lost nearly 40% of its value. As of today, the stock trades at more than a 30% discount to its pre-revelation trading price. For the six months ended June 30, 2021, the Company incurred $34 million in direct expenses related to SUNBURST, stemming from, inter alia, costs to investigate and remediate the cyber attack; legal, consulting, and other professional service expenses; and public relations costs. In the first six months ended June 30, 2021, the Company also experienced a 27% decline in its license revenue relative to the previous year. SolarWinds explained that this decline was ‘primarily due to decreased sales of our licensed products as a result of the Cyber Incident [i.e., SUNBURST]’ (among other factors). The Company’s net increase in cash and cash equivalents for the same period was down over 74% relative to the previous year, which the Company also attributed, in part, to SUNBURST.”

The plaintiffs go on to note several ongoing investigations and lawsuits now facing SolarWinds as a result of the debacle. Then there are the related insurance rate hikes, finance charges, and compliance activities. They estimate these factors add another $20 million a year in expenses that will also diminish their investments. The filing requests several measures from the court, like requiring the company to implement better security and, of course, awarding damages.

We want to point out the information in “Microsoft Discovers Undisclosed Bug in SolarWinds Server.” That write up which we spotted on January 22, 2022 (a Saturday by the way) states:

During the sustained monitoring of threats taking advantage of the ‘Log4j2’ vulnerabilities, the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Centre (MSTIC) team observed activity related to attacks being propagated via a previously undisclosed vulnerability in the SolarWinds ‘Serv-U’ software. “We discovered that the vulnerability is an input validation vulnerability that could allow attackers to build a query given some input and send that query over the network without sanitation,” Microsoft said in its security update. SolarWinds said the Serv-U web login screen to LDAP authentication was allowing characters that were not sufficiently sanitized.

Worth monitoring security, but the metaverse more zippy.

Cynthia Murrell, January 25, 2021

European Parliament Embraces the Regulatory PEZ Dispenser Model for Fines on Big Tech

January 24, 2022

I read about the Digital Services Act. “European Parliament Passes Huge Clampdown on Tracking Ads” states:

The European Parliament, the legislative body for the European Union (EU), has voted in favor of its Digital Services Act (DSA), which seeks to limit the power of American internet giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google.

That’s mostly on the money. What’s not spelled out is that the procedure of identifying a tracking instance, building a case, adjudicating, appealing, and levying a fine is now official. It’s a procedure. Perhaps a bright French artificial intelligence professional will use Facebook or Google AI components to make the entire process automatic, efficient, and – obviously – without bias. No discrimination! But the DSA is aimed at outfits like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Nope. Not discriminatory and also not yet a really official thing…yet.

I found this paragraph memorable:

According to the EU, the DSA covers several key areas, including introducing mechanisms by which companies have to remove “illegal” content in a timely manner in a bid to reduce misinformation, increasing requirements on so-called very large online platforms (VLOPs), regulating online ad targeting, and clamping down on dark patterns. The scope and scale of the DSA (and associated DMA) are huge, perhaps the biggest effort yet by a substantial world power (outside of China) to regulate what happens in cyberspace.

How does one redistribute “wealth”? Easy. Create a legal PEZ dispenser, push the plastic likeness of Mr. Bezos, Mr. Zuckerberg, or Mr. Pichai (who is the only one of the PEZ dispensers with AI in his name).

Stephen E Arnold, January 24, 2022

How Not to Get Hired by Alphabet, Google, YouTube, Et Al

January 21, 2022

I have a sneaking suspicion that the author / entity / bot responsible for “Unreddacted Antitrust Complain Shows Google’s Ad Business Even Scummier than Many Imagined.” For the record, I want to point out this definition of scum, courtesy of none other than Google:

a layer of dirt or froth on the surface of a liquid. “green scum found on stagnant pools” Colorful, particularly the dirt combined with the adjective green and stagnant

It follows that the context and connotation of the article views Google as a less than pristine outfit. I ask, “How can that be true?”

The write up states:

… the complaint paints a damning picture of how Google has monopolized all of the critical informational choke points in the online ad business between publishers and advertisers; as one employee put it, it’s as if Google owned a bank and the New York Stock Exchange, only more so. Google shamelessly engages in fraud…

These are words which an Alphabet, Google, YouTube, et al attorney might find sufficiently magnetic to pull the legal eagles to their nest to plot a legal maneuver to prevent the author / entity / bot responsible for the write up from having a day without a summons and a wearying visit to a courthouse for months, maybe years.

If you want to know how one of Silicon Valley’s finest does business, you will want to check out the cited article. Some of the comments are fascinating. I quite liked the one that suggested the matter would be a slam dunk for prosecutors. Ho ho ho.

Personally I find Alphabet / Google / YouTube et all the cat’s pajamas. However, I do not think the author / entity / bot creating the write up will get a chance to apply for a job at the online ad company and its affiliated firms. 

Stephen E Arnold, January 21, 2022

How about Chinese Infiltration: Subtle Sometimes?

January 19, 2022

I read “MI5 Warning about Influence Efforts of British Chinese Lawyer Marks Changed Tone.” Poor Brexit tangled Britain. France24, an outfit intimately familiar with hundreds of types of fromage, reported:

In a warning sent to all British parliamentarians, MI5 accused [Christine] Lee, 58, of acting covertly and in coordination with the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party, one of Beijing’s overseas propaganda organs, by facilitating financial donations to political parties, parliamentarians and those seeking political office in the UK. The rare alert “reflects the fact that the security services are pretty worried about what China is doing in this country, both in terms of traditional espionage, which this isn’t, but also in terms of modern forms of interference and influence,” Charles Parton, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told the Financial Times. MI5 says that Lee, a long-time resident of London, is suspected of attempting to buy the favor of prominent parliamentarians, both on the right and the left of the political spectrum.

Are the allegations true? Who knows? They do indicate that the stiff upper lip crowd is becoming more sensitive to the cracks and fissures foreign entities can use to influence certain aspects of British behavior. I wonder if Brexit was an example of foreign acupuncture? France24 is likely to provide more reports about British security “issues.”

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2022

UK Legal Eagles Circle the Facebook ATM

January 17, 2022

I read “Facebook Parent Meta Faces $3.1B UK Class Action for Breach of Competition Law.” In a blistering rapid response to the Cambridge Analytica misstep, legal eagles have realized that Facebook may have taken some liberties with the notion of market dominance, information collection, and downstream use of those data about its much loved customers.

The article states (once one gets past the pop up ads from everyone’s favorite moguls at the News Corp.):

The suit. If successful, would have Facebook paying $3.1 billion in damages to Facebook U.K. users. The lawsuit was filed with the U.K.’s Competition Appeal Tribunal in London.

From my point of view, the action is a way to get a large, US technology company to output a bale of cash for its behaviors. Although $3.1 billion is a respectable number, Facebook’s approximate daily revenue intake is in the neighborhood of a $100 billion, give or take a few billion. That works out to a week and a half of revenue.

Bad but not that bad. Will the treasured Facebook customers get the money if the class action suit prevails? Sure, absolutely just after fees and other costs. Such a deal and one that will definitely chasten Facebook, Meta, whatever.

Stephen E Arnold, January 17, 2022

Alleged Collusion Between Meta and Google: Shocking Sort Of

January 17, 2022

Google and Facebook’s Top Execs Allegedly Approved Dividing Ad Market among Themselves” reports:

The alleged 2017 deal between Google and Facebook to kill header bidding, a way for multiple ad exchanges to compete fairly in automated ad auctions, was negotiated by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and endorsed by both Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (now with Meta) and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, according to an updated complaint filed in the Texas-led antitrust lawsuit against Google.

Fans of primary research can read the 242 page amended filing at this link.

One question arises: How could two separate companies engage is discussions to divide a market? Perhaps one clue is the presence of the estimable lean in professional Sheryl Sandberg, who joined Google 2001 after blazing a trail in economics, McKinsey-type thinking familiar to many today as the pharma brain machine, and then some highly productive US government work.

At the Google she was a general manager. Her Googley behavior earned her a promotion. She was one of the thinkers shaping the outstanding revenue generation system known as AdWords. She added her special touch of McKinsey-ness to AdSense to the Gil Ebaz smart system packaged as Applied Semantics aka Oingo. The important point about applied semantics is that the technology included what I think of as steering or directionality; that is, one uses semantic information to herd the doggies (users) down the trail (consumption of ad inventory. For more on this notion of steering yo8u will want to listen to my interview with Dr. Donna Ingram who addresses this issue in the DarkCyber, 4th series, Number 1 video program to be released on January 18, 2022.

In 2007, chatting at the party helped her migrate from the Google to the company formerly known as Facebook. Ms. Sandberg, Harvard graduate with a chubby contact list, joined the scintillating management team as the social network engineering machine. In 2012, she became a member of the company’s board of directors. She leaned in to her role until some “real” news outfits flipped over the mossy rock of Cambridge Analytica’s benchmark marketing methods.

Ms. Sandberg was recognized by Professor Shoshana Zuboff as the Typhoid Mary of surveillance capitalism. Is that a Meta T shirt yet? He book is a must read. It is called Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. It appeared in 2013 and may be due for an update to include the Cambridge Analytica misunderstanding, the Frances Haugen revelations, and, of course, the current Texas-sized legal matter.

The write up cited above points out a statement from the Google. The main idea is that the idea is “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit.”

I believe everything I read on the Internet. I accept the Google search output when I query “Silicon Valley ethics” – Theranos. I trust in the Meta thing because how could two outfits collude? I think such interactions are highly improbable in Silicon Valley, the home of straight shooting.

Stephen E Arnold, January 17, 2022

Big Tech: Back in Front of Informed Elected Officials Again

January 14, 2022

I read “Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Tech Giants after Inadequate Responses.” The write up states:

The subpoenas demand that Facebook, Google, Reddit and Twitter turn over more information about what they did and didn’t do in the lead-up to Jan. 6.

I stopped reading. Here’s what went on in my mind with the same impact as a trailer for “Don’t Look Up.”

ELECTED OFFICIAL INTERROGATES HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE:

Were you aware that your service was used to coordinate activities related to the January 6, 2022, incident in the months leading up to the date?

HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE RESPONSE:

Respectfully congressperson, our system is automated and appropriate actions were taken in real time by our artificial intelligence content moderation system.

ELECTED OFFICIAL INTERROGATES HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE:

What actions were taken?

HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE RESPONSE:

Congressperson, thank you for the question, I will have to obtain specific information after I return to my home office. I will forward that data to you and will answer any questions you have.

ELECTED OFFICIAL INTERROGATES HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE:

What do you know about the use of your platform to coordinate activities on the day of January 6, 2021?

HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE RESPONSE:

Congressperson, thank you for the question, I do not have at this time any knowledge of what our systems or the managers of those systems did on that particular day. I will, of course, gather any information available and provide that to your office.

ELECTED OFFICIAL INTERROGATES HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE:

We did ask for that information, and you did not provide the information. What do you have to say for yourself?

HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE RESPONSE:

Congressperson, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to that question. We did provide information about the January 6, 2021, incident. If that information was not what was needed, I sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding. I am really, really, really sorry. Immediately after this hearing, I will coordinate with my team. We definitely will provide any  data available to us from the events which took place more than one year ago. With the hard copies, we will include a selection of tchotchkes, including our mouse pad with color logo, a flashing LED logo pin, and a T shirt for you. Are you a size extra large or extra extra large?

ELECTED OFFICIAL INTERROGATES HIGH TECH EXECUTIVE:

Thank you for your testimony, but it seems familiar to me. My time is up. I yield to my colleague from the great State of California.

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2022

Amazon: A Decision Imposed and A Practice Challenged

January 12, 2022

Alexa.com, purportedly named for legendary bastion of knowledge the Library at Alexandria, has been a go-to tool for traffic-based web rankings, APIs, and other website information for 25 years. Now, however, Amazon is pulling the plug on the subsidiary. Bleeping Computer announces, “Amazon Is Shutting Down Web Ranking Site Alexa.com.” Perhaps Alexa the AI assistant wanted the name all to itself. New subscriptions have been halted, but existing subscribers will have access to Amazon data and SEO tools until May 1, 2022. Amazon APIs will be retired on December 8, 2022. Writer Mayank Parmar reports:

“In addition to the global website ranking system, Amazon’s Alexa.com also offers a full suite of SEO and competitor analysis tools with its paid subscriptions. In a new support document, Amazon says that it will be discontinuing the Alexa.com platform in May 2022 and no new monthly stats will be released going forward. ‘Twenty-five years ago, we founded Alexa Internet. After two decades of helping you find, reach, and convert your digital audience, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire Alexa.com on May 1, 2022. Thank you for making us your go-to resource for content research, competitive analysis, keyword research, and so much more,’ the company stated.”

Meanwhile, Reuters tells us good old Italy is trying to fight back against the Amazon behemoth in, “Italy Fines Amazon Record €1.3 Bln for Abuse of Market Dominance.” Reporters Elvira Pollina and Maria Pia Quaglia write:

“Italy’s watchdog said in a statement that Amazon had leveraged its dominant position in the Italian market for intermediation services on marketplaces to favor the adoption of its own logistics service – Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – by sellers active on Amazon.it. The authority said Amazon tied to the use of FBA access to a set of exclusive benefits, including the Prime label, that help increase visibility and boost sales on Amazon.it. … The antitrust authority also said it would impose corrective steps that will be subject to review by a monitoring trustee.”

This comes as the EU Commission is pursuing two of its own investigations into Amazon. One involves the use of sensitive data from independent retailers. The other considers whether the company elevated its own retail offers and those of sellers that use its logistics and delivery services over offers from other vendors. The €1.13 billion fine is one of the largest to be levied on a US tech company by a European entity, but will it be enough to give Amazon pause? Along with its compatriots/rivals Google and Facebook, the company has a history of shrugging off what seem to most like large fees and carrying on with business as usual.

Cynthia Murrell, January 12, 2022

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