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  1. 2019 may finally be the year for ‘The Search Engine That Doesn’t Track You’ In late November, hotel conglomerate Marriott International disclosed that the personal information of some 500 million customers — including home addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers — had been exposed as part of a data breach affecting its Starwood Hotels and Resorts network. One day earlier, the venerable breakfast chain Dunkin’ (née Donuts) announced that its rewards program had been compromised. Only two weeks before that, it was revealed that a major two-factor authentication provider had exposed millions of temporary account passwords and reset links for Google, Amazon, HQ Trivia, Yahoo, and Microsoft users. These were just the icing on the cake for a year of compromised data: Adidas, Orbitz, Macy’s, Under Armour, Sears, Forever 21, Whole Foods, Ticketfly, Delta, Panera Bread, and Best Buy, just to name a few, were all affected by security breaches. Meanwhile, there’s a growing sense that the tech giants have finally turned on us. Amazon dominates so many facets of the online shopping experience that we might have to rewrite antitrust law to rein them in. Google has been playing fast and loose with its “Don’t Be Evil” mantra by almost launching a censored search engine for the Chinese government while simultaneously developing killer A.I. for Pentagon drones. And we now know that Facebook collected people’s personal data without their consent, let companies such as Spotify and Netflix look at our private messages, fueled fake news and Donald Trump, and was used to facilitate a genocide in Myanmar. The backlash against these companies dominated our national discourse in 2018. The European Union is cracking down on anticompetitive practices at Amazon and Google. Both Facebook and Twitter have had their turns in the congressional hot seat, facing questions from slightly confused but definitely irate lawmakers about how the two companies choose what information to show us and what they do with our data when we’re not looking. Worries over privacy have led everyone from the New York Times to Brian Acton, the disgruntled co-founder of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, to call for a Facebook exodus. And judging by Facebook’s stagnating rate of user growth, people seem to be listening. For Gabriel Weinberg, the founder and CEO of privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo, our growing tech skepticism recalls the early 1900s, when Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle revealed the previously unexamined horrors of the meatpacking industry. “Industries have historically gone through periods of almost ignorant bliss, and then people start to expose how the sausage is being made,” he says. Gabriel Weinberg, DuckDuckGo CEO and Founder This, in a nutshell, is DuckDuckGo’s proposition: “The big tech companies are taking advantage of you by selling your data. We won’t.” In effect, it’s an anti-sales sales pitch. DuckDuckGo is perhaps the most prominent in a number of small but rapidly growing firms attempting to make it big — or at least sustainable — by putting their customers’ privacy and security first. And unlike the previous generation of privacy products, such as Tor or SecureDrop, these services are easy to use and intuitive, and their user bases aren’t exclusively composed of political activists, security researchers, and paranoiacs. The same day Weinberg and I spoke, DuckDuckGo’s search engine returned results for 33,626,258 queries — a new daily record for the company. Weinberg estimates that since 2014, DuckDuckGo’s traffic has been increasing at a rate of “about 50 percent a year,” a claim backed up by the company’s publicly available traffic data. “You can run a profitable company — which we are — without [using] a surveillance business model,” Weinberg says. If he’s right, DuckDuckGo stands to capitalize handsomely off our collective backlash against the giants of the web economy and establish a prominent brand in the coming era of data privacy. If he’s wrong, his company looks more like a last dying gasp before surveillance capitalism finally takes over the world. DuckDuckGo is based just east of nowhere. Not in the Bay Area, or New York, or Weinberg’s hometown of Atlanta, or in Boston, where he and his wife met while attending MIT. Instead, DuckDuckGo headquarters is set along a side street just off the main drag of Paoli, Pennsylvania, in a building that looks like a cross between a Pennsylvania Dutch house and a modest Catholic church, on the second floor above a laser eye surgery center. Stained-glass windows look out onto the street, and a small statue of an angel hangs precariously off the roof. On the second floor, a door leading out to a balcony is framed by a pair of friendly looking cartoon ducks, one of which wears an eye patch. Just before DuckDuckGo’s entrance sits a welcome mat that reads “COME BACK WITH A WARRANT.” “People don’t generally show up at our doorstep, but I hope that at some point it’ll be useful,” Weinberg tells me, sitting on a couch a few feet from an Aqua Teen Hunger Force mural that takes up a quarter of a wall. At 39, he is energetic, affable, and generally much more at ease with himself than the stereotypical tech CEO. The office around us looks like it was furnished by the set designer of Ready Player One: a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy print in the entryway, Japanese-style panels depicting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the bathroom, and a vintage-looking RoboCop pinball machine in the break room. There’s even a Lego model of the DeLorean from Back to the Future on his desk. The furniture, Weinberg tells me, is mostly from Ikea. The lamp in the communal area is a hand-me-down from his mom. Weinberg learned basic programming on an Atari while he was still in elementary school. Before hitting puberty, he’d built an early internet bulletin board. “It didn’t really have a purpose” in the beginning, Weinberg says. The one feature that made his bulletin board unique, he says, was that he hosted anonymous AMA-style question panels with his father, an infectious disease doctor with substantial experience treating AIDS patients. This was during the early 1990s, when the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS remained so great that doctors were known to deny treatment to those suffering from it. Weinberg says that the free—and private—medical advice made the board a valuable resource for the small number of people who found it. It was an early instance of Weinberg’s interest in facilitating access to information, as well as a cogent example of the power of online privacy: “The ability to access informational resources anonymously actually opens up that access significantly,” he told me over email. After graduating from MIT in 2001, Weinberg launched a slew of businesses, none of which are particularly memorable. First there was an educational software program called Learnection. (“Terrible name… the idea was good, but 15 years too early,” he says.) Then he co-founded an early social networking company called Opobox, taking on no employees and writing all the code himself. “Facebook just kind of obliterated it,” Weinberg says, though he was able to sell the network to the parent company of Classmates.com for roughly $10 million in cash in 2006. It was around that time when Weinberg began working on what would become DuckDuckGo. Google had yet to achieve total hegemony over the internet search field, and Weinberg felt that he could create a browser plugin that might help eliminate the scourge of spammy search results in other search engines. To build an algorithm that weeded out bad search results, he first had to do it by hand. “I took a large sample of different pages and hand-marked them as ‘spam’ or ‘not spam.’” The process of scraping the web, Weinberg says, inadvertently earned him a visit from the FBI. “Once they realized I was just crawling the web, they just went away,” he says. He also experimented with creating a proto-Quora service that allowed anyone to pose a question and have it answered by someone else, as well as a free alternative to Meetup.com. Eventually, he combined facets of all three efforts into a full-on search engine. When Weinberg first launched DuckDuckGo in 2008 — the name is a wink to the children’s game of skipping over the wrong options to get to the right one — he differentiated his search engine by offering instant answers to basic questions (essentially an early open-source version of Google’s Answer Box), spam filtering, and highly customizable search results based on user preferences. “Those [were] things that early adopters kind of appreciated,” he says. At the time, Weinberg says, consumer privacy was not a central concern. In 2009, when he made the decision to stop collecting personal search data, it was more a matter of practicality than a principled decision about civil liberties. Instead of storing troves of data on every user and targeting those users individually, DuckDuckGo would simply sell ads against search keywords. Most of DuckDuckGo’s revenue, he explains, is still generated this way. The system doesn’t capitalize on targeted ads, but, Weinberg says, “I think there’s a choice between squeezing out every ounce of profit and making ethical decisions that aren’t at the expense of society.” Until 2011, Weinberg was DuckDuckGo’s sole full-time employee. That year, he pushed to expand the company. He bought a billboard in Google’s backyard of San Francisco that proudly proclaimed, “Google tracks you. We don’t.” (That defiant gesture and others like it were later parodied on HBO’s Silicon Valley.) The stunt paid off in spades, doubling DuckDuckGo’s daily search traffic. Weinberg began courting VC investors, eventually selling a minority stake in the company to Union Square Ventures, the firm that has also backed SoundCloud, Coinbase, Kickstarter, and Stripe. That fall, he hired his first full-time employee, and DuckDuckGo moved out of Weinberg’s house and into the strangest-looking office in all of Paoli, Pennsylvania. Then, in 2013, digital privacy became front-page news. That year, NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a series of documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post revealing the existence of the NSA’s PRISM program, which granted the agency unfettered access to the personal data of millions of Americans through a secret back door into the servers of Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, and other major internet firms. Though Google denied any knowledge of the program, the reputational damage had been done. DuckDuckGo rode a wave of press coverage, enjoying placement in stories that offered data privacy solutions to millions of newly freaked-out people worried that the government was spying on them. “All of a sudden we were part of this international story,” Weinberg says. The next year, DuckDuckGo turned a profit. Shortly thereafter, Weinberg finally started paying himself a salary. Today, DuckDuckGo employs 55 people, most of whom work remotely from around the world. (On the day I visited, there were maybe five employees in the Paoli office, plus one dog.) This year, the company went through its second funding round of VC funding, accepting a $10 million investment from Canadian firm OMERS. Weinberg insists that both OMERS and Union Square Ventures are “deeply interested in privacy and restoring power to the non-monopoly providers.” Later, via email, Weinberg declined to share DuckDuckGo’s exact revenue, beyond the fact that its 2018 gross revenue exceeded $25 million, a figure the company has chosen to disclose in order to stress that it is subject to the California Consumer Privacy Act. Weinberg feels that the company’s main challenge these days is improving brand recognition. “I don’t think there’s many trustworthy entities on the internet, just straight-up,” he says. “Ads follow people around. Most people have gotten multiple data breaches. Most people know somebody who’s had some kind of identity theft issue. The percentage of people who’ve had those events happen to them has just grown and grown.” The recent investment from OMERS has helped cover the cost of DuckDuckGo’s new app, launched in January 2018. The app, a lightweight mobile web browser for iOS and Android that’s also available as a Chrome plugin, is built around the DuckDuckGo search engine. It gives each site you visit a letter grade based on its privacy practices and has an option to let you know which web trackers — usually ones from Google, Facebook, or Comscore — it blocked from monitoring your browsing activity. After you’ve finished surfing, you can press a little flame icon and an oddly satisfying animated fire engulfs your screen, indicating that you’ve deleted your tabs and cleared your search history. The rest of the recent investment, Weinberg says, has been spent on “trying to explain to people in the world that [DuckDuckGo] exists.” He continues, “That’s our main issue — the vast majority of people don’t realize there’s a simple solution to reduce their [online] footprint.” To that end, DuckDuckGo maintains an in-house consumer advocacy blog called Spread Privacy, offering helpful tips on how to protect yourself online as well as commentary and analysis on the state of online surveillance. Its most recent initiative was a study on how filter bubbles — the term for how a site like Google uses our data to show us what it thinks we want — can shape the political news we consume. Brand recognition is a challenge for a lot of startups offering privacy-focused digital services. After all, the competition includes some of the biggest and most prominent companies in the world: Google, Apple, Facebook. And in some ways, this is an entire new sector of the market. “Privacy has traditionally not been a product; it’s been more like a set of best practices,” says David Temkin, chief product officer for the Brave web browser. “Imagine turning that set of best practices into a product. That’s kind of where we’re going.” Like DuckDuckGo — whose search engine Brave incorporates into its private browsing mode — Brave doesn’t collect user data and blocks ads and web trackers by default. In 2018, Brave’s user base exploded from 1 million to 5.5 million, and the company reached a deal with HTC to be the default browser on the manufacturer’s upcoming Exodus smartphone. Temkin, who first moved out to the Bay Area in the early ’90s to work at Apple, says that the past two decades of consolidation under Google/Facebook/Netflix/Apple/Amazon have radically upended the notion of the internet as a safe haven for the individual. “It’s swung back to a very centralized model,” he says. “The digital advertising landscape has turned into a surveillance ecosystem. The way to optimize the value of advertising is through better targeting and better data collection. And, well, water goes downhill.” In companies such as Brave and DuckDuckGo, Temkin sees a return to the more conscientious attitude behind early personal computing. “I think to an ordinary user, [privacy] is starting to sound like something they do need to care about,” he says. But to succeed, these companies will have to make privacy as accessible and simple as possible. “Privacy’s not gonna win if it’s a specialist tool that requires an expert to wield,” Temkin says. “What we’re doing is trying to package [those practices] in a way that’s empathetic and respectful to the user but doesn’t impose the requirement for knowledge or the regular ongoing annoyance that might go with maintaining privacy on your own.” In November, I decided to switch my personal search querying to DuckDuckGo in order to see whether it was a feasible solution to my online surveillance woes. Physically making the switch is relatively seamless. The search engine is already an optional default in browsers such as Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox, as well as more niche browsers such as Brave and Tor, the latter of which made DuckDuckGo its default search in 2016. Actually using the service, though, can be slightly disorienting. I use Google on a daily basis for one simple reason: It’s easy. When I need to find something online, it knows what to look for. To boot, it gives me free email, which is connected to the free word processor that my editor and I are using to work on this article together in real time. It knows me. It’s only when I consider the implications of handing over a digital record of my life to a massive company that the sense of free-floating dread about digital surveillance kicks in. Otherwise, it’s great. And that’s the exact hurdle DuckDuckGo is trying to convince people to clear. Using DuckDuckGo can feel like relearning to walk after you’ve spent a decade flying. On Google, a search for, say, “vape shop” yields a map of vape shops in my area. On DuckDuckGo, that same search returns a list of online vaporizer retailers. The difference, of course, is the data: Google knows that I’m in Durham, North Carolina. As far as DuckDuckGo is concerned, I may as well be on the moon. That’s not to say using DuckDuckGo is all bad. For one, it can feel mildly revelatory knowing that you’re seeing the same search results that anyone else would. It restores a sense of objectivity to the internet at a time when being online can feel like stepping into The Truman Show — a world created to serve and revolve around you. And I was able to look up stuff I wanted to know about — how to open a vacuum-sealed mattress I’d bought off the internet, the origin of the martingale dog collar, the latest insane thing Donald Trump did — all without the possibility of my search history coming back to haunt me in the form of ads for bedding, dog leashes, or anti-Trump knickknacks. Without personalized results, DuckDuckGo just needs to know what most people are looking for when they type in search terms and serve against that. And most of the time, we fit the profile of most people. When I asked Weinberg if he wanted to displace Google as the top search engine in all the land, he demurred. “I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” he says, “but it’s really not our intention, and I don’t expect that to happen.” Instead, he’d like to see DuckDuckGo as a “second option” to Google for people who are interested in maintaining their online anonymity. “Even if you don’t have anything to hide, it doesn’t mean you want people to profit off your information or be manipulated or biased against as a result [of that information],” he says. Even though DuckDuckGo may serve a different market and never even challenge Google head-on, the search giant remains its largest hurdle in the long term. For more than a decade, Google has been synonymous with search. And that association is hard, if not impossible, to break. In the meantime, the two companies are on frosty terms. In 2010, Google obtained the domain duck.com as part of a larger business deal in a company formerly known as Duck Co. For years, the domain would redirect to Google’s search page, despite seeming like something you’d type into your browser while trying to get to DuckDuckGo. After DuckDuckGo petitioned for ownership for nearly a decade, Google finally handed over the domain in December. The acquisition was a minor branding coup for DuckDuckGo — and a potential hedge against accusations of antitrust for Google. That doesn’t mean relations between the two companies have improved. As the Goliath in the room, Google could attempt to undercut DuckDuckGo’s entire business proposition. Over the past few years, even mainstream players have attempted to assuage our privacy anxieties by offering VPNs (Verizon), hosting “privacy pop-ups” (Facebook), and using their billions to fight against state surveillance in court (Microsoft). With some tweaks, Google could essentially copy DuckDuckGo wholesale and create its own privacy-focused search engine with many of the same protections DuckDuckGo has built its business on. As to whether people would actually believe that Google, a company that muscled its way into becoming an integral part of the online infrastructure by selling people’s data, could suddenly transform into a guardian of that data remains to be seen. When it comes to the internet, trust is something easily lost and difficult to regain. In a sense, every time a giant of the internet surveillance economy is revealed to have sold out its customers in some innovatively horrifying way, the ensuing chaos almost serves as free advertising for DuckDuckGo. “The world keeps going in a bad direction, and it makes people think, ‘Hey, I would like to escape some of the bad stuff on the internet and go to a safer place,’” Weinberg says. “And that’s where we see ourselves.” Source
  2. Apps have been downloaded over 50 million times. Google has failed to removed them, even if they blatantly break their own license. A security researcher with antivirus maker ESET has discovered a collection of 19 Android apps that pose as GPS applications but which don't do anything but show ads on top of the legitimate Google Maps service. "They attract potential users with fake screenshots stolen from legitimate Navigation apps," said Lukas Stefanko, the ESET researcher who found them, who pointed out the 19 apps have been downloaded more than 50 million times. The apps "pretend to be full featured navigation apps, but all they can do is to create useless layer between User and Google Maps app," the researcher said. Stefanko says that the apps don't have any actual "navigation technology" and they only "misuse Google Maps." "Once user clicks on Drive, Navigate, Route, My Location or other option, Google Maps app is opened," Stefanko said. Furthermore, one of the apps, named "Maps & GPS Navigation: Find your route easily!," even has the gall to request payment to remove ads, which it's showing on top of an already freely available service like Google Maps. The apps' names and links, as provided by Stefanko to ZDNet, are: GPS Maps, Route Finder - Navigation, Directions GPS, Maps & Navigation GPS Route Finder - GPS, Maps, Navigation & Traffic GPS, Maps, Navigations - Area Calculator GPS , Maps, Navigations & Directions Maps GPS Navigation Route Directions Location Live Live Earth Map 2019 - Satellite View, Street View Live Earth Map & Satellite View, GPS Tracking Traffic Updates: GPS & Navigation Free-GPS, Maps, Navigation, Directions and Traffic Voice GPS Driving Directions, Gps Navigation, Maps GPS Live Street Map and Travel Navigation GPS Street View, Navigation & Direction Maps GPS Satellite Maps Free GPS, Maps, Navigation & Directions Maps & GPS Navigation: Find your route easily! Voice GPS Navigation Maps Driving GPS Navigation & Tracker GPS Voice Navigation Maps, Speedometer & Compass Stefanko said he reported all apps to Google's Play Store staff more than a month ago. While the apps aren't malicious, you'd think Google would be interested in removint these apps, as all break Google's own Maps Platform licensing terms, which according to paragraph 3.2.4 (c), prohibits third-parties from using the Maps platform to power a similar service. ZDNet has sent a request for comment to Google regarding the issue raised by Stefanko today and will update when we receive a response. The researcher also shared a video of one of the apps in action, wrapping original Google Maps functionality and pestering the user with ads. Source
  3. Including some members of Fossil’s R&D group Google and watchmaker Fossil Group today announced an agreement for the search giant to acquire some of Fossil’s smartwatch technology and members of the research and development division responsible for creating it. The deal is worth roughly $40 million, and under the current terms Fossil will transfer a “portion” of its R&D team, the portion directly responsible for the intellectual property being sold, over to Google. As a result, Google will now have a dedicated team with hardware experience working internally on its WearOS software platform and potentially on new smartwatch designs as well. “Wearables, built for wellness, simplicity, personalization and helpfulness, have the opportunity to improve lives by bringing users the information and insights they need quickly, at a glance,” Stacey Burr, the president of product management for Google’s WearOS platform, said in a statement. “The addition of Fossil Group’s technology and team to Google demonstrates our commitment to the wearables industry by enabling a diverse portfolio of smartwatches and supporting the ever-evolving needs of the vitality-seeking, on-the-go consumer.” According to Wareable, the technology is a “new product innovation that’s not yet hit the market,” Greg McKelvey, Fossil’s executive vice president of chief strategy and digital officer, told the publication. It’s unclear what exactly that innovation is, or why exactly Google is so eager to buy it, although $40 million is a drop in the bucket for Google when it comes to acquisition costs. What we do know is that it’s somehow based on tech Fossil got its hands on when it acquired wearable maker Misfit for $260 million back in 2015. Burr’s official statement seems to make clear that Fossil was working on some type of health and wellness-focused technology, and Fossil has been Google’s most consistent and long-term hardware partner on WearOS, since back when it was named Android Wear and Google was looking for watchmakers to help it rival Apple in the wearable space. Burr did tell Wareable that Google saw the technology and thought it “could be brought out in a more expansive way if Google had that technology, and was not only able to continue to use it with Fossil but bring it to other partners in the ecosystem,” she said. Burr goes on to say that Fossil will bring the technology to market in the form of a product and it will expand “across our full breadth of brands over time,” before expanding “across the industry over time to benefit all.” Putting aside the cryptic product innovation talk, Fossil has specialized in what are known as hybrid smartwatches: devices that do some minor smart features like step-tracking and notifications, but otherwise look and feel like your standard, semi-expensive wristwatch. The company makes smartwatches with touchscreens that resemble other WearOS devices and the Apple Watch, but its strong suit has always been the hybrid watch, given Fossil’s design and manufacturing experience in the traditional accessories market. The issue there, however, is that Fossil, while making some of the nicest-looking smartwatches, has been slow to adopt technologies like GPS and heart-rate tracking that have existed on other wearables for years. So in this case, Fossil may have cracked something having to do with hybrid watches, but we just don’t know yet. For Google, this could be a big chance for it to turn WearOS around and truly try to compete with the Apple Watch. Whether the Fossil technology pushes Google to finally develop and release an official Pixel Watch with its own internal design, or it simply helps the company better refine its software, this acquisition proves that WearOS still has some fight left in it. Source
  4. Google’s quest to find revenue from something other than search advertising has led it in some interesting directions. G Suite is one of the most successful projects that has emerged from that effort, and the company has decided it’s time to raise prices. Google’s New York office. Starting on April 2nd, the G Suite Basic plan will cost $1 more per user per month, up to $6, and the G Suite Business Plan will increase by $2 to $12 per user per month, Google announced in a blog post. The Basic plan gives users a 30GB storage limit, while the Business plan offers unlimited storage and adds better support options, as well as a low-code development environment. It’s an interesting move, and one of the first to take place under new Google Cloud leader Thomas Kurian, who joined Google from Oracle last November in replacing former CEO Diane Greene. Google has mostly focused on winning big enterprise deals for G Suite services over the last few years, forging deals with companies that most assuredly don’t pay list price for G Suite services. It’s not clear how many of the 4 million companies and organizations using G Suite are in the Basic, Business, Enterprise, or custom deal categories, but the move is a 20 percent hike on the costs applicable to both Basic and Business users. Last year Google disclosed for the first time that its cloud business — which includes both G Suite and the Google Cloud infrastructure services — was generating $1 billion a quarter, which is still a small fraction of the $27.7 billion Google generated in that same quarter from advertising. The price increases bring the G Suite tiers roughly in line with the pricing for Microsoft’s Office 365 for Business plans, although there are some differences between the two companies in the features that are available at a given tier. Source
  5. For years, Wikipedia has been working on making its eponymous encyclopedia support more languages. But the nonprofit’s effort has been slow, in part because of the translation tool it uses. Editors on the website have long expressed a desire to use Google Translate, as it could make translations faster. The Wikimedia Foundation, the parent company of Wikipedia, announced today that it has partnered with Google to make that happen. Wikimedia says that it will integrate Google Translate, arguably the best translation service on the planet, into its four-year-old content translation tool. The integration also means that Wikipedia’s translation tool would now support an additional 15 languages (pushing the overall count to 121), Wikimedia said in a blog post. The content translation tool used by Wikipedia produces an initial machine translation of an article, which is then reviewed and improved by human editors. To date, this tool has been used to translate nearly 400,000 articles, up from 30,000 articles in late 2015. Wikipedia, which was visited over 190 billion times last year, offers its extensive database of articles in about 300 languages. (People speak more than 7,000 languages around the world, if you were wondering.) Google has made its own efforts in recent years to help content producers expand their work in local languages, as much of the content on the web is available only in English. (A similar disparity also exists on Wikipedia.) This often emerges as a roadblock for the unconnected population of the world, much of which is not comfortable with the English language. Today’s announcement appears to be an extension of a partnership that Google inked with the Wikimedia Foundation last month. The company, which like several other Silicon Valley companies is a benefactor to Wikimedia, announced in December that it would help Wikipedia make its English-only content more accessible for Indonesians. As part of that partnership, Google said it would translate relevant English articles in Bahasa Indonesia and surface them in Google search. “In the Wikimedia vision lies a core promise to everyone who uses our sites — all the world’s knowledge, for free, and in your own language,” Wikimedia said in the announcement today. As part of it, Wikimedia said that the translations done using Google Translate will be published under a free license. It assured readers that it won’t be storing any personal data or sharing them with Google. Source
  6. SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two shareholder lawsuits filed this week accused the board of Google parent Alphabet Inc of playing a direct role in covering up sexual misconduct claims against two former executives over the last five years. The company declined to comment. Both of the lawsuits seek to force Google to change its governance and oversight to stop future workplace conduct issues. They also call for Alphabet directors to pay damages to Alphabet for allegedly breaching their fiduciary duties and engaging in corporate waste. The allegations stem primarily from large severance payments to Andy Rubin, who led Google’s Android mobile operating division until 2014, and Amit Singhal, head of Google’s search unit until 2016. Company investigations into both men had found accusations of sexual harassment against them to be credible, according to the lawsuits. Rubin and Singhal have denied the allegations. Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai apologized last year to employees for the companies' past handling of sexual misconduct cases and vowed to improve practices. here One of the two lawsuits in San Mateo County Superior Court in California cites minutes from Alphabet board and board committee meetings where the executives’ situations were discussed. Plaintiff James Martin obtained the documents through a “shareholder inspection demand,” according to the lawsuit. Google provided them on the condition they not be published, according to his attorneys, and details from the minutes are redacted across at least eight pages in the 82-page lawsuit filed on Thursday. Martin’s attorney, Frank Bottini, said his team plans to show that Google suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damages including payouts made to executives accused of sexual misconduct, lost productivity from employees around the world walking off the job briefly in November to protest the payouts and hits to its brand reputation. The employee demonstrations followed a New York Times report in October that said Google in 2014 gave a $90 million exit package to Rubin, who said the terms of his departure were mischaracterized. Employee organizers said they welcomed the lawsuits as they continue to push for further changes, including an employee representative on Alphabet’s board. The lawsuit calls for Alphabet to add at least three independent directors to its board and move to a “one share, one vote” stock structure to increase shareholder oversight of management decisions. Alphabet executives currently hold voting control through shares with 10 votes each. “We’d like to see ... meaningful change in the tone at the company, the policies, the treatment of women, the reporting of sexual harassment and other issues,” Bottini said. The second case, brought on Wednesday by Northern California Pipe Trades Pension Plan and Teamsters Local 272 Labor Management Pension Fund, cites company filings and media reports. They are represented by the law firm Cohn & Millstein. Source
  7. FRANKFURT/PARIS (Reuters) - Google can limit the “right to be forgotten” to internet searches made in the European Union, an adviser to the bloc’s top court said on Thursday, backing an appeal by the U.S. search giant against a French fine. European Court of Justice judges typically follow the advice of the advocate general, usually within two to four months, although they are not bound to do so. Maciej Szpunar’s opinion was welcomed by Google, which locked horns with France’s privacy watchdog after being fined in 2016 for failing to delist sensitive information beyond the borders of the EU. “We’ve worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99 percent effectiveness,” Peter Fleischer, Google’s senior privacy counsel, said. Europeans gained the right to ask search engines to delist certain information about them in a landmark ruling five years ago. If approved, a decision based on a balance between a person’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know, the content will not appear in search results. Szpunar said searches made from outside the EU should not be affected by this “de-referencing” of information. “The fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought,” he said. Once the right to be forgotten had been established within the EU, a search engine operator should do all it can to remove entries, including using geo-blocking in the event that the IP address of a device connected to the internet is deemed to be within the EU, Szpunar added. FRENCH DISPUTE Google, which estimates that it has removed 2.9 million links under the right to be forgotten, had appealed a 100,000 euro ($115,000) fine from French data protection authority CNIL in March 2016 for failing to delist information across national borders, sending the case to the European Court of Justice. In a second dispute between a group of individuals and CNIL, Szpunar said that prohibitions on processing certain types of data should also apply to the operators of search engines. This case involves the CNIL’s refusal to order the removal of links found in searches using individuals’ names. These included a satirical photomontage of a female politician; an article referring to one interested party as a public relations officer of the Church of Scientology; the placing under investigation of a male politician; and the conviction of another party for sexual assaults against minors. In its own transparency report on European search removals, Google says that around nine out of every 10 requests come from private individuals. Cases involving public figures vary - for example Google turned down a request to remove a link to a German newspaper article critical of an artist’s work. In another, it rejected most of a batch of requests to remove links about a senior manager at a major British company who had received a long prison sentence for fraud. Szpunar’s views were welcomed by Article 19, a UK-based rights group that focuses on freedom of expression: “European data regulators should not be able to determine the search results that internet users around the world get to see,” Article 19 Executive Director Thomas Hughes said, adding he hoped the court’s judges would back Szpunar. Source
  8. Google announced that their public Domain Name System (DNS) service now comes with support for the DNS-over-TLS security protocol which wraps DNS queries and answers using the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. DNS resolvers are the ones working restlessly in the background to convert domain names such as google.com to their corresponding IP address the web browsers use to connect to that specific website's web server. The DNS-over-TLS is used to protect DNS resolvers and the ones who use them against man-in-the-middle attacks which a third party could use to eavesdrop on Internet connections or manipulate DNS data with malicious intent. The just upgraded Google Public DNS was launched on December 3, 2009, becoming the world's most used DNS resolver with "400 billion responses per day and more than 50% of them are location-sensitive." DNS-over-TLS available for Android 9 Pie users starting today Google is the fifth entity which decided to add DNS-over-TLS support to its public DNS resolver service, with Cloudflare, CleanBrowsing, Quadrant Information Security, and Quad9 being the first companies to do it. The search giant has implemented the DNS-over-TLS specification using IETF's RFC 7766 recommendations to "minimize the overhead of using TLS." As a direct consequence, Google's DNS-over-TLS implementation comes with support for pipelining of multiple queries and out-of-order responses using a single connection to its public DNS server, as well as for TLS 1.3 which provides improved security and faster connections. According to Google's announcement, DNS-over-TLS is available for Android 9 Pie users starting today. Android 9 (Pie) device users can use DNS-over-TLS today. For configuration instructions for Android and other systems, please see the documentation. Advanced Linux users can use the stubby resolver from dnsprivacy.org to talk to Google’s DNS-over-TLS service. Source
  9. A feature of the Google search engine lets threat actors alter search results in a way that could be used to push political propaganda, oppressive views, or promote fake news. The feature is known as the "knowledge panel" and is a box that usually appears at the right side of the search results, usually highlighting the main search result for a very specific query. For example, searching for Barack Obama would bring a box showing information from Barack Obama's Wikipedia page, along with links to the former president's social media profiles. But Wietze Beukema, a member of PwC's Cyber Threat Detection & Response team, has discovered that you can hijack these knowledge panels and add them to any search query, sometimes in a way that pushes legitimate search results way down the page, highlighting an incorrect result and making it look legitimate. The way this can be done is by first searching for a legitimate item, and pressing the "share" icon that appears inside a knowledge panel. Image: ZDNet This would generate a Google URL that when accessed in the browser would look like: https://www.google.com/search?kgmid=/m/02883b The "kgmid=/m/02883b" is a parameter that loads the Knowledge Graph entry for that particular knowledge panel --in this case the ZDNet panel. Beukema discovered that this parameter can then be added to any other search query, like below, and would result in the knowledge panel appearing as a highlighted search result for any query, even incorrect ones. https://www.google.com/search?q=who+invented+sliced+bread&kgmid=/m/02883b Adding the "&kponly" at the end of this URL widens the knowledge panel to cover the entire width of the page, pushing the correct search results way down the page, and giving the idea that this panel is the most accurate result of them all. https://www.google.com/search?q=who+invented+sliced+bread&kgmid=/m/02883b&kponly While sharing search result page URLs for queries like "Who invented sliced bread" with an incorrect knowledge panel passes as an innocent prank, sharing malformed URLs for search queries like "Who's responsible for 9/11" and highlighting results like Judaism can have serious consequences in today's complicated political climate. Just imagine the damage you can do with manipulated Google URLs like these [1, 2, 3]. Link sharing is an important part of today's web and the way in which Google appears to have structured its URL parameters allows threat actors a way to essentially edit search results, which is a dangerous issue. People trust Google and Facebook way too much these days, and tech companies should make sure this trust isn't turned against innocent people in a way that may lead to the loss of human life, as it sometimes happened in the past year with Facebook and WhatsApp. "People have effectively been trained to take information from these boxes that appear when googling," said Beukema. "I have caught myself relying on the information presented by Google rather than studying the search results." In a blog post revealing this issue, Beukema said he informed Google of this issue last year, but the company ignored his report, leaving the door open for search result manipulation. Beukema believes that Google should remove these knowledge panels, or at least remove the "&kponly" parameter that makes the panels cover almost the entire area of the screen. Source
  10. Adware-infected apps masqueraded as games and TV remote controllers. Google has removed 85 Android apps from the official Play Store that security researchers from Trend Micro deemed to contain a common strain of adware. The 85 apps had been downloaded over nine million times, and one app, in particular, named "Easy Universal TV Remote," was downloaded over five million times, according to researchers. While the apps were uploaded on the Play Store from different developer accounts and were signed by different digital certificates, they exhibited similar behaviors and shared the same code, researchers said in a report published today. But besides similarities in their source code, the apps were also visually identical, and were all of the same types, being either games or apps that let users play videos or control their TVs remotely. Sample of Android apps infected with adware, detected by Trend Micro The apps were blatant adware, and you didn't need to be a security researcher to realize they were malicious. The first time users ran any of the apps, they would proceed to show fullscreen ads in different steps, asking and reasking users to press various buttons to continue. If the user was persistent and stayed with the app until it reached a menu page, every menu button push would trigger yet another fullscreen ad, over and over again until the app would suddenly crash, hiding its original app icon. But despite the crash, unbeknownst to the user, the app would continue to run in the phone's background, showing new fullscreen ads ever 15 or 30 minutes, generating profits for the fraudsters until users either removed the apps or reset devices to factory settings as a last resort. Trend Micro says it reported all apps to Google and the OS maker reacted quickly and removed the offending apps immediately after confirming their report. A list of the 85 adware apps is available in this PDF file. While the Google Play Protect service disabled the apps on users' smartphones, users who access their Google Play app will also be able to see an alert if they previously installed one of the apps, along with a prompt to uninstall any apps from their devices for good. Google has been seeing a flood of apps infected with all different strains of adware in the past few months. Besides adware, Google also removed another app from the Play Store last week that contained a version of the MobSTSPY spyware. That app was downloaded by over 100,000 users. Source
  11. Code's up on Github and Google's fine with 90% success rate University of Maryland researchers have given Google a "welcome to 2019" gift by breaking its latest reCaptcha audio challenge. The work is a follow-up to an attackpublished in April 2017 by the university's Kevin Bock, Daven Patel, George Hughey and Dave Levin, again attacking the audio challenges. Since then, Google has updated the code, and the boffins have updated their attack. The audio challenge was created to solve reCaptcha's accessibility problem – someone using a screen reader can't see where to "tick the box" to prove they aren't a robot. The 2017 attack, documented here, downloaded and segmented the audio captcha, sent the segments on to multiple online speech-to-text services, checked the responses for homophones, applied a weighted vote to those responses, and uploaded the answer to reCaptcha. They claimed better than 85 per cent accuracy for that attack, and when Google fixed reCaptcha's audio challenge, the group set to work attacking the replacement. They demonstrated that the fixes made reCaptcha less secure, told Google in June 2018 (with a six-month disclosure deadline), and on Monday published unCaptcha2. The group said: "Thanks to the changes to the audio challenge, [parsing] ReCaptcha is easier than ever before. The code now only needs to make a single request to a free, publicly available speech to text API to achieve around 90 per cent accuracy over all captchas." The GitHub post notes that unCaptcha2 no longer needs to use multiple speech-to-text engines, and the fragmentation approach used in the first version has also been abandoned. The boffins added that Google cleared them to release the code. "The Recaptcha team is aware of this attack vector, and have confirmed they are OK with us releasing this code, despite its current success rate." They added: "While unCaptcha2 is tuned for Google's Demo site, it can be changed to work for any such site – the logic for defeating ReCaptcha will be the same." Researchers wanting to check out unCaptcha2 for themselves will need their own API keys from the relevant services (speech-to-text engines from wit.ai, Bing, IBM and Google). Since Google has had six months' notice, the boffins noted that unCaptcha2 could stop working at any time. ® Source
  12. While 2018 was a year of iterative updates, Apple, Google and Microsoft all released some of their best products yet, even if they weren’t as innovative as some would like. While many flagships went without any upgrades – we didn’t even see a new MacBook or Surface Book – devices like the MacBook Air and Surface Laptop 2 saw significant upgrades which impacted the user experience. However, 2019 should see the big three push their hardware further than before – especially as 7nm and 10nm AMD and Intel processors become mainstream. So, what can we expect to see from Apple, Google and Microsoft throughout the next year? Apple in 2019 Apple’s release schedule in 2018 was all over the place. After the insanely powerful iMac Pro dropped in December 2017, we got an iPad aimed at students in March, followed by a lot of nothing. We were left waiting for WWDC 2018 for new MacBooks, but that show came and went without any new hardware. It wasn’t until the new MacBook Prolaunched, totally under the radar in July, that we started seeing new hardware. We’re not sure Apple is going to follow the same kind of release schedule in 2019, but now that it became the world’s first trillion-dollar valuation company this past year, we figure Apple can basically do whatever it wants. New Mac Pro. We’ve been anticipating the new Mac Pro for a while now, but we know its coming, and we know it’s coming in 2019. The only thing we don’t know is when in 2019 we’ll see the new Mac Pro. Apple has come out and said that the computer will be modular and upgradeable, and if the iMac Pro was any indication, we might be seeing an extremely powerful Mac – we just want to know whether it’ll look like a trash can again. New MacBooks. When it comes to Apple’s 2019 lineup of MacBooks, we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen. We’ll see a new MacBook Pro, that’s a given – Apple hasn’t missed an annual upgrade for its flagship professional laptop to date. However, beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. Apple skipped the 12-inch MacBook for the new MacBook Air this year, though that laptop has more in common with the now-defunct MacBook Pro without Touch Bar. Regardless, expect to see new Intel silicon inside these laptops – Apple’s in-house computer processors are still years away. iPhone XI. Another year, another iPhone. Apple releasing a new iPhone is inevitable, and the rumors are already starting to roll out. It might be thinner and lighter than ever before, thanks to a new touch-integrated OLED display,and Apple might even include its own modem, making it an almost all-Apple device. Also, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple take another three-pronged strategy with its iPhone models this year, with two high-end models and an entry-level version alongside them. Finally, don’t expect to see a 5G iPhone in 2019: Apple will surely sit on that for a while longer. New iPads. Apple knocked it out of the park with the iPad Pro – it can outpower many full-blown laptops, on top of the fantastic new design. With the next non-pro iPad, we can see Apple bringing over the same bezel-less design as well as FaceID, like it did with the iPhone XR. We’ve also seen rumors of a new iPad Mini arriving in 2019. We fully expect to see more drastic software improvements than hardware, as iOS needs some serious work to both remain competitive in the phones space and improve productivity for its ‘Pro’ tablets. Google in 2019 Even if we didn’t get the Pixelbook 2, Google still had an exciting year, with products like the Pixel 3 and the Google Pixel Slate. Google also doubled down on its Home line of smart speakers and smart-home technology – something we’re sure we’ll see more of in 2019. However, with an arguably poor outing this year, we wonder whether Google will continue making tablets – or at the very least go back to the drawing board. Also, we’ve seen very little from Google in the home entertainment department in 2018, so perhaps we’ll revisit that in 2019. Pixelbook 2. We wanted to see the next Pixelbook in 2018 – the original is by far one of the best Chromebooks we’ve ever used. However, Google had other plans, instead releasing the Google Pixel Slate: a sort of half-tablet half-Chromebook hybrid. While we’re sure the Google Pixel Slate will have its niche, we hope Google will launch a true Pixelbook 2 with 8th-generation Core processors. The Pixel Slate doesn’t set as strong of a standard for other Chrome devices as Pixelbook did, simply put. Google Pixel 4. The Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3 XL are awesome – everything from the camera to the hardware makes either two of the best phones you can buy today. Of course, we’re sure that Google is brewing the follow-ups as we speak. What’s to come in that? Rumors are nowhere to be found yet, but we’d anticipate Google doubling down on its incredibly useful camera and machine learning software, because that’s what’s selling the Pixel 3 phones more than anything. Mid-range Pixel phones. Google has made plenty of flagship phones in its time, but we’ve seen new Pixel devices hinted at in the latest ARCore update. These rumored devices are code-named Bonito and Sargo, and just like all other Pixel phones, are named after fish. We’d love to see new Pixel phones that almost anyone can afford – especially if Google keeps that camera software intact. All in all, this would be an incredibly smart move for Google. Microsoft in 2019 When it comes to hardware, it’s hard to predict what Microsoft is going to do in 2019, as its release schedule is all over the place. However, you can bet that you’ll see new Surface devices along with Windows 10updates. We might even see the next Xbox creep out of the woodwork Surface Book 3. The Surface Book 2 is still one of the best laptops on the market, even if it launched way back in October 2017. This year, however, we should see the Surface Book 3 launch, packed with Intel 9th-generation processors and Nvidia Turing graphics. If Microsoft could provide the Surface Book 3 with a 4K display and a black color option, that’d just be gravy. Surface Pro 7. We’re putting our money on another Surface Pro launching next year, but hopefully with more drastic improvements. Microsoft followed the Surface Pro 2017 with the Surface Pro 6 this year, packing 8th-generation processors and some snazzy new color options … but that’s it, really. We’d love to see a Surface Pro 7 with even smaller bezels and USB-C connectivity for 2019. Surface Phone. It seems like we’ve been waiting for the Surface Phone for ages, but we feel like 2019 might be the year we finally see it. The latest rumors about the Surface Phone, code-named Andromeda, point to it being a foldable smartphone, which would make it prime competition for Samsung’s similar device, also likely launching in 2019. source
  13. Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES Image captionWhatsApp does not allow users to search for groups in its own app, which led to the creation of other services that did Evidence that adverts for major brands were placed in "child abuse discovery apps" via Google and Facebook's ad networks has led to fresh calls for the tech giants to face tougher regulation. The apps involved used to be available on Google's Play Store for Android devices, and directed users to WhatsApp groups containing the illegal content. Facebook and Google said they have taken steps to address the problem. But the NSPCC charity wants a new regulator to monitor their efforts. "WhatsApp is not doing anywhere near enough to stop the spread of child sexual abuse images on its app," said Tony Stower, head of internet safety at the child protection campaign. "For too long tech companies have been left to their own devices and failed to keep children safe." The charity believes a watchdog with the power to impose large fines would give the technology firms the incentive needed to hire more staff and otherwise spend more to tackle the problem. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook. Group searches News site Techcrunch published details of a two-part investigation by the Israeli child protection start-up AntiToxin Technologies and two NGOs from the country before and after Christmas. It reported that Google and Facebook's automated advertising tech had placed adverts for household names in a total of six apps that let users search for WhatsApp groups to join - a function that the chat service does not allow in its own app. Using the third-party software, it was possible to look for groups containing inoffensive material. But a search for the word "child" brought up links to join groups that clearly signalled their purpose was to share illegal pictures and videos. The BBC understands these groups were listed under different names in WhatsApp itself to make them harder to detect. Brands whose ads were shown ahead of these search results included: Amazon Microsoft Sprite Dyson Western Union "The link-sharing apps were mind-bogglingly easy to find and download off of Google Play," Roi Carthy, AntiToxin's chief marketing officer told the BBC "Interestingly, none of the apps were to be found on Apple's App Store, a point which should raise serious questions about Google's app review policies." After the first article was published, Google removed the group-searching apps from its store. "Google has a zero-tolerance approach to child sexual abuse material and we thoroughly investigate any claims of this kind," a spokeswoman for the firm said. "As soon as we became aware of these WhatsApp group link apps using our services, we removed them from the Play store and stopped ads. "These apps earned very little ad revenue and we're terminating these accounts and refunding advertisers in accordance with our policies." Human moderators WhatsApp messages are scrambled using end-to-end encryption, which means only the members of a group can see their contents. Group names and profile photos are, however, viewable. WhatsApp's own moderators began actively policing the service about 18 months ago, having previously relied on user reports. They use the names and profile pictures as a means to detect banned activity. Earlier this month, the firm revealed it had terminated 130,000 accounts over a 10 day period. However, Techcrunch and the Financial Times both subsequently documentedexamples of groups with child abuse-related names and profile pictures that remained active. They are no longer available. Image copyrightGOOGLE/FACEBOOK Image captionGoogle and Facebook say they both intend to reimburse affected advertisers "WhatsApp has a zero-tolerance policy around child sexual abuse," a spokesman for the service told the BBC. "We deploy our most advanced technology, including artificial intelligence to scan profile photos and actively ban accounts suspected of sharing this vile content. "Sadly, because both app stores and communications services are being misused to spread abusive content, technology companies must work together to stop it." At present, WhatsApp has less than 100 human moderators compared to more than 20,000 working on the main Facebook platform, but because of WhatsApp's nature they have less material to work with. 'Vile images' The BBC has asked several of the brands whose adverts were displayed for comment, but none have done so. Facebook noted that its Audience Network, which placed some of the promotions, checks whether an app is live in Google Play before pushing content. As a result, removal of the apps from the store meant its system would stop placing ads in copies of the apps already downloaded on people's devices. Furthermore, it said in the future it would prevent ads being placed in any WhatsApp group search apps, even if Google allows them to return to its marketplace. Facebook is also refunding impacted advertisers. Even so, the NSPCC thinks the brands affected should hold the two tech firms to account. "It should be patently obvious that advertisers must ensure their money is not supporting the spread of these vile images," said a spokeswoman. source
  14. When Google indexes a page, it’s essentially deciding how ready it is for public consumption and under which conditions it will appear in search results. As the world continues to shift its browsing habits from desktop to mobile at breakneck speed, Google has reached a significant milestone in adapting its indexing to the trend. On Google’s blog, the search giant has announced that it now indexes more than half of all pages that show up in search results on a “mobile-first” basis. This means that the majority of websites ranking in its search will have gotten there based on the page’s mobile content rather than desktop. Mobile-first indexing as a project kicked off in 2016 when the popularity of mobile browsing overtook that of desktop, but it wasn’t until early 2018 that it finally starting implementing the changes that it had been testing. Google saw it fit to rank its search results based on the pages that more people would actually be seeing when they click through the link. Considering some sites still had substantially different mobile versions to their desktop offering, people browsing on mobile might have still seen these sites at the top of their search due to their desktop indexing, resulting in occasionally misleading results. Google search results are personalized even when incognito, study finds How is my page indexed? Thankfully, this isn’t a process that quietly occurs in the background – Google will notify any site owners via a message in Search Console once their site has been moved to mobile-first indexing. If you’re unsure about whether you've seen this message or not, you can check how your site is currently being indexed using the URL Inspection Tool. If the migration has occurred, it'll state that it's been crawled by “Googlebot smartphone” and will provide the date when that last happened. Google states that “if your site uses responsive design techniques, you should be all set”, but there are some other issues you can address to help your site make the switch: Make sure to use structured data in the mobile version of your site, and Include alt-text for images on mobile pages Considering the rate at which Google has migrated the first half of its page indexing to mobile, it likely won’t be long until we approach the finish line. source
  15. Google's doing to Microsoft what Microsoft did to everyone in the 1990s, allegedly Analysis In what can only be described as painfully ironic, Microsoft engineers are seemingly convinced that Google is making changes to its websites in order to break rival browsers. Someone claiming to have worked to Microsoft's Edge team has allegedthat Redmond ditched its own browser engine, EdgeHTML, in favor of Google's Chromium was mainly because "Google kept making changes to its sites that broke other browsers, and we couldn't keep up." The netizen, Joshua Bakita, gave as "just one example" the appearance of a seemingly useless empty HTML div tag in YouTube videos that had the effect of slowing down the Edge browser. According to the intern, that tag caused "our hardware acceleration fast-path to bail" with the result that the browser's speed advantage over Google's Chrome disappeared. He also claimed that shortly after the appearance of the div tag, Google "started advertising Chrome's dominance over Edge on video-watching battery life" before concluding: "What makes it so sad, is that their claimed dominance was not due to ingenious optimization work by Chrome, but due to a failure of YouTube. On the whole, they only made the web slower." If true, the deliberate slowdown of a rival browser would be especially ironic given Microsoft's role in the "browser wars" in the late 1990s, when the software giant used its market dominance to repeatedly screw over main browser rival Netscape Navigator. Microsoft used its control of pretty much everyone's desktop operating system, Windows, to force its Internet Explorer browser onto everyone's PC, and then, once it had become a big player in the browser market, persistently chose to implement different standards. That resulted in website designers tailoring their websites for Internet Explorer and in many cases, users were obliged to use Explorer to see a website properly ('best viewed in Netscape' or 'best viewed in Internet Explorer' warnings were common). The good old days Microsoft was investigated for antitrust behavior in both the US and Europe while it enjoyed almost complete control of the browser world, until it was out-innovated by Mozilla's Firefox and then by Google's Chrome. Now Chrome dominates the arena, and many suspect Google is following the exact same approach of abusing that dominance in an effort to cement control of the market. But is it? Or are we all just fed up with Google and Facebook abusing their power to avoid accountability, sell personal data, screw around with always-on location tracking, distort the markets in their favor, lobby lawmakers to get what they want, and then fail to notice things like Kremlin-masterminded propaganda campaigns on their platforms? Oh, and secretly push for censored versions of their products for the Chinese market, and then pretend they haven’t when discovered. Well, the author of the claim that Google added a div tag just to mess with Edge is not exactly a lead engineer – he was an intern at Microsoft. He also questioned his own claim of interference, noting "while I'm not sure I'm convinced that YouTube was changed intentionally to slow Edge, many of my co-workers are quite convinced – and they're the ones who looked into it personally." It's clear that that is very far from a credible allegation. In order to bolster his case, he wrote that "YouTube turned down our request to remove the hidden empty div and did not elaborate further." But, again, that doesn't prove anything. It was also separately claimed that the Chocolate Factory has been up to shenanigans with Apple's Safari on iPads and its G Suite of applications: Web developers, meanwhile, chimed in, noting that they often add empty div tags in code for a number of reasons. "I can point to hundreds upon hundreds of hidden, invisible, and obscured DOM elements that have no obvious reason to for existing to someone outside the code-base," wrote one in response, on Hacker News. "We often use empty DIVs for catching mouse events," said another. Others proposed that it could be used as a container for branding and annotations, or for catch out bots attempting to inflate video viewing figures or clicks. In short, there are lots of reasons why an empty div tag may have been added. Evidence? The claim that Google started advertising Chrome's superiority over other browsers when it comes to YouTube is also questioned by online commenters, although their credibility is also questionable since no one gave any indication of what efforts they went to in order to discover if the claim was true. In short, there is precious little evidence that Google is doing anything to disrupt other browsers. And even if there was better evidence, Google would no doubt have a technical explanation or some kind of plausible deniability. But that doesn't escape the fact that the post, as poorly sourced as it is, has gone the round of the tech community today. And the reason for that is quite clear: with Microsoft announcing it will shift its browser engine to Chromium, Google now has an uncomfortably large degree of control. Mozilla CEO Chris Beard hit the nail on the head earlier this month, blogging: Google is a fierce competitor with highly talented employees and a monopolistic hold on unique assets. Google’s dominance across search, advertising, smartphones, and data capture creates a vastly tilted playing field that works against the rest of us. From a social, civic and individual empowerment perspective ceding control of fundamental online infrastructure to a single company is terrible. This is why Mozilla exists. We compete with Google not because it’s a good business opportunity. We compete with Google because the health of the internet and online life depend on competition and choice. They depend on consumers being able to decide we want something better and to take action. Making Google more powerful is risky on many fronts. And a big part of the answer depends on what the web developers and businesses who create services and websites do. If one product like Chromium has enough market share, then it becomes easier for web developers and businesses to decide not to worry if their services and sites work with anything other than Chromium. That’s what happened when Microsoft had a monopoly on browsers in the early 2000s before Firefox was released. And it could happen again. Despite all the antitrust probing in the 1990s and early 2000s, today's generation of Big Tech has shown itself more than willing to screw over rivals and users, and then lie about it. For Google, the fact that it was willing to develop its censored Dragonfly search product for China and did everything in its power to keep the project secret, and that it secretly paid off executives accused of sexual harassment, points to the fact that its culture is going the way of other massive corporations in the past. And then there's Facebook, which has shown itself to be a wholly untrustworthy company, and one that is willing to hire political attack firm to plant anti-Semitic smears against its critics. And then lie about it. If Google is later proved to be messing with its code solely to disrupt rivals, the fact that a Microsoft intern first flagged it will a delicious irony. source
  16. The Federal Trade Commission is being asked to investigate how apps that may violate federal privacy laws that dictate the data that can be collected on children ended up in the family section of the Google Play store. A group of 22 consumer advocates filed a formal complaint against Google on Wednesday and asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the company misled parents by promoting children’s apps that may violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and Google’s own policies. “The business model for the Play Store’s Family section benefits advertisers, developers and Google at the expense of children and parents,” Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said in a statement. “Google puts its seal of approval on apps that break the law, manipulate kids into watching ads and making purchases.” Among the examples cited in the complaint are a “Preschool Education Center” app and a “Top 28 Nursery Rhymes and Song” app that access location, according to an analysis by privacy research collective AppCensus. Other apps, including "Baby Panda's Carnival" and "Design It Girl - Fashion Salon," were among those listed that sent device identification data to advertising technology companies, allowing them to build a profile of the user. The complaint also spotlights several apps that may not be age appropriate, including “Dentist Game for Kids,” which lets the player give the virtual patient shots in the back of their throat. Another game, “Doctor X & the Urban Heroes,” requires players to cut clothing off of a patient. A number of apps were also spotlighted based on parent reviews complaining about excessive in-app purchases. A Google spokesperson said the company takes “these issues very seriously and continues to work hard to remove any content that is inappropriately aimed at children from our platform.” “Parents want their children to be safe online and we work hard to protect them. Apps in our Designed for Families program have to comply with strict policies on content, privacy, and advertising, and we take action on any policy violations that we find,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. Google marks apps that are suitable for children with a star and the recommended age group. Google said it removed thousands of apps this year from its family program after it found policy violations. In addition, Google said one-third of applicants to the program were rejected in 2018. The complaint is just the latest scrutiny of the Google Play store. Earlier this year, researchers analyzed 6,000 free children’s Android apps and found that more than half shared details with outside companies in ways that could violate COPPA. A study from the University of Michigan looked at 135 apps marketed by Google to children under the age of 5 and found that 95 percent of the apps had some kind of advertising. Additionally, more than half had pop-up ads that were difficult for a young child to close, according to the study. And in September, Google was named in a lawsuit filed by New Mexico’s attorney general, accusing app maker Tiny Lab Productions of sending location data of its young users to other companies. The FTC has a history of taking action against app makers who have been found to violate COPPA. TinyCo, a company that makes gaming apps including Tiny Pets, Tiny Zoo, Tiny Monsters, Tiny Village and Mermaid Resort, was fined $300,000 in 2014 and ordered to delete any information it collected from children under the age of 13. The app had offered extra in-game currency if users shared their email addresses, however there was not an option for parental consent, according to the FTC. In 2016, the FTC settled a case against InMobi for $950,000 for tracking the location of children using the app without first getting parental consent. Google removed an app based on the show “Blaze and the Monster machines” in January after a sinister recording of a voice in the app threatening children with a knife went viral, prompting parents in the U.K. to complain. source
  17. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. search and advertising company Yelp has lost its bid to intervene in Google’s challenge against a 2.4 billion euro ($2.7 billion) EU antitrust fine after an EU court said it had no direct interest in the case. The Luxembourg-based General Court also rejected an application by U.S.-based lobbying group Consumer Watchdog for the same reason, according to its Dec. 7 ruling. The European Commission penalized Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine, last year for favoring its own comparison shopping service in internet searches. The case had been triggered by British price comparison shopping site Foundem while other European and U.S. rivals also filed complaints. Yelp had bid to take part in the court proceedings so that its rights and interests would be covered by the final ruling in the case. The General Court, however, backed Google’s argument against Yelp’s intervention, saying that while Yelp took part as an interested third party in the EU investigation, it runs a different business from Google. “As Yelp does not operate a search service that specializes in comparison shopping results, it cannot be directly affected by the ruling regarding the contested act and thus does not satisfy the criterion laid down in the case-law,” judges said. The court also dismissed lobbying group FairSearch’s bid to intervene in the shopping case. Judges said FairSearch had failed to prove that it is a representative body. They also rejected intervention bids from Prestige Gifting, Connexity, Pricegrabber.com Ltd and lobbying group ICOMP. This is one of two Google challenges against EU antitrust rulings, with the other related to Android. ($1 = 0.8801 euros) Source
  18. Quick Tip Today am gonna show you how you can download your favorite Android Apps directly from Google Play Store. From the Play Store, search for your favorite app, copy the link with the app id visit apps.evozi.com/apk-downloader/ Paste the link and click generate download link. Wait for some seconds as your download link is been generated. After some few seconds, your link should be ready for download. eNJOy!!! source: thetechblog
  19. France won’t wait on the rest of the European Union to start taxing big tech. French finance minister Bruno Le Maire says the country will move ahead with a new tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon starting Jan. 1, 2019. The tax is expected to raise €500 million ($570 million) in 2019. France and Germany had originally pushed for an EU-wide 3% tax on big tech firms’ online revenues, in part to prevent companies like Apple from sheltering their profits in countries with the lowest tax rates. The deal, which required the support of all 28 EU states, appeared to crumble earlier this month, with opposition from countries including Ireland, home to the European headquarters of Google and Apple. France and Germany attempted to salvage the deal by scaling it back to a 3% tax on ad sales from tech giants. That would effectively limit the tax to Google and Facebook, excluding companies like Airbnb and Spotify that might have been harder hit under the initial proposal. In the meantime, France is moving ahead with its own tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, which are collectively known in the region as GAFA. “The tax will be introduced whatever happens on 1 January and it will be for the whole of 2019 for an amount that we estimate at €500m,” Le Maire said at a press conference in Paris, the Guardian reported today (Dec. 17). UK treasury minister Mel Stride has also suggested the UK could act alone to tax tech giants, if a broader European push failed. “We have a strong preference for moving multilaterally in that space but we have said that in the event that that doesn’t move fast enough for us then that this is something we could consider doing unilaterally, or perhaps with a smaller group of other tax authorities,” Stride said in July. While the US has bristled at talk of taxing companies based in Silicon Valley, American economist Jeffrey Sachs in October endorsed a tech tax, arguing it would help avert a dystopian future in which global wealth became even more concentrated among a small number of people. Source
  20. Apple, Google and Microsoft have denounced the Australian government’s decision to pass an anti-encryption law that they claim undermines cybersecurity and human rights. The Assistance and Access Bill, passed in Australian parliament last week, allows authorities to force companies and websites to reduce encryption so that the government can increase surveillance on personal communications. Any businesses that do not comply with the law, which the Silicon Valley giants have said is “deeply flawed”, will be fined. The technology companies, which are part of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition (RGS), said in a joint statement that the law needs to change to safeguard online security and the right to privacy of citizens. “The new Australian law is deeply flawed, overly broad, and lacking in adequate independent oversight over the new authorities," the joint statement said. “RGS has consistently opposed any government action that would undermine the cybersecurity, human rights, or the right to privacy of our users – unfortunately, the Assistance and Access Bill that was just passed through the Australian Parliament will do just that.” The RGS, which also includes LinkedIn, Snap, Dropbox, Twitter and Yahoo, has urged the Australian Parliament to promptly address these flaws when it reconvenes in the new year. The new encryption law was pushed through the Australian parliament as it was deemed essential for fighting terrorism is the country and keeping national security, as it would allow authorities to snoop on the messages of criminals using Whatsapp and other communication apps. Apple first denounced the legislation in October, saying it will “weaken security for millions of law-abiding customers” so the government can investigate a few criminals. Technology companies have also raised concerns the law could set a precedent forother countries to bring in similar legislation for their citizens. Source
  21. Under Russian law, search engine operators are required to censor their search results to ensure that permanently blocked sites do not appear in their indexes. After failing to comply by interfacing its systems with the national FGIS blacklist database, Google has now been fined 500,000 rubles (US$7,545), the lowest amount that can be levied under existing laws. Last year, Russian introduced new legislation that can see search engines fined for offering links to VPNs and other anonymizers that have been banned in the country. Fines can also be issued to search engines that fail to connect to a resource offering up-to-date information on what domains should be rendered inaccessible. This database (known as FGIS), should have been utilized by Google, but for reasons that remain unclear, the US-based search giant didn’t want to play ball. Several weeks ago, local telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor contacted Google with a demand that it should immediately connect to the FGIS blacklist. Google still did not comply, placing the company in breach of federal law. That left Google exposed to a potential administrative fine of between 500,000 and 700,000 rubles (US$7,545 to US$10,563). A further demand insisted that it should connect to the FGIS database by today. Despite a meeting between Deputy Head of Roscomnadzor Vadim Subbotin and Doron Avni, Google’s Director of Public Policy & Government Relations for Europe, Middle East & Africa Emerging Markets, which took place in Moscow last month, today’s deadline wasn’t met. Roscomnadzor announced this morning that as a result of the continued breach, it had considered the merits of an administrative violation against Google. Since the company had not responded as required, despite having the rules “repeatedly explained”, a fine had been imposed. “Failure to comply with these requirements constitutes an administrative offense (Part 1 of Article 13.40 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation). The sanction of this article provides for a legal fine in the amount of from 500 to 700 thousand rubles,” a Roscomnadzor statement reads. While fines are never welcome, the watchdog fined Google just 500,000 rubles (US$7,545). This is the lowest amount that can be handed down under existing laws. While the dispute was ongoing, Google said that it was in constant contact with Roscomnadzor and was ready for discussion and negotiation, including action to ensure it complies with Russian legal requirements moving forward. Why connecting to Russia’s FGIS database didn’t happen as required remains unclear. Early November, major rightsholders and tech companies in Russia signed a memorandum of cooperation to deal with the issue of online piracy. Google was not a signatory although there are some suggestions that it could join at some point in the future. Original Article.
  22. SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s competition watchdog on Monday recommended a new regulatory body be set up to monitor tech giants Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google and their dominance of the online advertising and news markets. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said in a preliminary report on the U.S. firms’ market power that extra oversight was justified to ensure advertisers were treated fairly and the public access to news was unfettered. The report, ordered by the government a year ago, is being closely watched as lawmakers around the world wrestle with the powerful tech firms’ role in public life and their influence on everything from privacy to disinformation and traditional media. It follows moves by Australia last week to compel tech firms to help security agencies access private user data. Facebook and Google’s algorithms governing the display of advertisements lacked transparency, the ACCC said in its report, giving the firms “both the ability and incentive to favor their own related businesses” ahead of advertisers’. Similarly, the companies have usurped traditional publishers as news distributors, which has both hurt incumbent media companies and made it harder for readers to find accurate reports, the regulator found. “Consumers face a potential risk of filter bubbles, or echo chambers, and less reliable news on digital platforms,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement. The ACCC has suggested that a new regulator be given investigative powers to examine how the companies rank advertisements and news articles. Facebook and Google had no immediate response, although both firms say they are committed to tackling the spread of fake news. Australia’s government ordered the probe into the firms’ influence as part of wider media reforms, amid growing concern for the future of journalism and the quality of news following years of declining profits and newsroom job cuts. Like their rivals globally, Australia’s traditional media companies have been squeezed by online rivals, as advertising dollars have followed eyeballs to digital distributors. Source
  23. US Senator says Google is profiting off advertising fraud and has no interest in addressing it. A US senator has blasted the Federal Trade Commission for failing to crack down on Google's lack of effort in reducing ad fraud on its advertising network. Virginia Democrat Senator Mark Warner says Google is directly profiting by letting ad fraud run rampant at the expense of the companies who buy or sell ads on its platform. However, Warner is just as mad about the FTC as he is about Google, claiming the FTC has failed to take action against the Mountain View-based company for more than two years since he and New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer first wrote the agency about Google's ad fraud problem. "The FTC's failure to act has had the effect of allowing Google to structure its own market," said Sen. Warner in a letter sent to the FTC yesterday. "Through a series of transactions, the company has accomplished a level of vertical integration that allows it in effect to act as the equivalent of market-maker, commodities broker, and commodities exchange for digital advertising -- in the process creating a range of conflicts of interest," he said. "While the company controls each link in the supply chain and therefore maintains the power to monitor activity in the digital advertising market from start to finish, it has continued to be caught flat-footed in identifying and addressing digital ad fraud." Sen. Warner also called out Google for proving unwilling to address misuse of its advertising platform for the "rampant proliferation of online disinformation" --referring to how various foreign entities have used Google ads to push political agendas, both in the US and other countries of the world. "As long as Google stands to profit from the sale of additional advertisements, the financial incentive for it to voluntarily root out and address fraud remains minimal," Sen. Warner added. Both Google and the FTC have not replied to requests for comments for this article. Google did publish a blog post after our inquiry entitled "Tackling ads abuse in apps and SDKs" that described the company's latest efforts in addressing Android and Google Play Store ad fraud, which has been a serious problem for the company in the last few months. This is the third letter Sen. Warner has sent the FTC about Google's ad fraud problem. He sent a first in 2016, another one in October, and a third yesterday. In yesterday's letter, Sen. Warner also criticized the FTC's reply to the second letter. In its answer, available here, the FTC told Sen. Warner that they don't have the authority to go after Google for its practices, but instead opted to tackle online ad fraud through "workshops and education campaigns." Sen. Warner disagreed and reminded the FTC that they themselves lobbied Congress for additional authority related to online businesses and the digital age, which they received. "Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act was written in broad terms precisely for this purpose," Sen. Warner said. Source
  24. steven36

    Google is shutting down Allo

    Google has officially announced that it’s shutting down Allo, ending the run of yet another failed Google chat app experiment. The news isn’t entirely unsurprising, given that Google had already paused investment in Allo back in April. Back then, the head of the communications group at Google, Anil Sabharwal, noted that “[Allo] as a whole has not achieved the level of traction we’d hoped for.” Allo will “continue to work through March 2019,” Google says, and users will be able to export their conversation history until then. The timing for Allo’s pending shut down is particularly apt, given that Verizon is set to officially launch RCS Chat on the Pixel 3 and 3 XL on December 6th. Unlike Allo, RCS Chat will be carrier-based in its implementation, and could finally give Google the sort of iMessage competitor it’s been looking for on Android for all these years, albeit through a service that won’t actually be run by Google at all. It’s also important to point out that RCS Chat is not the same thing as Google’s Hangouts Chat, the re-branded version of Google Hangouts designed for enterprise users that will eventually replace the classic Hangouts experience with something that looks similar to services like Slack. Google says Hangouts Chat and Meet, the video solution, will both be available to existing users “at some point”. Source
  25. ACCC set to hand down preliminary report into digital platforms and whether they are competing fairly with traditional media Rupert Murdoch has floated the idea that Google, Facebook and Apple should pay for news content they push out in news feeds and on their own news services. A titanic struggle is taking place between some of the world’s largest corporations. In one corner is Google and Facebook. In the other is News Corporation. It’s not alone. It stands with most of the established media companies which have watched with growing horror as their advertising revenues have migrated into the coffers of the digital behemoths. Alphabet, Google’s parent, reported worldwide revenues of US$33bn in the third quarter and is on track to top US$120bn in 2018, mostly from advertising. Facebook’s revenues topped US$40bn in 2017 and have continued to grow during 2018. In just 10 years, the platforms have gone from nothing to hoovering up the majority of advertising dollars in Australia. In contrast, News Corporation and most media companies have seen their revenues draining way. It began with what used to be known as print media, but are probably now better described as news media sites. Now the conflagration has spread to free to air television, which depends on advertising for their existence. Their content is often republished on sites such as Facebook and YouTube without compensation, diverting eyeballs and diminishing their value to advertisers. According to the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the media sector has lost about 3,000 journalist positions since the growth of digital platforms escalated about 10 years ago. The loss in the newspaper sector has been the most severe, down from 23,472 employees in 2010-11 to just 14,678 by June 2017. Some new digital jobs have been created but the impact is a net loss. The beef the media companies have is that they invest in the journalism while the digital platforms simply take their output and republish it on people’s feeds and within their own news products. It’s a complicated relationship: on the one hand the news media companies acknowledge they need Google and Facebook to reach younger audiences, who don’t read newspapers, visit websites or watch broadcast television. On the other hand, the financial benefit of their hard work is going straight to these multinationals, and now threatens their very existence. A year ago the government, after intensive lobbying from the big Australian media companies, asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate whether these multinational digital services have an unfair advantage in the market, and whether they are abusing their market power. This week we will get the preliminary view of the ACCC. Chairman Rod Sims’ approach will have far reaching effects on the Australian media in the future. It will be important globally. His views will be studied by regulators around the world, all of whom are grappling with whether and how to ensure Google, Facebook et al don’t lead to the death of important and much loved media in their local communities. Here’s some of the suggestions that have been floated. Break up Google One of the biggest complaints about Google is that it is vertically integrated and uses its businesses to keep people within the Google ecosystem. In its latest submission, News Corp Australia argues that a separate ad-free Google News site was merely a tool to drive more traffic to Google search so it could monetise its services through mining user browsing data and then targeting ads to those users. “Google makes every effort to keep the user within its own ecosystem, by including snippets of news that allow users to effectively read the key points without clicking through to the full article,” News says in its latest submission. It’s also both the gateway to the internet and news content and an “intermediator” between readers and publishers through the provision of its Google News service, News says, and it uses these dual roles to generate revenue for Google at the expense of publishers. Google disputes this and denies it misuses “snippets of news articles” so that users do not click on links of news websites. “Google has no financial incentive to prevent users from clicking on links to news articles in response to their queries on Google Search and Google News. Because advertisers decide which search queries their ads will appear against, very few of them elect to advertise against queries that relate to news information,” it says. Then there are Google businesses like Double Click. In order to obtain a reliable audience and advertising data relating to content featured, News argues publishers must pay for Google Analytics, and cannot use third party analytics software. Google says it has been working with news publishers to address changing consumer behaviour, by sharing at least 70 per cent of ad revenue when they display ads from Google, and partnering with publishers to promote quality journalism online through the Google News Initiative and Google News Lab. Fairfax Media has been part of the Google News Initiative and is generally supportive. However, it said “we see substantially less progress in commercial partnership opportunities with Facebook. It is our view that Facebook’s commercial interests are largely served by keeping users within Facebook’s environment.” Ditto some of the smaller platforms such as Snapchat. “A clear preferred pathway is for publishers and platforms to explore and implement commercial, market-based solutions to the challenges presented by the current operating environment,” Fairfax said. A carriage fee Making Google, Facebook and Apple pay for news content that they push out in news feeds and on their own news services was floated by Rupert Murdoch in a statement on News Corp’s website in January. “There has been much discussion about subscription models but I have yet to see a proposal that truly recognizes the investment in and the social value of professional journalism,” he said. “The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies,” he said. Others have echoed the call for digital platforms to pay up. Foxtel says in its submission to the ACCC: “Our ability to attract subscribers and advertisers, and in turn obtain a return on our investment in content, is being seriously undermined by platforms which host our content without our permission, make it available for free to our entire potential subscriber base, and use that content to attract advertisers away from our platform.” Nine put it this way: “A fundamental issue is that there is no equitable remuneration for the use of publisher content on digital platforms, and the digital platforms are extracting advertising dollars from the engagement with that content.” Exactly how a carriage fee would work is not clear. Google has partly acknowledged that it is benefiting from the journalistic effort of others, with its Google News Initiative. An algorithm review board News and others have backed an “algorithm review board” to investigate how Google prioritises news organisations in its search results and to ensure it is acting fairly. Search engines, like Google, use algorithms to decide the order they display links to web pages in a search. This is immensely important to media companies in generating traffic to their sites. The algorithms take into account several factors including relevance, the reputation of the page and popularity to decide who to rank higher. But it is not transparent and Google regularly makes changes to the algorithm, which are also not public. News Corp has claimed that Google downgrades companies that have paywalls on their material, something Google has disputed in its submissions. (News has hard paywalls on most of its masthead sites, but none on news.com.au.) Despite often railing against additional regulation, News Corp has proposed a review board to oversee the algorithms and make sure they are fair. Free TV has set out the type of information it believes Google and Facebook should be making public such as what causes upgrades and downgrades. It also wants one month’s notice of changes to the algorithms. Google told the ACCC: “Certain comments suggest that Google does not provide enough information about how its algorithms work. These comments do not recognise that Google is constantly engaged in finding the right balance between providing transparency about how search works while playing a cat and mouse game against sites that try to ‘game’ Google’s algorithms without providing any benefit to users.” Fairer regulation in relation to advertising and content From the free to air television industry’s perspective, the key changes the industry wants to see is some balancing up of the relatively heavy-handed regulation applying to television compared with the non-existent regulation of the digital platforms. Nine Entertainment Co, which has just taken over Fairfax, calls it “regulatory disparity”. “Nine is subject to strict regulatory requirements and licence conditions, including in relation to the standard and composition of its content, while the digital platforms prefer to be characterised as “tech companies” that do not have responsibility for the content they distribute, or require media regulation,” it says. In relation to advertising, for example, television, radio and pay TV are subject to an election advertising blackout three days before an election. Digital platforms are not, with the result that political parties direct a deluge of money into Google ads in the last days of the campaign. Once upon a time that money would have gone into print – but no more. In the days before the Wentworth byelection, anyone using Google search from their computer or phone in the Wentworth electorate, or searching a story about the byelection, was bombarded by ads for the Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, or Kerryn Phelps, the independent. There are wildy different rules that apply on sensitive advertising like gambling ads. That doesn’t necessarily mean that free to air wants digital platforms to be subject to the same rules as them. They would be just as happy, perhaps, with a reduction in regulation across the board. The bigger issue of Australian content is arguably outside the scope of this ACCC inquiry, which said at the outset it was focussing on news and journalism. But it may be tempted. Most of the television networks and Foxtel have made reference to the free ride that digital streaming services such as Netflix, Stan and Amazon get under the Australian content rules. The screen industry wants the popular on-demand platforms to spend at least 10 per cent of their programming on Australian content. Currently, they have no requirement to spend on local programs, unlike the free-to-air networks which must meet local programming quotas, and pay TV, which must spend 10 per cent of its programming on local drama. Fast take-down mechanisms Another big gripe is that the digital platforms, particularly YouTube, are slow to act on requests from the networks and other copyright holders to remove material posted by users in breach of copyright. Free TV, the industry group, is arguing for a swift response mechanism when copyright is infringed. Verification of ad claims by digital platforms One of the other gripes of the existing media industry is that they are expected to make verifiable claims about the advertising reach of particular channels, publications or websites, but the digital platforms are not. The television industry funds OzTam which measures audiences. The digital platforms rely on their internal information to sell ads, which admittedly is more easily measured online. The ACCC report is expected this week. There will then be a second round of submissions before a final report comes out next year. The ACCC can potentially make orders about the structure of the industry if it considers there are serious breaches of the competition rules occurring. But issues such as Australian content rules would require legislation. Source
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