Google: Give us all your photos… we’ll use our invasive facial recognition tech to pick the best ones!
As we have long predicted, Google is starting to roll out facial recognition technology.
They obviously don’t want to hype its deployment. Instead, they’re tucking it into something larger, apparently in the hopes it won’t draw much of an outcry.
The “something larger” is a new suite of photo management tools for Google Plus, the Monster of Mountain View’s social network, which promise to automate the process of choosing selects. (Selects are photography-speak for “pictures I want to keep and share”).
The automatic photo selection is done by calling upon Google’s knowledge of the elements that make up a visually pleasing picture, coupled with facial recognition technology and a vast database that helps tie together the relationships of people appearing in a photo. Google says its computers will recognize the best photos featuring family members or close friends of a person who uploads a bunch of pictures to Plus.
“You have amazing images of the most precious image of your life,” Gundotra told a software developers conference Wednesday as he discussed the additions to Google Plus. “But if we are honest with each other photos are very labor intensive.”
If the photos don’t look quite right, Google is promising to enhance them, taking over a job that typically requires people to buy and master special photo editing software such as Adobe System Inc.’s Photoshop, Apple’s iPhoto or Google’s Picasa. Computer-controlled editing tools will automatically remove red eyes, soften skin tones, sharpen colors and adjust contrast.
In an effort to get more photos onto the Plus network, Google is offering to back up all pictures taken on a mobile device, as soon as they’re snapped. To accommodate the increased volume, Google Plus will now provide each accountholder with up to 15 gigabytes of storage for full-resolution photos.
What’s wrong with photos being labor intensive? Isn’t part of the joy of photography going through photos? It seems like Google wants to automate and algorimithize everything it possibly can. The allure is that the computers will do the work. But when the computers do the work, the computers also make the decisions.
This is yet another Google technology that we just don’t need. There is already great free and proprietary software available for managing, organizing, and displaying photos. Google would like to be everyone’s repository for photo storage so it can know more about us.
That’s why Google’s offerings are free. When you use a Google offering, you are the product. Same goes for Facebook. That’s something you should think long and hard about when signing up for any social network. Google and its offerings, meanwhile, are best avoided… period.
Here’s the problem: Google now has a clear enough track record of trying out, and then canceling, “interesting” new software that I have no idea how long Keep will be around. When Google launched its Google Health service five years ago, it had an allure like Keep’s: here was the one place you could store your prescription info, test results, immunization records, and so on and know that you could get at them as time went on. That’s how I used it — until Google cancelled this “experiment” last year. Same with Google Reader, and all the other products in the Google Graveyard that Slate produced last week.
Fallows naively says he still “trusts” Google for search, because search and advertising is Google’s bread and butter. He would be wise to switch to other search engines.
Blekko is a good spam-free alternative, Twitter and Topsy are good real-time alternatives, and Bing is an acceptable all-around alternative. DuckDuckGo is good too – it makes use of Google, Bing, and Blekko results while protecting the privacy of searchers.
Google is reportedly developing an offering to compete with the likes of Spotify and Rhapsody, because its cyber empire simply isn’t big enough:
Dear Spotify, Rhapsody and any other music-streaming service out there: Here comes Google.
The Wall Street Journal and now Bloomberg are reporting that Google is planning to launch a worldwide music streaming service in Q3 of this year. Google is reportedly talking to music companies about licenses for the service, which mimics that of Spotify.
Record labels currently have a strained relationship with Google because they believe Google acts as a gateway for sites where people can connect to swap tunes without paying royalties to the labels. It will be interesting to see if Google can come to terms with the industry’s few remaining major players. At this point, except for the independent labels, the music industry is a triopoly – it’s just Universal, Warner, and Sony. (EMI was subsumed by Universal and Sony).
Executives at Google seemingly feel the need to compete in every product category with every other major technology company, and they have tried to grow the Google empire through acquisitions in addition to product launches. In recent years, Google has attempted to buy many of the emerging players in Silicon Valley, including Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, and the now-struggling Groupon. All of those companies walked away from Google’s offers and overtures, forcing the Monster of Mountain View to launch its own offerings (including Google+, Google Offers, and Google Places).
A music streaming offering is just another way for Google to increase its treasure trove of user data. Google wants people to keep people on its properties, and its executives think it can best do that by having an offering for everything.
Gmail and and many other Google offerings are down, and that’s got people upset:
Google’s Gmail experienced an outage this morning, with some users reporting that the problem extended to the search giant’s Chrome browser as well.
“We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Mail. We will provide more information shortly,” Google wrote in a 12:30 p.m. Eastern note on its Google Apps status dashboard.
Google categorized the problem as a “service disruption” rather than a “service outage.”
Gmail started experiencing problems around noon Eastern. At PCMag, Gmail failed to load, and then produced a 502 error page. “The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request,” the error noted. “Please try again in 30 seconds. That’s all we know.”
This is a disruption *and* an outage. Google can try to sugercoat the downtime all it wants; it’s still downtime.
People who don’t know better and use Google’s Chrome browser have also reported a spike in browser crashes this morning. That actually doesn’t seem strange, because Chrome is tied to Google’s centralized offerings. If Google servers go down and can’t synchronize or communicate with the Chrome client (Chrome could be more accurately called a client than a browser, considering how Google’s aim has been to turn it into a gateway to its offerings) that could cause Chrome to malfunction or quit working.
This outage is a good reminder that there are better alternatives out there. Cut ties with the Monster of Mountain View and switch away if you care about your privacy and the security of your data.
Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers says all 154 members had followed its recommendation to ban the search engine aggregator from using their content.
The papers say Google News refused to pay for content and was driving traffic away from their websites.
Google said previously that the service boosted traffic to news websites.
“Staying with Google News was not helping us grow our digital audiences, on the contrary,” said the association’s president, Carlos Fernando Lindenberg Neto.
“By providing the first few lines of our stories to Internet users, the service reduces the chances that they will look at the entire story in our websites,” he said, in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
Though we’re not fans of Google, we fail to see exactly what these newspapers are trying to accomplish by pulling out of Google News. Google News is really just a twist on regular old Google search itself. The difference is that Google News draws its results from media sources instead of the larger Web. Essentially, it’s a filter that can be used to find recent content written by journalists and commentators.
Google News may not have been doing much for Brazil’s newspapers, but it’s very unlikely it was hurting them. The purpose of search engines is to help people find content on the Internet. While it’s true that Google has or is developing offerings intended to monopolize users’ time and attention (such as YouTube), Google News is more like regular old Google than YouTube. If Neto’s group believes that search engines reduce the likelihood that people will read newspapers online, they should be pulling out of Google altogether, not just Google News. But they haven’t, because they don’t want to lose the traffic.
Rather than delisting themselves from Google News, what the newspapers should do is end any participation in Google’s AdSense network. The papers should take charge of their own advertising so Google doesn’t get a cut of that revenue. That would be a sensible thing to do.
We allow Google to index this site because we want people who happen to be using Google to be exposed to criticism of the company. Google’s search engine has problems, but that’s small potatoes compared to the consequences of using offerings like Android, Gmail, Docs, and Drive. Those “services” collect and store a great deal of personal and sensitive information. Google’s search engine does log queries, but it is possible to use Google anonymously through tools like Google Sharing (which we recommend for people who can’t bring themselves to use an alternative like Blekko as their primary search engine).
Google executives have publicly admitted on a couple of occasions that they have held back from introducing facial recognition technology into the Monster of Mountain View’s products, presumably because doing so would be an embarrassingly obvious jump over “creepy line” former CEO Eric Schmidt says the company avoids trying to cross (in order to prevent there from being a big public and regulatory backlash against Google). But that hardly means the company isn’t working on developing extremely invasive technologies behind the scenes, as this update from CNET shows:
Google is close to completing its deal to buy Viewdle, a Ukrainian maker of facial recognition technology that automatically tags photos, according to a person familiar with the deal.
The acquisition, which has been in the works for more than a year, is expected to close this week, the person said.
Representatives from Google and Viewdle declined to comment.
The move makes sense for Google because Viewdle’s technology provides a way for users of Google+, Android, Picasa, and other services on a range of devices to easily (even, automatically) tag photos of friends. Viewdle’s SocialCamera app automatically tags Facebook friends and the company has released an Android game called Third Eye.
Facebook also has made a play in this space, earlier this year buying Face.com along with its Photo Tagger auto-tagging app.
The reason Google and Facebook are so interested in facial recognition technology is that they want to be able to add faces to their rapidly growing databases, which contain profiles of millions of people. The companies already have access to a treasure trove of sensitive information, including names, phone numbers, addresses, credit cards, interests, relationships, and so forth. But they want more. The ability to associate photos of people with their profiles could be very lucrative.
More trouble for Google in Europe: The Monster of Mountain View is being sued by the spouse of a former German leader who is upset that the search giant’s autocomplete feature suggests demeaning terms like prostitute and escort when her name is typed in. She’s going to court demanding that Google do something about this, and it’s possible she just might win.
Despite Google’s past court victories, this case isn’t necessarily clear-cut, says Thomas Nuthmann, a lawyer at German law firm JBB Rechtsanwaelte. “Under German law, it’s likely that, at the very least, once Google knows that its autocorrect is generating results that present Frau Wulff in a bad light, they become responsible for making changes in her specific case,” he says, adding that, in Germany, famous people have the same protection against defamation as regular people when it comes to their private lives (unless they purposely make their private lives public). “It doesn’t mean [Google has] to shut down its technology altogether—just that it would have to at least disable the results linking words like ‘prostitute’ and ‘Bettina Wulff.’”
It;s unlikely such a lawsuit would ever be filed against Google in the United States. But of course, European law is different. If Google wishes to operate in Europe, it must abide by European law.
India’s antitrust regulator has launched a probe against Google Inc over alleged anti-competitive practices by the U.S. Internet search giant, following a complaint by a consumer advocacy group, a federal minister said on Monday.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has received information about contravention of an Indian competition rule by Google, R.P.N. Singh, minister of state for corporate affairs, told lawmakers in a written reply to a question, according to a government statement.
Google has already been subjected to antitrust probes in the United States and Europe.
The Monster of Mountain View has historically been dealt with very leniently by the United States federal government. European regulators have taken a much harder line with the company, especially when user privacy has been threatened. Google has also reportedly caught the attention of authorities in Argentina and Korea.
Since its launch more than a decade ago, Google has morphed into a very successful commercial version of the National Security Agency (NSA). The only reason it is viewed more favorably than the NSA is because it has a more benevolent (though undeserved) reputation. It’s time for people to realize that trusting Google with the details of their lives is a bad idea.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced today that the Monster of Mountain View has agreed to pay a fine for violating the terms of its earlier privacy accord with the agency from two years ago. Google is not admitting to any wrongdoing:
The Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million on Thursday to settle charges that it had bypassed privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to be able to track users of the browser and show them advertisements, and violated an earlier privacy settlement with the agency.
The fine is the largest civil penalty ever levied by the commission, which has been cracking down on tech companies for privacy violations and is also investigating Google for antitrust violations.
Consumer Watchdog criticized the settlement agreement, calling on the FTC to hold Google accountable for its war on privacy.
“While the $22.5 million penalty levied against Google is a record for the FTC, it is woefully insufficient considering that Google refused to admit any liability or wrongdoing,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “The Commission has allowed Google to buy its way out of trouble for an amount that probably is less than the company spends on lunches for its employees and with no admission it did anything wrong.”
One of the Commission’s five members agreed. In a statement explaining why he refused to sign off on the settlement, Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch said the FTC should have demanded – and gotten – more.
[T]his is not the first time the Commission has charged Google with engaging in deceptive conduct. This is Google’s second bite at the apple. The Commission accuses it of violating the Google Buzz consent order by “misrepresent[ing] the extent to which users may exercise control over the collection or use of covered information” and accordingly, seeks civil penalties for those violations. In other words, the Commission charges Google with contempt.
This scenario – violation of a consent order – makes the Commission’s acceptance of Google’s denial of liability all the more inexplicable.
We agree. A $22.5 million fine is nothing to Google. It is hardly going to dissuade the Monster of Mountain View from continuing to wage war on users’ privacy. The FTC should have at least gotten an admission of wrongdoing out of this settlement. They folded too easily.
As if we needed more evidence that the Monster of Mountain View keeps everything… even when it has agreed to erase data under a binding agreement with the government:
Google has admitted that it had not deleted users’ personal data gathered during surveys for its Street View service.
The data should have been wiped almost 18 months ago as part of a deal signed by the firm in November 2010.
Google has been told to give the data to the UK’s Information Commissioner (ICO) for forensic analysis.
The ICO said it was co-ordinating its response with other European privacy bodies.
In May 2010 it was revealed that Google had scooped up about 600 gigabytes of personal data from unsecured wireless networks while gathering images and location data for Street View.
The data was collected for years in 30 countries while Google compiled information for the mapping service.
This is hardly the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last, either.