Skip to content

Recent Articles

20
May

Google wants to share your photos with your nearest and not-dearest

Google’s war on privacy goes on:

Feeble human! Your spouse is clamoring for cute kid photos and you once again forgot to send them. Well, stand aside: Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) will now share your photos for you.

They will be shared automatically, aided by facial recognition and a somewhat kludgy understanding of who you have relationships with. It’s a concept that some are going to be very happy about: getting photos shared to the appropriate recipients has been a holy grail for plenty of startups, and Facebook already does it in its Moments app. Does it more elegantly, too, notes The Verge: after all, Facebook already knows who your friends are.

Google doesn’t. Rather, it guesses, based on whether you’ve sent pictures of the same face to the same phone number or email address. “Must be a buddy,” Google Photos muses, then suggests you share your next few photos of that face with that same recipient.

If this supposed buddy is also a Photos user, they can save your photos to their own library with one tap, and they can share their own photos back to you.

What could go wrong? Lots. Tess Townsend used her imagination:

  • You set up photo sharing with your spouse or partner. The two of you split and you both forget to turn it off. They continue to receive whatever photos, and you may wish you hadn’t sent those or they may not wish to receive them. You can go still switch off the connection, but you can’t un-see the photos.
  • A demanding, and perhaps abusive, friend or family member insists that you turn on photo sharing. It becomes more difficult in an already difficult situation to maintain your privacy. Lieb notes that whoever you share photos with does not see an indication of whether you have the app set to show your selected sharing contact all of your photos or just a subset.
  • You’re taking photos of a group of friends and Google is suggesting you send the photos to someone you don’t want to show them to for whatever reason. Perhaps the suggested recipient is an ex or a former friend with whom you not longer speak. It’s your decision whether to press send, but this can be an unsettling experience, and sometimes fingers slip.
  • Maybe that person’s name is included in a group of names, you miss that it’s there or mistake it for another name, act quickly, and hit send.
  • You take a photo you don’t want to share with anyone. Google either automatically shares it or suggests that you share it.

The de facto Google slogan is Privacy Is Dead. The company has suffered from one privacy bugaboo after another (the WiSpy scandal, the Buzz debacle) but it keeps pressing forward.

There were reports a few years ago that Google had shelved plans to debut facial recognition technologies because it was concerned that there would be a backlash. Now, apparently, the brass at the Monster of Mountain View have judged that now is the right time to go forward.

13
May

New York Times expose: How Google took over the classroom

“The tech giant is transforming public education with low-cost laptops and free apps,” reports The New York Times’ Natasha Singer. “But schools may be giving Google more than they are getting.”

Key excerpt:

Schools may be giving Google more than they are getting: generations of future customers.

Google makes $30 per device by selling management services for the millions of Chromebooks that ship to schools. But by habituating students to its offerings at a young age, Google obtains something much more valuable.

Every year, several million American students graduate from high school. And not only does Google make it easy for those who have school Google accounts to upload their trove of school Gmail, Docs and other files to regular Google consumer accounts — but schools encourage them to do so. This month, for instance, Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo., sent out a notice urging seniors to “make sure” they convert their school account “to a personal Gmail account.”

That doesn’t sit well with some parents. They warn that Google could profit by using personal details from their children’s school email to build more powerful marketing profiles of them as young adults.

“My concern is that they are working on developing a profile of this child that, when they hit maturity, they are able to create a better profile,” said David Barsotti, an information technology project manager in the Chicago area whose daughter uses Google tools in elementary school. “That is a problem, in my opinion.”

Barostti is right. It’s a problem… a very big problem.

22
Apr

Jonathan Taplin: Google will need to be broken up because it’s getting too big

Looking ahead, Jonathan Taplin concludes that the current U.S. regime is unlikely to check Google’s ambitions or wide reach, which will necessitate a breakup of the company down the road:

I’m under no delusion that, with libertarian tech moguls like Peter Thiel in President Trump’s inner circle, antitrust regulation of the internet monopolies will be a priority. Ultimately we may have to wait four years, at which time the monopolies will be so dominant that the only remedy will be to break them up. Force Google to sell DoubleClick. Force Facebook to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.

Woodrow Wilson was right when he said in 1913, “If monopoly persists, monopoly will always sit at the helm of the government.” We ignore his words at our peril.

“Jonathan Taplin is the director emeritus of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab and the author of Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy,” according to his New York Times byline.

7
Apr

United States government accuses Google of ‘extreme’ gender pay discrimination

Well, well, well….

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.

As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said.

“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a DoL regional director, testified in court in San Francisco on Friday.

Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, said: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”

Herold added: “The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”

Google, of course, denies the allegations:

Google said it vehemently disagreed with the charges, which the Mountain View, California, company said it hadn’t heard until Wipper’s court appearance.

“Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap,” Google said in its statement.

Uh huh.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this. Historically, the United States government has gone fairly easy on Google, whereas the European Union has cracked down more harshly when it has taken a dislike to questionable Google business practices. It sounds like the gloves may be off, at least with respect to this particular issue.

22
Oct

Google quietly kills ban on personally identifiable web tracking

Profit comes before people. It’s the Monster of Mountain View Way.

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

Props to ProPublica for blowing the whistle on this latest privacy-endangering move by Google.

Google probably wanted to make this move years ago, but may have held off because of the uproar over previous privacy imbroglios (like Google Buzz and the Wi-Spy scandal). Now, however, the behemoth has gone ahead and knocked down the wall preventing its advertising business from fully exploiting user data to build detailed profiles of everyone’s browsing.

There are ways to fight back. Stop using Google products, turn on adblock, disable JavaScript and cookies by default, use tools like the EFF’s Privacy Badger to monitor and block cross-site requests. Take advantage of these tools!

19
Sep

Report: Indonesia plans to stick Google with a big bill for back taxes and fines

Good!

Indonesia’s tax agency plans to bill Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit for up to $380 million in back taxes and fines that the search giant allegedly owes from 2015.

Muhammad Haniv, head of the tax office’s special cases unit, said in an interview that a team of four tax investigators met with Google’s Indonesian unit Monday, the latest escalation in a growing dispute between government and the technology firm. He said they discussed the alleged back taxes and audit of the unit’s tax compliance records.

“If we take this case to court, Google could be fined four times the tax it owes us,” Mr. Haniv said. He added that Indonesia will also pursue taxes from as far back as 2011, when Google first established a presence in the country. “Now we are still investigating them,” he said.

Google is a very wealthy firm. It can afford to pay its fair share in taxes in all the countries where it does business — Indonesia included. The authorities there are to be commended for not letting mammoth firms like Google escape from their obligations by taking advantage of tax loopholes and other tax avoidance tricks. Time for the Monster of Mountain View to pay up!

19
Sep

Google creates new “Trips” app so you can feed it your vacation plans

Ripping off BlackBerry Travel, Google has created an app that “takes details from your Gmail and puts them into an easy-to-view package so you can easily find your itinerary, hotel reservation, and get recommendations about what to do.” Presumably, the app will also allow you to add information not automatically gleaned from your email, allowing Google to know even more about what you’ve got planned.

PCWorld’s Derek Walter:

The impact on you: If you’ve used the travel powers of Google Now, you’ll find this feels like an upgrade to that service. Of course if you don’t use Gmail, then there’s a lot less reason for you to explore this. Google services work best when you’re all-in, which means that you have to decide where you fall with handing the company that much information.

That’s by design. But no one should want all their data in the hands of one for-profit company.

9
Jun

Analyst: Google plans to take Android proprietary

Surprise, surprise:

Google is preparing to seize control of Android with its own proprietary closed-source version of the mobile operating system, an analyst claims.

Technology analyst Richard Windsor says that a highly confidential internal project is underway to rewrite the ART runtime, removing any lingering dependencies from the freely downloadable open source AOSP (Android Open Source Project) code base.

This is a long-standing theme for Windsor, who most recently raised it here.

If Windsor’s right, Google Android will soon be just another fully-fledged proprietary operating system like its rival iOS (as well as Windows Phone and BlackBerry). Google has long pretended to be a company that believes in free software, but the truth is, Google is a proprietary software company that exploits free software and the free software community.

Windsor’s prediction, if fulfilled, will be the latest evidence of that.

30
May

Antitrust lawyer: Don’t Hand Our TVs Over to Google

Jonathan Kanter has a must-read column in today’s New York Times:

For years, Google has been jockeying to control the nation’s TVs. If, thanks to the F.C.C., Google succeeds, it will get access to the real prize: the data that flows through these boxes. The company wants that information to help it sell advertising. (Disclosure: I represent companies opposed to Google on other issues in the United States and Europe.)

The F.C.C.’s proposal would give Google free access to the raw TV programming data it needs to power its search engine for TV. In effect, Google could use the data to become the modern version of the program guide, connecting users to the TV shows and movies that Google’s search algorithms determine are relevant.

Kanter’s not opposed to new rulemaking allow set-top box innovation. But Kanter correctly observes that any new rules should not be written by Google, for Google, or to Google’s advantage.

If the F.C.C. provides Google with the data it needs to build its search-based set-top, it should take significant steps to prevent Google from continuing its questionable conduct. At a minimum, the F.C.C. should require Google to commit to search neutrality, transparency, adherence to privacy standards and restrictions on anticompetitive bundling. Without these conditions, a proposal meant to increase innovation may well stifle it.

LGB concurs and thanks Mr. Kanter for contributing this op-ed piece.

24
May

French police raid Google’s Paris offices

Well, well:

French police raided Google’s offices in Paris Tuesday, looking for evidence of money laundering and tax evasion.

The state prosecutor said specialist anti-corruption officers and 25 tech experts took part in the search. They were trying to establish the scale of Google’s business in France and to determine whether it has paid enough taxes.

French officials began investigating Google last June, after the country’s financial authorities accused it of dodging taxes. The prosecutor’s office said Tuesday the preliminary inquiry is looking into “aggravated financial fraud” and “organized money laundering.”

We wish the French authorities the best as they complete their investigation.