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Posts from the ‘Menacing Monopoly’ Category

3
Apr

MUST-READ: “I tried creating a web browser, and Google blocked me”

The Monster of Mountain View stomps on competition again.

For the last two years I’ve been working on a web browser that now cannot be completed because Google, the creators of the open source browser Chrome [actually, Chromium; Chrome isn’t open source], won’t allow DRM in an open source project.

The browser I’m building, called Metastream, is an Electron-based (Chromium derived), MIT-licensed browser hosted on GitHub. Its main feature is the ability to playback videos on the web, synchronized with other peers. Each client runs its own instance of the Metastream browser and transmits playback information to keep them in sync—no audio or video content is sent.

Without a license for Widevine, Samuel Maddock cannot finish his browser.

But of course, Google doesn’t care.

If someone is creating a browser that wants to playback media, they’ll soon discover the requirement of DRM for larger web media services such as Netflix and Hulu. There are a few DRM providers for the web including Widevine, PlayReady, and FairPlay.

As far as I’m aware, Widevine is the only available DRM for a Chromium-based browser, especially so for Electron. Chromium accounts for roughly 70% market share of all web browsers, soon to include Microsoft’s upcoming Edge browser rewrite. Waiting 4 months for a minimal response from a vendor with such a large percentage of the market is unacceptable.

When this site was created, Google Chrome didn’t exist.

Today, Google Chrome is the most dominant browser. It is the new Internet Explorer. And in fact, even the once mighty-Microsoft has acknowledged this, because it is redeveloping Edge to use Chrome’s underlying parts, including the Blink rendering engine. Other browser makers have already done this; Opera is also a Chromium-derivative. Only Mozilla has held out, although its version of Firefox for iOS uses WebKit, an an ancestor of Blink, because Apple won’t allow Mozilla to use its own rendering engine (Gecko).

When you’re practically a monopoly, you can pretty much do whatever you want (including brutally stifling the competition) and there are no consequences.

Google is too big and too powerful. It’s a giant, faceless corporation that needs to be broken up.

22
Mar

Google yanks KDE Connect from Google Play for no good reason

Ridiculous:

The official KDE Connect Android app was briefly removed from the Google Play Store for “violating” app permission policies.

Google yanked the phone-side companion app, which works with desktop tools like GSconnect, from its Android app store on March 19. It said the app did not adhere to its new rules on apps that can access to SMS messages.

But that was nonsense. KDE developer Albert Vaca Cintora explains:

KDE Connect has been removed from Google Play for violating their new policy on apps that access SMS. The policy has an explicit exception for companion apps (like KDE Connect), but it was removed anyway and *there’s no way to talk to Google*.

Google only provides one-way forms to contact them. I’ve filled the forms regarding this policy change (including one they sent to existing apps before the policy was effective) but never got an explanation to why KDE Connect doesn’t qualify as a companion app.

Google is the best living personification of the faceless corporation that we know of.

Albert stripped the SMS integration out of KDE Connect to get it back on Google Play. After an outcry from free software enthusiasts, Google quietly reversed course and allowed KDE Connect back on Google Play, replete with SMS integration.

20
Mar

The EU hits Google with another big, well-deserved fine

It serves them right.

European authorities on Wednesday fined Google 1.5 billion euros for antitrust violations in the online advertising market, continuing its efforts to rein in the world’s biggest technology companies.

The fine, worth about $1.7 billion, is the third against Google by the European Union since 2017, reinforcing the region’s position as the world’s most aggressive watchdog of an industry with an increasingly powerful role in society and the global economy. The regulators said Google had violated antitrust rules by imposing unfair terms on companies that used its search bar on their websites in Europe.

The EU’s Margrethe Vestager said it well when she declared:

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anticompetitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites.”

It’s nice to hear somebody in a position of public responsibility saying this and then back it up with action.

What’s sad, though, is that the United States keeps letting Google skate when it can see the same thing that European Union regulators can see. The difference is that the EU cares about combating monopolistic behavior while the U.S. authorities don’t.

19
Mar

Google enters another market with Stadia, a big foray into gaming

We can only hope Stadia is as big of a failure as Google Plus was.

At the Game Developers Conference, Google announced its biggest play yet in the gaming space: a streaming game service named Google Stadia, designed to run on everything from PCs and Android phones to Google’s own Chromecast devices.

As of press time, the service’s release window is simply “2019.” No pricing information was announced at the event.

Google Stadia will run a selection of existing PC games on Google’s centralized servers, taking in controller inputs and sending back video and audio using Google’s network of low-latency data centers. The company revealed a new Google-produced controller, along with a game-streaming interface that revolves around a “play now” button. Press this on any Web browser and gameplay will begin “in as quick as five seconds… with no download, no patch, no update, and no install.”

Ars Technica commenters are skeptical about Stadia.

“Can’t wait for this to be killed off in a press release in 6 years! I really need more reliability from Google in supporting their platforms,” wrote one.

“Annnd will quickly forget about it in 1-2 years. Buyer beware,” said another.

“My past experience with Google products suddenly disappearing really discourages me from trying this, let alone sink money into it,” agreed a third.

7
Dec

Boo! Microsoft’s Edge to become a clone of Google’s Chrome

A must-read post from Mozilla’s Chris Beard.

Microsoft is officially giving up on an independent shared platform for the internet. By adopting Chromium, Microsoft hands over control of even more of online life to Google.

This may sound melodramatic, but it’s not. The “browser engines” — Chromium from Google and Gecko Quantum from Mozilla — are “inside baseball” pieces of software that actually determine a great deal of what each of us can do online. They determine core capabilities such as which content we as consumers can see, how secure we are when we watch content, and how much control we have over what websites and services can do to us. Microsoft’s decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us.

From a business point of view Microsoft’s decision may well make sense. Google is so close to almost complete control of the infrastructure of our online lives that it may not be profitable to continue to fight this. The interests of Microsoft’s shareholders may well be served by giving up on the freedom and choice that the internet once offered us. 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.

This is a worrying development indeed.

What would have made more sense is for Microsoft to embrace Gecko, and contribute to Firefox’s rendering engine. It would have allowed the software giant to reconcile with the successor (Mozilla) of its former opponent (Netscape) in the “browser wars”, and given a boost to the Firefox project.

Instead, Microsoft is moving to shore up Google’s dominance in the browser space.

It is worth noting here that Mozilla is financially dependent on Google — Google currently pays Mozilla to make its search engine the default in Firefox. (Defaults matter because most people don’t change them.) So even Mozilla hasn’t been able to chart a totally independent course from the Monster of Mountain View.

A Microsoft-Mozilla alliance makes so much sense: Firefox could help steer people to Bing, and Microsoft could help Gecko’s future development. It’s a shame it’s not happening.

3
Oct

BlackBerry alum Jim Balsillie sounds the alarm over Google parent’s ominous plans for Toronto

And the authorities in Toronto, Ontario, Canada should heed his words.

A unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet is proposing to turn a rundown part of Toronto’s waterfront into what may be the most wired community in history — to “fundamentally refine what urban life can be.”

Sidewalk Labs has partnered with a government agency known as Waterfront Toronto with plans to erect mid-rise apartments, offices, shops and a school on a 12-acre (4.9-hectare) site — a first step toward what it hopes will eventually be a 800-acre (325-hectare) development.

High-level interest is clear: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alphabet’s then-Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt appeared together to announce the plan last October.

But some Canadians are rethinking the privacy implications of giving one of the most data-hungry companies on the planet the means to wire up everything from street lights to pavement. And some want the public to get a cut of the revenue from products developed using Canada’s largest city as an urban laboratory.

“The Waterfront Toronto executives and board are too dumb to realize they are getting played,” said former BlackBerry chief executive Jim Balsillie, a smartphone pioneer considered a national hero who also said the federal government is pushing the board to approve it.

“Google knew what they wanted. And the politicians wanted a PR splash and the Waterfront board didn’t know what they are doing. And the citizens of Toronto and Canada are going to pay the price,” Balsillie said.

Emphasis is ours.

“Smart” homes, “smart” cars, now “smart” neighborhoods… it was only a matter of time. Adding data collection functionality to buildings, appliances, and even entire communities is not smart, it’s reckless and a recipe for trouble. Imagine the ability to gain control over an entire neighborhood by compromising the software that runs it.

There is nothing “smart” about these technologies.

Three cheers for Jim Balsillie. It’s nice to see such bluntness from a person of his stature.

This project should not proceed. Toronto would be wise to pull the plug and say thanks, but no thanks, to this scheme to exploit the common good for the benefit of Alphabet/Google’s unceasing, unending war on privacy.

16
Aug

Google employees protest secret work on censored search engine for China

Some of the people working for the Monster of Mountain View still have a conscience, even if their bosses don’t. Via The New York Times:

Hundreds of Google employees, upset at the company’s decision to secretly build a censored version of its search engine for China, have signed a letter demanding more transparency to understand the ethical consequences of their work.

In the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, employees wrote that the project and Google’s apparent willingness to abide by China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.” They added, “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”

The letter is circulating on Google’s internal communication systems and is signed by about 1,400 employees, according to three people familiar with the document, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Props to these brave souls for speaking up and letting management know they’re not comfortable doing secret work on a project that could result in Google collaborating with Xi’s authoritarian regime.

21
Jul

“Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary” gets reposted by Ars Technica

Props to Ars:

In light of the $5 billion EU antitrust ruling against Google this week, we started noticing a certain classic Ars story circulating around social media. Google’s methods of controlling the open source Android code and discouraging Android forks is exactly the kind of behavior the EU has a problem with, and many of the techniques outlined in this 2013 article are still in use today.

The idea of a sequel to this piece has come up a few times, but Google’s Android strategy of an open source base paired with key proprietary apps and services hasn’t really changed in the last five or so years. There have been updates to Google’s proprietary apps so that they look different from the screenshots in this article, but the base strategy outlined here is still very relevant. So in light of the latest EU development, we’re resurfacing this story for the weekend. It first ran on October 20, 2013 and appears largely unchanged — but we did toss in a few “In 2018” updates anywhere they felt particularly relevant.

This is a great read that demonstrates what a menacing monopoly Google is. Android, at least in the form it ships in to most people, is not a “free”, “libre”, or “open source” operating system. It is a mostly proprietary OS with some open source components. That ultimately makes it no different and no better than other proprietary mobile platforms that also utilize some free software for certain components like their web browsers.

18
Jul

EU authorities hit Google with megafine, showing they’re serious about regulating Big Tech (unlike U.S.)

Three cheers for the European Union:

European authorities fined Google a record $5.1 billion on Wednesday for abusing its power in the mobile phone market and ordered the company to alter its practices, in one of the most aggressive regulatory actions against American technology giants and one that may force lasting changes to smartphones.

The European Union’s antitrust fine of 4.34 billion euros was almost double the bloc’s fine against Google last year over the company’s unfair favoring of its own services in internet search results. The penalty’s size highlighted Europe’s increasingly bold stance against the power of American tech firms, even as officials in the United States have taken a largely hands-off approach to the companies.

The fine was coupled with remedies that would effectively loosen Google’s grip over its Android software, which is used in 80 percent of the world’s smartphones and is a key part of the Silicon Valley company’s business. Those changes, which European regulators ordered to take effect in 90 days, undercut Google’s ability to automatically include its own search and other apps in mobile devices, opening it to more competition in a market that it has dominated.

“Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” said Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust chief. “These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere.”

This needed to happen, badly. Big props to Margrethe Vestager, who just proved she’s serious about enforcing antitrust laws, unlike authorities in the United States, who have continually done nothing as Google (and Facebook and Amazon) have become bigger and amassed ever more power.

Google utterly dominates both mobile computing as well as search & advertising online (with the exception of Facebook’s walled garden). Yet Google has not been subjected to rigorous antitrust scrutiny by U.S. agencies. The most that ever happens is that Google gets slapped on the wrist for a privacy bugaboo or snafu of some sort. The company’s aggressive growth has not been checked or challenged at all.

28
Sep

AlterNet: Google is a “monopoly on steroids”

The venerable progressive news outlet AlterNet has published an editorial making the case that it has gotten swept up in Google’s crackdown on “fake news”:

The New Media Monopoly Is Hurting Progressive and Independent News

The story is about monopoly on steroids. It is about the extreme and unconstrained power of Google and Facebook, and how they are affecting what you read, hear and see. It is about how these two companies are undermining progressive news sources, including AlterNet.

In June, Google announced major changes in its algorithm designed to combat fake news. Ben Gomes, the company’s vice president for engineering, stated in April that Google’s update of its search engine would block access to “offensive” sites, while working to surface more “authoritative content.”

This seemed like a good idea. Fighting fake news, which Trump often uses to advance his interests and rally his supporters, is an important goal that AlterNet shares.

But little did we know that Google had decided, perhaps with bad advice or wrong-headed thinking, that media like AlterNet—dedicated to fighting white supremacy, misogyny, racism, Donald Trump, and fake news—would be clobbered by Google in its clumsy attempt to address hate speech and fake news.

Read the whole thing.