Category Archives: google

Google Discusses Safeguarding Speech Data After Leak

Tim Verheyden, a journalist with Belgian public broadcaster VRT, gained access to more than 1,000 audio files from a Google contractor. The contractor was part of a workforce paid to review some audio captured by Google Assistant, smart speakers, phones, and security cameras.

While most of those recording were intended (for example, people asking for weather data), others were not. In about 150 of the recordings, Google Assistant appeared to have activated incorrectly after mishearing its wake word.The audio captured includes private conversations.

Today, Google posted information on The Keyword blog about their processes to safeguard speech data. In it, Google acknowledges the leaked Dutch audio data.

We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducing a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.

Google admitted that language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help Google better understand those languages. Part of the blog post involves Google explaining how to activate Google Assistant and insisting that devices that have Google Assistant built in “rarely” experience a “false accept”.

To me, it feels like Google is trying to direct people’s attention to the language reviewer who leaked some of the “rarely” recorded speech after a “false accept”. Google is trying to blame the messenger (the language reviewer and/or the VRT broadcaster).

In doing so, Google is trying to deflect attention away from its lack of responsibility with the voice data Google Assistant records. The leak of the unintentionally recorded speech data makes it clear that Google is recording, and keeping, a whole lot of audio that people never intended Google Assistant to grab. That’s not ok.

That said, Google explains that it will provide users with tools to manage and control the data stored in their account. You can turn off storing audio data completely, or choose to auto-delete data every 3 months or 18 months. But, how will we know, for certain, that Google isn’t keeping a copy for itself?

Google is Investing $1 Billion in Bay Area Homes

Google announced that they are investing $1 billion in housing across the San Francisco Bay Area. They chose this location because Google is one of the Bay Area’s largest employers. Google wants to help solve the problem of a chronic shortage of affordable housing options for middle and low-income residents.

First, over the next 10 years, we’ll repurpose at least $750 million of Google’s land, most of which is currently zoned for office or commercial space, as residential housing. This will enable us to support the development of at least 15,000 new homes at all income levels in the Bay Area, including housing options for middle to low-income families.

After that, Google will establish a $250 million investment fund so they can provide incentives to enable developers to build at least 5,000 affordable housing units across the market. Google will also give $50 million in grants through to nonprofits focused on the issues of homelessness and displacement.

In addition, Google will work with local municipalities to support plans that allow residential developers to build quickly and economically. And, Google will also fund community spaces that provide free access to co-working areas for nonprofits, improve transit options for the community and Google’s employees, and support programs for career development, education, and local business.

Personally, I think this is a great idea! One of the problems California has is the lack of affordable homes for middle-income and low-income individuals and families. It is nice that Google is using some of its wealth to help solve this problem.

Google Stops Syncing Between Photos and Drive

How stupid is this? Google has announced that from July, photographs will no longer sync between Google Drive and Google Photos citing “the connection between these services is confusing”. What?

Sorry, but how is this confusing? Images are synchronised between Google Drive and Google Photos. If you do something in one, it’s also done in the other. How hard is that to understand? Seems straightforward to me.

And let’s not forget that you have to turn the syncing feature on. It’s not as if Google forces you to sync. Surely if someone finds “the connection between these services is confusing” they could turn it off? Drive goes out of its way to make sure that you understand the impact of, say, deleting a file.

I like this feature because it makes working with photographs as files so much easier, and apps only have to be compatible with Drive to work effectively. They don’t need to know about Photos explicitly. As long as you can navigate to the Googe Photos folder in Drive, there are all your photographs carefully arranged by year and month.

Perhaps they’re telling the truth but I’m a suspicious old dog and I think this is more about Google trying to stop people getting their photographs out of the service by making it as inconvenient as possible. And what really annoys me is that I pay extra for additional Google storage.

Maybe Google should remember that Microsoft’s Office 365 Personal is GB£5.99 per month, comes with 1 TB OneDrive storage and Office apps for PC and mobile. That’s much better value than £2.49 per month for 200 GB and copycat apps.

Ciao Google.

Google Will Restrict Ad Blocker Extensions to Only Enterprise Users

Google is going implement Manifest V3, that will stop current ad blockers from working efficiently, on Chrome. Enterprise users, however, will be able to continue to use ad blockers. In short, if you want to block ads, and want to use Google products – you have to give Google some money.

Google is essentially saying that Chrome will still have the capability to block unwanted content, but this will be restricted to only paid, enterprise users of Chrome. This is likely to allow enterprise customers to develop in-house Chrome extensions, not for ad blocking usage.

For the rest of us, Google hasn’t budged on their changes to content blockers, meaning that ad blockers will need to switch to a less effective, rules-based system. This system is how blockers like AdBlock Plus currently work.

9To5 Google recommends Firefox as an alternative to Google Chrome. Firefox is available on all platforms. It supports browser extensions on Android, including uBlock Origin and other privacy extensions.

Personally, I think Google is going to lose users as a result of this change. Their assumption seems to be that the majority of people who currently use Chrome are willing and able to spend money on enterprise. Or, maybe Google doesn’t realize that people who use ad blockers are doing so intentionally for very valid reasons.

Maybe Google thinks that breaking ad blocking extensions is a good way for Google to make money from ads. I believe this will backfire as people flee Chrome in favor of Firefox (or Safari, for Mac users).

Google is Tracking a History of Things You Buy

Google has a sketchy history when it comes to privacy. It turns out that Google has been tracking a history of things you have purchased – even if you bought those things in a store or from Amazon.

CNBC reported that there is a page called “Purchases” that shows a list of the things you have bought. The list can go back for years.

It appears that Google is getting information from people’s Gmail accounts. If you’ve ever had a digital receipt sent to your Gmail account – that information was tracked and saved by Google.

“To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings, and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “You can delete this information at any time. We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page.”

While it is good that Google isn’t looking at your Gmail for the purpose to show you ads – that doesn’t make what Google is doing acceptable. It is not clear how long Google has been collecting data about the things people purchase.

It also isn’t easy to find out what information Google has collected about what you have purchased. You can view it here. CNBC reports that there is no way to delete the information in Purchases without also deleting them from Gmail.

Personally, I don’t believe Google is tracking people’s purchases because Google wants users to “easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place”. Google is collecting data about the things you buy because Google is greedy and doesn’t care that its actions are an invasion of privacy.

UK Government Feeds Alexa and Google Home

Good news for Alex and Google Home users in the UK. The government’s

The head of GOV.UK, Jennifer Allum, said, “We want to simplify people’s interactions with the government, making information clear and accessible to everyone.These results are promising because voice services can be a really convenient way to get information, particularly for people who find computers and phones hard to use.

You can ask Alexa, “When is Brexit?” which she answers accurately, but sadly she doesn’t seem to know who my Member of Parliament is. Then again, Alexa only has useful information…

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash

European Commission Fines Google €1.49 Billion Over Advertising

The European Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for abusive practices in online advertising and for breaching EU antitrust rules. According to the European Commission, Google has abused its market dominance by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said:

“Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts. Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractional restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. This misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition.”

This is the third major penalty that the EU has levied against Google. Last year, Google was fined a record €4.3 billion for abusing its market dominance in mobile. The year before that, Google was fined €2.4 billion for manipulating shopping search results. Google is appealing both cases.

Google posted information about the situation on The Keyword. Google says that, over the past few years, it has made changes Google Shopping, to its mobile apps licenses, and to AdSense for Search in direct response to concerns raised by the European Commission.

Google points out that on Android phones, people have always been able to install any search engine or browser they want. Google has also changed the licensing model for Google apps they build on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and Google Search.

Now, Google will “do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choices of browsers and search engines available to them on their phones.” This will involve asking Android users in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.

In short, if you live in the EU, you will benefit from the changes that Google is making. If you live somewhere else – too bad. Google isn’t required to make any changes outside of the EU (in regards to the European Commission’s fines).

It seems clear to me that Google will make changes if it is fined a significant amount of money. I wonder what would happen if the United States government decided to investigate Google (and other big tech companies) to see if they were breaking our antitrust laws. Perhaps it is time for governments to regulate the big tech companies.