Category Archives: google

Google Shutters Play Music for YouTube Music. Really?



In a YouTube blog posting, Google has confirmed that it’s the end of the road for Play Music and YouTube Music is the new place to be. Starting in September for the Antipodes and October for the rest of the world, Play Music will stop streaming, though I assume the Play Music app will still play local content. Albums and tracks can be transferred from Play to YouTube from now through December, but come 1st January 2021, Play Music will be gone.

When I heard that Google was closing the doors on Google Play Music in favour of YouTube Music, I wasn’t terribly bothered. I do have a few purchases at Play Music but I’m a subscriber at Spotify and that’s my main source of tunes, so the personal impact is minimal. I’ll get my tracks downloaded to my home NAS and all will be well. I’ve no intention of signing up for YouTube Music.

However, I did wonder about the choice of the YouTube brand for the music service. Undoubtedly, YouTube is a popular and well-known brand but it’s not what I’d associate with quality or trustworthiness. The platform has a healthy selection of clickbait, misinformation and ripped-off content. Yes, there’s some great content on YouTube, but the problem is finding the wheat amongst the chaff. I don’t expect YouTube to be the BBC, but to now suggest that YouTube Music is a purveyor of high-quality legal music is quite a pivot for the brand.

For the purposes of research, I tried out the “YT Music” app on my phone and it’s nothing special. To be honest, I was bit annoyed, because being Google and YouTube, the app tried to pull in my supposed preferences from historical YouTube searches and also tried to make suggestions based on the idea that I was at home and bedtime. I’d really like it, if for once, Google took its nose out of my business. It’s going beyond helpfulness to intrusion.

Sorry Google, but I’m downloading my music and then I’m out of your music service, whatever the brand.


Google Cloud Announced Confidential Computing with Confidential VMs



Google Cloud has announced two new security products: Confidential Computing, and Confidential VMs. Google believes the future of cloud computing will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where users can be confident that they are in control over the confidentiality of their data.

Confidential Computing is described by Google as: a breakthrough technology which encrypts data in-use – while it is being processed. Confidential Computing environments keep data encrypted in memory and elsewhere outside the CPU.

Confidential VMs are now in beta. It is the first product in Google Cloud’s Confidential Computing portfolio. Google says it already employs a variety of isolation and sandboxing techniques as part of their cloud infrastructure to make multi-tenant architecture secure. Confidential VMs offers memory encryption so people can further isolate their workloads in the cloud.

Google stated that Confidential VMs can help all of their customers, but they think that it will be “especially interesting” to those in regulated industries.

9to5Google reported that healthcare providers, financial services, and governments are concerned about not having the same level of control in the cloud as they would have by maintaining their own data centers. Confidential VMs will have encryption keys that are generated in hardware for each virtual machine. The encryption keys are not exportable.

I think this extra protection provided by Confidential Computing and Confidential VMs could be good for banks and healthcare providers. I’m unconvinced that it will be useful to the U.S. government, though.

Some states have unemployment departments that are still using COBOL, a computer language that emerged in the 1950s before computer science was taught at universities. I’m not convinced that the computers in other parts of the government are up to date enough to make use of the cloud.


Google Considered a Tipping Feature for Google Contributor



What would it be like to earn income through Google, from people who visited your website and wanted to give you a tip? According to TechCrunch, Google was considering a feature like that, but decided to scrap it. TechCrunch obtained this information, and several screenshots of it, from “a source that provided evidence that they came directly from Google”.

Apparently, the tipping feature was explored last year by Google, who considered adding it to Google Contributor. In short, Google Contributor allows people to buy an ad removal pass for the web (from participating sites).

You load your Contributor pass with an initial payment, that gets distributed each time you visit a (participating) site without ads. That money goes to the creators “after a small portion is kept by Google to cover the cost of the service.” The creator of the website you visited is able to set the price per page.

I personally find that system to be a little clunky. Most people who don’t want to see ads simply start using an ad blocker. If they want to support a particular creator’s website, they can join that person’s Patreon, or give them a tip via PayPal or Ko-fi. I don’t really understand why anyone would want Google to be a “middleman” in that process.

The screenshots obtained by TechCrunch appear to show images of a feature that would enable those who visit a website that is participating with Google Contributor to give the creator a tip through Google Contributor itself. There is an image of a iPhone with a news article on it and a suggestion to support that website (in this case, The New York Times). Three funding amounts are suggested: $1.00, $3.00, or $5.00.

It isn’t clear what amount of money Google would take from the tipping feature, or how much would actually go to the creator. The tipping system might have been useful for the big news sites who relied upon revenue from ads and are now struggling to find a different way to monetize their content.


Google Uses Location Data to Help Combat COVID-19



Google announced it is using aggregated, anonymized data showing how busy certain types of places are during the COVID-19 outbreak. The data can help identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded. Public health officials can use the data to make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.

Starting today, we’re publishing an early release of our COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to provide insights into what has changed in response to work from home, shelter in place, and other policies aimed at flattening the curve of this pandemic. These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies.

The reports use aggregated, anonymized data to chart movement trends over time and geography, across different high-level categories of places such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential. Google will show trends over several weeks, with the most recent information representing 48-72 hours prior. Google will release these reports globally, starting with 131 countries and regions.

Google, again, attempts to reassure people that while they display a percentage point of increase or decrease in visits, they do not share the absolute number of visits. Google states that, to protect people’s privacy, no personally identifiable information (such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement) is made available at any point.

The Verge clarifies that the reports use data from people who have opted-in to storing their location history with Google. So, if the idea of Google using your location in this project bothers you – now is the time to go to Google’s Manage Your Location History page and pause Google’s Location History feature.

Personally, I don’t trust Google’s ability to keep private information secure considering some of the mishaps that have happened over the years. I think their idea to use location data to help public health officials make decisions on COVID-19 was done with good intentions. But, my concern is that if any of that data leaks, it could lead to unpleasant governments inflicting physical injury upon people who didn’t follow the quarantine rules.


Google Launches Google Translate for Android



Google announced that Google Translate will be rolling out in the next few days for any combination of the following eight languages: English, French, German, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Thai.

Sami Iqram, Product Manager, Google Translate, shared a story where he used Google Translate:

Recently, I was at my friend’s family gathering, where her grandmother told a story from her childhood. I could see that she was excited to share it with everyone but there was a problem – she told the story in Spanish, a language that I don’t understand. I pulled out Google Translate to transcribe the speech as it was happening. As she was telling the story, the English translation appeared on my phone so that I could follow along – it fostered a moment of understanding that would have otherwise been lost…

Those with Android phones can try the transcribe feature by going to their Translate app on Android, and making sure they have the latest updates from the Play store. Select the source and target languages. Users can pause or restart transcription by tapping the mic icon.

Right now, the transcribe feature will work best in a quiet environment with one person speaking at a time. In other situations, the app will try to provide the gist of what’s being said. There is also a Conversation mode in the app that can continue to help users have a back and forth translated conversation with someone.

According to Venture Beat, Google plans to bring Transcribe to iOS devices at an unspecified date in the future. Venture Beat also points out that at launch, Translate is unable to export speech recording audio or a translation transcription. That feature might appear in the future.

Personally, I think Google Translate is a good thing that will help people to communicate with each other. It can help break down the language barrier and perhaps encourage people to get to know their neighbors who speak a different language than they do.


Verily Collaborates with California on COVID-19 Risk Screening Survey



Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet that is focused on life sciences and healthcare, is a sister company to Google. Verily is working in collaboration with the California Governor’s office, federal, state, and local public health authorities to create an online COVID-19 screener survey.

Californians will be able to take an online COVID-19 screener survey through Project Baseline beginning Monday, March 16. People who meet eligibility and requirements for testing will be directed to mobile testing sites based on capacity, where they will complete a nasal swab test. Once tested, individuals will be informed of their COVID-19 test results within a few days.

To be clear, Verily’s COVID-19 Screening Survey is not available outside of California. It also doesn’t cover all of California (at least, not upon launch). Verily says the COVID-19 testing pilot program will start by testing the highest risk individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there is a significant volume of cases. Verily explains, “As more testing kits and sites become available, we plan to scale the capacity”.

CNBC reported that in order to qualify for a screening, users are required to log in with their Google account. Users also have to agree to allowing information to be potentially shared with Google. According to CNBC, Verily asks for the user’s name, address, email, phone number and health information – all of which can be shared and used by various government and health authorities, and for “public health purposes”.

It is a good idea to have something that can remotely screen people to determine how likely it is that they have COVID-19. Doing so enhances social distancing, because users can access the screener from home.

However, Verily has some obvious flaws. It is currently only usable in a very limited location. It will exclude users who don’t have a Google account (or who don’t want to have their Google account connected to the Screening Survey). It also collects and shares users’ data, and does not appear to give them an option to disallow that. This could potentially be in violation of California’s CCPA.

If Verily (and Google) really wanted to help with COVID-19, they could create the screening tool without using it to collect and share people’s personal information. To me, it feels like Verily and Google are using this opportunity to get more people to sign up for a Google account, and also to benefit from people’s data. That’s not a nice thing to do, especially to people who are afraid they might have COVID-19.


Google Starts COVID-19 Fund to Support their Extended Workforce



Google announced that it is establishing a COVID-19 fund that will enable all of their temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19. It is also for temporary staff who can’t come into work because they are quarantined.

Most members of our extended workforce around the world (like the vendors who provide important campus services or the temporary staff who work on short-term projects) have sick leave benefits, whether through required government benefits or from their employers.

But this is not universal, For example, the United States does not have federal laws mandating sick leave. Last year, we introduced new requirements for all companies that employ U.S. vendors and temporary staff assigned to Google, making it mandatory for them to provide their employees with sick leave (in addition to other minimum benefits required), in order to do business with Google. This is rolling out to employees.

In addition, Google committed last week that members of their extended workforce who are affected by reduced office schedules (such as closed cafes) would be compensated for the time they would have worked. Google’s COVID-19 fund will cover their commitment relating to reduced office schedules.

It is great that Google is giving is workers – including temporary workers – paid sick leave. Too many companies in the United States refuse to offer that to their workers. This causes workers who are sick to come into the office anyway because they cannot afford to lose the money they would earn by working those hours. We simply cannot have that happen while COVID-19 is spreading.

I also notice that Google (and, possibly other companies) is stepping in and providing the paid sick leave that every worker should have. The United States government should take a lesson from this, and mandate paid sick leave nationwide. It is the best way to prevent the spread of illnesses.