U.S. Department of Justice, along with eleven state Attorneys General, has filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Columbia against Google for violating antitrust laws. The Attorneys General involved in the lawsuit represent Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.
The Wall Street Journal reported that all eleven of the Attorneys General are Republicans. More could join the case later. Other states are still considering their own cases related to Google’s search practices, and a large group of states is considering a case challenging Google’s power in the digital advertising market.
One of the things I found interesting from The Wall Street Journal article is that the Justice Department’s case doesn’t focus on a search-bias theory. This surprised me because all of the Attorneys General involved in the lawsuit are Republican, and many people from that party appear to feel that search engines and social media sites are biased against them. Perhaps that argument isn’t stong enough to bring to court.
The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that Google has unlawfully maintained monopolies in search and search advertising by:
- Entering into exclusivity agreements that forbid preinstallation of any competing search engines
- Entering into tying and other arrangements that force preinstallation of its search applications in prime locations on mobile devices and make them undeletable, regardless of consumer preference
- Entering into long-term agreements with Apple that require Google to be the default – and de-facto exclusive – general search engine on Apple’s popular Safari browser and other Apple search tools
- Generally using monopoly profits to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on devices, web browsers, and other search access points, creating a continuous and self-reinforcing cycle of monopolization.
Google responded with a blog post on The Keyword. Part of that post states: Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.
Google also wrote: This isn’t the dial-up 1990s, when changing services was slow and difficult, and often required you to buy and install software with a CD-ROM. Today, you can easily download your choice of apps or change your default settings in a matter of seconds – faster than you can walk to another aisle in the grocery store.
Google announced that it is rolling out visual improvements to Google Maps. The purpose seems to be to give people a way to get a good look at the details in a specific location. I imagine that those who really want to travel, but cannot due to COVID-19, might use the update Google Maps to do some virtual traveling.
Google Maps has high-definition satellite imagery of 97 percent of the world’s population. With a new color-mapping algorithmic technique, Google is able to take that imagery and translate it into an even more comprehensive, vibrant map of an area at a global scale. The result is that people can more easily look at the natural features of a specific area.
With this update, Google Maps has one of the most comprehensive views of natural features on any major map app – with availability in all 220 countries and territories that Google Maps supports. That’s coverage for over 100M square kilometers of land, or 18 billion football fields.
In addition, Google Maps will soon enable users to see highly detailed street information that shows the accurate shape and width of a road to scale. It will show exactly where sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian islands are located. Google points out that this kind of information is crucial to people who have accessibility needs.
Personally, I think this addition is fantastic! People who use wheelchairs need to know if a sidewalk has a “curb cut” or slope that will make it possible for them to get their wheelchair onto or off of a sidewalk. The same feature can help parents who are talking a walk and pushing their infant or toddler in a stroller.
Google will start rolling out detailed street maps in London, New York, and San Francisco in the coming months. The company has plans to expand more cities over time.
In April of this year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) created a mandatory code of conduct that would require Google and Facebook to pay media companies for news. Large companies, like Google and Facebook, tend to resist having to share the money they make from the content that newspapers created.
According to The Guardian, Google has started targeting Australians with pop-up ads that link to an open letter that appears to be designed to scare people. Google doesn’t want a proposed law called the News Media Bargaining Code to go into effect.
Google’s Open Letter to Australians has a bright yellow caution sign at the top of it. Caution signs tend to make people nervous, wondering why a site had been flagged with that warning. In this case, Google intentionally put it there.
We need to let you know about new Government regulation that will hurt how Australians use Google Search and YouTube.
A proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia.
According to Google, the law would “force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses – news media business – over everyone who has a website, YouTube channel or small business.” Google says “the proposed changes are not fair and they mean that Google Search results and YouTube will be worse for you”. Google also implies that they would have to hand user’s date over to news businesses, and that “your search data may be at risk”.
The Guardian reported that Chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims, said Google’s letter “contains misinformation” about how the code connected to the law works. He also said, “Google would not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so. Google would not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.”
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 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.
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 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.