Category Archives: google

ACCC Fines Google $60 Million For Misleading Representations



In a Media Release, posted by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), it announced that it was requiring Google LLC to pay $60 million for misleading representations. In short the ACCC found that Google mislead Android users by making them think that the company was not tracking them.

Here are some key parts of the Media Release:

The Federal Court has ordered Google LLC to pay $60 million in penalties for making misleading representations to consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones between January 2017 and December 2018, following court action by the ACCC.

The Court previously found that Google LLC and Google Australia Pty Ltd. (together, Google) had breached the Australian Consumer Law by representing to some Android users that the setting titled “Location History” was the only Google account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept and used personally identifiable data about their location.

In fact, another Google account setting titled “Web & App Activity” also enabled by Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.

The Media release continues: The ACCC’s best estimate, based on available data, is that the users of 1.3 million Google accounts in Australia may have viewed a screen found by the Court to have breached the Australian Consumer Law.

Google took remedial steps and had addressed all of the contravening conduct by 20 December 2018, meaning that users were no longer shown the misleading screens.

ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said, “This is the first public enforcement outcome arising out of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.”

In addition, the Media Release makes it clear that consumers can access the “Web & App Activity” and “Location History” settings through their Google Account. Consumers can also delete personal data that Google has already collected about them through their Google account.

The Guardian reported that in April of last year, the federal court found Google breached consumer laws by misleading local users into thinking the company was not collecting personal data about their location via mobile devices with Android operating systems.

According to The Guardian, the case revolved around whether it was sufficiently clear Google would still collect and access location data when a user’s location history was set to “off” but their web and app activity was “on” and one of its apps was used.

In my opinion, any company that thinks it is acceptable to trick consumers into let it secretly collect location (and other types of) data, is in the wrong. It is time for these companies to find a much more ethical way to earn revenue.


Legislation Could Force Breakup of Google’s Ad Business



A bipartisan group of senators led by Utah Republican Mike Lee introduced legislation that would take aim at conflicts of interest in the advertising industry and force Google to break up its dominant online-ad business, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Senators Amy Klobachar (D-MN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are cosponsors of this legislation.

The bill is titled “The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act”. The purpose of this bill is “to prevent conflicts of interest and promote competition in the sale and purchase of digital advertising.” According to The Wall Street Journal, it would prohibit companies processing more than $20 billion in digital ad transactions annually from participating in more than one part of the digital advertising ecosystem.

Senator Lee commented about the legislation: “Digital advertising is the lifeblood of the internet economy, It supports most of the free content and services Americans have come to rely upon, including local journalism, and it allows businesses of every size to reach their customers quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, online advertising is also suffering under the thumb of trillion-dollar ad companies.

“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to export their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising, amassing power on every side of the market and using it to block completion and take advantage of their customers. The conflicts of interest are so glaring that one Google employee described Google’s ad business as being like ‘if Goldman or Citibank owned the NYSE.”…

The Wall Street Journal also reported that similar legislation is to be introduced in the House of Representatives by Republican Ken Buck of Colorado and Democrat Pramilla Jayapal of Washington. If the legislation becomes a law, companies would have a year from the enactment of the legislation to comply with new rules.

The Verge reported that Google spokesperson Julie Tarallo McAlister said the proposed law would ultimately hurt users.

“Advertising tools from Google and many competitors help American websites and apps fund their content, help businesses grow, and help protect users from privacy risks and misleading ads,” said Julie Tarallo McAlister. “Breaking those tools would hurt publishers and advertisers, lower ad quality, and create new privacy risks. And, at a time of heightened inflation, it would handicap small businesses looking for easy and effective ways to grow online.”

According to The Verge, the bill could require Google to divest majorities of its digital advertising business. Google’s advertising marketplace rakes in billions each quarter for the company, pulling in $54 billion across Search, YouTube, and its ad networks in the first quarter of this year alone. Meta (Facebook’s parent company) could also be similarly affected by this legislation.

Personally, I don’t think it is a terrible idea to have reasonable legislation that regulates the amount of money big companies can take in from selling ads. It would also be nice to have more transparency about the pricing of ads. That information could be really significant for a business to fully understand if the price Google gives them for an ad is too high.

Overall, though, I don’t think it was ever a good idea for Google (or Meta) to choose to rely so heavily on the money that it takes in from selling ads. It is not reasonable to presume that their ad systems would be able to sustain them forever.


Google Launches Data Safety Sections for Apps on Play Store



Google has launched a Data Safety feature for apps that are on the Google Play store. This was announced on Google’s The Keyword blog in a post titled: “Get more information about your apps in Google Play”. It was written by Vice President, Product, Android Security and Privacy Suzanne Frey.

Google’s Data Safety features are likely a response to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency. It gives iOS users the ability to not only see what each app on their devices is tracking, but also to stop the apps from doing that. The Keyword blog includes information about what their Data Safety feature does:

We heard from users and app developers that displaying the data an app collects, without additional context, is not enough. Users want to know for what purpose their data is being collected and whether the developer is sharing user data with third parties. In addition, users want to understand how app developers are securing user data after an app is downloaded.

Here is the information developers can show in the Data safety section:

  • Whether the developer is collecting data and for what purpose.
  • Whether the developer is sharing data with third parties.
  • The app’s security practices, like encryption of data in transit and whether users can ask for data to be deleted.
  • Whether a qualifying app has committed to following Google Play’s Families Policy to better protect children in the Play store.
  • Whether the developer has validated their security practices against a global security standard (more specifically, the MASVS).

TechCrunch reported that both sets of labels focus on informing users about how apps collect and manage data and user privacy. There are some key differences. Apple’s largely focuses on what data is being collected, including data used for tracking purposes, and on informing the user what’s linked to them. According to TechCrunch, Google’s labels put a bigger focus on whether you can trust the data that’s collected is being handled responsibly by allowing developers to disclose if they follow best practices around data security.

TechCrunch also reported that the labels give Android developers a way to make their case as to why they collect the data on the label, so users can understand how the data is used. This helps inform the user’s decision to download the app. They can also see if the data collection is required or optional.

Personally, I’m in favor of labels that let people know what an app is going to track and/or collect from them if they decide to download an app. The labels require app developers to be more ethical about why they want to grab a user’s data.


Google Quietly Launched “Switch to Android” App on iOS



Google has launched its “Switch to Android” app on the App Store. The app does not yet appear if you look for it on an iPhone, but it can be viewed via the App Store on your desktop computer. The Switch to Android app is free, but is not downloadable just yet.

TechCrunch reported that Google has not officially launched “Switch to Android”. It also has not released when the app will become available. The app does not appear on Google’s developer page on the App Store or in App Store search results.

9to5Google reported that it is not clear at this time when Google intends for “Switch to Android” to launch widely, but considering how long Apple’s own “Move to iOS” app has been in the PlayStore, Google’s alternative is already arriving years later than it should have.

Google’s Android.com provides information to people who want to “Switch to Android”. There are four steps in the process:

Get Google Drive: – Make sure you have the latest version of Google Drive on your iPhone, then sign in to Drive with your Google Account. If you don’t have a Google Account, you can create one after you download Drive.

Back up your stuff: – Back up your content in Google Drive. Pull up Settings in Google Drive, then tap Backup. You can pick specific things to store, or do it all at once. Your choice.

Turn off iMessage: Go to Settings and turn off iMessage on your iPhone. Also turn off FaceTime. So you won’t miss any messages or calls once you’ve switched to Android.

Sign in on your new phone: Sign in on your Android device with the same Google Account you used during backup. And just like that, you’re in. Your data will automatically available in your Google Contacts, Calendar and Photos apps.

Apps that are on the App Store will include an App Privacy section that shows people what data a specific app will grab. “Switch to Android” may collect your location, contact info, user content, identifiers, usage data, diagnostics, and other data. It might also collect diagnostics – that are not linked to your identity.

I don’t think that either side will win this battle over users. Each side is likely to put some effort into convincing people to switch from whatever phone they are currently using to the competitor’s phone. It looks like it is easy to switch from one to the other. I haven’t seen any information about how easy or difficult it might be to switch back.


Google and iFixit Launch a Pixel Parts Program



Good news is coming for Pixel users! Google and iFixit are launching a genuine Pixel spare parts program later this year. This will allow Pixel users to fix their own phones, or to bring their Pixel to sites that partner with Google.

Google announced that starting later this year, genuine Pixel spare parts will be available for purchase at iFixit.com for Pixel 2 through Pixel 6 Pro, as well as future Pixel models. This will launch in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and EU countries where Pixel is available. The full range of spare parts for common Pixel phone repairs – things like batteries, replacement displays, cameras, and more – will be available either individually or in iFixit Fix Kits, which include tools like screwdriver bits and spudgers.

iFixit announced that they are working with Google to sell genuine parts for Pixel phones, starting later this year. iFixit will be continuing to write their step-by-step Google Pixel phone repair guides, which are comprehensive going all the way back to the original Pixel. Repair guides are lie for every Pixel through the Pixel 5, and they are writing guides for the 5a, 6, and 6 Pro right now.

iFixit points out that their parts selection will include everything you need for the most common Google Pixel repairs – batteries, displays, cameras and more. They will sell them both individually and as part of Fix Kits, which include all the tools you need to fix your Google Pixel, from screwdrivers to spudgers.

The full set of tools in iFixit’s Pixel repair kits include:

  • iOpener (iFixit’s opening tool designed to apply heat directly and evenly to case components joined with adhesive)
  • Replacement pre-cut adhesive
  • iFixit Opening Picks (Set of 6)
  • Spudger
  • iFixit Opening Tool
  • Suction Handle
  • Angled Tweezers
  • Precision Bit Driver with integrated SIM Eject Tool
  • 4mm Precision Bits appropriate for the specific phone

The upcoming launch of Google and iFixit’s ability to get genuine Pixel parts to those who want to fix their phones themselves, or those who want places like iFixit to do that for them, is a good idea. It follows a similar effort done by Microsoft and iFixit (in 2021) to allow independent repairers, Microsoft Authorized Service Providers, Microsoft Experience Centers, and Microsoft Commercial customers to purchase Microsoft service tools for Surface devices directly from iFixit.


Google Suspended Ads in Russia



Google late Thursday suspended all advertising in Russia, a move that came shortly after the country’s communication censor accused the company’s YouTube video service of spreading misinformation and stoking protests, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Google said the new mandate covers YouTube, search and display marketing in Russia. Earlier this week, Google blocked access to Russian state-owned media outlets RT and Sputnik across Europe in compliance with a European Union sanctions order. In addition, Google said it recently began blocking ads related to the conflict that seek to take advantage of the situation and that it paused monetization of Russian state-funded media across its platforms.

These changes come after Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Federov, tweeted (on February 26, 2021): “I’ve addressed the @Google to stop supplying Google services and products to Russian Federation. Including blocking access to Google market and Google Pay. We are sure this will motivate proactive youth to stop this war!”

Between that tweet, and the tweets posted by Mykhailo Federov in which he asked gaming companies to leave the Russian market, it appears that he is among the most influential voices from Ukraine right now. Some gaming companies have suspended sales of their games in Russia and Belarus. Others have blocked payments in rubles.

The New York Times reported: Google has taken a cautious approach with the Russian government throughout the crisis, because it has more than 100 employees on the ground in the country. In the past, Russian government had threatened to prosecute individual employees of companies that run afoul of the country’s rules.

According to The New York Times, Google said it would no longer permit content from Russian state media to appear on Google News. In addition, the Ukrainian Government asked Google to restrict RT and other Russian YouTube channels in Ukraine – and Google complied.

A paragraph from The New York Times article stuck with me. “The Russian demands to Google are the latest example of how the internet platforms of the world’s largest technology companies are becoming battle grounds for how information is shared during the conflict.”

I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this before. I’m hoping that social media companies will become faster at removing misinformation campaigns from their platforms. Eventually, those who want to spread propaganda will have fewer and fewer platforms they can post it on.


Google Introduces the Privacy Sandbox



Google has introduced the Privacy Sandbox. This news was announced on Google’s The Keyword blog. The purpose of this new feature appears to be to “evolve how digital advertising works to improve user privacy.”

Today, we’re announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy Sandbox on Android with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions. Specifically, these solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID. We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways to integrate with advertising SDK’s.

Google claims that the goal with the Privacy Sandbox on Android is to develop effective privacy enhancing advertising solutions, where users know their information is protected, and developers and businesses have the tools to succeed on mobile.

Google acknowledges that “other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers” Google believes that those approaches are ineffective.

It is possible that Google is referring to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, which allows Apple users to diminish the amount of data apps can collect, lets them know what is shared and how it is used, and gives users the ability to turn all of that off.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple’s changes “have already upended the digital-ad industry and contributed to a wipeout of more than $300 billion from Meta’s market value.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported that Google’s new restrictions to curtail tracking across apps on Android smartphones is “putting restraints on an advertising industry that has covertly collected data across billions of mobile devices.” Google plans to keep supporting current smartphone identifiers for at least the next two years to give the ad industry notice before any changes.

According to The Wall Street Journal, one proposal would have users’ Android devices track their app usage and analyze it on their devices, rather than sending raw usage information to outside companies. The phones will then tell third parties the user’s interests so they can be targeted with relevant ads without the advertisers knowing that user’s smartphone identifier.

Personally, I think that Google should do better. Allowing third-parties to send Android users targeted ads based on the user’s interests certainly doesn’t sound like something a Privacy Sandbox should be doing.