Tag 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 Faces $5 Billion Lawsuit for Invading Privacy of Users



Google users might be surprised to learn that “private” mode doesn’t actually mean that Google won’t track your internet use. Reuters reported that there is a proposed class action lawsuit against Alphabet Inc. that is seeking at least $5 billion. The lawsuit alleges that Google has been illegally invading the privacy of millions by tracking their internet use through browsers set in “private” mode.

The case is Brown et al v Google LLC et al, which was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. I tried to find more information about this lawsuit, but could not find anything. Typically, a controversial lawsuit, that has the potential to affect many people, is embedded somewhere online. This one does not appear to be.

Google calls their private mode “incognito mode”. It would be reasonable to presume that a private mode would enable users to find information that they would not be comfortable having Google know about. For example, people might choose to look up “intimate and potentially embarrassing things” (as the lawsuit states) in Incognito mode, believing that Google would not track it.

According to the complaint filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, Google gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda told Reuters: “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity”. As you may have guessed, Google intends to defend itself vigorously against the claims in the lawsuit.

If this situation troubles you, there are other options. Some people prefer to use more ethical search engines such as Duck Duck Go, or Ecosia (which plants a tree for every search). Mozilla’s Firefox has the capability of blocking certain types of trackers. Keep in mind, though, that nothing on the internet is 100% private.

The lawsuit seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. It will be very interesting to see if this case gets anywhere. Whenever a gigantic company is the defendant in a lawsuit, I have concerns that the case will disappear before a court can hear it.


Apple and Google Released a FAQ About their Coronavirus Tracker



Earlier this month, Google and Apple announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As you may have expected, people had questions about how that contact tracing technology would work.

In response, Apple and Google released a Frequently Asked Questions PDF with more information. Some of it explains what contact tracing is, how it works, and how it can help slow the spread of COVID-19. It also covers how their contact tracing system will protect user privacy.

Here are some key points about user privacy:

  • Each user will have to make an explicit choice to turn on the technology. It can also be turned off by the user at any time by uninstalling the contract tracing application or turning off exposure notification in Settings.
  • This system does not collect location data from your device, and does not share the identities of other users to each other, Google or Apple. The user controls all data they want to share, and the decision to share it.
  • Bluetooth privacy-preserving beacons rotate every 10-20 minutes, to help prevent tracking.
  • Exposure notification is only done on device and under the user’s control. In addition people who test positive are not identified by the system to other users, or to Apple or Google.
  • The system is only used for contract tracing by public health authorities apps.
  • Google and Apple can disable the exposure notification system on a regional basis when it is no longer needed.

However, the FAQ also makes it clear that government health authorities will have access to the information facilitated by the app. “Access to the technology will be granted only to public health authorities. Their apps must meet specific criteria around privacy, security, and data control. The public health authority app will be able to access a list of beacons provided by users confirmed as positive for COVID-19 who have opted into sharing them. The system was also designed so that Apple and Google do not have access to information related to any specific individual.”

The FAQ states a user can choose to report a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 to their contact tracing app. The user’s most privacy-preserving beacons will be added to the positive diagnosis list shared by the public health authority so that others who came in contact with those beacons can be alerted. I don’t see how that can be done without the app being able to identify one individual user from another.

It comes down to how much you trust your government to use the information from the app to help people. This sort of heath information can be used to prevent people from being eligible for health insurance coverage, or to be discriminated against in other ways. Personally, I am not going to use this app.


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.


Australian Code of Conduct to Make Social Media Companies Pay for News



The Australian federal government has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to create a mandatory code of conduct that would require companies like Google and Facebook to pay media companies for news. This comes after the ACCC advised that reaching a voluntary agreement with the big social media companies to pay for content would be “unlikely”.

The mandatory code will cover issues including the sharing of data, ranking of news content online and the sharing of revenue generated from the news. It will be enforced through penalties and sanctions and will include a binding dispute resolution process.

A draft of the mandatory code of conduct will be released in July of 2020. The voluntary code of conduct negotiations were expected to run until November. But, the mandatory code of conduct is now being created in part because COVID-19 has “exacerbated financial woes within the media sector.”

The Guardian reported that the mandatory code of conduct would force Facebook and Google to pay news media for their content, advise news media in advance of algorithm changes that would affect content rankings, favor original source and new content in search page results, and share data with media companies. At least some of this was also in the voluntary version of the code of conduct.

I find this fascinating because, if the Australian mandatory code of conduct is put in place, it could set a precedent for other countries to make one of their own. Obviously, Google and Facebook will fight against this, as they are quite used to receiving plenty of content for free while paying the content creators little to nothing.

It has become common for people to seek news online rather than through a newspaper subscription. It seems only fair that news organizations should be financially compensated for their content that big social media companies financially benefit from.


Apple and Google Partner on COVID-19 Contact Tracing Technology



Google and Apple announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.

Since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health officials have identified contract tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology.

To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.

In May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.

In the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms. This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities.

Apple and Google stated: “Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance and effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.”

I understand that Apple and Google are trying to do something that could, potentially, reduce the spread of COVID-19. I can see where having public health authorities involves with the project is important, as that would be a good way to ensure that credible information is presented.

It is wonderful that the project will be opt-in for users. Nobody likes it when companies go ahead and opt-in someone without asking for their permission. My biggest concern about this contact tracing project is that a government could try and us the data to cause harm to people.

Google and Apple really need to get this right when it comes to user privacy.