Tag Archives: google

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.


Chrome’s Ad Blocker will Expand to Target Disruptive Video Ads



Google announced on their Chromium Blog that they have been working on a common complaint among Chrome users: annoying, intrusive ads. In 2018, they started removing the ads from websites that continually show intrusive ads that violate industry standards. Google also updated their own advertising to ensure they are not selling or serving the kind of ads that users find the most annoying.

Today, the group responsible for developing the Better Ads Standards, the Coalition for Better Ads, announced a new set of standards for ads that show during video content, based on research from 45,000 consumers worldwide.

The Coalition found that three ad experiences that people find to be particularly disruptive on video content that is less than 8 minutes long. They include: long, non-skippable pre-roll ads or groups of ads longer than 31 seconds that appear before a video and that cannot be skipped within the first 5 seconds; Mid-roll ads of any duration that appear in the middle of a video, interrupting the user’s experience; and image or text ads that appear at the top of a playing video and are in the middle 1/3 of the video player window or cover more than 20 percent of the video content.

The Coalition has announced that website owners should stop showing these ads to their site visitors in the next four months. Beginning August 5, 2020, Chrome will expand its user protections and stop showing all ads on sites in any country that repeatedly show these disruptive ads. Google wants people to know that YouTube.com, like other websites with video content, will be reviewed for compliance with the Standards.

Google points those who operate a website that shows ads to the Ad Experience Report. It is a tool that you can use to review your site for compliance with the new ad protections, and that helps publishers to understand if Chrome identified any violating ad experiences on your site.

Overall, I think this change will likely have an effect on those who have ads on their YouTube videos, which could potentially affect their earnings. That said, it appears that these changes are designed to enhance the experience of people want to watch a video – on any website – without being annoyed by intrusive ads.


EU Antitrust Regulators Investigating Google’s Data Collection



The European Commission antitrust regulators are investigating Google’s collection of data. This comes months after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they were reviewing how Google’s platforms have reduced competition.

Reuters reported that an EU executive said the Commission was seeking information on how and why Alphabet unit Google is collecting data. A document seen by Reuters indicates the EU’s focus is on data related to targeting services, local search services, web browsers, and others.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s practices relating to Google’s collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing,” the EU regulator told Reuters in an email.

The European Commission antitrust policy is developed from the two central rules of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 101 of the Treaty prohibits agreements between two or more independent market operators which restrict competition. Article 102 of the Treaty prohibits firms that hold a dominant position on a given market to abuse that position, for example by charging unfair prices, limiting production or “by refusing to innovate to the prejudice of consumers.”

For those who, like me, no longer trust Google’s data collection practices (or what it does with that data), there are options. You can use Firefox or Safari instead of Chrome. There are search engines, such as Ecosia, that are more ethical than Google’s search. It might be time to migrate away from your Gmail account in favor of a better option.


Google has Acquired CloudSimple



Google announced that is has acquired CloudSimple, which Google describes as “a leading provider of secure, high performance, dedicated environments to run VMware workloads in the cloud.” CloudSimple has its headquarters in Santa Clara, California. It also has locations in Ukraine and India.

Google started a partnership with CloudSimple earlier this year. The purpose of the partnership appears to be a way for Google to “accelerate a fully integrated VMware migration solution with improved support for our customers.”

This is something for Google’s enterprise customers, and intended to help them to modernize their IT infrastructure. Perhaps that is a smart move on Google’s part, considering that the company dropped its focus on non-enterprise customers in May of this year when it announced that ad blocker extensions on Chrome would be restricted to its enterprise customers.

Through our existing partnership with CloudSimple, our customers can migrate VMware workloads from on-premises datacenters directly into Google Cloud VMware Solution by CloudSimple, while also creating new VMware workloads as needed. Their apps can run exactly the same as they have been on-premises, but with all the benefits of the cloud, like performance, elasticity, and integration with key cloud services and technologies.

In their own blog post, CloudSimple stated: “We are thrilled to join Google Cloud and its journey to establish the most modern public cloud for the enterprise.”

CNBC reported that the terms of Google’s acquisition of CloudSimple were not disclosed. It also reported that the deal follows the buys of data integration company Alooma, storage file company Elastifile, and cloud migration company Velostrata. Google also acquired Looker, but CNBC says that deal hasn’t closed yet.