Tagged: Google

Google loses appeal in Safari cookie tracking case – can face trial in the UK


Security company director Marc Bradshaw, editor and publisher Judith Vidal-Hall

“Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions”

The U.K.’s Court of Appeal has denied Google’s request to block lawsuits from British consumers over the search giant’s disregard for Safari privacy restrictions designed to prevent advertisers from tracking users.

These claims raise serious issues which merit a trial,” the Court said in its judgement, according to the BBC. “They concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature…about and associated with the claimants’ internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

The case stems from 2012 allegations that Google intentionally bypassed Safari’s default privacy settings, which restrict websites from setting cookies unless the user has interacted with those sites directly. Google skirted this limitation by amending its advertising code to submit an invisible form on behalf of the user — without their consent — thus allowing tracking cookies to be set.

Those allegations prompted a six-month investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which Google eventually settled. The $22.5 million fine levied by the FTC was the largest such sanction in the agency’s history, and Google later agreed to pay a further $17 million in fines to settle cases in 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Google was able to avoid class-action lawsuits in the U.S., but its defense — that consumers had not suffered monetary harm — was not enough to evade British courts.

That’s right. The Feds and 37 states were able to claim damages from Google. But, US courts in their infinite concern for the almighty dollar and little else – ruled that the computer users whose privacy was deliberately abused by Google have no standing to sue in a class action because they didn’t lose any money as a result of Google’ sleazy practices.

But, in the UK, privacy is considered the right of an ordinary citizen and Google’s abuse of that right makes them liable for a class action suit by users. So saith this pissed-off cranky old geek who thinks we should have the same right here in the GOUSA.

And, yes, I think Google is just about the same level of scumbag as the NSA.

How to win friends & buy influence in Washington DC — Google edition

The Wall Street Journal recently published a report based on accidentally released documents about FTC’s two-year investigation into Google. The 160-page document concluded that Google’s “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.” I am sure Yelp and others would agree with that conclusion, and are contemplating further action.

The search results manipulation by Google has resulted in complaints that are far worse than anything FTC could have done — people have complained of declining quality and user experience. The emergence of social and mobile environments have taken some zing out of Google. Nevertheless, the WSJ report and reading through the excerpts made me wonder if there is a correlation between FTC investigation and Google’s lobbying efforts…

And after Om’s intro to the topic – we might look back at this:

Google News buries news of Google’s FTC investigation

After the embarrassing leak of a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation that described how Google shifted around its search results to harm competition, Google News has shifted its search results to harm journalism, promoting instead a fluff piece glorifying Google…

The exposé of Google’s “strategy of demoting or refusing to display, links to certain vertical websites in highly commercial categories,” as described in the FTC’s 2012 investigation, which concluded that “Google’s conduct has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation,” was essentially erased from existence in 2013 when Google agreed to make a few minor changes to avoid a federal antitrust lawsuit.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the FTC Commission watered down its public conclusions issued about Google before letting the company off the hook, leaving the findings of the staff investigation secret for two years.

Daniel Lyons reply is included in the AppleInsider article as an update.

Read it – and judge for yourself.

Google joins fight against overfishing


Click to enlarge

Google has partnered with SkyTruth and Oceana to produce a new tool to track global fishing activity. Known as Global Fishing Watch, the interactive web tool uses satellite data to provide detailed vessel tracking, and aims to harness the power of citizen engagement to tackle the issue of overfishing.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are working at peak capacity, with as much as one-third of marine fish stocks now suffering from overfishing.

Though a clear issue, the distant and out-of-sight nature of commercial fishing creates a problem when it comes to accountability. To help combat this, Google has teamed up with marine advocacy group Oceana and mapping company SkyTruth to develop the Global Fishing Watch – a tool that allows anyone with an internet connection access to the timing and position of intensive fishing around the world…

The tool shows users the number of hours that individual ships spent fishing certain areas, and allows almost anyone to explore global fishing activity. Users can filter data by country, and can even look at the route taken by individual vessels, with a data point being created every time a ship sets and retrieves its lines.

In the long run, it provides fisherman and companies with an opportunity to illustrate that they’re obeying the law in regard to overfishing. It will also likely prove a useful tool for researchers, who will be able to access a comprehensive database of global fishing activity, with data spanning back for years.

I grew up in a family that relied on subsistence fishing for most of our weekly animal protein. It was early days for coastal trawlers. They would be considered small and inefficient by today’s factory ship standards.

Still, we knew if just one showed up and wandered along our favorite fishing spots – no matter what variety of fish was running at the time – we might as well pack up and go home. There would be nothing left for us for the next few days.

No one in government cared a rat’s ass either.

Inequality and trending Web searches

credit luke shuman

In the hardest places to live in the United States, people spend a lot of time thinking about diets and religion. In the easiest places to live, people spend a lot of time thinking about cameras.

This summer, The Upshot conducted an analysis of every county in the country to determine which were the toughest places to live, based on an index of six factors including income, education and life expectancy. Afterward, we heard from Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, who suggested looking at how web searches differ on either end of our index.

The results, based on a decade of search data, offer a portrait of the very different subjects that occupy the thoughts of richer America and poorer America. They’re a glimpse into the id of our national inequality.

In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10…

In the easiest places to live, the Canon Elph and other digital cameras dominate the top of the correlation list. Apparently, people in places where life seems good, including Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast, want to record their lives in images…

Beyond cameras, subjects popular in the easiest places include Baby Joggers, Baby Bjorns and baby massage; Skype and Apple devices like the iPod Nano; a piece of workout equipment known as a foam roller; and various foreign destinations (Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Switzerland and Pyeongchang, the South Korean host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics). The phrase “pull-out” is also relatively popular in the easiest places. It presumably refers to either a kind of sofa or a kind of birth control.

…You can understand why religious web searches that are relatively more popular in places where life is harder have such a dark cast. “They are not just about religion but about apocalyptic religion,” notes Dan Silver, a cultural sociologist at the University of Toronto.

In the places on the other end of the spectrum, the picture is much brighter. People have disposable income to buy new technology and take faraway vacations. Their time spent prostrate on a foam roller or out running with the baby in a jogging stroller is more than enough to make up the occasional cupcake. And of course they are intent on passing down their way of life to the next generation, via Baby Bjorns and early access to technology.

RTFA for details and some analysis – including structure of the studies.

Most of all – I didn’t find anything surprising. Another one of those occasions when I wish my cynicism turned out to be wrong.

Thanks, Helen

Facebook experiments with lab rats user base.

legit lab rat

Unbeknownst to the world, Facebook data scientists, in collaboration with Cornell University and the University of California, ran an experiment in 2012 to test how emotions can be transmitted through social media. They did this by manipulating the newsfeed of 689,003 English-speaking Facebook users, so it would show low numbers of positive or negative posts, and observed how this influenced their posts.

The results of the study were published late last week and have since gone viral. They concluded that emotional states could be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.

Reaction was negative and swift, with people predictably angry to find out Facebook had tweaked user feeds without permission. Critics questioned the ethics of the study; the researchers were criticised for not seeking consent; and the social networking giant was deemed creepy by angry users.

Adam Kramer, a Facebook employee and one of the authors of the study, apologised for the emotional contagion, saying, in hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all the anxiety caused…

Facebook may have been concerned about users’ exposure to negativity, but it is unlikely it thought about how users would feel after discovering they were lab rats for the social network.

Either way, the study once again highlights Facebook’s unclear boundaries with its membership.

That’s putting it pleasantly.

Poisonally – unlike Google which tried at first to maintain a facade of caring for consumers and customers as associates in a journey through the InterWebitubes – I feel Facebook has always seemed to be peering down its patrician nose at us common folk.

Now, they’re neck-and-neck spewing disingenuous bullshit about caring for anything more than their balance sheet.

Thanks, Mike

Is Google buying satellites to spy on you? — gasp!


National Reconnaissance Office — Fifty years of vigilance from above

With the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature itself.

But this acquisition will also demand assurances from Google that it will incorporate privacy safeguards into its vast new view of the world. Already Google gets a lot of flack for tracking user behavior online. With Skybox’s satellites, Google may gain a window into your everyday life even if you don’t use Google at all.

Not too often do we get the paranoid response BEFORE the technical part of an article.

In a statement, Google has said that, in the short term, it plans to use Skybox’s satellites to keep Google Maps up to date. And, in the future, the company says, it could use them to help spread internet access to remote areas, something that will help improve the reach of its existing services.

But imagine all the other things Google could do turns its artificial intelligence expertise onto a constant stream of images beamed down from above…

One Skybox insider told David Samuels that satellite images alone could be used to estimate any country’s major economic indicators. Take, for example, this Skybox case study of Saudi oil reserves measured from space. Now consider the insights that could come from marrying that visual data with Google’s Knowledge Graph, leveraging all the company’s algorithmic might. Google could learn all kinds of new things about the world.

But it could also learn all kinds of new things about you. Skybox can take photos from 500 miles up with a sub-one-meter resolution of the ground below. That isn’t likely to sit well with privacy activists who already don’t trust Google. What does the right to be forgotten mean when Google can always see you anyway?

Skybox’s pedigree likely won’t help assuage anyone who likes a good conspiracy theory. According to Samuels, one of the company’s co-founders, John Fenwick, had previously worked as as a liaison in Congress for the National Reconnaissance Office, “the ultrasecret spy agency that manages much of America’s most exotic space toys.” A major investor had worked as an intelligence officer in the French army, while its CEO held previous jobs that brought him into close contact with the Department of Defense…

Yes, these worries are legitimate. As legitimate as worrying about your DirecTV DVR listening in on conversation in the living room – or Microsoft Link turning over travel information in your new car to the NSA.

If Google finds ways of using these satellites that ends up making users’ lives more interesting and convenient, most people are unlikely to object, just like revelations of NSA surveillance haven’t exactly dented Gmail’s market share. But people may find the idea of Google looking down from the heavens on their physical selves more discomfiting than peering through their browsers at their virtual personas. After all, putting an all-seeing Google eye in space gives a whole new meaning to “do not track.”

It’s not the paranoia that I question. It’s the ignorance. Apparently, ignorance about how long governments have had this capability in spades. I learned both Soviet and American spy satellites were capable of reading the license plate on my car – in 1965. The US project started in 1957. I doubt that David Samuels or Marcus Wohlsen were born yet.

I don’t doubt Skybox has advanced beyond the software and hardware pioneered by Itek and whoever did Soviet satellite optics. But, if you think the alphabet soup of federally-funded spies and snoops haven’t been updating and upgrading – with a lot more moolah than a startup less than a decade in the air – you’re kidding yourself.

I don’t doubt there are or will be the occasional near-Earth project that’s cheap enough to attract Uncle Sugar’s spooks. Maybe there might be a view of something snapped at just the right place and time. I just don’t think relying on conspiracy theory to explain a half-billion$ purchase – especially when the spies who it for a living have a half-century head start. And all the taxpayers in the country to fund their work.

Maybe folks are primarily worried about Google spying for its own end…”imagine all the other things Google could do” could be all this is about. But, it’s still a heckuva lot cheaper to lease time or buy info from eyes in the sky than to acquire your own NASA. Unless, um, maybe you’d like to sell Android satphones to half the folks in Africa or South Asia and the Middle East.

Slowly, surely, a plan to impede the NSA is taking hold

A year after revelations first emerged from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about mass Internet surveillance, more e-mail providers are adopting encryption, a simple change that could make it harder for spy agencies to vacuum up huge numbers of communications in transit.

In an analysis released this week, Google said 65 percent of the messages sent by Gmail users are encrypted when delivered, meaning the recipient’s provider also supports the encryption needed to establish a secure connection for transmission of the message…Gmail has more than 425 million accounts worldwide and was an early adopter of e-mail encryption.

Only 50 percent of incoming messages are encrypted, Google says, but that’s up from 27 percent on December 11, 2013. And the numbers could get even better as more providers offer encryption by default to their customers. Charlie Davis, a Comcast spokesman, says the Internet service provider is working on it and plans to “gradually ramp up encryption with Gmail in the coming weeks.”

There are still significant gaps: less than 1 percent of traffic to and from Gmail from Comcast and Verizon is currently encrypted, and fewer than half of e-mails from Hotmail accounts to Gmail are encrypted.

What’s more, messages are protected only in transit—there’s nothing to stop the NSA from reading them if it gains access to an e-mail provider’s servers. Even here, though, the tide may be turning: on Tuesday Google released draft source code of a tool, called End-to-End, that would secure a message from the moment it leaves one browser to the moment it arrives at another—meaning even e-mail providers couldn’t read them as they travel between two people, because they wouldn’t have the keys needed to decrypt those messages…

Embarrassed by Snowden’s revelations, many Silicon Valley giants are advertising increased use of encryption.

Apart from any other consideration, as long as smart coders devise methods for keeping freestyle government snoops out of your life – and a profit can be made from it – then the word will get out.

Whatever the reasoning, netizens will continue to make their own decisions about privacy, voting with their feet if they feel concerned, refusing to opt in if they value privacy more than an extended puberty. That’s still a milieu apart from creeps with unconstitutional authority handed over by elected cowards – looking through the pages of your life.

Google’s truly self-driving cars haven’t a steering wheel or pedals

Google’s been hacking regular cars to make them drive themselves for a while now, but at the Code Conference…Sergey Brin showed off the next step: an entirely new self-driving car designed from the ground up. The project looks something like a smaller Smart car, and it lacks any human control whatsoever: no steering wheel, no pedals, no gearshift. It doesn’t even have mirrors. It’s just two seats and a window, and you simply call it to come get you, sit down, and let it drive you to your destination. This is my dream.

“We actually designed these with some safety features that haven’t been seen,” said Brin. “There’s about two feet of foam on the front, and the windshield is made of glass, but it’s a plastic glass.” Brin said Google used automotive suppliers and car parts, but those parts have been customized. “We plan to go up to about one or two hundred of these, they’re prototypes,” he said. “There’s no reason they couldn’t go 100 miles an hour or faster once you can prove that they can do that safely.” Brin said the car can be made “far safer” than human-driven cars, and that the current programming is “more defensive” than the average human driver: it waits to go on green, and it uses lasers to monitor the complete 360-degree field around itself.

“I’m certainly not advocating that we get rid of all cars that do not drive themselves,” said Brin, although he wants some of his safety features to hit the mass market. “We worked with partners to build these prototypes, and we’ll work with partners to build these.” The cars will hit the road before the end of the year with safety drivers who can control the car with a joystick, but don’t get too excited. “I think these being broadly available will take several years,” said Brin.

I did feel like I was on a Disney ride,” said Recode’s Kara Swisher, who took a ride in the prototype. “I wanted a drink. I wanted to drink while texting.”

I love this as much as I still love Morgans or Ferraris or Teslas. The definition of a perfect automobile is one that does exactly what it is designed to do. Doing it well, efficiently, while being attractive in its own way.

Like my wife’s La Fiesta.

Thanks, Mike…Thanks, Gracie…everyone wants one of these