News

Posted in Legal Troubles, Menacing Monopoly

It’s happening, at long last: U.S. sues Google for antitrust violations!

Will there be accountability? Will there be justice? Will there be reform?

Let’s hope so.

The Justice Department accused Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly over search and search advertising, in the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.

In a lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, the agency accused Google, a unit of Alphabet, of using several exclusive business contracts and agreements to lock out competition.

Such contracts include Google’s payment of billions of dollars to Apple to place the Google search engine as the default for iPhones. By using contracts to maintain its monopoly, the suit says, competition and innovation has suffered.

For years, the Monster of Mountain View has grown its power, unchecked, except by the European Union. Now, the United States federal government has belatedly shown up with its own challenge.

Google’s response was to call the suit “flawed” and to claim “it wouldn’t help consumers”.

Americans aren’t consumers, Google. We’re people.

And we deserve markets that are fair, not rigged.

There is no disputing that Google is a near-monopoly in the search and advertising space. That makes this lawsuit and its claims necessary and valid.

There is nothing “flawed” about this action except that Attorney General William Barr may have overridden career attorneys who wanted more time to bring their case. But it was already long overdue, so it’s understandable that Barr wanted it filed before he stepped down.

The next administration could terminate the case. But they shouldn’t.

It is a fact that Google pays off pretty much everybody to keep its search engine as the default in rival browsers and operating systems.

Google pays Apple to have its search engine be the default in Safari and Mobile Safari. It pays Mozilla to have Google be the default in Firefox. Google is also the default search engine in Opera and a host of other browsers. (Naturally, Google Search is also the default in Google’s own Chrome browser).

In fact, the only major browser that uses a different default nowadays is Microsoft’s Edge, which ironically is built on top of Google’s Chromium platform, but uses Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) as its default, instead of Google.

Imagine if iOS’ default search engine was Bing or DuckDuckGo.

Defaults matter. Google knows this. It’s why they shell out big bucks to maintain their dominant position. That’s anticompetitive behavior. For too long, Google has just gotten away with this.

But hopefully, it won’t after this case has run its course.

Google has gotten too big. The company should be disciplined and broken up to ensure it doesn’t become even more monopolistic and abusive.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Justice Department preparing antitrust lawsuit against Google, but will it be a strong case?

Will the United States Department of Justice blow its opportunity to hold the Monster of Mountain View accountable for its domineering, monopolistic business practices? That’s a concern that many people both inside and outside of the DoJ have, as this New York Times story documents.

The Justice Department plans to bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as this month, after Attorney General William P. Barr overruled career lawyers who said they needed more time to build a strong case against one of the world’s wealthiest, most formidable technology companies, according to five people briefed on internal department conversations.

Justice Department officials told lawyers involved in the antitrust inquiry into Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, to wrap up their work by the end of September, according to three of the people. Most of the 40-odd lawyers who had been working on the investigation opposed the deadline. Some said they would not sign the complaint, and several of them left the case this summer.

Trump and Barr’s inappropriate politicization of the Department of Justice and their desire to use it as a vehicle to drive positive coverage for Trump’s reelection campaign could significantly hurt the case’s chances of success. State attorneys general are also interested in holding Google accountable, but many fear the DoJ is on the verge of sabotaging its own chance at a major antitrust legal victory, and thus may not be inclined to join in the action, whenever it ends up being filed.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Epic Games sues Google and Apple for monopolistic practices

Never seen a company willing to take on both Google and Apple before simultaneously… this is really something.

Epic Games has filed suit against Google over alleged antitrust violations, just hours after seeing Fortnite dropped from the both the Google Play Store and iOS App store and filing a similar lawsuit against Apple. Epic’s complaint alleges that Google’s payment restrictions on the Play Store constitute a monopoly, and thus a violation of both the Sherman Act and California’s Cartwright Act.

Epic’s hit game Fortnite was removed from the Google Play Store earlier today.

Where the Apple complaint opened with a description of the company’s iconic 1984 ad, Epic’s complaint against Google focuses on that company’s now-infamous “Don’t Be Evil” mantra. “Twenty-two years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought,” the complaint alleges, “and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in a slew of markets it has grown to monopolize.”

Quite right. Quite right.

We have long had a category here on GW called “Menacing Monopoly” (which this post is filed under), and it’s very fitting that Epic is calling this behavior out for everyone to see. We wish them the best with their suit and hope that it leads to a future in which many app stores become available for both iOS and Android…. or else public regulation over the stores currently controlled by Apple and Google.

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance, Shoddy Security

Google Play: Paradise for malware

Disappointing, but certainly not surprising:

Google Play, the company’s official repository for Android apps, has once again been caught hosting fraudulent and potentially malicious apps, with the discovery of more than 56 apps—many of them for children—that were installed on almost 1.7 million devices.

Tekya is a family of malware that generates fraudulent clicks on ads and banners delivered by agencies including Google’s AdMob, AppLovin’, Facebook, and Unity. To give the clicks the air of authenticity, the well-obfuscated code causes infected devices to use Android’s “MotionEvent” mechanism to imitate legitimate user actions. At the time that researchers from security firm Check Point discovered them, the apps went undetected by VirusTotal and Google Play Protect. Twenty-four of the apps that contained Tekya were marketed to children. Google removed all 56 of the apps after Check Point reported them.

Just inexcusable.

Google execs claim they care about security, but they cannot keep their app store free of malware. This nonsense has been going on for years now, and there seems to be no end in sight.

And if that wasn’t bad enough:

More than 4,000 Google Play apps silently collect a list of all other installed apps in a data grab that allows developers and advertisers to build detailed profiles of users, a recently published research paper found.

The apps use an Android-provided programming interface that scans a phone for details about all other apps installed on the phone. The app details—which include names, dates they were first installed and most recently updated, and more than three-dozen other categories—are uploaded to remote servers without permission and no notification.

Terrible.

Posted in Legal Troubles, War on Privacy

A reminder that Google offers one-stop shopping of your personal information for cyberthieves and cops

When you let a company like Google keep tabs on your every move, you let the company construct a repository of personal information that can be mined by your adversaries. Via Boing Boing:

Scott Budnick (producer of the “Hangover” movies) is embroiled in a complicated feud with an LA homicide cop named Sgt. Richard Biddle; Biddle has pursued his investigation against Budnick by securing an incredibly broad search-warrant to seize his Google data.

The warrant seeks:

1. All of Budnick’s account data (email addresses, connected applications and sites, etc)

2. Android info (phone make/model and IMEI, IMSI and phone number)

3. All stored “accounts, email accounts, passwords, PIN codes, account names, user names, screen names, remote data storage accounts, credit card/payment data, contact lists, calendar entries, text messages, voice mail messages, pictures, videos, telephone numbers, mobile devices, physical addresses, historical GPS locations, two-step verification information”

4. All calendars, including shared calendars (and whom they are shared with)

5. All stored contacts

6. “All user documents stored by Google”

7. Any records of securities, funds, etc

8. All Gmail messages, including metadata like read/unread

9. All Google Photo images

10. All stored location data

11. All Play Store purchases and downloads

12. All search history

13. All call records, voicemail messages, SMSes

14. All Google Wallet/Checkout data

It is a spectacularly broad warrant — and also a chilling reminder of how much data Google holds on us.

You can reduce the amount of data Google holds on you by deleting your location history, switching email providers, migrating to iOS, and so on.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Ex-Google employees refuse to go away quietly into the night

Retaliation? It sure sounds like it.

The four worker-activists who were fired by Google during Thanksgiving week plan to file federal charges alleging that their former employer fired them to quash worker organizing, in violation of federal labor laws.

Google told its staff of approximately 100,000 last week that the employees were fired for “clear and repeated violations of our data security policies”, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg. But in defiant interviews with the Guardian on Monday, the workers rejected that justification as a pretext.

“Google fired us not just to target us, but to send a message to other employees in the company,” said Sophie Waldman, one of the fired software engineers.

The National Labor Relations Board has been asked to investigate.

Posted in War on Privacy

Google whistleblower: “The medical data of millions of Americans is at risk”

A chilling must-read:

Here I was working with senior management teams on both sides, Google and Ascension, creating the future. That chimed with my overall conviction that technology really does have the potential to change healthcare for the better.

But over time I grew increasingly concerned about the security and privacy aspects of the deal. It became obvious that many around me in the Nightingale team also shared those anxieties.

After a while I reached a point that I suspect is familiar to most whistleblowers, where what I was witnessing was too important for me to remain silent. Two simple questions kept hounding me: did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given a chance to opt in or out?

The answer to the first question quickly became apparent: no. The answer to the second I became increasingly convinced about: yes. Put the two together, and how could I say nothing?

So much is at stake. Data security is important in any field, but when that data relates to the personal details of an individual’s health, it is of the utmost importance as this is the last frontier of data privacy.

Read the whole thing in its entirety, then read it again.

Huge props to the whistleblower for having the courage to stand up to the Monster of Mountain View, their employer, and defend the public interest against surveillance capitalism. What a public service.

Posted in Undependable Support

Ars Technica commenter lampoons Google’s undependable product support

A very astute observation:

The giant hulking dumpsters of cancelled Google products, many of which had dedicated user bases, would seem to indicate that not even Google really understands how Google makes these decisions. At this point, nobody with a functioning brain cell trusts any new Google product as part of a long-term project, product or ecosystem…

There’s even a website that tracks products that Google has killed off. It’s rather extensive.

While the odds that Google will pull the plug on its search engine, Gmail, Chrome browser, Android, YouTube, or Google Docs are slim, most of the company’s other offerings are fair game for elimination at any time. By steering clear of reliance on Google’s offerings, you can protect yourself and your data well into the future.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly, War on Privacy

Google admits to secret partnership with health insurance giant Ascension

This is very disturbing:

Google has signed a health care data and cloud computing deal with Ascension, a move that gives the search-engine giant access to health-related information of millions of Americans, helping it refine potentially lucrative artificial intelligence tools.

Clayton-based Ascension is the nation’s second-biggest health care provider by number of hospitals, with facilities in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

The partnership, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, will also explore artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to help improve clinical effectiveness as well as patient safety, Ascension said in a statement.

Google and Ascension claim that their partnership complies with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but we doubt that’s true. There’s no way that Google — with its awful record of waging war on user privacy and gobbling up information for suspect purposes — can be trusted with the health records of millions of Americans.

People who have a relationship with Ascension should be outraged that the company did not get their permission before inking this deal with Google.

The federal and state governments should open an investigation into this arrangement immediately.

MORE FROM ARS TECHNICA…

Google: You can trust us with the medical data you didn’t know we already had

Posted in War on Privacy

Google gobbles up Fitbit for $2.1 billion

More personal data on millions of people? Yes, please! Gulp, slurp, lipsmack:

Google said on Friday that it is acquiring Fitbit, the maker of fitness-tracking devices, for $2.1 billion to close the gap with Apple in the growing market for wearable electronics and to add muscle to its expanding hardware business.

The deal is likely to face regulatory scrutiny from agencies already investigating Google for antitrust concerns, because Fitbit collects sensitive health and activity information from users through the device. Heading off a potentially thorny point, Google said it would not use health data gleaned from Fitbit devices in its core advertising business.

That’s a worthless promise. The Monster of Mountain View will say whatever it needs to say right now to get this acquisition through. A few years down the line, they can change course and there’ll presumably be nothing to stop them.

Buying Fitbit is part of Google’s play to compete with Apple in every market segment Apple is in. The Cupertino giant designs phones, tablets, computers, and smartwatches, and has them made in Asia for markets the world over. Google used to be purely a search, advertising, and software services company, but it has expanded into phones (with its Pixel line) and partnered with companies to Dell to make what are called “Chromebooks” (dumbed down computers that don’t run a proper operating system and aren’t cheaper than computers running Windows). It also bought Nest so it would have a lineup of “smart home” devices.

Now it wants to own Fitbit.

This acquisition is not in the public interest. Fitbit may want to sell itself, but it should not belong to a company that is waging a war on privacy. People’s personal health information says a lot about them, and there’s no way Google can be trusted to look after that information. Monetizing information about people is what Google does. It’s why the company exists.