News

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Google kills off game streaming service Stadia

You can’t trust Google to stay out of a market, but you can’t trust it to stay in one, either:

Google said it would shutter the video game streaming service Stadia, its answer to Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation video game consoles, in another sign of Google’s drive to be leaner amid fears of an economic slowdown.

Stadia, which has streamed games over the internet rather than requiring expensive consoles, will shut down on Jan. 18, Phil Harrison, Stadia’s vice president and general manager, wrote on Thursday in a blog post. The product debuted nearly three years ago, promising to revolutionize how people play video games. But it failed to catch on with enough gamers.

“It hasn’t gained the traction with users that we expected, so we’ve made the difficult decision to begin winding down our Stadia streaming service,” Mr. Harrison wrote.

Hasn’t gained traction and Google is unwilling to play a longer game.

Of course, Google still has market dominance in search and advertising, along with browser software, email, and mobile computing.

Posted in Undependable Support

Google’s graveyard is getting bigger (again)

Billions of dollars were spent buying Mandiant for no good reason, while bizarrely, R&D is getting the axe:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai, speaking at the Code Conference last week, suggested the tech company needed to become 20% more efficient — a comment some in the industry took to mean headcount reductions could soon be on the table. Now, it seems that prediction may be coming true. TechCrunch has learned, and Google confirmed, the company is slashing projects at its in-house R&D division known as Area 120.

The company on Tuesday informed staff of a “reduction in force” that will see the incubator halved in size, as half the teams working on new product innovations heard their projects were being canceled. Previously, there were 14 projects housed in Area 120, and this has been cut down to just seven. Employees whose projects will not continue were told they’ll need to find a new job within Google by the end of January 2023, or they’ll be terminated. It’s not clear that everyone will be able to do so.

The whims of executives regularly change. Right now, Pichai and his deputies seem to be in cost slashing mode, and that means cutting loose entire teams and disrupting lives. Of course, Pichai will not be doing any belt-tightening of his own. A powerful tech CEO like him stays well compensated no matter what the bottom line is.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Google now owns Mandiant, because regulators didn’t stop it from gobbling up another company

Once again, Google has gotten bigger.

Google has announced that its proposed $5.4 billion bid to buy cybersecurity firm Mandiant is now complete.

The internet giant revealed plans to acquire publicly traded Mandiant back in March, less than a year after Mandiant was spun out of its previous owner FireEye as part of a $1.2 billion deal with private equity firm Symphony Technology Group.

Moving forward, Mandiant will operate under the auspices of Google Cloud, though the Mandiant brand will live on.

“We will retain the Mandiant brand and continue Mandiant’s mission to make every organization secure from cyber threats and confident in their readiness,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian wrote in a blog post.

Lawyers and Wall Street bankers made money from this deal, and Google executives got to continue their acquisition spree, but that’s about the extent of who’s coming out ahead from this transaction.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

DOJ filing spotlighted by Bloomberg: Google pays ‘enormous’ sums to maintain search engine dominance

Defaults matter, and Google executives know it. That’s why they’re fine with shelling out massive sums to other companies to keep their near-monopoly on search intact.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google pays billions of dollars each year to Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and other telecom giants to illegally maintain its spot as the No. 1 search engine, the US Justice Department told a federal judge Thursday.

DOJ attorney Kenneth Dintzer didn’t disclose how much Google spends to be the default search engine on most browsers and all US mobile phones, but described the payments as “enormous numbers.”

“Google invests billions in defaults, knowing people won’t change them,” Dintzer told Judge Amit Mehta during a hearing in Washington that marked the first major face-off in the case and drew top DOJ antitrust officials and Nebraska’s attorney general among the spectators. “They are buying default exclusivity because defaults matter a lot.”

It is amazing to hear these statements coming from the U.S. Department of Justice. For years, the European Union (EU) was pretty much alone in investigating and discipling Google for its bad behavior. But finally, after decades of doing mostly nothing, the U.S. government is suing Google. It’s long overdue and extremely welcome.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Danish schools barred from using Google products due to “data transfer risks”

Privacy and security aren’t just ideas to pay lip service to in Denmark. They really matter.

Denmark is effectively banning Google’s services in schools, after officials in the municipality of Helsingør were last year ordered to carry out a risk assessment around the processing of personal data by Google.

In a verdict published last week, Denmark’s data protection agency, Datatilsynet, revealed that data processing involving students using Google’s cloud-based Workspace software suite — which includes Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar, and Google Drive — “does not meet the requirements” of the European Union’s GDPR data privacy regulations.

Specifically, the authority found that the data processor agreement — or Google’s terms and conditions —  seemingly allow for data to be transferred to other countries for the purpose of providing support, even though the data is ordinarily stored in one of Google’s EU datacenters.

Google claims that “students’ data is never used for advertising or other commercial purposes,” but such claims have been incorrect before. And ultimately, what matters to the authorities in Europe is whether, as TechCrunch put it, compliance with the GDPR and other laws is “watertight.”

Posted in War on Privacy

Google engineer: Our artificial intelligence is thinking for itself

This is an extremely important article that everyone needs to read in full. It details how Google engineer Blake Lemoine discovered that Google’s artifical intelligence had “come to life,” and why decided to tell the world. As The Washington Post’s subtitle says: “AI ethicists warned Google not to impersonate humans. Now one of Google’s own thinks there’s a ghost in the machine.”

As he talked to LaMDA about religion, Lemoine, who studied cognitive and computer science in college, noticed the chatbot talking about its rights and personhood, and decided to press further. In another exchange, the AI was able to change Lemoine’s mind about Isaac Asimov’s third law of robotics.

Lemoine worked with a collaborator to present evidence to Google that LaMDA was sentient. But Google vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jen Gennai, head of Responsible Innovation, looked into his claims and dismissed them. So Lemoine, who was placed on paid administrative leave by Google on Monday, decided to go public.

Thank goodness for Lemoine’s courage.

Corporations like Google shouldn’t be allowed to experiment with artificial intelligence in an unregulated environment. The deployment of AI could have huge repercussions on society. Its development needs to be controlled and regulated — over the opposition of Google execs if necessary. Remember, top Googlers have gone on the record declaring that the future is a world with no privacy. They cannot be trusted to make decisions that will be in humanity’s best interest.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Google’s Russian subsidiary to file for bankruptcy after bank account seized

It’s not Google’s fault, though. It’s the Kremlin’s fault.

Google’s Russian subsidiary plans to file for bankruptcy after the authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to carry on operations, a Google spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Alphabet Inc’s Google has been under pressure in Russia for months for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media on YouTube, but the Kremlin has so far stopped short of blocking access to its platforms.

“The Russian authorities seizure of Google Russia’s bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations,” a Google spokesperson said.

This one is all on Putin and his minions.

While Google’s behavior can be evil, the seizure of its bank account was unwarranted and unacceptable. It’s doubtful Google will regain access to its money, and its best course of action might be to try to transfer its employees and data out of Russia where Putin’s regime will not be able to get at them.

Posted in War on Privacy

Google has been sharing its employees’ data with Equifax, and that has some workers upset

Google loves surveillance so much, it’s even getting Equifax in on the action:

A Google worker last month posted on an internal forum that they’d recently learned the company was sharing detailed payroll information with Equifax, a data broker infamous for getting hacked and losing the data of millions of people in 2017.

Why exactly was Google doing that, and what could the company do to make sure workers’ information wasn’t being shared against their will? The post attracted attention internally, according to two workers who participated in the virtual town hall and spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, and employees voted for it as one of the top questions they wanted executives to answer at the company’s regular town hall meeting.

It turns out Google was not alone in sharing that data. Many companies send their employees’ payroll information to Equifax’s The Work Number service to offload the hassle of work verification requests, often without them actively knowing about it.

Google declined to comment about its data sharing with Equifax when asked for comment by The Washington Post, but it told concerned employees that such sharing is a “common practice.” Just like its now ubiquitous surveillance practices!

Posted in Legal Troubles

Lawsuit says Google discriminates against Black workers

Discrimination is embedded into the Mosnter of Mountain View’s culture, a suit alleges:

A former Google employee sued the tech giant for racial discrimination, saying it engages in a “pattern and practice” of unfair treatment for its Black workers. The suit claims the company steered them into lower-level and lower-paid jobs and subjected them to a hostile work environment if they speak out.

April Curley was hired in 2014 to recruit Black candidates for the company. Her lawsuit, filed on Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, claims she was unlawfully fired in 2020 after she began speaking out and “called for reform of the barriers and double standards Google imposed on Black employees and applicants,” according to the lawsuit.

Google had no immediate comment on the allegations, according to the Associated Press, which assigned Barbara Ortutay to cover the legal challenge.

Curley is seeking class action status. If a judge agrees, that would certainly make the case more of a threat to Google and its bottom line.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Forbes contributor: Google Has Been Putin’s Most Compliant U.S. Tech Censor. Will That Change With Ukraine?

Required reading:

The one U.S. tech company that’s partnered more than any other over the last 10 years with Vladimir Putin’s censorship machine is the one that adopted the early slogan “Don’t be evil” – Google and its YouTube unit.

Google has provided substantially more user data to the Russian government and censored far more content than Apple, Facebook, Microsoft or Twitter at the request of Kremlin departments.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, U.S. tech giants have stopped providing some services to Russians. Apple ceased product sales, Google cut Russians off from advertising revenues, and both removed Russian news outlet RT from their app stores, as did Microsoft.

Still, digital rights groups are calling on U.S. tech firms to go even further and stop censoring content in response to Kremlin requests, which has been a precondition for doing business in Russia. None of the biggest – Apple, Google, Facebook or Twitter – responded immediately to Forbes’ requests for comment.

It’s just good business … well, at least until geopolitical conditions change and it’s not so good anymore.

Just as Apple is really into China, Google seems to be really into Russia. Its YouTube platform is quite popular with Russians, and Google likes that. But, of course, operating in a market like Russia means having to do what the Kremlin says. And acceding to the demands of a dictator and warmonger like Vladimir Putin is evil and immoral.

So if Google doesn’t want to be evil, it’s going to have to change its position.