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.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Fact checkers say YouTube lets its platform be ‘weaponized’

This is an unexpected, striking, and welcome development:

More than 80 fact checking organizations are calling on YouTube to address what they say is rampant misinformation on the platform.

In a letter to CEO Susan Wojcicki published Wednesday, the groups say the Google-owned video platform is “one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide.” 

YouTube’s efforts to address the problem, they say, are proving insufficient.

“What we do not see is much effort by YouTube to implement policies that address the problem,” the letter says. “On the contrary, YouTube is allowing its platform to be weaponized by unscrupulous actors to manipulate and exploit others, and to organize and fundraise themselves.” 

Wow! Talk about speaking truth to power… this is a truly impressive collective action. Good on these fact checking groups! It’s not so easy to call a spade a spade when it belongs to one of the world’s largest and most profitable tech giants. But that is precisely what they’ve done.

And what a great characterization of the problem… “allowing its platform to be weaponized by unscrupulous actors.” That is, indeed, what is going on here, and it’s important that be recognized. YouTube’s algorithms are notorious for dragging users down conspiracy theory rabbit holes. If you watch one flat earth video, YouTube will recommend a bunch more to you. Because YouTube’s proprietors want you to spend all day — or at least as much of your day as you are willing to give up — consuming content. The more you stream, the better. And if you get exposed to disinformation along the way, well, that’s just a cost of doing business, isn’t it?

Posted in Legal Troubles

Vice: Google had a secret project to ‘convince’ employees ‘that unions suck’

Don’t be union! That has been Google’s message to its employees for some time now:

A National Labor Relations Board ruling sheds light on a highly secret anti-union campaign at Google, that a top executive explicitly described as an initiative to “convince [employees] that unions suck.” 

The campaign was called Project Vivian, and ran at Google between late 2018 and early 2020 to combat employee activism and union organizing efforts at the company, according to court documents. 

Google’s director of employment law, Michael Pfyl, described Project Vivian as an initiative “to engage employees more positively and convince them that unions suck.”

Lauren Kaori Gurley

Hi-tech giants like Google are supposed to be great places to work. At least, that is the image they’ve tried to cultivate. But the truth is that fire at will employment isn’t great for workers, no matter how good the benefits and pay might be. It’s great that some Googlers are working together to secure better working conditions and representation for themselves by using American worker protection laws.

Naturally, management doesn’t want them doing this, and now we see the lengths they’ve gone to in the hopes of shutting this whole thing down. Let’s hope the legacy of “Project Vivian” is the opposite of what Michael Pfyl and Google executives had intended.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Google bows to demands from Putin to remove anti-Kremlin content

Just shameful:

Russian opposition activists said Google had taken down videos and documents they were using to organize a protest vote in this weekend’s elections, the latest sign of rising pressure from the Kremlin on American internet giants.

The actions by Google in response to government demands involved blocking access inside Russia to several YouTube and Google Docs links being used by allies of the imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny to coordinate protest voting in each of the country’s 225 electoral districts, said the activists, members of Mr. Navalny’s team. On Friday, Google and Apple removed the activist group’s protest-voting app after Russian officials threatened to prosecute the American companies’ employees inside the country.

Google did not immediately respond on Sunday to a request for comment.

Apple, of course, did it too.

It just goes to show that powerful Silicon Valley companies cannot be trusted to stand up for their users against authoritarian governments like those in Russia or China. They fold because the bottom line is more important than people’s rights and freedoms. And because they’re afraid of the power those regimes have over their operations beyond U.S. shores.

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance

Google bricks its customers’ own devices with typo-plagued update

Mega oops:

Google says it has fixed a major Chrome OS bug that locked users out of their devices. Google’s bulletin says that Chrome OS version 91.0.4472.165, which was briefly available this week, renders users unable to log in to their devices, essentially bricking them.

Chrome OS automatically downloads updates and switches to the new version after a reboot, so users who reboot their devices are suddenly locked out them. The go-to advice while this broken update is out there is to not reboot.

“ChromeOS is open source, so we can get a bit more detail about the fix thanks to Android Police hunting down a Reddit comment from user elitist_ferret. The problem apparently boils down to a single-character typo,” the article goes on to say.

 There’s really no excuse for this kind of slipup considering that “Chrome OS” is software that obeys Google rather than the end user. It is specifically programmed to auto-update, as mentioned above. That means updates needs to not contain typos. Preventing all bugs is not possible in any software, but checking for typos is part of basic quality assurance.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Former Google engineer: “After working at Google, I’ll never let myself love a job again”

Emi Nietfeld has taken to the New York Times op-ed page to document how things fell apart for them while working for the Monster of Mountain View. What they thought was a paradise turned out to be anything but after they became the victim of harassment from their technical lead.

As soon as my complaint with H.R. was filed, Google went from being a great workplace to being any other company: It would protect itself first.

I’d structured my life around my job — exactly what they wanted me to do — but that only made the fallout worse when I learned that the workplace that I cherished considered me just an employee, one of many and disposable.

The process stretched out for nearly three months. In the meantime I had to have one-on-one meetings with my harasser and sit next to him. Every time I asked for an update on the timeline and expressed my discomfort at having to continue to work in proximity to my harasser, the investigators said that I could seek counseling, work from home or go on leave. I later learned that Google had similar responses to other employees who reported racism or sexism.

Emi eventually left Google and is now writing a book about their experiences there.