Posted in Legal Troubles, Menacing Monopoly

Google sued by the Department of Justice again for corrupting legitimate competition

Nice going, DOJ! About time!

The US Department of Justice and eight states on Tuesday sued Google over its advertising business, alleging it engages in monopolistic behavior.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Virginia, alleges that Google has “corrupted legitimate competition in the ad tech industry” through a campaign of seizing control of tools and inserting “itself into all aspects of the digital advertising marketplace.” Google allegedly has done so by eliminating competition through acquisitions and used its dominance to push advertisers to use its products over those of others. The complaint only names Google as the defendant and not any specific individuals. It also calls for a divestiture of a part of the ad tech stack.

The DOJ also said that Google punishes websites that “dare to use competing ad tech products” and uses its dominance in ad technology to “funnel more transactions to its own ad tech products, where it extracts inflated fees to line its own pockets at the expense of the advertisers and publishers it purportedly serves.”

For years, European regulators have been pretty much on their own on standing up to Google, but that has now changed, which is a great thing. The Department of Justice is finally on the case!

Unfortunately, Google’s near monopoly is now pretty well solidified, but late accountability is certainly better than no accountability.

Posted in Corporate Indifference to Humanity

Insider: A married couple with a 4-month-old baby were both laid off by Google, while one of them was on parental leave

Pretty sad:

Allie and Steve, who asked to go by their first names only but whose identities are known by Insider, had both relocated to California when Allie started working for the tech giant six years ago. Steve began working at the company around two years later.

The couple, who were high school sweethearts, had their first child in fall 2022. Allie went on parental leave shortly before, and planned to be off for around eight months in total. Steve took two months of parental leave in late 2022, and was set to take a further two from March.

Google announced Friday that it would lay off around 12,000 employees, or roughly 6% of its workforce. Allie and Steve were among those affected, they told Insider. Both found out that they were being laid off at the same time.

Furthermore:

Google employees have expressed their shock at the abrupt and impersonal nature of the layoffs, which happened over email. Some managers weren’t even informed of the mass terminations before they happened.

Gotta love how “human resources” works at a big, faceless corporation!

Google is of course wealthy enough that it doesn’t have to lay off employees. It is choosing to. Those layoffs will be costly, and not just in a financial sense – they’ll be disruptive to a lot of lives.

But to Sundar Pichai and Google executives, it’s all apparently just numbers on a screen.

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!