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 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 Legal Troubles, War on Privacy

Google fined for GDPR violations

Bring on the penalties!

Google has been fined 50 million euros (about $57 million) by a French regulator for not properly disclosing to users how their data is collected and used for targeted advertising.

The penalty is the biggest yet imposed under a new European privacy law that went into effect in 2018. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation gives Europeans more control over their information and how companies use it.

France’s National Data Protection Commission said on Monday that it imposed the fine after determining Google hadn’t met its obligation for transparency by making information about its data collection easily accessible to users. The commission found that Google didn’t present information about data-processing purposes and data-storage periods in the same place, sometimes requiring users to make five or six clicks to obtain the information.

The General Data Protection Regulation may not be perfect, but it’s already been a boon for users around the globe, including those outside Europe. Companies like Google will never care about user privacy on their own because their business model is monetizing people’s personal information. That’s why it is so important that laws like the GDPR exist… and that they be vigorously enforced.

Posted in Legal Troubles

It’s #GoogleWalkout Day!

This is the best thing that has happened to and at Google in a very long time.

Google employees walked out of the company’s offices around the world on Thursday, in protest of the search giant’s handling of sexual harassment claims — specifically at the executive level.

The walkout began around 11 a.m. local time in Tokyo. Other offices including Singapore, Dublin, London, Berlin, Zurich and New York followed suit at 11 a.m. in their respective time zones. The Twitter account @GoogleWalkout and hashtag #GoogleWalkout tracked the protests as they occurred across the globe.

In Mountain View, California, Google’s global headquarters, employees streamed into a central plaza, near a building where Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s office is located. Employees spoke at a microphone, and the crowd chanted “Time is up!” and “Stand up! Fight back!” They held up signs that said “Stand up for Google women” and “Google men stand with Google women.” Some people wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts. Others wore shirts that said “Protect! Respect! Defend!” with a Google logo on the sleeve.

Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Sundar Pichai, and Eric Schmidt rarely listen to their critics, but maybe they’ll listen to their employees this time and change of their bad business practices.

It was wrong of Google to give Andy Rubin a $90 million golden parachute. It is wrong that Google insists on forced arbitration in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases. It is wrong that Google won’t publicly disclose how pervasive this problem is.

Time’s up. It’s time for change.

Posted in Legal Troubles, Menacing Monopoly

EU authorities hit Google with megafine, showing they’re serious about regulating Big Tech (unlike U.S.)

Three cheers for the European Union:

European authorities fined Google a record $5.1 billion on Wednesday for abusing its power in the mobile phone market and ordered the company to alter its practices, in one of the most aggressive regulatory actions against American technology giants and one that may force lasting changes to smartphones.

The European Union’s antitrust fine of 4.34 billion euros was almost double the bloc’s fine against Google last year over the company’s unfair favoring of its own services in internet search results. The penalty’s size highlighted Europe’s increasingly bold stance against the power of American tech firms, even as officials in the United States have taken a largely hands-off approach to the companies.

The fine was coupled with remedies that would effectively loosen Google’s grip over its Android software, which is used in 80 percent of the world’s smartphones and is a key part of the Silicon Valley company’s business. Those changes, which European regulators ordered to take effect in 90 days, undercut Google’s ability to automatically include its own search and other apps in mobile devices, opening it to more competition in a market that it has dominated.

“Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” said Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust chief. “These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere.”

This needed to happen, badly. Big props to Margrethe Vestager, who just proved she’s serious about enforcing antitrust laws, unlike authorities in the United States, who have continually done nothing as Google (and Facebook and Amazon) have become bigger and amassed ever more power.

Google utterly dominates both mobile computing as well as search & advertising online (with the exception of Facebook’s walled garden). Yet Google has not been subjected to rigorous antitrust scrutiny by U.S. agencies. The most that ever happens is that Google gets slapped on the wrist for a privacy bugaboo or snafu of some sort. The company’s aggressive growth has not been checked or challenged at all.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Did Russia exploit Google’s offerings to meddle in the 2016 United States presidential election?

An investigation is underway:

Google is examining what role its services could have played in Russian interference during the 2016 US presidential election, according to a report published Friday by The Wall Street Journal.

The search giant joins its rivals Facebook and Twitter in their own probes, as they try to figure out how Russian agents could have misused their advertising platforms, among other services, to meddle in the campaign.

“We will of course cooperate with inquiries,” a Google spokesperson said. “We’re looking into how we can help with any relevant information.”

But will the results be made publicly available? Facebook has been less than forthcoming about what its probes have turned up.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Lawsuit alleges Google is a discriminatory place to work

Kudos to the plaintiffs for bringing this suit:

Google systematically pays women less than men doing similar work, according to a class action-lawsuit accusing the technology company of denying promotions and career opportunities to qualified women who are “segregated” into lower-paying jobs.

The complaint, filed Thursday on behalf of all women employed by Google in California over the last four years, provided the most detailed formal accounts to date of gender discrimination and pay disparities at the company after months of criticisms and a growing chorus of women publicly speaking out.

Allegations of possible employment violations emerge at court hearing as part of lawsuit to compel company, a federal contractor, to provide compensation data

“We’ve been talking about these issues for a long time, and it hasn’t really changed,” Kelly Ellis, a former Google employee and a lead plaintiff on the case, told the Guardian in her first interview about the suit. “There’s been a lot of PR and lip service, but … this is going to be one of the only ways to get these companies to change how they hire and compensate women.”

Any effort to hold the Monster of Mountain View accountable for its bad business practices is an effort we support. For a company with a motto of “do no evil”, Google sure does a lot of evil things.

Posted in Legal Troubles

Google slammed with record fine by European Union

Justice:

Google’s record-breaking 2.4 billion-euro ($2.7 billion) European Union fine could end up being just a fraction of the costs from the EU’s demand that it stop skewing search results to favor its own shopping site.

While the penalty will barely make a dent in its $90 billion cash hoard, Google faces the prospect of less ad revenue and a regulatory backlash targeting other services from maps to restaurant reviews as well as the threat of even more penalties.

The search-engine giant will have “the sword of Damocles hanging over its head,” said Jay Modrall, a lawyer for Norton Rose Fulbright in Brussels. That’s because it’s no longer Google’s choice on how it makes changes to allay EU concerns. Instead, it’s “under a legal requirement to do so and under notice that if its commitments are not sufficient, it’ll be fined even more.”

Google is even more of a monopoly in Europe than it is in the United States, with an estimated 95% market share. Given that it is a near monopoly, it deserves to be stringently regulated. Kudos to the European authorities for holding the Monster of Mountain View accountable for its search-skewing.

Posted in Legal Troubles

United States government accuses Google of ‘extreme’ gender pay discrimination

Well, well, well….

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.

As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said.

“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a DoL regional director, testified in court in San Francisco on Friday.

Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, said: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”

Herold added: “The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”

Google, of course, denies the allegations:

Google said it vehemently disagreed with the charges, which the Mountain View, California, company said it hadn’t heard until Wipper’s court appearance.

“Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap,” Google said in its statement.

Uh huh.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this. Historically, the United States government has gone fairly easy on Google, whereas the European Union has cracked down more harshly when it has taken a dislike to questionable Google business practices. It sounds like the gloves may be off, at least with respect to this particular issue.