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 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 Menacing Monopoly

Software developer: “Chrome is bad”

Protecting your privacy isn’t the only reason not to install Google Chrome:

Short story: Google Chrome installs something called Keystone on your computer, which nefariously hides itself from Activity Monitor[1] and makes your whole computer slow even when Chrome isn’t running. Deleting Chrome and Keystone makes your computer way, way faster, all the time. Click here for instructions.

Long story: I noticed my brand new 16″ MacBook Pro started acting sluggishly doing even trivial things like scrolling. Activity Monitor showed *nothing* from Google using the CPU, but WindowServer was taking ~80%, which is abnormally high (it should use <10% normally).

Big, big props to Loren Brichter for making this website and thoroughly documenting this issue. 

Loren is a former Apple employee who created Tweetie and Letterpress earlier this century. There is a Wikipedia entry with more information about him, written from somewhat of a fan perspective.

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 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 Menacing Monopoly

Google continues to funnel vast sums to notorious climate deniers

Via Boing Boing, here’s Cory Doctorow:

Google and the other big tech companies are some of the most lavish funders of climate denial “think tanks” and lobbying groups, something they’ve been at continuously for more than six years, without interruption.

Google doesn’t fund these lobbyists because they’re climate deniers, nor because they’re indifferent to climate change and its human costs.

Google funds these lobbyists and astroturf operations because they also lobby for lax tax enforcement, lax labor laws, lax privacy laws, and so on. The fact that these groups also lobby for the right of corporations to render our planet uninhabitable (as well as against the rights of LGBTQ people, against reproductive freedom for women, etc) is merely an acceptable cost of greasing the skids to allow Big Tech to seek profits at the expense of their workers, suppliers, customers and society.

Read the whole thing.

As the excerpt above states, Google is not the only big company doing this. They’re all doing it, and it’s wrong. Very wrong.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Fifty U.S. jurisdictions announce sweeping antitrust investigation into Google

Looooooooong overdue!

Fifty U.S. states and territories, led by Texas, announced an investigation into Google’s “potential monopolistic behavior.”

The Monday announcement closely followed one from a separate group of states Friday that disclosed an investigation into Facebook’s market dominance. The two probes widen the antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies beyond sweeping federal and congressional investigations and enforcement action by European regulators.

Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson, a Republican, said at a press conference held in Washington that 50 attorneys general joining together sends a “strong message to Google.”

It shouldn’t have taken this long.

The EU has for years been shouldering responsibility for investigating Google’s abusive business practices and its war on privacy while U.S. authorities have looked the other way. The Monster of Mountain View essentially got a free pass from the Obama administration.

But those days are now over.

Bring on the investigation, the regulatory scrutiny, and the antitrust enforcement.

Long overdue!