Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Many Pixel owners are complaining their phones are broken thanks to a severe storage bug

Google messed up… again!

It’s almost hard to believe this is happening again, but Pixel users are reporting that an OS update has locked them out of their phones’ internal storage, causing app crashes, non-functional phones, and a real possibility of data loss. Over in the Google Pixel subreddit, user “Liv-Lyf” compiled a dozen posts that complain of an “internal storage access issue” and blame the January 2024 Google Play system update.

In October, Pixel phones faced a nightmare storage bug that caused bootlooping, inaccessible devices, and data loss. The recent post says, “The symptoms are all the same” as that October bug, with “internal storage not getting mounted, camera crashes, Files app shows no files, screenshots not getting saved, internal storage shows up empty in ADB Shell, etc.” When asked for a comment, Google told Ars, “We’re aware of this issue and are looking into it,” and a Google rep posted effectively the same statement in the comments.

“We’re looking into it” isn’t what users want to hear.

“If you needed any further convincing that Google is a ____ company, it’s Google breaking a fundamental aspect of a phone brought to you by Google to supposedly deliver the purest Android experience available,” said one commenter.

“How the hell did this ever get released?” asked another. “I know Google hasn’t been doing basic management well recently but this is a whole new level of incompetence. If there were real active competition in the smartphone OS market, this is the kind of thing that would have damn nearly killed a company.”

Posted in Legal Troubles, Menacing Monopoly

$26 billion, with a b: That’s how much Google shelled out to keep its search engine the default in 2021

It’s an enormous sum of money, but it’s worth it to Google:

Google paid $26.3 billion to be the default search engine on mobile phones and web browsers in 2021, according to a slide made public Friday in a federal antitrust trial against the company.

The number is a more granular look into how much Google pays partners, including Apple, to be the default search engine on their products. The U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of state attorneys general have argued in the case that Google has illegally maintained its monopoly power in general search by leveraging its dominance to lock rivals out of key distribution channels, such as Apple’s Safari web browser.

The $26.3 billion figure does not represent the payments to any one company, but Apple likely represents the largest recipient. Bernstein previously estimated Google could pay Apple as much as $19 billion this year for the out-of-the-box default placement on Apple devices. 

The court needs to release more data about this case so the public can see the evidence the DOJ presented that Google is an illegal monopoly. That’s very important. Google’s lawyers shouldn’t be allowed to keep key pieces of information secret. We deserve to know the truth about Google’s harmful business practices.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

DOJ finishes presenting its case against Google in landmark antitrust trial

Ars Technica has a nice recap of the case so far:

The Department of Justice called its last witness this week, resting its case in a blockbuster antitrust trial probing Google’s alleged monopoly over search. Over the next five weeks, Google will do everything in its power to defend against those allegations—or else risk a potential breakup of its lucrative, industry-dominating search business—including likely calling Google CEO Sundar Pichai and other top executives as witnesses.

Since the trial began on September 12, Judge Amit Mehta has heard testimony from 29 witnesses, Bloomberg reported, including leading economists and senior executives from Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, and other tech companies either partnering with or rivaling Google over the years.

Much of this testimony was closed to protect tech companies’ trade secrets, but news outlets have since filed a motion hoping to unseal testimony and access more trial documents sooner, hoping to share more details with the public about the case the DOJ made.

That this case was brought at all is a major milestone. For many years, the U.S. federal government let Google do whatever it wanted, leaving the European Union to provide regulatory oversight. There was little oversight or accountability from Google’s home country. Now, Google is finally on trial for its illegal conduct and harmful business practices. The decision won’t be made by a jury, but the government has brought lots of compelling evidence to the table that will hopefully result in a decision from Judge Mehta that Google violated the country’s antitrust laws.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

US v. Google: Antitrust trial gets underway

The New York Times has a liveblog going on what is turning out to be a busy news day:

The Justice Department and 38 states and territories on Tuesday laid out how Google had systematically wielded its power in online search to cow competitors, as the internet giant fiercely parried back, in the opening of the most consequential trial over tech power in the modern internet era.

In a packed courtroom at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington, the Justice Department and states painted a picture of how Google had used its deep pockets and dominant position, paying $10 billion a year to Apple and others to be the default search provider on smartphones. Google viewed those agreements as a “powerful strategic weapon” to cut out rivals and entrench its search engine, the government said.

Reporters paid close attention when the judge scrutinized some of Google’s claims.

The star of opening arguments? Judge Mehta. He spoke only briefly, asking a handful of distilling, clarifying questions. For example, the Google lawyer John Schmidtlein went on at length saying how easy it was to switch a default search setting. Judge Mehta interrupted to ask, well, how much switching is actually done?

Schmidtlein could only point to what happened when Mozilla briefly made Microsoft’s Bing the default on the Firefox browser, and “droves” of users switched to Google. But he said there were no good overall statistics. Really? In a digital world where every click is tracked? The judge asked the right question there — and elsewhere — this morning.

This a bench trial, not a jury trial, so the parties’ goal is to convince Judge Mehta to rule in their favor. The trial will continue tomorrow and for several days beyond that, as the government’s case involves quite a bit of evidence. Many Google employees will be questioned by DOJ attorneys.

The trial proceedings are not being televised due to federal court rules, so there’s no way to watch. The tech press will thus have an outsized role in informing the public and observers.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Big, massive uh-oh: Google violated its standards in ad deals, research finds

And of course Google denies they screwed up. But the research is there:

Google violated its promised standards when placing video ads on other websites, according to new research that raises questions about the transparency of the tech giant’s online-ad business.

Google’s YouTube runs ads on its own site and app. But the company also brokers the placement of video ads on other sites across the web through a program called Google Video Partners. Google charges a premium, promising that the ads it places will run on high-quality sites, before the page’s main video content, with the audio on, and that brands will only pay for ads that aren’t skipped. 

Google violates those standards about 80% of the time, according to research from Adalytics, a firm that helps brands analyze where their ads appear online. The firm accused the company of placing ads in small, muted, automatically-played videos off to the side of a page’s main content, on sites that don’t meet Google’s standards for monetization, among other violations.

Google’s response was that the report “makes many claims that are inaccurate and doesn’t reflect how we keep advertisers safe,” which isn’t actually a refutation of any of the findings. Hilariously, their response also said: “As part of our brand safety efforts, we regularly remove ads from partner sites that violate our policies and we’ll take any appropriate actions once the full report is shared with us.”

If they haven’t seen the full report, how can they say with a straight face that it makes many claims which are inaccurate?

This is basically trying to have it both ways: Pay no attention to that report, it makes many inaccurate claims // we’ll take any appropriate actions once we have the full report in our hands. Um, what? Which is it: do you consider this report credible or not?

The WSJ did its own review so it wouldn’t need to rely on Google to confirm anything for its reporting, explaining:

The Journal independently observed invalid ad placements such as those the research identified, but couldn’t confirm the extent of the phenomenon. Digital ad-buyers and engineers vouched for the research findings.

Ain’t independent verification great?

You can’t spin your way out of this mess, Google. You own it and there’s going to be consequences.

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 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 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.”