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.”

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.