Author Archive

Google’s Sicilian Davos: Berlusconi Welcomes Uncle Sugar Back to Italia


Remember, dear readers, you heard it here first, off the record, on the Q.T., and strictly hush, hush.

LA Confidential, by Brian Helgeland

In case you were wondering what Google was doing with the money it makes pointing searchers to massively infringing traffickers, some news:  Google returns to Sicily for its equally massively elite summer vacation, all with a nickname of suitable Google infantilism, that special brand of infantilism that’s oh, so Googley:  The Camp.

Buzzfeed tells us:

The most exclusive conference in tech is back for a second year.

Google is returning to Sicily this summer to host The Camp, a gathering of power players from technology and finance, which had its debut last year, BuzzFeed News has learned.

While Google hosts some conferences through its Ideas arm, this one stands apart. With its elite guest list and luxurious setting, the Camp is more akin to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the rarefied gathering of business and government titans held each winter in a snowy ski resort town.

Doesn’t that just reek of Uncle Sugar?

BuzzFeed News was able to gather some information from a source who received an invitation. As it was last year, the Camp is being held at the Verdura Resort, an opulent enclave of golf courses and Mediterranean indulgences on Sicily’s southwestern coast. It runs from July 26th to 30th.

Yes, they’re spending your money.  I wonder if Daniel Ek will get invited?  He should get something for that Spotify board seat.

The 3D Printed Jet Engine

It’s the Data, Stupid: Here’s How Google Gets the Data About You They Don’t Already Have

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google intends to compete with Amazon, eBay and every other online retailer:

Google Inc. will launch buy buttons on its search-result pages in coming weeks, a controversial step by the company toward becoming an online marketplace rivaling those run by Inc. and eBay Inc.

The search giant will start showing the buttons when people search for products on mobile devices, according to people familiar with the launch.

The buttons will accompany sponsored—or paid—search results, often displayed under a “Shop on Google” heading at the top of the page. Buttons won’t appear with the nonsponsored results that are driven by Google’s basic search algorithm.

Given Google’s search monopoly, this move accomplishes at least two predatory moves:  First, Google will get personally identifiable data from you about your purchasing habits as well as your name, address, credit card number, phone number and whatever else they can extract from you.

How will this work?

The Journal reports:

Google will let shoppers input payment credentials such as credit-card numbers one time, and the company will store those and automatically load them for future purchases on its shopping pages.

Google won’t send those payment details to the retailers, one of the people said. After Google gets the money from shoppers it will pass the payment on to the retailer. Depending on how the consumer chooses to pay, Google or the retailer may show up on customer billing statements, one of the people said.

Google “will let”…nice of them, eh?

But notice that there is not one named source in this story–not one.  It’s not even the usual “Google spokesperson”, it’s just “people”.  People who know about that thing that happened in that place down by where that other thing happened with those guys who were hanging around at the time.  This is a new low.

The other predatory move is that Google is inserting itself into the customer transaction so that not only are they driving traffic to the retailer, there’s a real question of exactly whose customer you really are.  Are you the retailer’s customer or are you Google’s?  If Google doesn’t send “payment details to the retailers” that means that Google is keeping the customer data themselves.

That means that Google can send you ads or marketing campaigns based on purchases you made at Walmart but drive you to Target.

Inserting themselves as an intermediary guarantees Google an extraordinary amount of personally identifiable information tied directly to purchasing virtually anything–including drugs, medical devices and lots of other stuff you probably wouldn’t want to have end up in the hands of a data profiler who might sell that information to anyone.  Such as your employer, landlord, bank or anyone else looking into your background.

Oh, like the U.S. government, for example.

And of course there’s no mention of a charge by Google.  This looks like it’s another “free” service from Google. You know who the product is when Google gives you something for “free” right?

The product is you, of course.

Because it’s the data, stupid.

#howgoogleworks: Must Read Buzzfeed Story on Google’s Sleazy Relationship with FTC

A must read Buzzfeed article gives you one of those rare insights into how Google actually works at the highest levels of government with merely the flick of an email at a huge Federal bureaucracy–the Federal Trade Commission.  Remember them?  The FTC are the ones that punted on their antitrust investigation of Google for mysterious reasons.

Courageous Wall Street Journal reporter Brody Mullins & team came up with an internal FTC staff report proving that the unanimous decision of the FTC’s political appointees not to prosecute Google for antitrust violations was expressly taken against the advice of the professional legal staff.  Mullins’ reporting called into question an entire series of decisions by the U.S. Government not to look too hard at Google’s high handed business practices or its monopoly behaviors.  The Wall Street Journal team put that story in context by publishing another expose of Google’s influence peddling in Washington.

Faster than you can say “Jamie Gorelick”, Google’s lobbyists swung into action.  If you were a sleaze bag bunch of crony capitalists that had captured every agency in Washington, what you’d need right about then was to push a button at the FTC and have them issue a useful public statement.  And that’s exactly what Google did according to Buzzfeed’s reporting:

On the evening of March 23, Johanna Shelton, a senior lobbyist at Google, emailed an official at the Federal Trade Commission with a pointed request: release a public statement that would help the search giant deal with a negative story. Two days later, the agency did just that.

Shelton’s email was sent in the wake of [Brody Mullins’ reporting].  In response to the revelation, the FTC issued only terse statements calling the release of the document unfortunate.

But Shelton, in an email to Heather Hippsley, the FTC’s chief of staff, urged the FTC to say more, arguing that the agency’s own reputation was at stake.

Yeah, right.  That’s a typically Googley move–it’s not that we care, oh, no.  It’s for your own good. And what exactly is for your own good?  Releasing the statement they want released or complying before Google calls the White House and ends your career at the FTC?

Google was “deeply troubled” and “puzzled” by the agency’s silence on the matter, Shelton said in the email, which emerged in response to a public records request and was obtained by BuzzFeed News. She said the inadvertently released document was being used by Google’s rivals to “sow confusion and undermine the FTC’s conclusions, especially in Europe.”

That would be the European Commission antitrust investigation which Google had been slow walking for four years and that had just blown up in their faces.  (And is now going full bore against them.)  This is important because the Wall Street Journal revealed that the professional staff at the FTC had been sharing information with their counterparts in Europe–you know, the ones that are now prosecuting Google.  Get out your hazmat suit, because here comes the bullshit:

“We believe it is critical for the FTC to defend its reputation, showing that it followed a thorough process and fully took into account the Bureau of Competition staff memo, among other internal agency opinions including the Bureau of Economics,” Shelton said in the email. “A public statement standing by the FTC’s ability to make a final decision after assessing differing internal views would go far in the international space to restore the reputation of the FTC, especially on due process.”

Two days after the email was sent, and after the Wall Street Journal published another article about Google’s relationship with Washington, the FTC released a statement that provided the context Shelton had sought.

The email also included this paragraph:

We recall that in February 2013, when the process and result [of the FTC’s investigation into Google] were similarly called into question by our competitors [and anyone else capable of sequential thought] every Commissioner, including then-Commissioner Ramirez, wrote a clarifying letter to the editor of Politico standing by the staff and their work in this matter.  We believe this unfortunate FOIA incident is similarly worthy of a public statement of the FTC standing by its decision.

Now how do you suppose that “clarifying letter” got written to politico?  How do you think that it got signed by every FTC commissioner?  Because they thought it was a good idea?  Or because somebody told them to sign their names to it?

Because as Ms. Shelton suggests, failing to go public and “explain” the FCC’s decision not to prosecute Google would make them look…well, sleazy or something, right?  Particularly when the European Commission goes forward with their own prosecution?

And do you think that Google isn’t trying to do the same thing in Europe?

[Google lobbyist] Shelton, for her part, keeps in close contact with government authorities. She has visited the White House more than 60 times, the Journal noted in its follow-up article.

Here’s the full email

Of course the real question is who prompted Ms. Shelton’s email?  Someone higher up at Google?  Almost surely.  But who put them in motion?  Who is the prime mover in this case?

Emmy Award winning reporter Sharyl Attkisson has an excellent Ted Talk on the subject of astroturf and how Washington works.  She’s focused more on drug companies, but the admonition works well for Google, too.

Uber Hires Googler Rachel Whetstone to Bully Teamsters

‘Did you torture him?’

Captain Segura laughed. ‘No. He doesn’t belong to the torturable class.’

‘I didn’t know there were class-distinctions in torture.’

‘Dear Mr Wormold, surely you realize there are people who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea. One never tortures except by a kind of mutual agreement.’
‘There’s torture and torture.’

Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene

Remember Rachel Whetstone?  She was the Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Policy at Google until this week when she took a comparable job at Uber, replacing former Obama 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe.  She also coined the “crying baby” gif for a now-forgotten post she wrote excoriating Rupert Murdoch.

Another fun fact–it typical Google style, influence peddling begins at home.  Rachel Whetstone is married to Steve Hilton, a close advisor of recently reelected UK Prime Minister David Cameron.  According to Wikipedia “Whetstone is married to Steve Hilton. The couple were godparents to Ivan Cameron, the late eldest child of David Cameron.”

In other words, Rachel Whetstone has been the brains behind Googles’ “torture the artists” campaign–and is a member of what Graham Greene might call the untorturable class.

So Ms. Whetstone is now leaving the sanctum sanctorum of Google to join Uber to torture the Teamsters and other taxi drivers.  Because, you know, there’s torture and then there’s torture.

Good luck with that, Rach.  Just invite the Teamsters for a latte to have a chit chat about permissionless innovation and warmed bidets.  And driverless trucks.  They just love that stuff.

Good times.

BREAKING–Leaked internal email from NPR’s Policy and Representation Division Explaining NPR Membership on McCoalition

Chris Castle:

This explains a lot…

Originally posted on The Trichordist:

We were sent this internal email from inside National Public Radio by a whistleblower.  The internal email was apparently in response to the criticism of NPR coming from independent artists online.  As we suspected, it appears that NPR’s participation in the controversial “Mic Coalition” (or as we call it the “McCoalition”) was a decision taken by NPR’s Policy and Representation division (aka “suits”) without consulting with any of the music or news workers or any of the NPR member stations.

NPR is participating in the Music, Innovation & Consumers (MIC) Coalition to ensure that public radio’s voice is heard in future policy decisions involving copyright law. Changes to copyright law may have a direct impact on public radio stations’ abilities to bring music to listeners nationwide.

Our participation in this coalition is not an endorsement of the business plans or activities of other members.

The coalition has not yet made specific legislative…

View original 682 more words

Google, YouTube and the NSA: Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Tracking You

You may have heard about our [directory assistance] 1-800-GOOG-411 service. Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model … that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.

The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. … So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we’re trying to get the voice out of video [such as from YouTube], we can do it with high accuracy.

Marissa Meyer, interviewed in Info World, October 23, 2007–nearly 8 years ago.

Do you remember Google’s 411 service?  Did anyone ever tell you that Google was using your call to GOOG411 to train their voice to text bots?  No?  Don’t remember that part?  How about this part (from Dan Froomkin in The Intercept):

Most people realize that emails and other digital communications they once considered private can now become part of their permanent record.

But even as they increasingly use apps that understand what they say, most people don’t realize that the words they speak are not so private anymore, either.

Top-secret documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency can now automatically recognize the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored.

The documents show NSA analysts celebrating the development of what they called “Google for Voice” nearly a decade ago.

This is what we call “nondisplay uses”–where Google tells you they’re doing one thing with the Google product you use when in fact they are doing something completely different.  And not just different but something that you would never have agreed to submit to.  But then they tell you that you’ve consented because you “signed” their privacy policy or terms of use.  So what’s the problem?

I think people don’t understand that the economics of surveillance have totally changed,” Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, told The Intercept.

“Once you have this capability, then the question is: How will it be deployed? Can you temporarily cache all American phone calls, transcribe all the phone calls, and do text searching of the content of the calls?” she said.

Of course the “you” in that last sentence is the key, right?  If “you” is the NSA, most people would flip out.  If “you” is Google,  many millions–at least so far–allow it to happen in a multitude of Google products hundreds of millions of times a day.  What’s to worry, right?

The Second Circuit’s decision this week in ACLU et al v. Clapper et al should tell you all you need to know.  This is the decision in which the Court ruled that the government’s bulk collection of phone records ostensibly under § 215 of the Patriot Act violates the Constitution and is illegal.  As the Court ruled:

The interpretation [of § 215] that the government asks us to adopt defies any limiting principle. The same rationale that it proffers for the “relevance” of telephone metadata cannot be cabined to such data, and applies equally well to other sets of records. If the government is correct, it could use § 215 to collect and store in bulk any other existing metadata available anywhere in the private sector, including metadata associated with financial records, medical records, and electronic communications (including e‐mail and social media information) relating to all Americans.

So when we say that YouTube is actually a data mining honeypot that happens to be a video service…

And Google Books?  Why do you think Google fought many countries to keep hold of the corpus of the world’s books?

Perhaps you have never heard of machine translations, but if you use one of the many translation algorithms available for “free” online, you have experienced a translation by a machine.  The video above is a good summary of how Google uses machine translation of a particular kind–a “corpus machine translation.”

Simply put, “corpus machine translation” is an offshoot of speech recognition, often studied under the name “language technologies” or something similar (Carnegie Mellon University has a “Language Technologies Institute”, for example.  Carnegie Mellon’s Language Technology Institute is chaired by Dr. Jaime Carbonell, faculty advisor to a number of Googlers and formerly Chief Scientist at a company called Meaningful Machines.)

The way this works with text-based translations is that machines are taught to recognize written speech patterns in a language.  If the machine wants to translate a sentence from English to French, for example, rather than teaching the machine a language the way humans would study it (conjugating verbs, for example), the machine learns phrases, sentences and expressions–or “strings” of text.  (Similar to the “phonemes” with voice recognition.)

When a machine “translates” a sentence (or string of text) from English to French, it first tries to match the text string in its English “memory” of text strings (a large database).  Then it will try to compare that string to what might be called a “known known”–a corresponding text string in its French database that the machine has been told is an exact or good enough match to the English string.

A good way to accomplish this is with books in translation.  You know, a lot of books.  Like Google Books.

How would the machine know a translation of a particular string?  One way would be if the machine had scanned into its English database a book in English, say Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, that had been translated into French and that had the French translation mapped to the English version so the machine could compare the two.  Or if it had a book in French, say  L’Être et le néant by Jean-Paul Sartre that had been translated into English (Being and Nothingness) and mapped to the French so the machine could compare the two.

If the machine had more than one translation of Bonfire of the Vanities and Being and Nothingness and could compare a number of examples, then the machine could take advantage of all the work done by the translators (and the publishers that paid the translators for their work) and reliably compare strings of text.  The user of the machine could then have a high degree of confidence that the two strings really did mean what they should mean based on their sequential location in the two books, fifty books, or as many languages as the publishers had the books translated.

And who might the user be, do you think?

So if GOOG 411 uses voice recognition to translate voice into text, and if Google Books allows translation to or from another language into the user’s language…English, for example…then you can pretty much store text renderings of voice intercepts…sorry…voice recordings made voluntarily, of course…translate them into English and store them.  For something.

And who might have a lot of voice intercepts hanging about in need of translating?

Google’s privacy policy would allow this kind of manipulation by Google even where the Constitution would not allow the U.S. Government to do so absent a warrant.  As the Second Circuit noted, the USG could collect and store in bulk any data collected in the private sector.  Even if the USG would not have been able to collect it directly in the first place.

And in any event–how would you ever know?

So if you’re the kind of person who goes online without a thought in your head and says, “OK Google, show me some ads for stuff I want to buy”, it won’t bother you that not only are you being tracked but every communication you make can be tracked, sliced, diced, cataloged and stored.  Because after all, you haven’t got a thought in your head that’s not put there by advertising.  Or do you?

On the other hand…maybe you actually would prefer not to be tracked, sliced, diced, cataloged and stored.  So think about that the next time you use Google search, Google Voice, Google Apps for Education, Google Docs, Gmail, YouTube, Google Books or any other Google product.


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