Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Case Against Google - The New York Times

From an approximately 8,300-word Google/antitrust reality check

"Google has succeeded where Genghis Khan, communism and Esperanto all failed: It dominates the globe. Though estimates vary by region, the company now accounts for an estimated 87 percent of online searches worldwide. It processes trillions of queries each year, which works out to at least 5.5 billion a day, 63,000 a second. So odds are good that sometime in the last week, or last hour, or last 10 minutes, you’ve used Google to answer a nagging question or to look up a minor fact, and barely paused to consider how near-magical it is that almost any bit of knowledge can be delivered to you faster than you can type the request. If you’re old enough to remember the internet before 1998, when Google was founded, you’ll recall what it was like when searching online involved AltaVista or Lycos and consistently delivered a healthy dose of spam or porn. (Pity the early web enthusiasts who innocently asked Jeeves about “amateurs” or “steel.”)

In other words, it’s very likely you love Google, or are at least fond of Google, or hardly think about Google, the same way you hardly think about water systems or traffic lights or any of the other things you rely on every day. Therefore you might have been surprised when headlines began appearing last year suggesting that Google and its fellow tech giants were threatening everything from our economy to democracy itself. Lawmakers have accused Google of creating an automated advertising system so vast and subtle that hardly anyone noticed when Russian saboteurs co-opted it in the last election. Critics say Facebook exploits our addictive impulses and silos us in ideological echo chambers. Amazon’s reach is blamed for spurring a retail meltdown; Apple’s economic impact is so profound it can cause market-wide gyrations. These controversies point to the growing anxiety that a small number of technology companies are now such powerful entities that they can destroy entire industries or social norms with just a few lines of computer code. Those four companies, plus Microsoft, make up America’s largest sources of aggregated news, advertising, online shopping, digital entertainment and the tools of business and communication. They’re also among the world’s most valuable firms, with combined annual revenues of more than half a trillion dollars."
The Case Against Google - The New York Times

Crunching Car Data for Cash: An Israeli Startup Takes on Google - Bloomberg

Driving data innovation

"Every hour, a modern car processes about 25 gigabytes of information — the equivalent of about seven full-length high-definition movies — on everything from engine temperature and tire pressure to what’s playing on the radio. For automakers, the question is how to turn that into revenue. An Israeli startup claims to have the answer.

Otonomo, which announced $3 million in funding from NTT Docomo Ventures Inc. on Tuesday, has spent the past three years figuring out how to collect, package and sell such data to insurers, retailers, city planners and others willing to pay for it. In return, it takes a percentage of sales — similar to how Apple Inc. and Google operate their app stores. More than 2 million cars are already on Otonomo’s platform, a number that it says will reach 5 million by year-end."
Crunching Car Data for Cash: An Israeli Startup Takes on Google - Bloomberg

Google’s new AI algorithm predicts heart disease by looking at your eyes - The Verge

For more details, see Assessing Cardiovascular Risk Factors with Computer Vision (Google Research blog)

"Scientists from Google and its health-tech subsidiary Verily have discovered a new way to assess a person’s risk of heart disease using machine learning. By analyzing scans of the back of a patient’s eye, the company’s software is able to accurately deduce data, including an individual’s age, blood pressure, and whether or not they smoke. This can then be used to predict their risk of suffering a major cardiac event — such as a heart attack — with roughly the same accuracy as current leading methods.

The algorithm potentially makes it quicker and easier for doctors to analyze a patient’s cardiovascular risk, as it doesn’t require a blood test. But, the method will need to be tested more thoroughly before it can be used in a clinical setting. A paper describing the work was published today in the Nature journal Biomedical Engineering, although the research was also shared before peer review last September."
Google’s new AI algorithm predicts heart disease by looking at your eyes - The Verge

Facebook Executive Rob Goldman Apologizes After Russia Tweets | WIRED

Also see On Russia, Facebook Sends a Message It Wishes It Hadn’t (NYT), which notes "More than anything, the details contained in the indictment make clear how vulnerable Facebook still is to a hostile actor."

"With Mueller’s indictment, according to multiple people at the company, everyone felt that Facebook had done something right. The 35 mentions clearly showed that Facebook had fully cooperated with authorities. Many of the details in the indictment, particularly from pages 25 to 30, which include details of messages sent between private Facebook accounts, were given to Mueller by Facebook. That could have been a good story. But then Rob Goldman decided to weigh in, using a rival platform. He now has 10,500 Twitter followers, but a few fewer friends at work.

On Sunday night, Joel Kaplan, the VP of Global Public Policy at Facebook, put out a statement saying “Nothing we found contradicts the Special Counsel’s indictments. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.” Roughly translated, that meant, “We asked Rob Goldman to throw his phone in a river.”"
Facebook Executive Rob Goldman Apologizes After Russia Tweets | WIRED

Monday, February 19, 2018

Facebook’s tracking of non-users ruled illegal again | TechCrunch

2018 is going to be a very long year for Facebook

"The crux of the issue here is the pervasive background surveillance of Internet activity for digital ad targeting purposes which is enabled by a vast network of embedded and at times entirely invisible tracking technologies — and, specifically in this lawsuit, whether Facebook and the network of partner companies feeding data into its ad targeting systems, have obtained adequate consent from their users to be so surveilled when they’re not actually using Facebook.

“Facebook collects information about us all when we surf the Internet,” explains the Belgian privacy watchdog, referring to findings from its earlier investigation of Facebook’s use of tracking technologies. “To this end, Facebook uses various technologies, such as the famous “cookies” or the “social plug-ins” (for example, the “Like” or “Share” buttons) or the “pixels” that are invisible to the naked eye. It uses them on its website but also and especially on the websites of third parties. Thus, the survey reveals that even if you have never entered the Facebook domain, Facebook is still able to follow your browsing behavior without you knowing it, let alone, without you wanting it, thanks to these invisible pixels that Facebook has placed on more than 10,000 other sites.”"
Facebook’s tracking of non-users ruled illegal again | TechCrunch

Google Chrome Now Blocks Irksome Ads. That’s a Good Thing, Right? - The New York Times

On a related note, see this AMP-focused tweet thread, which concludes "Don't be a kinder, gentler Microsoft. Reconsider."
"With each improvement — whether it is the zapping of irksome ads or the restructuring of how mobile sites work — Google is continuing to consolidate its power over the web, which has lost its centrality in the modern internet ecosystem to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

So far, what has been good for users has tended to be good for Google, and the other way around. But the collision of the old notion of the web as a free and open space and the reality of it as a digital territory increasingly colonized by commercial interests has provoked worry among some users."
Google Chrome Now Blocks Irksome Ads. That’s a Good Thing, Right? - The New York Times

Fact-Checking a Facebook Executive’s Comments on Russian Interference - The New York Times

Check the full article for a case study in the law of holes; also see [Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper Calls Facebook Official's Post That Trump Touted 'False' (Bloomberg)
"Rob Goldman, vice president for ads at Facebook, posted an eight-part thread on Twitter late Friday about his company’s role in Russian disinformation — and quickly caused a firestorm.

In his messages, Mr. Goldman discussed the indictment of 13 Russians and three companies accused of carrying out a scheme to subvert the 2016 election. Facebook was frequently mentioned in the indictment as the main tech tool that the Russians had used to tilt the election in favor of Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Goldman defended Facebook in his tweets, saying that the Russian-bought ads on the social network were not primarily aimed at swaying the vote result. His posts went viral on Saturday when President Trump cited them as proof that Russia’s disinformation campaign was about something other than giving him an election victory."
Fact-Checking a Facebook Executive’s Comments on Russian Interference - The New York Times

Friday, February 16, 2018

13 Named in Russia Indictment by Special Counsel in First Charges on 2016 Election Interference - The New York Times

Check the full article for some wimpy wiggle words from Rod Rosenstein that appear to be optimized for the next wave of Trump tweets in this context...

"The special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations on Friday with illegally using social media platforms to sow political discord, including actions that supported the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump and disparaged his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The indictment represents the first charges by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for meddling in the 2016 presidential election — the fundamental crime that he was assigned to investigate."
13 Named in Russia Indictment by Special Counsel in First Charges on 2016 Election Interference - The New York Times

Google is replacing Facebook’s traffic to publishers - Recode

All the news that's fit to AMP

"Google’s increased traffic to publishers is replacing the traffic publishers have lost from Facebook, according to new data from Chartbeat.

While Facebook has been tinkering with its algorithm to prioritize posts from friends and family over publishers, more publishers have been signing up for the Google publishing format launched in 2015 known as Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP hosts publishers’ content directly on Google’s servers so it loads faster for mobile users.

During its developer conference this week, Google announced that 31 million websites are using AMP, up 25 percent since October. Google says these fast-loading mobile webpages keep people from abandoning searches and by extension drive more traffic to websites."
Google is replacing Facebook’s traffic to publishers - Recode

Russia used mainstream media to manipulate American voters - The Washington Post

Also see Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting (Wired), which concludes "The goal, after all, isn't to help one side or the other of the gun control debate win. It's to amplify the loudest voices in that fight, deepening the divisions between us."
"The common goal, said Albright and other researchers, was to polarize debate, pushing politically active people away from the center. Toward that end, the Russian accounts found plenty of material from U.S.-based sources of news and opinion.

“These trolls didn’t need to retweet RT and Sputnik,” Albright said. “All they needed to do was pick out certain themes and push them.”"
Russia used mainstream media to manipulate American voters - The Washington Post

Google’s Chrome ad blocker means the Web’s largest ad company is also now advertising’s biggest traffic cop - The Washington Post

Earlier in the article: "By addressing the ads that Google surveys have found to be most annoying, Chrome’s tool may persuade Internet users not to take more drastic options to hide or eliminate all online ads from their screens." Also see Google's New Ad Blocker Changed the Web Before It Even Switched On (Wired).
"Some note that the company had a lot of say in writing the standards, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. Paul Boyle, vice president of public policy for the News Media Alliance, told the Associated Press that Google’s decision to incorporate these standards into Chrome turns the voluntary standards into de facto law.

Reinhardt said that the new Chrome feature is likely to accelerate new trends in the digital ad space, including fueling Google and Facebook’s ad duopoly. As for publishers, he said, it’s already clear that many are pushing subscriptions more heavily to offset the need for more aggressive advertising — a trend that Google’s new tool will probably encourage."
Google’s Chrome ad blocker means the Web’s largest ad company is also now advertising’s biggest traffic cop - The Washington Post

Only the EU can break Facebook and Google's dominance | George Soros | Business | The Guardian

From an extensive George Soros Google/Facebook reality check

"There is a similarity between internet platforms and gambling companies. Casinos have developed techniques to hook customers to the point that they gamble away all of their money, even money they don’t have.

Something similar – and potentially irreversible – is happening to human attention in our digital age. This is not a matter of mere distraction or addiction; social media companies are actually inducing people to surrender their autonomy. And this power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies.

It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. Once lost, those who grow up in the digital age may have difficulty regaining it."
Only the EU can break Facebook and Google's dominance | George Soros | Business | The Guardian

Apple Takes Over Half of Smartphone Sales for the First Time Ever - Barron's

I'll be watching for clarifications to all of the "iPhone X failure" stories from a couple weeks ago...

"For the first time ever, Apple's (AAPL) iPhone in the December quarter made over half of all the smartphone revenue in the world, with $61.4 billion out of a total market of $120.2 billion, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

That news comes as China’s local market, one of the biggest in the world for devices, experienced its first-ever year-over-year quarterly decline during the period."
Apple Takes Over Half of Smartphone Sales for the First Time Ever - Barron's

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Google Chrome browser starts blocking intrusive ads and changing the web - CNET

On a related note, see Why Ad Companies Love Google’s Ad Blocker, But Hate Apple’s Privacy Features (How-To Geek)

"That's when Chrome takes a significant step in the direction that  hundreds of millions of us already have gone by installing ad blockers. Chrome stops far short of those browser extensions, which typically ban all ads, but the move carries plenty of importance because Google's browser dominates the web on both personal computers and phones. Chrome is used to view about 56 percent of web pages, according to analytics firm StatCounter.

Chrome's ad-blocking move is designed to rid the web of sites stuffed to the gills with ads or degraded by obnoxious ads, said Ryan Schoen, Google's product manager for web platform work at Chrome. There are signs it's already had an effect: About 42 percent of sites that the company's warned have dialed back on ads to pass Google's standards, including the LA Times, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune."
Google Chrome browser starts blocking intrusive ads and changing the web - CNET

Hedge Funds Are Dumping Facebook and Google - Bloomberg

On a related note, see Berkshire Hathaway doubles down on Apple stock and dumps IBM (CNBC)

"Other big names also expect that the two tech darlings have more room to run. Louis Bacon’s Moore Capital Management added 900,000 shares of Apple, boosting its holding to about $200 million, according to filings. Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global Management pumped up its position in Facebook.

Stephen Mandel’s Lone Pine Capital added a $900 million wager on Amazon snapping up 770,000 shares in the fourth quarter of 2017. The online retailer accounts for nearly 5 percent of the hedge fund’s U.S. stock holdings. The hedge fund firm also started a $625 million stake in Alphabet, buying up about 598,000 shares in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, it reduced its Facebook position, selling about 632,000 shares of the company.

Some prominent hedge funds retreated from the FAANGs in the fourth quarter." 
Hedge Funds Are Dumping Facebook and Google - Bloomberg

SpaceX to launch first 2 experimental Starlink broadband satellites - BI

Check the full post for more SpaceX Starlink analysis; also see Elon Musk's Broadband-From-Space Plan Clears Crucial U.S. Hurdle (Bloomberg)
""The common challenges associated with siting, digging trenches, laying fiber, and dealing with property rights are materially alleviated through a space-based broadband network," Patricia Cooper, SpaceX's vice president of satellite government affairs, said in written testimony to a Senate committee in May.

A global space-based internet network that's low-cost or provided for free to some regions could solve equal-access issues by bathing the whole planet in 1-gigabit-per-second internet.

The global average internet speed in late 2015, according to Akamai's "State of the Internet" report, was 5.6 megabits per second. That's about 1/170th the speed of SpaceX's target, with most of the higher speeds tied up in cable and fiber-optic connections."
SpaceX to launch first 2 experimental Starlink broadband satellites - BI

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Facebook's Upcoming Smart Speakers with 15" Displays and Face ID Feature is out to challenge Apple Music and HomePod - Patently Apple

Later in the article: "Facebook is planning to build its own ecosystem for video consumer devices in the next five years, and the smart speaker is just the initial-stage product, with more terminal devices expected to be rolled out in the coming years, according to industry sources."
"It's being reported today that Facebook is set to officially foray into the global smart speaker market in mid-2018 by launching two new models, codenamed Aloha and Fiona - both with 15-inch touchscreens - in July at the latest, with the devices positioned as a way to allow family and friends to stay in touch with video chat and various social features.

 The sources said that the Facebook move is expected to further heat up the global smart speaker market, which has been crowded with heavyweight players, including top supplier Amazon and other tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and many China players including Alibaba. According to estimates by market researcher Canalys, the global market sales of smart speakers are likely to double to over 50 million units in 2018 from 2017."
Facebook's Upcoming Smart Speakers with 15" Displays and Face ID Feature is out to challenge Apple Music and HomePod - Patently Apple

SpaceX is about to launch its first prototype internet satellites and Tesla is getting a ground station | Electrek

I hope this network is commercially available before my Verizon and Verizon Wireless contracts expire... For more details, see SpaceX satellite broadband plans ready to blast off (CNET)
"Along with its rocket launch services and its plan to colonize Mars, SpaceX is working on a less-publicized satellite constellation consisting of up to 12,000 satellites in orbit.

SpaceX has been working on their own satellites for the past 3 years and now they are getting ready to launch the first two prototypes as a secondary payload on their upcoming launch of hisdeSAT’s Paz, an earth observation satellite, on February 17th.

Ultimately, this constellation aims to offer broadband internet services to end users."
SpaceX is about to launch its first prototype internet satellites and Tesla is getting a ground station | Electrek

What Could Blockchain Do for Journalism? – Welcome to Blockchain – Medium

A Civil response to the challenges of the fourth estate? CVL ICO timing tbd

"“Blockchain technology can create both chains of authenticity and a level of security,” Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, tells me. “Journalism in a highly distributed world, particularly where it is increasingly relying on third-party technology, is in need of solutions to those two problems.” On top of that, she says, cryptocurrencies offer an opportunity for “marketplaces which bring journalists and interested communities together to fund work.”

Could blockchain be the answer to all journalism’s woes? Could frictionless cryptocurrencies solve the industry’s funding crisis at the same time as the immutable ledger of a blockchain solves its trust crisis?

Moore thinks there’s a good chance it can. He is preparing to launch a new startup publication, named Sludge, which will report on the murky world of Washington lobbying. Sludge is one of the “first fleet” of around 20 newsrooms that will all launch together later this spring on a new blockchain-based platform called Civil."
What Could Blockchain Do for Journalism? – Welcome to Blockchain – Medium

Tim Armstrong says Oath is the answer to Unilever’s Facebook and Google problem - Recode

A "deeper connection" based in part on (Oath parent company) Verizon customer profiles; on a related note (from 2017), see Verizon Oath Strategy: Mobile Usage Data is Our Oil and Oath Will be Our Oil Rig (Telecompetitor)

"Oath would love to be there to catch any ad dollars that might leave Facebook and Google, though it doesn’t appear to have happened yet. (Facebook reported record revenues in Q4.) Armstrong thinks that Facebook in particular is making the right kind of long-term moves with its recent News Feed change intended to prioritize posts from users’ friends and family over posts from publishers.

“There are a bunch of business models that got built on what I would say is a mile-wide, inch-deep-type business models,” Armstrong said. “Consumers are not interested in mile-wide, inch-deep relationships.”

Oath and its stable of brands, he says, offers a deeper connection."
Tim Armstrong says Oath is the answer to Unilever’s Facebook and Google problem - Recode

‘Apple News as a product is living in the past,’ according to Flipboard’s CEO - Recode

For an update on Flipboard's future, see To Our Readers: How we will continue to inform and inspire you in 2018 (Inside Flipboard)

"“Apple News as a product is living in the past,” McCue said in the interview with Recode Editor in Chief Dan Frommer. There’s “no social” sharing capability, “no curation happening — it’s algorithmic,” and it’s “another format that publishers have to adopt.”

“We’re not trying to create a closed ecosystem ... and that’s a big deal for publishers,” he added.

In the fall, Ad Age reported that Apple was running a test that would allow some publishers to sell ads in Apple News — giving them a shot at making money from their own content that’s shown inside the smartphone giant’s app."
‘Apple News as a product is living in the past,’ according to Flipboard’s CEO - Recode

Google’s New AMP Stories Bring Snapchat-Like Content to Mobile Web - WSJ

In other AMPed hypertext news, see Google to debut emails that automatically update (Reuters) and Bringing the power of AMP to Gmail (Google Keyword blog)

"With publishers eager to make money from the rising tide of consumers viewing content on mobile devices, tech companies also have introduced products designed to aggregate news and speed the loading of articles on mobile, including Apple Inc.’s Apple News app and Facebook’s Instant Articles.

Unlike those products, however, AMP stories don’t yet allow advertising to be incorporated. Google is in the process of building support for ads but didn’t disclose a time frame. Meanwhile, the lack of monetization on AMP stories threatens to slow its adoption among publishers.

Even though creating AMP stories won’t pay immediate dividends, several publishing executives expressed willingness to experiment with the format in the hopes of an eventual payoff."
Google’s New AMP Stories Bring Snapchat-Like Content to Mobile Web - WSJ

Amazon’s entry into health care starts with gloves, dental bonding agents and syringes - The Washington Post

Another short story in the WSJ... Tangentially, see The World's Biggest Container Shipping Line Is Now Worried About Amazon and Alibaba (Bloomberg)
"Unlike Amazon’s secretive plans to shake up the prescription drug industry, or its initiative to develop technology tools to rein in health costs for its own employees, Amazon has not hidden this effort. In an earnings call in October, an executive mentioned hospitals first on a laundry list of institutions Amazon was targeting with its Amazon Business offering, along with schools, labs and government agencies.

On Tuesday, the stocks for companies that distribute medical supplies tumbled after the Wall Street Journal reported Amazon has been holding meetings with hospital executives to learn more about the needs of the industry."
Amazon’s entry into health care starts with gloves, dental bonding agents and syringes - The Washington Post