Google in June quietly deleted a clause in its privacy settings that said it would not combine cookie information with personal information without consent
Since Google changed the way it tracks its users across the internet in June 2016, users personally identifiable information from Gmail, YouTube and other accounts has been merged with their browsing records from across the web.
An analysis of the changes conducted by Propublica details how the company had previously pledged to keep these two data sets separate to protect individuals privacy, but updated its privacy settings in June to delete a clause that said we will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.
ProPublica highlights that when Google first made the changes in June, they received little scrutiny. Media reports focused on the tools the company introduced to allow users to view and manage ad tracking rather than the new powers Google gained.
DoubleClick is an advertising serving and tracking company that Google bought in 2007. DoubleClick uses web cookies to track browsing behaviour online by their IP address to deliver targeted ads. It can make a good guess about your location and habits, but it doesnt know your true identity.
Google, on the other hand, has users (mostly) real names, email accounts and search data.
At the time of the acquisition, a number of consumer groups made a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission arguing that bringing these data sets together would represent a huge invasion of privacy, giving the company access to more information about the internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world.
Sergey Brin reassured privacy campaigners, saying: Overall, we care very much about end-user privacy, and that will take a number one priority when we talk about advertising products.
In practice, this means that Google can now, if it wanted to, build up even richer profiles of named individuals online activity. It also means that the DoubleClick ads that follow people on the web could be personalized based on the keywords that individuals use in Gmail.
Google isnt the first company to track individuals in this way. Facebook has been tracking logged-in users (and even non-users) by name across the internet whenever they visit websites with Facebook like or share buttons.
Google says that the change is optional and is aimed at giving people better control over their data.
Google is actually quite late to this game. By now, most of the websites you visit are already sharing your activity with a wide network of third parties who share, collaborate, link and de-link personal information in order to target ads, said Jules Polonetsky from Future of Privacy Forum.
Some users may appreciate relevant advertising, many others may not. Whats critical is that there are easy ways for those who want to avoid the more robust types of data targeting to be able to take easy steps to do so.
Technology companies argue that such tracking allows them to deliver much more targeted, relevant advertising across the internet. Paul Ohm from the Center of Privacy and Technology at Georgetown law school told Propublica that the fact that Google kept personally identifiable information and DoubleClick data separate was a really significant last stand.
It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy. That wall has just fallen.
A Google spokeswoman said that its advertising system had been designed before the smartphone revolution, and that the update in June made it easier for users to control their ad preferences across multiple devices.
The company says that more than one billion Google users have accessed the My Account settings that let them control how their data is used.
Before we launched this update, we tested it around the world with the goal of understanding how to provide users with clear choice and transparency, Google said. As a result, it is 100% optional – if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged. Equally important: we provided prominent user notifications about this change in easy-to-understand language as well as simple tools that let users control or delete their data.
Users that dont want to be tracked in this way can visit the activity controls section of their account page on Google, unticking the box marked Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services.
At Google’s headquarters, there must be a room full of people trying to figure out which aspect of the Android phone the company still doesn’t have its paws on. Right now, on my phone I have the following Google apps installed: Google, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Drive, Play, Play Music, Play Movies & TV, Hangouts, Photos, Google+, Play Newsstand, Play Games, Docs, Authenticator, Google Now Launcher, Google Cast, Calendar, Keep, Slides, Earth, Cardboard Camera, Arts & Culture, Allo, Goggles and Translate, and there are plenty more available on Google Play.
Add another app to that list: Wallpapers. First launched on the company’s new Pixel and PIxel XL phones, the app has recently become available to everyone, as noticed by Android Central.
All jokes about Google’s ravenous need to swarm your Android phone with its apps aside, the Wallpapers app is actually quite cool. It offers a variety of wallpapers, which you can set as a one-time thing, or turn on the Daily wallpaper feature, which gives your phone a new wallpaper every day.
The images come from Google Earth, Google+ and 500px, and you can choose from five topics: Earth, Landscape, Cityscapes, Life and Textures. The app also taps into your camera photos and images from the designated wallpapers folder on your phone.
Unfortunately, only Android 7.0+ users get the option to set a different image for the phone’s home and lock screens. If you have an earlier version of Android, the app will only be able to set a wallpaper for your home screen.
While finding wallpapers for your phone is not a very difficult task, and most phones these days have themes and their own, built-in ways to set periodically changing wallpapers, there’s something to be said about getting a new, beautiful satellite image of Earth as your phone’s background every 24 hours.
You can download the Google Wallpapers app from Google Play, here.
Google’s fuzzy, comfy Daydream View virtual reality headset is now available for pre-order, the company has announced.
Announced earlier this month at Google’s “Made by Google” event, the Daydream View is designed to work with Google’s Pixel phones. It’s wrapped in soft fabric and comes in three colors: Snow, Slate and Crimson.
If you’re in the U.S., the Daydream View can be pre-ordered from Google or Verizon for $79. It’s also available in the UK, for 69 pounds, and Germany, for 69euros. The shipping date in all three markets is 2-3 weeks.
Google VR (@googlevr) October 20, 2016
Google Store (@GoogleStore) October 20, 2016
Telecommunications companies are becoming media companies. That explains AT&T’s agreementto buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion.But something else explainsit, too.
Media companies are becoming telecoms.
Internet firmslike Google and Facebook and Amazon and Netflix are the new media companies. They deliver enormousamounts of video online, posing a direct threat to old-school televisionand movie companies. But they also are becomingtelecoms, threatening the likes of AT&T and Verizon.
They finance undersea cables that link their data centers. They buy fiber optic infrastructure. Facebook buildsopen source telco gear,Googleoffershigh-speed Internet service,Amazonhopes to become an Internet service providerin Europe.
As this happens, telecoms must fight back. And this means challenging tech giants on the media front.
The proposed AT&T/Time Warner deal combinestwo powerhouses.AT&T is the nation’s largest pay TV provider, the second-largest wireless provider, and the third-largest home Internet provider.
Time Warner owns a dizzying array of media properties, including HBO, CNN, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, TBS, TNT, the Cartoon Network and broadcast rights to many live sporting events. But it does not own Time Warner Cable, a separate entity that the cable company Charter Communications bought earlier this year.
Pundits quickly notedthat divinginto the content industry could be AT&T’s attempt to fill the hole that is createdas customers ditch cable TV in favor of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. That’s true, but another shift is happening, too.
For years, the big telecom Internet providers essentially operated as dumb pipes. All they did was deliver content. That used to make a lot of sense. A decade ago, the dotcom crash was stilla recent memory, and digital piracy threatened to undercut the entire entertainment industry.
How things have changed. AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have watched Amazon, Facebook, and Google take their place among the world’s most valuable—and powerful—companies, using infrastructure owned by the telcos. The entertainment industry rebounded as well, with upstarts like Netflix having reinvented the very idea of television.
What’s more, those same tech companies have increasingly encroached on the telco’s business.They threaten to upend telecommunications much like they’ve upended other industries, aided by the Federal Communications Commission making more of the wireless spectrum available to them.
Google in particular is eager to access more of the spectrum. And it has a few other projects going that could further undermine traditional telcos. Although Google Fiber and the companies wild schemes to use balloons and drones to deliver Internet access to remote areas garner a lot of attention, two other projects promise to be more radical.
The wireless Google Fi service essentially resells T-Mobile and Sprint’s service. Android phones candiscern which carrier offers the strongest signal in any given location, allowing you to move seamlessly betweenWi-Fi and the two carriers depending on signal strength. Apple is among the companies that may bedevelopingsimilar technology.
This could lead to a situation in which your carrier is essentially invisible, and you’re paying Google (or another broker) to connect you to the network with the strongest signal. That could be a national carrier, or a local Wi-Fi provider.
Google Station, an effort to provide a unified system for logging into and paying for Wi-Fi aroundthe world, fits neatlyinto the vision as well.
Put the pieces together and you begin to see afuture in which tech companies have commoditized telcos in much the same way they commoditized computer hardware. Telcos, using cheap, off-the-shelf hardware powered by open source designs, could compete to sell bandwidth to the Googles and Amazons of the world at razor thin margins.
AT&T probably isn’t thinking about this right now. Like the pundits say, it probably cares more about short-term gains like papering over any potential losses fromcord cutting. Nor is any of this to say that the merger will be good for AT&T, let alone the public.
Robert McChesney, a communication professor at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, says these kindsof mega-mergers rarely benefitthe public. “This is a merger that will make no sense,” he says. “There’s no reason this merger should be done for consumers or workers.”
These sortsof deals rarely pan out for the companies involved. New York University economics professor Nicholas S. Economides notesthat AT&T’s has a checkered history ofacquisitions. For example, it boughtbusiness technology company NCR in 1991 for $7.4 billion, only to spin spin it off six years laterfor $3.4 billion. And who could forget Time Warner’s disastrous $165 billion1 acquisition of AOL in 2000, which it unloadedin 2009 for $2.5 billion.
If regulators approve theAT&T and Time Warner merger, their blessing almost certainly will include stipulations barringit from, say, refusing to license its movies, television stations and other content to competitors like Comcast. That could make it hard to justify soexpensive an acquisition.
But in a world where Internet access is a commodity, not a government-supported monopoly, owning a giant media company begins to make sense.
1Correction 10/23/2016 at 11:30 AM ET: An earlier version of this story said that Time Warner acquired AOL for $165 million. It was $165 billion.
Correction 10/23/2016 at 1:04 PM ET: An earlier version used an incorrect logo for Time Warner.
Google says governments can request content removal, though material likely to breach lse-majest laws is still online
Thailand has sent a high-level delegation to meet Google to push the company to remove any content that defames the royal family, a criminal offence in the south-east Asian country.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on 13 October, aged 88, after seven decades on the throne. At a time of focused discussion on royal affairs, lse-majest laws mean people deemed to have offended the monarchy can face years in jail.
The deputy prime minister said he met Google representatives in Bangkok on Friday and added that the company affirmed it would help the government remove videos from YouTube, a Google subsidiary.
If any website is inappropriate they said to get in touch with them and inform them of the URL and the time the content was found, Prajin Juntong told journalists.
Google said this conformed with its global practices. We have always had clear and consistent policies for removal requests from governments around the world. We have not changed those policies in Thailand, the company said in a statement emailed to the Guardian.
We rely on governments around the world to notify us of content that they believe is illegal through official processes, and will restrict it as appropriate after a thorough review.
Googles terms of service say it may remove or refuse to display content it reasonably believe[s] violates the law, providing the company with a measure of control.
Sensitivity around the reputation of the monarchy is at an all-time high in Thailand and the government has been under pressure from ultra-royalists to show it is upholding the reputation of the monarchy.
Authorities have announced a 30-day mourning period during which people are expected to wear black or dark clothing.
Companies have also sought to show solidarity with national anguish and Google and YouTube in Thailand have changed their online logos to black.
The visit by senior officials to Google will be seen as an attempt to publicly appease people who want a renewed crackdown on royal defamation.
However, Google and YouTube searches on Monday appeared to still show online content available that is likely to be in violation of lse-majest laws.
Google did not provide the Guardian with specific examples of content removed in Thailand but pointed to its transparency report, a quarterly statement on requests from courts and government to remove content. The latest examples are for 2015.
Rights groups have criticised the countrys lse-majest laws.
Last week, the justice minister said Thai people should socially sanction those who defame the monarchy. A Thai woman accused of insulting the late king on social media was forced to kneel before his portrait outside a police station in front of jeering crowds.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Google wont make the worlds fastest growing smartphone market wait for long to get its hands on the new Pixel and Pixel flagship smartphones. This is a stark deviation from the general norm that sees companies take weeks and sometimes months in bringing their top smartphones to India.
Google announced today that stores across Indian cities will start selling the Pixel and Pixel XL starting Tuesday. This is a welcome move for many in the country who were hoping to grab the smartphone ahead of the Diwali festival later this month. Google unveiled the Pixel smartphones earlier this month.
Flipkart, Google Indias online seller partner for Pixel smartphones, has also informed customers who had pre-ordered that it will begin shipping their smartphones starting tomorrow. A Google India spokesperson said that Flipkart is shipping some inventory starting today, though the general availability is Tuesday.
The Android maker is leaving no stones unturned for what its calling first “Made by Google” phones. Earlier this month, Google said it had partnered with HTC India for after sales support of Pixel smartphones in the country.
Google says it will also offer support for Pixel smartphones at 56 HTC India walk-in service centres in more than 30 cities in India. The company will also offer a toll free phone support service at 18004190655 in India. The number will be functional all days of the week between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm (local time).
The Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones are available to purchase from Flipkart and over 1,000 retail stores in India including retail chains like Reliance Digital, Croma and Vijay Sales. Experts and users alike across the world have nice things to say about the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones.
For Google, it’s not enough that its products rely onmachine learning and artificial intelligence. The company also wantsyou, its customer, to understand how these technologies work.
Last year, a few months after it open sourced its deep learning engine, a Google researcher partnered withThe New York Times to create this data visualization explaining neural networks. Now, Google has rolled out AI Experiments, an online collection of tools and games designedto help you understandthe inner workings of machine learning.
Take the game,Quick, Draw!Itworks like Pictionary; the game gives you 20 seconds to draw an object on screen, and Google shouts out guesses as the time ticks down. And Google is good. It asked me to draw camouflage, a microwave, a hexagon, an umbrella, a baseball, and a crocodile, and the neural net guessed correctly every time.
But the games accuracy, while impressive, isn’t what makes it a powerful learning tool. Its how, by observing the way Google responds to your doodling, you can get a better sense of how its technology works.
Here’s what happens whenthe gametells me to draw a tree: I start by sketchingleaves. In its robotic voice, Google guesses: “squiggle.” As I add more leaves, it sees a bush. Finally, I draw thetrunk—and it clicks. Google’s neural net says: “Oh, I know, it’s a tree.” (After the fact, you can scroll through other players’ tree drawings to see what illustrations Google has used to inform its guesses.)
Similarly, when the game promptsme to draw a donut, I start by drawing a circle with a smaller circle in the middle. Googlehesitates, unsure what I’mgoing for. But when I add frosting and sprinkles,the game gets it. The lesson:To understand the whole, neural networks need pieces of data that not only connect but build on one another, piece by piece.
Of course, AI Experiments isnt just a free education for neural network nitwits. Every interaction, be itwith Quick, Draw! or one of theother applets in thisvirtual playground, improvesGoogles ability to more nimbly recognize images and language. That makes the companys products stronger, but it also services users. The data fuels apps like Google Photos, which uses AI to swiftly organize all your pictures. Its a system of give and take—and with games like Quick, Draw!, its fun, too.