Today the Canadian Supreme Court ordered Google to remove search results that the Court doesn’t feel should be present. The court demands that Google remove those results not just for Canadian users, but for the entire planet. That’s right, Canada has declared itself a global Google censor.
I’ve been predicting for many years this move toward global censorship imposed by domestic governments. I suspected all along that attempts by Google to mollify government censorship demands through the use of geoblocking would never satisfy countries that have the sweet taste of censorship already in their authoritarian mouths — no matter if they’re ostensibly democracies or not. Censorship is like an addictive drug to governments — once they get the nose of the censorship camel under the tent, the whole camel will almost always follow in short order.
The EU has been pushing in the global censorship direction for ages with their awful “Right To Be Forgotten.” Countries like France, China, and Russia have been even more explicit regarding their desires for worldwide censorship powers. And frankly, it’s likely that nearly every nation will begin making the same sorts of demands once the snowball is really rolling — even here in the USA if politicians and courts can devise practical end runs around the First Amendment.
The ramifications are utterly clear. It’s a horrific race to the lowest common denominator bottom of censorship, with ever escalating demands for global removal of materials that any given government finds objectionable or simply inconvenient to the current president, or prime minister, or king, or whomever.
Ultimately, the end result is likely to be vast numbers of Google Searches that return nothing but blank white pages no matter where in the world that you reside.
My dream solution to such global censorship demands would be cutting off those countries from associated Google services. With enough righteous indignation, perhaps we could get Facebook, Twitter, and other major platforms to join the club.
I tend to doubt that these firms would have too much to worry about from a financial standpoint in this regard. The perhaps billions of users suddenly cut off from Google Search and their daily fixes of social media are unlikely to tolerate the situation for very long.
Short of this approach, there are other possible ways to fight back against global censorship. Feel free to ask me about them.
I’ve actually gone into much more detail about all of this in those many past posts that I alluded to above, and I’m not going to try dig out the numerous links for them here. Stuff my name into the Google Search bar along with terms like “censorship” or “right to be forgotten” and you’ll get a plethora of relevant results.
That is, until some government orders those search results to be removed globally from Google.
Be seeing you. I hope.
The best phrase that immediately comes to mind regarding the European Union’s newly announced $2.7 billion fine against Google is “A giant load of bull.” Google is far from perfect, but the EU has a long history of specious claims against Google, and this is yet another glaring example.
EU politicians and bureaucrats — among the most protectionist and hypocritical on the planet — see Google as a giant piggy bank, an unlimited ATM machine. The EU wants the easy money, rather than admitting that so many of their own business models are stuck in the 20th (or in some cases the 19th!) century.
The EU is demanding “search equality” — but there’s nothing wrong with Google’s search result rankings, which exist to best serve Google users, not the EU government’s self-serving agenda.
And that’s the key: Where are all the ordinary Google users complaining about Google’s shopping search results rankings? You can’t find those users, because anyone who prefers using non-Google sites is absolutely able to do so at any time. Google services rank so highly in search because users prefer them. Yep, free choice!
The European Union in its typical way is treating the citizens of its member countries like children, who it feels are so ignorant that Big Mommy EU has to dictate how they use the Internet. Disgusting.
I find myself increasingly thinking that we may have more to fear from EU control of the Net than we would from even Russia or China. At least the leaders of those latter two countries are pretty upfront about their attitudes toward the Internet, however totalitarian they might be.
But the EU has its own authoritarian, “information control” mindset as well, in their case painted over with a thin and rotting veneer of faked liberalism.
When actions are taken against Google like what has happened today, the EU’s mask of respectability slips off and shatters onto the ground into a million shiny shards, revealing the EU’s true face — leering with envy and avarice for the entire world to see.
Earlier today over on Google+ I posted another (relatively minor) example of Google’s horrible low contrast user interfaces (YouTube image at the bottom of this post — how do you find the “How do I find it?” link?) and I suggested that this continuing behavior by Google could be seen as a form of discrimination against persons with less than perfect vision. (Please see: “Does Google Hate Old People?”: https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/02/06/does-google-hate-old-people — for one of my earlier more detailed discussions. Also “Google and Older Users”: https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/03/14/google-and-older-users — where I discuss the need for a dedicated Google employee to focus on this area.)
Every damned time I write about this topic, my inbox starts to fill with new horror stories related to issues with Google user interfaces in these contexts, that do in some cases seem to cross the threshold into discrimination, at least in an ethical sense if not a legal one.
And I certainly get plenty of people who contact me and bring up the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) as relates to Google.
Thankfully, I’m not a lawyer. But readers who are lawyers have not infrequently asked me regarding any interest that I might have in participating in a class action lawsuit related to Google regarding “discriminatory” user interface and related issues.
My response has always been negative. I much prefer to keep courts out of largely technical policy matters — the thought of them trying to micromanage user interfaces makes me rather nauseous.
Yet the probability of some group moving ahead with legal action in these regards seems to be increasing dramatically as Google’s user interfaces overall — plus documents, blogs, and various other display aspects — keep getting worse in terms of the disadvantaged categories of users. Nor is the fact that most Google users are not paying for Google services necessarily a useful defense — Google has become integral to the lives of much of this planet’s population.
My premise has been that Google doesn’t actually hate older users (or other users negatively affected by these issues). Not hate them per se, anyway.
However, I’m forced to agree that Google’s attitude can certainly be interpreted by many observers as a form of hate, even if characterized by a form of neglect rather than direct action.
It has long seemed the case that Google concentrates on users in Google’s perceived key user demographics, putting much less care into users who fall outside of that focus — even though the latter represents vast (and rapidly increasing) numbers of users.
Nor do I sense that this is a problem with “rank-and-file” Googlers — many of whom I know and who are great and caring people. Rather, it seems to me that the problematic attitudes in these respects are generally sourced at Google’s executive and in some cases program manager levels, who of course set the ground rules for all Google products and services.
Either way, Google’s growing vulnerabilities to legal actions related to these situations seems clear, as these problems continue spreading across the Google universe.
While it could certainly be argued that more easily readable and usable user interfaces and reference pages would benefit all users, Google need not necessarily abandon their new “standard” interfaces with their low contrast fonts in order to solve these problems. I’ve in the past suggested the possibility of a high-readability, easier use “accessibility” interface that would exist as a user selectable option alongside the standard one. And I’ve proposed consideration of interface “APIs” that would permit third parties to write specialized interfaces to help specific groups of Google users.
None of these concepts have apparently seen any traction though, and Google seems to be barreling ahead with changes that are only making matters worse for these user groups who are already being driven bats by various aspects of Google’s design choices.
I would enormously prefer that Google take the ethical stance and move forward toward solving these problems itself. Yes, this requires nontrivial resources — but Google does have the capabilities. What they seem to be lacking right now is the will to do the right thing in these regards.
If this continues to be the case, the odds are that the courts will indeed ultimately move in. And that’s an outcome that I’m unconvinced will be a good one for either Google or its users.
Google has announced that beginning later this year, they will no longer scan or otherwise use messages in their free Gmail system for ad personalization purposes (this is already the case for their paid Gmail (G Suite) product.
This is a good decision to help undercut the Google haters’ false propaganda, but let’s be clear — this Gmail message scanning was always utterly harmless.
The controversies about Gmail scanning were ginned up by greedy lawyers and Google adversaries, with Microsoft’s lying and widely discredited (and now discontinued) “Scroogled” anti-Google propaganda campaign playing a significant “fake news” disinformation role (well before the term “fake news” became popular).
In fact, Gmail scanning has been closely akin to scanning for viruses and spam in messages. No humans were ever actually “reading” Gmail messages for ad personalization purposes, and the scanning that has occurred has been solely to find keywords that would help show relevant ads to any given user.
Advertisers have never had access to this data — their ads are shown by Google without personal information being made available to those advertisers at all. One of the continuing “big lies” that Google haters propagate is the claim that Google sells their users’ personal information to third parties. They don’t. But a lack of understanding by many Google users of how Google’s ad systems actually work (Google could indeed be better at explaining this clearly) helps to feed such dramatic and completely false notions.
The bottom line is that Gmail scanning has never posed a privacy risk, but since entirely stopping Gmail scanning puts a final nail in the coffin of these fake abuse claims, it’s an excellent move by Google. Good work.
The phrase “Like a lamb to slaughter” originates from biblical times. And it when comes to the rising chorus of politicians demanding an end to public availability of strong, end-to-end encryption, it’s we law-abiding citizens who are the lambs about to have our throats cut — by our own leaders.
Every time there’s a terrorist attack, politicians around the world (including here in the USA) are back in front of the cameras demanding government access to our private encrypted communications.
Make no mistake about it, these leaders might as well be on the payroll of the terrorists and other criminal organizations, because such demands if implemented would sell us all down the river, and make our lives vastly more dangerous.
We are far, far more at risk from these politicians wrecking our communications security than we are from terrorists and other criminals themselves in the absence of such weakened technology.
Our lives are increasingly utterly dependent on the security of computer-based communications systems, and this is true even for persons who’ve never touched a computer keyboard or a smartphone.
Our financial and so many other aspects of our personal lives are intertwined with the security and sanctity of strong encryption, and for persons living under the thumb of repressive regimes, their mortal lives themselves hang in the balance when communications security becomes compromised.
Let’s be utterly clear about this. When you’re told that it’s possible to give governments access to our secure communications without fatally weakening the underlying encryption systems, you are being told a lie, plain and simple.
The very act of building a “backdoor” into these systems fundamentally weakens them, putting honest citizens at enormous risk not only for government abuses and mistakes, but also for attacks by black-hat hackers, terrorists, and other criminals of all sorts who will find ways to exploit these government-mandated flaws.
Meanwhile, terrorists and other criminals won’t sit back and use these horrifically compromised communications systems. They’ll move to existing and under development strong end-to-end encryption systems without backdoors — independent apps that are impossible for governments to effectively control.
Government demands for backdoor access to encryption are a disaster for everyone but the evil forces that these politicians claim will be destroyed.
If one assumes for the sake of the argument that our leaders aren’t actually in league with such heinous entities, one is also forced to assume that either these politicians are getting terrible technical advice — or most likely of all — are simply ignoring the known facts in furtherance of pandering and sowing fear for political gains, regardless of the negative consequences on all of us.
Of course, even though governments might try to ban such use, in practice it would likely prove extremely difficult to stop honest, law-abiding citizens from using independent, non-backdoored strong crypto apps themselves — just like evil is sure to do.
Governments don’t like to contemplate honest persons taking such independent steps to control their own destinies. Politicians by and large prefer to think of us like those sheep.
Whether or not our leaders are accurate in such a characterization, is ultimately our decision, not theirs.
In my March blog posts — “How YouTube’s User Interface Helps Perpetuate Hate Speech” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/03/26/how-youtubes-user-interface-helps-perpetuate-hate-speech), and “What Google Needs to Do About YouTube Hate Speech” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/03/23/what-google-needs-to-do-about-youtube-hate-speech), I was quite critical of how Google is handling certain aspects of their own Terms of Service enforcement on YouTube.
In “Four steps we’re taking today to fight online terror” (https://blog.google/topics/google-europe/four-steps-were-taking-today-fight-online-terror/), Google’s General Counsel Kent Walker (a straight-arrow guy whom it’s been my pleasure to meet) announced YouTube changes aimed at dealing more effectively with extremist videos and hate speech more broadly.
Key aspects of these changes appear to be in line with my public suggestions — in particular, faster takedowns for extremist content, and disqualification of hate speech videos from monetization and “suggested video” systems, are excellent steps forward.
I would prefer that hate speech videos not only be demonetized and “hidden” from suggestions — but that they’d be removed from the YouTube platform entirely. I am not at this point fully convinced that sweeping that kind of rot “under the carpet” — where it can continue to fester — is a practical long-term solution. However, we shall see. I will be watching with interest to determine how these policies play out in practice.
As I’ve noted in earlier posts, I also feel strongly that Google needs to make it more “in your face” obvious to YouTube users that they can report offending videos. I had previously mentioned that the YouTube “Report” link — that years ago was on the top-level YouTube user interface — seemed to have returned to that position (at least for YouTube Red subscribers) after a long period being buried under the top level “More” link. At the time, I speculated that this might only be an ephemeral user-facing experiment, and in fact for me at least the “Report” link is again hiding under the “More” link.
I’ve discussed this problem before. Users who might otherwise report an offending video are much less likely to do so if a “Report” link isn’t obvious. I acknowledge that one possible reason for “hiding” the “Report” link is concerns about false positives. Indeed, in Kent’s post today, he mentions the high accuracy of YouTube “Trusted Flaggers” — which suggests that my speculation in this regard (about reports from users overall) was likely correct. In any case, I still feel that a top-level user interface “Report” link is a very important element for consideration.
While I do feel that there’s more that Google needs to do in various of these regards concerning extremist and hate speech, I am indeed cognizant of their understandable desire to move in carefully calibrated steps given the impact of any changes at Google scale. And yeah, I’m indeed pleased to see Google moving these issues in the overall direction that I’ve been publicly urging.
My kudos to the associated Google/YouTube teams — and we’ll all be watching to see how these changes play out in the fullness of time.
Be seeing you.
Google says they will no longer show the +1 count on external G+ buttons — like I have on all of my blog postings. Without the +1 count, these buttons are largely useless, and I will probably remove all G+ buttons from my posts to recover that space, and urge other sites to do the same. I’m sorry, Google, this one is extremely boneheaded.
I’ll bet I know why they’re doing it — Google is probably embarrassed by the relatively low counts vis-a-vis Facebook. But I support G+ and not Facebook because I consider G+ to be a superior platform, and this decision by Google is just inane.
This post in PDF format:
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Despite significant strides toward improved public communications over the years, Google is still widely viewed — both by users and by the global community at large — as an unusually opaque organization.
Google does provide a relatively high level of communications — including customer support — for users of their paid services. And of course, there’s nothing inherently unreasonable with Google providing different support levels to paying customers as compared to users of their many free services.
But without a doubt, far and away, Google-related issues that users bring to me most frequently still relate to those users’ perceived inabilities to effectively communicate with Google when they have problems with Google services (usually free but frequently paid), and these are services that vast numbers of persons around the world now depend upon for an array of crucial aspects in their businesses and personal lives. These problems can range from minor to quite serious, sometimes with significant ongoing impacts.
Similarly and related, user and community confusion over both the broad and detailed aspects of various Google policies remains widespread, in some cases not significantly improved over many years.
The false assumption that Google sells user data to third parties remains rampant, fueled both by basic misunderstandings of Google’s ad technologies, and by Google competitors and haters — who leverage Google’s seemingly institutional public communications reluctance — filling the resulting vacuum with misinformation and false propaganda. Another of many examples is the continuing unwillingness of many users to provide account recovery and/or two-factor verification phone numbers to Google, based on the unfounded fear of those numbers being sold or used for other purposes. Confusion and concerns related to YouTube policies are extremely widespread. And the list goes on …
While Google’s explanatory documents have significantly improved over time, they often are still written at technical levels beyond the understanding of major subsets of users.
Significant and growing segments of the Google user population — including older and other special needs users who increasingly depend on Google services — feel left behind by key aspects of Google’s user interfaces — with visual designs (e.g. perceived low contrast layouts), hidden interface elements, and other primary usability aspects of growing concerns and angst.
These and other associated factors serve to undermine user trust in Google generally, with significant negative regulatory and political ramifications for Google itself, not only in the USA but around the world. This is all exacerbated by Google’s apparently deeply ingrained fear of “Streisand Effect” reactions to public statements.
It has frequently been noted that many organizations employ an “ombudsman” (or multiple persons fulfilling similar roles under this or other titles) to act as a form of broad, cross-team interface between individual corporate and/or team concerns and the concerns of the user community, typically in the contexts of products, services, and policy issues.
Google has apparently been resistant to this concept, with scalability concerns likely one key factor.
However, this perceived reaction may suggest a lack of familiarity with the wide range of ways in which ombudsman roles (or similar roles otherwise titled) may be tailored for different organizations, toward the goal of more effective communications overall.
An ombudsman is not necessarily a form of “customer support” per se. An employee filling an ombudsman role need not have any authority over decisions made by any teams, and may not even interact with users directly in many circumstances.
The ombudsman may be tasked primarily with internal, not external communications, in that they work to help internal teams understand the needs of users both in terms of those individual teams and broader cross-team scopes. In this context, their contribution to improved, effective public communications and perceptions of a firm are more indirect, but can still be of crucial importance, by helping to provide insights regarding user interactions, broader policies, and other issues that are not limited to individual teams’ everyday operational mandates.
An ombudsman can help teams to better understand how their decisions and actions are affecting users and the overall firm. The ombudsman may be dealing with classes and categories of user issues, rather than with individual users, yet the ombudsman is still acting as a form of liaison between users, individual teams, and the firm as a whole.
There are of course myriad other ways to structure such roles, including paradigms that combine internal and public-facing responsibilities. But the foundational principle is the presence of a person or persons whose primary responsibilities are to broadly understand the goals and dynamics of teams across Google, the scope of user community issues and concerns, and to assist those teams and Google management to better understand the associated interdependent dynamics in terms of the associated problems and practical solutions — and then help to deploy those solutions as appropriate.
Google’s users, the community at large, and Google itself would likely significantly benefit.
In my “Questions I’m Asked About Google” #1 live video stream (https://vortex.com/google-1) a few days ago, I emphasized the importance of protecting Google Accounts with Google’s excellent 2-factor authentication system.
In response I’ve received a bunch of queries from Google users who do not understand how to set this up or use it, even though they very much want to.
These concerns fall into a number of categories. Even though I explained that it’s safe to give your phone number to Google — Google won’t abuse it — many users are still resistant, and note that they do not see a way to activate Google 2-factor protection for other authentication mechanisms (e.g. Google Authenticator App and/or Backup Codes) without first providing their phone number information.
Others want to use their existing (non-Google) mail programs after activating Google 2-factor, but are utterly confused by Google’s “application-specific passwords” system that is required to do so.
When you’re trying to get users to take advantage of the best possible security, and have successfully convinced them that this is a good idea, but your documentation is still written in a way that many non-techie users dependent on your services cannot readily understand — you have a serious problem.
Despite positive strides at Google in terms of help center and other documentation resources, Google is still leaving vast numbers of their users behind.
Google can do better.
The White House has announced that the audio recording of the dinner meeting that occurred between President Donald J. Trump and then FBI Director James Comey was accidentally deleted by Eric Trump when he inadvertently recorded an episode of “Stormfront News” over the meeting audio. However, the White House is now pleased to make available a 100% accurate, verbatim transcript of that meeting that had already been prepared. In this transcript, The President of the United States Donald J. Trump is shown by P:, and James Comey is shown by C:.
P: Jim, come right in over here next to me! C’mon, closer. Give me a big hug! So glad you could make it!
C: Thank you Mr. President. It’s a tremendous honor to be here. You know how much I’ve admired you for so many years. I was beginning to become concerned when you didn’t return any of my many calls asking to keep my job as FBI Director. I feared that you didn’t want to talk to me any more and that my position was in jeopardy.
P: Nonsense Jim. You know how I feel about you. I’ve just been extremely busy. Running this great country leaves me no time for any recreation, any fun — it’s the toughest job in the world and it’s all work. Let’s sit down over here at this small, intimate table and get started with dinner. Would you prefer the Filet-O-Fish or the McNuggets?
C: The fish would be just fine, Mr. President.
P: Here you go, Jim. Take two ketchup packets. I can manage with only one.
C: Thank you, Mr. President. The stories I’ve heard about your generosity are obviously true.
P: Sorry there are no fries. I think Sean stole them from the bag.
C: No problem, sir.
P: Now Jim, I know you’re desperate to keep your job as FBI Director, and I want to be clear that I don’t expect anything from you in return for staying in that position.
C: That makes me feel much better, sir.
P: In particular, all those faxes you sent me offering your personal loyalty were totally unnecessary. All I expect from you is loyalty to the United States of America. I don’t matter at all. It’s this wonderful, diverse country and its wonderful, multicultural citizens that we care about. The vast cornucopia of diversity that makes the United States of America like the proverbial shining city on the hill.
C: You have such a wonderful way with words, Mr. President. You certainly have the best words.
P: Thanks Jim. And I want you to take all of your investigations wherever they need to go. If they lead to Vladimir, or Eric, or Ivanka, or Jared, or Flynn — I don’t want you to back off by one tiny iota. If they’re guilty, they’re guilty, and should be treated like every other simple, ordinary person just like me. I expect you to aspire to my ethical standards, and apply those lofty heights to your daily work at the FBI, just as I’ve applied them every day in my own businesses.
C: That’s a very tall order Mr. President. I’m not sure that I’m enough of a man to meet your standards.
P: I have faith in you, Jim. Now get back to your office and make me proud.
C: I’ll do my best, sir. And thank you, sir. You’re a great human being.
— End of Recording —
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Well, this is interesting. Shortly after I yesterday announced my new “Questions I’m Asked About Google” live video streams — still currently scheduled to launch 10:30 AM PDT (GMT-7, 17:30 UTC) tomorrow morning (June 7) — than my main inbox began flooding with anti-Google hate mail. It can’t be coincidental, and some of it appears to be coordinated.
For more information about this new live streaming effort, including links for viewing, asking questions, and directly participating, please see:
I had been debating whether or not I should address (e.g. “rant”) at the start of these streams about current crazy stories attacking Google. Now I don’t see how I can reasonably avoid doing this. OK, if that’s the way it’s gotta be!
Two of the beauts I’m considering touching on tomorrow morning relate to this email deluge over the last 24 hours.
One is messages I’m receiving about an article on a wacko (but relatively major) anti-Muslim site, that usually spends much of their time trying to sell the false story that Google Search “favors” Islam. Well, now they’re even upset about Google Doodles.
They claim that Google celebrated the oppression of women with a home page Doodle of a “Disneyfied veiled Muslima” on 31 May. So I had to go back and dig this one up.
Typical fake news bull being passed around as if it were real. The Doodle in question showed a representation of famed female architect Zaha Hadid, who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize on that day in 2004. And she’s not wearing a veil.
Not even close, anti-Muslim idiots.
Then I started digging through all the hate mail being triggered by an inflammatory new article in “The Intercept” (nope, I’m not giving them any link juice!) which falsely asserts evil in Google’s plans for an ad blocking system for obnoxious ads (to be deployed in their Chrome browser), in conjunction with their upcoming full launch of “Funding Choices” (which is actually a direct descendant of their now discontinued “Google Contributor” system).
Unfortunately, Google (as is all too typical with them in many cases) has not explained this very well, which creates a vacuum that deceptive articles like those from “The Intercept” fill with their own propaganda, and then the false conspiracy theories take flight en masse.
So I guess I’ll probably need to touch on this area as well tomorrow morning.
Yep, we’ll see how it goes. Please let me know if you have any questions and/or wish to participate, and again for more info (including possible scheduling provisos), please see: