Massive Fine Against Google: The EU’s Hypocrisies Exposed

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.

–Lauren–

How Google Risks Court Actions Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

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.

–Lauren–

Google’s Gmail Will No Longer Scan Messages to Personalize Ads (but This Was Always Harmless)

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.

–Lauren–

By Killing Encryption, Our Leaders Are Delivering Us to the Terrorists

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.

–Lauren–

YouTube’s Excellent New Moves Against Hate Speech — But There’s More Work for Google to Do

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.

–Lauren–