26 posts categorized "Google"

Nest and the Google privacy policy

I was talking to a famous technologist this week, and in the course of conversation, Google's acquisition of the startup smart-thermostat maker, Nest, came up.

I told him the tweets I'd been seeing on the news were to the effect of, "all good things must come to an end."

But he was disdainful of the knee-jerk privacy concerns. "No one cares about privacy. They say they do in the abstract, but it doesn't impact how they behave."

Maybe so.

It sure seems to me that people get worked up over NSA surveillance that seems, so far as I've gathered, to be much more attenuated, in terms of how the intelligence gets used to manipulate behavior.

Anyway, that was a detour. What I mean to say here is, it sure will be interesting to see what accomodation Google makes, in terms of its privacy policy, as it brings Nest into the Google, er, nest.

As of this writing, the two privacy policies, Nest's and Google's, are inapposite, not capable of being compared by redline. That said, I did think it would be fun to manually generate a redline of the basic privacy promise each company makes, as of today, as to the use it makes of the user information it collects.

And here we go (Google's current policy overlaying Nest's, naturally):


Google's "shared endorsements"

The NYTimes Bits Blog this morning alerted me to a NYTimes story by reporters Claire Cain Miller and Vindu Goel about Google's announcement this morning that it will change its terms of service to permit Google to take user endorsements and place them in advertising that Google sells and publishes.

As far as I can tell, there is no provision about sharing advertising revenue with the Google users who supply the endorsements.

ReaganI ran a redline of the new ToS (Google says it will be effective November 11, 2013) against the current ToS, and have posted that redline here.

Other changes in the new Google ToS are modest: there is a public service announcement about detaching from your phone while driving; there is an admonition to protect your password; and some singular nouns are made plural in boilerplate disclaimers.

The change to expressly provide that user endorsements may be used in ads, that is a big change. Though the change is implemented in a single paragraph:

"If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo, and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as +1’s, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts. We will respect the choices you make to limit sharing or visibility settings in your Google Account. For example, you can choose your settings so your name and photo do not appear in an ad."

The NYTimes story states that "Google had previously shown so-called Plus 1s, votes of approval similar to Facebook likes, in ads across Google sites and its ad network." I don't see express permission for Google to do so in the current ToS; perhaps I missed it, or perhaps there is another set of terms that overlays the ToS and is specific to Google+.

The current ToS has a restriction on Google, a restriction that is retained in the new ToS announced today, expressed as follows: "The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones."

How do you reconcile such a limitation with either the current +1 program or the new Facebook-like ad program? Maybe it's the verb "promote," or maybe Google is taking the position that there is no personality right or user content inherent in endorsements?

A lot of things are converging at the same time. Dave Eggers' new novel teases that Facebook, Google and Twitter are all of a feather and will merge. So far I am reading a fundamental respect for user content in at least the prospectus summary section of the Twitter S-1, so, I'd place that service as above the move that Google is making here. Google is at least permitting users to opt out of the use of endorsements in ads. Facebook appears committed to obscuring the distinction between organic and paid content.

Google in Kirkland

Lots of good stories in mainstream media yesterday about Google's announcement that it will expand its physical footprint in Kirkland.

Climbing wallGoogle already has an office there, in Kirkland, in the backyard of Microsoft. And Google has a small campus in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, on the other side of Lake Union, you might say, from the Amazon campus.

The New York Times story styles the Google announcement as a chapter in Google's quest to catch up with Amazon and Microsoft in the competence to provide cloud services to business. Amazon's AWS is the clear leader there, and Microsoft, with Azure, is farther ahead than Google as well.

John Cook's story in GeekWire emphasizes the Kirkland site's proximity to Microsoft's Redmond headquarters, but he notes that the Google employees there "work on products such as Google+, Maps and the Chrome Web browser." No particular "showdown in the cloud" angle there.

The Seattle Times story is as much a local real estate development story as a tech story, and that's certainly pertinent if you live and work in Kirkland. But the Seattle Times story does get into the history of Google as an employer in the Seattle area, and shares this interesting observation about the contrast about the difference between the Fremont and Kirkland sites:

"The Kirkland campus tends to have older, more family-oriented employees while Fremont attracts more young employees and recent graduates, said Anna Cavendar, a 34-year-old software engineer in Kirkland, who builds features to make Hangouts more usable for hearing- and sight-impaired people."

Photo: Dmitry Alexeenko / Flickr.

Stagecraft in the Obama Google hangout

In the tradition of this blog's attention to the visual language of power (e.g., Zuckerberg, Obama and the Changing Semiotics of the Press Conference), here is a collage of screenshots from the Valentine's Day Google hangout with President Obama.

Collage 4 Google Hangout POTUS

The President is very good at this. If the framing, lighting, and over-the-shoulder shots (not pictured; and my webcam doesn't have this feature) must be credited to the show's producer, Obama himself knows how to fill the frame with his physicality.

Changed Google SDK terms prohibit Android fragmentation

Friday, Tim Anderson wrote on his IT Writing blog about changes Google has made to its Android SDK License Agreement.

These are significant changes. He writes:

"Google has revised the terms of the Android SDK license agreement so that users must now agree not to fragment Android by deriving other SDKs from Google’s official offering. In fact, you now have to agree not to fragment Android in any way as a condition of using the Android SDK."

What brought this change to Anderson's attention?

Apparently, he simply read the Android SDK License Agreement, then compared key provisions against an earlier version he had saved.

I love it.

As you know, I like to run redlines.

Though Anderson appears to have caught Google's shift in policy with the naked eye, I always feel material changes sing, pop, explode, stand out like a Chardonnay drinker in a bar serving PBR in plastic water pitchers, when you call the changes out in colorful redline.


SDK terms snippet

Full redline posted here.

Note: I don't know for sure when the changes were made. Somewhere between the April 2009 version taken as the baseline, and the November 2012 version currently posted, that's all this shows.

Google's FTC consent order that isn't

This post is NOT about the consent order the FTC proposes to enter into with Google over the patent portfolio Google bought from Motorola. It's about something else: the investigation that the FTC took up, and then dropped - without accusing Google of anything - over Google's business practices in search.

It's easy to separate the two issues and fair to do so, because the FTC and Google both do so.

I met a man that wasnt thereWhat pulls me in is how to make sense of the "commitment letter" the government obtained from Google on the search issue. What's being settled? What are the charges?

What's the FTC's standing to negotiate an agreement with a private company in the face of an FTC belief that the company has violated no law?

Here's how we're used to seeing the FTC disposing of cases: FTC prepares a lengthy, formal complaint, complete with factual findings or allegations, and an argument on how laws or regulations have been violated; FTC stops short of initiating proceedings on the complaint; subject company neither admits or denies it did anything wrong, but enters into a "consent order" under which it agrees to fix problems and subject itself to monitoring for a period of multiple years.

This consent order process is how matters in the past have been settled with Twitter and with Facebook. (Indeed, this consent order routine is pretty much the process followed with regard to the Motorola patent issues; see the FTC draft complaint in this regard.)

The consent order process is odd enough. If you're paying attention to the shadow dance, it might strike you as something of a mockery of legal process. The affair winds down with all the clarity of two private parties quietly settling a civil breach of contract case before trial, as though the public had no interest in knowing what really happened. (America needs you, Judge Rakoff.)

But this "settlement" over Google's business practices around search, it's odder still. Here's the text of the closest thing to the FTC's final word on the topic:

"The Federal Trade Commission has been conducting an investigation of the search business of Google Inc. to determine whether certain acts or practices may violate Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45. Upon further review of this matter, it now appears that no further action is warranted by the Commission at this time. Accordingly, the investigation has been closed. This action is not to be construed as a determination that a violation may not have occurred, just as the pendency of an investigation should not be construed as a determination that a violation has occurred. The Commission reserves the right to take such further action as the public interest may require."

Say what? Google needs to fix whatever may or may not have occurred (which the FTC can't characterize because "no further action is warranted" to figure out what the violations might be)?

Furthermore, backing up this stand down letter is something exactly the opposite of a draft complaint, a statement that reads pretty much like an exoneration. Here are two key excerpts from this FTC statement:

"The totality of the evidence indicates that, in the main, Google adopted the design changes that the Commission investigated to improve the quality of its search results, and that any negative impact on actual or potential competitors was incidental to that purpose. While some of Google’s rivals may have lost sales due to an improvement in Google’s product, these types of adverse effects on particular competitors from vigorous rivalry are a common byproduct of 'competition on the merits' and the competitive process that the law encourages.

. . .

"Reasonable minds may differ as to the best way to design a search results page and the best way to allocate space among organic links, paid advertisements, and other features. And reasonable search algorithms may differ as to how best to rank any given website. Challenging Google’s product design decisions in this case would require the Commission – or a court – to second-guess a firm’s product design decisions where plausible procompetitive justifications have been offered, and where those justifications are supported by ample evidence."

Do I sound righteous? I don't mean to. I'm certainly not angry at Google. It strikes me that Google, like Twitter, continues to find the right balance in the marketplace, exploiting user generated information, for sure, but not in ways that cause most of us to question whether the value proposition has tipped away from our favor.

But I do think something is not right with a political compromise dressed up as a legal settlement.

If all the FTC has nothing against Google on the search bias question, then there's no case to bring and Google should be left to go about its business.

If Google wants to take the occassion to re-calibrate where it draws lines between indifferent search and blatant advertising products, and to do so with fanfare, that's fine, too.

But dressing up a political compromise as a legal settlement mocks the law almost as surely as the December 2011 settlement with Facebook did.

Photo: Jonathan Reyes / Flickr.

Amazon and Google spar over cloud services talent

While I've been distracted trying to catch up on the fight in California between Zynga and Kixeye over management talent, Amazon has brought a similar case in my own Seattle backyard. Amazon is seeking to hamper what a former AWS sales exec may do for Google.

Geekwire screenshotThe Amazon suit seems to have come to a head. Geekwire reported last week that the federal judge in the Amazon case has issued a preliminary injunction, an order restraining the ex-Amazon employee from soliciting Amazon customers.

Now that sounds like a win for Amazon, but it's not really. The judge limited the duration of the court's restriction to the length of a contractual restriction that Google itself put on the executive when Google hired him.

Geekwire's report put the Amazon case on my radar and Todd Bishop's policy of posting links to primary source documents gave me a chance to look at the judge's order.

Check out the guest post I wrote for Geekwire to sum up what I found. It's titled Legal lessons from Amazon’s ‘noncompete’ battle with Google and has just been posted.

Happy new year everyone! I am so thankful for your support, your engagement, your passion. JLM's exhortation in the thread on Saturday's post will be my motto for 2013!

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