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The Mother’s Milk of Algorithms: Google Expands Its Data Center Lobbying Footprint in Minnesota–Home to Senator Amy Klobuchar

January 14, 2019 Comments off

Data profiling requires a lot of computing power.  Really a whole bunch.  When you’re talking that much electricity, you’re talking government.  When you’re talking government, you’re talking lobbying.

And in this case, looking at the political landscape from the data center point of view might explain a whole lot of oddball results.  Like why do Senators from Oregon and Nebraska seem ready to abandon their constituents in favor of a bunch of out-of-staters that don’t have another connection to their states?  And which moves are Google making now that might position them to be influential again in US presidential politics in 2020 and also be bad for the creative community?  Maybe having juice all comes down to having the juice.

When Google and Facebook are scraping all your personal information and hosting all that user-generated pirated content, they need to really work over their algorithms.  Bigly.  And crunching algorithms requires gigantic data centers and gigantic data centers don’t run on magic elves.

No, electricity is the mothers milk of algorithms and electricity doesn’t come from magic elves generating special energy on treadmills imported from the Undying Lands.

How much electricity does it take for Google to invade your privacy…sorry…be Google?  Google has not, to my knowledge, updated its voluntary 2011 disclosures on energy use. In 2011, Google’s continuous energy needs were roughly what it would take to power 200,000 homes in the U.S.–say Salt Lake City, Yonkers or Little Rock.  Approximately 80% of that electricity is Google’s data centers.  And that was eight years ago.  According to a 2016 feature in the Guardian, Google accounts for the lions share of approximately 2% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world that power data centers.  That’s right–the world.  So presumably the reason they haven’t updated those 2011 disclosures is because the Google climate news isn’t good.

Google would like you to believe that they offset their carbon footprint through investing in renewable energy, which they do to a degree.  But the people who really do the big investing in Google’s renewable energy needs are not just Google–they are that old standby, the old reliable for corporate welfare, the innovator of last resort.  That’s right.

You.

We’ll come back to how you do that in a minute, but rest assured.  You won’t be shocked, shocked.  And we’ll always have Paris.

Regardless of who’s building their infrastructure, Google’s energy drain would make Google a very big electricity customer–very big.  And then there’s Amazon and Facebook, too.  Internet Association types, you get the idea.  (Someone has to pay for Michael Beckerman’s $4,000 shoes.)

My bet is that the demand for electricity to run those algorithms needs to be spread out so hopefully nobody will notice the affect on the climate that the Silicon Valley party is having.  This is due to the massive draw down of electricity and the crowding out of local users in the lucky localities where the taxpayer pays Google to locate their data centers.  Where these data centers are located can create considerable political leverage for the already over-leveraged Google.

Let’s take a look at the most recent example, Google’s new data center in Minnesota, home to Senator Amy Klobuchar. (Senator Klobuchar was included in the recent list of potential 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidates in Politico.)  Senator Klobuchar is–or at least was–a long-time ally of artists in the U.S. Senate.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, the biggest utility in Minnesota is selling over 300 acres of land to Google to locate a new $600 million data center in the city of Becker, Minnesota not far from Minneapolis.  Fair market value, right?  Maybe not.

After the data center is built, Google will immediately become one of the utility’s five largest customers.  Although the utility “plans” to have “most” of Google’s data center needs met by renewable energy by 2050, it currently operates the largest coal-fired generator in Minnesota and is scheduled to replace that plant with a natural gas facility in the near future.

In order to get that natural gas plant paid for and opened, former Governor Mark Dayton side-stepped the customary process before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.   How?  Google’s favorite method of avoiding local elected officials–lobbying the state legislature.

What a coincidence.

And why was that new plant so important?  According to local press, “[p]roponents say the legislation [authorizing the natural gas generator] is necessary to stabilize the Sherburne County economy, which will be hurt by the coal generators’ demise.”  Sounds important.  Sounds like back scratching–we can only get Google to move here if we get rid of coal, and we can’t get rid of coal without spending some more of the taxpayers’ money–not Google’s money, your money–on a new power plant.

How do you think the Mayor of Becker (population 4,568) feels about Google coming to her town?  Think she’ll get in the way after the Governor and the state legislature have already mandated what is to go down?  Because the county economy is dependent on the new power plant and the new power plant will in large part be dependent on Google.

Do data centers produce a huge number of jobs that might justify paying a company like Google to move to Becker, Minnesota?  Not once they’re built--“the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said the…data center would involve 2,000 construction jobs and employ about 50 full-time workers.

That’s right–50 jobs.  So we build you a power plant and you give us…50 jobs.

This is about the same result as Senator Ron Wyden enjoyed from the data centers built in The Dalles along Oregon’s Columbia River watershed.  (That would be the same Ron Wyden who is the former chair of the United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure….  No connection, I’m sure.)

But it seems that a handful of jobs is worth poking his finger in the eyes of the Oregon music community in Portland and beyond by consistently opposing fair copyright reforms and protecting Google’s cherished Section 230 safe harbor–which he’s proud to tell you he wrote.  It’s also worth opposing the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act and generally being as close to Google as one is to two.

You might also find that Nebraska’s wind farms explain Senator Ben Sasse’s sudden interest in screwing pre-72 artists in line with Google’s desire to block the CLASSICS Act, particularly when you find out that Nebraska is in an internecine struggle with neighbor Iowa to get another of Google’s data centers.

So the question is–now that Google is building a data center in Minnesota, will we discover that Senator Klobuchar and her colleague Tina Smith are suddenly finding that protecting Minnesota artists like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis,  Sounds of Blackness, Prince and that Zimmerman kid from the ravages of multinational corporations is just not their thing after all?

 

 

Carbon Clouds: Should Artists Ask Why Aren’t Google, Amazon and Facebook in the Green New Deal?

December 18, 2018 Comments off

Let’s start out with a basic gut check–when you plug in an electric car to charge up the batteries, where do you think that electricity comes from?  Magic elves or the same coal burning power plant or nuclear power station that the rest of the world uses?

Sure, you can have a renewable element to the energy mix, but let’s all remember that any activity that sucks down significant amounts of energy has a carbon footprint like anything else. If you really like the Green New Deal, you’ll probably feel like there’s a policy position that has at least the basics covered.

There’s just one problem–one of the biggest users of electricity is not on the list.  No, they’re just not included at all in the Green New Deal.  And who might that be?

Data centers.  And not just any data centers–these are massive facilities owned by Google, Facebook, Amazon and others.  Listen up Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Ben Sasse.  This is for you.

Data Centers

Nature magazine sums it up:

Upload your latest holiday photos to Facebook, and there’s a chance they’ll end up stored in Prineville, Oregon, a small town where the firm has built three giant data centres and is planning two more. [Hello, Senator Wyden.] Inside these vast factories, bigger than aircraft carriers, tens of thousands of circuit boards are racked row upon row, stretching down windowless halls so long that staff ride through the corridors on scooters.

These huge buildings are the treasuries of the new industrial kings: the information traders. The five biggest global companies by market capitalization this year are currently Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook, replacing titans such as Shell and ExxonMobil. Although information factories might not spew out black smoke or grind greasy cogs, they are not bereft of environmental impact. As demand for Internet and mobile-phone traffic skyrockets, the information industry could lead to an explosion in energy use.

According to the National Resources Defense Council:

Data centers are the backbone of the modern economy — from the server rooms that power small- to medium-sized organizations to the enterprise data centers that support American corporations and the server farms that run cloud computing services hosted by Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others. However, the explosion of digital content, big data, e-commerce, and Internet traffic is also making data centers one of the fastest-growing consumers of electricity in developed countries, and one of the key drivers in the construction of new power plants.

Why might that be?  Here’s some 2011 data from the famous “The Internet is Killing the Planet” infographic inspired by Greenpeace’s “Dirty Data” research (that seems to have been forgotten in the GND):

Google co2 1

Based on Google’s most recent environmental report (2018) you have to tease out what Google’s actual carbon emissions is (in footnote 32):

  1. Google emits less than 8 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per day to serve an active Google user—defined as someone who performs 25 searches and watches 60 minutes of YouTube a day, has a Gmail account, and uses our other key services.

In Google-speak “less than 8” usually means 7.9999999999.  So let’s call it 8.  As of 2016 there were 1 billion active gmail users.  So rough justice, Google acknowledges that it emits about 8 billion grams of carbon dioxide daily, or 9,000 tons.  And based on the characteristically tricky way Google framed the measurement, that doesn’t count the users who don’t have a gmail account, don’t use “our other key services” and may watch more than an hour a day of YouTube.  You know, like kids for example.

And that’s just Google.  Again from Nature:

Already, data centres use an estimated 200 terawatt hours (TWh) each year. That is more than the national energy consumption of some countries, including Iran, but half of the electricity used for transport worldwide, and just 1% of global electricity demand (see ‘Energy scale’). Data centres contribute around 0.3% to overall carbon emissions, whereas the information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem as a whole — under a sweeping definition that encompasses personal digital devices, mobile-phone networks and televisions — accounts for more than 2% of global emissions. That puts ICT’s carbon footprint on a par with the aviation industry’s emissions from fuel.

heres-steam-shooting-out-of-the-dalles-data-center-in-oregon-as-its-cooling-down

Google Data Center in The Dalles, Oregon

What does this have to do with music?  Actually, more than you might think.  YouTube is one of the biggest carbon producers in the Google system.  What’s consumed the most on YouTube?  Cat videos?  How-to screw in a lightbulb videos?  No.

Music videos.

And then there’s streaming.  However you might have felt about plastic discs, billions upon billions of streams uses up a lot of processing power.  And it’s like all the world’s music is hosted in the cloud, sometimes literally.  Remember “Own Nothing, Have Everything”?  I don’t know if anyone could have thought of a more inefficient delivery method from a climate point of view, but I suppose it’s possible.

The fact is we are the forced enablers of what may end up being one of the biggest energy scams in the entire climate disaster, and it’s time to put the foot down.  First of all, artists need to start asking questions of services like YouTube and the advertisers who support them.

And clearly, the Green New Deal needs to take a close look at this entire subject.

Google’s European Campaign Contributions on Article 13

August 24, 2018 Comments off

RITTER

They want what every first term administration wants…a second term.

From A Clear and Present Danger, written by Tom Clancy (novel), screenplay by Donald Stewart, Steven Saillian and John Milius.

MTP readers will recall that both the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have confirmed the efforts by Google to influence the vote on copyright reform in the European Union.  We called for that investigation on MTP and were mocked for doing so by the usual suspects.

Getting mocked by the usual suspects is how you know you’re onto something big, by the way.

But we owe a big thanks to the really stellar investigative work of Volker Rieck and David Lowery that exposed how Google uses astroturf front groups to “push its views” and for which it no doubt pays well.

Dj_qcYOW4AAfyRy.jpg-large

There is, of course, a political dimension to this exposé that has not been examined thoroughly yet.  It’s an important dimenstion because the Members of the European Parliament must stand for election next year, less than a year away.  And the Member of the European Parliament who certainly appears to be as close to Google as 1 is to 2 is the lone Pirate Party representative.

The Pirate Party is a creature of proportional representation, an interesting practice in Europe (and other places) that allows political parties with very small constitutencies to field candidates and sometimes get elected to legislative bodies such as the European Parliament.  The Pirate Party has one European Parliament representative elected from Germany, which is interesting because Google has also dropped a pile of influence-peddling cash in Germany according to the Google Transparency Project.

First, Google’s academic influence program in Europe has gone beyond funding existing academic institutions, as it does in the United States, to helping create entirely new institutes and think-tanks in key countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In those countries, executives from Google’s lobbying operation have helped conceive research groups and covered most, or all, of their budgets for years after launch.

Google policy executives have acted as liaisons to steer their research priorities and host public events with policymakers.

For example, Google has paid at least €9 million to help set up the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) at Berlin’s Humboldt University. The new group launched in 2011, after German policymakers voiced growing concerns over Google’s accumulated power.

The Institute has so far published more than 240 scholarly papers on internet policy issues, many on issues of central importance to Google’s bottom line. HIIG also runs a Google-funded journal, with which several Google-funded scholars are affiliated, to publish such research.

The Institute’s reach extends beyond Germany, or even Europe. HIIG previously managed, and still participates, in a global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers [Silicon Valley’s answer to the Confucious Institutes] to coordinate internet policy scholarship. Many are in emerging markets where Google is trying to expand its footprint, such as India and Brazil.

So it must be said that when Google was caught with its hand in the cookie jar on Article 13, that astroturf effort must be viewed as part of a larger Google policy laundering operation that may include influencing elections.  Certainly in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, one cannot simply ignore these dots and all are worthy of investigation for compliance with Europe’s campaign finance laws if nothing else.

For a minority political party representative of one in need of a message in the face of an imminent election, it simply cannot be ignored that garnering the finanical support of Google and Facebook’s astroturf operation for a campaign that directly or indirectly benefits a candidate may be welcome.

Getting Silicon Valley’s billions focused on motiviating the electorate around a particular issue of benefit to such a multinational bloc of monopolists might help motivate voters and guide them to the “right” candidate.  As one of the usual suspects noted:

When the European Commission announced its plans to modernize EU copyright law two years ago, the public barely paid attention. This changed significantly in recent months.

Which was perhaps one of the electoral objects of the astroturf exercise.

Considering that political campaigns in Europe are typically of quite limited duration compared to the US (sometimes as short as 25 days before polling day), coming up with a an issue campaign that a political candidate–especially an incumbent–can leverage to increase their profile has got to be golden–particularly if that campaign may not rise to the level of a restricted political contribution or electioneering has got to be disclosed.

If that issue campaign can draw funding and support from U.S. based multinational corporations like Google and Facebook leveraging their user networks and advertising clout, all the better for a vulnerable candidate.

Because in the end, what every incumbent wants is another term.  The Pirate Party already faces declining relevance and may lose the one seat they have in the European Parliament elections in a few months time.  Especially if the the Pirate Party already struggles to field a winner.  Faced with such an existential threat, who knows what compromises may get made and who knows what in-kind donations may surface.

Undisclosed compromises and in-kind donations.

Hey Alexa, Regift Yourself: Google Overtakes Amazon in Biometric Data Acquisition Tools — Artist Rights Watch

August 20, 2018 Comments off

google2.png

According to the Canalys research outfit, Google has taken the lead over Amazon for the first time in the acquisition of biometric identifying data–aka “smart speakers”.  It should come as no surprise that Google is vastly more interested in acquiring “phonemes” by which to identify users and track them through a variety of means.

The “smart speaker” is the latest step in government contractor Google’s long running campaign to track users and build speech-to-text and speech recognition tools.

The program goes back to at least 2007 when Marissa Meyer said of “GOOG-411”:

The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that.

So who do you think the customers are for speech-to-text and speech recognition tools to whom government contractors like Google and Amazon might be selling your biometric data?  The biometrics harvesting tools allows Big Tech to connect your voice print and maybe your fingerprints to all the other data that they have already harvested about you from other means.  And of course when you add in facial recognition or iris recognition it’s game, set and match.

Think about that when you enable your fingerprint, iris or facial recognition authentication or talk to Alexa or your Google Home Mini.   Or you could just ask the Shoe Gazer at the Internet Association.

“Hey Alexa, re-gift yourself.”

 

Facebook’s Campbell Brown Demonstrates the Ontological Smugness of the Ship Jumper

August 15, 2018 Comments off

Emporer zuck

We’ve all experienced the sneering smugness of the executives at YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Amazon looking down their noses at artists and labels (especially independents).  (Never a problem with Apple in my experience, by the way, gee I wonder why.)

But the ontological definition of smugness is often found in the smuggest of the smug–former executives from a business in one of the copyright categories who quisling their way into a job defending surveillance capitalism at one of the big social networks.  There is no better example than Campbell Brown.  Yes, that Campbell Brown, formerly of CNN.

Ms. Brown, you see, is now Facebook’s “global head of news partnerships” or something like that.  She’s the one that Facebook sends out to try to convince news organizations that Mark Zuckerberg isn’t out to destroy or at least censor them and their readers.

750px-zuck_xijinping

According to multiple reports, in The Australian, The Sun, The Guardian and others, Ms. Brown is quoted as telling a group of Australian news media executives (this from Olivia Solon in The Guardian):

“We will help you revitalise journalism … in a few years the reverse looks like I’ll be holding your hands with your dying business like in a hospice,” she said, in comments corroborated by five people who attended the meeting in Sydney on Tuesday.

Now ask yourself this–how many times have you heard this exact kind of thing coming from Big Tech executives?  I know I’ve been hearing it since at least 1999 if not before.  That stuff is really, really getting old.

But wait, there’s more of the same.

During the four-hour meeting, Brown also talked about the company’s decision to prioritise personal posts from family and friends over journalistic content within the news feed. The move has hit some publishers who rely heavily on referrals from Facebook hard.

“We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals anymore. That is the old world and there is no going back – Mark wouldn’t agree to this,” said Brown.

Of course, the real problem is that because of a variety of safe harbors, it is difficult for news organizations to cut off “journalistic content” from Facebook altogether which is exactly what they richly deserve.  If you’re going to the hospice anyway, wouldn’t you rather go to that big news conference in the sky on your feet than on your knees?

And here’s the height of smugness from Ms. Brown:

The Australian also reported that Brown said that Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, “doesn’t care about publishers but is giving me a lot of leeway and concessions to make these changes”, although both Facebook and Brown vehemently deny this comment was made, referring to a transcript they have from the meeting.

Facebook would not release the transcript from the meeting.

Of course they wouldn’t.  They have all the data in the world that they sell to anyone with a pulse, but they’re not going to release that transcript.  Presumably this is on the advice of Facebook’s soon-to-be-departed general counsel, the eponymous Mr. Stretch, he of the Dickensian name.

The upshot of the story would appear to be self-aggrandizement by Campbell Brown–who many would have thought better of–that your business is dying unless you deal with me because Mr. Big is too big for you but has deputized me to throw you some scraps.

Even though Ms. Brown and Facebook deny the event ever happened that way, I have to say that it all rings very true to me.  I think it will ring true to anyone who has dealt with those who jump ship but then go sell themselves based on their past work experience to a buffoon like Zuckerberg (who kowtows like Bozo to authoritarian regimes, literally).  Amazing what a few stock options will do to elevate one’s opinion of oneself.

All that’s missing is for the journalist trades to hail Ms. Brown’s expertise and deal making ability simply because she was once a passenger on the ship she jumped from.  That would complete the ontological smugness of it all.

 

 

 

 

Factiness EU Style: A Dedicated Group of Like Minded People Carpet Bombs The European Parliament

July 17, 2018 Comments off

ALEX

Viddy well, little brother. Viddy well.

from A Clockwork Orange, written by Stanley Kubrick based on the novel by Anthony Burgess

As we noted in Fair Copyright Canada and 100,000 Voters Who Don’t Exist back in 2009, the legitimate desire by governments to use the Internet to engage with the governed is to be admired.  But there have been incredible and probably illegal uses of the Internet to overwhelm elected officials with faux communications that reek of Google-style misinformation and central planning in the hive mind of the Googleplex.

We saw this again with the Article 13 vote in Europe last week with what clearly seems to be a Google-backed attack on the European Parliament for the purpose of policy intimidation.  That’s right–an American-based multinational corporation is trying to intimidate the very same European government that is currently investigating them for anticompetitive behavior and is staring down a multi-billion dollar fine.

Vindictive much?

Advocacy against Google’s interests on artist rights and copyright issues (not to mention human trafficking, advertising illegal drugs and counterfeit goods) can no longer be just about making a good argument to policy makers.  It has to anticipate that Google will pull these DDOS-type stunts capitalizing on what seems to be the element of surprise.

Except there shouldn’t be any surprise.

There is a real problem with policy-by-DDOS governing.  For example, Cass Sunstein, then the Administrator of the Obama Office of Management and Budget, issued a memo in 2010 to the heads of executive branch departments and regulatory agencies which dealt with the use of social media and web-based interactive technologies.

Specifically, the Sunstein memo warned that “[b]ecause, in general, the results of online rankings, ratings, and tagging (e.g., number of votes or top rank) are not statistically generalizable, they should not be used as the basis for policy or planning.”  Sunstein called for exercising caution with public consultations:

To engage the public, Federal agencies are expanding their use of social media and web- based interactive technologies. For example, agencies are increasingly using web-based technologies, such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, as a means of “publishing” solicitations for public comment and for conducting virtual public meetings.

The European Parliament would do well to take a page from Sunstein’s thinking and limit the amount of anonymous contact that anyone can have with MEPs when the European Parliament is suffering a DDOS-style attack.

But the most important thing for the European Commission to take into account is that a company that is the target of multiple investigations is using the very market place monopoly that caused the competition investigations to intimidate the European government into bending to its will on Article 13.  (That, of course, is the biggest difference between the Europeans and Article 13 and the Americans and SOPA–the US government had dropped the US antitrust investigation into Google and it had unparalleled access to the White House.  So the two are really nothing alike at all.)

The European Commission needs to launch a full-blown criminal investigation into exactly what happened on Article 13, particularly since there is another vote on the same subject coming in September.  Properly authorized law enforcement acting swiftly can set sufficient digital snares to track the next attack which surely is coming while they forensically try to figure out what happened.

Advocates need to understand that Google is a deadly force and this is the endless war.  Good arguments are clearly not enough anymore, particularly as long as the government and law enforcement do nothing to protect democratic values from bully boy tactics.

Are Data Centers The New Cornhusker Kickback and the Facebook Fakeout?

July 9, 2018 Comments off

In case you were scratching your head about why Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse decided to stick his beak into trying to continue discrimination against recording artists who had the misfortune to record before 1972–here’s a possible explanation.  Maybe he was just getting his beak wet?

Remember, Senator Sasse introduced an amendment to the Music Modernization Act in the dead of night the day before the markup of MMA in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  While Senator Ron Wyden–another data center beneficiary of Amazon, Facebook and Google–was at least trying to dress up his complicity in a Chanel suit and Louboutin shoes.  Senator Sasse went the more direct route:

Sasse Amendement

Now why might he be so interested, particuarly given Nebraska’s musical history?  It turns out that there is quite the competition between Nebraska and Iowa for Silicon Valley’s data center business, particularly given the rewewable energy profile of each state (wind is 37% of Iowa’s electricity production and about 20% of Nebraska (including hydro).  That checks the box for Silicon Valley.

Of course, as we see from Senator Sasse’s tone deaf foray into copyright lobbying, Silicon Valley thinks they can play the rubes in return for building data centers in their state, just like they did with Senator Ron Wyden and the people of Oregon.  What does stiffing pre-72 artists have to do with data centers?  Nothing.  What does it have to do with playing footsie with royalty deadbeats like Google and Facebook?

Everything.

And rumor has it that there is a deal in the wings for a new Google data center in Nebraska.  Which also explains a lot.

But somehow, Facebook knows that its Silicon Valleyness may not be that popular with the rubes.

According to Data Center Dynamics, Facebook has been going to great lengths to hide its involvement in massive data centers being built in Nebraska, which gives “Cornhusker Kickback” a whole new meaning:

Operating under the alias Raven Northbrook, Facebook has its eyes on Nebraska, DCDcan exclusively reveal

Late last year, local council officials granted approval for a large data center project in Sarpy County, Nebraska, but the company behind the huge facility was kept a secret.

Now, DCD can confirm that the corporation hoping to build four 610,000 square foot (56,670 sq m) data center halls at the Sarpy Power Park is Facebook.

You can run servers, but you cannot hide them

SHOW FULLSCREEN

Raven Northbrook, certificate of authority, Facebook

Source: Nebraska Secretary of State

Sarpy County documents reveal that the company, which is publicly represented by infrastructure engineering and design solutions company Olsson Associates, goes by the name Raven Northbrook.

Read the post on Data Center Dynamics

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