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Must Read: @realrobcopeland: Google’s ‘Project Nightingale’ Gathers Personal Health Data on Millions of Americans

November 13, 2019 Leave a comment

Wall Street Journal reporter Rob Copeland has unearthed another Google data scraping scandal, this time your private health information.  As usual, Google doesn’t want you to focus on how they use this data in the background for data profiling in ways that you don’t know is happening and that you were never asked to consent to.

The scandal isn’t that it’s illegal, the scandal is that it isn’t illegal.  Yet.

Remember that where Google gets into trouble is not necessarily because of what you can see, it’s what they do with the data that you can’t see.  For example, Google uses Google Books as a corpus to teach their translation algorithm in the background through a process of machine learning.  That was what the Google Books case was about–not the “Digital Library of Alexandria” BS.

Just like many Google products, the company uses the old head fake to get you thinking the deal is about one thing, but it’s actually about something else you wouldn’t like.

 

 

 

 

Dirty Data: Google’s Embarrassing #ClimateStrike Charm Offensive is a Lesson in Propaganda

September 22, 2019 Comments off

As any journalist can tell you (probably off the record), Google’s press police hammers the message of the day very aggressively.  We have a perfect example of those Googlely antics with their latest charm offensive on new data centers in Europe.

Here’s the headline from The Street, which is very likely actual reporting on the story:

thestreet google data centers in EU

Not a word in the story about “clean” anything, probably because the reporters know better and are probably insulated from Google’s press police.

But–here’s the same story from TechCrunch:

techcrunch google eu datacenters.png

This TechCrunch headline ran over a huge photo of wind turbines–which has little to do with the story which is not about wind farms but about data farms.  Data farms that hog huge amounts of electricity.

us-data-center-power-consumption

Google typically requires a state–or in the EU’s case a nation–to provide a mix of energy sources, about 1/3 of which Google would like to derive from “green” sources.  But not all.  However, the TechCrunch story makes it sound like the whole point of the data centers isn’t to hog electricity and crowd out local power users but instead for Google to somehow “answer the call” by climate strikers by doing something Google would have done anyway–when Google KNOW they are burdening the local power grid.

Google announced today that it was investing €3 billion (approximately US$3.3 billion) to expand its data center presence in Europe. What’s more, the company pledged the data centers would be environmentally friendly….

It’s obviously not a coincidence that the company is making an announcement related to clean energy on Global Climate Strike Day, a day when people from around the world are walking out of schools and off their jobs to encourage world leaders and businesses to take action on the climate crisis. Google is attempting to answer the call with these announcements.

Source: HPC Wire

 

It has been baffling to me how the Green New Deal proponents haven’t focused on Google as a major polluter and electricity hog.  YouTube alone snorts down about as much power as it takes to operate the city of Cincinnati every day–if not more.  It’s hard to get straight answers about Google’s power needs.  And then there’s Facebook.
Data Centers

It should not be lost on anyone that Google and Facebook gain major political clout from placing data centers in states or European countries.  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.

lux-research-data-centers-electricity-use

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 Green New Deal):

Google co2 1

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

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.

So when Google says they’re spending $3.3 billion on data centers in Europe, don’t think for a minute that the “call” they are answering is anything except the call for more profits and political clout.

And they will feed you all the propaganda they can to make you believe that they’re just good guys answering the call to save the planet.  Which is bunk.

An Insult to the Heart: Lobbyists Organize Big Tech Rallies in Europe

March 24, 2019 Comments off

The ghost of Edward Bernays walks the streets of the ancient capitols of Europe.  As the man who wrote the book on propaganda (literally) Bernays made a chilling observation:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, the battle for humanity will be fought over the equivocation of “freedom”—the basic human freedom of expression will be coopted by the corporate freedom from regulation to profit from surveillance by machines.  It is the ad-man’s old challenge–make you think something that will kill you is actually good for you.

joecamel

Descendant of Bernays’ “Torches of Freedom” Campaign

In turning the machines loose on the humans who are their product, corporations will use tools that Bernays foreshadowed–but these “men we have never heard of” will be playing with the very foundations of democratic institutions of the nation state.  Who wins this battle is up for grabs right now and nowhere are we seeing this struggle for humanity more clearly rendered than in Europe in the battle over Article 13.

In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

Bernays described Google some 70 years before its time.

google-android-3-gingerbread

The offspring of Joe Camel proudly displayed at the Googleplex

We should understand that the “value gap” that sparked this extraordinary lobbying effort by American multinational corporations to bring Europe to heel was symptomatic of a more fundamental sickness.  That commercial symptom could, and perhaps should, be more readily understood as a “values gap”–the perverse voyeurism of the surveillance capitalists to commoditize all that touched their networks and use artists to lure the humans whose data could be scraped, whose behavior could be monitored and eventually manipulated for even greater profit.

helga google interfere

I’d suggest that is why this struggle in Europe resonates so deeply with artists around the world.  It’s not just the commercial insult.  It’s not the metaphorical Room 101 app where the winning answer is 2+2=5.

It is an insult to humanity.  It is an insult to the heart.

Is YouTube The Lyor Show?

June 21, 2018 Comments off

MIKE

Christof, let me ask you, why do you think that Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world until now?

CHRISTOF

We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.

from The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol

You’ll hear a lot of trash talk about Lyor Cohen, but credit where it’s due–he gave an interview that interested me about how he sees his role at YouTube.  I actually think he’s got some old school ideas that may be fundamentally sound, but are not connected to the Google reality.

I submit that his problem is that either he’s getting paid so much money he doesn’t need to be attached to reality or he doesn’t understand that Google does not give a rip about us.  Or maybe it’s a little of both.

Lyor’s main problem is that he either doesn’t understand or chooses to ignore Google’s exploitative business model.  MTP readers will recall a prescient 2008 book review of Nicholas Carr’s The Google Enigma (entitled “Google the Destroyer“), by antitrust scholar Jim DeLong that gives an elegant explanation of Google’s mindset:

Carr’s Google Enigma made a familiar business strategy point: companies that provide one component of a system love to commoditize the other components, the complements to their own products, because that leaves more of the value of the total stack available for the commoditizer….Carr noted that Google is unusual because of the large number of products and services that can be complements to the search function, including basic production of content and its distribution, along with anything else that can be used to gather eyeballs for advertising. Google’s incentives to reduce the costs of complements so as to harvest more eyeballs to view advertising are immense….This point is indeed true, and so is an additional point. In most circumstances, the commoditizer’s goal is restrained by knowledge that enough money must be left in the system to support the creation of the complements….

Google is in a different position. Its major complements already exist, and it need not worry in the short term about continuing the flow. For content, we have decades of music and movies that can be digitized and then distributed, with advertising attached. A wealth of other works await digitizing – [music,] books, maps, visual arts, and so on. If these run out, Google and other Internet companies have hit on the concept of user-generated content and social networks, in which the users are sold to each other, with yet more advertising attached.

So, on the whole, Google can continue to do well even if leaves providers of its complements gasping like fish on a beach.

And that was the truth in 2008 and its still true of Google ten years later because that’s their business model.  So when Irving Azoff says of Google that YouTube doesn’t pay artists and songwriters adequately–even the top songwriters in the world who are members of Irving’s Global Music Rights–that’s entirely consistent with the predatory business model Jim DeLong identified.

And when Lyor tries to flatter and deflect his way around Irving’s criticism, he’s missing the point entirely which is not surprising given that he works there.  But it doesn’t change the fact that Irving is right—Google is built on an exploitative business model that depends on using the DMCA safe harbor to undermine basic private property concepts and complete one of the biggest income transfers of all time to the great detriment of artists and songwriters.

MTP readers will also remember my 2007 post, The DMCA is Not an Alibi, now called “the value gap.”  That was the one that really started criticisms that I had a Google problem.  I can’t tell you the number of times that people have come up to me and confessed that they didn’t see what I was driving at until years after.  Not that it matters, but important years were lost when people in positions to marshal resources to combat them simply failed to do so.

Nothing has changed since Jim and I wrote those pieces and nothing will change until there are tectonic shifts in how Google is permitted to operate and the loopholes it relies on.  We’re thankful of the victory in Europe, but as one loophole closes in Europe, another opens in the US through the Music Modernization Act’s inexplicable and likely unconsitutional reachback safe harbor.

In a recent Billboard interview, Lyor said:

“Prior, [YouTube would] make a deal with the industry, go away for a few years and then come back. And that, to me, is where misunderstandings happen,” he explains. “It’s really hard to find an artist and break that artist — I mean, it’s almost impossible. So if Google and YouTube understand how difficult it is, maybe they could think about ways to improve that part of the business….”

How did you alleviate the disconnect between YouTube and the music industry?

Just going back to back with them. Demystifying our intent. Understanding how hard it is to break artists and to go to work on behalf of the creative community and the labels.

I think Lyor is essentially correct in his old school assessment of Google’s “new boss” problem, but he’s treating the wrong symptom.  It’s not that Google doesn’t understand anything, they understand just fine how hard we think it is to break an artist in the music business.  They just don’t care and to the extent they think about it at all, they think that we don’t understand because they think they “break” YouTube “stars” when those “stars” get corporate sponsorships.

And that is because their business model is based on manipulating loopholes and not on “breaking artists,” if “breaking artists” means establishing artists as able to have successful careers apart from YouTube.  And that dependency has become clearer in the years since Jim wrote his “flopping on the beach” post which makes Google’s commoditization even more insidious.

So while we’re happy that the Europeans have seen the light on the “value gap,” the DMCA is still not an alibi–unless the U.S. government continues to fail to address the underlying cause of the new algorithmic Darwinian music business that is gradually asphyxiating artists and songwriters.

And while we can appreciate Lyor’s old school view of his role in the Google Nation, no one should be persuaded that his approach will change anything as long as one of the largest corporations in commercial history is allowed to weaponize the DMCA safe harbor.  The artists Lyor is focused on “helping” aren’t just flopping on any beach, they are flopping on Google’s beach, one way or another.

Big Tech Going to Capitol Hill to Explain How they Profit from Terror

January 17, 2018 Comments off

Facebook’s Monika Bickert, YouTube’s Juniper Downs and Twitter’s Carlos Monje will testify today at the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee to explain how their company’s profit from terror groups using their platforms.  The hearing, Terrorism and Social Media: #IsBigTechDoingEnough? at 10 am ET today.

As Ranking Member Senator Bill Nelson noted, the hearing is the first time that all three of Facebook, Google and Twitter have deigned to appear before the Commerce Committee at the same time:

[T]heir appearance is long overdue.  These social media platforms – and those of many other smaller companies – have revolutionized the way Americans communicate, connect and share information.

But, at the same time, these platforms have created a new – and stunningly effective – way for nefarious actors to attack and harm our citizens and our nation.  Frankly, it is startling that today, a terrorist can be radicalized and trained to conduct attacks all through social media.  And then a terrorist cell can activate that individual to conduct an attack through the internet – creating in effect a terrorist drone controlled by social media.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what their companies are doing to make sure their platforms are not being exploited and manipulated by terrorists and criminals.

Using social media to radicalize and influence users is not limited to extremists.  Nation states, too, are exploiting social media vulnerabilities to conduct campaigns against this nation and interfere with our democracy.

We know that Russian hackers—at Vladimir Putin’s direction—attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election through cyberattacks and spreading propaganda and disinformation through paid social media trolls and botnets on Facebook and Twitter.

And, we also know that Putin is likely to do it again.

In its January 6, 2017 assessment, the U.S. intelligence community said that Putin and his intelligence services see the election influence campaign as a success and will seek to influence future elections, right here in the United States, and abroad.

This should be a wake-up call to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and to all Americans, regardless of party. This was an attack on the very foundation of American democracy and we must do everything in our power to see that it never happens again.

It would be interesting if Senator Nelson could ask Facebook, Google and Twitter if they could run a quick tape to tell the people how much they made, give or take, on selling ads against terror recruiting videos.

 

 

Must Read from @schneidermaria: Thoughts on “Net Neutrality” From Down Here in the Coal Mine – Guest Post Maria Schneider

December 6, 2017 Comments off

Maria Schneider is a 5-time GRAMMY-winning composer/bandleader in jazz, classical and for her work with David Bowie. An outspoken advocate for the rights of musicians, she has testified before Congress, and teaches and performs throughout the world. 

When Google really really wants something, it’s a marvel to watch how it hides its own greedy motives, while using surrogate groups, political polarization, and their own power over information networks to whip up a national outcry – all as Google feigns concern for the “public good.” Google has now orchestrated just such a public outcry over the vague phrase “net neutrality.” It’s a phrase that has most of us, including John Oliver (see John Oliver’s piece), biting hook, line, and sinker. I smell something rotten.  As musicians, we’re the canaries in the proverbial coal mine. We’ve long been taken on this ride by the world’s biggest data lord, and we’ve developed a keen nose. We’ve been coughing up blood down in this damn mine for too long to not take notice when new wafts of rotten stench make their way down here – especially when we look up the dark shaft and see rainbows spelling the word “Google” beneath radiant blue skies.

So I figured it was time to dig into this phrase “net neutrality” and see what it’s all about. And sure enough, as I’ll explain below, this appears as just another typical Google scam where they systematically create mass hysteria that the little guy is going to somehow be hosed. I’m afraid to say, the public is being duped.

Read the post on The Trichordist:  Thoughts on “Net Neutrality” From Down Here in the Coal Mine – Guest Post Maria Schneider — The Trichordist

The Information’s Expose on Google’s Hostile Work Environment is a Cry for Corporate Reform

December 1, 2017 2 comments

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story by George Orwell

The Information has conducted an extensive review of Google’s apparently hostile work environment and one thing is clear–all the stories we heard about Google’s headman, Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt really have had the predictably corrosive effect.

The romantic relationships within the walls of Google made ideal fodder for gossip columns and magazine profiles.

Co-founder Larry Page dated Google lieutenant Marissa Mayer in the company’s early days, and co-founder Sergey Brin later drew attention for dating Amanda Rosenberg, a younger colleague. CEO Eric Schmidt dated publicist Marcy Simon when she did work for Google. The stories had sex, money and power against a backdrop of one of the world’s largest tech empires. It was like something out of a rebooted soap opera—Dynasty 2.0.

But an examination by The Information found that those interoffice relationships, and others featuring some of the company’s top leaders, have for years been a flashpoint of frustration and anger among Google’s employees. The relationships often violated at least the spirit of a company policy that prohibits superiors from secretly dating subordinates. But employees noted that there had been no apparent repercussions for the powerful, mostly male, leaders who had such relationships.

As a result, many Google employees expressed the opinion that the company’s culture appears to tolerate, or even endorse, such workplace relationships. In interviews with nearly 40 current and former Google employees, many said the issue had tainted the perception of women who earn promotions, created uncomfortable encounters at off-site events and had raised concerns over whether human resources would address inappropriate conduct. Some described their own experiences with sexual harassment at the company.

And it goes on from there.  While you may ask, where was the board, the Google board of directors was actually exactly where Uncle Sugar wanted them to be:  In the words of the Rolling Stones’ classic, under his thumb.

of-all-the-ceos-google-interviewed-eric-schmidt-was-the-only-one-that-had-been-to-burning-man-which-was-a-major-plus

Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt at Burning Man

The Roman dictator Sulla is credited with originating the practice of decimatus from which we derive the word “decimation”.  The practice was military in origin and was a punishment meted on a Roman cohort often for the dishonor of the unit such as mutiny or abandoning the line.  The cohort (about 500 men) was divided into groups of 10 and each group drew lots to identify a single soldier to be killed by the others, usually clubbed to death.

Google practices a kind of reverse decimation as the three Google insiders Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergei Brin are the only Google stockholders who are allowed to hold a class of stock that gives them 10 votes for each share.  And extending the Roman motif, holding this 10:1 voting power over other Google stockholders affords them a kind of co-emperor status–for you Roman Empire fans, think Diocletian and Maximian.  I guess you could say that Schmidt is the senior co-emperor and Page and Brin are the junior co-emperors.

But co-emperors they are indeed with a 10:1 power to decimate the lesser stockholders who dare challenge them.

The futility of stockholder votes at Google is obvious at Google stockholder meetings where ordinary stockholders are routinely decimated by the 10:1 voting power of the co-emperors.  The predictable results of the voting are often announced by David Drummond, the company’s head lawyer, who is himself implicated in The Information’s report.

So when you are reading The Information’s report on the internal workings of Google, just remember that not only were the employees captive to the Google culture, the perpetrators also had complete control of their board of directors.  In addition to the other takeaways from this sorry episode, it should be obvious that not only should Google be broken up, but the Google method of insider control needs to be thoroughly investigated.

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