Archive for the 'Google' Category

The military-information complex, updated

[link] Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

In my Observer column last Sunday I contrasted the old military-industrial complex that so worried President Eisenhower with the emerging military-information complex (the core of which consists of the four Internet giants: Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft). What I should have guessed is that the two complexes are beginning to merge.

Consider, for example, this interesting Pando Daily piece by Yasha Levine, which says, in part:

Last week, I detailed how Google does much more than simply provide us civvies with email and search apps. It sells its tech to enhance the surveillance operations of the biggest and most powerful intel agencies in the world: NSA, FBI, CIA, DEA and NGA — the whole murky alphabet soup.

In some cases — like the company’s dealings with the NSA and its sister agency, the NGA — Google deals with government agencies directly. But in recent years, Google has increasingly taken the role of subcontractor: selling its wares to military and intelligence agencies by partnering with established military contractors. It’s a very deliberate strategy on Google’s part, allowing it to more effectively sink its hooks into the nepotistic, old boy government networks of America’s military-intelligence-industrial complex.

Over the past decade, Google Federal (as the company’s D.C. operation is called) has partnered up with old school establishment military contractors like Lockheed Martin, as well as smaller boutique outfits — including one closely connected to the CIA and former mercenary firm, Blackwater.

This approach began around 2006.

Around that time, Google Federal began beefing up its lobbying muscle and hiring sales reps with military/intelligence/contractor work experience — including at least one person, enterprise manager Jim Young, who used to work for the CIA. The company then began making the rounds, seeking out partnerships with with established military contractors. The goal was to use their deep connections to the military-industrial complex to hard sell Google technology.

Don’t you just love that corporate moniker: Google Federal! So now we have a tripartite complex: military-industrial-information.

The antisocial side of geek elitism

[link] Sunday, January 12th, 2014

This morning’s Observer column.

Just under a year ago, Rebecca Solnit, a writer living in San Francisco, wrote a sobering piece in the London Review of Books about the Google Bus, which she viewed as a proxy for the technology industry just down the peninsula in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Cupertino.

“The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening,” she wrote, “but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the brightly lit funky orange public buses wait behind them. The luxury coach passengers ride for free and many take out their laptops and begin their work day on board; there is of course Wi-Fi. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.”

Google’s robotics drive

[link] Sunday, December 29th, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

You may not have noticed it, but over the past year Google has bought eight robotics companies. Its most recent acquisition is an outfit called Boston Dynamics, which makes the nearest thing to a mechanical mule that you are ever likely to see. It’s called Big Dog and it walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. It’s the size of a large dog or small mule – about 3ft long, 2ft 6in tall, weighs 240lbs, has four legs that are articulated like an animal’s, runs at 4mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs muddy hiking trails, walks in snow and water, carries a 340lb load, can toss breeze blocks and can recover its balance when walking on ice after absorbing a hefty sideways kick.

You don’t believe me? Well, just head over to YouTube and search for “Boston Dynamics”. There, you will find not only a fascinating video of Big Dog in action, but also confirmation that its maker has a menagerie of mechanical beasts, some of them humanoid in form, others resembling predatory animals. And you will not be surprised to learn that most have been developed on military contracts, including some issued by Darpa, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, the outfit that originally funded the development of the internet.

Should we be concerned about this? Yes, but not in the way you might first think…

Read on…

Google vs Apple: a contrast

[link] Sunday, December 15th, 2013

In the last year, Google has bought just about every small company (i.e. eight companies) doing interesting work in robotics — including Boston Dynamics, whose creature is shown in this video.

In the same period, Apple has, er, instituted a share-buyback program and brought out some incrementally-improved products.

So here’s my question (which is prompted by something Jason Calcanis said): which company is focussed on the distant future? The obvious inference seems to be that Apple can’t think of anything really radical to do with its mountain of cash.

UPDATE: Charles Arthur points out that, according to Wikipedia, Apple acquired ten companies in 2013, of which three are involved in mapping and two in semiconductors. So maybe they are up to something.

Google Books: fair use

[link] Thursday, November 14th, 2013


“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”

Judge Chin’s judgment in Authors Guild v. Google, p.26.

Forbes has a useful commentary on the decision.

Wear Google Glass while driving, get booked by cops

[link] Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Yep. Here’s the gist from The Inquirer:

We contacted the Metropolitan Poice, where chief constable Suzette Davenport, National Policing Lead for Roads Policing, said, “Regulation 109 of the Construction and Use (motor vehicle) Regulations makes it an offence to drive a motor vehicle on a road if the driver can see whether directly or by reflection any cinematographic apparatus used to display anything other than information about the state of vehicle, to assist the driver to see the road ahead or adjacent to him/her or to navigate to his/her destination.”

So the message is fairly clear. It’s no to driving while wearing Google Glass eyewear.

She also added, “Those who breach the regulations face prosecutions.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport told us that, at present, because no legislation exists regarding Google Glass, it is up to the police to interpret the existing laws as they see fit, however its position is that it sees Google Glass as a “significant threat” to road safety.

The spokesman said, “Drivers must give their full attention to the road, which is why it has been illegal since the 1980s to view a screen whilst driving, unless that screen is displaying driving information.

“There are no plans to change this and we have met with Google to discuss the implications of the current law for Google Glass. Google are anxious their products do not to pose a road safety risk and are currently considering options to allow the technology to be used in accordance with the law.”

Nailing the Google mindset

[link] Saturday, October 12th, 2013

I’m reading The Circle, Dave Eggers’s terrific new novel. The blurb describes it thus:

Set in an undefined future time, The Circle is the story of Mae Holland, a young woman hired to work for the world’s most powerful internet company. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle has subsumed all the tech companies we know of now, linking users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency.

Everything about the fictional company, as described by Eggers, screams “Google”. But in an interview on McSweeney’s he denies that it’s modelled on any particular company:

Q: Is this book about Google or Facebook or any particular company?

No, no. The book takes place after a company called the Circle has subsumed all the big tech companies around today. The Circle has streamlined search and social media into one system and that’s enabled it to grow very quickly in size and power.

Q: The campus described is so vivid. People will assume you’ve been to all the Silicon Valley tech campuses, especially Google.

There was a point where I thought I should tour some of the tech campuses, but because I wanted this book to be free of any real-life corollaries, I decided not to. I’ve never been to Google, or Facebook or Twitter or any other internet campus, actually. I didn’t interview any employees of any of these companies, either, and didn’t read any books about them. I didn’t want to be influenced by any one extant company or any actual people. But I’ve been living in the Bay Area for most of the last twenty years, so I’ve been very close to it all for a long time.

Well, if he hasn’t been to Google, then he’s clearly a fantastically intuitive writer because he seems to me to have nailed the creepy zeitgeist that pervades these tech companies. As in this passage:

Mae knew that she never wanted to work – never wanted to be – anywhere else. Her hometown, and the rest of California, the rest of America, seemed like some chaotic mess in the developing world. Outside the walls of the Circle, all was noise and struggle. But here, all had been perfected. The best people had made the best systems and the best systems had reaped funds, unlimited funds, that made possible this, the best place to work. And it was natural that it was so, Mae thought. Who else but utopians could make utopia?

Spot on. This is IMHO a terrific, bitingly satirical, perceptive novel — though not everybody agrees with me about that.

Google and the dim future of Search Engine Optimisation

[link] Monday, September 30th, 2013

Since late 2011, Google has been gradually encrypting more and more of the keywords people use when searching for something. The company started with the searches conducted by users who were logged into Google products. It has now added searches conducted from Firefox, Safari, iOS and other devices. And the company has said that it’s moving towards the position where all search queries will be encrypted.


What that means is that web masters will eventually have no idea what keywords bring up their site as a result of a Google search. And this in turn means that the prospects of the existing SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) industry seem to have suddenly, er, dimmed.

Some people are blaming Edward Snowden for this, on the grounds that his disclosures strengthened Google’s resolve to protect their users’ searches from the prying eyes of the NSA. This seems unreasonable, if only because Google embarked on this strategy long before anyone had heard of Snowden. It’s doing this for its own commercial reasons. The fact that it helps to defend us from NSA snooping is just a bonus.

If Big Data is “the new oil” then we’re the wells

[link] Sunday, September 1st, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Should you be looking for an example of hucksterish cynicism, then the mantra that “data is the new oil” is as good as they come. Although its first recorded utterance goes as far back as 2006, in recent times it has achieved the status of an approved corporate cliche, though nowadays “data” is generally qualified by the adjective “big”. And if you want a measure of how deeply the cliche has penetrated the collective unconscious, ponder this: a Google search for “big data” turns up more than 1.5bn results. And a search for “data mining” turns up 167m results.

The idea of big data as a metaphor for oil is seductive. It’s also revealing in interesting ways. Given that the oil business is one of the biggest industries in the history of the world, for example, the metaphor hints at untold future riches. But it conveniently skates over the fact that oil wealth overwhelmingly benefits either ruling elites in corrupt and/or authoritarian countries, or huge corporations in democratic states.

But at least oil is a physical, non-renewable resource that is extracted from the earth. Big data, on the other hand, is extracted from the activities of people and machines…

The Snowden effect (contd.)

[link] Saturday, August 17th, 2013

The Snowden effect continues. And affects not just companies getting nervous of the US cloud, but alsop, apparently, American internet users. Which in due course will affect US advertisers.

In the days after one of the most damning intelligence leaks since the birth of the Internet, polls were showing that average Americans felt sort of “meh” about the whole NSA-monitoring-our-calls-Skype-emails thing. But according to a new analysis from Annalect, a digital data and analytics firm, two months of ongoing discussion about online privacy have actually had major impacts on consumer behavior. Online consumers, riled by political sentiments or not, are changing their privacy and tracking settings–and if the trend continues, the advertising industry could be dinged in a significant way.

On June 10, nearly four days after journalist Glenn Greenwald published the Snowden scoop in the Guardian, a Washington Post-Pew Research Center Poll found that 56% of Americans felt that NSA monitoring was a-okay. In fact, government monitoring could go even further, 45% said, if it prevented terrorist attacks. Seven weeks later, the Annalect study, which began as a longitudinal investigation into consumer awareness of online privacy in early 2013 (before the Snowden kerfuffle), shows that collective sentiment may have shifted–consumer concern about online privacy actually jumped from 48% to 57% between June and July.

“This jump is largely from unconcerned Internet users becoming concerned–not from the normal vacillation found among neutral Internet users,” researchers wrote.