Brave’s non-tracking search engine is now in beta

Pro-privacy browser Brave, which has been testing its own brand search engine for several months — operating a waitlist where brave (ha!) early adopters could kick the tyres of an upstart alternative in Internet search — has now launched the tool, Brave Search, in global beta.

Users interested in checking out Brave’s non-tracking search engine, which is built on top of an independent index and touted as a privacy-safe alternative to surveillance tech products like Google search, will find it via Brave’s desktop and mobile browsers. It can also be reached from other browsers via search.brave.com — so doesn’t require switching to Brave’s browser to use.

Brave Search is being offered as one of multiple search options that users of the company’s eponymous browser can pick from (including Google’s search engine). But Brave says it will make it the default search in its browser later this year.

As we reported back in March, the company acquired technology and developers who had previously worked on Cliqz, a European anti-tracking search-browser combo which closed down in May 2020 — building on a technology they’d started to develop, called Tailcat, to form the basis of the Brave-branded search engine.

The (now beta) search engine has been tested by more than 100,000 “early access users” at this point, per Brave. It’s made this video ad to tout its “all in one” alternative to Google search + Chrome.

The company recently passed 32M monthly active users (up from 25M back in March) for its wider suite of products — which, as well as its flagship pro-privacy browser, includes a news reader (Brave News), and a Firewall+VPN service.

Brave also offers privacy-preserving Brave Ads for businesses wanting to reach its community of privacy-preferring users.

Growing public awareness of surveillance based business models has been building momentum for pro-privacy consumer tech for a number of years. And several players which started out with a strong focus on one particular pro-privacy product (such as a browser, search engine or email) have been expanding into a full suite of products — all under the same non-tracking umbrella.

As well as Brave, there’s the likes of DuckDuckGo — which offers non-tracking search but also a tracker blocker and an email inbox protector tool, among other products, and reckons it now has between 70M-100M users overall; and Proton, the maker of e2e-encrypted email service ProtonMail but also a cloud calendar and file storage as well as a VPN. The latter recently confirmed passing 50M users globally.

There is also Apple itself too, of course — a Big Tech giant that competes with Google and the adtech complex by promising users a privacy premium to drive sales of its hardware and services. (At the start of this year Apple said there are now over 1BN iOS users globally — and over 1.65BN Apple devices.)

Tl;dr: The market for privacy consumer tech is growing.

Still, even Apple doesn’t try to compete against Google search which perhaps underlines the scale of the challenge involved in trying to poach users from the search behemoth. (Albeit, Apple extracts massive payments from Google to preload the latter’s search engine onto iOS devices — which does conflict with (and complicate) its wider, pro-privacy, pro-user promises while also adding a nice revenue boost for Apple… ).

DuckDuckGo has, by contrast, been at the non-tracking search coalface for years — and turning a profit since 2014. Though clearly not in the same profit league as Apple. But, more recently, it’s also taken in rare tranches of external funding as its investors spy growing opportunity for private search.

Other signs of expanding public appetite to protect people’s information from commercial snoopers include the surge of usage for e2e encrypted alternatives to Facebook-owned WhatsApp — such as Signal — which saw a download spike earlier this year, after the advertising giant announced unilateral changes to WhatsApp’s terms of service.

Credible players that have amassed a community of engaged users around a core user privacy promise are well positioned to ride each new wave of privacy interest — and cross sell a suite of consumer products where they’ve been able to expand their utility. Hence Brave believing the time is right for it to dabble in search.

Commenting in a statement, Brendan Eich, CEO and co-founder of Brave, said: “Brave Search is the industry’s most private search engine, as well as the only independent search engine, giving users the control and confidence they seek in alternatives to big tech. Unlike older search engines that track and profile users, and newer search engines that are mostly a skin on older engines and don’t have their own indexes, Brave Search offers a new way to get relevant results with a community-powered index, while guaranteeing privacy. Brave Search fills a clear void in the market today as millions of people have lost trust in the surveillance economy and actively seek solutions to be in control of their data.”

Brave touts its eponymous search offering as having a number of differentiating features vs rivals (including smaller rivals) — such as its own index which it also says gives it independence from other search providers.

Why is having an independent index important? We put that question to Josep M. Pujol, chief of search at Brave, who told us: “There are plenty of incentives for censorship and biases, either by design, or what is even more difficult to combat, unintentional. The problem of search, and how people access the web, is that it is a mono-culture, and everybody knows that while it’s very efficient, it’s also very dangerous. A single disease can kill all the crops. The current landscape is not fail-tolerant, and this is something that even users are becoming aware of. We need more choices, not to replace Google or Bing, but to offer alternatives. More choices will entail more freedom and also get back to real competition, with checks and balances.

“Choice can only be achieved by being independent, as if we do not have our own index, then we are just a layer of paint on top of Google and Bing, unable to change much or anything in the results for users’ queries. Not having your own index, as with certain search engines, gives the impression of choice, but in reality such engine ‘skins’ are the same players as the big-two. Only by building our own index, which is a costly proposition, will we be in a position to offer true choice to the users for the benefit of all, whether they are Brave Search users or not.”

Although, for now, it’s worth noting that Brave is relying on some provision from other search providers — for specific queries and in areas like image search (where, for example, it says it’s currently fetching results from Microsoft-owned Bing) — to ensure its results achieve adequate relevancy.

Elsewhere it also says it’s relying upon anonymized contributions from the community to improve and refine results — and is seeking to live up to wider transparency claims vis-a-vis the search index (which it also claims has “no secret methods or algorithms to bias results”; and for which it will “soon” be offering “community-curated open ranking models to ensure diversity and prevent algorithmic biases and outright censorship”).

In another transparency step Brave is reporting the percentage of users’ queries that are independent by showing what it bills as “the industry’s first search independence metric” — meaning it displays the ratio of results coming exclusively from its own index.

“It is derived privately using the user’s browser as we do not build user profiles,” Brave notes in a press release. “Users can check this aggregate metric to verify the independence of their results and see how results are powered by our own index, or if third-parties are being used for long tail results while we are still in the process of building our index.”

It adds that Brave Search will “typically be answering most queries, reflected by a high independence metric”. Although if you’re performing an image search, for example, you’ll see the the independence metric take a hit (but Brave confirms this will not result in any tracking of users).

“[Transparency] is a key principle at Brave, and there will also be a global independence metric for Brave Search across all searches, which we will make publicly available to show how we are progressing towards complete independence,” it adds.

Example of Brave’s ‘independence metric’ for search results (Image credits: Brave)

On the monetization side, Brave says it will “soon” be offering both a paid ad-free version of search in the future and an ad-supported free version — while still pledging “fully anonymous” search. Though it specifies that it won’t be flipping the ad switch during the early beta phase.

“We will offer options for both ad-free paid search and ad-supported free search later,” it notes. “When we are ready, we will explore bringing private ads with BAT revenue share to search, as we’ve done for Brave user ads.”

Users of the search engine who do not also use Brave’s own browser will be served contextual ads.

“In Brave Search via the browser, strong privacy guarantees for opt-in ads are a norm and a brand value that we uphold,” adds Pujol, confirming that users of its search and browser are likely to get the same type of ad targeting.

Asked about pricing of the forthcoming ad-free version of the search engine he says: “Although we have not finalized the launch date or the price yet, our ad-free paid search will be affordable because we believe search, and access to information, should be available on fair terms for everyone.”

In an interesting recent development in Europe, Google — under pressure from antitrust regulators — has agreed to ditch a pay-to-play auction model for the choice screen it offers regional users of its Android platform, letting them pick a default search engine from list with a number of rivals and its own brand Google search. The move should expand the number of alternative search engines Android users in Europe are exposed to — and could help chip away at some of Google’s search marketshare.

Brave previously told us it would not participate in Google’s paid auction — but Pujol says that if the new model is “truly free to participate” it will likely take part in future.

“Google and free-to-participate seem difficult to believe, given plenty of precedents but if this model is indeed truly free to participate, without contracts or non-disclosure agreements, then we would likely participate,” he says. “After all, Brave Search is open to everyone who would like to use it, and we are open and happy to put Brave Search on any platform.”

“We have localized browsers throughout the European market, so in addition to growth via the Brave browser growing, we intend to grow Brave Search’s usage by marketing our best-in-class privacy on all media that reach prospective users,” he adds.

#advertising-tech, #android, #apple, #brave, #cliqz, #computing, #duckduckgo, #e2e, #europe, #facebook, #google, #google-search, #image-search, #ios-devices, #microsoft, #microsoft-bing, #opera, #privacy, #proton, #search-engine, #search-engines, #software, #tc, #tech-products, #vpn, #web-browser, #web-browsers

0

Google updates its kids online safety curriculum with lessons on gaming, video and more

Google announced today it’s updating and expanding its digital safety and citizenship curriculum called Be Internet Awesome, which is aimed at helping school-aged children learn to navigate the internet responsibly. First introduced four years ago, the curriculum now reaches 30 countries and millions of kids, says Google. In the update rolling out today, Google has added nearly a dozen more lessons for parents and educators that tackle areas like online gaming, search engines, video consumption, online empathy, cyberbullying and more.

The company says it had commissioned the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center to evaluate its existing program, which had last received a significant update back in 2019, when it added lessons that focused on teaching kids to spot disinformation and fake news.

The review found that program did help children in areas like dealing with cyberbullying, online civility and website safety, but recommended improvements in other areas.

Google then partnered with online safety experts like Committee for Children and The Net Safety Collaborative to revise its teaching materials. As a result, it now has lessons tailored to specific age groups and grade levels, and has expanded its array of subjects and set of family resources.

The new lessons include guidance around online gaming, search engines and video consumption, as well as social-emotional learning lessons aimed at helping students address cyberbullying and online harassment.

For example, some of the new lessons discuss search media literacy — meaning, learning how to use search engines like Google’s and evaluating the links and results it returns, as a part of an update to the program’s existing media literacy materials.

Other lessons address issues like practicing empathy online, showing kindness, as well as what to do when you see something upsetting or inappropriate, including cyberbullying.

Concepts related to online gaming are weaved into the new lessons, too, as, today, kids have a lot of their social interactions in online games which often feature ways to interact with other players in real-time and chat.

Here, kids are presented with ideas related to being able to verify an online gamer’s identity — are they really another kid, for example?  The materials also explain what sort of private information should not be shared with people online.

Image Credits: Google

Among the new family resources, the updated curriculum now points parents to the recently launched online hub, families.google, which offers a number of tips and information about tools to help families manage their tech usage.

For example, Google updated its Family Link app that lets parents set controls around what apps can be used and when, and view activity reports on screen time usage. It also rolled out parental control features on YouTube earlier this year, aimed at families with tweens and teens who are too old for a YouTube Kids account, but still too young for an entirely unsupervised experience.

Google says the updated curriculum is available today to parents, families, teachers and educators, via the Be Internet Awesome website.

 

#abuse, #articles, #bullying, #cyberbullying, #digital-media, #google, #google-search, #new-hampshire, #online-games, #online-gaming, #parental-controls, #search-engines, #tc, #university-of-new-hampshire, #youtube

0

Google Seeks to Break Vicious Cycle of Online Slander

In response to Times articles, the search giant is changing its algorithm, part of a major shift in how Google polices harmful content.

#computers-and-the-internet, #cyberharassment, #google-inc, #libel-and-slander, #privacy, #search-engines

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Google ditches pay-to-play Android search choice auction for free version after EU pressure

Google is ditching a massively unpopular auction format that underpins an choice screen it offers in the European Union, it said today. Eligible search providers will be able to freely participate.

The auction model was Google’s ‘remedy’ of choice — following the 2018 EU $5BN antitrust enforcement against Android — but rivals have always maintained it’s anything but fair, as we’ve reported previously (here, here, here, for eg).

The Android choice screen presents users in the region with a selection of search engines to choose as a default at the point of device set up (or factory reset). The offered choices depend on sealed bids made by search engine companies bidding to pay Google to win one of three available slots.

Google’s own search engine is a staple ‘choice’ on the screen regardless of EU market.

The pay-to-play model Google devised is not only loudly hated by smaller search engine players (including those with alternative business models, such as the Ecosia tree-planting search engine), but it been entirely ineffectual at restoring competitive balance in search marketshare so it’s not surprising Google has been forced to ditch it.

The Commission had signalled a change might be coming, with Bloomberg reporting in May remarks by the EU’s competition chief, Margrethe Vesager, that it was “actively working on making” Google’s Android choice screen for search and browser rivals work. So it evidently heard the repeated cries of ‘foul’ and ‘it’s not working, yo!’. And — finally — it acted.

However, framing its own narrative, Google writes that it’s been in “constructive discussions” with EU lawmakers for years about “how to promote even more choice on Android devices, while ensuring that we can continue to invest in, and provide, the Android platform for free for the long term”, as it puts it.

It also seems to be trying to throw some shade/blame back at the EU — writing that it only introduced what it calls a “promotional opportunity” (lol) “in consultation with the Commission”. (Ergo, ‘don’t blame us gov, blame them!’)

In another detail-light paragraph of its blog, Google says it’s now making “some final changes” — including making participation free for “eligible search providers” — after what it describes as “further feedback from the Commission”

“We will also be increasing the number of search providers shown on the screen. These changes will come into effect from September this year on Android devices,” it adds.

The planned changes raise new questions — such as what criteria it will be using to determine eligibility; and will Google’s criteria be transparent or, like the problematic auction, sealed from view? And how many search engines will be presented to users? More than the current four, that’s clear.

Where Google’s own search engine will appear in the list will also be very interesting to see, as well as the criteria for ranking all the options (marketshare? random allocation?).

Google’s blog is mealy mouthed on any/all such detail — but the Commission gave us a pretty good glimpse when we asked (see their comment below).

It still remains to seen whether any other devilish dark pattern design details will appear when we see the full implementation.

But it’s worth noting that it’s not in Google’s gift to claim these changes are “final”. EU regulators are responsible for monitoring antitrust compliance — so if fresh complaints flow they will be duty bound to listen and react.

In one response to Google’s auction U-turn, pro-privacy search player DuckDuckGo was already critical — but more on the scope than the detail.

Founder Gabriel Weinberg pointed out that not only is the switch three years too late but Google should also be applying it across all platforms (desktop and Chrome too), as well as making it seamlessly easy for Android users to switch default, rather than gating the choice screen to set-up and/or factory reset (as we’ve reported before).

Another long-time critic of the auction model, tiny not-for-profit Ecosia, was jubilant that its fight against the search behemonth has finally paid off.

Commenting in a statement, CEO Christian Kroll said: “This is a real life David versus Goliath story — and David has won. This is a momentous day, and a real moment of celebration for Ecosia. We’ve campaigned for fairness in the search engine market for several years, and with this, we have something that resembles a level playing field in the market. Search providers now have a chance to compete more fairly in the Android market, based on the appeal of their product, rather than being shut out by monopolistic behaviour.”

The Commission, meanwhile, confirmed to TechCrunch that it acted after a number of competitors raised concerns over the auction model — with a spokeswoman saying it had “discussed with Google means to improve that choice screen to address those concerns”.

“We welcome the changes introduced by Google to the choice screen. Being included on the choice screen will now be free for rival search providers,” she went on. “In addition, more search providers will be included in the choice screen. Therefore, users will have even more opportunities to choose an alternative.”

The Commission also offered a little more detail of how the choice screen will look come fall, saying that “on almost all devices, five search providers will be immediately visible”.

“They will be selected based on their market share in the user’s country and displayed in a randomised order which ensures that Google will not always be the first. Users will be able to scroll down to see up to seven more search providers, bringing the total search providers displayed in the choice screen to 12.”

“These are positive developments for the implementation of the remedy following our Android decision,” the spokeswoman added.

So it will certainly be very interesting indeed to see whether this Commission-reconfigured much bigger and more open choice screen helps move the regional need on Google’s search engine market share.

Interesting times indeed!

#android, #antitrust, #chrome-os, #competition-law, #duckduckgo, #ecosia, #eu, #europe, #european-union, #gabriel-weinberg, #google, #google-search, #margrethe-vestager, #policy, #search-engine, #search-engines

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India’s ‘Ugliest’ Language? Google’s Answer, Kannada, Drew a Backlash

A Google fact box singled out Kannada, a language spoken in the country’s south. The faux pas highlights the algorithm’s fallibility.

#computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #india, #language-and-languages, #search-engines

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DuckDuckGo presses the case for true ‘one-click’ search competition on Android

When antitrust accusations close in on Google the tech giant loves to fire back a riposte that competition is just “one click away“. It’s a disingenuous retort from an online advertising behemoth whose power and profits stem from its expertise in capturing markets by manipulating and monopolizing Internet users’ attention.

Indeed, the entire brand is arguably a dark pattern.

Behold the child-like colors! The friendly babble of syllables! The tempting freebies! The tall talk of missions and moonshots! And tucked quietly beneath that Googley exterior: The adtech giant tracking Internet users en masse to sell their attention. The business model that makes money through mass surveillance and people profiling.

Google’s ‘other bets’ have always been PR pocket change beside its ads profit machine. The fun stuff is simply how Google primes its people data pump.

So what if Google’s infamous ‘one-click competition’ claim were to actually be made true in the arena of Android search engine choice? A market where Google’s activity is being closely monitored by EU competition regulators — after a 2018 antitrust decision.

Three years ago the tech giant hit with a $5BN penalty and an order to stop using Android (aka its freebie for mobile device makers) to lock in the dominance of its own-brand search engine (and other Google services) on mobile, where its operating system is massively dominant.

It went on to adopt a so-called ‘choice screen’ on Android in the region — which prompts device users to pick a default search engine from a selection of options (Google auctions slots to rivals).

But the choice is more of a one-shot than a dynamic, ongoing possibility to switch the default for Android users — as they are only asked to choose their default choice on set up of a new device or after a factory reset.

“That means, for all practical purposes, if you want to change your default device search engine again easily, you can’t,” writes DuckDuckGo in its latest blog post pushing for reform of Google’s self-serving Android ‘remedy’.

By DDG’s count it takes 15+ clicks (not one) to switch default search engine on an Android device at any other point (i.e. after initial set up or factory reset). And it says it knows “from experience” that this over-15-clicks method “trips up almost everyone”.

“In other words, one click competition becomes in fact ‘one factory reset away’,” it goes on. “The only reasons we can think of for setting up a preference menu this way are anti-competitive ones.”

The pro-privacy search engine has been banging the drum on this point for months (if not years) at this point. Nor is it alone in complaining about Google’s remedy. And complaints aren’t limited to how hard it is to switch search engines at any other point after set-up, either.

Notably, Google’s decision to opt for a ‘pay-to-play’ model by auctioning slots on the choice screen has been widely criticized — with multiple search rivals arguing that an auction isn’t fair and does not result in a level playing field for competition (Google’s own search engine always appears as a choice, of course, and it doesn’t have to pay anyone to appear).

Not-for-profit search engine Ecosia, for example, points out that the auction format essentially discriminates against non-profit search engines, undermining the public good they may be trying to do (in its case it uses ad revenue from search to plant trees to try to help reduce global carbon emissions — so money paid to Google to win the auction means less money it can spend planting trees).

DDG has also been a critic of the paid auction model from the start. But with its latest blog post it told TechCrunch it’s trying to make sure the ‘ease of switching’ issue doesn’t get lost in criticism of the auction.

It continues to argue that multiple components need to be reformed if the choice screen is to have the pro-competition effect EU antirust regulators are seeking.

It’s increasing clear that the current implementation isn’t working for anyone other than Google — which has been able to maintain its grip on the mobile search market, almost three years after the Commission’s antitrust intervention.

Its share of the search engine market on mobile devices has not declined since 2018. Indeed, as of February it was actually up slightly on the marketshare it had when the antitrust ruling was made, per Statista data.

That can’t be what market rebalancing success looks like.

Previously when we’ve put rivals’ criticisms to the Commission it tends to offer a few stock responses — saying it’s monitoring Google’s implementation and is committed to an effective implementation of the 2018 decision — while avoiding engaging with the substance of the criticisms or specific suggestions to fix Google’s remedy.

The Commission reiterated the same lines when we contacted it now about DuckDuckGo’s call for true ‘one-click’ competition on Android by easier default search engine switching.

But there are signs EU regulators may finally be preparing to do something.

Earlier this month Bloomberg reported on comments made by antitrust chief and Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager, who said regulators are “actively working on making” Google’s Android choice screen for search and browser rivals work.

She is also reported to have said that market share “is changing a bit but we’re working on it”.

In additional comments to us, the Commission reiterated that it’s “committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision, saying: “We are therefore monitoring closely the implementation of the choice screen mechanism.”

“We have been discussing the choice screen mechanism with Google, following relevant feedback from the market, in particular in relation to the presentation and mechanics of the choice screen and to the selection mechanism of rival search providers,” it added.

DuckDuckGo declined to go into detail on any chats it’s having with EU regulators on how to reform the choice screen — saying that it can’t comment on discussions with the Commission. But founder Gabriel Weinberg pointed out other jurisdictions are eyeing how to remedy Google’s dominance, adding that “major countries are actively considering search preference menus right now”.

The US Justice Department, meanwhile, filed its antitrust lawsuit against Google last October. And US states are also challenging the tech giant in court.

“We believe a ‘choice screen’ that only appears once at start up will not meaningfully increase market competition or give consumers the freedom and simplicity they deserve to chose Google alternatives,” Weinberg also told us. “On the other hand, a properly designed preference menu gives users true one-click access to making Google competitors the default search on their device, without having to take the absurd step of factory reseting their phone.”

In its blog post, DDG has some plain words of advice for how regulators can beat Google at its own game and prevent it gaming search competition on Android.

“The sensible approach is to give users an easy pathway to the search preference menu by letting them tap a link from a search engine app or website within the default browser (e.g., Chrome). With that simple tap, the user is whisked directly to the search preference menu,” it writes.

“Not allowing competing search engines to easily guide consumers back to the search preference menu is a pretty big dark pattern because it is requiring users to make an important choice when they often aren’t ready to do so, and then not giving them the option to easily change their mind later while using a competing search engine.”

“So, to anyone considering implementing a search preference menu, or drafting regulations covering search preference menus, please ensure that consumers can access it at any time, especially after a consumer has just chosen to use a competing search engine,” it adds. “Functionality that allows competing search engines to guide consumers directly to the preference menu is necessary for consumer empowerment and search market competition.”

#android, #antitrust, #artificial-intelligence, #competition, #duckduckgo, #eu, #europe, #european-union, #gabriel-weinberg, #google, #margrethe-vestager, #mobile-device, #policy, #search-engine, #search-engines

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Verizon Near Deal to Sell Yahoo and AOL

In making the deal with the private equity firm Apollo, Verizon is acknowledging that it couldn’t compete with Google and Facebook for digital ads. Instead, it will concentrate on building a 5G network.

#5g-wireless-communications, #aol-inc, #armstrong-tim, #computers-and-the-internet, #online-advertising, #search-engines, #verizon-communications-inc, #wireless-communications, #yahoo-inc

0

A Global Tipping Point for Reining In Tech Has Arrived

Never before have so many countries, including China, moved with such vigor at the same time to limit the power of a single industry.

#alibaba-group-holding-ltd, #amazon-com-inc, #ant-financial-services-group, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #baidu-inc, #beijing-bytedance-technology-co-ltd, #censorship, #china, #computers-and-the-internet, #data-mining-and-database-marketing, #e-commerce, #europe, #european-commission, #facebook-inc, #law-and-legislation, #lobbying-and-lobbyists, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce-and-payments, #politics-and-government, #privacy, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #rumors-and-misinformation, #search-engines, #social-media, #united-states

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Google Aims to Be the Anti-Amazon of E-Commerce. It Has a Long Way to Go.

Google presents itself to independent sellers as cheaper and less restrictive. But it is not clear whether it can change people’s habits of going straight to Amazon.

#amazon-com-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #e-commerce, #google-inc, #online-advertising, #search-engines, #shopify-inc, #social-media

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Google threatens to close its search engine in Australia as it lobbies against digital news code

Google has threatened to close its search engine in Australia — as it dials up its lobbying against draft legislation that is intended to force it to pay news publishers for reuse of their content.

Facebook would also be subject to the law. And has previously said it would ban news from being shared on its products owing if the law was brought in, as well as claiming it’s reduced its investment in the country as a result of the legislative threat.

“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to Search. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Google warned today.

Last August the tech giant took another pot-shot at the proposal, warning that the quality of its products in the country could suffer and might stop being free if the government proceeded with a push to make the tech giants share ad revenue with media businesses.

Since last summer Google appears to have changed lobbying tack — apparently giving up its attempt to derail the law entirely in favor of trying to reshape it to minimize the financial impact.

Its latest bit of lobbying is focused on trying to eject the most harmful elements (as it sees it) of the draft legislation — while also pushing its News Showcase program, which it hastily spun up last year, as an alternative model for payments to publishers that it would prefer becomes the vehicle for remittances under the Code.

The draft legislation for Australia’s digital news Code which is currently before the parliament includes a controversial requirement that tech giants, Google and Facebook, pay publishers for linking to their content — not merely for displaying snippets of text.

Yet Google has warned Australia that making it pay for “links and snippets” would break how the Internet works.

In a statement to the Senate Economics Committee today, its VP for Australia and New Zealand, Mel Silva, said: “This provision in the Code would set an untenable precedent for our business, and the digital economy. It’s not compatible with how search engines work, or how the internet works, and this is not just Google’s view — it has been cited in many of the submissions received by this Inquiry.

“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to Search. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”

Google is certainly not alone in crying foul over a proposal to require payments for links.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, has warned that the draft legislation “risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online”, among other alarmed submissions to the committee.

In written testimony he goes on:

“Before search engines were effective on the web, following links from one page to another was the only way of finding material. Search engines make that process far more effective, but they can only do so by using the link structure of the web as their principal input. So links are fundamental to the web.

“As I understand it, the proposed code seeks to require selected digital platforms to have to negotiate and possibly pay to make links to news content from a particular group of news providers.

“Requiring a charge for a link on the web blocks an important aspect of the value of web content. To my knowledge, there is no current example of legally requiring payments for links to other content. The ability to link freely — meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees — is fundamental to how the web operates, how it has flourished till present, and how it will continue to grow in decades to come.”

However it’s notable that Berners-Lee’s submission does not mention snippets. Not once. It’s all about links.

Meanwhile Google has just reached an agreement with publishers in France — which they say covers payment for snippets of content.

In the EU, the tech giant is subject to an already reformed copyright directive that extended a neighbouring right for news content to cover reuse of snippets of text. Although the directive does not cover links or “very short extracts”.

In France, Google says it’s only paying for content “beyond links and very short extracts”. But it hasn’t said anything about snippets in that context.

French publishers argue the EU law clearly does cover the not-so-short text snippets that Google typically shows in its News aggregator — pointing out that the directive states the exception should not be interpreted in a way that impacts the effectiveness of neighboring rights. So Google looks like it would have a big French fight on its hands if it tried to deny payments for snippets.

But there’s still everything to play for in Australia. Hence, down under, Google is trying to conflate what are really two separate and distinct issues (payment for links vs payment for snippets) — in the hopes of reducing the financial impact vs what’s already baked into EU law. (Although it’s only been actively enforced in France so far, which is ahead of other EU countries in transposing the directive into national law).

In Australia, Google is also heavily pushing for the Code to “designate News Showcase” (aka the program it launched once the legal writing was on the wall about paying publishers) — lobbying for that to be the vehicle whereby it can reach “commercial agreements to pay Australian news publishers for value”.

Of course a commercial negotiation process is preferable (and familiar) to the tech giant vs being bound by the Code’s proposed “final offer arbitration model” — which Google attacks as having “biased criteria”, and claims subjects it to “unmanageable financial and operational risk”.

“If this is replaced with standard commercial arbitration based on comparable deals, this would incentivise good faith negotiations and ensure we’re held accountable by robust dispute resolution,” Silva also argues.

A third provision the tech giant is really keen gets removed from the current draft requires it to give publishers notification ahead of changes to its algorithms which could affect how their content is discovered.

“The algorithm notification provision could be adjusted to require only reasonable notice about significant actionable changes to Google’s algorithm, to make sure publishers are able to respond to changes that affect them,” it suggests on that.

It’s certainly interesting to consider how, over a few years, Google’s position has moved from ‘we’ll never pay for news’ — pre- any relevant legislation — to ‘please let us pay for licensing news through our proprietary licensing program’ once the EU had passed a directive now being very actively enforced in France (with the help of competition law) and also with Australia moving toward inking a similar law.

Turns out legislation can be a real tech giant mind-changer.

Of course the idea of making anyone pay to link to content online is obviously a terrible idea — and should be dropped.

But if that bit of the draft is a negotiating tactic by Australians lawmakers to get Google to accept that it will have to pay publishers something then it appears to be winning one.

And while Google’s threat to close down its search engine might sound ‘full on’, as Silva suggests, when you consider how many alternative search engines exist it’s hardly the threat it once was.

Especially as plenty of alternative search engines are a lot less abusive toward users’ privacy.

#australia, #google, #legislation, #media, #news, #policy, #search-engines

0

Google Denies Antitrust Claims in Early Response to U.S. Lawsuit

The company said people use its services because they choose to, not because they lack alternatives.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #justice-department, #mehta-amit-p, #search-engines, #suits-and-litigation-civil

0

Google Dominates Thanks to an Unrivaled View of the Web

As regulators seek ways to curb the company’s power, there is more focus on the vast index — hundreds of billion of web pages — behind its search engine.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #duckduckgo, #google-inc, #indexers-and-indexing, #justice-department, #microsoft-corp, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #search-engines

0

Former Salesforce chief scientist announces new search engine to take on Google

Richard Socher, former chief scientist at Salesforce, who helped build the Einstein artificial intelligence platform, is taking on a new challenge — and it’s a doozy. Socher wants to fix consumer search and today he announced you.com, a new search engine to take on the mighty Google.

“We are building you.com. You can already go to it today. And it’s a trusted search engine. We want to work on having more click trust and less clickbait on the internet,” he said. He added that in addition to trust, he wants it to be built on kindness and facts, three worthy but difficult goals to achieve.

He said that there were several major issues that led him and his co-founders to build a new search tool. For starters, he says that there is too much information and nobody can possibly process it all. What’s more, as you find this information, it’s impossible to know what you can trust as accurate, and he believes that issue is having a major impact on society at large. Finally, as we navigate the internet in 2020, the privacy question looms large as is how you balance the convenience-privacy trade-off.

He believes his background in AI can help in a consumer-focused search tool. For starters the search engine, while general in nature, will concentrate on complex consumer purchases where you have to open several tabs to compare information.

“The biggest impact thing we can do in our lives right now is to build a trusted search engine with AI and natural language processing superpowers to help everyone with the various complex decisions of their lives, starting with complex product purchases, but also being general from the get go as well,” he said.

While Socher was light on details, preferring to wait until GA in a couple of months to share some more, he said he wants to differentiate from Google by not relying on advertising and what you know about the user. He said he learned from working with Marc Benioff at Salesforce that you can make money and still build trust with the people buying your product.

He certainly recognizes that it’s tough to take on an entrenched incumbent, but he and his team believe that by building something they believe is fundamentally different, they can undermine the incumbent with a classic “Innovator’s Dilemma” kind of play where they’re doing something that is hard for Google to reproduce without undermining their primary revenue model.

He also sees Google running into antitrust issues moving forward and that could help create an opening for a startup like this. “I think, a lot of stuff that Google [has been doing], I think with the looming antitrust will be somewhat harder for them to get away with on a continued basis,” he said.

He acknowledges that trust and accuracy elements could get tricky as social networks have found out. Socher hinted at some social sharing elements they plan to build into the search tool including allowing you to have your own custom you.com URL with your name to facilitate that sharing.

Socher said he has funding and a team together working actively on the product, but wouldn’t share how much or how many employees at this point. He did say that Benioff and venture capitalist Jim Breyer are primary backers and he would have more information to share in the coming months.

For now, if you’re interested, you can go to the website and sign up for early access.

#artificial-intelligence, #google, #marc-benioff, #privacy, #richard-socher, #salesforce, #salesforce-einstein, #search-engines, #social, #startups, #tc

0

The Children of Pornhub

Why does Canada allow this company to profit off videos of exploitation and assault?

#canada, #child-abuse-and-neglect, #child-pornography, #computers-and-the-internet, #corporate-social-responsibility, #mindgeek, #pornhub, #pornography, #search-engines, #sex, #women-and-girls

0

Apple, Google and a Deal That Controls the Internet

In a landmark antitrust complaint, the Justice Department is targeting a secretive partnership that is worth billions of dollars to both companies.

#alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #cook-timothy-d, #google-inc, #iphone, #jobs-steven-p, #justice-department, #microsoft-corp, #mobile-applications, #online-advertising, #pichai-sundar, #schmidt-eric-e, #search-engines, #smartphones, #suits-and-litigation-civil

0

The Government’s Lawsuit Is Unlikely to Dethrone Google

The federal government’s lawsuit isn’t likely to derail the company’s market dominance.

#android-operating-system, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #consumer-protection, #federal-trade-commission, #google-inc, #justice-department, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #online-advertising, #search-engines, #software, #suits-and-litigation-civil

0

Google Antitrust Fight Thrusts Low-Key C.E.O. Into the Line of Fire

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google’s parent company for less than a year, already faces the internet giant’s biggest threat in its 22 years.

#alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #brin-sergey, #computers-and-the-internet, #gates-bill, #google-inc, #justice-department, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #page-larry, #pichai-sundar, #schmidt-eric-e, #search-engines, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #walker-kent, #wilson-sonsini-goodrichrosati, #youtube-com

0

Google Up Against Laws That Thwarted Microsoft (and Others Since 1890)

The Justice Department’s antitrust case points to restrictive contracts, a focus that a professor said “is as old as the Sherman Act.”

#advertising-and-marketing, #alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #hemphill-scott, #justice-department, #law-and-legislation, #microsoft-corp, #search-engines, #software, #wu-timothy

0

The Google Antitrust Lawsuit Explained

The suit is the first antitrust action against the company to result from investigations by American regulators.

#advertising-and-marketing, #alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #justice-department, #online-advertising, #search-engines, #software, #united-states-politics-and-government

0

Google calls DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit “deeply flawed” in GIF-laden blog response

Google was clearly anticipating today’s U.S. Department of Justice antitrust complaint filing – the company posted an extensive rebuttal of the lawsuit to its Keyword company blog. The post, penned by SVP of Global Affairs and Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker, suggests that the DOJ’s case is “deeply flawed” and “would do nothing to help consumers,” before going into a platform-by-platform description of why it thinks its position in the market isn’t representative of unfair market dominance that would amount to antitrust.

Google’s blog post is even sprinkled with GIFs – something that’s pretty common for the search giant when it comes to its consumer product launches. These GIFs include step-by-step screen recordings of setting search engines other than Google as your default in Chrome on both mobile and desktop. These processes are both described as “trivially easy” by Walker in the post, but they do look like a bit of an own-goal when you notice just how many steps it takes to get the job done on desktop in particular, including what looks like a momentary hesitation in where to click to drill down further for the “Make Default” command.

Image Credits: Google

Google also reportedly makes reference to companies choosing their search engine as default because of the quality of their service, including both Apple and Mozilla (with a link drop for our own Frederic Lardinois). Ultimately, Google is making the argument that its search engine isn’t dominant because of a lack of viable options fostered by anti-competitive practices, but that instead it’s a result of building a quality product that consumers then opt in to using from among a field of choices.

The DOJ’s full suit dropped this morning, and an initial analysis suggests that this scrutiny is perhaps inopportunely timed in terms of its proximity to the election to actually have any significant teeth. There is some indication that a more broad, bipartisan investigation with support from state level attorney generals on both sides of the aisle could follow later, however, so it’s not necessarily all just going to go away regardless of election outcome.

#apple, #chrome-os, #doj, #freeware, #gif, #google, #google-search, #google-chrome, #kent-walker, #mozilla, #operating-systems, #search-engine, #search-engines, #software, #tc, #web-browsers

0

It’s Google’s World. We Just Live In It.

Googling something was all we once did with Google. Now we spend hours a day using its maps, videos, security cameras, email, smartphones and more.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #computers-and-the-internet, #content-type-service, #google-inc, #home-automation-and-smart-homes, #maps, #mobile-applications, #online-advertising, #privacy, #search-engines, #video-recordings-downloads-and-streaming

0

What Is The Google Antitrust Lawsuit?

The suit is the first antitrust action against the company to result from investigations by American regulators.

#advertising-and-marketing, #alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #justice-department, #online-advertising, #search-engines, #software, #united-states-politics-and-government

0

Google Employees Are Free to Speak Up. Except on Antitrust.

A company operating in the shadow of government regulators has some very particular rules about what workers can say about it.

#alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #computers-and-the-internet, #e-mail, #google-inc, #justice-department, #labor-and-jobs, #pichai-sundar, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #search-engines

0

12 Accusations in the Damning House Report on Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google

Lawmakers said they found multiple problems with each of the four giant tech companies.

#amazon-com-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #data-mining-and-database-marketing, #e-commerce, #facebook-inc, #google-inc, #house-of-representatives, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #mobile-applications, #search-engines, #social-media, #software

0

What’s the Deal With Google Now?

Google is facing the possibility of multiple antitrust lawsuits. Here’s why and what’s ahead.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #mobile-applications, #search-engines

0

Justice Dept. Case Against Google Is Said to Focus on Search Dominance

The decision to narrow the case to search could set off separate lawsuits from states over Google’s power in other business segments.

#alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #attorneys-general, #barr-william-p, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #justice-department, #online-advertising, #search-engines, #social-media, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #united-states-politics-and-government

0

This Deal Helped Turn Google Into an Ad Powerhouse. Is That a Problem?

The $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007 was a “game changer.” A growing number of antitrust experts say it’s the sort of deal that should no longer be possible.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #appnexus, #computers-and-the-internet, #doubleclick-inc, #google-inc, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #online-advertising, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #search-engines

0

Justice Dept. Plans to File Antitrust Charges Against Google in Coming Weeks

The attorney general is said to have set a deadline over the objections of career lawyers who say they need more time to build the case.

#alphabet-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #attorneys-general, #barr-william-p, #computers-and-the-internet, #democratic-party, #google-inc, #justice-department, #online-advertising, #republican-party, #search-engines, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-politics-and-government

0

Censys, a search engine for internet devices, raises $15.5M Series A

Internet device search engine Censys is one of the biggest search engines you’ve probably never heard of.

If Google is the search engine for finding information sitting on the web, Censys is the search engine for finding internet devices, like computers, servers, and smart devices, that hosts the data to begin with. By continually mapping the internet looking for connected devices, it’s possible to identify devices that are accessible outside a company’s firewall. The aim is to help companies keep track of which systems can be accessed from the web and know which devices have exploitable security vulnerabilities.

Now, Censys has raised $15.5 million in a Series A fundraise, led by GV and Decibel with participation from Greylock Partners.

David Corcoran, chief executive and co-founder of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based internet security startup, said the company plans to “aggressively” invest in top security talent and plans to double its headcount from about 50 to 100 in the next year, including expanding its sales, engineering, and leadership teams.

“We’re thrilled to have the support of world-class investors as we keep the momentum building and continue to revolutionize how businesses manage their security posture in an ever-changing environment,” said Corcoran.

The fundraise couldn’t come at a more critical time for the company. Censys is not the only internet device search engine, rivaling Binary Edge and Shodan. But Censys says it has spent two years on bettering its internet mapping technology, helping it see more of the internet than it did before.

The new scan engine, built by the same team that developed and maintains its original open-source ZMap scanner, claims to see 44% more devices on the internet than other security companies. That helps companies see new vulnerable systems as soon as the come online, said Censys’ chief scientist Zakir Durumeric.

Censys is one of a number of growing security companies in the Ann Arbor area, alongside NextHop Technologies, Interlink Networks, and Duo Security, co-founded by Dug Song, who also sits on Censys’ board.

“You can’t protect what you can’t see — but in today’s dynamic IT environment, many organizations struggle to find, much less keep track of, every system and application at risk before the attackers do,” said Song. “Censys empowers defenders with the automated visibility they need to truly understand and to get ahead of these risks, enabling even small security teams to have an outsized impact.”

#ann-arbor, #computer-security, #computing, #dug-song, #greylock-partners, #information-age, #michigan, #search-engine, #search-engines, #security, #smart-devices, #startups

0

Google’s “no choice” screen on Android isn’t working, says Ecosia — querying the EU’s approach to antitrust enforcement

Google alternative Ecosia is on a mission to turn search clicks into trees. The Berlin based not-for-profit reached a major milestone earlier this month, having used ad revenue generated by users of its privacy-sensitive search engine to plant more than 100 million trees across 25 countries worldwide — targeted at biodiversity hotspots.

However these good feels have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Ecosia has seen its monthly revenues slashed by half since COVID-19 arrived in Europe, with turnover falling from €2.6M in February to just €1.4M in June. It’s worried that its promise of planting a tree every 0.8 seconds is at risk.

It has also suffered a knock to regional visibility as a result of boycotting an auction process that Android OS maker Google has been running throughout this year, as a response to a 2018 Commission antitrust decision that found the tech giant had violated EU competition rules in how it operates the smartphone platform — including via conditions placed on phone makers to pre-load its own services (like Google search) as device defaults.

An auction process now determines which rival search engines appear on a search ‘choice screen’ Google began showing to Android users in Europe in the wake of the Commission decision. Currently, Google offers three paid slots via the auction to non-Google search engines. Android users setting up a new device always see Google’s own search engine as one of the four total options.

The tech giant’s rivals have consistently argued this ‘pay to play’ model is no remedy for its anti-competitive behavior with Android, the world’s dominant smartphone OS. Although most (including DuckDuckGo) felt forced to participate in its auction process from the get-go. Forgoing the most prominent route to the Android search market isn’t exactly a luxury most businesses could afford.

Ecosia, a not-for-profit, was the last major hold out. But now it says it’s been forced to end its boycott in a bid to remain competitive in the region. This means it will participate in the next auction round for the Android choice screen — scheduled for the beginning of Q4. If it wins any per country slots it will appear as a search choice option to those Android users in future, though likely not til next year given the length of the auction process.

It remains highly critical of Google’s pay-to-play model, arguing it’s no remedy for the antitrust violations identified by the Commission. It also laments that EU lawmakers are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to determining whether Google’s ‘remedy’ is actually restoring competition, given all the evidence to the contrary.

“The main reason why we boycotted the auction is because we think it’s highly unfair and anticompetitive,” says Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll, speaking to TechCrunch via video chat. “Not only do we think that fair competition shouldn’t be sold off in an auction but also the way the auction is designed basically makes sure that only the least interesting options can win.

“Since we have a business model where we use most of our revenues to plant trees we basically can’t really win in an auction model. If you’re already a search engine that’s quite well known… then you have a lot of cannibalization effects through this screen. So we’re basically paying for traffic that we would get for free anyway… So it’s just super unfair and anticompetitive.”

Kroll expresses emphatic surprise that the Commission didn’t immediately reject Google’s auction model for the choice screen — saying it seems as if they’ve learned nothing from the EU’s earlier intervention against Microsoft’s tying of its Internet Explorer browser with its dominant desktop OS, Windows. (In that case the saga ended after Microsoft agreed to implement a ballot screen offering a choice of up to 12 browsers, which paved the road for Google to later gain share with its own Chrome browser.)

For a brief initial period last year Google did offer a fee-less choice screen in Europe, pushing this out to existing Android devices — with search rivals selected based on their market popularity per country (which, in some markets, included Ecosia).

However the tech giant said then that it would be “evolving” its implementation over time. And a few months later an auction model was announced as incoming for new Android devices — with that ‘pay-to-play’ approach kicking off at the start of this year.

Search rivals including DuckDuckGo and Qwant immediately cried foul. Yet the response from the Commission has been to kick the can — with regulators offering platitudes that said they would “closely monitor”. They also claimed to be “committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision”.

However the missing adjective in that statement is ‘fast’. Google rivals would argue that for a remedy to be effective it needs to happen really fast, like now — or, for some of them, the risk really is going out of business. After all, the Commission’s Android antitrust decision (which, yes, Google is appealing) already dates back two full years

“I find it very surprising that the European Commission hasn’t rejected [Google’s auction model] from the start because some of the key principles from what made the choice screen successful in the Microsoft case have just been completely disregarded and been turned around by Google to turn the whole concept of a choice screen to their advantage,” says Kroll. “We’re not even calling it the ‘choice screen’ internally, we just call it the ‘auction screen’. And since we’re now stopping to boycott we call it the ‘no choice screen’.”

“It’s Google’s way to give the impression that there’s free choice but there is no free choice,” he adds. “If Google’s objective here would be to create choice for the user then they would present the most interesting options, which are the search engines with the highest marketshares — so definitely us, DuckDuckGo and maybe some other players as well. But that’s not what they’re trying to do.”

Kroll points out that another German search rival to Google, Cliqz, had to pull the plug on its anti-tracking alternative at the start of this year — meaning there’s now one less homegrown anti-tracking rival to Google in play. And while Ecosia feels it has no choice but to participate in Google’s auction game Kroll says it also can’t know whether or not participating will result in Ecosia overpaying Google for leads that then mean it generates less revenue and can’t plant as many trees… Or, well, any trees if the worst were to happen.

(NB: Kroll was speaking to TechCrunch ahead of signing an NDA that Google requires participants of the auction to sign which puts a legal limit on what they can say about the process once they’re involved — which, in turn, is a problematic element that another European search rival, Qwant, has also complained is unfair… )

“We don’t have any choice left, other than to participate,” adds Kroll. “Because we want to have access to the Android platform. So basically Google has successfully bullied everyone to play to its own rules — and it’s a game where Google is not only the referee but also they get a free ticket and they are also players…

“Somehow Google magically convinced the public but I think also the European Commission that they need to generate revenue in an auction because they have so many costs through the Android development and so on. It is of course true that they have costs… but they are also generating massive profit through the deals that they then make with the device makers and those profits are not at all shared.”

Kroll points out that Google shells out a (reported) $12BN per year to be the default search engine in Safari on Apple’s iOS platform — even as it pays nothing to get in front of the vast majority of mobile searchers’ eyeballs via Android (and does the same with Chrome).

“If they would pay the same amount of money for those platform they would soon be bankrupt,” he argues. “So they are getting all this for free and they are also getting other benefits for free — like having the Play Store preinstalled, like having Google Maps preinstalled, YouTube preinstalled and so on — which are all revenue sources. But they’re not sharing any of those revenue. They just try to outsource all of the costs that they have to their competitors, which is I think very unfair.”

While Alphabet, Google’s parent entity, doesn’t break out Google Play revenue specifically from within a generic “advertising” bucket when it reports its financials, data from SensorTower for the first half of 2020 suggests it generated $17.3BN in Play Store revenue alone over this six-month period, up 21% year-over-year. And Play is just one of the moneyspinners Google derives via ‘free’ Android.

Since the Commission’s antitrust 2018 decision against Android Kroll argues that nothing has changed for search competitors like Ecosia which are trying to offer consumers a more interesting value exchange for their clicks.

“What Google is doing very successfully is they’re just playing on time,” he suggests. “Our competitor, Cliqz, already went bankrupt because of that. So the strategy seems to work really well for Google. And we also can’t afford to lose access to those platforms… I really hope that the European Commission will actually do something about this because it has been done successfully in the Microsoft case and we just need exactly the same.”

Kroll also flags DuckDuckGo’s design suggestions for “a fair choice screen” — which we covered here last year but which Google (and the Commission) have so far simply ignored.

He suspects regulators are waiting to see how the market looks in another year or more. But of course by then it may be too late to save more alternative search engines from a Cliqz-style demise, thereby further strengthening Google’s position. Which would obviously be the opposite of an antitrust remedy.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager already conceded last year that another of her interventions against the tech giant — the Google AdSense antitrust case — is an example of “enforcement that hasn’t succeeded because it has failed to restore competition”. So if she’s not careful her record on failed remedies could dent her high profile reputation for being an antitrust chief who’s at least willing to take on tech giants. Where competition is concerned, it must be all about outcomes — or what are you even doing as claimed law ‘enforcers’?

“I always fear that the point might come when big corporates are more powerful than our public institutions and I’m wondering if this point isn’t already reached,” adds Kroll, positing that it’s not clear whether the EU — as an economic and political project now facing plenty of its own issues — will have enough resilience to be able to enforce its own competition law in the near future. So really his key point is: If not now, when? (Or, well, how?)

It’s certainly true that there’s a growing disconnect between what the Commission is saying around competition policy and digital markets — where it’s alive to the critique that regulatory interventions need to be able to move much faster if they’re to prevent monopoly power irreversibly tipping these markets (it’s currently consulting on whether to give itself greater powers of intervention) — and its hands-off approach to how to remedy market failure. tl;dr there’s no effective enforcement without effective remedies. So dropping the ball after the fact of a decision really defeats the whole operation.

Vestager clearly recognizes there’s a problem in the digital context — telling the EU parliament last year: “We have to consider remedies that are much more far reaching”. (Albeit, still not committing to having much more far reaching remedies.) Yet in parallel she preaches ‘wait and see’ as her overarching philosophy — a policy ‘push-pull’ which seems to be preventing the unit from even entertaining taking on a more agile, active and iterative role in supporting markets towards actual restoration of competition. At least not before a lengthy consultation exercise which further kicks the can,

If EU lawmakers can’t learn the lessons from their own relatively recent digital antitrust history (Microsoft tying IE to Windows) to effectively enforce what is a pretty straightforwardly similar antitrust case (Google tying search & its other services to Android), you have to question why they think they need new antitrust tools to properly tackle digital monopolies now. Given they don’t seem able to effectively wield the tools they’ve already got.

It does rather look increasingly like the current crop of EU regulators have lost conviction — and/or fallen prey to risk aversion — in the face of platform power moves. (To wit: There are whispers the Commission is preparing to wave through Google’s acquisition of Fitbit, on paper-thin promises from Google, despite major concerns raised about privacy and increased data consolidation — which, if true, would again mean the Commission ignoring its own recent history of naively swallowing other similar tech giant claims.)

“My feeling is, what has happened in the Microsoft case… there was just somebody in the Commission crazy enough to say this is what the decision is and you have to do it… And maybe it just takes those kind of guts. That’s then maybe a political question. Is Vestager willing to really pick those battles?” asks Kroll.

“My feeling is if people really understand the situation then they would care but you actually need to do a little bit of explaining that it’s not good to have a dominant player that is in such an important sector like search, and that is basically shutting down the market for everybody else.”

Asked what his message is for the US lawmakers now actively eyeing antitrust concerns around Google — and indeed much of big tech — Kroll says: “I’m a fan of competition and I also admire Google; I think Google is a very clever company but I think there is a point reached where there’s so much concentration of power that it gets dangerous for society… We’ve been suffering quite a lot from all the dominance that Google has in the various sectors. There are just things that Google are doing that are obviously anticompetitive.”

One specific thing he suggests regulators take a close look at is how much money Google pays Apple to be the default search option on Safari. “It’s paying more money than it can actually afford to win the Safari search volume — that I think is very anticompetitive,” he argues. “They already own two-thirds of the market and they basically buy whatever’s left over so that they can just cement their dominance.

“The regulators should have a very close look at that and disallow Google to participate in any of those bids for default positions in other browsers in the future. I think that would even be beneficial for browsers because in the long term there would finally be competition for those spots again. Currently Google’s just winning them because they’re running out of options and there are not many other search providers left to choose from.”

He also argues they need to make Google repair “some of the damage they’ve done” — i.e. as a result of unfairly gaining marketshare — by enforcing what he calls “a really fair choice screen”; non-paid and based on relevance for users. And by doing so on Android and Chrome devices. 

“I think until a year ago if you visited Google.com with your Safari browser or Firefox browser then Google would recommend to install Chrome. And for me that’s a clear abuse of one dominant position to support another part of your company,” he argues. “Google needs to repair that and that needs to happen very quickly — because otherwise other companies might [go out of business].”

“We’re still doing okay but we have been hit heavily by corona and we have a huge loss in revenue. Other companies might be hit even worse, I don’t know. And we don’t have the same deep pockets that the big players have. So other companies might disappear if nothing’s done soon,” he adds. 

We reached out to Google and the European Commission for comment.

A Google spokesperson pointed us to its FAQ about the auction. In further remarks which they specified could not be directly quoted they claimed an auction is a fair and objective method of determining how to fill available slots, adding that the revenue generated via the auction helps Google continue to invest in developing and maintaining Android.

While a spokeswoman for the Commission told us it has been “discussing” the choice screen mechanism with Google, following what she described as “relevant feedback from the market, in particular in relation to the presentation and mechanics of the choice screen and to the selection mechanism of rival search providers”.

The spokeswoman also reiterated earlier comments, that the Commission is continuing to monitor Google’s choice screen implementation and is “committed to a full and effective implementation of the decision”.

However a source familiar with the matter said EU lawmakers view paid premium placement for a few cents as far superior to what Google was offering rivals before — i.e. no visibility at all — and thus take the view that that something is better than nothing.

#advertising-tech, #alphabet, #android, #antitrust, #apple, #berlin, #big-tech, #chrome, #chrome-os, #cliqz, #competition-law, #duckduckgo, #ecosia, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #fitbit, #google, #ios, #margrethe-vestager, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #play-store, #policy, #privacy, #qwant, #safari, #search-engine, #search-engines, #smartphones, #tc, #united-states

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Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon C.E.O.s Are Testifying Before Congress. Here’s What to Know.

The C.E.O.s are likely to argue before Congress that their companies aren’t anticompetitive. Here are the facts.

#advertising-and-marketing, #amazon-com-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #apple-inc, #bezos-jeffrey-p, #computers-and-the-internet, #cook-timothy-d, #e-commerce, #facebook-inc, #google-inc, #house-of-representatives, #mobile-applications, #online-advertising, #pichai-sundar, #search-engines, #shopping-and-retail, #smartphones, #social-media, #software, #washington-dc, #zuckerberg-mark-e

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How May Google Fight an Antitrust Case? Look at This Little-Noticed Paper

A document sent by the search giant to Australian regulators argues that the company doesn’t control enough of the digital ad industry to overcharge customers or block competitors.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #australia, #barr-william-p, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #justice-department, #online-advertising, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #search-engines

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Can an Algorithm Predict the Pandemic’s Next Moves?

Researchers have developed a model that uses social-media and search data to forecast outbreaks of Covid-19 well before they occur.

#computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #data-mining-and-database-marketing, #google-inc, #medicine-and-health, #research, #search-engines, #smartphones, #social-media, #your-feed-health, #your-feed-science

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Google Sets Limit on How Long It Will Store Some Data

The internet company has long been criticized about how much information it keeps on users. The change applies only to new accounts.

#browsing-history, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-inc, #privacy, #search-engines, #youtube-com

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Google and Facebook must pay media for content reuse, says Australia

The Australia government has said it will adopt a mandatory code to require tech giants such as Google and Facebook to pay local media for reusing their content. The requirement for them to share ad revenue with domestic publishers was reported earlier by Reuters.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg published an opinion article in The Australian Friday — writing that an earlier plan to create a voluntary code by November this year to govern the relationship between digital platforms and media businesses — in order to “protect consumers, improve transparency and address the power imbalance between the parties” — had failed owing to “insufficient progress”.

“On the fundamental issue of payment for content, which the code was seeking to resolve, there was no meaningful progress and, in the words of the ACCC [Australia’s competition commission], “no expectation of any even being made”,” he wrote.

The ACCC has been tasked with devising the code which Frydenberg said will include provisions related to value exchange and revenue sharing; transparency of ranking algorithms; access to user data; presentation of news content; and penalties and sanctions for non-compliance.

“The intention is to have a draft code of conduct released for comment by the end of July and legislated shortly thereafter,” he added. “It is only fair that the search engines and social media giants pay for the original news content that they use to drive traffic to their sites.”

The debate around compensation for tech giants’ reuse of (and indirect monetization of) others’ editorial content — by displaying snippets of news stories on their platforms and aggregation services — is not a new one, though the coronavirus crisis has likely dialled up publisher pressure on policymakers as advertiser marketing budgets nose-dive globally and media companies stare down the barrel of a revenue crunch.

Earlier this month France’s competition watchdog ordered Google to negotiate in good faith with local media firms to pay for reusing their content.

The move followed a national law last year to transpose a pan-EU copyright reform that’s intended to extend rights to news snippets. However instead of paying French publishers for reusing their content Google stopped displaying content that’s covered by the law in local search and Google News.

France’s competition watchdog said it believes the unilateral move constitutes an abuse of a dominant market position — taking the step of applying an interim order to force Google to the negotiating table while it continues to investigate.

Frydenberg’s article references the French move, as well as pointing back to a 2014 attempt by Spain which also created legislation seeking to make Google to pay for snippets of news reused in its News aggregator product. In the latter case Google simply pulled the plug on its News service in the market — which it remains closed in Spain to this day…

Google’s message to desktop users in Spain if they try to navigate to its News product

“We are under no illusions as to the difficulty and complexity of implementing a mandatory code to govern the relationship between the digital platforms and the news media businesses. However, there is a need to take this issue head-on,” Frydenberg goes on. “We are not seeking to protect traditional media companies from the rigour of competition or technological disruption.

“Rather, to create a level playing field where market power is not misused, companies get a fair go and there is appropriate compensation for the production of original news content.”

Reached for comment on the Australian government’s plan, a Google spokesperson sent us this statement:

We’ve worked for many years to be a collaborative partner to the news industry, helping them grow their businesses through ads and subscription services and increase audiences by driving valuable traffic. Since February, we have engaged with more than 25 Australian publishers to get their input on a voluntary code and worked to the timetable and process set out by the ACCC. We have sought to work constructively with industry, the ACCC and Government to develop a Code of Conduct, and we will continue to do so in the revised process set out by the Government today.

Google continues to argue that it provides ample value to news publishers by directing traffic to their websites, where they can monetize it via ads and/or subscription conversions, saying that in 2018 alone it sent in excess of 2BN clicks to Australian news publishers from Australian users.

It also points out publishers can choose whether or not they wish their content to appear in Google search results. Though, in France, it’s worth noting the competition watchdog took the view that Google declaring that it won’t not pay to display any news could put some publishers at a disadvantage vs others.

The dominance of Google’s search engine certainly looks to be a key component for such interventions, along with Facebook’s grip on digital attention spans.

On this, Frydenberg’s articles cites a report by the country’s competition commission which found more than 98 per cent of online searches on mobile devices in Australia are with Google. While Facebook was found to have some 17M local users who connected to its platform for at least half an hour a day. (Australia’s total population is around 25M.)

“For every $100 spent by advertisers in Australia on online advertising, excluding classifieds, $47 goes to Google, $24 to Facebook and $29 to other participants,” Frydenberg also wrote, noting that the local online ad market is worth around $9BN per year — growing more than 8x since 2005.

Reached for comment on the government plan for a mandatory code for reuse of news content, Facebook sent us the following statement — attributed to Will Easton, MD, Facebook Australia and New Zealand:

We’re disappointed by the Government’s announcement, especially as we’ve worked hard to meet their agreed deadline. COVID-19 has impacted every business and industry across the country, including publishers, which is why we announced a new, global investment to support news organisations at a time when advertising revenue is declining. We believe that strong innovation and more transparency around the distribution of news content is critical to building a sustainable news ecosystem. We’ve invested millions of dollars locally to support Australian publishers through content arrangements, partnerships and training for the industry and hope the code will protect the interests of millions of Australians and small businesses that use our services every day.

If enough countries pursue a competition-flavored legislative fix against Google and Facebook to try to extract rents for media publishers it may be more difficult for them to dodge some form of payment for reusing news content. Though the adtech giants still hold other levers they could pull to increase their charges on publishers.

Indeed, their duel role — involved in both the distribution, discovery and monetization of online content and ads, controlling massive ad networks as well as applying algorithms to create content hierarchies to service ads alongside — has attracted additional antitrust scrutiny in certain markets.

After launching a market study of Google and Facebook’s ad platforms last July, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) raised concerns in an interim report in December — kicking off a consultation on a range of potential inventions from breaking up the platform giants to limiting their ability to set self-serving defaults and enforcing data sharing and/or feature interoperability to help rivals compete.

Per its initial findings, the CMA said there were “reasonable grounds” for suspecting serious impediments to competition in the online platforms and digital advertising market. However the regulator has so far favored making recommendations to government, to feed a planned “comprehensive regulatory framework” to govern the behaviour of online platforms, rather than taking it upon itself to intervene directly.

#advertising-tech, #australia, #competition-and-markets-authority, #european-union, #facebook, #france, #google, #local-search, #media, #new-zealand, #online-advertising, #online-content, #online-platforms, #search-engine, #search-engines, #spain, #subscription-services, #united-kingdom

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Google Searches Can Help Us Find Emerging Covid-19 Outbreaks

They can also reveal symptoms that at first went undetected. I may have found a new one.

#artificial-intelligence, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #data-mining-and-database-marketing, #ecuador, #epidemics, #eyes-and-eyesight, #gans-joshua, #google-inc, #italy, #research, #search-engines, #smell-olfaction, #united-states

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