It's still somewhat strange to me to see how badly some companies react to basic competition. Yes, sometimes that means companies lose, but it doesn't automatically make any and all competition unfair. An online map company, StreetMap.Eu sued Google a few years ago, claiming that Google's entrance into the online mapping world, and specifically including maps in search results, was unfair competition. However, the UK High Court has now, rightfully, rejected such a claim. The basis of the ruling seemed rather straightforward:
But the judge ruled that the introduction by Google of the new-style Maps OneBox in 2007 was "not reasonably likely appreciably to affect competition in the market for online maps".
The judge added that, in any event, Google's conduct was " objectively justified".
StreetMap's director Kate Sutton, however, is insisting that the company will appeal and says the whole thing is "unfair."
"The decision is unfair for small businesses," Sutton said, and added that StreetMap would attempt to appeal against the judgment, which found that Google's search dominance had not directly harmed competition in the UK's online mapping market.
I'm kind of curious what Sutton thinks is the appropriate remedy here: that no larger company should ever be allowed to offer services useful to consumers, which might somehow be "unfair" to smaller competitors? I'm a huge supporter of more competition in innovative services, but that should be driven by what's best for consumers, not what's best for small companies. Besides, plenty of small companies figure out how to innovate and take on large companies. The fact that her company has chosen not to do so is not Google's fault. Hell, Google itself, when it showed up entered a very crowded market and was laughed at for being such a small player in a market dominated by established companies. And what happened there?
For a while now we've been highlighting the problems of Europe's "Right to be Forgotten" concept as it applies to search results. The idea is that, rather than a search engine, Europe thinks of companies like Google as creating something of a "dossier" on individuals, over which they should be able to delete old or irrelevant "data." This means that, in the EU, people can apply to Google to "de-link" certain stories that they consider to no longer be relevant, even if those stories are 100% accurate and true. Not surprisingly, given a chance to "delink" yourself from truthful information has resulted in lots and lots of people demanding Google "forget" links about them. Google now has a process to go through these, and certainly has rejected many requests, but it still appears to accept many requests that appear to be obviously bogus attempts to hide information someone just dislikes.
Last summer, French regulators decided that Google wasn't doing enough, and that Google needed to not just censor links on Google's EU domains, but globally. Google responded, noting that this was highly problematic, given that the EU did not have jurisdiction over the globe, and France basically responded with a "shut up, do it anyway."
And now it appears that Google has gone back to the French regulators with a partial solution. While some have said it means that Google will, in fact, start "forgetting" links globally, that does not appear to be the case from looking at the details. Instead, it looks like Google will now try to block based on where Google thinks users are coming from, rather than which Google domain they're using. This is a subtle difference which, in most cases, may not be different at all. That is, when you visit Google from a variety of countries, Google already tries to geolocate you, and will often redirect you to the "local" version of the search engine -- such as Google.fr in France.
Under the current RTBF system, Google removes those links on the specific searches if you're on such an EU domain. However, if you're in France and you force your browser to visit Google.com, the same links would not be missing. So the "compromise" is that now Google will remove the links based on where it thinks you physically are, even if you force your browser to visit a non-local domain name. This will not really impact that many people -- just those who force Google to visit a different domain than their local domain. But, still, it's a further compromise and a move towards greater censorship of accurate link results. Of course, what's stupid is that basically anyone who knows enough to force Google to not use a local domain probably also knows how to use a VPN or proxy to appear to be coming from outside Europe.
Still, the big question now is whether or not French regulators will find this an "acceptable" compromise, or if they will continue to insist on global censorship over accurate information in an effort to suppress truthful information.
Artificially intelligent assistants are everywhere in science fiction, and they're slowly creeping into reality. However, most of the time, these things are limited to answering simple questions like "what's the weather?" or "who won the Super Bowl?" And even then, simple questions don't always return the desired simple answer. Still, we must press on because technology will only get better. Here are just a few more digital assistants that are going to be fighting for your attention someday.
For many, many years, the big German music performance rights organization GEMA has been at war with YouTube over what rates YouTube must pay for any streamed music. It started with GEMA more or less arguing that a stream on YouTube was effectively the same as a purchased download on iTunes, and that it should get $0.17 per stream (yes, per stream). For anyone who understands even basic economics you'd recognize that's not even remotely in the realm of reality. The battle has gone on ever since, and unlike basically every other country in the world GEMA has refused to budge. Because of this YouTube has blocked most major label music from its service in Germany, while GEMA has filed a variety of lawsuits against YouTube in the country arguing that YouTube is somehow responsible for what YouTube users upload.
In the latest round, YouTube scored a victory as a court rightly found that YouTube is a neutral platform and not liable for a user's uploads. According to David Meyer at Fortune:
On Thursday, the higher regional court of Munich rejected GEMA’s claim for damages to the tune of around €1.6 million ($1.75 million). If you’re wondering, that figure represents royalties for 1,000 music videos chosen as examples, at a rate of 0.375 euro cents per view. The court upheld a judgement by the lower regional court in Munich, which said YouTube is just a host for uploaded video.
Meyer also notes that GEMA will likely appeal, so it's not over yet. He also notes, of course, that the rate demanded, while still insane, is at least lower than what GEMA was originally asking for.
Not that long ago, we mentioned that progress towards an algorithm that could play the game of Go better than humans was on the horizon. It looks like our wetware shouldn't be too smug about being able to play Go now, but we can still have fun playing, right? And it'll still take a while before robots are any good at (non-contact) sports. Ping pong, FTW!
from the so-much-stupid-and-so-many-layers-of-permission dept
Darlene Love, the voice on the Phil Spector-produced hit "He's A Rebel," is suing Google and its ad producer, 72 & Sunny, for violating her publicity rights by using a song she recorded in one of its ads without her permission.
The lawsuit seems to revolve around California's much-maligned "right of publicity" law, which allows plaintiffs to sue entities for using pretty much anything about them, rather than just for bog standard copyright infringement.
That's going to be key because it seems clear Google cleared the rights to use a song of hers in its Nexus ads. That would just leave the extra "permission" Love feels she's been screwed out of: the "right" to block Google from using a legally-licensed track.
A voice does not end up in a commercial advertisement by accident. Rather, a number of people are involved in the creation of commercials. The voice of a famous performer, singing a famous song is selected for the express purpose of trading on the performer’s goodwill. Defendants consciously and deliberately selected Love’s vocal performance of It’s a Marshmallow World for their commercials.
However, Defendants refused to take any steps to obtain Love’s consent and had no reason to believe she had or would consent to such use. Instead, Defendants took deliberate measures to evade contacting her or obtaining her permission.
Love's voice was used, as it was part of the licensed track. Her goodwill remained where it always was -- loaded like a spring trap, apparently. She accuses Google of deliberately using a non-union ad producer to ensure her union-granted "rights" (whatever they are…) were routed around.
An honest company, doing business in good faith, would not attempt to deprive Love of the benefits of the union protection and would have engaged a SAG-AFTRA affiliated advertising agency so that the performer (and the background singers) would receive at minimum, the union-mandated benefits.
Defendants actions were despicable and in conscious disregard of Love’s rights. They turned her into an involuntary pitchman for products of dubious quality. They created a commercial that falsely implied to the public that Love had endorsed Google’s products.
That's a stretch. It's obvious Google chose the song for its lyrics (advertising a new phone containing its "Marshmallow" version of the Android operating system), rather than for Darlene Love's $75,000-worth of "goodwill."
Love gets her shots in at the nationally-acclaimed ad agency as well, claiming it colluded with Google to screw her out of something the lawsuit fails to specifically name. (But apparently worth $75,000+)
Google engages in anti-labor advertising practices and in an effort to harm Love, hired Sunny, a scab shop that utilizes recordings of artists created under the protection of collective bargaining agreements, without themselves becoming signatories and complying with the union-mandated obligations for the reuse of phonograph records in commercials.
Google’s conduct was so loathsome that it intentionally hired a disreputable non-union affiliated advertising company and the two of them deprived Love of her union protections, all to enrich themselves at her expense.
As you can see, some parts of the lawsuit read like someone's emotional blog post and -- I can't state this enough -- there are no accusations in the filing that Love did not receive compensation for the licensed use of her work. The agreement she cites as the basis for her beef with Google and its "scab" ad agency says nothing about seeking an artist's permission. It only notes they may be entitled to an additional, separate royalty. Nowhere in the suit does Love claim she did not receive the royalties she was entitled to. Instead, she's trying to use a bad law to extract $75,000 from Google simply because if they'd asked if she would like to be in its ad, she would have said no.
Can she win this? Anything's possible. The unauthorized use of someone's likeness -- which includes their voice -- can be considered a violation of the right of publicity under the local law. There's a good reason why she's brought this lawsuit in California, rather than New York, where she lives and Google has an office. In California, her suit isn't pre-empted by federal law, which means she can use the friendlier local law to pursue damages.
But she'll have to make a stronger case that Google intentionally traded her goodwill for thousands of dollars -- rather than simply licensed a song with "marshmallow" in the lyrics. It really seems like her beef should be with her union for not ensuring her the chance to reject the use, rather than Google, which apparently paid the licensing fees and handled everything correctly on its end of the deal.
Over the last few weeks, there's been increasing focus on what "else" Silicon Valley can do in the fight against ISIS. Backdooring encryption is a dumb idea that won't work and will make everyone less safe. So, a second idea keeps getting floated: what if we just stopped letting ISIS use the internet. Hell, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supported the idea recently. And then you have some wacky law professors suggesting the same thing.
For the most part, cooler heads in the tech industry have pointed out that (1) this is impossible and (2) any attempt to do so would be counterproductive in just encouraging more activity and (3) it would actually undermine intelligence gathering, as public posts to social media are a key source of useful intelligence these days.
But, now, at least one prominent person within the tech industry has jumped on board: the somewhat controversial head of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, who used to work for the State Department and now runs Google Ideas (which, for whatever it's worth, isn't "Google"). Cohen gave a talk in the UK in which he argued that ISIS was too good at propaganda on the internet, so the answer is to wipe them off the open internet and leave them shuffling around the dark web instead.
Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, believes that to "recapture digital territory" from the terror cell, its members must fear being caught when they post messages promoting the organisation's cause in public.
"Terrorist groups like Isis, they operate in the dark web whether we want them to or not," Cohen said at a talk on Waging a Digital Counterinsurgency, at Chatham House. "What is new is that they're operating without being pushed back in the same internet we all enjoyed. So success looks like Isis being contained to the dark web".
This is, as noted above, both silly and wrong. First of all, it's impossible. It's a ridiculous task that will waste a ton of time, won't accomplish anything really useful, and will likely result in too many false positives, including (most likely) those who are monitoring and combating ISIS. Second, as mentioned, it will actually do a tremendous amount to limit the intelligence community's ability to monitor and track ISIS. It's funny that on the one hand we have officials demanding an end to encrypted communications, fearing "going dark," while many of those same individuals then turn around and talk about taking ISIS off the public internet, where they reveal a ton of useful information about their activities. Third, it raises serious questions about how committed companies like Google really are to the open internet. Yes, Cohen is director of "Google Ideas" which is separate from Google itself, but basically all of the press coverage about this says that Google is saying people should be kicked off the open web. That's messaging that will come back to haunt Google as it pushes for the open web in other contexts. Cohen has just opened up Google to a major attack on key points it's pushing for everywhere else.
To do this Cohen said that Isis members openly promoting their cause online must fear retribution and being caught for their actions. Their social media accounts must be removed as fast as they are produced to prevent people making contact with Isis recruiters on the open web.
But that appears to be somewhat ignorant of how things are currently working. Many of their social media accounts are being removed rapidly and to ISIS supporters it becomes a badge of honor, as they quickly open a new account. It's not retribution, it becomes validation.
It's too bad that Cohen would suggest such a short-sighted concept when there's so much evidence these days of how completely counterproductive it would be. This isn't the kind of creative or new thinking that was promised from Google Ideas, it's traditional silly Washington DC thinking, without any recognition of the reality of the technology world. If this is a concept from Google Ideas, let's just say it's a really, really bad idea. Maybe Google needs a department of better ideas.
Update: And I missed the biggest laugh of all. I hadn't even realized that the supposed "mission" of Google Ideas is: "Google Ideas builds products to support free expression and access to information for people who need it most." Hard to see how blocking people from using the internet fits within that purview.
It's been a while since Apollo 17. Getting to Mars sounds like a worthy follow-up mission, but just figuring out how to live inside a metal tube for longer than a year outside of low Earth orbit is also a pretty challenging project. NASA hasn't been very focused on going back to the moon recently, but that could change depending on who becomes the next US president. But in the meantime, here are a few other efforts working on missions to get to the moon.
from the your-honor,-how-dare-they-send-us-traffic dept
Oh boy. Remember VG Media? That's the consortium of German news publishers who were so damn angry that Google News sends them all sorts of traffic without also paying them. A year and a half ago, they demanded money from Google. That failed, so they went crying to German regulators who laughed off the request. After there were some concerns that a new "ancillary copyright" right regime in Germany might require payment for posting such snippets, Google properly responded by removing the snippets for those publishers, who totally freaked out and called it blackmail.
Let me repeat that for you, in case you missed it: the publishers insisted that Google's News search was somehow illegal and taking money away from them, and thus they demanded money from Google. When Google responded, instead, by removing the snippets providing summaries to their stories, the publishers claimed it was unfair and blackmail. In short, not only do these German publishers want Google to pay them to send them traffic, they want such payments and traffic to be mandatory.
However, with Google removing the snippets, VG Media granted a "free" license to Google just to get the snippets back into Google News -- even though Google didn't need such a license. Meanwhile, they complained to German competition authorities about this supposed "blackmail" and like the earlier regulators, the German competition authorities told VG Media to go pound sand.
If you thought the situation was over, you underestimated the short-sightedness of VG Media and the German publishers. They've now apparently filed a lawsuit against Google over all this, taking the issue into court. Again: this is all because Google is sending their websites traffic... for free.
Meanwhile, these geniuses at the German publishers might want to actually play out this game strategy a little further. Should they actually win the case, they need to look no further than Spain to see what might happen. Remember, Spain passed a ridiculous law that not only put such a tax on aggregators but made it mandatory. It was clearly nothing more than a "Google tax" for Spanish publishers. Google's response? It pulled out the nuclear option and shut down Google News in Spain.
So even if VG Media and the German publishers "win" this lawsuit, there's a decent chance that they still end up shooting themselves in their collective foot, by pushing away one of the most popular news aggregators that drives a tremendous amount of traffic. It really makes you wonder about the thought process of the folks who run VG Media.
from the they're-wrong-about-the-throttling,-maybe-not-on-the-jerk-thing dept
On Monday we wrote about T-Mobile flat out lying about the nature of its BingeOn mobile video service -- and after a couple of days of silence, the company has come out swinging -- by lying some more and weirdly attacking the people who have accurately portrayed the problems of the service. As a quick reminder, the company launched this service a few months ago, where the company claimed two things (though didn't make it entirely clear how separate these two things were): (1) that the company would not count data for streaming video for certain "partner" companies and (2) that it would be "optimizing" video for all users (though through a convoluted process, you could opt-out).
There were a bunch of problems with this, starting with the fact that favoring some partner traffic over others to exempt it from a cap (i.e., zero rating) is a sketchy way to backdoor in net neutrality violations. But, the bigger issue was that almost everything about T-Mobile's announcement implied that it was only "partner" video that was being "optimized" while the reality was that they were doing it for any video they could find (even downloaded, not streamed). The biggest problem of all, however, was that the video was not being "optimized" but throttled by slowing down video.
Once the throttling was called out, T-Mobile went on a weird PR campaign, flat out lying, and saying that what they were doing was "optimizing" not throttling and that it would make videos stream faster and save users data. However, as we pointed out, that's blatantly false. Videos from YouTube, for example, were encrypted, meaning that T-Mobile had no way to "optimize" it, and tests from EFF proved pretty conclusively that the only thing T-Mobile was doing was slowing connection speeds down to 1.5 Mbps when it sensed video downloads of any kind (so not even streaming), and that actually meant that the full amount of data was going through in many cases, rather than an "optimized" file. EFF even got T-Mobile to admit that this was all they were doing.
So that makes the response of T-Mobile execs yesterday and today totally baffling because rather than actually respond to the charges, they've doubled down on the blatant lying, suggesting that either it's executives have no idea what the company is actually doing, or that they are purposely lying to their users, which isn't exactly the "uncarrier" way that the company likes to promote.
We'll start with the big cheese himself, CEO John Legere, whose claim to fame is how "edgy" he is as a big company CEO. He's now released a statement and a video that are in typical Legere outspoken fashion -- but it's full of blatant lies.
The video and the typed statement are fairly similar, but Legere adds some extra color in the video version.
Let's parse some of the statements. I'll mostly be using the ones from the written statement as they're easier to cut and paste, rather than transcribe, but a few from the video are worth calling out directly.
I’ve seen and heard enough comments and headlines this week about our Binge On video service that it’s time to set the record straight. There are groups out there confusing consumers and questioning the choices that we fight so hard to give our customers. Clearly we have very different views of how customers get to make their choices -- or even if they’re allowed to have choices at all! It’s bewildering …so I want to talk about this.
Of course, this is a nice, but misleading attempt to frame the conversation. No one is complaining about "giving choices to consumers." They're complaining about (1) misleading consumers and (2) providing a worse overall experience by throttling which (3) directly violates the the FCC's prohibition on throttling. The next part I'm taking from the video itself, rather than the printed statement, because Legere goes much further in the video, including the curses, which magically don't show up in the printed version:
There are people out there saying we’re “throttling.” That's a game of semantics and it's bullshit! That's not what we're doing. Really! What throttling is is slowing down data and removing customer control. Let me be clear. BingeOn is neither of those things.
This is flat out wrong and suggests Legere doesn't even know the details of his own service. As the EFF's tests proved (and the fact that YouTube videos are encrypted should make clear) T-Mobile is absolutely slowing down data. In fact, EFF got T-Mobile to confirm this, so Legere claiming it's "bullshit" is... well... bullshit!
But he's playing some tricky word games here, claiming that throttling is not just slowing down data, but also removing customer control. That's (1) not true and (2) also misleading. For all of Legere and T-Mobile's talk about "giving more options to consumers" or whatever, they're totally leaving out the fact that they automatically turned this on for all users without a clear explanation as to what was happening, leading to multiple consumer complaints about how their streaming videos were no longer functioning properly -- even for users on unlimited data plans.
Customer choice? Sure they could "opt-out" after through a convoluted process that many did not understand. But T-Mobile made the choice for all its users, rather than providing a choice for its customers to make.
Mobile customers don’t always want or need giant heavy data files. So we built technology to optimize for mobile screens and stream at a bitrate designed to stretch your mobile data consumption. You get the same quality of video as watching a DVD, but use only 1/3 as much data (or, of course, NO data used when it’s a Binge On content provider!). That's not throttling. That's a huge benefit.
Again, this is both wrong and misleading. There is no optimization. Legere is lying. They are 100% slowing down the throughput on video when they sense it. The EFF's tests prove as much. Yes, for some video providers when they sense lower bandwidth, they will downgrade the resolution, but that's the video provider optimizing, not T-Mobile. T-Mobile is 100% throttling, and hoping that the video provider downgrades the video.
But in cases where that doesn't happen then it doesn't save any data at all (the EFF test confirmed that the full video file still comes through, just slower).
Also, note the play on words "You get the same quality of video as watching a DVD." At first you think he's saying that you get the same video quality overall, but he's not. He's saying as a DVD, at 480p, which is lower than the 1080p that many HD videos are offered at. And that's what many people are complaining about -- that they'd like to watch videos at the full 1080p, but T-Mobile made the choice that they can't do that unless they go through a convoluted process to turn this off.
Rather than respond to any of this, Legere then claims that "special interest groups" and Google are doing this.... "to get headlines."
So why are special interest groups -- and even Google! -- offended by this? Why are they trying to characterize this as a bad thing? I think they may be using Net Neutrality as a platform to get into the news.
Wait, what? Google -- the same Google that absolutely refused to say anything publicly at all about net neutrality for years during the debate suddenly wants to get into the news by jumping on the net neutrality bandwagon? Does Legere have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? And it's not like Google has a problem getting into the news. And what about EFF and others? Does he really think they need to get extra news coverage?
But note the facts here: at no point does Legere respond to the actual charges leveled against the company. He then concludes by yelling at everyone for daring to complain about this:
At T-Mobile we're giving you more video. More choice. And a powerful new choice in how you want your video delivered. What's not to love? We give customers more choices and these jerks are complaining, who the hell do they think they are? What gives them the right to dictate what my customers, or any wireless consumer can choose for themselves?
Nice. I'm part of the contingent complaining about this and I'm also a T-Mobile customer... and the CEO just called me a jerk while telling me he's fighting for his customers? Really now?
And again this whole statement is blatantly misleading. The "choice" was made by T-Mobile for all users, and getting out of it involves a convoluted process that most don't understand and where none of this was made clear to end users. Beyond violating the FCC's "no throttling" rule, I wonder if it also violates the FCC's transparency rules as well, in which they are required to be much more upfront about how the data is being treated.
Also, the statement above is from the video where we're described as "jerks," but in the written version it leaves out the "jerks" claim, but also includes the following bit mocking YouTube for letting users choose to change the resolution on videos:
YouTube complained about Binge On, yet at the same time they claim they provide choice to customers on the resolution of their video. So it's ok for THEM to give customers choice but not for US to give our customers a choice? Hmmm. I seriously don't get it.
But that's bullshit also. YouTube's choice option there is a clear pulldown on every video shown, so that a user just needs to click on the video their watching and set the resolution. T-Mobile's is a process that's not clear at all, with some users reporting they had to call in and get T-Mobile customer service to turn BingeOn off for their account. To compare the two situations is completely bonkers.
As far as I can tell, Legere either doesn't understand what his own company is doing technically, or knows and is purposely misrepresenting it. Neither of those look good and go against the entire "uncarrier" concept they keep pitching. I'd expect better as a T-Mobile customer than being told that I'm a "jerk" for pointing this out.
And it appears he's not the only one among senior execs at T-Mobile who still don't realize what their own company is doing. On Wednesday at a Citigroup conference, T-Mobile's Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert
spewed some more nonsense suggesting he, too, has no idea what his own company is doing:
At a Citigroup investor conference Wednesday, T-Mobile executives shot back, saying YouTube’s stance is “absurd.” YouTube is owned by Alphabet Inc. “We are kind of dumbfounded, that a company like YouTube would think that adding this choice would somehow be a bad thing,” said T-Mobile Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert. He said YouTube hasn’t “done the work yet to become part of the free service.”
Taken at face value, that comment makes no sense. If YouTube hasn't done the work yet to become a part of the free service than why the fuck is T-Mobile slowing down its videos? YouTube wasn't complaining about "adding this choice." YouTube was complaining about direct throttling of video content by T-Mobile, in clear violation of the FCC's prohibition on throttling.
Sievert and Legere both don't seem to understand (1) what YouTube and users are complaining about or (2) what his own company is doing. That's... troubling, given that these are the CEO and COO of the company. It really seems like T-Mobile execs might want to spend some time talking to its tech team to understand the fact that the only thing T-Mobile is doing to video is throttling it down to 1.5 Mbps, rather than any actual "optimization" before spewing more nonsense and calling their own customers "jerks." And, they might want to realize that their claim that this is all "bullshit" is actually complete bullshit. And that their bullshit may very well violate the FCC's rules.