Tag: Google

Source: BBC

Google has been hit with a €1.49bn (£1.28bn) fine from the EU for blocking rival online search advertisers.

It is the third EU fine for the search and advertising giant in two years.

The case accuses Google of abusing its market dominance by restricting third-party rivals from displaying search ads between 2006 and 2016.

In response, Google changed its AdSense contracts with large third parties, giving them more leeway to display competing search ads.

Google owner Alphabet makes large amounts of money from advertising – pre-tax profits reached $30.7bn (£23bn) in 2018, up from $12.66bn in 2017.

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites.

“This is illegal under EU anti-trust rules,” said EC commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Last year, the EU competition authority hit Google with a record €4.34bn fine for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals.

This followed a €2.42bn fine in 2017 for hindering rivals of shopping comparison websites.

The European Commission said that websites often had an embedded search function.

When a consumer uses this, the website delivers both search results and search adverts, which appear alongside the search result.

Google’s “AdSense for search” product delivers those adverts for website publishers.

The Commission described Google as acting like “an intermediary, like an advertising broker”.

In 2006, Google started to include “exclusivity clauses” in contracts which stopped publishers from placing ads from Google rivals such as Microsoft and Yahoo on search pages, the Commission said.

From 2009, Google started replacing the exclusivity clauses with “premium placement” clauses, which meant publishers had to keep the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and they had to request a minimum number of Google adverts.

Publishers also needed to get written permission from Google before making any changes to how rival ads were displayed, letting Google control “how attractive, and therefore clicked on, competing search adverts could be”, the Commission said.

Search giant
The restrictive clauses “led to a vicious circle”, Ms Vestager said in a media conference.

“Google’s rivals, they were unable to grow, and to compete, and as a result of that, website owners had limited options for selling advertising space on those websites, and were forced solely to rely on Google,” she said.

“There was no reason for Google to include these restrictive clauses in their contracts, except to keep rivals out of the market,” she added.

Between 2006 to 2016, Google had more than 70% of the search intermediation market in the EU. It generally had more than 90% of the search market and more than 75% of the online search advertising market, the Commission added.

By Olivia Tambini  for Tech Radar

Google is testing a new feature that allows people to buy products while browsing Google Image search results.

Known as ‘shoppable ads’, these sponsored posts are placed within image search results, and allow retailers to “highlight multiple products available for sale” within an image, according to a post on the Google Ads blog.

Google says the feature is only being tested on “a small percentage of traffic with select retailers, surfacing on broad queries like “home office ideas”, “shower tile designs”, and “abstract art”.

Should the tests go well, it could soon be possible to do your shopping from Google Images by hovering over a sponsored ad with a price tag icon in the bottom right corner, which will then show you the prices and brands of the items in the image.

It looks like the new feature will work in a similar way to Instagram’s shoppable tags, making it quicker than ever to buy products online.

Whether users will appreciate the proliferation of shoppable ads across social media and now search results will, of course, remain to be seen.

Google poured billions into its business in 2018

By Julie Bort for Business Insider US

Google doubled its capital expenditure spending in 2018 to R344-billion, which included spending on offices and tech infrastructure.

Its cloud unit also got the lion’s share of new hires in the quarter, the CFO of parent company Alphabet said.

Google’s cloud computing efforts were a mixed bag in 2018 but the company on Monday said that it invested heavily in 2018, and will continue do so in 2019, albeit maybe not at the same pace.

During its year-end earnings report on Monday, Google revealed that it doubled its capital expenditures in 2018, to R344-billion, up from R168-billion in 2017. The hefty spending went towards everything from new office facilities to accommodate Google’s growing workforce to bolstering its infrastructure such as datacenters and servers.

It’s tough to say exactly who much of that capex went towards Google’s cloud business specifically, but the company has made it clear that investing in the cloud is a priority. Google said it launched its 18th Google Cloud region in the fourth quarter and pointed to plans for continued expansion in the US and abroad.

In comparison, Amazon spent R151-billion cash on capex in 2018, split between fulfillment operations (like warehouses) and AWS, it said. And Microsoft said it spent R214-billion.

Google also hired madly for its cloud unit, with more than 4 000 new hires in the final three months of the year. “The most sizeable increases were in cloud, for both technical and sales roles,” Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat said during the conference call.

Porat noted that spending on talent and equipment will continue in 2029, though the pace will cool off compared to 2018. Capex, she said, will “moderate quite significantly.”

How does Google’s cloud business compare?
Google is spending to catch up. Revenue from its cloud business lags Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, although Google does likely have a multibillion cloud business. It’s a bit tough to tell because Google doesn’t break out cloud revenue. It lumps it in its “other” category which also includes the revenue it makes from its Google play app store and its hardware devices like Google Home.

That “other revenue” category was R8-billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, up from just under R66=billion for the year-ago quarter and a sizeable portion of that is generated by its app store. Google noted on Monday that the number of Google Cloud Platform deals worth more than R13 million more than doubled in 2018 and that it ended the year with more than 5 million paying customers of its cloud productivity tools, but otherwise offered little new information by which to measure the size of its Cloud business.

For comparison, AWS generated R99 billion in net cloud sales for Amazon in the fourth quarter.

Microsoft also doesn’t disclose specific revenue figures for its cloud, Azure, so a direct comparison here is even harder to noodle out. The unit that includes Azure is called “Intelligent Cloud” and it generated R125 billion in the same quarter. However, despite putting “cloud” in the unit’s name, that unit includes a lot of classic software products, including Microsoft’s popular database and Windows Server, its operating system for servers. Those are both older, massive businesses compared to Azure and are not what anyone would consider a cloud service.

Most market experts believe that AWS is way ahead. One researcher, Synergy, puts AWS at 40% market share in cloud.

Keep an eye on the new boss
Of course the big news for Google’s cloud efforts in 2018 was its change of leadership. Near the end of 2018, Google board member Diane Greene left. Google hired Thomas Kurian to replace her. He left Oracle where he helped build Oracle into a database and applications giant during his decades there, and then lead Oracle’s cloud efforts. Oracle’s cloud is growing quickly by internal metrics as it moves its customers from buying its software to renting its software on its cloud. But Oracle’s cloud is not exactly taking the tech industry’s breath away, so his performance at Google Cloud will be a test for him and the company.

There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Kurian will embark on an acquisition spree to help Google’s Cloud catch up with the competition. Google CEO Sundar Pichai kept mum on Monday when asked about any potential big deals or changes in strategy under Kurian. Pichai spoke of “continuity” and focusing on the parts of the business where the company is seeing good returns.

Even with all the shrouding of investment and financial results, the cloud industry is often considered a three-player race, with Amazon in the lead, Microsoft on its heels, Google in third and a variety of players, from Alibaba to IBM to Oracle, in the chase pack.

By Cheyenne MacDonald for DailyMail

Google’s private browsing options may not be as incognito as you’d expect.

New research into Google’s ‘filter bubbles,’ in which search results are personalized based on the data it’s collected about you, has found that logging out or switching to Incognito Mode does almost nothing to shield you from targeted results.

By comparing search results for controversial topics, including gun control, immigration, and vaccinations, the study (notably conducted by rival search engine, DuckDuckGo) uncovered significant variations in what different users were shown.

New research into Google’s ‘filter bubbles,’ in which search results are personalised based on the data it’s collected about you, has found that logging out or switching to Incognito Mode does almost nothing to shield you from targeted results.

Despite the common assumption that logging out or going Incognito provides anonymity, DuckDuckGo points out that this isn’t really the case.

Websites use several other identifying factors to keep tabs on users’ activity, including IP addresses.

To highlight the issue, DuckDuckGo recruited volunteers in the US to perform a series of searches for the terms ‘gun control,’ ‘immigration,’ and ‘vaccinations.’

All were tasked to do this at the same time, at 9pm ET on Sunday, June 24, in Incognito, logged out, and then logged back in.

The study also controlled for location, DuckDuckGo notes.

This made for 87 sets of results in total, with 76 desktop users and 11 mobile users.

Despite the anonymised conditions, which would be expected to produce the same results across the board, most of the participants still appeared to see personalised results.

Private searches for gun control, for example, yielded 62 different sets of results for the 76 participants.

Similar trends were seen in searches for the other two terms, with 57 variations in ‘immigration’ results, and 73 variations in ‘vaccinations’ results.

Users were shown links in different orders, and some were shown links that were not displayed to others.

News and Video infoboxes, in particular, demonstrated ‘significant variation.’

A search for ‘immigration,’ for example, pulled up six variations from six different sources in the Videos infobox, while ‘gun control’ led to 12 variations from 7 sources.

According to DuckDuckGo, the findings indicate that ‘it’s simply not possible to use Google search and avoid its filter bubble.’

While the motivations behind the study are undoubtedly biased, the findings still stand as a reminder that true anonymity on the internet isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.

By Lily Hay Newman for Wired 

For two hours on Monday, internet traffic that was supposed to route through Google’s Cloud Platform instead found itself in quite unexpected places, including Russia and China. But while the haphazard routing invoked claims of traffic hijacking—a real threat, given that nation states could use the technique to spy on web users or censor services—the incident turned out to be a simple mistake with outsized impacts.

Google noted that almost all traffic to its services is encrypted, and wasn’t exposed during the incident no matter what. As traffic pinballed across ISPs, though, some observers, including the monitoring firm ThousandEyes, saw signs of malicious BGP hijacking—a technique that manipulates the web’s Border Gateway Protocol, which helps ISPs automatically collaborate to route traffic seamlessly across the web.

ThousandEyes saw Google traffic rerouting over the Russian ISP TransTelecom, to China Telecom, toward the Nigerian ISP Main One. “Russia, China, and Nigeria ISPs and 150-plus [IP address] prefixes—this is obviously very suspicious,” says Alex Henthorne-Iwane, vice-president of product marketing at ThousandEyes. “It doesn’t look like a mistake.”

Malicious BGP hijacking is a serious concern, and can be exploited by criminals or nation state actors to intercept traffic or disrupt a target service—like Google. But the technique also has a dopey, well-intentioned cousin known as a prefix leak, or sometimes “accidental BGP hijacking.”

In both cases, rerouting occurs when an ISP declares that it owns blocks of IP addresses that it doesn’t actually control. This can be an intentional deception, but can also simply come down to a configuration error that, while disruptive, is not intentional. On Monday, a Google spokesperson said that the company didn’t see signs of malicious hijacking, and instead suspected that the Nigerian ISP Main One had accidentally caused the problem.

“The problem here is a failure to apply basic best current practices to these routing sessions.”

There are minimum best practices that ISPs should implement to keep BGP routes on the up and up. These are important, because they apply filters that catch errors in the event of a route leak and block problematic routes. Not all ISPs implement these protections, though, and in a prefix leak like the one that affected Google, traffic will flow chaotically across networks, not based on efficiency or established paths, but based on which networks haven’t put the BGP safeguards in place and will therefore accept the rogue routing.

Indeed, on Tuesday morning Main One said in a statement that, “This was an error during a planned network upgrade due to a misconfiguration on our BGP filters. The error was corrected within 74mins.”

In this case, it appears that the Russian and Chinese ISPs, and perhaps others as well, offered a path to the Google traffic because they hadn’t implemented protective configurations.

The protocols underlying the internet were written decades ago, in a different era of computing, and many have needed major security overhauls and additions to improve trust and reliability around the web. There was the effort to encrypt web traffic with HTTPS, and the growing movement to secure the internet’s Domain Name System address lookup process so it can’t be used to spy on users, or for malicious rerouting.

Similarly, ISPs and internet infrastructure providers are starting to implement a protection called Resource Public Key Infrastructure that can virtually eliminate BGP hijacking, by creating a mechanism to cryptographically confirm the validity of BGP routes. Like HTTPS and DNSSEC, RPKI will only start to provide true customer protection when a critical mass of internet infrastructure providers implement it.

“This incident had a non-trivial impact because Google and some other prominent network routes were accidentally leaked,” says Roland Dobbins, a principal engineer at the network analysis firm Netscout. “But the problem here, as it is in most of these cases, is a failure to apply basic best current practices to these routing sessions. The key is for network operators to participate in the global operational community, get these kinds of filters put in place, and move to implement RPKI.”

While Google’s incident wasn’t a hack and instead gets into obscure internet protocol drama, the impact for users on Monday was apparent—and shows the pressing need to resolve issues with BGP trust. The flaw has been maliciously hijacked before, and could be again.

Facebook, Google are election winners

By Todd Shields , Gerry Smith and Sarah Frier for Bloomberg

Even before ballots are counted from Tuesday’s elections, some clear winners have emerged, as Google and Facebook reap windfalls from political advertising after a season of controversy over online political speech.

Political ad spending is on course to set a record, exceeding expenditures in the 2016 presidential election year, with a total of perhaps $9 billion. Political ad buyers weren’t deterred by months of furor over election meddling by Russians using Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google and YouTube.

“This was a test year for political digital,” says Kip Cassino, who works with research firm Borrell Associates after retiring as its executive vice president. “What they wanted to see was how many ads could they put on digital without people getting really upset.”

Digital ad spending rose more than 25-fold from the last non-presidential national elections in 2014, reaching 20 percent of expected political spending this year at almost $1.8 billion, according to estimates compiled by Borrell. Kantar Media/CMAG, which omits some online activity, estimated 2018 online spending at $900 million, up from $250 million four years ago.

The figures show how digital sites, with their ability to target thin slices of the electorate, have assumed a prime place alongside traditional media such as broadcast TV, which is still prized for reaching large numbers of older voters likely to go the polls and accounts for the largest amount of political ad spending.

Kantar estimated providers such as Tegna Inc. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. would see political ad revenue rise to $2.7 billion, up 30 percent compared with 2014. When local races are included, broadcast stations saw a decline in political advertising compared with 2014, to $3.5 billion, but remain the top recipient, according to Borrell’s estimates.

Local cable TV advertising sold by the likes of Comcast Corp. or Charter Communications Inc. was expected to jump 75 percent compared with four years ago, Kantar said.

“Everybody killed it this year,” said Steven Passwaiter, a vice president with Kantar, which monitors political ads.

On Tuesday, Gray Television Inc., which owns more than 100 local broadcast TV stations in smaller markets such as Augusta, Georgia and Omaha, Nebraska, said third-quarter political ad revenue was up 17 percent compared with the same quarter in 2014. That included a windfall four years ago from a hotly-contested senate race in Alaska, executives said.

“Political advertising remains quite alive and exceptionally healthy,” Gray Chief Executive Officer Hilton Howell said on an earnings call. Gray executives said political ad spending exceeded their expectations in states like Tennessee, Kansas and Florida.

By Jillian D’Onfro for CNBC

In response to the European Union’s $5 billion antitrust ruling in July, Google will change how it bundles its apps on Android phones and charge a licensing fee for phone makers that want to pre-install apps like Gmail, Maps and YouTube in the EU.

Google will also end restrictions on phone makers selling modified or “forked” versions of the mobile operating system.

Previously, Google tied together a suite of 11 different apps that phone makers would have to pre-install if they wanted to license its app store, Play. In July, the EU ruled that this bundling was anti-competitive — pushing consumers toward Google’s search engine and weakening rival app makers — though it only specifically called for Google to separate Chrome and Search from Play.

In response, Google said in a blog post on Tuesday that it will start offering separate licenses for Search and Chrome, as well as a license for its suite of apps like Maps, Gmail and Docs. That means that if phone makers want to pre-install those apps, they will have to pay a fee, though the amount was not specified. Google says the new licensing fee will offset revenue lost through compliance efforts that it uses to fund the development of Android, which it offers as a free, open source platform. The licenses for Search and Chrome will not have a fee.

Although Google doesn’t make money from Android directly, it generates advertising revenue through search as well as Chrome, Maps and Gmail, serving ads within those apps and using data it collects from users to better target ads across its platforms.

“Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA [European Economic Area],” wrote Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s vice president of platforms.

Google’s previous agreements with phone makers also prevented them from selling modified versions of Android if they wanted to use its suite of apps, but the company will now allow manufacturers to build forked smartphones and tablets for the EEA.

Overall, Google’s Android powers more than 80 percent of the world’s smartphones. These changes, which will come into effect on Oct. 29, will only affect phones for the EEA, a group consisting of 28 EU countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Source: eMarketer

A recent survey conducted by eMarketer has illustrated how the average American Internet user feels about digital advertising.

The majority of respondents felt that advertisers were “too aggressive” in the way they were tracked online.

 

The data was collected from an October 2018 survey by Janrain.

1 079 US Internet users ages 18 and over were surveyed online during August 2018.
Respondents identified:

  • their gender as female (54.6%) or male (45.4%)
  • their ages as being 18-29 (26.9%), 30-44 (21.8%), 45-60 (24.5%) or 60+ (26.8%)
  • their household income as being $0-$9,999 (6.4%), $10,000-$24,999 (11.3%), $25,000-$49,999 (18.8%), $50,000-$74,999 (17.4%), $75,000-$99,999 (13.6%), $100,000-$124,999 (9.4%), $125,000-$149,999 (3.7%), $150,000-$174,999 (3.7%), $175,000-$199,999 (1.5%) or $200,000+ (2.8%).

Bug proves lethal to Google+

Source: Business Day

Google is shutting down the consumer version of its online social network after fixing a bug exposing private data in as many as 500 000 accounts.

The US internet giant said it will “sunset” the Google+ social network for consumers. It failed to gain meaningful traction after being launched in 2011 as a challenge to Facebook.

A Google spokesperson cited “significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers’ expectations” along with “very low usage”.

In March, a security audit revealed a software bug that gave third-party apps access to Google+ private profile data that people meant to share only with friends. Google said it was unable to confirm which accounts were affected by the bug, but an analysis indicated it could have been as many as 500 000 Google+ accounts.

“We found no evidence that any developer was aware of this bug … and we found no evidence that any profile data was misused,” Google said in a blog post.

The data involved was limited to optional profile fields, including name, age, gender, occupation and e-mail address, Google said. Information that could be accessed did not include posts, messages or telephone numbers.

Google did not specify how long the software flaw existed, or why it waited to disclose it.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Google executives opted against notifying users earlier because of fears it would catch the attention of regulators.

Google will wind down Google+ during the coming 10 months to allow people time to download pictures, videos or other data they want from their accounts. It plans to add new workplace-orientated features to enhance the appeal of Google+ as a “secure corporate social network” to be used inside business operations.

“We have many enterprise customers who are finding great value in using Google+ within their companies,” the firm said.

“Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions.”

By Jean le Roux for Fake News Exposed

Some of South Africa’s biggest banks, insurance companies and car manufacturers have been caught advertising on fake news websites.

A News24 investigation of three months has found that big brands like Absa, Coronation, Cell C, Capitec, Mercedes Benz, Takealot and OUTsurance, who spend millions of rands promoting and marketing the credibility and integrity of their brands, have indirectly contributed to the fake news industry by buying programmatic advertising that landed up on dodgy websites.

Some of these websites, like HINNews – a Nigeria-based site that publishes a mix of fabricated stories and real news – have run stories about EFF leader Julius Malema dying of listeriosis and a new kidnapping ring “ripping” unborn babies from their mothers.

As the world is grappling with the scourge of fake news in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election in the United States and the support he received from Russian-run fake news operations to target potential Republican voters, South Africa has not been spared from the phenomenon.

“At Africa Check, we’ve seen false news stories stoke retribution, cause panic and misinform people about their health, which can have deadly consequences. It’s a real shame that reputable news brands aid the existence of these outlets, even if inadvertently. The sooner this gap is plugged, the better for society,” says Anim van Wyk, chief editor at Africa Check.

Association by advertising

Ismail Jooma, Head of Strategy at VML South Africa told News24 the creators of disinformation and fake news use rhetoric as a tool to divide.

“‘Disinformation’ websites are the modern era’s galvaniser of marginalised rhetoric, more often than not these websites pursue an agenda of racism, sexism and intolerance. If we had to remove the lens of moral subjectivity, purveyors of fake news aim to disunite at the very least.

A number of fake news sites that specialise in publishing fabricated news about South Africa make money through selling programmatic advertising spots to Google and other service providers.

News24 is publishing the results of our investigation into this phenomenon, including a blacklist of fake news websites, on a dedicated website titled Fake News Exposed.

Websites like HINNews are among several similar sites known for their clickbait headlines and fabricated stories, which are either copied from other online news sources or made up from scratch. Their articles show a fondness for the macabre and racially charged stories and are often widely shared on social media.

Companies whose brands appeared on these websites say they were unaware that they were inadvertently funding fake news and have instead blamed Google for allowing these sites to operate.

Google enables programmatic advertising, which is based on users’ browsing patterns on the internet. Advertising agencies buy adverts on behalf of clients and Google allocates these ads through a platform called Google Adsense, that uses algorithms to place adverts on websites. Website owners are then paid by Google Adsense.

In countries like Macedonia, running fake news websites that publish fabricated stories have become a full-scale industry and source of revenue for unemployed youngsters.

Companies condemn disinformation

Capitec, one of the local brands who’s advertising was found on a fake news website, condemned the phenomenon through their spokesperson Charl Nel. This sentiment was echoed by representatives from OUTsurance and Coronation. The full responses of companies caught on fake news websites by News24 can be found here.

These companies say they were unaware that a part of their advertising spend was finding its way to the owners of fake news site, while Google removed HINNews from its advertising network on September 21 after receiving queries from News24.

Nel said it was difficult for the bank to ascertain which news sites are fake and that it targets a market based on its readership. “We utilise various software for delivery of programmatic ads which are globally recognised (and) which optimises and creates lists as a brand watch. Capitec and our advertising partners also review websites on a monthly basis, however, it is very hard to decipher which websites are not legitimate as we target based on users.”

Nel condemned the use of fake news but repeated that it is hard to determine which sites are real and which are fake. “We are working hard to ensure these sites are blacklisted.”

OUTsurance’s head of client relations, Natasha Kawulesar, also denied the insurer’s knowledge or support of adverts on fake news websites and said the fake news website where it advertised was part of the Google Display Network (GDN), Google’s network of Adsense-approved websites. Google bans pornography, illegal downloads and similar websites from the GDN.

“We do not have the knowledge or capability to handle this function [digital advertising] ourselves and currently rely on our media and technology partners to handle this on their side,” said Kawulesar. “We place our trust in the publishers and media partners we deal with. We also have service level agreements in place to protect our brand and reputation. We confirm once again that we do not condone fake news or misinformation in any way, form or scale.”

Thato Mntambo, Manager: Corporate Communications at Mercedes-Benz South Africa also told News24 that the placement of their adverts was in the hands of Google.

“The unintended consequence of the pervasiveness of GDN [Google Display Network] is the difficulty to monitor the number of websites where our advertisements are displayed. We are conscious of the potential of incorrect placements and ameliorate the effects thereof through continuous monitoring of keywords and, in some cases, blacklisting keywords.”

Coronation Fund Managers, responding through their representative Tanya Schreuder of Dentsu Aegis Network, told News24 that the website on which their branding was found formed part of Google’s GDN list of websites.

“Under no circumstances would the Dentsu Aegis Network, as custodians of our clients’ brands, consciously support sites which are illegal, undesirable or dubious in any form. We take brand safety incredibly seriously and on behalf of all of our clients we undertake every effort to ensure that any online inventory we deploy is legitimate and of a quality that is contextually suitable.”

Google’s response

Google declined to comment on HINNews’s listing on the Google Display Network.

A spokesperson said: “Our publisher policies govern where Google ads may be placed. We don’t comment on individual sites but we enforce these policies vigorously and regularly review sites to ensure compliance. We also encourage people to let us know when they see sites that they have concerns about that may be in violation of our policies.”

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