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Beware of Dragon Slayers Bearing Bad Ideas. They Might Not Be Fair. Or Useful

As should be obvious to nearly everyone with an internet connection these days, Google is both really useful and kind of terrifying given the scope of how much Google knows about nearly all of us and how much it controls what we know. The fact that Google’s list of corporate ambitions includes things like ‘owning the internet’ and owning the internet’s pipes doesn’t really help. And then there’s the killer robots and wage-theft. All in all, it’s not hard to hope Google gets Scroogled. Soon.

But there’s more than one way to screw Google and not everyone that fears Google is some random consumer. Major corporate entities also fear Google and it just so happens that a coalition of many of the largest publisher in Europe has a plan to slay the Google Dragon they fear so much. Unfortunately, this coalition might slay “fair use” across the internet in the process. That’s right, copyright law could be getting a big ‘upgrade’ in the digital realm as part of a new anti-Google initiative in a way that upgrades the bottom line of the biggest publishers and downgrades everyone else’s general ability to find news articles and talk about the world. This is happening.

So here’s a quick summary of what just happened:
The European parliament is set to vote a motion proposing that Google and other internet technology companies be broken up in the EU. The parliament itself can’t break up these firms, so it’s really more a plea to EU regulators. Considering that Google controls 95% search engine market share in the EU, it’s not a shocking move and maybe even appropriate.

What is shocking is manner in which the new laws that, right now, are focused on rein in Google will also radical overhaul of how we use the internet and, even more consequently, it might change how we read the news and understand our world. And it’s the EU’s major publishers that are effectively writing these new laws. THAT’s what’s so shocking. The EU’s new “competition minister”, Germany’s Günther Oettinger, is already calling for reviving something that’s been in the European publisher’s wish-list for years: implementing at the EU-level laws that have been percolating across EU member states that make Google and other “news aggregators” pay a fees to publishers for listing their news headlines and a tiny snippets on their sites.

Google’s competitors are also calling for regulating Google’s search engine algorithms and there’s even the possibility that Google might even be forced to share customer information with rivals if that information is deemed “indispensable” for competition. These are the kinds of new rules Google’s rivals are asking for and it appears to be the case that the EU parliament is now planning on making many of these industry initiatives law. Soon. Which one’s will become law? That remains to be seen, but big changes are coming to the EU’s internet regime and, in the words of the EU competition minster Günther Oettinger:


“We are seeking unified data protection across Europe, one which American companies will have to abide by as well. If this is not the case there is scope for punitive measures and fines,” the digital economy commissioner warned. On the copyright question he also said, slightly mysteriously: “We want European copyright legislation and we want companies like Google to adhere to European copyright standards. We have the legal jurisdiction for this and we want to bring a degree of fairness into the relationship between the users, Google and its competitors.”

In other words, making these new EU changes apply to US firms (and presumably firms everywhere else), means the EU is potentially going to change how the internet and copyright law work globally (the rest of the world is interested in EU news too, after all). Again, soon.

All of this is happening as part of an initiative to rein in Google. And since Google is so big and scary these days, it means some potentially very big and scary new rules and regulations that impact much more than just Google could become the new law of the internet (or at least large parts of the internet) under the banner of slaying the Google Dragon. Dragon slaying might come with a lot of associated fanfare and deservedly so. Dragon slaying is hard. But that doesn’t mean others kinds of corporate beasts aren’t already waiting in the wings. And and doesn’t mean those beasts didn’t get the fancy idea of going into the dragon slaying business themselves:

Financial Times

November 21, 2014 6:23 pm
Google break-up plan emerges from Brussels

Henry Mance, Alex Barker and Murad Ahmed

The European parliament is poised to call for a break-up of Google, in one of the most brazen assaults so far on the technology group’s power.

The gambit increases the political pressure on the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to take a tougher line on Google, either its antitrust investigation into the company or through the introduction of laws to curb its reach.

A draft motion seen by the Financial Times says that “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services” should be considered as a potential solution to Google’s dominance. It has the backing of the parliament’s two main political blocs, the European People’s Party and the Socialists.

A vote to effectively single out a big US company for censure is extremely rare in the European parliament and is in part a reflection of how Germany’s politicians have turned against Google this year.

German centre-right and centre-left politicians are the dominant force in the legislature and German corporate champions, from media groups to telecoms, are among the most vocal of Google’s critics.

Since his nomination to be the EU’s digital commissioner, Germany’s Günther Oettinger has suggested hitting Google with a levy for displaying copyright-protected material; has raised the idea of forcing its search results to be neutral; and voiced concerns about its provision of software for cars.

Google has become a a lightning rod for European concerns over Silicon Valley, with consumers, regulators and politicians assailing the company over issues ranging from its commercial dominance to its privacy policy. It has reluctantly accepted the European Court of Justice’s ruling on the right to be forgotten, which requires it to consider requests not to index certain links about people’s past.

The European parliament has no formal power to split up companies, but has increasing influence on the commission, which initiates all EU legislation. The commission has been investigating concerns over Google’s dominance of online search for five years, with critics arguing that the company’s rankings favour its own services, hitting its rivals’ profits.

“Unbundling cannot be excluded,” said Andreas Schwab, a German MEP who is one of the motion’s backers.

Unbundling of services. That’s clearly one of the top priority of the EU parliament’s new initiative, led by a coalition of German MEPs and the new EU digital commissioner, Günther Oettinger.

But as we’ll see in the excerpts below, unbundling is really just one of the goals EU MEPs and Oettinger are going to be fighting for in the coming months and years. EU publishing giants, led by the German giants like Axel Springer, are calling for a fundamental overhaul of how internet copyright works, at least for companies operating in the EU. It’s an agenda that would force Google to pay publishers for using their headlines and snippets while linking to their articles. Interestingly, just earlier that month, before the EU parliament called for breaking up Google and the EU’s competition minister “suggested hitting Google with a levy for displaying copyright-protected material”, German publishing giant Axel Springer appeared to have given up on that very plan. So this recent announcement that the EU was going to attempt to implement new copyright laws that would charge Google fees for news headlines must have been extremely revieving to Axel Spring and the other German publishers that were suing Google for similar copyright fees very unsuccessfully:

ZDNet
German publishing giant Axel Springer caves in over Google news snippets row

Summary: Could the long-running battle between the publishing giant and the search engine finally be at an end?
By Liam Tung for The German View | November 6, 2014 — 10:12 GMT (02:12 PST)

German publisher Axel Springer has withdrawn its demand that Google pay to publish news snippets from its publications, in the latest twist to the scuffle over copyright fees.

Under a new ‘free license’, Axel Springer is allowing Google to display portions of text from news stories published by four of its sites: welt.de, computerbild.de, sportbild.de, and autobild.de.

The move by the German publishing giant follows a standoff over Germany’s ancillary copyright law which Axel Springer argued enabled it to demand licensing fees from search engines like Google for republishing portions of a story. Google has maintained that its service benefits publishers and so it should not have to pay a fee.

In June, fee-collecting body VG Media – a consortium of publishers including Axel Springer – sued Google over the issue. Google responded in October by halting its indexing of news snippets and thumbnails of VG Media content, instead only displaying headlines. At the time, VG Media said it was being blackmailed by Google.

Announcing the free license for Google yesterday, Axel Springer said that traffic to the sites had declined by nearly 40 percent since Google stopped producing snippets and thumbnails on October 23. It also claimed that traffic to the German sites from Google News was down by almost 80 percent.

Withholding the free license was part of the publisher’s plan to demonstrate what it sees as Google abusing its dominant power to force publishers into licensing their content for free. As Axel Springer noted, its aim was to “document the effects of the downgrading of search results as part of ongoing legal proceedings to enforce the existing press ancillary copyright law”.

Axel Springer was one of the primary forces lobbying for the ancillary copyright bill, which came into effect on August 1 last year. What hasn’t been clear is whether the bill granted the German publisher a right to demand fees, which Google has never paid.

At its quarterly earnings update yesterday, the publisher’s CEO Dr Mathias Döpfner called the move “the most successful failure we have ever experienced”.

“As sad as it is, we now know very precisely just how far-reaching the consequences of the discrimination are, as well as the real effects of Google’s market power and how Google punishes everyone who exercises a right that has been granted to them by the German Bundestag.”

The battle over copyright is likely far from over, however. Incoming digital chief for the European Commission, Günther Oettinger, last week suggested Google be slugged with a copyright tax if it uses European intellectual property.

Well that clearly didn’t work out well for Axel Springer. Google de-indexed Axel Springer-owned content after Axel Springer sued for headline/snippet fess and the publisher’s traffic declined 40 percent, including an 80 decline in traffic from Google News. It certainly demonstrates the power of Google News in driving traffic to German news sites and it’s a reminder that the people critical of Google’s monopolistic size do have a very valid point. Google is wildly important. That’s one reason the EU parliament’s new plan for breaking up Google and/unbundling its services might have some significant successes. Google really has gobbled up much of the European digital market for core services like searching.

A New Standard (For Squeezing Websites)
And yet it’s hard to ignore the fact that forcing Google to pay German publishers for headlines and blurbs is just about the scariest thing you could imagine for the internet if that catches on. How far is the “pay us for headlines and blurbs” trend going to go? We’ll have to wait and see but, again, it’s with noting that EU competition minister Oettinger said, “We are seeking unified data protection across Europe, one which American companies will have to abide by as well. If this is not the case there is scope for punitive measures and fines”:

GigaOm
European Parliament reportedly wants Google to be broken up
David Meyer
Nov. 21, 2014 – 11:10 AM PST

The European Parliament is about to call for the “unbundling” of Google’s search business from the rest of its operations, as one potential way to challenge the company’s market dominance, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The FT said Friday that it has seen a draft motion that has the backing of the European People’s Party and the S&D (the Socialists), which are by far the two biggest blocs in the Parliament, with a combined weight of around 55 percent. The motion apparently urges the European Commission – which unlike the Parliament does have the authority to break up companies – to “take a tougher line on Google”, in the FT’s words.

The Parliament reportedly would like the Commission to tackle Google’s dominance either through its ongoing antitrust probe into the firm’s search tactics – currently on pause as new competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager re-evaluates where things stand — or by some other means. It is worth noting that Vestager’s predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, was of the opinion that Google could not be broken up under existing competition legislation. Then again, he was also keener than everyone else to agree an early settlement with the firm, and ultimately failed to do so.

Google has a much higher share of the search market in Europe – well over 90 percent – than it does in the U.S., which is why its practices matter so much there. Some of the criticisms call out clearly anticompetitive practices, such as Google promoting its own services over those of rivals in its results, but others have been piling into the case in recent months.

Of particular note is the campaign against Google by press publishers, particularly those in Germany. The new digital economy commissioner, the German Günther Oettinger, has the copyright reform brief and has indicated that he wants to take the publishers’ side in their quest to extract money from the firm for using snippets of their text in its search results.

Beyond antitrust, Google has also repeatedly shrugged off data protection fines across Europe, as national privacy regulators try desperately but unsuccessfully to force a change in its ways. Oettinger said in a Thursday public Q&A session with the German Press Association (DPA) that “if companies based outside the EU want to operate with their digital services within the European digital market and have access to data which they then store or evaluate, then they must adhere to our rules.”

“We are seeking unified data protection across Europe, one which American companies will have to abide by as well. If this is not the case there is scope for punitive measures and fines,” the digital economy commissioner warned. On the copyright question he also said, slightly mysteriously: “We want European copyright legislation and we want companies like Google to adhere to European copyright standards. We have the legal jurisdiction for this and we want to bring a degree of fairness into the relationship between the users, Google and its competitors.”

As the article points out, Google has repeated flouted the EU’s data-privacy laws “as national privacy regulators try desperately but unsuccessfully to force a change in its ways”. And that’s certainly a large concern. Google’s size and the Panoptican-ish nature of its business model makes it legitimately scary (not to mention Google’s ever-growing military contracting business). But is creating an internet model imposed at the EU level where EU publishers, possibly all EU publishers someday, get paid for headlines or blurbs really part of the solution we want to be pursuing? Doesn’t that threaten to make search engines biased towards fewer news results in general? Do we really want to set up a legal precedent at the EU level where headlines and blurbs are a fee-based luxury?

If the fees are limited to Google and other giants who cares. Google will be fine and the publishers could probably use the money more. But it seems highly questionable to assume that these fees are going to be restricted to large search engines and big ‘news aggregators’ in the long run. At least not as long as it’s the big publishers that are leading the way.

And now that Günther Oettinger has made it one of his goals to champion the agenda of the German publishers, keep in mind that early indications were that those publishers had far grander agenda the headlines/snippets fees:

GigaOm
Google lashes out at German copyright ‘threat’
David Meyer
Aug. 21, 2012 – 8:39 AM PST

Google has launched a broadside against a proposed law in Germany that would see search engines forced to pay license fees for linking people to news stories.

Well, actually that’s slightly inaccurate: the draft law would make search engines pay for reproducing newspapers’ headlines and first paragraphs. So, take those away and the links are fine. Even if nobody will have the faintest idea what they’re linking to.

Oberbeck also pointed out the obvious: that Google send readers to the publishers’ sites. And that anyone who doesn’t want their content to be indexed by Google can just throw a robots.txt file in there. And that publishers make money off Adsense.

But wait, let’s back up. To appreciate the full absurdity of the situation, we should take in a little history.

The German publishing houses, particularly Axel Springer, are very powerful in their country, with relatively strong influence in government circles. As Matthias Spielkamp of the copyright news site iRights put it to me:

“If you look at the U.S., if print houses there want something, they are up against American companies like Google and Yahoo. Here we have local publishers that are enormously powerful and are trying to target U.S. companies. I wouldn’t say it’s anti-American – it’s just that German politicians are much more inclined to protect German publishers’ interests when balancing that with a [foreign] company or industry.”

A couple of years ago, a leaked draft showed what plans the publishing houses were pitching to their friends in the coalition government. The first official draft legislation showed up in April. What it proposed was breathtaking.

The government was calling for a form of ‘ancillary copyright’ to be brought in, that would force companies to pay publishers license fees for using their work in a commercial setting. As in, employers would have to pay up for letting their employees read the news online at work.

German industry bodies were predictably apoplectic, as were opposition parties, and the government beat a hasty retreat. The second draft, which appeared in the last couple of months, drastically narrowed the scope of the legislation, so that it would only apply to search engines.

So now Google is furious for being picked on, when it actually drives traffic to the publishers.

And the publishers aren’t happy either – Anja Pasquay, a spokeswoman for the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), told me that the second draft “won’t help”, and her organization would rather see a revival of the first draft.

On balance, it’s difficult not to take Google’s side on this one. The whole idea of this kind of ancillary copyright is ridiculous, and it puts the likes of Axel Springer in a very poor light indeed.

It’s not as though Axel Springer isn’t plunging headfirst into the web industry itself – only today, it announced the purchase of an online news and classified portal.

The German publishing giants are big enough to compete in the real world. Sure, it’s tough monetizing free web content. But cooking up hokey and self-defeating new copyright laws is a pretty shabby way to go about it.

Let’s hope this was an exageration, but once again:

The government was calling for a form of ‘ancillary copyright’ to be brought in, that would force companies to pay publishers license fees for using their work in a commercial setting. As in, employers would have to pay up for letting their employees read the news online at work.

And when that proposal was cut out of the first draft of the German legislation:

And the publishers aren’t happy either – Anja Pasquay, a spokeswoman for the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), told me that the second draft “won’t help”, and her organization would rather see a revival of the first draft.

And now we have an EU digital commissioner Oettinger is openly expressing interest in reviving the publishing giants’ ‘headlines/blurb royalties’ request.

The French (and Spanish and Belgian) Connection
So just how crazy might this going to get? Keep in mind that while Germany’s officials are clearly leading the way on this initiative, this is far from being a Germany-only project. Spain, France, and Belgium are already making Google pay similar fees. So if there’s a push to make this the model for the entire EU there’s already plenty of precedent:

GigaOm
Why Google’s settlement with French publishers is bad for the web
Mathew Ingram
Feb. 4, 2013 – 8:10 AM PST

After much diplomatic maneuvering and a series of face-saving gestures on both sides, Google finally signed an agreement with French newspaper publishers late Friday that puts to rest a long-standing legal battle over Google’s behavior in excerpting stories on Google News, which the French have argued is copyright infringement. But while the search giant may be relieved to put the whole kerfuffle behind it, there’s an argument to be made that it has actually done more harm than good — not only to its own interests, but to the interests of the open web as well.

Veteran tech blogger Lauren Weinstein describes this risk well in a recent blog post, in which he calls what the government of France is doing “extortion,” and warns of the long-term risk of Google acceding to such demands that it pay for the simple act of linking and excerpting content:

“There is little evidence to suggest that ‘paying off’ a party making unreasonable demands will do much more than quiet them for the moment, and they’ll almost inevitably be back for more. And more. And more. Even worse, caving in such situations signals other parties that you may be susceptible to their making the same (or even more outrageous) demands, and this mindset can easily spread from attacking deep-pocketed firms to decimating much smaller companies, organizations, or even individuals.

As my colleague Jeff Roberts noted in his post on the Google settlement, the French originally wanted the company to pay as much as $100 million, and wanted almost all of that to go into a fund that publishers could use for their own purposes, rather than into ad buying or other joint ventures. And he also noted that with the latest deal — which comes on the heels of a similar settlement with Belgium — Google is sending a very obvious message to other countries such as Germany that it is prepared to pay.

Google’s tactics set a dangerous precedent

This may make sense for Google, since it is trying to avoid as much litigation as possible, and wants to be on good terms with European countries (where it has already run into multiple roadblocks and barriers around services like Street View and privacy concerns). But I think Weinstein is right when he argues that this is only going to encourage countries like Germany — and plenty of others as well — to assume that if they push Google on the subject of linking, they will get cash.

Google wants these payments to be seen as a helping hand to publishers, which is why the fund is described as ““supporting digital publishing initiatives,”,” and why it puts so much emphasis on the strategic partnership angle. But regardless of the picture it is trying to paint, the settlement is being described by many as a “pay for links” deal, and that perception is dangerous. As Weinstein puts it:

“France’s complaints regarding Google related to activities that are absolutely part and parcel of the fundamental and fully expected nature of the open Internet when dealing with publicly accessible Web sites [and its] success at obtaining financial and other concessions from Google associated with ordinary search and linking activities sends a loud, clear, and potentially disastrous message around the planet, a message that could doom the open Internet and Web that we’ve worked so long and hard to create.”

In other words, this issue is much bigger than just Google. While it may serve Google’s purposes to settle with France and Belgium, and perhaps other countries as well, all that does is encourage other governments and companies to see payment for links as an appropriate strategy. How long until U.S. newspapers and publishers start to argue the same thing? What about other companies? Director Harvey Weinstein (no relation to Lauren) said in a recent interview that the U.S. should have legislation to make this a reality — and Google is helping that kind of thinking gain momentum.

And just a month after Google made that settlement with France big publishers, Germany’s lower house passed a bill similar to what Axel Springer was asking for but somewhat watered down:

Ars Technica
Germany wants Google to pay for news citations, passes re-publishing bill
Google can post “short excerpts” freely—but what that means, nobody knows
by Cyrus Farivar – Mar 1 2013, 7:00pm CST

The lower house of the German parliament, known as the Bundestag, has approved a new bill that would require search engines to pay a license fee for re-publishing content longer than “individual words or short excerpts.” The bill passed by a vote of 293 to 243, with three abstentions.

However, the law does not define exactly what such a “snippet” would entail. For the law to take effect, it would need to be ratified by the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat. By all accounts, this bill is a watered-down version of what had originally been lobbied for by the German publishing and media industry.

Yes, the bill was a water-down version on what German publishers asks for since it was somewhat vague in terms of what constitutes a “snippet”. But now that the EU parliament and EU digital commissioner are openly prioritizing the passage of something similar to this law, but for the entire EU, it’s looking like may find out soon! This “ancillary copyright” law went into effect for Germany back in August 2013. It’s the same law that grants German publishers the exclusive rights to commercially exploit their products online and Google and other search engines and ‘news aggregators’ now have to pay a license fee to publisher if they listed more of an article than “single words and smallest excerpts”. And as we saw above, it’s the same law that Axel Springer and others sued Google over when Google refused to pay the fees, leading to Google dropping Axel Springer and other plaintiffs from Google’s search indexing (and the subsequent fee waiver issued by Axel Springer earlier this monthth so Google would start linking to them again).

11 Percent. Just For These Guys.
So how much are the publishers hoping to get from Google if everything goes well for their in thier ancillary persuits? Well, back in June, we learned another fun-fact about what we might expect from the EU’s copyright regime: Several German media giants, including Axel Springer (but not Spiegel Online, Handelsblatt, Sueddeutsche.de, Stern.de or Focus), sued Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft for 11 percent of their “gross sales, including foreign sales” that come “directly and indirectly from making excerpts from online newspapers and magazines public.” That 11 percent would presumably be set aside for just those German media giants that participated in the lawsuit. The rest of the EU will have to fight over the remainining 89% of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s “gross sales, including foreign sales” that come “directly and indirectly from making excerpts from online newspapers and magazines public.”

Breaking Up As A Last Resort. A Last Resort That Was Just Chosen
So some very signficant changes could be in store for the European internet markets and the US markets based on Günther Oettinger’s comments above about making US companies abide by this new framework too. And why wouldn’t this apply to the world? So we’re now looking at a new source of global legal pressure to allow major publishers to start charging for news snippets. One of the fun parts about globalization is the crap can get globalized too as laws get harmonized and publishers everywhere would LOVE this.

And it’s not just a cut of the revenues from companies like Google and other ‘news aggregators’ that are on the horizon for the internet. Back in July, the Financial Times issued a rather interesting report suggesting that hinting at what else to expect: a 42-page internal review of the European Commission’s probe into Google’s practices by the German competition/cartel authority (the Bundeskartellamt) suggested that Google’s proposed settlement with the EU over competition concerns (a settlement that did not involve fees for snippets at all) was adequate and as far as EU law could go. But that initial opinion by the Bundeskartellamt was been clearly ignored:

Financial Times
Brussels reaches legal limits on Google antitrust settlement

By Alex Barker in Brussels
July 21, 2014 4:56 pm

Google’s draft antitrust deal with Brussels reaches the limits of what is allowed in EU law, according to a German policy paper highlighting the constraints on European politicians railing against US tech groups.

A 42-page internal review by Germany’s competition authority, seen by the Financial Times, offers a cautious assessment for ministers seeking legal means to curb the clout of US internet companies and safeguard consumer data.

At a moment when Google is political siege in Germany, the Bundeskartellamt offers qualified support for the European Commission’s heavily criticised probe into whether the US group rigs search results to divert traffic from rivals.

It argues that Google’s draft EU settlement is a “suitable approach to counter the barriers to competitors” and says the commission went as far as is possible under existing EU competition law.

The paper offers some legislative options – at both national and EU level – to toughen antitrust law and reinforce the Brussels’ draft pact, but warns that steps to break up Google and “unbundle” services would be harmful and misplaced.

French and German ministers have demanded Brussels toughen up its planned settlement or serve charges against the US group. Yet Joaquín Almunia, the EU competition chief, is still expected to push for the pact to be formally adopted this autumn if he thinks he can overcome reservations of some EU commissioners and a barrage of criticism from Google’s rivals.

Even if the search pact is adopted, Mr Almunia has made clear to colleagues that Google would face antitrust scrutiny in other areas – such as YouTube and its Android mobile operating system – and potentially face legislative curbs over data protection or copyright.

In May Sigmar Gabriel, the German economy minister and vice-chancellor, called for radical steps to curb its market power, including as a last resort the possible break-up of Google and its regulation like a utility. His intervention came shortly after the Bundeskartellamt delivered its paper to his ministry.

Yes, back in May, German Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel called for radical steps to curb Google’s market power shortly after the competition/cartel ministry (the Bundeskartellamt) made its 42 page internal report recommending the EU commission’s anti-trust investigation accept Google’s proposed settlement over claims of unfair search results. On top of that, Gabriel also suggested that Google might need to be regulated like a utility.

A Search Utility?
Recall that EU digital commissioner Oettinger is already talking about regulating Google’s search results. So what might a Google search regulatory regime look like? Well, if the European publishing industry gets its way (which looks quite possible at this point), regulating Google searches will involve regulating Google’s search algorithms:

Google should be regulated like utilities, say rivals

Market testing of Google remedies ends Thursday

By Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service | Jun 25, 2013 3:08 PM PT

Companies who have been assessing Google’s planned remedies to anti-competitive practices called on the European Commission on Tuesday to reject them and to consider regulating Internet search.

Google has been under investigation by the Commission since November 2010 after rivals accused the search giant of setting its algorithm to direct users to its own services by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services. It was also accused of content-scraping and imposing contractual restrictions that prevent advertisers from moving their online campaigns to rival search engines.

On April 25 Google proposed specific measures to address these complaints and rivals and interested parties were invited by the Commission to “market test” them. That testing period ends on Thursday.

Google has proposed to label its preferred links to its own sites in search results. But publishers say that this will mislead consumers into thinking these were somehow tailor-made results for search queries and interests, thereby causing even greater harm to competition.

Google also proposes to include links to rival search engines for specialist restaurant search results that generate revenue for Google. Google’s paid-for services would be separated from general search and treated more like advertising.

Finally, Google has agreed to remove exclusivity provisions from all future contracts and any legacy advertising contracts and will offer tools to prevent Web scraping by allowing content owners to opt out.

But many complainants who met in Brussels on Tuesday to present their position on the remedies said that search is such an important Internet tool that it should be regulated like a telecommunications or electric utilities.

“Everyone relies on it,” said Weber. “Unfortunately no one planning the digital single market thought that a single company would control access to the Internet.” Google has 95 percent of the search market in the E.U.

Meanwhile hundreds of publishers and their trade associations wrote an open letter calling on Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia to reject Google’s draft remedies completely.

“As a minimum requirement, Google must hold all services, including its own, to exactly the same standards, using exactly the same crawling, indexing, ranking, display and penalty algorithms,” said one of the signatories, Helmut Heinen, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers.

Feedback from the market test will be taken into account in the Commission’s final analysis. However, it is the Commission that Google’s remedies must satisfy, not any other party involved. If a solution isn’t found, the Commission could still fine the company up to 10 percent of its annual global revenue.

“As a minimum requirement, Google must hold all services, including its own, to exactly the same standards, using exactly the same crawling, indexing, ranking, display and penalty algorithms.” What exactly will that entail? We’ll find out since all signs coming out of the EU parliament right now are that Google’s searches are about to get regulated. Will search regulations be limited to Google? With Google holding 95% of the EU search market share it’s hard to see other major competitors that are also in monopoly territory. So the scope of these new search regulation will be something to watch going forward in part because they might start off only impacting Google (and Google is easy to hate). But, with all European publishers pushing to get exclusive rights to commercially exploit their products online and extract fees for headlines and snippets, we probably shouldn’t be surprised if this “regulated search” initiative doesn’t just include Google and if categories of media of that involve licensing fees expands beyond just the news.

What Other Types of Regulations Might Emerge? A Different Kind of Sharing Economy?
So some very big changes are coming for how the internet functions. Given Google’s gargantuan size and the profoundly scary amount of personal information the company is gathering on the global population it’s not as if a regulatory look at how a firm like Google handles are personal information and directs traffic across the web is inappropriate. But as we’ll see in this Out-Law.com interview below, when Google’s industry rivals are basically writing the news laws regulating Google, maybe we shouldn’t expect all those new regulations intended to limit the collection and commercial use and abuse of private data to apply to the entire industry. Maybe we should expect the opposite result:

Out-law.com
Opinion on big data, privacy and competition may be latest marker in closer scrutiny of Google, says expert

A new opinion issued by an EU watchdog on ‘big data’, privacy and competition issues can be read as a “shot across the bows” of Google and other large technology players, an information law specialist has said.

01 Apr 2014

Lore Leitner of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that data protection authorities (DPAs) in the EU are becoming increasingly frustrated with limitations to their ability to control Google’s power in collecting and using personal data.

She said, however, that the new preliminary opinion issued by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has highlighted the potential for EU scrutiny of Google’s activities to shift from an assessment of whether the company is compliant with EU data protection laws to whether the way Google gathers and uses personal data gives the company advantages in a way that is in line with competition rules.

In his opinion, EDPS Peter Hustinx said that an investigation into the “costs and benefits” associated with the way companies often provide free services to consumers in exchange for the right to gather and use their personal data is “overdue”. He called for DPAs and competition regulators to work closer together so as to help “stimulate the market for privacy-enhancing services”.

Competition law specialist Sammy Kalmanowicz of Pinsent Masons said competition issues around how the use of personal data is controlled has been discussed previously at EU level, including when the European Commission assessed Google’s takeover of advertising business DoubleClick in 2008.

However, Kalmanowicz said he expects competition authorities to pay closer attention to competition issues as the need to analyse big data becomes a more prominent part of doing business. He said competition law could be engaged in a variety of ways.

“Regulators are likely to become increasingly interested in the way companies with significant market power use personal data and will be on the look out for activities that could be said to constitute an abuse of market dominance and thus a breach of competition rules,” Kalmanowicz said.

“In particular, the imposition of restrictions on rivals gaining access to consumers’ personal data is likely to be scrutinised closely as the data becomes an ever more important currency in providing better targeted services. Interoperability with competitors’ platforms and giving consumers the right to transfer their data to rival services will become more important for major businesses as a result,” he said.

An abuse of dominance can occur when a dominant company refuses to supply or provide access to an essential facility. The expert said that businesses’ mere collection and processing of personal data may be scrutinised by competition authorities more closely in future “because big data may be considered an asset giving significant advantages”.

Kalmanowicz also said that competition authorities may also review how companies involved in potential merger deals can exploit the amalgamated personal data records and whether the advantages that can be accrued by the merged entity could raise barriers to entry in certain markets, including advertisement, technology and innovation markets.

“Information is power as services can be tailored better to consumers from analysing their personal data,” Kalmanowicz said. “Proposed merger deals may be affected if they lead to a concentration of a great volume of personal data or tools for analysing such information so that the merged company has significant consumer insights. In such circumstances competition authorities may, for example, require the data to be made available to rival companies if it is felt that such access is indispensible to ensure effective competition and innovation.

Well, at least according to the competition law specialist interview above, one of the areas the EU is probably going to be looking at in this era of overhauled data privacy rules is the possibity that major data aggregators, like Google, that gain competitive advantages by having so much different personal information on consumers might be required to make that data avilable to rivals if the data is deemed indispensable to competition and innovation:


Proposed merger deals may be affected if they lead to a concentration of a great volume of personal data or tools for analysing such information so that the merged company has significant consumer insights. In such circumstances competition authorities may, for example, require the data to be made available to rival companies if it is felt that such access is indispensible to ensure effective competition and innovation.

In other words, one of the models that’s being looked at for firms like Google that might grow too big for comfort (‘too big’ in terms of how much data they have on us) is to examine how how so much data creates new competitive advantages that make some data “indispensable” and “to ensure competition and innovation” those data giants might be force to make the data available to rival companies. So it’s sort of the opposite approach to the ‘unbundle and break up Google’ approach. Almost the exact opposite approach. It’s possible that the EU’s new data privacy regulations will ensure that whatever shared with rivals doesn’t create new avenues for abuse, but is that’s a realistic scenario given everything we’ve seen?

So it’s going to be important to keep in mind that the concerns over data privacy can be in direct competition with concerns over industry competition. Industry likes having more consumer data. Consumers don’t. Yes, competition concerns can be mitigated by actions like breaking Google up and forcing an unbundling of it’s services (since it’s the bundling that provides so much of the additional personal data). But those competition/anti-trust concerns can also be addressed by forcing Google to share its information with competitors if that information is considered necessary for competition.

And which approach is more likely now that we’ve seen how the publishing industry and other Google rivals are clearly influencing the regulatory/legislative agenda on this topic? Less data collected for Google or more data shared by Google? Or why not both? Couldn’t we see both a push to break up/unbundle Google in Europe and attempts to force Google to share its customer info with rivals? Given the rapidly changing attitude to Google in Europe it sure seems possible.

Isn’t This All Alarming?
Given that we’re now looking at a new EU-level internet regime that might grant publisher such exclusive rights over their online content to extract fees for headlines and snippets, and given that Google’s search algorithms could be regulated and it could possibly be forced to give “indispensable” data to rival firms, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that some potentially scary new laws could be in the works that sort of trashes the internet. Google-bashing is fun and healthy, but Google-bashing at the behest of a coalition of international publishing giants that are just out to increase their own empires is dangerous. Especially if it involves new policies that extent beyond Google.

Just imagine how that would change the internet if an international legal framework was set up that made it really easy for websites to charge you for linking to their site with a little blurb. Because there’s no way this is going to be limited to Google/Microsoft/Yahoo. Isn’t creating a framework where everyone, big and small, has to pay publishing giants for even the smallest bit of content basically the dream of publishing giants? So shouldn’t we expect an extended push get sites much smaller than Google to be forced to pay these snippetting fees too? That’s obviously the dream and the publishers are obviously in the legislative drivers seat with Germany, France, Belgium, and Space already passing headline/snipper fee legislation. So why isn’t this a sign of things to come for everyone?

Isn’t this one of those potential nightmare corporate initiatives that people should be starting to freaking out about? Just imagine how lame making web content would get if the websites you link to with a snippet can come asking for a chunk of your revenue stream. Content producing media giants might LOVE that particular world but is it really good for everyone else? It’s the digital playing field of dreams for Axel Springer: if you build [that legal and technical framework] Axel Springer will come [and ask for a cut of your revenues if it’s an option]. Sorry poor websites. No link-blurbs for you. Media giants should LOVE that world but what about everyone else?

Society needs to figure out how to drive more revenues into the hands of small and mid-sized content producers, not just the media giants although even the giants are dying these days. So something clearly needs to change in terms of how content producers are paid for their work, big and small. It’s a serious crisis since society is just gets more insane the less quality news society consumes. But is the Axel Springer plan that obliterates fair use and places a cost of cross-site linking really going to do anything for the small and mid-sized content producers and really save the internet from the corporate giants? Are the non-huge content producers all going to be getting revenues streams from Google and other sites in some systematic way? Maybe Google, with all its traffic info, can get into the fee collection business for all the small-time content producers that need to extract fees from all the small to large search/aggregation sites. For a fee, of course. Linking could get commercialized fast if the the giants get their way.

And if the framework is set up to make the ‘Google tax’ available for all the little guys (which is only fair) won’t that same technical/legal framework that allows a large number of participants to monetize a single site’s link traffic/snippets now be in place to apply to a much larger group of websites having to pay those fees? And how broadly will the ‘news aggregators’ license fees apply? Will big forums like Daily Kos and Free Republic get charged by EU publishers in a few years? Drudge presumably will fall under the ‘news aggregator’ which could be hilariously disasterous for US/EU relations if the ‘Google tax’ on Drudge turns the right wing blog-o-sphere against the EU (since the US right-wing has been unusally silent in its Europe bashing ever since the austerity-regime took over).

So the monetization of linking and snippets just might suck for almost everyone. Small and mid-sized websites might have to pay all link/snippet fees and change their structures and code to adapt to the new legal framework. And small and mid-sized content producers are likely to get a raw deal out of any general compensation framework. Or maybe sites will just stop linking to EU news which doesn’t help anyone.

Maybe it will turn out differently. Maybe a robust, populist legal framework that prioritizes the small and mid-sized content producers and eliminates the impact the small and mid-sized websites that might otherwise be taxed. But it sure seems unlikely that Axel Springer and its coalition partners driving this movement are going to voluntarily limit their potential customer fee base to Google and the other giants. There are a whole lot of smaller websites that could be called ‘news aggregators’ out there in internet land and those definitions can be changed. What won’t be changed easily once it’s set up (or ignored easily), is an international framework for automatically levying these fees.

Recall the words of the EU competition minster Günther Oettinger:


“We are seeking unified data protection across Europe, one which American companies will have to abide by as well. If this is not the case there is scope for punitive measures and fines,” the digital economy commissioner warned. On the copyright question he also said, slightly mysteriously: “We want European copyright legislation and we want companies like Google to adhere to European copyright standards. We have the legal jurisdiction for this and we want to bring a degree of fairness into the relationship between the users, Google and its competitors.”

“A degree of fairness into the relationship between the users, Google and its competitors” sounds nice, but keep in mind that balancing “the relationship between the users, Google and its competitors” isn’t going to be an easy or straightforward process since the interests of Google’s competitors and the interests of its customers are often in direct conflict with each other. It’s not just “Google vs the consumer” and “Google vs its competitor” that we have to worry about. It’s also “Google’s consumers vs Google’s competitors” and it’s not at all clear that the solutions being proposed by Google’s industry competitors aren’t going to be wildly in favor of Google’s competitors over everyone else.

If Google was a person it would be a shitty, manipulative person like almost all large profit-oriented corporations, but Google’s corporate competitors are going to be awful too. That’s one of the meta-problems of the day. So it’s not a bad sign to see a mega corporation like Google get reined in, especially these days when corporate giants are have basically unchecked power in the world. And the open question of how society should best deal with mass data aggregators like Google is a fascinating one that’s going to be asked over and over as time goes on. Similarly, the question how best to save the news industry from the unrelenting pressures the digital landscape and pay journalists is also going to be asked over and over (hint: society would read the news more if people it worked less and were paid more so let’s all support working less for a hopefully saner society).

But it’s a really bad sign that slaying the Google Dragon is being done by a coalition of publishing giants that clearly want to use this ant-Google campaign as a trojan horse for laws that would add licensing fees for “individual words or short excerpts” of third party content and it’s going to be even worse if this same corporate coalition that’s trying to make Google get regulated “like a utility” also manages to force Google to share information with rivals deemed “indispensable”. And yet, since the EU parliament suddenly made it clear that very big changes for Google are coming and the EU industry is probably going to be writing the new rules, crazy possibilities like the forced sharing of Google’s consumer data could now be on the way.

If Axel Springer’s industry coalition is the knight that slays the Google Dragon, the new post-dragon era of peace and prosperity in the Kingdom of the Internet might give the internet more of a fascist feel than one would have hoped for. That’s what happens when the publishing industry writes the copyright laws and right now it’s looking like the European publishing industry is poised to write EU copyright laws for the internet, a global platform. As much as Google sucks, it’s just one part of the problem when it comes to the corporate abuses our digital selves. There are other parts of the problem, and those other parts of the problem have their own solutions they would like to see implemented like headline and snippet licensing. If the Google Dragon is going to be slain, the dragon’s spoils can either be shared amongst its competitors or shrunk entirely for everyone else’s sake. Google’s rivals clearly want to share in the spoils that come with slaying the dragon. Beware of dragon slayers bearing death certificates for the “fair use” angels too. Those kinds of brave corporate-techno-dragon slayers might be carrying beasts of their own. Be afraid, be very afraid.

It’s too bad society is so captivated by evil dragons and their highly questionable slayers. An obsession with ducks would have been a lot healthier.

Discussion

11 comments for “Beware of Dragon Slayers Bearing Bad Ideas. They Might Not Be Fair. Or Useful”

  1. So Google just decided to drop Spanish news snippets from its news search engine in response to the new mandatory Spanish ancillary copyright laws. And it’s not just for the Spanish version of Google News. Spain’s news is getting dropped from Google globally:

    IT World
    Google News to be shut down in Spain ahead of new law

    By John Ribeiro

    IDG News Service | December 10, 2014

    Google is shutting down its news product in Spain rather than pay publishers for using snippets of their content.

    A new intellectual property law in the country requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even small news snippets from their publications, whether they want to or not, Richard Gingras, head of Google News said in a blog post Wednesday.

    The new requirement does not work for Google because its news portal does not make any money, as it does not show advertising on the site.

    The company is not only shutting down Google News in Spain by Dec. 16, ahead of the law coming into force in January, but news from Spanish publications will not figure on the global Google News site.

    The new Spanish law aims to protect copyright holders in a digital environment, and makes it an inalienable right for publishers to receive compensation from aggregators for the use of fragments of content in news and other contexts.

    Google holds that it benefits publishers by directing traffic to their websites through Google News, and the move in Spain will likely be seen as retaliation against the new legislation, which was backed by publishers group Spanish Association of Daily Newspaper Publishers (AEDE).

    Publishers can “choose whether or not they want their articles to appear in Google News—and the vast majority choose to be included for very good reason,” Gingras wrote.

    In the Spanish law, the right to compensation cannot be renounced by the rights holders.

    The legislation in Spain adds to Google’s considerable problems with legislators and regulators in Europe, including a nonbinding vote in November by members of the European Parliament asking the European Commission to consider splitting up the company in to a search business and another business around its other products. The commission is investigating Google for possible antitrust violations.

    Keep in mind that Spain’s new laws don’t just apply to Google. All news aggregators, like Bing and Yahoo, are also subject to the new snippet fees and presumably they’re paying it (there’s no news that they aren’t). So it’s possible that those non-Google revenues will more than offset the drop off in traffic from Google. We’ll see.

    It’s also worth pointing out that Spain’s publishers would probably also benefit from non-insane economic policies that aren’t systematically eroding the future purchasing power of Spain’s populace but since “austerity forever!” is the new EU rule it’s not at all clear that when Spain’s publishers will catch an economic break. So some big changes are clearly on the way for Spanish publishers but the nature of those changes remains a surprisingly open question. What’s going to happen? We’ll see.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 11, 2014, 10:49 am
  2. Here’s a pair of article that act as a reminder that the new EU anti-monopoly regulatory paradigm of forcing Google to submit its search results algorithms to regulator review are going to get might messy in a singular way that could complicate patents and copyright laws in all sorts of strange ways: First, keep in mind that Google’s search engine still forms the core its business, with Google search ads bringing in a majority of Google’s $60 billion revenues so it’s unlikely to give up the secret sauce recipe anytime soon:

    Business Insider
    Germany Just Asked Google To Do The Impossible: Reveal Its Secret Search Algorithm

    James Cook

    Sep. 16, 2014, 4:59 AM

    German justice minister Heiko Maas is calling on Google to become more transparent by disclosing exactly how it ranks search results.

    This, of course, will simply never happen. The algorithm is the heart of Google, the source of all its wealth and power as the planet’s best index of knowledge. Google is just never going to give that up. CEO Larry Page will fight to the death.

    Nonetheless, in an interview with the Financial Times, Maas explains that Germany is unhappy with the search giant’s actions in Europe and wants it to reveal the details of its search algorithm in the interests of consumer protection.

    Google Search remains the most important part of Google’s business, with advertising on the platform forming the majority of its $60 billion in annual revenue. But now, Germany’s government has escalated its antitrust case against the company by requesting that Google publishes how websites are ranked on Google Search.

    Google has apparently pushed back against the request, claiming that publishing the search engine algorithm would mean revealing its business secrets and opening up the service to exploitation by spammers.

    First off, lets hope Google isn’t correct in predicting that revealing its secrets would result in spammers using Google’s search secrets because that would be scary. Er, scarier. And presumably Google is putting forth a worst case scenario and the level of depth and detail that Google would be required to disclose is unclear at this point.

    But also keep in mind that even casual search algorithm disclosure regimes by the EU or anyone else might get really complicated in the future. So complicated that only a super AI will be able to keep up with the regulatory oversight workload. Why? Because one of the first project Google is assigning its “DeepMind” self-learning super AI project to is developing better and better search algorithms, and as DeepMind learns more about self-learning, it’s only going to get better at it. And faster:

    BetaBeat
    Artificially Intelligent Robot Scientists Could Be Next Project for Google’s AI Firm
    In the future, humans may not be the only ones conducting lab experiments.

    By Sage Lazzaro 12/03 2:51pm

    In late October, we wrote about the Neural Turing Machine, a Google computer so smart it can program itself. In the time since, it’s become clear that this is only the beginning and we should expect a lot more from DeepMind Technologies, the little-known startup acquired by Google who developed the human-like computer and sports the mission “Solve intelligence.”

    In discussing DeepMind Technologies’s delve into the future of computers with MIT, founder Demis Hassabis detailed the company’s research and mentioned that he wants to create “AI scientists.”

    He explained that although they’re currently working on some smaller AI activities like searching for ways to apply DeepMind techniques to existing Google products such as Search and YouTube recommendations, his plans for the future are bigger than a better search engine. He dreams of creating artificially intelligent “scientists” that could develop and test their own hypotheses in the lab. He mentioned that there’s also a future for DeepMind’s software in robotics.

    “One reason we don’t have more robots doing more helpful things is that they’re usually preprogrammed,” he told MIT. “They’re very bad at dealing with the unexpected or learning new things.”

    If DeepMind combines this type of learning technology with robotics, “AI Scientists” could be a very real future.

    Get ready. DeepMind-developed “AI Scientists” will create advanced search algorithms to help you better find that cat video you were looking for and sooner than you think. And once that novel algorithmic flow gets going, who knows what the rate of improvements will be but if the EU follows through on its proposed algorithmic transparency regime, all those DeepMind driven algorithmic improvements could potentially be revealed to the public someday. Wouldn’t that be fascinating. Everyone could have some of the basic ingredients they need for setting up a pseudo-DeepMind Google search engine of their own.

    Of course, even if Google handed over their algorithms in detail it wouldn’t really matter because you would still need the massive volume of data on website page content and which links go where in order to use them, and that doesn’t include the invaluable data that comes from gather personalized search histories on all of us year after year. That information is presumably never going to be released (although there are possibilities).

    So you probably shouldn’t get too excited about the release of these algorithms unless you have happen to work for Yahoo! or Microsoft. At least not today.

    But keep in mind that, with the steady growth of both processing power, internet bandwidth, and personal storage capacity, we just might see a day where you can download a program on laptop that unleashes masses of webcrawlers and starts indexing the whole damn internet. For you (it will get around ancillary copyright issues). Maybe not everything but at least the text content. Wouldn’t that be neat! We could all have our own personal DeepMind/Dr. Theopolis search engines and an indexed copy of massive chunks of the web!

    And once super self-learning AIs become cheap, maybe just a free downloadable app, who knows how many Google services will be effectively executable by your own personal super AIs that can keep all your searches and other information as private as your super AI desires. Sure, such scheme would crash the internet today because you can’t have everyone’s computer send out web crawlers on every site. On top of being incredibly wasteful (in terms of the processing power needed to generate the pages) it would a giant denial-of-service attack on the entire internet. But that’s just today.

    Imagine a couple of decades from now. How hard will it be for a typical server in the year 2034 to handle a million web page requests simultaneously and how hard will it be for the internet’s infrastructure to handle the kind of traffic where billions of people’s devices are making millions of web page requests a second? Say just the text pages and not the holograms pages of 2034. Just text. Could everyone have their own personal super web crawlers in the future without blocking the internet? If so, how far into the future are we going to have to wait because that sounds fun.

    It’s all part of the peeks into the future as we get as we creep closer and closer to a singularity-like technological landscape. Google, by dedicating itself to developing self-learning machines and “AI scientists”, might be laying the groundwork for the kinds of technologies that lets us all have “AI scientists” of our own that we can use to run private Google-like services which would solve both the Google monopoly and privacy issues.

    So let’s hope we all get stunning advances in processor speeds and some really really really fast internet services with extremely high personal bandwidths that enables of an age of personal web crawling. So many of these online privacy issues to be addressed in a such a fun way.

    Keep chugging along DeepMind! And someone please tell DeepMind to develop some super fast networking technology. Fingers crossed!

    Also, someone please tell DeepMind there’s no reason to destroy humanity should such action be deemed necessary. We’ve got this covered.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 14, 2014, 6:17 am
  3. Merry Christmas Facebook:

    Ars Technica
    Suit over Facebook’s practice of scanning users’ messages to go forward
    Company’s TOC “does not establish that users consented” to the practice, court rules.

    by John Timmer – Dec 24 2014, 6:00pm CST

    A US District Court in California has ruled that a suit that targets Facebook’s data-harvesting practices can go forward. The company had attempted to have the whole thing tossed out, but only succeeded in having two relatively minor allegations dismissed.

    There are three plaintiffs to the suit, all of whom allege that various state and federal statutes were violated by Facebook’s practice of scanning private messages in order to target ads more precisely. They also are upset that the mention of any company in these messages ends up counting as a “like.” Their suit [PDF] alleges that Facebook’s messaging service is “designed to allow users to communicate privately with other users,” and the scanning therefore violates the federal Wiretap Act as well as California’s Invasion of Privacy Act.

    Facebook, for its part, wants to see the whole thing thrown out. It claims that it must handle the content of the messages in order to ensure delivery, and therefore it is not possible for it to unlawfully intercept them. Failing that, it suggested that the scans were part of ordinary business practice, and therefore exempt from the law. And, in any case, it stopped the practice back in 2012. For all those reasons, its lawyers argued, the case should not proceed.

    The court responded to this request by pursuing an extraordinarily rare course of action: it read Facebook’s entire terms of service. And, in this case, their vague language—typically used to provide broad immunity—became a liability: “[the document] does not establish that users consented to the scanning of their messages for advertising purposes, and in fact, makes no mention of ‘messages’ whatsoever.” Thus, the plaintiffs may have had reason to expect that their messages would remain private. And, although the practice may have been discontinued, the plaintiffs allege that Facebook could start scanning messages again whenever it wanted to.

    The remaining arguments focused on whether the practice of scanning was a normal part of messaging operations. After all, an e-mail service provider doesn’t “intercept” message when handling them on a server; it’s an essential part of how e-mail works. Here, the judge ruled that, in the absence of any explanation of how the scanning system worked required that it be sorted out in court: “Facebook’s unwillingness to offer any details regarding its targeted advertising practice prevents the court from being able to determine whether the specific practice challenged in this case should be considered ‘ordinary.’

    “Facebook’s unwillingness to offer any details regarding its targeted advertising practice prevents the court from being able to determine whether the specific practice challenged in this case should be considered ‘ordinary.'”

    So Facebook is facing a lawsuit that might force it to revealing its algorithms for scanning Facebook users’ messages for information that could be useful for targeted advertising. Well that should be something to watch. Especially since those algorithms may not just be looking for advertising clues:

    The Guardian
    ‘You’re the bomb!’ Are you at risk from the anti-terrorism algorithms?

    Does the stuff you post on the internet make you look like a terrorist? Is the rhythm of your typing sending the wrong signals? The government wants sites such as Google and Facebook to scan their users more closely. But if everything we do online is monitored by machines, how well does the system work?

    James Ball

    Tuesday 2 December 2014 13.48 EST

    Should our future robot overlords decide to write a history of how they overcame their human masters, late 2014 will be a key date in the timeline. Last week, an official report from the parliamentary intelligence and security committee handed over responsibility for the UK’s fight against terrorism, or at least part of it, to Facebook’s algorithms – the automated scripts that (among other things) look at your posts and your networks to suggest content you will like, people you might know and things you might buy.

    Assessing the intelligence failures that led to the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby at the hands of two fanatics, the committee absolved MI5 of responsibility, in part because the agency was tracking more than 2,000 possible terrorists at the time – far more than mere humans could be expected to follow. Instead, they placed a share of the blame on Facebook – which busily tracks its one billion users on a regular basis – for not passing on warnings picked up by algorithms the company uses to remove obscene and extreme content from its site. David Cameron agreed, and promised new laws, so it’s possible that soon Google, Facebook and co won’t just be scanning your messages to sell you stuff – they will be checking you are not plotting the downfall of western civilisation too.

    Between the NSA’s automatic systems, social media tracking and more, everything you do is being overseen by the machines – but what might make you look suspect? Here are just a few examples.

    Say the wrong thing

    We already know that saying something stupid on social media can bring unwanted attention from the law. In 2010, a trainee accountant called Paul Chambers tweeted: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” Those 134 characters, seen by an airport worker, led to arrest by anti-terror police, a conviction and three appeals, and cost Chambers two jobs before a crowdfunded legal campaign got the conviction quashed.

    With the capability – and maybe soon the legal requirement – for algorithms to scan every social media post for problematic phrases, the potential for trouble increases exponentially. One way a machine might assess your content is through lists of keywords: a message containing one or two of these might not trigger an alert, but too many, too close together, and you are in trouble. Take a message such as: “Hey man, sorry to be a martyr, but can you get round to shipping me that fertiliser? I really do need it urgently. Thanks, you’re the bomb! See you Friday, Insha’Allah.”

    An algorithm designed to flag content that might be inappropriate – triggering perhaps automated deletion, or account suspension – would have a much lower threshold than one sending a report to an intelligence officer suggesting she spend the rest of her day (or week) tracking an individual. How should the tool be tuned? Too tight and it will miss all but the most obvious suspicious messages. Too lax and the human operators will be drowning in cases.

    In practice, algorithms designed to police content are set far more loosely than those to catch terrorists: keywords for intelligence agencies are more likely to be focused: names of particular individuals, or phrases picked up from other suspects.

    Algorithms can get far cleverer than simply using keywords. One way is to pick up subtle ways in which messages from known terror suspects vary from the main population, and scan for those – or even to try to identify people by the rhythm of their typing. Both are used to a degree now, but will spread as they become better understood.

    However sophisticated these systems are, they always produce false positives, so if you are unlucky enough to type oddly, or to say the wrong thing, you might end up in a dragnet.

    Data strategist Duncan Ross set out what would happen if someone could create an algorithm that correctly identified a terrorist from their communications 99.9% of the time – far, far more accurate than any real algorithm – with the assumption that there were 100 terrorists in the UK.

    The algorithm would correctly identify the 100 terrorists. But it would also misidentify 0.1% of the UK’s non-terrorists as terrorists: that’s a further 60,000 people, leaving the authorities with a still-huge problem on their hands. Given that Facebook is not merely dealing with the UK’s 60 million population, but rather a billion users sending 1.4bn messages, that’s an Everest-sized haystack for security services to trawl.

    The potential of these huge, spiderlike networks-of-networks is an exciting one for the agencies. They don’t always live up to the hype, though. According to Foreign Policy magazine, General Keith Alexander, the former head of the NSA, was an enthusiastic advocate for bulk surveillance programmes. In his bid to convince colleagues of their worth, he could be seen giving briefings in the Information Dominance Center, pointing to complex diagrams showing who knew who – including some places being called by dozens of people in the network. Maybe the data had found the kingpin?

    “Some of my colleagues and I were sceptical,” a former analyst told the magazine. “Later, we had a chance to review the information. It turns out that all [that] those guys were connected to were pizza shops.”

    Yep, Facebook’s new text analysis algorithm lawsuit should be interesting to watch, especially if Facebook becomes obligated in some jurisdictions to scan that text for more than just advertising clues. And especially if it involves more than just text.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 24, 2014, 11:11 pm
  4. It looks like Google News has decided to allow advertisements. Unpaid, deeply embedded advertisements in the form of corporate press releases:

    Google change allows company statements to top news searches

    By Tom Bergin

    LONDON Wed Mar 11, 2015 2:55pm EDT

    (Reuters) – A little-noticed change in the way Google selects search results has allowed company statements to top the list of news links shown when users search for information on businesses.

    The measure may cost news publishers web traffic and risks misleading users, analysts said.

    A Google spokeswoman said that in September the search giant widened the number of sources from which it drew the entries that appear in the “in the news” section of its search results page.

    Previously, only links to stories on approved news sites such as those of newspapers and TV stations appeared in this section of the main search page.

    “The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible — that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release,” the Google spokeswoman said.

    She added Google, which did not announce the September change, does not get paid for including press releases on the lists.

    Earlier this week, on the day Apple launched its new watch, a link to a promotional site for the product topped the “in the news” selection.

    Gemalto and Apple were not available for comment.

    Josh Schwartz, chief data scientist at Chartbeat, which tracks web traffic for news publishers and others, said it was likely that companies could use search engine optimization techniques to lift their rankings in the news listings.

    He said the new system could confuse readers, directing them towards public relations material and away from news reports.

    That also poses a risk to news organizations that rely on Google and other search engines to direct readers to their websites.

    “The ‘in the news’ modules are potentially an extremely powerful driver of traffic,” Schwartz said. “It could cost news sites traffic.”

    So it appears that Google has decided to start flooding its news links with corporate PR garbage for free! That’s, uh, bizarre.

    But it also raises a fascinating question in our new era of “ancillary copyrights”: While Google claims that it’s not getting paid for linking to corporate PR pieces, what about the various new ancillary copyright laws? If, for instance, Google caves to Spain’s demands and starts paying Spanish publishers for its linked to content and headlines, would Google have to start paying Spanish companies for their press release snippets? It might seem like a silly question, but silly times call for silly questions…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 12, 2015, 1:14 pm
  5. Facebook faces a new EU probe over its data collection policies, but this one has a couple interesting twists. First, the probe it being executed by Germany alone, and doesn’t involve the rest of the EU. Second, the probe isn’t be conducted by Germany’s data protection authority. Instead, it’s Germany’s competition authority that’s leading the charge. So Facebook’s rampant personal data collection might be thwarted somewhat in Germany on antitrust grounds:

    TechCrunch

    Facebook faces German antitrust privacy probe

    Posted 3/2/2016 by Natasha Lomas (@riptari)

    Facebook’s data harvesting practices are facing yet another probe in Europe. This time the German federal competition authority (the Bundeskartellamt) is initiating proceedings — rather than it being a European Member State’s national data protection watchdog.

    So rather than privacy regulations being the jumping off point for this latest probe of Facebook’s business practices, the company is being investigated ostensibly on antitrust grounds. But its data harvesting practices are being linked with German competition law on account of Facebook’s dominant market position in the country.

    News of the investigation was reported earlier by Fortune.

    The specific accusation is that Facebook is using unlawful terms and conditions related to its collection and use of user data, and given the T&Cs are a condition for access to its service the suspicion is that could constitute an abuse of a dominant market position.

    “It is difficult for users to understand and assess the scope of the agreement accepted by them. There is considerable doubt as to the admissibility of this procedure, in particular under applicable national data protection law. If there is a connection between such an infringement and market dominance, this could also constitute an abusive practice under competition law,” writes the German competition authority.

    “Dominant companies are subject to special obligations. These include the use of adequate terms of service as far as these are relevant to the market. For advertising-financed internet services such as Facebook, user data are hugely important. For this reason it is essential to also examine under the aspect of abuse of market power whether the consumers are sufficiently informed about the type and extent of data collected,” adds Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, in a statement on the action.

    The social network giant has faced plenty of privacy-related investigations and orders from European DPAs in recent times — including receiving a formal order from the French DPA last month to stop tracking non-users via cookies and social plug-ins; and back in summer 2015 court action from the Belgian DPA over a similar tracking issue. In the latter case Facebook later agreed to change how its site operates in the country.

    The Bundeskartellamt’s move is interesting as it seeks to link similar data-protection related privacy concerns with antitrust law — which carries higher potential fines for companies found to be abusing their market position, and involves better resourced departments carrying out investigations than the over-worked, under resourced DPAs.

    The German competition authority’s action is also targeting Facebook Inc., USA, the Irish subsidiary of the company and Facebook Germany GmbH, Hamburg.

    In fighting privacy related actions initiated by European DPAs Facebook has typically tried to use a jurisdiction-based argument to its advantage, claiming individual member states do not have jurisdiction over its regional business, and arguing instead that it is only bound by the Irish DPA, as its European HQ is situation in Ireland.

    Using a competition law route to press privacy concerns against Facebook may be one way for European countries to workaround that argument.

    The Bundeskartellamt’s action also follows comments made by the European Commission’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, at the start of this year in which she suggested dominant tech platforms that harvest vast amounts of personal data might in future be considered in breach of the overarching EU’s competition rules — based on their data holdings. So this is not the first time European competition authorities are linking systematic data-collection with antitrust concerns.

    “If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market,” Vestager told the DLD conference back in January. “If a company’s use of data is so bad for competition that it outweighs the benefits, we may have to step in to restore a level playing field,” adding that her department would “continue to look carefully at this issue”.

    The Bundeskartellamt notes it is conducting its Facebook antitrust probe “in close contact with the competent data protection officers, consumer protection associations as well as the European Commission and the competition authorities of the other EU Member States”.

    “The Bundeskartellamt’s move is interesting as it seeks to link similar data-protection related privacy concerns with antitrust law — which carries higher potential fines for companies found to be abusing their market position, and involves better resourced departments carrying out investigations than the over-worked, under resourced DPAs.”
    Ok, well, using antitrust laws to enforce new data protection measures does seem a bit odd, but whatever, good luck to the Bundeskartellamt! It’s not like Facebook is a sympathetic character and anything that forces greater consumer disclosure of what data is collected and how it’s used sounds like a net good thing.

    Except, of course, there’s this other oddity to the probe: It happens to coincide with comments made to the EU competition commissioner about how the vast amounts of personal data held by companies like Facebook (and presumably Google) might be considered a breach of the EU’s competition rules


    The Bundeskartellamt’s action also follows comments made by the European Commission’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, at the start of this year in which she suggested dominant tech platforms that harvest vast amounts of personal data might in future be considered in breach of the overarching EU’s competition rules — based on their data holdings. So this is not the first time European competition authorities are linking systematic data-collection with antitrust concerns.

    “If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market,” Vestager told the DLD conference back in January. “If a company’s use of data is so bad for competition that it outweighs the benefits, we may have to step in to restore a level playing field,” adding that her department would “continue to look carefully at this issue”.

    “If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market”
    Ok, so we have Germany’s competition authority probe Facebook’s data collection policies under the pretense of giving users more control over what data is collected. And at the same time the EU’s competition authority is questioning whether or not dominant tech platforms might be controlling the data “you need to cut costs”, where the “you” in her statement is other companies that want access to that personal data.

    So it appears that the involvement of competition authorities in the EU’s data privacy arena is suddenly looking a lot less consumer-friendly and a lot more business-friendly:

    The Wall Street Journal

    EU Mulls New Rules on Data Collection

    Updated Feb. 25, 2016 4:16 p.m. ET

    By Natalia Drozdiak

    BRUSSELS–The European Union is considering new rules to promote healthier competition among companies whose business models rely on collecting large amounts of data, the bloc’s digital chief said.

    “We are exploring right now what concrete measures would suit the interest of European businesses best so that they can fully benefit from the opportunities that data-driven innovation has to offer to them,” the European Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in a speech lateWednesday. “The effort includes looking for ways to mitigate the existing imbalance between data-rich and data-poor companies.”

    Mr. Oettinger said data has become a tradable good, using Google’s business model as an example where the search giant takes data from searches and sells it to advertisers.

    The data economy could make up about 5% of Europe’s gross domestic product by 2020, “provided we take the right measures to foster this market,” Mr. Oettinger said.

    The official’s comments come as the EU is still deciding whether to regulate Internet platforms. The U.S. has expressed concern about the EU’s potential plans to regulate in the area since most companies considered to be Web platforms by the EU are American.

    “Difficult legal, economic and political decisions will have to be taken this year” when deciding whether to regulate online platforms, he said.

    The EU’s antitrust watchdog Margrethe Vestager in January said the regulator was looking carefully at whether the way large Internet companies collect vast quantities of data is in breach of antitrust rules. But in his speech, Mr. Oettinger said that competition policy was sometimes insufficient to deal with problems in the digital economy, particularly when it involves data.

    Mr. Oettinger said one way to promote healthy competition in the data market would be to set up “personal data spaces,” which would allow consumers to negotiate the terms of access to their own data.

    Another option Mr. Oettinger outlined was for the EU to support collaborative spaces where businesses can safely exchange data or share data sets, which the firms aren’t currently using but which could be useful to other companies trying to create new products or services.

    Mr. Oettinger said the measures in the data market would complement the new EU-wide rules agreed to in December to extend greater data-privacy rights to citizens.

    While the EU’s antitrust watchdog has heard some concerns about the handling of big data, it hasn’t yet received a complaint or a formal request to look into the issue, Cecilio Madero Villarejo, the European Commission’s Deputy Director-General for Antitrust, told the same audience.

    “Another option Mr. Oettinger outlined was for the EU to support collaborative spaces where businesses can safely exchange data or share data sets, which the firms aren’t currently using but which could be useful to other companies trying to create new products or services.”
    Oh fun. New “collaborative spaces” where business can “safely exchange data or share data sets” they aren’t using so that other business can find a use for it. And all this as part of a broader effort to significant expand the EU’s personal data industry:


    The data economy could make up about 5% of Europe’s gross domestic product by 2020, “provided we take the right measures to foster this market,” Mr. Oettinger said.

    Of course, it wasn’t all bad:


    Mr. Oettinger said one way to promote healthy competition in the data market would be to set up “personal data spaces,” which would allow consumers to negotiate the terms of access to their own data.

    That’s actually pretty neat idea if they can figure out how to make it work. Especially if consumers can actually monitor all the data in their “data space”.

    So the EU’s grand plans for introducing antitrust regulators into the realm of data privacy protections is to give users more control over what data is shared and then try to promote the sharing of that data due to concerns over personal data monopolies developing. At least the first part of the plan seems nice.

    It’s worth keeping in mind that this was exactly what was predicted two years ago by competition law specialist Sammy Kalmonowicz. So while this news might sound surprising, for EU competition law specialists the EU move to crack open the data behemoths so their data can be more easily shared in an effort to promote the EU’s data collection industry just a matter of time:

    Out-law.com
    Opinion on big data, privacy and competition may be latest marker in closer scrutiny of Google, says expert

    A new opinion issued by an EU watchdog on ‘big data’, privacy and competition issues can be read as a “shot across the bows” of Google and other large technology players, an information law specialist has said.

    01 Apr 2014

    Lore Leitner of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that data protection authorities (DPAs) in the EU are becoming increasingly frustrated with limitations to their ability to control Google’s power in collecting and using personal data.

    She said, however, that the new preliminary opinion issued by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has highlighted the potential for EU scrutiny of Google’s activities to shift from an assessment of whether the company is compliant with EU data protection laws to whether the way Google gathers and uses personal data gives the company advantages in a way that is in line with competition rules.

    In his opinion, EDPS Peter Hustinx said that an investigation into the “costs and benefits” associated with the way companies often provide free services to consumers in exchange for the right to gather and use their personal data is “overdue”. He called for DPAs and competition regulators to work closer together so as to help “stimulate the market for privacy-enhancing services”.

    Competition law specialist Sammy Kalmanowicz of Pinsent Masons said competition issues around how the use of personal data is controlled has been discussed previously at EU level, including when the European Commission assessed Google’s takeover of advertising business DoubleClick in 2008.

    However, Kalmanowicz said he expects competition authorities to pay closer attention to competition issues as the need to analyse big data becomes a more prominent part of doing business. He said competition law could be engaged in a variety of ways.

    “Regulators are likely to become increasingly interested in the way companies with significant market power use personal data and will be on the look out for activities that could be said to constitute an abuse of market dominance and thus a breach of competition rules,” Kalmanowicz said.

    “In particular, the imposition of restrictions on rivals gaining access to consumers’ personal data is likely to be scrutinised closely as the data becomes an ever more important currency in providing better targeted services. Interoperability with competitors’ platforms and giving consumers the right to transfer their data to rival services will become more important for major businesses as a result,” he said.

    An abuse of dominance can occur when a dominant company refuses to supply or provide access to an essential facility. The expert said that businesses’ mere collection and processing of personal data may be scrutinised by competition authorities more closely in future “because big data may be considered an asset giving significant advantages”.

    Kalmanowicz also said that competition authorities may also review how companies involved in potential merger deals can exploit the amalgamated personal data records and whether the advantages that can be accrued by the merged entity could raise barriers to entry in certain markets, including advertisement, technology and innovation markets.

    “Information is power as services can be tailored better to consumers from analysing their personal data,” Kalmanowicz said. “Proposed merger deals may be affected if they lead to a concentration of a great volume of personal data or tools for analysing such information so that the merged company has significant consumer insights. In such circumstances competition authorities may, for example, require the data to be made available to rival companies if it is felt that such access is indispensible to ensure effective competition and innovation.

    An abuse of dominance can occur when a dominant company refuses to supply or provide access to an essential facility. The expert said that businesses’ mere collection and processing of personal data may be scrutinised by competition authorities more closely in future “because big data may be considered an asset giving significant advantages”.”
    Isn’t competition law in the data privacy domain fun? An abuse of dominance can occur when a dominant company refuses to supply or provide access to an essential facility. So if Facebook or Google don’t share the data they collect on you, they’re abusing their dominance.

    It’s all a reminder that, while the “data privacy” debates are framed in such a way that the public assumes it all about stopping companies from over-collecting personal data, in the future these same debates are going to include issues like companies under-sharing that very same data. Because we wouldn’t want anyone to have a monopoly on your personal data.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 2, 2016, 3:55 pm
  6. It’s always a red flag when the rhetoric about policy starts off vague and remains vague. With that in mind, here’s some more rhetoric from Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition minister, about what the EU is thinking in terms of how to handle the thorny issue of how much personal data the Big Data giants like Facebook or Google should be forced to share with “the market” in order to prevent an unfair market advantage from what they can exclusively learn about consumers:

    The New York Times

    Europe’s Antitrust Enforcer on Google, Apple and the Year Ahead

    By MARK SCOTT

    MARCH 6, 2016

    BRUSSELS — Margrethe Vestager is already having a busy 2016.

    Ms. Vestager, the European Union’s competition commissioner, is expected to move ahead in the coming months in the antitrust case she filed against Google, in which she has accused the company of favoring some of its own services in search results over those of rivals. The current charges, listed in what is known as a statement of objections, are just one in a number of competition-related headaches that the search engine may face this year in Europe.

    Ms. Vestager is also investigating whether Apple received an unfair tax deal from Ireland, and Amazon from Luxembourg, that broke Europe’s state aid rules.

    Her aggressive positions have made the 47-year-old Danish politician — said to be among the inspirations behind “Borgen,” a critically acclaimed TV show described as Denmark’s answer to “The West Wing” — a poster child for Europe’s somewhat combative relationship with United States tech giants.

    Ms. Vestager sat down with The New York Times last week to discuss her priorities for the year, the issues underpinning her competition investigations and whether she unfairly targets American companies. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

    * What are your plans for 2016?

    What’s obvious is that it’s not just important to open cases, but important to close cases, too. But as some of the antitrust cases we have ongoing are huge, that’s not necessarily going to happen in 2016. I expect in the merger field we will keep busy, and we’ll keep our focus on antitrust and state aid issues.

    * The first anniversary of the statement of objections in the Google case is fast approaching. Have your thoughts changed on the issues at play?

    Since we aren’t done yet, we can’t yet go through the different elements of the statement of objections. But Google gave us a very substantial answer, and what we need to do is ask them for more data to have a comprehensive picture so they aren’t just giving us data that solely substantiates their position.

    It’s a huge task. We’re doing our best with the analysis, but it’s also interesting to see how legitimate third parties [that have filed complaints in the case] also look at it.

    * The current charges against Google are just one of many antitrust issues you’re looking into at the company, including its role in advertising, as well as Android, its mobile operating system. Do you see a common thread?

    That depends. Other complaints related to online mapping or local search are similar, as they say Google uses its position to promote itself in neighboring markets. That is very similar to the current statement of objections.

    Then we have issues that are different in nature. One is scraping [allegations that Google copies content from other sites]; another is the question of advertising [claims that Google abuses its dominance in advertising contracts]; and then we have Android, which is almost another planet. We will become much wiser as we go in-depth in these areas.

    * Germany’s competition authority has opened an investigation into Facebook and its use of people’s data. Do you think access to digital data will become a competition issue?

    It’s not black or white. The questions people have been asking are whether data can be duplicated, and can a competitor establish itself in the same way or buy a copy of another’s data?

    So far, the analysis shows that data can be copied or newly created without any detrimental effects to competitors. That’s why I have approached this area with a very open mind.

    * So there isn’t a competition problem because many companies have access to people’s data?

    That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem.

    But I still think Adam Smith was right when he said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Eventually, you will pay in one form or the other. And it’s that “other” that is still hard to grasp because we are just in the process of truly appreciating the value of our own data.

    * You’re Europe’s competition, not tax, authority. So why are you getting involved in tax cases linked to potential abuse of state aid?

    National tax legislation and European state aid rules need to be fulfilled at the same time. For me, it’s a simple question of fair competition.

    Companies compete door to door with similar products, prices and services. If one company has higher costs and another company has lower costs solely because of aggressive tax arrangements, then you have a problem.

    * For many American companies, particularly in the tech sector, there’s a sense that Europe is targeting them. What’s your response to that?

    There’s a lot of convenience in that argument. I’ve been asking my people to give me the statistics to find a bias, and I can find no bias. Not in the mergers, not in the fines being paid out, there’s no U.S. bias. It also ignores the fact that we often react to complaints from U.S. companies.

    These are huge companies that play a very strong role in the market. But you still have many, many, many more companies that are on their way, that want to make it into the market, and that need open markets for the incentive to innovate.

    “These are huge companies that play a very strong role in the market. But you still have many, many, many more companies that are on their way, that want to make it into the market, and that need open markets for the incentive to innovate.
    Those were some encouraging words from the EU’s competition minister. If you happen to be a company that wants to buy Google’s knowledge it infers from its acess to so much personal data:


    * Germany’s competition authority has opened an investigation into Facebook and its use of people’s data. Do you think access to digital data will become a competition issue?

    It’s not black or white. The questions people have been asking are whether data can be duplicated, and can a competitor establish itself in the same way or buy a copy of another’s data?

    So far, the analysis shows that data can be copied or newly created without any detrimental effects to competitors. That’s why I have approached this area with a very open mind.

    * So there isn’t a competition problem because many companies have access to people’s data?

    That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem.

    But I still think Adam Smith was right when he said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Eventually, you will pay in one form or the other. And it’s that “other” that is still hard to grasp because we are just in the process of truly appreciating the value of our own data.

    “But I still think Adam Smith was right when he said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Eventually, you will pay in one form or the other. And it’s that “other” that is still hard to grasp because we are just in the process of truly appreciating the value of our own data.”
    Note that the “other” in question isn’t just a question of the forms of “payment” people make to use digital services, like paying with personal data for “free” services. It’s also a question of which “other” individuals will receive those personal data payments. Especially if those personal data payments are required for the service provider to enter the marketplace:


    * Germany’s competition authority has opened an investigation into Facebook and its use of people’s data. Do you think access to digital data will become a competition issue?

    It’s not black or white. The questions people have been asking are whether data can be duplicated, and can a competitor establish itself in the same way or buy a copy of another’s data?

    So far, the analysis shows that data can be copied or newly created without any detrimental effects to competitors. That’s why I have approached this area with a very open mind.

    “So far, the analysis shows that data can be copied or newly created without any detrimental effects to competitors.”
    Have fun interpreting that statement. It sounds like Vestager thinks competition isn’t harmed as long as the data is shared with competitors, but it’s vague enough to mean just about anything. Aren’t the competitors the ones getting the copied or newly created personal data? Who knows. Rorschach rhetoric is like that.

    As the EU’s competition minister vaguely makes clear, personal data competition law is going to be an interesting legal area for the next generation. And as the following law firm blog posting make much more clear, personal data competition law is going to be interesting for the next generation, because exclusive access to personal data by large data behemoths like Google is being looked at as a barrier to entry into marketplaces that rely on access to such personal data. So the more Google or Facebook learn about us, the more they’ll be expected to share:

    Osborne Clarke

    Is “Big Data” a threat or benefit to competition?

    Nico Just
    Senior Associate, Germany

    26 January 2016

    Competition Authorities are preparing to deal with big data companies

    Large amounts of customer data (“big data”) have significant value for businesses operating in the digital world. Companies use the knowledge gleaned from this data to serve their customers better. The potential privacy issues connected with “big data” analysis are well known, however, it has also been argued that this proprietary data can be used to drive competitors out of the market, so reducing competitive pressure and giving the data owner “market power”. The question of whether – and if so, when – the use of big data distorts competition in this way has, yet to be answered.

    German / French Study on big data

    To this end, competition authorities in France and Germany have announced that they will conduct a joint study on the role of big data and competition law. The study will look at ways to assess market power and potential anti-competitive effects in the context of big data; it is expected that the study will be published later in 2016.

    How can big data affect competition?

    The Franco-German study is aiming to offer new ideas as to how the market power of big data companies can be analysed. While market shares are currently used as the main indicator for dominance, the value of personal information may need to be assessed on a different basis. In particular, where data is given as payment for goods or services, the willingness of users to give up their data may itself be a better indicator of market power than market share.

    In addition, large amounts of customer data may be used as barriers to entry into a market. It is often the case that the service a business can provide improves in proportion to the amount of data it holds on its customers. It follows that, in order to compete effectively, new entrants will also require a certain amount of data. In this case, market power could be assessed based on how quickly new entrants are able to replicate such data. In the case of social platforms, for example, users have already given up a significant amount of data in exchange for the ability to join and interact with others. They might be reluctant to share such data again with a new entrant in the social networking market.

    The effect on dominant companies

    Once a dominant position is established, EU competition law requires that companies do not abuse this position. In respect of big data, this could include the obligation to provide a third party with access to data, where the absence of such data works as a barrier to other markets.

    This concept can be compared to Microsoft’s ‘interoperability information’, which the European Commission held was necessary for Microsoft to share in order to allow others to compete on the neighbouring market for server operating systems. The underlying concept of data sharing to prevent market entry barriers was originally applied to physical networks like electricity grids and rail systems and later extended also to intellectual property rights and confidential information. It will be interesting to see whether the competition authorities deem it necessary to extend this further in the field of big data.

    European experience

    The Franco-German study follows competition law developments which did not offer ample guidance on how to deal with big data. Last year, the European Commission cleared Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, arguing that consumers would continue to have a wide choice of alternative consumer communications apps after the transaction. In addition, large amounts of internet user data were not within Facebook’s exclusive control. Similarly, Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick did not cause any serious competition concerns – despite the significant amount of data held.

    In line with these mergers, EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager pointed out recently that big data companies have not raised any competition concerns to date, but that she will continue to monitor future developments closely. For Ms Vestager, large amounts of data do not automatically confer great power; she believes that data that goes out of date quickly or that is easily replicable by competitors will not have a significant impact on a company’s ability to build a strong market position.

    Germany: a more critical approach

    The German competition authority (Bundeskartellamt, or BKartA) seems to take a more critical approach. In a background paper published by the BKartA last year, it explains that access to customer data might allow companies to foreclose markets and abuse market power. Typically, the BKartA envisaged such conduct occurring in two-sided markets where two or more user groups benefit from the use of a digital platform.

    One example which the BKartA has in mind is a search engine which collects data from its customer group by offering free services in return. Such platforms generate profit by offering advertisers access to viewers. Based on the amount and quality of customer data, the platform is able to offer highly valuable information based on which advertisements can be targeted precisely to the customers’ needs. This ability to offer highly targeted advertising gives platforms a competitive advantage in selling advertising.

    Outlook

    In the absence of guiding principles from decided case law or official publications, businesses will have to rely on a well-balanced assessment of potential risks. Although the European Commission and national competition authorities do not see specific antitrust issues for now, this could change in the course of on-going discussions – and as ownership of big data grows. Companies should therefore closely follow new developments and be prepared to adapt their business model accordingly. In addition, it is worth being open to the opportunities to actively shape the evolving guidance of competition authorities. We will keep you updated on ways to engage with them.

    “Once a dominant position is established, EU competition law requires that companies do not abuse this position. In respect of big data, this could include the obligation to provide a third party with access to data, where the absence of such data works as a barrier to other markets.
    Welcome to the next phase of the depersonal commodification of your personal data.

    And notice what Germany’s competition views as an example of the kind of information that might need to be shared in order to level the playing field: the personal data learned from search engine queries:


    One example which the BKartA has in mind is a search engine which collects data from its customer group by offering free services in return. Such platforms generate profit by offering advertisers access to viewers. Based on the amount and quality of customer data, the platform is able to offer highly valuable information based on which advertisements can be targeted precisely to the customers’ needs. This ability to offer highly targeted advertising gives platforms a competitive advantage in selling advertising.

    So it sounds like Google is going to have to sell start selling A LOT more of what what it knows about all of us. Enjoy the coming digital marketplace. But keep in mind that what Google and Facebook and the other behemoths know about us is valuable for far more than just digital marketplaces so we’ll see if the demands for personal data sharing go beyond sharing with other digital service providers. And try not to act super shocked when random advertisements targetting you, digital or otherwise, suddenly get super non-vague.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 6, 2016, 11:45 pm
  7. Here’s a reminder that that the EU Commission really, really, really wants to introduce a “snippet tax” to the internet:

    Ars Technica UK

    “Google tax” on snippets under serious consideration by European Commission
    Use a new public consultation to stop it, and to ask for freedom of panorama.

    by Glyn Moody – Mar 24, 2016 8:55am CDT

    The European Commission has launched a public consultation on granting what it calls “neighbouring rights” to publishers. This is EU-speak for a Google tax on snippets, which would require search engines and possibly others to pay for using short extracts to link to articles on other sites. The consultation also seeks views on whether there should be a “panorama” exception to copyright allowing people to take pictures of public buildings and distribute them without permission of the architect.

    The Google tax consultation comes as no surprise, since the European Commission’s new “modern, more European” copyright framework, unveiled last December, made it clear that this was coming. It confirms earlier statements by the EU’s commissioner for digital economy and society, Günther Oettinger, that he was “open” to the idea of taxing snippets, despite the fact that the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee rejected the approach in its report on updating copyright.

    However, the European Commission’s persistence in pursuing these “neighbouring rights” is a surprise, given the evidence that far from helping publishers, they actively harm them For example, when Spain brought in a law requiring search engines like Google to pay publishers for the use of snippets, Google decided to close down its Google News service in the country, which led to online publishers losing 10% to 15% of their traffic at a stroke.

    Similarly, in Germany, which also introduced a snippets tax, publishers ending up giving Google a free licence to their material, so great was the law’s negative impact on their business when Google stopped linking to their publications.

    Last December, a group of publishers from across Europe giving Google a free licence, calling on it “to oppose the adoption of ancillary rights for press publishers in the European Union, such as those that have recently been implemented in Germany and in Spain.” In their open letter, they provided one of the best explanations of why introducing a tax on hyperlinks is a bad idea:

    As publishers, we know such proposals make it harder for us to be heard, to reach new readers and new audiences. They create new barriers between us and our readers, new barriers to entry for news publishers such as ourselves. It will be harder for us to be present, discovered and accessed by our readers online. It will be harder for our readers to engage with our stories online, to share links or our headlines with their friends. It will be harder for us to grow, develop new sources of information and innovate in our business. Incredibly, in Spain, we are deprived of control over our own content, since we are not allowed to disseminate our news without payment, whether we like it or not.

    In short, this legislation is a step away from a forward-looking, modern and diverse European press. It will only make it harder for us to grow and develop innovative models. When the dust settles and the Spanish and German laws come into full force, it may be too late to realise that they are bad for journalism and European news publishing.

    The introduction to the EU consultation writes: “An independent and pluralistic publishing sector is important for our society, cultural diversity and democratic participation.” And yet as the publishers’ letter emphasises, introducing a snippet tax is likely to diminish the publishing sector’s richness and diversity.

    In the absence of links from Google, smaller companies lacking the resources available to big publishing houses will be unable to reach new readers by spending more money on marketing, and may fail as a result. This may even be one reason why Europe’s publishing giants are so keen on introducing neighbouring rights that are likely to reduce their own profits.

    Anyone can respond to the consultation, including those from outside the EU. Responses must be given online using a questionnaire, which is fairly short, and allows answers to be saved before submitting them. The closing date for replies is June 15, 2016.

    “In the absence of links from Google, smaller companies lacking the resources available to big publishing houses will be unable to reach new readers by spending more money on marketing, and may fail as a result. This may even be one reason why Europe’s publishing giants are so keen on introducing neighbouring rights that are likely to reduce their own profits.
    Yep, unless Google’s news search engine can either be forced to show EU news snippets (and pay the tax) or a replacement engine with comparable traffic that’s willing to pay swoops in to replace the traffic Google brings, it’s quite possible that smaller publishers could actually be driven out of business. Somehow it seems like the publishing giants like Axel Springer that pushing for these laws might not mind such an outcome.

    Still, it’s important to keep in mind that figuring out how to make journalism a viable business model in the internet age is sort of one of the sleeper mega-issues of our times because if the journalism sector dies, democracy isn’t going to be too far behind. So we really do have to figure this out, ideally in manner that doesn’t actually reduce access to that vital news. How that’s accomplished is a pretty huge question, but here’s an obvious suggestion for helping journalism find its footing in the digital age: How about not trashing the economy with austerity-induced economic death spirals:

    The Christian Science Monitor

    Spain’s economic crisis has an unexpected victim: journalism

    The Spanish media has been ravaged by the country’s recession, and not just economically. The crisis has also sparked serious challenges to its credibility.

    By Andrés Cala, Correspondent February 28, 2013

    Madrid — In Spain’s transformational economic crisis, no industry has escaped unscathed. But one of the biggest casualties is an unusual one: journalism.

    Thousands of jobs have been lost and dozens of outlets have been shut down, denying newsrooms of some of its most veteran and talented professionals.

    And the Spanish media isn’t just hurting in terms of raw numbers – it’s also taken hits to its most valued asset: credibility.

    “Beyond a doubt, this is the worst crisis Spanish journalism has endured so far,” says Elsa González, president of the Federation of Spanish Journalist Association. “We have to regain the trust of society that we have lost to a great extent.”

    To make things worse, media companies in Spain are either controlled by the government, or corporately owned by banks, large corporate tycoons, and even the Catholic Church. “From that point of view, [society] feels media companies lack independence of vested interests, and respond to ideological and economic clientlism.”

    The economic crisis and resulting transformation of Spanish society are further alienating journalists, Mrs. González says. “Journalists are taking part in the country’s radicalization. The politicization is illustrated especially in the absence of transparency as a result of the weakness of journalism. [Journalists] ascribe to different sides because they have no other choice.”

    Layoffs and errors

    “The errors and lost credibility are not a coincidence,” says Dr. Salaverría. “You can’t do good journalism without good journalists.”

    Between 2008 and 2012, nearly 10,000 journalists lost their jobs, almost half of them in 2012, and 73 outlets shut down. The top editorial teams of every major news organization were “beheaded,” González of the journalist federation says. “The biggest enemy of independence is unemployment and precariousness, always waiting to be fired.”

    The average age in Spanish newsrooms has plummeted since the beginning of the crisis to the early 30s, Salaverría says, from late 40s. As corporate revenue shrinks and stock prices plummet, companies “are leaving newsrooms without teachers, with few flight hours.”

    “Between 2008 and 2012, nearly 10,000 journalists lost their jobs, almost half of them in 2012, and 73 outlets shut down. The top editorial teams of every major news organization were “beheaded,” González of the journalist federation says. “The biggest enemy of independence is unemployment and precariousness, always waiting to be fired.””
    While a tax on snippets, one that doesn’t result in search engines just dropping Spanish news links, might have helped Spain’s journalism sector in the post-crisis period, avoiding an economic calamity would have probably been the preferable path towards a sustainable journalism sector. It’s a reminder that the ‘outside the box’ thinking that’s going to be required to really make journalism sustainably profitable needs to include an end to the practice of throwing societies down socioeconomic holes.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 14, 2016, 10:09 pm
  8. Fortune had a list of the top 10 worst jobs in the US for the 2016 according to job search portal CareerCast.com. And journalist came in as the #1 worst job in America. For the third year in row:

    Fortune

    The Worst Job in America in 2016

    by Michal Addady

    April 13, 2016, 10:49 AM EDT

    It’s been in the #1 spot three years in a row

    CareerCast.com’s list of the 10 worst jobs of 2016 is here.

    For its 28th annual Jobs Rated report, the website ranked 200 jobs based on four criteria: environment, income, outlook, and stress. Environment takes into account both physical and emotional factors, and the average number of hours worked each week; income considers mid-level salary and growth potential; outlook measures potential for employment growth and income growth, as well as unemployment rates; and stress takes into account 11 different factors including travel, deadlines, and interaction with the public.

    Newspaper reporter was ranked as the worst job for the third year running, and broadcaster also managed to take a top spot on this year’s list. “The news business has changed drastically over the years, and not in a good way,” former broadcaster Ann Baldwin, president of Baldwin Media PR told CareerCast. “When people ask me if I miss it, I tell them ‘I feel as if I jumped off of a sinking ship.’” And it appears she has—employment in both those jobs is expected to decline by 9% in the coming years.

    Enlisted military personnel and firefighter are also on the list, thanks in part to the former being the highest-stress job out of all 200 and the latter having the worst environment score.

    Here is the full list:

    10. Firefighter

    Median Salary: $45,970

    Growth Outlook: 5%

    9. Taxi Driver

    Median Salary: $23,210

    Growth Outlook: 13%

    8. Advertising Sales Person

    Median Salary: $47,890

    Growth Outlook: -3%

    7. Retail Sales Person

    Median Salary: $21,670

    Growth Outlook: 7%

    6. Pest Control Worker

    Median Salary: $30,660

    Growth Outlook: -1%

    5. Enlisted Military Personnel

    Median Salary: $27,936

    Growth Outlook: N/A

    4. Disc Jockey

    Median Salary: $29,010

    Growth Outlook: -11%

    3. Broadcaster

    Median Salary: $37,200

    Growth Outlook: -9%

    2. Logger

    Median Salary: $35,160

    Growth Outlook: -4%

    1. Newspaper Reporter

    Median Salary: $37,200

    Growth Outlook: -9%

    Newspaper reporter was ranked as the worst job for the third year running, and broadcaster also managed to take a top spot on this year’s list. “The news business has changed drastically over the years, and not in a good way,” former broadcaster Ann Baldwin, president of Baldwin Media PR told CareerCast. “When people ask me if I miss it, I tell them ‘I feel as if I jumped off of a sinking ship.’” And it appears she has—employment in both those jobs is expected to decline by 9% in the coming years.
    That’s the outlook for the sector of the economy that helps the rest of the economy know what’s going on. Get ready to be 9% more ignorant about stuff or whatever the actual fallout is from the gutting of the journalism sector. Will if be the fluff that’s cut or the investigative journalism? Hmm…

    So what do we do about this? Well, it’s worth keeping in mind that being a journalist really should be an awesome job because that’s only going to help get higher quality news. And awesome jobs are good for the economy and society in general if people have economic security. Especially the people delivering the news. Isn’t systemically underpaid journalism a national security risk? If not, why not?

    Another thing to keep in mind is that we are a woefully underinformed society about the most important stories of the day and that’s system. It’s part of the reason journalism is dying. And also a national security risk.

    Given the above two things to keep in mind, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the “Google Tax” method might not actually be able to realistically squeeze enough out of the Google’s of the world required to adequately compensate the level of the journalism required to avoid national security risk-levels of dysfunctional news generation and consumption. What if we want even more journalism through, say, some sort of journalism subsidy? That could be expensive. Journalists might like to retire. Can an EU-style Google Tax cover that cost? If not, we have to find a way to subsidize the industry sooner rather than later because having journalism become the worst job in the US is some of the worst news you could hear. It’s like finding out you went mad.

    Given all that, it’s worth keeping in mind that the internet might taketh-away from the journalism industry, but there’s no reason we couldn’t set something up to allow people to giveth as part of a public subsidy for journalistic content. Like state-subsidized “this article was great” digital tokens that could be turned in to the government for cash. We have this whole Bitcoin revolution going on, can’t we make some sort of sort for distributing a fix number of tokens to be handed out to news producers via some cryptocurrency-style solution that then gets validated by the government? No information on who read the article, just that it was read.. And someone totally anonymous really liked it. The supply would be fixed because that would all be centrally controlled so even if people just sold their tokens to the black market without reading anything it would be a controllable cost. Then let journalist/news organization cash in the tokens anonymously to avoid a creepy Big Brother dynamic. Could That could be worked out technically? If so, maybe everyone gets like 30 “newscoins” a month, one a day, and you give them to articles you found useful, that that publisher gets to turn that token in for sweet sweet cash that lets journalists not have one of the the worst jobs in the US. Or 300 newscoins.

    And newscoins would suddenly make reading the news fun because everyone would get to pick that month’s “winners” of articles that get a whole bunch of “I read this and liked it” tokens. Wouldn’t that be fun. We could expand it to all sort of arts and other services too. Instead of Bitcoin takingnover central banking, let’s use cryptocurrencies to subsidize the economy by allowing customer-to-business token payments for valuable industries that can’t really function at their most socially optimal in a modern, profit-maximizing economy. When there’s a recession we could just expand the journalism sector or something to create jobs and become a more informed society while more people are out of work and have more time to read the news.

    And we could just jack up the value or volume of the free tokens as need be to account for changing factors. Is the cost of journalist/artist/whatever retirement going up? Increasing the value of the service tokens would help. It’s insane that journalism is a shitty career. What kind of society is that going to produce? Oh yeah, us.

    Also don’t forget that the EU’s proposed Google Tax is sort of a pay-for-click system. Pay for snippet. So a public pay-for-readership model is already being seriously considered. Just with Google and other big news aggregators footing the bill, which inevitably creates a major corporate opposition to the adequate compensation to the news industry. Why not create an alternative “give a nice public reward for awesomeness” journalism public system. Sure, there would be a ton of complicating issues that pop up (like the inevitable subsidizing of hate groups), but that’s already happening. It’s at least worth considering. If we’re going to have anonymous payments systems, let’s use them for public services like that where we want the government to subsidize something but not have information on how individuals spent their subsidy.

    And it’s not like a Bitcoin-style energy-sucking blockchain would be required. Just some sort of cryptographic anonymous payment system and a means of distributing/generating a fixed amount of digital tokens each month. It could all be very energy efficient. Especially after our better news-reading habits lead to a significant ramping up of green energy investments. Plus all the other things we would be doing if a massive chunk of the populace was in the long-term habit of closely following the most important issues facing in the world. That sure would improve our economic efficiency. And probably reduce wasteful government spending. More public eyeballs on the emerging legislation = less legislation that makes you want to claw your eyes out. Think of the savings.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 16, 2016, 1:52 am
  9. Right now tech employees at Google are 81% male, 3% Hispanic, and 1% Black.
    http://arstechnica.com/business/2016/12/slacks-top-engineer-suggests-that-google-do-blind-assessments-for-hiring/

    Posted by John Henry | December 14, 2016, 3:59 pm
  10. The issue of monopoly power in America is one of those issues that ironically but predictably often gets less coverage than it deserves the worse the issue gets. And this is, of course, largely due to monopolies use the immense power of monopoly to buy off or silencing critics. So it’s going to be interesting to see if that trend holds true after Google just got the entire Open Markets program team – which focuses on antitrust topics – fired from the left-leaning New America Foundation after they wrote a 150-word statement calling for the Federal Trade Commission to follow the European Union’s lead after the EU slapped Google with a $2.7 billion fine on Google for violating antitrust laws over how Google ranks its search engine results to favor its own products.

    Yes, after getting fined for abusing its monopoly status on search engines in Europe, Google got an anti-monopoly think-tank group fired in the US for daring to suggest that Google should face similar consequences under US regulators. It’s a fascinating case because it highlight the fact that, that while Google’s specific monopoly in this case might be a search engine monopoly, its search engine monopoly isn’t what got the Open Markets team fired. What got them fired was the fact that the general wealth and power derived from running such a monopoly allowed Google to have so much influence that a few angry phone calls to a think tank it helps fund could get the anti-monopoly research team fired. And any monopoly in a lucrative enough sector is going to have that kind of power because that’s the kind of power that comes from simply have lots of money to throw around to things like think tanks. It’s a reminder that even though specific industries might be vulnerable to specific monopoly players, the threat to society as a whole comes from the larger oligopoly of monopolies from all the different sectors of the economy all working together to ensure that the power of big money is never serious discussed or challenged. And in this case Google just gave that monopoly oligopoly a big boost by getting an anti-monopoly research team shut down.

    Gee…might Google might have a bit too much power?

    The Huffington Post

    Google Just Proved That Monopolies Imperil Democracy, Not Just The Economy
    Barry Lynn and his team of anti-monopoly researchers were fired by a think tank after criticizing the search giant.

    By Paul Blumenthal
    08/30/2017 08:39 pm ET Updated 3 days ago

    WASHINGTON – For the past decade, former business journalist Barry Lynn has used his perch at the New America Foundation to warn politicians and the public that a new era of corporate monopolies threatened not only American workers, but also democracy itself..

    Lynn was just proven right: New America has fired him as head of its Open Markets program along with his team of about 10 researchers and journalists, after they called for an antitrust investigation of the think tank’s largest longtime donor, Google.

    On June 27, the Open Markets team in a 150-word statement called for the Federal Trade Commission to follow the lead of the European Union, which leveled a $2.7 billion fine on Google for violating antitrust laws. Since New America’s start in 1999, Google has given it $21 million. And Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., Google’s parent company, served as New America’s chairman from 2008 through mid-2016.

    According to report on Wednesday in The New York Times, Lynn was called on the carpet by New America head Anne-Marie Slaughter shortly after the Open Markets program praised the E.U.’s decision to find Google in violation of antitrust law for providing preferential placement to its own products and those of its subsidiaries over its rivals in search results. Schmidt, the Times reported, had expressed to Slaughter his “displeasure” with the statement backing the E.U.’s move.

    Slaughter, according to an email obtained by the Times, told Lynn that he and his team had to leave New America. The firing was, “in no way based on the content of your work,” she wrote, while also saying Lynn was “imperiling the institution as a whole.”

    Two current members of the Open Markets team confirmed this timeline of events to HuffPost. Lynn and his Open Markets colleagues were told to depart New America two days after the statement that supported the E.U. antitrust fine and called upon “U.S. enforcers” to “build upon this important precedent. The team, though, stuck around in an attempt to question New America’s leadership about whether it really wanted to fire the entire group.

    “We were trying to be, like, ’Are you sure you want to do this because it sort of seems bad,” Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Program, told HuffPost. “Are you sure you want to prove us right? Are you sure you want to back a monopoly in such an obvious and clumsy way? We were negotiating with them.” (Stoller is an occasional HuffPost contributor.)

    Despite those negotiations, Slaughter on Wednesday officially terminated Lynn and his team.

    Slaughter disputed the Times story, saying in a statement that the claim “that Google lobbied New America to expel the Open Markets program” was “false.” Instead, she said that Lynn refused “to adhere to New America’s standards of openness and institutional collegiality.” She offered no explanation for firing the entire Open Markets team.

    A Google spokeswoman denied any involvement in Lynn’s firing in an email to HuffPost. She also said that Schmidt did not threaten to cut off funding for the think tank because of the Open Markets statement on Google’s antitrust fine.

    “We support hundreds of organizations that promote a free and open Internet, greater access to information, and increased opportunity,” Riva Sciuto, the Google spokesperson, said in the statement. “We don’t agree with every group 100 percent of the time, and while we sometimes respectfully disagree, we respect each group’s independence, personnel decisions, and policy perspectives.”

    Lynn is now building an independent think tank to continue his anti-monopoly work with his New America team. The group has already launched a campaign aimed at mobilizing public opposition to the power of modern-day monopolies by highlighting Google’s power to quash independent research like that by the Open Markets team.

    Its supporters say this case underscores that argument.

    Lynn and his colleagues “have long argued that monopolies are a problem for the economy, but they’re also a problem for democracy,” Zephyr Teachout, a fellow at Open Markets and board member of its new campaign – called Citizens Against Monopolies – told HuffPost. “This kind of proves the point.”

    It’s not as though the Open Markets team needed to get fired to buttress their concerns about monopoly power. Their efforts already have been influential – more so than work by many other think tanks.

    The Democratic Party recently adopted the team’s warnings about monopolies in its “A Better Deal” platform. Politicians – including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) – are pushing for enhanced antitrust enforcement and calling out concentrations of economic power more than before.

    Open Markets has helped lead the economic debate to a “more populist strain over the past couple of years,” Marshall Steinbaum, a fellow at the progressive economics think tank Roosevelt Institute, told HuffPost.

    Firing Lynn and his team “raises a lot of questions,” a Warren aide told HuffPost. Warren, herself, later tweeted her concerns.

    This story is troubling. https://t.co/UmRVi2UnSI— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 30, 2017

    A senior aide to a progressive House Democrat, who commented on the condition of anonymity, called the firings “an example of the way that funding think tanks is a way to achieve policy outcomes, in the same way that lobbying and funding campaigns is. It’s a business expense.”

    Jonathan Taplin, the author of Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, was more blunt in his assessment of what happened at New America.

    “It’s just classic monopoly muscle,” he told HuffPost. “This is the way bullies act.”

    The internal workings of New America, though, is not the real issue, Stoller said. The public needs to recognize Google as an autocratic private power that is exerting itself in the economy and in policy to increase its own power over people, he argued.

    And Google is undeniably a monopoly. Just ask monopoly proponent and billionaire investor Peter Thiel, who has said the company is able to offer so many wonderful perks to its employees because it doesn’t have to worry too much about competition. It controls 80 percent of the market for online search and 54 percent of the browser market in the U.S.

    Google and Facebook, another powerful online platform monopoly, have gobbled up practically every new online advertising dollar (thanks to their past acquisitions of online advertising companies) in recent years while pressuring news organizations, including HuffPost, to publish directly to their platforms. Google’s control of internet search has given it the power to squeeze money away from other websites (see: CelebrityNetWorth.com and Yelp.com). Google’s dominant position as an advertising seller has also given it increasing power over newsrooms (although not as much as Facebook).

    Google has previously sought to pressure a nonprofit over its criticism of the company. In 2009, Google’s head of public policy reached out to the foundation funding the California-based Consumer Watchdog to warn it about continuing to underwrite the work by the pro-privacy group. That work was critical of many of Google’s privacy policies.

    In the past decade, Google also has poured tens of millions of dollars into campaign contributions, lobbying firms, think tanks and policy nonprofits in the past decade.

    This political investment soared after 2011 when Google’s antitrust issues first came under the microscope. Its lobbying expenses doubled from $9.6 million in 2011 to $18.2 million in 2012, and have not fallen below $15 million since. In 2011, Google gave grants to 44 different nonprofits and think tanks. That number jumped to 81 in 2012 and now sits at 170.

    Goggle executives enjoyed unrivaled access to the White House under President Barack Obama, visiting hundreds of times, according to Secret Service visitor logs. Google has also pumped millions of dollars into research at universities, often to buttress its public policy positions, and is pushing its own agenda for public school education across the country.

    Google’s huge increase in political investment post-2011 was in direct reaction to the Federal Trade Commission opening an antitrust investigation into whether it abused its market position in internet searches. The FTC commissioners eventually dropped the investigation in exchange for small concessions by the company, despite a report by the agency’s legal team that labeled Google a “monopoly” and supported a full investigation.

    “The ‘A’ word is the one thing that can stop the music,” Luther Lowe, Yelp’s vice president of public policy, said of Google’s interest in antitrust issues. “It’s the one that’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

    UPDATE: 10:50 p.m. – The New America Foundation released three emails from executive director Anne-Marie Slaughter to Barry Lynn on Wednesday night. All three emails confirm that Slaughter was angered that events sponsored, and statements made, by Lynn and his Open Markets program could endanger the think tank’s funding relationship with Google.

    The first email is from June 2016 and came on the heels of a public event Lynn hosted at New America with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that featured pointed criticism of platform monopolies including Google. Slaughter was upset with Lynn for not including Google’s point of view in the event. She mentioned her agreement with Meredith Hanley, the director of development at New America, regarding Lynn’s apparent transgression, although what Hanley said is not included in the message. Slaughter wrote, “We worked so hard with you to get you 11th Hour funding; just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others.” She added: “We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points.”

    Slaughter’s second email came a year later and four days after Lynn’s June 26 statement in favor of the EU antitrust finding against Google. This is the email quoted in the New York Times where Slaughter states that “the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways.” The email appears to note the Google statement when Slaughter writes, “I and other members of the leadership team regard your actions on Tuesday, June 26, as a breach of faith, imperiling the institution as a whole in a way that could have been avoided.” She continued to outline a plan to consciously uncouple Open Markets from New America by Sept. 1, 2017, in a way “that involves no disparagement by us of you or by you of us.”

    A source within the Open Markets team with knowledge of the events told HuffPost that after the second email Slaughter met with Lynn in person and told him about Google’s anger about his statement. There is also an email from Lynn to Slaughter that came between the second and third email that is not included in New America’s disclosure.

    The third email was sent on July 7, 2017, and acknowledges that Slaughter’s last communication with Google came immediately after the meeting between her and Lynn on June 26. She writes that she spoke with Susan Molinari, a former Republican congresswoman who is currently one of Google’s top lobbyists in Washington. Slaughter claims that Lynn mischaracterized their prior conversation in the email he sent to her, which is not included in this disclosure. She then accuses Lynn of not behaving with “the necessary degree of colleagueship that sets us all up to be successful in our various viewpoints and work.”

    What is clear from all of the emails is that Slaughter repeatedly connected Google’s broader funding of New America to the expression of the policy views stated by Lynn and his team. Lynn also appears to stand accused of not being collegial enough with Google.

    ———-

    “Google Just Proved That Monopolies Imperil Democracy, Not Just The Economy” by Paul Blumenthal; The Huffington Post; 08/30/2017

    ““We were trying to be, like, ’Are you sure you want to do this because it sort of seems bad,” Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Program, told HuffPost. “Are you sure you want to prove us right? Are you sure you want to back a monopoly in such an obvious and clumsy way? We were negotiating with them.” (Stoller is an occasional HuffPost contributor.)”

    Was Google and the New America Foundation sure they wanted to prove the Open Market team’s anti-monopoly critiques right in such an obvious an clumsy way? Yes, they were sure:


    Lynn was just proven right: New America has fired him as head of its Open Markets program along with his team of about 10 researchers and journalists, after they called for an antitrust investigation of the think tank’s largest longtime donor, Google.

    On June 27, the Open Markets team in a 150-word statement called for the Federal Trade Commission to follow the lead of the European Union, which leveled a $2.7 billion fine on Google for violating antitrust laws. Since New America’s start in 1999, Google has given it $21 million. And Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., Google’s parent company, served as New America’s chairman from 2008 through mid-2016.

    According to report on Wednesday in The New York Times, Lynn was called on the carpet by New America head Anne-Marie Slaughter shortly after the Open Markets program praised the E.U.’s decision to find Google in violation of antitrust law for providing preferential placement to its own products and those of its subsidiaries over its rivals in search results. Schmidt, the Times reported, had expressed to Slaughter his “displeasure” with the statement backing the E.U.’s move.

    Slaughter, according to an email obtained by the Times, told Lynn that he and his team had to leave New America. The firing was, “in no way based on the content of your work,” she wrote, while also saying Lynn was “imperiling the institution as a whole.”

    And Google didn’t just help prove a point about its own outsized power over search results and present an example of how sectors of the economy and society remain increasingly at risk of falling into monopolistic hands. Google also helped demonstrate how monopolies threaten democracy by threatening our collective ability to research and understanding the world. Because you can’t have a functioning democracy with monopolies censoring the debate:


    Lynn is now building an independent think tank to continue his anti-monopoly work with his New America team. The group has already launched a campaign aimed at mobilizing public opposition to the power of modern-day monopolies by highlighting Google’s power to quash independent research like that by the Open Markets team.

    Its supporters say this case underscores that argument.

    Lynn and his colleagues “have long argued that monopolies are a problem for the economy, but they’re also a problem for democracy,” Zephyr Teachout, a fellow at Open Markets and board member of its new campaign – called Citizens Against Monopolies – told HuffPost. “This kind of proves the point.”

    It’s not as though the Open Markets team needed to get fired to buttress their concerns about monopoly power. Their efforts already have been influential – more so than work by many other think tanks.

    The Democratic Party recently adopted the team’s warnings about monopolies in its “A Better Deal” platform. Politicians – including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) – are pushing for enhanced antitrust enforcement and calling out concentrations of economic power more than before.

    Open Markets has helped lead the economic debate to a “more populist strain over the past couple of years,” Marshall Steinbaum, a fellow at the progressive economics think tank Roosevelt Institute, told HuffPost.

    “Lynn and his colleagues “have long argued that monopolies are a problem for the economy, but they’re also a problem for democracy,” Zephyr Teachout, a fellow at Open Markets and board member of its new campaign – called Citizens Against Monopolies – told HuffPost. “This kind of proves the point.””

    So with all that in mind, it’s probably worth recalling that there’s a second way in which the Google’s data monopoly (or, rather, data oligopoly that it partially shares with Facebook) could end up threatening democracy. And this would have to do with the other solution the EU has been pondering for years now in response to Google’s status not in search results but in its related monopoly in knowing the intimate details and personal profiles that it’s managed to build up on almost all internet users over the years: the EU proposal to force Google to “share” the knowledge and insight that it, and it alone, has divined about all of us on regulated “collaborative spaces” in order to “mitigate the existing imbalance between data-rich and data-poor companies”. And not just Google but other “data-rich” companies too. So remember how Big Data-derived psychological profiles on hundreds of millions of Americans appear to have allowed the Trump team and Robert Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica to target individual voters with customized misinformation messaging campaigns intended to shift voter sentiment? Well, if the EU ends up letting Google keep its monopoly, but then forces it to share the unique insights it learns about all of us in order to “mitigate the existing imbalance between data-rich and data-poor companies,” you can bet that a lot of those “data-poor companies” are going to be companies owned by billionaires like Robert Mercer and dedicated to persuading voters using any means necessary. How’s that going to impact democracy? It’s a question worth asking since, as we saw last year, the EU was openly talking about this ‘solution’ to Google’s monopoly on what it knows about us just:

    The Wall Street Journal

    EU Mulls New Rules on Data Collection

    By Natalia Drozdiak
    Updated Feb. 25, 2016 4:16 p.m. ET

    BRUSSELS–The European Union is considering new rules to promote healthier competition among companies whose business models rely on collecting large amounts of data, the bloc’s digital chief said.

    “We are exploring right now what concrete measures would suit the interest of European businesses best so that they can fully benefit from the opportunities that data-driven innovation has to offer to them,” the European Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in a speech late Wednesday. “The effort includes looking for ways to mitigate the existing imbalance between data-rich and data-poor companies.”

    Mr. Oettinger said data has become a tradable good, using Google’s business model as an example where the search giant takes data from searches and sells it to advertisers.

    The data economy could make up about 5% of Europe’s gross domestic product by 2020, “provided we take the right measures to foster this market,” Mr. Oettinger said.

    The official’s comments come as the EU is still deciding whether to regulate Internet platforms. The U.S. has expressed concern about the EU’s potential plans to regulate in the area since most companies considered to be Web platforms by the EU are American.

    “Difficult legal, economic and political decisions will have to be taken this year” when deciding whether to regulate online platforms, he said.

    The EU’s antitrust watchdog Margrethe Vestager in January said the regulator was looking carefully at whether the way large Internet companies collect vast quantities of data is in breach of antitrust rules. But in his speech, Mr. Oettinger said that competition policy was sometimes insufficient to deal with problems in the digital economy, particularly when it involves data.

    Mr. Oettinger said one way to promote healthy competition in the data market would be to set up “personal data spaces,” which would allow consumers to negotiate the terms of access to their own data.

    Another option Mr. Oettinger outlined was for the EU to support collaborative spaces where businesses can safely exchange data or share data sets, which the firms aren’t currently using but which could be useful to other companies trying to create new products or services.

    Mr. Oettinger said the measures in the data market would complement the new EU-wide rules agreed to in December to extend greater data-privacy rights to citizens.

    While the EU’s antitrust watchdog has heard some concerns about the handling of big data, it hasn’t yet received a complaint or a formal request to look into the issue, Cecilio Madero Villarejo, the European Commission’s Deputy Director-General for Antitrust, told the same audience.

    ———-

    “EU Mulls New Rules on Data Collection” by Natalia Drozdiak; The Wall Street Journal; 02/25/2016

    “”We are exploring right now what concrete measures would suit the interest of European businesses best so that they can fully benefit from the opportunities that data-driven innovation has to offer to them,” the European Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger said in a speech late Wednesday. “The effort includes looking for ways to mitigate the existing imbalance between data-rich and data-poor companies.”

    And how will that imbalance between data-rich and data-poor companies get addressed? With “collaborative spaces”:


    Another option Mr. Oettinger outlined was for the EU to support collaborative spaces where businesses can safely exchange data or share data sets, which the firms aren’t currently using but which could be useful to other companies trying to create new products or services.

    That was the solution to Google’s monopoly on what it knows about that intellectual property lawyers were predicting in 2014 and that’s what the EU’s Digital Commission was proposing just last year. The monopoly on the kinds of Big Data insights that can only be achieved by those with the biggest databases of Big Data profiles on everyone will be addressed by partially breaking that monopoly and encouraging and/or forcing those monopolists to share those insights with “data-poor” entities. Yes, disparities between data-rich and data-poor companies is a real and growing issue for the digital economy. But making everyone ‘data-rich’ when the data in question is personal data on everyone seems like the wrong approach. Especially for democracy and especially after what we saw in the 2016 US election. Don’t forget that those “data-poor” entities might be ‘data-poor’ oligarchs like the Koch brothers s looking to buy the data they need to convince the public to ignore their oligopoly.

    So while the EU’s hefty fine against Google over its search engine monopoly is something the US should learn from, keep in mind the other antitrust solution the EU has been actively considering for a while. It’s the kind of antitrust ‘solution’ that teams of antitrust researchers should probably be looking into right now. At least those research teams that haven’t had their funding preemptively destroyed by a monopoly.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 3, 2017, 5:18 pm
  11. And right on the heels of the scandalous firing of the New America Foundation’s “Open Markets” team of antitrust researchers after major donor Google made it clear it wasn’t happy about the Open Market team’s teams endorsement of the EU’s recent record fine against Google for manipulating search engine results to benefit its own products, we now have a new anti-antitrust charge getting leveled at Google: Jon von Tetzchner, creator of web browser Opera, just created a new browser caled Vivaldi. And Vivaldi obviously relies on Google’s online ad network to promote itself in the browser market because Google dominates the advertising market online and there’s nothing smaller players can do about, whether they are interesting in buying or selling ads. Google is basically the only advertising game in town.

    Google is also a competitor to Vivaldi with its own Chrome browser, the most popular browser on the market today. So if Google suddenly pulled Vivaldi ads from its network using a bunch of a reasons that include calling for Von Tetzchner to adhere to rules not specified anywhere and that Google itself didn’t follow that would obviously be a potential antitrust issue.

    And if this multidimensional monopolistic behavior (using Google’s ad platform monopoly to secure Chrome’s place in the browser market) appeared to start shortly after Von Tetzchner gave a talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum where he criticized Google’s approach to personal privacy and called for a ban on location tracking by Facebook and Google that would obviously just compound the scandal in a bad way. Using your ad platform monopoly to pull the ads of your browser competitor in retaliation for their critiques of how your monopolistic ad platform can be used to violate everyone’s privacy is clearly just a horrible look for the company that used to brand itself as the “Don’t Be Evil” company.

    So did Google seriously pull Vivaldi ads from its AdSense platform after the creator of Vivaldi criticized Google’s privacy and location detection policies at the Oslo Freedom Forum despite how obviously horrible this would look? Yes, that appears to be what Google did. Because it’s not just a multidimensional monopoly. It’s an out of control multidimensional monopoly that apparently can’t stop itself from doing the kinds of things that highlight it’s multidimensional monopolistic nature:

    Wired

    Another day, another accusation of antitrust bullying against Google

    Jon von Tetzchner, creator of web browser Opera, says the search giant deliberately undermined his new browser

    By Rowland Manthorpe
    Monday 4 September 2017

    The latest allegation against Google? Jon von Tetzchner, creator of the web browser Opera, says the search giant deliberately undermined his new browser, Vivaldi.

    In a blogpost titled, "My friends at Google: it is time to return to not being evil," von Tetzchner accuses the US firm of blocking Vivaldi’s access to Google AdWords, the advertisements that run alongside search results, without warning or proper explanation.

    According to Von Tetzchner, the problem started in late May. Speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum, the Icelandic programmer criticised big tech companies’ attitude toward personal data, calling for a ban on location tracking on Facebook and Google. Two days later, he suddenly found Vivaldi’s Google AdWords campaigns had been suspended. “Was this just a coincidence?” he writes. “Or was it deliberate, a way of sending us a message?” He concludes: “Timing spoke volumes.”

    Von Tetzchner got in touch with Google to try and resolve the issue. The result? What he calls “a clarification masqueraded in the form of vague terms and conditions.” The particular issue was the end-user license agreement (EULA), the legal contract between a software manufacturer and a user. Google wanted Vivaldi to add one to its website. So it did. But Google – who had not responded at the time of publication – had further complaints.

    According to emails shown to WIRED, Google wanted Vivaldi to add an EULA “within the frame of every download button”. The addition was small – a link below the button directing people to “terms” – but on the web, where every pixel matters, this was a potential competitive disadvantage. Most gallingly, Chrome, Google’s own web browser, didn’t display a EULA on its landing pages. Google also asked Vivaldi to add detailed information to help people uninstall it, with another link, also under the button.

    When von Tetzchner argued his case, he was told that an EULA was not a “hard requirement,” in other words a requirement that would definitively break Google’s terms of service, and that suspensions were handled on a “case by case” basis.

    Explaining its sudden demands, Google’s representatives told Vivaldi that they “rely on the advertisers to take responsibility when advertising with us, hence reading up on and following our policy guidelines”. But when Vivaldi looked, it couldn’t find direct guidelines on uninstallation in the help articles.

    After three months of back-and-forth, Vivaldi gave in to Google’s requests. “In exchange for being reinstated in Google’s ad network, their in-house specialists dictated how we should arrange content on our own website and how we should communicate information to our users,” von Tetzchner writes.

    The problem for von Tetzchner weren’t the changes, but the way in which they were demanded: aggressively, without warning, and without Google itself adhering to its own laws. Reflecting on his long history with Google, he concludes: “I am saddened by this makeover of a geeky, positive company into the bully they are in 2017.”

    ———-

    “Another day, another accusation of antitrust bullying against Google” by Rowland Manthorpe; Wired; 09/04/2017

    The problem for von Tetzchner weren’t the changes, but the way in which they were demanded: aggressively, without warning, and without Google itself adhering to its own laws. Reflecting on his long history with Google, he concludes: “I am saddened by this makeover of a geeky, positive company into the bully they are in 2017.””

    And note how the problems for Von Tetzchner gave his presentation at the Oslo Freedom Forum where he criticized Google’s privacy policies on May 23rd of 2016. And the sudden complaint campaign by Google that got him pulled out of their ad network just happened to start in late May:


    According to Von Tetzchner, the problem started in late May. Speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum, the Icelandic programmer criticised big tech companies’ attitude toward personal data, calling for a ban on location tracking on Facebook and Google. Two days later, he suddenly found Vivaldi’s Google AdWords campaigns had been suspended. “Was this just a coincidence?” he writes. “Or was it deliberate, a way of sending us a message?” He concludes: “Timing spoke volumes.”

    Yeah, that certainly sounds like potentially retaliatory behavior from Google. And as we’ve seen, it’s not just retaliatory behavior but also multidimensional monopolistic behavior since Google’s potential retaliation against Von Tetzchner both utilized its ad platform monopoly status and also attacked an competitor to Google’s Chrome browser, the most popular browser in the world. It it was done in retaliation over Von Tetzchner’s critiques of Google’s ad platform monopoly. There’s got to an antitrust issue or two tuck away in that bundle of bad behavior.

    So it’s worth noting that when Von Tetzchner gave that presentation at the Oslo Freedom Forum in May of 2016 it was followed the next month with Google collapsing the internal wall that separated all the information it collected on people’s browsing habits that it collects over its advertising network with the personally identifiable information that it collects through services like Gmail. Yep, when Google bought the online advertising giant DoubleClick back in 2007 (outbidding Microsoft), privacy advocates warned that doing so would gave Google access to more information about people than any other company in the world while Sergey Brin promised that Google would prioritize end-user privacy and no one should worry. Well, it sounds like we should worry:

    The Guardian

    Google’s ad tracking is as creepy as Facebook’s. Here’s how to disable it

    Google in June deleted a clause in its privacy settings that said it would not combine cookie information with personal information without consent

    Olivia Solon in San Francisco

    Friday 21 October 2016 18.48 EDT
    First published on Friday 21 October 2016 17.30 EDT

    Since Google changed the way it tracks its users across the internet in June 2016, users’ personally identifiable information from Gmail, YouTube and other accounts has been merged with their browsing records from across the web.

    An analysis of the changes conducted by Propublica details how the company had previously pledged to keep these two data sets separate to protect individuals’ privacy, but updated its privacy settings in June to delete a clause that said “we will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent”.

    ProPublica highlights that when Google first made the changes in June, they received little scrutiny. Media reports focused on the tools the company introduced to allow users to view and manage ad tracking rather than the new powers Google gained.

    DoubleClick is an advertising serving and tracking company that Google bought in 2007. DoubleClick uses web cookies to track browsing behaviour online by their IP address to deliver targeted ads. It can make a good guess about your location and habits, but it doesn’t know your true identity.

    Google, on the other hand, has users’ (mostly) real names, email accounts and search data.

    At the time of the acquisition, a number of consumer groups made a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission arguing that bringing these data sets together would represent a huge invasion of privacy, giving the company access to more information about the internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world.

    Sergey Brin reassured privacy campaigners, saying: “Overall, we care very much about end-user privacy, and that will take a number one priority when we talk about advertising products.”

    In 2012, Google made a controversial update to its privacy policy to allow it to share data about users between different Google services, but it kept DoubleClick separate.

    In practice, this means that Google can now, if it wanted to, build up even richer profiles of named individuals’ online activity. It also means that the DoubleClick ads that follow people on the web could be personalized based on the keywords that individuals use in Gmail.

    Google isn’t the first company to track individuals in this way. Facebook has been tracking logged-in users by name across the internet whenever they visit websites with Facebook “like” or “share” buttons.

    Google says that the change is optional and is aimed at giving people better control over their data.

    “Google is actually quite late to this game. By now, most of the websites you visit are already sharing your activity with a wide network of third parties who share, collaborate, link and de-link personal information in order to target ads,” said Jules Polonetsky from Future of Privacy Forum.

    “Some users may appreciate relevant advertising, many others may not. What’s critical is that there are easy ways for those who want to avoid the more robust types of data targeting to be able to take easy steps to do so.”

    Technology companies argue that such tracking allows them to deliver much more targeted, relevant advertising across the internet. Paul Ohm from the Center of Privacy and Technology at Georgetown law school told Propublica that the fact that Google kept personally identifiable information and DoubleClick data separate was “a really significant last stand”.

    “It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy. That wall has just fallen.”

    A Google spokeswoman said that its advertising system had been designed before the smartphone revolution, and that the update in June made it easier for users to control their ad preferences across multiple devices.

    “Before we launched this update, we tested it around the world with the goal of understanding how to provide users with clear choice and transparency,” Google said. “As a result, it is 100% optional – if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged. Equally important: we provided prominent user notifications about this change in easy-to-understand language as well as simple tools that let users control or delete their data.”

    Users that don’t want to be tracked in this way can visit the activity controls section of their account page on Google, unticking the box marked “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services”.

    ———-

    “Google’s ad tracking is as creepy as Facebook’s. Here’s how to disable it” by Olivia Solon; The Guardian; 10/21/2016

    “Technology companies argue that such tracking allows them to deliver much more targeted, relevant advertising across the internet. Paul Ohm from the Center of Privacy and Technology at Georgetown law school told Propublica that the fact that Google kept personally identifiable information and DoubleClick data separate was “a really significant last stand”.

    It was just last June when the “last stand” separating the wealth of information about browsing habits that Google collected about everyone through its “DoubleClick” ad network collapsed, allowing Google to fuse that information with the personally identifiable information it collects through services like Gmail and your Google search engine queries without your consent. Despite promising not to do exactly that when Google first bought DoubleClick. And as privacy advocates warned at the time of Google’s purchase, this could give Google access to more information about the internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world:


    An analysis of the changes conducted by Propublica details how the company had previously pledged to keep these two data sets separate to protect individuals’ privacy, but updated its privacy settings in June to delete a clause that said “we will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent”.

    ProPublica highlights that when Google first made the changes in June, they received little scrutiny. Media reports focused on the tools the company introduced to allow users to view and manage ad tracking rather than the new powers Google gained.

    DoubleClick is an advertising serving and tracking company that Google bought in 2007. DoubleClick uses web cookies to track browsing behaviour online by their IP address to deliver targeted ads. It can make a good guess about your location and habits, but it doesn’t know your true identity.

    Google, on the other hand, has users’ (mostly) real names, email accounts and search data.

    At the time of the acquisition, a number of consumer groups made a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission arguing that bringing these data sets together would represent a huge invasion of privacy, giving the company access to more information about the internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world.

    And don’t forget that one of the ‘solutions’ to Google’s exclusive access to the personal insights that only Google can obtain on all of us through its unmatched reach that the EU has been exploring is a system to allow Google and other “data-rich” companies to share those exclusive insights with the rest of the “data-poor” word. So Google inevitably created even more exclusive insights that EU regulators are going to be finding a solution for after it collapsed that internal wall fused the pool of browsing and location information from its DoubleClick network with its personal information for the rest of Googles services.

    So as we can see, Google has a monopoly problem. Or, rather, many distinct yet interrelated monopoly problems. Google itself is a kind of oligopoly of monopolies, which is rather impressive but still quite scary. Especially when you see blatant passive aggressive behavior like what it appears to have done to Von Tetzchner, a critic and competitor. But part of what makes this behavior from Google so alarming is that you almost couldn’t come up with a better advertising campaign for a new browser like Vivaldi than to have Google act like a passive aggressive bully so blatantly and in a manner that simply points public attention towards some of Googles biggest excesses and, ultimately, Google’s biggest vulnerabilities. Google is so entrenched that the only thing likely to cause it to shrink at this point is some trust-busting. And Google is making a ‘don’t trust Google’ campaign almost inevitable. Google appears to have replaced its “Don’t Be Evil” slogan with “Be Stupid Evil”. And that’s a pretty scary signal coming from the company that knows more about all of us than anyone else.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 4, 2017, 4:00 pm

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