Here’s a question: Does the unrelentingly positive nature of GMail’s “smart replies” feature prime people to be more agreeable to things they otherwise wouldn’t be? And is that a problem? And, critically… should Google have, like, studied that before rolling the feature out en masse?
But companies usually care about their products, protect them, try to improve their state.
If I were a product, Google would do its best not to destroy me. They have invested a lot of resources into this product, so why risk it by making baffling changes to both privacy and user experience? If I stay happy with Google’s offerings, I keep being the perfect product: I can be mined for data and “sold” perpetually.
Clearly, Google doesn’t care about me personally. And how could it? There are billions of people just like me who use their services every day.
Maybe we should stop thinking we’re “Google’s product” and start thinking we are data points in endless experiments.
Rakhim Davletkaliyev on Google.
I switched to using Firefox about a day before this latest round of being-evil from Google and… yeah. I do not regret it.1
- Even if the scrollbars in Masto are now hideously ugly… [↩]
I mean, on the one hand this is an unsettling look at how Google used its market power to force the entire internet into playing on its terms. But, also, on the other: underscores are objectively uglier than hyphens in URLs, so… yanno. There’s that.
How Google is impacting journalism though the fact it funds most online publications through ads, but also through being the biggest provider of hosted email and the maker of the most popular browser.
Very specifically, the article is about how Google’s arbitrary “no hate speech” rules impacted TMP’s reporting on white supremacist violence. Basically, TMP were censured for articles about Dylan Roof’s mass murder in Charleston, with the account rep they tried to contact apparently, “not really understanding the distinction and cheerily telling us to try to operate within the no hate speech rules.” It’s worth noting “censured” in this context means TMP couldn’t run advertising on the articles in question. Small in the scheme of things, maybe, but each warning of that nature goes against the account as a whole, with the net result that, after n-number of incidents (no one seems to know how many, exactly) Google could pull advertising entirely. Which would be disastrous for TMP. Existentially so.
The point here isn’t to criticize Google’s well-intentioned attempt to stop funding hate sites with ad revenue. It is to warn that Google has so much power, thanks to it advertising and big data ecosystems, that even small misjudgments in policy application can be catastrophic for downstream players. Which is, yanno. Pretty much literally everyone who isn’t Google.
Or, as the article points out:
One thing I’ve observed with Google over the years is that it is institutionally so used to its ‘customers’ actually being its products that when it gets into businesses where it actually has customers it really has little sense of how to deal with them.
(See also this.)
The big question: is Google’s ecosystem monopolistic and, if so, why doesn’t the government step in? Well, it’s been pointed out before the US antitrust laws are mostly geared to constantly lowering prices for consumers; they’re not actually designed to foster market competition, and they’re certainly not geared towards… however you’d describe the relationship Google has with its ad customers. Because Google’s services are (largely) “free”, in other words, US antitrust laws don’t apply.1
(To anyone who’s currently thinking, “They’re not ‘free’, the law is just bad at quantifying the value of the personal data Google extracts in exchange for its services.” Well… yes. That’s the point.)
Google isn’t the only one of the “new monopolies” poorly controlled by US law, of course–Amazon’s in the same boat, as is Facebook, for one–but it’s arguably the one with the most far-reaching impact for online services in general, and journalism in particular. Sadly, I don’t think there’ll be any kind of resolution to the issues any time soon, either. Hell, people are barely beginning to understand the problem. Or that there even is one to start with…
Something to be thankful to Microsoft for: Google will apparently phase out reading emails for targeted advertising.
Microsoft’s O365 is Google’s biggest competitor in the corporate email hosting space, and one of the biggest reasons companies pick O365 is because Microsoft doesn’t hang a skeevy-as-fuck ad platform off of it.1 Google’s approach works for personal use and for small businesses and start-ups (who’re more worried about not spending money than privacy), but Microsoft’s is more popular in large business, government, and education, all of whom tend to place more emphasis on data privacy and sovereignty.
Whether or not the privacy issues with Google’s email ads are a real or invented problem is sort of moot. The fact that people perceive there’s an issue there means more are moving to competitor platforms, specifically Microsoft and Apple. The latter hasn’t aggressively pursued the enterprise market, but every now and again there are rumblings that they might be thinking about it, particularly in the small- to medium-business end. Apple arguably has the weakest SaaS offering of the three–which isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s just that Microsoft and Google’s are so much better–but does have both the highest hardware satisfaction rate and the most vocally strong stance on privacy. Microsoft doesn’t sell its privacy angle as hard as Apple does, and they’ve had a few public gaffes, but they’re pretty solid on it, particularly around enterprise.2 In other words, both companies are using privacy as a market differentiator and, from the looks of it, not just succeeding but forcing Google to play catch-up.
Either way, for once this almost looks like a good news story on the user end. Huh.
- The other reason is vendor lock-in–it’s relatively easy to move an existing on-premise Exchange set-up to O365–and the other other reason is because Microsoft is much better at playing ball with local certification and regulation requirements than Google is. In other words, Microsoft positions itself, not incorrectly, as the low-risk option. [↩]
- Most of the “phone home” settings people don’t like in, say, Windows 10 are easy to turn off en masse via Group Policy, which every organisation does. [↩]
Hey, you remember when Apple introduced Apple Pay and everyone was like, “Holy shit Apple taking a slice of all credit card transactions made from its devices is like a freakin’ licence to print money”? But users didn’t really care that much because, a) that shit is convenient af, and b) the “pie slice” that Apple was cutting into was, like, Visa and MasterCard’s and who cares about them?
So what if Google decided it was going to do the same thing. Except the “slice” was “advertising” and the pie was “making users who use non-Google adblockers pay to view websites“?
Whatever your thoughts on advertising-as-business-model and/or paywalling,1 there seems to be a really good way of stopping your browser from being the world’s most used, and this would seem to be it.
- Yes! the internet has no good content payment model! Yes, publishers should be able to earn revenue based on viewership of their content. And you know what? There’s already a pool of this money and it’s called “ISP bandwidth costs”. Stop freakin’ double-dipping, tech industry, and sort your shit out! [↩]
Taking on crappy online ads, Apple-style.
This isn’t altruism, of course: Apple’s biggest rivals, i.e. Google, have almost all of their revenue from adtech, while Apple has more-or-less none. Coupled with the fact that users loathe ads, it means they’re a safe target for Apple to hit at.
I still use Chrome on iOS, because I like the syncing with the desktop and I like my desktop Chrome ad-ins. But mobile-based Chrome is getting worse (cough not supporting iOS’s adblockers cough), while Safari is getting better. As websites get more bloated with ad- and spyware, I’m already using Safari more and more for the simple fact that pages in Chrome become unusable. Google’s attempts to “fix” this–things like AMP and its own new “adblocking”–are more about gaining market share for Google than they are making things better for users.
I suspect it’s only a matter of time before I end up making the browser switch permanently…