mfioretti: google*

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  1. search engine algorithms aren’t as neutral as Google would like you to think. Algorithms promote some results above others, and even a seemingly neutral piece of code can reflect society’s biases. What’s more, without any insight into how the algorithms work or what the broader context is, searches can unfairly shape the discussion of a topic like black girls.

    Noble spoke to MIT Technology Review about the problems inherent with the current system, how Google could do better, and how artificial intelligence might make things worse.

    But when we start getting into more complicated concepts around identity, around knowledge, this is where search engines start to fail us.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2018-03-06)
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  2. Google tracks you on more than just their search engine. You may realize they also track you on YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, Android, Gmaps, and all the other services they run. For those, we recommend using private alternatives like DuckDuckGo for search. Yes, you can live Google-free. I’ve been doing it for many years.

    What you may not realize, though, is Google trackers are actually lurking behind the scenes on 75% of the top million websites. To give you a sense of how large that is, Facebook is the next closest with 25%. It’s a good bet that any random site you land on the Internet will have a Google tracker hiding on it. Between the two of them, they are truly dominating online advertising, by some measures literally making up 74%+ of all its growth. A key component of how they have managed to do that is through all these hidden trackers.

    Google Analytics is installed on most sites, tracking you behind the scenes, letting website owners know who is visiting their sites, but also feeding that information back to Google. Same for the ads themselves, with Google running three of the largest non-search ad networks installed on millions of sites and apps: Adsense, Admob, and DoubleClick.

    You know those ads that creepily follow you around everywhere? Most of those are actually run through these Google ad networks, where they let advertisers target you against your search history, browsing history, location history and other personal information they collect. Even less well known is they also enable advertisers like airlines to charge you different prices based upon your personal information.

    These ads are not only annoying — they are literally designed to manipulate you through targeting to make you buy more things, and just showing them to you is an act of Google profiting off of your personal information.

    At DuckDuckGo, we’ve expanded beyond our roots in search, to protect you no matter where you go on the Internet. Our DuckDuckGo browser extension and mobile app is available for all major browsers and devices, and blocks these Google trackers, along with the ones from Facebook and countless other data brokers. It does even more to protect you as well like providing smarter encryption.

    #3 — Get unbiased results, outside the Filter Bubble.

    When you search, you expect unbiased results, but that’s not what you get on Google. On Google, you get results tailored to what they think you’re likely to click on, based on the data profile they’ve built on you over time from all that tracking I described above.

    That may appear at first blush to be a good thing, but when most people say they want personalization in a search context they actually want localization. They want local weather and restaurants, which can actually be provided without tracking, like we do at DuckDuckGo. That’s because approximate location info is automatically embedded by your computer in the search request, which we can use to serve you local results and immediately throw away without tracking you.

    Beyond localization, personalized results are dangerous because to show you results they think you’ll click on, they must filter results they think you’ll skip. That’s why it’s called the Filter Bubble.

    So if you have political leanings one way or another, you’re more likely to get results you already agree with, and less likely to ever see opposing viewpoints. In the aggregate this leads to increased echo chambers that are significantly contributing to our increasingly polarized society.

    This Filter Bubble is especially pernicious in a search context because you have the expectation that you’re seeing what others are seeing, that you’re seeing the “results.” We’ve done studies over the years where we have people search for the same topics on Google at the same time and in “Incognito” mode, and found they are significantly tailored.
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  3. Four companies dominate our daily lives unlike any other in human history: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. We love our nifty phones and just-a-click-away services, but these behemoths enjoy unfettered economic domination and hoard riches on a scale not seen since the monopolies of the gilded age. The only logical conclusion? We must bust up big tech.
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  4. I want to spend the bulk of my remaining time on another global problem: the rise and monopolistic behavior of the giant IT platform companies. These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.

    Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment. This is particularly nefarious because social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections.

    The distinguishing feature of internet platform companies is that they are networks and they enjoy rising marginal returns; that accounts for their phenomenal growth. The network effect is truly unprecedented and transformative, but it is also unsustainable. It took Facebook eight and a half years to reach a billion users and half that time to reach the second billion. At this rate, Facebook will run out of people to convert in less than 3 years.
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  5. Mark Zuckerberg also launched Facebook with a disdain for intrusive advertising, but it wasn’t long before the social network giant became Google’s biggest competitor for ad dollars. After going public with 845 million users in 2012, Facebook became a multibillion-dollar company and Zuckerberg one of the richest men on Earth, but with only a promise that the company would figure out how to monetize its platform.

    Facebook ultimately sold companies on its platform by promising “brand awareness” and the best possible data on what consumers actually liked. Brands could start their own Facebook pages, which people would actually “like” and interact with. This provided unparalleled information about what company each individual person wanted to interact with the most. By engaging with companies on Facebook, people gave corporate marketing departments more information than they could have ever dreamed of buying, but here it was offered up free.

    This was the “grand bargain,” as Columbia University law professor Tim Wu called it in his book, The Attention Merchants, that users struck with corporations. Wu wrote that Facebook’s “billions of users worldwide were simply handing over a treasure trove of detailed demographic data and exposing themselves to highly targeted advertising in return for what, exactly?”

    In other words: We will give you every detail of our lives and you will get rich by selling that information to advertisers.

    European regulators are now saying that bargain was a bad deal. The big question that remains is whether their counterparts in the U.S. will follow their lead.
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  6. Exclusive: former employee alleges that women hired to work as preschool teachers in the company’s childcare center were paid lower salaries than men with fewer qualifications doing same job
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  7. urope has propelled past the United States when it comes to constraining the abuses of Big Tech. In June, the European Union fined Google $2.7 billion for steering web users to its shopping site, and investigations remain active over similar treatment on Android phones. European regulators fined Facebook for lying about whether it could match user profiles with phone numbers on its messaging acquisition WhatsApp. They demanded Apple repay $15.3 billion in back taxes in Ireland. And they forced Amazon to change its e-book contracts, which they claimed inappropriately squeezed publishers.
    AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    Trust-Busted: In 2002, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates had to testify at federal court in his company's antitrust case. The public trial led Microsoft to sfoten its aggressive strategy against rivals.

    Unfortunately, these actions were treated mainly as the cost of doing business. The Facebook fine totaled not even 1 percent of the $22 billion purchase price for WhatsApp, and it allowed the two companies to remain partnered. Government policy, in effect, has “told these companies that the smart thing to do is to lie to us and break the law,” said Scott Galloway in his presentation. Google’s remedy in the shopping case still forces rivals to bid for placement at the top of the page, with Google Shopping spun off as a stand-alone competitor. This does weaken Google’s power and solves the “equal treatment” problem, but it doesn’t protect consumers, who will ultimately pay for those costly bids. “The EU got a $2.7 billion fine to hold a party and bail out Greek banks,” said Gary Reback, an antitrust lawyer and critic of the EU’s actions. “No amount of money will make a difference.”

    However, one thing might: Europe’s increasing move toward data privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), scheduled for implementation in May 2018, empowers European web users to affirmatively opt out of having their data collected, with high penalties for non-compliance. Consumers will be able to obtain their personal data and learn how it is used. They can request that their data be erased completely (known as the “right to be forgotten”) as well as prohibited from sale to third parties. Platforms could not condition use of their products on data collection. A separate, not-yet-finalized regulation called ePrivacy would forbid platforms from tracking users across separate apps, websites, and devices.
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  8. Google Photos users upload photos snapped under all kinds of imperfect conditions. Given the number of images in the massive database, a tiny chance of mistaking one type of great ape for another can become a near certainty.

    Google parent Alphabet and the wider tech industry face versions of this problem with even higher stakes, such as with self-driving cars. Together with colleague Baishakhi Ray, an expert in software reliability, Román is probing ways to constrain the possible behaviors of vision systems used in scenarios like self-driving cars. Ray says there has been progress, but it is still unclear how well the limitations of such systems can be managed. “We still don’t know in a very concrete way what these machine learning models are learning,” she says.
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  9. After several weeks of development, eelo is running as a beta.

    The real challenge isn't building a new front-end. It's removing Google Play Store, Google Play Services, and Google Services. That's not easy. While Android developers don't have to use any of them, they are very useful.

    For installing programs, Duval is turning to the alternative Android program repositories F-Droid and APKPure. Ideally, he wants an an "eelo store," which would deliver both official free applications like APKPure and open-source applications such as offered in F-Droid.

    To replace Google Services, Duval plans on using MicroG. This is an open-source implementation of Google's proprietary Android user space apps and libraries. To deal with programs that use Google's SafetyNet Attestation Application Programming Interface (API) -- an API that checks to make sure the application runs in a Google Android compliant environment -- Duval thinks eelo will probably use Magisk Manager. This is a program that enables Android applications to run on smartphones, such as rooted systems, that would normally block them.

    For search, the plan is to offer privacy-enabled DuckDuckGo and the new privacy oriented search engine Qwant. You'll also be able to pick your own search engine, since as Duval admits, "in some cases, it Google » is still offering the best results."

    Then, there are all the invisible internet services most people never think about, such as Domain Name System (DNS), which can also be used to track you. To deal with this, by default, eelo will use the Quad 9 DNS. The Global Cyber Alliance (GCA)'s Quad 9 both preserves privacy while blocking access to known malicious sites.

    Low-level proprietary smartphone hardware drivers remain a problem -- but, short of building an eelo phone from the circuits up, that's beyond eelo's current scope.

    It's still early days for eelo, and Duval is welcoming support both on eelo's KickStarter page, where the current goal is to raise $120,000, and by talking directly to him via e-mail at or by following him on Twitter or Mastodon.

    Can it work? While alternatives to Android and iOS have failed more often than not, Android forks have had more success. With people increasingly desiring more privacy, I think eelo has an excellent chance of becoming a viable niche operating system
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-03)
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  10. this article analyses Google’s two main advertising systems, AdWords and AdSense, and proposes that these financial models have significant effects upon online discourse. In discussing AdWords, this article details some of the tensions between the local and the global that develop when tracing flows of information and capital, specifically highlighting Google’s impact on the decline of online language diversity. In outlining AdSense, this article demonstrates how Google’s hegemonic control prescribes which parts of the web can be monetised and which remain unprofitable. In particular, in drawing from existing studies, evidence is provided that Google’s AdSense programme, along with Google’s relationship with Facebook, incentivised the rise of fake news in the 2016 US presidential election. This work builds on existing scholarship to demonstrate that Google’s economic influence has varied and far-reaching effects in a number of contexts and is relevant to scholars in a range of disciplines. As such, this article is intended as a discursive introduction to the topic and does not require specific disciplinary background knowledge. In doing so, this article does not attempt to provide the final word on Google’s relationship to digital capitalism, but rather, demonstrate the profitability of a Post-Fordist perspective, in order to enable a wider engagement with the issues identified.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-02)
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