Category Archives: GOOGLE

Tech giants circle over big data as antitrust regulators take note

Wealth and influence in the technology business have always been about gaining the upper hand in software or the machines that software ran on.

Now data – gathered in those immense pools of information that are at the heart of everything from artificial intelligence to online shopping recommendations – is increasingly a focus of technology competition. And academics and some policymakers, especially in Europe, are considering whether big internet companies like Google and Facebook might use their data resources as a barrier to new entrants and innovation.

Google data centre in Oklahoma. image www.intelagencies.com

In recent years, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have all been targets of tax evasion, privacy or antitrust investigations. But in the coming years, who controls what data could be the next worldwide regulatory focus as governments strain to understand and sometimes rein in US tech giants.

The European Commission and the British House of Lords both issued reports last year on digital “platform” companies that highlighted the essential role that data collection, analysis and distribution play in creating and shaping markets. And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development held a meeting in November to explore the subject, “Big Data: Bringing Competition Policy to the Digital Era.”

As government regulators dig into this new era of data competition, they may find that standard antitrust arguments are not so easy to make. Using more and more data to improve a service for users and more accurately target ads for merchants is a clear benefit, for example. And higher prices for consumers are not present with free internet services.

“You certainly don’t want to punish companies because of what they might do,” said Annabelle Gawer, a professor of the digital economy at the University of Surrey in England, who made a presentation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting. “But you do need to be vigilant. It’s clear that enormous power is in the hands of a few companies.”

Maurice Stucke, a former Justice Department antitrust official and a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, who also spoke at the gathering, said one danger was that consumers might be afforded less privacy than they would choose in a more competitive market.

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The competition concerns echo those that gradually emerged in the 1990s about software and Microsoft. The worry is that as the big internet companies attract more users and advertisers, and gather more data, a powerful “network effect” effectively prevents users and advertisers from moving away from a dominant digital platform, like Google in search or Facebook in consumer social networks.

Evidence of the rising importance of data can be seen from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software. And certain data sets can be remarkably valuable for companies working on those technologies.

A prime example is Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn, the business social network, for $US26.2 billion last year. LinkedIn has about 467 million members, and it houses their profiles and maps their connections.

Microsoft is betting LinkedIn, combined with data on how hundreds of millions of workers use its Office 365 online software, and consumer data from search behaviour on Bing, will “power a set of insights that we think is unprecedented,” said James Phillips, vice president for business applications at Microsoft.

In an email to employees, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, described the LinkedIn deal as a linchpin in the company’s long-term goal to “reinvent productivity and business processes” and to become the digital marketplace that defines “how people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done.”

IBM has also bet heavily on data for its future. Its acquisitions have tended to be in specific industries, like its $US2.6 billion purchase last year of Truven Health, which has data on the cost and treatment of more than 200 million patients, or in specialised data sets useful across several industries, like its $US2 billion acquisition of the digital assets of Weather Co.

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IBM estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s data is not out on the public web, but in private databases, often to protect privacy or trade secrets. IBM’s strategy is to take the data it has acquired, add customer data and use that to train its Watson artificial intelligence software to pursue such tasks as helping medical researchers discover novel disease therapies, or flagging suspect financial transactions for independent auditors.

“Our focus is mainly on non-public data sets and extending that advantage for clients in business and science,” said David Kenny, senior vice president for IBM’s Watson and cloud businesses.

At Google, the company’s drive into cloud-delivered business software is fuelled by data, building on years of work done on its search and other consumer services, and its recent advances in image identification, speech recognition and language translation.

For example, a new Google business offering – still in the test, or alpha, stage – is a software service to improve job finding and recruiting. Its data includes more than 17 million online job postings and the public profiles and résumés of more than 200 million people.

Its machine-learning algorithms distilled that to about 4 million unique job titles, ranked the most common ones and identified specific skills. The job sites CareerBuilder and Dice are using the Google technology to show job seekers more relevant openings. And FedEx, the giant package shipper, is adding the service to its recruiting site.

That is just one case, said Diane Greene, senior vice president for Google’s cloud business, of what is becoming increasingly possible – using the tools of artificial intelligence, notably machine learning, to sift through huge quantities of data to provide machine-curated data services.

“You can turn this technology to whatever field you want, from manufacturing to medicine,” Greene said.

Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is taking a sabbatical to become chief scientist for artificial intelligence at Google’s cloud unit. She sees working at Google as one path to pursue her career ambition to “democratise AI,” now that the software and data ingredients are ripe.

“We wouldn’t have the current era of AI without the big data revolution,” Li said. “It’s the digital gold.”

In the AI race, better software algorithms can put you ahead for a year or so, but probably no more, said Andrew Ng, a former Google scientist and adjunct professor at Stanford. He is now chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese internet search giant, and a leading figure in artificial intelligence research.

Rivals, he added, cannot unlock or simulate your data. “Data is the defensible barrier, not algorithms,” Ng said.

New York Times

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Henry Sapiecha

Tech giants circle over big data as antitrust regulators take note

Wealth and influence in the technology business have always been about gaining the upper hand in software or the machines that software ran on.

Now data – gathered in those immense pools of information that are at the heart of everything from artificial intelligence to online shopping recommendations – is increasingly a focus of technology competition. And academics and some policymakers, especially in Europe, are considering whether big internet companies like Google and Facebook might use their data resources as a barrier to new entrants and innovation.

google-data-centre-in-oklahoma-image-www-intelagencies-com

In recent years, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have all been targets of tax evasion, privacy or antitrust investigations. But in the coming years, who controls what data could be the next worldwide regulatory focus as governments strain to understand and sometimes rein in US tech giants.

The European Commission and the British House of Lords both issued reports last year on digital “platform” companies that highlighted the essential role that data collection, analysis and distribution play in creating and shaping markets. And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development held a meeting in November to explore the subject, “Big Data: Bringing Competition Policy to the Digital Era.”

As government regulators dig into this new era of data competition, they may find that standard antitrust arguments are not so easy to make. Using more and more data to improve a service for users and more accurately target ads for merchants is a clear benefit, for example. And higher prices for consumers are not present with free internet services.

“You certainly don’t want to punish companies because of what they might do,” said Annabelle Gawer, a professor of the digital economy at the University of Surrey in England, who made a presentation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting. “But you do need to be vigilant. It’s clear that enormous power is in the hands of a few companies.”

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Maurice Stucke, a former Justice Department antitrust official and a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, who also spoke at the gathering, said one danger was that consumers might be afforded less privacy than they would choose in a more competitive market.

The competition concerns echo those that gradually emerged in the 1990s about software and Microsoft. The worry is that as the big internet companies attract more users and advertisers, and gather more data, a powerful “network effect” effectively prevents users and advertisers from moving away from a dominant digital platform, like Google in search or Facebook in consumer social networks.

Evidence of the rising importance of data can be seen from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software. And certain data sets can be remarkably valuable for companies working on those technologies.

A prime example is Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn, the business social network, for $US26.2 billion last year. LinkedIn has about 467 million members, and it houses their profiles and maps their connections.

Microsoft is betting LinkedIn, combined with data on how hundreds of millions of workers use its Office 365 online software, and consumer data from search behaviour on Bing, will “power a set of insights that we think is unprecedented,” said James Phillips, vice president for business applications at Microsoft.

In an email to employees, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, described the LinkedIn deal as a linchpin in the company’s long-term goal to “reinvent productivity and business processes” and to become the digital marketplace that defines “how people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done.”

IBM has also bet heavily on data for its future. Its acquisitions have tended to be in specific industries, like its $US2.6 billion purchase last year of Truven Health, which has data on the cost and treatment of more than 200 million patients, or in specialised data sets useful across several industries, like its $US2 billion acquisition of the digital assets of Weather Co.

IBM estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s data is not out on the public web, but in private databases, often to protect privacy or trade secrets. IBM’s strategy is to take the data it has acquired, add customer data and use that to train its Watson artificial intelligence software to pursue such tasks as helping medical researchers discover novel disease therapies, or flagging suspect financial transactions for independent auditors.

“Our focus is mainly on non-public data sets and extending that advantage for clients in business and science,” said David Kenny, senior vice president for IBM’s Watson and cloud businesses.

At Google, the company’s drive into cloud-delivered business software is fuelled by data, building on years of work done on its search and other consumer services, and its recent advances in image identification, speech recognition and language translation.

For example, a new Google business offering – still in the test, or alpha, stage – is a software service to improve job finding and recruiting. Its data includes more than 17 million online job postings and the public profiles and résumés of more than 200 million people.

Its machine-learning algorithms distilled that to about 4 million unique job titles, ranked the most common ones and identified specific skills. The job sites CareerBuilder and Dice are using the Google technology to show job seekers more relevant openings. And FedEx, the giant package shipper, is adding the service to its recruiting site.

That is just one case, said Diane Greene, senior vice president for Google’s cloud business, of what is becoming increasingly possible – using the tools of artificial intelligence, notably machine learning, to sift through huge quantities of data to provide machine-curated data services.

“You can turn this technology to whatever field you want, from manufacturing to medicine,” Greene said.

Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is taking a sabbatical to become chief scientist for artificial intelligence at Google’s cloud unit. She sees working at Google as one path to pursue her career ambition to “democratise AI,” now that the software and data ingredients are ripe.

“We wouldn’t have the current era of AI without the big data revolution,” Li said. “It’s the digital gold.”

In the AI race, better software algorithms can put you ahead for a year or so, but probably no more, said Andrew Ng, a former Google scientist and adjunct professor at Stanford. He is now chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese internet search giant, and a leading figure in artificial intelligence research.

Rivals, he added, cannot unlock or simulate your data. “Data is the defensible barrier, not algorithms,” Ng said.

New York Times

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Henry Sapiecha

 

See everything you’ve ever Googled with this little-publicised web tool

google logo sign image www.intelagencies.com

Take a peek into your own personal Google vault, if you’re so brave. Photo: Tamara Voninski

You probably don’t remember what you Googled 10 minutes ago, let alone the myriad inane and fleeting things you’ve searched since the engine’s beginnings.

But unless you’re browsing in incognito mode or have tweaked your account settings, Google remembers those things. Not only that: Google logs all of your searches, analyzes them, and uses them to individually personalise the search results you see – which has pretty profound implications for both literacy and privacy.

Now, the search giant has created a way for users to better understand that process. In a feature quietly rolled out last January, and surfaced by a Google blog over the weekend, users can download their search histories from Google, including things they’ve searched across computers and phones.

These histories aren’t 100-percent comprehensive: They only include searches you’ve made while signed in on your Google account. (Admittedly, if you have Gmail, this is probably more or less most of the time.)

Google also delivers them as JSON files, which aren’t the most human-readable things. But if you download your search history from the little drop-down in the top right corner of this page, open it in your computer’s notepad or other plain-text editing app, and search for the term “query_text,” you’ll get a rundown of everything you’ve ever searched.  I downloaded my archive to make this GIF of every phrase I’ve Googled in the past seven days. (No, I didn’t edit anything out; yes, you want to see Skateboarding Taco for yourself.)

google-gif image www.intelagencies.com

So what’s the point of this, exactly, besides the novelty? The stated purpose of Google Takeout, a four-year-old user data program to which this feature belongs, is to give people an easier way to transfer their data from Google to other services. If I wanted to switch my email from Gmail to AOL, for instance, I could use Google Takeout’s email archive to port all my old messages over.

But there’s a really critical literacy purpose here, as well: By seeing what data Google has on you – and in what quantities – you can also begin to understand the decisions it makes about what you do and do not see.

Google search results are famously variable: What you see when you search “ice cream” is different from what I see, or what the person next to you on the subway sees, or even what you’ll see an hour from now. That’s because Google’s pagerank algorithm is designed to surface the results that it thinks you’ll find most relevant; everything else effectively gets buried.

That’s obviously a really useful service, particularly when you’re searching something like ice cream. (At the top of my Google results right now: The best ice cream places in D.C.) But when it comes to heftier topics – say, the 2016 election or gender equality – what Google terms “personal relevance” could really slant the type of information you receive.

“Web & App Activity makes searches faster and enables customised experiences in Search, Maps, Now, and other Google products,” is how Google explains itself.

It’s worth checking out your search history for another reason, too: As the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned in 2012, this kind of data can tell extremely intimate things about you, from your sexual orientation to your health problems. All of that data can theoretically be subpoened from Google. (Or hacked, if it’s on your hard drive – so be careful.)

You can control how much of this information Google receives: turning off the “save search history” feature is an option through your Google Account History settings. While you’re there, you may also want to stop Google from logging where you go, who your phone contacts are, and what you watch on YouTube. Then again, this is how Google knows to tell you things like the best nearby ice cream. That trade-off’s up to you.

The Washington Post

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Henry Sapiecha

NSA BREAKS INTO GOOGLE DATA STREAM & CELEBRATES WITH A HAPPY DANCE

A slide from documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

A slice from documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

When you’re happy and you know it (and you really want to show it) what do you do if you’re a spy at the United States National Security Agency successfully cracking encryption? You draw a stick figure doing a happy dance.

Over the Christmas break, the German Der Spiegel magazine published new disclosures and documents of signals intelligence cooperation between the United States and its “5-eyes” partners – Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – revealing that the secret agencies had broken most widely used forms of internet encryption.

Among priority intelligence targets were virtual private networks (VPNs) – secure computer networks commonly used by large companies and organisations to transfer data between offices, and by consumers to protect their privacy.

Another slide shows the spy agency's excitement when being able to decrypt.

Another slide shows the spy agency’s excitement when being able to decrypt.

But in one of the documents published, “Intro to the VPN Exploitation Process”, the NSA celebrated its ability to break into VPNs in an unusual, childish-like way: a spy drew a stick figure doing a “happy dance”.

Examples of successful VPN interception cited in the leaked documents include government networks in Afghanistan, Greece, Pakistan and Turkey as well as a Russian telecommunications company being compromised.

It comes after another slide released in October 2013 poked fun at the NSA’s ability to tap into the fibre-optic cables that link up Google’s data centres. In that slide, on “Google Cloud Exploitation”, a sketch shows where the “Public Internet” meets the internal “Google Cloud” where their data resides.

A slide released in late 2013 showing how the NSA broke into Google's data stream.

A slide released in late 2013 showing how the NSA broke into Google’s data stream.

In hand-printed letters, the drawing notes that encryption is “added and removed here!” The artist adds a smiley face, a cheeky celebration of victory over Google security.

When told about the NSA successfully penetrating Google’s data stream, two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing. “I hope you publish this,” one of them said.

Google later said it was racing to encrypt the traffic between its data centres.

“It’s an arms race,” Eric Grosse, vice president for security engineering at Google, told the Washington Post. “We see these government agencies as among the most skilled players in this game.”

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Henry Sapiecha

Google for spies: how the NSA made a search engine for personal metadata

Headquarters of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland. USA image www.intelagencies.com

Headquarters of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland.

This post was originally published on Mashable.

America’s National Security Agency doesn’t just store cellphone data — it can also look up who users talked to through its own Google-like search engine.

The agency’s search engine called ICREACH can comb through around 850 billion files of phone calls, emails and more made by Americans and citizens of other nations, according to The Intercept. All those records are available to 23 agencies, such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, which have access to the search engine.

Government analysts can search for specific bits of data associated with a person, such as a phone number or an email address, and up pops a list of emails both to and from that person over a period of time. From there, analysts can figure out who a person interacts with the most, according to The Intercept.

Agents do this by picking through metadata, which doesn’t include what was said during a phone call, but does include who a person is talking with, who called whom and the time of the call. Analysts can use that data to develop patterns of behavior. If an agent wants to listen to the call someone always makes on Tuesdays at 9 pm, for example, they can plan for it.

The legality of bulk metadata storage in the US is based on an executive order from former President Reagan. But the ICREACH database stores data mostly related to non-Americans, meaning no US domestic agencies are allowed to use it to build a legal case against a US citizen.

The concern, according to The Intercept, is that officials from agencies such as the FBI or the DEA could use the database to build a legal case against an American, then hide how they got their information, though there is no evidence yet that a domestic agency has done that.

Multiple government agencies did not respond to requests for comment about the possible legal issues with ICREACH,

The search engine is reportedly the first of its kind that allows different US government agencies to share metadata amongst themselves, and it can handle between 2 billion to 5 billion new records per day and costs around $US2.5 million to $US4.5 million per year.

Former NSA Director Keith Alexander first came up with the idea in 2006, and it was up-and-running in pilot form near the end of 2007, according to The Intercept.

Henry Sapiecha

GOOGLE KNOWS WHERE YOU’VE BEEN. SEE THIS VIDEO & VIEW MAPS HERE

Published on Aug 13, 2014

Sign up for location services on an Android phone and you’re leaving a accessible trace of your movements.

If you have an Android or Apple smartphone or tablet, there’s a good chance Google has a fairly comprehensive idea of what you do and where you go every day.

Assuming you have the location history and location reporting settings activated — which you likely will if you regularly use apps like Google Maps, Facebook or Foursquare — and are logged on to a Google account, the various points of reference being recorded can be taken together to reveal a map of your movements.

Using a little-known Google site, you can actually view the data the firm has accumulated about your activities and see it expressed as a shockingly detailed map. Here’s how:

google tracking a cell phone over a month map image www.intejagencies.com

A month’s worth of Google location data collected from my phone shows a somewhat depressingly consistent loop between the inner west, where I live, and Pyrmont, where I work.

First, make sure you’re signed in to the same account you use on your phone, then go to this Google website. The default view shows your movements from today.

The calendar on the left allows you to look at a specific day and view your movements. Selecting a greater range of dates (up to a month) lets you spot patterns in your movements. You can zoom in or out as you like and even shift into Google Maps’ “satellite” mode for a better view of the surroundings. There’s also an option to delete the data.

Apple collects this type of data from its users too, sparking controversy in 2011 when it was found its phone was collecting data from location services even when they were switched off. A similar claim was made against Android shortly after.

days tracking by google of a mobile phone map image www.intelagencies.com

My data from today, showing Google’s 11 points of reference between home and work.

Both companies say they compile such information to offer “smart” suggestions and helpful tips tailored to you through Google Now and Apple’s “Frequent Locations” introduced in iOS7.

As you can see from the images, my personal map not only clues Google in to the fact I often take the train to work and the light rail home again, but also displays the minutia of my exploration through the city on the weekend, or the different routes I might take to the park near my house when walking the dog.

What does your Google location history say about you?

Henry Sapiecha

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