Bookmarked Is Google Dying? Or Did the Web Grow Up? by Charlie Warzel (theatlantic.com)

One of the most-used tools on the internet is not what it used to be.

Charlie Warzel takes a dive into the current status of Google Search. He talks about the way in which it has become bloated by advertising and move to AI driven results.

In theory, we crave authoritative information, but authoritative information can be dry and boring. It reads more like a government form or a textbook than a novel. The internet that many people know and love is the opposite—it is messy, chaotic, unpredictable. It is exhausting, unending, and always a little bit dangerous. It is profoundly human.

For me to suggest that Google is ‘dying’ treats it as a unique entity. As Warzel suggests, “Google has rewired us, transforming the way that we evaluate, process, access, and even conceive of information.” With this being so, maybe we have all just changed?

Bookmarked What It’s Like To Stop Using Google Search – Debugger by Clive Thompson (Debugger)

When it first appeared in 1997, Google was wildly better than the competition. You young’uns don’t remember this — shakes cane — but back in the ‘90s, search engines were a hot mess. You’d type your…

Clive Thompson reflects upon his move away from using Google as his search engine. This includes a move to DuckDuckGo and the use of ‘bangs‘, shortcuts built in, that help streamline searches. What was really interesting was Thompson’s preference for using the right search engine for the task at hand.

I’m not using the main search of any engine. Instead, I’m using services designed specifically to find academic info, like Semantic Scholar or JSTOR. For historical research, I might use the scans of public-domain info on the Internet Archive or at Google Books.

Bookmarked Excerpt: How Google bought Android—according to folks in the room (Ars Technica)

Androids: The team that built the Android operating system is a new book from longtime Android engineer Chet Haase. Haase has been on the Android team since 2010, and he interviewed dozens of Googlers for this book, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at early Android development. With Haase’s permission, we’re giving readers a look at chapters four and five of the book, “The Pitch,” and “The Acquisition.” That portion covers the independent Android Inc.’s search for venture capital and the team’s eventual meeting with Google. The book is out this weekend in eBook and paperback (Amazon, Google Play), and Haase is donating proceeds to Black Girls Code and Women Who Code.

In an exceprt from Androids: The team that built the Android operating system, Chet Haase discusses how the Android platform came to be acquired by Google, rather than go down the path of being carrier-centric. Interesting to read this alongside the history of Firefox OS.
Watched
In this episode of Reclaim Today, Tim OWens speaks with Dr. Pete Rorabaugh about some of the steps and challenges associated with with extracting your data and habits from Google. On the one hand, Rorabaugh was left inspired by reading Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, however as Google starts putting a ceiling on what you can actually do, it is becoming a practical problem. They discuss moving email to something like ProtonMail, messaging to Signal and storage to Nextcloud. One of the challenges I feel is faced with any swap is there is always compromises or sacrifices, this is something that came up in Alex Kretzschmar’s investigation of open source options to Google Photos:

Our perhaps unsatisfying conclusion to this seven-app showdown exposes an important truth: the photo management software world is too complex for a one- or two-person dev team to properly handle. Unless we see some of these app-makers start to pool their resources together, it could be a while before we get a truly excellent self-hosted option to pry many of us away from Google.

Personally, I am interested in exploring Nextcloud as a space to store my photos and probably should move my email. I am also interested in the idea of storing all the images associated with my blogs in one spot and referencing them from there. This is something Jim Groom has touched upon.

Bookmarked Google’s VR dreams are dead: Google Cardboard is no longer for sale (Ars Technica)

Google’s last surviving VR product is dead. Today the company stopped selling the Google Cardboard VR viewer on the Google Store, the last move in a long wind-down of Google’s once-ambitious VR efforts. The message on the Google Store, which was first spotted by Android Police, reads, “We are no longer selling Google Cardboard on the Google Store.”

Google is putting an end to its work with Google Cardboard. I liked the idea of it, but always felt inhibited by how it would work practically in the classroom.
Liked How Google’s Grand Plan to Make Stadia Games Fell Apart by Cecilia D’Anastasio (WIRED)

It is miraculous that successful large-scale games get made at all, anywhere. A big-budget game can be beautiful, but does the “jump” feel good? It can piece into a popular genre, but is it too same-y? Does the plot make sense? Are the characters balanced? And, most of all, is it fun? There is no potion to drizzle into the fizzing cauldron of game development to produce a hit; it takes all kinds of people channeling their personal inspiration into one multitudinous commodity. It’s crazed and human. That’s the alchemy that tech giants still can’t solve for.

Bookmarked Timnit Gebru’s Exit From Google Exposes a Crisis in AI (WIRED)

This crisis makes clear that the current AI research ecosystem—constrained as it is by corporate influence and dominated by a privileged set of researchers—is not capable of asking and answering the questions most important to those who bear the harms of AI systems. Public-minded research and knowledge creation isn’t just important for its own sake, it provides essential information for those developing robust strategies for the democratic oversight and governance of AI, and for social movements that can push back on harmful tech and those who wield it. Supporting and protecting organized tech workers, expanding the field that examines AI, and nurturing well-resourced and inclusive research environments outside the shadow of corporate influence are essential steps in providing the space to address these urgent concerns.

Alex Hanna reports on Timnit Gebru’s exit from Google and the implications that this has for research into artificial intelligence. It highlights the dark side of being funded by the company that you are at the same time researching:

Meredith Whittaker, faculty director at New York University’s AI Now institute, says what happened to Gebru is a reminder that, although companies like Google encourage researchers to consider themselves independent scholars, corporations prioritize the bottom line above academic norms. “It’s easy to forget, but at any moment a company can spike your work or shape it so it functions more as PR than as knowledge production in the public interest,” she says.

In an interview with Karen Hao, Gebru questions the response from Google suggesting they treat those involved in gross misconduct better.

I didn’t expect it to be in that way—like, cut off my corporate account completely. That’s so ruthless. That’s not what they do to people who’ve engaged in gross misconduct. They hand them $80 million, and they give them a nice little exit, or maybe they passive-aggressively don’t promote them, or whatever. They don’t do to the people who are actually creating a hostile workplace environment what they did to me.

John Naughton suggests that this is no different to what has happened in the past with oil and tobacco.

And my question is: why? Is it just that the paper provides a lot of data which suggests that a core technology now used in many of Google’s products is, well, bad for the world? If that was indeed the motivation for the original dispute and decision, then it suggests that Google’s self-image as a technocratic force for societal good is now too important to be undermined by high-quality research which suggests otherwise. In which case, it suggests that there’s not that much difference between big tech companies and tobacco, oil and mining giants. They’re just corporations, doing what corporations always do.

This all reminds me of Jordan Erica Webber’s discussion from a few years ago about the push for more ethics and whether this it is just a case of public relations?

Bookmarked Teaching with Amazon Alexa by sylviamartinez (sylviamartinez.com)

Alexa is a voice-activated, cloud-based virtual assistant, similar to Siri on Apple devices, or Google Assistant. Alexa is an umbrella name for the cloud-based functionality that responds to verbal commands. Alexa uses artificial intelligence to answer questions or control smart devices, and has a r…

Sylvia Libow Martinez explores the possibility of Alexa in the classroom. This has me thinking about Kin Lane’s discussion of APIs and skills.
Liked google by Alex Hern (The World Is Yours*)

The answer to why Waymo hasn’t expanded, and why Stadia took a year to get a basic feature promised before launch, is at heart the same response, I think: Google just doesn’t really care. These aren’t interesting engineering challenges, or passion projects for staff members involved. And so they’re forgotten down the back of the sofa, ready to join the Google graveyard when whichever employee is pushing them forward decides it’s time for an early retirement.

But those robot taxis are cool though

Bookmarked Chrome is Bad (chromeisbad.com)

Short story: Google Chrome installs something called Keystone on your computer, which bizarrely hides what it’s doing from Activity Monitor[1] and makes your whole computer slow even when Chrome isn’t running. Deleting Chrome and Keystone makes your computer way, way faster, all the time. Click here for instructions.

Loren Brichter discusses how Chrome and Keystone slow down the computer.

Brichter is the guy who wrote the app that became the Twitter app; he invented the “pull to refresh” thing you now see everywhere.

Bookmarked Verse by Verse (sites.research.google)
Google’s experiment using AI to create poems in the style of past poets. This reminds me of Ian Guest’s debate about poetry versus coding. I imagine some would worry that this might be considered as ‘cheating’, however what interests me is the opportunity to easily create and then deconstruct the structures associated with the text.

Another example of AI generated text is Mark Riedl’s Generating Parody Lyrics.

via Clive Thompson

Bookmarked Google shutting down Expeditions, moving VR to A&C app – 9to5Google (9to5Google)

Google announced today it will “no longer support the Expeditions app.” Additionally, it will be removed from Google Play and the App Store after June 30, 2021.

Google is merging Expeditions into Google Arts & Culture app. Although the various tours will still be available, users will no longer be able to create their own.
Liked Amazon and Google Are Practically Giving Away Smart Speakers. Here’s Why. (onezero.medium.com)

When the world’s largest tech companies are dangling “cheap” useful devices in front of us, it’s worth keeping in mind that the true cost of smart speakers is our data, privacy, and loyalty.

Bookmarked How to break up Google (tbray.org)

It’s easy to say “Break up Big Tech companies!” Depending how politics unfold, the thing might become possible, but figuring out the details will be hard. I spent the last sixteen years of my life working for Big Tech and have educated opinions on the subject. Today: Why and how we should break up Google.

Tim Bray wonders about splitting Google up into different companies, such as ads, maps and cloud computing.

via Cory Doctorow

Bookmarked New Meet features to improve distance learning (Google)

Our team has been so inspired by the remarkable work of educators and school leaders around the world, who continue to adapt as schools shift to remote learning. Today, 120 million students and educators are using G Suite for Education worldwide to create, collaborate and communicate despite school closures. With this increase in usage, one consistent theme we’ve heard is that educators are looking for ways to continue teaching and collaborating in a virtual environment that is safe and secure. We’re sharing some ways we’re making Google Meet, a core service of G Suite for Education, work even better for schools.

Google have released a raft of updates associated with Google (Hangouts) Meet. This includes the ability to integrate with Google Classroom and restrict who can rejoin a meeting through the creation of a nickname. Eric Curts has unpacked these changes and other aspects in a series of videos. It is easy to overlook what must be involved with turning around such updates. Maybe they have been in the works for a while or they were prioritised.
Replied to SIMON WECKERT (simonweckert.com)

” 99 second hand smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam in Google Maps.Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic. ” #googlemapshacks

I wonder what would happen if you loaded a car with multiple devices and moved around the city. I wonder what that would do to Google’s predictive algorithms?

I really liked Sebastian Greger’s response:

As this piece of geeky awesomeness spreads around the world on social media, its most impressive impact is not the data hackers drooling over the ingenious act of carrying 99 smartphones through Berlin in a hand cart, but the stunning amount of people who for the first time understand how Google Maps sources their traffic data – by constant surveillance of billions of smartphone users.

Bookmarked Google wants to kill cookies. Here’s what you should know (ABC News)

If you use Google’s web browser, the upcoming end of third-party cookies may be good for the security of your online information.

But overall, Dr Sikos said using Chrome remained “one of the worst choices when it comes to user privacy” because of the company’s own tracking.

Google monetises the activities of its users — whether on search, browsers or elsewhere — via its advertising business.

If you’re concerned about this, Dr Sikos recommends using a browser from a vendor with a reputation for not collecting user data for targeted ads, such as Firefox, as well as a reputable privacy protection (anti-tracking) plugin.

Ariel Bogle discusses the purpose of cookies, what impact banning third-party cookies will have and why this only strengthens Google’s market dominance. Gilad Edelman suggests that although this is better than a whole industry, but Google still knows too much.

This doesn’t mean any steps Google takes to restrict third-party tracking are inherently suspect. What’s dangerous is treating the end of third-party cookies as privacy itself, rather than an incremental shift that comes with its own set of trade-offs. This may be a familiar refrain at this point, but ultimately it’s going to be up to the government, not self-interested ad tech companies, to implement a regulatory framework that tackles the broad, collective dimensions of the digital privacy problem. Letting only Google know my secrets might be better than exposing myself to the whole ad tech industry, but not by a whole lot.

Liked Escape from Google by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller (werd.io)

Let’s be clear: Google is participating in the prevailing business model for internet businesses in Silicon Valley. So in that sense, they’re not more evil than any other business that seeks to make money through personal data. You could also make the argument that they’re not as directly harmful as a company like Facebook, whose data practices have been shown to have undermined democracy in countries like the United States and Britain, and even to have supported genocides in countries like Myanmar.


However, the impact of Google’s business is exponentially greater because of its size. From widespread location collection in Google Maps, to the fact that the majority of sites on the internet host Google tracking code, it’s very hard to not be tracked and profiled by them in some way. That information has the potential to be cross-referenced, together with offline information like credit card purchases, which it adds together to create a highly targeted profile.

Bookmarked Create your own maps and stories in Google Earth (Google)

Two years ago when we rewrote Google Earth for modern browsers and devices, we launched the Voyager program to start to infuse the globe with stories from the world’s best storytellers. Today, we’re taking the next and most significant step forward: turning the power of mapmaking and storytelling over to you.

Google have added the ability to combine the creation of maps with storytelling. This development sits alongside the ability to create custom maps and tour creator in regards to the applications that Google provides to support the creative exploration of geography.