Technology giants spent millions on lobbying in 2018

A serious man in a suit speaks into a microphone.

American technology giants spent record sums on lobbying in 2018, according to disclosures the companies filed with the Federal Elections Commission on Tuesday.

Google led the pack, spending $21 million—up from $18 million in 2017. The company lobbied on a wide range of issues, including copyright and patent reform, privacy issues, cybersecurity, education, trade, health IT, immigration, workplace diversity, spectrum policy, network neutrality, autonomous vehicles, and tax reform.

Amazon spent $14 million lobbying on many of the same issues, while Facebook spent almost $13 million. Microsoft spent $9.5 million, while Apple spent $6 million.

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Google launches clean energy project in Taiwan, its first in Asia

Google has launched its first clean energy project in Asia. The company announced today that it struck a long-term agreement to buy the output of a 10-megawatt solar array in Tainan City, Taiwan, about 100 km south of its data center in the country. Google already has solar and wind projects across North and South America, as well as Europe.

The agreement is a collaboration between Google, several Taiwanese energy companies, and the country’s government, which recently revised Taiwan’s Electricity Act to enable non-utility companies to purchase renewable energy directly. The revisions are part of Taiwan’s new energy policy, aimed at phasing out nuclear energy by 2025 and increasing the share of electricity generated from renewable sources to 20 percent.

Google is the first corporate power buyers to take advantage of the revised law. Its development partners are Diode Ventures, Taiyen Green Energy, J&V Energy, and New Green Power.

The solar array will be connected to the same regional power grid at Google’s Chuanghua County data center, one of two in Asia (the other is in Singapore). The poles supporting the solar panels will be mounted into commercial fishing ponds, an arrangement that Marsden Hanna, Google’s senior lead of energy and infrastructure, said in a blog post will maximize land-use efficiency and respect the local ecology because “fish and solar panels can coexist peacefully.” Fishing pond owners will also be compensated for hosting the panels.

The agreement means Google will get a long-term, fixed electricity price for its operations in Taiwan.

“As the Taiwanese government pursues further measures to remove market barriers and reduce renewable energy costs, we’re hopeful that more companies will purchase renewable energy, driving even larger projects across Taiwan,” said Hanna.

Google.org donates $2 million to Wikipedia’s parent org

Google, as well as many other companies, has long relied on Wikipedia for its content. Now, Google and Google.org are giving back.

Google.org President Jacquelline Fuller today announced a $2 million contribution to the Wikimedia Endowment. An additional $1.1 million donation went to the Wikimedia Foundation, courtesy of a campaign where Google employees decided where to direct Google’s donation dollars. The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit organization behind Wikipedia, while the Endowment is the fund.

“Google and Wikimedia each play a unique role in an internet that works for and reflects the diversity of its users,” the Wikimedia Foundation wrote in a blog post. “We look forward to continuing our work with Google in close collaboration with our communities around the world.”

In addition to the donation, Google and Wikipedia are expanding Project Tiger, an initiative to expand the content on Wikipedia into additional languages. The pilot program has already increased the amount of locally relevant content in 12 Indic languages. With the expansion, the goal is to include 10 more languages.

“While efforts to empower editors will help them continue to add more information and knowledge to the web, we also aim to support the long-term health of the Wikimedia projects so they are available for generations to come,” Fuller wrote in a blog post.

In March, Google’s YouTube decided to try to combat conspiracy videos with information sourced from Wikipedia. At the time, Wikimedia Executive Director Katherine Maher noted it’d be nice if the corporations that use Wikipedia would give back.

“We want people all over the world to use, share, add to, and remix Wikipedia,” Maher said at the time. “At the same time, we encourage companies who use Wikimedia’s content to give back in the spirit of sustainability.”

Google has made contributions to Wikimedia before — to the sum of more than $7.5 million in total. In 2010, for example, Google gave a $2 million grant to the Wikimedia Foundation. But this is the first time Google has donated to the Wikimedia Endowment, which supports Wikimedia’s long-term success.

It’s worth noting that Google is not the only corporation that has given back to the Wikimedia Foundation. Late last year, Amazon, acknowledging how its Alexa voice assistants rely heavily on information from Wikipedia, donated $1 million to the Wikimedia Endowment.

Google must pay €50 million for GDPR violations, France says

Exterior of Google office building.

Google has been fined €50 million (~$57 million) by French regulators, the first major penalty under a sweeping new European Union privacy law known as GDPR, which took effect last year.

According to the French government agency, known by the acronym CNIL, Google is still in breach of the law.

CNIL explained that Google had violated two provisions of the law: first by not making its data-collection policies easily accessible enough and second by not obtaining sufficient and specific user consent for ad personalization across each of Google’s numerous services, including YouTube, Google Maps, and more.

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French data protection watchdog fines Google $57 million under the GDPR

The CNIL, the French data protection watchdog, has issued its first GDPR fine of $57 million (€50 million). The regulatory body claims that Google has failed to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when new Android users set up a new phone and follow Android’s onboarding process.

Two nonprofit organizations called ‘None Of Your Business’ (noyb) and La Quadrature du Net had originally filed a complaint back in May 2018 — noyb originally filed a complaint against Google and Facebook, so let’s see what happens to Facebook next. Under the GDPR, complaints are transferred to local data protection watchdogs.

While Google’s European HQ is in Dublin, the CNIL first concluded that the team in Dublin doesn’t have the final say when it comes to data processing for new Android users — that decision probably happens in Mountain View. That’s why the investigation continued in Paris.

The CNIL then concluded that Google fails to comply with the GDPR when it comes to transparency and consent.

Let’s start with the alleged lack of transparency. “Essential information, such as the data processing purposes, the data storage periods or the categories of personal data used for the ads personalization, are excessively disseminated across several documents, with buttons and links on which it is required to click to access complementary information,” the regulator writes.

For instance, if a user wants to know how their data is processed to personalize ads, it takes 5 or 6 taps. The CNIL also says that it’s often too hard to understand how your data is being used — Google’s wording is broad and obscure on purpose.

Second, Google’s consent flow doesn’t comply with the GDPR according to the CNIL. By default, Google really pushes you to sign in or sign up to a Google account. The company tells you that your experience will be worse if you don’t have a Google account. According to the CNIL, Google should separate the action of creating an account from the action of setting up a device — consent bundling is illegal under the GDPR.

If you choose to sign up to an account, when the company asks you to tick or untick some settings, Google doesn’t explain what it means. For instance, when Google asks you if you want personalized ads, the company doesn’t tell you that it is talking about many different services, from YouTube to Google Maps and Google Photos — this isn’t just about your Android phone.

In addition to that, Google doesn’t ask for specific and unambiguous consent when you create an account — the option to opt out of personalized ads is hidden behind a “More options” link. That option is pre-ticked by default (it shouldn’t).

Finally, by default, Google ticks a box that says “I agree to the processing of my information as described above and further explained in the Privacy Policy” when you create your account. Broad consent like this is also forbidden under the GDPR.

The CNIL also reminds Google that nothing has changed since its investigation in September 2018.

Max Schrems, Chairman of noyb has sent us the following statement:

“We are very pleased that for the first time a European data protection authority is using the possibilities of GDPR to punish clear violations of the law. Following the introduction of GDPR, we have found that large corporations such as Google simply ‘interpret the law differently’ and have often only superficially adapted their products. It is important that the authorities make it clear that simply claiming to be complaint is not enough. We are also pleased that our work to protect fundamental rights is bearing fruit. I would also like to thank our supporters who make our work possible.”

Update: A Google spokesperson has sent us the following statement:

“People expect high standards of transparency and control from us. We’re deeply committed to meeting those expectations and the consent requirements of the GDPR. We’re studying the decision to determine our next steps.”

Google Maps Begins Rolling Out Support for Driver Speed Limits and Speed Traps

Google is currently rolling out support for road speed limits and speed traps in its navigation app, Google Maps.

When drivers are using the app, the speed limit feature shows the speed limit of the road they are driving on in the lower left of the screen.

Image via Android Police


Speed traps are indicated with a small camera icon and shown on the visible map area. According to Android Police, Google Maps also gives drivers an audio warning as they approach a speed trap.

Up until now, Google restricted testing of its speed limit feature in the last couple of years to the San Francisco Bay Area in California and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Image via Mashable


However, Android Police was recently tipped about speed limit sightings in New York City and Los Angeles, all but confirming the rollout has already begun in the U.S.

The speed limit feature is initially limited to users in the United Kingdom, Denmark, and the United States, while the speed camera icons should soon start appearing for users in several additional countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Russia.

(Via Mashable.)

This article, "Google Maps Begins Rolling Out Support for Driver Speed Limits and Speed Traps" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism

Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is a chilling exposé of the business model that underpins the digital world. Observer tech columnist John Naughton explains the importance of Zuboff’s work and asks the author 10 key questions

We’re living through the most profound transformation in our information environment since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing in circa 1439. And the problem with living through a revolution is that it’s impossible to take the long view of what’s happening. Hindsight is the only exact science in this business, and in that long run we’re all dead. Printing shaped and transformed societies over the next four centuries, but nobody in Mainz (Gutenberg’s home town) in, say, 1495 could have known that his technology would (among other things): fuel the Reformation and undermine the authority of the mighty Catholic church; enable the rise of what we now recognise as modern science; create unheard-of professions and industries; change the shape of our brains; and even recalibrate our conceptions of childhood. And yet printing did all this and more.

Why choose 1495? Because we’re about the same distance into our revolution, the one kicked off by digital technology and networking. And although it’s now gradually dawning on us that this really is a big deal and that epochal social and economic changes are under way, we’re as clueless about where it’s heading and what’s driving it as the citizens of Mainz were in 1495.

Digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers and the watched

Democracy has slept, while surveillance capitalists amassed unprecedented concentrations of knowledge and power

Continue reading…

Alphabet’s Verily scores FDA clearance for its ECG monitor

Big week for Google wearable news — which, honestly, I not a phrase I expected to write in 2019. But a day after the company announced an agreement to purchase Fossil’s wearable technology for $40 million, Alphabet-owned research group Verily just scored FDA clearance for its electrocardiogram (ECG) technology.

The clearance pertains specifically to the company’s Study Watch. The device, which was announced back in 2017, shouldn’t be confused with the company’s more consumer-facing Wear OS efforts. Instead, the product is designed expressly for the purpose of gathering vitals for serious medical studies of conditions like MS and Parkinson’s.

“The ability to take an on-demand, single-lead ECG, can support both population-based research and an individual’s clinical care,” Verily writes on its blog. “Receiving this clearance showcases our commitment to the high standards of the FDA for safety and effectiveness and will help us advance the application of Study Watch in various disease areas and future indications.”

The Study Watch is a prescription-only device, but the clearance leaves one wondering how this might open the door for an upcoming Pixel Watch. After all, Fossil’s most recent Wear OS devices had a decided health focus, in keeping with most recent smartwatches. After Apple’s recent addition of ECG on the Series 4 Watch, it tracks that Google would want to go to market with a similar health-focused feature set.

Meantime, this news should open the door for the E Ink device’s ability to help collect some meaningful information for medical researchers.