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Monthly Archives: December 2014

19
Dec
2014

Google Asks Consumers To Trade Away Privacy for Convenience Again

by Bill

Anyone who has used the Internet in recent years is already familiar with the dreaded CAPTCHA boxes that are on most website logins to prevent spammers and fake accounts from signing up via online forms. The methods used to differentiate bots from humans have always varied, but the basics remain the same. A series of characters or images that are hard for a computer script to decipher along with a box asking a human to prove they are in fact human by filling in the information requested correctly prior to registering an account.

While CAPTCHA codes can be very annoying, particularly for anyone who has below average eyesight, they do serve an important function in limiting the reach of automated bot scripts. However, as bots have become more complex, the data and requests made by online forms for human verification have also started to become more difficult for humans to comply with as well. Now that may be changing dramatically, but with what may be an even bigger hidden cost thanks to Google.

Google has now announced that they believe they have devised a way to differentiate humans from bots without the use of any overt CAPTCHA script. Instead they intend to rely on user metrics by tracking everything from the movement pattern of your mouse on the page to the order of actions you take starting with the moment you reach the page and concluding with your attempt to register.

The system does seem to work with a high degree of accuracy, because bots for the moment do not move a mouse the same way a human would and are not interested in content on the page aside from the registration mechanism – while humans by contrasts usually take a more meandering route to the signup interface.

The danger here is that the data being collected about you is one more set of factors that Google will now be recording from all of your online interactions, and while it may seem innocuous to track the movements of your mouse, it opens the door to an ever-increasing amount of tracking that can quickly disintegrate any remaining shreds of privacy you still maintain online. Even worse, the bots are sure to be improved and will likely be able to trick these new protocols quickly, which begs the question – Is Google really trying to make signing up online easier for humans, or is Google simply using the inconvenience of online bots as a backdoor to usher in a slew of new ways for their company to track everything you do digitally?

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12
Dec
2014

The Shifting Sands of Net Neutrality and Impending FCC Lawsuits

by Bill

Net Neutrality Throttled ConnectionIn the wake of President Obama coming out in favor of reclassifying broadband services as utilities and imposing rules to prevent them from throttling or blocking content providers in a bid to obtain payments for “fast lane” throughput, the FCC is girding itself for the almost certain lawsuits that will soon follow. In a recent Q&A session, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler indicated that the new net neutrality regulations would not be issued quickly, as the president urged, as both Verizon and AT&T are threatening lawsuits to prevent the implementation of net neutrality rules.

As Wheeler stated, “Any time the commission has moved to do something, one of the big dogs has gone to sue… We don’t want to ignore history. We want to come out with good rules that accomplish what we need to accomplish, an open Internet, no blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes, no discrimination, and we want those rules to be in place after a court decision. So we want to be sure we’re thoughtful in the way in which we structure them and we’re thoughtful in the way we present what will ultimately be presented to a court.”

Reactions to Obama’s assertion that ISPs should be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, rather than the less stringent section 706, was greeted by howls of protest from Verizon, who promised to sue if Title II regulations were implemented, rather than section 706 regulations, which is somewhat ironic, as Verizon sued the FCC for using 706 in 2010, which is what set off this net neutrality debate in the first place.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, who has been spearheading efforts to erode American tech companies’ hegemony in the data space, recently came out against net neutrality, taking up the cause as enunciated by Deutche Telekom, who characterizes net neutrality as “privileging of American companies,” like Netflix, Facebook, Google and Amazon. The argument the German telecoms and Merkel make is that development of “smart factories” would be hampered by treating all data as equal, a claim that is characterized as “incredibly disingenuous” by German media watchers, who note that German users are already paying more for data than anywhere else in the EU because of the near-monopoly that Deutsche Telekom already holds over data services in their home country.

Regardless of the individual battles that may have been won by either side, the war is clearly far from over.

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01
Dec
2014

Google Faces Bleak Future With EU Regulators Taking Action

by Bill

In a move that many now see as a legislative shot across the bow of tech giant Google, European Parliament has voted to break-up search companies that seek to gain a strong potentially monopolistic foothold in other verticals. The vote came after 3 EU lawmakers urged the move forward and carried a 384 to 174 majority of the parliamentary count. The non-binding resolution in the European Parliament will not be the cause of any immediate action, but it is the strongest signal yet that Europe’s concern about the growing power of U.S. tech firms like Google is growing. The wide passing margin of more than 2/3 of the vote puts Google on even less steady footing with regulators.

German conservative lawmaker Andreas Schwab is on one of the bill’s three co-sponsor and he stated emphatically that it should be looked at as a political signal to the European Commission, which is tasked with ensuring a level playing field for business across the 28-country European Union. “Monopolies in whatever market have never been useful” said Mr. Schwa. “Neither for consumers nor for the companies.”

Google declined to make any public comment in response, and it is important to note that the language of the bill never mentioned Google by name, speaking instead of ‘search companies’ in broader terms. Meanwhile, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stated that she would review the case and speak with the complainants. Her predecessor has already rejected three attempts by Google to settle earlier complaints and avoid potential fines of up to $5 billion for allegedly demoting rival service ranks unfairly.

Adding to the pressure on Google, France and Germany called for a thorough review of the competition rules enacted by the EU to ensure global Internet companies could successfully be targeted. With all of these new shots coming on the heels of other recent legislation out of the EU like the right to be forgotten, and a four-year investigation that was triggered by complaints from Microsoft, Expedia, European publishers and others.

As the very least, Google now finds itself with fewer friends and more enemies in commercial and governmental arenas. A history of poaching market share from other verticals like book publishers, phone handset makers, broadband providers and countless other areas of the economy now have many keenly interested in containing the tech giant or segmenting it into smaller more manageable parts under the auspices of creating a more level playing field.

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