Quick link at September 02, 2020 at 05:28PM

Google have published a list of all the .new links that we can use to get things done quicker. I knew about the doc.new and the sheet.new shortcuts, but there are hundreds here — from Adobe PDF converters and MS Office documents, to eBay, Medium and Github.

Over-promising, under-delivering

We’re expecting news of more lockdown restrictions being eased today; restaurants, cinemas, museums, 2 metre rule etc. But the virus hasn’t gone anywhere, and we’re still without a vaccine, so we’re relying on a rigorous track and trace system, I guess. That works very well in other countries, scarily so sometimes.

The detectives racing to contain the virus in SingaporeBBC News
“It was surreal,” she says, describing the moment an unknown number flashed up on her phone. “They asked ‘were you in a taxi at 18:47 on Wednesday?’ It was very precise. I guess I panicked a bit, I couldn’t think straight.” Melissa eventually remembered that she was in that taxi – and later when she looked at her taxi app realised it was a trip that took just six minutes. To date, she doesn’t know whether it was the driver or another passenger who was infected. All she knows is that it was an officer at Singapore’s health ministry that made the phone call, and told her that she needed to stay at home and be quarantined.

The next day Melissa found out just how serious the officials were. Three people turned up at her door, wearing jackets and surgical masks. “It was a bit like out of a film,” she says. “They gave me a contract – the quarantine order – it says you cannot go outside your home otherwise it’s a fine and jail time. It is a legal document. They make it very clear that you cannot leave the house. And I knew I wouldn’t break it. I know that I live in a place where you do what you’re told.”

It’s a different picture here, however.

England’s ‘world beating’ system to track the virus is anything butThe New York Times
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain unveiled last month a “world beating” operation to track down people who had been exposed to the coronavirus, giving the country a chance to climb out of lockdown without losing sight of where infections were spreading. As with much of the government’s response to the pandemic, however, the results have fallen short of the promises, jeopardizing the reopening of Britain’s hobbled economy and risking a second wave of death in one of the countries most debilitated by the virus.

Can technology come to the rescue?

What Big Tech wants out of the pandemicThe Atlantic
The government has flailed in its response to the pandemic, and Big Tech has presented itself as a beneficent friend, willing to lend a competent hand. As Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, wrote in April, “The challenges we face demand an unprecedented alliance between business and government.”

Also in April, Google and Apple announced that they would suspend their rivalry to work with nations of the world to create a new alert system. They would reconfigure their mobile operating systems, incompatible by design, to notify users if they have stepped within the radius of a device held by a COVID‑19 patient.

Is this the approach others are taking?

Japan rolls out Microsoft-developed COVID-19 contact tracing appThe Verge
Japan’s government today released its coronavirus contact tracing app for iOS and Android. The apps rely on Apple and Google’s co-developed exposure notification platform, using Bluetooth to help determine whether users have come into close contact with others who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Germany says coronavirus tracing app ready to goReuters
After delays to ensure the bluetooth technology would work at the correct distance, the government says the app will be a vital tool to help avoid a second wave of infections.

But we don’t need their help, right?

Britain didn’t want Silicon Valley’s help on a tracing app. Now it does.The New York Times
For months, British authorities have pursued an app that they promised would help ease the country’s coronavirus lockdown, despite growing criticism that it posed privacy risks and would not work well. On Thursday, officials abruptly reversed course, saying Britain will join other countries and design a new contact-tracing app based on software provided by Apple and Google.

So what happened?

Why the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app failedWired UK
Matt Hancock has had another app catastrophe. England’s planned contact tracing app, which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight and downloaded by tens of thousands of people, has been ditched in favour of a system developed by Google and Apple.

The reversal, first reported by the BBC and later confirmed by the government, follows months of delays for the home-brewed app and difficulties surrounding its implementation. It also makes England the latest in a string of countries to ditch a centralised system in favour of a decentralised one supported by two Silicon Valley giants. That club also includes Germany, Italy and Denmark.

UK abandons contact-tracing app for Apple and Google modelThe Guardian
Work started in March as the pandemic unfolded, but despite weeks of work, officials admitted on Thursday that the NHS app only recognised 4% of Apple phones and 75% of Google Android devices during testing on the Isle of Wight. That was because the design of Apple’s iPhone operating system is such that apps quickly go to sleep when they are not being used and cannot be activated by Bluetooth – a point raised by experts and reported by the Guardian in early May.

What went wrong with the UK’s contact tracing app?BBC News
Two days later, with quite a fanfare, Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the plans for the Covid-19 app, promising “all data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards, and would only be used for NHS care and research”.

But immediately privacy campaigners, politicians and technology experts raised concerns. “I recognise the overwhelming force of the public health arguments for a centralised system, but I also have 25 years’ experience of the NHS being incompetent at developing systems and repeatedly breaking their privacy promises,” said Cambridge University’s Prof Ross Anderson.[…]

The blame game has already begun. Mr Hancock and some of the scientists working with the NHS believe Apple should have been more cooperative. Technology experts and privacy campaigners say they warned months ago how this story would end.

Now what?

UK virus-tracing app switches to Apple-Google modelBBC News
Baroness Dido Harding – who heads up the wider Test and Trace programme – will only give the green light to actually deploying the Apple-Google technology if she judges it to be fit for purpose, which she does not believe is the case at present. It is possible this may never happen. […]

The NHS has been testing both systems against each other, over the course of the past month. The centralised version trialled on the Isle of Wight worked well at assessing the distance between two users, but was poor at recognising Apple’s iPhones. Specifically, the software registered about 75% of nearby Android handsets but only 4% of iPhones. By contrast, the Apple-Google model logged 99% of both Android mobiles and iPhones. But its distance calculations were weaker.

The Apple-Google model faired better, so that’s the option to take further, in this embarrassing reversal turnaround backtrack ‘next phase’.

Next phase of NHS coronavirus (COVID-19) app announcedGOV.UK
This next phase will bring together the work done so far on the NHS COVID-19 app and the new Google/Apple framework. Following rigorous field testing and a trial on the Isle of Wight, we have identified challenges with both our app and the Google/Apple framework. This is a problem that many countries around the world, like Singapore, are facing and in many cases only discovering them after whole population roll-out. As a result of our work, we will now be taking forward a solution that brings together the work on our app and the Google/Apple solution.

That seemed to take Apple by surprise.

Apple ‘not told’ about UK’s latest app plansBBC News
During the briefing, Mr Hancock said: “Measuring distance is clearly mission critical to any contact-tracing app.” However, speaking to the Times, Apple said: “It is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven’t spoken to us.” The firm also pointed out that the tech was already either in use or intended for use in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland.

The tech giant also expressed surprise that the UK was working on a new version of the contact-tracing app which incorporated the Apple-Google software tool. “We’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together,” Mr Hancock said. However, Apple said: “We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven’t spoken to us about it.”

<sigh>

Should we be more pessimistic?New York Times
“[The virus] challenges our presumptions about being able to fully control things, and it raises existential issues about our very ability to relate to the world outside of a human-centric point of view,” said Eugene Thacker, a professor of media studies at the New School and the author of books on pessimism, including “In The Dust of This Planet” and “Infinite Resignation.” “It’s at once awe-inspiring and scary. You have a sense of wonder at something bigger than the human, but also a sense of the ground giving way beneath your feet.”

“Artless and indifferent, without human intention”

Nine Eyes of Google Street View is over ten years old now. For a while, no new photos were being added, but it seems to have picked up again in recent months. Here are a number of old articles about the project, interspersed with some of the newer images.

Nine Eyes of Google Street ViewNet Art Anthology
In 2008, Jon Rafman began to collect screenshots of images from Google Street View. At the time, Street View was a relatively new initiative, an effort to document everything in the world that could be seen from a moving car. A massive, undiscerning machine for image-making whose purpose is to simply capture everything, Street View takes photographs without apparent concern for ethics or aesthetics, from a supposedly neutral point of view.

Towards a postinternet sublime: Jon Rafman’s Street View romanticismRhizome
As postinternet photography, the images in Nine Eyes of Google Street View testify above all to the processes of their own making and dissemination. There is no coherent subject matter unifying the images. Certain themes recur, such as glitches in the stitching system or people giving the finger to the camera, but what organizes the photographs together into one single work is simply that they have been selected from Street View during one of the artist’s marathon surfing sessions. Rafman highlights the digital aspects of his photographs—such as pixelation, watermarks, and the navigational interface which appears in nearly every image—but this never detracts from the sense that the photographs portray something real. Instead, they declare the extent to which offline life is always already structured by the online. This is what leads Geoff Dyer to describe Nine Eyes of Google Street View as giving the impression that not only is Rafman not an “old-school photographer,” but that it almost seems as if he has never even been outdoors, and that “his knowledge of the world derives entirely from representations of it.”

Poaching memories from Google’s wandering eye – The New York Times
At first I saw the camera as totally neutral: It’s just whoever happens to be out gets captured. But the truth is that the neutrality of the camera is actually somewhat . . . there’s hidden ideologies within it. For example, the camera only captures who’s on the street during daylight hours, while most, let’s say, white-collar workers are in their offices somewhere. People like prostitutes, people living on the street, they have much more of a chance to be captured by the camera.

He’s not the only one working in this area of course.

How Google Street View is inspiring new photographyThe Guardian
[Michael Wolf] saw quickly that the indifferent gaze of the Street View camera randomly recorded what he called (in one of the series resulting from this discovery) Unfortunate Events: altercations and accidents, pissings and pukings, fights and fatalities. The Street View cars usually go about their business unnoticed – or at least unheeded – but occasionally people respond to their all-seeing presence by giving them the finger (hence the title of another of Wolf’s series, FY). And so Wolf combed through mile after uneventful mile of boring footage in search of moments that might or might not prove decisive.

So perhaps we can all be armchair photographers now.

Virtual promenades

What would Mussorgsky have made of these virtual promenades around pictures at exhibitions, I wonder.

Google virtual tour The National Gallery
In 2016, Google created this 360° tour of Rooms 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and Central Hall. Immerse yourself in Renaissance masterpieces from Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, including works by Titian, Veronese, and Holbein.

How to explore the British Museum from homeThe British Museum Blog
Did you know that the Museum is the world’s largest indoor space on Google Street View? You can go on a virtual visit to more than 60 galleries – perfect for creating your own bespoke tour around your favourites. See highlights like the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery or discover gems like the beautiful textiles in the Sainsbury African Galleries.

It’s not the same, though, is it?

The rise of the virtual gallery tour: what works and what doesn’t (yet)Frame
Received wisdom, and newspaper columnists, would have you believe that we’re currently experiencing a revolution in the way we consume art and artefacts online. The British Museum, frequently the institution at the top of the global visitor-number leaderboard, has seen a corresponding surge in its digital audience since it closed its doors. Meanwhile Art Basel has rushed through the development of its digital viewing rooms (which had over €248 million of art on display for its Hong Kong inauguration) and Hauser and Wirth is hosting its first digital-only exhibition, a collection of drawings by Louise Bourgeois.

But for gallery-goers who are yet to log on, visiting these aforementioned virtual venues is likely to result in disappointment.

I found myself nodding along vigorously to this part further down.

Perhaps the answer lies in the more creative use of an established medium. It’s interesting to note that, as lockdown was looming, and perhaps in a nod to the insufficiency of the above interfaces, The Van Gogh Museum launched an alternative form of the gallery tour. A series of seven carefully choreographed 4K films, available on their YouTube channel, walk the user through the museum’s various rooms to an accompanying sound track. It’s clearly a more prescribed way of experiencing both the art and the space, but one that also feels more natural. The camera movement doesn’t equate to a true point-of-view walkthrough; the stabilized image glides through the rooms in a rather disembodied way. But the manner in which it glances across paintings, occasionally stopping and approaching a particularly affecting portrait before pulling back, does a far better job of transmitting the pleasure of being in the presence of the artefacts than staccato jumping and zooming.

That’s certainly been my experience. I’ve been randomly clicking around the National Gallery for a while now, feeling like that Anish Kapoor fan unable to find his way out.

virtual-exhibition-1

So I think I’ll head over to the Van Gogh Museum’s YouTube channel, after I’ve been guided round the Tate’s Warhol exhibition.

Andy Warhol exhibition guideTate
This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK. […] Join curators Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran as they discuss Warhol through the lens of the immigrant story, his LGBTQI identity and concerns with death and religion.

There are other ways of approaching this.

 You can download thousands of coloring book pages from museum collectionsMy Modern Met
This year alone touts 117 PDFs from various cultural institutions that can be downloaded and printed right at home, and colored in. You can jump into the past through local advertisements from the West Virginia and Regional History Center Coloring Book or take a ride on a vintage motorcycle with the Harley-Davidson Archive’s digital collection. Visit these exhibits through pages detailing the beloved fairy tale Cinderella, to fascinating diagrams of medical equipment from a bygone era. Simply, there are coloring pages made for every kind of interest a person may have, and the ones available through the #ColorOurCollections website will help you refine your coloring skills at the same time.

Manchester Museum in Quarantine
We believe connection and inspiration is needed during challenging times like this one. We have uploaded our digital content onto this mobile site so you can explore and enjoy Manchester Museum in your own home. We hope it helps entertain, educate and sparks joy and wonder until we re-open.

An augmented reality tool to sell art during the pandemicDesign Milk
ALL World is a self-publishing platform that allows artists to digitally exhibit and sell their work via augmented reality. Artists and designers can upload images of their work, create AR exhibitions, and then share it with users, allowing them to visualize the work within their own space. By being able to see the work at scale in context, the guesswork of whether or not it will work dissolves which could potentially create more sales. While it’s a great tool for established artists and designers, imagine what it could do for those just starting out and struggling to get eyes on their work.

Perhaps some normality (kind of) is slowly returning.

German galleries will reopen next week with strict precautionsArtsy
Galleries in Germany are carefully preparing to reopen their doors over the next few weeks as the government begins to lift business restrictions in the wake of COVID-19. These reopenings will come with strict precautions including a visitor limit and facemasks.

‘Bring your own mask’: German art galleries prepare to reopen in a new reality, giving US dealers a preview of things to comeArtNet
“I am more than thrilled to be opening again. Galleries cannot exist in an online-only world,” dealer André Schlechtriem tells Artnet News. “My gallery is a personal social space where every visitor is greeted personally by myself or my staff. We are always happy to answer questions and talk about the art we present. That’s what we live for.”

Meanwhile.

‘We are all Edward Hopper paintings now’: is he the artist of the coronavirus age?The Guardian
Who can fail to have been moved by all the images of people on their doorsteps clapping for the NHS last night? They filled TV screens and news websites, presenting a warming picture of solidarity in enforced solitude – all alone yet all together. But there are some far less reassuring images circulating on social media. Some people are saying we now all exist inside an Edward Hopper painting. It doesn’t seem to matter which one.

But where did he get all the phones from?

In a different take on interactive art, here’s a story of the little guy getting one over on a multinational conglomerate—by making his own traffic jam.

Google Maps hackSimon Weckert
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.

Google Maps Hacks by Simon WeckertYouTube

all-the-phones

It’s certainly been getting plenty of attention. I wonder if others will be giving it a go.

Man creates fake traffic jam on Google Maps by carting around 99 cellphonesBoing Boing
Simon Weckert loaded a hand-cart with cellphones and pulled them slowly through Berlin. This fooled Google Maps into registering severe congestion, marking the streets bright red in the service, and rerouting traffic to avoid the area.

Hacking Google, a red handcart for red roads Traffic Google MapsKottke
You’ve got to love little artistic hacks like this. Simon Weckert put 99 second-hand smartphones in a red handcart and walked around a few blocks in Berlin. Each phone was running Google Maps and being tracked for trafic measurements. Their presence and slow rolling around the streets caused Google to display a traffic jam.

An artist used 99 phones to fake a Google Maps traffic jamWired
“What I’m really interested in generally is the connection between technology and society and the impact of technology, how it shapes us,” Weckert says. He cites philosopher Marshall McLuhan: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. “I have the feeling right now that technology is not adapting to us, it’s the other way around.”

Traffic jams in Google Maps could be spoofed with 99 phones and a little red wagonThe Verge
Google jokingly told The Verge that it hasn’t “quite cracked” how to correctly track traffic data that comes from toy wagons, but that it can already distinguish between Google Maps data coming from cars and motorcycles in several countries.

Berlin artist uses 99 phones to trick Google into traffic jam alertThe Guardian
The work, revealed just a few days before the 15th anniversary of Google Maps’ founding, is just the latest example of a prankster taking advantage of the “crowdsourced” nature of much of Google’s data collection. In 2015, the company had to shut off one feature, Map Maker, after a series of embarrassing vandalism incidents culminated in the creation of a virtual park, the shape of which appeared to resemble the company’s Android logo urinating on Apple’s trademark.

Leave us alone

Hot on the heels of Robot Day is Data Protection Day, initiated by the Council of Europe  in 2007.

Data Protection DayCouncil of Europe
The Council of Europe is celebrating this year the 14th edition of Data Protection Day. This initiative aims to raise the individuals awareness about good practices in this field, informing them about their rights and how to exercise them.

Joint statement by Vice-President Jourová and Commissioner Reynders ahead of Data Protection DayEuropean Commission
Data is becoming increasingly important for our economy and for our daily lives. With the roll-out of 5G and uptake of the Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things technologies, personal data will be in abundance and with potential uses we probably can’t imagine. While this offers amazing opportunities, some cases show that robust rules are needed to address clear risks for individuals and for our democracies. In Europe we know that strong data protection rules are not a luxury, but a necessity. […]

20 months after the entry into application of the landmark General Data Protection Regulation, we see that the GDPR has acted as a catalyst to put data protection at the centre of many of the on-going policy debates. It is a cornerstone of the European approach underpinning several political priorities of the new Commission promoting a human centric approach to Artificial Intelligence and other digital technologies. European Data Protection rules will therefore be a foundation and inspiration for the success of key initiatives in artificial intelligence, health or mobility to name just a few.

Part of me wants to find out how our leaving the EU on Friday will affect this, but a larger part of me is too fed up with the whole stupid act of national self-harm to bother.

Happy “Data Privacy Day” – Now read The New York Times privacy project about total surveillanceForbes
The shocking thing about the obvious and growing loss of privacy is how unconcerned everyone is. Technologists started “snooping” around servers, desktops and data bases years ago to understand the status of hardware and software and how they should be managed. Enterprise snooping is still a best practice. But snooping is now central to entire national and global business models, and has emerged with a scary name: surveillance capitalism. No one predicted how pervasive snooping would become. No one predicted just how much profit snooping would generate, and no one predicted how entire populations would essentially shrug their shoulders about how they’re stalked each and every day – to make someone else money!

I’ve shared a number of articles about surveillance before, including one from The New York Times Privacy Project mentioned above, but there are many more to worry over.

Surprisingly (not really), Google doesn’t seem to be celebrating the day with a Google Doodle, although there is a prompt to complete a privacy check-up.

privacy-day

I quite like Protect Internet health and privacy with Mozilla’s internet health initiative, on the other hand.

Data detox: Five ways to reset your relationship with your phoneThe Firefox Frontier
We use our phones for everything from hailing rides to ordering in, and even to track our literal steps. All that convenience at our fingertips comes at a cost: our personal data and our mental health. It’s hard to be present in the moment when push notifications and texts are enticing us to look down. Meanwhile, the amount of personal data we share, many times without even realizing, can be alarming.

But not all hope is lost! Here are five simple steps you can take to protect your data and sanity.

Google’s dark patterns

Google’s being sneaky again. Last year I shared an article about research into ‘dark patterns’, sneaky user interface tricks that shopping websites use to catch us out. It seems the search advertising giant is getting in on the act now.

Google’s ads just look like search results nowThe Verge
Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.

Indeed, when I search for pet insurance, I can hardly see any real search results without scrolling down.

googles-being-sneaky-again

Google made a big change to search results that makes it harder to distinguish ads from regular results, and people are calling Google out for itBusiness Insider
This is not the first time Google has been accused of using manipulative design practices, known as “dark patterns,” to trick users into clicking on ads.

The Wall Street Journal reporter Rolfe Winkler said the Federal Trade Commission sent letters in 2013 to Google and other search engines saying the distinction between ads and organic search results had become “less noticeable to consumers.” In the letters, the FTC told the companies to “make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising.”

I’d say those letters have been completely ignored, wouldn’t you?

Update 26/01/2020

A rethink.

Google backtracks on desktop search redesign blurring ads from organic resultsBoing Boing
Google’s recently announced new redesign of desktop search results would have made ads pretty much look exactly like search results. Google is now backtracking, listening to the criticism, and trying a different visual approach.

Google backtracks on search results designTechCrunch
The company acknowledged that its latest experiment might have gone too far in its latest statement and noted that it will “experiment further” on how it displays results.

Searching for a search engine

Here’s an odd story from The Verge about Google and user choice—or the lack of it.

Bing loses out to DuckDuckGo in Google’s new Android search engine ballotThe Verge
EU citizens setting up Android devices from March 1 will be given a choice of four search engines to use as their default, including Google. Whichever provider they chose will become the default for searches made in Chrome and through Android’s home screen search box. A dedicated app for that provider will also be installed on their device.

The “choice screen” is being introduced by Google following an antitrust ruling from the European Union last March. Google was fined a record $5 billion by EU regulators, who said the company had to stop “illegally tying” its search engine and browser to its mobile OS.

That all sounds fair enough, but the mechanism by which the other search providers are selected is far from straightforward.

The search engines shown to new users will vary for each EU country, with the selection decided based on a “fourth-price” auction system. Each provider tells Google how much it’s willing to pay the company every time a user selects their product as the default. […]

All this means that the choices Google will show to users don’t necessarily reflect a search engine’s popularity in that country. Rather, it shows how much the provider is willing to pay for users.

Needless to say, some of Google’s rivals aren’t happy.

Eric Leandri, CEO of privacy-focused search engine Qwant, said it was a “total abuse of [Google’s] dominant position” to “ask for cash just for showing a proposal of alternatives.” Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, said the auction system was a “pay-to-play auction” that meant “Google will profit at the expense of the competition.” The CEO of Ecosia, a search engine that uses its profits to plans trees, boycotted the auction entirely.

What a shame that the more interesting options like Qwant and Ecosia aren’t getting a look-in. From the article’s list of all the options for users in each EU country, I can see that for the UK the options are: Bing, DuckDuckGo and Info.com. Sorry, who?

Update 15/01/2020

Someone else asking that question.

What is info.com, the search engine soon to appear on all Android devices in Europe?Quartz
Info.com, or InfoSpace, is an online search company and one-time internet darling. It was founded in 1996 in Seattle and backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. InfoSpace went public in December 1998, at the height of the dot-com bubble. By March 2000, it was valued roughly on par with Boeing, at $31 billion. Not long after that, the bubble burst and InfoSpace’s stock price collapsed. “The company once worth more than Boeing fell to the value of two Boeing 777s,” quipped the Seattle Times.

Google Chrome’s hidden treats

I wasn’t expecting much from this article, to be honest, with its click-baity headline—just filler about keyboard shortcuts and pinned tabs. But I was pleasantly surprised by how useful this  create-your-own-search-engine tip was.

How to use Google Chrome like a proWired UK
With a few tweaks you can also search your email or Google Drive directly from the search bar. To do this you have to create a new search engine in Chrome – it’s not as complex as it sounds. Right click in the Omnibox and select ‘edit search engines’. Scroll to ‘other search engines’ and click on add. Here you enter the name of the website you want to search, a keyword that you’ll type into Chrome’s Omnibox, and a URL. The URL should be the search result page of the service you’re setting the system up for.

I’ve just set up search engines for my gmail, calendar, onedrive and blog. Being able to quickly jump into those things directly from the search bar is quite addictive.

Here’s something else that intrigued me, though I’m not sure how much I’ll use it.

You can even use a blank tab as a one-off note taker – enter “data:text/html, <html contenteditable>” and you’ll get a quick notepad. The files won’t save, but it’s useful if you want to jot something down quickly.

Past and future of gaming

Google’s leapt into gaming with the launch of Stadia.

Why Google Stadia is a ‘leap forward’ for gaming, according to its bossBBC News
“I don’t think what we’re doing is particularly revolutionary when you consider what’s happened in the music, television and film industries,” Google Vice President Phil Harrison tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. “They’ve moved from being packaged goods, discs, CDs, DVDs, blu rays, to almost exclusively an online and streaming experience.” And he believes Google will be just the first of many companies who ditch consoles and discs forever, and make the switch to a browser-led game streaming service.

No launch is ever perfect, though.

Google Stadia review: a terrible but tantalising glimpse of the futureWired UK
So, does it work? Kinda. Or, to be slightly harsher, not as such. At launch, Stadia does not live up to its promise of being able to play anywhere, on any screen, just by connecting a controller and accessing your library. It is utterly, expectedly, beholden to the stability and speed of your internet connection, which means for the great majority of players staying at home – just as they would with a console.

Stadia: Google’s online game streaming service launches to complaints about lagSky News
Gamers are finding that the process of communicating with Google’s servers where the games are being run is adding significant delays between when they press a button and when that action is carried out in-game.

These games might not have those heavy server demands and latency issues.

TweetTweetJam 3: Make a game in 560 characters of codeitch.io
Why 560? Because you don’t always need a ton of code to make something fun. Because sometimes it’s nice to scale back. But mostly because it’s the length of two tweets.

But let’s not lose sight of where we’ve been. Have a stroll down memory lane with this collection of gaming graphic design. It’s just one of several collections of logos Reagan has on his website.

Video game console logosReagan Ray
This list covers the second (1976) through eighth (present) generation consoles. According to Wikipedia, there were 687 first-generation consoles produced, so I decided that was a rabbit hole I didn’t want to enter. I had fun designing the page to look like an old video game ad or one of those posters that came in Nintendo Power. The TV screen borders even made me nostalgic for playing games on an old crappy 19-inch TV.

past-and-future-of-gaming-1

And if you want to learn the dark truth about what’s behind platform games, watch this.

Little Runmo

Googling Boris

Google turned 21 the other day. According to a Google search, Boris Johnson is 55.

Is Boris Johnson really trying to game Google search results?
One theory is that Johnson is trying to downplay negative news coverage of events by seeding news stories into Google search results by using similar phrases and key terms that are more positive. For instance – the hypothesis goes – by saying he was the “model of restraint”, Johnson was attempting to divert attention from stories detailing his alleged affair with former model Jennifer Arcuri, which became less visible in search results for “Boris Johnson model”.

His speech in front of the police was meant to distract from reports that the police were called to the flat he shared with girlfriend Carrie Symonds following an alleged domestic dispute, while the kipper incident was meant to downplay connections with UKIP (whose supporters are called kippers). The claim about painting buses, finally, was supposedly intended to reframe search results about the contentious claim that the UK sends £350 million to Europe branded on the side of the Brexit campaign bus.

“It’s a really simple way of thinking about it, but at the end of the day it’s what a lot of SEO experts want to achieve,” says Jess Melia of Parallax, a Leeds-based company that identified the theory with Johnson’s claim to paint model buses.

But, as that article from Parallax goes on to explain, this could all be coincidental nonsense.

Boris Johnson: the unlikely SEO strategist
And yet, all that being said, perhaps we’re giving him too much credit here. Maybe, when questioned, he was merely grasping for something other than “running through a field of wheat”. Or maybe he was simply staring out of the window and saw a bus go past. Or perhaps he really does enjoy making model buses out of crates.

Complete and utter genius, or an accidental fluke? Whatever you think, it’s certainly made one thing happen for Boris – we’re all talking about him. Again.

Damn. Now I am, too.

To Google or not to Google

I thought coming across these articles recently (just two of many) was a little ironic, given current moves at work to migrate us away from the Microsoft ecosystem towards Google’s.

How can I remove Google from my life?
Google started by taking over the search engine market. It now dominates smartphone operating systems (Android), browsers (Chrome), web-based email (Gmail), online video (YouTube) and maps. It is also challenging in other areas with its own cloud platform, an online office suite, Chromebooks, Waze, Nest and so on. Google is far advanced in driverless cars (Waymo) and artificial intelligence (DeepMind). Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Can I buy a phone that doesn’t use anything from Google or Apple?
Very easy. You can pick up a Nokia 105 (2017 edition) for about £15 or a dual-sim Nokia 106 (2018 edition) for about £16. These are only 2G phones but they have built-in FM radios, they can send texts, they are great for making phone calls and they are not based on Google or Apple technologies. A 3G or 4G phone would cost a bit more …

Of course, you may also want to do smartphone-type things such as email and web browsing. In that case, buy a GPD Pocket 2, GPD MicroPC, One Mix Yoga, One Mix 1S, One Mix 2S or similar just-about-pocketable computer running Microsoft Windows 10 on a 7in screen. (GeekBuying stocks several models and is taking reservations on the One Mix 1S.) Mini-laptops may look expensive but they are cheaper than high-end smartphones.

This answers your question but it is obviously not the solution you are looking for …

I remember someone once saying, ‘friends don’t let friends use SharePoint’, but I’ve got used to it now, I think, and like how it links with Flow and Forms and Outlook and all the rest of it. Somehow, that will all have to be on Google Sites and Google Drive now. And I’m really not looking forward to attempting to recreate all my Excel work in Sheets.

A 10 minute comparison: Office 365 vs Google’s Suite – WorkTools #32 by Christoph Magnussen

Future of Google Sites

Well, OK, the new Sites builder (23:37 in the video above) looks good/idiot-proof, I guess. In theory. *sigh*

Google’s GDPR probe

A year on from GDPR Day, and Irish eyes are staring in Google’s direction.

Irish regulator opens first privacy probe into Google
Google’s lead regulator in the European Union, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, opened its first investigation into the U.S. internet giant on Wednesday over how it handles personal data for the purpose of advertising.

The probe was the result of a number of submissions against the company, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner said, including from privacy-focused web browser Brave which complained last year that Google and other digital advertising firms were playing fast and loose with people’s data.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner launches investigation into Google’s advertising and compliance with GDPR
Dr Ryan [Chief Policy Officer at Brave] said his evidence to the DPC “revealed a massive and ongoing data breach” in which Google’s DoubleClick/Authorized Buyers “leaks intimate data about the people visiting these websites to thousands of companies every day”.

I noted The Register’s footnote on this story, about that “privacy-focused web browser Brave”.

Irish data cops are shoving a probe right into Google’s ads
There is some irony in Brave being built on Chromium, the browser engine built and maintained by – who else? – Google. Ryan told us that Brave had “certainly not” seen any pushback from Googlers involved in the Chromium project.

It could be an extremely expensive problem for Google though, as all the reports are keen to point out, although I can’t imagine it would come to that.

Google is facing its first GDPR probe from Irish privacy regulators
If found guilty, the potential penalties for Google would be enormous. The GDPR authorizes fines as high as four percent of global annual revenue, which would total $5.4 billion in Google’s case. Even more damaging, the company would have to fundamentally reshape its ad system in order to avoid future fines.

There’s quite a lot of attention on Ireland’s Data Protection Commission already.

Ireland sits idly by as GDPR goes unenforced
Politico shares an investigation into why the GDPR’s lead regulator Ireland has failed to bring a single enforcement action against the big tech companies it is supposed to watchdog.

These are hugely complex cases, that will be setting precedents that may redefine how these companies operate.

Irish data official defends tech investigation record: ‘They’re not overnight’
Helen Dixon said the reality is it will take time to produce results from the 18 major technology investigations her office is pursuing — 11 of which involve Facebook or its platforms WhatsApp and Instagram.

“These aren’t matters where we can take in a complaint today and tomorrow make a conclusion on it,” Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, said during an interview at POLITICO’s Washington-area headquarters. “They’re not overnight, and anyone who understands anything about the process understands it takes time.”

Others agree.

Is Ireland too soft with GDPR enforcement, or just being prudent?
Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), comes down on the side of patience. In fact, he argues that while fines tend to get most of the headlines, they aren’t as important as the major precedents that regulators will be setting – precedents that will “redefine business models.” That, he said, takes time to be done right. …

Danny O’Brien, international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an aggressive privacy advocacy group, also isn’t troubled – at least not yet – about GDPR enforcement taking some time to get in gear. “There’s a lot about how the whole system was going to be organized that was left unsaid in the GDPR, so I think it’s fair to say that no-one was expecting anything to happen very quickly,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the Irish DPC’s fault.”

Let’s wait and see, then.

Phone fears

I don’t have much luck with phones. After having iPhones for a while, I switched to a Windows phone. I liked the Metro UI and really thought that features like Live Tiles and Continuum would catch on. It turned out, as I said last year, that I was backing the losing horse in what was a two—not three—horse race.

So I made another switch, to Android this time. And bought a Huawei phone…

Exclusive: Google suspends some business with Huawei after Trump blacklist
Holders of current Huawei smartphones with Google apps, however, will continue to be able to use and download app updates provided by Google, a Google spokesperson said, confirming earlier reporting by Reuters. “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” the Google spokesperson said.

Google blocks Huawei access to Android updates after blacklisting
Google said it was complying with an executive order issued by Donald Trump and was reviewing the “implications”, later adding that Google Play – through which Google allows users to download apps – and the security features of its antivirus software Google Play Protect would continue on existing Huawei devices. New versions of its smartphones outside China would lose access to popular applications and services including Google Play, Maps and the Gmail app.

Huawei responds to Android ban
In a statement emailed to The Verge, Huawei underscores its contributions to the growth of Android globally — which most recently saw the company’s Android phone sales growing by double digits while every other leading smartphone vendor was shrinking or stagnant — and reassures current owners of Huawei and (subsidiary brand) Honor phones that they will continue to receive security updates and after-sales service.

Meanwhile.

Mexicans buy fake cellphones to hand over in muggings
Costing 300 to 500 pesos apiece — the equivalent of $15 to $25 — the “dummies” are sophisticated fakes: They have a startup screen and bodies that are dead ringers for the originals, and inside there is a piece of metal to give the phone the heft of the real article. That comes in handy when trying to fool trigger-happy bandits who regularly attack the buses, big and small, that ferry people from the poorer outlying suburbs to jobs in the city center.

Gone but not forgotten

A comprehensive list of what could be described as Google’s project failures.

Killed by Google – the Google graveyard & cemetery
Killed by Google is a Free and Open Source list of dead Google products, services, and devices. It serves to be a tribute and memorial of beloved products and services killed by Google.

We shouldn’t be afraid of failing, as that’s how we grow. I wouldn’t describe Google Reader as a failure, though. Still sorely missed.

Happy birthday Bach

I love this Google Doodle, though even Bach can’t rescue my appalling lack of musical ability!

Google’s first AI-powered Doodle is a piano duet with Bach
Starting on March 21st, you’ll be able to play with the interactive Doodle, which will prompt you to compose a two-measure melody or pick one of the pre-existing choices. When you press the “Harmonize” button, it will use machine learning to give you a version of your melody that sounds like it was composed by Bach himself.

happy-birthday-bach-1

Various Google teams were involved in this project, including Google Magenta. There is an incredible amount of detail about the technologies behind the Bach harmonies on their own site.

Coconet: the ML model behind today’s Bach Doodle
Coconet is trained to restore Bach’s music from fragments: we take a piece from Bach, randomly erase some notes, and ask the model to guess the missing notes from context. The result is a versatile model of counterpoint that accepts arbitrarily incomplete scores as input and works out complete scores. This setup covers a wide range of musical tasks, such as harmonizing melodies, creating smooth transitions, rewriting and elaborating existing music, and composing from scratch.

happy-birthday-bach-2

I cannot begin to understand what’s going on there, but it sounds good.

Breaking up is hard to do

The techlash continues.

Elizabeth Warren proposes breaking up tech giants like Amazon and Facebook
At a rally in Long Island City, the neighborhood that was to be home to a major new Amazon campus, Ms. Warren laid out her proposal calling for regulators who would undo some tech mergers, as well as legislation that would prohibit platforms from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace.

“We have these giants corporations — do I have to tell that to people in Long Island City? — that think they can roll over everyone,” Ms. Warren told the crowd, drawing applause. She compared Amazon to the dystopian novel “The Hunger Games,” in which those with power force their wishes on the less fortunate.

“I’m sick of freeloading billionaires,” she said.

She’s far from the lone voice on this issue.

Elizabeth Warren is right – we must break up Facebook, Google and Amazon
The current effort is bipartisan. At a Senate hearing I attended last week, the arch-conservative Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asked me, rhetorically: “Is there really any wonder that there is increased pressure for antitrust enforcement activity, for privacy activity when these companies behave in the way that they do?”

Hawley added: “Every day brings some creepy new revelation about these companies’ behaviors. Of course the public is going to want there to be action to defend their rights. It’s only natural.”

House of Lords report calls for digital super-regulator
The chair of the committee, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, called on the government to be less reactive in how it responds to digital risks: “The government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles,” he said.

“Self-regulation by online platforms is clearly failing and the current regulatory framework is out of date. The evidence we heard made a compelling and urgent case for a new approach to regulation. Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting people’s lives.”

You can always take matters into your own hands.

Goodbye Big Five
Reporter Kashmir Hill spent six weeks blocking Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple from getting my money, data, and attention, using a custom-built VPN. Here’s what happened.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well.

Web beginnings and endings

It’s hard to believe the web’s thirty years old already. It seems like it’s been around forever in the way it underpins everything we do, from TV watching to banking. But we’re still grappling with the consequences its introduction has had on our societies, and probably will for another thirty years yet.

But let’s step back a little, to how it all began.

CERN 2019 WorldWideWeb rebuild
In December 1990, an application called WorldWideWeb was developed on a NeXT machine at The European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN) just outside of Geneva. This program – WorldWideWeb — is the antecedent of most of what we consider or know of as “the web” today.

In February 2019, in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the development of WorldWideWeb, a group of developers and designers convened at CERN to rebuild the original browser within a contemporary browser, allowing users around the world to experience the rather humble origins of this transformative technology.

web-beginnings-and-endings

Their timeline is very interesting, too: “thirty years of influences leading up to (and the thirty years of influence leading out from) the publication of the memo that lead to the development of the first web browser.”

web-beginnings-and-endings-1

But all good things come to an end, and another one of the big players from back in the day is no more.

A eulogy for AltaVista, the Google of its time
You appeared on the search engine scene in December 1995. You made us go “woah” when you arrived. You did that by indexing around 20 million web pages, at a time when indexing 2 million web pages was considered to be big.

Today, of course, pages get indexed in the billions, the tens of billions or more. But in 1995, 20 million was huge. Existing search engines like Lycos, Excite & InfoSeek (to name only a few) didn’t quite know what hit them. With so many pages, you seemed to find stuff they and others didn’t.

web-beginnings-and-endings-3

Who’s next, I wonder.

GDPR is still a thing, right?

Some recent data protection stories that have caught my eye.

French data watchdog dishes out largest GDPR fine yet: Google ordered to hand over €50m
The French agency, CNIL, ruled today that the search giant had offered users inadequate information, spreading it across multiple pages, and had failed to gain valid consent for ads personalisation. […] The CNIL concluded that Google had breached the General Data Protection Regulation in two ways: by failing to meet transparency and information requirements, and failing to obtain a legal basis for processing.

Amazon, Apple and Google face data complaints
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules say EU customers have the right to access a copy of the personal data companies hold about them. However, privacy group noyb said it found that most of the big streaming companies did not fully comply. It has filed formal complaints, which if upheld could result in large fines.

Google accused of GDPR privacy violations by seven countries
Consumer groups across seven European countries have filed GDPR complaints against Google’s location tracking (via Reuters). The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), of which each of the groups are a member, claims that Google’s “deceptive practices” around location tracking don’t give users a real choice about whether to enable it, and that Google doesn’t properly inform them about what this tracking entails. If upheld, the complaints could mean a hefty fine for the search giant.

The NOYB organisation gets mentioned a number of times there.

Max Schrems: The privacy bubble needs to start ‘getting sh*t done’
After years locked in numerous long, drawn-out and often bitter legal battles, Schrems decided to launch a nonprofit aiming to help people bring their own consumer privacy cases to court.

The plan is for NOYB (None Of Your Business) to take advantage of the incoming European Union General Data Protection Regulation, which offers more options for collective redress across the bloc, and harness the momentum Schrems has built up with various high-profile court cases.

Seems to be working. (Via)

“Hello? Is this thing on?”

I certainly enjoy reading about these voice assistants more than I do using them.

You bought smart speakers over the holidays. Now what are Amazon and Google doing with your data?
Ultimately, the choice to keep a smart speaker around comes down to what you’re getting out of the product. For some people with physical disabilities or intellectual differences, smart speakers can make household tasks easier or provide an engaging presence in daily life. For tech junkies like my friend, the sheer joy of commanding a smart home network might be enough. For Hoffman-Andrews, though, the benefits of a speaker don’t outweigh the costs. He bought a couple of products for testing, but he admits he couldn’t actually bring himself to set them up. Being able to ask a speaker to dim the lights or play a weather forecast just didn’t seem like a good enough tradeoff for giving companies access to his home.

“Is it normal to have cameras and microphones pointed at you and your guests? Currently the answer is mostly no,” he says. “These devices aim to change the answer to yes.”