ALL TIMELINE UPDATES
Google makes its unofficial corporate motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” part of the public record, devoting an entire section to the catchphrase in their public offering prospectus. “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways – by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.” Let’s see how they’ve done since then.
August 30, 2005
On this date, we begin to learn that the laws, particularly those that protect creatives, are mere inconveniences for Google. Today, they launch a project called Google Print (later Google Books), which attempts to scan and make public virtually every printed book on earth. Not surprisingly, publishers and authors around the planet, including the Authors Guild, bristle at Google’s audacious pirating of their intellectual property. Oh, no problem, Google says, just tell us which of your titles you don’t want digitized and we won’t do it. In other words, this is an early example of Google’s “we’ll do it until someone tells us not to” approach to copyright, in which it dodges accountability for theft on its platform by putting the burden of enforcement on those being stolen from. This is only the beginning.
January 26, 2006
Google wraps itself in the mantle of free speech and free information, but now they take a head-first dive into hypocrisy when they unveil a special Chinese search engine that carefully removes certain search results that might offend a controlling, authoritarian nation state. To the surprise of no one, it does not go well – but that won’t stop Google from trying again down the road (see: 2018). So maybe information in China isn’t so free… but does that really matter when it gives Google a shot at big bucks from putting ads in front of a couple of billion more eyeballs? Yeah, well, maybe…
October 10, 2006
“In 2006, YouTube was basically America’s Funniest Online Videos + illegal SNL clips,” writes The Ringer. But, Google has bigger visions. Today, it acquires the video giant for a then-staggering $1.65 billion, overlooking the fact that YouTube is already corroded with, as NBC News put it, “volumes of copyrighted material” and will “be sued into oblivion.” Google bets big that it can win a lawsuit. And somehow, they do. (See March 2007 and April 2013.)
March 13, 2007
Well, that didn’t take long. Less than a year after purchasing one of the world’s biggest piracy sites, Google faces a $1 billion lawsuit from Viacom for allegedly hosting roughly 160,000 unauthorized clips culled from outlets ranging from Comedy Central to MTV. The suit is notable not only for how it exposes Google’s wanton shamelessness in profiting from content it did not own, but also for inspiring the development of Content ID – a copyright protection tool that works for big content companies like Viacom but, to this day, does absolutely nothing for smaller-scale creatives whose works are misappropriated on YouTube. Even more notably, as we’ll see in our 2013 entry, Viacom will lose the suit.
October 17, 2008
Anyone remember this weird moment in history when Google is fully ready to make an ad-revenue sharing deal with Yahoo? But then Google kills it, as this fascinating Wired story recounts, because of a single meeting with Department of Justice officials in which it becomes clear the U.S. government would view the arrangement as a monopoly threat. According to Wired, the broken deal marks a turning point for Google’s reputation. “They have permanently invited the scrutiny of the Justice Department into every future deal they do,” says one advertising consultant quoted in Wired. “Now they have monopolist written all over them.” More than 10 years later, they still do… but in larger type.
March 18, 2010
Well, of course, we at CreativeFuture are always going to complain that YouTube is a pirate site. But, why take our word for it? Google’s own executives admit it, too! Today, The Mercury News reveals leaked internal communications showing that “many top Googlers,” including co-founder Sergey Brin, are “concerned about YouTube’s copyright piracy problems and how they could reflect badly on Google’s ethics.” Ethics? “Don’t Be Evil”? Is that thing still around? Well, yes, they’ll keep pretending for a while (see May 2018).
April 18, 2013
Though appeals would drag the case on for another year, today Viacom loses its $1 billion copyright lawsuit against YouTube. Under the “safe harbor provisions” of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a federal judge concludes, YouTube is not responsible for scouring its website for infringing videos – only for taking them down after receiving complaints from copyright holders. Translation: “The burden of copyright protection isn’t YouTube’s. It’s yours. Good luck!” Years later, we get to “celebrate” that Google’s YouTube and Search alone receive an estimated 900 MILLION takedown notices in 2017!
April 15, 2015
You know all that talk we are hearing now about “break up Google”? Well, this is when it all begins. For the first time, the European Union formally accuses Google of abusing its dominance in web searches. These legal actions proceed as slowly and creakily as a World War II battleship – and it’s still not even close to its destination – but hey, at least it’s moving.
June 27, 2017
Today, the European Union levies a $2.7 billion penalty against Google, claiming the company’s favoring of its own shopping service in certain search results violates competition law. It’s a fine that would be ruinous for most companies – Google, of course, could pay it with the change between the seat cushions in Sundar Pichai’s private jet. But it’s still an objectively large sum of money – and a sign that Europe does not intend to be nearly as complacent as the U.S. when it comes to holding Google accountable.
July 11, 2017
We can trust academics, right? Researchers are supposed to be independent and all about the facts. Well, if you still believe that, you might believe in Santa Claus, too. This is the day when a new report from Campaign for Accountability reveals that Google “in some way” funds a staggering 329 research papers published between 2005 and 2017 on “public policy matters of interest to Google….” Authors of the articles hail from some of the most prestigious universities in America, including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, and many of them do not disclose Google’s funding. “Google should address its record of academic astroturfing,” writes Campaign for Accountability, “which puts it in the same league as Big Oil and Big Tobacco.” We couldn’t agree more.
September 27, 2017
Another test for “Don’t Be Evil”: It comes to light that Google “has enlisted its broad network of paid policy groups to fight legislation that would remove a legal shield for websites that knowingly profit from child sex-trafficking.” Turns out groups funded by Google, or its parent company Alphabet, are unleashing dozens of op-eds, blog posts, action alerts, coalition letters, and other materials opposing the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which seeks to remove a legal liability shield for websites that knowingly profit from child sex-trafficking. “With few exceptions, the groups failed to disclose Google’s financial support of their organizations or the academic institutions where they are employed,” writes the Campaign for Accountability. Huh. Apparently, Google doesn’t want to let the world know it’s trying to crush a bill that fights… child sex trafficking on the internet.
November 6, 2017
Look, we get it – you’re at a restaurant or trying to watch a little Netflix at home. It’s been a long day and the kids are driving you crazy. It’s so easy just to hand them the iPad and let them watch YouTube so they’ll just leave you alone for a while. But please, stop doing that. “Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale,” writes artist James Bridle in a viral Medium post, “and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level.” It sounds alarmist, but it’s not. Bridle’s long and very troubled account of what’s really happening on Google’s video behemoth will make you feel that your sanity is slipping down a wormhole from whence it may never escape. Read it, then put on a nice DVD and hold your kids close.
February 2, 2018
Historians will be arguing this query forever, but today’s riveting Guardian story makes a pretty convincing case that YouTube at least had something to do with it. The piece focuses on an ex-YouTube engineer who, armed with a deep understanding of how the company’s algorithm exploits human psychology, wrote his own program to “explore bias” in the site’s ocean of content. He found statistical evidence of a recommendation engine that was decidedly “not neutral during the presidential race,” pushing videos to more than 150 million people that were damaging to Hillary Clinton, regardless of the political preference of the user. Regardless of your particular persuasion, the content of these biased videos has to be troubling: misinformation, conspiracy videos, fake news, and other harmful content that had, and has, the effect of “leading people down hateful rabbit holes.” Maybe YouTube swung an election, maybe it didn’t, but one thing is for sure: It’s toxic.
April 4, 2018
For a company that touts its luxurious offices and unrivaled perks, Google has endured a surprising number of protests from its staff. Today’s resistance comes in the form of an internal letter, signed by thousands of workers unhappy with Google’s involvement in a Pentagon program involving targeted drone strikes. Turns out even massage rooms and gourmet cafeterias aren’t going to cut it if your workforce believes its employer is, as the letter states, “in the business of war.”
May 18, 2018
Hey, somebody just noticed that this “Don’t Be Evil” thing is still in Google’s official employee code of conduct. So, today, they remove it. It’s a sign that the company knows it hasn’t exactly been living up to its valiant credo, and that keeping it around will probably give people like us some comedic fodder. Why set a standard of accountability you never intended to meet?
July 18, 2018
In June 2017, it was $2.7 billion. Now the European Union fines Google a staggering $5.1 billion – this time for abusing its power in the mobile phone market via Android. Google will, of course, appeal the decision, and the case is likely to drag on for years, but we admire European competition policy chief Margrethe Vestager’s moxie. She’s tired of global internet heavyweights running rampant in her neighborhood and wants to do something about it. “Europe has largely acted alone in its regulatory actions against Silicon Valley titans,” writes The New York Times, “though there have been signs recently of shifting attitudes and a tougher stance by officials in the United States.” It’s about time.
August 1, 2018
China ethnically profiles their citizens using facial recognition (and shares the technology to do so with other authoritarian countries), trawls people’s social media activity to give them “citizen scores” that could affect their credit rating or ability to travel, and forces private companies to assist the government with spying on the populace. And yet, China’s 1.4 billion potential internet users are like catnip to Google. How else to explain why, after already pulling one search engine out of the country over censorship concerns, back in 2010, Google is ready to try again – with plans to “launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest,” writes The Intercept. Ugh. The stink of pure, unadulterated greed is strong on this one. A year later, Google is still trying to deny they planned this… unconvincingly.
August 13, 2018
By now, many of us are onto Google’s aggressive collecting of our location data via apps like Google Maps. And, many of us have even tried to keep it from happening – by turning off a setting called “Location History” on our devices, which Google promised would make it so that “the places you go are no longer stored.” Uh, nope, ain’t true. There are, in fact, many apps spread through the Android ecosystem – and, in turn, across the Android devices of some 2 billion users – that still find plenty of ways to collect your location data whether you turn the setting off or not. It all kind of makes you realize, with slow, creeping dread, just how vast and complex Google’s surveillance operation really is, and how impossible it is to escape from it.
September 5, 2018
Don’t you hate it when you invite that special someone to your party, and they just don’t come? That’s what happened to the Senate Intelligence Committee, who asked Google to send one of its top executives to Washington for the most fun party of the year – a hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms.” Cool kids Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey appear for the proceedings, but Google is a no-show, and the irate Senators mark the slight with an empty chair at the spot where the Google representative would have sat. It feels like a moment in regulatory history – when a company already under fire with the government throws unnecessary gasoline on the flames, just because they think they can.
September 11, 2018
If dysfunctional internet platforms had a nickel for every time they were “under investigation” somewhere in the world, maybe they could use that cash to put an end to their dysfunctional, ad-driven business model. Today, the Attorney General of Arizona opens up an investigation into Google’s “apparent tracking of consumer movement even if you opt out of such services.” The kicker is Arizona fines businesses up to $10,000 per violation of its law prohibiting them from deceiving users about their practices. That could add up to a lot of nickels.
October 8, 2018
Maybe Google was getting jealous of all the press Facebook has been getting for its dozens of data breaches. Today, we learn that a bug in its terminally ill social media platform, Google+, exposed the private data of more than 500,000 users for more than three years. To address the leak, Google pledges to eliminate the failed Google+ service … even sooner than it had already been planning to. It does not, however, pledge to finally explain how on earth Google Circles were supposed to work.
October 25, 2018
Scenario: One of your high-ranking employees is credibly accused by another employee of sexual misconduct. Do you: (A) fire them immediately, paying them little to nothing on their way out, or (B) hand them an exit package worth nearly $100 million and wish them the fondest of farewells in a public statement? Upon learning that Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software, coerced a coworker into performing oral sex on him in a hotel room, Google chooses Option B. They pay the guy $90 million in severance, or $2 million a month for the next four years. That’s a lot of money for behaving terribly. Even worse? “Mr. Rubin was one of three executives that Google protected over the past decade after they were accused of sexual misconduct,” writes The New York Times. Wow, they got rid of “Don’t Be Evil” just in time for this one!
November 1, 2018
Well, that didn’t take long. Just one week after learning of the above incident in which their employer rewarded a sexually-harassing executive with a $90 million buyout, more than 1,000 Google staffers today stage a walkout. Protest organizers also write an op-ed for New York Magazine in which they demand “an end to the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.” Turns out the toxic culture Google has fomented on the internet comes from within.
November 28, 2018
This employee protest thing at Google is really catching on. With global walkouts over company sexual harassment policies still fresh in the rearview mirror, today’s resistance takes the form of a public letter, signed by more than 400 employees, blasting the China search engine project. “We are among thousands of employees who have raised our voices for months,” they write. “International human rights organizations and investigative reporters have also sounded the alarm, emphasizing serious human rights concerns and repeatedly calling on Google to cancel the project.”
December 10, 2018
First, Google’s failed social media platform, Google+, exposed 500,000 users’ private information in a data breach. Scratch that. Now, we learn that, in a separate and unrelated incident, it also managed to leak “information like email addresses profile data” of 52.5 million of its users. Apparently, Google quickly found the flaw and corrected it, and, with the demise of the platform already imminent, nobody seems too particularly riled up over this little snafu. Still, there is something shocking and confounding about this news – i.e., we just can’t believe that 52.5 million people were actually using Google+!
December 11, 2018
After ghosting a Senate hearing back in September, Google plays nice, sending none other than CEO Sundar Pichai to Capitol Hill to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee. However, for those of us who hope for a deep cross-examination of an unaccountable internet juggernaut, the event is a bust. Pichai mostly gives evasive answers to questions on urgent issues such as his company’s alleged plans for a censored search engine in China. And, in the view of many, the representatives waste too much time grandstanding to their respective voter bases. “It was a foreboding reminder of Congress’s continued technological ignorance,” writes Wired, “and a sign that while lawmakers almost unilaterally agree that something must be done about tech giants’ tremendous power, they remain unwilling to set aside partisan squabbles to actually do anything about it.”
January 22, 2019
Ah, America, where democracy is bought and sold by the wealthy and powerful. And, no one is wealthier, more powerful, and better at using their wealth and power to shape policy than Google. From covertly funding academic “research” that helps them crush copyright and competition, to pouring political contributions into Washington, nobody shapes the narrative in their favor like Google. Today, a quarterly filing to Congress reveals that, in 2018, Google outdid even its own record, with its parent Alphabet spending a company-record-breaking $20 million on lobbying efforts. Hey, if you had lawmakers weighing new privacy and antitrust rules to reign in your previously unchallenged dominance, you’d probably cough up a little cheddar, too.
February 11, 2019
This is just grim – and the world is still not outraged enough by it. For offering a platform where recommended videos not only facilitate child exploitation, but are monetized in the process, YouTube deserves some real punishment. Instead, it removes some channels and loses a few. Another day, another crisis managed.
May 1, 2019
Now, Google employees are launching a fourth protest. Today in meta-protest news, we get allegations of retaliation from Google against employees who took part in another recent protest – last November’s walkout over the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims. Since then, certain employees filed claims of being demoted for their participation, while others had their jobs restructured. So, once again, Google’s beleaguered workers feel compelled “to sit together and show retaliation,” read today’s tweet from the Twitter account Google Walkout For Real Change (GWFRC), and to “be in solidarity with those withstanding this chilling practice.” Just one point of confusion about that brand. You need to specify the “chilling practice” you are referring to, GWFRC – there are just so many from which to choose!
May 30, 2019
Today, a tweet thread from liberal Vox host Carlos Maza (Strikethrough) relates his years-long struggle with harassment on YouTube. The primary source of his woes is rightwing YouTuber Steven Crowder, who frequently motivates his three million subscribers to attack Maza in droves over his sexuality and ethnicity (Maza is gay and Hispanic). But, the real villain exposed by the thread is YouTube itself, and the company’s utter failure to respond to Maza’s pleas for them to step in and stop the incessant hate speech and cyberbullying. “I’m not mad at Crowder,” Maza writes. “There will always be monsters in the world. I’m f**king pissed at @YouTube, which claims to support its LGBT creators, and has explicit policies against harassment and bullying.” The tweet storm will go viral. And, after even more waffling, YouTube will finally address Maza’s claims in a meaningful way. Turns out there’s only one surefire way to get help from the platform that helped make public shaming a natural part of online life – you have to publicly shame them.
May 31, 2019
Google is no stranger to antitrust investigations and even penalties, but today’s news of a Justice Department antitrust exploration into the company’s advertising and search practices just feels different somehow. Like maybe, just maybe, something big could come from it. Could it be the dawning realization from our most prominent leaders that, as Elizabeth Warren put it, a small number of companies, including Google, have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy”? In a word, yes.
June 8, 2019
Today, in a troubling New York Times exposé, we learn just how far wrong the YouTube business model can go. The platform’s algorithm is designed to keep viewers engaged for as long as possible, serving up an endless stream of recommended videos that demand attention through increasingly extreme interpretations of the given subject matter. For college dropout Caleb Cain, that subject matter was conspiratorial, frequently white supremacist, content that led him “down the alt-right rabbit hole.” Cain would eventually emerge from the morass to become an outspoken advocate against such hate speech – but he was just one of many who have and will be radicalized by “a business model that rewards provocative videos with exposure and advertising dollars, and an algorithm that guides users down personalized paths meant to keep them glued to their screens.”
June 16, 2019
Google loves to tout its anti-piracy successes, even in the face of ample evidence to the contrary – such as today’s news that millions of people around the world use YouTube to illegally stream pay-per-view boxing events. For instance, a recent heavyweight championship bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz was plagued by 13 million online viewers turning to illegal means to view it. The kicker? 93% of that illegal audience share came from YouTube. It’s just more proof that while Google may claim it’s fighting theft on its world-conquering video platform, it’s actually enabling it as much as ever.
June 19, 2019
Just when you thought Google couldn’t be any more cynical and aggressive with its data collection practices, turns out the company has been targeting your children. Today, we learn that the Federal Trade Commission is in the “advanced stages” of an investigation into complaints that YouTube “had collected data of young users.” If proven true, such behavior is in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, adding to the list of troubling issues with YouTube and its millions of child-age users. The real question is, why on earth does YouTube still have child-age users?
June 30, 2019
Put another mark on the ol’ Google employee protest tally, as several of the company’s LGBTQ+ staffers organize against the company’s recent decision to keep homophobic commentator Steven Crowder’s YouTube account live. The protestors take to the streets of San Francisco, marching and waving anti-Google signs in the city’s annual Pride Parade – but not before first trying to convince the parade’s organizers to deny Google’s participation from the event entirely. For those counting, this is the fifth act of organized dissent from Google employees on this timeline.
July 30, 2019
It sure looks that way. Today, we learn that Google employees are happily giving large chunks of their median $250,000 salaries to the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – the very same duo of Democratic presidential candidates who are leading the charge to break up Big Tech. In fact, reports Recode, Sanders and Warren “received the highest number of donations out of all presidential candidates from Google employees.”
What gives here? To hear it from one of many of the company’s disgruntled workers, Google is “super inefficient” and “wastes tons of time and money.” You can afford to be like that when you command nearly 90% of all internet search. But, to hear it from your own staff? That has to hurt.
August 5, 2019
New drinking game: Every time you see the words “employee protest” on this timeline, you have to drink. We’ll give you a minute. Drunk yet? If not, your tolerance is way too high and you need to cut back. Maybe take a cue from the expecting moms who work at Google, and who released a viral memo today titled “I’m Not Returning to Google After Maternity Leave, and Here is Why”. Posted on internal company message boards, the memo alleges discriminatory remarks, demotions, and subtle guilt trips expressed in response to maternity leave requests. Perhaps the most damning accusation of all came from a former Googler, who clearly felt free to tell like it is: “Google has a culture of retaliation that is reflected in its abysmal diversity numbers.” Ouch.
August 20, 2019
Call us crazy, but it seems like if nearly half of the states in the United States think your company is too big… maybe it is? Just a thought.
Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that not one, not two, but up to 20 states are “preparing to move forward with a joint antitrust investigation of big technology companies,” including Facebook, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc. The oncoming probe adds yet another layer of scrutiny for Google, which was already under antitrust investigation by the Justice Department, and also by the FTC for its handling of children’s data on YouTube. We know Google spends a lot of money on lawyering up, but this is getting ridiculous.
September 6, 2019
Okay, so California and, for some reason, Alabama are abstaining from the Google antitrust probe for the time being – but then California also isn’t saying that it isn’t investigating, so we’re going to go ahead and round up: Today, we learn that ALL of the states (pretty much) are holding a joint investigation into Google’s bulldozing of the competition in search and advertising. Indeed, in an age of division, it turns out we can still come together to fight these harms.
September 12, 2019
Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Google will pay more than $1 billion in fines in France. “Yeah, yeah,” we can hear you say, “what’s a billion bucks to Google?” We would agree, “Not much. ” However, the reason for this fine is interesting: Tax evasion. Google and their fellow tech behemoths are notorious for using every loophole they can find to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, including hoarding staggering sums of cash in overseas shell companies. This represents tens of billions of dollars that they could be investing back into their business, into innovation, into better protections for creatives, and into their local communities. Today’s French ruling is a reminder to all that Google, if nothing else, is very, very greedy.
October 31, 2019
Yup, you read that correctly. Today, the BBC reports that online slave markets in Kuwait and other Arabic countries are thriving on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and, of course, Google. An undercover BBC team posed as a couple in search of a slave and found apps in Google Play and other app stores that were exclusively dedicated to selling them domestic workers. “The sellers almost all advocated confiscating the women’s passports, confining them to the house, denying them any time off and giving them little or no access to a phone,” reported the BBC. “Google said it was ‘deeply troubled by the allegations’.” We’ve heard that one before…
November 15, 2019
Today, The Wall Street Journal publishes a blockbuster reveal of the ways in which Google manipulates the information you see. It’s a big deal because the company loves nothing more than to claim that they do not “use human curation to collect or arrange the results on a page.” In fact, writes WSJ, they have “increasingly re-engineered and interfered with search results to a far greater degree than the company and its executives have acknowledged.” Now we have proof of what we already knew – Google is really a publisher after all and should be regulated as such.
November 25, 2019
A quick scroll through this timeline reveals no shortage of dissent from Google’s employees. Heck, since the last time we updated this timeline, the company has (1) had to be told to stop telling their employees not to protest, (2) been outed for retaliating against employees who reported abuse, (3) tried to shut down an employee meeting about unionization, and (4) hired a firm notorious for its anti-union efforts. It’s official: Google’s famously open employee culture is CLOSED. And, just in case you needed convincing, today we also learned that they fired four employees who, according to The New York Times, “had been active in labor organizing at the company.”
December 9, 2019
Today, Google loses a big battle in their ongoing war against their own workers. CNBC reports that the National Labor Relations Board has opened an investigation into the company following their firing of four employees who were active in labor organizing. Google claims the employees “were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies,” but no matter how they spin it, it’s not a good look following escalating tensions with their workforce. The company’s seemingly infinite cash reserves make them impervious to even large fines doled out by the FTC, but this ongoing erosion of trust with staff is a different kind of pain. Google can make back even billion-dollar fines in a matter of days. Good people, however, are difficult to find.
December 10, 2019
Google’s federal investigation rate has now officially hit two per week. Joining yesterday’s probe from the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Justice Department today announces plans to begin an antitrust review of Google’s attempt to acquire Fitbit Inc. Now, why would buying a maker of fitness trackers qualify as antitrust? Well, because there is a heck of a lot of data in those little wristbands, which track everything from heart rate to exercise routines – and we all know Google is the undisputed champion of spinning people’s personal information into untold riches. Government antitrust watchdogs already thought Google had enough data before this attempted purchase – imagine what they would have if they were allowed to purchase the fitness data company.
December 16, 2019
You no longer have to go to war to get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you join the hellish ranks of YouTube’s underpaid moderator army, you, too, can fall victim to severe psychological damage from exposure to horrific violence and mayhem. Today, The Verge reports on the psychological condition of workers tasked with overseeing the “Violent Extremism” queue. These employees, working at Accenture, the Austin-based company, are behind Google’s largest content moderation site in the United States. In a word: it’s grim. In a few other words: “Every day you watch someone beheading someone, or someone shooting his girlfriend,” says one worker. “This makes you feel ill.” Work like this is necessary and important, but Google needs to do more to protect these people.
December 20, 2019
Google’s fine tally is well into the billions worldwide, and counting. Today, Google got hit with another €150 million ($166 million) fine by France’s antitrust board, dished out for Google’s abuse of “its dominant position in the online search advertising market,” reports Variety. If Google dropped that much money on the ground, it wouldn’t bother to bend over and pick it up. But more important than the fines is the mounting number of cases where Google was found to be in the wrong.
December 31, 2019
If time and wherewithal allowed, we would create a separate Google timeline devoted to worker strife. Today’s addition involves the company’s cafeteria workers, tasked with supplying many of the world’s wealthiest employees with their daily sustenance. “We’re overworked and underpaid,” a representative for the employees said, citing harms such as bullying and casual racism in the workplace. Surely, Google must have some loose change they could use to improve the well-being of the hard-working people who serve their executives’ daily avocado toast?
January 11, 2020
There was a time, before Google’s Timeline of Scandal and Strife became quite so long, when qualified young people would beat down Google’s door for a job. But now, those who are “looking for jobs that are both principled and high-paying are doing so in a world that has soured on Big Tech,” writes The New York Times. “The positive perceptions of Google, Facebook and other large tech firms are crumbling.” Even if Google can’t find any other good reason for #PlatformAccountability, maybe they can do it to keep the talent stream flowing?
February 13, 2020
Today, in a speech at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, Fortnite CEO Tim Sweeney tells an audience of video game developers that the business practices of Google (and its equally corrosive peer, Facebook) represent the “bad and ugly” aspects of the industry, and pledges that Fortnite will do better with its own business model. How? With business practices that don’t “profit by doing their customers harm,” he said. What a novel and refreshing idea! Google, are you listening?
February 20, 2020
You already knew that the world is Google’s surveillance state and all of us – even our children – are just living in it. But that didn’t stop the state of New Mexico from filing a lawsuit today against Google for educational offerings that monitor kids “without their knowledge and without the permission of their parents,” reports The New York Times. More than half of America’s schools, along with 90 million students and teachers globally, use Google apps like Gmail and Google Docs. Too big a temptation for Google to resist? Yeah, massive profit opportunities can have that effect on people…
March 11, 2020
Google seems to be inviting another antitrust case. As we learn today, the company bullies television manufacturers into denying business to Amazon. “Any company that licenses Google’s Android TV,” reports Protocol, “has to agree to terms that prevent it from also building devices using forked versions of Android like Amazon’s Fire TV operating system.” If the company breaks those terms? Google takes a pinky. And by “pinky” we mean, “it could lose access to the Play Store and Google’s apps for all of its devices,” the report continues. Which, in the streaming ecosystem, is just about as bad as losing a finger, if not worse.
March 23, 2020
Today, as a global pandemic ravages the known universe, Campaign for Accountability reports that Google (and Facebook) “are allowing sellers and advertisers to hawk medical face masks on their platforms weeks after the tech giants promised to crack down on the practice.” At a time when front-line healthcare workers are desperate for anything to help shield them from a deadly virus, and consumers are more vulnerable than ever to scams and price-gouging, Google’s abject failure to police harmful content on its platform feels more dystopian than usual. And, as usual, they make money from all of it.
April 3, 2020
We all know Google – and its video platform, YouTube – doesn’t give two hoots about the safety of children. Now it appears that even the children are onto their negligence. Today, CNET reports on two Illinois kids who are suing Google for “allegedly collecting biometric data, including face scans, of millions of students through the search giant’s software tools for classrooms.” Kids file the darndest lawsuits, don’t they?
April 10, 2020
France is really becoming a thorn in Google’s side. Today, Yahoo! Finance reports that the nation’s competition regulator announced that Google must, “within three months… conduct negotiations in good faith with publishers and news agencies on the remuneration for the re-use of their protected contents”. Do you ever wonder why all this kind of stuff is so obvious to regulators in Europe and Asia, and yet our own government seems to be oblivious?
May 13, 2020
The French aren’t sitting around. They are tired of Google’s monopoly, they’re tired of Google stealing creative content, and today, they pass a law showing just how tired they are of the company’s lackadaisical approach to pedophile- and terrorism-related content. Platforms like YouTube must now remove such content “within the hour or face a fine as high as four percent of their global revenue,” reports Reuters. Vive la France!
May 15, 2020
A global pandemic hasn’t stopped Google from consolidating their power – fortunately, some key American officials finally seem intent on checking some of that power. Today, The New York Times reports that “The Justice Department is planning to file antitrust charges against Google as early as this summer”. That move would be in addition to the antitrust investigations-in-progress from nearly all 50 states. In fact, the Times reports that many of those state attorneys general might even join the DOJ’s lawsuit. That kind of interlocked Voltron is what it will probably take to straighten out a company with a market value around $1 trillion – and even then, this is going to be one tough fight.
May 28, 2020
When it comes to your sweet and tasty location data, no surveillance monster is hungrier than Google, and it will find ways to slurp it up even if you try to opt out. So says a lawsuit filed today by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich alleging the tech giant tracked its Android smartphone users even after they turned off digital tracking. This behavior is illegal in the Grand Canyon State. “I wanted Google to get the message that Arizona has a state consumer fraud act,” Brnovich said. “They may be the most innovative company in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re above the law.”
June 1, 2020
Google has been talking a good game about fighting misinformation about the pandemic – while it continues to profit from ads placed on websites peddling COVID-19 hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Today, the Tech Tranparency Project reports that it identified 97 websites “that use Google advertising tools DoubleClick or AdSense while spreading false information about the coronavirus. Google is not only giving these unscrupulous web publishers a way to make money off the misinformation but also taking a cut of the resulting ad revenue.”
June 3, 2020
The privacy lawsuits keep coming for Google – this one is seeking at least $5 billion for tracking millions of users whose browsers were set to private mode. This is the second tracking-data lawsuit in less than a week’s time, and there are plenty more to come. Read on…
June 11, 2020
It’s been 10 days since our June 1 entry above about Google profiting from ads on websites that publish fake information about COVID-19. Nothing has changed – if anything, the situation has worsened. Ads for health do-gooders such as UNICEF and One Medical are now showing up on these sites, reports Fast Company, “helping those sites monetize their content – while making money for Google.” That just can’t be repeated often enough: the continual monetization of COVID-19 conspiracy sites – not to mention piracy sites, human trafficking operations, and all the other filth on the internet – only makes Google richer.
June 17, 2020
Today’s confirmation of how Google keeps benefit at the expense of people harmed by pandemic misinformation comes from CNBC, who reports that social media sites like Facebook and Google-owned YouTube are “linked to belief in coronavirus conspiracy theories.” The article cites research that found, among other things, that 60% of those who believe the virus is linked to 5G radiation get their information from YouTube, and that users in general “are more likely to have broken lockdown rules that have been enforced in an effort to contain it.” Say it again: Google profits from all of it.
July 1, 2020
Today, as a House Judiciary Committee antitrust probe nears its conclusion, Google CEO Sundar Pichai agrees to testify in front of the HJC with his fellow Big Tech CEOs. Facebook, Amazon, and Apple will also participate, but “there’s reason to believe the case against Google will land the soonest of any of them,” The Verge’s Casey Newton writes. “Whatever signals the company’s algorithms might be taking into account as it ranks search results, it’s somehow always Google that comes out on top.”
July 7, 2020
This whole relationship between Google and the pandemic-related hoaxes it enables makes it a two-way street. Google gets richer from the placement of ads on COVID-19 conspiracy sites – and the sites aren’t doing half bad themselves. Today, Bloomberg reports that digital ad platforms run by Google will provide $19 million in revenue to the misinformation sites by end of year. Turns out anti-mask propaganda is a good business to be in… thanks to Google.
July 9, 2020
Today, after holding out for months, California joins 48 other states running an antitrust investigation into Google focused on the company’s dominance of the advertising technology market. Why the Golden State had refused to participate previously remains a mystery – but what’s interesting, writes POLITICO, is that unlike federal antitrust law, “California’s laws do allow government enforcers to seek restitution or civil penalties for violations. The state also has a history of aggressively pursuing antitrust cases and has among the largest staffs of any attorneys general devoted to antitrust and competition issues.”
July 14, 2020
Belgium’s data protection authority imposed its highest-ever fine today – for Google’s “grossly negligent” refusal to remove reputation-harming links as part of the European Union’s right to be forgotten. The links went to news articles involving unproven harassment incidents from more than 10 years ago. The “record-setting” fine amounted to a whopping $681,400 – or less than 1% of what Google makes in a single day.
July 14, 2020
Today in “yup, you’re definitely a monopoly” news, The Wall Street Journal publishes a blockbuster report detailing how Google’s video search results favor YouTube over competitors such as Facebook Watch and Twitch. This runs counter to the company’s endlessly repeated claims that its search results are purely objective and autonomous. More importantly in light of Google’s growing antitrust concerns, said an executive for one of Google’s rival companies, it “raises questions about the ability of competing video platforms to grow and develop.”
July 14, 2020
This is the fourth privacy-related lawsuit Google has faced in the last month and a half alone, and their third newsworthy bit of scandal and strife just today, July 14. Where previous suits went after Google for tracking Android smart phone users and Chrome users without permission, this one targets their data collection aross a broad array of apps on both Android and iOS. “Google is always watching,” the suit claims, with seeming relish. “Even when it promises to look away, Google is watching. Every click, every website, every app — our entire virtual lives. Intercepted. Tracked. Logged. Compiled. Packaged. Sold for profit.” We couldn’t write a better summation of online life in 2020 if we tried.
July 24, 2020
The first lesson in staving off antitrust regulation is “don’t become a soulless monopoly.” The second lesson is to get the antitrust officials on your side. Having clearly failed the first lesson, Google aced the second one with its funding of a think tank called the Global Antitrust Institute (GAI). Billed as a “way to learn more about the economic underpinnings of competition law,” reports The New York Times, the GAI invites regulators from around the world to congregate in beautiful hotels, where it wines and dines them with “$110-a-plate steak dinners and unlimited pours from $70 bottles of wine”. The “sessions” that then unfold are “more about delivering a clear message to international officials that benefited the companies paying for the event: The best way to foster competition is to maintain a hands-off approach to antitrust law.” This is government in action, folks, brought to you by Google.
July 27, 2020
Australia continues to take companies like Google and Facebook down a peg at every opportunity. Today’s jab from Down Under finds Australia’s consumer watchdog filing a court action against Google “alleging the technology giant misled account holders about its use of their personal data,” reports ABC News. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s claim says Google has been misleading users about how their personal data was collected from non-Google sites that used Google technology. Consider this just another reminder that Google always finds ways to track you, whether you’re actively using its products or not.
July 28, 2020
In 2004, Google co-founder Larry Page said the goal of Google’s search engine was “to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible.” How times have changed! Today, The Markup releases a study of more than 15,000 recent popular search queries on Google. Its findings: 41% of the first page of results went either to a) Google’s own properties (such as Google Flights, Google Hotels, etc.) or b) “information copied from other sources, sometimes without their knowledge or consent.” When looking at the first screen on an iPhone X, “that figure jumped to 63 percent.” When Google isn’t pushing its competitors out, it’s stealing from them.
July 28, 2020
Never forget: Google’s own executives called YouTube a “pirate site” when they acquired the video platform in 2006. A report today from Vox Indie reminds us that “YouTube has always been a conduit for online movie and music piracy” and always will be. Its much-touted content protection tools are not universally available to creatives – and are readily flouted by thieves who find all sorts of clever ways to circumvent the technology using links, in-video instructions, or file tweaks in an effort to evade the Content ID fingerprinting system. “There are no easy answers to fix any of this,” writes Indie Vox, “but making sites like YouTube more accountable for their role in disseminating pirated content… seems like the place to start.”
July 29, 2020
Rep. David Cicilline wasted no time attacking Google at today’s Congressional antitrust hearing, asking beleaguered CEO Sundar Pichai in front of a global audience, “Why does Google steal content from honest businesses?” A creative community of millions roared their virtual approval. Pichai, unsurprisingly, dodged the question, saying he disagreed with the “characterization”. But the shot was fired, the message made clear: The federal government’s love affair with Google is over.
August 5, 2020
Following up on Cicilline and Co’s aggressive line of questioning at the July 29 antitrust hearing, today a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Thom Tillis send a letter to Federal antitrust officials regarding “potentially anticompetitive practices and conduct by online platforms toward content creators and emerging competitors”. Google and YouTube take center stage, with the letter citing Google Search’s favoring of “Google-owned video service providers” and pondering whether “such conduct violates the antitrust laws.”
August 17, 2020
Today, Google chooses to fight dirty in its ongoing battle with Australian regulators. In an open letter to the citizenry, it claims that a proposed law to make it pay for news content “would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia.” In response, an Australian competition watchdog calmly speaks the truth: “Google will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so,” he says. And furthermore, “Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.” This time, Google appears to be spreading misinformation on purpose.
August 6, 2020
We have no idea how much legal action Google is by now facing, both at home and abroad. But it’s enough that today’s fresh lawsuit alleging a violation by Google of the new California Consumer Privacy Act barely makes a ripple on the media pond. Still, the complaint – which claims Google employees spy on Android user activity through its “lockbox” program and that “Google uses this information to obtain an unfair competitive advantage over its rivals” – doesn’t bode well for the company’s data collection practices or its efforts to stave off antitrust.
August 17, 2020
Let’s say you own a company, and the company is suspicious enough of some of its customers to report them to the authorities. Isn’t the next logical step to then stop doing business with said sketchy customers? Not if you’re Google! Today, The Guardian reports on a “little-known investigative unit” inside the search giant who “regularly forwarded detailed personal information on the company’s users to members of a counter-terrorist fusion center in California’s Bay Area.” And yet, even though they had compelling evidence that these users were “threatening violence or expressing extremist views,” Google did not remove links to them from its services. No autopsy, no foul, right? Correct! Especially when there’s money to be made…
August 25, 2020
Today in Very Bad Signs, the Arizona Mirror reports on unsealed internal emails from (yet another) Google lawsuit in which the company’s own employees, including some of its engineers, “admitted that some parts of their applications’ location privacy settings were confusing and could be misleading.” Google loves nothing more than to tout how easy it is for users to control how much data it collects from them. But if the very people who design Google software can’t figure the privacy settings out, how can the rest of us?
September 4-9, 2020
The past six days have seen not one, not two, but three different countries make moves to limit Google’s power. In Colombia, regulators ordered Google to comply with their data protection rules – by clearly asking each individual user “whether the world’s largest search engine can use their personal data which is being captured without authorization,” reports Reuters. In Italy, antitrust authorities launched a probe of Google “after hearing complaints about unfair commercial practices with their cloud storage services,” writes Forbes. And, in Germany, Bloomberg reports, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet “approved draft digital antitrust legislation that will give German authorities more tools to combat market abuse by large tech companies.” Get the feeling the walls are closing in?
September 13, 2020
This story is another horrific reminder that Google, and YouTube, despite reporting that they are investing major reserves of time and money into content moderation, are not getting the job done.
September 14, 2020
The world’s parents have something to cheer about today as Bloomberg reports on a “multibillion-dollar lawsuit in the U.K. over claims that YouTube routinely breaks privacy laws by tracking children online.” The suit, filed on behalf of more than 5 million British children under 13 and their parents, alleges that YouTube systematically broke UK and European privacy and data rules by “harvesting children’s data without obtaining prior parental consent”. Given YouTube’s track record, how can parents trust their children’s viewing to YouTube?
September 17, 2020
Longtime YouTube inquisitor Mozilla today takes aim at the video platform’s recommendation engine, launching a software tool that gives users the chance to help Mozilla’s research into how YouTube’s controversial algorithm works. Such external research is needed because YouTube refuses to provide such data itself, knowing full well that its “What’s next” column has a bad habit of sending viewers into inescapable spirals of misinformation, bigotry, and other toxic content. Past Mozilla projects involving YouTube include funding a former YouTube engineer’s research into the platform’s AI systems, and the launch of TheirTube, which simulates how a YouTube home page would look for personas with different ideologies.
September 24, 2020
This ought to be interesting. To appease advertisers who are tired of seeing their ads appear alongside racist or violent content, YouTube today agrees to allow an outside audit of how it handles hate speech. “The platforms will also be required to develop systems that give advertisers more control over the type of content that their brands appear alongside,” reports CNN. Predicted grade from this audit: F-
September 30, 2020
It’s an understatement to say that Google is facing antitrust cases from around the world – but at what point does the company begin to feel it? Adding China, the world’s most populous country, to the pile might be that tipping point. Concerned about the stifling of competition by the Android operating system, China is preparing to launch an investigation as soon as October, reports CNBC. Watch this one closely.
October 5, 2020
Wherever your politics lie, we can all agree that you should be able to access information about the voting process without getting infected with malware or being redirected to shady, possibly criminal websites. Sadly, this is not a given on Google. The Tech Transparency Project today reports that “searching for terms like ‘absentee ballot,’ ‘early voting,’ and ‘vote by mail’ in a selection of battleground states generated more than 70 ads for sites that try to plant unwanted software on people’s browsers or direct them to low-quality search sites that serve up questionable results.” This is bad for the unsuspecting users but it’s also bad for democracy: “This could frustrate some voters and lead them to abandon their search for election information altogether,” writes the TTP.
October 6, 2020
So says the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, who today releases the findings of their extensive investigation of Big Tech’s anti-competitive behavior. Among other things, the 450-page report found that “Google created a wide-ranging monopoly that includes favoring its own services and demoting others,” writes CNBC. Moreover, it “abused its gatekeeper power over online search to coerce vertical websites to surrender valuable data and to leverage its search dominance into adjacent markets.” This report resounded through the press and right into the election season.
October 7, 2020
So it seems likely only yesterday (actually it was a week ago) that China decided to mount a Google antitrust investigation. Well, now the world’s second-most populous nation, India, is joining the fray, alleging that the company “abused its Android operating system’s position in the smart television market,” reports Yahoo! Finance. Think they’ve woken up in Mountain View yet? There’s big trouble brewing.
October 8, 2020
More and more countries say they’ve had it with Google getting away with profiting from other companies’ news content without paying for it. Today, the search giant loses its appeal against an order from France’s competition watchdog requiring it “to negotiate with publishers for reuse of snippets of their content,” reports TechCrunch. “The screw is also tightening on Google’s freebie reuse of news in Australia,” TechCrunch reminds us. The line of countries protecting their local press against Google’s misappropriation of profits is growing longer.
October 20, 2020
Today, following a 16-month investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice formally charges the search giant with antitrust violations. Opinions vary widely on how strong the DOJ’s case is, how tinged it is by political motivation, or even what a legal victory against Google would look like (for instance, how do you safely break up a company that has infiltrated every corner of online life?). We feel as overwhelmed as anyone else about it all but in our gut, we think Slate’s Chris Sagers has it right when he writes, “Whatever the motives and whatever the problems, I’m glad the government sued Google. Markets work better when the firms within them know there’s a sheriff in town.” With Google-enabled election upheaval nearly upon us, someone needed to try to rein this monster in. Now, someone has.
October 27, 2020
Whether the hundred private lawsuits emerge or not, there is more than enough public antitrust action to keep Google busy. Today, Italy opens an investigation into Google’s “alleged abuse of its dominant position in the Italian online display market,” reports Reuters. The specifics of the charge are becoming awfully familiar: Google used “enormous amounts of data collected through its own applications to prevent rival operators from competing effectively.”
October 28, 2020
Today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai makes yet another trip to the Hill, joining his fellow Big Tech bigwigs for another virtual hearing before Congress. The topic this time is Section 230, the safe harbor that shields internet companies from liability for harmful user activity on their platforms. Just days before an incredibly contentious election, the event is dominated by partisan talking points, but one unifying theme comes through loud and clear: elected officials across the board have a “lingering, widespread unease,” reports The Washington Post, “with the political and economic leverage [that Google, Facebook, and Twitter] have amassed and the ways they seek to wield it.”
November 9, 2020
So far, we have seen antitrust suits against Google over everything from its alleged market abuse of display ads to its unfair deals with phone makers. Today, India’s antitrust watchdog adds a new wrinkle, opening an investigation into Google’ payments service. The probe, reports TechCrunch, joins two other potential Google antitrust inquiries in India over “allegedly abusing the dominance of Android in the smart TV market, and dominance of Android in the mobile market.”
November 12, 2020
Here is a hint – its name begins with “G” and ends with “oogle”. Today, a study by NortonLifelock Research Group and IMDEA Software Institute reveals that, while 87% of all app installs emanated from Google’s Play Store, 67% of all malicious apps also emanate from the Play Store. “That isn’t to say the Play Store is lacking in security to stop malicious apps,” reports PC Mag, “but the sheer size and popularity of Google’s store means any that slip through the cracks are going to reach a very wide audience.” The same could be said about misinformation, hate speech, piracy, and all the other elements of Google’s toxic cesspool. The company is simply too big to control the spread of harm by its users.
December 2, 2020
After a relatively quiet November on the Google scandal front, December begins with a bang as the U.S. National Labor Relations Board files a complaint alleging the company “illegally terminated and surveilled employees,” reports CNBC. The agency also accuses the company of blocking workers from “sharing work grievances and information with each other….” But hey, at least those cafeteria omelet bars are top-notch, right? Nope, no good – Google is keeping its workforce at home through summer 2021. Make your own damn omelets.
December 3, 2020
Turns out the NLRB’s accusations are only the beginnings of Google’s HR woes this month. Today, The Washington Post reports on Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial-intelligence computer scientist who Google “abruptly fired… for sending an email criticizing the company’s treatment of minority employees”. One of the few black women in her field, Gebru had spearheaded crucial research into facial recognition software bias against people of color. Firing her seemingly without cause is not only a very bad look – it brings up urgent questions about, as Wired puts it, “the racial homogeneity of the AI workforce and the inefficacy of corporate diversity programs to the center of the discourse.” And AI is no longer limited to the lab… it’s loose in the world, and AI-driven systems “make determinations that directly shape lives, at the same time that they are embedded in organizations structured to reinforce histories of racial discrimination.”
December 4, 2020
Today, a devastating New York Times piece exposes some of the horrific abuse being monetized by online pornography sites such as Pornhub. “The problem goes far beyond one company,” writes the Times’ Nicholas Kristof. “Google returns 920 million videos on a search for ‘young porn.’ Top hits include a video of a naked ‘very young teen’ engaging in sex acts on XVideo along with a video on Pornhub whose title is unprintable here.” What is left to be said? If any other company in any other industry were enabling such horrors, it would be shut down immediately. At Google, it is all in a day’s work.
December 10, 2020
Google’s global surveillance operation gets dinged today when France’s data protection authority, CNIL, slaps the company with a $121 million (100 million Euro) fine “over the way it manages cookies on its search engine,” writes Bloomberg. At issue is the “allegedly harmful way people’s data is being processed in advertising transactions.” Though the monetary amount is a relative pittance to a company valued at north of a trillion dollars, it comes with an ultimatum: Google must better inform users about how their data is being used within three months or it will face additional fines of 100,000 euros per day. It also shows that the European Union is getting more and more serious about holding Google accountable.
December 15, 2020
And now the European Union is getting really serious about holding Google accountable. Today, the European Commission unveils sweeping new competition rules that threaten tech giants like Google with up to “ten percent of their total worldwide annual turnover,” writes The Hill, “or be forced to sell off portions of their businesses.” Dubbed the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, the new rules focus on forcing internet gatekeepers to, respectively, ensure “fair and open digital markets” and remove harmful and illegal content. Ultimately, the two proposals “serve one purpose”, said EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager: “to make sure that we, as users, have access to a wide choice of safe products and services online.”
December 16, 2020
Today, a group of state attorneys general led by Texas files a new antitrust suit targeting Google’s advertising technology services. Where the earlier case from the Department of Justice focuses on the company’s search domination, this one, reports CNBC, “claims Google unlawfully acquired, attempted to acquire, or maintained a monopoly in several steps of the online ad market including both buy and sell sides.” But the filing’s real headline-grabber is its allegation that Google teamed up with Facebook to harm competition “through an unlawful agreement to rig auctions and fix prices.” What’s next – a partnership between Lex Luthor and Doctor Doom?
December 17, 2020
On the heels of yesterday’s multi-state complaint, another group of 38 states and territories has handed Google “its third government antitrust lawsuit in less than two months,” CNBC today reports. This latest addition to the litigation pile claims that “Google illegally maintained a monopoly in general search and search advertising through anticompetitive conduct and contracts.” The allegation has similarities to the DOJ’s original suit, filed last October, but digs deeper into the company’s wheelings and dealings, including how they have impacted news publishers. The “core charge is that publishers all over the country have been routinely ripped off,” says Wall Street Journal owner, News Corp, in a statement, “which is bad news for freedom of the press, journalism and an informed society”.
December 23, 2020
Reuters today reports that Google’s “new review procedure” discourages its in-house scientists from “casting its technology in a negative light” in their research. The story follows the company’s recent dismissal of respected AI researcher Timnit Gebru, who claimed “Google fired her after she questioned an order not to publish research claiming AI that mimics speech could disadvantage marginalized populations.” This continues a disturbing pattern of Google interfering with crucial studies of its own potential technology harms.
January 4, 2021
Years of Google employee activism – much of it chronicled on this very timeline – culminate today as more than 400 of the company’s engineers and other workers form a union. Of course, Google has one of the world’s best-paid workforces, and the new Alphabet Workers Union is less interested in new contract negotiations than it is in giving “structure and longevity to activism at Google,” reports The New York Times. “Our issues are going much broader,” said one engineer. “It is a time where a union is an answer to these problems.”
January 11, 2021
Today, the streaming video site Rumble sues Google in federal court in California for allegedly “[tilting] search engine results toward its sister company YouTube,” reports Bloomberg Law. The lawsuit “is the latest of dozens launched by competitors, publishers, advertisers, and consumers alleging a wide array of anti-competitive tactics aimed at cornering the online search and advertising markets.” You may remember that back in this timeline’s October 22 entry, one legal expert predicted “an onslaught of private antitrust lawsuits” against Google, by claimants emboldened by multiple public suits from the DOJ and others. That onslaught has clearly begun, and it is growing fast.
January 22, 2021
Sometimes the only thing that seems able to really slow a corporate behemoth like Google is… one of its fellow corporate behemoths. Today, Forbes speculates that Apple’s pending move to require user opt-in to its advertiser identifier could cost Google’s search business as much as $17 billion over the next 12 months. Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is what allows companies like Google and Facebook to track users’ every move, and it is how they personalize ads so efficiently to our unique history, interests, and activity. Without it, Google’s global surveillance operation cannot function properly.
January 26, 2021
There isn’t much that Americans agree on anymore, but one thing that seems to transcend partisanship is the movement to break up Big Tech. Today, Vox reports that some 59% of people surveyed in its new poll support the growing number of lawsuits designed to limit the size and power of companies like Google and Facebook. Sure, voters’ motivations for backing the efforts vary widely, but the general sentiment is that “the economic power of these tech companies is a problem facing the US economy,” writes Vox. And that’s a big problem for Big Tech.
February 4, 2021
Today’s addition to the growing Google antitrust pile feels particularly noteworthy – and not only because it comes from an unlikely state like West Virginia. The federal lawsuit is also “the first of its kind filed by a news outlet,” reports The Wall Street Journal – namely, HD Media LLC, the owner of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Fed up with having ad revenue “siphoned away”, HD Media owner Doug Reynolds “felt the political and legal climate have moved in our favor,” he told WSJ, and so they have taken up a court battle with a company that is “more powerful than Standard Oil in its heyday.”
February 5, 2021
Led by Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA), three senators today announce a new bill to “reform Section 230 and allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms.” The Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act seeks to hold companies like Google accountable “for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long.” By creating targeted exceptions to Section 230’s broad immunity, the law has the potential to usher in a new era for “the safety and civil rights of Americans and people around the world, as well as our democracy,” said co-sponsor Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Is now the time?
February 19, 2021
Already in hot water for its ouster of star AI researcher Timnit Gebru, Google’s method of dealing with the heat appears to be by fanning the flames. Axios reports today on the company’s firing of yet another leader in artificial intelligence, Margaret Mitchell. The co-head of Google’s “ethical AI” team, Mitchell had “posted a tweet critical of Google’s handling of Gebru and a subsequent meeting between CEO Sundar Pichai and historically Black college and university leaders.” Sure, maybe she should not have bitten the hand that fed her, but on the flipside, maybe Google should stop canning its best employees for publicly calling out its own terrible behavior – especially those employees trying to make its incredibly powerful automated systems more equitable for all of us.
July 18, 2022
Because Google tried to stall off a $5 billion lawsuit, a U.S. federal judge in California has ordered the tech behemoth to pay $971,000 in fees for the opposing lawyers. Filed in 2020, the lawsuit seeks class-action certification to sue Google for tracking Chrome users while they browsed the internet in Incognito mode, which Google misrepresented as a private option. Legal expenses for the plaintiffs mounted as Google remained behindhand in providing witness lists and relevant evidence. Therefore, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen ordered Google to pay part of the plaintiffs’ attorney fees. In poker, you only slow-roll opponents when you have a winning hand. Google tries it when afraid of losing.
Fine Tracker: $971,000
July 27, 2022
Despite past promises, Google has announced that it won’t implement its Privacy Sandbox, intended to stop third-party tracking of your data, until the latter half of 2024. In the meantime, Google’s Chrome browser will continue to allow third-party tracking cookies, the cornerstone of Google’s micro-targeted ad business. Initially, Google promised to disable third-party cookies by 2022; subsequently, it rescheduled the “cookiepocalypse” for 2023. Since improvements for user privacy have been put off once again, we’re pretty sure that this story is about a dystopia maintained – not an apocalypse averted.
August 8, 2022
Google has sued its former collaborator Sonos, alleging the speaker manufacturer has infringed seven Google Voice Assistant patents. In January, the U.S. International Trade Commission banned import of certain Google products because they were found to infringe five Sonos patents. Now, according to a Sonos spokesperson, Google has retaliated with spurious claims because it hopes to “grind down a smaller competitor.” Of course, Google would never abuse the law to bully a rival, so we’re sure the present dispute is a simple misunderstanding. NOT.
September 14, 2022
The EU’s second-highest court confirmed that Google must pay over $4 billion in fines, almost precisely mirroring the previous order of the European Commission. The executive body levied a €4.34 billion fine in 2018 because Google unfairly stifled competition. Specifically, Google pressured smartphone manufacturers to use the Android operating system without modifications and to preinstall 11 Google apps, including Search, Chrome, Play Store, YouTube, Maps, and Mail. The court approved fines up to €4.125 billion, which means Google’s appeal shaved off almost $250 million. Although we hope the difference is not enough to cover the tech behemoth’s legal expenses, we also hope Google won’t further drag the case out by using its go-to legal strategy – temper tantrums.
Fine Tracker: $4,000,971,000
October 20, 2022
After a multiyear investigation, the Competition Commission of India fined Google $161.9 million for abusing its dominant position in markets for smartphone operating systems (Android), online search (Google Search), web browsers (Chrome), video platforms (YouTube), and app stores (Google Play Store). Android software powers 97% of India’s 600 million smartphones, and India has more users of Google services than any other country. Less than one week later, the Competition Commission fined Google an additional $113 million for violations specific to the Google Play Store. Among other things, the government ordered Google to start allowing third-party payment processors.
Fine Tracker: $4,275,871,000
November 14, 2022
Claiming that problematic practices have already been corrected, Google agreed to pay $391.5 million to settle a lawsuit from 40 state attorneys general. According to prosecutors, Google tricked users by gathering geolocation data while letting users believe tracking was turned off. Notably, private data was collected even when apps didn’t require it. Although the settlement broke the record for multistate privacy lawsuits, the amount paled in comparison to to Google’s revenues – over $69 billion in just the third quarter of 2022.
Fine Tracker: $4,667,371,000
November 29, 2022
After an investigation by the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and seven state attorneys general, Google has promised to pay $9.4 million to avoid prosecution for deceptive advertising. In a scheme carried out during 2019-2020, Google hired radio hosts at 12 major networks to praise the Pixel 4 phone – without trying it first. The FTC documented 29,000 instances of false endorsements, including puff pieces Google wrote and radio hosts delivered. Of course, since Google’s annual revenue is expected to exceed $280 billion, the tech behemoth can write the settlement off as the cost of doing business – that business being invading people’s privacy.
Fine Tracker: $4,676,771,000
December 21, 2022
In a damning study, ProPublica discovered that Google’s Display Network helps to sell ad space for publishers of misinformation, porn sites like Female Prison Pals, and manga (Japanese comics) piracy rings. While pressuring its competitors to identify digital ad sellers, Google discloses names for only 23% of its own, and web domains for only 11%. As ProPublica further demonstrated, Google continued doing business with a Bulgaria-based company even after learning that it placed ads on manga piracy sites and used bots to increase traffic artificially, defrauding advertisers. Ads from major, reputable brands – as well as from Google’s own, disreputable brand – appeared on the piracy sites. Of course, Google profits from such transactions, so it had little incentive to clean up its act until ProPublica asked for comment.