Tag: Google

Google and Facebook investigated by Israeli tax man

The Israeli Tax Authority has opened an inquiry into the local antics of tech giants Google and Facebook.

The taxmen have conducted meetings with clients of Google, asking detailed questions about the methods used by Google and Facebook to conduct local operations.

Questions put to clients centered around the degree of involvement that local representatives of Google and Facebook had in designing marketing campaigns, and setting budgets and targets for clients.

Basically the Israeli’s are unsure if the Israeli teams were acting independently, or if they were referring business matters to overseas headquarters and then merely implementing corporate decisions in the local market.

Should the investigation conclude with the determination that Google and Facebook Israel teams are independently responsible for activities in the local market, the tax authority may recommend that the companies pay a rather a large tax to the Israeli government for business conducted within the country.

Facebook and Google claim that they operate in Ireland, thereby avoiding paying direct or indirect taxes to the Israeli government.

Research shows that total online advertising expenditures topped $333 million in Israel in 2015, with online taking an ever-expanding segment of budgets from traditional advertising. Of that $333 million, over half was dedicated to spending on social media and search sites, two areas dominated by Facebook and Google.

In April 2016, the Israel Tax Authority unveiled a new set of guidelines regarding tax liability for foreign corporations operating in Israel. Under these rules, an international company would owe taxes if its services were produced in Israel. To prevent double taxation with countries that have international tax agreements with Israel, the foreign corporation must have a permanent establishment within Israel.

A permanent establishment was defined as a physical space used by the business to conduct operations, or a virtual space – including a website – where agents are empowered to conduct local business and enter into contracts on behalf of the corporation.

Judge nixes Google email scanning “settlement”

A federal judge  has thrown out a legal settlement which would have only paid lawyers but nothing to consumers who had the contents of their email scanned by Google without their knowledge or permission.

In a six page order, Judge Lucy Koh told Google and class action attorneys the proposed settlement was insufficient. Not just because it failed to clearly tell consumers what the search giant had done.

“This notice is difficult to understand and does not clearly disclose the fact that Google intercepts, scans and analyses the content of emails sent by non-Gmail users to Gmail users for the purpose of creating user profiles of the Gmail users to create targeted advertising for the Gmail users,” Koh wrote.

The case is mostly over whether Google’s email scanning practices amount to illegal wiretaps and a violation of California privacy laws. Google won a related lawsuit several years ago involving Gmail users.  This case is different, however, because it involves people who use other email providers—such as Microsoft, or Yahoo but whose messages are scanned without their permission when they send an email to a Gmail customer.

Google agreed to change the way it scans incoming messages so that it no longer reads emails while they are in transit, but only when they are in someone’s inbox. This is mostly a technicality but the company and the class action lawyers agree it puts Google in the clear as far as wiretap laws and they get a lot of money out it.

Judge Koh said the settlement does not provide an adequate technical explanation of Google’s workaround, which involves scanning in-transit emails for security purposes, and then later parsing them for advertising data.

“It does not disclose that Google will scan the email of non-Gmail users while the emails are in transit for the “dual purpose” of creating user profiles and targeted advertising and for detecting spam and malware,” Koh wrote.

The judge also added that another settlement last year, involving Yahoo’s scanning of emails, did not reflect the facts of the Google case.

Koh wants the case to proceed further and for the class action lawyers to push Google for recent documents about how the email scanning process really works. As the judge notes, the current settlement relies on documents that are three to six years old.

Any future settlement will presumably also have to do more to inform email users about Google’s scanning practices and, possibly, direct some of the settlement money to consumers instead of only the lawyers. Under the deal Koh rejected, Google would have paid $2.2 million to the attorneys, plus up to $140,000 in online ads to publicise the agreement.

Koh’s concerns reflect a sore point among many, including judges, who feel a long string of privacy settlements with big tech companies have done little to compensate consumers or improve privacy.

Danish watchdog growls at Alphabet

A Danish consumer watchdog has reported Alphabet to the Danish Data Protection Agency for potentially breaking privacy laws.

What has got the Danes’ goat is that Alphabet was not capping the amount of time personal data is stored on Google’s servers.

Google and Facebook face increased scrutiny over how and where they store location and search history data from users of smartphones and mail accounts.

“The consumer council Taenk would like the Data Protection Agency to assess whether Google’s indefinite data collection complies with consumer’s basic right to privacy,” the watchdog snarled.

Google apparently has nearly a decade of data on users with a Google account,  the report claims.

Alphabet sues Uber over self-driving car tech

Old carsAlphabet’s Waymo self-driving car unit sued Uber’s autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto over claims that it stole confidential and proprietary sensor technology.

Waymo claims Uber and Otto nicked confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology to help speed its own efforts in autonomous technology.

Waymo’s complaint in the Northern District of California said that Uber’s LiDAR technology is actually Waymo’s LiDAR technology.

Uber said that it is considering the allegations.

Lidar, which uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on or near the road, is a crucial component of autonomous driving systems.

Previous systems have been prohibitively expensive and Waymo sought to design one over 90 percent cheaper, making its Lidar technology among the company’s “most valuable assets,” Waymo said.

Waymo is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a court order preventing Uber from using its proprietary information.

Otto launched in May, due in part to the high profile of one of its co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, who had been an executive on Google’s self-driving project.

Waymo said that before Levandowski’s resignation in January 2016 from Google he downloaded over 14,000 confidential files, including Lidar circuit board designs, thereby allowing Uber and Otto to fast-track its self-driving technology.

Waymo accused Levandowski of attempting to “erase any forensic fingerprints” by reformatting  his laptop.

“While Waymo developed its custom LiDAR systems with sustained effort over many years, defendants leveraged stolen information to shortcut the process and purportedly build a comparable LiDAR system in only nine months,” the complaint said.

 

Seven-year-old asks Google for a job

An “entrepreneurial” Hereford seven year old wrote to Google for a job and the outfit’s CEO replied.

Apparently, it was Chloe Bridgewater’s second letter, the first was to Father Christmas, and it was addressed to “dear Google boss”.

Much to everyone’s surprise, CEO Sundar Pichai wrote back and was not a dick about it.

After all he could have said Google only hires Chinese men at the moment, or that she lacked the five years’ programming experience before she could even considered.

Instead he told Chloe to work hard and follow her dreams.

Her dad Andy said the family was gobsmacked.

” I don’t think Chloe could understand the magnitude of the reaction she’d got afterwards,” he said.

“She’s got a great entrepreneurial spirit. Ever since nursery, she’s always been told in school reports she’s bright, hard-working and polite – we’re very proud of her and her younger sister [Hollie, five] is similar,” he said.

Pichai  wrote:

“Thank you so much for your letter. I’m glad that you like computers and robots, and hope that you will continue to learn about technology.

“I think if you keep working hard and following your dreams, you can accomplish everything you set your mind to – from working at Google to swimming at the Olympics.

“I look forward to receiving your job application when you are finished with school! 🙂

“All the best to you and your family.”

The inspiration for Chloe’s letter had been her internet research showing Google’s offices including bean bags, go karts and slides but she also highlighted a keen interest in computers which we thought would have been handy.

Chloe also admitted to an interest in a job in a chocolate factory or as a swimmer at the Olympics in the letter so it could go anyway.

Ireland might actually take on a big tech company

xblarneystone.jpg.pagespeed.ic.gZas-gsqnYThe nation which tends to give illegal sweeteners to big tech companies is gunning for Facebook.

Ireland’s privacy watchdog has launched a bid to refer Facebook’s data transfer mechanism to the European Union’s top court in a landmark case that could put the shifting of data across the Atlantic under renewed legal threat.

The move is the latest challenge to the various methods by which large tech firms such as Google and Apple move personal data of EU citizens back to the United States. It does not appear that Ireland is going for Google or Apple yet.

The issue of data privacy came to the fore after revelations in 2013 from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden of mass U.S. surveillance caused political outrage in Europe and stoked mistrust of large technology companies and an overhaul in the way businesses can move personal data – from human resources information to people’s browsing histories – so as to protect Europeans’ information against US surveillance.

Ireland’s data protection commissioner, who has jurisdiction over Facebook as its European headquarters are in Dublin, wants The Court of Justice of the European Union to determine the validity of Facebook’s “model contracts” – common legal arrangements used by thousands of firms to transfer personal data outside the 28-nation bloc.

Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon has formed the view that some of the complaints against the model contracts are “well founded.”
Collins said only the CJEU and not a national court or the Data Protection Commissioner has the jurisdiction to rule a European Commission decision invalid.

He said that under EU law, a transfer of data can only be made to a country outside the EU if that country ensures an adequate level of protection.

However the court agrees it could be a major headaches for companies that need to transfer personal data to the United States. Ironically Facebook is building a huge data centre in Ireland which is designed to prevent this sort of data shifting to the US.

The court has since agreed to a request to allow the United States government to join the case, potentially giving the new US administration a platform to lay out its views on surveillance laws. Since Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump has already signed an executive order which removes the safe harbour rules negotiated between the US and the EU it is unlikely that he will prove particularly helpful to Facebook.

Facebook, which is due to speak in court during the case, said in May that it was one of thousands of companies that used model clauses and said it had a number of legal ways of moving data to the United States.

Android bug bounties getting huge

bugGoogle wrote more than $3 million in cheques last year in bug bounties as security experts cashed in on Android flaws.

Pay outs in 2016 take Google’s total payments under its bug bounty schemes have increased dramatically 2015 it paid researchers $2 million.

Last year was the first full year Android was covered by Google’s bug bounty, which earned researchers nearly a cool million for finding and reporting issues to the Android security team. That figure is significantly more than the $200,000 it paid in 2015 after launching the Android rewards programme in June.

Google’s acknowledgements to individuals who’ve helped improved Android security has grown in recent years as it has expanded efforts to secure the operating system.

The Android bug bounty appeared when Google started its monthly Android security bulletins, which aims to encourage handset makers to deliver patches regularly to devices and allows end-users to see what date their phones are patched to.

Another million was given to researchers who reported bugs in the longer-running Chrome vulnerability rewards program.

The company says its three rewards programmes attracted over 350 researchers from 59 countries, while it issued over 1,000 individual rewards with the biggest single reward being $100,000.

Silicon Valley gears up to fight Trump

Donald-Trump-funnySilicon Valley is leading the corporate resistance to President Donald (Prince of Orange)Trump’s clampdown on immigration.

Apparently Big Tech is spending a fortune on financing legal opposition, criticising the plan, as well as helping employees ensnared by his executive order.

It had long been expected that Silicon Valley would fight back against Trump. The industry has depended on immigrants and championed liberal causes such as gay rights.

At the moment, it looks like they are still in the organisation stage. Over the weekend, as Trump tried to shut out immigrants from countries which he does not do business with, most in the tech industry stopped short of directly criticising the new Republican president.

Apple, Google and Microsoft offered legal aid to employees affected by the order. Several Silicon Valley executives donated to legal efforts to support immigrants facing the ban.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk and Uber head Travis Kalanick both said on Twitter that they would take industry concerns about immigration to Trump’s business advisory council, where they serve.

Kalanick has faced opposition on social media for agreeing to be part of the advisory group. Kalanick in a Facebook post on Sunday called the immigration ban “wrong and unjust” and said that Uber would create a $3 million fund to help drivers with immigration issues.

Khash Sajadi, the British-Iranian chief executive of San Francisco-based tech company Cloud 66, was stuck in London because of the ban.

Sajadi is hoping that bigger tech companies like Google and Facebook would take legal action to protect affected employees. That could help set a precedent for people in similar situations.

He warned that it is going to take legal action as people speaking up is not going to be enough.

The tech industry also has other matters where it may find itself opposed to Trump, including trade policy and cyber security.

Over the weekend startup incubator Y Combinator president, Sam Altman, wrote a widely read blog post urging tech leaders to band together against the immigration order. He said he has spoken with a variety of people about organising but remains unsure about the best course of action.

“The honest answer is we don’t know yet. We are talking with legal groups and tech groups, but this is so unprecedented that I don’t think anyone has a manual.”

At Lyft, co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green pledged on the company’s blog to donate a million dollars over the next four years to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which won a temporary stay of part of Trump’s executive order on Saturday night.

Dave McClure, the founding partner of 500 Startups and an outspoken critic of Trump, said his venture capital firm will soon open its first fund in the Middle East and will shift its attention to supporting entrepreneurs in their native countries, if bringing them to the United States proves impossible.

Ironically this will help countries identified by Trump as “enemies” develop their technology base.

 

Google boots 200 fake news sites

surprised-newspaper-readerGoogle kicked 200 publishers off one of its ad networks in the fourth quarter, partly in response to the proliferation of fake news sites.

The sites were banned from its AdSense network and is part of an update to an existing policy that prohibits sites from misleading users with their content.

Google regularly weeds out advertisers for false or misleading claims, but impersonating news sites became an addition following the rapid rise of fake news, or propaganda sites.

Publishers were banned in November and December and included sites that impersonate real news organisations through shortened top-level domains, according to Google’s 2016 “bad ads” report, normally released at the beginning of each year.

So-called fake news publishers will sometimes take advantage of “.co” domains by appearing like legitimate news sites that would normally end in “.com”.

Google said in 2016 it took down 1.7 billion ads for violations, compared to 780 million in 2015. Google attributes the increase in ad removals to a combination of advertiser behaviour and improvements in technology to detect offending ads.

Google kills off solar powered drone

s50wing3600x2025orig-1A Google division which was running a solar-powered drone programme is being mothballed as the outfit cuts back on its “moonshots”.

X, Alphabet’s moonshot division, has shut down a project with the unfortunate name Titan. Coincidently another project with the same name was run by Apple to build self-driving cars and it was shut down too. It seems that the Titans don’t approve.

Google bought Titan Aerospace in 2014. The outfit had been developing solar-powered drones that could fly for several days at a time and take images of earth or beam down internet.

Titan was folded into X and then into Project Wing which works on delivery drones. An X representative said Google would focus on Project Loon, which makes high-altitude balloons, for delivering internet from the sky.

Loon is a more promising way to connect rural and remote parts of the world. Many people from the Titan team are now using their expertise as part of other high flying projects at X, including Loon and Project Wing, Google said.