Posts

google

Texas Sues Google Over Facial Data Collection

The state of Texas is suing Google for illegally collecting Texans’ facial and voice recognition information without their consent, according to a statement issued by the state attorney general’s office on Thursday.

For over a decade, a Texas consumer protection law has barred companies from collecting data on Texans’ faces, voices or other biometric identifiers without receiving prior informed consent. Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, said Google violated this law by recording identifiers such as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or record of hand or face geometry.

“In blatant defiance of that law, Google has, since at least 2015, collected biometric data from innumerable Texans and used their faces and their voices to serve Google’s commercial ends. Indeed, all across the state, everyday Texans have become unwitting cash cows being milked by Google for profits.”

The law imposes a $25,000 fine for every violation. According to reports, millions of users in Texas had their information stored. The complaint explicitly references the Google Photos app, Google’s Nest camera, and Google Assistant as means of collection.

Embed from Getty Images

A spokesman for Google, José Castañeda, accused Paxton of “mischaracterizing” products in “another breathless lawsuit.”

“For example, Google Photos helps you organize pictures of people by grouping similar faces, so you can easily find old photos. Of course, this is only visible to you, and you can easily turn off this feature if you choose and we do not use photos or videos in Google Photos for advertising purposes. The same is true for Voice Match and Face Match on Nest Hub Max, which are off-by-default features that give users the option to let Google Assistant recognize their voice or face to show their information. We will set the record straight in court.”

This lawsuit is the latest in a string of major cases brought against the company. Earlier this month, Arizona settled a privacy suit against Google for $85 million. Indiana, Washington and the District of Columbia also sued Google in January over privacy invasions related to location tracking.

In a much larger antitrust case, 36 states filed a lawsuit against Google in July over its control of the Android app store.

Paxton has gone after large technology corporations in the past for their privacy and monopolizing practices. In 2020, his office joined nine other states in filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google, which accused it of “working with Facebook Inc. in an unlawful manner that violated antitrust law to boost its already-dominant online advertising business.”

Embed from Getty Images

After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Paxton demanded Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to be transparent about their content moderation procedures. This year, he also opened an investigation into Twitter over its reported percentage of fake accounts, saying that the company may be disingenuous about its numbers to inflate its value and raise its revenue.

In February, Paxton sued Meta for facial recognition software it provided users to help tag photos. The lawsuit is ongoing. However, Instagram is now required to ask for permission to analyze Texans’ facial features to properly use facial filters.

“Google’s indiscriminate collection of the personal information of Texans, including very sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be tolerated. I will continue to fight Big Tech to ensure the privacy and security of all Texans.”

In 2009, Texas revealed its privacy law, which covered biometric identifiers. Other states were implementing similar laws around the country during this same time. Texas was unique in that in the case of violations, the state of Texas would have to sue on behalf of the consumers.

Corporate Google Building

Alphabet, Google’s Parent Company, Earns $65 Billion In Revenue Thanks To Online Ads

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, posted that they earned $65 billion in revenue during the third-quarter, exceeding Wall Street’s initial predictions and doubling their expected profits thanks to online advertisements. 

Over the last three months Alphabet’s revenue rose by 41% to $65.2 billion, marking its largest revenue figure in 14 years. Before the pandemic the corporation posted a profit of $21 billion.

Embed from Getty Images

Alphabet saw its share price increase by 57% as well for the year. This makes it the best performer of all the “FAANG” companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google). Its advertising revenue alone rose to $53 billion, up from $37.1 billion last year. 

Revenue from Alphabet’s cloud division rose by 45% to $4.99 billion, trailing behind Amazon Web Service and Microsoft Azure. Operation losses for the sector decreased by nearly 50%, from $1.2 billion to $644 million. 

Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet and Google, said “search is the heart of what we do. This quarter’s results show how our investments there are enabling us to build more helpful products for people and our partners.”

“Google campuses and cloud services will be run on carbon-free energy by 2030, and Google’s maps function will offer drivers an eco-option to find more fuel efficient routes to destinations and a wildfire system, so that consumers can make quick and informed decisions during emergencies.”

Embed from Getty Images

Chief business officer Philipp Schindler said “it’s clear that uncertainty is the new normal for the global economic outlook, as uneven access to Covid vaccines affect different countries and regions experienced rates of economic recovery. The world is in flux. When it comes to anticipating change, predicting demand and investing in innovation, businesses need as much support now as they did a year and a half ago.”

In shopping, Schindler said, “some regions were experiencing a fourfold increase in search activity. Often those searches preceded in-person visits to stores. Bricks-and-mortar isn’t dead. Instead omni-channel [shopping] is in full force.”

Alphabet also emphasized their commitment to high-quality and accurate journalism, as well as open-access to information for all. Schindler explained that within the last quarter the company has added 120 news providers to it’s 1,000 information sources on Google’s News Showcase. 

Google intends to also purchase a New York City office building for $2.1 billion in the near future, as well as another campus in Silicon Valley, as a means of motivating employees to come back to the office.

Fitbit

Google in Talks to Buy Fitbit

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is currently in talks to purchase the fitness-oriented smartwatch manufacturer Fitbit, according to Reuters. In response to the news, Fitbit’s stock rose by 18% before the stock was halted. If the purchase goes through, the implications for both companies as well as for the smartwatch industry generally could be significant.

While Fitbit enjoyed tremendous popularity with the release of its original fitness trackers, which introduced the concept of tracking one’s health with a smartphone-connected wearable device to many consumers, the company has since been overshadowed by the release of competing products, not the least of which is the Apple Watch. Apple’s take on the smartwatch concept includes essentially all of the fitness-related features Fitbit’s products offer, including heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking, while adding unique features and integrating deeply with the company’s iOS platform. Google, on the other hand, has found little success with its Android Wear operating system, and the Android-compatible smartwatch market in general suffers from an overabundance of mutually-incompatible software choices, including Samsung’s Tizen and Fitbit’s proprietary operating system.

Embed from Getty Images

The acquisition of Fitbit, then, could potentially lead to an abandonment of the Wear OS platform, which has failed to meaningfully take off with both manufacturers and third-party software developers, and the integration of Fitbit’s software more deeply into the Android operating system, among other outcomes. Though Google has recently made strides in its hardware offerings, the company has never manufactured a smartwatch. Currently, Fitbit products are compatible with both iOS and Android devices, providing near-identical functionality on both; it remains to be seen whether a Google-owned Fitbit would continue to produce devices that work with Apple’s line of smartphones. In the past, Google has shown more of a willingness to work with its competitor’s platform than Apple has; Google has made many of its applications available on Apple’s App Store, while the inverse is not true. As such, there’s a good case to be made that a Google-owned Fitbit would continue to make fitness trackers that work with iPhones, though they may begin to include Android-only features stemming from a close relationship between the manufacturer and their potential parent company.

In a bid to maintain its relevancy amidst increasing competition from larger manufacturers, Fitbit acquired Pebble, one of the very first smartwatch manufacturers which began life on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, in 2016. This coincided with the discontinuation of all Pebble smartwatches as the original team was absorbed into the larger company, much to the disappointment of fans of the first significant smartwatch. Today’s news suggests that Google is poised to make a similar move. While the Fitbit brand still has sway over consumers, the company’s notoriety is fading, and Google is focused on unifying its hardware offerings under the Pixel brand umbrella following the announcement of its Pixel 4 smartphone, the new Pixelbook, and the upcoming Pixel Buds. Google has also recently discussed its focus on “ambient computing,” or a way of interacting with computers that blends seamlessly into the user’s ordinary life. As such, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Google shutter the development of Fitbit-branded devices, instead announcing a “Pixel Watch” or something similar, which would combine the health-tracking capabilities now standard on smartwatches with new Android-specific features.

As of now, of course, it’s unclear what these features could entail, but Google’s unmatched investment in developing artificial intelligence combined with their focus on ambient computing could offer clues. For several years, Google has developed and refined its Google Assistant, which is featured on Android phones as well as the Google Home line of smart speakers; it stands to reason that the virtual assistant would make the leap to any potential Google smartwatch. Additionally, Google has debuted radar-based gesture recognition technology on the Pixel 4, which allows users to control their phone by moving their hands over the screen; a similar system, if executed effectively, would seem right at home on a Google smartwatch. As Google has a history of making surprising and innovative technological developments, particularly in the areas of neural networks and machine learning, the company has a lot of potential to make waves with its take on the smartwatch.