Google Archive

YouTube has started blocking ad blockers

When watching videos yesterday, one Redditor encountered a popup informing them that “Ad blockers are not allowed on YouTube”. The message offered a button to “Allow YouTube ads” in the person’s ad blocking software and went on to explain that ads make the service free for billions of users and that YouTube Premium offers an ad-free experience. It even provided a button to easily sign up for a YouTube Premium membership. This was always going to happen.

Google Bard isn’t available in any European Union countries and Canada

On a support page, Google details the full list of 180 countries in which Bard is now available. This includes countries all over the globe, but very noticeably not any countries that are a part of the European Union. It’s a big absence from what is otherwise a global expansion for Google’s AI. The reason why isn’t officially stated by Google, but it seems reasonable to believe that it’s related to GDPR. Just last month, Italy briefly banned ChatGPT over similar concerns that the AI couldn’t comply with the regulations. Google also slyly hints this might be the case saying that further Bard expansions will be made “consistent with local regulations.” In other words, Bard probably does things that run afoul of the stricter privacy regulations in the EU. Make of that what you will.

Google unveils new tool to get context about images

Have you ever found yourself in this position? You see an image on a website, in your feed, or in a message from a friend — and you think, “this doesn’t feel quite right.” Is the image being shown in the right context? Has it been manipulated or faked? Where did it come from? When you’re trying to figure out if a piece of information or an image is reliable, having the full story is key. That’s why we’re expanding our ongoing work in information literacy to include more visual literacy and help people quickly and easily assess the context and credibility of images. In the coming months, we’re launching a new tool called About this image. This is a great idea, and I hope it works as intended. While I doubt it’ll be perfect, it’ll make it much easier to quickly verify where an image came from, just how genuine or fake it is, if it’s been edited, and more. It’s not giving a simple “yay” or “nay”, but instead gives the user the data it can then use to make their own informed decision. This is the kind of stuff Google should be doing.

The AI takeover of Google Search starts now

The future of Google Search is AI. But not in the way you think. The company synonymous with web search isn’t all in on chatbots (even though it’s building one, called Bard), and it’s not redesigning its homepage to look more like a ChatGPT-style messaging system. Instead, Google is putting AI front and center in the most valuable real estate on the internet: its existing search results. A good overview of some of the “AI” stuff Google is integrating into Search. Many of these actually seem quite useful and well thought out, but time will tell if the wider web will be able to game these new tools in the same way SEO killed regular Search.

Google unveils “Perspectives” filter to combat SEO, low-quality content

Google I/O, Google’s developer conference, started today, and there has been a deluge of news coming out of the advertising giant. I do not intend to cover every single bit of I/O news, instead choosing to focus one some of the more interesting bits and pieces. In the coming weeks, when you search for something that might benefit from the experiences of others, you may see a Perspectives filter appear at the top of search results. Tap the filter, and you’ll exclusively see long- and short-form videos, images and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites and social media platforms. We’ll also show more details about the creators of this content, such as their name, profile photo or information about the popularity of their content. Basically, this is a “remove SEO garbage” button. Whenever I need to find some answer to a tech issue or see if other people are experiencing a bug, regular Google search is entirely useless, as the results are overflowing with useless SEO/AI garbage, so I do what a lot of us do: append “reddit” to our queries to get content from real people. With this new Perspectives filter, Google seems to finally acknowledge that their regular search results are useless, and that what users really want is genuine results written by normal humans. I really hope this works as advertised.

What happens when Google Search doesn’t have the answers?

And yet, 25 years on, Google Search faces a series of interlocking AI-related challenges that together represent an existential threat to Google itself.  The first is a problem of Google’s own making: the SEO monster has eaten the user experience of search from the inside out. Searching the web for information is an increasingly user-hostile experience, an arbitrage racket run by search-optimized content sharks running an ever-changing series of monetization hustles with no regard for anything but collecting the most pennies at the biggest scale. AI-powered content farms focused on high-value search terms like heat-seeking missiles are already here; Google is only now catching up, and its response to them will change how it sends traffic around the web in momentous ways. That leads to the second problem, which is that chat-based search tools like Microsoft’s Bing and Google’s own Bard represent something that feels like the future of search, without any of the corresponding business models or revenue that Google has built up over the past 25 years. If Google Search continues to degrade in quality, people will switch to better options — a switch that venture-backed startups and well-funded competitors like Microsoft are more than happy to subsidize in search of growth, but which directly impacts Google’s bottom line. At the same time, Google’s paying tens of billions annually to device makers like Apple and Samsung to be the default search engine on phones. Those deals are up for renewal, and there will be no pity for Google’s margins in these negotiations. Search on the web is in a terrible state right now. Searching for anything on Google is a horrible experience, with results riddled with ads and an endless stream of SEO’d garbage content of low to no quality. Alternatives, such as DuckDuckGo, aren’t much better, and tend to promote garbage anti-science and fascist nonsense if you’re not careful enough. At this point I just don’t know what to use to find stuff on the web, and tend to just go straight to sites that I think have the best odds of containing a relevant result (e.g. going straight to Reddit when dealing with some obscure bug or software issue). I know there are even smaller competitors, but I don’t hold high hopes they can offer the same breadth as Google once did, or even DuckDuckGo sometimes does now. It’s not looking pretty out there.

Google’s answer to ChatGPT, Google Bard, is out

Google Bard is out—sort of. Google says you can now join the waitlist to try the company’s generative AI chatbot at the newly launched site. The company is going with “Bard” and not the “Google Assistant” chatbot branding it was previously using. Other than a sign-up link and an FAQ, there isn’t much there right now. Google’s blog post calls Bard “an early experiment,” and the project is covered in warning labels. The Bard site has a bright blue “Experiment” label right on the logo, and the blog post warns, “Large language models will not always get it right. Feedback from a wide range of experts and users will help Bard improve.” A disclaimer below the demo input box warns, “Bard may display inaccurate or offensive information that doesn’t represent Google’s views.” Google’s Android keyboard and spell checker still can’t get “it’s” vs. “its” right 80% of the time, so I’m not holding my breath.

What ails Google, and how it can turn things around

Google has 175,000+ capable and well-compensated employees who get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year. Like mice, they are trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews, documents, meetings, bug reports, triage, OKRs, H1 plans followed by H2 plans, all-hands summits, and inevitable reorgs. The mice are regularly fed their “cheese” (promotions, bonuses, fancy food, fancier perks) and despite many wanting to experience personal satisfaction and impact from their work, the system trains them to quell these inappropriate desires and learn what it actually means to be “Googley” — just don’t rock the boat. As Deepak Malhotra put it in his excellent business fable, at some point the problem is no longer that the mouse is in a maze. The problem is that “the maze is in the mouse”. I have never worked at any company – other than the hardware store for 7-8 years when I was a teenager and during university – so I have no idea if this is uncommon, but this sounds like my personal version of hell. No wonder Google has such a massive graveyard.

US accuses Google of abusing monopoly in ad technology

The Justice Department and a group of eight states sued Google on Tuesday, accusing it of illegally abusing a monopoly over the technology that powers online advertising, in the agency’s first antitrust lawsuit against a tech giant under President Biden and an escalation in legal pressure on one of the world’s biggest internet companies. The lawsuit said Google had “corrupted legitimate competition in the ad tech industry by engaging in a systematic campaign to seize control of the wide swath of high-tech tools used by publishers, advertisers and brokers to facilitate digital advertising.” More of this, please.

Chrome ends support for Windows 7/8.1 in early 2023

With the release of Chrome 110 (tentatively scheduled for February 7th, 2023), we’ll officially end support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. You’ll need to ensure your device is running Windows 10 or later to continue receiving future Chrome releases. This matches Microsoft’s end of support for Windows 7 ESU and Windows 8.1 extended support on January 10th, 2023. It’s time.

Google annunced KataOS, an open source operating system for machine learning

To begin collaborating with others, we’ve open sourced several components for our secure operating system, called KataOS, on GitHub, as well as partnered with Antmicro on their Renode simulator and related frameworks. As the foundation for this new operating system, we chose seL4 as the microkernel because it puts security front and center; it is mathematically proven secure, with guaranteed confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Through the seL4 CAmkES framework, we’re also able to provide statically-defined and analyzable system components. KataOS provides a verifiably-secure platform that protects the user’s privacy because it is logically impossible for applications to breach the kernel’s hardware security protections and the system components are verifiably secure. KataOS is also implemented almost entirely in Rust, which provides a strong starting point for software security, since it eliminates entire classes of bugs, such as off-by-one errors and buffer overflows. Another new open source operating system by Google. This time, it seems almost entirely focused on embedded machine learning applications, so it’s definitely a bit outside of my wheel house.

Google Stadia shutdown stuns indie developers

Swider wasn’t the only Stadia developer blindsided by Google’s late September announcement that the streaming gaming service would be shutting down next January. Game makers who talked to Ars (and some who shared their surprise on social media) all said they had no indication of Google’s shutdown plans before the public announcement. “During correspondence , we are exchanging emails—nothing showed us it could be the end of Stadia,” Swider said. What a shitshow.

Google gives adblockers in Chrome another year as it postpones Manifest V3

Last year, Google announced plans to phase out Manifest V2-based browser extensions in favor of new Manifest V3 policies. Although Manifest V3 promises increased safety and “peace of mind,” developers argue that the new rules hurt innovations, decrease performance, and cripple content blockers without giving much better security. Google initially wanted to disable Manifest V2 extensions in Chrome in January 2023 but has now decided to revise its plans. In a new Chrome Developers blog post, the company describes an updated timeframe for migrating from Manifest V2 to Manifest V3. Although Google remains on track to ditch old extensions, developers and customers gained one more year for using and supporting Manifest V2-based extensions. According to the revised schedule, Google will remove them from the Chrome Web Store on January 2024. Chrome is an advertising delivery platform first and foremost, and anyone with even a hint of foresight and a disdain for ads should’ve switched to Firefox years ago. At this point, using Chrome is self-inflicted.

Google shuts down Stadia

A few years ago, we also launched a consumer gaming service, Stadia. And while Stadia’s approach to streaming games for consumers was built on a strong technology foundation, it hasn’t gained the traction with users that we expected so we’ve made the difficult decision to begin winding down our Stadia streaming service. We’re grateful to the dedicated Stadia players that have been with us from the start. We will be refunding all Stadia hardware purchases made through the Google Store, and all game and add-on content purchases made through the Stadia store. Players will continue to have access to their games library and play through January 18, 2023 so they can complete final play sessions. We expect to have the majority of refunds completed by mid-January, 2023. Another Google product announced with much fanfare is shutting down, as many, many people expected it would be. It seems Google is at least handling the refunds properly, and I hope the Stadia controllers can still be used with other platforms so they don’t turn into e-waste. Another one for the graveyard.

Why YouTube decided to make its own video chip

Roughly seven years ago, Partha Ranganathan realized Moore’s law was dead. That was a pretty big problem for the Google engineering vice president: He had come to expect chip performance to double every 18 months without cost increases and had helped organize purchasing plans for the tens of billions of dollars Google spends on computing infrastructure each year around that idea. But now Ranganathan was getting a chip twice as good every four years, and it looked like that gap was going to stretch out even further in the not-too-distant future. So he and Google decided to do something about it. The company had already committed hundreds of millions of dollars to design its own custom chips for AI, called tensor processing units, or TPUs. Google has now launched more than four generations of the TPU, and the technology has given the company’s AI efforts a leg up over its rivals. Google uses all kinds of custom hardware throughout its operations, but you rarely hear about it. This article provides some insight into the custom hardware Google uses for YouTube transcoding.

US political campaign emails can bypass Google’s spam filters under a newly approved pilot project

Federal election regulators voted Thursday to allow Google to proceed with a plan to make it easier for campaign emails to bypass spam filters. Google’s proposal to run a pilot project changing the filters for political emails came after intense Republican criticism that spam filters were biased against conservatives, a charge the tech giant denies. In a sign of public disgust with spam, the Federal Election Commission received thousands of public comments urging it to deny the request. But a majority of the six-member commission decided that Google’s project did not constitute an improper in-kind political contribution that would violate federal campaign finance laws. This reminds me of Twitter admitting it won’t ban nazis because that would mean banning accounts of Republican politicians. I remember the days being biased against nazis was a good thing. Times sure do change.

The story behind Google’s in-house desktop Linux

If you look around Google’s Mountain View, CA offices, you’ll see Windows machines, Chromebooks, Macs — and gLinux desktops. G what, you ask? Well, in addition to  relying on Linux for its servers, Google has its very own Linux desktop distribution. You can’t get it — darn it! — but for more than a decade, Google has been baking and eating its own homemade Linux desktop distribution. The first version was Goobuntu. It’s not news that Google has it’s own in-house desktop Linux distribution, but this article provides some interesting insights into some of its unique aspects. The latest versions now use a rolling release model based on Debian, with a custom automated package building and testing tool on top, developed by Google. I’d love to see it in action and have it released to the public.

Gmail’s new look is now rolling out to everyone

We’ve been tracking the progress of Google’s interface refresh for Gmail since February, and as promised, the company says it’s now becoming available for all Gmail users. The rework pulls Meet, Chat, and Spaces closer together as part of the overall experience and includes elements from Google’s Material Design 3. It’s not stopping there and says that, later this year, we should see improvements to Gmail for tablet users, better emoji support, and more accessibility features, among other upgrades. I don’t like the Gmail web experience at all, and the changes over the recent years have done little to change my mind. I’m old-fashioned and prefer proper email applications that are fast, native, and integrate with my wider computing environments.

ChromeOS Flex officially released

Today, we’re excited to announce that ChromeOS Flex, the cloud-first, easy-to-manage, and fast operating system for PCs and Macs, is now ready for your fleet. Just like too much sun, software bloat, clunky hardware, and security vulnerabilities can cause unwanted damage. Thankfully, ChromeOS Flex is just the sunscreen your legacy devices need. And thanks to everyone who has participated in our early access program, we’ve been able to significantly improve the product in many areas while continuously certifying devices to run ChromeOS Flex. ChromeOS Flex is effectively ChromeOS for everyone who doesn’t want to buy ChromeOS hardware, based on Google’s acquisition of CloudReady. There are various community projects that offer the same, but having an official offering from Google is great for organisations and companies.

Google Chrome/Chromium experimenting with a Qt back-end

Public code reviews started this week on Qt platform support for Google’s Chromium open-source browser code. It looks like Google is at least evaluating the prospects of Qt toolkit support for the Chromium/Chrome UI. Chrome might get a Qt-based UI option before it even gets video decoding acceleration on Linux that doesn’t require custom builds or hacks. Possibly good news for KDE users.