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07.21.17 | 8:35 pm

The record sums tech giants just spent to influence U.S. law in the Trump era, in a handy chart

As they searched for their sea legs amid the strong currents of a new administration, technology companies spent a record amount—$15.79 million—on lobbying politicians at the White House and in Congress during the second quarter of 2017.

While spending by Microsoft was down over the same three-month period in 2016, some companies' spending surged. Alphabet spent $5.9 million, up 40% over last year; Oracle spent $2.79 million, a 45% hike; Uber spent a record $430,000 in its tumultuous second quarter, a 26% climb over 2016; Palantir, cofounded by billionaire Peter Thiel, spent a record $380,000, up 46% over last year; and Apple spent $2.2 million, an almost 80% increase from last year. The big splurge contributed to a surge in lobbyist revenues during the same period.

What are they after? While the tech companies' latest public campaigns have centered around net neutrality, their objectives before the White House and Congress include responses to the president's travel ban, immigration, STEM innovation, privacy regulations, small businesses, digital terrorism, and freedom of expression, as Recode notes. Tax reform is also a major issue, as tech companies contemplate how to repatriate overseas cash. (An analysis by Moody's released this week says that five of the country's largest tech companies — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle — have a collective $512 billion in money abroad.

There are more company-specific objectives too. Amazon, for instance, also lobbied a variety of federal agencies for issues related to Wi-Fi and device accessibility, copyright reform, renewable energy tax reform, drones, cybersecurity, immigration, and autonomous vehicles. A few companies are fighting a proposal in Congress that would impose new limits on how companies tap users' data to sell ads.

Aside from advancing their business priorities, some of the companies are also likely thinking defense. Back in May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump suggested that Amazon has a "huge antitrust problem." As the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post reports, the lobbying comes amid new regulations and penalties in Europe, while "in recent months, some in Washington have called for increased scrutiny of tech's dominant platforms." 

07.19.17 | 9:37 am

Facebook and Google are making people forget where they get their news

A new study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford shows that when people discover news via search or social media, they often forget who actually wrote the story. 

"Less than half could remember the name of the news brand for a particular story when coming from search or social media," the report found. Conversely, people were more likely to remember the platform on which they found it. So instead of saying "I read this New York Times article," online news readers are more likely to simply state, "I found the post on Facebook."

The study underscores one of the biggest existential crises facing media brands in the age of digital media: As outlets increasingly rely on platforms like Facebook and Google, news content is looking more homogenous—and brands are losing the qualities that make them distinct. On Facebook, one Instant Articles post looks a heck of a lot like every other. The findings are also not a good sign in the fight against fake news: If people can't recall the actual source of the post—and instead simply remember how they found it—how do they know if it's from a trusted source?

This is one of the many reasons why newspapers are banding together to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google. News Media Alliance president David Chavern told me last week that brand dilution on digital platforms is one of the things that's killing the news business. You can read my interview with him here

[Photo: HStocks/iStock]

07.19.17 | 5:38 am

Google wants to be more like Facebook with its new news feed

The company has announced an overhaul of its iOS and Android search app, which will now display a Facebook News Feed-like list of stories, events, and content related to your hobbies, reports Reuters. Appropriately, Google is calling this new feature "Google Feed," and it puts the company in direct competition with other online services that base the user experience around news feeds, such as Facebook and Twitter. Google Feed will roll out to mobile devices in the U.S. starting today and other countries around the world in the coming week.

[Image: Google]

07.18.17 | 9:14 am

Google Glass is the comeback we didn’t expect in 2017

Here are two comebacks I did not expect to see this year: Kesha and Google Glass. But here we are. While I'm very excited for the former's new music, the latter Google project is surely going to have people scratching their heads. 

In a Medium post, Glass project lead Jay Kothari explained that the revamped head-worn device is for the enterprise, which is something Google said it would do when the consumer version of Glass turned into such an utter failure. GE mechanics are already using the new specs, as are workers in an agricultural machinery company and at least one doctor's office. 

The basic idea is still the same: It's a small computer in front of the eyes that will give people instant references and tools to play around with. But most of the pictures show being matched with plastic protective eyewear (because that somehow makes the device look better). 

Will this latest iteration be just what Google needs to revitalize Glass? Who knows! Although here's a fun tech writer secret: The moment anyone writes "enterprise," 90% of eyes glaze over. So at the very least, this new version of Glass will most likely receive less public derision.

[Photo: Alphabet X] 

07.17.17 | 5:25 am

Google wins a victory against the Labor Department’s investigation into its gender pay gap

A judge has issued a provisional ruling that says Google does not have to hand over the details of 21,000 employees to the Labor Department, reports the Washington Post. The Labor Department had sought the information so it could investigate whether a Google "systemic" pay gap exists between what Google pays male versus female employees. If the ruling is finalized, it will be a significant victory for Google. Explaining the ruling, the judge who issued it said that the Labor Department did not give a good enough reason why they needed so much data and that by providing such a large amount could lead to Google employees being exposed to identity theft.

07.13.17 | 5:18 am

Google just got out of a $1.3 billion tax bill in France

French tax authorities argued that Google owed the taxes because the search giant's employees who sold AdWords services were based in France, reports the New York Times. However, Google argued that while its employees were based in France, the sales actually occurred via a Google subsidiary in Ireland, where corporate sales taxes just happen to be lower. Today a French court ruled that routing the French-based sales through an Irish-based subsidiary is legal and means that the income is taxable in Ireland and not France.

07.10.17 | 5:53 am

Major papers want the right to collectively bargain with Google and Facebook

An alliance between the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, among others, will ask Congress for a limited antitrust exemption so that they may combine their resources and heft to collectively negotiate better distribution and advertising concessions from Google and Facebook, the New York Times reports. The papers are concerned that the two tech giants are not just the main gatekeepers to news nowadays, but that they are also sucking up most of the advertising revenues that are generated from the papers' journalism.

The more advertising dollars that go to Google and Facebook means the media outlets have less to spend on quality journalism. As David Chavern, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, who represents the group of papers, wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

"[Google and Facebook] don't employ reporters: They don't dig through public records to uncover corruption, send correspondents into war zones, or attend last night's game to get the highlights. They expect an economically squeezed news industry to do that costly work for them. The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together. If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook—pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models, and a fair share of revenue and data—they could build a more sustainable future for the news business."

06.27.17 | 9:13 am

Google responds to the EU fine with a “What about Amazon?” defense

Google was just fined a record $2.7 billion by the European Union over its promoted shopping search results. The commission alleges that Google, by cherry-picking the top results for online purchase queries, distorts the market. Google, however, would like to point out that it's not the only big player in town.

In a blog post published this morning, Google SVP and general counsel Kent Walker writes that the company is actually helping keep the market fair from other competitors. The digital ad juggernaut, you see, is just protecting us plebes from the other digital juggernauts also trying to distort the market. "Thousands of European merchants use these ads to compete with larger companies like Amazon and eBay," he writes. 

He goes on to say that Amazon's influence and growth has also had a big impact on smaller sites and sales. He explains, "As Amazon has grown, it's natural that some comparison services have proven less popular than others." What's next for Google? After shifting the blame to Amazon, it says it's considering appealing the EU's decision. 

[Photo: Kai Oberhauser]

06.27.17 | 5:56 am

Google just got fined a record-breaking $2.7 billion by the EU for manipulating search results

The fine is well above the expected $1.2 billion dollars many were expecting and comes after a seven-year inquiry by the European Commission into whether Google broke anticompetitive regulations by favoring search results leading shoppers to Google's Shopping service instead of rival shopping comparison sites, reports Bloomberg. Google is expected to appeal, but, if it would lose, the company could be forced to tweak its algorithms to how it ranks sites in search results, potentially affecting the company's core business globally.

06.27.17 | 5:37 am

Oracle, Yelp, and others have signed a letter of support for the EU’s imminent $1.2 billion anticompetitive fine against Google

Other signatories of the letter include News Corp, Disconnect, Getty Images, and News Media Alliance, reports Recode. The seven companies issued the letter ahead of the EU's actions, which is expected to fine Google this week for its alleged anticompetitive practices relating to its Google Shopping service, which aggregates prices and deals for products from around the web. The EU has been investigating whether or not Google favored its own shopping service in search results over others. If the fine is levied against Google, it will be the largest competition fine in EU history. The letter in full:

Dear Commissioner Vestager,

We represent U.S. companies that employ hundreds of thousands of workers across 50 states. We are writing to express our support for the Commission's enforcement action against Google.

As you near final decisions in the Shopping and Android cases, Google and its allies will no doubt continue to press through its lobbying and public relations machine the fiction that any adverse decision amounts to European "protectionism." As U.S.-based companies, we wish to go on record that enforcement action against Google is necessary and appropriate, not provincial. We have watched Google undermine competition in the United States and abroad. Google operates on a global scale and across the entire online ecosystem, destroying jobs and stifling innovation.

Google and its allies may also claim that there is no factual basis for a decision against Google. That too is untrue. The case against Google, both in Europe and the United States, rests on sound legal and factual foundations. Indeed, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission legal staff found that Google has monopoly power and that it engages in anticompetitive practices.

We believe that decisive action is necessary to restore competition and once again open the internet to innovation and growth. We hope that your counterparts in the United States will use this as an opportunity to address similar anticompetitive conduct by Google.

Sincerely,
Disconnect Inc.
Getty Images Inc.
News Corporation
News Media Alliance
Oracle Corporation
Trip.com
Yelp Inc.

06.23.17 | 10:57 am

In a rare move, Google starts purging health records from its search results

[Photo: Brandon Morgan]

There are very few things Google will intentionally remove from its search results—in fact, it used to be only seven things. Now the company has updated the list of what it will take down, adding a new criteria: health records. The change, reported by Bloomberg, comes after reports that tens of thousands of medical documents were indexed onto Google's search engine late last year

Before the update, the list of delete-worthy content included revenge and child porn and personally identifiable information, including ID numbers, signatures, as well as bank and credit card numbers. Now Google has updated its policy to include "confidential, personal medical records of private people," Bloomberg reports.

06.23.17 | 5:53 am

Google now hides your private medical records from search results

The search giant added "confidential, personal medical records of private people" to the list of information it removes from search results, the company noted on its removal policies page. Though it's not common for medical practices or insurers to upload your medical records to the internet for all to see, sometimes records do get uploaded inadvertently or via hacks.

Today's move by Google should make it harder for people to browse your health history should the above have happened to you. Google's full list of information they now may remove from search results include:

• National identification numbers like U.S. social security numbers, Argentinean single tax identification numbers, Korean resident registration numbers, Chinese resident identity cards, etc.

• Bank account numbers

• Credit card numbers

• Images of signatures

• Nude or sexually explicit images that were uploaded or shared without your consent

• Confidential, personal medical records of private people