Category Archives: Google

Shareholder suit alleges Google covered up its sexual harassment problems with big payouts

Months after an earth-shattering New York Times investigation exposed Google parent company Alphabet’s $90 million payout to Android co-founder Andy Rubin, despite the accusations of sexual misconduct made against him, a Google shareholder is suing the company.

James Martin filed suit in the San Mateo Superior Court Thursday morning, alleging the company’s leaders deployed massive allowances to poor-behaving executives to cover up harassment scandals. Both Rubin and Google’s former head of search Amit Singhal, who peacefully left the company in 2016 amid harassment allegations that weren’t made public until the following year, are listed as defendants in the court filing. This is because the plaintiff is seeking a full return of the massive payouts awarded to the embattled former execs.

With charges including breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, abuse of power and corporate waste, per The Washington Post, the lawsuit asks for an end of nondisclosure and arbitration agreements at Google, which ensure workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal. Martin is also requesting Google incorporate three new directors to the Alphabet board and put an end to supervoting shares, which gives certain shareholders more voting control.

The lawsuit also targets Rubin, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, chief executive officer Sundar Pichai and executive chairman Eric Schmidt. Former human resources director Laszlo Bock, chief legal officer David Drummond and former executive Amit Singhal are also named, as are long-time venture capitalists and Google board members John Doerr and Ram Shriram.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the release of the NYT report, Googlers across the world rallied to protest the company’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. The protestors had five key asks, including an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination, a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity and a clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously. Google ultimately complied with employees and put an end to forced arbitration; other tech companies, such as Airbnb, followed suit.

Google Cloud announces the Beta of single tenant instances

One of the characteristics of cloud computing is that when you launch a virtual machine, it gets distributed wherever it makes the most sense for the cloud provider. That usually means sharing servers with other customers in what is known as a multi-tenant environment. But what about times when you want a physical server dedicated just to you?

To help meet those kinds of demands, Google announced the Beta of Google Compute Engine Sole-tenant nodes, which have been designed for use cases such a regulatory or compliance where you require full control of the underlying physical machine, and sharing is not desirable.

“Normally, VM instances run on physical hosts that may be shared by many customers. With sole-tenant nodes, you have the host all to yourself,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing the new offering.

Diagram: Google

Google has tried to be as flexible as possible, letting the customer choose exactly what configuration they want in terms CPU and memory. Customers can also let Google choose the dedicated server that’s best at any particular moment, or you can manually select the server if you want that level of control. In both cases, you will be assigned a dedicated machine.

If you want to play with this, there is a free tier and then various pricing tiers for a variety of computing requirements. Regardless of your choice, you will be charged on a per-second basis with a one-minute minimum charge, according to Google.

Since this feature is still in Beta, it’s worth noting that it is not covered under any SLA. Microsoft and Amazon have similar offerings.

Google Cloud announces the Beta of single tenant instances

One of the characteristics of cloud computing is that when you launch a virtual machine, it gets distributed wherever it makes the most sense for the cloud provider. That usually means sharing servers with other customers in what is known as a multi-tenant environment. But what about times when you want a physical server dedicated just to you?

To help meet those kinds of demands, Google announced the Beta of Google Compute Engine Sole-tenant nodes, which have been designed for use cases such a regulatory or compliance where you require full control of the underlying physical machine, and sharing is not desirable.

“Normally, VM instances run on physical hosts that may be shared by many customers. With sole-tenant nodes, you have the host all to yourself,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing the new offering.

Diagram: Google

Google has tried to be as flexible as possible, letting the customer choose exactly what configuration they want in terms CPU and memory. Customers can also let Google choose the dedicated server that’s best at any particular moment, or you can manually select the server if you want that level of control. In both cases, you will be assigned a dedicated machine.

If you want to play with this, there is a free tier and then various pricing tiers for a variety of computing requirements. Regardless of your choice, you will be charged on a per-second basis with a one-minute minimum charge, according to Google.

Since this feature is still in Beta, it’s worth noting that it is not covered under any SLA. Microsoft and Amazon have similar offerings.

Washington sues Facebook and Google over failure to disclose political ad spending

Facebook and Google were paid millions for political advertising purposes in Washington but failed for years to publish related information — such as the advertiser’s address — as required by state law, alleges a lawsuit by the state’s attorney general.

Washington law requires that “political campaign and lobbying contributions and expenditures be fully disclosed to the public and that secrecy is to be avoided.”

Specifically, “documents and books of account” must be made available for public inspection during the campaign and for three years following; these must detail the candidate, name of advertiser, address, cost and method of payment, and description services rendered.

Bob Ferguson, Washington’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit yesterday alleging that both Facebook and Google “failed to obtain and maintain” this information. Earlier this year, Eli Sanders of Seattle’s esteemed biweekly paper The Stranger requested to view the “books of account” from both companies, and another person followed up with an in-person visit; both received unsatisfactory results.

They alerted the AG’s office to these investigations in mid-April, and here we are a month and a half later with a pair of remarkably concise lawsuits. (This appears to be separate from the Seattle Election Commission’s allegations of similar failings by Facebook in February.)

All told Facebook took in about $3.4 million over the last decade, including “$2.5 million paid through political consultants and other agents or intermediaries, and $619,861 paid directly to Facebook.” Google received about $1.5 million over the same period, almost none of which was paid directly to the company. (I’ve asked the AG’s office for more information on how these amounts are defined.)

The total yearly amounts listed in the lawsuits may be interesting to anyone curious about the scale of political payments to online platforms at the state scale, so I’m reproducing them here.

Facebook

  • 2013: $129,099
  • 2014: $310,165
  • 2015: $147,689
  • 2016: $1,153,688
  • 2017: $857,893

Google

  • 2013: $47,431
  • 2014: $72,803
  • 2015: $56,639
  • 2016: $310,175
  • 2017: $295,473

(Note that these don’t add up to the totals mentioned above; these are the numbers filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Committee. 2018 amounts are listed but are necessarily incomplete, so I omitted them.)

At least some of the many payments making up these results are not properly documented, and from the looks of it, this could amount to willful negligence. If a company is operating in a state and taking millions for political ads, it really can’t be unaware of that state’s disclosure laws. Yet according to the lawsuits, even basic data like names and addresses of advertisers and the amounts paid were not collected systematically, let alone made available publicly.

It’s impossible to characterize flouting the law in such a way as an innocent mistake, and certainly not when the mistake is repeated year after year. This isn’t an academic question: if the companies are found to have intentionally violated the law, the lawsuit asks that damages be tripled (technically, “trebled.”)

Neither company addressed the claims of the lawsuit directly when contacted for comment.

Facebook said in a statement that “Attorney General Ferguson has raised important questions and we look forward to resolving this matter with his office quickly.” The company also noted that it has taken several steps to improve transparency in political spending, such as its planned political ad archive and an API for requesting this type of data.

Google said only that it is “currently reviewing the complaint and will be engaging with the Attorney General’s office” and asserted that it is “committed” to transparency and disclosure, although evidently not in the manner Washington requires.

The case likely will not result in significant monetary penalties for the companies in question; even if fines and damages totaled tens of millions it would be a drop in the bucket for the tech giants. But deliberately skirting laws governing political spending and public disclosure is rather a bad look for companies under especial scrutiny for systematic dishonesty — primarily Facebook.

If the AG’s suit goes forward and the companies are found to have intentionally avoided doing what the law required, they (and others like them) would be under serious pressure to do so in the future, not just in Washington, but in other states where similar negligence may have taken place. AG Ferguson seems clearly to want to set a precedent and perhaps inspire others to take action.

I’ve asked the AG’s office for some clarifications and additional info, and will update this post if I hear back.

The new Gmail will roll out to all users next month

Google today announced that the new version of Gmail will launch into general availability and become available to all G Suite users next month. The exact date remains up in the air but my guess is that it’ll be sooner than later.

The new Gmail offers features like message snoozing, attachment previews, a sidebar for both Google apps like Calendar and third-party services like Trello, offline support, confidential messages that self-destruct after a set time, and more. It’s also the only edition of Gmail that currently allows you to try out Smart Compose, which tries to complete your sentences for you.

Here is what the rollout will look like for G Suite users. Google didn’t detail what the plan for regular users will look like, but if you’re not a G Suite user, you can already try the new Gmail today anyway and chances are stragglers will also get switched over to the new version at a similar pace as G Suite users.

Starting in July, G Suite admins will be able to immediately transition all of their users to the new Gmail, but users can still opt out for another twelve weeks. After that time is up, all G Suite users will move to the new Gmail experience.

Admins can also give users the option to try the new Gmail at their own pace or — and this is the default setting — they can just wait another four weeks and then Google will automatically give users the option to opt in.

Eight weeks after general availability, so sometime in September, all users will be migrated automatically but can still opt out for another four weeks.

That all sounds a bit more complicated than necessary, but the main gist here is: chances are you’ll get access to the new Gmail next month and if you hate it, you can still opt out for a bit longer. Then, if you still hate it, you are out of luck because come October, you will be using the new Gmail no matter what.

This DIY smart mirror is small, stunning and full of features

Several years ago Google X engineer Max Braun published a medium post on a smart mirror he made and now he’s back with a new version that’s smaller and smarter. This is a smart mirror I can get behind though I still find smart mirrors completely frivolous.

He published his project on Medium where he explains the process and the parts a person would need to build their own. This isn’t a project for everyone, but Max gives enough instructions that most enterprising builders should be able to hack something similar together.

I recently reviewed a smart mirror and found it a bit silly but still useful. Ideally, like in Max’s smart mirrors, the software is passive and always available. Users shouldn’t have to think about interacting with the devices; the right information should be displayed automatically. It’s a balancing act.

At this point, smart mirrors are little more than Android tablets placed behind a two-way mirror. Retail models are expensive to be buy and hardly worth it since a person’s phone or voice assistant can probably provide the same information. After all, how many devices does a person really need to tell them the weather forecast?

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