Legal scholars weigh in on the Google Books Settlement

How does the Google Books settlement affect competition? The question was the focus of an event hosted here in Washington by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), of which Google is a member.

David Balto, an antitrust lawyer, consumer advocate, and former policy director at the FTC, addressed the topic head-on when he presented his paper on the pro-competitive nature of the settlement, and a panel of legal commentators (James Grimmelmann and Jonathan Band) answered questions and provided their thoughts in response. In case you missed the event, a video of the event was just posted on the CCIA website.

While there was debate over specific aspects of the settlement agreement, I was struck by several themes that came out of the discussion: the public benefits of the settlement in expanding access to books online are overwhelmingly clear; the settlement should be approved despite the complexity of the legal issues involved; and providing more choice and more competition in the book industry is a good thing.

Helping readers get access to more books in more ways is exactly why we entered into our agreement last year with authors and publishers. We believe choice is a good thing too - our settlement agreement is non-exclusive and makes it easier for other online book distributors to efficiently license works and innovate. We hope to see more discussion on this in the future.

Check out what David Balto and Ed Black, CCIA President and CEO, had to say about Google Books in the short videos below. Other experts -- including Einer Elhauge from Harvard Law School, Mark Lemley from Stanford Law School (and an attorney for Google), and J. Gregory Sidak of Criterion and Jerry A. Hausman from MIT -- have weighed in with their support as well.

"I've looked carefully at the Google Books settlement to try to determine whether it will harm or benefit consumers, and I ultimately conclude that the settlement will be very beneficial." --David Balto, antitrust lawyer and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress

"...there's no doubt that the project is of tremendous value and importance to society."
-- Ed Black, President and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)

Europe's Viviane Reding on Google Books

I was encouraged this morning to read the comments of Viviane Reding, the European Union's media commissioner, about the Google Books project and settlement:

"Google Books is a commercial project developed by an important player. It is good to see that new business models are evolving which could allow bringing more content to an increasing number of consumers."

My Brussels colleague Antoine has more to say on this over at our European Public Policy Blog.

Where the smart grid meets the Internet

The term "smart grid" means many things to many people. At the most basic level, the smart grid is defining smarter ways to deliver and use energy -- but did you know that the smart grid is also defining new ways to generate and exchange energy information?

Building information technology into the electricity grid will revolutionize the way our homes and businesses use energy. The first step will be to develop open protocols and standards to allow smart grid devices and systems to communicate with one another. That's why Google and other stakeholders are participating in a working group coordinated by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop interoperability standards for a nationwide smart grid.

When people talk about networks for exchanging information -- particularly among millions of end users -- the first thing that often comes to mind is the Internet. So it makes sense to take the successful processes used to create Internet standards and apply them to this new energy information network.

Google, for example, believes in the wisdom of crowds (we've used that wisdom to enhance our products and we continue to get feedback on future products via Google Labs and Google Code Labs). And we've found that a good way to harness the wisdom of crowds is to create open standards to solve network issues. Some of the key principles to developing truly open standards include open and free access to:
  • Process. The customers of the smart grid information network are energy producers and consumers, hardware and software developers and energy regulators. Collaborate, and make sure all parties are represented during the standards discussion.
  • Drafts. There are a lot of people with networking expertise who are not directly involved with smart grid; make it easy for them to participate, for example, by hosting meetings online and posting documents that are universally accessible for review.
  • Comments. Allow comments resulting from current standards drafts to influence future drafts.
  • Final standards. If people can't access the standard, they can't implement the standard!
  • Standards unencumbered by patents. If implementers need to worry about licenses to practice the standard, it is not really a completely open standard.
The smart grid is essentially a nascent energy Internet. Thanks to the open protocols and standards on which it was built, the Internet has grown into a thriving ecosystem, delivering innovative products and services to billions of users worldwide. Applying the same principles of openness to the development of standards for our nation's electric grid would create a smarter platform for products and services, helping consumers conserve energy and save money.

Android and VoIP applications

I wanted to briefly set the record straight about an inaccurate claim in Friday's USA Today. The article stated:

"Consumers who use Android, the Google-developed operating system for wireless devices, can't use Skype, a leading Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. A pioneer in free Internet calling, Skype allows you to talk as long as you want without draining cellphone minutes."

Here are the facts, clear and simple: While the first generation of our Android software did not support full-featured VoIP applications due to technology limitations, we have worked through those limitations in subsequent versions of Android, and developers are now able to build and upload VoIP services.

While individual operators can request that certain applications be filtered if they violate their terms of service, USA Today is wrong to say that:

"Google's explanation would seem to suggest that T-Mobile requested the block on Skype, but the carrier says that's not the case. "T-Mobile has not asked Google to block that service," says spokesman Joe Farren, referring to original Skype."

As we told USA Today earlier in the week Google did not reject an application from Skype or from any other company that provides VoIP services. To suggest otherwise is false. At this point no software developer -- including Skype -- has implemented a complete VoIP application for Android. But we're excited to see -- and use -- these applications when they're submitted, because they often provide more choice and options for users. We also look forward to the day when consumers can access any application, including VoIP apps, from any device, on any network.

Stimulus spending at street level: the USDA and Google Maps API Premier

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Enterprise Blog)

(Editor's note: We're pleased to welcome guest blogger Carole Jett, Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture has taken the lead on making detailed state-by-state information about stimulus spending available to the public via an interactive Google Map. The map makes it easy for people to find information about stimulus projects in their part of the country by department, program, or dollar amount.)

In May 2009, President Barack Obama vowed to provide transparency and accountability by tracking stimulus money allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The goal was to provide taxpayers with the ability to track money in their community, all the way to street level. was launched to provide detailed information on projects and report on how stimulus money is being spent. In addition, each agency began to publish reports on their own websites for allocated funds.

In addition to funding reports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created an interactive geospatial map using Google Maps API Premier allowing the public to generate customized views for tracking funds.

This map was made available to the public in early May and has received nearly one million hits to date. Today, the interactive map provides data for five programs within USDA and is continuously adding other agencies within the department as the funds get allocated and data becomes available. Citizens can search and drill down to see funding allocations per department, program and location. To support the map feature, we established blogs for each state to share detailed information and updates about projects underway. Communities are encouraged to share their stories through this feature as well.

In July the Department of Housing and Urban Development joined the effort, followed by the Department of Commerce in August, allowing the public to search for and track a larger set of projects. The Department of Defense and other federal departments will be added to this site in the near future.

Check out the USDA AARA Project Map for yourself and learn more about the map, including detailed instructions for how to use the map.

Giving a voice to "digital refugees"

For the past year, citizens of Georgia, a country located in Eastern Europe, have struggled to express themselves freely online. While engaged in military conflicts, Georgians have simultaneously experienced a series of Internet service disruptions. And as a result, Georgians are periodically unable to get online and access certain websites -- blogging platforms in particular. These Internet service disruptions were compounded by a Denial of Service attack -- an attempt to completely cut off Internet access in Georgia -- this month.

Evgeny Morozov from the Open Society Institute has been following Georgian Blogger CYXYMU for some time now, chronicling how he's migrated from one blogging platform to the next in hopes of getting his message out after each blog is shut down by cyber opponents. Sparking interesting discussions around the concept of "digital refugees," CYXYMU's plight has recently become a hot topic in the blogosphere.

Morozov notes in his blog post that there may be many other bloggers facing situations similar to that of CYXYMU whose stories haven't been told. It's becoming easier to attack stand-alone blogs and websites, and much like political refugees, these bloggers and their sites are targeted and forced to relocate or be silenced. Consequently, bloggers are fleeing to higher profile sites like Twitter (and Blogger, among others) in order to continue exercising their right to free expression.

As censorship techniques and online attacks become more pervasive, it's clear that fundamental Internet freedoms are at stake. In the case of CYXYMU, entire services were knocked offline in order for one user to be silenced. This goes to show how far suppressive groups will go in order to impede on free speech.

Google collaborated with the other targeted services -- LiveJournal, Twitter and Facebook -- to help identify the origins of the attacks and minimize their impact. While Blogger was able to withstand the attack this time around, we hope that governments and companies will recognize the threats to free expression that exist today and will work together to ensure that the Internet continues to provide many safe havens for dissidents.

Building privacy into products

Imagine that a friend took a photo of you at a wild party last weekend and posted it on a social-networking site. What one person considers to be harmless fodder for wide consumption can be highly embarrassing to someone else. Because the notion of what's public and what's private differs from individual to individual, it can be challenging for tech companies to figure out how to create products that offer good privacy protections for their users. This challenge is something we think about and discuss at Google every day, and now two of my fellow Googlers are sharing their thoughts on the matter.

Our Canada Policy Counsel Jacob Glick wrote an op-ed in yesterday's National Post arguing that privacy is best protected by good product design. Two examples he gives are Google Street View, in which facial- and license-plate-blurring technology is built into the product, and YouTube, which allows users to choose whether to show their uploaded videos to the entire public or restrict it to a smaller group of friends.

Meanwhile, in the July/August 2009 issue of IEEE Security & Privacy magazine, Google Policy Analyst Betsy Masiello has published an article titled "Deconstructing the Privacy Experience," in which she looks at the challenge of giving users meaningful information and controls:

"We've long focused on transparency and choice as the pillars on which privacy rests because together they enable informed consent to data collection. On their own, however, transparency and choice say nothing about creating a usable privacy experience. Enabling informed consent to data collection isn't enough; product designers must aspire to this and more: enable informed consent without burdening user experience."

You can download a PDF of the entire three-page article here. Both Betsy's article and Jacob's op-ed are great reads; check them out.

The vast potential of energy efficiency

It's no surprise that the cheapest and most available solution to the climate problem is simply to use energy more efficiently. But a recent study issued by McKinsey & Co. details just how compelling an opportunity we are missing. McKinsey predicts that an annual investment of roughly $50 billion over the next 10 years would cut energy demand by 23% and yield savings to the U.S. economy worth $1.2 trillion! The energy savings would be equal to taking the entire U.S. passenger fleet of cars and trucks off the road.

Such efficiency gains are possible only if we overcome some major hurdles. For instance, most people have no idea how much energy we use in our homes on a daily basis or which of our appliances or devices are consuming the most energy. That's one of the reasons that we created Google PowerMeter, a software gadget that shows users detailed information on their home electricity consumption. Studies show that when people have access to this kind information they reduce their energy use by up to 15%. Greater savings are possible if people use the information to buy a more efficient refrigerator or air conditioner, insulate their home, or take advantage of off-peak electricity rates.

The McKinsey report acknowledges that energy efficiency alone won't solve our energy and climate challenges. We must continue to put major resources into low-carbon sources of energy like renewable energy, and the federal economic stimulus, with its tens of billions of targeted dollars and incentives, is a good start. But the McKinsey findings are a wake up call. As we enact more comprehensive energy policies, energy efficiency -- and giving people the information, tools and incentives to take advantage of it -- should be front and center.

Bid simulator and more transparency in Google's ad auction

As part of our continuing effort to give advertisers more transparency about Google's advertising system and how our ad auction works, we're launching a cool new feature in our AdWords system called the bid simulator.

The bid simulator gives advertisers more information about the potential impact of their bid on their advertising results, allowing them to make more informed bidding decisions. For each potential cost per click that an advertiser could bid, the bid simulator estimates the likely number of ad impressions, how many clicks an ad could have gotten for those impressions, and how much those clicks could have cost the advertiser.

Check out Inside AdWords or this video to learn more:

Audio care packages for service members with Google Voice

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

(From time to time we invite guests to blog about initiatives of interest and are pleased to have Sergeant Dale Sweetnam join us here. SGT Sweetnam is working with Google's communications team this year through the U.S. Army's "Training with Industry" Program. -Ed.)

It's not easy to stay in touch with friends and family when you're fighting in a country thousands of miles from home. I spent 13 months in Iraq as an Army journalist where I flew in Black Hawks over Balad and Baghdad working to generate news coverage about my fellow soldiers. The whole experience was physically and emotionally draining, but it was especially difficult when I called home at the end of the day and nobody was there to answer.

For servicemen and women who are constantly on the move, having a single number and an easy way to retrieve messages from loved ones can be invaluable. To help our service members communicate with their loved ones and show our support to those serving our country, Google is launching a new program. Starting today, any active U.S. service member with a .mil email address can sign up for a Google Voice account at and start using the free service within a day.

When you deploy, your life is put on hold. While you live and work in a different world, everyone else moves on with life back home. Your family and friends keep moving, and this sometimes means it's just not possible for them to stay awake until 2 a.m. to receive a phone call. Calling Iraq or Afghanistan is seldom an option.

Google Voice provides a solution to some of these problems. Service members can set up an account before they deploy. Or if they're already deployed, families can now set up an account for their service member. Loved ones can call to leave messages throughout the day, and then when that service member visits an Internet trailer, all the messages are right there. It's like a care package in audio form.

I signed up for an account when I came to Google, and it's already making communications much easier here in the States. I know when I return to combat, Google Voice will help make life a little more manageable.

If you're a service member and you sign up for an account, let me know in the comments below how it works for you. I'd be interested to hear your stories.