Governments shouldn’t have a monopoly on Internet governance

The beauty of the Internet is that it’s not controlled by any one group. Its governance is bottoms-up—with academics, non-profits, companies and governments all working to improve this technological wonder of the modern world. This model has not only made the Internet very open—a testbed for innovation by anyone, anywhere—it's also prevented vested interests from taking control.

But last week the UN Committee on Science and Technology announced that only governments would be able to sit on a working group set up to examine improvements to the IGF—one of the Internet’s most important discussion forums. This move has been condemned by the Internet Governance Caucus, the Internet Society (ISOC), the International Chamber of Commerce and numerous other organizations—who have published a joint letter (PDF) and launched an online petition to mobilize opposition. Today, I have signed that petition on Google’s behalf because we don’t believe governments should be allowed to grant themselves a monopoly on Internet governance. The current bottoms-up, open approach works—protecting users from vested interests and enabling rapid innovation. Let’s fight to keep it that way.

The Department of Commerce explores privacy

In April the Department of Commerce announced the formation of an Internet Policy Task Force to look at the various issues affecting economic growth and job creation through the Internet. Today, the task force issued its first report, a green paper on the framework that the Commerce Department intends to apply to questions about online privacy.

Like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which released its own privacy report a couple weeks ago, the Department of Commerce is looking for a fresh approach to privacy and a better way to help consumers understand what happens to data online. In particular, the green paper focuses on the need for all global stakeholders — including companies, advocates, and government — to work together to proactively improve privacy. We strongly support the Commerce Department engaging more actively internationally including the creation of a global framework for privacy to better address international data flows. The report also stresses the importance of preserving and encouraging innovation on the Internet. Additionally, the Department calls for a re-examination of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — generally known by its acronym, ECPA — which dates back to 1986. We’re on board with that, since the outdated law simply has not kept pace with evolving technologies.

We support the Department of Commerce’s recommendation for privacy to be approached comprehensively and broadly, with a clear focus both on users and innovation on the Internet. This kind of thoughtful approach to a complex issue like privacy shows leadership and expertise, and we look forward to further dialogue with the Department of Commerce, the FTC, and others as we consider the issues that the green paper has raised.

An update on Google Fiber

(Cross posted on the Official Google Blog)

Earlier this year we announced an experiment we hope will help make Internet access better and faster for everyone: to provide a community with ultra high-speed broadband, 100 times faster than what most people have access to today.

This week I joined Google as vice president of Access Services to oversee the Google Fiber team. Over the past several months I’ve been following the progress the team has already made—from experimenting with new fiber deployment technologies here on Google’s campus, to announcing a “beta” network to 850 homes at Stanford—and I’m excited for us to bring our ultra high-speed network to a community.

We had planned to announce our selected community or communities by the end of this year, but the level of interest was incredible—nearly 1,100 communities across the country responded to our announcement—and exceeded our expectations. While we’re moving ahead full steam on this project, we’re not quite ready to make that announcement.

We’re sorry for this delay, but we want to make sure we get this right. To be clear, we’re not re-opening our selection process—we simply need more time to decide than we’d anticipated. Stay tuned for an announcement in early 2011.

Acquisitions and antitrust

As we’ve said before, we understand that as Google grows, we’re going to face more questions about how our business works. We recognize the responsibility we have, and we are always open to hearing ideas about how we can improve.

Washington Post columnist Steve Pearlstein writes today about Google’s acquisitions and antitrust law, and I thought I’d share a few reflections on his article:

All companies make “build vs. buy” decisions. Pearlstein writes that he has no problem with Google growing naturally, but that we shouldn’t be allowed to make acquisitions in new spaces. This isn’t how we -- or most companies -- approach these decisions. Sometimes it’s possible to develop a new product in-house; other times a company decides it can bring a new product to market faster by acquiring another company. Microsoft acquired Powerset in 2008 and then incorporated its search technology into Bing. Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 instead of developing its own shoe-selling site. The Hart-Scott-Rodino legal process ensures that acquisitions like these aren’t implemented if they threaten competition or consumers, and the process works well.

We’re competing against other companies for acquisitions. Pearlstein expresses concern that Google’s acquisitions preclude the possibility that a company might instead be purchased by Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook. But those companies not only have substantial cash or equity that they use to make acquisitions, they also regularly compete against us and other companies to acquire leading startups. In 2007, Google bought DoubleClick, but then Microsoft spent twice as much for its display ad company aQuantive and Yahoo bought ad exchange Right Media. All mature companies regularly acquire companies to make big bets on new spaces.

Acquisitions are typically good for consumers and the economy. Antitrust law is designed to protect consumers, not competitors, and our acquisitions have created great things for consumers. Our 2004 acquisition of Keyhole led to Google Earth, which for the first time provided free satellite imagery for consumers. Our 2005 acquisition of a small company called Android -- and our investment in the technology that Andy Rubin was developing -- later led to the creation of the Android mobile operating system, which has injected more competition and openness into the smartphone space. For startups, getting acquired is often the path to success (especially given the difficult IPO market), so stopping large companies from making acquisitions would only deprive startups of another potential bidder and investors of a potential return on their invested capital. You can’t be both pro-economic growth and anti-acquisitions.

Courts and regulators recognize efficiencies in mergers into new spaces. They also have approved many deals where the leader in one category acquired the leader in a separate category. That includes Oracle’s acquisition of Siebel, Amazon’s acquisition of Audible, and Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia. Each company was #1 in its respective field, and each merger was approved.

These aren’t easy issues -- and we don’t envy the government regulators who have to grapple with them! But most observers would agree that the antitrust laws are pretty durable and the courts have done a good job applying the law to new products and technologies. For our part, we’ll continue to make sure that our business practices reflect our commitment to compete fair and square.

Local search: It’s all about the best answers for users

This Sunday the Wall Street Journal published a story about local search that makes a number of assertions about how local search works at Google, so we thought it would be helpful to share our view on these issues.

When people come to Google looking for information about places like restaurants, shoe stores, parks or museums, our goal is to provide them with answers as quickly as possible and presented in a way that’s easy to read and understand. Sometimes the most useful information is a direct link to a business—other times it’s a map or a list of review sites. As Susan and Udi wrote just over a week ago:
Answering users' queries accurately and quickly is our number one goal. Sometimes the best, most relevant answer to a query is our traditional “ten blue links,” and sometimes it is a news article, sports score, stock quote, video, or a map.
When someone searches for a place on Google, we still provide the usual web results linking to great sites; we simply organize those results around places to make it much faster to find what you’re looking for. For example, earlier this year we introduced Place Search to help people make more informed decisions about where to go. Place pages organize results around a particular place to help users find great sources of photos, reviews and essential facts. This makes it much easier to see and compare places and find great sites with local information.

We’ve heard from users and businesses that Place pages are a great way to find local information and reach customers. We’ve also heard from webmasters that Place pages help them reach a broader audience when users click through to learn more.

As Susan and Udi wrote, we built Google for users, not websites. We welcome ongoing dialog with webmasters to help ensure we’re building great products, but at the end of the day, users come first. If we fail our users, competition is just a click away.

Call credits for military families this holiday season

(Cross-posted from the Google Voice Blog)

Keeping in touch with family during the holiday season can be challenging for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for military families with loved ones serving around the country or overseas.

Gmail’s built in video chat and free calls to the U.S. and Canada can help keep friends and family in contact regardless of how far apart they may be. To make staying in touch this holiday season even easier for military families, we’re offering a $10 calling credit to help them reach their loved ones serving abroad.

These international call credits can be used to make calls with Google Voice or from right inside Gmail, and will provide families with roughly 30 minutes of call time to Afghanistan, 60 minutes to Iraq, or hundreds of minutes to many countries in Europe and around the world.

To make this possible, we’ve partnered with Blue Star Families and Sesame Street, two organizations dedicated to supporting service members and their families.

Photo by Sesame Workshop, 2010

To be eligible for $10 calling credits, military family members must:
  1. Be a member of either Blue Star Families or Sesame Street Family Connections — registration is free for all military families
  2. Provide their Gmail address
  3. Enable calling in Gmail and accept the terms of service OR have an existing Google Voice account
  4. Complete this registration form by December 22, 2010

We recognize the sacrifices military family members make when loved ones serve abroad, and we’re proud to help make it a little bit easier for families to stay connected over the holidays.

At this time, Google Voice and calling in Gmail are available in the U.S. only.

Making Copyright Work Better Online

There are more than 1 trillion unique URLs on the web and more than 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. It’s some pretty fantastic stuff - content that makes us think, laugh, and learn new things. Services we couldn’t have imagined ten years ago - iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, and many others - help us access this content and let traditional and emerging creators profit from and share their work with the world.

But along with this new wave of creators come some bad apples who use the Internet to infringe copyright. As the web has grown, we have seen a growing number of issues relating to infringing content. We respond expeditiously to requests to remove such content from our services, and have been improving our procedures over time. But as the web grows, and the number of requests grows with it, we are working to develop new ways to better address the underlying problem.

That’s why today we’re announcing four changes that we’ll be implementing over the next several months:
  • We’ll act on reliable copyright takedown requests within 24 hours. We will build tools to improve the submission process to make it easier for rightsholders to submit DMCA takedown requests for Google products (starting with Blogger and web Search). And for copyright owners who use the tools responsibly, we’ll reduce our average response time to 24 hours or less. At the same time, we’ll improve our “counter-notice” tools for those who believe their content was wrongly removed and enable public searching of takedown requests.
  • We will prevent terms that are closely associated with piracy from appearing in Autocomplete. While it’s hard to know for sure when search terms are being used to find infringing content, we’ll do our best to prevent Autocomplete from displaying the terms most frequently used for that purpose.
  • We will improve our AdSense anti-piracy review. We have always prohibited the use of our AdSense program on web pages that provide infringing materials. Building on our existing DMCA takedown procedures, we will be working with rightsholders to identify, and, when appropriate, expel violators from the AdSense program.
  • We will experiment to make authorised preview content more readily accessible in search results. Not surprisingly, we’re big fans of making authorised content more accessible on the Internet. Most users want to access legitimate content and are interested in sites that make that content available to them (even if only on a preview basis). We’ll be looking at ways to make this content easier to index and find.
These changes build on our continuing efforts, such as Content ID, to give rightsholders choice and control over the use of their content, and we look forward to further refining and improving our processes in ways that help both rightsholders and users.

New in Public Data Explorer: Visualize the US Budget

We launched Public Data Explorer in Google Labs nearly a year ago to help make the world’s public data more easily accessible and useful. Since then we’ve added a number of interesting datasets from U.S. government agencies, including the Census Bureau, Energy Information Administration, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. Recently, we made another addition: the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The OMB‘s mission is to help the President of the United States prepare the budget and oversee its application to federal agencies. As a result, it is also the central clearinghouse for U.S. budget data -- statistics that are now available for the first time in Public Data Explorer.

So what does the data show? Check it out and you’ll find a number of interesting things. For example, below are the OMB’s historical and projected net outlays (i.e., money spent) for the federal government. Note the line for “interest on national debt,” which will outpace the Social Security Administration and Department of Defense by 2015.

Net outlays as a percentage of GDP is also interesting:

Finally, have you ever been curious how the US Budget gets funded? The chart below shows the distribution in 2009.

As always, there are a number of caveats to this data, and we encourage folks to follow up with experts to better understand what it truly means. That said, like all of our public data visualizations, we hope these simple charts will help inform the public debate and illuminate trends and key insights. We encourage you to explore the data, and stay tuned for more!

Safe Shopping with Google’s Privacy Tools

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: time to agonize over holiday gifts.But for me, holiday shopping has been transformed by the Internet. Like 106 million other Americans on Cyber Monday alone, I did much of my holiday shopping online. Less hunting for parking at the mall, more eggnog!

But my wife (Hi, Joyce!) shares my computer, so how can I find the perfect gift without ruining the surprise? And how can I keep my shopping and browsing information safe and secure? By using Google’s Privacy Tools, of course!

If I’m signed into my Google Account and have my Web History turned on, I get more personalized search results and can see my previous search terms. But I can also delete those gift-related searches in case my wife gets nosy. I can even pause my history so my search for ‘Hawaii vacation' isn’t ever recorded. (Joyce, if you’re reading this, that’s just an example.)

But that only helps hide my search terms; what if I want to cover the rest of my online tracks? To hide those shopping sites from curious eyes, I use Google Chrome’s Incognito mode, which keeps any websites I visit or downloads I make from being recorded in my browser’s history. Goodbye!

When my wife opens that perfect gift, I want to get it all on tape and share the video with our family, but not the whole world wide web - so I use the YouTube Unlisted and Private video options. I can send a link of the video to our friends and family without all of YouTube and the Internet knowing how she liked her new Kinect.

Of course, I want to do all this browsing safely. To help keep my data safe, I look for the “https” and lock icon on my browser. Google offers industry-leading encryption, which help prevent my searches and email from being intercepted by a third party. And of course, I follow the FTC’s safe browsing tips so that I can be sure my credit card information isn’t hijacked but is actually going to (again, Joyce, this is merely illustrative...)

Truth be told, I have no idea what I’m going to buy Joyce this year - I usually wait for inspiration and/or panic to strike. But whatever I come up with, Google’s Privacy Tools will help keep it a surprise. That and wrapping paper.

For more information about these and other ways to control your Google experience, check out our Privacy Tools page or this recent article from Ars Technica. Happy shopping!

Our thoughts on the European Commission review

(Cross-Posted from the European Public Policy Blog)

At Google, we’ve always focused on putting the user first by providing the best possible answers as quickly as possible - and our product innovation and engineering talent have delivered results that users seem to like, in a world where the competition is only one click away. However, given our success and the disruptive nature of our business, it’s entirely understandable that we’ve caused unease among other companies and caught the attention of regulators. Today, the European Commission has announced that they will continue to review complaints about Google's search and search advertising. We respect their process and will continue to work closely with the Commission to answer their questions.

So that everyone understands how we approach search and ads ranking, we thought it would be helpful to state clearly the principles that guide our business:
  • Answering users' queries accurately and quickly is our number one goal. Sometimes the best, most relevant answer to a query is our traditional “ten blue links”, and sometimes it is a news article, sports score, stock quote, video, or a map. Today, when you type in “weather in London” or “15 grams in ounces” you get the answers directly (often before you even hit Enter). In the future, we will need to answer much more complex questions just as fast and as clearly. We believe ads are information too, which is why we work so hard to ensure that the advertisements you see are directly relevant to what you are looking for;
  • We built Google for users, not websites. It may seem obvious, but people sometimes forget this -- not every website can come out on top, or even appear on the first page of our results, so there will almost always be website owners who are unhappy about their rankings. The most important thing is that we satisfy our users.
  • We are always clear when we have been paid for promoting a product or service. Before we launched Google, many search engines took money for inclusion in their results without making that clear to users. We have never done that and we always distinguished advertising content from our organic search results. As we experiment with new ad formats and types of content, we promise to continue to be transparent about payments.
  • We aim to be as transparent as possible. We provide more information about how our ranking works than any other major search engine, through our webmaster central site, blog, diagnostic tools, support forum, and YouTube channel. We give our advertisers information about the ad auction, tips on how to improve their ad quality scores, and the ability to simulate their bids to give them more transparency. And we’re committed to increasing that transparency going forward. At the same time, we don’t want to help people game our system. We do everything we can to ensure that the integrity of our results isn’t compromised.
Our final principle: the only constant is change. We’ve been working on this stuff for well over a decade, and in that time our search technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Our results are continuing to evolve from a list of websites to something far more dynamic. Today there’s real-time content, automatically translated content, local content (especially important for mobile devices), images, videos, books, and a whole lot more. Users can search by voice -- and in a variety of languages. And we’ve developed new ad formats such as product listing ads and new pricing models such as cost-per-action. We cannot predict where search and online advertising will be headed, but we know for sure that they won’t stay the same. By staying focused on innovation we can continue to make search even better -- for the benefit of users everywhere.

An update on our investment in O3b Networks

About two years ago we announced an initial investment in O3b Networks, whose mission is to bring affordable, high-speed Internet access to emerging markets via satellite. Earlier today O3b announced that it has wrapped up its final funding round before launch, and is planning to launch its first eight satellites in early 2013.

O3b stands for the “other 3 billion” – nearly half the world’s population for whom Internet access is scarce and expensive. In remote and developing areas where fiber is unavailable, users rely on slow and often costly satellite connections. To help solve this problem, O3b is planning to launch a constellation of medium-orbit satellites, providing users across 150 countries with high-speed Internet connectivity. These satellites will be four times closer to the Earth than regular geostationary satellites, meaning much faster speeds and a better experience for users.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, and so we were early supporters of O3b. We’re glad that O3b is now fully funded to build, launch, and operate its first satellites – and remain excited about this project’s potential to bring the benefits of high-speed Internet access to billions of people for the first time.

Google D.C. Talk November 30 - Tim Wu: "The Master Switch"

Posted by Jenna Wandres, Public Policy Communications

Brilliant. Imaginative. Explosive. These are just some of things people are saying about Columbia professor Tim Wu’s new book, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.

Part history part crystal ball, The Master Switch analyzes the cycle of innovation to consolidation seen in the telephone, radio and television markets and what that could mean for the Internet. Join Professor Wu tomorrow to discuss the future of regulation in information economies. 

He’ll explain what the “Master Switch” is and what it could mean for you. He’ll tell us what role the government plays in “the Cycle.” And he’ll explain why the Internet is in danger - and what we can do to save it. 

Google’s Pablo Chavez will talk with Professor Wu about his book. Please RSVP and submit questions for the Professor at**

Google D.C. Talks Presents: 
Professor and Author Tim Wu
on his new book, 
The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010, 10AM - 12PM 

Google D.C. Office 
Washington, DC

**Google's use of this data is governed by our privacy policy found at

Apply for a 2011 Google Policy Fellowship

Last summer Google Fellow Gwen Glazer at the American Library Association focused on digitization, specifically on for content from small or mid-sized public libraries and other cultural heritage institutions. Rare materials, like local history collections and historic photographs and maps, present significant challenges to digitization, and Gwen’s proposal encouraged the creation of a national program that would digitize these archival materials and collect them in a free online interface to make them available to the public.

Ramtin Amtin at the Citizen Lab examined the recent changes to Google in China to study free expression as a human rights issue, and explored Internet censorship as a potential violation of world trade laws.

At the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Carolyn Homer wrote a legal paper on the meaning of online privacy policies, and published two op-eds on privacy on AOL News and in AdAge.

What will Google fellows do summer 2011? That’s up to you. Students of all levels and disciplines interested in Internet policy issues can apply starting today. The deadline for applications is January 17, 2011.

Selected students will spend ten weeks this summer working on issues as varied as free expression, privacy, security, and intellectual property with thought leaders at a diverse range of organizations, including: American Library Association, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, Cato Institute, Center for Democracy and Technology, The Citizen Lab, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Future of Music Coalition, Internet Education Foundation, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Media Access Project, National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, TechFreedom, and the Technology Policy Institute.

You can learn about the program and host organizations on the Google Public Policy Fellowship website.

Senate Hearing on Digital Trade Protectionism

This afternoon Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon put the spotlight on an issue close to our heart and business operations: the need to protect and promote the free flow of information in international trade agreements. In a hearing on International Trade in the Digital Economy, Senator Wyden called for the U.S. government and others to come together to combat protectionism against digital exports -- a position that mirrors themes we raised in the trade white paper we released earlier this week.

At the hearing, Senator Wyden noted how the international reach of American technology companies directly affects the ability of all American companies to export goods and services, both digital and otherwise. The hearing noted the effect of these restrictions on all kinds of American companies, holding back trade and exports whether it is in digital services or physical goods.

We commend the Subcommittee’s leadership on this issue and agree with the fundamental principle that new trade agreements should require governments to preserve the free flow of information on the Internet. As a company, we’re particularly focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiations among the United States and eight Pacific Rim nations that we hope will produce a first-rate modern trade pact for today’s information economy. Embedding the free flow of information into this agreement will be critical.

Testimony and video of the hearing should be online soon at the Subcommittee’s website.

Promoting Free Trade for the Internet Economy

Today we’re releasing a white paper [PDF] that explores the ways that governments impose limits on the free flow of information online. It’s pretty wonky stuff, but the premise is simple: In addition to infringing human rights, governments that block the free flow of information on the Internet are also blocking trade and economic growth.

Over the last two decades, the Internet has delivered tremendous economic and trade benefits. It has driven record increases in productivity, spurred innovation, created new economies, and fueled international trade. In part this is because the Internet makes geographically distant markets easy to reach.

But this engine of economic growth is increasingly coming under attack. According to one study, more than forty governments now engage in broad-scale restriction of online information. Governments are blocking online services, imposing non-transparent regulation, and seeking to incorporate surveillance tools into their Internet infrastructure. These are the trade barriers of the 21st century economy.

In the paper we’re releasing today, we urge policymakers in the United States, European Union and elsewhere to take steps to break down barriers to free trade and Internet commerce. These issues present challenges, but also an opportunity for governments to align 21st century trade policy with the 21st century economy.

Forrester analyst: Google-ITA Software deal “legitimate and fair”

Forrester travel analyst Henry Harteveldt spoke on CNBC Tuesday about the Google-ITA Software acquisition, saying:
...In the end, Google has made a legitimate and fair claim to buy ITA Software, and I think there’s a little bit of sour grapes on the part of some of the companies that are not the companies buying ITA.
Check it out:

Handy tools to help Americans vote

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

As Americans gear up for the midterm elections on November 2, we wanted to share a few tools that make it easier to gather voting information.

When you search on Google for [polling place] or [where to vote], you’ll see a search box to help you find your polling place, candidates, and local election office. Just type in the home address where you’re registered to vote. The search looks like this:

This feature is powered by the Google Election Center, an experimental service that lets election officials provide data directly to Google in order to create a set of search tools. Anyone with a website can also provide this same functionality by embedding the open source Election Center gadget on your site, or use the gadget code or API to build your own.

And you don’t need to be at your computer to easily find this information. If you’d rather get it on your mobile device, we’ve also created a mobile landing page:

As for election news, you’ll find a special Google News section with stories for each state so you can easily catch up on the latest headlines.

We hope all of these tools help you get and stay informed throughout the election season.

Giving users the best answer, and competing fair and square in travel search

Since we announced our plans to acquire ITA Software in July, we’ve spent a lot of time talking with players in the online travel industry -- airlines, travel agents, and search sites -- about our plans to build better flight search tools for users, and our commitment to competition in this space.

We’ve been encouraged by the travel industry support we’ve seen for this acquisition -- from airlines, online travel agencies, and also ITA’s competitors. Even longtime travel guru Arthur Frommer has weighed in. That said, it’s disappointing that a number of travel companies have today announced their concerns about the deal.

Our reason for making this acquisition is simple: ITA will help us provide better results for our users. When someone searches for “flights from San Francisco to London,” we'd like to provide not just “ten blue links” but exact flight times and prices as well -- just as our competitors do today.

We’ve already been experimenting with similar results in different areas. For example, in March we began showing hotel prices in Google Maps -- information which not only makes travel planning and budgeting easier for our users, but also improves the quality of the leads we send to travel websites and hotels:

In terms of the criticisms that have been made today, while we respect the views of these companies there are a few important areas where we need to set the record straight:

Claim: The deal could result in higher travel prices or fewer travel choices for consumers.
Fact: ITA and Google are not competitors so there will not be less choice for consumers. In addition, ITA does not set ticket prices or sell tickets, but merely analyzes data about seat availability and fares -- which are set by airlines -- and provides that analysis to websites. So it’s hard to see why it would result in higher prices. In fact, by acquiring ITA we hope to build flight comparison tools that make it easier for users to compare prices and find the best possible deal.

Claim: ITA powers most of the web’s most popular travel sites.
Fact: ITA’s QPX tool powers many websites; that’s why we’ve said that we’ll honor all of ITA’s existing agreements, and that we are enthusiastic about adding new partners. That said, the three most popular travel sites in the U.S. (Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity) use data provided by ITA's competitors. And over the past few months other travel companies have highlighted the alternatives to ITA. Kayak's CEO called Expedia’s Best Fare Search alternative "awesome" and Continental Airlines noted that "there are alternatives to the [ITA] shopping solution in the marketplace, both internally and externally.”

Claim: Google will be choosing winners and losers in online travel.
Fact: Our goal is to build tools that drive more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites where customers can purchase tickets. We also believe that giving users better ways to search for flights online will encourage more users to make their flight purchases online, which will create more overall online sales for airlines and travel agencies. Google does not plan to sell airline tickets directly.

Claim: Instead of buying ITA, Google could just license its data.
Fact: We think we can make more significant innovations and bigger breakthroughs in online flight search for consumers by combining our engineering expertise with ITA’s than we would by just licensing ITA's data service.

Claim: The deal will lead to less innovation in travel search.
Fact: Just the opposite! Today, finding the right flight at the best price is a frustrating experience; pricing and availability change constantly, and even a simple two-city itinerary involves literally thousands of different options. We’re confident that by combining ITA’s expertise in travel with Google’s technology we’ll be able to create great innovations in flight search.

Creating stronger privacy controls inside Google

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

In May we announced that we had mistakenly collected unencrypted WiFi payload data (information sent over networks) using our Street View cars. We work hard at Google to earn your trust, and we’re acutely aware that we failed badly here. So we’ve spent the past several months looking at how to strengthen our internal privacy and security practices, as well as talking to external regulators globally about possible improvements to our policies. Here’s a summary of the changes we’re now making.
  • First, people: we have appointed Alma Whitten as our director of privacy across both engineering and product management. Her focus will be to ensure that we build effective privacy controls into our products and internal practices. Alma is an internationally recognized expert in the computer science field of privacy and security. She has been our engineering lead on privacy for the last two years, and we will significantly increase the number of engineers and product managers working with her in this new role.

  • Second, training: All our employees already receive orientation training on Google’s privacy principles and are required to sign Google’s Code of Conduct, which includes sections on privacy and the protection of user data. However, to ensure we do an even better job, we’re enhancing our core training for engineers and other important groups (such as product management and legal) with a particular focus on the responsible collection, use and handling of data. In addition, starting in December, all our employees will also be required to undertake a new information security awareness program, which will include clear guidance on both security and privacy.

  • Third, compliance: While we’ve made important changes to our internal compliance procedures in the last few years, we need to make further changes to reflect the fact that we are now a larger company. So we’re adding a new process to our existing review system, in which every engineering project leader will be required to maintain a privacy design document for each initiative they are working on. This document will record how user data is handled and will be reviewed regularly by managers, as well as by an independent internal audit team.
We believe these changes will significantly improve our internal practices (though no system can of course entirely eliminate human error), and we look forward to seeing the innovative new security and privacy features that Alma and her team develop. That said, we’ll be constantly on the lookout for additional improvements to our procedures as Google grows, and as we branch out into new fields of computer science.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to update one point in my May blog post. When I wrote it, no one inside Google had analyzed in detail the data we had mistakenly collected, so we did not know for sure what the disks contained. Since then a number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologize again for the fact that we collected it in the first place. We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users.

This Internet is Your Internet: Digital Citizenship from California to Washtenaw County

(Cross-posted on the Google Online Security Blog)

In the physical world, basic safety measures are second-nature to almost everyone (look both ways, stop drop and roll!). In the digital world, however, many of us expect security to be handled on our behalf by experts, or come in a single-box solution. Together, we must reset those expectations.

The Internet is the biggest neighborhood in the world. Security-related initiatives in the technology sector and government play an important role in making the Internet safer, but efforts from Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. alone are not enough. Much of the important work that needs to be done must happen closer to home—wherever that may be.

As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month I recently traveled from California to Washtenaw County, MI to speak to group of local community leaders, educators, business owners, law enforcement officials and residents who recently formed the Washtenaw Cyber Citizenship Coalition. They are working to create a digitally aware, knowledgeable and more secure community by providing residents with the tools and resources to be good digital citizens. No one in the room self-identified as a “cyber security expert,” but the information sharing that’s happening in Washtenaw County is the kind of holistic effort that can enable everyone to use the Internet more safely and benefit from the great opportunities that it provides.

The Washtenaw Cyber Citizenship Coalition is channeling the community’s efforts through volunteer workgroups in areas such as public/private partnerships, awareness, education and law enforcement. Their strategy is to “share the wheel" whenever possible, instead of recreating it. They’ve collected tips and resources for kids, parents, businesses, educators and crime victims so that citizens can find and access these materials with ease.

If you are interested in raising awareness in your own community,, and are examples of sites that offer such materials for public use.

More transparency and control over location

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

We’ve always focused on offering people the most relevant results. Location is one important factor we’ve used for many years to customize the information that you find. For example, if you’re searching for great restaurants, you probably want to find ones near you, so we use location information to show you places nearby.

Today we’re moving your location setting to the left-hand panel of the results page to make it easier for you to see and control your preferences. With this new display you’re still getting the same locally relevant results as before, but now it’s much easier for you to see your location setting and make changes to it.

Your location setting is now always visible on the left side of the search results page.

We do our best to automatically detect the most useful location, but we don’t always get it right—so in some cases you’ll want to change the setting. At other times, you may want to change your location to explore information relevant to another area. For example, let’s say you’re at work in Mountain View and you’re making plans to see a movie in San Francisco (a common occurrence here at Google). You can change your location to “San Francisco” and search for [showtimes] to find movie listings in San Francisco or search for [restaurants] to find places to eat before the show. Similarly, if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, you can change the location to “Honolulu” and start exploring the [weather], [hotels] and of course the [beaches]. The location you set can be as specific as a particular zip code or as general as an entire country, but more specific settings generally lead to better search results.

Click “Change location” to specify your location preference.

You used to be able to see and control your location settings, but it was a little clunky. To see your settings, you could click “View customizations” on the results page and to modify them you could click “Change location” next to a variety of search results, such as maps and movie listings. As time has gone by, more and more locally relevant information has come online, whether it’s local business listings or a blog from your hometown. Meanwhile, Google has become much better at presenting this locally relevant content—so it felt like the right time to make this setting easier to find.

The new interface is rolling out now and will be available in more than 40 languages soon. We’re not changing anything about how we use location information to improve search, so it doesn’t change our existing privacy policies. To learn more about our new interface and how we use location in search, check out our help center.

Easy tips to control your privacy

Google Product Manager Jonathan McPhie was in DC recently to meet with privacy advocates, academics and members of the media to help spread the word about our new Privacy Tools page on the Google Privacy Center. While in town we asked Jonathan to explain some simple ways you can take control of your own privacy when using Google. Check out the video.

Discussing free expression at Internet at Liberty 2010

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

It’s not often that we get to step out of our everyday jobs and spend extended time engaging in global conversations about one of our fundamental values at Google: ensuring access to information. For three days last week in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, we had that chance when more than 300 bloggers, activists, academics, government officials and representatives of non-profits and business convened for “Internet at Liberty 2010.” The conference, which we co-hosted with the Central European University, focused on “the promise and peril of online free expression” and the role of individuals, corporations and government in protecting free expression online.

The conference drew participants from 74 countries, including many from places where free expression is constantly under threat—such as Kazakhstan, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. It drew a large contingent of bloggers and activists from the Middle East and representatives from both the Iranian and Chinese diasporas. Our liveblog of the conference was followed by more than 3.3 million people around the world.

The issues at the heart of the gathering—and the challenges faced by free expression advocates the world over, were highlighted by our senior vice president, David Drummond, when in his opening remarks to the conference he quoted an email from an activist who could not obtain permission to attend “Internet at Liberty.” The activist wrote:
Everywhere I turned, I was only talking to a repetition of the same monomaniac mind where all the keywords around the conference were defined as dangerous and forbidden: ‘liberty,’ ‘access,’ ‘Internet,’ ‘Google,’ and even such simple words as ‘university,’ ‘conference’ and ‘Europe.’ Upon a second investigation, I realized that they are not afraid of these things because of their intrinsic identity, but because they can transform me from a passive and obedient member of the mass to a free, critical, creative and active citizen.
Also at the conference, we introduced Google Transparency Report, an interactive online site that allows users to see where governments are demanding that we remove content and where Google services are being blocked. (Read more in our blog post.) Other sessions included a debate on the question, “Is the potential of the Internet as a force for positive political change being oversold?” and workshops offering practical education and tools for lobbying governments on key issues.

Visit our website for the conference, which we plan to turn into a discussion and action forum for those who attended the conference and—we hope—thousands more. Our aim is to bring together people who share the common goal of promoting free expression on the Internet. We want to build constituencies behind key initiatives including helping individuals protect themselves online; promoting corporate and government transparency; finding the right balance between privacy and free expression; and making sure that platforms like Google aren’t held liable for content they host.

We’re committed to reaching far beyond the results of the Budapest conference and the banks of the Danube to help ensure that online free expression, like the Internet itself, knows no borders.

Stevie Wonder to UN: Ensure Blind Can Access Books

Music legend Stevie Wonder recently spoke at the United Nation’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). He delivered a simple, important message: “End the information deprivation that keeps the visually impaired in the dark.”

What does intellectual property and WIPO have to do with this issue? Blind or visually-impaired people need to be able to convert documents into accessible formats, but that conversion can require copying the work in ways that might be prohibited by copyright. While limitations and exceptions to copyright in national laws help address this issue, there is still a large gap in equity of access. That’s why WIPO is currently considering a draft treaty for "Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons.”

As Wonder put it: "While it's critical to not act to the detriment of the authors who created these great works that enlighten and nourish our minds, hearts and souls, we must develop a protocol that allows the easy import and export of copyrighted material so that people with print disabilities can join the mainstream of the literate world.... It can be done."

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we filed comments last year with the US Copyright Office in support of moving forward with this treaty. And it’s also why we work to make content available in accessible formats, including making the over 2 million out-of-copyright books that we’ve digitized as part of Google Books available for free and in an accessible form.

You can watch Wonder’s speech (and My Cherie Amour sing-along with UN delegates) below.

On recruiting “cold calls”

Google grew by more than 16,000 people between 2005 and 2009 -- a five fold increase in the size of our company. In fact, we were hiring so fast that on average 40 new recruits were joining every day by 2007. At the same time, we were also building partnerships with other technology companies to help improve our products and services.

In order to maintain a good working relationship with these companies, in 2005 we decided not to “cold call” employees at a few of our partner companies. Our policy only impacted cold calling, and we continued to recruit from these companies through LinkedIn, job fairs, employee referrals, or when candidates approached Google directly. In fact, we hired hundreds of employees from the companies involved during this time period.

A number of other tech companies had similar “no cold call” policies -- policies which the U.S. Justice Department has been investigating for the past year. Earlier today, the Justice Department announced a settlement with several of these companies -- including Google -- which brings the investigation to a close. While there’s no evidence that our policy hindered hiring or affected wages, we abandoned our “no cold calling” policy in late 2009 once the Justice Department raised concerns, and are happy to continue with this approach as part of this settlement.

FCC vote on white spaces lays promising foundation for “Wi-Fi on steroids”

This morning the Federal Communications Commission adopted final technical rules related to white spaces – the empty airwaves between broadcast TV channels – that we believe will pave the way for “Wi-Fi on steroids.”

For several years now, the tech industry, the public interest community, and entrepreneurs have been clamoring for the green light to begin innovating and building new products for these airwaves on an unlicensed basis. Today’s order finally sets the stage for the next generation of wireless technologies to emerge, and is an important victory for Internet users across the country.

Chairman Genachowski and his fellow Commissioners deserve ample credit for adopting rules that ultimately will put better and faster wireless broadband connections in the hands of the public. We’re glad to see that the FCC appears to have rejected calls to enact burdensome and unnecessary constraints that would have made it more difficult to deploy useful technologies on these airwaves. Instead, the Commission has put forward common-sense rules that will help encourage innovation, while fully safeguarding incumbent signals from interference.

What’s next on TV white spaces? We’re hopeful the FCC soon will name one or more administrators of the geolocation database, and establish the ground rules for its operation. Once the database is up and running, new white spaces devices and tools can begin to roll out to consumers.

Nonetheless, this important step should be viewed as the beginning, and not the end, of crafting forward-looking spectrum policy for our country. From creating a comprehensive spectrum inventory, to investigating incentive auctions for TV broadcast spectrum, to revisiting the efficacy of spectrum sensing technologies, these are exciting times for folks to get involved in developing more efficient and effective policies to govern our nation’s airwaves.

Digital due process: the time is now

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is the law that regulates how government agencies can access a user’s electronic data from an online service provider. Unfortunately, the law was written in 1986 and is woefully out of date for today’s technology -- the provisions of the law no longer match people’s reasonable privacy protections for their digital data.

My colleague Richard Salgado should know. He’s a former Department of Justice lawyer and currently serves as Google’s Senior Counsel for Law Enforcement and Information Security, where he oversees our team that evaluates and responds to law enforcement requests. Today he’ll be testifying about Google’s ongoing efforts to update ECPA for the digital age.

As part of our efforts, earlier this year Google helped launch Digital Due Process, a coalition of tech companies, privacy advocates, and academics dedicated to reforming ECPA. Since our launch, we’ve met with numerous members of Congress, as well as officials from the Department of Justice and several law enforcement agencies. We’ve also expanded our ranks, with more companies and groups from across the political spectrum joining the campaign. Today’s hearing follows similar hearings before other Senate and House committees, and is another sign of the growing momentum of our effort.

As part of Richard’s testimony, he’ll explain that “a large gap has grown between the technological assumptions made in ECPA and the reality of how the Internet works today, leaving us in some circumstances with complex and baffling rules that are both difficult to explain to users and difficult to apply.”

Check out Digital Due Process to learn more about our efforts to ensure our laws reflect the way we live our lives today.

Shades of red, shades of blue: mapping midterm election ratings

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

With the midterm elections in the U.S. just six weeks away, everyone is wondering how the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats will shake out after November 2. Although more than 500 seats will be decided in House, Senate, and Governor races, the current tallies are so close that individual races are receiving great scrutiny: you’ll find several sources providing estimations for how each race is leaning.

To make tracking the blues and reds a little easier for armchair pundits, we’ve partnered with some of the most respected names in politics—Cook, Rothenberg, CQ-Roll Call and RealClearPolitics—to put their ratings in the same place and on the same map. You can find it at

The map initially shows loads with states shaded according to one of the sources’ ratings of the Senate race; click the links on the left to switch to House or Governor races, or to switch sources. To compare the ratings head-to-head, click a given state or district, and you’ll see ratings from each source displayed. We refresh the data daily based on the latest ratings, so come back as the races develop. If you would like to put this map in your own website, you can embed it as a gadget and grab the code here.

This gadget is powered by the highly flexible yet simple-to-build-on Fusion Tables, which directly integrates into Google Maps API v3. Even if you’re not a programmer, there’s a lot that you can do with Fusion Tables to manipulate and visualize data, and in the spirit of the season, check out our new tutorial that demonstrates how to analyze Census data by congressional district and share what you’ve come up with.

Along with other initiatives, including the Election Center with our Public Sector team and You Choose at YouTube, this map gadget is an important way that we’re working to improve communication, discourse and understanding of the political process.

Internet at Liberty 2010 live stream

The development of the Internet as a global, free and open resource is a constant challenge. The dynamic and decentralized nature of the Internet offers new opportunities for communication and free expression as well as new threats. Today we have reached a critical moment in time when governments that wish to control the spread of information and individuals using digital technologies to promote change are becoming increasingly sophisticated and strategic as they confront each other around the world.

This week in Budapest, Google and the Central European University are sponsoring Internet at Liberty 2010: The Promise and Peril of Online Free Expression, a conference that brings together grassroots global activists alongside representatives of NGOs, academic centers, governments and corporations in order to explore the many issues at hand. The conference will explore creative ways to address the boundaries of online free expression; the complex relationship among technology, economic growth and human rights; ways in which dissidents and governments are using the internet; the role of internet intermediaries; as well as pressing policy and legal issues such as privacy and cybersecurity. You can follow the live stream of the conference from wherever you are.

Tools to visualize access to information

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

When Google’s services are blocked or filtered, we can’t serve our users effectively. That’s why we act every day to maximize free expression and access to information. To promote transparency around this flow of information, we’ve built an interactive online Transparency Report with tools that allow people to see where governments are demanding that we remove content and where Google services are being blocked. We believe that this kind of transparency can be a deterrent to censorship.

Like all companies, Google’s services occasionally experience traffic disruptions. Our new traffic tracking tool helps us and others track whether these interruptions are related to mechanical outages or are government-induced. Each traffic graph shows historic traffic patterns for a given country and service. Graphs are updated as data is collected, then normalized and scaled in units of 0 to 100. This new tool—which is global and includes China—will replace the Mainland China service availability chart, which showed product access for China alone. By showing outages, the traffic graphs visualize disruptions in the free flow of information, whether it's a government blocking information or a cable being cut. For example, the graphs show that YouTube has been inaccessible in Iran since June 12, 2009, following the disputed presidential election.

In April we also created a website that shows the number of government inquiries for information about users and requests for Google to take down or censor content. Today we’re updating this interactive Government Requests map with data from the first six months of 2010. We’ve also updated our analysis of the trends we saw across the data over the past six months. The new data for 2010 now includes the number of individual items asked to be removed, per country (for example, there may be many URLs per a single request.) You can learn more about trends in the data here. We view this as a concrete step that, we hope, will encourage both companies and governments to be similarly transparent.

Free expression is one of our core values. We believe that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. Free expression is, of course, also at the heart of Google’s business. Our products are specifically designed to help people create, communicate, share opinions and find information across the globe. We hope this step toward greater transparency—and these tools—will help in ongoing discussions about the free flow of information.

Competition in an Instant

The Wall Street Journal ran “a debate” about fairness in search today. In it, Google fellow and engineer Amit Singhal discussed how search has evolved to meet users needs. It’s an interesting read, here is Amit’s oped:

Competition in an Instant
By Amit Singhal
Published: September 17, 2010

Last week, "Googling something" took on a whole new meaning. Instead of typing your question into the search box and hitting Enter, our newest invention—Google Instant—shows constantly evolving results based on the individual letters you type.

Instant is just the latest in a long line of search improvements. Five years ago, search results were just "ten blue links"—simple web pages with some text. Today search engines provide answers in the form of images, books, news, music, maps and even "real time" results from sites such as Twitter.

The reason for all these improvements is simple: It's what you want. When you type in "weather" (or just "w" in the case of Google Instant), you want the weather forecast right away—not a collection of links about meteorology. Type in "flights to San Francisco," and you most likely want flight options and prices, not more links asking you to enter the same query again.

We know these things with a fair degree of certainty. We hire lots of great computer scientists, psychologists, and linguists, who all contribute to the quality of our results. We carefully analyze how people use Google, and what they want. And what they want is quite obvious: the most useful, relevant results, as quickly as possible.

Sounds pretty simple. But as Google has become a bigger part of people's lives, a handful of critics and competitors have raised questions about the "fairness" of our search engine—why do some websites get higher rankings than others?

It's important to remember that we built Google to delight our users—not necessarily website owners. Given that not every website can be at the top of the results, or even appear on the first page of our results, it's not surprising that some less relevant, lower-quality websites will be unhappy with their rankings. Some might say that an alphabetical listing or a perfectly randomized list would be most "fair"—but that would clearly be pretty useless for users.

People often ask how we rank our "own" content, like maps, news or images. In the case of images or news, it's not actually Google's content, but rather snippets and links to content offered by publishers. We're merely grouping particular types of content together to make things easier for users.

In other cases, we might show you a Google Map when you search for an address. But our users expect that, and we make a point of including competing map services in our search results (go ahead, search for "maps" in Google). And sometimes users just want quick answers. If you type "100 US dollars in British pounds," for example, you probably want to know that it's "£63.9p"—not just see links to currency conversion websites.

Google's search algorithm is actually one of the world's worst kept secrets. PageRank, one of our allegedly "secret ingredients," is a formula that can be found in its entirety everywhere from academic journals to Wikipedia. We provide more information about our ranking signals than any other search engine. We operate a webmaster forum, provide tips and YouTube videos, and offer diagnostic tools that help websites identify problems.

Making our systems 100% transparent would not help users, but it would help the bad guys and spammers who try game the system. When you type "Nigeria" you probably want to learn about the country. You probably don't want to see a bunch of sites from folks offering to send you money . . . if you would only give them your bank account number!

We may be the world's most popular search engine, but at the end of the day our competition is literally just one click away. If we messed with results in a way that didn't serve our users' interests, they would and should simply go elsewhere—not just to other search engines like Bing, but to specialized sites like Amazon, eBay or Zillow. People are increasingly experiencing the Web through social networks like Facebook. And mobile and tablet apps are a newer alternative for accessing information. Search engines aren't the "gatekeepers" that critics claim. For example, according to the research firm Compete, Google is responsible for only 19% of traffic to

Investment and innovation are considered strong indicators of a competitive marketplace. Last week's launch of Google Instant was a big bet for us—both in terms of the complexity of the computer science and the huge demands it puts on our systems. Competition for eyeballs on the Web helps drive that risk-taking and innovation because consumers really do have the freedom to vote with their clicks and choose another search engine or website. In an industry focused on tough questions, that's clearly the right answer.

Mr. Singhal is a Google fellow who has worked in the field of search for over 15 years, first as an academic researcher and now as an engineer.

Announcing a new white spaces trial in Logan, Ohio

I’m in Logan, Ohio, today to announce that Spectrum Bridge, the Hocking Valley Community Hospital, and Google have teamed up to deploy a broadband network using the TV white spaces.

This is an exciting new deployment – the first of its kind for a hospital – demonstrating the potential of the TV white spaces to improve broadband and spark new applications in healthcare. First responder vehicles, hospital grounds as well as the health department are being equipped with high-speed wireless Internet access. Additionally, the hospital is using the network to manage its outdoor video surveillance system.

To prevent interference with other signals, the network is using Spectrum Bridge’s real-time TV white spaces database (to determine TV white spaces availability at any location, check out Spectrum Bridge’s free search tool.)

This deployment is operating on an experimental white spaces license granted by the FCC. Next Thursday, September 23, the Commission will be voting on final technical rules governing the white spaces – a vote that could pave the way for unlicensed white spaces deployments across the country.

We’re excited that the final rules are up for a vote, and can’t wait to see how entrepreneurs and innovators nationwide will use unlicensed white spaces to introduce cool new products and services.

Stay tuned to this blog for an update from this morning’s launch event.