Our stand for digital due process

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

The year was 1986. A gallon of gas cost 89 cents, Paul Simon’s Graceland won the Grammy for album of the year, and the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which governs how law enforcement can access electronic data, was signed into law.

A lot has changed since 1986. Gas is now measured in dollars and Taylor Swift (born 1989) won album of the year. All the while, technology has moved at record pace. But ECPA has stayed the same. Originally designed to protect us from unwarranted government intrusion while ensuring that law enforcement had the tools necessary to protect public safety, it was written long before most people had heard of email, cell phones or the “cloud” — the term used for programs helping people store personal data like photos and documents online. As a result, ECPA has become outdated.

This is why we’re proud to help establish Digital Due Process, a coalition of technology companies, civil rights organizations and academics seeking to update ECPA to provide privacy protections to new and emerging technologies.

Specifically, we want to modernize ECPA in four ways:
  • Better protect your data stored online: The government must first get a search warrant before obtaining any private communications or documents stored online;
  • Better protect your location privacy: The government must first get a search warrant before it can track the location of your cell phone or other mobile communications device;
  • Better protect against monitoring of when and with whom you communicate: The government must demonstrate to a court that the data it seeks is relevant and material to a criminal investigation before monitoring when and with whom you communicate using email, instant messaging, text messaging, the telephone, etc.; and
  • Better protect against bulk data requests: The government must demonstrate to a court that the information it seeks is needed for a criminal investigation before it can obtain data about an entire class of users.
We also created this video to help explain ECPA and why it needs updating:

You can read more about our proposal at our coalition website. In the coming months, we’ll meet with lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others to help build support for modernizing the law.

1986 was a good year, but it’s time our laws catch up with how we live our lives today.

Next steps for our experimental fiber network

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog.)

Since we announced our plans to build experimental, ultra high-speed broadband networks, the response from communities and individuals has been tremendous and creative. With just a few hours left before our submission deadline, we've received more than 600 community responses to our request for information (RFI), and more than 190,000 responses from individuals (we'll post an update with the final numbers later tonight). We've seen cities rename themselves, great YouTube videos, public rallies and hundreds of grassroots Facebook groups come to life, all with the goal of bringing ultra high-speed broadband to their communities.

We're thrilled to see this kind of excitement, and we want to humbly thank each and every community and individual for taking the time to participate. This enthusiasm is much bigger than Google and our experimental network. If one message has come through loud and clear, it's this: people across the country are hungry for better and faster Internet access.

So what's next? Over the coming months, we'll be reviewing the responses to determine where to build. As we narrow down our choices, we'll be conducting site visits, meeting with local officials and consulting with third-party organizations. Based on a rigorous review of the data, we will announce our target community or communities by the end of the year.

Of course, we're not going to be able to build in every interested community — our plan is to reach a total of at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people with this experiment. Wherever we decide to build, we hope to learn lessons that will help improve Internet access everywhere. After all, you shouldn't have to jump into frozen lakes and shark tanks to get ultra high-speed broadband.

Thanks again to all the communities and citizens that submitted a response. We feel the love, and we're honored by your interest.

Update at 5:26pm: The response deadline has now passed. We've received more than 1,100 community responses and more than 194,000 responses from individuals. This map displays where the responses were concentrated as of 1:30pm PT. Each small dot represents a government response, and each large dot represents locations where more than 1,000 residents submitted a nomination. We plan to share a complete list of government responses and an updated map soon.

Testifying before the Congressional - Executive Commission on China

This afternoon I’m testifying before the Congressional - Executive Commission on China on our new approach in China and what led to it.

As we’ve said, figuring out how to make good on Google’s promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including our users in China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe our new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced.

I look forward to discussing this, as well as the impact censorship has on Internet users around the world, with members of the committee. You can read my written testimony here.

Security alerts for Gmail

We’re always developing new ways to make your online experience more secure. For example, earlier this year we worked through several technical obstacles to become the only major webmail provider to offer session-wide SSL encryption by default.

Even with the protection that SSL provides, users may become exposed to phishing and malware attacks elsewhere on the web that attempt to steal and misuse their personal information. To help address this problem, we’re rolling out a notification system for suspicious account activity associated with your Gmail account — notifications that will provide you with greater control by helping to identify potential security issues.

You can learn more about how this alert works and how you can better manage the activity on your account on the Official Gmail Blog.

D.C. Talk tomorrow: Democracy Online. Can the Internet Bring Change?

Editor's note: This post now includes video from the event.

With spring in the air, it’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago the city was blanketed in an obscene amount of snow. It caused road closures, power outages and one very unfortunate rescheduling of a hotly anticipated D.C. Talk on Internet freedom.

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has come: join us tomorrow, Thursday March 25th, as we bring together experts, advocates and bloggers for a thoughtful - and timely - discussion of democracy online. The panel will answer questions, submitted to Moderator, like these:
"In a practical sense, how effective do you believe that online action can be transformed into offline impact? Is there a risk of people feeling that they've done enough once they have spread a message online?" - Will
"Internet's empowering in terms of connectivity, information, etc. How does it pose danger on freedom/safety of citizens since what they write, send, receive could be more easily tracked? Could this outweigh the benefits? How to mitigate the risks?" - Sarhang
Please join us for what will be a thoughtful exchange.

Google D.C. Talks Presents:
Democracy Online: Can the Internet Bring Change?
Thursday, March 25th
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Google D.C. Office
1101 New York Avenue, NW, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC

RSVP here

Have a question for our panel? Visit www.googledctalks.com to submit it through Google Moderator.

A new approach to China: an update

(cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

On January 12, we announced on this blog that Google and more than twenty other U.S. companies had been the victims of a sophisticated cyber attack originating from China, and that during our investigation into these attacks we had uncovered evidence to suggest that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on their computers. We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered—combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger—had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn.

So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.

Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced—it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services. We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China.

In terms of Google's wider business operations, we intend to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there, though the size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk. Finally, we would like to make clear that all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them. Despite all the uncertainty and difficulties they have faced since we made our announcement in January, they have continued to focus on serving our Chinese users and customers. We are immensely proud of them.

Let the Sunshine in

Public=Online is the the rallying cry during this year’s Sunshine Week, an annual event to highlight the importance of open government and the freedom of information. The week is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors, and many editorial boards have echoed the thoughts of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“...government information ought to be made available to the public as quickly as possible, with a minimum of rigmarole and in the easiest, most accessible way possible--which these days means via the Internet.”
We agree--and what better way to celebrate Sunshine Week than with leading thinkers on government, media and citizen engagement on all sides of the political spectrum who feel the same? Yesterday at our Google D.C. office, the Sunlight Foundation announced its Public=Online campaign.

It’s exciting to see growing support for transparency and to see the progress that’s been made in the last year alone. Every day, through sites like Data.gov and projects like Open Congress, OMB Watch and our Public Data Explorer, more data is available online.

But there’s still a gap between having access to government data and easily understanding what it means. To help fill this gap, Google has partnered with the Sunlight Foundation in its Design for America contest to make government data more comprehensible to the public.

You can learn more and get started on the contest homepage. There’s room for all kinds of folks to participate, and we can’t think of a more fun way to keep the spirit of Sunshine Week going.

Broadcast Yourself

(cross-posted from the Official YouTube Blog)

Around the globe, YouTube has become a metaphor for the democratizing power of the Internet and information. YouTube gives unknown performers, filmmakers, and artists new ways to promote their work to a global audience and rise to worldwide fame; makes it possible for political candidates and elected officials to interact with the public in new ways; enables first-hand reporting from war zones and from inside repressive regimes; and lets students of all ages and backgrounds audit classes at leading universities.

Yet YouTube and sites like it will cease to exist in their current form if Viacom and others have their way in their lawsuits against YouTube.

In their opening briefs in the Viacom vs. YouTube lawsuit (which have been made public today), Viacom and plaintiffs claim that YouTube doesn't do enough to keep their copyrighted material off the site. We ask the judge to rule that the safe harbors in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the "DMCA") protect YouTube from the plaintiffs' claims. Congress enacted the DMCA to benefit the public by permitting open platforms like YouTube to flourish on the Web. It gives online services protection from copyright liability if they remove unauthorized content once they’re on notice of its existence on the site.

With some minor exceptions, all videos are automatically copyrighted from the moment they are created, regardless of who creates them. This means all videos on YouTube are copyrighted -- from Charlie Bit My Finger, to the video of your cat playing the piano and the video you took at your cousin’s wedding. The issue in this lawsuit is not whether a video is copyrighted, but whether it's authorized to be on the site. The DMCA (and common sense) recognizes that content owners, not service providers like YouTube, are in the best position to know whether a specific video is authorized to be on an Internet hosting service.

Because content owners large and small use YouTube in so many different ways, determining a particular copyright holder’s preference or a particular uploader’s authority over a given video on YouTube is difficult at best. And in this case, it was made even harder by Viacom’s own practices.

For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately "roughed up" the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt "very strongly" that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.

Viacom's efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.

Given Viacom’s own actions, there is no way YouTube could ever have known which Viacom content was and was not authorized to be on the site. But Viacom thinks YouTube should somehow have figured it out. The legal rule that Viacom seeks would require YouTube -- and every Web platform -- to investigate and police all content users upload, and would subject those web sites to crushing liability if they get it wrong.

Viacom’s brief misconstrues isolated lines from a handful of emails produced in this case to try to show that YouTube was founded with bad intentions, and asks the judge to believe that, even though Viacom tried repeatedly to buy YouTube, YouTube is like Napster or Grokster.

Nothing could be further from the truth. YouTube has long been a leader in providing media companies with 21st century tools to control, distribute, and make money from their content online. Working in cooperation with rights holders, our Content ID system scans over 100 years worth of video every day and lets rights holders choose whether to block, leave up, or monetize those videos. Over 1,000 media companies are now using Content ID -- including every major U.S. network broadcaster, movie studio, and record label -- and the majority of those companies choose to make money from user uploaded clips rather than block them. This is a true win-win that reflects our long-standing commitment to working with rights holders to give them the choices they want, while advancing YouTube as a platform for creativity.

We look forward to defending YouTube, and upholding the balance that Congress struck in the DMCA to protect the rights of copyright holders, the progress of technological innovation, and the public interest in free expression.

Your interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper

It’s not every day that you get to ask your country’s leader questions about issues you care about. But that’s exactly what Canadians did this afternoon when Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat down with YouTube.

Roughly 170,000 votes were cast through Google Moderator for nearly 1,800 questions -- giving voice to thousands of Canadians. And don’t think that these were softball questions. Canadians asked their Prime Minister questions on a wide variety of important topics: from the deficit to Canada’s role in Afgahistan, from child care to protecting pensions. We tried to select questions that represented the most popular topics and would solicit conversation. (We also minimized duplicate questions so we could cover a range of issues.) Neither the Prime Minister nor his office knew in advance which questions he’d be asked.

You can see the Prime Minister respond to your questions in this video:

Prime Minister Harper is the second world leader to answer your questions in a YouTube Interview. It’s your appetite for political discussion on YouTube that creates these opportunities to access public leaders in this format, and we look forward to conducting more YouTube Interviews soon.

A broadband catapult for America

Power. Clean water. The Interstate highway system. It’s easy to forget that the advantages of modern American life result from basic infrastructure investments made by earlier generations.

Tomorrow the FCC will release a national broadband strategy. The plan will set goals for expanding broadband to unserved and under-served areas, promote greater speeds, and drive consumer demand. It will harness this communications technology to urgent national priorities, such as jobs, education, health, energy, and security. In short, the plan will lay the groundwork for investing in America’s future.

Yes, the Internet was invented in the United States. Yes, we once led the world in broadband development. But now, networks in many countries, from Western Europe to East Asia, are faster and more advanced than our own. Long after we recover from this recession, this broadband gap will be a dead weight on American businesses and workers, unless we act now.

As with the space race in the 1960s, America needs a national effort by our scientists, engineers, companies, educational institutions and government agencies. Just like that great national adventure, we need near-term and long-term goals.

Broadband is an essential input to expanding business, education, and healthcare opportunities everywhere. As soon as possible, we need to bring Internet access to every community, from rural America to the inner cities.

But we also need even more ambitious objectives -- or “stretch goals” -- that test the limits of our ingenuity. When President John F. Kennedy summoned the nation to space exploration, the immediate goal was to send an astronaut in orbit around the earth. But JFK called for “putting a man on the moon” because he knew that dream would inspire Americans to literally reach for the stars.

The private sector has a big job to do, and needs to carry much of the investment. For our part, we plan to build and test an ultra-high-speed broadband network in at least one U.S. community. We are excited by the amount of support our proposed testbed has received from local communities and individuals.

But smart, tailored public policies are critical too. Let’s install broadband fiber as part of every federally-funded infrastructure project, from highways to mass transit. And let’s deploy broadband fiber to every library, school, community health center, and public housing facility in the U.S.

I support a national broadband strategy because ubiquitous broadband connectivity can catapult America into the next level of economic competitiveness, worker productivity, and educational opportunity. But as in the past, we will make this breakthrough by choice, not chance.

University of Virginia expands Google Books agreement

Last month, Stanford University announced an expanded partnership that takes advantage of our settlement agreement to make millions of works from its library collection accessible to people across the United States.

Recently, University of Virginia joined our other partners in expanding its partnership with Google. If the settlement agreement is approved by the court, anyone in the US will be able to find, preview and buy online access to books from U.Va's library, along with works from Stanford, the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Texas, who also expanded their original partnerships with Google.

We're excited that University of Virginia has joined in our ongoing efforts to bring more books to more students, teachers, researchers, and book lovers around the country. You can read more at the University of Virginia website.

Recognizing courage, securing online freedom

(cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

More than ever, governments around the world are threatening online free expression. Forty countries have taken measures to limit this freedom, up from only a handful a few years ago. Google and YouTube services are or have been blocked in 25 of those nations.

On Thursday night in Paris, we took an important step to highlight this crucial issue by sponsoring the first Netizen Prize (or more elegantly, “Le Prix de Net Citoyen”) awarded by the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. And on Friday, March 12, we’ll be helping highlight the fight for Internet freedom by marking the group’s World Day Against Cyber Censorship on YouTube.

Fittingly, Reporters Without Borders chose to give the first Netizen Prize to the Iranian creators of the website Change for Equality, first established in 2006 to fight for changes in laws in Tehran that discriminate against women. That site has since become a well-known source of information on women’s rights in Iran, documenting arrests of women activists and becoming a rallying point for opponents of the regime.

Over the past year those leaders in Tehran have distinguished themselves — and earned the opprobrium of people all over the world — for their brutal crackdown on the rights of its critics to question their rule. Last year's killing of unarmed Neda Agha-Soltan during post-election protests in Tehran, seen around the world on amateur video, has become a symbol of the regime's ferocity — and the power of the Internet to reveal what governments do not want the world to see.

At the award ceremony in our Paris office, our Senior Vice President David Drummond said that we are at a critical point in the future of the Internet: "All of us have a choice. We can allow repressive policies to take flight and spread across the globe, or we can work together against such challenges and uphold the fundamental human right to free expression.”

David went on to praise the role of NGOs like Reporters Without Borders, the Obama Administration’s commitment to the promotion of Internet freedom and the efforts of all groups that have joined the Global Network Initiative. Under the initiative, major U.S. Internet companies, human rights group, socially responsive investors and academic institutions agreed to guidelines promoting free expression and protecting the privacy of their users around the world. “In the spirit of the undiplomatic American come to European shores," he said, "let me make a plea for European governments, companies and groups to rise to the occasion. Any effort that is limited to the United States is bound to fall far short of its global potential.”

FCC launches consumer broadband tool on broadband.gov

Internet users deserve to be well-informed about the performance of their broadband connections, and good data is the foundation of sound policy. So I'm excited to see that the FCC has launched a "beta" consumer broadband test on broadband.gov today. The site provides access to two third-party measurement tools, and is "the FCC's first attempt at providing consumers real-time information about the quality of their broadband connection."

One of the tests is provided through Measurement Lab (M-Lab), the open server platform that a group of researchers and other organizations created with our help last year. The FCC allows users to run Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) -- an open source tool developed by Internet2 -- and see their estimated download and upload speeds. They can also see the estimated latency and jitter of the connection test between the user's computer and an M-Lab server.

Since M-Lab launched, a number of partners have joined to add new tools, improve the platform, and make the data more accessible. One of M-Lab's core goals is to help advance network research, and we're thrilled to have the FCC contribute to this effort as well. All M-Lab test results are made open and publicly available so that researchers can build on and learn from the data without restriction. By pointing users to this tool, the FCC is contributing to this open pool of broadband data. (Note that as part of these tests, the FCC asks users to submit their addresses; to be clear, M-Lab is not collecting any of this information.)

The FCC has also said that the forthcoming National Broadband Plan will recommend different measures to improve broadband transparency. As we stated in previous comments, we think it's important to consider the complementary ways it can use multiple measurement and data collection methodologies, and we look forward to seeing what else the Plan recommends.

For now, you can head over to broadband.gov to try out this first step.

Testifying on Internet censorship, trade and network security

This morning the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will address Internet censorship, trade, and network security. These are all issues of great importance to Google as we continue to create and improve products and services that increase access to information.

Google Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Nicole Wong will testify before the committee and share our recommendations for private and public sector engagement on promoting Internet freedom around the world. Her full testimony is available here.

The Internet in America: A YouTube Interview with the FCC

(cross-posted from the Official YouTube Blog)

If you're reading this, then you're probably on the Internet -- via your laptop, your mobile phone or other handheld device, or maybe even through your television. But in 2010, millions of Americans still do not have access to the wealth of information made available on the Web. Even though the Internet was invented in the U.S. over 20 years ago, many Americans lag behind in both access to the Internet and speed of connections, which is why the Federal Communications Commission (or the FCC, the federal agency that oversees the U.S. communications industry) is launching its much-anticipated National Broadband Plan next Tuesday, to lay out its strategy for connecting all Americans to fast, affordable high-speed Internet.

After this plan is announced, you have the opportunity to interview FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in the second of a series of in-person YouTube interviews with government leaders. (Our first, with United States President Barack Obama, took place last month.) Go to CitizenTube today to submit your video or text question via Google Moderator, and vote on your favorites; we'll bring a selection of the top-voted questions to Chairman Genachowski in our interview next Tuesday, March 16. The deadline for submission is Sunday night March 14 at 11:59 p.m. PT.

To help structure our conversation with the Chairman, we've broken the interview down into seven topics. To learn more about what the FCC is doing in each area, click on the links next to each topic below. Then submit your question on CitizenTube under one of the topic headings.
Access to the Internet has transformed almost every aspect of our economy and society. This is your chance to press the FCC on how the National Broadband Plan will help bring the Internet to everyone. We're looking forward to seeing your questions and hearing what the Chairman has to say.

Newspaper economics: online and offline

It is widely recognized that the news industry is facing financial difficulties, but there is little agreement about the source of those difficulties or what can be done about them. The debate about the role of the web has been particularly heated: is it the source of the problem or the source of the solution? The Federal Trade Commission is exploring questions like this through a series of workshops on the future of the news industry. At the first round in December, Josh Cohen from the Google News team spoke about how we're working with news publishers to help them attract bigger audiences and generate more revenue. The next round of the workshop kicks off in Washington D.C. this morning, and I will be speaking about the economics of news -- offline and online. I first gave this talk at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in January and wanted to give you a summary of my remarks here.

The news industry's financial problems started well before the web came along. Circulation has been falling since 1985 and circulation per household has been falling since 1947! Ad revenue for newspapers was roughly constant in real terms up until 2005, and ad revenue per reader actually increased up until that time. Since then, the drop in advertising rates due to the recession, coupled with a significant drop in circulation, has exacerbated newspapers' financial difficulties.

In the last five years many more people have been reading the news online: About 40% of internet users say they looked at online news “yesterday.” Higher income households report even larger numbers, making online news readers a potentially attractive audience for advertisers.

However, visitors to online newspaper sites don't spend a lot of time there. The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day. Not surprisingly, advertisers are willing to pay more for their share of readers' attention during that 25 minutes of offline reading than during the 70 seconds of online reading. So even though online advertising has grown rapidly in the last five years, it appears that somewhat less than 5% only about 8.2% of newspapers' ad revenue comes from their Internet editions, according to the most recent Newspaper Association of America data.

There's a reason for the relatively short time readers spend on online news: a disproportionate amount of online news reading occurs during working hours. The good news is that newspapers can now reach readers at work, which was difficult prior to the internet. The bad news is that readers don’t have a lot of time to devote to news when they are supposed to be working. Online news reading is predominately a labor time activity while offline news reading is primarily a leisure time activity. One of the big challenges facing the news industry is increasing involvement with the news during leisure hours, when readers have more time to look at both news content and ads.

What about search engines? Many readers go directly to their favorite news site, but a good fraction use search engines to access news specific news topics. According to comScore, clicks from search engines account for 35-40% of traffic to major U.S. news sites. Since most newspaper ads are priced on a per-impression basis, this means that 35-40% of major U.S. newspaper online revenue is coming from search engine referrals. That is a big fraction of online advertising revenue but, as we saw above, online ad revenue is only about 5% 8% of the total.

Furthermore, the real money in search engine advertising is in the highly commercial verticals like Shopping, Health, and Travel. Unfortunately, most of the search clicks that go to newspapers are in categories like Sports, News & Current Events, and Local, which don’t attract the biggest spending advertisers.

This isn't so surprising: the fact of the matter is that newspapers have never made much money from news. They’ve made money from the special interest sections on topics such as Automotive, Travel, Home & Garden, Food & Drink, and so on. These sections attract contextually targeted advertising, which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising. After all, someone reading the Automotive section is likely to be more interested in cars than the average consumer, so advertisers will pay a premium to reach those consumers.

Traditionally, the ad revenue from these special sections has been used to cross-subsidize the core news production. Nowadays internet users go directly to websites like Edmunds, Orbitz, Epicurious, and Amazon to look for products and services in specialized areas. Not surprisingly, advertisers follow those eyeballs, which makes the traditional cross-subsidization model that newspapers have used far more difficult.

Some have argued that the solution to the financial problems of newspapers is to charge for access. Many people place a high value on news, and there is clearly a significant social value to having a well informed citizenry. The problem is that there is a lot of competition among news providers, and this competition tends to push prices down. News sources that have highly differentiated content may be able to make pay-for-access work, but this will likely to be difficult for more generic news sources.

In my view, the best thing that newspapers can do now is experiment, experiment, experiment. There are huge cost savings associated with online news. Roughly 50% of the cost of producing a physical newspaper is in printing and distribution, with only about 15% of total costs being editorial. Newspapers could save a lot of money if the primary access to news was via the internet.

New tablet computers like the Kindle, iPad, and Android devices may encourage people to read online news at home in the comfort of their easy chairs. At Google, we certainly don't think we have all the solutions, but we are definitely keen on working with the news industry to help it attract bigger audiences and generate more ad revenue. Experiments like Fast Flip, Living Stories and Starred Stories may help pull together the at-work and at-home access to the news. Online news access on handheld device like cell phones and tablets is likely to be quite different from traditional newspapers reading, with much more multimedia content, interactivity and reader involvement. The transition to a fully online news will be difficult, but there's a good chance that we will emerge with a significantly more compelling user experience.

Update 1 (3/10/10): Listen to audio of Hal's presentation.

Update 2 (3/16/10): We have revised this post and the embedded slide deck to correct an inaccurate figure. The percentage of U.S. newspaper revenue generated by online is 8.2%, not 5%.

Statistics for a changing world: Google Public Data Explorer in Labs

(cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Last year, we released a public data search feature that enables people to quickly find useful statistics in search. More recently, we expanded this service to include information from the World Bank, such as population data for every region in the world. More and more public agencies, non-profits and other organizations are looking for ways to open up their data and expand global access to this kind of information. We want to help keep that momentum going, so today we're sharing a snapshot of some of the most popular public data search topics on Google. We're also launching the Google Public Data Explorer, an experimental visualization tool in Google Labs.

Popular public data topics on Google
We know people want to be able to find reliable data and statistics on a variety of subjects. But what kind of statistics are they looking for most? To help us better prioritize which data sets to include in our public data search feature, we've analyzed anonymous search logs to find patterns in the kinds of searches people are doing, similar to the patterns you can find on Google Trends and Insights for Search. Some public data providers have asked us to share what we've learned, so we decided to put together an approximate list of the 80 most popular data and statistics search topics.

You can read the complete list at this link (PDF), but here's the top 20 to get you started:
  1. School comparisons
  2. Unemployment
  3. Population
  4. Sales tax
  5. Salaries
  6. Exchange rates
  7. Crime statistics
  8. Health statistics (health conditions)
  9. Disaster statistics
  10. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  11. Last names
  12. Poverty
  13. Oil price
  14. Minimum wage
  15. Consumer price index, inflation
  16. Mortality
  17. Cost of living
  18. Election results
  19. First names
  20. Accidents, traffic violations
You'll notice some interesting entries in the list. For example, we were surprised by how many people search for data about popular first and last names. Perhaps people are trying to decide what to name a new baby boy or girl? As it turns out, people are interested in a wide range of statistical information.

To build the list, we looked at the aggregation of billions of queries people typed into Google search, using data from multiple sources, including Insights for Search, Google Trends and internal data tools — similar to what we do for our annual Zeitgeist. We combined search terms into groups, filtering out spam and repeats, to prepare a list reflecting the most popular public data topics. As a statistician, it's important for me to note that the data only covers one week's worth of searches in the U.S., so there could be seasonal and other confounding factors (perhaps there was an election that week). In addition, preparing a study like this requires a fair amount of manual grouping of similar queries into topics, which is fairly subjective and prone to human error. While imperfect, we still think the list is helpful to consider.

The Public Data Explorer
As you can see, people are interested in a wide variety of data and statistics, but this information is only useful if it's easy to access, understand and communicate. That's why today we're also releasing the Google Public Data Explorer in Labs, a new experimental product designed to help people comprehend data and statistics through rich visualizations. With the Data Explorer, you can mash up data using line graphs, bar graphs, maps and bubble charts. The visualizations are dynamic, so you can watch them move over time, change topics, highlight different entries and change the scale. Once you have a chart ready, you can easily share it with friends or even embed it on your own website or blog. We've embedded the following chart using the new feature as an example:

This chart compares life expectancy and the number of births per woman over the last 47 years for most economies of the world. The bubble sizes show population, and colors represent different geographic regions. Press the play button to see the dramatic changes over time. Click "explore data" to dig deeper.

Animated charts can bring data to life. Click the play button in the chart to watch life expectancy increase while fertility rates fall around the world. The bubble colors make it quick and easy to see clusters of countries along these variables (e.g., in 1960 the European and Central Asian countries were in the lower right and Sub-Saharan Africa in the upper left). The bubble sizes help you follow the most populous countries, such as India and China. These charts are based on the Trendalyzer technology we acquired from the Gapminder Foundation, which we've previously made available in the Motion Chart in Google Spreadsheets and the Visualization API.

With a handful of data providers, there are already billions of possible charts to explore. We currently provide data from the same three providers currently available in our search feature: the World Bank, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, we've added five new data providers: the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the California Department of Education, Eurostat, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. We're excited that all around the world new data providers are deciding to make their information freely available on the Internet, enabling innovators to create interesting applications, mash up the data in new ways and discover profound meaning behind the numbers.

We hope our list and new tool help demonstrate both the public demand for more data and the potential for new applications to enlighten it. We want to hear from you, so please share your feedback in our discussion forum. If you're a data provider interested in becoming a part of the Public Data Explorer, contact us.

The future will be captioned: improving accessibility on YouTube

(cross-posted from the Official You Tube Blog)

Tens of millions of people in the U.S. experience some kind of hearing impairment and recent studies have predicted that over 700 million people worldwide will suffer from hearing impairment by 2015. To address a clear need, the broadcast industry began running captions on regular video programming in the early 1970s. Today, closed captions on video are more prevalent than ever. But generating captions today can be a time-consuming and complicated process.

Making video easily accessible is something we're working hard to address at YouTube. One of the first steps we took was the development of a caption feature in 2008. In November of last year we released auto-captioning for a small, select group of partners. Auto-captioning combines some of the speech-to-text algorithms found in Google's Voice Search to automatically generate video captions when requested by a viewer. The video owner can also download the auto-generated captions, improve them, and upload the new version. Viewers can even choose an option to translate those captions into any one of 50 different languages -- all in just a couple of clicks.

Today, we are opening up auto-captions to all YouTube users. There will even be a "request processing" button for un-captioned videos that any video owner can click on if they want to speed up the availability of auto-captions. It will take some time to process all the available video, so here are some things to keep in mind:
  • While we plan to broaden the feature to include more languages in the months to come, currently, auto-captioning is only for videos where English is spoken.
  • Just like any speech recognition application, auto-captions require a clearly spoken audio track. Videos with background noise or a muffled voice can't be auto-captioned. President Obama's speech on the recent Chilean Earthquake is a good example of the kind of audio that works for auto-captions.
  • Auto-captions aren't perfect and just like any other transcription, the owner of the video needs to check to make sure they're accurate. In other cases, the audio file may not be good enough to generate auto-captions. But please be patient -- our speech recognition technology gets better every day.
  • Auto-captions should be available to everyone who's interested in using them. We're also working to provide auto-captions for all past user uploads that fit the above mentioned requirements. If you're having trouble enabling them for your video, please visit our Help Center: this article is for uploaders and this article is for viewers.
For content owners, the power of auto-captioning is significant. With just a few quick clicks your videos can be accessed by a whole new global audience. And captions can make is easier for users to discover content on YouTube.

Twenty hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Making some of these videos more accessible to people who have hearing disabilities or who speak different languages, not only represents a significant advancement in the democratization of information, it can also help foster greater collaboration and understanding.

Senate hearing on global Internet freedom

This morning, senators will take up an issue of critical importance to Google and Internet users all around the world: how best to fight censorship and advance global online free expression. More than 40 countries now censor online content in one way or another, forcing Google to confront challenges every day on an issue that is very important to us and our users.

At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, led by Senator Dick Durbin, our Deputy General Counsel Nicole Wong will outline the challenges Google faces and make recommendations for government action. She will also address the role that the Global Network Initiative, which Google helped found, is playing in giving a voice to those that are silenced.

The hearing will be live cast at 10 am ET and Nicole's testimony is available here.