Empowering users to control their privacy

Updated video added below

How do you come up with solutions for online privacy when technology is constantly evolving? It’s a challenge that engineers face every day when figuring out how to make it intuitive, simple, and useful for Internet users to take control of their privacy and security. It’s also the topic that Dr. Alma Whitten, Google’s lead privacy engineer, will be addressing alongside representatives from Apple, AT&T, and Facebook later today at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Alma’s testimony will focus on how we put our privacy principles into practice. She’ll talk about products like the Google Dashboard (which provides users with a one-stop, easy-to-use control panel for the information they store with their Google accounts and products) and our Ads Preferences Manager (which allows users to edit the categories used to serve them interest-based ads, or opt out altogether). These are examples of how we’ve developed privacy tools by focusing on transparency, user control, and security.

You can read Alma’s full written testimony here, or watch the video below.

Introducing Google Apps for Government

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Today we’re excited to announce a new edition of Google Apps. Designed with guidance from customers like the federal government, the City of Los Angeles and the City of Orlando, Google Apps for Government includes the same great Google applications that people know and love, with specific measures to address the policy and security needs of the public sector.

We’re also pleased to announce that Google Apps is the first suite of cloud computing applications to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification and accreditation from the U.S. government. The FISMA law applies to all information systems in use by U.S. federal government agencies to help ensure they’re secure. The federal government’s General Services Administration has reviewed the documentation of our security controls and issued an authorization to operate, the official confirmation of our FISMA certification and accreditation. This review makes it easier for federal agencies to compare our security features to those of their existing systems; most agencies we have worked with have found that Google Apps provides at least equivalent, if not better, security than they have today. This means government customers can move to the cloud with confidence.

Take Berkeley Lab, a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. It’s managed by the University of California and conducts unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Berkeley researchers collaborate with scientists around the world, so emailing version upon version of documents among collaborators and trying to juggle disparate files is difficult. Berkeley Lab researchers have been using Google Apps to share documents that live in the cloud, and can view and edit documents and spreadsheets simultaneously knowing they are always working from the latest information. (Read more from Berkeley Lab’s Chief Information Officer on the Enterprise blog.)

And we’re not stopping with FISMA certification. Google Apps for Government will continue to evolve to meet unique government requirements. Google Apps for Government stores Gmail and Calendar data in a segregated system located in the continental United States, exclusively for our government customers. Other applications will follow in the near future. The suite is a “community cloud”—as defined by the National Institute for Science and Technology—to support the needs of our government customers. Google Apps for Government is available now to any federal, state or local government in the United States.

With reviews of our security controls in place, government agencies can more easily take advantage of all the benefits of one of the world’s best cloud computing systems. Google’s cloud offers higher reliability, best-in-class disaster recovery and access to a steady stream of innovation—all of which can provide substantial improvements over existing systems in addition to significant cost savings. And with no hardware or software to install and maintain, Google Apps for Government allows agencies to redeploy resources to technology projects core to their mission of serving the public. This new edition should give governments an even stronger case for making the move to the cloud.

Honoring the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Bending, walking, breathing, hearing, seeing and sleeping are simple things that are often taken for granted, as are thinking, learning, and communicating.

Twenty years ago today, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. This milestone legislation bans persons or companies from discriminating against anyone with limited abilities. It’s hard to imagine a world in which the right to participate in activities commonly enjoyed by the bulk of the population are denied or inadequately accommodated, but that was the case before ADA.

The efforts of the advocates who came to Washington two decades ago to rally for their civil rights has transformed so much of the modern world around us. As someone who’s worn hearing aids since I was 13, for example, I very much appreciate that most television programs and DVDs or Blu-Ray disks are captioned. On my way home, I might pass through a door that I know is wide enough for a wheelchair -- because the ADA set the building codes that require it. I see service animals on the DC Metro, accessible checkout aisles at my grocery store, ramps on sidewalks, and designated parking in movie theater lots: all there because of the important provisions included in the ADA.

Whereas the ADA set legal standards for ensuring equal rights for Americans with disabilities, Google is keenly aware that technology can help all users better enjoy the world around them. From opening millions of titles of printed content to persons with visual impairments through Google Book Search, to providing ready and easy-to-use captions on YouTube, to including a built in screenreader and a text-to-speech engine in Android, to introducing new extensions on Chrome to make online text easier to read, we’re serious about honoring our mission to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful. You can keep up with our progress at www.google.com/accessibility.

Congratulations to all those who work to make the ADA a living, breathing reality; for all the years I’ve been working on policy in Washington, it’s still rare to see a law that has had as positive and fundamental an influence on our lives as this Act. There still is work to be done to meet the goals of ADA, and we are committed to doing our part.

Business problems need business solutions

Today we submitted comments with the Federal Trade Commission in reaction to the Staff Discussion Draft about the future of journalism in the age of the Internet.

We agree that the Internet has posed challenges as well as opportunities for publishers. Google works closely with publishers to find business solutions so journalism can thrive online, and we’re optimistic about the news industry’s future. But we strongly disagree with a number of policy recommendations set forth in the Staff Discussion Draft, such as the suggestion that Congress enact a federal hot news doctrine -- something that would not only hurt free expression, but also the very profession of journalism that the proponents of hot news say they support.

We appreciate the FTC's involvement in this matter and its effort to shed light on how news publishers can move forward in the digital era, and we're hopeful that our comments will help encourage policy makers to promote innovation and creativity rather than protectionist barriers.

Tailored and Effective “Third Way”

Today we submitted comments supporting the FCC’s proposed Third Way. In a letter to the agency two months ago, Google along with other technology companies expressed the view that the Third Way framework “will create a legally sound, light-touch regulatory framework that benefits consumers, technology companies and broadband Internet access providers.” We still believe this is a true statement.

The recent Comcast decision re-opened some fundamental questions about the FCC’s jurisdiction over broadband Internet services. On balance the Third Way framework -- which would apply only in a limited manner to only the transmission component of broadband Internet service -- presents a predictable, effective, and tailored approach.

Our op-ed: Regulating what is “best” in search?

Google’s Marissa Mayer wrote in the Financial Times today about the impact for consumers of governments potentially regulating search results. Because the article is behind the FT’s paywall, we thought we’d share the complete text here (also, check out search analyst Danny Sullivan’s take on this issue).

Do not neutralise the web’s endless search
By Marissa Mayer

Published: July 14 2010

Think about the word “jaguar” – what comes to mind? The animal? The car? A sports team? Now ask yourself: what is the best piece of literature ever written about jaguars? What about the best piece of literature ever written containing the word jaguar?

How do you define what is best? What characteristics and attributes should be taken into account? Which should not? There is a debate brewing, reported in the Financial Times this week, about whether standards are needed to ensure fairness – or what is “best” – in internet search results.

Search engines use algorithms and equations to produce order and organisation online where manual effort cannot. These algorithms embody rules that decide which information is “best”, and how to measure it. Clearly defining which of any product or service is best is subjective. Yet in our view, the notion of “search neutrality” threatens innovation, competition and, fundamentally,your ability as a user to improve how you find information.

When Google was launched in 1998, its fundamental innovation was the PageRank algorithm. It was a new and helpful tool in helping users decide which was the best information available – and one of many hundreds that have since been deployed by search engines to improve the ranking and relevance of their results.

Yet searching the web has never been more complex. Type “World Cup” into Google today and you will see millions of returns, ranging from recent news articles to images of players. Often the answer is not a web page: sports scores, news, pictures and tweets about matches are included. Such results stem from an upgrade in Google’s technology launched in 2007, which made it possible to include media such as maps, books, or videos on a results page. Our goal is to provide our users with the best and most effective answer. Consider the search “how to tie a bowtie”. Answers to these types of searches benefit from the inclusion of different media (diagrams, videos), sometimes from a Google service (books, maps).

To make matters more difficult, a quarter of all daily searches on Google have never been seen before. Each presents a new challenge, so our engineers need constantly to improve and update our algorithms. On average, we make one or two changes every day. But even then they sometimes require a more hands-on approach. For example, we occasionally have to flag malicious programmes manually, removing links to child pornography or spam sites.

The world of search has developed a system in which each search engine uses different algorithms, and with many search engines to choose from users elect to use the engine whose algorithm approximates to their personal notion of what is best for the task at hand. The proponents of “search neutrality” want to put an end to this system, introducing a new set of rules in which governments would regulate search results to ensure they are fair or neutral.

Here the practical challenges would be formidable. What is fair in terms of ordering? An alphabetical listing? Equally, new results will need to be incorporated – new web pages, but also new media types such as tweets or audio streams. Without competition and experimentation between companies, how could the rules keep up? There is no doubt that this will stifle the advance of the science around search engines.

Abuse would be a further problem. If search engines were forced to disclose their algorithms and not just the signals they use, or, worse, if they had to use a standardised algorithm, spammers would certainly use that knowledge to game the system, making the results suspect.

But the strongest arguments against rules for “neutral search” is that they would make the ranking of results on each search engine similar, creating a strong disincentive for each company to find new, innovative ways to seek out the best answers on an increasingly complex web. What if a better answer for your search, say, on the World Cup or “jaguar” were to appear on the web tomorrow? Also, what if a new technology were to be developed as powerful as PageRank that transforms the way search engines work? Neutrality forcing standardised results removes the potential for innovation and turns search into a commodity.

We know that Google plays an important role in accessing information. We also welcome scrutiny and want to ensure everyone understands how we work. Yet we believe the best answer for a particular search changes constantly. It changes because the web changes, because users’ expectations and tastes evolve and because the media never stay still. Yet proponents of search neutrality are effectively saying that they know what is “best” for you. We think consumers should be able to decide for themselves – with an array of internet search engines to choose from, each providing their very best.

The writer is vice-president of search product and user experience at Google.

Convergence Brought Home

Convergence is an overused and misused term, but fortunately it’s back in vogue for all the right reasons at the Federal Communications Commission. Back in December, Google and others suggested that the FCC pave the way for the convergence of the Internet and the television screen in their National Broadband Plan. Such a convergence would increase innovation, enhance consumer experiences, and drive broadband adoption and usage. While the technical ability to access Internet and video content through a television platform has been possible for years, an open and vibrant retail video device marketplace has yet to materialize.

In comments we filed today with the FCC, we expressed our support for the so-called “AllVid” solution. This approach would allow consumers to purchase inexpensive universal adapters, featuring common interfaces and standards, that would connect with smart video devices, including TVs. In essence, for the first time consumers would be able seamlessly to bring the full power of the Internet to their in-home TV screen. That’s the kind of convergence we think everyone should be able to support.

Google D.C. Talk July 14 - Chef José Andrés: What does light taste like?

Liquid nitrogen. Deconstruction. Physics. Three terms not typically associated with cooking. Unless, of course, you’re talking about Chef José Andrés, of Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, Café Atlantico and Minibar fame.

Our next D.C. Talk is this coming Wednesday, July 14th, and we promise it will be memorable. Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf will join Chef Andrés to ask you to re-imagine innovation and how it can transform the way we eat.

Driven by science and the desire to embody elements like air or light, food critic Ruth Reichl describes Chef Andrés’ culinary approach - known as molecular gastronomy - as “a kind of magic, it’s like a circus of the mouth.”

If you have burning questions for Chef Andrés, submit them and vote for other good questions via Google Moderator.

Google D.C. Talks presents
Chef José Andrés:
What does light taste like?
Wednesday, July 14th
5:30 PM - 7 PM ET
Google Washington Office
Washington, D.C. 20005

Bringing federal IT into the cloud

The cloud improves security. The cloud saves taxpayer dollars. The cloud makes government more efficient.

That’s the message Mike Bradshaw, Director of Google Federal, will take to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during today’s hearing on federal IT and cloud computing.

Mike’s testimony will highlight three main points:
  • First, cloud computing can provide improved security. Under legacy computing models, data is stored on local computers – this is the equivalent of keeping cash under your mattress. Storing data securely in the cloud is like keeping cash in a bank. (To learn more, check out our Google Apps security whitepaper.)
  • Second, the cloud can save taxpayer dollars. The Brookings Institution found that government agencies that switched to some form of cloud computing saw up to 50 percent savings. To put that in context, the federal government is currently spending $76 billion per year on IT, with $20 billion of that devoted to hardware, software and file servers.
  • Third, in addition to securing data and lowering costs, cloud computing can improve efficiency and collaboration in ways that are simply not possible under the legacy IT model. Millions of individuals, businesses, and governments are already enjoying these benefits. We’re beginning to see federal cloud initiatives and more robust pilot programs, and we support efforts like FedRAMP to accelerate the process.

You can read Mike’s full written testimony here, and we’ll be posting video of the hearing here soon.

Update: Check out video of Mike's opening statement, below.