Giving you more insight into your Google Account activity

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Every day we aim to make technology so simple and intuitive that you stop thinking about it—we want Google to work so well, it just blends into your life. But sometimes it’s helpful to step back and take stock of what you’re doing online.

Today we’re introducing Account Activity, a new feature in your Google Account. If you sign up, each month we’ll send you a link to a password-protected report with insights into your signed-in use of Google services.

For example, my most recent Account Activity report told me that I sent 5 percent more email than the previous month and received 3 percent more. An Italian hotel was my top Gmail contact for the month. I conducted 12 percent more Google searches than in the previous month, and my top queries reflected the vacation I was planning: [rome] and [hotel].

Click the image for a larger version

Knowing more about your own account activity also can help you take steps to protect your Google Account. For example, if you notice sign-ins from countries where you haven’t been or devices you’ve never owned, you can change your password immediately and sign up for the extra level of security provided by 2-step verification.

Give Account Activity a try, and tell us what you think by clicking on the “Send feedback” button in the lower right corner of your report. Over the next few months, we plan to incorporate more Google services. Meanwhile, we hope this feature helps you better understand and manage your information on Google.

Explore Mandela’s archives online

(Cross-posted from the Google Africa Blog)

Last year we announced a $1.25 million grant to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory to help preserve and digitize thousands of archival documents, photographs and videos about Nelson Mandela. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (NMCM) is committed to documenting the life and times of one of the world's greatest statesmen and spreading his story to promote social justice throughout the world.

Today, the Mandela archive has become a reality. Along with historians, educationalists, researchers, activists and many others around the world, you can access a wealth of information and knowledge about the life and legacy of this extraordinary African leader. The new online multimedia archive includes Mandela’s correspondence with family, comrades and friends, diaries written during his 27 years of imprisonment, and notes he made while leading the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa. The archive will also include the earliest-known photo of Mr. Mandela and never-before seen drafts of Mr. Mandela's manuscripts for the sequel to his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

We’ve worked closely with the NMCM to create an interactive online experience which we hope will inspire you as much as us. You can search and browse the archives to explore different parts of Mandela’s life and work in depth: Early Life, Prison Years, Presidential Years, Retirement, Books for Mandela, Young People and My Moment with a Legend.

For example, you might be interested in Nelson Mandela’s personal memories of the time he was incarcerated and click into the Prison Years exhibit. You can immediately see a curated set of materials threaded together into a broader narrative. These include handwritten notes on his desk calendars, which show, for example, that he met President F.W. De Klerk for the first time on December 13, 1989 for two and a half hours in prison; the Warrants of Committal issued by the Supreme Court which sent him to prison; the earliest known photo of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island circa 1971; and a personal letter written from prison in 1963 to his daughters, Zeni and Zindzi, after their mother was arrested, complete with transcript.

From there, you might want to see all the letters held by the archive, and click “See more” in the letters category, where you can discover all personal letters or use the time filter to explore his diaries and calendars written between 1988 and 1998, where you can see that in the last page of the last diary, he met with President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda to exchange ideas about the situation in northern Uganda. If you were a researcher, you can search through various fragments of Madiba’s memory that relate to Ahmed Kathrada, his long-time comrade, politician and anti-apartheid activist, where you can find photos, videos, manuscripts and letters that relate to him.

Finally, by clicking into the exhibit, My Moment with a Legend, you can go beyond Madiba’s personal materials to get a diverse perspective through photos, videos and stories, via the memories of people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, F.W. De Klerk and Nomfundo Walaza, a community worker.

The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive project is an initiative by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and the Google Cultural Institute, which helps to preserve and promote our diverse cultural and historical heritage. Some of our other initiatives include the Art Project, digitizing the Dead Sea Scrolls and bringing the Yad Vashem Holocaust materials online.

You can start exploring the Nelson Mandela archive right now at We hope you’ll be inspired by this influential leader—the face of South Africa’s transition to democracy.

Bipartisanship, new businesses and new jobs, with a little help from your friends

As we highlighted in a recent post on Google’s Policy by the Numbers blog, entrepreneurs need access to capital to make grow their ideas into successful companies. We are excited to see members of Congress working to promote entrepreneurs’ efforts to build new companies and create new jobs.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act with nearly full bipartisan support. The JOBS Act makes it easier for startups to raise capital. The crowdfunding provisions drafted by Congressman Patrick McHenry and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are particularly exciting and we applaud the House for its focus on helping to promote innovation and economic growth.

Crowdfunding means raising small amounts of money from a large crowd. Already, thousands of new companies have been funded by crowdfunding platforms like Kiva, Kickstarter, and IndieGogo. With the growth of social networks and other online platforms, crowdfunding is a promising investment model that would allow more Americans to invest in a new company simply by using the Internet to connect with entrepreneurs.

Earlier this week senators from both sides of the aisle -- Senators Merkley, Brown, Bennet, and Landrieu -- introduced the Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure Act of 2011, known as the CROWDFUND Act. President Obama has also expressed support for signing into law crowdfunding legislation.

Google was started by two graduate students in a garage with a check from one (trusting) investor. The next Google, Facebook, Apple, or Amazon could be funded thanks to crowdfunding legislation, and that would be a great thing for our economy.

Making our ads better for everyone

Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog

We believe that ads are useful and relevant information that can help you find what you’re looking for online—whether you’re comparing digital cameras or researching new cars. We also want you to be able to use Google and click on any ads that interest you with confidence. Just as we work hard to make Gmail free of spam and the Google Play Store free of malware, we’re committed to enforcing rigorous standards for the ads that appear on Google and on our partner sites.

Like all other Internet companies, we’re fighting a war against a huge number of bad actors—from websites selling counterfeit goods and fraudulent tickets to underground international operations trying to spread malware and spyware. We must remain vigilant because scammers will always try to find new ways to abuse our systems. Given the number of searches on Google and the number of legitimate businesses who rely on this system to reach users, our work to remove bad ads must be precise and at scale.

We recently made some improvements to help ensure the ads you see comply with our strict policies, so we wanted to give you an overview of both our principles and these new technologies.

Ads that harm users are not allowed on Google
We’ve always approached our ads system with trust and safety in mind. Our policies cover a wide range of issues across the globe in every country in which we do business. For example, our ads policies don’t allow ads for illegal products such as counterfeit goods or harmful products such as handguns or cigarettes. We also don’t allow ads with misleading claims (“lose weight guaranteed!”), fraudulent work-at-home scams (“get rich quick working from home!”) or unclear billing practices.

How it all works
With billions of ads submitted to Google every year, we use a combination of sophisticated technology and manual review to detect and remove these sorts of ads. We spend millions of dollars building technical architecture and advanced machine learning models to fight this battle. These systems are designed to detect and remove ads for malicious download sites that contain malware or a virus before these ads could appear on Google. Our automated systems also scan and review landing pages—the websites that people are taken to once they click—as well as advertiser accounts. When potentially objectionable ads are flagged by our automated systems, our policy specialists review the ads, sites and accounts in detail and take action.

Improvements to detection systems
Here are some important improvements that we’ve recently made to our systems:

  • Improved “query watch” for counterfeit ads: While anyone can report counterfeit ads, we’ve widened our proactive monitoring of sensitive keywords and queries related to counterfeit goods which allows us to catch more counterfeit ads before they ever appear on Google
  • New “risk model” to detect violations: Our computer scanning depends on detailed risk models to determine whether a particular ad may violate our policies, and we recently upgraded our engineering system with a new “risk model” that is even more precise in detecting advertisers who violate our policies
  • Faster manual review process: Some ads need to be reviewed manually. To increase our response time in preventing ads from policy-violating advertisers, we sped up our internal processes and systems for manual reviews, enabling our specialists to be more precise and fast
  • Twenty-four hour response time: We aim to respond within 24 hours upon receiving a reliable complaint about an ad to ensure that we’re reviewing ads in a timely fashion

We also routinely review and update the areas which our policies cover. For example, we recently updated our policy for ads related to short-term loans in order to protect people from misleading claims. For short-term loans, we require advertisers to disclose fine-print details such as overall fees and annual percentage rate, as well as implications for late and non-payment.

Bad ads are declining
The numbers show we’re having success. In 2011, advertisers submitted billions of ads to Google, and of those, we disabled more than 130 million ads. And our systems continue to improve—in fact, in 2011 we reduced the percentage of bad ads by more than 50% compared with 2010. That means that our methods are working. We’re also catching the vast majority of these scam ads before they ever appear on Google or on any of our partner networks. For example, in 2011, we shut down approximately 150,000 accounts for attempting to advertise counterfeit goods, and more than 95% of these accounts were discovered through our own detection efforts and risk models.

Here’s David Baker, Engineering Director, who can explain more about how we detect and remove scam ads:

What you can do to help
If you’re an advertiser, we encourage you to review our policies that aim to protect users, so you can help keep the web safe. For everyone else, our Good to Know site has lots of advice, including tips for avoiding scams anywhere on the Internet. You can also report ads you believe to be fraudulent or in violation of our policies and, if needed, file a complaint with the appropriate agency as listed in our Web Search Help Center.

Online advertising is the commercial lifeblood of the web, so it’s vital that people can trust the ads on Google and the Internet overall. We’ll keep posting more information here about our efforts, and developments, in this area.

Syrian citizen journalists capture Netizen Prize

Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog

Earlier this week, Reporters Without Borders awarded the Netizen Prize to Syrian citizen journalists at a ceremony in Paris. The Netizen Prize is awarded annually to a blogger, online journalist or cyber-dissident who has helped to promote freedom of expression on the Internet.

For the past year, Syrian citizen journalists have continued to collect and disseminate information on the uprising wracking their country. Reporters Without Borders tonight honored these courageous activists, awarding them the 2012 Netizen Prize.

Jasmine a 27-year-old Syrian activist living in Canada, accepted the award in a ceremony in Paris on behalf of the Local Coordination Committees. She preferred to use a pseudonym to protect her family inside Syria. “The Netizen Prize proves that our voices were heard and that we succeeded in delivering the stories of millions of Syrians who are struggling on the ground to achieve what they have always dreamed - to live in freedom and dignity” she said.

This is third year in a row that Google has sponsored the Netizen Prize. Reporters Without Borders counts 200 cases of netizens arrested in 2011, up 30% over the previous year. Five were killed. This is the highest level of violence against netizens ever recorded. More than 120 are currently in jail for keeping us informed. Our own products are blocked in about 25 of 125 countries in which the company operates. “The Internet allows courageous individuals in Syria and elsewhere to tell their story to the world,” said Google France President Jean-Marc Tassetto. “The Netizen Prize and our work with Reporters Without Borders testifies to our belief that access to information will lead to greater freedom and greater social and economic development.”

Syrian journalists and bloggers are threatened and arrested by the government. International news organizations are, for the most part, kept out of the country. In their absence, the committees have become almost the only way to keep the world abreast of the violence wracking the country. They emerged spontaneously following the start of the Syrian revolution last March, bringing together human rights activists and local journalists, and now are found in most cities and towns across the country. “The Netizen Prize proves that our voices were heard," Jasmine said.

Informants on the ground send information and the committees confirm it from multiple sources. A third group translates the news into English and distributes it. News, videos and pictures are posted on the group's Facebook page, on its photo blog, and on the group’s own website. "There are millions of stories that made us cry, laugh, get mixed emotions since the uprising began,” Ola added. “We were talking to a mother of three detainees and she made us all promise each other that no matter what, we will never stop covering the events of our beloved Syria."

The award was distributed on World Day Against Cyber Censorship. In 2010, the Netizen Prize was awarded to Iranian cyberfeminists. Last year, it went to Nawaat, a group blog run by independent Tunisian bloggers. The nominees for the Netizen Award 2012 come from across the globe, ranging from Russia to Syria to Brazil and China. their geographic diversity a reflection of the growing impact of the Net.