Congress, now live on YouTube

Posted by
Robert Kyncl, Vice President, Global Head of Content Partnerships for YouTube
& Susan Molinari, Vice President, Public Policy and Government Relations

Video plays a powerful role in bringing us closer together, especially when it connects people in real time. By transcending borders, empowering citizens, and increasing transparency, it’s one of the many ways technology allows democracy to thrive. Starting this week, all members of the U.S. Congress will have the opportunity to access enhanced features on their YouTube channels, including the ability to live stream video.

Live video is already allowing elected officials and their constituents to reach one another in innovative ways. Thousands tuned in to YouTube to watch the president’s State of the Union address and the corresponding Republican response this February. Engagement is growing across many types of platforms — Google+ Hangouts, for example, have sparked face-to-face conversations on topics ranging from gun control to the national economy and have allowed people on the other side of the world to share their stories at Congressional hearings.

If you’re a member of Congress and would like to know more, check out these Dear Colleague letters issued by the House and Senate. Whether it’s to share a look into your daily work, broadcast speeches and meetings, or showcase events in your state or district, we can’t wait to see how you connect with your constituents.

The Big Tent comes to Washington

Posted by Susan Molinari, Vice President, Public Policy and Government Relations

Transparency Report: More government removal requests than ever before


Three years ago when we launched the Transparency Report, we said we hoped it would shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe. Today, for the seventh time, we’re releasing new numbers showing requests from governments to remove content from our services. From July to December 2012, we received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content—an increase from the 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that we received during the first half of 2012.

As we’ve gathered and released more data over time, it’s become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown. In more places than ever, we’ve been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services. In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates. You can read more about these requests by looking at the annotations section of the Transparency Report. Of particular note were three occurrences that took place in the second half of 2012:
  • There was a sharp increase in requests from Brazil, where we received 697 requests to remove content from our platforms (of which 640 were court orders—meaning we received an average of 3.5 court orders per day during this time period), up from 191 during the first half of the year. The big reason for the spike was the municipal elections, which took place last fall. Nearly half of the total requests—316 to be exact—called for the removal of 756 pieces of content related to alleged violations of the Brazilian Electoral Code, which forbids defamation and commentary that offends candidates. We’re appealing many of these cases, on the basis that the content is protected by freedom of expression under the Brazilian Constitution.
  • Another place where we saw an increase was from Russia, where a new law took effect last fall. In the first half of 2012, we received six requests, the most we had ever received in any given six-month period from Russia. But in the second half of the year, we received 114 requests to remove content—107 of them citing this new law.
  • During this period, we received inquiries from 20 countries regarding YouTube videos containing clips of the movie “Innocence of Muslims.” While the videos were within our Community Guidelines, we restricted videos from view in several countries in accordance with local law after receiving formal legal complaints. We also temporarily restricted videos from view in Egypt and Libya due to the particularly difficult circumstances there.
We’ve also made a couple of improvements to the Transparency Report since our last update:
  • We’re now breaking down government requests about YouTube videos to clarify whether we removed videos in response to government requests for violating Community Guidelines, or whether we restricted videos from view due to local laws. You can see the details by scrolling to the bottom of each country-specific page.
  • We’ve also refreshed the look of the Traffic section, making it easier to see where and when disruptions have occurred to Google services. You can see a map where our services are currently disrupted; you can see a map of all known disruptions since 2009; and you can more easily navigate between time periods and regions.
The information we share on the Transparency Report is just a sliver of what happens on the Internet. But as we disclose more data and continue to expand it over time, we hope it helps draw attention to the laws around the world that govern the free flow of information online.

More momentum toward digital due process

Posted by David Lieber, Privacy Policy Counsel

Three years ago, Google helped found a coalition of technology companies, privacy advocates and academics to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986. Today the Digital Due Process coalition includes more than 90 members, all devoted to bringing this federal law in line with how people use the web today.

ECPA no longer reflects the expectation of privacy that Google users and other users of the Internet reasonably have. For example, an email may receive more robust privacy protections under ECPA depending on how old it is or whether it has been opened. The privacy of electronic communications should not hinge on such arbitrary factors.  

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a significant step toward updating ECPA by passing legislation that would require the government to obtain a warrant in order to compel service providers to disclose the content of emails and other electronic content that they store on behalf of users. The bill replaces a confusing array of distinctions that ECPA makes with a bright line, warrant-for-content rule.

This is an important moment for all Internet users, and we’re deeply appreciative of Senators Leahy and Lee’s leadership in advancing this bill. We’ve also been working closely with the House Judiciary Committee on this issue and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to update ECPA.

Has the ALBA-1 undersea cable changed anything?

In January, I posted a note about a blog post by Renesys analyst Doug Madory showing that Cuba had begun testing the ALBA-1 undersea cable. Madory's data shows the round trip "ping" times for packets traveling between Cuba and four other cities.

The slow speed data points (A) are using the old satellite links.  The medium speed links (B) are asymmetric -- outbound via satellite and return through the cable.  The high speed links (C) imply two way cable traffic.

A number of people commented on Madory's post, some indicating that they had indeed noticed faster speed in accessing Cuban servers, but, consistent with the Renesys data, others did not.

Madory updated the data in March. As we see here, the majority, though not 100 percent, of Telefonica traffic is being carried over the cable.

Regardless, if Cuba lacks the political will and domestic infrastructure to connect users to the cable, it will have little practical effect.  The Cuban government has said the first applications of the cable would be those that benefit society.  It seems to me that university and medical connectivity would fill that bill and be low-hanging fruit.

It has been three months since Madory first detected traffic.  Has anyone noted any improvement in their service?

YouTube wins case against Viacom (again)

Posted by Kent Walker, Senior Vice President & General Counsel, Google
Cross-posted from the Official YouTube Blog 

Today is an important day for the Internet. For the second time, a federal court correctly rejected Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube. This is a win not just for YouTube, but for the billions of people worldwide who depend on the web to freely exchange ideas and information.

In enacting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress effectively balanced the public interest in free expression with the rights of copyright holders. The court today reaffirmed an established judicial consensus that the DMCA protects web platforms like YouTube that work with rightsholders and take appropriate steps to remove user-generated content that rightsholders notify them is infringing.

The growing YouTube community includes not only a billion individual users, but tens of thousands of partners who earn revenue from the platform -- from independent musicians and creators to some of the world’s biggest record labels, movie studios, and news organizations. Today’s decision recognizes YouTube as a thriving and vibrant forum for all these users, creators and consumers alike. Today is an important day for the Internet.

Improving software patent quality to support innovation

Posted by Suzanne Michel, Senior Patent Counsel

We filed comments yesterday with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) on software patent quality, where we argue that better application of established legal principles can help reduce the number of vague, overbroad software patents issued. We think this will protect real innovation while helping to solve some growing problems in the patent system.

Many software patents are so broad as to claim every way of doing something on a computer. And the boundaries of these patents are often unclear. The Patent Office would never permit a patent that covered “any combination of molecules to treat a headache with a pill,” but it regularly does this by allowing software patent claims covering only a goal—not an inventive solution.

By more consistently applying legal rules that require specificity around functional software claims, the PTO can ensure that software patents reward and protect the creative work of building great software products—not just coming up with vague or abstract ideas.

We filed our comments in response to the PTO’s new partnership with the software community and its recent call for public comment on improving patent quality. We commend the PTO’s efforts in this area and look forward to working constructively with the agency in the future.

In our comments, we also suggest that the PTO consider how improved technical training for patent examiners, expanded prior art databases, and standardized terminology used across all software patent applications can help improve quality.

Improving software patent quality is critically important to innovation, which is under attack by patent assertion entities (also known as patent trolls). Trolls don’t make anything; they simply use patents to extract money—almost $30 billion a year—from productive companies through litigation. Trolls often target startups and small businesses that lack the resources or expertise to effectively deal with such lawsuits.

The trolls’ weapons of choice are low-quality software patents: today, most patent litigation is brought by trolls, and about 82% of those suits involve software. There is no single fix to the troll problem, but improving software patent quality will help stem the tide while also supporting real innovation.

Beyond the Password: Protecting Your Online Identity

Posted by David Lieber, Public Policy Team 

Just like burglars and thieves, cyber criminals have many different ways to steal personal information and money. Consumers and technical experts alike are awakening to the reality that passwords - even those that are developed in ways that reduce the likelihood of a breach - are not the cure-all for online security.

Last year, Wired senior writer Mat Honan drew attention worldwide for his first-person account of having his online identity hijacked -- a story that spurred a conversation about passwords and online privacy and security.  On Wednesday, April 17th, Google DC is hosting a talk with FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen on data security, followed by a fireside chat with Mat Honan and security experts to discuss security challenges and the solutions that companies are working on to protect consumers against existing and emerging threats. 

Beyond the Password: Protecting Your Online Identity
Wednesday, April 17th
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

If you are in the DC area, please join us for an engaging discussion about protecting your online identity. RSVP by clicking here.

Plan your digital afterlife with Inactive Account Manager

Posted by Andreas Tuerk, Product Manager

Not many of us like thinking about death — especially our own. But making plans for what happens after you’re gone is really important for the people you leave behind. So today, we’re launching a new feature that makes it easy to tell Google what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account.

The feature is called Inactive Account Manager — not a great name, we know — and you’ll find it on your Google Account settings page. You can tell us what to do with your Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if your account becomes inactive for any reason.

For example, you can choose to have your data deleted — after three, six, nine or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can select trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube. Before our systems take any action, we’ll first warn you by sending a text message to your cellphone and email to the secondary address you’ve provided.

We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife — in a way that protects your privacy and security — and make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone.


Strong, United Voices for Internet Freedom

Posted by Susan Molinari, Vice President, Public Policy and Government Relations

Remember the ITU? It might seem like a long time ago, but it was only last December at a closed-door meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Dubai when some governments proposed measures to censor and regulate the web. We joined millions of individuals and thousands of organizations from all over the world in speaking up against this.

The fight to keep the Internet free and open isn’t over.

Eighty-nine countries signed onto the treaty that came out of the ITU conference. We continue to stand with the countries that refuse to sign. For all of us who believe in pushing back the tide of censorship online, it’s very important to remain vigilant and reaffirm our commitment to an open web.

Among the many voices who spoke up against the closed negotiations at the ITU were those of virtually every Member of the United States Congress. Indeed, in a resolution adopted last year by both the Senate and the House of Representatives without a single dissenting vote, Congress called for the web to remain free from government control and emphasized its support for the multistakeholder model that has allowed the Internet to flourish.

This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is once more considering a call for the Internet to remain free and open. We’re glad Congress remains focused on the ways the ITU proposals threaten the web we have today.

Speaking with one voice in Dubai enabled the United States to lead in defense of Internet freedom. We look forward to supporting policy makers’ efforts to ensure the web keeps fueling economic growth, innovation, and the vibrant exchange of information.

Fighting human trafficking

Posted by Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas and Jacquelline Fuller, Director of Google Giving

Human trafficking, the narcotics trade and weapons smuggling all have one major thing in common: Their ill-gotten proceeds feed conflict, instability and repression worldwide. Out of all of these, human trafficking is perhaps the most devastating, enslaving nearly 21 million people and generating at least $32 billion of illicit profits every year. At last summer's Google Ideas summit on mapping, disrupting and exposing illicit networks, it became clear that connecting anti-trafficking helplines in a global data sharing collaboration could help identify illicit patterns and provide victims anywhere in the world with more effective support. Today, Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International are receiving a $3 million Global Impact Award from Google to do just that. Building on our 2011 grants, this brings our total commitment to anti-trafficking efforts to $14.5 million.

Global Impact Awards support nonprofits that use technology to launch disruptive solutions in their sector. We launched the Global Impact Awards program last December to fund new ideas with a potential for huge scale. And at the Google Ideas INFO summit over the summer, we brought together technologists, leaders, and those with unique personal experiences — including former weapons brokers and survivors of domestic and international human trafficking — to look at illicit networks and their defining obstacles. By connecting technologists and experts with those who understand and have lived through trafficking situations, our discussion centered around a fundamental question: What if local, national, and regional anti-trafficking helplines across the globe were all connected in a data-driven network that helped disrupt the web of human trafficking?

Since the summit, we’ve worked with Polaris Project, Liberty Asia and La Strada International to make this concept a reality. These organizations exist to provide vital help to victims in need across the United States, the Mekong Delta region and Europe. Now, working across borders, this new Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network will collect data from local hotline efforts, share promising practices and create anti-trafficking strategies that build on common patterns and focus on eradication, prevention and victim protection. To enhance the participating organizations' ability to better share, analyze and act upon their data in real time, Palantir Technologies will expand on its existing relationship with Polaris Project by donating its data integration and analytics platform for this project. In addition, supports Polaris Project's hotline center and is helping scale their call tracking infrastructure internationally.

Together, these partners will not only be able to help more trafficking survivors, but will also move the global conversation forward by dramatically increasing the amount of useful data being shared. Appropriate data can tell the anti-trafficking community which campaigns are most effective at reducing slavery, what sectors are undergoing global spikes in slavery, or if the reduction of slavery in one country coincides with an increase right across the border.

In the U.S., Polaris Project has collected data from over 72,000 hotline calls, helping local and national anti-trafficking communities better understand the dynamics of the crime. No such actionable hotline database has existed globally — but it doesn’t need to be that way. Clear international strategies, increased cooperation, and appropriate data sharing amongst anti-trafficking organizations will help victims, prevention efforts, and sound policymaking. Slavery can be stopped. Let's get to it.

It’s time to take action against patent trolls and patent privateering

Posted by Matthew Bye, Senior Competition Counsel

Today, we submitted comments together with BlackBerry, EarthLink and Red Hat to the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice on the growing harm caused by patent assertion entities (more widely known as patent trolls).

We’ve been encouraged by recent attention on the problem of trolls, which cost the U.S. economy nearly $30 billion a year. Trolls are hurting consumers and are increasingly going after small businesses, hampering innovation and reducing competition.

Our comments today also focus on a worrisome trend: some companies are increasingly transferring patents to trolls—and providing incentives to assert those patents against their competitors. These transfers can raise rivals’ costs and undermine patent peace.  

This trend has been referred to as “patent privateering”: a company sells patents to trolls with the goal of waging asymmetric warfare against its competitors.

Trolls use the patents they receive to sue with impunity—since they don’t make anything, they can’t be countersued. The transferring company hides behind the troll to shield itself from litigation, and sometimes even arranges to get a cut of the money extracted by troll lawsuits and licenses.

Privateering lets a company split its patent portfolio into smaller sub-portfolios “stacked” on each other, increasing the number of entities a firm must negotiate with and multiplying licensing costs. This behavior unfairly raises competitors’ costs, ultimately driving up prices for consumers.

It also undermines incentives for companies to work together towards “patent peace” through good-faith negotiation and cross-licensing. If cross-licensing is nuclear deterrence for patents, then privateering has the opposite effect, facilitating patent proliferation and aggression.

We’re asking other companies to work with us to develop cooperative licensing agreements that can help curb privateering. We’re also encouraged that the FTC and DOJ are paying attention to this critical issue, and we hope they will continue to study how abusive troll litigation and patent privateering are harming innovative industries.

Inspiring Innovation to Protect Consumers from Robocalls

Every month, the Federal Trade Commission receives over 200,000 consumer complaints about robocalls. These phone calls can not only be annoying, they also can be a vehicle for cheating consumers and stealing their identities. While law enforcement agencies work to crack down on these fraudsters, unscrupulous robocallers continue to find ways to swindle consumers.

Back in October, the FTC issued its first-ever technology challenge to innovators to conceptualize solutions to this problem. The FTC Robocall Challenge called for “solutions and proofs of concept” for reducing robocalls on mobile and landline phones.  Recognizing that innovative solutions often rely on data analysis, the FTC also made over four years worth of consumer complaint data about robocalls available to challenge participants.  

Inspired by this desire to tap into the innovative spirit, Google engineers submitted their idea for a crowd-sourced solution for consumers to avoid robocalls. By harnessing the knowledge of the crowd, the Internet can often tackle and solve otherwise difficult problems consumers face. Our engineers were honored today to accept the FTC’s Technology Achievement Award for their submission, which recommended tapping into the power of the Internet to target persistent robocalls that disrupt consumers.
The fact that the FTC received nearly 800 submissions shows that there is a real thirst from innovators to work with the agency to help consumers. Collaboration with tech experts is a critical component of the FTC’s consumer protection mission, and the robocall challenge was itself an innovative approach for inspiring a broad group of tech enthusiasts to think up possible ways to stop these real consumer harms. We are proud that Google engineers stepped up to help spark solutions to take on troublesome robocalls.