Bandcamp at Centre of Dispute Between Epic Games and Google

An anonymous reader shares a report: If you’d told us that Bandcamp’s acquisition by Epic Games would lead fairly swiftly to an argument with a tech giant, our money would have been on that giant being Apple. Nope. Epic Games is seeking a court injunction against Google, over changing rules on its Google Play Store for Android. Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond blogged about the dispute overnight, noting that since 2015, Bandcamp has used its own billing system to process payments made for music and merch within its Android app. “However, Google is now modifying its rules to require Bandcamp (and other apps like it) to exclusively use Google Play Billing for payments for digital goods and services, and pay a revenue share to Google,” wrote Diamond. “If Google’s policy changes stand, beginning on June 1st, we would have to either pass Google’s fees on to consumers (making Android a less attractive platform for music fans), pass fees on to artists (which we would never do), permanently run our Android business at a loss, or turn off digital sales in the Android app.” Diamond also said that the new policy could see a delay in payments for artists and labels, from the current 24-48 hours to “15 to 45 days after a sale,” while Epic’s filing notes that Google’s system can’t be used for purchases of physical items (merch and physical music), which would force it to use two separate payment systems anyway.

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Google Rewards Employees Returning to Office with Private Lizzo Concert

As an apparent reward for returning to the office, thousands of Google employees were treated to a private Lizzo concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre near Google’s headquarters, reports CNBC:

Google implemented a return-to-office policy starting in early April, requiring employees to go to physical facilities at least three days a week. Staffers pushed back on the mandate and the prospect of navigating traffic jams, after they worked efficiently for so long at home while the company enjoyed some of its fastest revenue growth of the past 15 years….

Google had delayed its return plans on multiple occasions, due mostly to surges in Covid-19 case numbers. But this time, the company stuck to its reopening schedule. In the early days back, employees were greeted with marching bands on campus, as well as photo booths, celebratory food and visits from prominent politicians.

“Thank you for being back!” Lizzo said. “Thank you for surviving! Google, we back, bitch!!” […] She inserted the company’s name into her popular song “Boys,” changing the lyrics from “I heard you a freak, too” to “I heard you a freak, Google!”

After two and a half years “of protecting others and ourselves but also being very disconnected,” Lizzo told the crowd, “It’s so incredible to see how connected we are right now!” CNBC reports.
Someone in the crowd shouted back, “Propaganda! Propaganda!”

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Google Cloud Security Exec: Government Reliance on Microsoft Is a Security Vulnerability

“Google is taking aim at Microsoft’s dominance in government technology and security,” reports NBC News:

Jeanette Manfra, director of risk and compliance for Google’s cloud services and a former top U.S. cybersecurity official, said Thursday that the government’s reliance on Microsoft — one of Google’s top business rivals — is an ongoing security threat.

Manfra also said in a blog post published Thursday that a survey commissioned by Google found that a majority of federal employees believe that the government’s reliance on Microsoft products is a cybersecurity vulnerability. “Overreliance on any single vendor is usually not a great idea,” Manfra said in a phone interview. “You have an attack on one product that the majority of the government is depending on to do their job, you have a significant risk in how the government can continue to function.”

Microsoft pushed back strongly against the claim, calling it “unhelpful.” The study comes as Google is positioning itself to challenge Microsoft’s dominance in federal government offices, where Windows and Office programs are commonly used….

The blog post comes as hackers continue to discover critical software vulnerabilities at an increasing pace across major tech products, but especially in Microsoft programs. Last year, researchers discovered 21 “zero-days” — an industry term for a critical vulnerability that a company doesn’t have a ready solution for — actively in use against Microsoft products, compared to 16 against Google and 12 against Apple. he most prominent zero-day was used against Microsoft’s Exchange email program, which cybersecurity experts say was first employed by Chinese cyberspies and then quickly adopted by criminal hackers, leading to hundreds of companies becoming compromised.

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Google Dupes Diners, Sidelines Restaurants For Delivery Profits

Google has been making unauthorized pages for restaurants and using them to take a cut of fees from delivery orders through sites like Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub, according to a lawsuit Tuesday in San Francisco federal court. Reuters reports: The proposed class action (PDF) filed by Left Field Holdings, a Florida franchisee of Lime Fresh Mexican restaurants, said Google has been creating illegitimate digital “storefronts” for restaurants and deceiving users into thinking that the restaurants approved them. The lawsuit says Google takes a cut from the delivery sites for orders made through the storefronts, and in some cases delivery sites pay Google to divert users to them.

Left Field said restaurants are charged up to 30% of each order in fees by delivery sites, and therefore see “little (if any)” profits from them. Google never received permission to sell the restaurants’ food, designed the storefronts to look like they were restaurant-appproved, and placed a large “Order Online” button under restaurant search results to lure users to its storefronts, according to Left Field. […] The lawsuit accuses Google of deceiving customers and violating federal trademark law starting in 2019. It asks for an undisclosed amount of money damages on behalf of Left Field and similarly affected restaurant owners and a ban on Google’s alleged misuse of their trade names. In response to the lawsuit, a Google spokesperson said that the “Order Online” feature is meant to “connect customers with restaurants they want to order food from,” and that it lets restaurants “indicate whether they support online orders or prefer a specific provider, including their own ordering website.”

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Google Says iMessage Is Too Powerful

Google took to Twitter this weekend to complain that iMessage is just too darn influential with today’s kids. Ron Amadeo writes via Ars Technica: The company was responding to a Wall Street Journal report detailing the lock-in and social pressure Apple’s walled garden is creating among US teens. iMessage brands texts from iPhone users with a blue background and gives them additional features, while texts from Android phones are shown in green and only have the base SMS feature set. According to the article, “Teens and college students said they dread the ostracism that comes with a green text. The social pressure is palpable, with some reporting being ostracized or singled out after switching away from iPhones.” Google feels this is a problem.

“iMessage should not benefit from bullying,” the official Android Twitter account wrote. “Texting should bring us together, and the solution exists. Let’s fix this as one industry.” Google SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer chimed in, too, saying, “Apple’s iMessage lock-in is a documented strategy. Using peer pressure and bullying as a way to sell products is disingenuous for a company that has humanity and equity as a core part of its marketing. The standards exist today to fix this.”

The “solution” Google is pushing here is RCS, or Rich Communication Services, a GSMA standard from 2008 that has slowly gained traction as an upgrade to SMS. RCS adds typing indicators, user presence, and better image sharing to carrier messaging. It is a 14-year-old carrier standard, though, so it lacks many of the features you would want from a modern messaging service, like end-to-end encryption and support for non-phone devices. Google tries to band-aid over the aging standard with its “Google Messaging” client, but the result is a lot of clunky solutions that don’t add up to a good modern messaging service. Since RCS replaces SMS, Google has been on a campaign to get the industry to make the upgrade. After years of protesting, the US carriers are all onboard, and there is some uptake among the international carriers, too. The biggest holdout is Apple, which only supports SMS through iMessage. “Google clearly views iMessage’s popularity as a problem, and the company is hoping this public-shaming campaign will get Apple to change its mind on RCS,” writes Amadeo in closing. “But Google giving other companies advice on a messaging strategy is a laughable idea since Google probably has the least credibility of any tech company when it comes to messaging services. If the company really wants to do something about iMessage, it should try competing with it.”

Further reading:
Eddy Cue Wanted To Bring iMessage To Android In 2013
Apple Says iMessage On Android ‘Will Hurt Us More Than Help Us’

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Google Finally Killed Its Internet Explorer Plugin, ‘Google Toolbar’

Ars Technica’s reviews editor remembers how Google Toolbar launched back when Internet Explorer “had a rock-solid monopoly” on December 11, 2000, and marked Google’s first foray into browser ownership. “Rather than idly sit by and live under Internet Explorer’s rule, Google’s plan was to hijack Microsoft’s browser with various plugins.”

Once upon a time, Toolbar.google.com offered to guide any wayward Internet Explorer users across the web with the power of Google…. It also patched up long-neglected Internet Explorer with new features, like highlighted search terms in pages, pop-up blocking, spell check, autofill, and Google Translate. Phase 2 of the hijack plan was Google Gears, which augmented IE with new APIs for web developers. Eventually, Google stopped fixing other companies’ browsers and launched Google Chrome in 2008, which would make all of this obsolete.

But it ended as Google finally pulled the plug this week on “a dusty, forgotten server” that had spent nearly 21 years blurting out “Take the best of Google everywhere on the web!”

Now, it redirects to a support page saying “Google Toolbar is no longer available for installation. Instead, you can download and install Google Chrome.” The good news is that we wrote most of this post at the end of November, so this might be the Internet’s very last hands-on of the now-dead product….

To say the app had been neglected is an understatement. The about page read, “Copyright 2014 Google,” though Google definitely stopped performing maintenance on Toolbar before that. You could still do a Google Search, and you could still sign into Google Toolbar, but so much there was broken or a time capsule from a bygone era….

The “share” settings were a bloodbath, listing options for Google Reader (killed July 2013), Orkut (killed September 2014), Google+ (killed April 2019), and Google Bookmarks (killed September 2021). There were also search shortcuts for Google Blog Search (killed May 2011) and Picasa Web Albums (dead May 2016)….

The spell-check servers didn’t work anymore, and I couldn’t translate anything. The baked-in-by-default connections to Google+ and Google Bookmarks would also let you know that those products have been shut down. Even some of the “working” integrations, like Gmail, didn’t really work because Gmail no longer supports Internet Explorer….

One feature that really blew my mind was a button that said, “Turn off features that send information.” Google Toolbar apparently had a one-click privacy kill switch back in the day.

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Google Readies ‘Pixel Watch’ For 2022 Launch

According to Insider, Google is planning to launch its own in-house smartwatch in 2022. “Two employees said a spring launch was possible if the latest testing round is a success, however all sources stressed that details and timelines were subject to change depending on feedback from employees testing the device,” reports Insider. From the report: The device, which is internally codenamed “Rohan,” will showcase the latest version of Google’s smartwatch software to customers and partners […]. To date, Google has opted to create software for smartwatches built by partners such as Samsung, but has not made a device of its own. […] Unlike the Apple Watch, Google’s smartwatch is round and has no physical bezel, according to artistic renders viewed by Insider and employees who have seen it. Like Apple’s device, it will capture health and fitness metrics.

The watch has sometimes been referred to internally as the “Pixel watch” or “Android watch,” but executives have used a variety of names to refer to the project and it is unclear what branding Google will land on if and when it launches the device. […] The Rohan watch has a heart-rate monitor and offers basic health-tracking features such as step counting. In its current form the watch will require daily charging, according to a feedback document seen by Insider. One employee testing the watch lamented the charging was slow. Like the Apple Watch, Google’s wearable will also use proprietary watchbands. […]

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