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Last year Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp, accused Google of creating a "less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society." Given the tone of some of your publications, that made quite a few people chuckle.
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This week you were at it again.  One of your newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, accused Google of wielding undue political influence.  Blimey!

More seriously, given the inaccuracies that have been published, we wanted to give our side of the story. Here goes.

Wall Street Journal:
The findings [from the Bureau of Competition] stand in contrast to the conclusion of the FTC’s commissioners, who voted unanimously in early 2013 to end the investigation”.   

Google:
As the FTC made clear this week:  “... the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel” (something the Journal has chosen not to report).

Wall Street Journal:
Since Mr. Obama took office, employees of the Mountain View, Calif., company have visited the White House for meetings with senior officials about 230 times …  In comparison, employees of rival Comcast Corp., also known as a force in Washington, have visited the White House a total of about 20 times … Google’s knack for getting in the room with important government officials is gaining new relevance as scrutiny grows over how the company avoided being hit by the FTC with a potentially damaging antitrust lawsuit”.

Google:
Of course we’ve had many meetings at the White House over the years.  But when it comes to the information the Journal provided to Google about these meetings, our employment records show that 33 of the White House visits were by people not employed here at the time.  And over five visits were a Google engineer on leave helping to fix technical issues with the government’s Healthcare.gov website (something he’s been very public about).  Checking through White House records for other companies, our team counted around 270 visits for Microsoft over the same time frame and 150 for Comcast.  

And the meetings we did have were not to discuss the antitrust investigation.  In fact, we seem to have discussed everything but, including patent reform, STEM education, self-driving cars, mental health, advertising, Internet censorship, smart contact lenses, civic innovation, R&D, cloud computing, trade and investment, cyber security, energy efficiency and our workplace benefit policies.  For example:  
  • Several visits were advertising industry meetings attended by Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and others.  Yes, Microsoft, the main complainant in the FTC’s antitrust investigation;
  • Over a dozen visits were for production crews covering the YouTube interviews with the President following the State of the Union and photographing the White House art collection for Google’s Art Project;
  • One of the meetings specifically called out by the Journal was actually a meeting with our Chairman, Eric Schmidt, and Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, with several other technology companies to discuss copyright legislation (the draft SOPA/PIPA laws that were ultimately dropped by Congress).

As the FTC has said, the Journal "makes a number of misleading inferences and suggestions about the integrity of the FTC's investigation. The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission's decision to close the search investigation in early 2013. Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative". 

We understand you have a new found love of the regulatory process, especially in Europe, but as the FTC’s Bureau of Competition staff concluded, Google has strong pro-competitive arguments on our side.  To quote from their report “... the record will permit Google to show substantial innovation, intense competition from Microsoft and others, and speculative long-run harm”.  

And the FTC was not alone when it comes to search ranking and display.  The Texas and Ohio Attorneys General closed their comprehensive competition investigations into Google in 2014. And courts in Germany and Brazil found that there is no basis in the law for Google competitors to dictate Google’s search results.
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by Rachel Whetstone, SVP Communications and Policy

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At the end of May, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act is set to expire. Section 215 is one of the legal authorities relied upon by the U.S. government to conduct surveillance through the bulk collection of communications metadata.

Earlier today, we joined other companies in the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, civil society groups, and trade associations in a letter that underscores the essential elements of any surveillance reform legislation. These elements include ending the bulk collection of communications metadata under various legal authorities, and establishing transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure surveillance programs are narrowly tailored and subject to broader oversight.

We have a responsibility to protect the privacy and security of our users’ data.  At the same time, we want to do our part to help governments keep people safe. We have little doubt that Congress can protect both national security and privacy while taking a significant, concrete step toward restoring trust in the Internet.

Google has been working hard for the last two years to reform government surveillance laws, and we will continue to push for broader surveillance reforms in the months ahead.

We invite you to join us in asking Congress to enact surveillance reform by adding your name at google.com/takeaction.

Posted by David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer, Google

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Posted by Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security

At the request of the Department of Justice, a little-known body -- the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure -- is proposing a significant change to procedural rules that could have profound implications for the privacy rights and security interests of everyone who uses the Internet.  Last week, Google filed comments opposing this change.

It starts with the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, an arcane but important procedural rule on the issuance of search warrants.  Today, Rule 41 prohibits a federal judge from issuing a search warrant outside of the judge’s district, with some exceptions.  The Advisory Committee’s proposed change would significantly expand those exceptions in cases involving computers and networks.  The proposed change would allow the U.S. government to obtain a warrant to conduct “remote access” searches of electronic storage media if the physical location of the media is “concealed through technological means,” or to facilitate botnet investigations in certain circumstances.  

The implications of this expansion of warrant power are significant, and are better addressed by Congress.  

First, in setting aside the traditional limits under Rule 41, the proposed amendment would likely end up being used by U.S. authorities to directly search computers and devices around the world.  Even if the intent of the proposed change is to permit U.S. authorities to obtain a warrant to directly access and retrieve data only from computers and devices within the U.S., there is nothing in the proposed change to Rule 41 that would prevent access to computers and devices worldwide.

The U.S. has many diplomatic arrangements in place with other countries to cooperate in investigations that cross national borders, including Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs).  Google supports ongoing efforts to improve cooperation among governments, and we are concerned that the proposed change to Rule 41 could undermine those efforts.  The significant foreign relations issues associated with the proposed change to Rule 41 should be addressed by Congress and the President, not the Advisory Committee.

Second, the proposed change threatens to undermine the privacy rights and computer security of Internet users.  For example, the change would excuse territorial limits on the use of warrants to conduct “remote access” searches where the physical location of the media is “concealed through technological means.”  The proposed change does not define what a “remote search” is or under what circumstances and conditions a remote search can be undertaken; it merely assumes such searches, whatever they may be, are constitutional and otherwise legal.  It carries with it the specter of government hacking without any Congressional debate or democratic policymaking process.  

Likewise, the change seemingly means that the limit on warrants is excused in any instance where a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is set up.  Banks, online retailers, communications providers and other businesses around the world commonly use VPNs to help keep their networks and users’ information secure.  A VPN can obscure the actual location of a network, however, and thus could be subject to a remote search warrant where it would not have been otherwise.   
 
The Advisory Committee is entertaining a dramatic change to electronic surveillance rules.  Congress is the proper body to determine whether such changes are warranted, and we urge the Committee to respect Congress’ traditional role in prescribing the substantive rules governing electronic surveillance.

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Earlier this week, Leviathan Security released their latest piece of research, called the Value of Cloud Security. This research takes a close look at cloud infrastructure security and how it's impacted by forced data localization. Google commissioned the study and discussed the results with Leviathan, but Leviathan alone is responsible for the analysis and conclusions.


When companies take advantage of cloud services, they get more secure systems as a result. Many countries, however, have proposed laws requiring that companies keep the data of that country’s users within national borders. This idea, known as “data localization,” purports to keep citizen users safer and out of the hands of spying governments and hackers. The report found that forced data localization actually undermines many of the benefits that come from cloud services:


  • Cloud services provide much better resiliency and redundancy than local services in the face of disasters of all sizes, from small transformer explosions that affect 30,000 users up to superstorms the size of Thaiphoon Haiyan that can interrupt entire countries. If data has to stay in one place by law, that redundancy is lost.
  • Security expertise is in short supply and tends to congregate in large organizations and sharing what expertise there is is better for everyone as a whole. E.g. - There are currently over a million unfilled security positions open worldwide and all of the GCHQ-led cybersecurity programs together will graduate just 66 PhD's per year starting in 2017. Small companies that are forced to host their own data will find it hard to compete to hire qualified security engineers.

If policymakers are thinking about the perceived benefits of datalocalization, they should carefully examine this study and take into account the cybersecurity of their country’s enterprises.You can check out  the full studies on Leviathan’s blog.

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Last summer, students from all over the US and Canada gathered to explore pressing questions at the intersection of technology and policy. Whether working on data security standards at the National Consumers League or innovation economy issues at the R Street Institute, students gained hands-on experience tackling critical technology policy questions.

2015 is just beginning, but these issues show no signs of slowing down. We’re excited to announce the 8th annual Google Policy Fellowship, which connects students interested in emerging technology policy issues with leading nonprofits, think tanks, and advocacy groups.

Applications are open today for North America, and students of all levels and disciplines are welcome to apply before Thursday, March 12th.

This year’s organizations include: 
  • American Association of People with Disabilities
  • American Enterprise Institute
  • American Library Association
  • Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Center for Data Innovation
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Engine
  • Future of Music Coalition
  • Georgetown Center on Privacy & Technology
  • Global Network Initiative
  • Internet Education Foundation
  • Internet Keep Safe Coalition
  • Mercatus
  • National Consumers League
  • National Hispanic Media Coalition
  • Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation
  • Public Knowledge
  • R Street Institute
  • Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic
  • TechFreedom
  • Technology Policy Institute
  • The Citizen Lab
  • US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

More fellowship opportunities in Asia, Africa, and Europe will be coming soon. You can learn about the
program, application process and host organizations on the Google Public Policy Fellowship website.

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Posted by Susan Molinari, Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy

There are few issues more horrifying than human slavery and trafficking. Yesterday, the House of Representatives took important steps to address these issues by passing twelve bills aimed at helping the victims and calling attention to these criminal acts. We are encouraged by the actions taken yesterday and applaud the House’s leadership.

We recently heard about a number of these bills from Members of both the House and Senate at an event Google hosted with the McCain Institute and Rights4Girls. In addition to the launch of the No Such Thing campaign to eradicate the term “child prostitute,” we heard from organizations on the frontlines of the modern anti-trafficking movement, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Polaris, and Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, about how they are using technology to stop human trafficking and help those who have been trafficked. You can watch the event here and here.

Collaboration and technology are key weapons in the fight. That’s why Google recently launched a new feature in our search results with Polaris, connecting victims of human trafficking with organizations who can help. We also worked with Polaris, La Strada International, and Liberty Asia to launch the Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, to connect global hotlines and better help victims and prevention efforts. Google also has a zero-tolerance policy for any ads for paid sex acts, and we work around the clock to fight illegal content and abuse on our platforms.

Fighting human slavery and trafficking is not a partisan issue. The more voices who say it is morally unacceptable to enslave and exploit humans, the more we can reduce the demand and help the victims. There’s more work to be done, so let’s keep going — together.

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According to the U.S. Trafficking In Persons Report, there may be more than 20 million trafficking victims at any time in the world, but only about 40,000 victims are identified each year. To connect victims of human trafficking to the organizations who can help them, we recently launched a new feature that displays human trafficking hotline numbers when users type in relevant keywords in search.

In July 2014, we launched this feature for the U.S., Japan and South Korea and today we are making it available in 9 more countries in 14 different languages. From working with our partners across the globe, we know that these hotlines play an indispensable role in the fight against human trafficking. Victims may be unfamiliar with support agencies or organizations in their area or unaware there is help available at all.

These hotlines can make life-changing connections to services like crisis response, emergency housing, counseling, and legal aid at the moment victims need them. Confidential hotlines make certain victims receive the anonymity and protection they need to stay safe.


This search feature was made possible because of the work the following organizations do every day to fight human trafficking around the world: Polaris (US), Lighthouse Support Center for Human Trafficking Victims (Japan), Dasi Hamkke Center (South Korea), Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation (Taiwan), La Strada (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine), The A21 Campaign (Greece), ASTRA Anti-Trafficking Action (Serbia), and International Organization for Migration (Turkey).

Since the launch, this feature has already helped National Human Trafficking Resource Center to identify at least 25 human trafficking cases in the U.S. We hope that many more human trafficking victims and potential victims will be able to discover the help that they need when they need it.

Posted by Kasumi Widner, Program Manager, Social Impact and Chris Busselle, Principal, Google.org

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Posted by: Trevor Callaghan, Director, Legal

We launched the Transparency Report in 2010 to show how laws and policies affect access to information online, including law enforcement orders for user data and government requests to remove information. Since then, many other companies have launched their own transparency reports, and we’ve been excited to see our industry come together around transparency.

After doing things the same way for nearly five years, we thought it was time to give the Transparency Report an update. So today, as we release data about requests from governments to remove content from our services for the ninth time, we’re doing it with a new look and some new features that we hope will make the information more meaningful, and continue to push the envelope on the story we can tell with this kind of information.

More about that shortly—first, the data highlights. From June to December 2013, we received 3,105 government requests to remove 14,637 pieces of content. You may notice that this total decreased slightly from the first half of 2013; this is due to a spike in requests from Turkey during that period, which has since returned to lower levels. Meanwhile, the number of requests from Russia increased by 25 percent compared to the last reporting period. Requests from Thailand and Italy are on the rise as well. In the second half of 2013, the top three products for which governments requested removals were Blogger (1,066 requests), Search (841 requests) and YouTube (765 requests). In the second half of 2013, 38 percent of government removal requests cited defamation as a reason for removal, 16 percent cited obscenity or nudity, and 11 percent cited privacy or security.

As for the redesign, we’ve worked with our friends at Blue State Digital on a more interactive Transparency Report that lets us include additional information—like explanations of our process—and highlight stats. We’ve also added examples of nearly 30 actual requests we’ve received from governments around the world. For example, we have an annotation that gives a bit of descriptive information about our first government request from Kosovo, when law enforcement requested the removal of two YouTube videos showing minors fighting. If you’re looking for details on the content types and reasons for removal, use the Country explorer to dig into those details for each of the listed countries.*

Our Transparency Report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online. However, it does provide a lens on the things that governments and courts ask us to remove, underscoring the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests. We hope that you'll take the time to explore the new report to learn more about the government removals across Google.

*Update Jan 16: We updated the 'Country Explorer' section of the Transparency Report on January 16, 2015 to correct inaccuracies in the initially reported Government Requests figures.

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We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) led a secret, coordinated campaign to revive the failed SOPA legislation through other means, and helped manufacture legal arguments in connection with an investigation by Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood.

Almost three years ago, millions of Americans helped stop a piece of congressional legislation—supported by the MPAA—called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). If passed, SOPA would have led to censorship across the web. No wonder that 115,000 websites—including Google—participated in a protest, and over the course of a single day, Congress received more than 8 million phone calls and 4 million emails, as well as getting 10 million petition signatures.

Here is what recent press reports have revealed over the past few days about the MPAA’s campaign:

The MPAA conspired to achieve SOPA’s goals through non-legislative means
According to The Verge, “at the beginning of this year, the MPAA and six studios … joined together to begin a new campaign” to figure how it could secretly revive SOPA. It “joined together to begin a new campaign” to achieve wholesale site-blocking by “[convincing] state prosecutors to take up the fight against [Google].” The movie studios “budgeted $500,000 a year towards providing legal support”—and the MPAA later sought up to $1.175 million for this campaign.

The MPAA pointed its guns at Google
With that money, the MPAA then hired its long-time law firm Jenner & Block to go after Google while also funding an astroturf group—the Digital Citizens Alliance—with the same goal of attacking Google. (Source: The New York Times).

The MPAA did the legal legwork for the Mississippi State Attorney General
The MPAA then pitched Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood, an admitted SOPA supporter, and Attorney General Hood sent Google a letter making numerous accusations about the company. The letter was signed by General Hood but was actually drafted by an attorney at Jenner & Block—the MPAA’s law firm. As the New York Times has reported, the letter was only minimally edited by the state Attorney General before he signed it. Here is what the document showed about its true origin:
We've redacted the name of the attorney to protect her privacy

Even though Google takes industry-leading measures in dealing with problematic content on our services, Attorney General Hood proceeded to send Google a sweeping 79-page subpoena, covering a variety of topics over which he lacks jurisdiction. The Verge reported that the MPAA and its members discussed such subpoenas and certainly knew about this subpoena’s existence before it was even sent to Google.

Attorney General Hood told the Huffington Post earlier this week that the MPAA "has no major influence on my decision-making,” and that he “has never asked [the] MPAA a legal question” and “isn't sure which lawyers they employ.” And yet today the Huffington Post and the Verge revealed that Attorney General Hood had numerous conversations with both MPAA staff and Jenner & Block attorneys about this matter.

While we of course have serious legal concerns about all of this, one disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part “to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists' right to free expression.” Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?

UPDATE - Friday, December 19: Because Attorney General Hood's 79-page subpoena constitutes an unjustified attack that violates well-established U.S. laws governing Internet platforms and online intermediaries, we are today asking a federal court to set that subpoena aside (our brief is here). We are also asking those with a hand in this campaign to preserve all relevant documents.  We regret having to take this matter to court, and we are doing so only after years of efforts to explain both the merits of our position and the extensive steps we've taken on our platforms.

UPDATE - Monday, March 2: Today, a federal court entered a preliminary injunction against a subpoena issued by the Mississippi Attorney General. We're pleased with the court's ruling, which recognizes that the MPAA’s long-running campaign to censor the web—which started with SOPA—is contrary to federal law. We’ll continue working to protect people using our services: in 2014 alone, we removed more than 500 million bad ads and over 180 million YouTube videos for policy violations.

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Those who write (and re-write) national constitutions naturally learn and draw from the work of other drafters. Constitute, a website that digitizes and indexes the world’s constitutions which Google Ideas launched in 2013 with the Comparative Constitutions Project, has made this process even easier.

Today marks the launch of Constitute in Arabic, which promises to make the process of constitutional drafting and analysis more accessible across the Arab world. The site now provides Arabic translations of some of the world’s most-cited constitutions, coupled with powerful analytical tools.

We’re also introducing new, powerful features across the English and Arabic versions of the site. A new “compare” functionality lets you view two constitutions side-by-side, inviting an entirely different perspective. Curious how the Japanese Constitution of 1946, drafted under U.S. occupation, compares to that of the U.S.?  View them side-by-side and compare them provision by provision (for example, on the topic of search and seizure rights) in a clean, easy-to-read layout.
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Constitute also includes new options for saving and sharing content. You can now pin constitutional excerpts, comparisons and entire searches, and export the results to for easy collaborative drafting, reading or analysis. You can also share to social media, or send links to specific locations in any of the documents—for example, explore which African constitutions have provisions on gender equality. 

Finally, developers and data enthusiasts—and their machine counterparts—will be able to build upon Constitute’s underlying data through an open data portal which includes access to Constitute’s API.

On average, five new constitutions are written every year and even more are amended. Creating a document to serve as the bedrock of one’s society is a huge undertaking, which is why Google Ideas collaborated with the Comparative Constitutions Project to seed Constitute in 2013. We hope today’s additions to Constitute will help equip constitutional drafters and citizens of every country with the remarkable power of knowledge.

Posted by Brett Perlmutter, Special Projects Lead, Google Ideas

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Earlier this year, we began working with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to help people find helpful information about substance abuse online.  This is a guest post from their President and CEO, Steve Pasierb, describing our efforts together and the organization’s ongoing work to keep teens safe. -Ed


The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and helping families impacted by addiction. We are the only family-focused nonprofit that provides resources and direct support to help families prevent and cope with teen drug and alcohol abuse.


The modern path to substance abuse looks very different than it did when today's parents were teens themselves. As we all know, people are spending more of their time online, across a variety of connected devices.  As a result, it’s increasingly important for our information to be accessible anytime, on the web and in mobile apps.


Thanks to a recent donation from Google, we’ve created innovative new content and tools that will help countless families find answers in the midst of a crisis, or before one ever happens.


Since beginning our work together in April, Google has funded search advertising campaigns, helped develop a mobile app with substance abuse-related information, improved our website, and plans to revamp our YouTube channel.  All of this is complemented by their ongoing efforts to fight rogue online pharmacies — Google has removed more than 7 million ads for these outfits this year alone. This work makes it harder for people to buy controlled substances online without a valid prescription, thereby reducing illicit access to these medications and reducing abuse.  

Search advertising campaigns funded by Google


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Users will be able to find information about substance-abuse including: images, common slang terms, short- and long-term effects of each drug, and how to get help in our upcoming mobile app

Our national action campaign, the Medicine Abuse Project, is rallying parents, educators, health care providers, communities, and law enforcement to collectively help prevent half a million teens from abusing prescription drugs and over-the-counter cough medicine.  Thanks to invaluable partners like Google, we are able to expand our reach, sharpen our tools and help parents navigate the teen years with help at their fingertips.

Posted by Steve Pasierb, President and CEO, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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As the old saying goes, “News is something somebody wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising.” We agree: Investigative journalism is a crucial pillar of free societies. That’s why we’re holding an “Investigathon” in New York City to share and practice new ways to make investigations more powerful.

It all starts with data. With the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, we’ve built the Investigative Dashboard to help investigators trace shell company ownership around the world. At the Investigathon, 100 investigators of all stripes will spend the afternoon learning to use the Dashboard and other datasets to trace Eastern European money laundering activities. So many public records are already available to search, sometimes it’s just a question of knowing how to look.

Data only goes so far without tools. That’s why we’ve also been working with Overview Project to make it easier to sift through huge volumes of business records. The world doesn’t need more isolated platforms, so Overview Project will soon have standardized APIs to integrate directly into the Investigative Dashboard, Visual Investigative Scenarios, and beyond.

Finally, knowledge spreads through personal relationships based on trust, so we’re hoping to play a small role in strengthening the investigative journalism community on the East Coast. When we held our inaugural Investigathon in London, there was so much enthusiasm that Hacks/Hackers, Bellingcat, and OCCRP decided to run six-month series of follow-up workshops and convenings to support the work we started there.

The challenges of investigative journalists are immense, and the forces arranged against them are formidable. But if people are to have free and open access to the truths about their societies, investigators must stay one step ahead of those who would want to suppress that information. We aim to help, one step at a time.

Posted by Justin Kosslyn, Product Manager, Google Ideas