Reads: Google's Fines, Pickering Trail's Ghosts & More

A wrap on some of the favourite reads from across the web...

Yelp's Six-Year Grudge Against Google - The New York Times
Google was handed a record 2.42 billion euro fine by European antitrust authorities last week, the result of a probe triggered by complaints from Yelp, Microsoft and Oracle among others. Conor Dougherty digs deep into the story of Yelp and its fight with Google, and about how it had to build a software to demonstrate Google's skew and how Luther Lowe, Yelp's vice president for government relations, spent $3,000 on a stuffed elephant knit by the current chief Margrethe Vestager.

"During a company hackathon, engineers created software that produced pages of search results ranked purely by an algorithm and compared them with Google’s presentation. Their conclusion, which Google disputes, is that Google was providing its users with less useful information by steering them to its own products instead of results from around the web...

In April 2015, Ms. Vestager filed formal antitrust charges against Google, saying it had abused its market dominance by systematically favoring its own comparison shopping service over those of its rivals. In addition to a reputation for toughness, Ms. Vestager is known for knitting during meetings. Shortly after the charges were filed, one of her works, an elephant, was featured in a charity auction. Mr. Lowe bid for it online, and ended up spending $3,000. “I don’t know why, but I had to have it,” he said."

To tackle Google's power, regulators have to go after its ownership of data - The Guardian
This is something that I have been pondering too, for how fruitful is to fine Google for its antitrust violation when it is no longer the company it used be when the investigation commenced in 2010. Back then it was a search company, primarily reliant on advertising for revenues, a strategy the Google of 2017, now under a bigger Alphabet umbrella, is shying away from, instead chasing corporate clients and exploring intelligent ways to make search non-existent and make sense of the data it has harvested from all its users to provide them with information they seek even before they could hit the search bar.

"It’s true that the combination of search and advertising has given Alphabet an effective way to extract as much data as possible, but this was just an early stage in the company’s evolution. The next stage might preserve some of these elements but it’s likely to rely heavily on the combination of AI and charges, with someone – the taxpayer rather than the user – paying for the service. Who do you think will pay for smart healthcare powered by Alphabet’s artificial intelligence?

The European commission’s fine, then, does little to address this evolution, not least because it seeks to rein in the Google of 2010 and not the Alphabet of 2017, let alone of 2020. Ironically, it might even incentivise Alphabet to accelerate its transition from stage one to stage two.

All of the nation’s data, for example, could accrue to a national data fund, co-owned by all citizens (or, in the case of a pan-European fund, by Europeans). Whoever wants to build new services on top of that data would need to do so in a competitive, heavily regulated environment while paying a corresponding share of their profits for using it. Such a prospect would scare big technology firms much more than the prospect of a fine.

The current approach – let’s have big tech firms swallow as much data as they can and apply competition law to how they design their websites – is toothless. Fixing online shopping is important but not if it accelerates the transition to a perverse form of data feudalism, where the key resource is owned by just one or two corporations."

The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications? - Pew Research
We are in a world that's becoming increasingly connected, and this is being largely driven not by computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets, but by the Internet of Things devices that have gained steady mainstream acceptance with the advent of Amazon Echo, Google Home (and by the end of the year, Apple HomePod), creeping up to our homes in the form of smart speakers, refrigerators, TVs, lights, thermostats, ovens and whatnot. (The outrage over Google Glass seems so quaint now!) At this rate, will "unplugging" from the internet be impossible? What security threats do IoT platforms pose? What are the new opportunities?

"It’s only human to connect, and there are many advantages. It’s magical, even addictive... As life increases in complexity, convenience is the default setting for most people... The always-on younger generation can’t imagine being anything but connected... Unplugging isn’t easy now, and by 2026 it will be even tougher... Businesses will penalize those who disconnect; social processes reward those who connect. Fully withdrawing is extremely difficult, maybe impossible... The Internet of Things will be accepted, despite dangers, because most people believe the worst-case scenario could never happen to them..."

Apple gets too much and too little credit for the iPhone - The Verge
iPhone turned 10 years old last week, and while it's an iconic device no doubt, can the success be Apple's alone? What about the developers who have contributed to a vibrant app ecosystem? Or the suppliers, or its Android rivals?

"Apple’s uniqueness isn’t in making absolutely everything good and right about the iPhone, but in creating the circumstances in which those good things could come to be... The Apple difference is about doing things differently, not doing different things. As such, Apple invariably competes and interacts with, learns and benefits from, and collaborates with many others. The iPhone revolution belongs to Apple, but not just to Apple."

The Ghosts of Pickering Trail - The Atavist
Mourning the loss of her husband Frank, at the same time wanting to put her grief aside, Janet Milliken relocated from Concord, California to 12 Pickering Trail in Thornton, Pennsylvania. But what she thought would be a welcome haven for her and her two kids instead became a legal nightmare, haunted by the strange murdered-suicides that happened in the house she moved in.

“We were all surprised that you bought it,” the woman said, giving Milliken an odd look.
“That’s where that thing happened,” one girl giggled.
“Did something happen in my house?” Milliken asked.
Gary started to cry. “We thought you knew,” she said.
On the morning of February 11, 2006, neighbors awoke to the sound of gunshots. When police arrived, they found Georgia and Konstantinos dead in the master bedroom. Georgia lay on the floor, shot in the face and back. She was fully clothed but barefoot, suggesting that she’d been attacked while dressing. Konstantinos lay on the bed, a pistol in his right hand.