Another Trump tweet paints an uncomfortable picture for Google

Twitter is the battlefield and an iPhone his weapon; the hawkish President Trump has seemingly declared war on the hipsters and IT geeks of Google.

Once again, with little evidence, Trump has declared war on a technology company. This time however, the Commander in Chief has directed his venom towards a domestic enemy of the Oval Office. Thanks to the seemingly unfounded accusations of tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, the President now has the idea Google is under the influence of the Chinese Government.

Speaking at a conference, Thiel used his keynote speech to launch an attack at the internet giant. Theil posed three questions to the audience; firstly, how many foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated Google’s AI work. Secondly, whether Google’s management team believes it has been infiltrated by China. And finally, why it was working with the Chinese Government and not the US Government.

To be clear, aside from Thiel’s accusations, there is little evidence of such grand conspiracy theories.

That said, the burden of truth is not a consideration which is greatly appreciated by the current administration. Throughout the entire Huawei saga, no evidence of collusion with the Chinese Government has been presented to the general public, and it seems it hasn’t been presented to allied Governments either. Numerous nations have refused the call to ban Huawei without suitable evidence, and the resistance continues today.

Bearing this in mind, the Googlers should have something to worry about. Trump has demonstrated he can make life awkward for those who get his wrong side.

For the moment, there are no details of what an investigation would entail or whether the threat of treason is genuine. Another trend which we have witnessed over the last 29 months is the huffing and puffing nature of the President. This might be nothing more than a bicep flex against a company deemed to be a domestic enemy.

Trump has had a difficult relationship with Google over the last few years, with the President and many of his supporters suggesting conservative voices are being supressed on the digital highway. Perhaps we should not be surprised Trump has targeted another mainstay of Silicon Valley.

One has to question how many fronts the Trump war campaign can fight simultaneously; the enemies of the White House are starting to add up.

Google is a social media addict and it has fallen off the wagon again

Googlers just don’t know when to give up when it comes to social media as the internet giant attempts to crack the market once again with Shoelace.

It’s been almost six months since the team decided to shut-down Google+ but the search behemoth hasn’t given up just yet. We’ve lost track at how many times Google has attempted to crack this lucrative market, and the latest attempt will put much more of a hyper-local twist on the social networking euphoria.

“Shoelace is a mobile app that helps connect people with shared interests through in person activities,” the team has written in the new platforms FAQs. “It’s great for folks who have recently moved cities or who are looking to meet others who live nearby.”

Coming out of Google’s Area 120, an experimental group within the R&D business, the team will look to create a platform which will focus on uniting people in local communities and neighbourhoods depending on their interests and experiences. It is a slightly different twist to and the Google team will be hoping its fifth time lucky as it attempts to crack the code.

Starting in New York with an invite-only private test, the platform will hope to push events out to users and encourage them to create their own. This might be as simple as checking to see if anyone within a five-minute walk would want to join a kick-about in the park, or it could be to promote a comedy-night in the local pub.

On the commercial side, it makes sense. Should Google be able to scale adoption to a suitable level there will certainly be demand from advertisers, from small pubs hoping to promote bingo to larger music venues hoping to sell tickets. However, if Google can’t convince enough users to engage with the platform, what’s the point.

This is where Google has struggled before; user adoption. Google+, Google Buzz and Google Friend Connect are all examples of platforms which failed because no-one actually used them aside from Google employees. Shoelace is the latest act of defiance from a company which does not know when to quit, and it is presenting a niche idea.

Users will be able to make use of a mapping feature to browse the local area for events, yoga in the park for instance, irrelevant as to whether they are connected to an individual who is attending or not. This is where it is slightly different from other platforms, it is activity driven not connection driven. This might sound like a good USP, but it relies on the assumption users will be OK spending their time with strangers.

Each time Google has attempted to crack the social media world, there seems to be a groan from the cynics and unimaginative who have decided there are enough social media platforms already. Google does not want to give up the potential gold-mine which is social media and the fortunes of competitors demonstrate why.

Alongside Google, Facebook is recognised as a leader in the world of online advertising. The core platform, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp, are making billions for Zucks and his cronies, but they are not alone. Twitter is starting to hoover up profits while Snap is looking like a genuine business and over in China, WeChat is perhaps the most complete offering around, combining social, communication, payments and eCommerce all in one place. You can see why Google has such a fascination with social media.

IBM and Google reportedly swap morals for cash in Chinese surveillance JV

IBM and Google executives should be bracing for impact as the comet of controversy heads directly towards their offices.

Reports have emerged, via the Intercept, suggesting two of the US’ most influential and powerful technology giants have indirectly been assisting the Chinese Government with its campaign of mass-surveillance and censorship. Both will try to distance themselves from the controversy, but this could have a significant impact on both firms.

The drama here is focused around a joint-venture, the OpenPower Foundation, founded in 2013 by Google and IBM, but features members such as Red Hat, Broadcom, Mellanox, Xilinx and Rackspace. The aim of the open-ecosystem organization is to facilitate and share advances in networking, server, data storage, and processing technology.

To date, the group has been little more than another relatively uninteresting NPO, serving a niche in the industry, though one initiative is causing the stir. The OpenPower Foundation has been working with Xilinx and Chinese firm Semptian to create a new breed of chips capable of enabling computers to process incredible amounts of data. This might not seem extraordinary, though the application is where the issue has been found.

On the surface, Semptian is a relatively ordinary Chinese semiconductor business, but when you look at its most profitable division, iNext, the story becomes a lot more sinister. iNext specialises in selling equipment to the Chinese Government to enable the mass-surveillance and censorship projects which have become so infamous.

It will come as little surprise a Chinese firm is aiding the Government with its nefarious objectives, but a link to IBM and Google, as well as a host of other US firms, will have some twitching with discomfort. We can imagine the only people who are pleased at this news are the politicians who are looking to get their faces on TV by theatrically condemning the whole saga.

Let’s start with what iNext actually does before moving onto the US firms involved in the controversy. iNext works with Chinese Government agencies by providing a product called Aegis. Aegis is an interception and analysis system which has been embedded into various phone and internet networks throughout the country. This is one of the products which enables the Chinese Government to have such a close eye on the activities of its citizens.

Documentation acquired by The Intercept outlines the proposition in more detail.

“Aegis is not only the standard interception system but also the powerful analysis system with early warning and timely action capabilities. Aegis can work with all kinds of networks and 3rd party systems, from recovering, analysing, exploring, warning, early warning, locating to capturing. Aegis provides LEA with an end to end solution described as Deep Insight, Early Warning and Timely Action.”

Although the majority of this statement is corporate fluff, it does provide some insight into the way in which the technology actually works. This is an incredibly powerful surveillance system, which is capable of locating individuals through application usernames, IP addresses or phone numbers, as well as accurately tracking the location of said individuals on a real-time basis.

Perhaps one of the most worrying aspect of this system is the ‘pre-crime’ element. Although the idea of predictive analytics in some societies has been met with controversy and considerable resistance, we suspect the Chinese Government does not have the same reservations.

iNext promises this feature can help prevent crime through the introduction of an early warning system. This raises all sorts of ethical questions, as while the data estimates might be accurate to five nines, can you arrest someone when they haven’t actually committed a crime. This is the sticky position Google and IBM might have found itself in.

OpenPower has said that it was not aware of the commercial applications of the projects it manages, while its charter prevents it from getting involved. The objective of the foundation is to facilitate the progress of technology, not to act as judge and jury for its application. It’s a nice little way to keep controversy at arm’s length; inaction and negligence is seen as an appropriate defence plea.

For IBM and Google, who are noted as founding members of the OpenPower Foundation, a stance of ignorance might be enough to satisfy institutions of innocence, but the court of public opinion could swing heavily the other direction. An indirect tie to such nefarious activities is enough for many to pass judgment.

When it comes to IBM, the pursuit of innocence becomes a little bit trickier. IBM is directly mentioned on the Semptian website, suggesting Big Blue has been working closely with the Chinese firm for some time, though the details of this relationship are unknown for the moment.

For any of the US firms which have been mentioned here, it is not a comfortable situation to be in. Although they might be able to plead ignorance, it is quite difficult to believe. These are monstrous multi-national billion-dollar corporations, with hordes of lawyers, some of whom will be tasked with making sure the technology is not being utilised in situations which would get the firm in trouble.

Of course, this is not the first time US technology firms have found themselves on the wrong side of right. There have been numerous protests from employees of the technology giants as to how the technology is being applied in the real-world. Google is a prime example.

In April 2018, Google employees revolted over an initiative the firm was participating in with the US Government. Known as Project Maven, Google’s AI technology was used to improve the accuracy of drone strikes. As you can imagine, the Googlers were not happy at the thought of helping the US Government blow people up. Project Dragonfly was another which brought internal uproar, this time the Googlers were helping to create a version of the Google news app for China which would filter out certain stories which the Government deemed undesirable.

Most of the internet giants will plead their case, suggesting their intentions are only to advance society, but there are numerous examples of contracts and initiatives which contradict this position.

Most developers or engineers, especially the ones who work for a Silicon Valley giant, work for the highest bidder, but there is a moral line few will cross. As we’ve seen before, employees are not happy to aide governments in the business of death, surveillance or censorship, and we suspect the same storyline will play out here.

Google and IBM should be preparing themselves for significant internal and external backlash.

Matrix themed virus infects 25 million smartphones

A new variant of mobile malware, dubbed ‘Agent Smith’, which re-directs advertising funds to cybercriminals, has been identified and its infected 25 million smartphones already.

Discovered by Check Point, this is a sneaky virus to deal with. Like ‘Agent Smith’ in the Matrix trilogy, the virus has the ability to consume a downloaded app and assume control.

Right now, the user is not being exploited in a direct manner. The presence of the virus does present dangers in terms of eavesdropping or credit fraud, but currently, the cybercriminals are using the virus to collect cash off advertisers through various trusted applications. The application is forced to display more adds than designed with the attackers collecting the additional credits.

“In this case, “Agent Smith” is being used to for financial gain through the use of malicious advertisements,” Check Point said on its blog.

“However, it could easily be used for far more intrusive and harmful purposes such as banking credential theft and eavesdropping. Indeed, due to its ability to hide its icon from the launcher and impersonate existing user-trusted popular apps, there are endless possibilities for this sort of malware to harm a user’s device.”

Check Point estimate that 25 million devices have been infected to date, the majority are in India and other Asia nations, although there have been identified devices in the US, UK and Australia. Although Check Point has not directly stated it, some have suggested the virus can be traced back to Guangzhou, China.

Agent Smith VirusThe virus itself works in three phases. Firstly, the user is encouraged to download a simplistic, free app (usually a minimal function game or sex-app) which contain an encrypted malicious payload. At this point, the malware searches the user’s device for any popular apps on a pre-determined list which can be targets at a later date.

During the second phase, the malicious payload is decrypted into its original form and then abuses several known vulnerabilities without giving any clues to the user. Finally, the malware then attacks the pre-determined applications, extracting the innocent application’s APK file and then patches it with extra malicious modules.

‘Agent Smith’ was first detected in 2016 and the cybercriminals have seemingly been laying the groundwork for a larger attack for some time. It has certainly evolved over this period, and although Check Point has reported the malicious apps to the Google Security team, who is to say there are not more. The danger of ‘Agent Smith’ is that it is incredibly difficult to identify in the first place.

Perhaps this is an oversight in the security world which we will have to address before too long.

As it stands, numerous parties around the world are constantly on the look out for nefarious activity, however, in most cases the assumption is that it will be a state-sponsored attack. This does not seem to be the case here and perhaps why it is very difficult to detect the malware in the first place; everyone is looking for the wrong clues.

In this example, Check Point seem to have caught the suspect firm ahead of time, informing the Google Security team before any genuine damage has been done. That said, 25 million devices is still a substantial number but with the source identified it should be limited.

Researchers point to 1,300 apps which circumnavigate Android’s opt-in

Research from a coalition of professors has suggested Android location permissions mean little, as more than 1,300 apps have developed ways and means around the Google protections.

A team of researchers from the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) has been working to identify short-comings of the data privacy protections offered users through Android permissions and the outcome might worry a few. Through the use of side and covert channels, 1,300 popular applications around the world extracted sensitive information on the user, including location, irrelevant of the permissions sought or given to the app.

The team has informed Google of the oversight, which will be addressed in the up-coming Android Q release, receiving a ‘bug bounty’ for their efforts.

“In the US, privacy practices are governed by the ’notice and consent’ framework: companies can give notice to consumers about their privacy practices (often in the form of a privacy policy), and consumers can consent to those practices by using the company’s services,” the research paper states.

This framework is a relatively simple one to understand. Firstly, app providers provide ‘notice’ to inform the user and provide transparency, while ‘consent’ is provided to ensure both parties have entered into the digital contract with open eyes.

“That apps can and do circumvent the notice and consent framework is further evidence of the framework’s failure. In practical terms, though, these app behaviours may directly lead to privacy violations because they are likely to defy consumers’ expectations.”

What is worth noting is while this sounds incredibly nefarious, it is no-where near the majority. Most applications and app providers act in accordance with the rules and consumer expectations, assuming they have read the detailed terms and conditions. This is a small percentage of the apps which are installed en-mass, but it is certainly an oversight worth drawing attention to.

Looking at the depth and breadth of the study, it is pretty comprehensive. Using a Google Play Store scraper, the team downloaded the most popular apps for each category; in total, more than 88,000 apps were downloaded due to the long-tail of popularity. To cover all bases however, the scraper also kept an eye on app updates, meaning 252,864 different versions of 88,113 Android apps were analysed during the study.

The behaviour of each of these apps were measured at the kernel, Android-framework, and network traffic levels, reaching scale using a tool called Android Automator Monkey. All of the OS-execution logs and network traffic was stored in a database for offline analysis.

Now onto how these apps developers can circumnavigate the protections put in place by Google. For ‘side channels’, the developer has discovered a path to a resource which is outside the security perimeters, perhaps due to a mistake during design stages or a flaw in applying the design. With ‘covert channels’ these are more nefarious.

“A covert channel is a more deliberate and intentional effort between two cooperating entities so that one with access to some data provides it to the other entity without access to

the data in violation of the security mechanism,” the paper states. “As an example, someone could execute an algorithm that alternates between high and low CPU load to pass a binary message to another party observing the CPU load.”

Ultimately this is further evidence the light-touch regulatory environment which has governed the technology industry over the last few years can no-longer be allowed to persist. The technology industry has protested and quietly lobbied against any material regulatory or legislative changes, though the bad apples are spoiling the harvest for everyone else.

As it stands, under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act, such activities would be deemed as non-compliant, and we suspect the European Commission would have something to say with its GDPR stick as well. There are protections in place, though it seems there are elements of the technology industry who consider these more guidelines than rules.

Wholesale changes should be expected in the regulatory environment and it seems there is little which can be done to prevent them. These politicians might be chasing PR points as various elections loom on the horizon, but the evolution of rules in this segment should be considered a necessity nowadays.

There have simply been too many scandals, too much abuse of grey areas and too numerous examples of oversight (or negligence, whichever you choose) to continue on this path. Of course, there are negative consequences to increased regulation, but the right to privacy is too important a principle for rule-makers to ignore; the technology industry has consistently shown it does not respect these values therefore will have to be forced to do so.

This will be an incredibly difficult equation to balance however. The technology industry is leading the growth statistics for many economies around the world, but changes are needed to protect consumer rights.

UK launches competition probe into digital advertising market

The UK Competition and Markets Authority wants to know if the digital advertising market is being corrupted by internet giants like Google and Facebook.

The investigation is being called the ‘Online platforms and digital advertising market study’ and it will look into the following:

  • To what extent online platforms have market power in user-facing markets, and what impact this has on consumers
  • Whether consumers are able and willing to control how data about them is used and collected by online platforms
  • Whether competition in the digital advertising market may be distorted by any market power held by platforms

So this seems to be a combination of a monopoly investigation and an audit of how digital platforms are handling personal data. The dominance of the Silicon Valley platforms over the digital advertising market seems clear, so the question is whether they abuse that dominance to unfairly crush competition. The matter of data privacy seems secondary, especially since there are already loads of similar investigations happening around the world.

“It is our job to ensure that companies innovate and compete,” explained CMA Chairman Andrew Tyrie. “And every bit as much, it’s our job to ensure that consumers are protected from detriment. Implementation of the Furman Report should help a lot. As part of the work announced today, we will be advising Government on how aspects of Furman can most effectively be implemented.

“Much about these fast-changing markets is a closed book to most people. The work we do will open them up to greater scrutiny, and should give Parliament and the public a better grip on what global online platforms are doing. These are global markets, so we should and will work more closely than before with authorities around the world, as we all consider new approaches to the challenges posed by them.

“The market study will examine concerns about how online platforms are using people’s personal data, including whether making this data available to advertisers in return for payment is producing good outcomes for consumers,” said CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli. “The CMA will examine whether people have the skills, knowledge and control over how information about them is collected and used, so they can decide whether or not to share it in the first place.”

While they’re at it why don’t they do an investigation into how many people read the terms and conditions of using a service, let alone understand them. While there can be little doubt that online platforms have been very effective at monetising third party data, anyone who uses them for free and then claims to feel exploited is being disingenuous. Much more interesting will be the measures taken if they’re viewed as a harmful monopoly.

Google is now leading the European smart home segment

The smart home is increasingly becoming normalised in the eyes of the consumer, and Google is leading the way in Europe.

According to IDC’s Quarterly Smart Home Device Tracker, the smart home segment is growing healthily though there doesn’t seem to be any one manufacturer dominating the space. Google is holding down the largest market share, thanks to its smart speaker products, though there are gains for a quite a variety of products.

“Google had a stellar quarter and was the clear winner in the first quarter, reaching an important milestone in Europe,” said Antonio Arantes of IDC. “Google continues to expand to new countries and support new native languages at a faster pace than Amazon. This is also contributing to strengthening its position in voice assistant platforms.

“Google Assistant was present in 49.2% of all smart speakers sold in Europe in the first quarter of 2019. Meanwhile, Amazon faced supply issues, with the Amazon Echo Dot being out of stock in some countries for several weeks, leaving space for Google Home products to grow.”

The indirect win for Google is perhaps the most important aspect of this momentum. One-off sales to consumers are all well and good, but another interface with consumers offers recurring revenues through third-party relationships and advertising opportunities. This is more in-line with the traditional business model for Google.

This is far from the end of the story however; smart speakers should still be considered a niche segment though growth is impressive. The smart home market is forecast to reach 107.8 million units in 2019, up 21% year-on-year, before hitting 183.9 million a year in 2023.

Looking at the winners across the smart home segment as a whole, it’s the traditional consumer electronics heavyweights who are winning (aside from the smart speaker segment):

Brand Shipments (in 000’s) Market share
Google 3575 16.8%
Samsung 2853 13.4%
Amazon 2810 13.2%
LG Electronics 2129 10%
Sony 1231 5.8%
Others 8670 40.8%

Looking at the segment growth, home entertainment products are the largest area collecting 55.4%, while smart speakers sit in second place with 21.4%. Lighting, home security and thermostats collectively accounted for 20.8% of the smart home market, with IDC predicting 27.11% CAGR between 2019 and 2023. By 2023, these products could account for an additional 9.5% market share.

Google Maps to start predicting crowdedness on public transport

Google Maps is already one of the most popular ways to plan the comings and goings of daily life, but a new update makes it just a little bit better.

Launched at the end of last week, Google Maps will now tell users how busy public transport is likely to be and whether users should anticipate delays on a journey. It’s a simple upgrade, but this extra little bit of information is an example of why Google Maps is such a popular application around the world.

“On days when everything runs smoothly, taking public transit is one of the best ways to get around town,” Google stated in a blog post. “Not only is it cost-effective and efficient, but it also lets you stay hands-free, so you can sit back, relax and maybe even read a few chapters of your favourite book.

“But unexpected delays or overcrowded vehicles can quickly turn your ride from enjoyable to stressful. Starting today, Google Maps is rolling out two new features to help you better plan for your transit ride and stay more comfortable along the way.”

There are two new snippets of information which are being introduced here. Firstly, users will be told whether there are any delays on the bus to be aware of. Many estimates on time of arrival are based on the average time in which it takes the bus to get from point A to point B, not taking into account the conditions at that time. To counter this problem, Google will introduce live traffic updates.

Secondly, the Maps application will begin to tell users whether they are likely to snag a seat on an up-coming bus, train or underground journey. This section is more guesswork than anything else, using data collected on journeys through the last two years to figure out the current situation. That said, these guesses are usually correct and might be useful for anyone who gets a bit fidgety during the busy periods of travel.

These two features will be rolled out in 200 cities across the world, including numerous locations in the UK such as Cardiff, London, Nottingham and Reading.

Google Maps is turning into a wonderful money maker for the team, and this is perhaps the very reason why. Numerous features are being introduced without necessarily tying them to the bottom line. Google is not necessarily going to make money from these updates, but more people might use the product. It’s the built it and they will come attitude, focusing on nailing experience before turning to profits.

Google’s Sidewalk’s bet is a nightmare for the privacy conscious

If you’re concerned about whether Google is listening to you through your phone or smart speaker, soon enough you’ll have to worry about lampposts having ears, or at least if your live in Toronto.

For those who have not been keeping up-to-date with the Canadian tech scene, Google’s Sidewalk Labs is currently working in partnership with Toronto to demonstrate the vision of tomorrow; the smart city. Plans are still being drawn up, though it looks like two neighbourhoods will be created with a new Google campus bang in the middle.

The Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) hope to create the city of tomorrow and will be governed by Waterfront Toronto, a publicly-funded organization. In a move to seemingly appease the data concerns of Waterfront Toronto, Google has now stated all the systems would be run by analysing data, but Sidewalk Labs will not disclose personal information to third parties without explicit consent and will not sell personal information.

This is the first bit of insight we’ve had on this initiative for a while. Having secured the project in 2017, Sidewalk Labs has been in R&D mode. The team is attempting to prove the business case and the products, though it won’t be long before work is underway. Assuming of course Google is able to duck and weave through the red-tape which is going to be presented over the next 12-18 months.

The most recent development is a series of white papers which are addressing numerous topics from sustainable production plans, mobility, data protection and privacy and the envisioned usecases. If you have a spare few hours, you can find all the documentation here.

Of course, there are plenty of smart city initiatives around the world but what makes this one interesting is that the concept of ‘smart’ is being built from the foundations. This is a greenfield project not brownfield, which is substantially easier. Buildings, street furniture and infrastructure can be built with connectivity in mind.

This is the challenge which other cities are facing, lets take London as an example. Construction on the London Underground system started in 1863, while the London sewage system was plumbed in between 1859 and 1865. The city itself, and the basic layout, was established in 50 AD. Although there are creative solutions to enhance connectivity, most cities were built in the days before most could even conceive of the internet.

The Quayside and Villiers West neighbourhoods will be home to almost 7,000 residents and offer jobs to even more, anchored by the new Google campus. The buildings will offer ‘adaptable’ spaces, including floor plates and sliding walls panels to accelerate renovations and reduce vacancies. It will also be incredibly energy friendly, featuring a thermal energy grid which could heat and cool homes using the natural temperature of the earth.

But onto the areas which most people in the industry will be interested in; the introduction of new technologies and access to data.

High-speed internet connections will be promised to all residents and businesses, intelligent traffic lights and curbs will be deployed to better regulate traffic, smart awnings will be introduced for those into gimmicky technology and the neighbours will be designed to allow for an army of underground delivery robots to function.

Autonomous driving is one technology area which fits perfectly into the greenfield advantage. The complications of creating a landscape for autonomous vehicles in older cities are great, but by building up the regions with connectivity in mind many of these challenges can be averted. Not only can the introduction of self-driving vehicles be accelerated, but ride-sharing (Zipcar) or hailing (Uber) alternatives can be assisted while other options such as e-scooters are more realistic.

Such is the ambition nurtured in the Google business, if there is a crazy idea which can be applied to the smart city concept, Sidewalk Labs have probably factored it into the design and build process.

And now onto the data. This is where the project has drawn criticism as Google does not necessarily have the most glistening record when it comes to data privacy and protection. Small print littered throughout various applications has ensured Google is never too far away from criticism. In fairness, this is a problem which is industry wide, but a cloud of scepticism has been placed over any initiative which has data as the fuel.

The latest announcement from Google/Sidewalk Labs focuses on this very issue. Sidewalk Labs will not sell any personal information, this data will not be used to fuel the advertising mechanisms and it will not disclose this insight to third-parties. Explicit consent would have to be provided in any of these circumstances.

Whether these conditions will be up to the standards defined by Waterfront Toronto remains to be seen. This body has the final say and may choose to set its own standards at a higher or lower level. Anonymity might be called into play as many activists have been pushing. This is not a scenario which Google would want to see.

While expanding into new services might seem like an attractive idea, if this expansion can be coupled with additional access to data to fuel the Google data machine, it is a massive win for the internet giant. Let’s not forget, everything which Google has done to date (perhaps excluding Loon and the failed Fiber business) has paid homage to the advertising mechanisms.

Fi offers it interesting data on customer locations, the smart speakers are simply an extension of the core advertising business through a new user interface and Android allowed Google to place incredibly profitable products as default on billions of phones and devices. If Google can start to access new data sets it can offer new services, engage new customers and create new revenues for investors.

Let’s say it can start collecting data on traffic flow, this could become important insight for traffic management and city planners when it comes to adding or altering bus routes. This data could also be used to reduce energy consumption on street lights or traffic lights; if there is no-one there, do they actually need to be on? It could also help retailers forecast demand for new stores and aid the police with their work.

These ideas might not sound revolutionary or that they would bring in billions, but always remember, Google never does anything for free. This is a company which seems to see ideas before anyone else and can monetize them like few others. If Google is paying this much attention to an idea or project, there must be money to be made and we bet there is quite a bit.

But this is where Google is facing the greatest opposition. Because it is so good at extracting insight and value from data, it is one of the companies which is facing the fiercest criticism. This will be the most notable the further afield Google spreads its wings. It seems the world is content with Google sucking value out of personal data when it comes to search engines or mobile apps, but pavements, lampposts and bus stops might be a step too far for some.

Of course, criticism might disappear when jealousy emerges. The hardcore privacy advocates will never rest, but most simply don’t care that much. Privacy violations will of course cause uproar, but if there is a fair trade-off, most will accept Google’s role. If Google can prove these neighbourhoods not only improve the quality of life, but also offer advantages to entertainment and business (for example), this initiative could prove to be very popular with the general public, governments and businesses.

Huawei UK tries to calm fears about Android support

The news that Google may stop supporting Android on Huawei phones has inevitably hit their sales. But in the UK at least Huawei is fighting back.

The US state is pressuring any company that wants to stay on its good side to sever all business ties with Huawei, which it has decided is an abject security risk due to its presumed obedience to the Chinese state. A month ago it emerged that Google had bowed to this pressure and was suspending some dealings with Huawei, which raised the prospect of Huawei smartphones no longer receiving updates or security support for their Android operating systems.

Understandably this is likely to have a profound effect on Huawei smartphone sales as who would want to buy a phone, however powerful and shiny, with compromised software? Huawei’s UK consumer group has moved to address these concerns with a new website called ‘Huawei Answers’, which is set up in an FAQ style, designed to address consumer concerns about its phones by debunking rumours.

The main concern most prospective Huawei smartphone punters will have is whether or not their devices will be updated to the latest version of Android when it becomes available. “Our most popular current devices, including the P30 series, will be able to access Android Q,” announces Huawei Answers in its preamble, before tackling other ‘common points of confusion’. You might as well see the lot here.

RUMOUR #1 – Huawei smartphones and tablets will no longer get software or security updates.

Ongoing security and software updates will continue to be provided to keep all Huawei smartphones and tablets secure and up-to-date.

RUMOUR #2 – Android will be automatically uninstalled from Huawei smartphones and tablets.

Android will not be automatically uninstalled from Huawei smartphones and tablets. We continue to work closely with our partners to ensure our consumers can always enjoy the best possible experience.

RUMOUR #3 – Huawei users will not be able to download or use apps like WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram.

For all Huawei smartphones and tablets, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram apps can be downloaded and used as normal.

RUMOUR #4 – Windows will no longer work on Huawei PCs.

We can confirm that Huawei devices with Microsoft software will be upgraded and supported

RUMOUR #5 – If you reset your Huawei smartphone or tablet, you will lose access permanently to Android Services and Google Apps.

If you reset your Huawei smartphone or tablet to factory settings, Android Services and Google Apps can still be downloaded and used as normal.

RUMOUR #6 – The current situation impacts the warranty on Huawei smartphones and tablets.

Nothing has changed. Huawei provides after-sales service as before, in accordance with the existing warranty policy.

RUMOUR #7 – Huawei smartphones & tablets will offer reduced functionality.

All Huawei smartphones & tablets will continue to function as they currently do.

RUMOUR #8 – Huawei will no longer sell smartphones.

Huawei will continue to sell smartphones. Furthermore, we will continue to invest in research and development to deliver leading innovation and the best possible smartphone experience.

RUMOUR #9 – The P30 & the P30 Pro won’t get access to Android Q.

We are confident that our most popular devices, including the P30 series, will be able to access Android Q. We have been working with third parties for many months to ensure devices will be able to receive Android Q updates. Technical preparations and testing has already begun for over 17 devices. In fact our Mate 20 Pro has already been given approval to receive Android Q as and when it is released by Google.

Here is the list of the  products we have submitted to upgrade to Android Q

P30 Pro

P30

Mate 20

Mate 20 Pro

PORSCHE DESIGN Mate 20 RS

P30 lite

P smart 2019

P smart+ 2019

P smart Z

Mate 20 X

Mate 20 X (5G)

P20 Pro

P20

Mate 10 Pro

PORSCHE DESIGN Mate 10

Mate 10

Mate 20 Lite

It’s a game effort but, just as with broader concerns about security, Huawei is still asking people to take its word for this stuff. The use of hedging language such as ‘we continue to work closely’ and ‘we are confident that’ probably doesn’t help either.

This initiative is reminiscent of the Huawei Facts Twitter account, which also exists to present the company in a positive light. It recently revealed that, in spite of all this argie-bargie, Huawei has already shifted 100 million smartphone units this year. It managed over 200 million in the whole 2018 but it wouldn’t be surprising to see it fall short of that number this year as second half shipments fall off a cliff due to the above concerns.