Category Archives: Public Policy Blog

Google’s views on government, policy and politics

Working together to combat terrorists online

Editor’s note: This is a revised and abbreviated version of a speech Kent delivered today at the United Nations in New York City, NY, on behalf of the members of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism is a group of four technology companies—Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube—that are committed to working together and with governments and civil society to address the problem of online terrorist content.

For our companies, terrorism isn’t just a business concern or a technical challenge. These are deeply personal threats. We are citizens of London, Paris, Jakarta, and New York. And in the wake of each terrorist attack we too frantically check in on our families and co-workers to make sure they are safe. We’ve all had to do this far too often.

The products that our companies build lower barriers to innovation and empower billions of people around the world. But we recognize that the internet and other tools have also been abused by terrorists in their efforts to recruit, fundraise, and organize. And we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that our platforms aren't used to distribute terrorist material.

The Forum’s efforts are focused on three areas: leveraging technology, conducting research on patterns of radicalization and misuse of online platforms, and sharing best practices to accelerate our joint efforts against dangerous radicalization. Let me say more about each pillar.

First, when it comes to technology, you should know that our companies are putting our best talent and technology against the task of getting terrorist content off our services. There is no silver bullet when it comes to finding and removing this content, but we’re getting much better.

One early success in collaboration has been our “hash sharing” database, which allows a company that discovers terrorist content on one of their sites to create a digital fingerprint and share it with the other companies in the coalition, who can then more easily detect and review similar content for removal.  

We have to deal with these problems at tremendous scale. The haystacks are unimaginably large and the needles are both very small and constantly changing. People upload over 400 hours of content to YouTube every minute. Our software engineers have spent years developing technology that can spot certain telltale cues and markers. In recent months we have more than doubled the number of videos we've removed for violent extremism and have located these videos twice as fast. And what’s more, 75 percent of the violent extremism videos we’ve removed in recent months were found using technology before they received a single human flag.

These efforts are working. Between August 2015 and June 2017, Twitter suspended more than 935,000 accounts for the promotion of terrorism. During the first half of 2017, over 95 percent of the accounts it removed were detected using its in-house technology. Facebook is using new advances in artificial intelligence to root out "terrorist clusters" by mapping out the pages, posts, and profiles with terrorist material and then shutting them down.

Despite this recent progress, machines are simply not at the stage where they can replace human judgment. For example, portions of a terrorist video in a news broadcast might be entirely legitimate, but a computer program will have difficulty distinguishing documentary coverage from incitement.  

The Forum’s second pillar is focused on conducting and sharing research about how terrorists use the internet to influence their audiences so that we can stay one step ahead.

Today, the members of the Forum are pleased to announce that we are making a multi-million dollar commitment to support research on terrorist abuse of the internet and how governments, tech companies, and civil society can fight back against online radicalization.

The Forum has also set a goal of working with 50 smaller tech companies to help them better tackle terrorist content on their platforms. On Monday, we hosted dozens of companies for a workshop with our partners under the UN Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate. There will be a workshop in Brussels in December and another in Indonesia in the coming months. And we are also working to expand the hash-sharing database to smaller companies.

The Forum’s final pillar is working together to find powerful messages and avenues to reach out to those at greatest risk of radicalization.

Members of the forum are doing a better job of sharing breakthroughs with each other. One success we’ve seen is with the Redirect Method developed at Alphabet’s Jigsaw group. Redirect uses targeted advertising to reach people searching for terrorist content and presents videos that undermine extremist recruiting efforts. During a recent eight-week study more than 300,000 users clicked on our targeted ads and watched more than 500,000 minutes of video. This past April, Microsoft started a similar program on Bing. And Jigsaw and Bing are now exploring a partnership to share best practices and expertise.

At the same time, we’re elevating the voices that are most credible in speaking out against terrorism, hate, and violence. YouTube’s Creators for Change program highlights online stars taking a stand against xenophobia and extremism.  And Facebook's P2P program has brought together more than 5,000 students from 68 countries to create campaigns to combat hate speech. And together the companies have participated in hundreds of meetings and trainings to counter violent extremism including events in Beirut, Bosnia, and Brussels and summits at the White House, here at the United Nations, London, and Sydney to empower credible non-governmental voices against violent extremism.

There is no magic computer program that will eliminate online terrorist content, but we are committed to working with everyone in this room as we continue to ramp up our own efforts to stop terrorists’ abuse of our services. This forum is an important step in the right direction. We look forward to working with national and local governments, and civil society, to prevent extremist ideology from spreading in communities and online.

Google’s fight against human trafficking

Google has made it a priority to tackle the heinous crime of sex trafficking. I know, because I’ve worked on this from the day I joined in 2012. We have hired and funded advocates in this area. We have developed and built extensive technology to connect victims with the resources they need. And we have helped pioneer the use of technologies that identify trafficking networks to make it easier and quicker for law enforcement to arrest these abusers. You can read about these efforts here. We’ve supported over 40 bills on human trafficking. And we are determined to do more to stop this evil, including support for tougher legislation. 

There is currently a debate over a proposed bill to combat sex trafficking by amending section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. While we agree with the intentions of the bill, we are concerned that it erodes the “good samaritan” protection and would actually hinder the fight against sex trafficking. While large companies are more likely to continue their proactive enforcement efforts and can afford to fight lawsuits, if smaller platforms are made liable for “knowledge” of human trafficking occurring on their platforms, there is a risk that some will seek to avoid that “knowledge”; they will simply stop looking for it. This would be a disaster. We think it’s much better to foster an environment in which all technology companies can continue to clean their platforms and support effective tools for law enforcement and advocacy organizations to find and disrupt these networks. We’ve met with the sponsors of the particular bill and provided alternatives that will encourage this environment, and we’ll continue to seek a constructive approach to advance a shared goal.

We’re not alone in this view. Organizations as broad and diverse as Engine Advocacy, PEN America, Charles Koch Institute, Heritage Action, ACLU, U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center, Business Software Alliance, Internet Commerce Coalition, Internet Association (whose members include Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Snap, Match.com, Pinterest, etc.), TechFreedom, Medium, GitHub, Reddit, Wikimedia, National Venture Capital Association and many others have raised concerns about the bill. We—and many others—stand ready to work with Congress on changes to the bill, and on other legislation and measures to fight human trafficking and protect and support victims and survivors.

A lot of the discussion around this issue focuses on the role of a website called Backpage.com. I want to make our position on this clear. Google believes that Backpage.com can and should be held accountable for its crimes. We strongly applaud the work of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in exposing Backpage's intentional promotion of child sex trafficking through ads. Based on those findings, Google believes that Backpage.com should be criminally prosecuted by the US Department of Justice for facilitating child sex trafficking, something they can do today without need to amend any laws. And years before the Senate's investigation and report, we prohibited Backpage from advertising on Google, and we have criticized Backpage publicly.

I understand that when important legislation is being discussed, public debate is robust. That’s how it should be. But on the crucial issue of sex trafficking, we’ve been a deeply committed partner in the fight. Let’s not let a genuine disagreement over the likely unintended impact of a particular piece of legislation obscure that fact.

Google’s fight against human trafficking

Google has made it a priority to tackle the heinous crime of sex trafficking. I know, because I’ve worked on this from the day I joined in 2012. We have hired and funded advocates in this area. We have developed and built extensive technology to connect victims with the resources they need. And we have helped pioneer the use of technologies that identify trafficking networks to make it easier and quicker for law enforcement to arrest these abusers. You can read about these efforts here. We’ve supported over 40 bills on human trafficking. And we are determined to do more to stop this evil, including support for tougher legislation. 

There is currently a debate over a proposed bill to combat sex trafficking by amending section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. While we agree with the intentions of the bill, we are concerned that it erodes the “good samaritan” protection and would actually hinder the fight against sex trafficking. While large companies are more likely to continue their proactive enforcement efforts and can afford to fight lawsuits, if smaller platforms are made liable for “knowledge” of human trafficking occurring on their platforms, there is a risk that some will seek to avoid that “knowledge”; they will simply stop looking for it. This would be a disaster. We think it’s much better to foster an environment in which all technology companies can continue to clean their platforms and support effective tools for law enforcement and advocacy organizations to find and disrupt these networks. We’ve met with the sponsors of the particular bill and provided alternatives that will encourage this environment, and we’ll continue to seek a constructive approach to advance a shared goal.

We’re not alone in this view. Organizations as broad and diverse as Engine Advocacy, PEN America, Charles Koch Institute, Heritage Action, ACLU, U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center, Business Software Alliance, Internet Commerce Coalition, Internet Association (whose members include Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Snap, Match.com, Pinterest, etc.), TechFreedom, Medium, GitHub, Reddit, Wikimedia, National Venture Capital Association and many others have raised concerns about the bill. We—and many others—stand ready to work with Congress on changes to the bill, and on other legislation and measures to fight human trafficking and protect and support victims and survivors.

A lot of the discussion around this issue focuses on the role of a website called Backpage.com. I want to make our position on this clear. Google believes that Backpage.com can and should be held accountable for its crimes. We strongly applaud the work of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in exposing Backpage's intentional promotion of child sex trafficking through ads. Based on those findings, Google believes that Backpage.com should be criminally prosecuted by the US Department of Justice for facilitating child sex trafficking, something they can do today without need to amend any laws. And years before the Senate's investigation and report, we prohibited Backpage from advertising on Google, and we have criticized Backpage publicly.

I understand that when important legislation is being discussed, public debate is robust. That’s how it should be. But on the crucial issue of sex trafficking, we’ve been a deeply committed partner in the fight. Let’s not let a genuine disagreement over the likely unintended impact of a particular piece of legislation obscure that fact.

A Significant Step Toward Modernizing Our Surveillance Laws

Last month, our General Counsel Kent Walker delivered a speech calling for a fundamental realignment of government access statutes in light of the growing role that technology plays in our daily lives, the expectation that communications should remain private, and the very real security threats that governments need to investigate.

In conjunction with the speech, we proposed a new framework oriented toward policy solutions that recognize legitimate law enforcement interests, respect the sovereignty of other countries, and reflect the reasonable expectation of privacy that users have in the content of their electronic communications.

The introduction of the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA) by Senators Hatch, Coons, and Heller advances these objectives, and we commend these Senators for their leadership in this area.

ICPA would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in two important ways.

First, it would require U.S. government entities to obtain a warrant to compel the production of communications content from providers.  For many years, we have called upon the U.S. Congress to update ECPA in this manner, and the House of Representative has twice passed legislation (the Email Privacy Act) that would achieve this goal.

Second, it provides clear mechanisms for the U.S. government to obtain user data from service providers with a warrant, wherever the data may be stored, but with protections built in for certain cases when the users are nationals of other countries and are located outside the U.S.

We are eager to work with Members of Congress enact ICPA into law, and look forward to the opportunity to help advance this important bill.

A significant step toward modernizing our surveillance laws

Last month, our General Counsel Kent Walker delivered a speech calling for a fundamental realignment of government access statutes in light of the growing role that technology plays in our daily lives, the expectation that communications should remain private, and the very real security threats that governments need to investigate.

In conjunction with the speech, we proposed a new framework oriented toward policy solutions that recognize legitimate law enforcement interests, respect the sovereignty of other countries, and reflect the reasonable expectation of privacy that users have in the content of their electronic communications.

The introduction of the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA) by Senators Hatch, Coons, and Heller advances these objectives, and we commend these Senators for their leadership in this area.

ICPA would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in two important ways.

First, it would require U.S. government entities to obtain a warrant to compel the production of communications content from providers.  For many years, we have called upon the U.S. Congress to update ECPA in this manner, and the House of Representative has twice passed legislation (the Email Privacy Act) that would achieve this goal.

Second, it provides clear mechanisms for the U.S. government to obtain user data from service providers with a warrant, wherever the data may be stored, but with protections built in for certain cases when the users are nationals of other countries and are located outside the U.S.

We are eager to work with Members of Congress enact ICPA into law, and look forward to the opportunity to help advance this important bill.

Applications now open for the Google Policy Fellowship in Europe and Africa

Are you an undergraduate, graduate or law student interested in internet and technology policy? Do you want to get involved in the public dialogue on these issues? If so, the new Google Policy Fellowship pilot programs in Italy, Belgium (Brussels), and three African countries may be for you.  

Successful applicants to the program will have the opportunity to work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on internet policy issues. They will be assigned a mentor at their host organizations and will have the opportunity to work with senior staff members.

Fellows will be expected to make substantive contributions to the work of their organization, including conducting policy research and analysis, drafting reports and white papers, attending government and industry meetings and conferences, and participating in other advocacy activities.

The work of the fellows is decided between the individuals and the organizations. Google provides a small stipend during the period of the fellowship, but has no involvement in defining or conducting the research. Typically, the fellows are postgraduates and they work with the organization on an area of research or study.

For example, in previous years, a fellow with the Strathmore Law School in Nairobi, Kenya, carried out a review of cyber-security conventions around the world, and a fellow at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT in Ghana helped to establish the Creative Commons chapter for Ghana before returning to university to finish her Ph.D. All work is carried out independently of Google.

Who should apply?

The organisations in the program are looking for students who are passionate about technology, and want to gain experience of working on public policy. Students from all majors and degree programs who possess the following qualities are encouraged to apply:

  • Demonstrated or stated interest in Internet and technology policy
  • Excellent academic record, professional/extracurricular/volunteer activities, subject matter expertise
  • First-rate analytical, communications, research, and writing skills
  • Ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously and efficiently, and to work smartly and resourcefully in a fast-paced environment

Brussels pilot

We are pleased to offer three fellowships, starting in September 2017, at the organizations listed below. These placements will run for six months and the stipend will vary slightly from organization to organization. To apply, please use the link below and send a short email, together with a CV. Deadline for applications is July 31, 2017.

Italy pilot

We’re pleased to offer six fellowships, starting in October 2017, and lasting up to six months, at the organizations listed below. To apply, please send a short email to the address below, together with a CV. Deadline for applications is August 27, 2017.

Africa program

We’re pleased to offer eight fellowships, starting from late August 2017, across Sub-Saharan Africa. The program will run for six to twelve months, with exact duration varying by organization. Detailed job descriptions can be viewed here. To apply, please complete the form at 2017 Africa Google Policy Fellowship Application. Deadline for applications is August 5, 2017. Beneath is a list of organization and locations for the fellowships.

A new look for our Transparency Report

In 2010, we launched the government requests tool, a new way to publicly document government requests for user data and content removals. It was the first report of its kind and a natural extension of our mission to make information accessible and useful. In the years since, our simple tool evolved into the Transparency Report, a multifaceted snapshot of the ways governments and corporations affect online security, privacy, and the free flow of information.

The web has evolved too, and has become central to people’s lives: 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, more than one billion people rely on Gmail and Chrome, every day. And this type reporting, once an anomaly, has become the norm across the tech industry and beyond. More than 40 companies now have transparency reports; that’s great news for people everywhere.

But while the report itself expanded in scope and coverage, its design remained largely unchanged. Not only was it due for a little update, we heard from users it could be easier to navigate as well.

So today we’re introducing the completely revamped Transparency Report. It features clearer data visualizations, more context for the data, a Recent Updates section so you can see what’s new, and a better way to download data from our most popular reports. And while the previous version was a patchwork of different reports, designed at different times in different styles, our new report is all one consistent design, making it easier to find exactly what you’re looking for.

We’re continuing to invest in this report because we’ve seen firsthand how it can help inform and shape the public debate about information online. The data also acts as a lens into significant moments in the history of the web, fundamental changes to security, and our efforts to be transparent about data and how it is used. Here are a few examples:

Our Traffic and Disruptions report documents real-time disruptions to usage of our products. Here’s what the report looked like for search in Egypt in January of 2011 when internet access was restricted during the Arab Spring.

Traffic

As we say in the report, “when you send or receive emails from a provider that doesn’t encrypt messages in transit, they are as open to snoopers as a postcard in the mail.” In 2014, we started reporting on the state of email encryption across the industry and which providers offer this protection. It’s been really encouraging to see how these trends have changed. Since then, outbound email encryption has gone from 73 percent to 88 percent., and inbound email encryption has gone from 61 percent to 88 percent since the launch of the report as well. We hope these numbers continue to increase in the years ahead.

And going back to the report’s original mission—government requests—we’re constantly pushing for more complete and accurate data. The results of this effort are visible directly in the report. In December 2016, for example, after a years-long effort, we were able to share National Security Letters with the public, for the first time.

Over the years, the Transparency Report has sparked new conversations about transparency, accountability and the role of governments and companies in the flow of information online. Our hope is that with these changes, we can start a few more.

Net Neutrality Day of Action: Help preserve the open internet

Editor's note: Today is the Net Neutrality Day of Action, and we’re sending this email to Take Action, our community focused on issues that are important to the future of the internet. We wanted to share it more broadly so everyone can see how to get involved.

The net neutrality rules that protect the open internet are in danger of being dismantled.

Internet companies, innovative startups, and millions of internet users depend on these common-sense protections that prevent blocking or throttling of internet traffic, segmenting the internet into paid fast lanes and slow lanes, and other discriminatory practices. Thanks in part to net neutrality, the open internet has grown to become an unrivaled source of choice, competition, innovation, free expression, and opportunity. And it should stay that way.

Today’s open internet ensures that both new and established services, whether offered by an established internet company like Google, a broadband provider, or a small startup, have the same ability to reach users on an equal playing field.

It’s an important chapter in this debate, and we hope you’ll make your voice heard.

Tell everyone that you want to keep the Internet free and open.

Google and many others are joining together to call on the FCC to preserve the open internet, and we encourage you to act too!

Together, we can make our voices heard and we can make a difference.

To find out more, including how to share your views with the FCC, visit https://netneutrality.internetassociation.org/action/.

Responding to the “Campaign for Accountability” report on academic research

Today the Campaign for Accountability released a report about our funding of academic research.   It claims to list hundreds of papers we’ve “in some way funded.”  The report is highly misleading. For example, the report attributes to Google any work that was supported by any organization to which we belong or have ever donated (such as CCIA).

Nevertheless, we’re proud to maintain strong relations with academics, universities and research institutes, in our own name, so we wanted to take a few moments to respond to the report.

We run many research programs that provide funding and resources to the external research community. This helps public and private institutions pursue research on important topics in computer science, technology, and a wide range of public policy and legal issues. Our support for the principles underlying an open internet is shared by many academics and institutions who have a long history of undertaking research on these topics—across important areas like copyright, patents, and free expression. We provide support to help them undertake further research, and to raise awareness of their ideas.

These programs (and those run by other companies) augment the government and university-funded research that is the backbone of academic discourse in the United States.

We also run policy fellowship programs. Most other companies do this too; the difference with Google is that we list ours publicly on our policy website.

Our funding is guided by these principles:

  • Disclosure requirements: When we provide financial support, we expect and require grantees to properly disclose our funding. If there are ever omissions or unclear disclosures, we work to tighten our requirements.

  • Independence: We value academic independence and integrity. We offer grants for discrete pieces of research, not to shape academics’ subsequent scholarship. The researchers and institutions to whom we award research grants will often publish research with which we disagree. In fact, many of the academics listed by the Campaign for Accountability have criticized Google and our policy positions heavily on a variety of topics. Here are just three of the academics on their list, opposing and arguing against us on antitrust, net neutrality and privacy.

The irony of discussing disclosures and transparency with the “Campaign for Accountability” is that this group consistently refuses to name its corporate funders.  And those backers won’t ‘fess up either.  The one funder the world does know about is Oracle, which is running a well-documented lobbying campaign against us. In its own name and through proxies, Oracle has funded many hundreds of articles, research papers, symposia and reports. Oracle is not alone—you can easily find similar activity by companies and organizations funded by our competitors, like AT&T, the MPAA, ICOMP, FairSearch and dozens more; including hundreds of pieces directly targeting Google.

We’re proud of our programs and their integrity. The “Campaign for Accountability” and its funders are, clearly, not proud of theirs.

The European Commission decision on online shopping: the other side of the story

When you shop online, you want to find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily. And advertisers want to promote those same products. That's why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both.

We believe the European Commission’s online shopping decision underestimates the value of those kinds of fast and easy connections. While some comparison shopping sites naturally want Google to show them more prominently, our data shows that people usually prefer links that take them directly to the products they want, not to websites where they have to repeat their searches.

We think our current shopping results are useful and are a much-improved version of the text-only ads we showed a decade ago. Showing ads that include pictures, ratings, and prices benefits us, our advertisers, and most of all, our users. And we show them only when your feedback tells us they are relevant. Thousands of European merchants use these ads to compete with larger companies like Amazon and eBay.

Google shopping screengrab

When the Commission asks why some comparison websites have not done as well as others, we think it should consider the many sites that have grown in this period--including platforms like Amazon and eBay. With its comparison tools, reviews, millions of retailers, and vast range of products from sneakers to groceries, Amazon is a formidable competitor and has become the first port of call for product searches.  And as Amazon has grown, it’s natural that some comparison services have proven less popular than others. We compete with Amazon and other sites for shopping-related searches by showing ever more useful product information.

When you use Google to search for products, we try to give you what you’re looking for. Our ability to do that well isn’t favoring ourselves, or any particular site or seller--it’s the result of hard work and constant innovation, based on user feedback.

Given the evidence, we respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today. We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.