Monthly Archives: April 2020

Computer Science Grants Awarded to New Zealand Educators

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we support Kiwi teachers and ensure they are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to succeed. Understanding, creating and using technology are critical skills for all students and teachers, regardless of where in New Zealand they live. This year, our annual CS Educator PD Grants program is focused on bringing access to Digital Technologies training to teachers in our regional and remote communities and to those that might otherwise have missed out on such opportunities.

Google’s Educator PD Grants program has been running in New Zealand since 2011 and, in that time, has trained over 20,000 teachers. The program aims to equip teachers through practical professional development workshops, giving them the skills and resources they need to confidently teach computational thinking and computer science concepts in new and exciting ways. This year all funded workshops have a focus on access and inclusion, aligning with Google’s global diversity commitment.

The impact of PD Grants for Educators

We don’t historically think of museums as being centres for technology and teacher training, but Tara Fagan at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington is leading a team focused on bringing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) to five rural regions of New Zealand.

Alongside other museums, the Te Papa team will run two day workshops, weaving STEAM based learning through the curriculum, delivered in both Te Reo Māori and English. Tara explained that these workshops “provide us with the opportunity to work with teachers who may have not accessed any form of Digital Technology Professional Learning & Development before”.

The in depth workshops will be bespoke to Northland, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne and Porirua, allowing teachers hands on experience with STEAM tools and resources and the support to incorporate their learnings in the classroom between workshops. The partnerships with local museums ensures that schools and teachers have ongoing local networks and support.

We’re excited to announce the following 2020 CS Educator Grants Awardees, who, like Tara, will motivate and inspire educators around New Zealand.

2020 CS Educator Grants Funding Recipients in New Zealand

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Cloud Spanner Emulator

After Cloud Spanner’s launch in 2017, there has been huge customer adoption across several different industries and verticals. With this growth, we have built a large community of application developers using Cloud Spanner. To make the service even more accessible and open to the broader developer community, we are introducing an offline emulator for the Cloud Spanner service. The Cloud Spanner emulator is intended to reduce application development cost and improve developer productivity for the customers.

The Cloud Spanner emulator provides application developers with the full set of APIs, including the breadth of SQL and DDL features that could be run locally for prototyping, development and testing. This open source emulator will provide application developers with the transparency and agility to customize the tool for their application use.

This blog introduces the Cloud Spanner emulator and will guide you through installation and use of the emulator with the existing Cloud Spanner CLI and client libraries.

What is Cloud Spanner Emulator?

The emulator provides a local, in-memory, high-fidelity emulator of the Cloud Spanner service. You can use the emulator to prototype, develop and hermetically test your application locally and in your integration test environments.

Because the emulator stores data in-memory, it will not persist data across runs. The emulator is intended to help you use Cloud Spanner for local development and testing (not for production deployments); However, once your application is working with the emulator, you can proceed to end-to-end testing of your application by simply changing the Cloud Spanner endpoint configuration.

Supported Features

The Cloud Spanner emulator exposes the complete set of Cloud Spanner APIs including instances, databases, SQL, DML, DDL, sessions, and transaction semantics. Support for querying schema metadata for a database is available via Information Schema. Both gRPC and REST APIs are supported and can be used with the existing client libraries, OSS JDBC driver as well as the Cloud SDK. The emulator is supported natively on Linux, and requires Docker on MacOS and Windows platforms. To ease the development and testing of an application, IDEs like IntelliJ and Eclipse can be configured to directly communicate with the Cloud Spanner emulator endpoint.

The emulator is not built for production scale and performance, and therefore should not be used for load testing or production traffic. Application developers can use the emulator for iterative development, and to implement and run unit and integration tests.

A detailed list of features and limitations is provided on Cloud Spanner emulator README. The emulator is currently (as of April 2020) in beta release and will be continuously enhanced for feature and API parity with Cloud Spanner service.

Using the Cloud Spanner Emulator

This section describes using the existing Cloud Spanner CLI and client libraries to interact with the emulator.

Before You Start

Starting the emulator locally

The emulator can be started using Docker or using the Cloud SDK CLI on Linux, MacOS and Windows. In either case, MacOS and Windows would require an installation of docker.


$ docker pull
$ docker run -p 9010:9010 -p 9020:9020

Note: The first port is the gRPC port and the second port is the REST port.


$ gcloud components update beta
$ gcloud beta emulators spanner start
Other alternatives to start the emulator, including pre-built linux binaries, are listed here.

Setup Cloud Spanner Project & Instance

Configure Cloud Spanner endpoint, project and disable authentication:
$ gcloud config configurations create emulator
$ gcloud config set auth/disable_credentials true
$ gcloud config set project test-project
$ gcloud config set api_endpoint_overrides/spanner http://localhost:9020/
To switch back to the default config:
`$ gcloud config configurations activate default`
To switch back to the emulator config:
`$ gcloud config configurations activate emulator`

Verify gCloud is working with the Cloud Spanner Emulator.
$ gcloud spanner instance-configs list

NAME               DISPLAY_NAME
emulator-config    Emulator Instance Config
Create a Cloud Spanner Instance
$ gcloud spanner instances create test-instance --config=emulator-config --description="Test Instance" --nodes=1

Using Cloud Spanner Client Libraries

With the beta lunch, the latest versions of Java, Go and C++ Cloud Spanner client libraries are supported to interact with the emulator. Use the Getting Started guides to try the emulator.

Prerequisite: Setup Cloud Spanner Project and Instance from step above.

This is an example of running the Java client library with the emulator:
# Configure emulator endpoint
$ export SPANNER_EMULATOR_HOST="localhost:9010"

# Cloning java sample of client library.
$ git clone && cd java-docs-samples/spanner/cloud-client

$ mvn package

# Create database
$ java -jar target/spanner-google-cloud-samples-jar-with-dependencies.jar \
    createdatabase test-instance example-db

# Write
$ java -jar target/spanner-google-cloud-samples-jar-with-dependencies.jar \
    write test-instance example-db

# Query
$ java -jar target/spanner-google-cloud-samples-jar-with-dependencies.jar \
    query test-instance example-db
Follow the rest of the sample for Java client library using the Getting Started Guide.

Using the Cloud SDK CLI

Prerequisite: Setup Cloud Spanner Project and Instance from step above.

Configure emulator endpoint

$ gcloud config configurations activate emulator
Create a database

$ gcloud spanner databases create test-database --instance test-instance --ddl "CREATE TABLE TestTable (Key INT64, Value STRING(MAX)) PRIMARY KEY (Key)"
Write into database
$ gcloud spanner rows insert --table=TestTable --database=test-database --instance=test-instance --data=Key=1,Value=TestValue1
Read from database
$ gcloud spanner databases execute-sql test-database --instance test-instance --sql "select * from TestTable"

Using the open source command-line tool spanner-cli

Prerequisite: Setup Cloud Spanner Project, Instance and Database from step above.

Follow examples for an interactive prompt to Cloud Spanner database with spanner-cli.
# Configure emulator endpoint
$ export SPANNER_EMULATOR_HOST="localhost:9010"

$ go get
$ go run -p test-project -i test-instance -d test-database

spanner> INSERT INTO TestTable (Key, Value) VALUES (2, "TestValue2"), (3, "TestValue3");
Query OK, 2 rows affected

spanner> SELECT * FROM TestTable ORDER BY Key ASC;

| Key | Value |
| 2 | TestValue2 |
| 3 | TestValue3 |
2 rows in set

spanner> exit;


Cloud Spanner emulator reduces application development cost and improves developer productivity for Cloud Spanner customers. We plan to continue building and supporting customer requested features and you can follow Cloud Spanner emulator on GitHub for more updates.

By Sneha Shah, Google Open Source

Using Neural Networks to Find Answers in Tables

Much of the world’s information is stored in the form of tables, which can be found on the web or in databases and documents. These might include anything from technical specifications of consumer products to financial and country development statistics, sports results and much more. Currently, one needs to manually look at these tables to find the answer to a question or rely on a service that gives answers to specific questions (e.g., about sports results). This information would be much more accessible and useful if it could be queried through natural language.

For example, the following figure shows a table with a number of questions that people might want to ask. The answer to these questions might be found in one, or multiple, cells in a table (“Which wrestler had the most number of reigns?”), or might require aggregating multiple table cells (“How many world champions are there with only one reign?”).
A table and questions with the expected answers. Answers can be selected (#1, #4) or computed (#2, #3).
Many recent approaches apply traditional semantic parsing to this problem, where a natural language question is translated to an SQL-like database query that executes against a database to provide the answers. For example, the question “How many world champions are there with only one reign?” would be mapped to a query such as “select count(*) where column("No. of reigns") == 1;” and then executed to produce the answer. This approach often requires substantial engineering in order to generate syntactically and semantically valid queries and is difficult to scale to arbitrary questions rather than questions about very specific tables (such as sports results).

In, “TAPAS: Weakly Supervised Table Parsing via Pre-training”, accepted at ACL 2020, we take a different approach that extends the BERT architecture to encode the question jointly along with tabular data structure, resulting in a model that can then point directly to the answer. Instead of creating a model that works only for a single style of table, this approach results in a model that can be applied to tables from a wide range of domains. After pre-training on millions of Wikipedia tables, we show that our approach exhibits competitive accuracy on three academic table question-answering (QA) datasets. Additionally, in order to facilitate more exciting research in this area, we have open-sourced the code for training and testing the models as well as the models pre-trained on Wikipedia tables, available at our GitHub repo.

How to Process a Question
To process a question such as “Average time as champion for top 2 wrestlers?”, our model jointly encodes the question as well as the table content row by row using a BERT model that is extended with special embeddings to encode the table structure.

The key addition to the transformer-based BERT model are the extra embeddings that are used to encode the structured input. We rely on learned embeddings for the column index, the row index and one special rank index, which indicates the order of elements in numerical columns. The following image shows how all of these are added together at the input and fed into the transformer layers. The figure below illustrates how the question is encoded, together with the small table shown on the left. Each cell token has a special embedding that indicates its row, column and numeric rank within the column.
BERT layer input: Every input token is represented as the sum of the embeddings of its word, absolute position, segment (whether it belongs to the question or table), column and row and numeric rank (the position the cell would have if the column was sorted by its numeric values).
The model has two outputs: 1) for each table cell, a score indicates the probability that this cell will be part of the answer and 2) an aggregation operation that indicates which operation (if any) is applied to produce the final answer. The following figure shows how, for the question “Average time as champion for top 2 wrestlers?”, the model should select the first two cells of the “Combined days” column and the “AVERAGE” operation with high probability.
Model schematic: The BERT layer encodes both the question and table. The model outputs a probability for every aggregation operation and a selection probability for every table cell. For the question “Average time as champion for top 2 wrestlers?” the AVERAGE operation and the cells with the numbers 3,749 and 3,103 should have a high probability.
Using a method similar to how BERT is trained on text, we pre-trained our model on 6.2 million table-text pairs extracted from the English Wikipedia. During pre-training, the model learns to restore words in both table and text that have been replaced with a mask. We find that the model can do this with relatively high accuracy (71.4% of the masked tokens are restored correctly for tables unseen during training).

Learning from Answers Only
During fine-tuning the model learns how to answer questions from a table. This is done through training with either strong or weak supervision. In the case of strong supervision, for a given table and questions, one must provide the cells and aggregation operation to select (e.g., sum or count), a time-consuming and laborious process. More commonly, one trains using weak supervision, where only the correct answer (e.g., 3426 for the question in the example above) is provided. In this case, the model attempts to find an aggregation operation and cells that produce an answer close to the correct answer. This is done by computing the expectation over all the possible aggregation decisions and comparing it with the true result. The weak supervision scenario is beneficial because it allows for non-experts to provide the data needed to train the model and takes less time than strong supervision.

We applied our model to three datasets — SQA, WikiTableQuestions (WTQ) and WikiSQL — and compared it to the performance of the top three state-of-the-art (SOTA) models for parsing tabular data. The comparison models included Min et al (2019) for WikiSQL, Wang et al. (2019) for WTQ and our own previous work for SQA (Mueller et al., 2019). For all datasets, we report the answer accuracy on the test sets for the weakly supervised training setup. For SQA and WIkiSQL we used our base model pre-trained on Wikipedia, while for WTQ, we found it beneficial to additionally pre-train on the SQA data. Our best models outperform the previous SOTA for SQA by more than 12 points, the previous SOTA for WTQ by more than 4 points and performs similarly to the best model published on WikiSQL.
Test answer accuracy for the weakly-supervised setup on three academic TableQA datasets.
This work was carried out by Jonathan Herzig, Paweł Krzysztof Nowak, Thomas Müller, Francesco Piccinno and Julian Martin Eisenschlos in the Google AI language group in Zurich. We would like to thank Yasemin Altun, Srini Narayanan, Slav Petrov, William Cohen, Massimo Nicosia, Syrine Krichene, and Jordan Boyd-Graber for useful comments and suggestions.

Source: Google AI Blog

Stadia Savepoint: April updates

We're back with another update in our Stadia Savepoint series—here's what happened in April.

This month we welcomed everyone within our 14 launch countries to Stadia and gave gamers two months of free games with Stadia Pro. Stadia is now free and open to anyone who wants to create an account. Our most recent Stadia Connect revealed that you can click here to play PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS on Stadia, plus new info on First on Stadia titles Wave Break, Crayta, and Get Packed

Stadia’s Phil Harrison also revealed: “We are bringing five games from Electronic Arts to Stadia as part of our partnership. It all starts with Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order™ coming this fall followed by EA SPORTS™ Madden NFL and FIFA. We are excited to bring these hugely popular franchises to our players on Stadia in 2020 and beyond. We’ll have more news to share about EA games on Stadia later this year.

Stadia Pro updates

  • Get new games for free as part of Stadia Pro in May: PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, Zombie Army 4: Dead War, The Turing Test and SteamWorld Heist.

  • Existing games still available to add to your collection: Destiny 2, GRID, GYLT, Serious Sam Collection, Spitlings, Stacks On Stacks (On Stacks), SteamWorld Dig 2, and SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech.

  • Act quickly: Thumper leaves Stadia Pro on April 30.

  • Ongoing discounts for Stadia Pro subscribers: Check out the web or mobile Stadia store for the latest.

Recent content launches on Stadia

New games coming to Stadia

Stadia games

Play Stadia Pro for free

Click to Play on web
Click here to instantly play PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS in your Chrome browser with an active Stadia Pro subscription.

5.1 surround sound on web 
We added support for 5.1 surround sound when playing games on your Chrome browser with an active Stadia Pro subscription.

On-screen keyboard on web
Access an on-screen keyboard in your Chrome browser when you have a gamepad connected and require text input.

Mobile connection notifications 
Receive notifications about connection quality while playing on mobile devices.

Connection status updates
The connection status icon now only reflects connection strength, following user feedback.

Mobile captures
While playing on mobile devices, press the Capture button on your Stadia controller to save gameplay screenshots and clips.

OnePlus compatibility
Stadia is now compatible with the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro mobile devices. More info here.

That’s it for April—we’ll be back soon to share more updates. As always, stay tuned to the Stadia Community Blog, Facebook, and Twitter for the latest news. 

Googlers’ tips for staying connected from a distance

Social distancing, by definition, makes it hard to get a healthy dose of human contact. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to keep in touch with friends and family that go beyond the standard phone call. We asked Googlers to share how they’re keeping family and friends close, while staying a safe distance apart. We hope their ideas might inspire you, too.

Give your family a surprise hello through the Google Home app

To feel closer when we’re far away, I broadcast messages through the Google Home app to my family in London (I’m in California). Usually I’ll say hi and give them a few updates on my day. I get a kick out of knowing I might give them a little surprise of suddenly hearing my voice in the hallway. 

- Robin Bhaduri, Google Podcasts team

Breakfast talk on Duo

I have a Nest Hub Max in my kitchen. I use it most often while I’m cooking, but lately I've been using it to video chat with family over Google Duo. I can do things like have breakfast with my five year old nephew without having to hold a phone. The Nest camera adjusts to where I am in the kitchen, so I don’t have to stand in a certain spot for him to see me on video. 

- Ajay Surie, Google Fit team

Cook with friends via YouTube and Google Docs

My friends send each other YouTube videos showing ways to prepare tasty dishes. We all try the same recipe, prepare it as shown in the video, and send photos to each other once the dish is completed. It’s been fun to see the similarities and differences between the same dish, prepared by different people. 

- Jeff Sinckler, Tenor team

Similar to Jeff, my friends love to cook. We’ve been sharing recipes with each other using Google Docs. We reference an article or video as the main recipe link, and include notes about our experiences with that recipe. Whenever someone has a question, they can add comments to the doc and the doc just gets better. This is also useful for discovering different ways to make the recipe a success, e.g. for ingredient substitutions (very relevant right now) and doubling or halving portions.  

- Tahai Michelle Baik, Search team

Tell each other what you’re up to on Calendar

Even though our days are less structured than they used to be, my immediate family still puts what we're up to on a family Google Calendar. My mom will check in after she sees I've taken a dance class online, I'll ask how it went cooking a particular recipe for dinner, and we'll reach out to my brother to ask how his online coding training went. It helps us stay close even though we're scattered all over the world. And Calendar also reminds us to step outside to cheer every day at 7 p.m. for all the workers that are keeping things going during these difficult times. 

- Genevieve Brennan, Google News team

Virtual story time videos on Photos 

My parents record themselves reading children's books on their phones (my mom and dad switch between videographer and reader) and then add the videos to a shared Google Photos album so their grandkids can enjoy it. We use Chromecast to cast the videos to our TV and watch it with our two little ones. Although we had to cancel our annual April family vacation, it helps us all feel a little bit closer. 

- JK Kearns, Search team

Find familiar meals with Maps

I’ve recently ordered delivery for my mom and dad from local restaurants through Google Maps. There are a few restaurants my parents like to visit that they’re missing during their time at home, so I thought a familiar meal would help things feel more normal for them. I’m looking forward to getting my mom a nice Greek or Italian spread for Mother’s Day. 

- Ben Jose, Google Maps team

Helping local restaurants to connect with customers during times of uncertainty

Tina Leckie is the owner of Fiorentina, a restaurant in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood specializing in farm to table cuisine that has been dishing up meals with local ingredients for the past eight years. As many dine-in restaurants and bars close their doors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, restaurant owners like Tina are looking for new ways to serve customers and keep the lights on.

Over the last two months, the restaurant industry has dramatically changed and Canadians are searching online to understand their new dining options. While people are still searching for "local restaurants near me," the focus has shifted to alternative mealtime solutions. For example, Canadian searches for "takeout" increased +180% in April compared to January 2020 and we saw “delivery” search interest increase 130% from March to April, compared to the 30 days prior.

To help restaurants during this time, Google has launched new tools to make it easier for restaurants to share how they are operating. Canadian restaurants can now update their free Google My Business business listing to communicate adjusted hours or updated delivery options, such as curbside pickup, no-contact delivery or takeout. These attributes appear on a restaurant’s business profile on Google Search and Maps and are visible when customers are looking for dining options that meet their needs. Businesses can even create a COVID-19 post on their business profile to share any new safety precautions they’ve implemented to keep customers safe.

Toronto’s Fiorentina has updated their Google My Business listing to let customers know they are now offering curbside pickup and no-contact delivery. Businesses can also create a COVID-19 post on their profile to share any new safety precautions they’ve implemented.

For Tina, digital tools have made all the difference in keeping Fiorentina open. “Updating our business profile was easy to do on Google, and this helped us share our new website, and let customers know we’re offering curbside pick-up and delivery, despite being temporarily closed for dine-in,” said Tina. “Now anyone searching for restaurants in the neighbourhood can see that we’re still open and offering adjusted services. Our customers and community have been extremely appreciative of these updates, and continue to support us while we stay open for business.”

“Small businesses have and always will be critical to the Canadian economy, and as consumers shift purchasing behaviour to online, it’s imperative that businesses are also online and can be found,” says John Kiru, Executive Director of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas. “Google My Business helps restaurants not only be found online, but also connect with customers and let them know important updates like revised store hours, alternative service options, and new safety measures implemented during COVID-19.”

Since launching Google My Business, we’ve helped more than 150 million local businesses globally connect with people who are looking for them online. The pandemic presents unique challenges to the restaurant industry and while the path forward is not yet clear, we’re committed to supporting our local communities. Business owners can learn more on our Small Business Hub or join a free, virtual workshop.

Reach your audience where they are now with Display & Video 360

Media consumption habits are rapidly changing. Planning tools that are tightly connected to your media buying platform can help you reassess your media plans and quickly adjust your ad strategy to reach people where they are now.

We’re expanding the reach forecasting capabilities in Display & Video 360 to offer a deduplicated view of expected campaign reach across open auction display, video and YouTube so that media planners can have a comprehensive and accurate view of their potential audience. And to better support collaboration between planning and buying teams, the planning workspace is now more easily accessible to media planners, thanks to a new dedicated user role.

A deduplicated view of your Display & Video 360 reach 

Media planners aim to get the most comprehensive view of all the media available so they can design relevant and effective plans. In Display & Video 360, you could already forecast the reach of your video campaigns in the plan workspace. For planners to effectively plan across all their programmatic buys, we have added support for display formats.

That means that media planners no longer have to rely on reach metrics from past campaigns to guesstimate the reach of their upcoming display ad campaigns. They can now rely on display forecasts that take into account insights that are unique to Display & Video 360 such as brand safety settings and Google audience details. For example, it is now possible to accurately estimate the reach of a display campaign aimed at reaching the Google affinity audience “Aspiring Chefs” as they enjoy content suitable for general audiences.

But the primary objective of media planning is to understand how many people are likely to be exposed to your brand across formats and inventory. So building on Google's Unique Reach methodology, we also enabled fully deduplicated reach forecasts in Display & Video 360 across open auction display, open auction video and YouTube.

Once we commit to a reach objective, neither underachieving nor overachieving is an option. Display & Video 360 gives media planners the accuracy they need to effectively plan across all our programmatic campaigns. Anudeep Pedditi
Programmatic Manager, OMD NZ

With this capability, you can now answer questions such as “how many unique people can I expect to reach with my overall campaign across any open auction display and video inventory as well as YouTube?” In addition to reach, you can also see projections for other important campaign metrics such as frequency, viewability and cost as you plan. And you can see how many people you will reach if you apply Google audience segments or if you choose to use your own audience data.

01-large.2020-03-16 16_23_19.gif

Display & Video 360 reach forecasting tool quickly calculating estimated deduplicated reach across YouTube, open auction display and video formats

A dedicated user role for planners

Media planners are increasingly being held accountable for how well an ad campaign actually delivers against the plan that was shared with clients or other teams. As a result, we are seeing stronger collaboration across media planning and buying teams.

To help foster this collaboration, we just introduced a dedicated user role for media planners. For the first time, agencies and advertisers can invite their media planners directly into Display & Video 360. This new role enables access just to the relevant elements of Display & Video 360 for media planners, giving them visibility into the critical media planning information they need to collaborate, learn, iterate and build more impactful media plans.

With the new dedicated role, planners can see cross-channel reach and cost estimates first-hand which facilitates the process of allocating budget and delivers better performance for the client. Azriel Chan
Head of Platforms & Capabilities, OMD NZ

For example, media planners can access accurate forecasts for campaigns bought programmatically in Display & Video 360 and discover new publishers and inventory. With the Partner account owner’s permission, they can also start a negotiation with a publisher or renegotiate an existing deal. This gives them tools to better inform their planning process and freedom to check and update their plans and recommendations whenever they need.

Before launching your next programmatic campaign, give your media planning team access to the Display & Video 360 planning workspace so they can accurately estimate how many people are likely to be exposed to your brand across formats and inventory, and design the best media plan to deliver on your objectives.

18 Asia Pacific news organizations with big ideas

Last October, we invited news organizations to apply to the second round of the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge in Asia Pacific: a call for new ideas to help journalism thrive in the digital age. Since then, the COVID-19 outbreak has affected publishers across the region and, after discussions with publishers, we made the decision to go ahead with the Challenge—alongside our broader support for journalism in this challenging time. 
The first round of the Challenge focused on diversifying revenue and saw dozens of examples of creative new approaches. Iwate Nippo, a local publisher in Japan, developed a news and lifestyle app targeting elderly subscribers, while Australia’s Crikey created a new group subscription model—steps to strengthen their business and ensure they can continue to provide vital news, analysis and information.

This time around, applicants were asked for proposals to increase reader engagement, which ultimately leads to greater loyalty and willingness to pay for content. We received 255 strong submissions across topics like user-generated content, community management, fact-checking and the use of technologies such as machine learning to tackle business challenges. Today, we’re announcing the 18 organizations from across the region selected to take their ideas forward with GNI’s support.
Meet the selected applicants from the second round of the GNI Innovation Challenge in Asia Pacific.

As in the first round, what set these organizations apart was the variety and creativity of their ideas. Gaon Connection in India is building an ‘insights platform’ to capture the opinions and preferences of rural communities. Three local news providers in Korea—the Busan Daily, Maeil Daily and Gangwon Daily—are collaborating to gather real-time insights that will help them create customized experiences for their readers. Australian Community Media is developing a new platform for classified ads that will better support local newspapers and small businesses. Japan’s Nippon TV is using augmented reality technology to bring its news archives to life—and these are just some of the proposals that stood out during the application process. 

We’re grateful to all the organizations that took the time to apply. A strong Asia Pacific news industry has never been more important, and we’re looking forward to seeing the selected applicants put their ideas into action. 

Posted by Fazal Ashfaq, News & Publishing Lead, APAC

Stopping bad ads to protect users

People trust Google when they’re looking for information, and we’re committed to ensuring they can trust the ads they see on our platforms, too. This commitment is especially important in times of uncertainty, such as the past few months as the world has confronted COVID-19. 

Responding to COVID-19

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve closely monitored advertiser behavior to protect users from ads looking to take advantage of the crisis. These often come from sophisticated actors attempting to evade our enforcement systems with advanced tactics. For example, as the situation evolved, we saw a sharp spike in fraudulent ads for in-demand products like face masks. These ads promoted products listed significantly above market price, misrepresented the product quality to trick people into making a purchase or were placed by merchants who never fulfilled the orders. 

We have a dedicated COVID-19 task force that’s been working around the clock. They have built new detection technology and have also improved our existing enforcement systems to stop bad actors. These concerted efforts are working. We’ve blocked and removed tens of millions of coronavirus-related ads over the past few months for policy violations including price-gouging, capitalizing on global medical supply shortages, making misleading claims about cures and promoting illegitimate unemployment benefits.

Simultaneously, the coronavirus has become an important and enduring topic in everyday conversation and we’re working on ways to allow advertisers across industries to share relevant updates with their audiences. Over the past several weeks, for example, we’ve specifically helped NGOs, governments, hospitals and healthcare providers run PSAs. We continue to take a measured approach to adjusting our enforcement to ensure that we are protecting users while prioritizing critical information from trusted advertisers.

Preserving the integrity of the ecosystem

Preserving the integrity of the ads on our platforms, as we’re doing during the COVID-19 outbreak, is a continuation of the work we do every day to minimize content that violates our policies and stop malicious actors. We have thousands of people working across our teams to make sure we’re protecting our users and enabling a safe ecosystem for advertisers and publishers, and each year we share a summary of the work we’ve done.

In 2019, we blocked and removed 2.7 billion bad ads—that’s more than 5,000 bad ads per minute. We also suspended nearly 1 million advertiser accounts for policy violations. On the publisher side, we terminated over 1.2 million accounts and removed ads from over 21 million web pages that are part of our publisher network for violating our policies. Terminating accounts—not just removing an individual ad or page—is an especially effective enforcement tool that we use if advertisers or publishers engage in egregious policy violations or have a history of violating policy.

2.7 billion taken down.gif

Improving enforcement against phishing and "trick-to-click" ads 

If we find specific categories of ads are more prone to abuse, we prioritize our resources to prevent bad actors from taking advantage of users. One of the areas that we’ve become familiar with is phishing, a common practice used by deceptive players to collect personal information from users under false pretenses. For example, in 2019 we saw more bad actors targeting people seeking to renew their passport. These ads mimicked real ads for renewal sites but their actual intent was to get users to provide sensitive information such as their social security or credit card number. Another common area of abuse is “trick-to-click” ads—which are designed to trick people into interacting with them by using prominent links (for example, “click here”) often designed to look like computer or mobile phone system warnings.

Because we’ve come to expect certain recurring categories like phishing and “trick-to-click,” we’re able to more effectively fight them. In 2019, we assembled an internal team to track the patterns and signals of these types of fraudulent advertisers so we could identify and remove their ads faster. As a result, we saw nearly a 50 percent decrease of bad ads served in both categories from the previous year. In total, we blocked more than 35 million phishing ads and 19 million “trick-to-click” ads in 2019.

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Adapting our policies and technology in real time

Certain industries are particularly susceptible to malicious behavior. For example, as more consumers turn to online financial services over brick and mortar locations, we identified an increase in personal loan ads with misleading information on lending terms. To combat this, we broadened our policy to only allow loan-related ads to run if the advertiser clearly states all fees, risks and benefits on their website or app so that users can make informed decisions. This updated policy enabled us to take down 9.6 million of these types of bad ads in 2019, doubling our number from 2018. 

At the end of last year, we also introduced a certification program for debt management advertisers in select countries that offer to negotiate with creditors to remedy debt or credit problems. We know users looking for help with this are often at their most vulnerable and we want to create a safe experience for them. This new program ensures we’re only allowing advertisers who are registered by the local regulatory agencies to serve ads for this type of service. We’re continuing to explore ways to scale this program to more countries to match local finance regulations. 

Looking forward

Maintaining trust in the digital advertising ecosystem is a top priority for Google. And with global health concerns now top of mind for everyone, preparing for and responding to attempts to take advantage of our users is as important as it has ever been. We know abuse tactics will continue evolving and new societal issues will arise. We'll continue to make sure we’re protecting our users, advertisers and publishers from bad actors across our advertising platforms. 

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Connecting and collaborating with Google Meet & G Suite

In this unprecedented time in history, we’ve seen millions of businesses across India adapt to the new normal of working remotely and learning from home. It is human nature to connect, and video conferencing plays a pivotal role here. 
We saw more than 3 million new users connecting on Google Meet every day as of this month, spending over 3 billion minutes a day together. That’s a massive 30x jump from the numbers we saw earlier in January. And today, we’re making our premium video conferencing tool, Google Meet free for everyone, with availability rolling out over the coming weeks. 
Stay home, stay safe, stay connected 
Starting May, anyone with an email address can create a Google Account and use Meet to schedule, join or start secure video meetings with anyone — whether it’s a virtual dance class, a weekly book club, neighborhood meetings, or any other reason to connect with your community, friends, and family. 
Until today, Google Meet was only available as part of G Suite, our collaboration and productivity solution for businesses, organizations and schools. Now, it is freely available on the web at and via mobile apps for iOS or Android. And if you use Google Calendar, you can easily start or join from there too. 
We’re also rolling out new features including tiled layout for larger calls, the option to present a Chrome tab (instead of just presenting their window or entire screen), low-light mode and eventually noise cancellation. 
Secure by design
Meet is designed, built and operated to be secure at scale — for everyone. We employ a vast array of safe-by-default measures to keep your meetings safe without doing a thing, everytime. We don't require or ask for any plugins to be installed, reducing the amount of software users and businesses need to patch with security updates on their machines. 
We also ensure that only authorised users can use and access Meet services by using a 2-Step Verification option for account — making them secure and convenient. Google Meet users can enroll their accounts in our Advanced Protection Program (APP), which provides our strongest protections available against phishing and account hijacking, and is specifically designed for the highest-risk accounts.
Helping businesses collaborate with G Suite
We’re not just connecting over video. We’ve also seen huge spikes in the use of our entire G Suite offering as more people create, share, and connect together while working remotely. Earlier this year we marked another major milestone — surpassing six million paying businesses and organisations who use G Suite. 
“Employees are able to access every business application via Google Cloud Platform and continue to communicate as usual not only between themselves but also with customers, vendors and other stakeholders with G Suite. The Google Cloud team is always accessible and supportive to help us ease things. The use of collaborative tools has facilitated important human contact and responsiveness in an unprecedented time of remote work,” said V M Samir, Group CIO, Rustomjee, a leading real estate company in Mumbai.
Mathan Babu Kasilingam, CISO of National Payments Corporation of India, an umbrella organisation for all retail payment systems in India says, “Google Meet has played a good role in helping our teams stay connected. It’s great to see that it is possible to work across various remote locations and manage to carry on business as usual through video conferencing.” 
Here is what TR Chadha & Co, one of India’s prominent chartered accountancy firms, had to say. “G Suite has been a lifeline for the teams for the past month since we have transitioned to a work from home set-up due to the pandemic. With G Suite, our teams can securely log-in from any device to work wherever they are at any time,” said Gautam Kumar, IT Manager, TR Chadha.
Securely stay connected and productive not just today but also in the future
We’re carefully rolling out Meet incrementally over the coming weeks to ensure we can provide everyone with the reliability and security they expect from Google. This means you might not be able to create meetings right away, but you can sign up to be notified when it’s available.
Meetings are limited to 60 minutes for the free product, though we will not enforce this time limit until after September 30.  Creating a trusted meeting space is important, so being mindful when sharing meeting links in public forums can help create a safe experience for all attendees. For more tips on how to use Meet securely and effectively, visit our Help Center.

Posted by Karan Bajwa, Managing Director, Google Cloud India