Author Archives: Google Public Policy Blog

The nature of water: unveiling the most detailed view of water on Earth

In 1926, the Mississippi river flooded to its highest level in history, destroying towns and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Since then, dams and thousands of kilometers of levees have been built to control the mighty Mississippi. 60 years on, another effect of the historic flood is becoming apparent. As the river has become calmer, it now also carries a lot less of the sediment that created and replenished the delta. Without that, more than 13 thousand square kilometers of the delta -- an area 10 times the size of London -- is slowly slipping into the Gulf of Mexico. Once again the river is threatening to displace thousands and drown the fragile delta wetlands.

Mississippi delta gif
Mississippi delta sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. Blue is water, white is land, red shows areas of transition. (Source: EC JRC / Google)

The change of the Mississippi over decades is just one of the hundreds of stories of similarly dramatic change around the globe; from the draining of the Aral Sea in the Middle East for crops, to the effects of dam construction in China, or the impacts of the multi-year drought on the Western U.S.  Water has been shaping our planet since it was formed, and still plays a direct and crucial role in all of our lives.

Thanks to a partnership between the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and Google, we can now get a view into the past three decades of water on the surface of Earth and see how stories like these have shaped the world over time, in unprecedented detail.   

This project has been a monumental undertaking and was made possible by new data processing methods, running the analysis on thousands of high performance computers at the same time. It took three years to download 1.8 petabytes of data from the USGS/NASA Landsat satellite program and prepare that for analysis. Each pixel in 3 million satellite images, going all the way back to 1984, was examined by a computer algorithm developed by the Joint Research Center running on the Google Earth Engine platform. More than 10 million hours of computing time was needed for this, roughly equivalent to a modern 2-core computer running day and night for 600 years.  

Karkheh River
Karkheh River in Iran backing up behind a dam from 1984 to 2015 (Source: EC JRC / Google)

The results for the first time allow us to map and measure changes in the water surface over time with a 30-meter accuracy, month-by-month, over 32 years. Here are some of our findings:  

  • 90 thousand square kilometers of water - the equivalent of half of the lakes in Europe - have vanished altogether. Over 200 thousand square kilometers of new, mostly man-made water bodies came into existence.

  • The continuing drying up of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan accounts for the biggest loss in the world.

  • Iran and Afghanistan lost over a half, Iraq over a third of its water area.

  • Although the area covered by water in the U.S. has overall increased a little, a combination of drought and sustained demand for water have seen six western states, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, account for a third of the loss in U.S. water surface. 

Tibetan plateau
Lakes throughout the Tibetan Plateau have expanded in size over the past 30 years. (Source: EC JRC / Google)

The research findings and the maps, published today in the journal Nature, are available for you to explore on this new website.  The data are also freely available in Google Earth Engine for further research, use, and download.  These new maps, statistics and the stories of change they reveal provide essential information which can aid global water security, agricultural planning, disaster preparedness, public health, climate understanding and more, offering the most detailed view to date of one of our planet’s most vital resources.

With contributions from Alan Belward, Andrew Cottam and Jean-François Pekel, Joint Research Centre, European Commission

Strengthening the security of your Google account

Our users trust Google with some of their most precious data — family photos, emails, work documents, and more. It's our responsibility to keep your information safe and secure, and provide simple, useful ways for you to manage it.
We also have additional tools you can use to give your account extra protection. More than five years ago, we introduced two-step verification, a tool which offers an added layer of security to your account. With two-step verification, you need something more than just your password—a simple prompt on your phone, a code generated by an app, or a security key— in order to access your account. This makes it much tougher for the bad guys to get into your account, even if they’ve somehow gotten your password.
Today, the White House, in partnership with the National Cyber Security Alliance, launched the Lock Down Your Login campaign to educate Americans about better ways to keep their online accounts secure. It’s a great opportunity to remind everyone about the different two-step verification options available to protect your Google account. To enable two-step verification, go to the “Sign-in & Security” section of My Account or click here to learn more.

Preserving a Free and Open Internet

Why the IANA Transition Must Move Forward

The Internet community is about to take an important step to protect the Internet for generations to come.

Over the past several years, an ecosystem of users, civil society experts, academics, governments, and companies has worked to protect the free and open Internet.  These efforts have produced a detailed proposal that will enable the U.S. government to relinquish its contract with a California non-profit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to perform certain technical functions called IANA, short for the Internet Assigned Names Authority.  IANA essentially maintains the Internet’s address book, which lets you browse the web and communicate with friends without worrying about remembering long strings of numbers or other technical information.

When this proposal takes effect at the end of this month, you won’t notice anything different when you go online, but we are transitioning the IANA functions into good hands.

Why?  Although this is a change in how one technical function of the Internet is governed, it will give innovators and users a greater role in managing the global Internet.  And that’s a very good thing.  The Internet has been built by -- and has thrived because of -- the companies, civil society activists, technologists, and selfless users around the world who recognized the Internet’s power to transform communities and economies.  If we want the Internet to have this life-changing impact on everyone in the world, then we need to make sure that the right people are in a position to drive its future growth.  This proposal does just that.

The proposal will also protect the Internet from those who want to break it into pieces.  Unfortunately, some see the Internet’s incredible power to connect people and ideas around the world as a threat.  For them, the U.S. government’s contract with ICANN proves that governments are the only ones who should play a role in the way the Internet works.  We disagree.

Thinking that only governments should have a say in the Internet’s future is a dangerous proposition.  It incentivizes those who fear the Internet’s transformative power to impose burdensome restrictions online, and over time could even lead some repressive governments to try to build their own closed networks operating independently of ICANN, at the expense of a thriving Internet ecosystem.

The Internet community’s proposal avoids this risk by ensuring that the Internet is governed in a bottom-up way that puts its future in the hands of users and innovators, not authoritarian governments.  That’s why it’s not just engineers and companies, but also civil society and national security experts, who see the proposal as a critical way to protect Internet freedom.

Finally, and importantly, the proposal will fulfill a promise the United States made almost two decades ago: that the Internet could and should be governed by everyone with a stake in its continued growth.  The U.S. government’s contract with ICANN was always supposed to be merely temporary.  In fact, since ICANN was created in 1998, the U.S. government has invited the global Internet community to decide the Internet’s future in a bottom-up fashion.  The community has proven more than up to the task.  The U.S. government’s continued contractual relationship with ICANN is simply no longer necessary.

We’re grateful to have worked with so many stakeholders, including the dedicated officials at the U.S. government who have worked so hard to fulfill the promise made by their predecessors nearly twenty years ago, during this effort to protect one of the greatest engines of economic and social opportunity the world has ever seen.  And because the proposal makes sure that ICANN is more accountable and transparent than ever before, we hope that more people from around the world will take this opportunity to get involved.  The Internet’s future is in all of our hands.

11 New Countries Available in Google Patents

When we started Google Patents almost 10 years ago, our mission was to make patents more easily accessible. Today, we're announcing the addition of 11 more countries to Google Patents with over 41 million new patent publications, bringing the total to over 87 million publications from 17 patent offices around the world.

Starting today, you can now search for patents and applications from Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Belgium, Russia, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, and Luxembourg in Google Patents. If you’re interested in learning more about inventions such as bulldozing devices, wind farming, or how to make rice wine, you can now search for them and many more.

Like our other patent publications, this new collection has been translated into English using Google Translate so you can search using English keywords or the original language. Our collection also includes scientific papers and books from Google Scholar and Google Books, which have been machine-classified like patents with Cooperative Patent Classification codes for easier discovery. You can learn more in the new help center.

A robust prior art search, combining advanced search technology and a patent examiner’s technical expertise, allows an examiner to determine if an invention is new and non-obvious. As a result, technology that was already known isn’t taken from the public, and innovative companies won’t be targeted with unnecessary and expensive lawsuits that drain R&D resources. Patent holders trying to protect the next groundbreaking invention benefit too by gaining more certainty that their patents won’t be invalidated later because of prior art that wasn’t found during examination.

We’ll continue to improve Google Patents to make the collection of patents and prior art accessible and useful to patent examiners, inventors, and the public around the world.

Privacy for the Next Billion Users

We have updated our Transparency Report on government requests for user data with information for the second half of 2015 (July – December). Google is proud to have led the charge on publishing these reports, helping shed light on government surveillance laws and practices across the world.

We’re pleased with some of the improvements we’ve seen in surveillance laws. The European Commission and the United States recently agreed on the Privacy Shield agreement, which includes new undertakings covering procedural protections for surveillance efforts. Earlier this year, President Obama signed the Judicial Redress Act into law, which Google strongly supported. The law creates a process for extending procedural protections under the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-U.S. persons. This shift helps address concerns about the ability of non-U.S. persons to redress grievances concerning data collected and stored by the U.S. government under U.S. law. Indeed, the distinctions that U.S. privacy and surveillance laws make between U.S. and non-U.S. persons are increasingly obsolete in a world where communications primarily take place over a global medium: the Internet.

There are other important steps that the U.S. can take to ensure that the privacy interests of non-U.S. persons are addressed as policymakers consider government surveillance issues. We helped create the Reform Government Surveillance coalition to encourage Congress and the executive branch to take steps to modernize U.S. surveillance laws, further protect the privacy and data security rights of all users, including those outside the US and those not of US nationality, and improve diplomatic processes to promote a robust, principled, and transparent framework for legitimate cross-border investigations.

Google looks forward to working on the future rules and standards in countries around the world that, like the Judicial Redress Act, respect the rights of users wherever they may be.

American Democracy on Google Arts & Culture

Information is powerful, and historical and cultural information can help us understand the world around us today. That’s why we built Google Arts & Culture—to put the world’s cultural treasures at anyone’s fingertips, and to help museums and other organizations share more of their diverse heritage with the world. So far we’ve partnered with more than 1,100 institutions to share 400,000+ artworks and 5 million photos, videos, manuscripts, and other documents of art, culture and history.

Today, ahead of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, we’re putting that platform to work sharing documents and artifacts in a new collection: American Democracy.

The American Democracy collection allows anyone with an internet connection to explore more than 70 exhibits and 2,500+ artifacts from 45 institutions across the United States—including the Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles, Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, and 8 different Presidential Libraries. The exhibition is open for all at and through the Google Arts & Culture mobile app for iOS and Android.

Witness the election of 1800, following George Washington’s presidency, in which Federalists and Democratic-Republicans fought over the issue of more government or less—a debate we still have today.

ABOVE: Think Before You Vote Republican Party advertisement informing Michigan voters why they should re-elect Abraham Lincoln as president over George McClellan. From the collection of President Lincoln’s Cottage

Revisit the 1860 election, when a four-way battle culminated in Abraham Lincoln’s ascension to the office of the president.

ABOVE: August 1964, Supporters of the Freedom Democratic Party outside the Democratic National Convention hold up signs bearing the likenesses of 3 slain civil rights workers (L-R) Andrew Goodman, James Chaney & Michael Schwerner. Photo by Ralph Crane via the LIFE Photo Collection

Explore exhibits that offer a view into the legacy of the fight for equal civil rights—well worth remembering and celebrating given the events of today. Relive the history of women in presidential elections and of women in the fight for civil rights thanks to the National Museum of Women’s History, or examine the violent and chaotic Democratic National Convention of 1968 in Chicago in an exhibit from the Chicago History Museum.

And experience conventions from the past, as told by members of the press who were actually there, in the Archive of American Television’s Stories from National Political Conventions. Or view never-before-seen pictures of President Richard Nixon addressing the crowd at the Republican National Convention of 1972, photographed by renowned photographer Ollie Atkins and the White House Photo Office.

Knowledge of the past helps us understand the impact of our choices on the future. Every few years, American citizens are challenged with the question of how they want to be governed and to what end. With the American Democracy collection on Google Arts & Culture, we hope to make the history of those choices, and their outcomes, available to all.

Continuing to Create Value While Fighting Piracy: An Update

The internet continues to be a boon for creators, their communities, and the content industry. At Google, we are committed to helping these industries flourish online. Today, Google’s services provide content for people all around the world and generate significant revenue for rightsholders. YouTube alone has now generated over $2 billion to rightsholders by monetizing user-uploaded content through Content ID, its industry-leading rights management system.

We take protecting creativity online seriously, and we’re doing more to help battle copyright-infringing activity than ever before. Today, we are releasing an update to our "How Google Fights Piracy" report, which explains the robust programs, policies, and technologies we have put in place to combat piracy online.

Here are a few highlights from those ongoing efforts:
  • Leading the industry in finding copyright solutions that work: We go above and beyond the requirements of the law to lead the industry in finding solutions that work. Content ID is a great example of this. Content ID goes beyond a simple "notice-and-takedown" system to provide a set of automated tools that empowers rightsholders to automatically claim their content and choose whether to track, block or monetize it on YouTube. Content ID is a highly effective solution, and today over 98% of copyright management on YouTube takes place through Content ID, with only 2% being handled through copyright removal notices. 
  • Providing new revenue streams for media industries and content owners: Content ID has also created a robust new revenue stream for the content industry. YouTube has paid out over $2 billion to rightsholders who have monetized their content through Content ID since it first launched. In fact, today well over 90% of all Content ID claims across the platform result in monetization. The music industry chooses to monetize more than 95% of their claims, opting to leave the content up on the platform - half of the music industry's YouTube revenue comes from fan content claimed via Content ID. Thanks to Content ID, YouTube is also the only platform that gives partners an automated way to directly monetize background/incidental use and covers. 

  • Connecting fans to better legitimate alternatives: The best way to battle piracy is with better, more convenient, legitimate alternatives. And Google is all-in when it comes to partnering with the content industry to build and enable those alternatives. Through YouTube and Google Play, Google is in the business of helping users legitimately discover, purchase, and enjoy music, movies, books, magazines, and apps. Thanks to these platforms, Google Play has paid out more than $7 billion to developers, while YouTube has paid out more than $3 billion to the music industry. Today, Google Play also makes music available in 62 countries, movies in 105 countries, and books in 75 countries. 
  • Solving for Search: Thanks to the efforts of Google’s engineers, the vast majority of media-related queries that users submit every day return results that include only links to legitimate sites. For any problematic links that may appear for rarer “long-tail” queries, our systems for processing copyright removal notices handle millions of URLs each day, in less than 6 hours on average. And when we get a large number of valid notices for a site, our search ranking algorithms demote that site in future search results. 
  • Following the money: Rogue sites that specialize in online piracy are commercial ventures, which means that one effective way to combat them is to cut off their money supply. As a global leader in online advertising, Google is committed to rooting out and ejecting rogue sites from our advertising services. Since 2012, Google has blacklisted more than 91,000 sites from AdSense for violating our policies against copyright infringement, the vast majority caught by AdSense’s own proactive screens. We have also been working with other advertising leaders to craft best practices aimed at raising standards across the entire online advertising industry, including in the U.S., U.K., France, Italy, and Asia. 
Protecting and fostering creativity online is a priority for Google. We remain committed to investing in efforts to address copyright infringement online, collaborating with rightsholders and protecting the interests of our users.

EU-US Privacy Shield: Restoring faith in data flows and transatlantic relations

UPDATE - Monday, September 26:The U.S. Department of Commerce has now formally approved Google's certification to the Privacy Shield as fully compliant and our certification can be viewed on the Privacy Shieldlist.

UPDATE August 29, 2016: Today Google signed up for the EU-US Privacy Shield, submitting our certification to the US Department of Commerce for approval. We are committed to applying the protections of the Privacy Shield to personal data transferred between Europe and the United States. In the blog we posted on July 12 (below), we detail why the Privacy Shield is an important achievement. We welcome the legal certainty that it brings.

Ever since the European Court of Justice invalidated the EU-US Safe Harbor Agreement in October 2015, businesses on both sides of the Atlantic have faced confusion about the future of transatlantic data transfers -- often transfers that are vital to the routine functioning of their operations. And much ink has been spilled about the complexity of the negotiations required to break the impasse and the resulting tensions in transatlantic relations.

Today, as the final step in a long process of approvals, the European Commission adopted the new EU-US Privacy Shield. We applaud this achievement, which demonstrates that the EU and the US share important values and are able to work together to protect the fundamental right to privacy.

Following the agreement, we will ensure that our products and services meet the new standards of the Privacy Shield. And, building on our work with Europe’s Data Protection Authorities over the last few years, we’re also choosing to co-operate with Europe’s Data Protection Authorities on EU-US Privacy Shield inquiries.

As a company operating on both sides of the Atlantic, we welcome the legal certainty the Privacy Shield brings. Restoring trust -- in international data flows and in the Transatlantic Digital Agenda -- is crucial to continued growth in the digital economy.

Global Network Initiative Releases 2015 Assessment Report

Google is proud to be a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together ICT companies with civil society organizations, investors, and academics to define a shared approach to freedom of expression and privacy online. The GNI provides a framework for company operations, rooted in international standards; promotes accountability of ICT sector companies through independent assessment; enables multi-stakeholder policy engagement; and creates shared learning opportunities across stakeholder boundaries.

As part of our commitment to GNI, outside assessors conduct periodic reviews of how we’re doing against GNI’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy. In 2013, GNI conducted the inaugural round of assessments of the GNI member companies.

Today, GNI released the second round of assessments. We’re pleased that the board determined Google is compliant with the GNI framework and affirmed our ongoing efforts to protect freedom of expression and privacy online. The assessment is an important tool for companies, NGOs, academics, and others working together to review how companies address risks to privacy and free expression. We look forward to continuing to work within GNI to improve the GNI assessment process as it evolves.

Google is deeply committed to our responsibility to respect and protect the freedom of expression and privacy rights of our users. We value our partnership with GNI on the pressing issues in our sector, for example: reforming the global mutual legal assistance (MLAT) regime; developing new international frameworks for cross-border data requests; and establishing principles to help governments and companies address extremist or terrorist content online.

For more information on Google’s efforts, visit our Transparency Report.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Step Forward for the Internet

When we think about global trade, most of us imagine container ships navigating the Panama Canal and large multinational companies with warehouses around the world. But the Internet is upending this model and opening the door for the over three billion people already online to exchange goods, services, and ideas.

Today, a small business can sell its products overseas with little more than an app or website. An artist, musician, or author can reach a global audience without needing a superstar agent. A small business on Bainbridge Island, Washington sells its marine parts to customers in 176 countries, and a unique performer like Lindsey Stirling cultivates a global audience with millions of views on YouTube.

The Internet is profoundly changing the global economy -- democratizing who participates in trade, transforming the way traditional industries do business, and internationalizing the way people around the world connect. Today, information flows contribute more than the flow of physical goods to global economic growth.

But Internet restrictions -- like censorship, site-blocking, and forced local storage of data -- threaten the Internet’s open architecture. This can seriously harm established businesses, startups trying to reach a global audience, and Internet users seeking to communicate and collaborate across national borders.

Trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are beginning to recognize the Internet’s transformative impact on trade.

  • The Internet has revolutionized how people can share and access information, and the TPP promotes the free flow of information in ways that are unprecedented for a binding international agreement. The TPP requires the 12 participating countries to allow cross-border transfers of information and prohibits them from requiring local storage of data. These provisions will support the Internet’s open architecture and make it more difficult for TPP countries to block Internet sites -- so that users have access to a web that is global, not just local. 
  • The TPP provides strong copyright protections, while also requiring fair and reasonable copyright exceptions and limitations that protect the Internet. It balances the interests of copyright holders with the public’s interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works -- enabling innovations like search engines, social networks, video recording, the iPod, cloud computing, and machine learning. The endorsement of balanced copyright is unprecedented for a trade agreement. The TPP similarly requires the kinds of copyright safe harbors that have been critical to the Internet’s success, with allowances for some variation to account for different legal systems. 
  • The TPP advances other important Internet policy goals. It prohibits discrimination against foreign Internet services, limits governments’ ability to demand access to encryption keys or other cryptographic methods, requires pro-innovation telecom access policies, prohibits customs duties on digital products, requires proportionality in intellectual property remedies, and advances other key digital goals
The TPP is not perfect, and the trade negotiation process could certainly benefit from greater transparency. We will continue to advocate for process reforms, including the opportunity for all stakeholders to have a meaningful opportunity for input into trade negotiations.

In terms of substance, we believe that future trade agreements can do even more to build a modern pro-innovation, pro-Internet trade agenda. For example, while the TPP’s balanced copyright provisions can be a force for good, these balancing provisions should be expanded in future agreements.

We hope that the TPP can be a positive force and an important counterweight to restrictive Internet policies around the world. Like many other tech companies, we look forward to seeing the agreement approved and implemented in a way that promotes a free and open Internet across the Pacific region.