Category Archives: Official Google Blog

Insights from Googlers into our topics, technology, and the Google culture

Learn and play together as a family with Chromebook

The last few months have been an adventure for a lot of families like mine that are juggling work, parenting, and school at home. Our family Chromebook has been a huge help. Between video calls with teachers and classmates, virtual “field trips” to the zoo, moviemaking, and book publishing (and that’s just the last week!), my kids are spending more time online. With that comes some challenges, and I know I’m not alone. A lot of parents are looking for better tools to help them manage and guide their kids’ time spent online.


We hope our new Chrome OS update can help. This update brings two new improvements to Family Link on Chromebook: access to Chrome Web store extensions for kids and per-app time limits for Google Play apps. Family Link is an app that helps parents set digital ground rules and manage screen time across kids’ Android phones, tablets, and Chromebooks. Parents can use the Family Link app from their phone to set restrictions on which websites their kids can visit, set device time limits, and approve and install apps from the Google Play Store for their child’s account.

Access to thousands of useful extensions

Now, parents can let their children personalize Chrome with thousands of free extensions and themes from theChrome Web Store and be more productive with tools like Zoom and Screencastify. To approve extensions, parents just need to enter their password on the supervised Chromebook.
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Parents can now approve extensions from the Chrome Web Store for their kids.

Healthy guardrails for apps on Chromebook

With the latest update, parents can also set per-app time limits for Play Store apps to manage their child’s screen time on Chromebooks. This Family Link improvement gives parents more precise control over their kids’ app usage, so kids can strike the right balance of time on educational apps like Khan Academy Kids and games like Roblox.

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Kids will receive notifications related to per-app time limits set by parents.

Getting started

If you’re new to using Family Link on Chromebook, download the app from the Google Play Store and check out this article on our Help Center for set-up instructions. 


Here are some other tips for using Chromebook as a family:

  • Visit the revamped “Kids” tab on the Google Play Store to find teacher-approved apps for learning and entertainment.

  • Visit Teach from Home for resources on teaching and learning at home, and more information about the Google for Education tools your kid may be using in school.  

  • Help your kid learn the fundamentals of digital citizenship and online safety with Google’s Be Internet Awesome family resources and the Interland game

  • Turn on Digital Wellbeing settings, like Night Light, which changes Chromebook’s screen temperature to reduce blue light at night.

We’ll be back soon with another highlight reel of recent improvements to Chromebook.

Providing emergency funding for 5,300+ local news organizations

COVID-19 has upended the news industry, hitting local news particularly hard with job losses, furloughs, cutbacks and even closure. To provide some help, last month the Google News Initiative launched the Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. Today we’re announcing that more than 5,300 small and medium local newsrooms around the world will receive funding ranging from $5,000 - $30,000. Applications covering a number of publications under one organization will be capped at $85,000. As we await a final funding tally, we expect to spend tens of millions of dollars through the Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. 

In just two weeks we received more than 12,000 applications from 140 eligible countries, with 90 percent of those applications from newsrooms of less than 26 journalists. We reviewed each application against a set of criteria: publications operating locally, serving a specific geographic community and using the money to continue doing so. More than 300 Googlers joined forces to check the submissions and across the world we held dozens of webinars and office hours to answer questions and guide people through the process. 

About 50 percent of the applications didn’t meet the publicly established criteria. Reasons varied from not producing core news (i.e., lifestyle or sports news) to employing less than 2 journalists. The goal was to be as inclusive as possible while sticking to the eligibility rules. We still have a small percentage of projects to review but below our teams have provided a snapshot of some of the recipients and how they plan to spend the funding.


WORLD@2x (3).png

North America:Chris Jansen, Head of U.S. News & Publishing

As we read their stories, we were struck by the number of news organizations in the U.S. and Canada  keeping their communities informed with fewer than 10 full-time employees. As small businesses, many applicants are trying to figure out how to keep the lights on, literally and figuratively. They’re passionate about providing high-quality journalism, and it’s an honor to support them during such a critical point.

  • The Daily Memphian (Memphis, TN, U.S.) will continue to produce 20-30 daily stories focused on issues around COVID-19 and its impact on the poor and on African American communities.

  • Chestnut Hill Local (Northwest Philadelphia, PA, U.S.): will replace their “archaic website” with a new platform to get content online more quickly and more often. 

  • The Discourse Cowichan (Canada) serves a rural region on Vancouver Island, B.C., including Cowichan Tribes, the largest First Nation in the region. It will increase reporting capacity to cover the impact of COVID on vulnerable communities.

  • Madison365 (Madison, WI, U.S.) focuses on communities of color in Wisconsin. It will use funds for additional journalists, video content production and server capacity to provide rapid response coverage on issues impacting people of color across the state.

  • WTIP North Shore Community Radio’s (Grand Marais, MN, U.S.) emergency response organizations rely on WTIP to broadcast lifesaving information. WTIP will keep its news team employed and on the air, delivering live and local broadcasting throughout the crisis. 

Europe, the Middle East, and Africa: Mark Peters, Director, EMEA Partnerships 

We received applications from 88 countries, and so far we’ve offered funding to more than 1550 publishers, each demonstrating the diversity and strength of local communities and the journalists that continue to serve them through the crisis.

  • Mediacités’ (France) fact-checking tool “Veracités” has seen a huge increase in questions from local readers but can currently only answer 10 percent of them. The fund will allow them to invest in the tool and answer more peoples’ questions. 

  • Eco di Bergamo (Italy) Data journalism techniques have helped local communities understand what’s happening in the Bergamo area which suffered heavy losses during the crisis. Funding will be used to increase investment in new means of production (video, audio, photo, data) to give readers a deeper more analytical knowledge of what’s happening in their territory. 

  • Bihoreanul(Romania) intends to provide information necessary to fight the spread of COVID-19, and talk about the consequences of the pandemic to its readers.

  • Rochdale online (UK) will keep their journalists working during the crisis. They’ll focus on helping the community understand the latest advice on COVID-19 and promote the work of local businesses, charities and volunteers.

  • Baraka FM (Kenya) will focus on on-air campaigns to encourage listeners to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ll buy personal protective equipment to keep reporters safe when conducting interviews and give emergency stipends to reporters who’ve traveled to cover special reports.

Asia Pacific: Rohan Tiwary, Head of Media, News & Entertainment Partnerships, APAC

Asia Pacific has dealt with COVID-19 for longer than any other region—since January, in some places—so we know how urgently this support is needed.  When we looked at the more than 2,000 applications, we considered Asia Pacific’s enormous diversity—not just across ethnicities, religions and languages, but also in terms of the news landscape. We’re supporting more than 800 news organizations in 30 countries and territories, a few examples below.

  • The Murray Pioneer (Australia) will set up two online meeting rooms so they can communicate with remote journalists, local governments and interest groups. Their advertising department will also maintain virtual contact with clients and coordinate campaigns more effectively.

  • Saitama Shimbun (Japan), a 75-year old newspaper covering the Saitama prefecture, plans to detail the impact of the pandemic to preserve a record for future generations.

  • Suara Surabaya (Indonesia) goes beyond being a news portal, allowing readers to submit complaints like a public service hotline and working with stakeholders to find solutions. They will use funding to bridge cash flow impacted by COVID-19.

  • Minnambalam (India), a Tamil language publication from Chennai, will be able to keep their newsroom going, the funding giving them the confidence and financial support needed to carry on with their work.

  • East Mojo (India), a digital-only news organization, plans to allow journalists to go to remote parts of Northern India to shed light on the impact of COVID-19 once the country’s lockdown is lifted. 


Latin America:  Camilo Gomez - Online Partnerships Group Lead, LATAM

The process behind reviewing each of the 2,000+ applications in the region was an opportunity to connect with the amazing journalism and stories that support local communities.

  • Agencia Amazonia(Brazil) will support Project #CoberturaCovid19Amazônia, which investigates the socio-cultural impact of the coronavirus on traditional populations in the Amazon region, giving priority to stories about indigenous, quilombolas and riverside dwellers.

  • El Colombiano (Colombia) will maintain the quality and resources that characterize the  journalism of Medellin newspaper (the second most important city in the country).

  • La Discusion (Chile) will help finance an integrated radio-digital platform, developing informative, interpretive and opinion content across a variety of subjects like health, minorities, education, and sports etc that have been affected by COVID-19.

  • El Imparcial (México) will drive their strategic business plan, which includes improving multimedia content, newsroom training and growing their community. 

Today’s news builds on a number of otherefforts we’ve recently made in light of the pandemic. The GNI will announce more in the coming weeks and of course continue working to help the industry towards a more sustainable future in an ever increasingly digital world. 


Providing emergency funding for 5,300+ local news organizations

COVID-19 has upended the news industry, hitting local news particularly hard with job losses, furloughs, cutbacks and even closure. To provide some help, last month the Google News Initiative launched the Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. Today we’re announcing that more than 5,300 small and medium local newsrooms around the world will receive funding ranging from $5,000 - $30,000. Applications covering a number of publications under one organization will be capped at $85,000. As we await a final funding tally, we expect to spend tens of millions of dollars through the Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. 

In just two weeks we received more than 12,000 applications from 140 eligible countries, with 90 percent of those applications from newsrooms of less than 26 journalists. We reviewed each application against a set of criteria: publications operating locally, serving a specific geographic community and using the money to continue doing so. More than 300 Googlers joined forces to check the submissions and across the world we held dozens of webinars and office hours to answer questions and guide people through the process. 

About 50 percent of the applications didn’t meet the publicly established criteria. Reasons varied from not producing core news (i.e., lifestyle or sports news) to employing less than 2 journalists. The goal was to be as inclusive as possible while sticking to the eligibility rules. We still have a small percentage of projects to review but below our teams have provided a snapshot of some of the recipients and how they plan to spend the funding.


WORLD@2x (3).png

North America:Chris Jansen, Head of U.S. News & Publishing

As we read their stories, we were struck by the number of news organizations in the U.S. and Canada  keeping their communities informed with fewer than 10 full-time employees. As small businesses, many applicants are trying to figure out how to keep the lights on, literally and figuratively. They’re passionate about providing high-quality journalism, and it’s an honor to support them during such a critical point.

  • The Daily Memphian (Memphis, TN, U.S.) will continue to produce 20-30 daily stories focused on issues around COVID-19 and its impact on the poor and on African American communities.

  • Chestnut Hill Local (Northwest Philadelphia, PA, U.S.): will replace their “archaic website” with a new platform to get content online more quickly and more often. 

  • The Discourse Cowichan (Canada) serves a rural region on Vancouver Island, B.C., including Cowichan Tribes, the largest First Nation in the region. It will increase reporting capacity to cover the impact of COVID on vulnerable communities.

  • Madison365 (Madison, WI, U.S.) focuses on communities of color in Wisconsin. It will use funds for additional journalists, video content production and server capacity to provide rapid response coverage on issues impacting people of color across the state.

  • WTIP North Shore Community Radio’s (Grand Marais, MN, U.S.) emergency response organizations rely on WTIP to broadcast lifesaving information. WTIP will keep its news team employed and on the air, delivering live and local broadcasting throughout the crisis. 

Europe, the Middle East, and Africa: Mark Peters, Director, EMEA Partnerships 

We received applications from 88 countries, and so far we’ve offered funding to more than 1550 publishers, each demonstrating the diversity and strength of local communities and the journalists that continue to serve them through the crisis.

  • Mediacités’ (France) fact-checking tool “Veracités” has seen a huge increase in questions from local readers but can currently only answer 10 percent of them. The fund will allow them to invest in the tool and answer more peoples’ questions. 

  • Eco di Bergamo (Italy) Data journalism techniques have helped local communities understand what’s happening in the Bergamo area which suffered heavy losses during the crisis. Funding will be used to increase investment in new means of production (video, audio, photo, data) to give readers a deeper more analytical knowledge of what’s happening in their territory. 

  • Bihoreanul(Romania) intends to provide information necessary to fight the spread of COVID-19, and talk about the consequences of the pandemic to its readers.

  • Rochdale online (UK) will keep their journalists working during the crisis. They’ll focus on helping the community understand the latest advice on COVID-19 and promote the work of local businesses, charities and volunteers.

  • Baraka FM (Kenya) will focus on on-air campaigns to encourage listeners to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ll buy personal protective equipment to keep reporters safe when conducting interviews and give emergency stipends to reporters who’ve traveled to cover special reports.

Asia Pacific: Rohan Tiwary, Head of Media, News & Entertainment Partnerships, APAC

Asia Pacific has dealt with COVID-19 for longer than any other region—since January, in some places—so we know how urgently this support is needed.  When we looked at the more than 2,000 applications, we considered Asia Pacific’s enormous diversity—not just across ethnicities, religions and languages, but also in terms of the news landscape. We’re supporting more than 800 news organizations in 30 countries and territories, a few examples below.

  • The Murray Pioneer (Australia) will set up two online meeting rooms so they can communicate with remote journalists, local governments and interest groups. Their advertising department will also maintain virtual contact with clients and coordinate campaigns more effectively.

  • Saitama Shimbun (Japan), a 75-year old newspaper covering the Saitama prefecture, plans to detail the impact of the pandemic to preserve a record for future generations.

  • Suara Surabaya (Indonesia) goes beyond being a news portal, allowing readers to submit complaints like a public service hotline and working with stakeholders to find solutions. They will use funding to bridge cash flow impacted by COVID-19.

  • Minnambalam (India), a Tamil language publication from Chennai, will be able to keep their newsroom going, the funding giving them the confidence and financial support needed to carry on with their work.

  • East Mojo (India), a digital-only news organization, plans to allow journalists to go to remote parts of Northern India to shed light on the impact of COVID-19 once the country’s lockdown is lifted. 


Latin America:  Camilo Gomez - Online Partnerships Group Lead, LATAM

The process behind reviewing each of the 2,000+ applications in the region was an opportunity to connect with the amazing journalism and stories that support local communities.

  • Agencia Amazonia(Brazil) will support Project #CoberturaCovid19Amazônia, which investigates the socio-cultural impact of the coronavirus on traditional populations in the Amazon region, giving priority to stories about indigenous, quilombolas and riverside dwellers.

  • El Colombiano (Colombia) will maintain the quality and resources that characterize the  journalism of Medellin newspaper (the second most important city in the country).

  • La Discusion (Chile) will help finance an integrated radio-digital platform, developing informative, interpretive and opinion content across a variety of subjects like health, minorities, education, and sports etc that have been affected by COVID-19.

  • El Imparcial (México) will drive their strategic business plan, which includes improving multimedia content, newsroom training and growing their community. 

Today’s news builds on a number of otherefforts we’ve recently made in light of the pandemic. The GNI will announce more in the coming weeks and of course continue working to help the industry towards a more sustainable future in an ever increasingly digital world. 


Spot the scam, stop the scammers

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people reported $1.9 billion lost to scams in 2019. Every minute, more than $3,600 disappeared from wallets and bank accounts in response to made-up stories of urgently overdue tax payments, bogus contest winnings, or a smooth-talking online suitor who suddenly needs some gift cards. A high-pressure phone call or exciting message can overcome many people’s judgment, especially if they are caught  at a vulnerable moment.

As the record-high scam reports keep coming, we’re providing support to the Cybercrime Support Network to help people identify scams before they fall victim to them through a new program called Scam Spotter. It simplifies expert advice with three golden rules—remember to refer to these rules when you receive a suspicious phone call or message to figure out if it’s a scam:

  • Slow it down: Are they telling you it’s urgent? Take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a bad situation.
  • Spot check: Are they claiming to be from a specific institution? Do your own research to double check the details you’re getting. 
  • Stop! Don’t send: Are they asking you to go to the store and get gift cards? If you think a payment feels fishy, it probably is.

Just because COVID-19 has disrupted everyone’s life, it doesn’t mean the scammers have taken a break. In fact, scammers have exploited the pandemic with alarming speed, taking advantage of fear and uncertainty. More than $40 million in fraud losses have been reported to the FTC related to a myriad of COVID-19 complaints. While the stories are new—invented stimulus packages, phoney charities, romantic interests who now have an uncle in the ICU—the same three golden rules apply equally well:

Scam Free Golden Rules.jpg

While people ages 25-40 are most likely to be scammed, research shows it’s seniors who stand to lose the most, with their median losses more than double the average. As one of the architects of the Internet and an executive sponsor of the “Greyglers,” an internal group that promotes awareness of age diversity and issues related to age, I feel obligated to try to help my fellow Americans stay safe.  It will take a cross-generational effort. Please consider sharing ScamSpotter.org the next time you talk to the seniors in your life. Maybe you can both take the quiz and compare your scores, too.

Scammer Quiz Device.png

If we learn how to spot the bad actors, we can spend our time focusing on those moments that matter. And to the seniors out there, remember: of course the Internet is for us, we invented it!

Spot the scam, stop the scammers

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people reported $1.9 billion lost to scams in 2019. Every minute, more than $3,600 disappeared from wallets and bank accounts in response to made-up stories of urgently overdue tax payments, bogus contest winnings, or a smooth-talking online suitor who suddenly needs some gift cards. A high-pressure phone call or exciting message can overcome many people’s judgment, especially if they are caught  at a vulnerable moment.

As the record-high scam reports keep coming, we’re providing support to the Cybercrime Support Network to help people identify scams before they fall victim to them through a new program called Scam Spotter. It simplifies expert advice with three golden rules—remember to refer to these rules when you receive a suspicious phone call or message to figure out if it’s a scam:

  • Slow it down: Are they telling you it’s urgent? Take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a bad situation.
  • Spot check: Are they claiming to be from a specific institution? Do your own research to double check the details you’re getting. 
  • Stop! Don’t send: Are they asking you to go to the store and get gift cards? If you think a payment feels fishy, it probably is.

Just because COVID-19 has disrupted everyone’s life, it doesn’t mean the scammers have taken a break. In fact, scammers have exploited the pandemic with alarming speed, taking advantage of fear and uncertainty. More than $40 million in fraud losses have been reported to the FTC related to a myriad of COVID-19 complaints. While the stories are new—invented stimulus packages, phoney charities, romantic interests who now have an uncle in the ICU—the same three golden rules apply equally well:

Scam Free Golden Rules.jpg

While people ages 25-40 are most likely to be scammed, research shows it’s seniors who stand to lose the most, with their median losses more than double the average. As one of the architects of the Internet and an executive sponsor of the “Greyglers,” an internal group that promotes awareness of age diversity and issues related to age, I feel obligated to try to help my fellow Americans stay safe.  It will take a cross-generational effort. Please consider sharing ScamSpotter.org the next time you talk to the seniors in your life. Maybe you can both take the quiz and compare your scores, too.

Scammer Quiz Device.png

If we learn how to spot the bad actors, we can spend our time focusing on those moments that matter. And to the seniors out there, remember: of course the Internet is for us, we invented it!

TAG Bulletin: Q1 2020

This bulletin includes coordinated influence operation campaigns terminated on our platforms in Q1 of 2020. It was last updated on May 27, 2020.

January

We terminated 3 YouTube channels as part of our ongoing investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to Iran. The campaign was linked to the Iranian state-sponsored International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM) network, and was reproducing IUVM content covering Iran’s strikes into Iraq and U.S. policy on oil. We received leads from Graphika that supported us in this investigation.

February

We terminated 1 advertising account and 82 YouTube channels as part of our actions against a coordinated influence operation linked to Egypt. The campaign was sharing political content in Arabic supportive of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain and critical of Iran and Qatar. We found evidence of this campaign being tied to the digital marketing firm New Waves based in Cairo. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Facebook.

March

We terminated 3 advertising accounts, 1 AdSense account, and 11 YouTube channels as part of our actions against a coordinated influence operation linked to India. The campaign was sharing messages in English supportive of Qatar. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Facebook.


We banned 1 Play developer and terminated 68 YouTube channels as part of our actions against a coordinated influence operation. The campaign was posting political content in Arabic supportive of Turkey and critical of the UAE and Yemen. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Twitter.


We terminated 1 advertising account, 1 AdSense account, 17 YouTube channels and banned 1 Play developer as part of our actions against a coordinated influence operation linked to Egypt. The campaign was posting political content in Arabic supportive of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain and critical of Iran and Qatar. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Twitter.


We banned 1 Play developer and terminated 78 YouTube channels as part of our actions against a coordinated influence operation linked to Serbia. The domestic campaign was posting pro-Serbian political content. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Twitter.


We terminated 18 YouTube channels as part of our continued investigation into a coordinated influence operation linked to Indonesia. The domestic campaign was targeting the Indonesian provinces Papua and West Papua with messaging in opposition to the Free Papua Movement. This campaign was consistent with similar findings reported by Twitter.

Updates about government-backed hacking and disinformation

On any given day, Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG) is tracking more than 270 targeted or government-backed attacker groups from more than 50 countries. Our team of analysts and security experts is focused on identifying and stopping issues like phishing campaigns, zero-day vulnerabilities and hacking against Google, our products and our users. Today, we’re sharing recent findings on government-backed phishing, threats and disinformation, as well as a new bulletin to share information about actions we take against accounts that we attribute to coordinated influence campaigns. 

Hacking and phishing attempts 

Last month, we sent 1,755 warnings to users whose accounts were targets of government-backed attackers. 

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Distribution of the targets of government-backed phishing attempts in April 2020

Generally, 2020 has been dominated by COVID-19. The pandemic has taken center stage in people’s everyday lives, in the international news media, and in the world of government-backed hacking. Recently, we shared information on numerous COVID-themed attacks discovered and confirmed by our teams. We continue to see attacks from groups like Charming Kitten on medical and healthcare professionals, including World Health Organization (WHO) employees. And as others have reported, we’re seeing a resurgence in COVID-related hacking and phishing attempts from numerous commercial and government-backed attackers.

As one example, we've seen new activity from “hack-for-hire” firms, many based in India, that have been creating Gmail accounts spoofing the WHO. The accounts have largely targeted business leaders in financial services, consulting, and healthcare corporations within numerous countries including, the U.S., Slovenia, Canada, India, Bahrain, Cyprus, and the UK. The lures themselves encourage individuals to sign up for direct notifications from the WHO to stay informed of COVID-19 related announcements, and link to attacker-hosted websites that bear a strong resemblance to the official WHO website. The sites typically feature fake login pages that prompt potential victims to give up their Google account credentials, and occasionally encourage individuals to give up other personal information, such as their phone numbers. 

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Example of a spoofed WHO Newsletter sign-up prompt

To help protect users against these kinds of tracks, our Advanced Protection Program (APP) utilizes hardware security keys and provides the strongest protections available against phishing and account hijackings. APP was designed specifically for high-risk accounts.  

Coordinated influence operations 

Government-backed or state-sponsored groups have different goals in carrying out their attacks: Some are looking to collect intelligence or steal intellectual property; others are targeting dissidents or activists, or attempting to engage in coordinated influence operations and disinformation campaigns. Our products are designed with robust built-in security features, like Gmail protections against phishing and Safe Browsing in Chrome, but we still dedicate significant resources to developing new tools and technology to help identify, track and stop this kind of activity. In addition to our internal investigations, we work with law enforcement, industry partners, and third parties like specialized security firms to assess and share intelligence. 

When we find attempts to conduct coordinated influence operations on our platforms, we work with our Trust & Safety teams to swiftly remove such content from our platforms and terminate these actors’ accounts. We take steps to prevent possible future attempts by the same actors, and routinely exchange information and share our findings with others in the industry. We’ve also shared occasional updates about this kind of activity, and today we’re introducing a more streamlined way of doing this via a new, quarterly bulletin to share information about actions we take against accounts that we attribute to coordinated influence campaigns (foreign and domestic). Our actions against coordinated influence operations from January, February and March can be found in the Q1 Bulletin

Since March, we’ve removed more than a thousand YouTube channels that we believe to be part of a large campaign and that were behaving in a coordinated manner. These channels were mostly uploading spammy, non-political content, but a small subset posted primarily Chinese-language political content similar to the findings of a recent Graphika report. We’ll also share additional removal actions from April and May in the Q2 Bulletin. 

Our hope is that this new bulletin helps others who are also working to track these groups, such as researchers studying this issue, and we hope these updates can help confirm findings from security firms and others in the industry. We will also continue to share more detailed analysis of vulnerabilities we find, phishing and malware campaigns that we see, and other interesting or noteworthy trends across this space.

The big story behind a little Blue Dot

Editor’s note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more about Google's mental health resources and tools. 

A few years ago, Jenny Fandrianto noticed a sticker on a colleague’s laptop that read “ask me about Blue Dot.” So, she did. 

She learned Blue Dot is a network of Googlers who simply listen to those who reach out to them. It's not therapy, and they don't tell anyone how to fix their problems. They just want to make it OK to talk about mental health. “Having that first conversation was really inspiring and energizing,” Jenny says. “I got to connect with someone and say ‘this is something that’s important to me, too.’” 

Blue Dot’s mission to destigmatize conversations like the one Jenny had began in 2016, when it was founded by Rachael Bleakley and Jack Kaden (a Googler and a former Googler, respectively). Rachael had recently seen a news segment about a barber with a poster in his shop that read “Feeling down? Chat to us!” “He said it nearly always started some great conversations about mental health with everyone who sat in his chair.” She pitched the concept and within days, was on a call with a global group of Googlers putting a plan in motion. 

Artboard 3.jpg

Why a blue dot? “Blue Dot was for practicality reasons...it's easy to buy blue dot stickers for cheap and anywhere in the world locally, so it made sense to pick something all the local office leads could stock up on themselves if we give them the budget.”

While growth wasn’t Blue Dot’s priority, it quickly took off. “We knew there would be appetite for this but it was so hard to measure in the beginning; the last thing we wanted to be doing was asking Googlers to tell us when they had a 'chat' thanks to Blue Dot!” she says. “We also had to be careful we weren't putting Googlers in potentially difficult situations if they got into a chat that was slightly out of their depth; the expectation is only to listen and not to offer specific advice.” 

Peter Corcoran took the reins at Blue Dot as it matured from its purely grassroots beginnings into an official employee resource group. “I was in the British Army for 10 years, and it was actually one of the reasons I got involved in Blue Dot, having suffered trauma in my military career,” Peter says. Becoming a Googler-led mental health resource sponsored by People Ops, he explains, was ultimately the right move. “It gave us access to better resources, better guidance. It created a much better ecosystem.”  Maja Bilić stepped in around the same time to help Blue Dot’s transition. She helped with infrastructure—things like building the website and creating the listener sign-up system. 

Artboard 2.jpg

“Blue Dot’s mission will be accomplished if every Googler knows about their mental health resources, and if people articulate their mental health needs,” Peter says. “The aim isn’t the success of Blue Dot. It’s the success of the mission.”

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Prior to the time Maja stepped in, Blue Dot was far more grassroots. “Before that we just had an idea. We had stickers,” she says.

A tipping point in this evolution came during a global Google town hall last year, where Blue Dot was mentioned as a resource for Googlers. “I was like, ‘we’ve reached critical mass!’” Peter remembers. “It was kind of like, ‘oh, we’re grown up!’”


Amy Costello, Blue Dot’s acting global lead, discovered Blue Dot in 2018 after working at Google for about six months. “I was looking for a 20 percent project and lo and behold, I learned about this program called Blue Dot.” Amy, who lost her father to suicide as a teenager, describes her work with Blue Dot as “something that really hits close to home. If this is an area I can give back in, how wonderfully fulfilling.” 

Today, Blue Dot has nearly 2,000 allies in its network, but for privacy reasons, doesn’t collect data on sessions. Participants go through a self-guided training module on effective listening and what to do if someone needs additional support. "Listening is about devoting your full attention to another human being. It's a time to ignore the IMs, text messages and emails and provide someone with your undivided attention," Amy shares.

Artboard 1 (1).jpg

"When you’re talking to somebody, sometimes you’re thinking ‘well what am I going to say next?’ But your job is literally to not say anything. You’re only supposed to listen to this person and acknowledge what this person is saying.”

Jenny has benefited from Listener training even outside of Blue Dot. “While I’m on a video call, I don’t have email open, I’m not chatting with other people on Hangouts. In in-person meetings, my laptop is down, and if there are notes I need to take, I take them on paper. My attention is here, with you, right now, because you matter, and the time we spend together is valuable.” 

“Honestly, when we introduced trainings, people were a little like ‘ugh, really?’” Maja laughs. But participants ended up loving it, herself included. “You learn how to actively listen, and active listening is such an important skill.” 

Recently, Blue Dot pivoted from in-person listening sessions, moving to online only. In March, Blue Dot Sunnyvale began hosting virtual get-togethers. “But then we realized...it’s virtual! It doesn’t have to be just our campus,” Jenny says. “We shared this idea globally with the entire Blue Dot community and now we have this office hours program being replicated in all these different regions. It’s become much bigger than what we originally imagined.” 

The new online office hours may also be more welcoming for some. Googlers can select an appointment time with a Listener from any region that works for them, a system Jenny believes lowers the barrier for anyone who’s hesitant to reach out. “Just click and sign up and we’re here. I think it’s just a little bit more accessible to people who need it,” she says. 

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Jenny has noticed Blue Dot Listeners are taking on more and more time slots. “I’m seeing people who are making themselves available for office hours all times of the day. We have people signing up for even the holidays,” she says. “They’re thinking ‘you know, there might be people who need someone to talk to on a holiday, so I’m going to make myself available in case somebody needs it.”

Support systems are always a steadying force, but perhaps more so when it feels as if the entire world is on shaky ground. “I feel like on a day-to-day basis, my life is very happy, but at the same time, we don’t have the same releases right now. We don’t have the same kinds of mental breaks,” Amy agrees. “I find myself being over-tired, which is something I’ve heard from my colleagues as well. Having the Blue Dot community available for that outreach, for that friendly face, for people to know you are going to be really open to talking about things like this is so meaningful to the Google community.”

Despite the challenges of sheltering in place, both Amy and Jenny notice it’s also inspiring frank conversations about mental health. “During every team meeting now, we start with five minutes of ‘How are you doing? What’s new? Is there anything I can do to help?” Jenny says. “We’re talking about our personal lives a bit more now. It’s funny because I feel like we’re closer as a team even though we’re all virtual. It’s because we’re genuinely concerned for each other outside of work.” 


Though Blue Dot has grown, the subtle ways it creates conversations about mental health remain. That little dot disintegrates some of the pressure; “ask me about Blue Dot,” for many, is easier to respond to than “ask me about mental health.” 

Today, in lieu of laptop stickers we can’t physically see, Listeners include a blue dot in their email signatures. “So many people have asked ‘hey, I see you have this blue circle in your email signature—what’s that about?’” 

The group is hopeful that someday, we won’t need a dot or anything else to openly talk about therapy appointments or depression. “We have no problem going to the doctor for a physical, we have no problem going to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned,” Amy says. “Why should we have a problem talking about our mental health, or saying, ‘hey, I’m going to the therapist today’? One of the really special things about Google is that those things are OK to say, and I feel like groups like Blue Dot help normalize it.” 

Blue Dot has helped Jenny feel comfortable being an advocate for mental health, and talking about her own. “I’m much more open about a lot of other things I don’t think people talk about. No one really comfortably talks about the struggles of being a woman in tech, or has revealing conversations around fertility challenges like IVF or miscarriages.” As she’s become more forthcoming, she’s felt groups forming—supportive pocket communities that invite, even welcome, these kinds of conversations. 

“People are OK being vulnerable, they feel safer,” she says. “And that’s brought a lot of us so much closer.”