Tag Archives: Google in Asia

Australia’s media code won’t allow fair negotiations

Over the past month, we’ve outlined our concerns with Australia’s draft News Media Bargaining Code: a new proposed law that would impact the way Australians use Google Search and YouTube. We don’t oppose a code governing the relationship between news businesses and digital platforms—but right now the way the law is drafted isn’t fair or workable.  

Last week, we proposed changes to help move us forward. Today, we want to go into more detail about one of our biggest concerns—the highly unusual, largely untested, one-sided arbitration system that would determine commercial arrangements between Google and news companies.

Here are the issues.

Unprecedented in Australia

The system being proposed is called ‘binding final-offer arbitration’, referred to in the United States as ‘baseball arbitration’. It isn’t used in any of the eight other mandatory codes in Australia. In fact, without the two parties’ consent, it’s never been used in Australian law before.

In a standard negotiation, two parties negotiate a price for a product or service after assessing its market value and the value each side provides the other. If the parties can’t reach an agreement, they might ask a mediator or arbitrator to decide on what’s fair. 

In baseball arbitration, if the two sides can’t reach an agreement, each puts forward a single final offer and the arbitrator picks one, guided by set criteria. 

Unreasonable claims 

This system is usually put in place if there’s not much dispute over the value of the product or service being discussed and the parties are already close in price. But with the media code, some of the amounts being suggested by news businesses about how much we should pay to provide links to their stories defy commercial reality. 

One news business has already claimed digital platforms should pay $1 billion every year, despite the fact that only 1 percent of all searches by Australians last year were seeking news—equating to around $10 million dollars in revenue (not profit). 

Clearly, both sides have very different ideas of what the prices should be—and asking the arbitrator to pick a ‘final offer’ is an extreme way of resolving that. The reality is that baseball arbitration often fails and doesn’t produce quick outcomes. Independent economists have raised questions about its effectiveness here. 

The results are also unpredictable, and no business can operate with that level of uncertainty.

The playing field is not level

The fundamental idea of baseball arbitration is that both sides present their evidence— like the player’s contribution, the team’s recent performance and comparable salaries—and the arbitrator decides the appropriate offer. 

But the draft code doesn’t provide a level playing field.

As it stands, the arbitrator isn’t required to consider the value Google provides to news media businesses in the form of traffic to their websites, which in 2018 was estimated at more than $200 million per year. 

Not only is that unfair—it goes against what the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) itself said should happen when it was preparing the code: “Negotiations around compensation for the use of news should also take into account the value that Google and Facebook already provide to news media businesses for using their news content.”

News media businesses can also make enormous financial demands of Google based on the vague and flawed concept of the ‘indirect’ value that news content provides (our data shows that the direct value of news to Google is negligible). Even the ACCC itself hasn’t been able to put a number on the indirect value of news, after several years of inquiry.

When the playing field is set up to favor one side, then that side is encouraged to make ambit, or exaggerated, claims.

A question of costs

But that’s not the only one-sided rule here.

The draft code also says the arbitrator should consider news businesses’ production costs — but not Google’s. 

Again, that’s a significant amount of money, givenwe invest $1 billion each year in Australia to improve the services 22 million Australians use daily. This investment includes initiatives to directly support Australian news companies, like our digital skills training program for local newsrooms.

The only other factor the arbitrator must consider when deciding on a payment is that it must not place ‘an undue burden’ on Google. It’s a vague and undefined condition and an insufficient substitute for being able to talk about our actual value and costs.

A fair and workable solution

In all of the submissions to the ACCC, only one news business proposed binding final-offer arbitration be used in the code. Many requested that the code use standard arbitration—a method regularly used for resolving disputes in Australia and around the world. We are happy to negotiate fairly and, if needed, see a standard dispute resolution scheme in place. But given the inherent problems with baseball arbitration, and the unfair rules that underpin it here, the  model being proposed isn’t workable for Google. It wouldn’t be workable for many Australian businesses—no matter how large or small they are. 

As we’ve said, we are committed to finding viable solutions, and we will continue to engage with the ACCC and the Government to ensure the final version of the code is fair and workable for all.

Small business and Australia’s media bargaining code

In what has been an incredibly tough year, Australia’s small and medium businesses have kept our economic engine going—protecting jobs and providing vital services in their communities. 

Throughout this time, we’ve made sure business owners know Google’s tools and services are there to help. Small businesses are using our affordable ad services to advertise where they couldn’t before, and connecting with new customers via free listings on Search and Maps. We’ve also helped businesses operate online through national digital skills training.

As Australia starts to look towards economic recovery, we’re concerned that many of these businesses will be affected by a new law being proposed by the Australian Government—the News Media Bargaining Code—which would put the digital tools they rely on at risk. 

While we don’t oppose a code governing the relationship between digital platforms and news businesses, the current draft code has implications for everyone, not just digital platforms and media businesses. We wanted to explain our concerns and how we believe they can be addressed in a way that works for all businesses.  

How does the code impact small businesses? 

The draft code affects small businesses because it would weaken Google services like Search and YouTube. These services created more than 130 million connections between businesses and potential customers in 2019, and contributed to the $35 billion in benefits we generated for more than 1.3 million businesses across the country. But they rely on Search and YouTube working the same for everyone—so that people can trust that the results they see are useful and authoritative, and businesses know they’re on a level playing field.

Under the draft code, we’d be forced to give some news businesses privileged access to data and information—including about changes to our search algorithms—enabling them to feature more prominently in search results at the expense of other businesses, website owners and creators. 

News GIF

For example, a cafe owner might have made their way to the top spot in Search results for a particular query over time, thanks to popularity, search interest and other signals. But if the draft code became law—giving some publishers an advanced look at algorithm changes—they could potentially take advantage of this and make their web content appear more prominently in search results.

Likewise, if you ran an independent travel website that provides advice to people on how to plan local holidays, you might lose out to a newspaper travel section because they’ve had a sneak peek at changes to how Search works.

That’s an unfair advantage for news businesses. Businesses of all kinds would face an additional hurdle at a time when it’s more important than ever to connect with their customers.

A bad precedent

The draft code would also create a mandatory negotiation and arbitration model that only takes into account the costs and value created by one party—news businesses. The code’s provisions mean costs are uncapped and unquantifiable, and there is no detail on what formula is used to calculate payment.

Regulation framed in this way would set a bad precedent. Most businesses support sensible regulation—but not heavy-handed rules that favour one group of companies over all others.  

Australian entrepreneurs like Mike Cannon-Brooks, Matt Barrie and Daniel Petrie have made the point that a market intervention like this would deter international companies from operating in Australia, risking jobs and investment just as we need to be focusing on the recovery from COVID-19. 

And it’s not just business leaders who’ve spoken out. Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard from a cross-section of Australia’s business community, from local retailers and restaurants to YouTube creators, and we’re deeply grateful for their support.    

The way forward

The issues with the draft code are serious, but we believe they can be worked through in a way that protects full and fair access to Search and YouTube for every Australian business.  

We’ve made it clear that we want to contribute to a strong future for Australian news, and we’re engaging constructively with the Government and the ACCC to try to find a resolution — making proposals for changes that would support a workable code

Throughout 2020, we’ve worked with business owners across Australia to help them get through the challenges of the fires and the pandemic, whether by providing digital tools, direct assistance, skills training or advice, and we hope to continue providing that support long into the future.  

We know how tough this year has been, and we’re going to keep doing everything we can to make sure that the final version of the code supports Australia’s amazing businesses.

Google Pay, built for Singapore

When people in Singapore open the Google Pay app on their Android or iOS device, they’re met by some familiar sights—from the distinctive outlines of the Merlion and the Marina Bay Sands building to the island’s much-loved otters. The goal isn’t just to make Singaporeans feel at home. It’s part of a bigger effort to design Google Pay with local needs in mind.

Our mission with Google Pay is to make money simple, secure and helpful for everyone. Singaporeans were already using Google Pay to tap onto public transport and pay for purchases at more than 80,000 checkout counters. Now, together with our partners, we’re improving and expanding the Google Pay app in Singapore to better reflect the growing role of digital payments in peoples’ lives. 

Money made simple with more banks

To make Google Pay more helpful, we’re building on Singapore’s national real-time payment service—known as PayNow. 

With the PayNow integration, you can send money to anybody in Singapore, even if they’re not on Google Pay. All you need is their phone number. It’s a feature that we introduced for OCBC customers earlier in the year—we’re now extending it to customers of DBS Paylah!and Standard Chartered Bank.  

OCBC, DBS Paylah! and Standard Chartered Bank customers can also use their linked accounts to pay any business that has a PayNow QR code displayed, allowing merchants to receive payments in their corporate bank accounts.

Built around you, your friends and the places you pay 

Payments don’t take place in isolation—they’re part of the daily interactions you have with friends, family and local businesses. 

We built Google Pay around these everyday relationships, to make it quick and easy to transact with the people and businesses you know. In just a few taps, you'll be able to see a past payment with a business, or find a friend to pay. Plus, sending money to someone new is as easy as sending a chat message—just start entering their phone number.

And now we’re taking it a step further—Singapore is the first country where Google Pay users can form groups to organize and manage payments, as well as divide bills and other joint expenses within the app.

GPay SG screenshots

Just for Singapore: food and movies

With Google Pay you can already browse cuisines and order takeout or delivery with the Order Food feature. Now that restaurants have resumed dine-in services, we suspect the new Split a Bill feature will be particularly useful for requesting and receiving payments after a meal with friends. 

Singaporeans also love catching a movie, so it’s no surprise there was a collective cheer when cinemas re-opened recently. With the new Google Pay, you can skip the box office queue by booking a movie ticket and reserving your seats instantly within the app. We've just added Golden Village locations, in addition to Shaw Theatres—giving moviegoers a total of 174 screens to choose from across Singapore.

A more rewarding Google Pay

To make it fun to use Google Pay, the app gives out rewards for transactions in the form of virtual scratchcards (you ‘scratch’ them to find out how much you’ve won). You can earn scratchcards with instant cashback rewards on qualifying transactions—and we’re extending the bonuses when you introduce a friend to Google Pay

GPay SG screenshots 3

The ways Singaporeans manage their money and pay for the things they need are changing—and so are their expectations of payment apps. We’re looking forward to continuing to improve Google Pay for everyone in Singapore, building on everything we’ve announced today.  

The newspaper app helping Japan’s elderly population

Japan’s elderly citizens often live alone, and many have little regular contact with other people. That social isolation not only puts their health at risk, but also makes them more vulnerable during natural disasters, and to scams like fraud and extortion.

Regional newspaper Iwate Nippo wanted to do something to help elderly residents of Iwate (Japan’s second-largest prefecture) access life-saving services and help them feel more of a sense of belonging in their communities. With funding from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, they developed Iwapon, an app created specifically for their older subscribers. 

The app’s safety features include a monitoring system that alerts family members if their relative hasn’t used their phone for more than 24 hours, information on suspicious calls or texts and a disaster information center to notify residents about threat levels and shelter locations during floods, storms, earthquakes and other severe weather. 

But Iwapon also fights social isolation in other ways—for example, by connecting residents to local businesses through virtual coupons, sharing local community and school updates, and giving them the chance to speak to an “on-demand” journalist about any concerns or questions they might have. 

To find out a bit more, we talked to Takuya Watanabe, manager of the digital media strategy division at Iwate Nippo.

How did the idea of Iwapon come to life?

As a local newspaper, we inform people about community problems like social isolation, and we also feel a responsibility to help address them. We already work closely with the police and local government. We regularly receive advance information about natural disasters, evacuation plans and details on fraud and suspicious behaviors to look out for. We thought an easy-to-use app would be a simple way that we could deliver this important information to people at risk, as quickly and accurately as possible.

What has the reaction been to the app?

The app was downloaded thousands of times within only six months. But the impact went beyond that. Monthly new subscribers for the online newspaper increased by more than 50 percent, and local businesses have approached us to become sponsors. Most importantly, the atmosphere within the company has changed. The app has helped increase cooperation within the editorial, advertising and sales departments. It’s also had a huge positive impact on the motivation of younger employees. 

What’s next for Iwate Nippo and Iwapon?

The COVID-19 pandemic affected many local businesses. We are planning to support small- and medium-sized restaurants and shops in the area by promoting them in the app. After the pandemic, the challenges facing our region are changing day by day. Through the app, we will continue to work with the community, tackle local challenges and contribute to protecting the safety and lives of people in our prefecture. 

A workable publisher code for Australia

Editor's note: This is an opinion piece that was first published in the Australian Financial Review on September 13, 2020. 

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's media bargaining code, which is designed to govern the relationship between news media and digital platforms – including how news content should be paid for – will have a big impact on the future of the country's digital economy and millions of Australians who use platforms such as Google’s.

It’s vital we get it right before it becomes law, which is why Google has engaged in good faith with the ACCC inquiry and consultation process since it was launched in 2017.

Our position on the regulation is clear. We do not oppose a code that oversees the relationships between news publishers and digital platforms and we’ve been committed to playing a constructive role in the process from the start. In fact, all the parties involved here agree on two things: journalism is important to democracy, and the business models that fund journalism have changed.

What we oppose is a mandatory bargaining code that’s unworkable, both for Google as a business, and for Australians.

However, contrary to what some have claimed, Google hasn't ‘‘stolen’’ revenue from news publishers. AlphaBeta research conclusively shows that the fall in newspaper revenue between 2002 and 2018 was mainly the result of the loss of classified ads to online classifieds businesses such as Domain, Realestate.com.au, Carsales and Seek. Google’s advertising business grew because it made advertising available to businesses that had previously been priced out.

We don’t ‘‘use’’ or ‘‘steal’’ news content either – we simply help people find what they’re looking for on the internet, and link them to other websites, including news sites. You don’t see full articles on Google.

Just as we contribute to the Australian economy by working with more than a million Australian small and large businesses, supporting almost 120,000 jobs, and paying tens of millions of dollars in tax, we are willing to pay to help news businesses too. As part of our broader efforts to support a strong future for journalism, we are already paying several publishers to license content for a new product, as well as helping train thousands of journalists.

When it comes to new regulation, what we oppose is a mandatory bargaining code that’s unworkable, both for Google as a business, and ultimately for the Australians who depend on our services, from the search engine to YouTube. And right now, the proposed code has critical flaws that need to be addressed.

In its current form, the code would impose a one-sided negotiation and arbitration model that is unlike any other tried-and-tested model applied in Australia. It would consider only the value news businesses are assumed to provide to Google – and ignore the more than $200 million in value that Google sends to publishers each year via ‘‘clicks’’ from search results.

One-sided set-up

It wouldn’t consider our costs or the commercial agreements with publishers we already have in place – and we have no meaningful ability to appeal the arbitration. No business would or should accept this kind of one-sided set-up.

The code would also force us to tell news businesses how they can get access to data about Australians that they don’t already have, raising concerns over how this information would be used. It would require us to give a small group of news businesses 28 days’ notice of significant changes to search and YouTube algorithms and describe how to minimise their effects.

Even if this were technically possible (it isn’t), it would privilege certain Australian news publishers over every other Australian who has a blog, YouTube channel or a small business website, while slowing down improvements to the search function for everyone else.

These issues are serious. But we don’t believe they are insurmountable, and we’re working with the ACCC and the government to help find a way through them. With reasonable changes, we believe the code could be rebalanced in a way that meets its intended purpose and makes it fair to all parties.

The negotiation model could be amended to take account of the value both sides bring to the table, as the ACCC’s own concepts paper advocated in May, and the arbitration rules could be brought into line with commonly used methods in standard arbitration, comparable codes and negotiations.

The requirement to share algorithm changes could be limited to notifying news business about actionable changes, with reasonable notice, and without obliging Google to tell a select few publishers how they can take advantage of the system.

The data-sharing provisions could be tightened to make it clear that Google is not required to share any additional data, over and above what publishers are already entitled to see, protecting information about how people interact with our sites.

The scope of the code could be better defined to apply to designated services that Google provides, rather than being left open-ended.

These changes would help create a fair, workable code. They would mean Australian internet users continue to have full and fair access to Google Search, YouTube and other services. And they would mean that discussions about payments for licensing news content could continue on a normal, commercial basis – rather than being set up as an artificial, one-sided process that is certain to result in unreasonable and uneconomical outcomes.

As the ACCC prepares its final recommendations, we have to see the code in its bigger context.

Australia is a forward-looking country with an open, global economy that attracts investment and job opportunities from around the world. Our technology companies, digital entrepreneurs and engineers are among the best in the world at what they do – and fair access to tools such as Google Search and YouTube is part of that success. Google believes in sensible regulation, but everyone should distrust rules that give special treatment to some over others.

There is a window of opportunity to shape an effective media bargaining code that meets the needs of news businesses, of digital platforms and, above all, of Australians. We should take that opportunity – and then get back to the urgent work of building a strong digital economy that can help fuel Australia’s future.

Digital talent and Taiwan’s economic recovery

Taiwanese graduate Katie knows the power of self-belief. As COVID-19 hit towards the end of her time at university, she was worried about the prospects of getting a job and nervous going into her interviews with potential employers. In the end, it wasn’t just her technical skills that helped her get a role with Phillips Taiwan—it was her ability to explain what she offered them, something she’d learned in the Google Digital Garage training program. "There are many topics, but the one I especially remember is about building your confidence — that’s even more important with the need for online interviews during a pandemic,” Katie said.  

Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 was fast and effective, but the economic impact of the pandemic means that many Taiwanese share Katie’s concerns about what comes next. Having provided digital tools to help Taiwan combat the health crisis, we want to do everything we can to support its longer-term recovery.  

Helping job-seekers and businesses

At our Google for Taiwan event today, we spoke about our ambitions for the Digital Talent Exploration Program— a partnership with 104 Job Bank that will give more than 10,000 people the chance to learn digital marketing skills, work toward certification, and then be matched with job opportunities with more than 40 companies.

We also heard from the Taiwanese government on the importance of supporting Taiwanese businesses when they need it most. One way we’re seeking to do this is through programs with the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) and the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research to help exporters make the most of opportunities in overseas markets. The Taiwan Think Export Report 2.0 provides insights and advice to business owners as they plan for expansion, while Digital Trade Academy is giving hands-on training in how to apply those lessons. For tourism businesses that have been hit especially hard, Google and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications are offering courses on digital tools.

Taiwan GwG

The broader theme of Google for Taiwan was building a strong digital economy for the long-term, with partnerships focused on three key areas.

Digital literacy

As well as combating online misinformation, Taiwan is working to ensure people of all ages can use the internet safely and confidently, and think critically about the information they see. Nonprofits the Taiwan FactCheck Center, the Association for the Promotion of Community Universities, Fakenews Cleaner and ECPAT are our partners on three new digital literacy programs aimed at community college students, senior citizens, and schoolchildren and teachers.

Digital learning

When the pandemic hit, Taiwanese schools and students quickly adjusted to remote learning. Students are now back in the classroom, but Taiwan wants to help its teachers continue to improve their ability to use digital tools through programs like the Cloud Innovation Teacher Training Program: an initiative with Junyi Academy and Taipei City to train 600 teachers from 300 schools. Junyi is also working to incorporate Google’s CS First computer science curriculum in Taiwanese primary schools, so kids can grasp the fundamentals of technology as part of their education. 

Advancing knowledge

Taiwan has great potential in fields like artificial intelligence and machine learning, with a talented generation of Taiwanese developers beginning to come through. To meet their appetite for new skills, we and our partners are developing programs like AI Boot Camp — a joint initiative with the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Artificial Intelligence Research Center — the ML Study Jam program, and the Google University Relations Program, which provides university scholarships. 

With these new and expanded efforts, we hope to contribute to a strong economic recovery from COVID-19, and continue creating new digital opportunities for all Taiwanese in the years ahead.  

A big step for flood forecasts in India and Bangladesh

For several years, the Google Flood Forecasting Initiative has been working with governments to develop systems that predict when and where flooding will occur—and keep people safe and informed. 

Much of this work is centered on India, where floods are a serious risk for hundreds of millions of people. Today, we’re providing an update on how we’re expanding and improving these efforts, as well as a new partnership we’ve formed with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Expanding our forecasting reach

In recent months, we’ve been expanding our forecasting models and services in partnership with the Indian Central Water Commission. In June, just in time for the monsoon season, we reached an important milestone: our systems now extend to the whole of India, with Google technology being used to improve the targeting of every alert the government sends. This means we can help better protect more than 200 million people across more than 250,000 square kilometers—more than 20 times our coverage last year. To date, we’ve sent out around 30 million notifications to people in flood-affected areas. 

In addition to expanding in India, we’ve partnered with the Bangladesh Water Development Board to bring our warnings and services to Bangladesh, which experiences more flooding than any other country in the world. We currently cover more than 40 million people in Bangladesh, and we’re working to extend this to the whole country. 

Flood forecasting map

Coverage areas of our current operational flood forecasting systems. In these areas we use our models to help government alerts reach the right people. In some areas we have also increased lead time and spatial accuracy.

Better protection for vulnerable communities

In collaboration with Yale, we’ve been visiting flood-affected areas and doing research to better understand what information people need, how they use it to protect themselves, and what we can do to make that information more accessible. One survey we conducted found that 65 percent of people who receive flood warnings before the flooding begins take action to protect themselves or their assets (such as evacuating or moving their belongings). But we’ve also found there’s a lot more we could be doing to help—including getting alerts to people faster, and providing additional information about the severity of floods.

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Checking how our flood warnings match conditions on the ground. This photo was taken during a field survey in Bihar during monsoon 2019.

This year, we’ve launched a new forecasting model that will allow us to double the lead time of many of our alerts—providing more notice to governments and giving tens of millions of people an extra day or so to prepare. 

We’re providing people with information about flood depth: when and how much flood waters are likely to rise. And in areas where we can produce depth maps throughout the floodplain, we’re sharing information about depth in the user’s village or area.

We’ve also overhauled the way our alerts look and function to make sure they’re useful and accessible for everyone. We now provide the information in different formats, so that people can both read their alerts and see them presented visually; we’ve added support for Hindi, Bengali and seven other local languages; we’ve made the alert more localized and accurate; and we now allow for easy changes to language or location.

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Alerts for flood forecasting

Partnering for greater impact 

In addition to improving our alerts, Google.org has started a collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. This partnership aims to build local networks that can get disaster alert information to people who wouldn’t otherwise receive smartphone alerts directly. 

Of course, for all the progress we’ve made with alert technology, there are still a lot of challenges to overcome. With the flood season still in full swing in India and Bangladesh, COVID-19 has delayed critical infrastructure work, added to the immense pressure on first responders and medical authorities, and disrupted the in-person networks that many people still rely on for advance notice when a flood is on the way.

There’s much more work ahead to strengthen the systems that so many vulnerable people rely on—and expand them to reach more people in flood-affected areas. Along with our partners around the world, we will continue developing, maintaining and improving technologies and digital tools to help protect communities and save lives.

Being there for Thailand’s small businesses

Around 1.3 million Thai small businesses have been affected by the impact of COVID-19—from clothes manufacturer Chu Su Mo in Chiang Mai, to coffee shops like Hidden Tree Garden in Samut Songkhram. These businesses are often at the heart of their communities, supporting local jobs and services. They’re also critical to the Thai economy as a whole, accounting for more than 90 percent of all businesses in the country. As Thailand rebuilds from the pandemic, we’re focused on supporting its business owners through the economic recovery. 

Digital skills training in a time of need

Today, at our virtual Google for Thailand event, we launched Saphan Digital: a new Grow with Google program to help small businesses and other organisations learn digital skills and make the most of online opportunities. (In Thai, “Saphan” means bridge, and this program is designed to help bridge the digital gap between Thais who know how to use the internet and those that can’t.)
Hidden Tree Cafe inside

While the owners of Hidden Tree Cafe had to close during COVID-19, they kept posting photos of their drinks and desserts on Google My Business — meaning demand was strong as soon as they reopened. 

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen the importance of the internet in enabling businesses to continue operating—even if it’s something simple like letting customers know they’re still open, or offering information about online shopping and delivery options. Saphan Digital will equip business owners, NGOs and workers to use digital tools and set up a basic online presence, as well as provide online training courses in business and digital skills—covering topics like e-commerce and creating a digital storefront. After completing the training, people taking part will be able to “pair” with a small business or NGO to apply what they’ve learned.  

The program is a partnership with Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce and backed by local and international businesses, with corporate partners like LnwShop  and BentoWeb providing tools and mentoring.
Saphan Digital logos

Saphan is part of a bigger effort to ensure Thais can use technology with confidence—one we’re expanding to support the country’s coronavirus response. 

Skills and education beyond COVID-19

Existing Google initiatives like Academy Bangkok are now offering online courses for graduates and experienced professionals, while The Asia Foundation’s Go Digital ASEAN program—supported by Google.org—is helping Thai micro-entrepreneurs in 20 provinces who wouldn’t otherwise have access to digital training. For students and teachers, we announced today that we’ll be integrating G Suite for Education into Thailand’s Digital Education Excellence Platform, meaning that all Thai public schools will be able to access Google’s education tools free of charge. 

Our mission in Thailand is to “leave no Thai behind,” as we work with our partners to build a stronger, more inclusive digital economy. With these new initiatives, we’re reaffirming that commitment to this amazing country’s future.  

The sound of India’s AI potential

On August 15, India’s Independence Day, it’s customary to sing Jana Gana Mana: the Indian national anthem, originally composed by the poet Rabindranath Tagore and adopted as the anthem after India gained full independence.  

This year, together with Prasar Bharati and Virtual Bharat, we offered Indians a new take on the familiar with Sounds of India, an AI-powered web app. Using the app, you sing Jana Gana Mana into your phone, karaoke-style, and it transforms your voice into one of three traditional Indian instruments. The day culminated in a rendition of the national anthem, combining many of the voices that Indians submitted through the app.

Sounds of India GIF

The Sounds of India experiment was made possible by machine learning models built with Google’s TensorFlow platform to convert sounds into musical instruments (in this case, the Bansuri, the Shehnai, and the Sarangi). 

It was a fun, fresh way for Indians to express their national pride, and showcase the traditions of Indian classical music. But it’s also an opportunity to think about AI’s bigger potential for India’s future—something Google is increasingly focused on. 

Last year, we started Google Research India, an AI lab based in Bangalore, to advance AI research and apply AI in solving some of India’s biggest challenges. We reinforced that commitment last month, announcing that leveraging technology and AI for social good would be one of the four focus areasfor our $10 billion Google for India Digitization Fund.

Supporting Indians’ health and wellbeing

In healthcare, we’re using AI to help people manage their health, focusing on wellbeing and a mobile app for cardio-vascular disease prevention. We're also building on our efforts to apply AI in screening for the eye disease diabetic retinopathy, working with partners like Aravind Eye Hospital and Sankara Nethralaya. 

Improving environmental protection and forecasting

Our flood forecasting tools are already being used to send alerts to hundreds of millions of people, and we’re working on computer vision techniques that can analyze satellite imagery to assist with restoring water bodies and protecting forest cover.  

Harnessing AI for social good

As part of our commitment to the broader Indian research community, we’re supporting researchers and NGOsusing AI to make further progress on health and environmental problems. Nonprofit ARMMAN and a team from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras are collaborating on a project to predict the risk of expectant mothers dropping out of healthcare programs, while other projects aim to reduce the risk of HIV/Aids, minimize human-wildlife conflict, and improve water release from dams.  

One promising initiative is NGO Wadhwani AI’s work using AI to provide timely, local pest management advice to farmers. With a grant from Google.org’s AI Impact Challenge—and support from our Launchpad Accelerator— Wadhwani AI has started to roll out their solution to detect bollworm, helping farmers monitor pests, take action, and improve crop yield. 

Independence Day is always a time to reflect on both India’s past and its future. We’re looking forward to building on our progress so far, and working with our partners to bring the benefits of AI to many more Indians in years to come.

Japan prepares for a changing economy

This summer, Japan was meant to be hosting visitors from around the world at the Olympic Games. Instead, Japan’s people and businesses are confronting the significant and lasting impact of COVID-19. While the postponement of the Games was disappointing, the immediate task is to make the necessary changes to deal with the pandemic and get the Japanese economy growing again in a sustainable way.  

Despite these challenges, there’s an opportunity for Japan not only to rebuild, but to shape a stronger future. We’re committed to helping in every way we can, building on our programs to expand digital skills and advance technology for good. 

Japan’s digital skills divide

One of the most urgent priorities is to close the divide between Japanese businesses that use the internet effectively and those that don’t. According to Ipsos research commissioned by Google, business owners who have adopted digital tools adjusted better to the impact of Japan’s lockdowns and social-distancing restrictions. 

Among businesses that own websites and e-commerce sites, 56 percent said in the survey that digital tools helped them handle the crisis. Kudo Sakai Dojo, a martial arts school in Osaka, began offering lessons online, while flower retailer Hana-Cupid has analyzed Google trends and used YouTube ads to attract new customers. 

Yet the research also found that just 41 percent of small businesses in Japan currently have an online presence—and fewer than five percent of small businesses launched a new website or e-commerce site during the lockdown.

Infographic on Japan SMB research

Many business owners or entrepreneurs want to take advantage of the internet, but they often don’t know where to start. Changing that has to be at the heart of Japan’s coronavirus response, and we want to play our part.  

Our commitment to closing the gap

Since 2016, we’ve provided digital skills training to 5.5 million people in Japan, running courses in 45 prefectures and working with more than 100 local partners. We’re now expanding these efforts. 

For the past month, we’ve been running seminars to help small businesses understand and adopt e-commerce, partnering with companies like Salesforce and Shopify, the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency (part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and Impulse (part of the Central Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry). We’re adding new permanent courses to our Grow with Google training program, focused on helping businesses get online and promote themselves using platforms like Google My Business

As well as supporting businesses taking their first steps online, we’ve moved events like our Android 11 beta launch seminars to a digital format—so Japanese developers can now get information and support no matter where they live. We also continue to help Japanese founders through Google for Startups. Our most recent accelerator program got underway just as COVID-19 began to hit, forcing classes to move online, but the founders taking part have shown great resilience and flexibility. For example, Omsister, a childcare startup which provides bilingual nanny service, has launched a service offering online English lessons.

Looking to the longer term

Beyond its immediate impact, COVID-19 is raising longer-term questions in Japan—including what the future of work could look like.   

Japanese companies have traditionally required their workers to be in the office full-time, but during the coronavirus lockdown, many Japanese employees had to work from home—including almost half of all workers in the Kanto and Kansai areas (home to Tokyo and Osaka). After we made Google Meet available for free in April, we saw a big increase in Japanese companies and workers using it for video conferencing. 

This shift to remote work has become part of a bigger discussion about the need for more flexible and inclusive ways of working in Japan. We want to continue providing tools to help and sharing insights to inform the discussion, like our recent study on the impact of remote working

At the same time, we plan to deepen our partnerships in Japan in other areas of technology that we know will become more important as the country rebuilds. As major Japanese companies and government departments look to modernize how they operate, we’re working hard to help them adopt cloud computing. And as Japan continues to explore fields like artificial intelligence to solve social, environmental and economic problems, we’re helping through our program AI for Japan. It’s our commitment to train AI talent and advance and apply AI research for good.

In 2001, just three years after Google was founded, we opened our first overseas office in Tokyo, humbled to become part of a long tradition of Japanese forward-thinking. Today, despite the cancellation of the Olympics and the impact of COVID-19, we’re even more optimistic about the potential of technology for Japan’s future. We look forward to helping build that future with our partners and communities.