All posts in “Google”

Google beats expectations again with $31.15B in revenue

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, reported another pretty solid beat this afternoon for its first quarter as it more or less has continued to keep its business growing substantially — and is growing even faster than it was a year ago today.

Google said its revenue grew 26% year-over-year to $31.16 billion in the first quarter this year. In the first quarter last year, Google said its revenue had grown 22% between Q1 of 2016 and Q1 of 2017. All this is a little convoluted, but the end result is that Google is actually growing faster than it was just a year ago despite the continued trend of a decline in its cost-per-click — a rough way of saying how valuable an ad is — as more and more web browsing shifts to mobile devices. Last year, Google said it recorded $24.75 billion in the first quarter.

Once again, Google’s “other bets” — its fringe projects like autonomous vehicles and balloons — showed some additional health as that revenue grew while the losses shrank. That’s a good sign as it looks to explore options beyond search, but in the end it still represents a tiny fraction of Google’s overall business.

Here’s the final scorecard:

  • Revenue: $31.16 billion, compared to $30.36 billion Wall Street estimates and up 26% year-over-year.
  • Earnings: $9.93 per share, compared to $9.28 per share from Wall Street
  • Other Revenues: $4.35 billion, up from $3.27 billion in Q1 last year
  • Other Bets: $150 million, up from $132 million in Q1 2017
  • Other Bets losses: $571 million, down from $703 million in the first quarter last year
  • TAC as a % of Revenue: 24%

In the end, it’s a beat compared to what Wall Street wanted, and it’s getting a very Google-y response. Investors were looking for earnings of $9.35 per share on $30.36 billion in revenue. Google’s stock is up around 2% in extended trading, which for Google is adding more than $10 billion in value as it races alongside Microsoft and Amazon to chase Apple as the most valuable company in the world by market cap. Google jumped as much as 5% in extended trading, though it’s flattened out

Google’s traffic acquisition cost, or TAC, appears to also remain stable as a percentage of its revenue. This is a little bit of a sticking point for observers for the company and a potential negative signal for investors as more and more web browsing shifts to mobile. It’s ticked up very slowly over the past several years, but is now sitting at around 24% of its total revenue.

Google, at its core, is an advertising company that is going to make money off its billions of users across all of its properties. But as everything goes to mobile devices, the actual value of those ads is going to drop off over time simply because mobile browsing has a different set of behaviors. Google’s business has always been to offset that cost-per-click with a growing number of impressions — and, indeed, it seems like the status quo is sticking around for this one.

Gmail accounts appear to send out spam, and their owners are baffled

Not good.
Not good.

Image: Ambar Del Moral/mashable

Something is not right in the land of Gmail

Numerous account holders woke up Sunday morning to discover a raft of spam emails sitting in their sent folders, and that even after changing their passwords the emails kept going out. At least some of these people, including a Mashable editor, had two-factor authentication enabled on their accounts. 

“My email account has sent out 3 spam emails in the past hour to a list of about 10 addresses that I don’t recongnize,” read an April 21 post to a Google Help Forum. “I changed my password immediately after the first one, but then it happened again 2 more times.”

As to the email going out? It’s vey much the definition of spam.

“The subject of the emails is weight loss and growth supplements for men advertisements,” read the same Google Help Forum post. “I have reported them as spam. Please help, what else can I do to ensure my account isn’t compromised??”

Many people replied to the post saying the same thing was happening to them. 

One of the spam emails.

One of the spam emails.

Image: mashable

“[My] account is totaly secure with 2 factor authetication and the sent by telus.com messages are still being sent,” read one such reply. “[Fix] your shit google.”

So what’s going on here? A Google spokesperson admitted that the issue relates to a “spam campaign impacting a small subset of Gmail users” in a statement given to Mashable. You can read the full statement right here:

We are aware of a spam campaign impacting a small subset of Gmail users and have actively taken measures to protect against it. This attempt involved forged email headers that made it appear as if users were receiving emails from themselves, which also led to those messages erroneously appearing in the Sent folder. We have identified and are reclassifying all offending emails as spam, and have no reason to believe any accounts were compromised as part of this incident. If you happen to notice a suspicious email, we encourage you to report it as spam. More information on how to report spam can be found by visiting our Help Center.

Prior to our receipt of the statement, Google employee Seth Vargo tweeted in reply to one such complaint that the company’s “engineering teams are aware of this and are working on a resolution :)”

One thing the sent spam emails seem to have in common, other than the fact that they’re all garbage, is that many appear to be sent “via telus.com.” TELUS is a Canadian telecommunications company, and it’s not clear what role it plays in this mess. 

More of that spam.

More of that spam.

Image: mashable

We also reached out to TELUS for comment, but have received no response as of press time. 

Regardless of just what exactly is going on, however, one thing is undeniably clear: This is a mess, and Google needs to fix it. Quickly.

UPDATED April 22, 2018, 2:42 p.m. ET with Google’s statement.

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Download this: Google’s Grasshopper aims to make coding as easy as a game

Ever wanted to learn to code, but didn’t know where to start? Google’s new app wants to help.

This week the company launched Grasshopper, an app that aims to help teach adults to code (javascript, specifically) with a series of bite-sized puzzle games.

Launched from Google’s Area 120 incubator, which is devoted to experimental projects, Grasshopper takes a Duolingo-like approach to coding. It breaks down the basic concepts behind javascript, like functions and variables, into lessons you can complete in just a few minutes.

Like some of the coding apps aimed at kids, Grasshopper game-ifies the process a bit, turning coding lessons into mini-puzzles you need to solve. After you learn one concept, the next lesson will build on it and slowly add new elements so each one gets progressively more complicated.

And, like Duolingo, the app encourages you to return each day for another lesson in order to build your skills up.

Of course, no app can replace actually sitting down at your computer an practicing the real thing. But with Grasshopper’s lessons, you might feel less intimidated to start.

The app is available on iOS and Android.

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Google’s plan to fix texting on Android is really about the death of SMS

Google finally has a plan to fix Android’s texting problem.

This week, the company confirmed its long-rumored plan to improve messaging on Android and bring its features up to par with other popular messaging apps like Apple’s iMessage.

Google being Google, though, the plan is much more complicated than simply improving its own Android Messages app (though that’s certainly part of it). Instead, Google is beginning what will be a years-long effort to get carriers and phone makers to all agree to work together and commit to using the same standard for messaging, called Rich Communications Services (RCS).

That may sound like little more than the typical boring, behind-the-scenes negotiations that telecoms do all the time. But for anyone who uses an Android phone, this switch is actually a pretty big deal.

That’s because the more modern RCS standard will ensure Android users access more advanced messaging features — think read receipts, stickers, GIFs, and everything else you expect a messaging app to be able to do in 2018 — in a much more consistent way.

Yes, Android phones and Android messaging apps already have these capabilities. But due to the vast number of Android phones on the market and carrier bloatware, not every phone has these features available in its default texting app. And just because you could use stickers and GIFs in, say, Samsung’s messaging app doesn’t mean those features would carryover when you text a friend who has a Motorola phone. 

This shift will take years

So by getting everyone (Google says it has 55 carriers and 11 phone makers onboard so far) to agree to the same standard, these headaches will hopefully be a thing of the past. 

Eventually, that is. Because we’re talking about Android (which is still fragmented as hell) and carriers (which are notoriously slow to release even the most basic software updates) this shift will take years. 

But Google’s made its clear it’s committed to the process and the longterm vision behind it, which conveniently lines up with the open source ethos of Android.

But lost in Google’s grand unveiling is another point — and one that gets at the bigger reason why it’s imperative for Google to make this shift: SMS — that is, old-school carrier-enabled texting — is dying. 

The end of SMS

As apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp become more and more popular, SMS use has steadily declined. According to a 2014 study by Deloitte, SMS messages fell by 7 billion while messages sent with “instant messaging apps” grew by the hundreds of billions. With apps like WhatsApp and WeChat becoming increasingly dominant, and the advent of 5G, it’s only a matter of time before actual SMS messages, which many carriers still charge separately for, become completely irrelevant.

Which brings us back to Google. Facing a future where Android users will be forced to depend on a third-party service for messaging, it’s no wonder they want to force some kind of agreement here. 

Ironically for Google, in order to futureproof Android against the death of SMS, the company was forced to kill (or “pause”) work on the most modern consumer messaging app it already had: Allo. While Allo was actually a pretty decent messaging app, it just came too late for Google to encourage the widespread adoption it would’ve needed to get it to be a viable alternative.  

What we’re left with, then, is a new and improved version of Android Messages, which will finally, finally add a desktop version, as well as a hodgepodge of “Chat” apps that may all look different but will, at least, have a consistent experience. 

And if Google’s really lucky, all this will happen long before SMS becomes totally obsolete.

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Can data science save social media?

The unfettered internet is too often used for malicious purposes and is frequently woefully inaccurate. Social media — especially Facebook — has failed miserably at protecting user privacy and blocking miscreants from sowing discord.

That’s why CEO Mark Zuckerberg was just forced to testify about user privacy before both houses of Congress. And now governmental regulation of Facebook and other social media appears to be a fait accompli.

At this key juncture, the crucial question is whether regulation — in concert with Facebook’s promises to aggressively mitigate its weaknesses — will correct the privacy abuses and continue to fulfill Facebook’s goal of giving people the power to build transparent communities, bringing the world closer together?

The answer is maybe.

What has not been said is that Facebook must embrace data science methodologies initially created in the bowels of the federal government to help protect its two billion users. Simultaneously, Facebook must still enable advertisers — its sole source of revenue — to get the user data required to justify their expenditures.

Specifically, Facebook must promulgate and embrace what is known in high-level security circles as homomorphic encryption (HE), often considered the “Holy Grail” of cryptography, and data provenance (DP). HE would enable Facebook, for example, to generate aggregated reports about its user psychographic profiles so that advertisers could still accurately target groups of prospective customers without knowing their actual identities.

Meanwhile, data provenance — the process of tracing and recording true identities and the origins of data and its movement between databases — could unearth the true identities of Russian perpetrators and other malefactors, or at least identify unknown provenance, adding much-needed transparency in cyberspace.

Both methodologies are extraordinarily complex. IBM and Microsoft, in addition to the National Security Agency, have been working on HE for years, but the technology has suffered from significant performance challenges. Progress is being made, however. IBM, for example, has been granted a patent on a particular HE method — a strong hint it’s seeking a practical solution — and last month proudly announced that its rewritten HE encryption library now works up to 75 times faster. Maryland-based ENVEIL, a startup staffed by the former NSA HE team, has broken the performance barriers required to produce a commercially viable version of HE, benchmarking millions of times faster than IBM in tested use cases.

How homomorphic encryption would help Facebook

HE is a technique used to operate on and draw useful conclusions from encrypted data without decrypting it, simultaneously protecting the source of the information. It is useful to Facebook because its massive inventory of personally identifiable information is the foundation of the economics underlying its business model. The more comprehensive the data sets about individuals, the more precisely advertising can be targeted.

HE could keep Facebook information safe from hackers and inappropriate disclosure, but still extract the essence of what the data tells advertisers. It would convert encrypted data into strings of numbers, do math with these strings, then decrypt the results to get the same answer it would if the data wasn’t encrypted at all.

A particularly promising sign for HE emerged last year, when Google revealed a new marketing measurement tool that relies on this technology to allow advertisers to see whether their online ads result in in-store purchases.

Unearthing this information requires analyzing data sets belonging to separate organizations, notwithstanding the fact that these organizations pledge to protect the privacy and personal information of the data subjects. HE skirts this by generating aggregated, non-specific reports about the comparisons between these data sets.

In pilot tests, HE enabled Google to successfully analyze encrypted data about who clicked on an advertisement in combination with another encrypted multi-company data set that recorded credit card purchase records. With this data in hand, Google was able to provide reports to advertisers summarizing the relationship between the two databases to conclude, for example, that five percent of the people who clicked on an ad wound up purchasing in a store.

Data provenance

Data provenance has a markedly different core principle. It’s based on the fact that digital information is atomized into 1s and 0s with no intrinsic truth. The dual digits exist only to disseminate information, whether accurate or widely fabricated. A well-crafted lie can easily be indistinguishable from the truth and distributed across the internet. What counts is the source of these 1s and 0s. In short, is it legitimate? What is the history of the 1s and 0s?

The art market, as an example, deploys DP to combat fakes and forgeries of the world’s greatest paintings, drawings and sculptures. It uses DP techniques to create a verifiable, chain-of-custody for each piece of the artwork, preserving the integrity of the market.

Much the same thing can be done in the online world. For example, a Facebook post referencing a formal statement by a politician, with an accompanying photo, would have provenance records directly linking the post to the politician’s press release and even the specifics of the photographer’s camera. The goal — again — is ensuring that data content is legitimate.

Companies such as Walmart, Kroger, British-based Tesco and Swedish-based H&M, an international clothing retailer, are using or experimenting with new technologies to provide provenance data to the marketplace.

Let’s hope that Facebook and its social media brethren begin studying HE and DP thoroughly and implement it as soon as feasible. Other strong measures — such as the upcoming implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which will use a big stick to secure personally identifiable information — essentially should be cloned in the U.S. What is best, however, are multiple avenues to enhance user privacy and security, while hopefully preventing breaches in the first place. Nothing less than the long-term viability of social media giants is at stake.