Monthly:August 2019

Simplifying our content policies for publishers

One of our top priorities is to sustain a healthy digital advertising ecosystem, one that works for everyone: users, advertisers and publishers. On a daily basis, teams of Google engineers, policy experts, and product managers combat and stop bad actors. Just last year, we removed 734,000 publishers and app developers from our ad network and ads from nearly 28 million pages that violated our publisher policies.

But we’re not just stopping bad actors. Just as critical to our mission is the work we do every day to help good publishers in our network succeed. One consistent piece of feedback we’ve heard from our publishers is that they want us to further simplify our policies, across products, so they are easier to understand and follow. That’s why we’ll be simplifying the way our content policies are presented to publishers, and standardizing content policies across our publisher products.

A simplified publisher experience

In September, we’ll update the way our publisher content policies are presented with a clear outline of the types of content where advertising is not allowed or will be restricted.

Our Google Publisher Policies will outline the types of content that are not allowed to show ads through any of our publisher products. This includes policies against illegal content, dangerous or derogatory content, and sexually explicit content, among others.

Our Google Publisher Restrictions will detail the types of content, such as alcohol or tobacco, that don’t violate policy, but that may not be appealing for all advertisers. Publishers will not receive a policy violation for trying to monetize this content, but only some advertisers and advertising products—the ones that choose this kind of content—will bid on it. As a result, Google Ads will not appear on this content and this content will receive less advertising than non-restricted content will. 

The Google Publisher Policies and Google Publisher Restrictions will apply to all publishers, regardless of the products they use—AdSense, AdMob or Ad Manager.

These changes are the next step in our ongoing efforts to make it easier for publishers to navigate our policies so their businesses can continue to thrive with the help of our publisher products.

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Episode 5: Out of the lab

Hannah Fry meets the scientists building systems that could be used to save the sight of thousands; help us solve one of the most fundamental problems in biology, and reduce energy consumption in an effort to combat climate change.Read More

Pixel 3a helped me see my vacation through a new Lens

When I was a kid, my mom would tell me on every birthday she wanted me to have a big goal in life: Travel to as many countries as my years on Earth. And though I’m far from that ambitious target, my mom did instill a major travel bug in me. 

Briana Feigon in Oaxaca

Settling in at the Casa Oaxaca hotel. 

But no matter where I travel, I struggle with the same issues many people face: pricey phone bills, subpar photos, a language barrier and, well, getting extremely lost.

So when I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico last month, I sought out ways to combat these typical tourist problems. And thanks to my Pixel 3a, I was able to make real progress for the next time I visit more countries on my bucket list. Here’s how I did it. 

Navigating on Maps without pricey data fees

Even when I’m traveling, I like to be able to use my phone the same way I would at home. (Meaning, a lot.) For this trip, I decided to set my phone up with Google Fi so I could have unlimited international usage and great coverage. At the end of my trip, my phone bill netted out to be a fraction of my typical charge when I travel internationally.

Thanks to my cheaper data plan, I was also able to navigate with help from Maps. I’d never admit it myself, but some people might say I’m bad at directions. (Okay, a lot of people might say that.) In any case, I really leaned into using Live View in Google Maps, a tool that literally has a big blue arrow staring at me on my screen, pointing me exactly in the direction I should go. Even when in rural areas, outside of cell service, I was grateful to be able to use Google Maps in offline mode—like when I visited the Monte Alban ruins.

Taking in the beauty of Monte Alban with friends.

Taking in the beauty of Monte Alban with friends.

Lens translate

When ordering a juice from a mercado stand, I was able to use Translate in Lens to decipher many of the blends, opting for a juice that promised benefits for my skin. 

A new way to break down the language barrier 

I’m ashamed to say my Spanish isn’t great, so I put the Pixel 3a to the test. Could it magically help me speak a new language? 

Within the camera app, there’s a nifty feature in Google Lens that allows you to hover over text in another language for real-time translations. This came in handy in bustling markets, local restaurants and juice stands that only had menus in Spanish. Even if you don’t have a Pixel phone, you can download the Google Lens app on other Android or iOS devices to try it out yourself.  

The Google Assistant also came in handy when I needed language help. It was easy to ask the Assistant questions like, “Hey Google, how do you say ‘where is the bathroom’ in Spanish?” and get help converting costs from pesos to dollars.

Taking my vacation photos to the next level

In a city as beautiful as Oaxaca, I knew I’d be leaning heavily on the camera quality of the Pixel 3a. I snapped photos throughout a cooking demo making tortillas from scratch, and used features like portrait mode and Night Sight to make the most out of my vacation pics. Here are just a few highlights: 

  • Making tortillas

    Learning to make tortillas from start to finish.

  • Vida Nueva women’s weaving collective

    A group of amazing women I met at the Vida Nueva women’s weaving collective, who were able to earn a living so they could flee abusive home environments.

  • Night Sight in Oaxaca

    I tested Night Sight when dining on the rooftop of Casa Oaxaca Restaurant and fireworks unexpectedly appeared in the skyline. I also used it during night walks around the Santo Domingo church. 

My Pixel 3a was the ultimate tour guide

I know, I know, it’s just a phone, but I have to say I feel indebted to my Pixel 3a for showing me such a special time in Oaxaca. I think I’ll take it to my next dream travel destination: Japan. 

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Maintaining the integrity of our platforms

Protecting our users and the integrity of our platforms is essential to Google’s mission. My team works with others across Google to detect phishing and hacking attempts, identify influence operations and protect users from digital attacks.

When identifying and preventing threats, we exchange information with industry partners and law enforcement, and also apply our own internal investigative tools as well as intelligence from third parties.

Earlier this week, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat coordinated influence operations, we disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.

We found use of VPNs and other methods to disguise the origin of these accounts and other activity commonly associated with coordinated influence operations.

Separately, we are continuing our work to protect users against online security threats. This week, Google announced that we have taken action to protect users in Kazakhstan after credible reports that its citizens were required to download and install a government-issued certificate on all devices and in every browser. This certificate enabled the government to decrypt and read anything a user types or posts, including intercepting their account information and passwords.

These actions are part of our continuing efforts to protect the integrity of our platforms and the security and privacy of our users. Each month, our Threat Analysis Group sends more than 4,000 warnings to our users about attempts by government-backed attackers or other illicit actors to infiltrate their accounts. This is the warning we send if we detect such an attempt:

Security alert

In addition to identifying and detecting the source of threats, we also integrate the most advanced security measures into all of our products so that users are protected automatically. To that end, this month we announced an expansion of the Advanced Protection Program to Chrome to provide extra security for that program’s users when they’re downloading files online. We also just introduced that program as a beta for enterprise customers. Our ​improving ​technology has also enabled ​us to ​significantly ​decrease ​the ​volume ​of ​phishing ​email, and we’ve rolled out significant protections in Gmail that detect and block over 99.8 percent of attachment malware.

Our teams will continue to identify bad actors, terminate their accounts, and share relevant information with law enforcement and others in the industry.

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Next steps to ensure transparency, choice and control in digital advertising

Ads play a major role in sustaining the free and open web. They underwrite the great content and services that people enjoy and support a diverse universe of creators and publishers. But the ad-supported web is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations around how data is collected and used. 

The mission is clear: we need to ensure that people all around the world can continue to access ad supported content on the web while also feeling confident that their privacy is protected. As we shared in May, we believe the path to making this happen is also clear: increase transparency into how digital advertising works, offer users additional controls, and ensure that people’s choices about the use of their data are respected. 

Working together across the ecosystem

The web ecosystem is complex—it includes users, publishers, advertisers, technology and service providers, advocacy groups, regulatory bodies and more. We’ve seen that approaches that don’t account for the whole ecosystem—or that aren’t supported by the whole ecosystem—will not succeed. For example, efforts by individual browsers to block cookies used for ads personalization without suitable, broadly accepted alternatives have fallen down on two accounts. 

First, blocking cookies materially reduces publisher revenue. Based on an analysis of a randomly selected fraction of traffic on each of the 500 largest Google Ad Manager publishers globally over the last three months, we evaluated how the presence of a cookie affected programmatic revenue. Traffic for which there was no cookie present yielded an average of 52 percent less revenue for the publisher than traffic for which there was a cookie present. Lower revenue for traffic without a cookie was consistent for publishers across verticals—and was especially notable for publishers in the news vertical. For the news publishers in the studied group, traffic for which there was no cookie present yielded an average of 62 percent less revenue than traffic for which there was a cookie present.1

Second, broad cookie restrictions have led some industry participants to use workarounds like fingerprinting, an opaque tracking technique that bypasses user choice and doesn’t allow reasonable transparency or control. Adoption of such workarounds represents a step back for user privacy, not a step forward.

Exploring new privacy-forward standards for the web

Today, Chrome shared an update on their efforts to explore new foundational technologies for the web that will deliver on the vision laid out above—widespread access to free content and strong privacy for users. Chrome has offered a number of preliminary proposals to the web standards community in areas such as conversion measurement, fraud protection and audience selection. The goal of these proposals is to promote a dialog on ways browsers could advance user privacy, while still ensuring publishers can earn what they need to fund great content and user experiences, and advertisers can deliver relevant ads to the right people and measure their impact.

Getting the web standards community to work on developing a new set of technologies is a tall order, but it’s not unprecedented. The community has worked together on a number of similar challenges over the years—such as gaining consensus to phase out browser plug-ins and reaching agreement to move away from Flash. We expect this will take years, not months, and we don’t anticipate any near-term changes to how our ads products work on Chrome. But this is important work and we support the effort. 

Pursuing a new level of ads transparency and user control

While Chrome explores new technologies for the web, we’re also acting on the commitment we made in May of this year to increase the transparency of digital ads and offer users more control. Over the past few months, we’ve been listening to feedback from users and partners, and have arrived at an initial proposal to give people more visibility into and control of the data used for advertising. We’ve begun sharing this proposal for discussion to key industry and stakeholder groups and we’re eager to hear and incorporate feedback.

Whether it’s working with the standards community to explore a new set of technologies, or getting feedback from participants across the digital ads industry on a proposal to increase transparency and offer users more control, Google is committed to partnering with others to raise the bar for how data is collected and used. Only by working together can we define and implement new practices that result in better, more privacy-focused experiences for users while addressing the requirements of publishers and advertisers that fund and ensure access to free content on the web.

This post was updated on August 27, 2019 with a footnote that links to a document containing additional information on the publisher revenue experiment.


1.  Based on analysis of Google Ad Manager data: Effect of disabling third-party cookies on publisher revenue, May-August 2019

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Building a more private web

Privacy is paramount to us, in everything we do. So today, we are announcing a new initiative to develop a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on the web. We’re calling this a Privacy Sandbox. 

Technology that publishers and advertisers use to make advertising even more relevant to people is now being used far beyond its original design intent – to a point where some data practices don’t match up to user expectations for privacy. Recently, some other browsers have attempted to address this problem, but without an agreed upon set of standards, attempts to improve user privacy are having unintended consequences.

First, large scale blocking of cookies undermine people’s privacy by encouraging opaque techniques such as fingerprinting. With fingerprinting, developers have found ways to use tiny bits of information that vary between users, such as what device they have or what fonts they have installed to generate a unique identifier which can then be used to match a user across websites. Unlike cookies, users cannot clear their fingerprint, and therefore cannot control how their information is collected. We think this subverts user choice and is wrong.

Second, blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web. Many publishers have been able to continue to invest in freely accessible content because they can be confident that their advertising will fund their costs. If this funding is cut, we are concerned that we will see much less accessible content for everyone. Recent studies have shown that when advertising is made less relevant by removing cookies, funding for publishers falls by 52% on average1.

So we are doing something different. We want to find a solution that both really protects user privacy and also helps content remain freely accessible on the web. At I/O, we announced a plan to improve the classification of cookies, give clarity and visibility to cookie settings, as well as plans to more aggressively block fingerprinting. We are making progress on this, and today we are providing more details on our plans to restrict fingerprinting. Collectively we believe all these changes will improve transparency, choice, and control. 

But, we can go further. Starting with today’s announcements, we will work with the web community to develop new standards that advance privacy, while continuing to support free access to content. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve started sharing our preliminary ideas for a Privacy Sandbox – a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy. Some ideas include new approaches to ensure that ads continue to be relevant for users, but user data shared with websites and advertisers would be minimized by anonymously aggregating user information, and keeping much more user information on-device only. Our goal is to create a set of standards that is more consistent with users’ expectations of privacy.

We are following the web standards process and seeking industry feedback on our initial ideas for the Privacy Sandbox. While Chrome can take action quickly in some areas (for instance, restrictions on fingerprinting) developing web standards is a complex process, and we know from experience that ecosystem changes of this scope take time. They require significant thought, debate, and input from many stakeholders, and generally take multiple years. 

To move things forward as quickly as possible, we have documented the specific problems we are trying to solve together, and we are sharing a series of explainers with the web community. We have also summarized these ideas today on the Chromium blog.

We look forward to getting feedback on this approach from the web platform community, including other browsers, publishers, and their advertising partners. Thank you in advance for your help and input on this process – we believe that we must solve these problems together to ensure that the incredible benefits of the open, accessible web continue into the next generation of the internet.

1 Google Ad Manager data; n=500 global publishers; Analysis based on an A/B experiment where cookies are disabled on a randomly selected fraction of each publisher’s traffic; May-August 2019. More information available on the Google ads blog.

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Celebrating 10 years of Apps Script: looking back on how it started

10 years ago this week we introduced Google Apps Script, G Suite’s scripting platform. What started as a small experiment has grown into one of Google’s most popular developer products. To commemorate the moment, I sat down with Mike Harm, the creator of Apps Script, to reflect back on how it all got started. 

Mike, what inspired you to build Apps Script?
I taught an “Intro to Computers” class when I was a graduate student at Northeastern University. The course was intended for students outside the computer science department, so I ended up teaching Pharmacy majors. The course covered everything from drag-and-drop to office productivity tools, building up to a final project using Hypercard, where the assignment was just “make something cool.” Those students produced so many interesting things: an interactive recipe book, a Led Zeppelin trivia game, an animated, choose-your-own-adventure story. It made a lasting impression on me. Once you strip away all of the technical hoops, people can build amazing things, even if they’re not programmers.

The same revelation happened later in my career. This time, in the workplace. I was working in the IT department of a New York hospital that had built a custom application server running server-side JavaScript, years before Node.js was created. This engine powered a lot of their approvals systems. Because of how accessible JavaScript was, business analysts could write the code themselves instead of waiting on IT to implement it. 

How did you use this experience to create Apps Script at Google?
I worked on the Google Sheets team when I first joined Google in 2007. At the time, the team was evaluating how to make our spreadsheet APIs easier to use. With Hypercard and JavaScript still bounding around in my head, I kicked off a stealth, side project to build a rough demo of what a JavaScript-based scripting language for spreadsheets could look like. This was the start of Apps Script.

Why did you choose JavaScript as the programming language?
I was certainly influenced by my previous experience with JavaScript, but also saw how popular the language was becoming in web programming. Specifically, there were a lot of non-traditional programmers using JavaScript to add small bits of dynamic functionality to websites, and the syntax was becoming well known. I still had Hypercard on my mind, and I wanted a language that anyone could code in.

I wanted a language that anyone could code in.

Were there challenges building a tool for non-traditional programmers?
We had many passionate discussions about whether to adopt traditional coding paradigms, like versioning, or to build something more accessible for non-programmers. Even I had trouble keeping my eye on the pharmacy students I originally intended to serve.

We hosted hackathons to help us keep in tune with what was really needed. I remember an 11-year-old demoed a simple celsius to fahrenheit custom function. I totally swooned. From that point forward, when we discussed how to shape Apps Script, I’d think about that kid—for some, a red error message is an occupational hazard, for him, it was personal.

Can you share other examples of how you use Apps Script?
I turn to Apps Script whenever I say to myself, “I wish [this app] could do that!” For example, I built a web app that lets me see all of my meetings for the week, check a box next to the ones to skip, and then click one button to cancel them—works great when I travel to other offices.

Companies can be hesitant to hand over low-code app development broadly to their employees. Do you think they should embrace this democratization?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I feel that they should embrace it, but that there should be guard rails. A good metaphor is that we should allow people to plug in a teapot at their desk, but not an arc welder that could black out the building. When dialing in our quotas for Apps Script, we made sure that users had the amount of power they needed to get important work done, but not so much power that it would become a nightmare for IT teams to manage. 

10 years in the making, Apps Script has inspired people to customize G Suite apps in many different ways—check out our video library to see it in action (along with sample code) and start building today.

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Additional safeguards to protect the quality of our ad network

Supporting a healthy ads ecosystem that works for publishers, advertisers, and users continues to be a top priority in our effort to sustain a free and open web. As the ecosystem evolves, our ad systems and defenses must adapt as well. Today, we’d like to highlight some of our efforts to protect the quality of our ad network, and the benefits to our publishers and the advertising ecosystem. 

Last year, we introduced a site verification process in AdSense to provide additional safeguards before a publisher can serve ads. This feature allows us to provide more direct feedback to our publishers on the eligibility of their site, while allowing us to communicate issues sooner and lessen the likelihood of future violations. As an added benefit, confirming which websites a publisher intends to monetize allows us to reduce potential misuse of a publisher’s ad code, such as when a bad actor tries to claim a website as their own, or when they use a legitimate publisher’s ad code to serve ads on bad content in an attempt to demonetize the good website — each day, we now block more than 120 million ad requests with this feature. 

This year, we’re enhancing our defenses even more by improving the systems that identify potentially invalid traffic or high risk activities before ads are served. These defenses allow us to limit ad serving as needed to further protect our advertisers and users, while maximizing revenue opportunities for legitimate publishers. While most publishers will not notice any changes to their ad traffic, we are working on improving the experience for those that may be impacted, by providing more transparency around these actions. Publishers on AdSense and AdMob that are affected will soon be notified of these ad traffic restrictions directly in their Policy Center. This will allow them to understand why they may be experiencing reduced ad serving, and what steps they can take to resolve any issues and continue partnering with us.

We’re excited for what’s to come, and will continue to roll out improvements to these systems with all of our users in mind. Look out for future updates on our ongoing efforts to promote and sustain a healthy ads ecosystem.  

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Episode 4: AI, Robot

Forget what sci-fi has told you about superintelligent robots that are uncannily human-like; the reality is more prosaic. Inside DeepMinds robotics laboratory, Hannah explores what researchers call embodied AI.Read More

By day and by night: video call, no matter the lighting

To make sure we’re constantly improving Google Duo, we visit people from around the world to understand the challenges they face in video calling their loved ones. There was one particular condition we saw people consistently struggle with across cultures and environments: poor lighting.

In many places, electric lighting is a significant challenge, preventing people from connecting face to face. People often light their homes with a single bulb when electricity is expensive, and even then, power outages remain common in many areas, leaving people in the dark during the evening when many video calls with family and friends happen. Even when electricity is not an issue, many people just want to video call to say good night right before bed, keep each other company as they watch TV together or enjoy a quick chat while they’re outside in the evening. 

These challenges are the reasons why we are bringing low light mode to Duo. Low light mode helps people connect with each other face to face, even when the lighting conditions aren’t optimal. The video call will adjust so people in the frame are more visible when the phone detects dim lighting. Low light mode will start rolling out globally to iOS and Android users this week.

Google Duo low light

With low light mode on Duo, just start a video call and you can toggle the feature on or off as part of your in-call controls. 

Now, there will be no more leaving each other in the dark.

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