Meet Google Duo – a video calling app that is simply brilliant.

Move over FaceTime, there’s a new app in the house. Google has just launched Duo, a super cool app that takes the complexity out of 1-to-1 video calling. Check out the video below.

Video calling is the next best thing to being with someone in person, but too often it can be a frustrating or complicated experience. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether your call will connect, or if your friend is using the same type of device as you are.

Here’s what makes Duo cool:

duohero.jpg

Simple interface
Google has made simplicity a priority with Duo. To get started, all you need is your phone number and you’ll be able to reach people in your phone’s contact list. No separate account is required.

Fast and reliable
It sucks big time when a call fails to connect or when video gets choppy. Google has built Duo to be fast and reliable, so that video calls connect quickly and work well even on slower networks. Call quality adjusts to changing network conditions to keep you connected — when bandwidth is limited, Duo will gracefully reduce the resolution to keep the call going smoothly.

And the best part – Knock knock!
To make calls feel more like an invitation rather than an interruption, Google created a feature in Duo called Knock Knock which lets you see live video of your caller before you answer, giving you a sense of what they’re up to and why they want to chat. Pretty neat, huh?

The icing on the cake is that Duo was built with an emphasis on privacy and security, and all Duo calls are end-to-end encrypted. We think Google Duo is awesome. Try it yourself today! Available for download on Android and iOS.


Anisha Sawant

Think you got SEO all figured out? Think again.

Late last year, Google confirmed the use of RankBrain, the new, and incredibly powerful, AI machine learning algorithm. What a lot of people might not realize, however, is just how fast the SEO industry is changing because of it.

So what exactly is RankBrain?

RankBrain is a machine learning AI system, which helps Google process search results and provide more relevant search results for users. According to Google, RankBrain is the third most important factor in the ranking algorithm along with links and content.

If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.

How does it work?

RankBrain interprets the user searches to find pages that may not have contained the exact words that were used in the user search query. When offline, RankBrain is given batches of past searches and learns by matching search results. Once RankBrain’s results are verified by Google’s team the system is updated and goes live again. So you see, the system is continuously learning, and gets smarter every time you search for something new.

How can I stay ahead of the changing SEO curve?

Every time Google’s rankings shift in a big way, data scientists and CTOs claim they “have a reason!”. So they perform regression analysis – go through months of ranking data leading up to the event, and see how the rankings shifted across all websites of different types. They then point to a specific type of website that has been affected (positively or negatively) and conclude with high certainty that Google’s latest algorithmic shift was attributed to a specific type of algorithm (content or backlink, etc.) that these websites shared.

However, that isn’t how Google works anymore! Google’s RankBrain, a machine learning or deep learning approach, works very differently.

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Within Google, there are a number of core algorithms that exist. It is RankBrain’s job to learn what mixture of these algorithms is best applied to each type of search results. This means that, in each search result, Google has a completely different mix of algorithms. You can now see why doing regression analysis over every site, without having the context of the search result that it is in, is supremely flawed.

For these reasons, today’s regression analysis must be done by each specific search result. We can then focus on improving that particular part of SEO for sites for those unique search results. But that same approach will not (and cannot) hold for other search results. This is because RankBrain is operating on the search result (or keyword) level. It is literally customizing the algorithms for each search result.

Get on Google’s “good side”

What Google also realized is that they could teach their new deep learning system, RankBrain, what “good” sites look like, and what “bad” sites look like. Similar to how they weight algorithms differently for each search result, they also realized that each vertical had different examples of “good” and “bad” sites.

When RankBrain operates, it is essentially learning what the correct “settings” are for each environment. These settings are completely dependent on the vertical on which it is operating. So, for instance, in the health industry, Google knows that a site like WebMD.com is a reputable site that they would like to have near the top of their searchable index. Anything that looks like the structure of WebMD’s site will be associated with the “good” camp. Similarly, any site that looks like the structure of a known spammy site in the health vertical will be associated with the “bad” camp.

But what about sites that have many different categories?

A good example of these types of sites are the How-To sites. Sites that typically have many broad categories of information. In these instances, the deep learning process breaks down. Which training data does Google use on these sites? The answer is: It can be seemingly random. It may choose one category or another.

For well-known sites, like Wikipedia, Google can opt-out of this classification process altogether, to ensure that the deep learning process doesn’t undercut their existing search experience (aka “too big to fail”). But for lesser-known entities, what will happen? The answer is, “Who knows?”.. So the best piece of advice here is – Stay Niche!

For a more detailed explanation on how RankBrain functions, check out this article. If you would like help with SEO for your business, get in touch with our experts today!


Anisha Sawant

 

European Commission signs Social Media “Code of Conduct” with Silicon Valley’s finest

More worrisome news for free speech advocates as government agencies continue pushing for, what could inevitably result in, online censorship. There is, of course, no place for hate on the internet. And it is absolutely unfair to discriminate against religious/ethnic minorities. But if the government gets to control expressions of hate/anger on the biggest platform connecting the world, what could this mean for freedom of expression in general – which has been a core European value for ages? The European Commission begs to differ..

This does not affect the right to freedom of expression; rather, it refers to conduct publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

European Commission via LinkedIn

Yesterday, Facebook Inc, Google’s YouTube, Twitter Inc and Microsoft signed an agreement to block illegal hate speech from their services in Europe within 24 hours. This is yet another move that shows the mounting pressure on tech companies to monitor and control content.

The new European Union “code of conduct on illegal online hate speech” states that the above mentioned tech giants will review reports of hate speech and remove or disable access to the content if necessary.

European governments were acting in response to a surge in antisemitic, anti-immigrant and pro-Islamic State commentary on social media.

The companies made light of the deal, saying it was a simple extension of what they already do. Unlike in the US, many forms of hate speech, such as pro-Nazi propaganda, are illegal in some or all European countries, and the major internet companies have the technical ability to block content on a country-by-country basis.

But people familiar with the complicated world of internet content filtering say the EU agreement is part of a broad and worrisome trend toward more government restrictions.

“Other countries will look at this and say, ‘This looks like a good idea, let’s see what leverage I have to get similar agreements,'” said Daphne Keller, former associate general counsel at Google and director of intermediary liability at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

“Anybody with an interest in getting certain types of content removed is going to find this interesting.”

Source: Reuters

EC No Place For Hate speech.png

European authorities have been putting tremendous pressure on social media companies to be more aggressive in targeting hate speech online. For example, this celebratory hashtag (#Brusselsisonfire) that surfaced after the March bombing in Belgium. Or when Twitter said in February that it had deleted more than 125,000 ISIS-affiliated accounts.

The Code of Conduct is a “self-regulatory” measure, which means that it’s not legally binding. The code of conduct enumerates a few specific commitments to address the problem:

  • The companies need to have clear and accessible ways of identifying and removing hateful content, and that they must review the majority of the content reported within 24 hours.
  • They have to work more with “civil society organizations” (nonprofits, advocacy organizations, etc.) to target such content.
  • They must train their staff “on current societal developments and to exchange views on the potential for further improvement.”

Despite the agreement signed today, these companies have a pretty tense relationship with European regulators, especially Google and Facebook. The EU is currently leveling antitrust charges against Google, and German regulators have begun looking into Facebook’s practices.

Source: Recode

You can read more about the code of conduct here. Leave us a comment and let us know what you think!

 


Anisha Sawant

ARA you ready for the future of smartphones?

For a while now, the world has waited and wondered when Google would take the plunge and build its own Android phone for consumers, and directly take on the iPhone — there have been hints and leaks, but nothing concrete.

On Friday, at its I/O conference, Google announced that it’s moving the ambitious Project Ara modular smartphone team out of the ATAP research lab and into its own proper unit within Google, under new hardware chief (and former Motorola president) Rick Osterloh. Developer kits will be shipped this fall. And a consumer Ara phone is coming in 2017 as well (yaay!), marking the first time Google has ever built its own phone hardware — Nexus phones have been built by partners like Huawei, LG, and HTC.

What is Project Ara?

Smartphones have gotten lighter, faster, cooler, sleeker, smarter. But their average lifetime is still about 2 years, give or take. We’re forced to trade them in every time a single, seemingly important, part gives out. Or when there’s a phone with fancier features out on the market and we don’t wanna be left behind.

But imagine if we could only replace/enhance the modules we wanted? The kind of freedom this would give the consumer is nothing short of revolutionary. And Google, being the visionary we know and love, wants to give us exactly that. They want to revolutionize the smartphone industry by building a fully customizable modular smartphone of the future.

Google showed off a working prototype version of Ara, which lets you live-swap hardware modules like cameras and speakers onto a base frame which contains the core phone components. To add to the awesomeness, you could even say something like, “Okay, Google, eject the camera” to release modules. It has six modular slots — each one is generic, so you can put any module in any slot, and they’re all linked up through new open standard called Unipro that can push 11.9 gigabits of data in both directions. (For more on this, you could check out this piece from WIRED.)

This video is just a taste of something truly groundbreaking that’s on the horizon. And after all this time, it seems like Project Ara is actually coming together. And it could very well be the last phone you ever have to buy. Are you excited yet?


Anisha Sawant

 

No croissants for Google?

Google is in trouble in Europe again. The search engine giant, beloved by billions around the world, can’t seem to keep the EU happy. Last week, the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, announced that it has filed a formal antitrust complaint against Google over its Android OS.

Why are they going after Android?

Android is open source – anyone can not only include Android in their own products but create custom versions of it, as well. However, many of Android’s flagship apps, including Google Play store, Google Maps, and Gmail are proprietary. So one would have to get Google’s permission to include Google’s proprietary apps in their products. And getting permission to include those apps means playing by Google’s rules. That’s where the EU sees a problem.

According to the complaint, Google requires companies that want to bundle Google’s apps with their products to make Google Search the default search engine. They’re allegedly even offered financial incentives to not include any other search engines. They must also pre-install Google’s Chrome browser and are prohibited from using alternate versions of Android created outside of Google.

If European officials decide to push this further, Google may be forced to release carriers and manufacturers from these contracts and allow them to set other search engines and browsers as the defaults on their devices. And that could result in a big blow to Google’s revenue, since the company makes money from advertising through its search engine and other apps, not by selling Android itself.

The bright side for Google is that consumers love it. And YouTube has become a steady moneymaker for the company on mobile. Also, most of us would still use Google, even if given a choice.

Right to be Forgotten

Source: NY Times

 

In 2014, a ruling from Europe’s highest court gave people broad rights to make search engines remove search results about themselves, including links to news articles and other information. People with connections to Europe could file requests with Google to have certain links removed from search results.

In response, Google took said search results out of its European versions – visitors to google.fr or google.de wouldn’t see the banned results, but they were still present on google.com. However, Europeans could still navigate to the company’s non-European versions. In March, French regulators fined the company because they didn’t think these steps are enough.

When Europeans type “google.com” into their browsers, Google redirects them to their national versions of the service — which, it says, are used by 95 percent of its European users. But there was nothing really stopping those people from visiting google.com.

Google is changing that now, using geo-blocking technology to control what European users can see. Under the new system, Google will not only remove links on, say, google.fr, but it will block users in France from seeing those links on any other Google country site, or google.com itself. Unless they use tools like VPN to disguise their locations, users in those countries will see trimmed search results.

How does this affect me?

If you don’t live in France, you aren’t completely immune to the possible ramifications this will have. French regulators are now pushing Google to restrict search results all over the world to comply with their “right to be forgotten” privacy laws. You see, in Europe, the right to privacy is pretty much at par with freedom of expression.

That’s a problem for Google, whose business model is built on search. But it may be an even bigger problem for Internet users. If a European government can control what people all over the world get to see on the Internet, what’s stopping other countries from doing the same?

Google’s geo-blocking seems like logical solution — avoiding global deletion, while letting a country enforce laws within its borders. But it is a big step away from the Internet’s promise of universally accessible information.

Breaking up important parts of the web raises barriers to entry for anyone looking to set up online, from bloggers to NGOs to businesses. Unlike Google, smaller online services might not agree to build custom French versions. It is easier and cheaper to block French users entirely. That means new entrants miss out on the French market, French Internet users miss out on new content and technologies from abroad, and everyone everywhere misses out on the awesomeness of global Internet. This also lends legitimacy to countries like China, Turkey and Iran that have long controlled what information their citizens can view online.

News outlets are particularly vulnerable to geo-blocking. Journalists rely on global networks to investigate and report on international stories (think Panama Papers). They are also usually the first targets when governments seek to control the flow of information to their citizens. However the EU provides protection under privacy law for journalistic activities, so the news media is not directly in the cross hairs of the “right to be forgotten.”

Privacy is super important, and we do need to have some standards to protect our information online. But when it comes to establishing laws that govern the Internet, things need to be handled with more subtlety. These developments should not be driven only by privacy regulators. There needs to be an international body in place that handles such matters – consisting of governments, trade ministries, telecom regulators and advocates of free expression.

The internet is a global source of information and its governance should not be left to one nation or group of nations. Technology does not discriminate – the internet is fair and should remain open to all. What are your thoughts on this matter? Let us know in the comments.


Anisha Sawant