Google asks U.S. government to disclose national security FISA requests

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Following Google’s denial of being involved in the PRISM surveillance claims in which the National Security Agency was accused of tapping into servers of 9 tech companies for details of user activity, Google today published a letter it just sent to the U.S. government requesting the release of more national security request data.

Google this morning sent a letter to the Attorney General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation asking that it be allowed to publish “aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope.”

Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users’ data are simply untrue. However, government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.

Google continued by noting that the numbers “would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.”

The full letter is below: Read more

Google announces Waze acquisition, plans to enhance Google Maps w/ traffic update features & integrate Google Search in Waze

waze_logo2The rumors were true: Google just officially confirmed in a blog post that it has acquired mapping company Waze with some big plans to integrate the Israel-based company’s traffic related features into Google Maps.

WazeGoogle confirmed in the announcement that it has acquired the company but didn’t provide any financial details related to the deal. Waze for now will continue to operate in Israel separate from the Google Maps team, but Google also has plans to integrate its search technology into Waze products.

We’ll also work closely with the vibrant Waze community, who are the DNA of this app, to ensure they have what’s needed to grow and prosper.

As for what specific traffic features you might see come to Google Maps, Google’s Vice President of Geo Brian McClendon notes “The Waze community and its dedicated team have created a great source of timely road corrections and updates.”

Google had been rumored several times in recent weeks to be acquiring the company with the latest reports claiming the deal would be somewhere in the $1B range. Read more

Reductive, geometric, front-facing: a look at Google’s design principles

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Roger Oddone, a senior graphical designer at Google, has provided a rare look behind the scenes at Google’s design principles, putting the company’s Visual Assets Guidelines online (via Gizmodo). The aim of the documents is to create a …

solid, yet flexible, set of guidelines that have been helping Google’s designers and vendors to produce high-quality work that helps strengthen Google’s identity …  Read more

PRISM update: how both the claims and the denials may be true

The NSA's $2b data centre in Bluffdale, Utah (source: businessweek.com)

The NSA’s $2b data centre in Bluffdale, Utah (source: businessweek.com)

Security researchers examining the PRISM denials made by the companies alleged to be providing data to the NSA say that the language used is suspiciously similar. The emphasis is ours:

Google: First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers.

Apple: “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”

Facebook: Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers.

The fact that the exact same phrase has been used seems unlikely to be a coincidence. One security researcher I spoke to said the wording only eliminated the NSA pulling data from the servers; it did not mean the companies were not pushing the data to the NSA. If the NSA obtained a secret court order requiring the companies to hand over the data, then of course statements that they only provide data when required to do so by law would also be true …  Read more

Replay: Google to buy mapping company Waze for $1.1-1.3B

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Globes.co.il is again reporting that Waze the crowd-sourced Israeli mapping company is being acquired. The rumored suitor this time around is Google and they are prepared to spend $1.3B for the mapping software. The deal could close as early as Tuesday. Bloomberg also thinks this deal is happening but puts a slightly lower $1.1B price tag on the deal.

Unless this is a defensive move, the purchase doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Google already has one of, if not the best Maps DB out there and there would be a lot of overlap with Waze’s Data.

Also, Waze appears to use the media to help with negotiations (see previous ‘leaks’) – perhaps a Facebook, Apple or Microsoft deal is going down. We’ll see, we’ll see.  Read more

Google on PRISM accusations ‘WHAT THE …’

You don’t get any more tenacious denials than this.

First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.

Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period. Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received—an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users’ call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.

Finally, this episode confirms what we have long believed—there needs to be a more transparent approach. Google has worked hard, within the confines of the current laws, to be open about the data requests we receive. We post this information on our Transparency Report whenever possible. We were the first company to do this. And, of course, we understand that the U.S. and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety—including sometimes by using surveillance. But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.

Google and other tech companies deny PRISM surveillance claims, NSA says claims ‘inaccurate’ and not used domestically

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Claims made by The Washington Post that the National Security Agency was tapping into the servers of nine tech companies for details of user activity have been denied by Google and most of the other companies alleged to be involved.

Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a ‘back door’ for the government to access private user data.

Similar denial statements have been issued by Apple, Dropbox, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook.

The Post published slides from what it said was a Powerpoint presentation detailing the top-secret program, in which it was implied that the companies listed were knowing participants …  Read more

Google reveals why it’s killing Google Reader

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With just over three weeks until Google officially puts its RSS service Google Reader out to pasture, the Mountain View company has decided to offer the widely respected product a few commemorative last words as it rests on its death bed.

Google News and Social Products Senior Director Richard Gringras told Wired.com that Google Reader represented an old model of news consumption in an age where news is being constantly consumed throughout the day.

“As a culture we have moved into a realm where the consumption of news is a near-constant process,” says Richard Gringras, Senior Director, News & Social Products at Google. “Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day — replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day.”

No matter the reason for Google Reader’s demise, alternatives have made a timely bubble up to the surface leading up to Google’s July 1 deadline. Apps like Reeder that relied on Google Reader for backend syncing have since opened up support for alternatives like Feedly and Feed Wrangler (which we reviewed at launch). Read more

Samsung Galaxy S4 software update rolls out in Germany, addresses storage constraints and more

Last month we learned that Samsung could be reversing its decision to optimize the software running on its Galaxy S4 smartphone to address storage constraints, and today it looks like that update is shipping to end users (via SamMobile.com) and includes a few new features.

Users will be able to move apps to the SD Card freeing up native storage and can even shoot HRD (high dynamic range) video. The software update itself frees up 80MB of storage.

The update is currently available for Galaxy S4 users in Germany, and could require carrier approval before it shows up in the States, but its confirmation that Samsung is listening to user concerns.

Check out the full list of features below: Read more

Government officials call on Google, Samsung, Apple & others to secure smartphones following increasing thefts

Schneiderma-01After sending a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google, and others questioning if the companies could be doing more to prevent increasing thefts of smartphones, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has now scheduled a face to face meeting with the companies to discuss the issue.

NYDailyNews reports Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon will meet with representatives from Apple, Google, Motorola, Samsung and Microsoft at a June 13 “smartphone summit” in New York.

Schneiderman wants the same thing that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has been pushing device makers on in recent months– a ‘kill switch’ that would render a device inoperable and discourage thefts of devices: Read more