Tag Archives: Google

Rivet reading and learning app for children comes with 2000 free ebooks

2019-06-24

Rivet mobile reading app by Google
If you have children who are learning to read or struggling to read, a little bit of extra screen time may help. Google has developed Rivet app for mobile devices that is designed to assist children to read. To make the offer difficult to refuse, Google has bundled 2000 children’s books into the app.

All right, sounds exciting, but this is Google that has created the app. Everyone who is trying to protect his or her personal data from Google and other data collectors should check the permissions the Rivet app requires before installing it. It is, after all, an app specifically targeted at children. At the moment, however, the Rivet app doesn’t require any extra permissions that would make me worry. It is possible that the app will request access to new resources when upgraded in the future.

Rivet is available in English for Android and Apple mobile devices in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Brazil, Nigeria, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Chile, Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, Columbia, and Argentina. When you search for the app, choose the one that was developed by Area 120. It is Google’s lab for new projects.
Rivet ebook reading app by Area 120 (Google)
The way it works is as follows. A child reads an ebook in Rivet app aloud. The app listens to the reader, and encourages and corrects the reader if needed.

To make reading fun, Rivet has borrowed ideas and appearance from games, and has some game-like features. The reader can advance from initial starting levels to high levels as reading skills develop. Help is available for words that children may be unfamiliar with.

Rivet recognizes words readers said correctly and which they didn’t with “Say the Word”. Another shortcut to help is “Tap for Help” for pronunciations, definitions, and translations into over 25 languages.

Books are available in the app in the following genres:

– Adventure
– Animals
– Arts and Crafts
– Community
– Fiction
– History
– Learning
– Nonfiction
– Science
– Sports
– Vehicles

Ebook reading applications for PCs are reviewed in this article.

Via 9to5Google.

River ebook reading app for children

This translation tool not only produces the best results, but also protects privacy

2019-04-26

deepl online translator screen shot
Writers, readers, travelers, and anyone who wants to understand a document or a piece of text written in foreign language can access an online tool that produces a rough translation for tens of languages. The go-to tool for many people is Google Translator, but there is a new service that produces better results, and understands the importance of privacy, too: it is called DeepL.

Deepl doesn’t come completely out of thin air, but its developers have a long history with Linguee that has been a widely used online translator for years. Now, the modern DeepL Translator applies neural machine and artificial intelligence technologies to produce translations. And it seems to be working.

DeepL conducted a blind test of translations for 100 foreign language sentences. The sentences were translated by DeepL Translator, Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and Facebook. Professional translators assessed the machine translations, but they didn’t know which system had produced which results. The translators preferred results by DeepL over others by a factor of 3:1.

Another test method is known as BLEU. It is a set of predefined tests that must be translated. DeepL was the best machine translator in this test as well.

TechCrunch reports that DeepL has built a massive database of over a billion translations and queries. All that data is raw material for algorithms that conclude what is the most natural expression for a translation. In order to train the AI and neural network algorithms, the company is also extracting snippets from public web pages.

All this requires plenty of computing power and storage space. DeepL says they have the 23rd most powerful supercomputer in the world, located in cool Iceland.

The privacy perspective when using free online translators
for documents with sensitive information

A writer may need to research for sensitive information, but she also wants to translate the document to her native language to ensure she can understand it correctly. A traveler may want to read what exactly is said in the medical records that were printed at a beach resort hospital after checkup. Not everyone wants to hand over this type of information about themselves to Google when translating documents.

This is where businesses operating in the European Union have an advantage. The renowned GDPR law that concerns EU countries requires businesses to behave when they get private information in their hands. For instance, businesses are prohibited from collecting personal data without reason. If private information has to be collected – for one reason or another – user’s consent must be asked.

DeepL goes a little further with privacy in its DeepL Pro subscription service. The service guarantees it never stores the texts the Pro subscribers translate.
cartoon: pc yelling bad language to woman

Automatic translators on the internet

In addition to DeepL, other automatic translators are available on the web for free. My experience with all of them is that knowing the basics of the foreign language you are dealing with really helps in understanding the rough translations and reduce the probability of misunderstandings.

Bing (Microsoft) Translator
Collins Dictionary
Google Translate

Google has created a robot that can carry books from homes back to the library

2019-04-18

Book Bot robot in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, California
Google experimental lab has developed an autonomous robot that can pick up books from homes. The small robot moves along pavements in Mountain View (in Silicon Valley, California), and visits houses where books are waiting to be returned.

The robot makes its round in the neighborhood near the Mountain View Library once a week. People who are living in that neighborhood can ask (via the internet) the robot to make a visit to their house. Books must be dropped into a container on top of the robot, but that’s about it. The robot is ready to continue its journey to the next place.

The robot notifies of its arrival by sending a text message to the person who ordered the pickup.
Book Bot library robot by Google
When the robot returns to the library, personnel manages the actual book return process.

What next? Well, we would like have a robot that can loan books from a library for us. The robot should have a little bit of artificial intelligence so that it knows what we like to read, so that it can surprise us with its perfect book recommendations.

If you happen to live near the Mountain View library, here are instructions for asking the bot to visit you.

Mercury News captured a video when the robot rolled along the neighborhood streets:

The specifications of the current Book Bot:

Dimensions: Length 71 cm / 28 inches x Width 45/18 x Height 81/32 (without antennas, flag for visibility, or arm for operating crosswalk buttons).
Weight: 45 kg /100 lbs. unloaded, maximum 68 kg/150 lbs. loaded.
Maximum speed: 7 kmh /4.5 mph.

ActuaLitte reported about the BookBot first.

Ebook reading, travel, and other mobile apps may be leaking private data to Facebook

2019-03-25

Writers, ebook lovers, travelers, and anyone who is using downloaded applications on their mobile phones or tablets are silently leaking their personal data to Facebook. A research organization has published a study that shows how apps, including popular travel applications like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Yelp and Skyscanner continuously transmitted users’ private data to Facebook.

An earlier study indicated that 42.55% of free apps on the Google Play Store sent private data to Facebook without having users’ permission to do so. A recent study published in December 2018 discovered that at least 61% of tested mobile apps automatically transmitted personal data to Facebook the very moment the app is opened. The apps transmit a set of data to Facebook in every case: whether the user has a Facebook account or not, or whether the user is logged into Facebook or not.

Privacy International, a non-profit organisation based in London, conducted the research that discovered how extensive the leaking of private data from mobile apps is. The study focused only on Android apps downloaded from the Google Play Store, and their silent background connection to Facebook.
Kayak app screen capture
Privacy International tested many types of apps, trying to find out if they connected to Facebook servers. For instance, all tested travel applications – Tripadvisor, Yelp, Kayak, and Skyscanner (as reported by Skift) – sent data to Facebook. In addition, Kayak and Skyscanner also sent user’s Google ad id to Facebook. This, however, is not the only nasty problem travel booking apps have: they are also seriously troubled by fake reviews and misleading travel product information.

Four months after the Privacy International research paper was published, some apps were re-tested. Cnet reported that Yelp, Duolingo, Indeed, and a few religious apps were still sharing user data without having a permission to do so. Music library Spotify, and travel apps Skyscanner and Kayak don’t automatically connect with Facebook anymore.

Mobile apps send plenty of data to Facebook in the background

The report concludes that the largest set of data was leaked by the Kayak app. User’s private information that Kayak provided to Facebook included:

When the search was done
Name of the app
Google advertising id
Departure city, airport, and date
Arrival city, airport, and date
Number of tickets, including number of children
Class of tickets (economy, business or first class)

Facebook hasn’t told exactly what it does with the data it receives from the apps. The peculiar thing with this discovery is that the apps send user data to Facebook. It doesn’t matter if the user has a Facebook account, the data is always transmitted to the social media giant.

Nonetheless, Facebook explained how the data is collected. The company provides application developers with programming tools – a Software Development Kit (SDK) – that they can use, for instance, for identifying the user, for getting statistics, and for displaying ads in the app. Once a programmer includes the Facebook provided identification in the app, it starts sending data to the social media service databases.

The major observations of the Facebook data leak study

Observation 1: at least 61 percent of apps tested automatically transferred data to Facebook. This concerns all users – with and without Facebook account, or whether they are logged into Facebook or not.

Observation 2: Many apps send the user’s unique Google ad id to Facebook as well. It is an ad targeting id that is unique to the user. Using this id and data from apps, the user can be identified.

Observation 3: Some apps continuously send Facebook data that is detailed and often sensitive. Travel booking app Kayak was a prime example of this activity (as listed above).

Observation 4: For a normal mobile app user, it is practically impossible to prevent apps from sending data to Facebook. The research report proposes a high-tech solution that involves installing a firewall on the phone that can prevent traffic to specified addresses (using a firewall app such as AFWall+ or NetGuard). Changing Facebook’s privacy settings did not prevent tracking.

Tips for preventing apps from leaking private data to Facebook

tripadvisor app on phone, screen shot

The safest option is not to install an app at all, especially if an alternative exists.
Once an app has been downloaded, and the app is opened on the mobile device, there is practically nothing a user can do to prevent it from leaking data. Installing and configuring a firewall is something an ordinary people won’t do.
In some cases, accessing a social media or another service in a browser can be a safer alternative than an app. The research team tested the Opera browser, and discovered it doesn’t send data to Facebook. Dropbox is application that keeps your data away from Facebook’s databases as well.

Change to a phone that is running on secure operating system
The research argues that Google is even bigger private data collector than Facebook. To stop Google and Facebook getting your personal data, finding a phone that doesn’t run on Android is an option. Apple iPhone is the major brand that also claims they care about customers’ privacy. Even Apple can’t completely prevent independent apps from sending data to other parties.
The best choice is to change to an open source software that has been reviewed by experts. One of them is /e/ (eelo) operating system, but at the moment, it requires an experienced techie to install it on a phone.

GDPR will affect rogue practices
The European Union online privacy regulation known as GDPR has been in effect since May 2018. The first court cases that define how it is applied have been started. Regarding GDPR, Facebook argues it is the application developer’s responsibility to manage it follows the GDPR rules. GDPR is intended to protect people from businesses that are collecting their data without permission, so the laws will have an impact on these malpractices sooner or later.

The best tools that can replace Google services for privacy-minded people

2018-12-26

I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely annoying when I’m researching, say, New Zealand for an article or a book, and suddenly I’m bombarded with ads of hotels in the destination. Privacy is an important factor why many colleagues have given up Google products, whereas frequent travelers have fed up with Google’s inability to manage travel access to its services. In this article, you will find the best privacy-tested alternatives to Google services.
Google services symbols
Google’s (as well as Facebook’s and many other big internet companies) business model depends on sucking users’ private and non-private data, using it for ad targeting, and selling it to other companies. This is why Google will collect your data even if you specify in product settings that you don’t want to be tracked. So, the safest choice is to switch to another product.

The best user-recommended products to replace Google’s online services

No More Google web site has collected a long list of alternative products that can replace Google products. The alternative products and services are recommended by internet users who have realized they must manage their privacy themselves (and not leave it to big internet companies). Here are a few of the popular choices:

  • Google Search – DuckDuckGo is the most liked privacy-enabled search engine.
  • Gmail – Protonmail is the most recommended email system.
  • Google Chrome – Firefox is the most recommended alternative product to the Google web browser.
  • Google Maps – Openstreetmap
  • YouTube – Vimeo
  • Google Drive – Dropbox
  • Google Docs – Notion
  • Google Analytics – Matomo
  • Hangouts – Telegram
  • Blogger – WordPress
  • Google+ – the social media service is closing in April 2019.

 

In addition to DuckDuckGo search engine, Qwant and StartPage are good alternatives as well. For browsers, Opera and Vivaldi are good choices, too.
Qwant search engine home page

Replacing Google hardware with privacy-friendly products

Google is also marketing hardware products, such as smartphones and home gadgets. That’s not all, because operating system software is closely related to hardware. Operating systems are built in to hardware products. That’s why it makes sense to pay attention to the operating systems as well, because companies like Samsung, LG, Nokia, Huawei and others use a Google operating system in their phones and tablets.

Here are a few alternative products to Google hardware products and operating systems:

  • Android – the most viable alternatives at the moment are Purism Librem 5 smartphone (built on open source Linux) and open source project /e/ that has released a beta operating system for smartphones.
  • Chrome OS – any desktop Linux, like Ubuntu, Manjaro or Mint is an alternative to the Google operating system (although Linux desktops have not been designed exactly for the same purpose).
  • Google Pixel smartphones – We may have to wait until Purism gets its Liberm 5 phone to the shops, or the /e/ foundation manages to convince a hardware manufacturer to factory-install the /e/ software, so that we can buy a phone that doesn’t leak data to Google.
  • Pixel Slate tablet/laptop – a sleek laptop running on Linux is an alternative to the Google tablet/laptop.
  • Google Assistant – voice assistants require computing power that is usually provided by big server computers in data centers. Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana all work in the same manner, so it is a choice of brand you trust the most.
  • Home Hub – Google home automation products communicate with this tablet-like device. It knows everything that is going on in the system. If it is connected to the internet, privacy and security risks are inevitable. The best alternative is the brand you trust the most.
  • Nest – all gadgets that control and monitor home lights, alarm system, heating and other functions, and are connected to the internet have security and privacy risks.

Purism Libr smartphone
Purism Librem 5.

Someone has to write the scripts for all those video games

2018-11-18

Many writers apply their skills and knowledge to various media, writing different types of texts, articles or manuscripts. Even today’s most successful author JK Rowling writes young adult and suspense fiction (and who knows what else, because she has already used a pseudonym). As computer games have become more like movies complete with storylines that could originate from books, how many writers have already tried writing scripts for video games?
Assassin's Creed Odyssey by UbisoftAssassin’s Creed Odyssey by Ubisoft.

If you haven’t thought of writing for the games industry, you are not alone. Writing a script for a video game is a complex task that requires more work than, for instance, a movie script.

There are similarities in movie and game scripts: the world where the story takes place must be described, characters created, dialogue established, action described, and plot line invented. The thing that requires additional work in video scripts is choices. The characters can decide what they do next. Every possible decision path must be determined in the game script.

An experienced script writer describes the process of authoring a game in seven steps. The potential complexity of choices can be presented in flowcharts as these samples show.

Why writers may consider writing for the games industry right now? Until now, large, resource-hungry video games could be played on game consoles alone. This is changing. Google and Microsoft have introduced connectivity technologies that allow streaming advanced games via the Internet to computers that only need a web browser to run the game. This can attract new audiences from a wide variety of age groups to play games, expanding the variety of games from action to other genres.

Google Project Stream

Google Project Stream is in beta test at the moment, but it is possible to ask for an invite if your computer’s IP address is in the U.S. The Project Stream provides Assassin’s Creed Odyssey console game to your browser. The technical requirements are simple: the latest Chrome browser, a computer, and a minimum of 25 Mbps internet connection.

Business Insider tried out the Odyssey game by Project Stream, and the conclusion from the test was positive. They played the game on three computers (two powerful and one ordinary laptop) that had different types of network connections.

The game worked well on all three laptops. On two powerful computers, “Project Stream was essentially flawless”. Only the ordinary laptop that had the slowest connection experienced minor glitches.

This is impressive. Perhaps the Chrome browser and Project Stream do some proprietary tricks together to keep data rapidly flowing from the game server to the browser?

Microsoft Project Xcloud

Google Project Stream is not the only cloud gaming service available. Microsoft is already trialing Project Xcloud service that has multi-device support as its key feature.

The Microsoft video shows how Xcloud games run on tablets and phones:

The Sony PlayStation Now and Nvidia GeForce Now provide games via the internet as well.

Talk to Books artificial intelligence service finds good reads from Google Books

2018-04-16

Google has many projects where the company develops artificial intelligence services for tasks that some day will help both businesses and daily life of ordinary people. One of Google’s research projects, Talk to Books, can help book readers and writers to find a good read they perhaps didn’t know existed.

Google AI service: Talk to Books, home screen
In a nutshell, here is how Talk to Books online service works at the moment. Type a sentence that describes the problem you have or what you are looking for. It is important to type a sentence, not keywords alone. The principle how Talk to Books works is different from a search engine that only finds matches for keywords.

The big difference and big promise of artificial intelligence (AI) software is that it can, to a certain extent, determine meanings. With Talk to Books, the AI system breaks the typed sentences into vectors using a hierarchy of parameters. The system has been trained and is supposed to develop further with time. Google Research Blog explains the method in more detail.

Once the AI system behind Talk to Books has determined what you want, it searches 100,000 books in Google library, looking for content that discusses the theme you are concerned with. Then, the service spits out its suggestions to you.
Google Talk to Books answers questions with books
I tried Talk to Books. The first questions I asked were relatively short. I received poor answers. Then I wrote longer descriptions what I wanted, and lo and behold, I got answers that I actually could use (like, I logged on to a bookstore to see if a suggested book was available as an ebook – it was so interesting).
Google Talk to Books artificial intelligence service finds books
As Ray Kurzweil, a visionary and technology pioneer, who now works for Google, said responses from Talk to Books may surprise you. The system can find something you didn’t know existed but is relevant for your question.

This is obviously one of the first steps in using artificial intelligence in a way that directly helps writers and readers. I would expect that the system is built so that it improves its answers as users feed in more questions. Of course, if Google expands the catalog of books that provide answers, they improve as well. For instance, travel related questions are not worth asking at the moment.

Consider your privacy, however, when you ask questions from a Google service.

Ebook news digest: best tools for nonfiction writers, large screen ereader, insight from failed book

2018-02-01

News on ebooks, writing and ereaders

Amazon Kindle ereader on laptop keyboard
The Best Writing, Editing and Publishing Tools for Aspiring Nonfiction Authors
Book Ghostwriter

The emphasis of this article that lists tech tools and books for nonfiction authors is on editing. Tools and books for other stages of the writing and publishing process are mentioned as well. Experienced writers should check out the article – I am going to buy one of the books listed.

Closer Look at 10.3-inch Onyx Boox Note (Videos)
The Ebook Reader

The Onyx Boox Note is an anticipated ereader because Onyx is one of the leaders in the trend for large-screen devices. This model also has plenty of features for note taking. Take a look at the videos.

Why did my first book fail? Let me count the ways
The Irish Times

The author learned his lesson, and is willing to share the important insight. Every writer who is planning, or is already writing his or her first book, should read Michael Mullooly’s analysis on his failure. We have written about the same topic as well, only from a different angle.

Top Ten Publishing Trends Every Author Needs to Know in 2018
Written Word Media

The article sees positive vibes for indie authors in 2018, but the cost of success may be increasing.

Planning a trip to Scandinavia? Read the tips and get the pointers to right direction
Klaava Travel Guide

A collection of writings for travel guides written about the Nordic countries.

The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2018
The Write Life

A long list of writing and publishing related web pages grouped into relevant categories.

Walmart is teaming up with one of the world’s biggest e-commerce companies to take direct aim at Amazon
Business Insider

Kobo has strong presence in North America (Canada) and a few other countries across the world, but so far, it has not been visible in the US. This will change after Walmart retail giant starts marketing Kobo ereaders and ebooks.

Independent booksellers could join forces to compete with chains
The Guardian

Independent bookstores in Britain are fed up with the way big publishers treat them and favor large book chains when bestsellers are launched. More than 100 small bookshops have already signed up for an initiative that is planning to establish a united representation for them when negotiating about key products.

Google Play now sells audiobooks, includes voice support for Google Assistant
Venture Beat

Audiobook sales has been growing recently, and Google has realized it is time to join the game.

The five tech giants are also media business giants that dominate the distribution of ebooks

2017-10-23

Five tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are marketing products that most of us use daily – some people perhaps use them most of the hours they are awake. Each of these tech giants is – one way or another – a media company. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft sell digital media products from their online stores. Facebook and Google are categorized as publishers in a number of markets, because they distribute news and information to the public. All these companies have enormous powers to promote or block items and products.
Microsoft ebook store in the Edge web browser
Facebook reports it has more than two billion active users on its social media service. About 45 percent of American adults get news from Facebook. Although Facebook doesn’t admit it is a media company, that’s how it is treated, for instance, within EU.

Google’s search market share in the U.S. approaches 86 percent, whereas in Europe it is over 90 percent. Google’s primary business is advertising, but the Play Store features music, movies and ebooks as well.

About 43 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S. last year went through Amazon. The vast majority of ebook sales in the U.S. is conducted by Amazon.

Microsoft has a dominant position in PC software with its Windows software, and Apple has grown to the most valuable company in the world because of its computers and mobile devices that customers are ready to pay premium for.

Curiously enough, four companies out of five tech giants are also booksellers. Only Facebook hasn’t opened an ebook store.
Amazon Kindle Store
Amazon, of course, gets the credit for facilitating the ebook’s breakthrough into a mass market product with the Kindle and low ebook prices. The company is the undisputable leader of the ebook business in the world. Not only has Amazon a role as a book retailer, but the company is also a book publisher, translation firm and a marketer.

Apple was the pioneer of music downloads with the iTunes Store where people could find MP3 songs for their iPods and PCs. Ebooks were introduced to the iBooks store along with the iPad tablet.

Google started scanning printed books from libraries because the company wanted to archive and index all the information in the world. Many years and legal problems later, Google has agreements with publishers to sell their ebooks at the Play Store.

Microsoft has marketed applications and games in its digital download store, and has added ebooks to the store as well, although the market coverage is limited at the moment. The new Edge web browser can open EPUB books without any additional plugins or tricks.
Google Play Books store for ebooks

What do the tech giants’ media businesses mean for ebooks?

If we think about the global ebook business, the tech giants dominate the distribution of digital products to customers. Only Kobo has the global reach that is anywhere close to the giants, but Kobo probably does not have the customer base to generate the same amount of sales as the tech giants.

In every market, local online bookstores compete against the global giants. In many markets, local booksellers may have a larger market share than the giants. Tolino in Central Europe, for instance, is a strong brand and sales channel for ebooks in the German speaking part of the world.

For tech giants, ebooks are not necessarily the core products they will bet their futures on. Tech companies’ priorities are in software, cloud services, hardware, artificial intelligence, and in other new technologies. Amazon is the only company that (at the moment) is an online retailer first, and technology supports that goal.
Apple iBooks Store
Let’s take a look at other types of digital media products and which companies dominate those markets. Online movies and television shows are streamed and downloaded from Netflix and Hulu. Music is discovered and streamed to homes and mobile devices from Spotify and Pandora.

Only ebooks are purchased from tech giants. Isn’t it a bit strange?

Perhaps ebook subscription services, like Scribd, 24 Symbols, Storytel, Bookmate will change the landscape of distribution of ebooks one day. Perhaps Kobo is able to compete against the giants in the future. Perhaps a group of investors believes there is a place for an independent global bookstore and establishes one that is in line with the interests of the ebook trade.

The best smartphone for travel photography

2017-05-27

Smartphones, especially high-end models, come with so good cameras that even some professional photographers admit they use camera phones for photography. It is, after all, the one camera that is always with you when traveling, commuting or visiting friends. Different phone manufacturers use different camera components, and most importantly, different software algorithms that create an image from the captured bits of light. So, there are differences, but which smartphone camera is the best?
Google Pixel XL smartphone
Android Authority ran a test for high-end smartphones in order to find out the best camera. This time, they did not ask the experts, or measure the various aspects of digital images, but they asked the public. Anyone could vote for the pictures taken on each camera. The pictures can still be viewed on this web page.

The pictures of a camera that received the most votes was the winner. If professional photographers and camera experts had evaluated the sample images and chosen the best camera, the results would have been different. The public and the experts simply look for different things in images.

I remember when Sony was the number one television manufacturer in the era of CRT tubes, and everyone competed against Sony telling how natural the colors on their TV sets were. Many tests were organized where the public could choose the TV set whose colors they liked the best. Usually, the TV set with the brightest colors won. Having the brightest colors doesn’t have anything to do with image quality, but if that is what the public wants, that is what the public will get.

Anyhow, this is a refreshing way to rank cameras. High-end LG and Samsung camera phones have done well in all types of tests, and this test confirms it hasn’t been for nothing. The Apple iPhone didn’t participate in the test because it was meant for Android phones alone.

The results – the best smartphone camera is:

1. The winner was Google Pixel XL
2. Samsung Galaxy S8
3. LG G6
4. Sony Xpera Xzs
5. OnePlus 3T
6. Huawei P10

Google Pixel XL smartphone by HTC
View the test images and detailed results on the test page.

It would have been wonderful to have Nokia in this camera test as well. Recently, the company has introduced Android phones, and it had the best cameras when it was still the king of mobile phones in the 2000s.

Why I quit Yahoo and Gmail when I started traveling

2016-12-28

A few years ago, when I started traveling for work, a strange thing happened with some of the web services I had been using. These cloud services, such as email, photo sharing and calendar refused to let me in to my account. I really needed to access them because my work processes relied on those services. Instead, the services insisted I was a hacker who had managed to discover my user id and password. The cloud services refused me from accessing my own account.

That’s when I quit Yahoo. Now, I am in the process of quitting all my Google services as well.
an office for a digital nomad in Bordeaux, France
In 2012 and 2013 I was on a long journey that took me to several countries in Europe. I was using Yahoo Mail and Flickr quite a lot when things started to go wrong. Every time I moved to a new place, Yahoo wanted verification after verification to prove that I was really me. When I had done it a few times, and had been locked out from my accounts once, and had very frustrating moments with Yahoo support, I was fed up. I decided to quit all my Yahoo services.

With the information that we have today (in December 2016), it is easy to realize that Yahoo may have been fighting with serious hacking problems just then, in 2013. Their solution was to make life hard for their customers without telling what had happened.

I decided to migrate my cloud services to Google. That decision I have bitterly regretted recently. I have been traveling in Europe during 2016, staying one night in one place, a week in another and a month somewhere else. Every time I have tried to access my Gmail, Google Photos, Google Plus, Analytics, or any other Google service, I have been treated as a criminal. Even after I have correctly entered my login id, password, and the required verification information, Google haven’t let me access my account. Instead, Google took the effort to send me an email message:
Google: someone has your password

“Someone has your password
Hi,
Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account [name]@[address].com.
Details: Saturday, [month], 2016 12:43 PM (Central European Standard Time)
[country]*
Google stopped this sign-in attempt, but you should review your recently used devices:”

The first time Google locked me out of my account, I spent quite a lot precious time trying to explain the situation to Google Support. Nothing happened. That was it. I had enough of Google. For my work that requires traveling, it is a waste of time to try and follow Google’s verification instructions – only to be locked out.

So, I am moving my work, business, and life away from Google.

I understand and really hope that services like Yahoo and Google have security measures in place to prevent hijacking of accounts. If I login to my account in Edinburgh today, and in Dublin tomorrow, it is perfectly all right to ask verification for proving that I am really me. What I don’t understand is why both Yahoo and Google fail to recognize the credentials I am entering. For instance, Google’s verification process can send a message to a backup email address stored on the account. Going through this process doesn’t help. I am still a criminal to Google.

I understand that Google has other ways for verifying customer’s identity, but whatever they are, I can not trust Google anymore. Google does whatever it wants with my data. I don’t have any hope to have any control over the data I have stored on Google’s servers. The risk with dealing with services like Yahoo and Google is simply too high. The critical moment when I need information stored on my account, or access communication services I have relied on my work, the services fail. They have been designed that way, and nothing I say or do will change it.

Since I will be traveling (and writing about it), I have started a long process of creating a whole new cloud working environment for me and for people I work with. It takes time and effort, because some choices prove to be wrong and as painful it is, switching to another tool is better than limping ahead with an unreliable or unsecure tool.

What can a traveling remote worker, or digital nomad, who doesn’t have tools provided by corporate IT department do without Google or Yahoo? Here are some suggestions. I may update them as my migration process progresses:

– An email account from a reliable ISP (hosting company). Many ISPs give a large inbox (up to 1 GB) for the price of a domain name. Annual cost around 10-15 USD/Euros.
– Flickr is an excellent photo service – if you can login to your account. I am still looking for a replacement for it (won’t be Google Photos).
– Some hosted email services come with a calendar, some ISPs charge extra for it. I have been trying out Sunrise and Moxtra that are free.
– Google Plus social media service can be important for some people, but it wasn’t critical for me. Goodbye Google+. Other social media services, like Twitter or Instagram have co-operated smoothly with me on the road.
– In addition to backing up data to an external drive, find a cloud backup service. Forget Google Drive, and pay a few euros/dollars per month to a company that really knows what they are doing. I am traveling in Europe, so Hubic servers in France are never far away from places I am staying.
– Google Analytics can be difficult to replace as the web site analytics tool, but we are trying out Piwik and Open Web Analytics at the moment.

Why am I discontent with Google and Yahoo services alone? Surely, I must be using social media services as well? Yes, I am. It is just that, for instance, Twitter, Dropbox, Skype, or Instagram have made life easy for customers who are traveling. They know someone is accessing your account from a new place, tell you about it, ask if everything is all right, and act accordingly. The difference with Google and Yahoo is that these services just work.

Online security is not easy. Customers want to be assured that their accounts are in safe hands. For a service provider, it means balancing between ease of use and requiring customers to take a few extra steps. Yet, even tight security can be implemented so that customers who prove their identity are not locked out from the services they rely on their work.


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Google won the US Supreme Court case for making book extracts available for searching and viewing online

2016-04-20

On April 18th, 2016 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Google in its long legal fight against the Authors Guild organization. The April 18 ruling means that the Supreme Court will not review the case that originally was filed in 2005 against Google by the Authors Guild.

The Authors Guild initiated the court case 11 years ago because the association believed (and still believes) that Google was violating copyright laws.

In 2004, Google started scanning books stored on the shelves of libraries, archives, universities and other places that had large book collections. The objective was nothing more or nothing less than to scan all the books of the world and make them searchable online. For Google, it was a mission of making all written information the humankind had created available to everyone. On the side, it could serve ads to visitors who were browsing the indexed books and make a profit.

Google started the project without asking for permissions from anyone. Google’s savvy engineers simply built clever and fast scanning machines for the job. Company’s huge data centers were ready to index and store everything that could be recovered from old (and new) books.

In the early days of the project, the U.S. based Authors Guild organization that looks after the interest of writers tried to negotiate with Google. The Guild wanted Google to stop scanning books or start paying royalties for authors whose books were not in public domain. Google declined, stating it only makes extracts available, but since then, the company has been in court in the US and in some other countries.

It has been estimated that Google had scanned 30 million books in 2012, and the work continues.

Now, however, Google has won the case, and that should be the end of it in the U.S.

google books herders boots

From the book The Herder’s Boots. http://klaava.com/the-herders-boots/

You can take a look at how Google Books works by visiting the Google search page and choosing Books. When you search, the results will be extracted from books only. This means not only old pritn books but also new ebooks. When, for instance, Klaava makes a new ebook available at Google Play online bookstore, it also automatically becomes searchable in Google Books. You can read random pages of a copyrighted work, but not the whole book in Google Books.

In Europe, EU kicked off the Europeana program in 2005 to preserve the cultural heritage of European countries. Europeana stores digitally works that have entered the public domain. It has archived more than 52 million books, artworks and other items so far. If you are interested in history, cultures or art, it is a highly recommended destination.

Europeana is run by the European Commission and hasn’t been in court because of suspected copyright violations.
europeana homepage

What does the Google vs. Authors Guild court ruling mean for authors? Not much. Perhaps some out-of-print books will be made available as ebooks because there is enough interest among audiences to read them. It should not be harmful for authors that brief extracts are available for searching and viewing. It helps book discovery and probably silences the urge to demand a share of revenue that Google makes from ads it may some day display with the book extracts.