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Google link crashes French Liberty Commission's website

France’s CNIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty) recently reprimanded Google for the way in which the search engine giant has been collecting, processing, and storing consumer data. In the CNIL’s estimation, Google’s data storage policies took a turn into unforgivable and unlawful territory in March of 2012, when the company combined the various privacy policies for all of its different services – including Gmail, Google +, YouTube, and the Google search engine itself – under one single umbrella policy.

The new system allows Google to store consumer data across all of these disparate services, accumulating – if they want, that is – comprehensive documents on who their consumers are, what they like, and what they do on the internet. The CNIL is a staunch opponent to this policy and believes that Google neither informs its users “about the conditions and purposes of processing data,” nor sets any rules for itself on how long collected data can be retained or what it can be used for.

In response to Google’s rampant data collecting policies, the CNIL recently put its foot down. The French liberty commission issued a decision last month, fining Google 150,000 euros for violating citizens’ privacy rights. Furthermore, the CNIL wanted the French people to know about Google’s violation and about the fine. With that in mind, the organization included a mandate in its decision that would require the French version of Google (Google.fr) to post a notice of wrongdoing on its front search engine page for all to see. The notice, which was posted to Google’s site over the weekend – and which was supposed to stay up for two days – informed the public that the search engine company was being punished for “violating the law on ‘information and freedoms.'” It also included a link to the original CNIL decision, in case Google users were curious to learn more.

As it turned out, yes, plenty of Google users in France were interested in learning more. The  link on Google’s homepage got so many hits that the CNIL servers quickly overloaded, effectively crashing the commission’s website well before Google’s 48-hour punishment was over. Whether or not the CNIL will seek to punish Google through different methods now that one of its original mandates has failed will remain to be seen.

 

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NYPD experiments with Google Glass

The long-gestating Google Glass device has grabbed innumerable moments in the limelight since it began beta testing last year, from the good (a doctor at the Ohio State University Medical School who saw practicality in using the Google Glass to give students a first-person look at a surgical procedure) to the bad (a California driver who got a ticket for simply wearing the device while driving) and everything in between. Last month, the Sacramento Kings even announced a plan to have players wear the Google Glass on the floor, an opportunity to give viewers in the audience and at home yet another exciting view of the sports action.

Now, the Google Glass has found one of its biggest potential partners to date: the NYPD. According to an article published by Tech Radar, the New York Police Department has joined Google’s beta testing project (called “Google Glass Explorers”) and will be working over the next few months to determine how Google’s piece of wearable technology can aid in different types of police work. The department currently has two Google headsets in its possession.

Of course, the NYPD could easily find that it has no true use for the Google Glass. The Tech Radar article included a quote from Stephen Davis, Deputy Commissioner, who said that the current interest in Google Glass is mostly just a part of standard operating procedure for the department. In recent years, the NYPD has made a point of trying to become more technologically oriented, and that mission has dictated the testing and review of various types of devices and programs that could prove helpful to law enforcement. Right now, the NYPD truly is “exploring” the Google Glass, experimenting with the capabilities of the wearable technology device and trying to determine whether or not it could have any place within the department.

So what sort of tests has the NYPD been running with the Google Glass? What kinds of applications might the device ultimately serve? Supposedly, the force has yet to take the Glass out into the line of duty, but it seems possible that the Google specs could be vital for collecting footage of crime scenes and arrests. Feasibly, officers in the field could also use the Glass to communicate with department headquarters.

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France rules Google must publicly admit fault on French home page

Google and France have been having a bit of a tiff lately, and now it seems the search and advertising company will be forced to display a public mea culpa of sorts on their French home page.

Today the French data-protection authority Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) announced the Conseil d’Etat administrative court has upheld an original January decision finding Google guilty of violating data privacy laws in France. Aside from a tiny fine — which Google did not appeal — the original ruling dictated that the tech company must post a notice on its google.fr page that disclosed their data privacy violation to French users. Google immediately balked at this part of the ruling and filed the appeal, but today’s decision by the Conseil d’Etat upheld the ruling, finding the punishment suitable as Google failed to sufficiently explain to the French public how they handled and used users’ personal information.

“The company had requested the Conseil d’Etat (the French High Administrative Court) to suspend this publication order. In a ruling dated 7 February 2014, the judge rejected this request,” the CNIL said.

“Google must publish this communiqué for a period of 48 hours in accordance with the modalities set by the Sanctions Committee.”

While a two day span doesn’t seem to be terribly harsh, Google is nonetheless planning to continue to appeal the decision by the Conseil d’Etat, maintaining that their privacy policy is in place to provide the most effective services possible for users.

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Google introduces Terminator-style robots at DARPA Robotic Challenge Trials

The folks at Google have a lot to cheer since their newly acquired company, Schaft, Inc. of Japan, won the robotics challenge trials sponsored by the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The trials were held this weekend at Florida’s Homestead Miami Speedway.

Sixteen teams with robots competed for a place in next year’s final, when DARPA will award a $2 million grand prize to the winner. The robots were designed to complete eight challenging tasks–the kind that would be required as part of response efforts to natural or man-made disasters, such as walking over uneven terrain, clearing away debris, and climbing a ladder.

The winning Schaft robot, a 209-pound humanoid just under five feet tall, scored 27 out of a possible 32 points, beating Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot by seven points. Carnegie Mellon University’s CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform (CHIMP) came in third with 18 points. The top eight performers will get a chance to compete in the 2014 finals.

Adam Jacoff, a robotics research engineer with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, told Live Science that the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials is “one of the biggest robotics evaluations on Earth and dwarf many military robot tests, both in scale of ambition and the actual effort involved.”

In a recent interview with Live Science, DARPA director Arati Prabhakar shared his impressions of the Challenge, saying one thing that impressed him was how difficult it is to program robots to do what to us are simple tasks.

“We were watching the ladder task,” Prabhakar said, “and I think for the five or seven minutes that I was standing there watching, what we were watching was a robot contemplating the ladder, trying to figure it out so it could start walking up this thing. It just makes you realize how the things we take for granted are so complex when you have to program something to do it.”

While this weekend’s Challenge focused on disaster-response robots, Prabhakar said robotic technologies are important to national security.

“We have always been part of the Defense Department, and our core mission is breakthrough technologies for national security,” Prabhakar explained, adding, “In the military context, our warfighters have to do incredibly dangerous tasks as a core part of their missions. As robotics technology advances and we can harvest it to help alleviate those challenges for our warfighters, that’s absolutely something we will be looking to do.”

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Jay Rockefeller to Google: Clean up your search results

West Virginia U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller has a message for Google: it’s time to clean up your search results.

The West Virginia Democrat, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has reportedly issued  a letter to the search engine giant, writing that his staff has conducted a number of search queries that have revealed companies with pending consumer complaints ranking near the top of many search results.

“My staff has conducted a number of test searches using your company’s search engine. Frequently, Internet moving brokers identified in the investigation, which received high numbers of consumer complaints, ranked highly in the search results,” wrote Mr. Rockefeller. “Based upon evidence obtained through the investigation, it appears that some of these companies may be ‘gaming the system’ in order to boost their search rankings.”

The West Virginia Democrat questioned whether Google should adjust their algorithm, noting that link schemes and other various techniques of increasing a site’s pagerank seem to remain effective despite Google’s assertions that such techniques are countered with updates to its algorithm.

“These companies appear to be using paid links to inflate their popularity. For example, one company had tens of thousands of external links to its website and, upon closer review, these links proved to be largely irrelevant,” the West Virginia senator writes. “Because I know that our company devotes significant time and resources to improving the quality of your users’ searches, I am sharing the results of my Committee’s investigation with you and asking you to review them.”

Writing Tuesday,. Mr. Rockefeller notes that, upon further review by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, he will pursue the matter with his fellow U.S. senators. The West Virginia Democrat said the search results were simply a matter of protecting consumers, which Mr. Rockefeller said rely heavily on Google and its increasingly important role within the world of commerce and information and data sharing.

“Internet search is a powerful tool for consumers. It helps them learn more about products and services they are interested in purchasing, and it helps them find the best price and value when they decide to buy. Unfortunately, the Committee’s investigation shows that a number of moving companies are using Internet-based commerce to take advantage of consumers.”