Lots of people have lots of questions about Google policies, products, and services. Let's try unofficially answer some of them here.
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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
It seems like almost every day I get junk solicitation spam phone calls "from Google." They call about my Google business local listings, about my not being on the first page of Google search results, and so on -- and they want me to pay them to "fix" this stuff. When I look up the Caller ID numbers they use, I often finds pages of people claiming they're Google phone numbers. Sometimes the Caller ID display actually says Google! Is Google really doing this?

(At Lauren's Blog: https://lauren.vortex.com/2016/08/google-questions-unofficial-answers-does-google-make-junk-solicitation-phone-calls)

Negative. NONE of these calls are from Google. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

These callers are inevitably "SEO" (Search Engine Optimization) scammers of one sort or another. They make millions of "cold calls" to businesses using public phone listings (from the Web or other sources) or using phone number lists purchased from brokers.

If you ever actually deal with them, you'll find that their services typically range from useless to dangerous -- "black hat" SEO firms often use illicit techniques to try boost search rank, which can result in your being demoted or even banned from Google search entirely.

These callers usually either falsely identify themselves as actually calling "from Google" -- or they may say they're "calling about your Google account" -- or similar words to that effect.

Now about those "Google, Inc." Caller ID numbers on these calls. They're always fakes of one sort or another.

As you may have heard, Caller ID -- which a relatively ancient control and signalling methodology not designed for the 21st century -- is easily and widely spoofed with false names and numbers. You cannot put any reliance whatsoever on what Caller ID tells you these days.

For example, one common technique is for a scammer in some distant call center "boiler room" to set the Caller ID to a "local"-appearing number, sometimes combined with the name of a local business, in an attempt to make the call more attractive for you to answer. As you can imagine, the innocent parties whose names or numbers are abused in this manner are also victims of these spammers and scammers.

And that's how these SEO crooks operate. They spoof the Caller ID system to falsely show numbers (and/or names) that are associated with Google -- such as numbers used for 2-factor authentication calls or various Google Voice numbers -- to try fool you into thinking that the calls themselves are coming from Google, Inc.

Various persons unaware of how this spoofing works then list those numbers on "spam alert" site pages claiming that the numbers indicate that Google is actually making the calls. They are incorrect -- again, Google never is the source of such calls.

Also -- and this is very important and an issue I touched on in some other Q&As on this page -- Google NEVER uses the phone numbers you provide them for account recovery and/or 2-factor authentication for any other purpose without your explicit permission, never uses them for solicitation calls, doesn't sell them to third parties -- and ... you get the idea. And by the way, you really do want to proactively set up account recovery and 2-factor -- as per the Q&A items at:

https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/L3DcshM4Nmi

and:

https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/avKcX7QmASi

The bottom line is that none of those harassing, scammy, SEO phone calls are from Google.

And frankly, you really don't want to deal with any of the firms who are actually making those calls -- unless you're a masochist with money to burn who wants to ruin your site's reputation, that is.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
– – –
The correct term is “Internet” NOT “internet” — please don’t fall into the trap of using the latter. It’s just plain wrong!

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Philip Whiteland

Question Submissions  - 
 
I have bought a used Cubit P 12 phone, reset to factory standard.

When I switch it on, it checks which wi-fi network I want to be connected to and authorises that. Then it goes to a screen entitled ‘Verifying your account’, which relates to the Google account. Here it says ‘This device was reset. To continue, sign in with a Google account that was previously synced on this device’ and asks for an email address and password. When I enter the email address and password associated with my Google account, it just bounces me back to the ‘Verifying your account’ page!

Help please!
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Lauren Weinstein's profile photoPhilip Whiteland's profile photo
2 comments
 
Thanks Lauren, much appreciated ☺
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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
A "Google Q&A Space" for additional messaging discussion of Google Questions and Unofficial Answers (and related topics) is now at: https://goo.gl/spaces/1kkXB7fQD3vXJ34B6
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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
I was just looking at my Google login Recently Used Devices log, and I see logins on my account from unfamiliar locations. Am I being hacked?

Probably not. But here's the deal. The Recently Used Devices page:

https://security.google.com/settings/security/activity

shows devices that have logged into your Google account with locations derived from the Internet IP addresses. Typically those addresses (which can vary over time, depending on your ISP and service type) will be located fairly close by to your physical location. But that isn't necessarily the case!

Mobile carriers in particular, but also DSL, cable, fiber, and other ISPs, may assign IP addresses at a considerable distance from you, normally related to how their internal networks are organized. Since such networks may often be reconfigured, your IP addresses locations can change as well.

For example, my cable provider here in Los Angeles originally located my IP addresses to nearby Chatsworth. Then the addresses moved to Orange County -- still here in Southern California, but much further away. At one point, my IP addresses were showing as being in Kansas! Yes, they can sometimes show as being thousands of miles away from your true location (and again, this is particularly common with mobile service Internet ISPs).

The upshot of all this is that when you look at that activity log, the pattern of logins is particularly important. Over time you'll typically see a relatively stable pattern of login locations, that may or may not seem very near to you physically. What you really want to be watching for in particular is serious outliers, such as devices logging in that you've never heard of, logins at unusual times, or extremely bizarre locations (e.g., from "exotic" other countries).

I'd like to emphasize though that the best way to proactively avoid login hacks is by using Google's 2-Step Verification system, as discussed here:

https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/avKcX7QmASi

Seriously, you do want to set that up.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --

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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
Table of Contents
(Updated: April 3, 2016)
= = =
When I watch videos on YouTube -- especially clips from old TV shows and such -- I frequently see that the video image is stretched out horizontally, making everything look kind kinda fat and distorted, or there often seem to be areas of the image that are missing at the edges. Why can't YouTube get this right?
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/4AGDnYmUG5w
= = =
I was just looking at my Google login Recently Used Devices log, and I see logins on my account from unfamiliar locations. Am I being hacked?
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/3o85jKzvtxL
= = =
What happens to files I've stored on Google Drive when any storage promotions end, or if I stop paying for extra storage? And how about a Google Drive usage tip?
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/7C4nxgqEsxC
= = =
Is it true that France and other countries are now demanding the right to censor Google Search Results for everyone, everywhere on Earth? Isn't this "Right To Be Forgotten" stuff getting out of hand?
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/Ps7mBJaU8YL
= = =
I've been locked out of my Google account! What can I do? How can I prevent this in the future? HELP!
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/L3DcshM4Nmi
= = =
Do I really need to bother with Google's 2-Step Verification system? I don't need more hassle and my passwords are pretty good.
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/avKcX7QmASi
= = =
Why does Google's YouTube seem so biased against ordinary users who upload videos? I've unfairly had my videos blocked, received copyright strikes for my own materials, and even had my account suspended -- and it's impossible to reach anyone at YouTube to complain!
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/K8ST9dTLwHr
= = =
Who inside Google has access to my data at Google? I've heard that employees can see everything!
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/PAKH92rtYHG
= = =
How much does it cost to buy a highly ranked search result on Google? I get emails and phone calls all the time offering this service!
= = =
Does Google give direct access to its servers and associated user data to NSA, the FBI, or other government agencies?
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/hrSHPQUkrRH
= = =
Does Google sell my personal information to third parties? After all, look at those personalized ads!
https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein/posts/gME7CFWLRyv
= = =
-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
I've been locked out of my Google account! What can I do? How can I prevent this in the future? HELP! (Updated: March 28, 2016)

(At Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/001159.html)

Locked out of your Google account, eh? Yeah, that can definitely ruin your day, especially when you depend on Gmail and other Google services. The best way to avoid this problem is to take proactive steps ahead of time, which I'll get to in a moment. But for now, you just want back in, right?

Basically, whether your lockout is for entirely innocent reasons -- for example, forgetting your password -- or the account was suspended due to Google suspecting some form of illegal activity or terms of service violation, the entry point to the account recovery system is the forms that start here:

https://www.google.com/accounts/recovery

These will guide you through a series of questions that in most cases can get you up and running again in short order.

In practice, how painless this process will be depends on a number of factors.

For example, if your account has been suspended/closed by Google for what they suspect are illicit or otherwise improper activities, you will likely face an appeals process (even if you're actually innocent) that -- frankly -- is not ideal. This is an area where Google continues to improve but more work still needs to be done.

In simpler cases -- like the forgotten password -- the situation should be much smoother, especially if you've proactively (that is, previously) set up the account recovery options that Google offers here:

https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/183723

This allows you to specify a non-Google email address and/or mobile number to receive recovery codes that you can use to regain access to your Google account. Don't be paranoid about giving Google this information. They're not going to use it for anything other than helping you get back into your account or dealing with other account-related issues, and they won't give this info to anyone else.

Of course, you need to have set these up in advance of having access problems for these techniques to be useful -- that's why Google prompts you to do so at intervals. So set them up! If you don't have an alternate email or mobile phone, and can't get either, then at the very least you should ask a highly trusted friend or relative to allow you to use theirs for this purpose. This definitely isn't ideal and should be avoided if possible for obvious reasons, but can be a practical alternative that is better than not having any recovery data specified at all.

If you're locked out and haven't set up recovery email or phone numbers, things get tougher. Google has been wisely ending support for security questions, because -- well -- they suck for all kinds of reasons. I've long marveled at how so many people seem to feel that they must answer security questions honestly (who really needs to know the name of your first grade teacher?), but really, security questions have become more of a problem than solution. More info on this at:

https://security.googleblog.com/2015/05/new-research-some-tough-questions-for.html

In some cases, if you don't have security phone numbers or addresses on file when you lose account access, Google's recovery forms will alternatively ask you a series of questions about your account that typically only you would know the answers to. The problem is that you may not remember the correct answers to those questions either -- many people don't -- so you really do want to set up that recovery data ahead of time and avoid getting to this point, or to other even more complicated aspects of the recovery flow. So again, please do take the time to specify the recovery phone and/or email address in advance of needing them!

A couple of related points:

Did you know that you can download virtually all of your data you have stored with Google? Yep, email, files, all kinds of goodies. You can take them to another service or just store them on flash drives under your bed if you're into that kind of thing.

Take a look at the very cool Google Takeout system at:

https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout

You can also use this page for the same purpose:

https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3024190

I wish all firms provided a feature like this. Note however that this is not a way to download your data after you've been locked out of your account -- you need regular account access to use it. I have long felt that there should be some means for downloading your own data from Google in various situations even if you have lost access to the account for some reason not involving violations of law -- after all, it's still your data -- but this is admittedly a quite complicated issue that goes beyond the scope of this posting.

Finally, there's the unpleasant but unavoidable question of what happens to your data if you're incapacitated or even die. Google has two primary mechanisms for dealing with this. In the latter case, the form at:

https://support.google.com/accounts/contact/deceased

is available to help deal with related issues after the fact.

But a much better alternative is to designate who should have access to your account in the future, if for some reason you are unable to access it for some period of time that you specify. This is handled through Google's Inactive Account Manager, which is here:

https://www.google.com/settings/account/inactive

Again, this is a feature that you must proactively configure in advance for it to be useful.

When it comes to avoiding problems with accessing your Google account, planning ahead and taking advantage of the many features and tools that Google makes available for this purpose, makes a great deal of sense.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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eden will's profile photoLauren Weinstein's profile photo
3 comments
 
+eden will For 2-factor, did your friend take a batch of backup 2-factor codes with them? Google strongly urges printing those out and keeping them available. Since they don't depend on anything electronic to deliver a code to you, they should always work for a 2-factor login, and can be refreshed at any time. Also, if your friend had already set up a recovery email, I don't understand offhand why they'd normally ever get to the point where they'd be asked the questions -- those are basically a fallback for when no recovery mechanisms were enabled in advance. Feel free to contact me privately with more info and I'll see if I can help.
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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
Why does Google's YouTube seem so biased against ordinary users who upload videos? I've unfairly had my videos blocked, received copyright strikes for my own materials, and even had my account suspended -- and it's impossible to reach anyone at YouTube to complain!

(At Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/001158.html)

No, YouTube isn't biased against you -- not voluntarily, anyway. But it could definitely be argued that the copyright legal landscape -- particularly in the mainstream entertainment industry -- is indeed biased against the "little guys," and Google's YouTube must obey the laws as written. What's more, YouTube exists at the "bleeding edge" of the intersection of technology and law, where there's oh so much that goes bump in the night.

Let's begin with a fact. The amount of video being uploaded by users around the globe into YouTube at any given moment is staggering. As of July 2015 last year, something like 400 hours of video were being uploaded every minute (!), up from 300 the previous November. You can only imagine how much is pouring in today. That's one hell of a lot of video.

When we talk about uploaded videos, it's not just Internet bandwidth and disk space, it's also processing such as transcoding, sorting, analysis, and much more -- a whole array of activities triggered by every single "simple" YouTube upload.

At these kinds of data volume levels, pretty much everything has to be entirely automated for the overwhelmingly vast majority of videos. Manual processing, or manual responses to every or even most user queries or complaints, would be utterly impractical.

Obviously, money is an important aspect of YouTube. Content owners can earn revenue from user views of their content via ads, and Google generates income in the process. Since there are crooks around attempting to game that system (e.g., through false clicks and fake views), significant resources must be devoted to detecting and eliminating their impact as well. And YouTube operations don't come cheap. Outside of the uploading numbers above, think about all the people using YouTube-related resources to view videos at any given moment around the world. YouTube has over a billion users. Hundreds of millions of video hours are viewed via billions of YouTube clicks every day! And yes, Google wants to quite appropriately make a profit with YouTube as well.

This brings us to the real heart of the matter, where brilliant YouTube engineering meets The Twilight Zone -- in other words (drum roll, please): the legal system.

Here is a truism that may give you a headache to even think about: Many of the key aspects of YouTube that ordinary video uploaders consider to be the most bizarre and unfair are fundamental requirements to helping make YouTube possible at all!

Without YouTube's Content ID system that permits content owners to detect and monetize material they own that YouTube users have uploaded without permission or rights (e.g. popular music clips, to name but one of many examples), the likely outcome in the vast majority of cases would be complete takedowns under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and other laws -- again, all of which Google/YouTube must comply.

A big plus for all of us from Content ID -- and key to keeping so many great videos available on YouTube -- is that it provides content owners with alternative options to total takedowns -- such as blocking only in certain geographic areas, monetization by the content owner rather than the unauthorized uploader, and so on. Similarly, the YouTube "three strikes" copyright violations policy, and other related Terms of Use policies, are themselves alternatives to the otherwise "most likely under the law" outcomes of immediate account terminations and even legal actions being taken against unauthorized uploaders by content owners.

None of this is to suggest that everything is butterflies and rainbows with Content ID. Like any system -- especially one that rides the thin line between technology and the volatile world of courts and lawyers -- it is not a perfect mechanism.

Crooks are continually trying to circumvent Content ID, to monetize videos over which they have no rights at all. I've made a sort of a hobby (yeah, I have some eclectic hobbies) of watching for these and reporting them to YouTube, but they're fairly easy to find. Just do a search on YouTube for pretty much any well known movie you've ever heard of, or most popular television shows even many decades old. Odds are you'll get lots of results, many of them seeming incredibly recent (like uploaded only a day or even just a few hours ago). Their large quantity suggests automated systems doing the uploading, usually to short-term "throw-away" accounts. If you actually try to view these videos, you'll typically find they're either nothing but raw spam -- displaying a link urging you to go to pirate sites to see the actual videos (where you're likely to be met with dubious credit card requests, malware, or worse), or monetized versions of the films or shows that have been altered in ways to try evade Content ID for as long as possible (the methods employed range from comparatively subtle, to horrific and bizarre visual distortions).

I hate these kinds of outright cheaters. They're trying to manipulate users into viewing spam and/or substandard perversions of the original films or programs, to try make money from content over which they have zero rights. YouTube is constantly working to fight them, but as a fan of classic movies and TV -- and of YouTube -- I personally feel that this category of copyright violators deserve no leniency.

The flip side is that there are situations where innocent users can become inappropriately targeted by Content ID or YouTube's copyright strikes reporting systems, via false positive Content ID hits, inappropriate copyright claims, and associated video demonetizations, takedowns, and account suspension/termination actions.

False claims against YouTube videos by content owners (or purported content owners), either purposefully and accidentally, both by design and sloppiness, occur every day. At YouTube scale, significant numbers of users are affected.

Such situations can get pretty "meta" too. There are all sorts of complexities surrounding figuring out what is actually "public domain" video, and how to deal with it. For example, think about the case of a content owner who uses public domain material in their own production, who then inappropriately claims rights against a third-party production that happened to use the same public domain clip as that claiming party. There are also cases of content claimants claiming the rights to materials completely produced by someone else, when that original material was partially or wholly incorporated into a larger production by the claimant. Your head spinning yet?

The concept of "fair use" -- tough even for the courts to deal with over the years -- is currently very difficult to incorporate in a useful form into scanning algorithms. Classical music has been a traditional problem as well. I personally know one YouTube user who performs long classical pieces on the piano, who has repeatedly had his YouTube videos demonetized because Content ID was trying to incorrectly claim his performances for other parties (this is a tough kind of case, because high quality performances of the same classical piano composition performed by two different excellent players can sound very similar). The poor guy actually was resorting to purposely incorporating errors into his piano recordings to try differentiate them when uploaded. Fortunately, YouTube has been making considerable technical strides in minimizing the problems that have affected him and other users related to these kinds of analysis.

Yes, when false claims or other similar problems hit an ordinary uploader's YouTube video, it could indeed seem like a Kafkaesque, automated forms ordeal to try resolve them. This situation is improving -- YouTube has actually been making dramatic improvements in their claim/counterclaim resolution flow -- although some problems in these respects still definitely persist.

Keep in mind -- as was noted earlier -- that at these video upload volume levels, most or all stages of the process must by definition involve automated rather than human-based analysis, but also crucially, the DMCA and other related laws impose an extremely limited range of options with which YouTube can deal with these situations and stay within those laws as YouTube must -- even in some cases when faced with abusers of the DMCA who make repeated false content claims.

Google knows there's a lot more work to do in this context. YouTube last month publicly announced (https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/youtube/x3aGmn_MsqI) the creation of a new team specifically to improve transparency, communications, and associated processes across a range of these issues. What we also need is reform of the entire copyright ecosystem to more fairly treat ordinary users instead of the "guilty until proven innocent" skew that current content ownership/copyright laws tend to require -- though given our current toxic political environment I wouldn't bet the farm on the likelihood of positive legal changes in this regard anytime soon.

The various Google/YouTube teams who breathe this stuff 24/7/365 try very hard to get it all right. But when it comes to video and the Internet, especially when one considers the multitude of complicated, multidisciplinary aspects, nothing is trivial nor comes easily in the associated technical, policy, or legal realms.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
How much does it cost to buy a highly ranked search result on Google? I get emails and phone calls all the time offering this service!

I get those calls and emails too. Every day. The technical term for them is CROOKED. Whether they claim to be from Google or "Google Partners" (both claims are always false) -- or something else entirely, they're either going to take your money and accomplish nothing of value to you or users of your site, or they'll take your money and not do anything at all. Except maybe add it to their vacation fund. Let's get this straight once and for all -- Google doesn't sell organic search results positions. Let's look further into this below ...

Organic (also called "natural") search results are the results of your query on Google Search that are generated by Google's algorithms working to find the most useful and relevant results for the user making the query. Those algorithms involve a vast number of different inputs and signals, and whether or not someone is paying for ads displayed with those searches does not impact those organic results.

Above these results (and traditionally in the column to the right of these results) may be advertisements, which are clearly labeled as Ads. These are the result of advertisers bidding to have their ads displayed in relation to searches for specific topics. There are also other items that can appear on the top or right that are not advertisements -- giving quick answers to common questions, more information about the topic (e.g., from Wikipedia or other sources), and so on.

So how can scammers claim to guarantee you great organic search results placements?

Leaving aside the ones who just take your money and head to Vegas, this gets us into the topic of SEO -- Search Engine Optimization.

There are two basic flavors of SEO -- white hat, and black hat.

So-called "white hat" SEO pretty much involves helping you lay out your site so that it is efficient, fast, secure, and otherwise meets many of the parameters (both for desktop and mobile users) that Google considers to be part and parcel of a quality site. All of this is quite important, though fundamentally having quality content on your site that other sites organically link to is foundationally important to achieving high Google Search ranks. For most of this, you could probably do it yourself after a bit of reading and research, but professionals can speed the process in some cases.

White hat SEO experts won't guarantee you specific results, and by definition aren't crooks.

"Black hat" SEO is all about scam artists, and it's a different matter entirely. They typically make all kinds of specific promises that they can't keep, and employ all manner of tricks and illicit gimmicks to try artificially boost your search rank.

Unfortunately for them (and you, if you employ their services), Google is constantly on the watch for such antics, and getting caught using them can result in your site being seriously deranked, or in some cases even banned from Google search results entirely. Talk about a way to ruin your own day.

So if you want the best possible Google Search rank, create a quality site, populate it with quality materials, and don't deal with anyone who claims they have the formula to get you highly ranked Google Search results. The only formula they actually have is the formula for fleecing the unwary into the poor house.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
Does Google sell my personal information to third parties? After all, look at those personalized ads!

This is one of the most Frequently Asked Questions I receive about Google. And the answer is straightforward: No, they don't. But what about those Google-served ads that usually seem so relevant to you? How can the advertisers show those to you if they haven't obtained your personal information from Google? In fact, advertisers are only bidding their ads related to relatively broad categories of interests, not individuals. So for example, if you're looking at a page related to blue unicorns, you might see an ad that a provider of unicorn-related services has indicated to Google they'd like to have shown to unicorn enthusiasts. Google can then display the ad as appropriate, but the advertiser itself has no idea you even exist as an individual user unless you click on their ad to go to their site (essentially, just like most other visits to any site).

What's more, Google provides you with extraordinary control over how ads are displayed to you, permitting you to control interest categories or even opt-out entirely from personalized ads, via their nifty Ad Preferences Manager at:

https://www.google.com/settings/ads

Yeah, pretty cool.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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Allen “Prisoner” Firstenberg's profile photoBrian Bartlett's profile photo
3 comments
 
I've checked what categories (keywords) Google is routing ads to me while online. Two exactly: Computer Software, Computer Hardware. Yep, that's pretty much me!
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About this community

Lots of people have lots of questions about Google policies, products, and services. Most of these questions are serious, some are silly, various are confused, a scattering are paranoid, and quite a few are the result of misinformation. Let's try unofficially answer some of these queries in this community. (Disclaimer: I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so. My opinions expressed here are mine alone. - Lauren Weinstein)
Los Angeles

Brooke Jennings

Question Submissions  - 
 
I was locked out of my Google account three days ago.  I have spent over six hours foolling with Algorithms without getting anywhere. I need human help, which doen't seem to exist.
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Brooke Jennings's profile photoLauren Weinstein's profile photo
6 comments
 
+Brooke Jennings I have deleted your previous comment containing your phone number. Please don't put personal info in public comments! 2-factor should always be used. It's not "too much trouble" -- as your current situation helps to demonstrate, unfortunately.
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Lauren Weinstein
owner

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
When I watch videos on YouTube -- especially clips from old TV shows and such -- I frequently see that the video image is stretched out horizontally, making everything look kind kinda fat and distorted, or there often seem to be areas of the image that are missing at the edges. Why can't YouTube get this right?

The short answer: Don't blame YouTube -- blame the video uploaders! OK, now the longer answer. Video is complicated. There are all sorts of formats, parameters, and settings involved, and there are many ways to mess it up. That said, you'd be hard pressed to find engineers who know more about the intricacies of this topic than at YouTube/Google. And while, sure, things go wrong from time to time, the main reason you're seeing those distorted videos is because the individuals uploading them wanted them to look that way.

OK, I know that sounds a bit mean of me, but it's true. Some uploaders do this accidentally, but most of the time it's a purposeful decision. And as a fan of classic television, I figure that uploaders who purposely ruin videos this way deserve their own special inner circle of hell.

Sometimes these effects are caused by conscious efforts to try defeat YouTube's Content ID copyright-related system, as I've discussed a bit in an earlier question and will discuss in more detail in the future. And in some other cases, uploaders have messed up the settings in their video conversion programs without realizing the visual implications.

But usually, what's going on is uploaders who just can't stand the thought of not filling the entire widescreen YouTube playback area from edge to edge -- often feeling that it looks more "modern" to fill the entire 16 by 9 aspect ratio that became the new standard with the rise of HDTV.

Prior to this, the television standard was a more rectangular 4 by 3 aspect ratio. So what you're often seeing is uploaders who have used various software tools to literally stretch the 4 by 3 image out to fill the 16 by 9 area, creating the distortion effects you've noticed.

Another way to force a 4 by 3 image to fill a 16 by 9 playback window is by zooming in on the original image. This awful technique is even often used by modern TV documentary producers when they want to include 4:3 archival footage.

The far better alternative when dealing with 4 by 3 source material is simply to leave the clips in their native original aspect ratio, by using relatively narrow black bars on the sides of the 16:9 image (technically called pillarboxing, much as black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to fill in other aspect ratio gaps is called letterboxing).

Zooming in 4 by 3 material can be as bad as stretching, though in different ways. Zooming causes the edges of the video or film field to be cut off, and effective resolution/sharpness suffers (and in the case of film, the grain of the film itself becomes more pronounced).

It might be argued that YouTube with sufficient effort could detect some of these situations -- such as stretching in particular -- and correct for them. But that really isn't YouTube's job -- they want to display videos as the uploaders intended, and they provide various means for uploaders to achieve that objective. A better argument perhaps could be made for YouTube viewer controls for adjusting aspect ratio, though nothing like that comes without engineering costs and other trade-offs.

So in the future when you see those distorted video images, or video clips chopped off at the edges and zoomed into blurriness, you'll know who to blame the vast majority of the time -- the uploaders themselves. And hey, you might even -- politely -- note in the video comments your lack of appreciation for such techniques. I've actually had some quite fruitful discussions with YouTube video uploaders that way. You might too. Then again ... don't count on that!

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --

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Lauren Weinstein
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
What happens to files I've stored on Google Drive when any storage promotions end, or if I stop paying for extra storage? And how about a Google Drive usage tip?

Presumably you're concerned that Google might instantly delete your files and then taunt you about it on Twitter? C'mon, we're talking about Google, not Donald Trump. In fact, all your files are safe and you can continue to access them. When promotional or paid storage expires, and you are using more storage than is covered by the remaining storage (e.g. the basic free storage that every Google Drive user has available), you cannot upload new files. But you can still view and read your files, download them, and do essentially everything else with them other than add new ones. Once you've brought your storage usage back down under your current storage ceiling, you can add more files again. Seems pretty fair to me.

A few points to keep in mind: First, your storage limit quota is applied against the combined total of your usage from Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. So it's not just Google Drive files per se to which the quota applies. If you go over quota, you will be unable to receive new e-mail in your Gmail main inbox or folders. Gmail will warn you regarding this condition, but Google's Inbox alternative to Gmail reportedly doesn't currently issue such warnings.

You can get back down under the quota limit by removing (or more likely, downloading then removing!) materials from any of these usage categories. In many cases, emptying items from your Trash folders is the best first step toward regaining free space. Also note that files you've created with Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides don't count against your quota at all.

For more informatoin on all this, please see:

https://support.google.com/a/answer/3118661

Details on checking your storage limit are at:

https://support.google.com/drive/answer/6558

One of my favorite Google Drive usage tips is to print web pages from the Chrome Browser directly to Google Drive (that is, by selecting Google Drive as the destination in the Chrome print dialogue). This is a quick and very effective way to preserve copies of important (or simply amusing) web pages for future reference in case the original pages (or the entire sites) vanish into the ether someday -- as many tend to do.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --

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Allen “Prisoner” Firstenberg's profile photoLauren Weinstein's profile photo
2 comments
 
+Allen Firstenberg I'd declare Inbox not warning about this to be a bug. I'll update the main text above with a specific reference. Thanks.
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Lauren Weinstein
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
Is it true that France and other countries are now demanding the right to censor Google Search Results for everyone, everywhere on Earth? Isn't this "Right To Be Forgotten" stuff getting out of hand?

(At Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/001160.html)

Man, oh man. To use the vernacular, "You ain't just whistling Dixie!" Yes and yes, the "Right To Be Forgotten" (RTBF) is going completely off the rails, and the French government is indeed now claiming that it has the power to control what Google users see around the the entire globe. But it's actually even worse than that. Much worse. Because other countries have already or will soon follow France's lead, triggering the most expansive and potentially damaging quagmire of censorship in the history of civilization -- a "race to the bottom" aimed at destroying free speech planetwide.

Of course, no country openly frames this as an attack on freedom of speech per se. Rather, they employ arguments such as claiming that they're trying to protect their citizens from "unfair" or "unflattering" third-party materials on the Internet (and by the way, irrespective of whether those materials are actually accurate or not).

Note that in the RTBF context these governments are not usually trying to block access to those actual Web pages containing the "undesirable" content. Rather, they've been aiming at search engines -- mainly Google to date -- in a disingenuous attempt to "hide" such pages by making them difficult to locate, even though they still exist and could be accessed if you knew the appropriate URLs.

Much like a prudish librarian who couldn't find a way to actually pull from shelves those books of which she didn't approve, and so settled instead on destroying the library catalog index cards that located those books, European Union (EU) countries and now a growing cavalcade of other nations are trying to "disappear" third-party search results from Google.

One of the basic tenets of government censorship -- likely reaching back to the caveman smearing out cave wall drawings that he found objectionable -- is that censorship virtually always expands to suck ever more oxygen out of free speech over time.

We can clearly see this phenomenon with RTBF, in ways that many observers (including myself) have long predicted would come to pass.

Without getting into all the legal definitions and details here, Google has to obey the laws in countries where it operates. But Google also has an interest -- both to protect itself and its users around the world -- in pushing back when any given country tries imposing conditions that actually exceed the statutory rights of that country, especially in the kinds of international contexts in which large Internet firms operate today. After all, why should the government of Country A have the right to dictate censorship over the populations of countries B through Z?

So when the EU began formulating policies for submission, processing, and determinations regarding RTBF requests, Google initially implemented a procedure for removing the results for approved requests from the individual location-specific versions of Google Search that users in those countries access by default (e.g., for France, that's google.fr).

Almost immediately, EU censorship czars starting expanding their censorship demands. They began complaining that their citizens still had the ability to access other countries' localized versions of Google Search -- and to access the primary international google.com itself -- as workarounds to find search results that their own governments deemed inappropriate for their delicate sensibilities.

Recently, Google agreed to go a step further to satisfy the continuing Orwellian demands of these governments, by actually blocking users in those countries from directly accessing other localized or the non-localized versions of Google, based on those users' origin IP addresses.

But (you guessed it!) France instantly started complaining yet again. They declared that Google's new restrictions weren't good enough, because French citizens could still use tools such as proxies and virtual private networks (VPNs) -- the same kinds of tools that oppressed people around the world use to bypass an array of tyrannical government Internet restrictions -- to see those verboten Google search results on the "forbidden" versions of Google Search.

This brings us to today, with France going even further. They're now asserting the right to force Google to remove search results essentially on demand for all versions of Google Search, around the entire planet. In other words, France claims the right to be the Internet censor not only for France, but for every other country as well, and so for the entire Earth's population.

In fact, it's not just France pushing this nightmarish vision. Early in the discussions of RTBF, the EU was already suggesting that they'd eventually want to move in this same direction. And countries like Russia and China -- both of whom already operate extensive domestic censorship regimes -- are following suit, practically drooling at the idea of globally removing Google Search results that are embarrassing or otherwise potentially disruptive to their dictatorial governments.

An Internet where each individual domestic government asserts the right to impose its own ideas of censorship on a global basis is intolerable, all the more so since we now depend on the Internet not only for so much of our communications in general, but for freedom of speech in particular -- with search engines like Google's being absolutely crucial to this entire Internet ecosystem. The result would inevitably be a "lowest common denominator" disaster for speech freedoms everywhere.

Again, all of this was predictable and predicted. The slippery slope was obvious from the very start. When Wile E. Coyote races off the end of a cliff while chasing the Road Runner, the fact that he remains suspended in midair for a few seconds doesn't mean that he won't shortly be taking the long fall down to the canyon floor.

Unless we put a stop to the expanding, increasingly abusive government censorship represented by the "Right To Be Forgotten" and other similar efforts rising around the world, free speech -- and all of us -- are in for a very painful and damaging fall indeed.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Brian Bartlett's profile photoLauren Weinstein's profile photo
2 comments
 
+Brian Bartlett It's all very complicated. I realize that isn't a satisfying answer.
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Lauren Weinstein
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
Do I really need to bother with Google's 2-Step Verification system? I don't need more hassle and my passwords are pretty good.
(Updated: March 28, 2016)

Hassle? You think that setting up 2-step (aka "2-factor") authentication is a hassle? You don't know the meaning of the word "hassle" until some joker on the other side of the planet rips off your account because your pretty good passwords actually were just this side of Bozo the Clown by today's standards. Google does its best to limit what it views as suspicious logins from unfamiliar places (and notifies you of logins on new devices), but to rely on passwords alone is still taking a big risk. Really, even if you never share your passwords between different companies' services (sharing them that way is a terrible practice), and your passwords seem better than the one here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6iW-8xPw3k -- passwords are still dead man walking.

Yeah, they're history, toast, so stone age that Fred Flintstone would know better than to rely on them alone now when additional options are available.

You simply cannot trust passwords alone today, because so many technological changes have rendered them increasingly vulnerable. Whenever you're offered the ability to use 2-factor systems on your accounts anywhere, even though some of the implementations are relatively crude and substandard, they'll virtually always be better than just relying on passwords, no matter how long, convoluted, and probably difficult to remember you make your "pretty good" passwords. I used to offer guidelines on picking relatively good passwords that would be relatively easy to remember -- there are a variety of techniques.

But even the best of passwords is enhanced enormously by properly implemented 2-factor systems.

And frankly, Google's 2-factor deployment is pretty much the best I've seen anywhere, with the most flexibility. Once you've logged in 2-factor on Google, you can choose to "remember" that status for the current computer or other device, and need usually only provide the 2-factor information again for new logins on new machines. You can receive the 2-factor codes by text messages, voice phone calls, or use an authenticator app that doesn't even need telephone or Internet access -- and printable backup codes can be carried with you as well. You can also choose physical USB security keys that are even more secure. The Google 2-factor system will also work with most apps that need to log in (e.g. Thunderbird for email), using "App Passwords" as explained here:

https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/185833

The point is, there are so many ways to secure your Google account with 2-step/2-factor authentication, that there's no valid excuse for not doing so. You seriously don't want to fall afoul of a sophisticated phishing attack, and end up lying in the dark at 4 AM wondering why you hadn't set up 2-factor to prevent this in the first place.

Convinced now? I hope so. Please, check with your various services and see if they have 2-step/2-factor authentication, and use it if available. The details on setting this up for your Google account -- along with lots of other related information are here: https://www.google.com/landing/2step/

Just do it. Don't be sorry later.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
Who inside Google has access to my data at Google? I've heard that employees can see everything!

Uh, no. You've heard wrong. While it's true that the culture inside Google encourages open discussion among employees -- this is one of Google's enormous strengths -- there are some notable exceptions, and user data is definitely one of those. As a practical matter, user data on production systems effectively lives in an entirely different universe than the engineering and development environments, certainly in terms of access controls. The ability to access user data is not only strictly controlled on a need-to-know basis, but tightly limited to specific use needs -- and audited as well.

Most Googlers never get anywhere near raw user data, and those who do (who must have a demonstrated, approved need to do so) must sign additional agreements above and beyond the normal employee non-disclosures.

When Google engineers need data for routine development and testing purposes, there are mechanisms available for them to use representative anonymized data that fully protects users' privacy, and even access to that is carefully controlled. In some cases, engineers can also use their own user data for development.

Protecting user data is one of many areas where Google's top-notch security and privacy teams have absolutely no sense of humor. Anyone who even attempted to screw around with them would be quickly relegated to the unemployment line (and perhaps also deeply in legal trouble) faster than you could say Mountain View.

The bottom line is that while of course you can't see the details from the outside, Google considers protection of user data to be a top priority, and has put enormous resources into assuring that user data is secure both internally and externally.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Lauren Weinstein
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)  - 
 
Does Google give direct access to its servers and associated user data to NSA, the FBI, or other government agencies?

This nonsense has been floating around since Snowden's easily misinterpreted early slides, released by his press agents in clickbait form without context. The answer is no, Google does not, and they never have. In fact, the more you know about Google culture, the more ludicrous the question itself becomes. Google has never provided such access to outside entities. In fact, even internal access to Google user data is strictly controlled and audited. It is true that Google must respond to valid, lawful, specific court orders for user data, but Google also famously maximally challenges such orders that are overly broad or otherwise inappropriate.

The very concept of Google providing direct access for the government to wander willy-nilly through Google servers is ridiculous when one considers not only the significant number of employees that would necessarily have to be involved in such a super-secret effort -- making keeping it a secret from most employees virtually impossible -- but the fact that there would certainly have been very public mass resignations of Googlers if any such activity had been taking place. Googlers simply wouldn't put up with it.

On a related note, NSA (along with virtually every other intelligence agency on the planet, to the extent of their capabilities) has long considered international communications circuits to be fair game for mass surveillance (in one form or another, this sort of surveillance dates back to the telegraph!). It was concerns about this kind of external surveillance that led Google to encrypt their data communications on the circuits that run between their datacenters.

Unfortunately, not all firms care about their users to this extent.

Be seeing you.

-- Lauren --
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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