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One KUAM: Building bridges for live news in the Pacific


Editor’s note from Ludovic Blecher, Head of Google News Initiative Innovation: The GNI Innovation Challengeprogram is designed to stimulate forward-thinking ideas for the news industry. The story below by Marie Calvo Monge, CEO, KUAM/Pacific Telestations LLC, is part of an innovator seriessharing inspiring stories and lessons from funded projects.

With a population of 50,000 spread across an archipelago of tiny islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in the Pacific has often been too remote for other Guam based broadcast news crews to carry live coverage.

Previously, my organization’s coverage of significant events in the CNMI was handled in one of two ways: we could wait for a tape-delayed file from the island chain’s only local news operation, which was a lengthy process that taxed our workflow and internet bandwidth capabilities. Or we could send a two-person crew to gather the story, which they would edit and publish upon return to Guam, which was costly with airfare, transportation and lodging costing approximately $2,000 per trip.

But that has all changed thanks to the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge funding the One KUAM project, which has enhanced and expanded the quality content our media group produces for and about our Pacific region.

Now, our regional correspondent operates efficiently as a “one-person band” and can send live HD quality video via their mobile device. We’re able to report live from multiple locations on broadcast and streaming, and we’ve even been able to feature live reports in HD from Tinian and Rota, the smaller islands of the archipelago, with a combined population of 5,000. We’re the first broadcast news station on Guam to do this.

These improvements have helped us achieve our goal of expanding our regional coverage and sharing the stories of Indigenous Pacific Islanders with more people. Our expanded coverage has brought more information to the homes of our viewers in the CNMI and also helped show how current issues – from climate change and COVID-19, to military training and cultural revitalization – impact the region as a whole.

The increase in news coverage from the CNMI has also opened up a new advertiser revenue stream, with local businesses and agencies in the region now advertising on our stations to appeal to our expanded audience. Prior to rolling out the One KUAM project, we had no advertisers from that market. Since March 2022, we’ve drawn in nearly $15,000 in advertising revenue from CNMI advertisers.

KUAM gained a noteworthy increase in viewers from our expansion to regional interactive coverage once we began reporting on events in the CNMI last fall. That market has been underserved in news coverage since the start of the pandemic, and our videos published to YouTube have generated an average of 10 times more views than usual from the CNMI. Our Facebook and Instagram posts have been viewed an average of seven times more than our normal traffic benchmarks, and videos on those platforms have been viewed and shared three times more than comparable coverage in our domestic market. Our overall growth of frequent users has increased 5.7%, with the overwhelming majority of those being from the CNMI.

We’ve made the leap from analog to fully digital operations and streamlined the workflow of our journalists. They now can gather and produce news with a more flexible multimedia skill set, integrating functions such as creating their own graphics, cross posting social and web content, and launching live reports for broadcast and live stream in HD directly from their mobile devices. Our new way of connecting to multiple internet connections has transformed the way we incorporate live reports into our productions while the teams can still use their existing cameras and mobile devices.

Our mission now not only includes hyperlocal journalism on Guam and national headlines from the mainland, but also regional stories from across the Western Pacific.

KUAM is Guam’s first commercial broadcast and news media group and has been broadcasting on television and radio for more than 65 years. We’ve also ushered in many innovations in our history. We were the first media group locally to garner national network affiliations (NBC and CBS) and the first to broadcast international sporting and news events locally via satellite. We were also the first to produce local broadcast news on Guam.

The GNI Innovation Challenge support we received has helped us continue that legacy of firsts. We’ve evolved our operation from local and broadcast-centric to the first and only one in the region that’s accessible to a global audience on multiple platforms and devices in a quality HD format.

Helping local journalism in the UK thrive online

Local news is at the heart of all communities – even in big cities. It’s often said London is a ‘city of villages’ and as someone who has grown up, studied and worked in different parts of the capital, I’ve always learnt a lot about my various neighbourhoods through the lens of the local newspaper. From the ‘Surrey Comet’ in Kingston, to the ‘Ham & High’ in Haringey, local journalism shines a light on issues as diverse as local government, culture and important new developments.

Today, thanks to the internet, readers can choose from an incredible array of news sources online. Anyone with a passion can set up a specialist blog and find a following. This is great news for creators and readers like me with a niche interest in anything from arts to architecture. But the online environment and changing audience habits have disrupted traditional business models. Today, local papers and news sites have to work harder than ever to capture – and monetise – audiences' attention with news they’ll enjoy.

One way we support local publishers to meet this challenge is by driving online audiences to their journalism via Google News and Search. In 2021, we sent more than 2.4 billion organic clicks to local news publications in the UK from global users on Google Search and News. A 2019 study by Deloitte in Europe valued each visit between €0.04-0.06 —which equates to more than £84 million in value going to British local news publications from Google traffic alone.

We’ve been working to give local news greater prominence on Google Search and News in recent years, and our latest changes to Google News will help readers discover local content even more easily.

Local publishers often tell us they want to strengthen their digital skills and build on their expertise to further cut through to online audiences. That’s why with the Google News Initiative we are focused on helping local journalism to thrive. We partner with local publishers on new products like Google News Showcase, or the digital portal we developed with the NMA to protect revenue from public notices. On partnerships that support experimentation and innovation in new sustainable business models, and on training to upskill journalists with digital tools and techniques. Our training includes digital verification to tackle misinformation, data journalism and tools that strengthen investigative journalism.

Many local publishers across the UK are already innovating with new digital strategies to pull in new readers and revenues. Today we’re announcing three new programmes that build on this long standing work, and there is more to come.

Supporting local publishers with subscriptions

To be successful in the long term, publishers must have a sustainable digital revenue model. As part of our Digital Growth Programme, we partnered with the NMA and FT Strategies to help 12 local publishers develop the expertise they need to build a blueprint for the future. Local partners like Barnsley Chronicle, Rotherham Advertiser, and Iliffe Media took part, and it’s been great to hear the response:

Jeremy Spooner at the Maidenhead Advertiser said: “The extremely high level of expertise delivered by the FT Strategies team, coupled with their access to insights on how to grow digital subscription revenue would not have been accessible by Baylis Media Ltd, had it not been funded by Google News Initiative. The programme has given the team the confidence to accelerate its Digital Subscription Strategy with a clear methodology now in place and a challenge goal set. Without doubt the programme has provided a significant boost to the Digital Revenue Strategy.”

Today, we’re announcing that we’re expanding the programme for another 12 months in response to feedback from the publishers involved.

A new nationwide training partnership with the National Union of Journalists

As a former journalist, I can begin to understand the pressure to stay across a range of new tools. The team I lead has trained 16,500 UK journalists and journalism students since 2015, with a focus on providing workshops outside of London.

Our new partnership with the National Union of Journalists will build on these efforts, and focus on helping local journalists across the UK and Ireland develop both their journalism and leadership capabilities. They’ll deliver 13 in-person workshops nationwide, and 30 virtual digital skills workshops to ensure the training is fully accessible to all.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said: “This partnership is an opportunity to improve the digital skills of our members, in particular by using technology to verify the authenticity and accuracy of images, videos and reports on social media and elsewhere online – an essential skill for a modern and ethical journalist. The training will also help mid-career members to progress towards leadership roles, with a particular emphasis on groups under-represented within the industry’s management – women, black and minority ethic, disabled and working class journalists.”

Partnering with PA Media on digital skills

Ensuring training programmes reach groups that are underrepresented in journalism is important if UK newsrooms are to better reflect the communities they serve. That's why we’re proud to sponsor the NCTJ’s Journalism Diversity Fund and to have helped support 200 aspiring journalists from diverse backgrounds through their training and into local newsrooms such as WalesOnline, Barnsley Chronicle and Newcastle World.

Today we’re launching a new partnership with PA Media to offer more targeted support for underrepresented groups across two key areas: digital skills and misinformation. First, we’re sponsoring 25 places on PA Media's four-week summer school for students from underrepresented backgrounds, with a particular focus on reaching students in Westminster and Camden – as well as a series of training festivals for 500 journalists. Secondly, we’re supporting PA Media to develop a new training curriculum to help journalists tackle misinformation as part of their daily news gathering processes.

Alongside these partnerships, we provide direct funding to support innovation in local news via the GNI innovation Challenge for Europe, our YouTube Creator Programme for Independent Journalists and our newly announced Global News Equity Fund.

We’re excited to see the impact these news projects have and to keep working with our local partners to help ensure a vibrant future for local British journalism.

Introducing Earth Engine for governments and businesses

We’re at a unique inflection point in our relationship with the planet. We face existential climate threats — a growing crisis already manifesting in extreme weather events, coupled with the loss of nature resulting from human activities such as deforestation. But at the same time, the world is mobilizing around climate action. Citizens are demanding progress, and governments and companies are making unprecedented commitments to transform how we live on this planet — from policy decisions to business practices. Over the years, one of the top climate challenges I’ve heard from businesses, governments and organizations is that they’re drowning in data but thirsty for insights.

So starting today, we’re making Google Earth Engine available to businesses and governments worldwide as an enterprise-grade service through Google Cloud. With access to reliable, up-to-date insights on how our planet is changing, organizations will be better equipped to move their sustainability efforts forward.

Google Earth Engine, which originally launched to scientists and NGOs in 2010, is a leading technology for planetary-scale environmental monitoring. Google Earth Engine combines data from hundreds of satellites and earth observation datasets with powerful cloud computing to show timely, accurate, high-resolution insights about the state of the world’s habitats and ecosystems — and how they’re changing over time. With one of the largest publicly available data catalogs and a global data archive that goes back 50 years and updates every 15 minutes, it’s possible to detect trends and understand correlations between human activities and environmental impact. This technology is already beginning to bring greater transparency and traceability to commodity supply chains, supporting climate resilience and allowing for more sustainable management of natural resources such as forests and water.

Earth Engine will be available at no charge to government researchers, least-developed countries, tribal nations and news organizations. And it will remain available at no cost for nonprofit organizations, research scientists, and other impact users for their non-commercial and research projects.

Earth Engine will also be available to startups that are a part of the Google for Startups Cloud Program. Through this initiative we provide funded startups with access to dedicated mentors, industry experts, product and technical support, and Cloud cost coverage (up to $100,000) for each of the first two years and more.

How organizations are using Earth Engine

Since we announced the preview of Earth Engine in Google Cloud last October, we’ve been working with dozens of companies and organizations across industries — from consumer packaged goods and insurance companies to agriculture technology and the public sector — to use Earth Engine’s satellite imagery and geospatial data in incredible ways.

Land cover change over time from Dynamic World

Dynamic World, a global machine learning derived land classification over time available in Earth Engine's public data catalog, was developed in partnership with World Resources Institute (WRI).

For example, Regrow, a company that helps large consumer packaged goods corporations decarbonize their agricultural practices, started using Earth Engine to report and verify regenerative and sustainable techniques. Through Earth Engine’s analysis of historical and satellite imagery, Regrow can generate granular field data at the state or country levels across millions of acres of farmland around the world.

As climate change causes shifts in biodiversity, Earth Engine is helping communities adapt to the effects of these changes, such as new mosquito outbreaks. SC Johnson partnered with Google Cloud to use Earth Engine to develop a publicly accessible, predictive model of when and where mosquito populations are emerging nationwide. The forecast accounts for billions of individual weather data points and over 60 years of mosquito knowledge in forecasting models.

Animated gif showing the Off!Cast, SC Johnson’s mosquito forecasting tool. A zip code is entered into the tool to show a 7-day forecast that indicates medium, high and very-high.

For organizations that may not have resources dedicated to working with Earth Engine, we’ve continued to grow our partner network to support them. For example, our partner NGIS worked with Rainforest Trust to get action-oriented and tailored insights that can help them conserve 39 million acres of tropical forests around the world.

It’s not too late to protect and restore a livable planet for ourselves and generations to come. Climate change experts have declared the next ten years the ‘Decade of Action’, a critical time to act in order to curb the effects of climate change. Making a global difference will require a transformational change from everyone, including businesses and governments. With Google Earth Engine, we hope to help organizations contribute to this change.

Upgrading from Google Hangouts to Google Chat

In October 2020, we announced Google Chat would be available for everyone. Since then, people could continue using Hangouts or upgrade to Google Chat — available as its own app or within Gmail — to take advantage of its modern features and integration with other Workspace products. We’ve continued to invest in Chat to help people better collaborate and express themselves, and now we’re taking steps to help remaining Hangouts users move to Chat.

A better way to collaborate

Moving to Google Chat opens up new and better ways to connect and collaborate. For example, users can edit Docs, Slides or Sheets with side-by-side editing, making it easier to collaborate while continuing the conversation.

Google Chat also includes Spaces, a dedicated place for topic-based collaboration. Groups and teams can share ideas, work on documents, and manage files and tasks, all from a single location. And, the new integrated view in Gmail makes it easier to use Chat alongside your Gmail inbox, Spaces, and Meet.

Chat and Spaces are easily accessible within Gmail, making it easy to connect and collaborate.

Express yourself

Switching to Chat also makes expressing yourself more fun, whether you’re using emojis with skin-tone selections, rich text editing to give your chats emphasis, @mentions to notify someone in the group or sending a GIF. Now everyone can find just the right way to chime in.

In Chat, people can express themselves easily with features like @mentions, emoji reactions and an integrated GIF picker.

Moving from Hangouts to Chat

An image showing a prompt asking users to upgrade to Hangouts app, and the experience they will get once they upgrade to Chat in Gmail or the Chat app.

Starting today, mobile users will see a screen asking them to upgrade from Hangouts to Chat in Gmail or the Chat app.

First, starting today, people using Hangouts on mobile will see an in-app screen asking them to move to Chat in Gmail or the Chat app. Similarly, people who use the Hangouts Chrome extension will be asked to move to Chat on the web or install the Chat web app. In July, people who use Hangouts in Gmail on the web will be upgraded to Chat in Gmail.

While we encourage everyone to make the switch to Chat, Hangouts on the web will continue to be available until later this year. Users will see an in-product notice at least a month before Hangouts on the web starts redirecting to Chat on the web.

For most people, conversations are automatically migrated from Hangouts to Chat, so it’s easy to pick up where you left off. However, we encourage users who wish to keep a copy of their Hangouts data to use Google Takeout to download their data before Hangouts is no longer available in November 2022 by following these instructions. You can visit the Help Center for more information on the differences between Chat and Hangouts, the migration timelines, and why we recommend downloading your Hangouts data.

The future of Chat

Google Chat offers a modern and integrated experience in Google Workspace. We have big ambitions for the future of Chat, and over the coming months you'll see even more features like direct calling, in-line threading in Spaces and the ability to share and view multiple images. As we take this final step to bring remaining Hangouts users to Chat, we hope users will appreciate our continued investment in making Chat a powerful place to create and collaborate.

Discounts and prizes for small business heroes

Every business has a story: how they started, how they persevered, how they’ve adapted over time. Small businesses are where we have our birthday dinners, find the perfect unique gift for the friend who has everything, and take our favorite shirt with a giant stain to be saved (again). No matter where you live, small businesses are central to our lives and they show up for us in countless ways.

So we’re marking this International Small Business Week with a few new ways to support small businesses, including exclusive product discounts, our first Heroes of Small Business sweepstakes and business scholarships through our partnership with StartOut.

Exclusive product discounts for small businesses

Making it even easier for businesses and people to connect is at the heart of what we do. We’re offering exclusive discounts on digital tools that help small businesses operate more efficiently, reach more people and stay in touch with existing customers and employees:

  • Three months free of Google Workspace
  • 40% off of a domain from Google Domains
  • $130 off a Chromebook
  • 60 days of Shopify Free and a free Shopify-built store

These offers are only available in the U.S. and Canada until July 1. You can learn more and redeem these offers at g.co/smallbiz/week.

Nominate a small business hero

We’re also introducing our first Heroes of Small Business sweepstakes. You have until July 5 to nominate your favorite U.S.-based small business for a chance to win $10,000 for the business — and you’ll receive $500 to spend with them (terms apply). Get started nominating and watch the stories of some small business heroes from across the country at g.co/smallbiz/heroes.

Business scholarships for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs

Google is helping LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs succeed with funds to StartOut, an LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization that helps facilitate mentorship, access to capital and tools to create an equitable playing field. Through StartOut's Acceleration Initiative, Google will fund more than 60 scholarships to help Black, Latinx and female identifying LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses. You can apply on the StartOut website.

Whether you’re a small business owner or just a small business fan, we hope you find a way to celebrate the incredible impact small businesses make on our communities with us this week.

Our commitment to Asia Pacific’s small businesses

Technology can help businesses grow — but only if the people who lead and work for those businesses have the right skills. Today, on Micro-, Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) Day, we’re reaffirming our commitment to Asia Pacific’s small businesses — and putting education and training at the center of our efforts to help them succeed and grow.

Since 2015, we’ve trained 8.5 million MSMEs across the region through our Grow with Google programs and partnerships. We stepped up these efforts when the global pandemic hit, and we’ve seen the impact of working more closely with governments and other businesses to close skills gaps and create opportunities. Our Saphan Digital program in Thailand has trained over 100,000 small businesses, while the Accelerate Vietnam Digital 4.0 initiative has trained 650,000 people. But we recognize there’s much more work ahead to ensure that MSMEs are prepared for longer-term economic and technological change.

Video presenting the story of Indonesian entrepreneur Ibu Ida and how taking her food business online helped her grow sales.
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Over the next year and beyond, we’ll be deepening our existing programs to support small businesses and launching new ones — like Expand with Google in Japan, focusing on helping MSMEs build their capabilities in digital advertising and e-commerce. We’ll also be helping MSMEs find the skilled people they need by expanding access to Google Career Certificates, which develop in-demand skills like IT support, data analytics and user experience design. In partnership with learning institutions and nonprofits, we’re providing free scholarships for certificates in India, Indonesia and Singapore, and we’ll be offering the same opportunity in more countries soon — we’ve committed to providing over 250,000 scholarships across Asia Pacific in 2022.

Video presenting Yesha’s story from deciding to change her career and taking a Google Career Certificate course to finding a job soon after graduation.
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To ensure that opportunities to learn new skills are equitable, we’ll continue to support nonprofits across the region. Since 2019, through our Google.org philanthropic arm, we’ve contributed over $11 million in grants that support underserved MSMEs. We have provided grant funding to help Youth Business International reach more than 180,000 entrepreneurs through its Rapid Response and Recovery Program, as well as to The Asia Foundation — which is working with its partners to train more than 225,000 people through the Go Digital ASEAN initiative, endorsed by the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on MSMEs.

Helping MSMEs in underserved parts of the region will continue to be a major priority — including $4 million in Google.org support for The Asia Foundation, which will expand Go Digital ASEAN with new training programs, including green skills, cybersecurity and financial planning.

Video about three young entrepreneurs who received help from YBI's Rapid Response and Recovery Programme and sustained their business through the pandemic
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Finally, we’ll keep playing our part to foster the next generation of businesses in Asia, through our Google for Startups programs, initiatives like the Women Founders Academy, and partnerships with governments like the ChangGoo program in Korea — which has helped 200 startups and created over 1,100 new jobs. Our developer programs — such as the Appscale Academy in India, a partnership with the MeitY Startup Hub — will continue to help app-makers (like health-technology startup Stamurai) grow globally.

Video presenting the story of Seojung Chang who, after attending a Google for Startups program, raised capital and achieved growth for her startup Jaranda in Korea.
10:25

Whether Asia Pacific’s entrepreneurs are long-established, or just starting out, we’re ready to help them adapt to change and thrive in the digital economy. And we look forward to celebrating their success.

How tech can support transformational growth in Africa

This week, I was privileged to be in Kigali, Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (‘CHOGM’) - a forum that brings together government, business leaders and NGOs from around the world to discuss how to improve the lives of the over 2.5 billion people living in the 54 independent countries that make up the Commonwealth.

Africa is facing multiple challenges. While Covid was first and foremost a health crisis, the economic impact continues to be severe for parts of the continent. The war in Ukraine has added further pressure on supply chains and food security. And Africa’s rapid population growth - 60% of the population will be under 24 by 2025 - creates a further pressing need to generate economic opportunity and ensure people and families can earn a living.

Despite the challenges ahead, the mood at CHOGM was optimistic, focusing on the collaboration and solutions that can help Africa’s economic recovery. For me, harnessing technology is key to that.

I grew up in Zimbabwe, then a Commonwealth country, and discovered the possibilities of the world of programming as a highschooler. Since then I’ve always been fascinated by the role technology can play in creating opportunities and helping to solve large-scale societal problems. My position at Google allows me to focus on how technology can benefit society, and I feel fortunate that it’s taken me back to Africa after just five months in the role.

Google first bet on Africa with the investment in Seacom cable in about 2005: I remember hearing about it from my friends at Google at the time. Two years later, Google opened offices on the continent, and has been a partner in Africa’s economic growth and digital transformation ever since - working with local governments, policymakers, educators and entrepreneurs. Our mission in Africa is to unlock the benefits of the digital economy to everyone - providing helpful products, programmes and investments.

Africa’s internet economy has the potential to grow to $180 billion by 2025 - 5.2% of the continent’s GDP - bringing prosperity, opportunity and growth. African governments and businesses must turn that opportunity into a reality: integrating technology into the economy, ensuring no one is left behind, and emerging stronger from the current challenges.

Ensuring affordable internet access

Most crucial to this is affordable internet access - a precondition for digital transformation, but still a barrier today. Across Africa, only 18% of households have an internet connection, and data costs remain a major obstacle. By actively promoting infrastructure investments, including in rural areas, Governments can support people to get online and harness the economic growth and benefits that will come with that.

Google is already working in partnership with African governments to do this. We’ve enabled over 100 million Africans to access the internet for the first time through our affordable Android devices, and plan to invest $1 billion over the next 5 years in projects that will help enable Africa’s digital transformation, including our state-of-the-art Equiano subsea cable.

The cable, which lands in Namibia in the next few weeks, will provide twenty times more network capacity by connecting Africa with Europe. It will run through South Africa, Namibia, Togo, Nigeria and St Helena, enabling internet speeds up to five times faster and lowering connectivity costs by up to 21%, in turn supporting growth and jobs.

Investing in people

Those accessing the internet need to be able to use it and transform their lives leveraging it. Working with tech companies and NGOs to foster digital skills developments, governments can ensure people can participate fully online.

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, made a commitment in 2017 to train 10 million Africans in digital skills. To date, Google has trained more than 6 million people across Africa through Grow with Google in partnership with local governments, and given $20 million to non-profits helping Africans develop their digital skills. Moreover, Google has committed to certifying 100,000 developers - and so far has certified more than 80,000. Last year, a Google study showed the developer ecosystem in Africa is growing. There are nearly 716,000 professional developers across Africa - of which 21% are women; numbers we hope to contribute to.

Investing in startups

Alongside digital skills, governments need to encourage entrepreneurs and startups - a crucial part of Africa’s economic growth and jobs creation. There has never been a shortage of entrepreneurs in Africa - what is needed are the tools, including technology, and financing to enable them.

Last year, we announced an Africa Investment Fund to support startup growth across Africa. Through the Fund, we invest $50 million in startups like SafeBoda and Carry1st, and provide Google’s people, products and networks to help them build meaningful products for their communities. This is on top of our existing work on the Startups Accelerator Africa, which has provided more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and expert advisors over the last three years. We also launched a Black Founders Fund in 2021, supporting Black African Founders like Shecluded, a digital financial growth resource and service startup for women.

Using technological innovation to solve systemic challenges

Advances in technology are increasingly enabling solutions to development challenges, and with 300 million more people coming online in Africa over the next five years, the possibilities are endless. Digital finance, for example, can be used to address the barriers preventing nearly a billion African women from banking - while advances in AI have made it possible for Google to Translate more languages, including Luganda - spoken by 20 million people here in Rwanda and in neighboring Uganda.

Technology offers Africa a tremendous opportunity for growth, prosperity and opportunity. I’m hopeful that working in partnership, we can continue to make an impact and build on Africa’s digital revolution.

It’s time for more transparency around government data demands

As our lives continue to become more digitized, laws governing government access to personal information need to evolve to protect both public safety and civil liberties.

America’s Stored Communications Act, passed in 1986 (before the internet became a part of daily life), sets the rules governing government demands to providers to disclose information about their users. One of those rules lets the government seek orders to prevent providers like Google from telling users about demands for data. These so-called Non-Disclosure Orders (NDOs) or “gag orders” have become commonplace.

We’re seeing NDOs issued for an increasing number of court orders, warrants, and subpoenas from U.S. authorities. That means that providers can’t notify users until long after compliance, if ever. And that people don’t have the opportunity to go to court to contest disclosure orders.

We’ve seen NDOs issued in cases where the user is already aware of the investigation, and even of the legal demand itself. Similarly, we’ve seen NDOs issued covering legal requests for the data of well-established reputable organizations, even though notifying the organization is highly unlikely to do harm. And we’ve seen some NDOs that might have been initially justified lasting years beyond the investigation, in some cases indefinitely.

It’s time to reform this practice, requiring more robust review before gag orders are issued.

We commend the bipartisan House passage of the NDO Fairness Act, a bill sponsored by Chairman Nadler and Representative Fitzgerald that would make much-needed improvements to the Stored Communications Act. This reform will ensure that gag orders are issued only where warranted and for reasonable periods.

This position is nothing new for us. We’ve long advocated for transparency for both our users and the public. We were the first major company to publish a Transparency Report on government requests for user data and co-founded both the Global Network Initiative and the Reform Government Surveillance coalition. We’ve long supported surveillance reform, including the Email Privacy Act, and legislation to allow providers to be more open about national security requests. We also contest inappropriate gag orders, going to court where necessary (with one case leading the U.S. Department of Justice to pledge to stop using court orders to get journalists’ information in leak investigations). We've also built industry-leading products to give business customers transparency and control over who has access to their data.

Transparency for government data demands is an important check-and-balance, and we urge both the House and Senate to advance this practical protection for Americans in the digital age.

Your Chromebook now works better with your other devices

During CES and I/O this year, we announced a few new Android and Chromebook features designed to help your phone and laptop work better together. Soon you’ll see some of those features roll out to your Chromebooks so you can try them yourself.

Easily access your recent photos

When you’re trying to stay on task, there’s nothing more distracting than switching between your phone and your laptop to get something done. Last year, we introduced Phone Hub, a built-in control center that lets you respond to text messages, check your phone’s battery, turn on tethering and more, all from your Chromebook.

With the latest update, you’ll now also have instant access to the latest photos you took on your phone — even if you’re offline. After taking a picture on your phone, it will automatically appear within Phone Hub on your laptop under “recent photos.” Just click on the image to download it, then it’s ready to be added to a document or email.

No more sending yourself emails with pictures or going through multiple steps to get an image from your phone to your laptop. The next time you’re recapping yesterday’s hike in an email to your friends, you can easily add your best photos to the message, without ever having to pick up your phone.

A zoomed in Chromebook Phone Hub exaggerates the new section called “Recent photos”.

In Phone Hub, you can see recent pictures that were shot on your Android phone.

Coming soon: connect headphones with a tap

Bluetooth-enabled headphones help you stay connected without wires, but that can be difficult when you can’t figure out how to set them up. We’ve all been there – trying to decipher the deeper meaning of tiny blue pulsing LEDs. With Fast Pair coming later this summer, it’s easier than ever to sync headphones or other compatible accessories to your Chromebook.

Just turn on your Chromebook’s Bluetooth, and it will automatically detect when a new pair of Bluetooth headphones are on, are nearby and are ready to be set up. A pop-up notification will appear and with one tap, your new accessory is connected and ready to go. No more digging through settings or struggling to figure out the right button to press to pair your headphones. Fast Pair also saves the connection to your Google Account, so both your Chromebook or a new Android phone will remember your headphones and seamlessly connect to them in the future.

Whether you want to use new headphones to watch a video, join a virtual meeting or listen to music, Fast Pair will make it hassle-free. This feature will be compatible with hundreds of different headphone models — and counting.

An image of a Chromebook showing a notification that headphones are ready to pair. An image of Pixel Buds floats over the picture.

Fast Pair on Chromebook will work with hundreds of headphones, including Pixel Buds.

Plus, share your ideas with Screencast

In case you missed it, earlier this month we announced the new, built-in Screencast app. Screencast lets anyone record, trim, and share transcribed videos automatically uploaded to Google Drive. You can even draw or write on the screen as you record using a touchscreen or stylus to diagram or illustrate key concepts.

Screencast makes it easy for anyone to record instructional videos, software demos, presentations, and more. It will start rolling out this week, so give it a go by tapping the Everything Button and searching for the Screencast app.

Later this year, we’ll introduce even more helpful features that will make all of your devices work better together. In the meantime, we’ll be back to share more exciting Chromebook announcements this summer. Stay tuned.

5 new features for Chrome on iOS

When it comes to getting things done on your iPhone and iPad, there’s no place like Chrome. With the Chrome iOS app, you can securely save your passwords so there’s no need to keep guessing. Your payment and shipping info can be automatically filled when you’re ready to check out, and your favorite tabs and bookmarks can be synced across your devices, whether you're on your phone, tablet, or laptop.

With the next release on Chrome on iOS, we're bringing five new features to iPhone and iPad users.

1. Stronger protection from phishing and malware

Enhanced Safe Browsing can give you more proactive and tailored protections from phishing, malware and other web-based threats — and now we’re extending it to iOS. If you turn on Enhanced Safe Browsing on your iPhone or iPad, Chrome predicts and warns you proactively if web pages are dangerous by sending information about them to Google Safe Browsing to be checked. When you type your credentials into a website, Chrome can warn you if your username and password have been compromised in a third-party data breach. Chrome will then suggest you change them everywhere.

2. Fill in passwords on any app

Google Password Manager is built into Chrome on your computer or Android phone. On iOS, you can set it up as your Autofill provider so Chrome can help you quickly and securely create, store and fill in your passwords into any website or app on your iOS device.

3. Discover something new, or pick up where you left off

We’re making it easier for you to discover new content or start a fresh search in Chrome for iOS when you’ve been away for a while. You’ll still be able to find all your recent tabs, but we’re also making it easier to browse content, start a new Search or easily get back to your most frequently visited sites. This change will also come to Android soon.

Image of Chrome browser new tab page on an iPhone, which includes quick links to recent tabs, bookmarks, history and the Discover feed.

4. Translate websites faster into your language

We’re also using on-device machine learning to make those websites available in your preferred language. In particular, we are launching an updated language identification model to accurately figure out the language of the page you’re visiting, and whether it needs to be translated to match your preferences. As a result, we’re seeing many more successful translations every day.

5. Use Chrome Actions to quickly get things done

Coming soon, we’ll roll out Chrome Actions on iOS to help you get more things done quickly from the Chrome address bar. Soon, you’ll be able to save time by typing an action’s title into the address bar. The Chrome address bar also predicts when you could benefit from a Chrome Action based on the words that have been typed. Chrome Actions make it faster to do common activities on Chrome for iOS such as:

  • Clear Browsing Data
  • Open Incognito Tab
  • Set Chrome as Default Browser
Image of Chrome Actions on iOS, which specifically shows the Chrome address bar with the phrase “delete history” typed in.

We plan to bring even more innovation to Chrome on iOS in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, let us know if there are any features that you want to see by reaching out to us on Twitter @googlechrome.

Meet Nathalia Silva, a Cloud Googler and DEI leader

Welcome to the latest edition of “My Path to Google,” where we talk to Googlers, interns and alumni about how they got to Google, what their roles are like and how they prepared for interviews.

Today’s post features Nathalia Silva — a Toronto-based program manager on the Google Cloud Learning team, and a leader of two employee resource groups supporting Latino Googlers.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Google?

I work on the Google Cloud Learning team, whose mission is to train and certify millions of people on Google Cloud. As a program manager, I oversee processes that help design learning content, offerings and solutions for Google Cloud professionals. Outside of my core work, I’m a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) advocate, Star Wars fan and soccer lover — Fluminense is my favorite team!

How did you first become interested in tech?

I grew up in Rio de Janeiro, a beautiful city in Brazil. My mom and dad always believed in the power of education, but good high schools are expensive in my hometown. They both worked hard to provide access to a quality education for me and my brother. Through my parents' efforts and the support of my grandparents, uncles and aunts, I was able to attend an engineering university. Once I got there, I earned an academic scholarship to study in Toronto. After moving to Canada, most of my new friends were computer science students. They used to tell me about their projects and assignments, which inspired me to start studying computer science and eventually join the tech world.

Why did you apply to work at Google?

While working with local tech communities in Toronto, I met many Googlers who always spoke highly of their jobs and the company culture. This made me want to join the Google family. I also always wanted to work at a global company that fosters curiosity, and Google definitely does that. Most of my teammates love traveling and learning about different cultures — just like me!

Nathalia standing in front of a neon Google sign.

Nathalia in the office.

How did you first get involved in DEI work?

Being a first-generation Latina has helped shape my passion for DEI initiatives. Like many other first-gen college students, I struggled with financial challenges, racial discrimination, frequent homesickness and a lack of networking opportunities. So I founded an academic club offering networking events, workshops and career guidance to college students in Toronto. The club earned several academic awards and has evolved into a group that aims to connect women and kickstart their careers in tech.

How have you continued your DEI advocacy work at Google?

In addition to my previous work supporting groups such as women in tech and immigrants in Canada, I've always looked for a chance to help the Latino community. Once I started working at Google, I got involved with HOLA@ Google, an employee resource group that creates community for Latino Googlers and allies. Today, I am a global lead for HOLA@ and a founder of our local chapter, HOLA@ Toronto.

Nathalia poses in front of a large Android statue (which is dressed up as a cowboy).

Nathalia at Google’s Austin office during a Women in Tech conference in 2019.

What was it like interviewing for Google?

I loved every minute of it. My recruiter was really supportive, which helped make the process feel much more straightforward. It was also amazing to meet many different Googlers. Every Googler who interviewed me was attentive and supportive, which made a big difference in my interview performance.

Any tips for aspiring Googlers?

Never stop learning. Once you get an interview at Google, I recommend visiting both the Google Careers site and, if applicable to the role you’re applying for, Google Cloud’s training website. I didn't have much experience working with the cloud, so Google Cloud's training website was a key tool for me. It houses a number of resources to help you better understand core cloud products and services. Attending community events can also be helpful, since you get access to industry content and networking sessions.

Any advice for your past self?

I wish I could tell my past self to never stop believing in my potential. For some time, I doubted if I could get a job at Google, and this brought a lot of stress and anxiety into my life. Once I fully believed in my capabilities and knowledge, I built the confidence to apply to the role that I have now!

Spyware vendor targets users in Italy and Kazakhstan

Google has been tracking the activities of commercial spyware vendors for years, and taking steps to protect people. Just last week, Google testified at the EU Parliamentary hearing on “Big Tech and Spyware” about the work we have done to monitor and disrupt this thriving industry.

Seven of the nine zero-day vulnerabilities our Threat Analysis Group discovered in 2021 fall into this category: developed by commercial providers and sold to and used by government-backed actors. TAG is actively tracking more than 30 vendors with varying levels of sophistication and public exposure selling exploits or surveillance capabilities to government-backed actors.

Our findings underscore the extent to which commercial surveillance vendors have proliferated capabilities historically only used by governments with the technical expertise to develop and operationalize exploits. This makes the Internet less safe and threatens the trust on which users depend.

Today, alongside Google’s Project Zero, we are detailing capabilities we attribute to RCS Labs, an Italian vendor that uses a combination of tactics, including atypical drive-by downloads as initial infection vectors, to target mobile users on both iOS and Android. We have identified victims located in Italy and Kazakhstan.

Campaign Overview

All campaigns TAG observed originated with a unique link sent to the target. Once clicked, the page attempted to get the user to download and install a malicious application on either Android or iOS. In some cases, we believe the actors worked with the target’s ISP to disable the target’s mobile data connectivity. Once disabled, the attacker would send a malicious link via SMS asking the target to install an application to recover their data connectivity. We believe this is the reason why most of the applications masqueraded as mobile carrier applications. When ISP involvement is not possible, applications are masqueraded as messaging applications.

An example screenshot from one of the attacker controlled sites, www.fb-techsupport[.]com.

An example screenshot from one of the attacker controlled sites, www.fb-techsupport[.]com.

The page, in Italian, asks the user to install one of these applications in order to recover their account. Looking at the code of the page, we can see that only the WhatsApp download links are pointing to attacker controlled content for Android and iOS users.

code

iOS Drive-By

To distribute the iOS application, attackers simply followed Apple instructions on how to distribute proprietary in-house apps to Apple devices and used the itms-services protocol with the following manifest file and using com.ios.Carrier as the identifier.

code

The resulting application is signed with a certificate from a company named 3-1 Mobile SRL (Developer ID: 58UP7GFWAA). The certificate satisfies all of the iOS code signing requirements on any iOS devices because the company was enrolled in the Apple Developer Enterprise Program.

These apps still run inside the iOS app sandbox and are subject to the exact same technical privacy and security enforcement mechanisms (e.g. code side loading) as any App Store apps. They can, however, be sideloaded on any device and don't need to be installed via the App Store. We do not believe the apps were ever available on the App Store.

The app is broken up into multiple parts. It contains a generic privilege escalation exploit wrapper which is used by six different exploits. It also contains a minimalist agent capable of exfiltrating interesting files from the device, such as the Whatsapp database.

The app we analyzed contained the following exploits:

  • CVE-2018-4344internally referred to and publicly known as LightSpeed.
  • CVE-2019-8605 internally referred to as SockPort2 and publicly known as SockPuppet
  • CVE-2020-3837 internally referred to and publicly known as TimeWaste.
  • CVE-2020-9907 internally referred to as AveCesare.
  • CVE-2021-30883 internally referred to as Clicked2, marked as being exploited in-the-wild by Apple in October 2021.
  • CVE-2021-30983 internally referred to as Clicked3, fixed by Apple in December 2021.

All exploits used before 2021 are based on public exploits written by different jailbreaking communities. At the time of discovery, we believe CVE-2021-30883 and CVE-2021-30983were two 0-day exploits. In collaboration with TAG, Project Zero has published the technical analysis of CVE-2021-30983.

Android Drive-By

Installing the downloaded APK requires the victim to enable installation of applications from unknown sources. Although the applications were never available in Google Play, we have notified the Android users of infected devices and implemented changes in Google Play Protect to protect all users.

Android Implant

This analysis is based on fe95855691cada4493641bc4f01eb00c670c002166d6591fe38073dd0ea1d001 that was uploaded to VirusTotal on May 27. We have not identified many differences across versions. This is the same malware family that was described in detail by Lookout on June 16.

The Android app disguises itself as a legitimate Samsung application via its icon:

samsung

When the user launches the application, a webview is opened that displays a legitimate website related to the icon.

Upon installation, it requests many permissions via the Manifest file:

table

The configuration of the application is contained in the res/raw/out resource file. The configuration is encoded with a 105-byte XOR key. The decoding is performed by a native library libvoida2dfae4581f5.so that contains a function to decode the configuration. A configuration looks like the following:

code

Older samples decode the configuration in the Java code with a shorter XOR key.

The C2 communication in this sample is via Firebase Cloud Messaging, while in other samples, Huawei Messaging Service has been observed in use. A second C2 server is provided for uploading data and retrieving modules.

While the APK itself does not contain any exploits, the code hints at the presence of exploits that could be downloaded and executed. Functionality is present to fetch and run remote modules via the DexClassLoader API. These modules can communicate events to the main app. The names of these events show the capabilities of these modules:

code

TAG did not obtain any of the remote modules.

Protecting Users

This campaign is a good reminder that attackers do not always use exploits to achieve the permissions they need. Basic infection vectors and drive by downloads still work and can be very efficient with the help from local ISPs.

To protect our users, we have warned all Android victims, implemented changes in Google Play Protect and disabled Firebase projects used as C2 in this campaign.

How Google is Addressing the Commercial Spyware Industry

We assess, based on the extensive body of research and analysis by TAG and Project Zero, that the commercial spyware industry is thriving and growing at a significant rate. This trend should be concerning to all Internet users.

These vendors are enabling the proliferation of dangerous hacking tools and arming governments that would not be able to develop these capabilities in-house. While use of surveillance technologies may be legal under national or international laws, they are often found to be used by governments for purposes antithetical to democratic values: targeting dissidents, journalists, human rights workers and opposition party politicians.

Aside from these concerns, there are other reasons why this industry presents a risk to the Internet. While vulnerability research is an important contributor to online safety when that research is used to improve the security of products, vendors stockpiling zero-day vulnerabilities in secret poses a severe risk to the Internet especially if the vendor gets compromised. This has happened to multiple spyware vendors over the past ten years, raising the specter that their stockpiles can be released publicly without warning.

This is why when Google discovers these activities, we not only take steps to protect users, but also disclose that information publicly to raise awareness and help the entire ecosystem, in line with our historical commitment to openness and democratic values.

Tackling the harmful practices of the commercial surveillance industry will require a robust, comprehensive approach that includes cooperation among threat intelligence teams, network defenders, academic researchers, governments and technology platforms. We look forward to continuing our work in this space and advancing the safety and security of our users around the world.

Indicators of Compromise

Sample hashes

  • APK available on VirusTotal:
    • e38d7ba21a48ad32963bfe6cb0203afe0839eca9a73268a67422109da282eae3
    • fe95855691cada4493641bc4f01eb00c670c002166d6591fe38073dd0ea1d001
    • 243ea96b2f8f70abc127c8bc1759929e3ad9efc1dec5b51f5788e9896b6d516e
    • a98a224b644d3d88eed27aa05548a41e0178dba93ed9145250f61912e924b3e9
    • c26220c9177c146d6ce21e2f964de47b3dbbab85824e93908d66fa080e13286f
    • 0759a60e09710321dfc42b09518516398785f60e150012d15be88bbb2ea788db
    • 8ef40f13c6192bd8defa7ac0b54ce2454e71b55867bdafc51ecb714d02abfd1a
    • 9146e0ede1c0e9014341ef0859ca62d230bea5d6535d800591a796e8dfe1dff9
    • 6eeb683ee4674fd5553fdc2ca32d77ee733de0e654c6f230f881abf5752696ba

Drive-by download domains

  • fb-techsupport[.]com
  • 119-tim[.]info
  • 133-tre[.]info
  • 146-fastweb[.]info
  • 155-wind[.]info
  • 159-windtre[.]info
  • iliad[.]info
  • kena-mobile[.]info
  • mobilepays[.]info
  • my190[.]info
  • poste-it[.]info
  • ho-mobile[.]online

C2 domains

  • project1-c094e[.]appspot[.]com
  • fintur-a111a[.]appspot[.]com
  • safekeyservice-972cd[.]appspot[.]com
  • comxdjajxclient[.]appspot[.]com
  • comtencentmobileqq-6ffb5[.]appspot[.]com

C2 IPs

  • 93[.]39[.]197[.]234
  • 45[.]148[.]30[.]122
  • 2[.]229[.]68[.]182
  • 2[.]228[.]150[.]86

A search for bold ideas to drive climate action

Google has been committed to climate action for decades — and during that time, we've learned that we can have the biggest impact on our planet by working together. That’s why we’re launching a $30 million Google.org Impact Challenge on Climate Innovation — an open call for ambitious projects from nonprofits and social enterprises that accelerate advances in climate information and action, driven by open data, AI, machine learning and other digital tools.

We’re leading by example at Google by setting a goal to achieve net-zero emissions across all of our operations and value chain, including our consumer hardware products, by 2030. We’re going even further for our data centers and campuses, with a moonshot goal to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy by the end of the decade. Our work to procure clean energy around the world not only helps us decarbonize our own operations, but also greens the local grids where we’re based, benefitting entire regions.

But when it comes to solving a problem as big and urgent as climate change, we get more done when we partner together. So we’re using our technology to make critical climate data available to everyone. Cities are using our Environmental Insights Explorer to better understand their emissions data, solar potential, air quality and tree canopy coverage. Customers are using innovative new tools in Google Cloud like Carbon Footprint, which helps companies accurately measure the gross carbon footprint of their cloud usage. And Google users can make more sustainable choices with information like the carbon footprint of their travel — whether finding flights with lower carbon emissions or choosing fuel-efficient driving directions in Google Maps.

Drive climate action through data

Through theGoogle.org Impact Challenge on Climate Innovation, we'll build on this work by supporting nonprofits and social enterprises that demonstrate the power of digital technology in climate innovation. Six projects will receive $5 million each in funding, along with in-kind donations of Google’s products and technical expertise through Google.org Fellowships and more. These funds will speed up the collection of data and development of tools that advocates, policymakers, businesses and individuals need to drive positive impact.

Open data and advanced digital tools, including AI and machine learning, can give way to new climate solutions that simply wouldn’t have been possible in the past. These technologies can reveal patterns and insights that were otherwise hidden in a mountain of data. Since 2018, Google.org has supported a wide range of climate innovators that can help us make better planning decisions by modeling future outcomes — including projects that map emissions on a global scale; show people the most effective places to restore ecosystems; and help small businesses understand their carbon footprint, to name a few. Tools like these make the climate information around us more accessible and useful.

This year’s Impact Challenge builds off the success of Google.org’s Impact Challenge on Climate in Europe in 2020, and a $6 million Google.org Sustainability Seed Fund launched earlier this year for the Asia-Pacific region.

Apply now with your bold ideas

Applications for the Google.org Impact Challenge on Climate Innovation are now open at g.co/climatechallenge. We encourage organizations to apply early, as priority consideration will be given to proposals received by July 29. Selected organizations will be announced on a rolling basis throughout the year, and the application window will remain open until all six projects have been selected.

How Sales Academy helped three women founders grow

We frequently hear from startup founders that it’s difficult to acquire new customers and partners, especially when they’re just getting started. This can be even more difficult for underrepresented founders like women, who often lack the built-in connections to networks and funding needed to grow. This inequity is one of the reasons why women-led startups received just 2.3% of global venture capital funding in 2020.

We believe equipping founders of all backgrounds with critical sales skills at the beginning of their process is the best way to build confidence for lasting success. Google for Startups Sales Academy is designed to provide startup founders with essential sales skills and practices they can implement immediately to obtain new customers and partnerships and secure funding.

Most recently, we ran a Sales Academy tailored specifically to the needs of women founders in Asia Pacific, during what is a very exciting time to be building a startup in the region. Twelve entrepreneurs participated in weekly training modules based on Google and Accelerate Performance’s signature THRIVE concept, with each session focusing on a specific sales skill, like “Preparing to win with THINK” or “Asking better questions with REQUEST.”

Participating founders reported a 50% increase in overall confidence by the end of the program — exactly the kind of shift in mindset needed to help close the gender gap in startup communities around the world.

After the program’s conclusion late last month, we talked to three of the participants to hear how Sales Academy helped their business grow: Sanskriti Dawle, founder of Thinkerbell Labs, Saloni Mehta, founder of Tactopus Learning Solutions, and Shilpa Datar, founder ofSwayam Analytics.

What inspired you to apply for Google for Startups Sales Academy?

Sanskriti: I’m at the point as a founder where I need to move the business beyond individual impact. With THRIVE, now I have a framework I can use, instead of just instinct, as I grow the business.

Saloni: I’m always eager to learn. Sales Academy felt like school in the best way: combining theory and practical application. This is particularly helpful for entrepreneurs since your brain is all over the place when you’re running a business and you’re always time-poor.

Shilpa: I am not a sales person by nature. I used to struggle with reading cues and nuances in conversations. Sales Academy taught me how to gauge the interest of a person by reading what they say versus what they mean, and how to talk about the benefit of my product, rather than just the feature.

What’s the biggest takeaway you’ve had since joining Sales Academy?

Sanskriti: It made me more confident. I also notice myself having longer conversations and ending most conversations with a solid next step.

Saloni: I’m usually a very direct person and so I tend to avoid small talk. However, with help from Sales Academy, I am making more of an effort to humanize my conversations. It has not only helped me with my conversations, but also made it possible to structure things like handling objections for my entire team.

Shilpa: Sales Academy helped me understand the difference between my product’s features and its benefits very clearly, and helped me communicate that difference to my clients and colleagues in Swayam. Another wonderful benefit that I got is in addressing clients' objections in a structured way.

How did it feel to participate in a program specifically for women founders?

Sanskriti: It was a very powerful training session. When it ended, I started a WhatsApp group to stay connected with and continue to support the other founders who went through the program.

Saloni: It was highly rewarding without being time intensive. The facilitators did a great job of being mindful and respectful of time, and structured each session incredibly well.

Shilpa: Since the whole cohort was female, it was easy to bounce a few thoughts on gender discrimination we face with clients, and I realized that I am not alone in this! Knowing others face the same issue really helped to put client interactions in a different perspective to better handle them.

Learn more about other Google for Startups programs such as ourAccelerator: Women Founders on startup.google.com.

Working with news partners in Asia Pacific

Wake up, check the news … according to this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report, smartphones have become the main way people access news first thing in the morning. This is just one small example of how consumer behavior continues to change and things that seemed radical when I started working in media more than two decades ago — like instant access to always-on news sources — are now the minimum of what we expect as readers.

As we mark 20 years since Google News launched, I’ve been reflecting on the work our team does with news publishers of all sizes in Asia Pacific to support their focus on reaching audiences with the news content that matters to them. Here are some highlights of this recent work and a look at what's coming up.

1. Local solutions for local needs

We work closely with the news industry across the region to develop solutions that work locally. In response to feedback from partners, we’ve developed bespoke programs such as Build New Local in Japan. This program is led by local newspapers to help them use technology to connect and digitally transform so they can become more sustainable and reach new audiences. We provided skills training on design and product thinking, facilitated an idea hackathon and brought local newspapers together to work on common challenges and new business ideas.

In Malaysia, we worked with The Star to conduct design thinking workshops to help determine the best way to maintain online readership and drive revenue, while in Indonesia we’ve worked with publishers like MalukuTerkini.com through the Local News Foundry to address their challenges. And in Australia, we partnered with five regional publishers as part of Project Kookaburra to experiment with new business models and strategies to thrive in the digital age.

2. Broader and deeper publisher engagement

In recent years, we’ve expanded our relationships with news partners and strengthened the way we work together, from conducting business training to providing support for publishers through activities such as the Google News Initiative (GNI) Digital Growth Program. In India, we identified more than 300 small-to-medium news publishers producing original news for local and regional communities and provided technical and product training for teams through the GNI Advertising Lab to help them grow digital ad revenues. The program also helps publishers optimize their content management systems, websites and ads.

We announced the GNI Journalism Emergency Relief Fund in 2020 to deliver urgent aid to thousands of small, medium and local news publishers globally as the news industry dealt with the economic downturn prompted by COVID-19. Many news partners in Asia Pacific benefited from this program — for example in South Korea, Jeonnam Ilbo used these funds to highlight the resilience of businesses affected by COVID-19 and connect them with support.

3. Tackling misinformation and supporting fact checking

The impact of misinformation has been top of mind during the pandemic, as people seek out reliable data, health information and updates. In this context we have worked to support local fact-checking efforts, for example investing in CekFakta, the collaborative fact-checking and verification project with the Indonesian Cyber Media Association, the Indonesian Anti-Slander Society (Mafindo) and the Alliance of Independent Journalists. The GNI was a founding supporter of CekFakta and earlier this year we announced additional investment to expand the fact-checking network.

Ahead of the Philippines’ presidential election, we supported #FactsFirstPH, a coalition of more than 100 news, civil society and business organizations to counter disinformation. They authored and amplified more than 800 fact checks and produced several studies on the nature of disinformation during the election period. We’ve also worked closely with DataLeads in India through the GNI India Training Network to train more than 35,000 journalists, media, educators, fact checkers and journalism students in fact-checking and verification skills.

4. Supporting innovation through products and programs

We work closely with news publishers across the Asia Pacific region to provide financial, technical and training support. More than 340 news publications in Asia Pacific have joined Google News Showcase since it launched in 2020, and we're continuing discussions with even more publishers across the region. This builds upon our proud history of partnering with news businesses around the world to strengthen quality journalism, and is the basis of our continuing efforts to create a thriving news ecosystem in Asia Pacific.

Beyond products, the Google News Initiative works to encourage diversity and innovation in news. This includes partnering on innovation through programs such as the GNI Innovation Challenge, which started in APAC back in 2018. Since the launch, GNI Innovation Challenges have supported more than 200 news organizations around the world, including outlets like Busan Ilbo in Korea and Khabar Lahariya in India.

5. Supporting a diverse news community

Through all our work with the news industry, we aim to help build diversity, fairness and inclusion standards into every program that we deliver and every partnership that we create. In Australia, we partnered with Media Diversity Australia to examine diversity in the local broadcast news industry and in Japan, we launched a news-specific track of the Women Will Leadership Program to help women working in news to advance their careers and support companies seeking to drive change in the work environment. In Korea and Australia, we will welcome new cohorts to leadership programs for journalists returning to work after parental leave.

Looking forward

To further support a diverse news ecosystem, we’re opening applications for the new Global News Equity Fund, which supports news organizations that serve or are owned by members of underrepresented communities. The GNI Global News Equity Fund will provide cash awards to independent journalists and small and medium-sized news organizations producing original news for minority and underrepresented audiences. Applications are open now until July 21 and available in Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Bahasa Indonesia and Thai.

Through these and other programs we work with news partners across the region to support their goals and strengthen quality journalism. I look forward to continuing these partnerships and will have more to share on new initiatives in the coming months.

#WeArePlay: Meet the people behind your apps and games

Every month, over 2.5 billion people visit Google Play to discover millions of apps and games. Behind each of these apps is an entrepreneur (or two… or three) with a unique story to tell. Some have been programming since childhood, others just learned how to code. Some live in busy cities, others in smaller towns. No matter how different their backgrounds are, these creators all have one thing in common — the passion to turn an idea into a growing business.

#WeArePlay celebrates and shares their stories. Over the next few months, you’ll hear from the people and businesses behind Google Play apps and games, and how they’re making an impact around the world.

Our series kicks off spotlighting Yvonne and Alyssa, the London-based mother and daughter duo who created Frobelles — a dress-up game that helps increase representation of African and Caribbean hair styles in the game industry.

You’ll also meet Hand Talk Translator’s Ronaldo, Carlos and Theadeu from Brazil, DailyArt’s Zuzanna from Poland, and TravelSpend’s world-trotting couple Ina and Jonas from Germany.

Gif swipes between photos of Ronaldo, Carlos and Thadeu, Zuzanna, and Ina and Jonas with their respective app names and the #WeArePlay logo.

A big thank you to all the apps and games businesses that are part of our Google Play community. Dive into some of their stories today and stay tuned for more.

How AI creates photorealistic images from text

Pictures of puppy in a nest emerging from a cracked egg. Photos overlooking a steampunk city with airships. Picture of two robots having a romantic evening at the movies.

Have you ever seen a puppy in a nest emerging from a cracked egg? What about a photo that’s overlooking a steampunk city with airships? Or a picture of two robots having a romantic evening at the movies? These might sound far-fetched, but a novel type of machine learning technology called text-to-image generation makes them possible. These models can generate high-quality, photorealistic images from a simple text prompt.

Within Google Research, our scientists and engineers have been exploring text-to-image generation using a variety of AI techniques. After a lot of testing we recently announced two new text-to-image models — Imagen and Parti. Both have the ability to generate photorealistic images but use different approaches. We want to share a little more about how these models work and their potential.

How text-to-image models work

With text-to-image models, people provide a text description and the models produce images matching the description as closely as possible. This can be something as simple as “an apple” or “a cat sitting on a couch” to more complex details, interactions and descriptive indicators like “a cute sloth holding a small treasure chest. A bright golden glow is coming from the chest.”

A picture of a cute sloth holding a small treasure chest. A bright golden glow is coming from the chest

In the past few years, ML models have been trained on large image datasets with corresponding textual descriptions, resulting in higher quality images and a broader range of descriptions. This has sparked major breakthroughs in this area, including Open AI’s DALL-E 2.

How Imagen and Parti work

Imagen and Parti build on previous models. Transformer models are able to process words in relationship to one another in a sentence. They are foundational to how we represent text in our text-to-image models. Both models also use a new technique that helps generate images that more closely match the text description. While Imagen and Parti use similar technology, they pursue different, but complementary strategies.

Imagen is a Diffusion model, which learns to convert a pattern of random dots to images. These images first start as low resolution and then progressively increase in resolution. Recently, Diffusion models have seen success in both image and audio tasks like enhancing image resolution, recoloring black and white photos, editing regions of an image, uncropping images, and text-to-speech synthesis.

Parti’s approach first converts a collection of images into a sequence of code entries, similar to puzzle pieces. A given text prompt is then translated into these code entries and a new image is created. This approach takes advantage of existing research and infrastructure for large language models such as PaLM and is critical for handling long, complex text prompts and producing high-quality images.

These models have many limitations. For example, neither can reliably produce specific counts of objects (e.g. “ten apples”), nor place them correctly based on specific spatial descriptions (e.g. “a red sphere to the left of a blue block with a yellow triangle on it”). Also, as prompts become more complex, the models begin to falter, either missing details or introducing details that were not provided in the prompt. These behaviors are a result of several shortcomings, including lack of explicit training material, limited data representation, and lack of 3D awareness. We hope to address these gaps through broader representations and more effective integration into the text-to-image generation process.

Taking a responsible approach to Imagen and Parti

Text-to-image models are exciting tools for inspiration and creativity. They also come with risks related to disinformation, bias and safety. We’re having discussions around Responsible AI practices and the necessary steps to safely pursue this technology. As an initial step, we’re using easily identifiable watermarks to ensure people can always recognize an Imagen- or Parti-generated image. We’re also conducting experiments to better understand biases of the models, like how they represent people and cultures, while exploring possible mitigations. The Imagen and Parti papers provide extensive discussion of these issues.

What’s next for text-to-image models at Google

We will push on new ideas that combine the best of both models, and expand to related tasks such as adding the ability to interactively generate and edit images through text. We’re also continuing to conduct in-depth comparisons and evaluations to align with our Responsible AI Principles. Our goal is to bring user experiences based on these models to the world in a safe, responsible way that will inspire creativity.

Improve your ZZZs with Fitbit Premium Sleep Profile

A good night’s sleep can help you feel rested and recharged, while also playing a critical role in your overall health and well-being. Since the introduction of Fitbit’s sleep features in 2009, sleep tracking has been incredibly popular – making information previously only available through a sleep lab accessible to users via their wrist. To date, we’ve analyzed 22 billion hours of sleep data, equivalent to the lifespan of over 5,000 tortoises. (Fun facts: a tortoise lives for up to 500 years and there are 60,000 giant tortoises in the world.)

We know our users are motivated to gather even more insight into their sleep, which is why today we’re introducing Sleep Profile. This new Fitbit Premium feature offers a new longitudinal analysis of your sleep patterns. It also makes your sleep data even easier to interpret with fun animal characters, so you can take steps to improve your sleep quality and, in turn, your overall health.

Monthly sleep metrics graphic showcasing each of your month-long metrics like sleep schedule variability, sleep start time, time before sound sleep, sleep duration and deep sleep, with how you compare with others like you.

Fitbit Sleep Profile users will receive a monthly sleep analysis where they can see ideal ranges for someone of a similar age and gender, and where they fall within each – so they see where they could focus on improving.

What sleeper type are you?

These critical data points gathered from your sleep analysis inform your designated Sleep Animal, providing a fun way to understand your sleeping style. Our extensive research and testing found six animal archetypes, each chosen for their distinct trends that correlate each animal's behavior with common user sleeping behaviors and patterns.

The following graphics highlight top traits and habits of each sleeper type, and how yours can impact your day-to-day:

How does it work?

Wear your Fitbit device to sleep for at least 14 nights per calendar month to receive an assessment. The more you wear the device to sleep, the more precise the evaluation. Sleep can vary significantly from night to night, so it’s helpful to analyze your sleep data over a longer period from your own sleep environment to uncover more insights into your habits and how you can improve.

As a Premium member you will see your Sleep Profile, including your sleep animal and monthly sleep analysis, on the first day of every month. Animals can change from month to month, and data collected throughout the month will inform the next animal you receive the following month. There is no “ideal” animal – each one can be used to better understand your sleep patterns and how you can improve your sleep quality.

Based on your sleeper type’s behavior, you will see where your sleep patterns compare to others like you – whether it’s setting a more consistent sleep schedule or creating a bedtime routine like trying the mindfulness content found within the Fitbit app to help you fall asleep faster. Getting quality sleep can play a critical role in your overall health and well-being, with poor sleep being correlated to increased potential health risks including diabetes, cardiovascular problems, obesity, poor cognitive functioning and more. Premium uplevels your Fitbit experience by helping you better understand your sleep patterns, your readiness to exercise and how your body responds to stressors, all with additional guidance and insights to help you achieve your health, fitness and wellness goals.

Sleep Profile is rolling out in the Fitbit app to Premium users with Sense, Versa 3, Versa 2, Charge 5, Luxe or Inspire 2 devices upon launch. Users will receive their first profile during the week of July 4, followed by monthly profiles delivered in the Fitbit app on the 1st of each month. (Note: Sleep Profiles aren't intended for medical purposes and users should consult their health professionals for questions about their health.)

Taking pride in our businesses

A couple of years ago, my partner and I moved to Kentucky, not knowing anyone in the state. Before moving, I extensively researched local websites and online magazines, trying to understand the neighborhoods and get a sense of the community. Somewhere along the way I found Lussi Brown Coffee Bar, a local business run by by a queer woman. Not knowing whether I’d get a response, I eagerly reached out through email, asking questions to get a sense of the community. To my delight, the owner, Sarah Brown (she/they), quickly responded and provided an overview of the rich history of the LGBTQ+ community in Lexington. And of course, she shared recommendations of some of their favorite LGBTQ+ owned businesses in the state too!

As we moved into town, Sarah and their girlfriend welcomed us with open arms, very much making the community immediately feel like home. And our physical home brought that same love, too. Unintentionally, we rented an apartment on a short street filled with LGBTQ+ folks from their 20s through their 70s — in fact, our neighbors called it Kentucky’s “Barbary Lane,” a nod to the tight knit, beloved street of LGBTQ+ folks in Armistead Maupin’s novel “Tales of the City.”

A person in a black shirt and shorts sits at a wooden table outside a coffee shop with a rainbow Pride flag hanging in the window

Owner Sarah Brown (she/they) outside of their coffee shop, Lussi Brown

With that same spirit, we want to make it easier for others to find LGBTQ+ owned businesses in their own community. Starting today, merchants in the U.S. with a verified Business Profile on Google can add an LGBTQ+ owned attribute to their profile, making it easier for customers to find and support them through Search and Maps. This new offering joins the Black-owned, Latino-owned, veteran-owned and women-owned business attributes we already offer, and is yet another way people can support diverse businesses.

An attendee of an event co-hosted by NGLCC and Google, sitting in a yellow chair looking forward

As we celebrate Pride, it’s important to remember visibility and representation are critical, all year round. A flag in the window of a small business has the power to bring queer folks together, to celebrate our joy, honor our history, and fight for our diverse community. It’s our hope that this attribute will allow business owners to celebrate their identity and community with the world.

Supporting journalism in Europe

When people searched for the “Twin Towers” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, access to online news was unreliable. Websites crashed as people tried to keep up with the rapidly-developing story and breaking news couldn’t immediately be found. To make it easier for people to find multiple points of view about the same story, Google News was built to better display, group and sort links to news stories from publishers from around the world. Today, Google News turns 20.

The world has changed a lot in the past 20 years — now anyone with an internet connection has the same access to information as professors and PhD students. The way people learn and seek information has changed as a result. This has led to huge debate about the relationship between platforms like Google and publishers who are navigating this changing world.

With the growth of the internet changing how newspapers are funded, and how people find news, publishers have transformed their business models. Both legacy newspapers and new digital-first companies aresucceeding online by turning to new ways for distribution, analytics, advertising andsubscriptions. Some publishers arereporting record revenues and hiring new journalists. New types of publishers are also emerging, increasing the diversity of information online. Traditional newspaper funding from classified adverts hasshifted online, mainly to so-called "pure plays" that are, or were, formerly owned by newspaper groups.

This commercial success is a result, primarily, of innovation from publishers. Google in turn has sought to partner with publishers by building products like Google News that help people better understand and find news and send valuable traffic to publishers. Each month, people click through from Google Search and Google News to publishers' websites more than 24 billion times around the world. This traffic increases publishers’ readership, builds trust with readers and earns them money through advertising and subscriptions. European publishers are making millions of Euros a year from using our advertising tools.

Beyond Search and advertising, we’re investing in other ways to support journalism - whether it’s funding innovation, training newsrooms in digital skills or developing products like subscription tools, as part of the Google News Initiative. We are also directly paying for content from more than 750 publications in Europe through our licensing product, Google News Showcase.

Alongside these efforts, we have been negotiating with news publishers to license content under the European Copyright Directive, which EU countries are in the process of implementing into national law. So far we have agreements which cover more than 650 publications and we look forward to concluding many more.

And where there have been disputes with publishers in the past, we are making progress to find solutions. This week, after many months of complex negotiations, the French Competition Authority approved our commitments, which will govern the way our negotiations with publishers will work. In Spain, after an almost eight-year hiatus, we are bringing Google News back to Spain. This is thanks to an updated copyright law allowing Spanish media outlets – big and small – to make their own decisions about how their content can be discovered. The removal of Google News in 2014 led to a reduction in both news consumption in Spain and traffic to news sites, especially impacting smaller publishers, so we hope this will do even more to support the Spanish ecosystem.

Creating the right framework for platforms and publishers to work together is fundamental to the future success and sustainability of journalism. Without innovation, publishers will miss the opportunity to reach their readers who are using digital tools to find the information they need.

After all, access to information should not be restricted to PhD students or those in privileged positions. And that’s where technology and policymakers can help journalism reach people wherever they are.