Alphabet's Eric Schmidt: It can be 'very difficult' for Google’s search algorithm to understand truth - So Google is worthless
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google
In the United States' current polarized political environment, the constant publishing of articles with vehemently opposing arguments has made it almost impossible for Google to rank information properly.
"Let's say that this group believes Fact A and this group believes Fact B and you passionately disagree with each other and you are all publishing and writing about it and so forth and so on. It is very difficult for us to understand truth," says Schmidt, referring to the search engine's algorithmic capabilities.
"So when it gets to a contest of Group A versus Group B — you can imagine what I am talking about — it is difficult for us to sort out which rank, A or B, is higher," Schmidt says.
Ranking is the holy grail for Google. And when topics have more consensus, Schmidt is confident in the algorithm's ability to lower the rank of information that is repetitive, exploitative or false. In cases of greater consensus, when the search turns up a piece of incorrect or unreliable information, it is a problem that Google should be able to address by tweaking the algorithm, he says.
"I view those things as bugs as a computer scientist, so if you are manipulating the information and then our system is not doing a good enough job of properly ranking it ... as a computer scientist, I can tell you, this stuff can be detected," says Schmidt.
The problem comes when diametrically opposed viewpoints abound — the Google algorithm can not identify which is misinformation and which is truth.
That's the rub for the tech giant. "Now, there is a line we can't really get across," says Schmidt.
Since the election of President Donald Trump, major tech companies have been condemned for their role in spreading misinformation and fake news. Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google were all hauled before Congressional lawmakers for hearings over their roles in Russian operatives being involved in the 2016 election.
However, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a different issue, sometimes referred to as the "Facebook bubble" or as an echo chamber. Because those companies' algorithms rely, at least in part, on things like "friends" and followers to determine what's displayed in their news feeds, the users are part of the problem.
"That is a core problem of humans that they tend to learn from each other and their friends are like them. And so until we decide collectively that occasionally somebody not like you should be inserted into your database, which is sort of a social values thing, I think we are going to have this problem," the Alphabet boss says.
Google confesses that it tracks user location data even when the setting was turned off
It did so via cell tower data
Android phones gather your location data and send it to Google, even if you’ve turned off location services and don’t have a SIM card, Quartz reported today.
The term “location services” oftentimes refers to exact GPS data for app usage, such as Google Maps finding your best commute route, or Uber figuring out exactly where you’re standing to let drivers know your pickup point. Quartz’s report details a practice in which Google was able to track user locations by triangulating which cell towers were currently servicing a specific device.
Since January, all kinds of Android phones and tablets have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers and sending the encrypted data to Google’s push notifications and messaging management system when connected to the internet. It’s a practice that customers can’t opt out of — even if their phones are factory reset.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge that all modern Android phones use a network sync system that requires mobile country codes and mobile network codes, so tower info called “Cell ID” codes were considered an “additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery.” Google ultimately discarded the cell tower data and didn’t go through with the original plan.
A source familiar with the matter stated that Google added the cell tower data-collecting feature to improve its Firebase Cloud Messaging, where devices have to ping the server at regular intervals in order to receive messages promptly.
The findings are surprising, given that cell tower data is usually held by carrier networks and only shared with outside companies under extreme circumstances. Through Google’s practices this year, an individual’s particular location within a quarter-mile radius or less could be determined with the addresses of multiple cell towers. This has particular security implications for individuals who wish to not be tracked, meaning that the safest way to avoid being tracked at all is probably to stick to burner phones. It could also create a bigger target for hackers looking to obtain personal information.
An update that removes this cell tower data-collecting feature will roll out by the end of this month, according to Google. Google’s terms of service, at the time of publish, still vaguely state, “When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location” using “various technologies... including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell tower.” Google does offer details on how to control Google’s location access points. But as shown by its ToS, the company could admittedly do a better job of making this clearer and simpler for its general consumers.