At last — June has arrived. And in many parts of the U.S. — including HubSpot’s hometown of Boston — that means summer is just around the corner. It’s a new, warmer season around here. A quieter season. A slower season.
For some of us, anyway. But maybe not for Google.
For this search engine giant, May was a fairly busy month. It saw I/O, Google’s annual developer conference, where the company unveiled a number of new products and features — but not without controversy, of course.
While that may have been the biggest news from Google last month, it didn’t stand alone. The company has also announced changes to the way it will label secure (and non-secure) pages on its Chrome browser, new labeling requirements for political ads, and a new News app (say that three times fast).
We’ve put together a rundown of the major highlights from Google — this time, for the month of May.
Google I/O 2018 Has Come and Gone
On May 8, Google kicked off its annual developer conference, I/O, with a host of new product announcements and features to its existing suite of goods and services.
HubSpot’s Meg Prater covered major announcements from the opening keynote here, but there was one in particular that still has us thinking.
During the opening keynote, Google announced and demonstrated (kind of) a new Google Assistant feature that allows it to collect information from users on desired reservations or appointments and make a phone calls on their behalf to schedule them.
The technology — called Google Duplex — was demonstrated by way of a recording of the uncannily human-like AI calling to make a restaurant reservation and hair appointment — which later raised several questions.
First, many questioned the ethics of potentially misleading the person on the receiving end of the phone call. Should this person know that he or she was speaking to an artificially intelligent machine?
Google Assistant making calls pretending to be human not only without disclosing that it’s a bot, but adding “ummm” and “aaah” to deceive the human on the other end with the room cheering it… horrifying. Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing.
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep)
May 9, 2018
Google later said in a statement to The Verge that it would alert call recipients that they were speaking to AI (not an actual human being), adding the following:
“We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product.”
But then, others began to question the veracity of the demo, pointing out that since it was a pre-recorded call — not a live one — there was really no way to know if Google “faked it” during the keynote. Axios pointed out several flaws from the demo, or at least things that seemed suspect, like the lack of ambient noise on the receiving end of the call or identification by name of the business that the AI was calling.
Google has yet to comment on the veracity of the calls. Here’s a look at the demo:
More May News About Google
New Labeling Requirements for Political Ads
In an official May 4 blog post penned by SVP Kent Walker, Google announced a new “election integrity” initiative. Similar to new policies and practices rolled out by Facebook last month, the company says it will require enhanced identity verification from any party wishing to buy and publish election-related ads on Google in the U.S.
The purpose, Walker wrote, is to ensure that these advertisers are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents — “as required by law” and likely to prevent the foreign weaponization of Facebook and its Big Tech peers during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In addition to these new verification policies, Google will also begin labeling election ads to indicate who paid for it. Read the full statement >>
(In)Secure Website Labels in Chrome
In 2016, we wrote about the importance of enabling SSL on your site: Secure Sockets Layer, the technology that encrypts your connection to a website, so that hackers can’t intercept any of your data. That’s what the “S” in “HTTPS” stands for, as opposed to websites that only have HTTP (which indicates they are less secure).
As part of its efforts to encourage developers to make their sites more secure across the board, Google previously announced it would be applying a “secure” label to sites that had SSL enabled, and could penalize those that did not.
But now, Google says that HTTPS has become so widespread that it will no longer specially label these sites as secure within Chrome, and that “users should expect that the web is safe by default.” But fear not — the browser will still apply a “not secure” label to sites that still only have HTTP. Read the full statement >>
A New (AI-Powered) Google News App
Google launched its revised News app on May 8 — right in time for I/O, of course — designed with AI that helps users find news content that is both high-quality and personalized.
The reimagined Google News app, wrote Google News Engineering and Product Lead Trystan Upstill, “uses a new set of AI techniques to take a constant flow of information as it hits the web [and] synthesize information … in a way that helps you make sense of what’s happening, and what the impact or reaction has been.” Additionally, the new app will contain a “Headlines” section that shows an “unfiltered view” of the most widely-read global news stories, without any other special personalization.
Reading between the lines, it would appear that these changes are one form of Google’s efforts to combat fake news — by using AI to determine what’s real and quality journalism, while also incorporating behavioral signals from users to make that content personalized.
“Amid this deluge of information,” Upstill wrote, the new Google news app sets out to “make it easier to keep up and make sense of it all.” Read the full statement >>
Until Next Month
As always, we’re watching all things Google. We’ll continue to pick out top news items, algorithm updates, and trends that can aid your marketing.
And until July arrives — have a great June.
Featured image credit: Google