Google has released the statistics for the mobility and location data they gather a.o. from all the mobile devices that share their location with them. Below are the results for our region.

It shows nicely the beginning of the soft lock-down, starting with the announcement on March 12th, that from the 13th working from home was the default, and from the evening of March 15th the closure of all restaurants, schools etc. You see the enormous decline in use of transit, the drop in general retail and recreation, the drop in workplace presence due to skiing holidays and then the work from home measure, and the peak in grocery and pharmacy visits right after when the lock-down measures came into force, resulting in empty shelves in the super markets. This type of data is probably not extremely useful on a day to day basis, but it is useful to get a general feeling for how well people are complying with measures, as well as to detect the moment when things get back to their regular patterns. I know e.g. debet and credit card transactions similarly can be and are being used to determine e.g. if a community has returned to normal after for instance a hurricane or another emergency.

Last week I changed this site to provide better language mark-up. However, even though it changed mark-up correctly, it didn’t solve the issue that made me look into it in the first place: that if you click a link to a posting in my rss-feed, your browser would not detect the right language and translate the posting for you.

As it turns out, Google Translate doesn’t make any real effort to detect the language or languages of a page. It only ever checks if there is a default language indicated in the very first <html> tag of a page (which my WordPress sets to English for the entire website), and only if there is no such default set it uses a machine learning model (CLD2) to detect what language likely was used, and then only picks the most likely one. It never checks for language mark-up. It also never contemplates if multiple languages were used in a page, even though the machine learning model returns probabilities for more than one language if present in a page.

This is surprising on two levels. One, it disregards usable information even when provided (either the language mark-up, or probabilities from the ML model). Two, it makes an entire family of wrong assumptions, of which that something or someone will always be monolingual is only the first. While discussing this in a conversation with Kevin Marks, he pointed to Stephanie Booth‘s presentation at Google that he helped set up 12 years ago, listing all that is wrong with the simplistic monolingual world-view of platforms and tech silos. A dozen years on it is still all true and relevant, nothing’s changed. No wonder Stephanie and I have been talking about multi-lingual blogging off and on for as long as we’ve been blogging.

Which all goes to say that my previous changes weren’t very useful. I realised that to make auto-translation of clicked links from my feed work, I needed to set the language attribute for an entire page in the <html> tag, and not try to mark-up only the sections that aren’t in English. (Even if it is the wrong thing to do because it also means I am saying that everything that isn’t content, menu’s, tags etc, are in the declared language. And that isn’t the case. When I write postings in Dutch or German, the entire framework of my site is still in English.). After some web searching, I found a reference to writing a small function to change the default language setting, and calling that when writing the header of a page, which I adapted. The disadvantage is this gets called for every page, regardless if needed (it’s only ever needed for a single post page, or the overview pages of Dutch and German postings). The advantage is, almost all language adaptations are now in a single spot in my theme. I’ve rolled back all previous changes to the single and category templates. Only the changes to the front page template I’ve kept, so that there is still the correct language mark-up around front page postings that are not in English.


The function I added to functions.php in my child theme.


An example of changed page language setting (to German), for a posting in German. (if you follow that link and do view source, you’ll see it)

Read Chrome to limit full ad blocking extensions to enterprise users - 9to5Google (9to5Google)
Google shared that Chrome's current ad blocking capabilities for extensions will soon be restricted to enterprise users. SEC filing: "New and existing technologies could affect our ability to customize ads and/or could block ads online, which would harm our business."

Google’s Chrome is not a browser, it’s advertisement delivery software. Adtech after all is where their profit is. This is incompatible with Doc SearlsCastle doctrine of browsers, so Chrome isn’t fit for purpose.

Removing Chrome
image by Matthew Oliphant, license CC BY ND

Paper salesDoing this online is a neighbouring right in the new EU Copyright Directive. Photo by Alper, license CC BY

A move that surprises absolutely no one: Google won’t pay French publishers for snippets. France is the first EU country to transcribe the new EU Copyright Directive into law. This directive contains a new neighbouring right that says if you link to something with a snippet of that link’s content (e.g. a news link, with the first paragraph of the news item), you need to seek permission to do so, and that permission may come with a charge. This in the run-up to the directive was dubbed the ‘link tax’, although that falsely suggests it concerns any type of hyperlinking.
Google, not wanting to pay publishers for the right to use snippets with their links, will stop using snippets with those links.

reading the newspaperPhoto by Nicolas Alejandro, license CC BY

Ironically the link at the top is to a publisher, Axel Springer, that lobbied intensively for the EU Copyright Directive to contain this neighbouring right. Axel Springer is also why we knew with certainty up front this part of the Copyright Directive would fail. Years ago (2013) Germany, after lobbying by the same Axel Springer publishing house, created this same neighbouring right in their copyright law. Google refused to buy a license and stopped using snippets. Axel Springer saw its traffic from search results drop by 40%, others by 80%. They soon caved and provided Google with a free of charge license, to recoup some of the traffic to their sites.

read newsPhoto by CiaoHo, license CC BY

This element of the law failed in Germany, it failed in Spain in 2015 as well. Axel Springer far from being discouraged however touted this as proof that Google needed to be regulated, and continued lobbying for the same provision to be included in the EU Copyright Directive. With success, despite everyone else explaining how it wouldn’t work there either. It really comes at no surprise therefore that now the Copyright Directive will come into force in French law, it has the exact same effect. Wait for French publishers to not exercise their new neighbouring rights in 3, 2, 1…

Week 32/52.2012Photo by The JH Photography, license CC BY

News publishers have problems, I agree. Extorting anyone linking to them is no way to save their business model though (dropping toxic adtech however might actually help). It will simply mean less effective links to them, resulting in less traffic, in turn resulting in even less advert revenue for them (a loss exceeding any revenue they might hope to get from link snippet licenses). This does not demonstrate the monopoly of Google (though I don’t deny its real dominance), it demonstrates that you can’t have cake and eat it (determining how others link to you and get paid for it, but keep all your traffic as is), and it doesn’t change that news as a format is toast.

BELGIUMPhoto by Willy Verhulst, license CC BY ND