Google is the subject of its first GDPR probe from Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DCP), Reuters is reporting. It’s the first major standoff between the company and its lead privacy regulator in Europe, raising difficult questions about how the ad giant handles personal data across the internet.
The probe will investigate how Google treats personal data at each stage of its ad-tracking system. Those questions originate in part from a complaint filed by the browser company Brave in September, which alleged that Google’s ad auction system constituted a data breach under GDPR rules.
“Every time a person visits a website and is shown a ‘behavioural’ ad on a website, intimate personal data that describes each visitor, and what they are watching online, is broadcast to tens or hundreds of companies,” chief policy officer Johnny Ryan explained in a post. “A data breach occurs because this broadcast, known as an ‘bid request’ in the online industry, fails to protect these intimate data against unauthorized access.”
If found guilty, the potential penalties would be enormous. The GDPR authorizes fines as high as four percent of global annual revenue, which would total $5.4 billion in Google’s case. Even more damaging, the company would have to fundamentally reshape its ad system in order to avoid future fines. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
An extended pre-credits sequence in one episode of Amazon’s Good Omens displays the best part of the six-episode miniseries based on the book of the same name by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The segment traces the 6,000-year relationship between prissy angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen of The Queen and Frost/Nixon) and swaggering demon Crowley (Doctor Who star David Tennant), who have known each other since the Garden of Eden was a going concern. The sequence is an entertaining romp through myth and history, with the two popping up as knights in Arthurian England, as part of a goofy spy drama during the Blitz, and going out for crepes during the Reign of Terror. Even though they technically stand on opposing sides of a cosmic conflict for the souls of mankind, they form a deep mutual respect driven by witty banter, and their odd-couple chemistry forms the heart and soul of the series.
That sequence also exposes Good Omens’ greatest weakness. The scene are joyous when Crowley and Aziraphale are sparring, commiserating, or teaming up to stop the apocalypse their bosses have been waiting for since the dawn of humanity. Scenes with just one of them still tend to be strong, particularly as Crowley gleefully outsmarts everyone around him. But when neither of them are on-screen, Good Omens grinds to a halt. The supporting cast members are necessary to move the plot forward or provide needed exposition about the series’ complicated mythology. But no one else has enough development or agency to make their scenes feel worthwhile unless they’re playing off one of the protagonists.
That flaw comes from the source material, which Gaiman has adapted extremely faithfully. (Pratchett died in 2015.) Much of the dialogue is directly quoted from their book, which combines Gaiman’s love of elaborate worldbuilding and cosmic conflict with Pratchett’s quirky characters and absurdist comedy. While the 1990 novel has been updated a bit for the times — apparently one of Crowley’s diabolical acts was inventing the selfie — it otherwise stays true to the tangled plot, where the final conflict between good and evil will kick off shortly after the antichrist’s 11th birthday. In a spoof of The Omen, the son of Satan was meant to be raised with power and privilege by an American diplomat. But due to a comedy of errors at a hospital run by Satanic nuns, Adam Young (Sam Taylor Buck) has instead been sent to live in the British village of Lower Tadfield, where he’s grown into a leader of a crew of kids that’s basically a less-charming version of the gang from Stranger Things.
Both heaven and hell want the rematch the Apocalypse will bring about, but Crowley and Aziraphale have grown accustomed to the comforts of Earth. They’ve largely been shirking their duties, discovering that humanity is more than capable of doing good and evil without their intervention. They also much prefer to spend time with each other rather than with members of their respective hosts. The rulers of hell are grotesque, petty, and humorless, unable to grasp Crowley’s achievements, because they don’t understand modern technology. None of them have enough character to justify the production budget that was used to cover them with sores, flies, or scales.
The angels, meanwhile, are aloof and filled with the same benign ineptitude the bureaucracy of heaven shows in The Good Place. They’re beautifully embodied by Gabriel (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm) who was barely mentioned in the book, but here serves as Aziraphale’s supervisor, filled with good cheer even as he expresses contempt for humans and support for the final war. He’s by far the best supporting character and evidence of a stronger, more dynamic story that might have been made if Gaiman had been willing to expand the story further.
The rest of the cast is just trying to do their best with the thin material they’re offered. Anathema Device (Adria Arjona), a witch whose family has been preparing for the Apocalypse for generations, could be the protagonist of an entirely different story, but is really just here to provide information to more important characters, and to be part of one of two terrible romance plots that have competent, clever women falling for hapless men for no discernible reason. Michael McKean brings the same goofy humor he showed in Clue and This Is Spinal Tap to the nipple-obsessed witch-hunter Shadwell, but he’s playing a one-note character who can’t stand up to Aziraphale and Crowley’s comedic depths.
The film’s antagonists feel similarly flat. War (Mireille Enos of The Killing) and Famine (The Originals’ Yusuf Gatewood) both get thrilling introductions showing how the Horsemen of the Apocalypse can cause misery in the modern day. Similar development would have been a huge boon to Pollution (Lourdes Faberes), who is mostly distinguished by looking a lot like the Captain Planet villain Dr. Blight, and Death (Brian Cox of Succession and X2) who seems to have just walked off a production of A Christmas Carol. But it doesn’t really matter, because the Horsemen’s entire plot ends in a dull climax that’s meant to be a big moment for Adam’s friends, but doesn’t feel earned.
That’s a shame, because Good Omens has some strong themes, even if they’re minimally developed. Adam nearly destroys the world, not because he’s inherently evil, but because like so many young people today, he sees the mess previous generations have made of things and is willing to tear everything down to build a better world. Anathema’s plot explores the choice between getting support by following your family’s wishes and the challenging freedom of forging your own path. But as is the case in the rest of the show, only Aziraphale and Crowley get real development as they navigate unsatisfying jobs, the absurdity of God’s ineffable plan, and the problems caused by moral absolutism.
Fortunately, the series’ quirky cheerfulness lends it strength even at the plot’s lowest points. Visually, it looks like a version of Dogma as remade by Monty Python. Sherlock and Doctor Who director Douglas MacKinnon uses puppets, over-the-top makeup and costumes, pyrotechnics, and a card-trick demonstration (narrated by Oscar-winner Frances McDormand, as the voice of God) to provide near-constant spectacle. Fellow Sherlock veteran David Arnold has done a fantastic job with the show’s jaunty theme, which is sampled in various forms throughout the series. Meanwhile, Crowley is perpetually followed by a soundtrack of on-the-nose Queen songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which blares from the Bentley he drives to the final showdown.
Good Omens is, at its heart, a cosmic gay rom-com, with bad-boy Crowley tempting Aziraphale to get out of his comfort zone and enjoy life, while Aziraphale simultaneously lures him into being a better, less selfish person. The duo haltingly come together, fall apart under the strain of the events around them and their conflicting moralities, and inevitably come together again to save the day and each other. The rifts in their relationship are felt far more keenly than any instance of demonic mass murder. Their story is so bright and captivating that it’s well worth watching, even if it makes the rest of the show pale by comparison.
Good Omens debuts on Amazon Prime Video on May 31st, 2019.
Amazon shareholders have voted down proposals meant to curb sales of the company’s controversial facial recognition tool and to limit its carbon output.
The proposals, which were driven by shareholding activists and employees, were nonbinding, but represented a moment of defiance against Amazon. The company’s Rekognition tool, which is sold to law enforcement, has been criticized on civil liberties grounds, and employees have said the company could be doing more to fight climate change.
Two Rekognition proposals would have asked Amazon to cease sales to government agencies and to complete a review of the tool’s civil liberties implications. Amazon went to the Securities Exchange Commission in an attempt to stop the proposals from coming to a vote, but the agency allowed them to continue. The measures had received support from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which pressed the shareholders to adopt the facial recognition proposals.
Amazon employees also rallied around the climate change proposal, which asked the company to adopt a wide-ranging plan. Thousands of employees signed on to an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos supporting the plan. “It’s past time for Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s board to listen,” Amazon organizers said in a statement read after the vote.
“Incremental steps are no longer acceptable in this time of climate emergency,” says @emahlee “Almost 7,700 Amazon employees understand that Amazon must have a comprehensive plan that matches the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.” @Amazon#AGM#AMZNClimate
— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@AMZNforClimate) May 22, 2019
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the proposals were voted down and said more details would be filed with the SEC and released later this week.
The shareholder meeting came on the same day as a congressional hearing on the use of facial recognition technology. “It’s just more important for Congress to act,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) said at the hearing, in response to the Amazon vote.
Mario Kart Tour, the smartphone debut of Nintendo’s long-running kart racing franchise, has started its closed beta in Japan and the US, and it hasn’t taken long for videos and screenshots to start appearing on the web. But Kotaku reports that the game also features lootbox-style (or “gacha”) systems where you spend virtual currency for a shot at unlocking new items which offer different degrees of rarity and functionality.
For five green gems, for example, you get a random chance of earning a new driver, kart, or glider. Certain equipment and characters get you bonuses on different tracks, but other characters seem to have a better average bonus across all the game’s courses. There’s also a stamina system involving hearts, and once these run out, you’ll have to wait for them to replenish or pay money to purchase more hearts. Since the game is currently in beta, all these features are subject to change.
It’s not surprising that Nintendo would go down the microtransaction route for Mario Kart Tour. Early on, it tried to charge players a single $9.99 upfront fee to play Super Mario Run, but the game failed to generate an “acceptable profit” for Nintendo. Its subsequent microtransaction-supported releases have proved much more profitable, with Fire Emblem Heroes alone reportedly grossing as much as $500 million in revenue after two years.
Outside of its monetization model, reports from the ResetEra forums suggest that Mario Kart Tour includes a familiar roster of characters (don’t worry, Dry Bones is present and accounted for), as well as a list of tracks that include returning favorites from the SNES, GameCube, DS, and 3DS entries in the series. Your kart accelerates automatically, and you swipe left and right on the screen to steer.
Mario Kart Tour’s beta is taking place now in Japan and the US. For now, the beta is exclusive to Android devices, but the game will be available for both Android and iOS when it releases this summer.
Google is introducing some noticeable changes to how it displays mobile search results, meant to better highlight the source behind each link. Mobile search results will soon display a website’s icon and name above the title of the specific page being surfaced. Until now, Google has somewhat downplayed the source of search results, displaying a website’s name in a smaller font beneath each link.
The design will begin rolling out in the “next few days.” Google says the design is “coming first to mobile,” but didn’t elaborate on where we’ll see the new design next, be it specific apps or the desktop. We’ve reached out to Google for clarification.
With the updated design, Google’s mobile search starts to look a lot more like a news feed, filled with posts from various publishers on a specific subject. Emphasizing the source of information makes a lot of sense, particularly as concerns about fake news sources continue. Websites have complete control over their name and icon, but the change could at least help, say, a New York Times link stand out over a link from a disreputable content farm, should Google happen to surface both on the same page.
Google also suggests this design change is something of a stepping stone to creating richer (and busier) search result pages. More and more images and highlighted pieces of information have been appearing directly on the search page, and Google says this new design “allows us to add more action buttons and helpful previews.” It sounds as though search results, which are each displayed as individual cards, are going to become increasingly interactive, letting you do and see more without actually visiting another page.