Pentagonal Episode 11: Shell Companies All The Way Down

Pentagonal Episode 11: Shell Companies All The Way Down

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This week on Pentagonal, we talk about Google trying to silence all of their enemies. Jake is in his happy place and no one can stop him from shaming Google. We also have two stories actually about privacy and security, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Show Notes:

  • 1:30 SharknAT&To
    • Jake shares an article he found interesting. A researcher discovered a bunch of vulnerabilities in AT&T modems shipping today. The article also talks about how to use the vulnerabilities but also how to use them to disable anyone else from using them. Cristian makes an allegory to another internet of things exploit situation where someone released a worm spreading from devices which sole purpose was to patch the devices.
  • 5:25 India adds to the list of countries which declares privacy a fundamental right
    • Another article Jake was thrilled to share this week was that the highest court in India has declared privacy is a fundamental right. The EU and the UN have both claimed it to be a fundamental right.
  • 6:12 Google silencing critics [CW: Jake makes a reference to the Bill Cosby Rape Situation]
    • Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant
    • Citizens Against Monopoly – Google
      • A writer at the think tank The New America wrote a piece criticizing Google’s place in the marketplace. Eric Schmidt — the chairman of Alphabets board — told the think tank of his displeasure with the piece and the whole team from where this piece came was subsequently fired. A bit of controversy came when this was brought to the public attentions and Google themselves said they were not involved in the firing of the employee. The president of New America said that the team was being taken out because New America wanted a bigger and better relationship with Google.
      • Jake makes the claim that this is a mob boss situation, where even though the boss herself may not say to cut the head off, those under the boss know what should be done.
      • The fired employees made a website with a forum where you can send a message to Google to not be evil and Cristian made the criticism that this should be sent to a local representative and not Google.
    • Yes, Google Uses Its Power to Quash Ideas It Doesn’t Like—I Know Because It Happened to Me
      • This started a discussion on how Google is trying to silence their critics.
      • A writer who used to write for Forbes wrote a piece on Gizmodo about how in 2011 when Google was rolling out the plus one button as a part of Google+, she took a meeting with some Google executives on how the plus one button would be influential in the coming months to getting a good ranking on Google.
      • She then wrote about the piece and Google began putting pressure on Forbes, as she was new to the job and under immense pressure, she retracted the piece and took it down.
      • Google claimed this meeting was under an NDA. She never signed an NDA and wasn’t told that the meeting was off the record. Jake said that no one bothered to tell the journalist that this was off the record.
    • A Serf on Google’s Farm
      • A couple of other news outlets came out with pieces saying that Google is suppressing academics. Google has been paying academics in law schools to write pieces positing that Google is not a monopoly.
      • Cristian and Jake then talk about if Google had been public with the plus one button influencing search.
      • Cristian then made the connection to AMP, and if Google would begin ranking AMP articles higher than other websites.
      • Jake then told a story about how someone on hacker news had gotten upset with him since he posted the comment that if engineers are posting articles praising AMP, maybe that Google had a hand in these articles being so positive towards AMP.
      • We then have a criticism on how you have to use Google AMP and allow them to host it on their servers to get a lightweight ranking bonus on Google.
      • Cristian then made a point that some folks might not be able to pull out marketing copy from the authors original words in a piece. Jake makes the claim that even though no one paid for the article, authors can be incentivized to write a glowing piece as even though cash wasn’t in an arrangement, something was given to the author as a part of an arrangement.
      • Cristian makes the claim that this kind of under the table dealings is the bane of most issues in Silicon Valley.
    • My friends at Google: it is time to return to not being evil
      • Cristian then introduces a piece where the CEO of Vivaldi, web browser, talks about how they missed when Google was much more friendly. The CEO also spoke about how their adWords account had been canceled twice this year. Jake talks about how this CEO have had a working relationship with Google for at least more than a decade.
      • Cristian and Jake then talk about web browsers, Cristian talks about how every feature web browsers are having nowadays are in the old version of Opera before it was sold. When Opera was sold it became a fork of chrome that lacked most of the features of the old version.
      • Some folks who worked at Opera quit the company and started Vivaldi, which is a web browser geared for power users.
      • Jake makes the joke that as Vivaldi is using the underlying rendering engine of chrome, it might not be for long.
      • They then talk about how every web browser that wasn’t Firefox or Internet Explorer used to use webkit in some form before Google forked it.
  • 23:51 Patreon of The Week: Crow Moore
    • [bloop noise]
    • This weeks Patreon that you should support is Crow Moore’s page. Crow is an artist. They do sketches and other types of art — which you can find at their portfolio website They also have a science fiction webcomic at Supporting their Patreon gets you access to their private sketches and abstract concept work. You can find their Patreon at, that’s Back to the show.
    • [fading swirl noise]
  • 24:27 Google corporate hijinks to protect it from prosecution
    • Why is Google spending record sums on lobbying Washington?
      • Google is projected this year to beat out Comcast as the largest spender in corporate lobbying in Washington DC. They are investing a huge amount of money in trying to sway policy towards their favor.
    • Alphabet Finishes Reorganization With New XXVI Company
      • Alphabet has reorganized their corporate structure with XXVI, the Roman numeral for 26 because haha it’s the number of the letters in the alphabet.
      • This is a limited liability company which owns Alphabet and all of the subsidiary companies. This allows for only one subsidiary company to be liable for any damages say brought on by a court case.
      • If Waymo, the alphabet subsidiary for self driving cars lost a law suit tomorrow, the max damages to be taken under this new structure is only the assets which Waymo itself has. Even though Waymo and Google are now sister companies, Waymo has no legal connected to Google’s assets.
      • Cristian and Jake start talking about how most Sci-Fi movies in the late 80s and 90s had shell companies as a huge part of the antagonists plot. Robocop and Omnicorp is an example.
      • An interesting point is that these shell companies can’t be held to any anti-trust decisions made upon Google themselves.
      • Cristian makes the point that Google is doing this out in the open because they’re banking that people don’t care.
      • Jake points out that they’re still having the gall to do this during a week while they’re having a PR disaster.
      • Jake then points out how public perception of Google is starting to change this year.
      • He points out how Google fans are starting to get upset at places like the Washington Post which is now starting to write pieces criticizing Google.
      • Cristian makes the point that these fans are ignoring pieces written by WaPo on how Amazons working conditions in their distribution centers are not great even though Jeff Bezos — the CEO of Amazon — owns the newspaper.
      • Jake shares a Washington Post article from last month asking if Amazon is getting too big, but Jeff Bezos knows that you cannot mess with the press or else it will come back to bite you.
      • We then have a sidebar on Comcast is the worst, but Jake has fast internet (180 megs) at home. While Cristian talks about how they found out that AT&T has a cap on their home lines.
      • They then talk about Jakes home automation system that he built himself and how little data it uses. Editors Note: I don’t know how we got here either
  • Google’s competitors not really being monopolistic
    ‘Cortana, Open Alexa,’ Amazon Says. And Microsoft Agrees.

    • Jake talks about how he got banned from a website for arguing with a Googler. The argument they had was that if whether you cannot provide a good experience for a voice assistant if you ask for what service the user wants to use. The Googler said that they should use Google services as the default. Jake disagreed.
    • If you Google search a song, you get a YouTube link. But if you Bing that song, you get Amazon, iTunes, and Groove Music links to buy that song.
    • Amazon and Microsoft had recently came to a deal where Cortana and Alexa can now talk to each other. It is a little clunky, you have to say “Alexa do X in Cortana” or “Cortana do X with Alexa.”
    • Cristian makes the case that this is a better experience for the time being as making the assumption that the system can automatically know which assistant is best to do each task in would result in a not great user experience.
    • They then talk about if Google Home allows for third party apps or not. Amazons Echo has the most third party “skills” as they were the first product on the market.
    • Thank you all for listening and reading this new format. This is a work in progress so please let Cristian know how this can be done better!