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5 Companies You Might Not Realize Google Now Owns

Written by Taylor Hawes

Friday, May 16th, 2014

Google_logo
Everyone knows that Google is a big deal.  Each year, news of Google’s new acquisitions makes headlines across the world and across the web, stunning analysts and everyday consumers alike.

From little start-ups to longtime titans of industry, so many companies have been picked up that users often forget (or don’t realize) that their favorite app or software is now part of the Google machine.

For some, this just means better service, better quality, and better integration on mobile platforms; for others, watching a beloved site or service get stripped for parts and silently assimilated into the inner workings of Google’s infrastructure can be disappointing to say the least.

For better or worse, Google is making waves not just online, but in nearly every facet of our lives.  Here are five companies you didn’t know Google owns and what that means for you:

 

Waze

Social networking, mapping, and up-to-date traffic, all rolled into one app?  Sounds too good to be true, but that’s precisely what Waze is all about.

Waze helps drivers help themselves by providing an outlet for folks to warn other drivers of potential delays and hazards by means of tweet-like posts.  This information then coalesces into a living map that shows drivers in the area just how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, which roads to avoid, and even the location of speed traps.

It isn’t hard to see why Google would want to snatch these guys up.  With close to a billion downloads of Google Maps from Google Play alone, adding the social networking power of Waze to the application gives users the unparalleled quality of Google’s navigation interface,

In addition, the benefit of sourcing information about travel times and level of traffic from drivers on location is hard to beat.  And with the recent launch of Google Now, Waze data is seamlessly integrated into Google Maps’ auto-updates for an even more intuitive traffic alert system.

 

Nest

Home automation is still a relatively new concept for many consumers.  The idea of sending a text message to your alarm system because you forgot to arm it on the way out the door—much less having your fridge text you when Timmy sneaks some cake in the middle of the night—still sounds like something from The Jetsons.

But Nest, founded by Tony Faddell and Matt Rogers, the same guys who brought us the iPod, is all about making your home smart, from thermostats to alarm systems.  Nest was picked up in January 2014 by Google in its quest to branch outside the worldwide web and into your living room.

Acquiring Nest helps Google build their stockpile of resources for total home integration with Android devices that are already making everything from turning on the outdoor lights for a party to setting the timer on the sprinklers easier than updating your Facebook status.  Expect big things from this merger: with Nest’s innovation and Google’s infrastructure, we are stepping into a brave new world.

 

Zagat

Google almost acquired rival company Yelp back in 2011, but picked up Zagat instead after the deal fell through.

Prior to merging with Google, Zagat.com was a subscription-based service, offering its vast cache of knowledge only to those who paid a premium.  Zagat membership is now free—as long as you sign up with Google+, that is.

But whether you subscribe to Zagat or not, Google has tightly and seamlessly integrated Zagat reviews and information into its standard Google search, so even casual users benefit.  The novelty and prestige may have taken a backseat, but picking a restaurant for that special occasion has just become much easier.

 

Flutter

A short-lived but popular gesture recognition program, Flutter was acquired by Google in October 2013.  Due to its native integration with applications like YouTube, Chrome, Netflix and Pandora, Flutter was a prime candidate to springboard Google’s gesture recognition ventures moving forward.

Users of the original Flutter app need not worry that it’s merely been stripped for parts—the download can still be found here.

As with a few other apps, merging with Google bodes well for both Flutter veterans and newcomers alike. As Google engineers hone and develop gesture recognition for more and more programs, it will become a smoother, more universal experience across the board.

 

Boston Dynamics

This is actually just one of about a half dozen or more robotics companies bought up by Google in early December 2013, along with Redwood Robotics, Meka Robotics, Holomni and others.  Boston Dynamics is best known for the DARPA-funded BigDog, essentially an automated four-legged pack mule designed to carry gear for soldiers over terrain too rough for vehicles.

What does Google intend for these companies?  It isn’t too clear yet, but whether they are planning on putting these firms to use in vamping up their manufacturing capital in preparation for the Google Car, or if they have bigger plans in mind (humanoid robots?), picking up so many robotics companies suggests that Google is gearing up for some big, exciting things.

 

Whether it results in overall better quality or if an app or service is simply assimilated into the infrastructure, Google’s acquisitions are taking tech in bold new directions.  As its influence pervades every aspect of our lives, more and more companies are sure to follow.  And whether we embrace it or not, this snowball-effect is pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible, and that’s a very exciting thing.

What Is Net Neutrality And Why Does It Matter?

Written by Brandi Bennett

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Net neutrality is fundamentally the basic premise that all online data should be treated equally.  In a nutshell, this means that information should flow freely without, discrimination,  blocking or throttling internet usage by all ISPs (Internet Service Providers) or any governmental intervention; uncensored access, equal access, and unrestricted access for everyone.  As Senator Franken (D. – Minn.) has been quoted, “Net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time.”  The Internet was designed as an open medium of communication, in which all users are able to access all content without being restricted from doing so (with obvious exception being given to certain legalities related to certain types of content that fall beyond the scope of this blog post).

There are many arguing that net neutrality no longer exists.  The FCC’s previous rulings on the matter were recently struck down, but in light of the publicity that the “citizens of the internet” have brought to this issue (including protests), the FCC is taking steps to create new net neutrality rules and ostensibly working to keep the public’s desires at heart (a first for the FCC, one could argue!). The FCC’s actions are not entirely altruistic, being concerned with the creation of monopolies and the like, but, the fact of the matter is that net neutrality is not yet dead… and that means that it’s not too late!

If net neutrality ceases, we could be looking at an internet bogged down by fees, where users must pay to access certain types of content. One in which the various streaming services available today, from NetFlix to Amazon would be imposed additional tolls that of course would then be passed onto the end users of their services.  This would not affect just streaming services, but all content.  Say you wanted access to the news websites, you could be charged a fee, and another fee could be charged if you wanted to look at internet memes. The sky would be the limit if net neutrality dies out completely. So yes, pay attention to anything involving net neutrality, and remember, as we said back in 2011 – “We here at HostGator support a free internet. An internet in which free information and unhindered distribution of said information is an unalienable human right.” We still stand by this statement and we believe that you need to know what’s going on in the world of the internet today!

Image Source: Color Lines. (2014). Net Neutrality. [image online] Available at: http://colorlines.com/assets_c/2013/09/net_neutrality_081310-thumb-640xauto-629-thumb-640xauto-9121.gif [Accessed: 27 Mar 2014].

Heartbleed Bug

Written by Sean Valant

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

You may have now heard of the “Heartbleed Bug.” Before we continue, we want to reassure you that if you are hosting on a HostGator shared or reseller server, that your server has already been patched. For everyone else, HostGator customer or not, we have created the following tool to assist you with determining whether or not your site is presently vulnerable and what further action to take, if necessary: https://heartbleed.hostgator.com/

heartbleed bug

Now, what exactly is the Heartbleed Bug? Technically speaking, it is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. In layman’s terms, it allows the ever-present nefarious individuals the ability to intercept and decode encrypted data. The following quote comes from heartbleed.com:

“The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.”

The bug is so-named due to a normal function between two computers across a network (such as the Internet) sharing an encrypted connection. The “heartbeat” is simply a pulse, or packet of information, sent from one machine to the other to ensure the connection still exists. This functionality is what allows the exploit to occur, in that the heartbeat is simulated by a third party in such a way as to allow them access to the memory of the receiving server.

What this translates to is virtually unlimited, and untraceable, access to a myriad of private information which potentially can include usernames, passwords, and even credit card information. The full extent of the situation is not presently known. What is known is that we should all consider all of our passwords to be compromised. As a result, you absolutely want to update any passwords for anything and everything you log into online. However, if you change your password for an account on a server that has not been patched, then you can consider the new password compromised as well.

For full information regarding this situation, we recommend reading the associated Wikipedia article.

Google Transparency Report: Government Removal Requests Continue to Rise

Written by Taylor Hawes

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Google Transparency Report Government Removal Requests Continue to Rise

Revelations surrounding government monitoring of heavily populated data streams and communications channels are on everyone’s mind as such news introduces a sea change of perception about our privacy rights. The simple fact is, our browsing habits and published content are no longer as “free” as they were once understood to be.

But even beyond our the limitation of our own expression, what’s most concerning about these developments is the new and unprecedented level of authority governments are attempting to exercise over the world’s most important communications medium. With Google’s report as an accurate barometer, the situation is clear: the rights of Internet users are currently viewed as averse to efforts designed to shape public perception of governments, both local and international.

 

Government Takedown Requests Increase

As mentioned, the issue with this new era of Internet monitoring lies not just in limitation of our freedoms of speech, but in the presumed authority that local and national governments have to censor content on the web. What was once thought to be a public domain, where anyone could post anything provided it respected the boundaries of international law, has become a curious combination of created content and concerted takedowns.

A recent Google transparency report tells the tale better than any news narrative could. According to the company’s blog post on the data, Google received 3,486 take down requests regarding 24,737 pieces of content between January and June 2013; a 68% increase over the same period in 2012. Additional data provided shows the trend is rising exponentially, with approximately 2,000 requests in 2011, 2,500 in 2012, and nearly 4,000 in 2013.

 

A Troubling Trend

What’s more stark about this data than the sheer volume of requests is the nature of such requests. According to Google, takedown orders were most often connected to stories about local government dealings and content critical of local and national governments. More often than not, these requests fell under the category of “defamation”, while some were even claimed to be copyright.

The trend is startling. With more governments ordering more takedowns of critical content, the aim is clear: censorship for the preservation of public perception. Attempts to curtail public expression, particularly in the realm of government criticism, represents an unfortunate turn away from transparency and toward the limited exchange of productive, albeit challenging conversation.

 

A Powerful Ally

Fortunately, while takedown requests continue to rise, Google’s established policy against censorship of the Internet represents a valuable ally in the protection of free speech online. The data cited earlier also features a list of US and international takedown requests, and whether or not those requests were met with compliance. According to data provided, the compliance rate for these requests has fallen dramatically from 2010 to now, likely in recognition of the danger of Internet censorship.

While this practice of attempting to silence critical voices may not seem like a big deal for your business or personal blog, the implications are farther-reaching than you may realize. The power of the Internet lies in the free exchange of ideas, allowing for meaningful conversation that raises profound and important ideas and institutions to the top. This process is what breeds innovation, disrupts deleterious practices, and enriches society as a whole.

Fortunately, Google’s transparency report shows that those in favor of a free and unedited Internet have a powerful ally and a strong ideological foundation on their side. Government takedown requests continue to rise, but those wishing to preserve the core of what makes the Internet such a powerful tool, are not going down without a fight.