Tech News : Google Waives Exit Fees for Cloud Data Transfers

Google has announced that Google Cloud customers who want to switch and migrate their network data to another cloud provider and/or on-premises will no longer be charged a transfer fee to do so.

How? 

The process for the free transfer away from Google involves contacting the Google Cloud account team (if one has been assigned), and completing and submitting an online form, after which there is a 60-day window for the user to transfer the data before terminating their Google Cloud agreement.

Who and When? 

The Google Cloud Exit free data transfers are available to Premium Tier Network Service Tier customers globally. Google says the change is effective immediately.

Why? 

As many tech commentators have noted, the charging of egress fees by cloud providers, such as Google, has come in for criticism by regulators, other public cloud providers, and customers. Egress fees, a lucrative source of revenue, are charges that cloud service providers impose when data is transferred out of their cloud infrastructure to another location, such as to a different cloud provider or to an on-premises data-centre. These fees can vary based on the amount of data being transferred, the destination of the data, and the specific policies of the cloud provider. Cloud providers claim that the purpose of egress fees is to cover the costs associated with data transfer and bandwidth usage.

Waiving the fees is therefore a way for Google to gain an advantage over competitors like Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft and put pressure on them in the highly competitive cloud market, and to escape further regulator criticism.

Swipe At Competitors 

In its announcement about stopping the fees, Google also took a swipe at its cloud provider competitors saying that the main issue stopping customers from working with their preferred cloud provider in the first place is “restrictive and unfair licensing practices.” Google explained that “Certain legacy providers leverage their on-premises software monopolies to create cloud monopolies, using restrictive licensing practices that lock in customers and warp competition.”  

Google gave examples of this among its competitors, highlighting how some may be using licensing restrictions to pick and choose their customers, charge then “5x the cost” if they want to use other competitors’ cloud, and “limiting interoperability of must-have software with competitors’ cloud infrastructure”.  It also claims that “these and other restrictions have no technical basis and may impose a 300% cost increase to customers”, and that, in contrast, “the cost for customers to migrate data out of a cloud provider is minimal.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Egress fees (and licensing restrictions) are a major source of pain for many businesses that would like to switch their cloud provider. For example, a Global Market Intelligence report showed that more than a third of enterprises said that their use of cloud storage had been affected by egress fees, i.e. leading to them repatriating data on-premises or shifting to a provider who doesn’t charge for egress. Google’s move to waive egress fees will likely make it easier for enterprise cloud customers to switch and save themselves significant costs (egress fees can make up 6 per cent of cloud storage costs – IDC).

For Google, not charging egress fees and casting themselves as the ‘good guys’ who believe that “When customers’ business needs evolve, the cloud should be flexible enough to accommodate those changes,” the move could give them a competitive advantage and enable them to pick up users from other cloud providers. However, the move may put pressure on other providers to also stop or reduce their fees, making Google’s advantage temporary. In fact, it’s been reported that AWS claims that since 2021, over 90% of its customers haven’t been paying to transfer data out. Also, it could be the case that Google is simply preempting inevitable and impending regulations, such as the European Data Act which will require cloud providers to share certain data and lead to providers deciding to only charge cost for transfers anyway.

Tech News : Watermark Trial To Spot AI Images

Google’s AI research lab DeepMind has announced that in partnership with Google Cloud, it’s launching a beta version of SynthID, a tool for watermarking and identifying AI-generated images.

The AI Image Challenge

Generative AI technologies are rapidly evolving, and AI-generated imagery, also known as ‘synthetic imagery,’ is becoming much harder to distinguish from images not created by an AI system. Many AI generated images are now so good that they can easily fool people, and there are now so many (often free) AI image generators around and being widely used that misuse is becoming more common.

This raises a host of ethical, legal, economic, technological, and psychological concerns ranging from the proliferation of deepfakes that can be used for misinformation and identity theft, to legal ambiguities around intellectual property rights for AI-generated content. Also, there’s potential for job displacement in creative fields as well as the risk of perpetuating social and algorithmic biases. The technology also poses challenges to our perception of reality and could erode public trust in digital media. Although the synthetic imagery challenge calls for a multi-disciplinary approach to tackle it, many believe a system such as ‘watermarking’ may help in terms of issues like ownership, misuse, and accountability.

What Is Watermarking?  

Creating a special kind of watermark for images to identify them as being AI-produced is a relatively new idea, but adding visible watermarks to images is a method that’s been used for many years (to show copyright and ownership) on sites including Getty Images, Shutterstock, iStock Photo, Adobe Stock and many more. Watermarks are designs that can be layered on images to identify them.  Images can have visible or invisible, reversable, or irreversible watermarks added to them. Adding a watermark can make it more difficult for an image to be copied and used without permission.

What’s The Challenge With AI Image Watermarking? 

AI-generated images can be produced on-the-fly and customised and can be very complex, making it challenging to apply a one-size-fits-all watermarking technique. Also, AI can generate a large number of images in a short period of time, making traditional watermarking impractical, plus simply adding visible watermarks to areas of an image (e.g. the extremities) means it could be cropped and the images can be edited to remove it.

Google’s SynthID Watermarking 

Google SynthID tool  works with Google Cloud’s ‘Imagen’ text-to-image diffusion model (AI text to image generator) and uses a combined approach of being able to add and detect watermarks. For example, the SynthID watermarking tool can add an imperceptible watermark to synthetic images produced by Imagen, doesn’t compromise image quality, and allows the watermark to remain detectable, even after modifications (e.g. the addition of filters, changing colours, and saving with various lossy compression schemes – most commonly used for JPEGs). SynthID can also be used to scan an image for its digital watermark and can assess the likelihood of an image being created by Imagen and provides the user with three confidence levels for interpreting the results.

Based On Metadata 

Adding Metadata to an image file (e.g. who created it and when), plus adding digital signatures to that metadata can show if an image has been changed. Where metadata information is intact, users can easily identify an image, but metadata can be manually removed when files are edited.

Google says the SynthID watermark is embedded in the pixels of an image and is compatible with other image identification approaches that are based on metadata and, most importantly, the watermark remains detectable even when metadata is lost.

Other Advantages 

Some of the other advantages of the SynthID watermark addition and detection tool are:

– Images are modified so as to be imperceptible to the human eye.

– Even if an image has been heavily edited and the colour, contrast and size changed, the DeepMind technology behind the tool will still be able to tell if an imaged is AI-generated.

Part Of The Voluntary Commitment

The idea of watermarking to expose and filter AI-generated images falls within the commitment of seven leading AI companies (Amazon, Anthropic, Google, Inflection, Meta, Microsoft, and OpenAI) who recently committed to developing AI safeguards. Part of the commitments under the ‘Earning the Public’s Trust’ heading was to develop robust technical mechanisms to ensure that users know when content is AI generated, such as a watermarking system, thereby enabling creativity AI while reducing the dangers of fraud and deception.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It’s now very easy for people to generate AI images with any of the AI image generating tools available, with many of these images able to fool the viewer possibly resulting in ethical, legal, economic, political, technological, and psychological consequences. Having a system that can reliably identify AI-generated images (even if they’ve been heavily edited) is therefore of value to businesses, citizens, and governments.

Although Google admits its SynthID system is still experimental and not foolproof, it at least means something fairly reliable will be available soon at a time when AI seems to be running ahead of regulation and protection. One challenge, however, is that although there is a general commitment by the big tech companies to watermarking, the SynthID tool is heavily linked to Google’s DeepMind, Cloud and Imagen and other companies may also be pursuing different methods. I.e. there may be a lack of standardisation.

That said, it’s a timely development and it remains to be seen how successful it can be and how watermarking and/or other methods develop going forward.