Sustainability-in-Tech : Google’s AI Discovers 380,000 New Materials

A new AI tool called GNoME from Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence lab has reportedly discovered and contributed nearly 380,000 new compounds to the Materials Project, the open-access database founded at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

GNoME 

The Graph Networks for Materials Exploration (GNoME), is an AI-powered deep learning tool and a state-of-the-art graph neural network (GNN) model. Originally trained with data on crystal structures and their stability, it is particularly suited to discovering new crystalline materials.

Why Is Finding New Crystalline Materials So Important? 

As Google’s DeepMind says: “Modern technologies from computer chips and batteries to solar panels rely on inorganic crystals. To enable new technologies, crystals must be stable otherwise they can decompose, and behind each new, stable crystal can be months of painstaking experimentation.” 

380,000 New Stable Materials Discovered  

DeepMind reports that using its GNoME AI model, not only has it discovered 2.2 million new crystals (the equivalent to nearly 800 years’ worth of knowledge) but has identified 380,000 of these as being the most stable, making them promising candidates for experimental synthesis.

Faster And Cheaper Than Past Methods 

As DeepMind has highlighted, the traditional methods of scientists searching for novel crystal structures have been adjusting known crystals or experimenting with new combinations of elements. These methods have proven to be an expensive, trial-and-error processes that could take months to deliver limited results. Using the GNoME AI model, therefore, has dramatically speeded up and reduced the cost of this process.

Work Already Under Way On The New Materials 

Google says that researchers in labs around the world have already independently created 736 of the newly discovered structures as part of experimental work. Also, in partnership with Google DeepMind, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have published a paper showing how the AI discoveries can be leveraged for autonomous material synthesis.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Many essential modern technologies rely on a supply of stable inorganic crystals, e.g. for computer chips, batteries, and solar panels. However, up until now, old methods of finding these crystals have involved time-consuming and expensive trial-and error process. Having an AI tool like GNoME has dramatically increased the speed and efficiency of discovery by predicting the stability of new materials. In doing so, it has demonstrated the potential of using AI to discover and develop new materials.

This could mean that AI models (such as GNoME) have the potential to develop a range of future transformative technologies which could include superconductors, powering supercomputers, and next-generation batteries to boost the efficiency of electric vehicles. Also, Google DeepMind releasing its database of newly discovered crystals to the research community could reduce development times for these new transformative technologies.

This could benefit society and businesses (new opportunities and new industries) as well as contributing to achieving environmental targets and improving sustainability by accelerating the development green technologies.

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 Insight : What Does Incognito Mode Actually Do?

Following news that Google may need to pay $5 billion over tracking millions of people who thought they were browsing privately through incognito mode, we look at what incognito mode actually does.

Incognito Mode 

Different browsers have different names for ‘private browsing mode’ including ‘InPrivate browsing’ (Edge), ‘Private’ for Firefox (Mozilla) and Safari, and ‘Incognito’ for Google Chrome.

Those who use Google’s Chrome browser will know that in addition to browsing via a normal window, clicking/tapping on the three dots (top right) allows you to open another browser window in ‘incognito mode.’

Incognito mode is essentially just a setting on your web browser that allows you to go undercover (to an extent) when browsing the internet. It works by removing local data from web browsing sessions, i.e. browsing is recorded in your local search history (any cookies which a website attempts to upload to your computer are deleted or blocked). In incognito mode, other trackers, temporary files, and third-party toolbars are also disabled. An incognito window is not signed to any accounts so can’t be tracked by them. However, in incognito mode a user’s IP address can still be tracked.

Google says of incognito mode: “When you browse privately, other people who use the device won’t see your history. Chrome doesn’t save your browsing history or information entered in forms. Cookies and site data are remembered while you’re browsing, but deleted when you exit Incognito mode.” 

Therefore, when you use incognito mode:

– Your browsing history is (supposedly) private (i.e. it’s not recorded).

– Cookies are deleted, helping to keep your personal preferences private, and hopefully preventing the resulting targeted adverts.

– You can sign into multiple accounts simultaneously, e.g. you can log into a work-related account in an incognito window while also being logged into a separate personal account at the same site in a normal window.

Does Google Still Track You In Incognito Mode? 

Google can still track you in Incognito mode, however the tracking mechanisms are different from regular browsing. Although incognito mode primarily prevents your browsing history, cookies, and site data from being saved on your device, it doesn’t make you invisible online. For example, the fact that your IP address is still visible means that your activities can still be visible to websites you visit, your employer, and your ISP. This means that while Incognito mode offers more privacy from other users of your device, it does not offer complete anonymity online.

The Recent Case 

The recent case involving Google, where the company has agreed to a settlement (to be finalised on February 24) could see it pay out $5 billion following a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed that Google had secretly tracked millions of people who’d been using Incognito Mode between 2016 and 2020.

It’s been reported that when the lawsuit was first submitted, even Google’s own staff joked about how ‘un-private’ the incognito mode was. The lawsuit stated that: “Through its pervasive data tracking business, Google knows who your friends are, what your hobbies are, what you like to eat, what movies you watch, where and when you like to shop, what your favourite vacation destinations are, what your favourite colour is, and even the most intimate and potentially embarrassing things you browse on the internet – regardless of whether you follow Google’s advice to keep your activities ‘private’.” 

How Can You Browse Privately? 

Given that Incognito mode is not completely private, other measures that users can take when they want to browse privately / make browsing more private include:

– Using private browsers. For example, there are now a number of private browsers available, such as DuckDuckGo, Epic, and Brave.

– Using privacy extensions for browsers. These include Privacy Badger, Ghostery, HTTPS Everywhere, Cookie AutoDelete, and more, although some of these are more focused on blocking cookies and tracking.

– Using a VPN to encrypt traffic, and hide your IP address, although they don’t protect you from being tracked, from cookies, from user-agent strings, or through the accounts they are logged into (e.g. Google).

– Adjusting browser settings to block tracking cookies, and regularly deleting browser cookies and cache to remove tracking data and browsing history stored on the device.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The main point to remember is that incognito mode is not completely private because your IP address is still visible. This means that your activities can still be visible to the websites you visit, your employer, and your ISP. Also, the Google case highlights what a grey area the ‘incognito’ name seems to be, and one of the questions in the case has been whether Google actually made a legally binding promise not to collect users’ data when they browsed in private / incognito mode.

Achieving complete privacy while browsing the internet is actually quite a challenge due to the interconnected and complex nature of online services and the widespread use of tracking technologies. Most websites and online services collect user data for various purposes, such as personalising content, advertising, or analytics. This data collection is often deeply integrated into the infrastructure of the web, making it difficult to avoid entirely.

Therefore, perhaps the most realistic way for users to enhance their privacy is a multi-layered approach. Using a reliable Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a good start, as it encrypts internet traffic and masks the user’s IP address, making it harder for third parties to track online activities. Also, using privacy-focused browsers and search engines, disabling tracking cookies, and regularly clearing browsing history and caches can further reduce one’s digital footprint. However, it’s important to understand that these measures improve privacy but do not guarantee complete anonymity. For instance, a VPN hides your IP address from websites but the VPN provider itself can see your internet traffic unless it enforces a strict no-logs policy. Similarly, while privacy-focused browsers limit tracking, they don’t completely eliminate the possibility of data collection by websites or internet service providers.

Tech Tip – Pin Tabs In Chrome To Save Time And Stay Organised

If there are websites that you use regularly, pinning tabs is a way to save time, stay organised, and get right to the websites you need every time you open your Google Chrome browser. Here’s how it works:

– Open Chrome and type in the domain of the required website.

– Right-click on the tab the website is open in and select ‘Pin’.

– You’ll see your pinned tab appear at the top of the browser on the left. Pinned tabs are stored on the left of the window and only show the site’s icon, saving space.

– Pinned tabs stay in place, even when you close and reopen Chrome, so it’s just a case of clicking on the pinned tab (top left) to quickly go to the required website.

Featured Article : Google Launches Gemini AI Studio

Following on from Google’s recent launch announcement for Gemini (its new super-powered foundation model family), Google has now announced the launch of AI Studio to enable the development of apps and chatbots using Gemini.

Gemini (Pro) 

Google recently announced the introduction of its largest and most capable AI model, Gemini. The three sizes of the model, Ultra, Pro and Nano are already being rolled out with Gemini Nano in Android, starting with Pixel 8 Pro, and a specifically tuned version of Gemini Pro in Google’s Bard chatbot. Gemini Pro is now also available for developers and enterprises to build for their using AI Studio.

AI Studio – Leveraging The Power of Gemini 

Google’s new AI Studio (previously called ‘MakerSuite’), which Google describes as “the fastest way to build with Gemini” is a free, web-based developer tool that enables users to quickly develop prompts and then get an API key to use in app development. In short, it’s a fast, free, easy-to-use tool to enable the creation of apps and chatbots that leverage the power of Gemini Pro model (and Ultra later next year).

Generous Free Quota 

As Google is keen to point out, users who sign into Google AI Studio with their Google account login can take advantage of the 60 requests per minute free quota, which is 20 times more than other free offerings.

How It Works 

Once signed in, AI Studio users simply need to click on “Get code” to transfer their work to their integrated development environment (IDE) of choice or use one of the quickstart templates available in Android Studio, Colab or Project IDX.

Shared With Reviewers To Improve Product Quality 

Google also says that to improve the quality of AI Studio, when using the free quota, it may make the user’s API and Google AI Studio input and output accessible to trained reviewers. Google stresses that in the interests of privacy, this data is de-identified from the user’s Google account and API key.

Currently, Google AI Studio supports both Gemini Pro and Gemini Pro Vision models, which accommodate text and imagery development, but not yet image creation

How Much Can You Do With The Free AI Studio? 

It’s been reported that the team behind AI Studio have tried to make sure it doesn’t feel like a very limited trial version or a gated product and that, if the free-tiers rate limits are sufficient for their use, developers can start publishing their AI Studio apps or use them through the API or Google’s software development kits (SDKs) right away.

Which Software Development Kits (SDKs)? 

With Gemini Pro, the SDKs supported include Python, Android (Kotlin), Node.js, Swift and JavaScript, which should enable the building of apps that can run anywhere.

Transition To Vertex AI 

In line with Google’s “growing with Google” (customer retention) concept, AI Studio offers a way for Google to first let users experiment and learn, before seamlessly enabling them to “easily transition” to its fully managed (paid-for) AI developer platform ‘Vertex AI.’ This platform offers the added benefits and value of customisation of Gemini with full data control, and it benefits from additional Google Cloud features for enterprise security, safety, privacy and data governance and compliance.

Those who choose to transition to Vertex will therefore have access to Gemini plus, meaning that they can:

– “Tune and distil” Gemini with their own company’s data and augment it with grounding to include up-to-minute information and extensions to take real-world actions.

– Build Gemini-powered search and conversational agents in a low code / no code environment. This includes support for retrieval-augmented generation (RAG), blended search, embeddings, conversation playbooks and more. RAG refers to using facts fetched from external sources to enhance the accuracy and reliability of generative AI models.

All this should mean that businesses can use these Google AI services to create their own working, real-world customised chatbots and apps (based on a powerful model), saving time and money and without requiring vast amounts of technical skill to do so. Google is also keen to highlight how using Vertex will protect privacy because Google says it doesn’t train its models on inputs or outputs from Google Cloud customers, and customer data and IPs remain their own. This is likely to be important to the many enterprise customers and developers that Google hopes will adopt AI Studio and then Vertex AI.

Looking Ahead (And Pricing)

As previously mentioned, using Google’s Gemini Pro through AI Studio is currently free, and a pay-as-you-go version (coming soon to AI Studio) will be priced at (input) $0.00025 / 1K characters and $0.0025 / image, and output $0.0005 / 1K char.

Google says: “Vertex AI developers can try the same models, with the same rate limits, at no cost until general availability early next year, after which there will be a charge per 1,000 characters or per image across Google AI Studio and Vertex AI.” The Vertex platform is already charged by every 1,000 characters of input (prompt) and every 1,000 characters of output (response).

With Gemini, the new, powerful three-flavoured foundation model means users can build their apps and chatbots via Google AI Studio and then Vertex. Ultra, the largest and most capable model, will be launched next year (following testing and tuning). Google also says it plans to bring Gemini to more of its developer platforms like Chrome and Firebase.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

In the fast-moving generative AI market, Google’s powerful Gemini models and its infrastructure and tools for leveraging these models (AI Studio and Vertex) enable it to compete with the likes of OpenAI’s GPT-4 model, its API and ChatGPT. With the race now moving towards giving users the tools to make their own customised apps and chatbots (like OpenAI’s GPTs) focused on their own business uses, this is an important competitive step from Google.

AI Studio is also a way to ease users into Google’s AI services, retain and upsell them by offering them a seamless way to move up to the bigger paid-for platform Vertex. Being able to build apps and chatbots in an easy, low-code way is likely to be very attractive to most businesses that are sold on the general benefits of AI but want a way to easily tailor it in a value-adding way that is specific to their own business needs. Although Google and the other major tech players are moving quickly to meet these needs, it seems that this is such a fast-moving market that in even just a month or two, other major developments or products can up the ante for all again. OpenAI, for example has (after its recent boardroom power struggle) has already announced some major new developments for the very near future.

For now, it’s a case of Google scoring some points with Gemini and its associated infrastructure tools. However, keep watching this space!

An Apple Byte : Push Notification Policy Change

Following U.S. Senator Ron Wyden revealing that governments can secretly force Apple and Google to hand over the contents of push notifications sent to customers’ phones, Apple has said it’s changed its policy and will no longer do so without a valid judge’s order. This will be either a court order or a search warrant.

Push notifications are the pop-up messages that are sent to phones to alert users to new messages, news, and app-based updates. However, since these notifications are routed through Apple and Google servers, Apple and Google can disclose them to governments as part of surveillance about how people are using certain apps.

Apple’s policy change was made to a passage in its guidelines without an official statement although Google issued a statement saying it had always required judicial approval to hand over this kind of information.

Tech News : Google’s Ultra-Powerful Gemini AI

Google has announced the phased rollout of its new ‘Gemini’ family of large language models with the Ultra version said to rival the abilities of OpenAI’s GPT-4.

What Is Gemini? 

Gemini, which Google describes as its “newest and most capable” large language model (LLM) and representing a “new era” for AI, is a highly advanced and multimodal AI model. Gemini is a foundational model and not a product like a chatbot. This means it’s designed to be integrated into Google’s existing (and future) products such as its Bard chatbot and Google Search.

The Key Difference 

The key difference to competing LLMs is Gemini’s native multimodality, which means it was built from the ground up to understand, process, combine, and generate different types of data seamlessly, i.e. text, code, audio, images, and video.

This approach differs from traditional multimodal models which often train separate components for different modalities and then stitch them together. As a result, Gemini can handle complex tasks involving various inputs more effectively than its predecessors, thereby making it particularly versatile and powerful.

Three Versions 

Google has produced three versions of the Gemini model, each one optimised for specific tasks. These are:

– Gemini Ultra. This is the largest and most capable version of the model, designed for highly complex tasks. For example, Google reports that it excels in various benchmarks, outperforming existing models and even human experts in Massive Multitask Language Understanding (MMLU). Gemini Ultra is particularly strong in fields requiring advanced reasoning and understanding, such as mathematics, physics, history, law, medicine, and ethics.

– Gemini Pro. This model version is versatile and has been optimised for scaling across a broad range of tasks. It has, therefore, now been integrated into Google Bard to enhance its capabilities. This upgrade has reportedly improved Bard’s performance in understanding and summarising information, reasoning, coding, and planning.

– Gemini Nano.  This version is the most efficient model, tailored for on-device tasks. Its efficiency makes it suitable for applications that require AI capabilities directly on mobile devices or other hardware with limited processing power.

Performance 

In terms of performance, Gemini is reported to have shown exceptional results, surpassing state-of-the-art models in many areas. Google claims, for example that Gemini can outperform OpenAI’s GPT-4 platform (which powers ChatGPT) on 30 of the 32 widely-used academic benchmarks!

Gemini has demonstrated advanced capabilities in not just understanding and reasoning across different modalities but also in coding, being able to understand, explain, and generate high-quality code in multiple programming languages.

Adding To Google’s Search? 

As expected, and intended, Google has been reported to be experimenting with integrating Gemini into its Search Generative Experience (SGE), where it has already shown improvements in speed and quality. This integration could have the potential for Gemini to enhance Google’s search capabilities significantly thereby upping the ante in the search engine market.

Downsides? 

Although Gemini’s exceptional abilities point to a “new standard” being set (as described by Gartner’s Chirag Dekate), this kind of power is bound to come with risk and downsides. For example:

– Possible ethical and societal Impacts. AI systems with advanced reasoning capabilities could still make decisions or produce outputs that reflect biases present in their training data, leading to potential ethical issues and unfair representations in sensitive areas.

– Privacy concerns. The extensive data processing capabilities of Gemini could raise significant privacy concerns, especially regarding personal data misuse, and these concerns could increase as this type of model become more integrated into everyday technologies, e.g. Gemini Nano on devices.

– Misinformation and manipulation. Something this powerful and multimodal could have the ability to seamlessly create realistic fake content could be exploited for crime, spreading misinformation, or manipulating public opinion.

– Dependence and skill erosion. A really powerful multimodal model like Gemini could lead to an overreliance on AI which could lead to a decline in human skills and critical thinking abilities.

– Security risks. Powerful AI models like Gemini could become targets for cyberattacks. If compromised, they could be used for malicious purposes, such as generating harmful content or disrupting critical digital infrastructure.

– Economic impacts. The effects of AI-driven automation on employment, job displacement in certain sectors, and inequality are only likely to be increased by Gemini. As already stated, the Ultra version is very strong in areas like mathematics, physics, history, law, and medicine.

– Regulatory and control challenges. The rapid advancement and complexity of AI models like Gemini make it difficult for regulatory frameworks to keep pace.

– Unpredictable outcomes. The increasing complexity of AI LLMs can lead to less transparent and predictable decision-making processes, therefore, making it difficult to understand and manage these systems effectively.

OpenAI Challenger

Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO, has indicated that as early as next year, it could be launching its own new ultra-powerful AI products that could compete with Gemini. Open AI also has the backing of Microsoft (which is currently the subject of a CMA antitrust investigation).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With the rollout of Google’s Gemini AI, businesses appear to be on the cusp of a new era in AI. Gemini, with its versions Ultra, Pro, and Nano, is not just another large language model, but it represents a leap forward in AI’s ability to understand, process, and generate a multitude of data types, including text, code, audio, images, and video. This multimodal functionality is a key differentiator, setting it apart from existing models in a value-adding way.

For businesses already leveraging Google’s suite of products, the integration of Gemini could mean a significant boost in efficiency and capability. The enhanced Bard chatbot and Google Search, powered by Gemini, are likely to deliver more accurate, nuanced, and comprehensive results. This could transform how businesses handle data, engage with customers, and develop content.

Also, the advanced capabilities of Gemini, especially in its Ultra version, offer unparalleled opportunities in areas requiring deep analysis and reasoning, like market research, product development, and strategic planning. Its ability to outperform other models and even human experts in certain tasks could provide businesses with insights and solutions that were previously unattainable.

However, this power comes with challenges and responsibilities. For example, its power and multimodal capabilities could be effectively exploited by bad actors and the advanced data processing capabilities of Gemini could pose privacy and security risks if not managed carefully. Additionally, as AI technology advances rapidly in this way, staying compliant with evolving regulatory frameworks is crucial and businesses must navigate these changes responsibly to avoid legal and reputational risks. Also, with the EU only just compiling its own provisional AI bill (which won’t become law for at least 2 years), and OpenAI set to introduce its own next generation LLM in 2024 it seems that effective regulation in the AI market looks like being incredibly challenging and likely to lag considerably behind the technology.

The increasing economic impacts of AI-driven automation, particularly in employment, also warrant attention and businesses may be left with decisions such as how to reskill and redeploy their workforce to mitigate the effects of ultra-powerful LLMs and their AI chatbots eating into wider areas of human expertise.

Google’s Gemini, therefore, presents businesses with a wealth of opportunities for growth and innovation and yet, it also underscores the importance of a balanced approach in leveraging AI technology, and the need for regulation to keep up. As the AI landscape continues to evolve, businesses must remain adaptable, ethical, and vigilant to harness the full potential of AI while mitigating its risks. Gemini looks like being a disruptive competitive advantage for Google in the short term. The future competition in the AI market, with companies like OpenAI gearing up to introduce their own advanced models, indicates an exciting and challenging road ahead for businesses navigating the world of AI.

Tech Tip – Using Chrome As A Drag And Drop File Viewer

If you’d like to save time and conveniently view various types of files like PDFs, images, and text documents directly in the browser, eliminating the need for multiple separate applications, here’s how to use Google Chrome as simple, all-purpose, drag and drop file viewer:

– Open a new tab in Chrome.

– Drag and drop a document or image file into the tab.

– Chrome will display the file, allowing you to view PDFs, images, text files, and even some video and audio files without needing a separate application.

Tech News : Google Files Fiasco

An issue with Google’s cloud that locked some Google Drive for desktop users out of some of their files from the last six months has led to some angry comments being left on Google’s community support site.

Reported Over A Week Ago 

The issue was first reported by a user (known as ‘Yeonjoong) back on 22 November. The user describes the issue (on the Google Drive Help page) as:

“The Drive literally went back to condition in May 2023. Data from May until today disappeared, and the folder structure went back to status in May. Google Drive activity doesn’t show any changes (only show activity that was in May). No files were deleted manually, so no files in Trash. I never sync or shared my files and drive to anyone, I used the drive locally.“ 

Still Investigating

At the time of writing this article, Google says it is still investigating the issue. Also, the user who first reported it claims that none of the fixes suggested by Google so far have worked.

What Are Other Users Saying? 

Posts from other affected users have highlighted issues such as:

– Losing access to important files from recent months.

– Questioning the dependability of the Drive Service.

– Asking for a full explanation of what had happened and to be informed about when their data will appear back.

– Fears that important data may have been altered or permanently lost, e.g. by clicking on the disconnect button (which users have now been informed not to do, but some claim were told to do originally).

– Reports of stress and worry, with some users threatening legal action.

What Does Google Advise? 

At present, Google’s advice to affected Drive for desktop users in relation to what Google is calling the “Drive for desktop (v84.0.0.0 – 84.0.4.0) Sync Issue” is:

– Not to click “Disconnect account” within Drive for desktop.

– Not to delete or move the app data folder: Windows: %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Google\DriveFS or macOS: ~/Library/Application Support/Google/DriveFS.

– (Optional) If users have room on your hard drive, to make a copy of the app data folder.

Google Cloud Vulnerabilities 

This latest story comes hot on the heels of Bitdefender researchers reporting recently that they’d discovered vulnerabilities in Google Workspace and Google Cloud Platform which, after first compromising the local machine, could allow threat actors to extend their activities to a “chain reaction” network-wide breach, potentially leading to ransomware attacks or data exfiltration.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The main concern for businesses directly impacted by this issue revolves around data integrity and reliability. Losing access to recent files can disrupt ongoing projects, delay deadlines, potentially lead to financial losses, and make users very angry and frustrated (as the comments on Google’s help page show). This incident highlights the importance of having a robust backup strategy that doesn’t rely solely on cloud services. Those businesses who have been directly affected or those who may have been spooked by this story may now want to reassess their data management policies, considering additional local or multi-cloud backups for critical data.

For the wider base of Google Cloud users, this incident could be seen as a kind of cautionary tale that underscores the need for vigilance in cloud data management, and the importance of understanding the potential risks associated with cloud storage solutions. Really (time and resources permitting) users should try to stay informed about best practices for data safety and be proactive in implementing them. This could include regular audits of data access, backup strategies, and staying updated on service updates and potential vulnerabilities. That said, it seems fair for most businesses who are paying Google for aspects of its cloud service to at least expect to be able to access their files when they need them and if there is there is a problem, expect Google to sort it out quite quickly (not a week or so later). Also, many users may have been even more frustrated by a possible lack of communication on Google’s side about the issue, e.g. at least an estimate of when they could expect it to be fixed and regular updates on the situation.

For Google, this lockout issue could obviously be damaging to its reputation as a reliable cloud service provider. In the competitive cloud market, reliability and trust are paramount. Google will need to not only address the current issue swiftly and transparently but also take proactive steps to prevent similar occurrences in the future. This could involve investing more in their infrastructure, enhancing their communication protocols during crises, and possibly reviewing their update and deployment strategies to ensure minimal disruption to users. The way Google handles this situation (which many affected users haven’t been too impressed with so far) could have lasting effects on its market position and user trust.

Although this issue has posed some challenges to affected businesses, it could also be seen on reflection as providing valuable lessons for all stakeholders in the cloud services arena. Lessons include understanding more fully what their customers value the most and making more of a commitment to matters of reliability, transparency, and communication.

Tech Tip – Use Chrome As A Simple Note-Taking App

If you’re using Google Chrome to browse the internet and want a quick way to jot down notes or ideas without needing a separate app, this trick will turn a Chrome tab into a simple note-taking app. Here’s how it works:

– Open a new tab in Chrome.

– Copy and paste or type “data:text/html, <html contenteditable>” into the address bar and press Enter.

– A blank page will appear where you can type notes directly.

– You can now bookmark the page to save it for later so you can refer back to your notes within Chrome any time.