Google AMP gets a shock to its system as advisor quits, lawsuit claims foul play

No one's AMPing up the love


Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages technology, known as AMP among web publishers, took a beating this week as an antitrust lawsuit filed by the Attorney General of Texas charged that the ad biz used AMP to hinder competition.

And on Friday, Terence Eden, a member of the AMP Advisory Committee, which was formed two years ago in response to criticism that the AMP project ignored publisher concerns, announced his resignation, citing the project's failure to make the web better.

AMP was created by Google in 2015, ostensibly as a way to make mobile web pages load faster but also as a defense against content formats like Apple News Format and Facebook Instant Articles. It requires web developers to code their web pages in a particular way using a subset of HTML and JavaScript to ensure the pages can be loaded efficiently.

The technology has had detractors almost since its inception, based on claims it disempowers publishers by disassociating content from its domain of origin – Google serves cached AMP articles from its servers – and cements Google's already considerable power over the web.

By 2018, several months after the publication of an open letter opposing AMP, Google attempted to mollify critics by broadening governance of the open source project beyond Google employees.

The ad biz put further distance between itself and AMP in June, 2020, when it surrendered AMP to the OpenJS Foundation. And in a concession last month, following the US Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit in October, Google said it will end preferential treatment for AMP pages in its mobile Top Stories carousel come May, 2021.

Chrome icon on sandy beach

Google promises next week's cookie-crumbling Chrome 80 will only cause 'a very modest amount of breakage'

READ MORE

Any goodwill Google won through its actions could be undone if the claims about AMP in the Texas AG's complaint against Google prove true.

After the complaint was made public, Robin Berjon, VP of data governance at the New York Times, said on Twitter, "Every time I point out that AMP is bad, someone from Google will try to tell me it’s not."

"The @TXAG complaint indicates that Google has documented exactly how bad AMP is, and ties it to a deliberate play to prevent competition from header bidding."

Bid for eyeballs

Header bidding is a way websites can auction ad space to multiple ad exchanges at once. It's an alternative to the "waterfall" or "daisy-chain" approach where space gets auctioned to bidders sequentially. Header bidding is said to be more advantageous for publishers by allowing them to get better prices for their ad space.

The Texas AG's complaint against Google claims that Google abused its search market monopoly power to stop header bidding as a way to ensure ad transactions went through its own ad exchange.

"Header bidding is only possible if publishers can insert JavaScript code into the header section of their webpages," the complaint says. "To respond to the threat of header bidding, Google created Accelerated Mobile Pages ('AMP'), a framework for developing mobile web pages, and made AMP essentially incompatible with JavaScript and header bidding."

The complaint further claims that Google's transfer of AMP to the OpenJS Foundation doesn't change the company's capacity to control the project because "Google controls the foundation’s board and debates internally." It also alleges that Google "falsely told publishers that adopting AMP would enhance load times" and that the company went so far as to hinder non-AMP ads "by giving them artificial one second delays" to convince publishers not to use header bidding.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Whether or not these claims hold up in court, Eden's departure from the AMP Advisory Committee doesn't help. "The stated goal of the AMP AC is to 'make AMP a great web citizen,'" he wrote in his valedictory post. "I am concerned that – despite the hard work of the AC – Google has limited interest in that goal."

Asked to elaborate, Eden in an email to The Register said, "I don't know what Google's motives are. But AMP has not been responsive to the needs of users, publishers, or the web community. We need an open, standards based approach to the web."

Eden in his post observes that Google has justified its support for mobile web app optimizations like AMP by asserting, without supporting data, that the mobile web is dying and people are shifting to native mobile platform apps.

"Every minute spent in an app is a minute not spent browsing the web and seeing Google's adverts," he explained in his email. "AMP was meant to bring the speed of apps to the web. I don't think that has worked."

And yet the web may be stuck with AMP for a while. In a blog post in July, EFF staff technologist Alexis Hancock wrote:

"At this point in time with the AMP project, Google can’t retroactively release the control it had in AMP’s adoption. And we can’t go back to a pre-AMP web to start over. ...All we can do now is learn from the process, and try to make sure AMP is developed in the best interests of users and publishers going forward." ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022