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Google celebrates Star Wars Day with a fun Grogu Easter egg

Google is celebrating Star Wars Day with a special Easter egg featuring Grogu, also known as Baby Yoda. When you type “Grogu” or “Baby Yoda” into the Google Search bar, the character will appear in the bottom right corner of your screen. Once you click on him, he will use the Force to knock out the top section of the results.
If you click on him again, he will continue to dismantle the search results.
Image Credits: Screenshot/TechCrunch
Grogu stars alongside Pedro Pascal in the Disney+ original series “The Mandalorian,” which just finished its third season. The character has been a fan favorite ever since the series premiered on Disney+ in November 2019.
Baby Yoda can knock out Search results on both the mobile and desktop versions of Google.

‘The Acolyte’ Star Wars series will debut on Disney+ in 2024

Google celebrates Star Wars Day with a fun Grogu Easter egg by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch
Google celebrates Star Wars Day with a fun Grogu Easter egg

Google gets antitrust attention in Spain over news licensing

Google can add another antitrust investigation to its stack. This one has been opened by Spain’s competition authority, the CNMC, which said today it’s concerned about possible anti-competitive practices related to the licensing of news content by local publishers.
In a press release it said it is investigating “a series of practices that could involve an abuse of Google’s dominant position vis-à-vis the publishers of press publications and news agencies established in Spain” [NB: We’ve translated the text from Spanish with machine translation].
“In particular, these practices would consist the possible imposition of unfair commercial conditions on the publishers of press publications and news agencies established in Spain for the exploitation of their content protected by intellectual property rights,” it also wrote. “On the other hand, the investigated behaviors would also include practices that would constitute acts of unfair competition that could distort free competition and affect the public interest.”
The competition authority said it is acting following a complaint by the Spanish Center for Reprographic Rights (aka, Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos or CEDRO).
We’ve reached out to all concerned.
News licensing is an area where Google has faced severe sanction in Europe already. Back in July 2021, France’s antitrust authority fined the tech giant over half a billion dollars for breaching an order to negotiate copyright fees with news publishers for reuse of their content. That followed the EU a copyright reform, agreed back in 2019, that extended IP to snippets of news content — requiring platforms like Google to negotiate with publishers.

Google fined $592M in France for breaching antitrust order to negotiate copyright fees for news snippets

Spain transposed the EU reform into its national law in November 2021, paving the way for a return of Google News to the country.
Google’s news aggregation service had closed in Spain in 2014 after the country passed a law that aimed to force Google to pay a collective licensing fee for the news snippets. The EU copyright reform replaced the prior fee regime with a requirement to negotiate with individual publishers — and Google News duly reopened in Spain in June 2022.
At the same time, the company also announced it would launch its News Showcase product in the country. Google’s News Showcase product was spun up by the tech giant in fall 2020 as lawmakers in Europe and elsewhere were zeroing in on making it pay for news content reuse — creating a licensing vehicle it could use in the looming, inexorable negotiations with publishers.
It’s not immediately clear whether the Spanish probe will focus on Google’s News Showcase licensing arrangements or on copyright fees talks — or both.
While it remains to be seen what Spain’s investigation of Google’s news licensing practices will finally determine — the authority has up to 18 months to conduct the probe — it said its preliminary information-gathering phase found “indications of possible infringement”.
Germany’s antitrust authority, meanwhile, has already pushed back over Mountain View’s practices in this area after starting to scrutinize its news-related fine print in summer 2021. The regulatory attention on Google from the German FCO — which is currently armed with beefier powers to tackle Big Tech than other European countries (thanks to a 2021 update to competition law squarely targeted at digital giants) — has led to Google offering a series of concessions over how it operates News Showcase locally, including an offer not to include the showcasing of licensed content in general search results (which is one trigger for antitrust concerns).
The News Showcase product provides the prospect of raised visibility for participating publishers, since the offer is for Google to feature participants’ content to users across a number of touchpoints. However that could create a disadvantage for publishers who don’t pay Google (i.e. if it leads to their content being less visible in Google’s general Internet search, given its continued dominance of the Internet search and content discovery market).
Google has also sought to co-mingle negotiations with publishers over News Showcase with what are, under the pan-EU reform, legally required talks over copyright fees — something France’s watchdog slapped down in its hefty enforcement in mid 2021.

Google offers not to put News Showcase into search results in Germany as antitrust probe rolls on

Google users not given sufficient choice over its data processing, says German antitrust watchdog

Google gets antitrust attention in Spain over news licensing by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch
Google gets antitrust attention in Spain over news licensing

Google rolls out tests that block news content for some users in Canada

Google has launched tests that block access to news content for some users in Canada in response to the Canadian government’s online news bill. Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, would require platforms like Facebook and Google to negotiate deals that would pay news publishers for their content. The bill is currently before the Canadian Senate for debate.
The company told TechCrunch that the tests impact “a small percentage” of Canadian users. The tests limit the visibility of Canadian and international news, and affect all types of news content.
“We’re briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users,” a spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch in an email. We run thousands of tests each year to assess any potential changes to Search. We’ve been fully transparent about our concern that C-18 is overly broad and, if unchanged, could impact products Canadians use and rely on every day. We remain committed to supporting a sustainable future for news in Canada and offering solutions that fix Bill C-18.”
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said on Twitter that Canadians won’t be intimidated by the tests and that tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable.

It’s disappointing to hear that Google is trying to block access to news sites. Canadians won’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, all we’re asking the tech giants to do is compensate journalists when they use their work. (1/2) https://t.co/11iRMA9jpL
— Pablo Rodriguez (@pablorodriguez) February 23, 2023

“It’s disappointing to hear that Google is trying to block access to news sites,” Rodriguez said in a tweet. “Canadians won’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, all we’re asking the tech giants to do is compensate journalists when they use their work. That’s why we introduced the Online News Act. Tech giants need to be more transparent and accountable to Canadians.”
Last year, Facebook threatened to block the sharing of Canadian news content unless the government amended legislation that would force digital platforms to pay news publishers. In 2021, Facebook briefly restricted users in Australia from sharing or viewing news links on the platform due to similar legislation. Google is now borrowing from the Meta-owned company’s playbook.
The move from Google doesn’t mark the first time that the company has opposed Canadian legislation. Last year, Google expressed concerns with Bill C-11, or the Online Streaming Act. The bill would force platforms like Google-owned YouTube to more prominently feature Canadian content. Google argued that the bill would negatively affect creators and viewers, and limit content discoverability. The Canadian Senate recently passed the bill with dozens of amendments, and it will be reviewed by the House of Commons.
A few months ago, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai issued a statement noting that the online news and streaming bills discriminate against American businesses. The U.S. government has also raised concerns about the trade implications of the bills.
Google rolls out tests that block news content for some users in Canada by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch
Google rolls out tests that block news content for some users in Canada

Google winds down feature that put playable podcasts directly in search results

Google confirmed it’s putting an end to a feature that allowed users to access playable podcasts directly from the Google Search results in favor of offering podcast recommendations. Officially launched in 2019, the feature surfaced podcasts when they matched a user’s query, including in those cases where a user specifically included the word “podcast” in their search terms. But a few weeks ago, some creators began noticing the podcast carousels had disappeared from Google Search results — and now the company is explaining why that’s the case.
The disappearance was first spotted by Podnews.net, which noted in January that searches for podcasts no longer returned any play buttons or links to Google Podcasts itself. When they tested the feature by searching for “history podcasts” they were only provided with a list of shows alongside links to podcast reviews, Apple Podcast pages and other places to stream.
At the time, Google simply told the site the feature was working “as intended.”
But a new announcement in Google Podcasts Manager indicates the feature is officially being shut down as of February 13.
“Google Search will stop showing podcast carousels by February 13. As a result, clicks and impressions in How people find your show will drop to zero after that date,” the message states. Podcasters are also being instructed to download any historical data they want to keep in advance of this final closure.
Of course, as many podcasters already discovered, their metrics had already declined as the feature was being wound down.
To be fair, playable podcasts in search wasn’t a remarkably well-executed product as it didn’t offer a way to do much more than click to play an episode. On YouTube’s Podcasts vertical, by comparison, podcast creators can create an index to the various parts of an episode, allowing users to jump directly to the section they wanted to hear. Plus, users can watch a video of the podcast, if the creator chooses to film.
YouTube has also proven to be more popular than Google Podcasts and other competitors. In a 2022 market survey of podcast listeners, for example, YouTube came out ahead of Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts as users’ preferred podcast platform. Though many podcast market analysis reports don’t consider YouTube when comparing the popularity of various podcast apps, one recent report by Buzzsprout at least suggests that using web browser as a listening app had a very small market share of just 3.5%. And that share had barely increased over the years, despite Google’s indexing of shows.
Reached for comment, Google explained its decision to wind down playable podcasts in Search will allow it to focus on a new addition instead.
“Our existing podcast features will gradually be replaced with a new, single feature, What to Podcast,” a spokesperson told us. They noted the feature is currently live on mobile for English users in the U.S. “This feature provides detailed information about podcasts, links to listen to shows on different platforms, and links to podcasters’ own websites, where available,” the spokesperson added.
According to the help documentation, these recommendations will be personalized to the user if they’re signed into their Google account and will factor in things like the user’s past searches and browsing history, saved podcasts and other podcast preferences. The personalized results can be turned off, however, if the user wants more generic suggestions, Google says.
Google winds down feature that put playable podcasts directly in search results by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch
Google winds down feature that put playable podcasts directly in search results

How to track Santa Claus this Christmas Eve

If you’re a parent with young children, then you’ll probably hear this a lot on Christmas Eve: “Where’s Santa right now?” With tracking tools like the NORAD Santa Tracker and Google’s Santa Tracker, everyone can know when Father Christmas will arrive.
Here’s how to follow Santa’s journey this Christmas Eve.
Track Santa Claus with NORAD
NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) had the first-ever Santa tracker in 1955. While it used to be just a boring animation of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer flying across a map, NORAD has added tons of features in recent years, such as fun mini-games, videos, stories and Christmas music.
Image Credits: NORAD
Rather than a 2D model, the NORAD Santa tracker has a 3D visual depiction of Santa’s journey as the platform was built on Cesium’s open-source 3D mapping library. It also uses Bing Maps satellite imagery, making the globe look more “realistic.”
Along with the tracker tool, users can also see a “Santa Cam,” which has videos of Santa making his way around the world to deliver presents to every kid on the nice list.
NORAD’s website has Santa’s North Pole Village, which includes a holiday countdown, arcade-style games, kid-friendly music, an online library and various videos that can be watched on NORAD’s official YouTube channel.
NORAD Santa tracker is available on noradsanta.org, or you can download the official NORAD Tracks Santa app on Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store. The website is available in English, Chinese, French, Spanish, Japanese, German, Italian and Portuguese.
You can also track Santa through NORAD Tracker’s social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For a more personable experience, call 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6732), and you’ll speak with a volunteer from the organization’s call center who’ll update you on Santa’s location.
Plus, through a partnership with Amazon, NORAD lets Amazon Alexa users track Santa. Users can open the Amazon Alexa app and go to “Skills & Games,” then search for “NORAD Tracks Santa” skill. Once enabled, you can ask: “Alexa, where’s Santa?” You can also say, “Alexa, call Santa,” and the jolly man will hop on the phone with you and your kids. There’s an option to leave a voicemail message for him as well.

Track Santa Claus with Google
Google’s Santa Tracker launched in 2004 and simulates the tracking of Santa. The website features a live map of Santa’s current location, his next stop, a live video feed of his route, and the estimated arrival time for each location. It also shows the total distance that Santa has traveled so far and the number of presents he has delivered.
Image Credits: Google
Throughout December, the page operates as Santa’s Village, where users can play mini-games, take quizzes, watch animated videos and explore other interactive activities. For instance, players can build their own elf in Google’s “Elf Maker” game as well as host a concert with “Elf Jamband.” Kids can also learn how to code with easy and fun tutorials like “Code Boogie.”
Additionally, users can enlist the help of Google Assistant to learn about Santa’s whereabouts. You can ask, “Hey Google, where’s Santa?” or even “What’s new at the North Pole?” which lets you tune into Google’s North Pole Newscast where you can hear what Santa and his elves are up to that day.
Google Assistant also lets you call Santa himself. When you call him, Santa will be rehearsing for a concert and will ask for your musical expert advice.
And don’t forget to ask Google Assistant to tell you a Santa joke!

How to track Santa Claus this Christmas Eve by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch
How to track Santa Claus this Christmas Eve