Blocked from Google search: agree our terms or else go away

Late last week I encountered behaviour from Google that I had not seen before. It was related to my habit of not signing into Google automatically; I only sign in when I want to use Google+ (I know; but I have quite a few followers there and use it from time to time). Nor do I always use Google for search; I have Bing set as default, but Google is better for some kinds of searches – such as the kinds of searches admins and developers make when trying to fix a problem – so I use whichever one I think will get me the best results.

I therefore hit Google, only to find that I could not proceed. The only thing on the page was a notice stating that I could only continue using Google services if I “review key points” of Google’s Privacy Policy.


The word “review” turns out to be misleading. The next banner you see asks you not only to review but also to click “I agree” to a range of statements including delivering “ads based on your interests”.


If you click “Other options” you find that there are none, other than a list of minor tweaks you can make to your settings on a per-browser basis.

In my experience these do not work well anyway. I have opted out of every interest-based ad that I can, but I still see many ads that are obviously “interest based”, such as ads that mysteriously match recent searches on ecommerce sites.

Once you have reviewed these options, you have to go back and click “I agree”, or give up using Google search.

Most web sites in the EU now have at least some form of cookie consent banner, but in my experience it is rare that a site blocks you completely. Some simply state that by continuing you implicitly agree to their terms. Some let you dismiss the banner with an x, leaving ambiguity about whether or not you agree. Google has gone for the nuclear option: unless you specifically agree, no search for you. I found the same banner both on and

My immediate question was in what circumstances Google chooses to block search (and other services) until you agree its policies. I asked Google, but have yet to receive a reply; if and when I do, I will update this post.

It seems that some others also noticed this change of behaviour. Privacy advocate Aral Balkan tweeted about it.


Google is doing the right thing here, if it is not willing to let you use search or YouTube, for example, unless you agree its policies. No doubt it is trying to stay the right side of the law, especially in the EU.

At the same time, I do for some reason find this disturbing. Agreements like this are one-sided; there is no use in my trying to get Google to change some clause or other because I do not agree. Further, the extent to which I have choice in the matter is limited. Perhaps I can do my job without Google search, but without *any* Google services? What if I want to report on a conference where the sessions are on YouTube? Google has not created this content, but does deliver it. Is it reasonable for me to tell people, sorry, I cannot report on that, because it is on Google and I do not agree with its privacy policy, that feeds me pestilential interest-based ads and records my data in ways I cannot control?

You have choice but not that much choice; and the same applies to Facebook, where you may information that requires log-in and cannot easily be obtained elsewhere. I am sure that to most people putting something on Facebook is exactly equivalent to putting it on the Internet, but it is private property and there is a distinction.

Microsoft financials July-Sept 2015: decline of Windows hits home, cloud rises

Microsoft has reported its financials for its first quarter. Making sense of these is harder than usual because the company has changed its segment breakdown (and the names are misleading). The new segments are as follows:

Productivity and Business Processes: Office, both commercial and consumer, including retail sales, volume licenses, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Skype consumer, OneDrive, Microsoft Dynamics including Dynamics CRM, Dynamics ERP, both online and on-premises sales.

Intelligent Cloud: Server products not mentioned above, including Windows server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center, as well as Microsoft Azure.

More Personal Computing: What a daft name, more than what? Still, this includes Windows in all its non-server forms, Windows Phone both hardware and licenses, Surface hardware, gaming including Xbox, Xbox Live, and search advertising.

Here are the latest figures:

Quarter ending  Sept 30th 2015 vs quarter ending Sept 30th 2014, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Operating income Change
Productivity and Business Processes 6306 -184 3105 -233
Intelligent Cloud 5892 +417 2400 +294
More Personal Computing 9381 -1855 1562 -57
Corporate and Other -1200 -1200 -1274 -55

A few points to note.

Death of Windows Phone: Microsoft acquired Nokia’s Devices and Services business in April 2014. In fiscal year 2015, according to Microsoft’s 10-Q report, the company “eliminated approximately 19,000 positions in fiscal year 2015, including approximately 13,000 professional and factory positions related to the Nokia Devices and Services business.” This was rationalisation following the acquisition; the real blow came a year later. “In June 2015, management approved a plan to restructure our phone business to better focus and align resources (the “Phone Hardware Restructuring Plan”), under which we will eliminate up to 7,800 positions in fiscal year 2016.”

Windows Phone is not quite dead, but Microsoft seems to have given up on the idea of competing with Android and iOS in the mainstream. Year on year, phone revenue is down 58%, Lumia units down from 9.3 million to 5.8 million, non-Lumia phones down from 42.9 million to 25.5 million. This is what happens when you tell the world you are giving up.

Windows: Revenue down 7% “driven by declines in the business and consumer PC markets”.

Surface: Revenue down by 26% because Surface Pro 3 launched in June 2014; this should pick up following the launch of new Surface hardware recently.

Cloud: Microsoft’s “Commercial cloud” comprises Office 365 Commercial, Azure and Dynamics CRM online. All are booming. Azure revenue and usage more than doubled year on year, with 121% revenue growth. In addition, Office 365 consumer subscribers increased by 3 million in the quarter, to 18.2 million, an increase of nearly 20%.

Server products: Revenue is up 6% thanks to “higher revenue from premium versions of Microsoft SQL Server, Windows Server, and System Center”

Xbox: Steady, with Live revenue up 17%, Minecraft adding 17% to game revenue, and hardware revenue down 17% because of Xbox 360 declining (and by implication, not being replaced by Xbox One, a worrying trend).

Further observations

Is Microsoft now facing permanent long (but slow) decline in Windows as a client or standalone operating system? It certainly looks that way. The last hope is that Windows 10 in laptop, tablet and hybrid forms wins some users over from Mac computers and iPad/Android tablets. Despite some progress, Microsoft still has work to do before Windows delivers the smooth appliance-like experience of competing tablets, so I do not regard this as likely. The app ecosystem is also a problem. Tablets need Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps but developers can still target more Windows users with desktop apps, discouraging UWP development.

Microsoft is also busy removing the advantage of Windows by stepping up its first-party Mac, iOS and Android application development, though this makes sense as a way of promoting Office 365.

That leads on to the next question. If Windows continues to decline, can Microsoft still grow with Office 365 and Azure? Of course it is possible, and on these figures that strategy looks to be going reasonably well. That said, you can expect both Google to continue integrating Android and of course Chromebook with its rival cloud services. Apple today does not compete so much in the cloud, but may do in future. If the future Microsoft has to relying on third-party operating systems for user interaction it will be a long-term weakness.

Unfaithful music & Disappearing ink by Elvis Costello

unfaithful music

I still remember my first encounter with Elvis Costello’s music. It was the John Peel show on the radio of course, the song was Less than Zero, and I found it captivating: distinctive voice, catchy melody, and above all words that were evocative, mysterious and vaguely menacing even though I didn’t fully understand them. I snapped up the album My Aim is True when it was released a few months later and have been a fan ever since, following the twists and turns of his career from punk rock to R&B to country to collaborations with jazz, classical and hip-hop musicians.

Costello is an amazing wordsmith and songs pour out of him, such that many of his B sides and outtakes are more than equal to the best work of many others, a characteristic he shares only I think with Bob Dylan – who makes a regular appearance here as they encounter each other and end up performing together on a number of occasions.

Now this is his book, 36 chapters (plus postscript) and approaching 700 pages. It is an excellent read, presuming you have some time for the man or an interest in the music scene of the last forty or so years. Writing in short pithy paragraphs (just as you would expect) Costello tells the story of his life, his bands, his writing, his father Ross MacManus who was also a singer, girls girls girls, and along the way recounts many entertaining and often alcoholic incidents of life on the road.

The rhythm of the book is somewhat staccato and the sequence of events is only loosely chronological – that is, there is more about his earlier years in the first half of the book, and more about his later years in the second, but he constantly jumps back in forth in time making literary counterpoints. His habit of ending an anecdote just when you thought it was getting going can be annoying; but he is never dull.

It would be an interesting exercise to rearrange, or attempt to rearrange, the book into chronological order, but I don’t fancy doing it with my printed copy.

There are black and white photos interspersed throughout the book; they don’t look great partly because they are printed on paper designed for text. In addition they have no captions. A shame.

Costello writes a lot about his father, and in some ways the book is a tribute to him. He writes of his statement a couple of years ago that he would give up making records, which at the time he said was about spending more time with his children. “The real reason was that I needed time to imagine how I could bear to write songs and not be able to play them for my father. Watching him listen to music was irreplaceable to me,” he says. Such passages are where Costello shows most emotion.

One good reason to read the book is for insight into Costello’s songwriting. Some songs are described in detail, often including how they were influenced by or borrow from existing music, and how the words came together. One of my favourite passages (since I am a fan of both) is a conversation with Dylan:

“One night Bob Dylan said to me: ‘U2! How could they do that to you? How could they take your song like that!

“It took me a moment to know what he was talking about, and a moment more to realize that he was putting me on. But then, U2’s ‘Get on your boots’ was probably to ‘Pump it up’ what ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ is to Chuck Berry’s ‘Too much monkey business’.”

Costello is a performer and the book is in a way a performance; I wish it were less so, but perhaps if so it would be less entertaining.

There is a sharp side to Costello which occasionally goes too far. He writes of early days with Stiff (the independent record label responsible for his first releases) and the threat of being paired with another singer, “a horrible little git called Eric, who’d stumbled into the office with a single decent song.” Did he have to say that?

One thing which comes over powerfully though is his love of music and absolute belief in its importance. Of music he says, “There is no superior. There is no high and low. The beautiful thing is, you don’t have to choose, you can love it all. Those songs are there to help you when you need them most.”

That in the end is the great thing about Unfaithful Music and disappearing Ink; it will inspire you to go back to the music, both from Costello and from others, and perhaps even to go beyond your comfort zone and explore some artists you may have missed or dismissed. He did.

This is among the most enjoyable music books I have read; recommended.

Shadows in the night by Bob dylan

shadows in the night

Dylan is a man of many moods. If you are looking for Dylan the folk singer, Dylan the prophet, Dylan the protestor, or the electric Dylan of Highway 61 revisited, you may not find this album to your taste. Instead, we are transported to the fifties, Frank Sinatra and the pensive small hours of the morning. Dylan is soulful and languid, singing standards from another era, songs of autumn, songs of night. The music is melodic, slow and recessed; the mood is reflective, the voice is tour-weary but tuneful (for Dylan) and articulate; Dylan has taken a lot of care with this album, nothing is thrown away, nothing breaks the mood, and the lyrics are full of meaning; even though others wrote them down, he makes them his own.

These are the songs of a man who has been everywhere, done everything, and has nothing left to prove. It feels like he is singing for himself and allowing us the privilege of listening in. Sometimes he is confessional; “I know I have sinned, I go seeking shelter and I cry in the wind,” he sings in Stay with Me; and “Show me that river, take me across and wash all my troubles away” in a magnificent performance of Lucky old Sun at the close. These are songs of yearning; “if my one wish comes true, my empty arms will be filled with you” he croons in Full Moon and Empty Arms.

As a Dylan fan of many years, and one lucky enough to have seen him perform on many occasions, I love the album. It is different but not different; as ever, he follows his artistic instinct, never mind what others think. “Let people wonder, let ‘em laugh, let ‘em frown …. don’t you remember I was always your clown, why try to change me now?” he sings.

Thank you Bob for giving us an enchanted evening.