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No mountain? No problem: This Googler DIYed a rock wall

As a communications manager, Milan-based Googler Andrea Cristallini knows the importance of connecting with others through shared experiences. So when his partner Silvia suggested they start a sport together, he was excited to bond over something new. In December 2019, they went rock climbing together at a local gym for the first time and then climbed a real mountain soon after. 

“I fell in love with it,” Andrea says. “The movements are similar to a dance. I enjoy the concentration it requires, how it feels when you touch the stone, and the idea of ascending to see what’s up there — and take in the landscape around you.”

Then, two months later, Italy went into lockdown. “We had this new passion and no chance to practice it,” Andrea says. 

Thrilled with their new hobby, they decided to build their own climbing wall at home. “If you can’t go to the mountain, bring the mountain to you,” Andrea says. “I thought why not? It may not work, but we have several weekends ahead and nowhere to go.” 

Like so many others who found ways to pass the extra time at home, Andrea and Silvia turned to Search and YouTube. They read blog posts and watched videos on how to build a DIY training wall. 

They started small, with just one oriented panel leaning against a wall in their apartment and a few climbing holds scattered across it. But as time passed and the end of the pandemic was nowhere in sight, they added a second panel to the first, reinforcing them with support beams. They drilled in more climbing holds in different shapes and sizes. Then they connected the panels with a winch system that allows you to rotate the whole structure in order to increase difficulty and overhang. 

“The biggest challenge was designing it from scratch without experience,” Andrea says. “But I had the passion and the time.” 

Since then, Andrea and Silvia have used the climbing wall nearly every day. “Climbing helps us detach from screens; it’s a great mental break,” Andrea says. “I’m really motivated to get better at climbing, and it also makes me excited about spending more time outside soon.” 

Even after the pandemic is over, Andrea has no plans to take down the wall. "It's part of the house now, and it's very effective for training," he says. "On the contrary, I'll start inviting friends at home to practice!" 

Helping protect people from financial fraud in the U.K.

Over the last few years, people in the U.K. have been targeted by increasingly sophisticated scammers on and offline. According to UK Finance, in 2020, total fraud loss was £1.26 billion. Criminal gangs are using multiple malicious methods, including phishing emails, spoof phone calls and texts, shopping scams and impersonation scams, as well as scam advertising on social media and search engines.

Joining efforts to collaborate across industries

Tackling the scale of this problem requires collaboration across government, the financial services industry, the telecommunications industry, the tech industry and law enforcement. To play our part in this effort, we have become the first major technology company to join Stop Scams UK and will develop and share best practices with existing members from financial services and telecoms industries.

We also understand the importance of ensuring people are informed about how to spot the tactics of scammers and avoid falling victim to fraud, which is why we have pledged $5 million in advertising credits to support public awareness campaigns. The ads credits will be offered to cross-industry organisations already campaigning on this issue, as well as government bodies undertaking awareness campaigns.

Strengthening measures to protect U.K. consumers

As well as better equipping people to spot a scam, we know how vital it is to protect people from fraud. Over the next few months we will be developing and rolling out further restrictions to financial services advertising in the UK to protect consumers and legitimate advertisers.

The new measures build on significant work we have done to date to help stop financial scammers in the U.K., working closely with the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority):

  • In early 2020, we worked with the FCA to receive notifications when additions are made to the FCA warning list. There are more than 4,000 websites on the warning list.
  • Over the past year, we introduced several verification processes to learn more about the advertisers and their business operations. During the verification period, we pause advertiser accounts if their advertising or business practices are suspected of causing harm. We are currently requiring all UK financial services advertisers to complete these programs in order to run ads.
  • We updated our unreliable claims policy to restrict the rates of return a firm can advertise and ban the use of terms that make unrealistic promises of large financial return with minimal risk, effort or investment. 
  • We recently undertook a review of user experiences that tend to be targeted in the UK by bad actors and have introduced further restrictions, preventing ads from showing on those searches.

Globally, Google has also introduced new advertiser identity verification and rolled this out across the U.K. beginning earlier this year. Advertisers now need to submit personal legal identification, business incorporation documents or other information that proves who they are and the country in which they operate. This means Google can more effectively determine bad actors in the ecosystem from the start.

Ready to respond to evolving scammer tactics

At Google, thousands of people work around the clock to deliver a safe experience for users, creators, publishers and advertisers. Our teams use a mix of technology, including sophisticated machine learning, and human review to enforce our policies. This combination of technology and talent means policy violations can be spotted and action can be taken to remove bad ads.

Our teams are working hard on this issue because we all want U.K. consumers to feel safe and protected when they are managing their finances. Even as attempts by scammers evolve, we will continue to take strong action and work in partnership with others to help keep consumers safe.

Plan a perfect weekend with new Google Assistant features

Moms everywhere can likely agree that this year (and then some) has had us working overtime. As a mom of two who's working at home, I know that's how I've felt. Maybe that's why I'm extra excited for Mother's Day this year. And just in time, there are a few new Google Assistant features my family and I will be using to schedule the perfect weekend. 

First, I’ll Broadcast from my morning run

We’re extending one of our most popular Assistant features, Broadcast, so you can reach your family wherever they are, and they can respond from any device including from their phones. With Family Broadcast, when I get home from my Saturday morning run, I can broadcast to my newly created Google Family Group, “Hey Google, tell my family, how about lunch at noon?” across all our smart speakers and displays. The message will even reach my husband on his iPhone (or Android device) while he’s on the way home, letting him reply by voice or by tapping the "reply" button, “Hey Google, reply sounds good, stopping by grandma's house. See you in 15 minutes.” 

Then I’ll set a Family Bell reminder for some afternoon gardening

Two new Family Bell reminders I plan to set this weekend will remind me to water the plants (which I love, but often forget to do) as well as alert my kids to tidy up the house. It’s becoming a very popular feature. Since last summer, more than 20 million Family Bells have been rung to help families stay organized - that’s nearly 19 years worth of bells! As a quick hint, you’ll soon be able to just say “stop” to end the bell, starting in English. No need to use “Hey Google” again, just like with alarm and timers.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be expanding Family Bell to eight new languages, including Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. Another highly requested feature we’re rolling out today is the ability to have Family Bells ring across multiple home devices at one time (not just one smart speaker or display). 

Followed by winding down with new stories with the kids

Assistant is getting new stories and games that you can access from a smart display or Android device — this weekend, we plan to learn more about Quidditch from the Harry Potter stories with a simple “Hey Google, tell me a Quidditch Story.” We’ll be partnering with Pottermore Publishing to bring more stories later in the year, so stay tuned for more Wizarding WorldTM news.

We’re also bringing the “Who Was?” series from Penguin Random House to your smart display. Just say “Hey Google, talk to Who Was Heroes’” and listen to stories about Ida B. Wells, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and over 100 others. To get a full list of all the stories that are available, simply say “Hey Google, tell me a story.” (With a parent's permission, children under 13, or the applicable age in their country, can have a personalized Google Assistant experience and access these games designed for kids and families, powered by Family Link.)

And have some fun with new games

My husband and I love trivia, and will play the popular game show “Hey Google, talk to ‘Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?’” on our Nest Hub. 

Plus, a surprise or two 

We had to add a few easter eggs too. Try using a timer on Mother’s Day and see what happens!  

Since the handwashing song was so popular, we created new ones to help kids stay on task and do their chores. Try “Hey Google, Sing the clean up song,” “Hey Google, Sing the go to sleep song” or “Hey Google, Sing the brush your teeth song.”

Hopefully this schedule gives you a little Mother’s Day inspiration — or even just a stress-free weekend. 

When it comes to mental health, what are we searching for?

You know that exhaustion you’re feeling — the one that no amount of espresso shots or power naps can remedy? Well, it turns out you’re not alone. 

Last month in the U.S. we saw spikes in fatigue-related Google searches, and the question “why do I feel bad?” reached a record high. There’s a collective feeling of exhaustion, and we’re all looking for ways to cope with it. Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in searches related to meditation, virtual therapy, walking and digital detoxes

Since this week marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., we chatted with two of Google’s experts on the topic: Dr. David Feinberg, a psychiatrist by training and head of Google Health, and Dr. Jessica DiVento, a licensed clinical psychologist and the Chief Mental Health Advisor for YouTube. David and Jessica talk about why we’re feeling this way and what we can do about it. 

What’s going on with our collective wellbeing at this moment in time? 

Jessica: Our body’s threat detection system is working in overdrive. We’re constantly making sense of what’s happening so we know what’s causing us stress and can react to it. People don’t realize how much mental energy that takes. Even though you might not be doing much physically, it makes sense to feel fatigued. 

In the U.S., more people are getting vaccinated and guidelines are changing. Adjusting to this new routine takes a lot of cognitive processing. 

David:It's a hard transition. Our bodies are good at achieving homeostasis. I’ve become comfortable working from home, eating outside and socializing within my pod — these are abnormal things that I’ve incorporated as normal. In parts of the world, you’re telling me to go back to my old ways. Things that used to require minimal thinking — like meeting a friend for dinner — now require so much processing. 

How do you expect people’s emotions to change over the coming months? 

David:Fear is when you open the door and a bear is there. Anxiety is when there’s no bear and you don’t know why you’re feeling that way. We’ve been in a constant state of both with the pandemic. Already, I’ve felt a bit of these heavy feelings lift. When I got my first shot of the vaccine at CVS I felt some of the anxiety and fear I was carrying release — it was almost a spiritual experience. 

This is a dramatic life experience. It will be part of our narrative and change how we respond to things. When a vase falls and it breaks, you glue it back together. When it falls again it usually breaks in the same spot. When there are triggers — like seeing spikes in India — it brings back emotions from this collective trauma. 

Jessica:As a global society, there’s a long way to go. Some of us going through the reconstruction phase will ask, “Why am I not feeling better yet?” Transitioning out of this will take time. 

What have you both done to maintain your own mental health?

Jessica:We know all the things to do to minimize stress and anxiety: eat well, exercise, sleep and so on. We also know what doesn’t help. For me, that’s the overconsumption of technology. Digital wellbeing features, like Pixel’s Flip to Shhh and app timers, help me stop scrolling so I can be more present.

David:I’ve focused on my sleep. Dreams are a way to consolidate new information. I’ve measured my sleep with my Fitbit smartwatch and now with Sleep Sensing on my new Nest Hub, and have learned that eating or working out late at night negatively affects my sleep. So I’ve made adjustments.

As more people search for ways to cope, what are Google and YouTube doing to help?

David:Part of coping with anxiety is researching and taking action on the things you can control.  I love seeing Google connect people to actionable information through things like our mental health self-assessments, information on vaccination and testing locations, and authoritative data about things like symptoms and guidelines to stay safe.  

Jessica:The rise in searches for mental health content shows that it’s becoming okay to say that you’re not okay. The more conversations we spark and the more places we share content about mental health, the less stigma there will be. At YouTube, we work closely with experts in the mental health space to make sure there are credible and engaging videos out there. When someone searches specifically for anxiety or depression resources, we’ll show information about symptoms, treatment resources and self-assessments. And for searches that may indicate someone in crisis, we’re committed to connecting them with free 24/7 crisis support resources. Also, Fitbit recently teamed up with Deepak Chopra to create an exclusive wellness collection for its Premium members, making it easier for them to create a mindfulness practice. Things like that help make sure anyone can take care of their mental health and wellbeing. I hope that lives on past this moment. 

What questions do you hope the world is searching for in the next six months?  

Jessica: I think we’ll see people searching for ways they can help others — looking at careers in counseling and epidemiology — and how they can keep leaning into wellbeing. 

David:I hope people are searching “Am I in love?” and “Why do I feel great?”

News Brief: April Updates from the Google News Initiative

Last month, we heard from industry experts who are thinking through new ways to support and engage with hyperlocal news. We’re learning how we can help ensure newsrooms are more reflective of the communities they cover. And we’re thinking about how these new technologies and news formats can translate to increased revenue for publishers. Keep reading for April updates.

Elevating the voices of underrepresented journalists

To align with our goal of raising authoritative news and diverse voices on the platform, YouTube partnered with the Maynard Institute to help create a training program to elevate the voices of  journalists from underrepresented backgrounds. The group of 14 journalists will participate in monthly training sessions with the goal of using their journalistic expertise to build successful YouTube channels, expanding their audiences and developing their brands.

Supporting diversity in European newsrooms

In collaboration with the European Journalism Centre, we’re providing 30 paid newsroom summer placements for journalism students across 14 countries. Participating publishers will be provided with resources to ensure a diverse and inclusive selection process. On April 21, they participated in a dedicated workshop moderated by media consultant Naomi Goldsmith.

Training the next generation of hyperlocal publishers across Spanish-speaking Latin America 


Mentors for the Local & Digital Natives Program in Latin America

To underline our commitment to supporting high-quality journalism, we’ve developed a new training program designed to support hyperlocal publishers. In partnership with two high-profile nonprofits, Fundación Gabo and Chicas Poderosas, we announced a new hybrid pilot program to support regionally relevant, hyperlocal digital publishers across Spanish-speaking Latin America.

The Local & Digital Natives Program will provide training at scale and mentorship to newsroom leaders in 18 countries for four months, building knowledge and creating a new community around local media.

Providing media literacy resources to university students in Asia  

In tandem with International Fact-Checking Day, we launched an Asia-wide verification challenge for university students. Five hundred and eighteen teams signed up for the two-week challenge, which provides an elementary guideto fact-checking and will be followed by verification workshops in May. In India, English and Hindi-language trainings will be provided in partnership with DataLEADS. 

Developing new tools for news publishers through the GNI Innovation Challenge 

Building on the Digital News Innovation Fund in Europe, GNI Innovation Challenges have supported more than 150 projects that inject new ideas into the news industry. Around the world, we’re learning from former Innovation Challenge recipients who are using their funding to drive innovation in news.

Radar, a platform developed by Aos Fatos in Brazil to monitor and combat misinformation

Brazilian fact checking outlet Aos Fatos created a platform called Radar to monitor misinformation, analyzing over 495,000 Portuguese publications on average each week. Radar has helped make verification more efficient for journalists, and has created a new revenue source for Aos Fatos through consulting services and producing custom reports and investigations about disinformation. The platform has won multiple awards, including the Gabo Award for innovation. 

North America Innovation Challenge recipient The Lenfest Local Lab team

In the U.S., The Lenfest Local Lab worked withThe Philadelphia Inquirer, local community groups and news organizations to drive community engagement through hyperlocal newsletters. Beginning in Fishtown, a neighborhood of about 40,000 residents, the team launched a dedicated newsletter. The mix of local news stories, neighborhood events, resources, real-estate listings and more has already attracted nearly 1,500 subscribers. The newsletter open rate of 45% and clickthrough rate of 10% are well above industry averages. 

The team is now preparing to launch a bilingual newsletter for the residents of West Kensington and Fairhill and haveintegrated their operations into The Inquirer's newsroom. They are also providing open-source materials to help other news organizations who want to explore collaborative, community-based product development.

Zhang Jieping, founder of Hong Kong startup Matters Lab

Matters Lab, a startup from Hong Kong, collaborated with infrastructure company Liker.Land and used support from the Innovation Challenge to build an independent journalist network for the Chinese community. The platform has enabled independent journalists to publish more than 26,000 stories on Matters News focused on current public issues in the Chinese community such as the environment, women’s rights and censorship. Individual supporters of Matters News can support contributors through contributions, with writers averaging over $500 each from article sales.

Backing new models for digital news entrepreneurs

We’re supporting aTiny News Launch Fund, which will provide financial support to an initial group of emerging newsrooms to be onboarded to the Tiny News platform over the coming months.

That’s a wrap for April. Follow along on social and our newsletter for more updates.

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