Microsoft (which knows a thing or two about antitrust cases) is accusing Google of antitrust violations and is asking the European Union to investigation. Reports Steve Lohr of the New York Times:
The litany of particulars in Microsoft’s complaint, the company’s lawyers say, includes claims of anticompetitive practices by Google in search, online advertising and smartphone software. But a central theme, Microsoft says, is that Google unfairly hinders the ability of search competitors — and Microsoft’s Bing is almost the only one left — from examining and indexing information that Google controls, like its big video service YouTube.
Such restraints, Microsoft contends, undermine competition — and thus pose a threat to consumer choice and better prices for online advertisers.
Last February, Google jumped on the micro-blogging scene when it launched Google Buzz. Things didn’t quite go as planned, however, and the launch quickly fired up privacy concerns. Now, over a year later, the online search giant has settled with the Federal Trade Commission over the botched launch. Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica reports on the settlement:
Google is barred from misrepresenting privacy settings to its users and must now obtain consent before sharing information with third parties—including when Google makes any sort of change to its existing services. Google also must establish and maintain a “comprehensive privacy program” for the next 20 years. The Commission voted unanimously in favor of the settlement agreement.
Google’s take on the settlement is posted on the company’s official blog.
Over at GigaOm, Mathew Ingram speculates that while a rumor about Facebook getting into the online search business may not be accurate at the moment, it will be soon:
Facebook is already involved in search to a certain extent: the company did a deal with Microsoft last fall to add results from its network to the Bing search engine, and Blekko — the search engine startup launched by Rich Skrenta last year — also has a search that includes social results based on Facebook “likes” and other activity. But so far, Facebook’s involvement consists of allowing Bing and Blekko to crawl or index its data rather than doing so itself.
Google, meanwhile, made a big show of launching social and real-time search earlier this year, but the reality is that the majority of what those searches pull in (apart from Google-related social activity) is Twitter results. As Google knows, when it comes to real-time social information, Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla.
Later in the article, Ingram reveals some startling numbers about Facebook:
[U]sers spend 700 billion minutes a month on the site, and post 30 billion pieces of content, including likes and status updates and comments.
At Politico, Mike Zapler reports on a new effort to place online search/advertising Google on the regulatory hot seat:
Media consolidation, net neutrality and Google’s dominance in Internet search are among the issues the Senate’s leading legislator on antitrust issues plans to scrutinize in the months ahead.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who heads the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, listed those issues as priorities in an announcement Thursday outlining his top concerns for the 112th Congress.
Kohl specifically called out Google as a potential cause for concern. The senator in December urged the Justice Department to conduct a “careful review” of the search giant’s attempted acquisition of travel search software firm ITA.
“In recent years, the dominance over Internet search of the world’s largest search engine, Google, has increased and Google has increasingly sought to acquire e-commerce sites in myriad businesses,” Kohl said in a news release.
Via Ashlee Vance, Brad Stone, and Douglas McMillan of Bloomberg:
Facebook Inc., the world’s biggest social-networking company, is holding talks with Skype Technologies SA about offering Web video calls to its 500 million users, two people familiar with the discussions said.
If the deal turns out to be true, Facebook will join Apple and Google in helping make images like this from 2001: A Space Odyssey an ubiquitous reality:
Last night, Google announced it was changing its search algorithm. While the company tweaks their search results all the time, this one seems like a substantial overhaul. From the official Google blog:
Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on.
At GigaOm, Mathew Ingram says the changes are in an attempt to limit search results from so-called “Content Farms” — sites that generate a ton of low-quality content to generate advertising revenue:
Google hasn’t specifically said that the changes are aimed at content farmers — in fact, the term doesn’t appear anywhere in its blog post, which simply refers to “low-quality sites” — but Search Engine Land says the rollout is almost certainly aimed in that direction. According to Google, the changes affect about 12 percent of the company’s search results, which is a fairly large proportion for such a change, and an earlier revision last month targeted so-called “scraper” sites, which simply copy content verbatim from other sites.
Google’s Street View gaffe refuses to go away. The Hill’s Gautham Nagesh reports:
Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) want the Federal Communications Commission to examine an incident last year involving cars that take “street view” images for Google Maps. They called for the investigation in a letter sent to the FCC on Wednesday.
Last October, the Federal Trade Commission closed the book on its own investigation into the matter. No word yet on whether the FCC will take a look themselves.
With the Egyptian government continuing its crackdown on Internet access, Google and Twitter are teaming up to help citizens connect to the outside world. Reports Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post:
Over the weekend, a small group of engineers from the companies got together to create the service that allows anyone with access to voice service—landline or mobile—to leave a messsage that automatically gets transmitted into a tweet, according to the Google blog. People cut off from Internet and mobile services in Egypt could call +16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855. Tweets from the call would be sent with the hashtag: #egypt.
Google has run a sting operation that it says proves Bing has been watching what people search for on Google, the sites they select from Google’s results, then uses that information to improve Bing’s own search listings. Bing doesn’t deny this.
Sara Forden and Jeff Bliss of Bloomberg report that Google’s proposed purchase of travel software company ITA Software Inc. may face a rocky road courtesy of the Justice Department:
Google Inc. may face an antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department over its $700 million acquisition of ITA Software Inc., according to people familiar with the situation.
Department officials haven’t made a final decision about whether to sue to block the purchase by Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, said the people, who requested anonymity because the agency discussions are confidential. Google announced in July its plans to acquire ITA, which provides online airline flight and ticket information. The next month, government lawyers said they were extending their ITA investigation.
Companies such as Microsoft and Expedia are strongly against the deal. Stay tuned…
With the net neutrality debate having been settled (for now), a new tech fight is brewing on Capitol Hill: search neutrality. Reports Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post:
Google search engine guru Matt Cutts met with members of the Federal Trade Commission and staff on Capitol Hill this week to argue why the firm opposes federal rules on Internet search results.
The visit, what Cutts calls his “education tour,” comes as Washington and Europe have been focusing on the search giant’s business practices. European regulators have launched an investigation brought by complaints from some companies that Google has purposefully lowered their rankings, making it difficult to compete.
Twenty four percent of 1,950 U.S. adults questioned in the online survey conducted by Zogby International said high-speed Internet had the greatest impact on their lives, followed closely by Facebook at 22 percent and Google with 10 percent.
Of the technologies people say they cannot live without, high-speed Internet came in first at 28 percent and email was second at 18 percent.
Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco yesterday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski reaffirmed the commission’s commitment to net neutrality legislation. And, as the Financial Times reports, he also had some things to say about the Google-Verizon proposal from earlier this year:
“I would have preferred if they hadn’t done exactly what they did when they did,” Mr Genachowski said, adding that it “slowed down” his attempt to get web companies and carriers to agree to a policy outline that presumably would have given stronger protection to internet traffic.
Whether the FCC will make a move with its propsed “Third Way” Title II reclassification or attempt net neutrality regulations via Title I is still up in the air.
Via Connected Planet, broadcast network FOX has joined ABC, NBC, and CBS — also known as the “Big 3” — in blocking their content from Google TV.
Meanwhile, as Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica reports, Google is trying to calm the fears of broadcasters and cable providers, who worry that the potential popularity of Google’s Internet cozy TVs could lead to a flock of consumers dropping cable — and the end of traditional business models:
Cord-cutting is simply “not happening,” Google TV lead Rishi Chandra said at the NewTeeVee Live conference on Thursday. He added that the Google TV is meant to help users access the content that they already watch the traditional way, and that cable TV already does a “pretty good job of delivering content to users.”
Via Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas — one of the names being kicked around for chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee — wants the next Congress to tackle the issue of privacy in the Internet age:
“I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can’t unless the people’s right to privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done,” Barton said in a release on how third-party developers shared Facebook user information. “In the next Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee and our subcommittees are going to put Internet privacy policies in the crosshairs.”
With major players like Google and Facebook already under fire over privacy concerns, the issue could turn into a big fight in Washington. Stay tuned…
Last May, it was revealed Google had accidentally collected private information from personal WiFi networks as part of its StreetView program. The revelation set off a firestorm, especially in Europe, with countries launching investigations into the matter.
Fast forward to last Friday, and an official blog post from Google’s Senior VP of Engineering & Research, Alan Eustace:
I would like to take this opportunity to update one point in my May blog post. When I wrote it, no one inside Google had analyzed in detail the data we had mistakenly collected, so we did not know for sure what the disks contained. Since then a number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologize again for the fact that we collected it in the first place. We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users.
In response to Google’s admittance, Sara Jerome of The HIll reports that Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass) is “disturbed” by the entire ordeal:
“This is unacceptable,” Markey said. “Consumers should never have to fear that their Wi-Fi could morph into ‘Spy-Fi.’”
He said that as the House considers privacy legislation, he will monitor the issue and that it will “help to inform the legislative process moving forward.”
At the end of the day — and however this shakes out for Google — this whole mess serves as a handy reminder that if you have a Wi-Fi network at your home, make sure it’s behind some sort of password. You never know who might be snooping.
Yesterday, Microsoft and Facebook announced they were expanding their partnership in order to enhance search results — and hopefully chip away at Google’s dominance in the process. From Microsoft’s official Bing blog:
People ask their friends for information to help make decisions all the time. How was the food in that new restaurant, should I go see that movie in the theatre or wait till DVD, or what do you think of that hot new phone? Today Bing launches a new feature called Liked Results, which uses Facebook “like” information to help you discover new information and get more personalized results in Bing.
To help explain the new features, Bing has put together this walkthrough video.
Yesterday, Nick Bilton of the New York Times had a major scoop about a quiet meeting between two tech powerhouses:
Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, recently showed up with a small entourage of deputies at Adobe’s offices to hold a secret meeting with Adobe’s chief executive, Shantanu Narayen.
The meeting, which lasted more than an hour, covered a number of topics, but one of the main thrusts of the discussion was Apple and its control of the mobile phone market and how the two companies could team up in the battle against Apple. A possible acquisition of Adobe by Microsoft were among the options.
With Apple refusing to allow Adobe’s Flash program on its popular iPhone, and adoption of Google’s Android mobile software growing briskly — not to mention Microsoft’s attempt to become relevant again in the handset market with its Windows Phone 7 — the sparring among major tech companies in the mobile space should be fun to watch.
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