Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission closed its antitrust investigation of search giant Google. At Politico, Tony Romm examines how the company “beat the feds.”
Instead of ignoring Washington — as rival Microsoft did before its costly monopolization trial in the 1990s — Google spent about $25 million in lobbying, made an effort to cozy up to the Obama administration and hired influential Republicans and former regulators. The company even consulted with the late Robert Bork and The Heritage Foundation and met with senators like John Kerry to make its case. In other words, these traditional outsiders worked the system from the inside.
This calculated and expensive charm offensive paid off Thursday when the Federal Trade Commission decided not to challenge the company’s dominance of the Internet search business in court and settled the investigation with what critics allege is a slap on the wrist.
One of those critics of the decision, Microsoft Vice President & Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner, called the FTC’s investigation a “missed opportunity” on the company’s blog Technet:
As we know from experience, one of the litmus tests of any antitrust outcome is the set of statements made by a company on the day that the outcome is announced. Has the company truly learned from the experience? Does it acknowledge that its practices raise serious antitrust issues?
In response to a question at his press conference today, Chairman Leibowitz said that he doesn’t believe that Google will be emboldened by today’s FTC decisions. But Google seems to be walking with a new spring in its step today. As Google’s official statement on its public blog today put it, “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review that covered millions of pages of documents and involved many hours of testimony. The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.”
In other words, there appears to be no reason, despite the FTC’s optimistic statements this morning, to believe that Google recognizes its responsibilities as an industry leader. That is certainly consistent with the lack of change we continue to witness as we and so many others experience ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace.
Speaking of smartphones, according to Tim Culpan, Olga Kharif, and Ashlee Vance of Bloomberg, online retailer Amazon is looking to get in the game along with other heavy hitters Apple, Google, and Microsoft:
A smartphone would give Amazon a wider range of low-priced hardware devices that bolster its strategy of making money from digital books, songs and movies. It would help Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos—who made a foray into tablets with the Kindle Fire—carve out a slice of the market for advanced wireless handsets.
As a bonus, the Bloomberg story also features this startling fact:
Manufacturers led by Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple shipped 398.4 million smartphones in the first quarter, according to researcher IDC.
Last week, Google announced a new 7-inch tablet called the Nexus 7. Now rumors are flying that Apple, which has so far dominated the growing tablet market — which, arguably, is the future of computing — is set to fire back with a smaller tablet of its own. As Peter Burrows and Adam Satariano of Bloomberg report:
A smaller, less expensive iPad could undercut the ambitions of Google, Microsoft and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) to gain traction in the advancing tablet market, said Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. The new device will probably have a price closer to Google’s Nexus 7 tablet and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, both of which have 7-inch screens and cost $199.
“It would be the competitors’ worst nightmare,” Wu said in an interview. “The ball is in Apple’s court.”
Last week, Microsoft announced Surface, its tablet competitor to Apple’s dominant iPad. This week, another tech giant is looking to make a splash with a device of its own. Via Luke Hopewell of Gizmodo:
As rumoured, Google’s going to announce a 7-inch, Nexus-branded tablet called the Nexus 7. According to the leak, it’s built by Asus, with a 1.3Ghz quad-core Tegra 3 processor, GeForce 12-core GPU and 1GB of RAM with two different storage variants: 8GB and 16GB.
The Nexus tablet will also feature NFC and run Google Wallet (probably only in the US) and Android Beam.
According to Gizmodo, the device will start at just $199.
Apple’s iPad may currently rule the tablet roost, but as Read Write Web’s Antone Gonsalves reports, another heavyweight may soon be getting in on the game:
For years Microsoft has left it to hardware manufacturers to build the smartphones, tablets and PCs running its software. Not anymore. According to published reports, the company plans to unveil a tablet of its own in Los Angeles on Monday.
In what could have major repercussions for the business of online marketing, Wired’s Ryan Singel reports Microsoft is making so-called “do not track” service default in the latest version of its browser Internet Explorer:
Microsoft announced Thursday that the next version of its browser, IE 10, will ship with the controversial “Do Not Track” feature turned on by default, a first among major browsers, creating a potential threat to online advertising giants.
That includes one of Microsoft’s chief rivals — Google.
The change could also threaten the still-nascent privacy standard, and prompt an ad industry revolt against it.
Given the titans involved — and Internet Explorers’s use — this could get real ugly real fast.
Earlier this week, the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland released a study, “The Facebook App Economy,” which estimated the app ecosystem of the popular social networking is now directly responsible for over 182,000 jobs. And that’s just a drop in the job creation bucket. The study also estimates the entire Facebook app economy has produced over 235,000 jobs and contributed some $15 billion to the U.S. economy.
While the current app craze may not last — at least not at its current fever pitch — there’s no denying that right now the ecosystem is thriving. And producing. And it’s not just Facebook that is growing in the app environment. Amazon, Microsoft, and the Android mobile platforms each boast healthy app stores of their own, thereby creating additional jobs, encouraging investment, and adding value to the entire economy.
Then there’s Apple’s App Store, which this past July hit two impressive milestones: over 500,000 apps available, and over 15 billion — that’s right, billion — app downloads. Think that’s impressive? Think about the number of people working on mobile apps for Apple’s service right now. Then think about the fact the company’s App Store didn’t even exist four years ago.
Just five years ago, the online economy mainly brought to mind services or advertising. But the unprecedented adoption of mobile broadband has launched a new platform where everything from a 99¢ game to an entire online book store can create careers and inspire businesses.
The mobile broadband platform has the power to drive innovation and investment for decades to come. Three short years ago, the second iPhone helped ignite the mobile broadband explosion when it made “3G” a household term. Now mobile broadband is moving into the next generation.
The LTE era is right around the corner. We should all be excited for what it will bring.
Via Michael J. De La Merced of the New York Times, some big names in technology have signed a letter of support for the AT&T/T-Mobile merger:
Eight technology giants, including Facebook and Microsoft, and 10 venture capital firms, filed letters supporting the acquisition late on Monday. The letters, filed with the Federal Communications Commission, lent their support to AT&T’s argument that the T-Mobile deal will help the company extend its next-generation data network across the country, helping to meet the growing need for wireless broadband services.
“Many policy-related efforts will not be able to quickly address near-term capacity needs,” the Microsoft-led group wrote in its letter. “The F.C.C. must seriously weigh the benefits of this merger and approve it.”
Also signing the letter were Yahoo, Oracle, and Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerry phones.
Via Jeff Bliss and Sara Forden of Bloomberg, the Federal Trade Commission may be launching an antitrust investigation into Google:
An FTC investigation of Google, the world’s most popular search engine, “could be on par” with the scope of the Justice Department’s probe of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) a decade ago, said Keith Hylton, an antitrust law professor at Boston University School of Law. Google “could fight the FTC, but that’s going to cost a lot of money and time.”
The investigation would center around Google’s massive share in the search business. Last week, Microsoft urged the European Union to launch a similar antitrust investigation into its rival in search.
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.
A couple of items pertaining to the “oxygen of the wireless world.” First up, John Eggerton at Broadcasting & Cable reports that the National Association of Broadcasters has received an extension to comment on the FCC’s plan for wireless broadband to share TV spectrum:
NAB also pointed out that April 18 was only a couple of business days after its annual convention (April 11-14 in Las Vegas), where broadcasters, their attorneys and public interest representatives (who will also likely be weighing in on the spectrum proposal) would be otherwise occupied.
“Given the importance of the issues in this proceeding and in the interest of encouraging public dialogue regarding these issues…we believe that granting NAB’s request is necessary to facilitate the development of a full record,” the FCC said in approving the extension.
Next, Network World’s Tim Greene offers an interesting peek at efforts by Microsoft to better identify available spectrum:
Microsoft researchers have designed a scheme for measuring whether licensed radio frequencies are actually being used so unlicensed devices can use it, something that may become necessary as demand for wireless applications grows.
The architecture, called SpecNet, would sense and map where spectrum is being used and more particularly where it’s not—so-called white spaces, according to a paper being presented next week at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation in Cambridge, Mass.
Some good news in the never ending war against spam: Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit has taken down no less than the world’s biggest spam network. Via Download Squad:
Rustock, at its peak, was a botnet of around 2 million spam-sending zombies capable of sending out 30 billion spam email per day. Microsoft’s wholesale slaughter of Rustock could reduce worldwide spam output by up to 39%.
Rustock was taken down, piece by piece, in a similar way to the Mega-D botnet. First the master controllers, the machines that send out commands to enslaved zombies, were identified. Microsoft quickly seized some of these machines located in the U.S. for further analysis, and worked with police in the Netherlands to disable some of the command structure outside of the U.S.
While a new spam network will no doubt rise up in Rustock’s place, at least we’ll have a respite from Nigerian scams and Viagra ads.
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.
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.
Earlier this week, search giants Google and Yahoo! announced they would be joining forces in Japan. As you’d expect, this didn’t sit well with Microsoft, whose Bing search engine has slowly been building a user base. Reports The Hill:
“Today Google accounts for about 51 percent of paid search advertising in Japan. Yahoo Japan accounts for 47 percent. Their combined share of natural search results is almost as high,” [Microsoft’s Dave Heiner] said.
Heiner raised concerns about potential anticompetitive repercussions of the deal. He pointed to how Google ranks its search listings.
Heiner warned that “if Google is permitted to proceed with its plan … Google alone would decide what consumers in Japan will find, or not find, on the Web.”
He also raised the specter of user privacy.
He continued, “And Google will obtain massive amounts of data regarding the search history and websites visited by every consumer, business and government agency that conducts web searches.”
Given all the chatter recently about the need for “search neutrality,” this move will surely add more fuel to the fire.
New numbers released put together by comScore show that online video continues grow by leaps and bounds, with 34 billion videos watched by people in the U.S. in the month of May alone. Leading the charge was YouTube, with Hulu coming in second at 1.2 billion streams.
Speaking of Hulu, the popular site owned by major networks like NBC and FOX, will reportedly begin testing a subscription service beginning this month. From the Wall Street Journal:
The service would initially be a “preview,” available only to invited users, said the people briefed on the matter. Those users would pay a monthly fee of around $10 for access to additional content on top of Hulu’s free offerings, and also get the ability to watch Hulu on Apple Inc.‘s iPad and possibly other devices, said one of these people.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg is reporting that one of those possible “other devices” could be Sony’s Playstation 3 console. Microsoft’s rival XBox 360 console has also been rumored.
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