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European Commission to investigate Google

Posted by arnon_k On December - 1 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — The European Commission said Tuesday it will investigate whether Google abused its dominant position in online search in violation of European Union rules.

Search service providers have complained about unfavorable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results, along with an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services, the European Commission said.

The decision to open an anti-trust investigation does not imply that the Commission has proof of any infringements, it said.

Google responded by saying it will cooperate with the investigation.

“Since we started Google, we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry — ensuring that ads are always clearly marked, making it easy for users to take their data with them when they switch services and investing heavily in open source projects,” a Google statement said. “But there’s always going to be room for improvement, and so we’ll be working with the Commission to address any concerns.”

Google provides two types of results when users search its site for information. The first are unpaid search results, often referred to as algorithmic results, and the second are third-party ads and sponsored links appearing at the top and right of the results page.

The Commission said it will investigate whether Google lowered the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services — such as price-comparison sites, also known as vertical-search services — and gave preferential placement to the results of its own such services.

Investigators will also look into allegations that Google lowered the “quality score” for sponsored links of competing vertical search services. The quality score is one of the factors determining the price advertisers must pay to Google.

The quality score also influences the likelihood of an ad being displayed by Google and its ranking. If two advertisers are using the same key words, the one with a lower quality score will have to pay a higher price to rank at the same place.

The Commission will also look at whether Google imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners — preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their own websites and on computer and software vendors’ sites, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.

The probe will last as long as it takes to complete the investigation, the Commission said.

Google wants you to eat Brussels sprouts

Posted by arnon_k On November - 29 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Looking for last-minute recipes? You won’t have to search further than Google.com.

The search engine turned its logo on Thursday into an interactive smorgasbord of Thanksgiving foods — each of which links to a recipe.

Among the choices are roasted Brussels sprouts, which isn’t exactly an American favorite. The recipe comes from the TV chef Ina Garten, perhaps better known as the “Barefoot Contessa,” and includes a bunch of salt and olive oil.

You could make these looked-down-upon veggies more delicious by turning to other websites, too. You could add bacon, as The Food Network’s Rachael Ray suggests. Or go the southern route — a la celebrity chef Paula Deen — and pour in a cup of melted butter.

The other Google “doodle” recipes sound a little tastier. They include: roast turkey, smashed sweet potatoes, popovers, cranberry fruit conserve and a pumpkin banana mousee tart.

It’s clear that many people in the United States were turning to the internet for advice about food and Thanksgiving on Thursday morning. All of the top 10 “hot searches” on Google were focused on the holiday. Six of them were focused on cooking, with some of the popular searches including “butterball turkey cooking instructions” and “butterball turkey hotline.”

Last Thanksgiving, the New York Times used search data from Allrecipes.com to compile a fascinating look at regional cooking trends. Based on the foods people were searching for, it appears that few people in the northeast United States like pecan pie. Macaroni and cheese is a southern Thanksgiving dish. And pumpkin pie, which was the second most popular search term overall, is a hot dish in the Pacific northwest (although, you could serve it cold).

The San Francisco Chronicle noted that the Google recipes are hosted by that website — so instead of linking out to recipes on cooking sites, Google keeps the Web traffic squarely on Google.com.

“So, on Thanksgiving, Google is competing with every other recipe site on the web, and is once again, officially, a media company,” the paper writes.

For more on Thanksgiving and food, check out CNN’s Eatocracy blog and CNN iReport, where you can share recipes and stories of your own.

Facebook takes on Google and Yahoo in Web messages

Posted by arnon_k On November - 16 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – Facebook rolled out an all-in-one messaging service that for the first time allows its half-billion members to communicate with people outside the social network, intensifying a battle with Google Inc and Yahoo Inc for users’ Internet time.

Addressing speculation the world’s largest social networking site was planning a “Gmail-killer,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said the new system will let users own “@facebook.com” addresses, but stressed it went beyond mere email.

The new feature — to be rolled out over coming months — lets users send and receive instant and text messages in addition to standard email and Facebook notes.

“This is not an email killer. This is a messaging system that includes email as one part of it,” Zuckerberg told reporters at the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco.

Zuckerberg, who said more than 350 million of Facebook’s half-billion users now actively send and receive messages on his website, did not expect people to stop using traditional email tomorrow.

But he hoped more and more will shift to an integrated, cross-platform mode of communications over the longer term, such as the service he debuted Monday.

Analysts say that email users are particularly valuable to Web portals like Yahoo, which seek to funnel the traffic into their other online services.

Facebook and Google’s intensifying rivalry is expected to play a crucial role in shaping the future of the Internet. The industry is closely watching their pitched struggle for Web surfers’ time online, advertising dollars, and increasingly costly Silicon Valley talent.

RAISING THE STAKES

Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray said the new messaging service will help Facebook in its quest for user-engagement.

“What this allows is Facebook to become more central to people’s communications, and with that they have more (of people’s) time, they have more page views, and with that they have the opportunity to serve more ads,” Ray said.

More than 4 billion messages get sent everyday through Facebook, whose backers include Digital Sky Technologies, Microsoft, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and venture capital firms Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital.

Its new product will automatically route messages from a person’s most frequently-contacted acquaintances into a main inbox, with messages from other contacts pooled in a separate inbox.

It also does away with some traditional email customs, such as the “subject” line. Instead, all the messages between two people are threaded together into one long-running conversation.

Users will also be able to view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as attachments to their messages, without having to download or pay for the software. Licensed users can create and send such documents as attachments.
Should all of Facebook’s active users adopt the new service, the social network would begin to approach the number of users now on Microsoft Corp’s hotmail, the most popular Internet email service.

Google, which controls roughly two-thirds of the global search market, offers the third-most popular Web email service, behind second-placed Yahoo, according to Web analytics firm comScore.

Last week, Google began blocking Facebook from importing user contact data from its Gmail email service — until Facebook reciprocates with its own trove of personal data.

In terms of potential privacy concerns, Zuckerberg stressed that the new service may actually be less intrusive than others’.

For instance, it would not automatically scan the contents of people’s email to display ads based on similar keywords, as is done by many of today’s popular Web-based email products like Gmail, he argued.

“Email is still really important to a lot of people. And we just think that this simpler kind of messaging is going to be how a lot more people shift a lot of their communications,” Zuckerberg said.

Google v Facebook: this means passive-aggressive war

Posted by arnon_k On November - 13 - 2010 1 COMMENT

Wait just one minute before you export your data to Facebook, says Google: are you sure you want to hand it over to some New Evil Empire^W^W^W other site?
“Hold on a second. Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won’t let you get it out? ”

This is Google’s new passive-aggressive front in its war against Facebook: a “trap my contacts now” page that you get redirected to if you try to export your Gmail contacts out, using the system that Facebook has implemented now that Google has removed the easy way of doing that (see Google halts Facebook data usage – so Facebook polevaults).

In the history of passive-aggressive notes, this is quite a doozy from Google:

“Here’s the not-so-fine print. You have been directed to this page from a site that doesn’t allow you to re-export your data to other services [emphasis added], essentially locking up your contact data about your friends. So once you import your data there, you won’t be able to get it out [emphasis added]. We think this is an important thing for you to know before you import your data there. Although we strongly disagree with this data protectionism, the choice is yours. Because, after all, you should have control over your data.”

You then get two checkbox options: “I want to be able to export my data from Facebook. Please register a complaint on my behalf over data protectionism. (Google will not pass on your name or email address.)” or “I still want to proceed with exporting this data. I recognize that I won’t be able to export it back out.”

We’ll be interested to see how this one plays out – and whether Google gets a large number of people going with its protest.

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