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Profile of Google Lobbyist…

By - June 29, 2009

…in the NYT today.

Google has begun this public-relations offensive because it is in the midst of a treacherous rite of passage for powerful technology companies — regulators are intensely scrutinizing its every move, as they once did with AT&T, I.B.M., Intel and Microsoft. Some analysts say that government opposition, here or in Europe, could pose the biggest threat to Google’s continued success.

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Microsoft Goes After Click Fraudsters

By - June 15, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve seen click fraud in the news, but this Times story caught my eye, in particular because it was Microsoft. Google usually gets all the headlines around this issue, but it’s interesting to see Microsoft leading the charge in this arena. The story is worth reading, it sheds some light on the darker underpinnings of the search economy. From it:

Microsoft’s theory is that Mr. Lam was running or working for low-ranking sites that took potential client information for auto insurers. The complaint said that he directed traffic to competitors’ Web sites so they would pay for those clicks and exhaust their advertising budgets quickly, which let the lower-ranking sites that he sponsored move up in the paid-search results.

When people clicked through to his site, it asked them to supply contact information, which he then resold to auto insurance companies, according to Microsoft’s complaint, which estimated his profit at $250,000. In the complaint, it also said it had to credit back $1.5 million to advertisers because of the Lams’ alleged fake clicks. Microsoft is seeking $750,000 in damages from the defendants.

Although small advertisers have sued search firms, complaining the firms did not do enough to prevent fraudulent clicks, this is among the first cases where a search provider has gone after a suspected perpetrator.

Google Makes Changes to Trademark Policy, Revenues Will Be Up…

By - May 15, 2009

…and so will legal challenges, many of which are already underway.

Google’s blog post is here.

Details: Google will now allow advertisers to bid on trademark terms, even if they don’t own the trademark, so, for example, a local hardware store can bid on “Buy Makita Saws here” or Best Buy could bid on “Best Prices for Sony Plasmas”.

Also, Google has opened up bidding on trademarked terms – so that competitors can bid on their rival’s terms. It has been allowed in just four countries – US, UK, Canada, Ireland – but now will be allowed in 190.

Both moves mean more revenue for Google. Of course, the company says it’s doing this “in an effort to improve ad quality and user experience.” Which in fact, is true.

But…it also can be read as a sign that the company is doing what all large companies do: fine tuning its profit machine to yield more revenue.

One analyst, Ben Schacter at Broadpoint, put it this way in an email flash note sent out to press and clients:

The bottom line is that these two changes will be positive revenue drivers when allowed and into 3Q and beyond, however, we believe trademark holders will undoubtedly, and loudly, raise legal challenges.

Yow. This Is What Happens When You Are Big. And…

By - May 04, 2009

…seen as arrogant. Regardless of whether that charge is true, or sticks, or is fair, this is what will end up in our national “paper of record.”

The Federal Trade Commission has begun an inquiry into whether the close ties between the boards of two of technology’s most prominent companies, Apple and Google, amount to a violation of antitrust laws, according to several people briefed on the inquiry.

At the end of my book, and the beginning of a new phase of this site, I suggested that Google’s largest issue will be its “failure to fail.” I also compared, and continue to compare, the company to Microsoft in the late 90s, when it struggled with anti-trust investigations that ultimately proved hobbling, if not in profits, at least in its quest to be the most innovative and fastest growing company in the technology sector.

If any lesson is to be drawn, perhaps prematurely, from all this, it’s that no company – or two companies – can lead a culture for longer than half a generation. After that, the culture starts to distrust the companies’ motives, regardless of whether they are pure or well intentioned.

Oh No – It's the DOJ!

By - April 29, 2009

Google cannot like the parallels (with Microsoft, in the late 90s). The DOJ has opened an inquiry into its book deal (one I have not, to be honest, entirely grokked. In fact, neither has my agent or my publisher, which is rather interesting….). From the NYT:

The inquiry does not necessarily mean that the department will oppose the settlement, which is subject to a court review. But it suggests that some of the concerns raised by critics, who say the settlement would unfairly give Google an exclusive license to profit from millions of books, have resonated with the Justice Department.

Google Selling History as Behavior, But I Like The Controls

By - March 11, 2009

This is very interesting (from the NYT):

Google will begin showing ads on Wednesday to people based on their previous online activities in a form of advertising known as behavioral targeting, which has been embraced by most of its competitors but has drawn criticism from privacy advocates and some members of Congress.

Perhaps to forestall objections to its approach, Google said it planned to offer new ways for users to protect their privacy. Most notably, Google will be the first major company to give users the ability to see and edit the information that it has compiled about their interests for the purposes of behavioral targeting.

I’ve been writing about this for years. See my post on a “Data Bill of Rights.”

Way to go, Google.

Google post on this here. And the policy post is here.

Google, The Anti-Trust Case

By - March 03, 2009

A considered guest post on TC has kicked up a conversation around whether Google is a monopolist, and whether the DOJ will take action. This of course is one thing that must keep top folks at Google awake at night – it’s OK to be a monopoly, it’s not OK to leverage that monopoly to the detriment of the ecosystem you control.

There is clearly and argument to be made that Google already has a monopoly, the author makes that case and concludes:

I believe the Department of Justice will be able to establish monopoly power and the abuse of that power.

As covered earlier, at least one established prior monopolist has strong opinions on this issue – Microsoft.

Notable – Varney on Google

By - February 21, 2009

I’ve been gone a week and most likely there is a lot of chatter on this, but this article is worth keeping in mind as the new administration gets non economic emergency work started (which could be years, I suppose.)

Antitrust Pick Varney Saw Google as Next Microsoft (Update2)

By James Rowley

Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) — Christine A. Varney, nominated by President Barack Obama to be the U.S.’s next antitrust chief, has described Google Inc. as a monopolist that will dominate online computing services the way Microsoft Corp. ruled software.

“For me, Microsoft is so last century. They are not the problem,” Varney said at a June 19 panel discussion sponsored by the American Antitrust Institute. The U.S. economy will “continually see a problem — potentially with Google” because it already “has acquired a monopoly in Internet online advertising,” she said.

Google's Repricing of Options

By - January 23, 2009

Google yesterday announced it would offer a repricing program for its options holding employees, a move that acknowledges and addresses the reality that Google’s stock has sunk, like most others, well below strike prices. Google plans to take a $460 million charge for the move.

The WSJ picks up on the news and offers a perspective (the post is behind a pay wall):

…options are also meant to align interests with shareholders — so if the price soars, both benefit. If the price drops, both suffer. If Google is going to reprice when things go wrong, it should also limit the upside to employees. It would be easier simply to pay bonuses instead, tied to corporate performance, with a portion in stock that vests over time to aid retention … when shareholders do add up the cost of options, the answer can be shocking. Albert Meyer, president of money manager Bastiat Capital, calculates that since 1995, Cisco Systems has spent $30 billion — or nearly half its free cash flow in that period — buying back stock issued as a result of employee options exercises.

Update – more from Adam here. Good overview of earnings, notes only *100* new employees in the quarter, that is a major shift (on a base of 20K) and this:

Google is transferring almost half a billion dollars in wealth from shareholders to employees, and for what ….? Motivation and retention, says Google. This a well known farce, as old as the Valley, which tells itself first that it offers generous stock options as a form of incentive and then, when share prices plummet, moves the ball so its employees, whose incentives apparently didn’t work (as if the stock price were under their control) can be re-incentivized. Retention? Would someone please tell me where the average Google employee is going to go right now?

In conclusion, and as the headline says, Google is in good shape. Not fantastic. But plenty damn good. It’s also becoming more and more like other technology companies in so many ways.