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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.

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Travelin' on a Big Day

By - January 19, 2009

I’m traveling to NY for a few days this week, and alas, will be on a plane during part of the inaugural speech. But I am very excited that a new era is dawning, and I hope we have both patience and high expectations for our new government.

Kudos to Google

By - January 16, 2009

For filing an amicus brief on the repeal of Prop 8. I saw Milk last week and it’s a very strong reminder of how far we’ve come as a culture, and how far we have yet to go.

Google's AdWords: A "Grey Surveillance"?

By - January 06, 2009

Sent to me from Gary Price, a presentation on Adwords from the Berkman center: Google’s AdWords system serves ads alongside about a quarter of all web traffic. In the process of serving those ads, Google actively processes the user browsing data in order to target its advertising, making AdWords one of the world’s most extensive processors of personal data. Hal Roberts presents on how Google’s use of the AdWords data seeds a network of grey surveillance that may not have direct effects on the individual surveillance subjects but does have important effects on our modes of creating and consuming content online.

Yahoo Has Good Timing on Trust: New Policy on Data Retention

By - December 17, 2008

Given the comments happening down below on whether you all trust Google, Yahoo seems to be pretty nimble with this announcement:

Today, Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO – News) announced a new global data retention policy that sets an industry-leading approach to user data privacy. This new policy strengthens Yahoo!’s relationship of trust with its 500 million users world-wide and enhances its longtime leadership on privacy.

Under the new policy, Yahoo! will anonymize user log data within 90 days with limited exceptions for fraud, security and legal obligations. Yahoo! will also expand the policy to apply not only to search log data but also page views, page clicks, ad views and ad clicks.

Well, This Will Be Worth Watching: Google and Net Neutrality

By - December 14, 2008

Recall my interview with Vint Cerf, the guru who Google hired to champion net neutrality, among other things? Where he said this:

Here’s what (folks like Whitacre) are saying: “Well, we built this network and we can do anything we want with it. And by the way, the FCC has now essentially released us of any common carrier obligations we ever had, thank you very much, and so we can do whatever we want to and why don’t you just buzz off.”

That sort of grates a little bit. Gee, excuse me, but we don’t get a free ride at all. We spend an awful lot of money being connected to the public Internet backbone, in addition to which we pay a lot of money for our own Internet backbone that links all of our computer centers together at substantial capacity, which is necessary to do what we do.

Moreover, the subscriber has been told (by the telcos and cable ISPs) that if you pay for broadband service, you’ll get access to everywhere on the Internet. But then they’re saying, in the same breath or same paragraph anyway, “Well actually, it’s not quite like that because the places you’ll be able to get to in this broadband mode are only the ones that we’ve done business deals with. So well we’re going to shut out Google unless they pay or, you know, shut out eBay, or Amazon.”

And so this means that the subscriber’s choice has suddenly been circumscribed by what business model the people at these broadband service-providers have been able to invent. My view of their invention is that the business model seems very 20th century and very backwards looking.

Now read this from the WSJ, and this from Om. From the Journal piece:

Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.

At risk is a principle known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same — nobody is supposed to jump the line.

Oh. My.

Updated: Om says Google was not going to turn it’s back on NN and the Journal was “confused.”

Well, That Says It All

By - December 04, 2008

From American Lawyer:

Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. called off their joint advertising agreement just three hours before the Department of Justice planned to file antitrust charges to block the pact, according to the lawyer who would have been lead counsel for the government.

"Privacy may turn out to have become an anomaly"

By - November 30, 2008

That’s the last line of a Times piece over the weekend on the increasing size of our digital footprints. Hmmm. But it is the basis of the American constitution. Read the Times piece, which, if you’ve read The Search and watched the “Web Meets World” meme (that was the theme for Web 2 this year), will not be new ground, but is a good overview of the issue right now.

Yahoo Google Deal- News

By - November 03, 2008

From a Weisel report emailed to me just now:

On Monday (11/3) after the close, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google and Yahoo have submitted to the Department of Justice a revised version of their proposed search agreement. While we see little legal reasoning behind blocking the deal, we believe the DOJ is basically saying that Yahoo can’t be trusted to do the right thing for its business over the long term.

Shortened Duration: The reported revised plan shortens the partnership from 10 years to 2 years, forcing Yahoo to avoid lowering its search monetization capability if the company can’t rely on Google for a decade.

Cap on Outsourced Revenue: The revised deal would also place caps on the revenue that Yahoo can generate from the partnership to 25% of Yahoo’s search revenues (or around $1bn annually based on our 2008 estimates). Given Yahoo had originally identified search revenues of $800mn that would be addressable for Google suggests again that the DOJ would want to put fail safe measures in place to limit Yahoo from getting too aggressive and outsource beyond the tail keywords which it had previously highlighted.

Here is a Reuters piece:

Yahoo Inc and Google Inc have drastically scaled back the scope of their search advertising deal, a person close to the discussions said on Monday, in a last-ditch effort to win U.S. antitrust approval.

The move comes after Google appeared to be on the verge of walking away from the partnership, which was announced in June to foil Microsoft Corp’s takeover attempt of Yahoo. The deal has since drawn scrutiny from U.S. regulators amid a growing chorus of criticism from advertisers.

The two Internet companies have submitted a reworked proposal to the U.S. Department of Justice that shortens their partnership to just two years from 10 years, the source said.

Jerry and I sit down to talk on stage Weds.