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Privacy: The Frog Boils, Slowly

By - August 12, 2008

This article strikes me as another slow drumbeat on an issue that has to be both frustrating and impossible to own for Google. The headline: “Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent” implies ulterior motives and wrongdoing. In fact, it’s standard operating procedure for companies who run ad networks, and has been for a very long time. However, now that the guv’mint is involved, SOP is no longer AOK. The lede:

Several Internet and broadband companies have acknowledged using targeted-advertising technology without explicitly informing customers, according to letters released yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The kicker:

And Google, the leading online advertiser, stated that it has begun using Internet tracking technology that enables it to more precisely follow Web-surfing behavior across affiliated sites.

Or, put another way, Google bought DoubleClick, and DoubleClick uses tracking cookies. Yawn, right? Except….the rest of the world is catching on to the Database of Intentions, and the dialog as to what it means is just getting under way. The heat is being turned up, slowly but surely, and Google has to be careful to not be seen as the water in a boiling frog syndrome.

Here are the documents from the House Committee investigating online data practices.

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Google-Viacom Suit Gets Interesting

By - July 04, 2008

The ruling yesterday on the merits of Viacom’s data requests is worthy of review. Ars has more here. I am preparing for a vacation and can’t elaborate, but trust me on this one…

Flash Is Searchable

By - June 30, 2008

This is a Big Deal. Now, I want to know: how will Flash files be ranked? Any ideas? Adobe is a major competitor to Microsoft in this front. How will Microsoft make Silverlight searchable? And will Google index all both equally? (My take: Oh yes it will. If it does not, that spells trouble in any congressional hearing…)

What Are Community Standards?

By - June 24, 2008

Is it what people say they value publicly, or what they search for in the privacy of their home? Man, that’s a tricky one.



In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

Hearings Slated, an Industry Tenses

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Members of Congress yesterday announced another hearing into the Google-Yahoo deal, as well as a deal between NebuAd and Charter that tracks searches at the ISP level. Watch this space. There are five hearings so far plus a Justice department inquiry. From Ad Age:

This week a House Small Business Committee panel is to hold a hearing on “the impact of online advertising on small firms,” which is supposed to highlight the benefits and challenges on small business’ use of advertising techniques. Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection panel, and the Senate Commerce Committee have announced plans for separate hearings. While the Judiciary Committee’s examination is only about Google/Yahoo, the rest are broader.

“There are increasing concerns about data collection for online advertising practices across the popular websites and search engines, the sharing of information and the ability of users to control their personal information,” an aide to U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said regarding the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Lenoir, North Carolina

By - June 06, 2008

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Google just opened a data center in Lenoir, NC (no Google ads on the home page, must fix that guys). The Governor, the County Commish, the Mayor, and hundreds of citizens showed up for a ribbon cutting and a BBQ. What I could find on the county was that it had a lot of lore about ghosts, and the local paper covered Nascar pretty well. Now, that’s pretty much Every County, USA (and as someone who ditched school for a semester to drive around the country, I love Lenoir already). So why did Google choose THIS parish? Hmmm?

PS – the main street looks just like the set of that town in Back to the Future, don’t it?

Reminds me of vague memories of towns that lobbied to have the railroads run through them. Check out this thread, where locals argue over whether or not local government offered too many tax incentives/breaks to lure Google to the county…

Don't Give Up Lotus, er, I mean Microsoft!

By - May 26, 2008

Mike makes a good point here in response to Tim’s point of view, and Tim counters here. It’s a very interesting debate, one between two folks I’ve partnered with for some time (Mike’s TechCrunch is part of FM, and Tim and I have partnered on any number of things, including Web 2, Make, and several sites that are also part of FM). So I’m a bit conflicted as I watch these guys debate.

However, one thing I will assert: Search is more than a subsystem of Web 2, as Tim puts it. I think search has become the interface to Web 2, and so I agree with Mike that Microsoft should not abandon it. It’s how we navigate the world of knowledge, and it’s way too early to say we’re done with the evolution of that navigation. But as Tim also points out: “a platform beats an application every time”. Damn right! That’s why I think Microsoft (or Yahoo) should innovate in search, as I pointed out here and here. If Google were to open its platform up, man, then it might well be game over. An open platform that has near monopoly share? Now that’s something to ponder.

If It Was Bad for Yahoo to Do It….

By - May 19, 2008

…It’s bad for Google to do it.

An Indian man was arrested over the weekend for allegedly posting derogatory and vulgar content about Indian politician Sonia Gandhi on Google’s social networking site, Orkut. 22-year-old Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid had posted his comments in an Orkut community called “I hate Sonia Gandhi” through an Orkut account associated with his Gmail account. With Google’s help, local authorities were able to verify Vaid’s identity and make the arrest.

Yahoo caught a lot of shit, including from me, when they helped arrest a journalist in China.