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I Disagree, Google

By - January 24, 2008

Google has come out with a policy around political ads on its sites, and I commend it for transparency and setting a level playing field. But I disagree with the policy. Why? Well, to quote a portion of its post on the policy:

No attacks on an individual’s personal life. Stating disagreement with or campaigning against a candidate for public office, a political party, or public administration is generally permissible. However, political ads must not include accusations or attacks relating to an individual’s personal life, nor can they advocate against a protected group. So, “Crime rates are up under Police Commissioner Gordon” is okay, but “Police Commissioner Gordon had an affair” is not.

I understand why Google took this course, but I have to say, it’s part of an ongoing sanitization of our political life that, in the end, pushes all of politics toward whitewashing and dishonesty. It’s far easier to say “no personal attacks” than it is to say “no false statements”. But in my mind, accuracy is far more important in public debate than some subjective sense of what constitutes a personal attack. These are public figures, after all, and let’s be honest: we vote for folks we feel we can trust. How will we know them if we don’t know the truth? Sure, scandalous stuff is often scurrilous, but the first amendment is clear on speech: all speech, in particular, all public speech, must be allowed, so that the real truth can be assessed by an informed public. We don’t need Google, or anyone else, sanitizing it for us.

Just my two cents.

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No, Google Won't Buy the NYT. But Google.Org Could

By - January 23, 2008

I’ve argued in the past that we need new models for quality journalism, and that it’s the responsibility of companies like Google and Yahoo to help our culture get there. One might be to run our best journalistic enterprises as trusts, the way they do in the UK and elsewhere. There’s been a lot of speculation over the years (including a piece in RealClearMarkets yesterday) that Google might buy the Times. I don’t think that’s a good idea. But if did, and then ran the paper as a trust, well, that’d buy a lot of brand burnish amongst a very important set of influential folks, just as massive privacy and monopoly issues are rearing their heads…

What Is Private?

By - January 18, 2008

All Facebook discusses the story of a dust up between Facebook and blog publisher Gawker, which posted information and pictures found in a well known New York socialite’s Facebook profile.

Is information found in a Facebook profile public? It seems to me to be pretty clear that it’s not. Emily’s public profile on Facebook has none of the information Gawker published. The real question seems to be whether Emily is a “public figure” and therefore subject to a different standard. The author at Gawker got access to Emily’s “friends” profile, which had much more information, and published that. Is that so different than gaining access to, say, a private party where a reporter sees Emily, and reports on what she does? That’s privileged information, but no one would have an issue with a gossip reporter covering a party full of socialites.

Regardless, it’s clearly a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. Will be interesting to see if Emily or Facebook pushes on this.

Facebook on Data Portability: Wait and See

By - January 10, 2008

It’s a first step only, as expected. A comment send to me from Facebook:

We are committed to giving users control of their data on Facebook and, at the same time, safeguarding the privacy of users. Facebook joined the DataPortability Workgroup in order to actively participate in industry dialogue and to represent feedback from the Facebook community.

– Ben Ling, director of product marketing for Facebook Platform

Wow. Facebook Must Read Searchblog!

By - January 08, 2008

I’m kidding, but last week (and several times previously) I lectured Facebook to open up, and predicted it would. Today, Facebook (and Google, but we’d expect that) have joined the Data Portability group. What I cannot figure out yet is whether this really *means* anything other than, well, they joined a group. But it’s a great first step.

From my post on January 4:

With one move, Facebook can change the face (sorry) of this debate by making it falling-down easy to export your social graph. And I predict that it will.

Why? Because I think in the end, Facebook will win based on the services it provides for that data. Set the data free, and it will come back to roost wherever it’s best used. And if Facebook doesn’t win that race, well, it’ll lose over time anyway. Such a move is entirely in line with the company’s nascent philosophy, and would be a massively popular move within the ouroborosphere (my name for all things Techmeme).

Compete on service, Facebook, it’s where the world is headed anyway!

Smart Politician: Stand Up for Bloggers

By - December 21, 2007

Ars has the story:

It’s not every day that a senator takes to the floor to defend “Internet blogs and other Web-based forms of media,” but Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has done just that in his recent push to pass a Freedom of Information Act reform bill he has coauthored with two Republicans.

The Senate passed the OPEN Government Act last week (which builds on previous reform attempts), and the House followed suit on Tuesday of this week. The reforms in the bill make it easier for bloggers and other Internet journalists to make FOIA requests without paying fees, and they strengthen deadlines for agencies to respond to requests. Contractors who work for the federal government are now explicitly covered by FOIA rules, and a new FOIA Ombudsman will help resolve disputes outside of court. The legislation awaits President Bush’s pen.

Dog Bites Man

By - December 20, 2007

Emailed to me this AM:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (December 20, 2007) – Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) today welcomed the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s clearance of its planned acquisition of DoubleClick Inc., a premier provider of display ad serving technology and services. Google announced in April 2007 a definitive agreement to acquire the company for $3.1 billion in cash from San Francisco-based private equity firm Hellman & Friedman along with JMI Equity and management.

“The FTC’s strong support sends a clear message: this acquisition poses no risk to competition and will benefit consumers,” said Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO, Google. “We hope that the European Commission will soon reach the same conclusion, and we are confident that this deal will deliver more relevant ads for consumers, more choices for advertisers, and more opportunities for website publishers.”

The acquisition was approved earlier this year by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and was recommended for approval by one of three Brazilian regulatory agencies. Google cannot close the acquisition until the European Commission, which is still examining the transaction, grants clearance of the deal.

In its clearance opinion released today, the FTC explicitly rejected any current or potential competition concerns. Google and DoubleClick are complementary businesses and do not compete with each other. Google’s current business primarily involves the selling of text-based ads, while DoubleClick’s core business is delivering and reporting on display ads. DoubleClick does not buy ads, sell ads, or buy or sell advertising space. Rather, it provides technology to enable advertisers and publishers to deliver ads once they have agreed to terms, and to provide advertisers and publishers statistics relating to those ads.

The FTC’s opinion also noted the robust competition in the online ad serving space, and Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick is just one of several recent transactions that underscore this strong competition. In recent months, several major transactions in the online advertising space were announced, including Yahoo’s acquisition of Right Media; AOL’s acquisition of ADTECH AG and TACODA; WPP Group’s acquisition of 24/7 Real Media; and Microsoft’s $6 billion acquisition of aQuantive and acquisition of AdECN Inc.

While the FTC’s opinion reaffirmed the law by noting that privacy concerns played no role in its merger review, Schmidt reiterated the company’s commitment to user privacy.

“For us, privacy does not begin or end with our purchase of DoubleClick,” Schmidt said. “We have been protecting our users’ privacy since our inception, and will continue to innovate in how we safeguard their information and maintain their trust.”

For more, see Danny’s coverage here. Apparently the FTC gives a shout out to the Database of Intentions. Cool!

More GoogleClick News: Influential Congressman (Very Publicly) Asks a TON of Interesting Questions

By - December 13, 2007


From Cnet/Declan’s blog:

A top Republican in the House of Representatives is demanding that Google answer a barrage of questions about privacy, some of which are related to the company’s proposed purchase of the DoubleClick advertising firm.

Rep. Joe Barton, who has positioned himself as a privacy advocate and previously criticized the merger last month, complained in a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt that the company had initially agreed to let his aides visit the so-called Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. but then didn’t confirm a date. Barton is the senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has Internet regulation as one of its responsibilities.

Interesting to see what Barton wants to know about, his letter to Google outlining his requests about the company’s information use and technology is very, very extensive. Snippets:

To help us better understand the privacy and consumer protection implications of this transaction, please respond to the following questions:

1. Please describe Google’s retention policy with respect to the following data. Include in your response a description of the type of data retained (for example, URL, Internet Protocol [IP] address, date, time of connectivity); the length of time the data is retained; where the data is retained; who has access to the retained data; and how the data is removed, deleted, or anonymized once the retention period lapses.

a. Search queries on Google search;

b. Search queries on Google maps;

c. Search queries on Google news;

d. Search queries on Google images;

e. Email sent, received, or drafted on Gmail;

f. Information or data collected or retained through a website’s use of Google Analytics;

g. Information or data collected or retained from an individual’s use of Google Desktop Search, including the Google Desktop Search feature, Search Across Computers;

h. Google Maps for Mobile;

i. Google Web History Program for registered Google users/Google users with sign-in accounts;

j. Information or data collected or retained from an individual’s use of Picasa;

k. Information or data collected or retained from an individual’s use of Calendar;

l. Cookies.

2. Please explain how Google uses the information or data described in Question 1(a) – (l), including, but not limited to, the following uses: perfecting Google’s search algorithm; operating Google’s advertising programs such as AdWords and AdSense; and research or analysis of user activity on

… 5. In particular, please explain whether Google Maps directs advertisements to IP addresses based on that user’s Google Maps search query history.

6. Please explain how and why information is combined or shared across platforms when consumers opt-in for personalized services and whether Google first requires consent prior to such information-sharing. (For instance, whether search query data is shared with or linked to a user’s Gmail account.)

…. 11. In Google’s privacy policy, “personal information” is defined as “information that you provide to us which personally identifies you, such as your name, email address, or billing information, or other data which can be reasonably linked to such information by Google.”

a. Please describe how Google interprets “reasonably linked.”

b. Please explain in what circumstances Google links information

such that an individual can be identified.

c. Please explain whether Google considers an IP address to be “personal information.”

d. Please explain whether technology exists to personally identify or determine the personal characteristics, including, but not limited to, name, email address, physical address or location, age, gender, or ethnicity of an Internet user based on that user’s IP address.

e. Please explain whether Google is capable of identifying or determining personal characteristics, including, but not limited to, name, email address, physical address or location, age, gender, or ethnicity of an Internet user based on that user’s IP address.

…. 20. If the merger of Google and DoubleClick is approved, please describe what use Google plans to make of the data retained and collected by DoubleClick (for example, data from DoubleClick’s tracking cookies or DoubleClick click-stream data), and whether Google plans to combine or merge DoubleClick’s data with data Google retains from individual search queries and other user activity on

a. If Google does not intend to merge or combine the data Google retains with the information or data retained or collected by DoubleClick, please describe the efficiencies of the Google-DoubleClick merger. (emphasis mine) b. If Google does not intend to merge or combine the data Google retains with the information or data retained or collected by DoubleClick, please explain how the information will be segregated.

…24. The House passed the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass (SPY ACT) in the current and prior two Congresses. The SPY ACT, H.R. 964, sponsored by Representatives Mary Bono and Adolphus Towns, mandates an opt-in privacy regime by prohibiting the collection of personal information from a computer without a user’s notice and consent prior to the execution of any information collection program. H.R. 964 also demands that a user be able to easily remove or disable the information collection program. Please explain whether Google’s applications are subject to H.R. 964’s consent requirements. If the answer is no, please explain why these programs, which collect personal information, are not subject to the consent regime established by H.R. 964.

I for one and very, very happy Rep. Barton has laid this out, and very eager to see what response will be given.

Update: Henry speculates that this may be the work of MSFT.