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The Government Should Get Into the Payment Game

By - January 27, 2008


Do you have government-issued payment technology? A tracking device that is tied to your bank account or credit card, that allows you to pay for stuff without the hassle of transaction friction? Chances are, if you are a commuter, you do. I’ve got one in my car, an image of it is above.

I love my FasTrak. It lets me whiz through the numerous bridge toll booths dotting the Bay Area. But recently, FasTrak did something very important – it cut a deal with the San Francisco Airport, a deal that allows folks with FasTrak to pay for airport parking using their selfsame FasTrak device.

Pretty obvious, no? Well, no, in fact. I’m sure cuttting this deal was fraught with all the red tape and political hazards typical of local government.

But it got me thinking. I have a FasTrak device in my car. I have connected that device to a trusted payment service (a credit card, in my case). Why shouldn’t the local government leverage that fact, and get into the payment biz? It’s a great business (just ask MasterCard or Amex), it pays well, and it’s a service I’d trust FasTrak to get right, because they’ve built significant brand equity with me over the past few years.

We have a major budget crisis here in California, and everyone is pointing fingers, arguing about which programs should get cut, and hoping that we can gamble our way out of the problem (no, really). What about the government *actually providing a valuable service,* one we’d all be willing to pay a bit for?

I know, I know, it’d cut into the credit card companies’ business, but, jesus, tough shit, guys. California is in the pole position here, and should leverage it. Miniaturize the FasTrak, add a modal button (ie, when I press on it, it activates) and some security software, and then roll it out at grocery stores, gas stations, shit, everywhere you can buy a lottery ticket for that matter. The brilliant angle is this: while tons of retailers have tried this, no one wants a walled garden approach (ie, I can use this key fob for gas, that key fob for Safeway, etc.). The government can set an open standard, create a development platform…you all know the rest.

And take a 1-2.5% cut from retailers. I, for one, would love it.

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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.

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!