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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More Users Question Credibility of Online Review Sites
The Washington Post

Advertising dollars in exchange for 'positive reviews' amounts to PR Blackmail
 
It didn't take long for Julie Liu -- late 20s, smartphone-addicted, constant Googler -- to get hooked on the online review site Yelp. Where to eat Friday night? Read some reviews by random anonymous diners. Oh, that looks good. Book a table online, show up, eat. 

But after Liu and her sister opened Scion restaurant in Dupont Circle, they saw Yelp from a different angle. Liu said Yelp's salespeople phoned repeatedly, telling her that if she advertised on the site, negative reviews would move lower on Scion's page and positive reviews would move up. 

Liu decided to fight back, joining nine other businesses this month in a class-action lawsuit against Yelp alleging similar tactics -- claims that Yelp executives deny. "Yelp does not manipulate content on behalf of advertisers or penalize those who don't advertise," a spokesman said. 

The case raises questions not just about a site with 10 million reviews, but also about whether the booming economy of online reviews and product recommendations by everyday folks on Web sites and social networks is anything but what meets the eye. 

What appears at first to be a spin-free, grass-roots marketplace of opinions and recommendations is rapidly turning into a hotly contested battleground where public relations firms and a new breed of imagemakers help businesses counter negative online comments and manage their online reputations -- even giving people free products in hopes of generating positive comments. 

Companies including NBC, Sony and Microsoft partner with such firms as Ad.ly, paying individual Twitter users to allow commentary about products in their Twitter feeds. The posts are marked as ads in parentheses but look like regular tweets about what one had for lunch. 

Some Web sites offer cash for reviews. For $2.50 each, ReviewStream.com says, "You could review anything around you including: any products, hi-end technics, companies, hotels, politics, cities, stores on your street, or even your neighbor's pets!" 

PR companies track people who post negative comments about everything from pizza to gadgets and then offer those naysayers free products or technical support, hoping to reverse the flow of opinion about their clients' goods. Many start-ups sell online tools that scrutinize Twitter and Facebook to rank users' online influence, helping manufacturers, hoteliers, restaurateurs and PR firms figure out who can best spread messages quickly. 

"It is critical for us to understand who is important," said Jonny Bentwood, an Edelman PR executive who created a Twitter scoring system called Tweet Level. "We want to understand who the key influencers are, what they are saying and what their impact is." 

Online ads unpredictable 


In olden days -- like 10 years ago -- companies big and small reached consumers through mass-marketing campaigns, interrupting magazine articles, TV shows or music on the radio with clever ads. Technologies such as TiVo, satellite radio and iPods (and iPhones and soon iPads) have reduced advertisers' opportunities to break into consumers' media usage. The prospects for online advertising are uncertain: More than 40 percent of surfers don't click on ads, according to a Pew Research Center study. 

Online, the authority once vested in journalists and advertisers is often granted to total strangers: Seventy percent of Internet users trust online recommendations and reviews, according to a Nielsen study. "People are tired of traditional ad messages, and they feel that connecting with other consumers is more helpful," said Chris Dellarocas, a Boston University management professor who studies online comments. "It's more fun. Consumers love to interact." 

Although consumers no doubt still get tips about new restaurants and businesses in old-fashioned ways -- at the office or kids' soccer games or on e-mail discussion groups -- marketers are focusing their energy on changing the word of mouth on the Web. Digital word-of-mouth marketing -- a new twist on a sales method that's sold stuff since long before the invention of the printing press -- is expected to top $3 billion a year by 2013. That explains why Google reportedly tried to buy Yelp last year for $550 million and why Yelp felt confident enough to essentially say, "No, thanks. We'll be worth even more later." 

And all of that explains why an Arlington County company named New Media Strategies reached out last year to a popular Brooklyn blogger named Aly Walansky. Founded 11 years ago by former political pollster Pete Snyder, NMS was one of the earliest digital PR firms to focus on word of mouth. NMS employees, most in their late 20s or early 30s, sit wired and caffeinated in a newsroom-like setting, tapping away at computers with double monitors to contact bloggers and Tweeters so they can offer everything from behind-the-scenes access to clients to free stuff. NMS represents, among other corporate giants, Chrysler, NBC, Intel, Sony Pictures and Domino's. 

Last year, Domino's launched a new recipe for its pizza. To help the company, NMS identified hundreds of bloggers who influence what people eat and offered many of them coupons so they could try the new pizza for free. Snyder says there was no quid pro quo: Bloggers could say whatever they wanted about the product. Walansky, who often reviews food and beauty products, liked the new recipe -- as did almost every blogger the company contacted. NMS also offered Walansky a Domino's gift card so she could run a giveaway contest on her blog. 

"To all my pizza lovers out there: Domino's has a new pizza recipe, and it's delicious!" Walansky wrote on her blog. "Everything has been upgraded -- the dough, the sauce, even the cheese, and we are grateful." Walansky's endorsement and contest got nearly 200 readers to add their own comments. 

Disclosure guidelines 

The Federal Trade Commission released their attorneys' guidelines last year about online product recommendations, saying that bloggers should disclose any connections to companies they write about. Walansky's giveaway included no such disclaimer. She said in an interview that such notice was not necessary because the free gift card made the connection to Domino's obvious. 

Snyder said NMS "explicitly requests that the blogger disclose" any connection to a client's product. 

NMS employees have posted offers from client companies on Twitter. But although NMS lists its employees and links to their Twitter accounts on its Web site, some tweets appear without any indication that the author is promoting clients. One employee recently posted on his Twitter account an offer to win a free Jeep: "RT @NMSosphere Win a #Jeep Wrangler Islander via Twitter!" To discern the connection between the tweeter and Jeep, a reader would have to find a news release on the NMS site announcing that the firm represents Chrysler, which makes Jeep trucks. 

Snyder said that if "even 0.05 percent" of 150,000 tweets by his employees in the past year "failed to disclose a client interest, that's simply not good enough." 

NMS says it follows ethical guidelines set by the FTC and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. "Never have we lived in a more transparent society," Snyder said. "Everything we put out there is verifiable, and it is truthful." 

"There has always been a risk of manipulation online," said Pete Blackshaw, co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and an executive at the Nielsen ratings company. "This is a huge concern for a lot of people." 

NMS is far from alone. Dozens of companies, with names like BzzAgent, Brickfish and Ammo Marketing, offer to help shape the online conversation. The Zocalo Group, in Chicago, categorizes commenters as "hear-MEs," "reputation terrorists" or "competitive destroyers." On its site, Zocalo promises to "relentlessly monitor online conversations to ensure your brand is talked about in the right ways." When it's not, the firm jumps into the conversation or recruits supporters to "go to bat for you." 

Paul Rand, Zocalo's president, said: "What every brand is trying to get to is this: How do I become engaged with my consumers and my influencers in a way that hopefully secures me at an ongoing level and blocks out my competitors?" 

Researchers who study online recommendations say most consumers don't realize that marketing firms are working to influence what they read online. Nor do they realize, unless they read some fine print, that sites such as Yelp let businesses that advertise on the site list their favorite review first, regardless of how recently that comment was posted. Only after clicking a blue link above the review would a user see this disclaimer: "Yelp sponsors can highlight one of their favorite reviews at the top of their business page." 

Said Blackshaw, the Neilsen executive: "Any instance where there's a high likelihood of consumer confusion regarding who's behind the message is problematic. If discovered, it erodes trust, and trust is the currency of effective advertising." 

Even when there is clear disclosure -- or perhaps because of it -- there can be unintended consequences. 

A Zocalo employee, attempting to clear up misunderstandings about Cricket Wireless coverage in the Charlotte area, recently jumped into a conversation on a popular discussion board. He signed his note, "Best, Ryan, on behalf of Cricket." In response, "djiim" wrote: "Is this a prank? Seriously?" The next poster, "nTranced," wrote, "Great, now [Cricket's] goons are on here snooping around." 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Google Says Mobile Service in China Partially Blocked
Bloomberg


Google Inc., after shutting its Internet search engine in China last week, said its mobile services in the country are being partially blocked.

The services delivered to wireless phones were operating normally until becoming partly shut down yesterday, Google said on its Web site that tracks service availability in mainland China.

“Service availability fluctuates regularly, and it is too early to tell if this blockage will be persistent,” Google said in an e-mailed statement. “There is no specific indication that the change is related to our recent announcement.”

Google is keeping close tabs on its various Web-delivered services in China after a standoff with authorities led the company to start redirecting users of its Chinese search engine to its Hong Kong site. Google pledged in January to stop censoring results in mainland China after hackers stole data and targeted e-mail accounts of human-rights activists.

Mobile is the first service in China to have a change in status since Google unveiled the feature-tracking site on March 22.

Google’s Web, images and news-search services continue to have “no issues” while video-sharing site YouTube and Blogger remain blocked, according to the feature tracker.

The Mountain View, California-based company said last week it would no longer offer its mobile SEO applications on Android phones in China “until further notice.” Chinese companies can still sell phones that use Android, an operating system backed by Google.

Google fell 80 cents to $561.89 at 2:50 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The shares had dropped 9.2 percent this year before today.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Network Solutions, GoDaddy, Cease Registering New Web Sites in China
The Washington Post

Two major Internet domain name registration companies have ceased registering Web sites in China in response to intrusive new government rules that require applicants to provide extensive personal data, including photographs of themselves. 

GoDaddy.com, the world's largest domain name registration company, and Network Solutions, based in Herndon, objected to policies that were imposed by China in December. 

The rules, Go Daddy said, are an effort by China to increase monitoring and surveillance of Web site content and could put individuals who register their sites with the firm at risk. The company also said the rules will have a "chilling effect" on new domain name registrations. 

The decisions come amid a showdown between China and Google, which recently announced it will no longer censor search results on its site in the country. Analysts and human rights advocates have warned that China's insistence on censorship and control over information is becoming a serious barrier to trade. 

Go Daddy announced its decision at a congressional hearing on Wednesday. 

"Go Daddy and Google deserve more than praise for doing the right thing in China -- they deserve our government's support," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who has sponsored a bill that would prevent U.S. companies from sharing personal user information with "Internet-restricting" countries. 

In December, China began to enforce a new policy that required any registrant of a new .cn domain name to provide a color, head-and-shoulders photograph and other business identification, including a Chinese business registration number and physical, signed registration forms. That data was to be forwarded to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a quasi-governmental agency. Most domain name registries require only a name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. 

"We were immediately concerned about the motives behind the increased level of registrant verification being required," Christine N. Jones, general counsel of the Go Daddy Group, told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. "The intent of the procedures appeared, to us, to be based on a desire by the Chinese authorities to exercise increased control over the subject matter of domain name registrations by Chinese nationals." 

Go Daddy has been registering domain names since 2000 and has more than 40 million domain names under management. 

Jones said China was the first government to retroactively seek additional verification and documentation of registrants. 

Jones also said Go Daddy customers with Chinese domain names have recently been attacked more frequently than in the past. The sites targeted tend to be those "deemed not appropriate" by Beijing -- sites that contain content about the Tiananmen Square uprising or human rights, for instance. 

"When our sites get shut down in China, we are never told why . . . and it's impossible to know why," Jones said. 

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. 

Network Solutions said it stopped taking new accounts in China last December, according to spokeswoman Susan Wade. 

"Of course the decision affects our businesses, but it also didn't make business sense to operate under their change of procedures," she said. 

Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch, said China's new rules are yet another example of the country tightening its censorship policies and undermining the ability of U.S. companies to operate freely. 

"The underlying intent is if you're engaging in political speech, we want to know who's engaging in it and what Web site is behind it," Ganesan said. "This is a way the Chinese government can send a chilling message to people that they shouldn't speak freely online. It's forcing us companies to be both the censor and the spy on behalf of the Chinese government." 

Jones said Go Daddy's decision to stop registering new domains was unrelated to Google's recent decision. 

"With all due respect, this has nothing to do with Google," she said. She added that the company had been deliberating what it would do about its business in China before Google's announcement. 

"We decided we didn't want to be agents of China," she said. 

At Wednesday's hearing, Alan Davidson, Google's director of public policy, said governments worldwide should develop new rules to combat unfair trade barriers online and should make Internet freedom part of the criteria for receiving development aid. He noted that the number of governments that routinely censor the Internet has grown from a handful in 2002 to more than 40 today. 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

More than 1,100 Communities seek Google Network


 
WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 1,100 communities have approached Google Inc. in hopes of landing one of the ultra-fast broadband networks that the company plans to build in a handful of spots around the country.

Last month, Google said it will build experimental fiber-optic networks that will deliver Internet connections of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 Americans. That would be up to 300 times faster than the broadband services reaching most U.S. homes today.

Friday marked the deadline for governments and citizens to express interest. Google said the response has been "tremendous and creative," with communities using everything from YouTube videos to Facebook groups to public rallies to promote themselves. The company will announce winners by the end of the year.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bing Rolls Out New Features for Spring Revamp
PC World
Microsoft introduced new features to its Bing search engine Thursday including Quick Tabs, an Answer box, and new mapping tools powered by Foursquare to deliver real-time data embedded in maps. Bing says the move represents a further departure from Google-style listing of search results and one toward what it calls a "decision engine" where Bing can intuitively deliver exactly the price, link, score, or weather forecast you are looking for.

The most striking changes to the Bing search results page is the removal of the Explorer navigation pane on the left-hand side of the Bing search results - replaced by the introduction of Quick Tabs (which are related to search queries). Another big change is the delivery of an Answer box that include a combination of reference data, most popular results, and real-time information culled from pricing engines, weather sites, and news sources.

The changes do not represent the introduction of new under-the-hood search technology. Rather, Bing representatives say, it is re-jiggering the way search results are delivered - hopefully in a more intuitive way. Bing says it will roll out all the new features in the coming month with only a small percentage of users seeing updates this week.

Microsoft wants to play around with the location of Quick Tabs, which provide fast access to subcategories of search such as news, events and weather. In its current state, Bing puts these categories in a sidebar to the left, but screenshots of the new format show the tabs on top of your basic search results. I think the success of this feature will depend on how quickly the user can toggle between tabs, and whether the search page they're on in one tab is preserved if they temporary move to another.

Bing inked some major deals with Facebook and Twitter in October, and now we'll start seeing some new features with real-time search results. One of the things Bing will do is show the most popular shared links from news Web sites, such as the New York Times, but Microsoft provides no other examples. Hopefully, there are more.

We got acquainted with Bing Map Apps in December, when Microsoft introduced a bunch of new mapping features in beta. Now, Bing's jumping into the location-based craze with an app for Foursquare, a social game based on visiting real-world places. Turning on the Foursquare Map App shows you who has unlocked specific badgets, and where people have become "mayor" of certain locations. Even if you don't play Foursquare, Microsoft says the app can be used like an "interactive day planner" that tells you what's popular in an unfamiliar city.
Google Calls for Action on Web Limits
NY Times
A top Google executive on Wednesday called for new rules to put pressure on governments that filter the Internet, saying the practice was hindering international trade.


Alan Davidson, director of United States public policy for Google, told a joint Congressional panel that the United States should consider witholding development aid for countries that restrict certain Web sites. He said censorship had become more than a human rights issue and was hurting profit for foreign companies that rely on the Internet to reach customers.

“The growing problem for Internet censorship is not isolated to one country or one region,” Mr. Davidson told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “No single company and no single industry can tackle Internet censorship on its own.”

The fallout from China’s restrictive Internet policies widened on Wednesday when officials from Go Daddy Group, an Internet services company, told the commission that the company would halt registration of Chinese domain names.

Christine Jones, executive vice president of Go Daddy, said the company was concerned about privacy after Chinese officials requested photo identification and signatures of its customers. For the first time, she said, Go Daddy had been asked to retroactively obtain documentation for individuals who had registered a domain name.

“We’re concerned about the chilling effect,” Ms. Jones said. “We made the decision that we didn’t want to act as an agent of the Chinese government.”

Ms. Jones described a chaotic scene for Internet companies in China. She said attacks from hackers were rampant, fraudulent payments were common, and spammers worked without fear of punishment from the government.

Representative David Wu, Democrat of Oregon, said he thought more companies would follow the example of Go Daddy and Google and cut back operations in China.

“Pretty soon you have a cascade going,” Mr. Wu said. “There is a difference between compliance and complicity.”

More than 40 countries actively censor the Internet currently, Mr. Davidson said, and 25 governments block Google. Mr. Davidson suggested asking countries to pledge to keep sites unfiltered in international trade agreements.

On Monday, Google closed its Internet search service in China and began directing users in that country to its uncensored search engine in Hong Kong. So far, Mr. Davidson said, the company had noticed “intermittent” censorship of the Hong Kong site. Despite the restrictions, the company plans to maintain a sales team in mainland China, he said.

Google’s decision to leave China was prompted in part by a series of attacks by hackers last year, which raised broader concerns about the flow of information in the country. The Chinese government has disputed that it was the source of the attacks, which focused on e-mail accounts of human rights advocates.

Mr. Davidson said Google would consider returning to the Chinese market if the government there removed its restrictions. But he acknowledged that there would likely be a “hard road ahead” since neither side is willing to cede ground.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to combat that censorship,” he said.

In a statement to the commission, Chinese officials defended their policies, saying, “foreign companies need to abide by Chinese laws and regulations when they operate in China.”

“The Chinese government encourages the development and popularization of the Internet and is committed to the opening up of the Internet,” the statement said.

The panel included members of the Senate, House and Obama administration officials. It was chaired by Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, and Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan.

“Information is not to be feared, and ideas are not enemies to be crushed,” Mr. Dorgan said in opening remarks. “The truth is China too often wants a one-way relationship with the world.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Internet Firm in China Stops Using Google Services

HONG KONG (AP) - An Internet company run by one of Asia's richest men said Tuesday it has ended its affiliation with Google Inc. as the American search giant stopped censoring the Internet in violation of Chinese regulations.

Making good on threats made more than two months ago, Google began shifting its Chinese-based search functions to Hong Kong, a Chinese territory where companies are not legally required to censor Internet search results.

TOM Online, a mainland Chinese Internet firm controlled by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, said Tuesday it was stopping use of Google's search services after "the expiry of agreement."

"TOM reiterated that as a Chinese company, we adhere to rules and regulations in China where we operate our businesses," the company's parent, Hong Kong-based TOM Group, said in a statement Tuesday.

TOM Online, which runs online and mobile Internet services in mainland China, did not say when it stopped using Google or provide any details of its agreement with the company.

TOM likely used Google's search box feature, allowing visitors to its Web site to search the Internet with the U.S. company's technology.

It's still unclear whether other Chinese companies that partner with Google will follow suit. Representatives for heavyweight Internet portal operator Sina Corp. did not answer calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Companies, however, are liable to think twice about maintaining a partnership with a company that has been condemned by Beijing for running afoul of its censorship rules. From a business perspective, there are also uncertainties and risks for mainland Internet users relying on a Hong Kong service that could end up blocked.

China Mobile, the world's largest phone company by subscribers, with more than 500 million accounts, could find its partnership with Google for mobile search services in danger, analysts at brokerage CLSA said in a recent report.

"Some of the Chinese companies may want to play it safe and look at other options," said Elinor Leung, CLSA's head of Asia Internet and telecommunications research in Hong Kong.

Google's action did not translate into unfiltered results for millions of Chinese, but shifted responsibility for restricting content to the central government and its formidable Web filters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony with a separate government and civil liberties denied mainland Chinese, maintains open Internet policies.

The territory's government "does not censor the content of Web sites hosted in Hong Kong" and "places no restrictions on access to Hong Kong based Web sites from anywhere in the world," the government said in a statement.
China Media Accuse Google of Violating Promises


BEIJING (AP) - China's government reacted testily Tuesday to Google Inc.'s decision to stop censoring its China-based search engine, calling the move "totally wrong" and accusing the company of violating promises.

More than two months after it threatened to shut down Google.cn if it had to continue policing the site, Google made the shift early Tuesday Beijing time. Visitors to Google.cn are automatically redirected to the Chinese-language service based in Hong Kong, where Google is not legally required to censor searches.

"Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks," an official with the State Council Information Office, a Cabinet office that oversees the Internet, said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.

"This is totally wrong. We're uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts," said the official, who was with the office's Internet bureau but not further identified.

The Hong Kong page heralded the shift Monday. "Welcome to Google Search in China's new home." The site also began displaying search results in the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China.

The move, in effect, shifts the responsibility for censoring from Google and to the communist government, which operates an extensive monitoring and filtering system to block content deemed unacceptable. Users in China were unable to retrieve searches on sensitive topics.

In Beijing, a few Chinese passers-by laid flowers or chocolates on a large metal "Google" sign outside the company's office. A large gathering of some of Google's 600 staff was held in a first floor cafeteria. Google spokeswoman Jessica Powell said the meeting was called to update staff about the situation, but she declined to give details.

"We haven't worked out all the details so we can't ever rule out letting people go but we very much want to avoid that," said Powell. "The sales presence to a certain degree could depend on the success of google.com.hk."

Much uncertainty remains about Google's operations in China. While the search engine was shifted to Hong Kong, Google.cn's map service and a free, advertising-supported music portal remain in China. Research and sales divisions remain, for the time being. Google's Gmail e-mail service was still accessible from within China, as was its news page, though attempts to call up specific articles on China were blocked.

It's unclear whether Google cleared the moves with the government or gave any notice of the changes. The Chinese government could retaliate by blocking access to Google's services, much as it has completely shut off YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. China has an estimated 350 million Internet users.

The State Council official said the government talked to Google twice to try to resolve the standoff and suggested that China's laws requiring Web sites to censor themselves was nonnegotiable.

"We made patient and meticulous explanations on the questions Google raised ... telling it we would still welcome its operation and development in China if it was willing to abide by Chinese laws, while it would be its own affair if it was determined to withdraw its service," the official said.

"Foreign companies must abide by Chinese laws and regulations when they operate in China."

The withdrawal of its search engine makes Google the latest foreign Internet company to founder in a China market that is heavily regulated and prone to particular consumer tastes. Companies such as Yahoo, EBay and Microsoft's MSN instant messaging service have never gained the traction in the China market that their homegrown rivals do.

In anticipation of Google's move, Chinese state media cranked up the criticism of Google in recent days in a coordinated assault apparently aimed at swaying public opinion against the U.S. search engine giant as it debates exiting China.

Still the decision is likely to further dismay many Internet-literate Chinese, who admired Google's fight against censorship even though they don't like to be reminded of the government's heavy hand.

"I feel that people will greatly respect Google's action," said Beijing law professor and human-rights lawyer Teng Biao. "China's censorship of the Internet search engine results is a violation of the most basic of human rights. By doing this, Google will bring more global attention to China's human rights situation."

"Google's move is also an expression of protest" against the hacking of e-mail accounts, said Teng, who had said after Google's January announcement that someone broke into his Gmail account and forwarded e-mails to another account.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Google Defies China Self-Censorship, Increasing Odds of Exit From Country
Bloomberg


Google Inc. defied China’s self- censorship rules by redirecting mainland Chinese users to an unfiltered Hong Kong Web site, threatening its ability to operate in the world’s largest Internet market.

The move escalated a two-month dispute as the government said Google broke its promise and was “totally wrong,” according to the official Xinhua news agency. Google, which had censored results on the Chinese site since its 2006 debut, said yesterday it plans to keep its research operations in the mainland.

The U.S. government said it was “disappointed” Google and China failed to reach a compromise. The conflict has contributed to a deterioration in relations between the two countries, following disagreements over weapon sales to Taiwan and the valuation of the yuan.

“Google is playing a very dangerous game,” said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at business consultant Enderle Group in San Jose, California. “They could end up doing more damage than good.”

The size of Google’s China sales workforce will partially depend on the accessibility of the Hong Kong site, the company said in a statement yesterday. Google employs more than 600 workers in the country and it “can’t rule out the possibility of lay-offs,” company spokeswoman Jessica Powell said in phone interview today.

‘Falun Gong,’ Tiananmen Square


Searches from Beijing and Shanghai for outlawed terms related to the Falun Gong movement and 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown yielded error messages today, indicating the Hong Kong site is subject to the same restrictions as overseas Web portals including Google.com. The nation’s Web censorship system has been dubbed “The Great Firewall of China.”

China had an estimated 384 million Internet users at the end of 2009, more than the total U.S. population. Baidu Inc. held 58.6 percent of China’s online search market last quarter, compared with 35.6 percent for Google, according to Analysys International, a Beijing-based technology research company.

“It’s very likely that Google.com.hk will be blocked at least as aggressively as Google.com was and, more likely, probably more aggressively,” said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech Inc. in San Francisco.

Brin Instigated Move

Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google, pushed the company’s executives to end censorship of Web-search results in China, a person familiar with the matter said in January. The two sides held discussions on Jan. 29 and Feb. 25, according to Xinhua.

These talks never produced any serious progress because China wasn’t willing to bend in its demand that search results be censored, the three people familiar with the matter said this week.

“The Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement,” Google said in a blog post. “We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced -- it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.”

Google fell $2.50 to $557.50 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading yesterday. The shares have declined 10 percent this year.

Good PR

“For Google, it’s probably negative that the company loses a large number of customers,” Yuuki Sakurai, chief executive officer of Tokyo-based Fukoku Capital Management Inc., which manages $7.5 billion. “Nevertheless, it could be good PR for Google since it fought against censorship.”

By dropping the censorship of its site, the company broke an agreement it made with the government when it entered the market, according to China’s State Council Information Office, Xinhua reported. The Chinese government has said the dispute damaged Sino-U.S. relations after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed Google.

“We have previously raised our concerns about this issue directly with the Chinese government,” said Mike Hammer, spokesman for President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “As both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have stressed on several occasions, we are committed to Internet freedom and are opposed to censorship.”

China’s Move Next


Hong Kong has a separate government and economy -- a legacy of its role as a British territory until 1997. At the time of the handover, China promised to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist system and free press for an additional 50 years.

The Hong Kong approach forces the Chinese government to take the next step, said Jason Helfstein, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. in New York.

“They’re putting the ball back in the Chinese government’s court,” said Helfstein, who rates the stock “outperform” and doesn’t own it. The government could entirely block Google’s service or redirect users to rival Baidu Inc., which leads the Chinese search market.

Google, owner of the world’s top search engine, in January threatened to stop censoring content after saying that it had been hacked from within China. The company said its systems were targeted by “highly sophisticated” attacks aimed at obtaining proprietary information and personal data belonging to human- rights activists who use the company’s Gmail e-mail service.

Government Denies Involvement


The Chinese government denied that it was involved in the attacks, Xinhua reported.

At least 20 other international companies in technology, finance and chemicals were similarly targeted, Google said at the time.

“We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered -- combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the Web in China including the persistent blocking of Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger -- had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on google.cn,” Google said on the blog.

Google’s decision to stop filtering its Chinese search engine is an “indictment” of the government’s attempt to censor the Internet, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said.

“China is one of the world’s largest economies, but hundreds of millions of Chinese Internet users are denied the basic access to information that people around the world take for granted,” Arvind Ganesan, the business and human-rights director for the U.S.-based group said in a statement.
European Court Rules Google's Ad Mode is Legal
Reuters


Europe's highest court ruled Google Inc did not infringe trademark law by selling keywords to trigger ads after Louis Vuitton and others said the practice undermined their brands.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said on Tuesday advertisers were free to buy keywords identical to trademarks of rivals as long as consumers were not confused on the provenance of goods and services by the way ads were displayed online.

The court said that in cases where ads could confuse consumers, brand owners should invoke their rights against the advertisers concerned, not against Google -- unless Google failed to act on a complaint or actively manipulated keywords.

The ruling validates the AdWords paid-search business at the core of Google's $23 billion online advertising operations, as well as of competitors such as Yahoo! Inc, and gives brand owners a way to prevent wrongful use of their trademarks.

"It's a good decision in large parts," said Fabian Ziegenaus, an intellectual property lawyer at Linklaters.

"It does not forbid Google per se to sell trademark keywords, so the business model is not at stake, and brand owners are also protected through the decision."

Advertisers often buy brand names of their competitors as keywords to trigger their own ads. Google says the practice is in the interests of consumers, who do not want their search results to be limited to a single brand.

Brand owners can also bid for their own brand names as keywords and the order in which sponsored links are displayed online is determined mainly through this auction process.

Google used to block advertisers from buying others' brand names as keywords but changed its policy in North America in 2004 and four years later extended that to Britain and Ireland.

It says it will honor valid complaints from brand owners and prevent their rivals from using a trademarked keyword in their ad text.

VICTORY CLAIMS

Both Google and LVMH, the world's biggest luxury-goods group, claimed the court's decision as a victory for themselves and their attorneys.

"Trademarks ... are key for companies to market and advertise their products and services. But trademark rights are not absolute," wrote Google's senior litigation counsel for Europe, Harjinder S. Obhi (googlepolicyeurope.blogspot.com).

"We believe that user interest is best served by maximizing the choice of keywords, ensuring relevant and informative advertising for a wide variety of different contexts."

LVMH Vice Chairman Pierre Gode told Reuters: "We are very happy with the decision. We consider the decision is very important as the liability of advertisers is well established."

LVHM shares rose 1.1 percent to 87.74 euros by 1131 GMT (7:31 a.m. EDT).

The summary of the court judgment did not explicitly address the issue of counterfeit goods, but it did offer more clarity than expected on the misuse of trademarks in search results displayed to consumers.

"If the trademarks are actually used in the results that are shown to users and the advertiser does not own the trademark, that is likely to be deemed infringement," said Thomas Vinje, a partner at Clifford Chance specializing in EU and IP law.

"That would seem to defeat counterfeiters ... that would be to the advantage of the trademark owners," he said.

The European Brands Association, which represents 1,800 brand companies in 22 countries, said: "By confirming trademark rights online and holding sellers of keywords liable for illicit material, such as counterfeits, this ruling seems positive."

The ECJ said the matter of whether consumers were likely to be confused by the way search results were displayed was a matter for national European courts to decide case by case.

LVMH scored a victory last month when a Paris tribunal found eBay Inc guilty of misleading consumers by using misspelt versions of its brand as search engine keywords to redirect users to eBay website links.

Several cases brought by brand owners are pending against advertisers at the ECJ, the first of which will be ruled on this week. Google also faces eight cases in the United States over the sale of trademarked keywords and Google keyword search technology.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Google Shuts China Site in Dispute Over Censorship
NY Times

Google to redirect China users to Uncensored site

SAN FRANCISCO — Just over two months after threatening to leave China because of censorship and intrusions from hackers, Google on Monday closed its Internet search service there and began directing users in that country to its uncensored search engine in Hong Kong.

While the decision to route Chinese users to Hong Kong is an attempt by Google to skirt censorship requirements without running afoul of Chinese laws, it appears to have angered officials in China, setting the stage for a possible escalation of the conflict, which may include blocking the Hong Kong search service in mainland China.

The state-controlled Xinhua news agency quoted an unnamed official with the State Council Information Office describing Google’s move as “totally wrong.”

“Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks,” the official said.

Google declined to comment on its talks with Chinese authorities, but said that it was under the impression that its move would be seen as a viable compromise.

“We got reasonable indications that this was O.K.,” Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder and its president of technology, said. “We can’t be completely confident."

Google’s retreat from China, for now, is only partial. In a blog post, Google said it would retain much of its existing operations in China, including its research and development team and its local sales force. While the China search engine, google.cn, has stopped working, Google will continue to operate online maps and music services in China.

Google’s move represents a powerful rejection of Beijing’s censorship but also a risky ploy in which Google, a global technology powerhouse, will essentially turn its back on the world’s largest Internet market, with nearly 400 million Web users.

“Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on google.cn has been hard,” David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, wrote in the blog post. “The Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement.”

Mr. Drummond said that Google’s search engine based in Hong Kong would provide mainland users results in the simplified Chinese characters used on the mainland and that he believed it was “entirely legal.”

“We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision,” Mr. Drummond said, “though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services.” Some Western analysts say Chinese regulators could retaliate against Google by blocking its Hong Kong or American search engines entirely, just as it blocks YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Google’s decision to scale back operations in China ends a nearly four-year bet that Google’s search engine in China, even if censored, would help bring more information to Chinese citizens and loosen the government’s controls on the Web.

Instead, specialists say, Chinese authorities have tightened their grip on the Internet in recent years. In January, Google said it would no longer cooperate with government censors after hackers based in China had stolen some of the company’s source code and even broken into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights advocates.

“It is certainly a historic moment,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet project at the University of California, Berkeley. “The Internet was seen as a catalyst for China being more integrated into the world. The fact that Google cannot exist in China clearly indicates that China’s path as a rising power is going in a direction different from what the world expected and what many Chinese were hoping for.”

While other multinational companies are not expected to follow suit, some Western executives say Google’s decision is a symbol of a worsening business climate in China for foreign corporations and perhaps an indication that the Chinese government is favoring home-grown companies. Despite its size and reputation for innovation, Google trails its main Chinese rival, Baidu.com, which was modeled on Google, with 33 percent market share to Baidu’s 63 percent.

The decision to shut down google.cn will have a limited financial impact on Google, which is based in Mountain View, Calif. China accounted for a small fraction of Google’s $23.6 billion in global revenues last year. Ads that once appeared on google.cn will now appear on Google’s Hong Kong site. Still, abandoning a direct presence in the largest Internet search market in the world could have long-term repercussions and thwart Google’s global ambitions, analysts say.

Government officials in Beijing have sharpened their attacks on Google in recent weeks. China experts say that it may be some time before the confrontation is resolved.

“This has become a war of ideas between the American company moralizing about Internet censorship and the Chinese government having its own views on the matter,” said Emily Parker, a senior fellow at the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. “The story is really just beginning.”

In China, many students and professionals said they feared they were about to lose access to Google’s vast resources.

Last January, when Google initially threatened to leave China, many young people there placed wreaths at the company headquarters in Beijing as a sign of mourning.

The attacks were aimed at Google and more than 30 other American companies. While Google did not say the attacks were sponsored by the government, the company said it had enough information about the attacks to justify its threat to leave China.

People, inside and outside of Google, investigating the attacks have since traced them to two universities in China: Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Lanxiang Vocational School.

The universities and the Chinese government have denied any involvement in the attacks.

After serving Chinese users through its search engine based in the United States, Google decided to enter the Chinese market in 2006 with a local search engine under an arrangement with the government that required it to purge search results on banned topics.

But since then, Google has struggled to comply with Chinese censorship rules and failed to gain significant market share from Baidu.com.

Google is not the first American Internet company to stumble here. Nearly every major American brand has arrived with high hopes only to be stymied by government rules or fierce competition from Chinese rivals.

After struggling to compete in China, Yahoo sold its Chinese operations to Alibaba Group, a local company; eBay and Amazon never gained traction; and Microsoft’s MSN instant messaging service badly trails that of Tencent.

Google’s departure could present an opportunity for Baidu, whose stock has soared since the confrontation between Google and China began. It could also give a chance to Microsoft, a perennial underdog in Internet search, to make inroads in the Chinese market. Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, has a very small share of the market.

Many analysts say the government has favored and aided Chinese Internet start-ups, but that those businesses have also out maneuvered American companies.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How Google Apps Marketplace Works
Helium

Google Apps Marketplace is an online location where company information technology professionals can go to shop for software application services. These applications can be integrated for use alongside company networks, intranet and other IT services at a potentially lower cost than customized company software solutions.

The service applications in Google Apps Marketplace are submitted by vendors who pay a $100.00 marketing fee to place their applications with Google Apps Marketplace and they can be subsequently uploaded and used by Google users who also use Google Apps for Businesses.

HOW GOOGLE MARKETPLACE APPS WORKS:

To illustrate how Google Apps Marketplace works ABC Company uses Google Apps for Businesses to manage its scheduling, email, and client documentation storage. Instead of managing these services in house, ABC Company decides it would be more cost effective to do so using Google Apps for Businesses.

Google describes this as 'Cloud Computing' and it helps businesses reduce costs through lower storage and IT management requirements and ready made IT services that are adaptable to an existing network.

Google Apps Marketplace is an extension of Google Apps for Businesses in the sense that the software on Google Apps Marketplace is downloadable and compatible alongside software from Google Apps for Businesses.

WHAT GOOGLE MARKETPLACE APPS DOES:

A number of online product and service software solutions exist when using Google Apps Marketplace and include accounting, marketing, workflow, and project management. Many of the applications on Google Apps Marketplace are rated by users to help other users get a sense of the application's quality.

Additionally, some of the products and services offered on Google Marketplace Apps are free and some charge a fairly low monthly fee. These products and services can be searched for using specific integration requirements such as email and calendar integration compatibility.

For example, one of the applications on Google Marketplace Apps is called 'Manymoon: Free social Productivity, Project Management and Task Management. This particular application allows individuals involved with a project to update the projects progress at a single online location reference point. In such case, even if people working on the projects are located in different offices, locations or cities, the project can remain focused and organized through referencing this particular Google Marketplace Application. Many other potentially useful business

 applications are available on the site.

GETTING STARTED WITH GOOGLE MARKETPLACE APPS:

Google Marketplace Apps can be accessed from multiple operating systems and company networks with either a user or administrator login id's and password. Since the software is already available online and is mutually compatible, combining applications is much easier than with different customized software from multiple non Google Apps for Business vendors.

The Google Apps site has a helpful webpage where Google Apps Administrators can go to acclimate with the system. Some basic steps involves in getting started with Google Marketplace Apps are below:

(i)  Obtain and/or verify domain name
(ii)  Register for either the free standard or premier Google Apps
(iii) Set up Google Apps features
(iv) Login into Google Apps as Application administrator
(v)  Search for Google Marketplace Apps using Google Apps search
(vi) Customize, review and download App

Since Google Marketplace Applications can all be accessed online with a single login to Google Applications, this makes possible a virtual company intranet environment. Employees can access and update company information at any time during the day making it not only more cost effective than an in house IT system but also more flexible.

To learn additional information about how to use Google Marketplace Applications the Google Apps for Businesses, Google Apps and Google Marketplace Applications webpages can be consulted for FAQ's, video tutorials, terms of service, product and service features and more.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Review Site Yelp Under Fire in Business' Lawsuits


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Yelp, one of the most popular Web sites that let people post opinions about restaurants, shops and local services, is being sued by several small businesses that claim they've been pressured to advertise on the site in exchange for getting negative reviews squashed.

Yelp denies the claims, but exactly what happened may never be clear. And regardless of what happens in court, the lawsuits could taint Yelp's reputation as a leader in online reviews.

San Francisco-based Yelp has faced many complaints since it began letting consumers post reviews about local businesses ranging from all-you-can eat buffets to zip line operators six years ago. Often businesses have complained about how reviews on the site - positive or negative - can mysteriously disappear and reappear.

If your company or brand is being damaged by negative reviews, contact the online reputation management specialists at Peak Positions SEO.

But since late February, at least three lawsuits seeking class action status have been filed against the site by a dozen companies, complaining that reviews are manipulated depending on which companies advertise on the site and which ones do not.

The first suit, which explicitly alleges Yelp engaged in extortion and attempted extortion, was filed Feb. 23 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.

That lawsuit was amended in March to add nine more companies - some Yelp advertisers, some not. It alleges Yelp sales representatives indicated to businesses that they could alter site listings to help advertisers and harm non-advertisers, and that Yelp has actually done so.

The lawsuit began with Cats & Dogs owner Greg Perrault, who said in a court filing that after receiving negative reviews on the site he started getting calls from Yelp, informing him that if he advertised Yelp would hide or lower negative reviews on his page and let him choose the order of the reviews.

Perrault said he decided not to advertise, and a week later a negative review that had disappeared from his page reappeared. He also received a second negative review from someone who had previously written one, he said. Yelp refused his request that the reviews be removed, he said.

The lawsuit seeks an order barring Yelp from manipulating reviews and forcing the company to return money reaped "by means of its wrongful acts and practices," along with unspecified damages.

At least two similar lawsuits have been filed: One by Christine LaPuasky of D'ames Day Spa in Imperial Beach, Calif., on March 3 in the same district court, and one by Boris Levitt of Renaissance Furniture Restoration in San Francisco on March 12 in San Francisco Superior Court.

In an interview, Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said that the businesses suing his company don't understand how Yelp works.

Yelp says some reviews might come and go because it relies on an automated program to weigh reviews and filter out ones that might be untrustworthy, such as a negative review a spa owner might write about a competitor. Yelp says it does nothing to manipulate reviews, aside from allowing advertisers to choose one review they would like to feature at the top of the page about their business.

Stoppelman said the automated filter has helped Yelp stay relevant to consumers, even though it frustrates some businesses.

Bob Gutgsell, whose San Carlos, Calif.-based Astro Appliance Service is one of the 10 businesses involved in the Cats & Dogs suit, said he does understand how Yelp works, and he doesn't like it.

Gutgsell said that after responding to a negative Yelp review from a customer, he got a call from a sales representative asking him to pay several hundred dollars a month to advertise. Gutgsell said the Yelp representative explained that if he did so Yelp would help him control his good and bad reviews.

"The attitude that was conveyed was, 'You really need to do this for your business.' And I felt I really didn't need to do that for my business," Gutgsell said.

Soon after declining to advertise, he noticed some positive reviews had disappeared from his site profile, he said.

Stoppelman countered, however, that his sales reps have "absolutely no ability" to move reviews or remove them from Yelp. Once a sales representative closes an ad deal it is handed over to an account manager who, unlike representatives, is not paid in accordance with the number of deals he or she makes, Stoppelman said.

"We would immediately know from our account manager that something was going wrong, or their messaging was off-key, and we simply haven't found that," he said.

Stoppelman says the lawsuits are suspiciously timed, because Yelp recently got deeper pockets. Yelp got an infusion of venture capital in January, snagging $25 million from Elevation Partners. That values the company at about $475 million and brings its total financing to $56 million.

Some plaintiffs said they were unaware that Yelp had just gotten more financing, though. Ronald Marron, a lawyer for D'ames Day Spa, said he just wants money returned to people who were subject to Yelp's "unfair business practices and bought advertising as a result."

Yelp has tried to head off problems by making efforts to connect with businesses and educate them about the site. After a rash of complaints early last year, Yelp started allowing businesses to respond publicly to customers' critiques right on their Yelp pages. Previously businesses could contact reviewers only privately. Yelp also has hired an outreach manager who has met with business owners and business groups.

Given that more than 15 million small businesses are listed on the site, including businesses that have not yet been reviewed by Yelp users, lawsuits from even a dozen businesses don't seem like very many, said Ray Valdes, a Gartner Inc. analyst.

"The question is," he said, "how many more will come out?"
Bing Nabs More Web Searches in February

SEATTLE (AP) - Microsoft Corp.'s Bing search engine gained market share in the U.S. in February, according to research groups.

Microsoft has worked for years to improve its search technology and narrow the gap with Google Inc. After launching its redesigned search site last June, the company waged a major marketing campaign to position Bing as better than Google or No. 2 Yahoo for shopping, booking travel and searching for medical information.

Microsoft remains in the No. 3 spot, but Bing's share of U.S. searches has crept up a few percentage points since its June 2009 launch, primarily at Yahoo's expense, according to research groups.

Now there's a sign - albeit a small one - that Bing may also be tempting some Googlers.

The Nielsen Co., one of the research groups that tracks the space, said Tuesday that Bing's share of U.S. searches crept up to 12.5 percent from 10.9 percent in January. Yahoo's share slipped to 14.1 percent from 14.5 percent, and Google's decreased to 65.2 from 66.3, Nielsen said.

But tracking Web searches is an imprecise business, and methods and estimates vary among research groups. Last week, comScore Inc. published its own February search rankings, which showed Google gaining a tenth of a percent to 65.5 percent. Microsoft's share edged up to 11.5 percent from 11.3 percent by comScore's count, while Yahoo's slice of U.S. Web searches slipped to 16.8 percent from 17 percent.
Viacom-YouTube Secrets to be Exposed in Lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A legal tussle pitting media conglomerate Viacom Inc. against online video leader YouTube is about to get dirtier as a federal judge prepares to release documents that will expose their secrets and other confidential information.

The information expected to be unsealed Thursday will include some of the evidence that Viacom and Google-owned YouTube have collected to prove their respective points, but have kept under wraps so far during their 3-year-old dispute over copyright law.

The sensitive material is emerging now because Viacom and YouTube are citing some of the documents as they try to persuade U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in New York to decide the case without a trial. Stanton isn't likely to decide on a so-called summary judgment for several more months.

Each side will likely be pointing to things that the other might find embarrassing.

The evidence is expected to provide insights into the early strategies of YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen and how they responded to copyright complaints that quickly accumulated a few months after the Web site's 2005 debut. The documents also could reveal whether other media suitors tried to buy YouTube before Google acquired the site for $1.76 billion in 2006.

Viacom, the owner of Paramount Pictures and cable TV channels that include Comedy Central, sued YouTube in 2007 seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

Viacom alleges that YouTube built its early success by rampantly infringing on copyrights. YouTube maintains it follows the copyright laws governing the Internet.

Viacom seems particularly interested in sharing some of the documents that it gathered from YouTube and Google. The company, based in New York, argued for a quick release of the records shortly after it and YouTube filed their motions for summary judgments.

YouTube's lawyers unsuccessfully tried to persuade Stanton to keep the documents under seal until this summer.

One of the biggest disputes in the case is how YouTube monitored its site for copyright violations before Google bought it.

Viacom contends YouTube's employees realized copyright-protected video was being illegally posted on the Web site, but routinely looked the other way because they knew the professionally produced material would help attract a bigger audience and encourage return visits through SEO.

YouTube lawyers have contended there was no way to know whether copyright-protected video was coming from pirates or from movie and TV studios looking to use the Web site as a promotional tool. If a studio issued a notice of a copyright violation, YouTube says it promptly removed the specified clip as required under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The 1998 federal law generally protects service providers such as YouTube from copyright claims as long as they promptly remove infringing material when notified about a violation. The outcome could hinge on whether Viacom can prove YouTube knew about the copyright abuses without formal notice from Viacom.

Although other content producers also initially complained about copyright abuse at YouTube, many media companies have since struck revenue-sharing deals with the Web site.

YouTube won over much of the professional media by developing technology that automatically detects video and audio claimed by its copyright owners.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yahoo Buying Fantasy Sports Company Citizen Sports


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Yahoo is buying a fantasy sports company co-founded by an MIT graduate whose card-counting skills helped him win millions of dollars in blackjack and spawned a film and a best-selling book.

Citizen Sports offers fantasy leagues for sports such as football, soccer and basketball that fans can manage online at social-networking sites and through mobile applications for Apple's iPhone and smart phones running Google Inc.'s Android operating software.

With Citizen Sports, Yahoo is looking to boost its social-networking offerings, an area the company has struggled in even though, according to comScore, it commands the largest U.S. Internet audience in news, sports and finance.

Yahoo did not release financial details of its purchase, which it expects to close by June.

Millions of people participate in fantasy leagues. Participants rack up points based on the performance of the sports players they pick to be on their make-believe teams.

Jeff Ma, whose antics in Las Vegas and Atlantic City inspired "Bringing Down the House" and, more recently, the movie "21," started Citizen Sports with business partner Mike Kerns in 2004.

Yahoo said Wednesday that Citizen Sports will be integrated with content from its sports news and information site, Yahoo Sports, and vice versa.

Citizen Sports, which is privately held, now has 39 million unique visitors in the U.S. each month, which bodes well for Yahoo SEO.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Google Phone Now Works on iPhone's Wireless System

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Google Inc. has upgraded its Nexus One phone so it works on the same high-speed wireless network as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, putting the increasingly antagonistic rivals on an even more direct collision course in the mobile market.

The latest version of the Nexus One unveiled Tuesday could make the device a more serious challenger to the iPhone, which uses AT&T Inc.'s 3G network as its main communications channel in the United States.

The Nexus One had been running on AT&T's slower networks since Google began selling the handset in early January. The switch to AT&T's faster system represents another step in Google's attempt to siphon sales from Apple's iPhone with its own version of a sleek mobile phone that relies on touch-screen technology.

Analysts don't believe the Nexus One has made a big dent yet, despite Google's efforts to promote the Nexus One as a "super" phone that's a cut above the iPhone.

Nevertheless, Apple is aggressively protecting its turf as it tries thwart the Nexus One and several other mobile phone models that rely on Android, a software system designed by Google.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, Apple alleged HTC Corp. - the maker of the Nexus One and other Android-powered phones - has infringed on its touch-screen patent.

Google hasn't said how many Nexus Ones have been sold so far. BroadPoint.Amtech analyst Benjamin Schachter estimates Google will sell about 125,000 of the phones during the Nexus One's first three months on the market. Apple has sold about 40 million iPhones since the device's 2007 debut, including 8.7 million in last year's final quarter.

Nexus One's upfront cost can be substantially higher than the iPhone because Google is selling some models without subsidies from wireless carriers to make it easier for consumers move to other networks.

The unsubsidized version of the Nexus One sells for $529. The iPhone sells for as little as $99 with a two-year commitment to subscribe to AT&T.

Consumers willing to shoulder a two-year contract with T-Mobile can buy a Nexus One for $179.

AT&T has no plans to subsidize the Nexus One although it welcomes all phones compatible with its 3G network, said company spokesman Fletcher Cook.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

U.S. Officials to Unveil Sweeping Proposal for Broadband
Mercury News
WASHINGTON — Recognizing that high-speed Internet has joined telephone service and electricity as essential tools of modern life, the federal government will unveil an ambitious blueprint this week to extend broadband to virtually all Americans.

Crafted by the Federal Communications Commission over the past year, the national broadband plan is expected to set the federal government's high-tech agenda on a variety of fronts, with far-reaching implications for Silicon Valley. At its core, the plan, which will be released Tuesday, will propose ways to close the long-standing digital divide by bringing broadband into 90 percent of American homes by 2020.

For those with broadband already, the plan will target vastly increased speeds for wired and wireless service, fostering the already-booming market for Web-based video and other high-bandwidth applications. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the plan could spur advancements in telemedicine, education and energy efficiency through a Web-enabled smart grid.

Progress will be dictated largely by the private sector, given the immense costs of broadband infrastructure.

"World-class broadband," Genachowski said in a speech last month, "is our generation's great infrastructure challenge."

The FCC says that about 93 million Americans, almost a third of the population, currently lack high-speed Internet at home — a huge untapped market for high-tech firms that advocates say a national broadband initiative could help them reach.

In the case of Google, for example, universal broadband would mean more Web ad clicks, smoother YouTube video quality, and easier collaboration on Google Docs and other sharing applications, an executive said.

"The more people on the Internet, the better our business model works," said Vint Cerf, a founding father of the Internet who now serves as "chief Internet evangelist" for Google. "And high-speed creates a lot of opportunities for collaboration."

Cisco Systems, meanwhile, stands to sell more routing equipment to direct the Web traffic of millions more users. But the importance of broadband extends far beyond any one company, said Jeffrey Campbell, Cisco's senior director of technology and trade policy.

"This is highly relevant to the valley and the tech industry in general," Campbell said. "If the United States is going to continue leading the world in creating applications for the Internet, we need to make sure people have access and we need world-class speeds."

The country is lagging on both fronts now. Studies show the United States trailing a dozen or more countries in the proportion of people who have broadband and in the speed of service. While some critics question the criteria for those rankings, "few would suggest we are leading the world in broadband, or are even as close as we should be," Genachowski said.

The plan will focus simultaneously on expanding access and increasing speeds. According to several recent surveys, about one-third of households lack broadband connections at home, and they are concentrated in low-income and rural communities. All but about 4 percent of households have access to at least one broadband service. The most oft-cited reasons cited for not signing up are that people don't see the need or can't afford the typical $40 to $45 a month fee.

FCC officials in recent weeks have floated a number of ideas to close the access gap that are expected to be included in the plan:

# Redirecting a roughly $8 billion-a-year government program that subsidizes telephone service for rural and low-income communities toward expanding high-speed Internet in underserved areas.

# Setting aside a slice of the radio spectrum for free or low-cost wireless service.

# Creating a "digital literacy corps," modeled after AmeriCorps, to help people unfamiliar with the Internet (particularly residents of low-income and minority communities and seniors) learn how to use it.


The plan will also set ambitious targets for bolstering current broadband service. Genachowski said it will call for broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second in 100 million homes by 2020. That would be more than 10 times faster than what's considered speedy Internet now.

And it will recommend more than doubling the amount of spectrum devoted to wireless Internet to accommodate the explosion of smartphones and other mobile SEO devices and make wireless Internet a more viable alternative to cable, DSL and similar services in the home.

While Genachowski and other proponents talk about broadband in transformative terms — "akin to the advent of electricity," the FCC chairman said — the plan's impact is likely to be gradual, requiring years of work by the commission and the cooperation of Congress. Progress will be dictated largely by the private sector, given the immense costs of broadband infrastructure.

"It's intended to be a major statement about U.S. technology policy, and there really hasn't been a major statement like this in a long time," said Jed Kolko, an economist and broadband expert at the Public Policy Institute of California. "Broadband has expanded to the point that it's expected that people have access, and when they don't, they're at a real disadvantage."
Chinese Minister Insists Google Obey the Law

Li Yizhong, Chinese Minister of Industry and Information Technology, gestures during a press conference in Beijing Friday, March 12, 2010. Li, China's top Internet regulator, insisted Friday that Google must obey its laws or "pay the consequences," giving no sign of a possible compromise in their dispute over censorship and hacking.


BEIJING (AP) - China's top Internet regulator insisted Friday that Google must obey its laws or "pay the consequences," giving no sign of a possible compromise in their dispute over censorship and hacking.

"If you want to do something that disobeys Chinese law and regulations, you are unfriendly, you are irresponsible and you will have to pay the consequences," Li Yizhong, the minister of Industry and Information Technology, said on the sidelines of China's annual legislature.

Li gave no details of Beijing's talks with Google Inc. over the search engine's January announcement that it planned to stop complying with Chinese Internet censorship rules and might close its China-based site.

"Whether they leave or not is up to them," Li said. "But if they leave, China's Internet market is still going to develop."

China has the world's most populous Internet market, with 384 million people online. Google has about 35 percent of the Chinese search market, compared with about 60 percent for local rival Baidu Inc. Chinese users of Google and even some of China's state-controlled media have warned that the loss of a major competitor could slow the industry's development.

Beijing encourages Internet use for education and business but tries to block access to material deemed subversive or pornographic, including Web sites abroad run by human rights and pro-democracy activists.

Li insisted the government needs to censor Internet content to protect the rights of the country and its people.

"If there is information that harms stability or the people, of course we will have to block it," he said.

Responding to Google's complaints of China-based hacking against its e-mail service and several dozen major companies, Li said the government opposes hacking.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Wednesday that the company is in active negotiations with Beijing and expects some resolution in the dispute soon and a return to normal Google SEO operations in China.

Speaking at a conference in the United Arab Emirates, Schmidt declined to provide specifics or predict how long the discussions would last. He said Google has decided not to publicize details of the talks.

Google hopes to resolve its standoff in China within weeks, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said Friday. This person, who spoke on condition anonymity because the talks are still unfolding, couldn't provide a more specific timetable.

Even if the China-based Google.cn search site is shut down, Google wants to keep a Beijing development center, advertising sales offices and a fledgling mobile phone business, according to a person familiar with the company's thinking.

Google will not say how many employees it has in China, but industry analysts estimate the work force at 700. The search engine placement company, based in Mountain View, California, employs about 20,000 people worldwide.

Beijing has rejected suggestions by Western security experts that China's military or government agencies might have been involved in the hacking.

"You cannot find evidence about who organizes such attacks. The Chinese government has repeatedly opposed and deterred hacking attacks," Li said.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Forbidden Fruit: Microsoft Workers Hide Their iPhones
The Wall Street Journal

Steve Ballmer Sours on Apple Product; Work for Ford, Drive a Ford


REDMOND, Wash.—Microsoft Corp. employees are passionate users of the latest tech toys. But there is one gadget love that many at the company dare not name: the iPhone.

The iPhone is made, of course, by Microsoft's longtime rival, Apple Inc. The device's success is a nagging reminder for Microsoft executives of how the company's own efforts to compete in the mobile business have fallen short in recent years. What is especially painful is that many of Microsoft's own employees are nuts for the device.

The perils of being an iPhone user at Microsoft were on display last September. At an all- company meeting in a Seattle sports stadium, one hapless employee used his iPhone to snap photos of Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. Mr. Ballmer snatched the iPhone out of the employee's hands, placed it on the ground and pretended to stomp on it in front of thousands of Microsoft workers, according to people present. Mr. Ballmer uses phones from different manufacturers that run on Microsoft's mobile phone software.

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment and declined to make executives available for this story.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs referred an email asking about iPhone use at Microsoft to a spokeswoman, who declined to comment.

Despite Mr. Ballmer's theatrics, iPhone users are in plain sight at Microsoft. At the sprawling campus here in a Seattle suburb, workers peck away on their iPhone touch-screens in conference rooms, cafeterias and lobbies. Among the top Microsoft executives who use the iPhone is J Allard, who helped create the Xbox game console and is chief experience officer for the entertainment and devices division.

Nearly 10,000 iPhone users were accessing the Microsoft employee email system last year, say two people who heard the estimates from senior Microsoft executives. That figure equals about 10% of the company's global work force.

Employees at Apple, in contrast, appear to be more devoted to the company's own mobile phone. Several people who work at the company or deal regularly with employees there say they can't recall seeing Apple workers with mobile phones other than the iPhone in recent memory.

IPhone usage at Microsoft is the latest twist in the rivalry between Apple and Microsoft, tech-industry titans that have mixed it up in everything from computer operating systems to digital music players.

For many top Microsoft executives, seeing so many iPhones around the office is a bit like how a Coca-Cola Co. manager might feel seeing underlings drink Pepsi—especially since Microsoft makes its own operating system, Windows Phone, that powers handsets.

Employee iPhone use has led to some spirited discussions among Microsoft executives. At a retreat last March for dozens of senior Microsoft executives at its corporate campus, someone asked about employee use of iPhones in a question-and-answer period.

According to several people present, Andy Lees, a Microsoft senior vice president who oversees development of the mobile-phone software business, and his boss, Robbie Bach, explained that Microsoft workers often use rival products to better understand the competition.

Kevin Turner, chief operating officer, scoffed at that explanation, these people said. Mr. Turner said he discouraged Microsoft's sales force from using the iPhone, they added. "What's good for the field is good for Redmond," Mr. Turner said, recalls one of the people who heard his comments.

Mr. Ballmer took a similar stance at the meeting.

He told executives that he grew up in Detroit, where his father worked for Ford Motor Co., and that his family always drove Fords, according to several people at the meeting.

In what some employees interpreted as a sign that Microsoft was clamping down on the iPhone, the company in early 2009 modified its corporate cellphone policy to only reimburse service fees for employees using phones that run on Windows Phone software.

Microsoft has said it made the change as part of a broader cost-cutting plan.

Some Microsoft workers take pains to hide their iPhones. While rank-and-file workers tend to use the iPhone openly around peers, some conceal them within sight of more senior executives. One Microsoft worker said he knows several colleagues who try to disguise their iPhones with cases that make them look more like generic handsets.

"Maybe once a year I'm in a meeting with Steve Ballmer," said this employee. "It doesn't matter who's calling, I'm not answering my phone."

Some executives have openly renounced their iPhones. Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's business division, used Apple products before Mr. Ballmer lured him to Microsoft in early 2008. But at a meeting of Microsoft sales representatives after joining, Mr. Elop placed his personal iPhone into an industrial-strength blender and destroyed it in a reenactment of a popular Internet video, says one witness.

Others remain less shy about their iPhones. Microsoft software engineer Eugene Lin recently gave a public talk in Seattle about developing software for the iPhone in his spare time. One of his creations: a racy application called Peekaboo that lets people ogle scantily clad cartoon women. A YouTube video of the Seattle talk by Mr. Lin, who didn't respond to messages seeking comment, has been viewed more than 73,000 times.

Microsoft isn't uniformly opposed to employees using Apple products, in part because it makes some software and services for them. Apple's Macintosh computers are common in the Microsoft group that makes the Mac version of its Office software.

Still, Apple's ascendancy in mobile phones has been tough to stomach.

The iPhone accounted for 25.1% of the U.S. smartphone market during the three months ending Jan. 31, compared with 15.7% for phones running Windows Phone software, according to comScore Inc.

Windows mobile phones have lagged some of the innovations of the iPhone, including Apple's slick Web browser and the App Store for downloading software onto the device.

But there's positive buzz among Microsoft employees and others in the technology industry about an overhauled version of its software, Windows Phone 7 Series, expected to be on handsets in time for the holidays.

One person who isn't jumping on the iPhone bandwagon is co-founder and chairman Bill Gates. In an appearance on "The Daily Show" in January, host Jon Stewart asked Mr. Gates if he can have an iPhone since leaving full-time duties at Microsoft in 2008 to focus on philanthropy.

"I'm a very loyal Microsoft user," Mr. Gates replied.