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Monday, April 29, 2013

LivingSocial hacked, 50 million customers impacted

Story originally appeared on Freep.

LivingSocial, the daily deals site owned in part by Amazon, has suffered a massive cyberattack on its computer systems, according to officials at the company.

The breach has impacted 50 million customers of the Washington, D.C.-based company, who will now be required to reset their passwords. All of LivingSocial's countries across the world appear to have been affected, except in Thailand, Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The firm began sending emails to customers Friday afternoon telling them they would have to change their site passwords.

"We recently experienced a cyber-attack on our computer systems that resulted in unauthorized access to some customer data from our servers. We are actively working with law enforcement to investigate this issue," LivingSocial CEO Tim O'Shaughnessy said in an email.

The memo said that customer credit card information was not stolen — it was stored in a separate database. And while the hacker stole customer passwords, they were encrypted and "salted," or scrambled.

"Although your LivingSocial password would be difficult to decode, we want to take every precaution to ensure that your account is secure, so we are expiring your old password and requesting that you create a new one," O'Shaughnessy said.

The company advised consumers who used their LivingSocial password at other sites to change their password at those sits, also.

The firm expects its customer service phone lines to be deluged, so O'Shaughnessy warned that he may decide to temporarily suspend telephone customer service relations.

"Because we anticipate a high call volume and may not be able to answer or return all calls in a responsible fashion, we are likely to temporarily suspend consumer phone-based servicing. We will be devoting all available resources to our Web-based servicing," he said.

Google Floats Antitrust Concessions To EU

Story originally appeared on Information Week.

Google Nexus 7, Take Two: What To Expect (click image for slideshow) To resolve European antitrust concerns, Google has proposed four ways it is willing to change its business practices, and the European Commission on Thursday solicited feedback on the proposal.

Following its two-and-a-half-year investigation of Google's business practices, the Commission concluded that Google may be violating EU antitrust rules by: giving preference to Google services in search results; using third-party original content in its own specialized search services; requiring online publishers running Google ads to forgo ads from rivals; and contractually limiting the transfer of ad campaign data to rival search ad platforms.

In response, Google has committed to a series of concessions that, if accepted, will change the way the company operates. Google states that its proposal is not an admission of competition rule violations. Rather, the company says it is willing to modify its business practices "to avoid the time, inconvenience and expense of ongoing proceedings ..."

Google is offering: to label and visually separate links to its specialized search services (like flight search) that it promotes in general search results lists, and to promote three rival specialized search services in a clearly visible area; to allow specialized search services (like Yelp) to prevent Google from using their content in its own specialized search service (like Google Local), and to give news publishers page-level control of Google News inclusion; to stop requiring that publishers use Google ads exclusively; and to drop its advertising API restrictions.

In January, Google settled a Federal Trade Commission inquiry with fewer concessions. At the time,, a lobbying group backed by Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle, and online travel and marketing companies, complained that the FTC's inaction would embolden Google to further abuse its monopoly power.

The group doesn't sound much happier with Google's latest proposal. Thomas Vinje, counsel and spokesman for FairSearch Europe, said in a statement that while the group welcomed the Commission's findings, "Google's proposed commitments appear to fall short of ending the preferential treatment at the heart of the Commission's case ..."

While FairSearch argues for stronger remedies to curb Google, the European Commission felt the need to explain why it's being harder on Google than the FTC was in the U.S. "The factual and legal environments are different in the U.S. and Europe," the Commission explained on its website. "In particular, Bing and Yahoo represent a substantial alternative to Google in Web search in the USA: their combined market share is around 30%. In contrast, Google has been holding market shares well above 90% in most European countries for a number of years."

Over the course of a month, the European Commission will test Google's proposed changes in the market while accepting public comment. If the changes achieve the desired results, the Commission will issue a decision making them legally binding. If Google then violates its agreement, it could face fines of up to 10% of its annual worldwide revenue.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tech giants look to Iowa for data centers

Story originally appeared on USA Today.

Facebook is expected to announce new center, while Google wants to expands its operations there.

DES MOINES -- Two tech heavy-hitters — Facebook and Google — are weighing capital investment in Iowa that could push up to $2 billion into the state, a move that could create dozens of technology and construction jobs.

Facebook is expected to announce Tuesday that it will build a new Altoona, Iowa, data center that could grow to $1.5 billion in investment. The company has invited state leaders to a news conference that's scheduled in Altoona. A wind energy project also could be tied to the announcement.

Separately, Google wants to expand its data center operations in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a $400 million boost that would bring the online search company's total investment in Iowa to about $1.3 billion, documents show.

"The magnitude of those investments is unprecedented," said John Boyd Jr. of the Boyd Co., a New Jersey-based consultant that helps companies locate data centers, among other projects. "The only state that mirrors that investment is Washington state," where Dell, Microsoft, Yahoo and other companies have been drawn to the area's low-cost hydroelectric power.

"That's exciting news," said Scott Norvell, chief executive of Master Builders of Iowa, a statewide construction group. "They have the potential to create a lot of construction jobs," especially when combined with other projects in the state.

Landing data centers from tech giants such as Google and Facebook — along with Microsoft in West Des Moines — is the "economic development holy grail," said Boyd, the New Jersey site selector.

Data centers serve as storage space for digital information and data, including e-mails, videos or, in Facebook's case, status updates and photos. The number of data centers has exploded during the last several years as more companies collect data and use the storage space.

Companies are attracted to Iowa for its inexpensive, reliable energy, good access to high-speed fiber, few natural disasters and available land. In 2007, lawmakers sweetened Iowa's attraction, agreeing to provide sales- and use-tax exemptions on purchases of computers, equipment and electricity necessary to run data centers.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority Board is expected to consider incentives for both data center projects Tuesday.

Google already has an existing $600 million campus that employs about 130 workers in Council Bluffs. The company will seek to amend an existing development contract for a $300 million data center already under construction to $700 million. Google is asking the economic development board for $16.8 million in a refund of sales tax on computers, building materials and other goods used to construct a facility. The state earlier agreed to a sales tax refund up to $9.6 million.

The board's agenda also includes an incentives award for a project called Siculus Inc., believed to be Facebook.

Few details were available Monday about the Altoona project, where city leaders have given a green-light for three data centers, up to 1.4 million square feet of space that could cost a total of $1.5 billion. The first two phases — $500 million each — are expected to be announced Tuesday, lawmakers have told the Des Moines Register.

Tina Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the economic development agency, said in an e-mail that details about the project were not available Monday because the state was "continuing to work with the company to finalize some elements."

The state agency typically provides details on a company's plan for capital investment, job creation and pay before meeting to consider incentives. The state perks can include loans, grants, job training assistance and tax credits.

State and local economic development leaders have repeatedly declined to talk about the Altoona project. Facebook, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social networking company, did not return e-mails seeking comment.

Critic: States gets into bidding wars

Not everyone in Iowa thinks the projects necessarily represent positive things for the state.

Peter Fisher of the Iowa Policy Project said he worries that Facebook's and Google's stature give them a negotiating advantage. In addition, he said, pitting two towns against each other, as Facebook did with Altoona and Kearney, Neb., leads to even more incentives being handed out freely.

Last year, Nebraska lawmakers agreed to boost its incentives for large data center projects. The neighboring state has been competing neck-and-neck for the massive data center, thought to bring about 100 jobs.

"Everyone wants high-tech and those are the biggest names out there," Fisher said. "So it worries me when I see those things because they have the names that can lead people to handing out more money than they need to."

Official in Oregon lauds Facebook

In Prineville, Ore., where Facebook is building its second 300,000-square-foot data center, City Manager Steven Forrester said the company has helped transform the small town.

"It's changed our culture. We're not only known for being the Crook County Cowboys, and having the greatest wrestling team in the state, and for being a bunch of hardworking loggers, ranchers and farmers, but we're also a hub for high-tech," said Forrester.

Since Facebook's arrival in 2010, Apple Inc. decided to locate a $68 million data center in Prineville. Facebook leaders helped recruit the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant, he said.

"We worried nobody from Prineville would be hired, and that's just not been true," said Forrester, adding that Facebook employs around 70 workers, and it's attracted "an ongoing construction presence" of about 300 workers for nearly three years, plus support jobs such as electricians.

Newsrooms may revisit security after AP hacking

Story originally appeared on USA Today.

News organizations may have to revisit policies on retweeting breaking news and shore up the security of their social-media accounts in the fallout from Tuesday's hacking of the Associated Press' Twitter account, media watchers say.

The drama — which unfolded within an hour and sank the stock market by 143 points before it rebounded — is yet another reminder that news agencies' Twitter accounts are indispensable but occasionally unwieldy tools ultimately controlled by a third party.

The official AP account tweeted early Tuesday afternoon that the White House was attacked and President Obama was injured. Six minutes later, the same account confirmed that it was "a bogus tweet."

The AP also subsequently confirmed that its account was hacked, and AP reporter Mike Baker told his followers on Twitter that it was a result of a phishing e-mail, in which the culprit tries to get personal information under false pretenses.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which supports President Bashar al-Assad, later took credit for hacking the AP account.

The same group also reportedly hacked into BBC Weather's Twitter account earlier this year and posted several political messages related to Syria.

"In light of this, news organizations have to certainly increase security procedures so that they can't be hacked so easily," says Stephen Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "(If it was phishing that led to this), then that is not proper security. They've got to review security procedures."

While hacking is an inevitable part of social-media interactions, the AP's tweet had the dramatic impact it had — with about 1,800 retweets before the AP correction — because its credibility is valued even in the ephemeral world of Twitter.

Protecting their social-media accounts and clarifying to readers how and when their news messages are disseminated via Twitter will reinforce the credibility of major news agencies, says Dominic Lasorsa, a journalism professor at the University of Texas who has researched the topic of journalists' use of Twitter.

"This is the kind of stuff the media has to deal with today," he says. "It's difficult to stay ahead of the hacking community. But our reputation is all we've got going for us. News media organizations need to be more savvy about the problem."

The issue also underscores the two-tier system of news distribution taking place in many newsrooms. Much time and pride are invested in the printed word and stories posted on news outlets' official websites, Ward says, but the need to breathlessly keep up with social-media crowds has loosened control of the messages on those channels.

"The whole retweeting area is a miasma," Ward says. "It's a ball of unclarity right now. The right policy is that we don't pick up retweets unless we absolutely have to. We can't control how individuals use social media. But news organizations have to hold the line here. It just means we may not be the first (with) the story, and we just have to accept that."

Luckily, Twitter has a way of quickly ferreting out crucial messages with questionable sources, and the AP tweet was dismissed by readers within minutes.

But the issue of speed in news dissemination surfaced yet again at AP for the second time in two weeks. The news agency was one of several major news organizations to report inaccurately that suspects in the Boston terror attack were in the custody of law enforcement officials before they actually were.

"Because social media allows people to say anything and distribute to millions of people, it puts pressure on the mainstream media to act quickly," Lasorsa says. "There's a lot of pressure to keep up with social media. And it's a real dilemma."

Online sellers may have to collect sales tax

Story originally appeared on USA Today.

Brick-and-mortar retailers say the Marketplace Fairness Act just levels the playing field. Online sellers say it would be a burden to meet tax laws in -- and face audits by -- so many states.

The days of avoiding state sales taxes online could be numbered as the Senate takes up debate on a bill that would let states require companies to collect sales taxes online.

A final vote expected by the end of the week.

The Marketplace Fairness Act has been gaining momentum for months. It would give states the authority to require online businesses to collect state sales tax. In March, the Senate showed support for the legislation in a non-binding 75-24 vote.

If it passes, the bill would overturn a 1992 Supreme Court decision that ruled that it was too difficult for remote sellers to have to comply with myriad state tax laws, only requiring businesses with a physical presence in a state (whether a storefront or warehouse) to collect state sales taxes.

The bill would also require states to simplify their sales tax laws to make it easier for businesses to comply.

"For the states, it helps them close a $24 billion leak in state budgets. For retailers, it allows them to compete on a level playing field," says David French, senior vice president of government relations for the National Retail Federation, which has been a strong supporter of the bill.

The issue pits small retailers against large retailers, online retailers against brick-and-mortar businesses. Proponents argue that the legislation will allow local businesses to compete with large out-of-state retailers who currently offer lower prices, since they don't have to collect tax.

But opponents say the burden on small businesses that sell online would hinder competition, and denounce the unfair pricing argument because online businesses often have to charge more for shipping.

Currently the bill exempts sellers with less than $1 million in out-of-state sales a year from collecting state sales tax. Ebay, one of the bill's largest opponents, says that is far too low and wants the limit raised to less than $10 million in remote sales, or businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

"We don't want to make it harder for small businesses to grow," says Brian Bieron, senior director of federal government relations at eBay.

He's also concerned with the administrative capability of small businesses to comply with out-of-state tax authorities.

"The real issue is tax enforcement," he says. "Now 49 other states could theoretically take you into court or audit you for tax compliance, and that's a really daunting change. (Small businesses) don't have an army of tax lawyers and accountants."

Ann Whitley Wood, who sells designer clothes on consignment through her eBay store Willow-Wear, is very concerned about what collecting state sales tax would mean for her essentially one-woman business. While she currently falls under the small seller exemption with about $800,000 in sales a year, she says she couldn't sustain her businesses' growth once she hits more than $1 million and potentially has to start collecting taxes.

"If I had to spend many more days administratively on sales tax collection, then I need to find a new gig," Wood says. "It's going to be a huge burden."

If anything, the $1 million threshold is too high, French says, countering that brick and mortar retailers collect sales tax "on the very first dollar of sales."

"Why should (online retailers) get special rules?" he says.

In any case, shoppers aren't likely to be hard-hit by online state sales taxes, French says, adding that a sales tax is usually low down on a list of considerations consumers make when buying.

"The consumer impact of this will be negligible," he says.

If the bill passes the Senate, it will head to the House Judiciary Committee before being considered on the House floor, says Max Behlke, a policy specialist and lobbyist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

He says NCSL is hoping for a final vote and passage before this summer.

"It's not fair to anyone to have different price schemes," he says. "Whether it's brick-and-mortar or whether it's online, having everybody comply by the same law is a true definition of fairness."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Upgrades In Google Chrome For Bettering Its Reach In Business Enterprises

Story originally appeared on the Pentagon Post.

Google is trying hard to enhance the adoption of its popular browser, Google Chrome inside business enterprises. A lot of new upgrades were added by Google with hope that it will make this browser fit for business use as well.

The different upgrades were released on April 16th in a post on Google Chrome blog made by Cyrus Mistry, the senior product manager for Chrome for business and education. He stated that despite the fact that people happily used Google Chrome for their daily work and connection to friends and news over the internet, the choice of the browser inside a business organization was largely decided by an IT team.

With the new Chrome management capabilities, Cyrus is hopeful that the IT team would be much happier choosing Chrome as their official browser. The browser now comes with cloud based management capability and this will help employers in a lot of ways.

The cloud based management feature gives IT administrators the power to configure and customize more than 100 different Chrome policies and preferences right from their own admin panel. At the same time, workers can access a lot of default apps from their home PCs and even work PCs making life relatively simpler for them.

The legacy browser support is another enhancement which can be used by IT administrators. It launches an alternate browser automatically whenever the need arises. Sometimes, there may be a few old apps which are not fit for Chrome and so these apps can run on the auto launched alternate browser. This gives the option of seamlessly switching from one browser to another as per work demands. Hence, IT managers can decide which app should be run on an alternate browser and can customize the same in Chrome policies and moderate it for use.

Hence, it seems likely that Chrome will continue to find out better ways in which it can convince business enterprises to opt for this browser.

Google Is Forbidding Users From Reselling, Loaning Glass Eyewear

Story originally appeared on Wired.

Google is barring anyone deemed worthy of a pair of its $1,500 Google Glass computer eyewear from selling or even loaning out the highly coveted gadget.

The company’s terms of service on the limited-edition wearable computer specifically states, “you may not resell, loan, transfer, or give your device to any other person. If you resell, loan, transfer, or give your device to any other person without Google’s authorization, Google reserves the right to deactivate the device, and neither you nor the unauthorized person using the device will be entitled to any refund, product support, or product warranty.”

Welcome to the New World, one in which companies are retaining control of their products even after consumers purchase them.

It was bound to happen. Strange as it may sound, you don’t actually own much of the software you buy today. You essentially rent it under strict end-user agreements that have withstood judicial scrutiny. Google appears to be among the first to apply such draconian rules to consumer electronics.

“If it takes off like iPhones did, this is going to be part of people’s everyday activity, and now we are starting down this path that is going to be completely controlled,” said Corynne McSherry, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s intellectual property coordinator. “It’s not clear to me what they are doing is unlawful. It’s a contract issue.”

The company knows if the eyewear was transferred because each device is registered under the buyer’s Google account.

For the moment, not just anybody can buy the eyewear.

Google has created the Silicon Valley equivalent of a velvet rope under its so-called Google Glass Explorers program. If Google liked what you posted on social media under the hashtag #ifihadglassand, Google grants you the opportunity to fork out $1,500 for the Explorer edition of the headset.

Google declined comment. Google also isn’t saying when it would lift its velvet rope and whether the same Draconian terms of service would apply when it does lift the velvet rope.

Google’s tight rein over the gadget came to light today when one of the first would-be owners of the device abruptly halted an eBay auction because he feared reprisals from Google.

“After getting a message on Twitter from Google saying I had been selected as part of the program a couple weeks ago, it just came to mind if they are giving out to a limited number of people, I could put it out there on eBay and sell it for a lot more than $1,500,” said Ed, a Philadelphia man who halted his auction Wednesday. (Wired agreed not to publish his last name as a condition of him telling his story.)

Because the only correspondence Ed has had with Google is the initial tweet about his acceptance into the program, he had no idea he wasn’t allowed to sell his Google Glass, which he had been authorized to purchase for $1,500 in the coming weeks. Instead, he found out via the Glass Explorers Google+ group.

He also discovered that some were upset that he had the audacity to sell his Google Glass headset.

“People were acting like I had did something sacrilegious,” he said.

Once Ed learned of the terms of service, he ended the auction — which began at $5,000 and ballooned to more than $90,000. No one from Google or eBay had contacted him about the auction, he said. He still wants his Google Glass Explorer headset and hopes that Google doesn’t hold it against him for trying to sell the device.

“I’m willing to fork up the $1,500 for it,” he said.

The tech world, including Google, won an approval-of-sorts to control its stream of commerce in 2010, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said licensing language controls resales.

The case concerned a dispute about whether a California man could resell Autodesk software on eBay. Autodesk prevailed in a lawsuit, and the San Francisco-based appeals court pointed out that the shrink-wrap agreement between its customers forbade the resale of it.

The Software & Information Industry Association, whose members include Google, Adobe, McAfee, Oracle and dozens of others, urged the court to rule as it did. The Motion Picture Association of America also sided with Autodesk.

Federal regulators cited that decision last year (.pdf) when it blocked mobile-phone owners from lawfully unlocking their phones to run on a compatible carrier of choice, saying the ruling was “controlling precedent.” That’s because people don’t own the software on their phones that controls access to carrier networks, regulators said.

For Ed, it’s all a lost opportunity to cash in on being one of the first selected to buy Google Glass.

It would have been “exciting,” he said, “to get $100,000 for something that only costs $1,500.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nation reacts to Boston Marathon bombing

Story originally appeared on USA Today.

Once again, the familiar shock.

An icon is attacked, people suffer, and people watch from afar, grasping for meaning and solace in the perpetual loop of news and social media.

Just minutes after bombs went off Monday afternoon near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, software engineer Marty Cano was at a gas station in Killeen, Texas. A clerk there told him, he said, that "America's been bombed again." So the software engineer rushed across the street to the VFW Club, where his grandfather is a member, and told the bartender to turn off the jukebox and turn on the TV.

And for some time, he said, "everybody was just glued" to the reports.

"Sad to say, but pretty much in this day and age you expect it, whether it be every two years or five years, or whatever," Cano said, of wanton mass violence. Hours after first learning of it, he said, "I'm still taking it in — not sure what to think."

That recoil has become familiar, a grasp at why, a reminder of what preceded it. For some watching from afar, the chaotic early reports coming out of Boston rekindled memories of Sept. 11, 2001, even as they reminded themselves to not draw premature conclusions.

"In today's world, where we see these things instantly, my first reaction was to those folks that were killed or injured in this horrible event," said Lee Ielpi, president and co-founder of the September 11 Families' Association in New York. "It makes me, of course think back 12 years. And it's kind of sad, considering this beautiful world we live in, that the first thing we flash back to is 12 years ago."

The retired firefighter said he heard about the bombings within two or three minutes through a network of firefighters online. "With all this new technology you hear about it almost the absolute second something happens," Ielpi said.

Ielpi's son, Jonathan, a firefighter as well, lost his life on 9/11.

The symbolism, intended or not, was immediately apparent. Two bombs went off in the 26th mile of the Boston Marathon, near the finish line, a mile that had been dedicated to the shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.

STORY: At least 3 killed, scores hurt at Boston marathon

OBAMA: 'We will find who did this'

Nurse and mother Colleen Tretter was attending a fundraiser in Somerset County, Pa., less than 10 miles from where Flight 93 crashed when passengers overwhelmed hijackers on 9/11. She lives five miles north of the Shanksville, Pa., crash site, and that memory melded with her personal experience in a sad, new way.

Tretter is a marathoner herself, and the incongruity of someone using that event, where families gather on Patriots' Day to celebrate the American Revolution and a premier marathon in this country, struck her hard.

"As a runner, you always know that early April race, you always look forward to it,": she said. "I was astonished. ..I never thought of that as a dangerous place beyond running the 26.2" miles.

Social media again provided opportunities for community, catharsis and careless speculation. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted that his city's police department "stepped up security at strategic locations" including subways. Google set up a special "person finder" where people could post queries to try to locate friends or loved ones, and for those in or near the explosions to post their whereabouts.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, embraces the Internet

Story originally appeared on USA Today.

LOS ANGELES — Bill Nye, aka "The Science Guy," spent years teaching kids the wonders of science on TV. Now he's all about the Internet. He has more than 700,000 followers on Twitter and 1.1 million likes on his Facebook page.

We met up with Nye to talk science and tech at his home here.


"The goal is to provide information. Not just who I'm meeting or what I had for breakfast today. Then I'm always asking questions. Does it matter that the head of the Science committee in the U.S. Congress doesn't believe that the earth is 4.5 billion years old? Is that good or bad?"


"Keep in mind that science is how you get technology. Understanding physics is how you get electronics. Understanding chemistry is how you manufacture electronics. If humans are going to manufacture it, you better understand some life science and biology, especially farming."


The Planetary Society (he's CEO of the non-profit), NASA, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr.


Macbook Air computer, iPod classic, iPhone 5 with a case featuring a painting of the Space Shuttle 134 launch and iPad. He passed on the magnetic case, because "it isn't very good. I can't be the only one who complains. The magnets don't stay on." He also has an old LaserDisc player, DVR, Blu-ray and a turntable that plays vinyl discs.


Contains: Dean Martin, The Ink Spots, Katy Perry, Indigo Swing, The Martini Bros., Martha Tilton and Marvin Gaye.


Nye turned to the crowdfunding platform to raise $100,000 online for an educational video game, but it didn't work out. Only $31,000 came in. "We wanted to see if people thought it was worthy to have an educational video game." Didn't happen. Despite Kickstarter's success with movies and products — the recent Pebble smartwatch raised $10 million and received rave reviews, Nye says most Kickstarter projects don't click.

"As a giver of money, the Kickstarter campaigns I've gotten involved in seldom work out. The example everybody holds up is the watch, but that's a product."


"The Internet is changing the world in a way that I don't think my father might have envisioned ... to be able instantly at the speed of light share images with people all over the world. When i was young, if you looked things up in textbooks, you could pretty much count on it being right. Now the Internet provides you much more information, but of lower quality. So you have to learn to sift through that and find what's the reasonable answer. When it comes to what's Bill Nye's favorite color, that may not be right. I suggest you keep looking and get a second opinion, try the information on my site."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Google in Texas shows bigger Fiber dream

Story originally appeared on MarketWatch.

Analysts say move bad news for telephone and cable companies

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Google Inc.’s plan to expand its Google Fiber network to Austin, Texas shows the tech giant is serious about expanding its reach and challenging the dominance of traditional Internet providers.

Google announced its much-anticipated Austin move on Tuesday, two years after rolling out Google Fiber in Kansas City to show what’s possible with “super fast Internet access,” Google Fiber Vice President Milo Medin in a blog post.

Google shares were up 1% in afternoon trades.

Google in November began connecting homes in Kansas City to what it described as “gigabit Internet that’s 100 times faster than today’s average broadband performance.” The goal is to begin connecting homes in Austin by the middle of 2014, the company said. Increase your organic rankings by consulting with a Google SEO Company.

The move underscores Google’s plan to bypass traditional cable and telephone networks that double as Internet service providers, or ISPs, in a bid to expand its user and advertising base, analysts say.

“It might sound overly simple, but one of the unifying themes of Google’s current investment strategy is to get people to use the Internet more,” Pacific Crest Securities analyst Evan Wilson told MarketWatch. “It sees the wired ISP oligopoly as a big barrier to the amount of time spent and data consumed given these companies high prices, bandwidth caps and slow download speeds.”

Taking on traditional Internet service providers also could make Google appear “like a friend to consumers, as ISPs are some of the least-liked consumer-facing businesses,” he added,.

The move poses a clear threat to traditional telephone and cable companies, analysts say.

“They are creating a captured audience that will consume Google ads and use Google services in exchange from very low connectivity charges,” Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group, a technology research group, told MarketWatch. “This could mean the beginning of the end for traditional telephone and cable companies and the beginning of Google becoming more powerful than old RCA and old AT&T combined.”

The expansion of Google Fiber is part of what Ray Wang, chief executive of Constellation Research, called “a battle for connectivity.”

“If you own the network, you know all the data in that network,” he told MarketWatch. “If you are trading on data, that gives them a huge advantage.”

From Strip Clubs to Theaters, Google Glass Won't Be Welcome Everywhere

Story originally appeared on CNBC.

Google's futuristic Glass headgear will be available before year's end. The device may well be the final step before human-machine interaction moves under our skin—but its wearers may trigger some undesired social reactions from friends and family members, and it may not go over too well at your local watering hole, either. In fact, judging from our early look, Google Glass won't be welcome in lots of places.

Google Glass consists of a small display situated on a frame that resembles eyeglasses. It is connected to a camera, microphone and bone-conducting speaker. Glass pairs with your smartphone wirelessly using Bluetooth, but also can use Wi-Fi to access the Internet. You can use your voice or your finger to get it to take photos, record video, initiate video or voice chats, send messages, search Google and translate words or phrases. Google's being a bit coy about the ship date for this groundbreaking wearable computer. However, while qualifying early adopters are paying $1,500 a pop for the privilege of owning it first, we're told that it will become more widely available by year's end—with a slightly more affordable price tag.
One of the reasons Glass will find itself unwelcome in places is because its camera lives at the wearer's eye level. It takes photos or record videos without a red blinking light telling others it's happening. Anywhere cameras and other recording devices are unwelcome, the same would most certainly go for Google Glass.
For starters, you can forget about taking Glass to Las Vegas.
"We've been dealing with the cellphone-videoing and the picture-taking over the years, and we are quick to make sure that that doesn't happen in the club," Peter Feinstein, managing partner of Sapphire Gentlemen's Club in Las Vegas, told NBC News, explaining that hosts check in any electronics a patron brings that could be used for filming.

"As the sale of [Google Glass] spreads, there'll be more people using them and wanting to use them at places such as a gentlemen's club," Feinstein explained. "If we see those in the club, we would do the same thing that we do to people who bring cameras into the club."

And if somebody refuses to doff his or her headset? "If they don't want to check it, we'd be happy to give them a limo ride back to their hotel," Feinstein says.

Casinos are another place where surreptitious recording equipment won't be welcome.

"Picture-taking is frowned upon, and security officers on duty ask individuals not to take pictures for the privacy of others in the casino," a spokesperson for MGM Resorts said. "This new product is nothing new in terms of a challenge for us, because for so many years, the very tiniest of portable lipstick and pinpoint cameras have been around."

She added that "resort security officers are trained to monitor for, and detect, anything that they suspect might be a filming device, and will ask the patron to discontinue shooting photos or filming."

We spoke to several other casinos and adult entertainment establishments—in and out of Las Vegas—and found a consensus: You are welcome, but your Google Glass must stay outside.

How about movie theaters?

"No recording devices (cameras, video recorders, sound recorders, etc.) are permitted to be used within any Regal Entertainment Group facility," the admittance procedures for the Regal Entertainment Group plainly state.

While a spokesperson for the group—as well as one for AMC Theaters—looked into the particular methods that may be used for dealing with Glass, no definitive answer was available.

We encountered a lot of that as we made calls for this piece: From the TSA to Bank of America, spokespeople were not yet ready to speak to the particulars of Google Glass but reiterated general statements about protecting the privacy and personal information of staff and customers alike.

And while businesses and agencies have an interest in controlling what goes on within their boundaries, a whole other area of Google Glass concern has to do with what happens in public places, where people of all ages congregate.

"My immediate concern for [Google Glass] was from a sexual predator viewpoint," Drew Donofrio, a private investigator who ran a computer crimes unit for 12 years at the Bergen County, N.J., police department, told NBC News. "Locker rooms, bathrooms, playgrounds ... all [Glass] requires is a line of sight."

"You can look innocent enough in line of sight when you're not holding up a camcorder," Donofrio said. "When you have this type of technology, it looks innocuous."

We reached out to parks and recreation departments across the country to see if they would treat Glass any differently than existing recording devices. Like others, park managements were not ready to make any official calls. Many did say that they will monitor the gadget's development and adjust policies if necessary in the future.

Monday, April 08, 2013

New Tech Economy: Mayer's excellent Yahoo adventure

Story originally appeared on USA Today.

Investors will get details April 16 of the company's first full quarter of results since the new CEO began implementing her plan to boost revenue growth, operating income and cash flow.

SAN FRANCISCO — Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has so far enjoyed a warm reception from investors, with the company's shares rising 50% to a five-year high since she took the job last July.

Mayer rewarded Yahoo bulls for their confidence in January, when the company reported full-year sales rose for the first time since 2008.

Yahoo's annual net income also surged — nearly fourfold — as it began reaping the benefits of a plan to sell a large chunk of its lucrative stake in Chinese Internet firm Alibaba.

Still, Yahoo's operating income fell 29% in 2012, and 22% in the fourth quarter — from a year earlier — as Mayer ramped up hiring for her battle against Google, Yahoo's dominant rival and her former employer.

Next week, Yahoo investors will get details on the company's first full quarter of results since she began implementing her plan to boost revenue growth, operating income and cash flow.

The report on April 16 will reveal how much Mayer's investments in Internet search, e-mail and other key products have offset the operational savings Yahoo is now enjoying after years of job cuts and reorganizations.

If the results are lackluster, they may also test how much patience investors will have with Mayer, who's referred to her plan as "a multi-year march toward growth" that will require time to pay off.

"Achieving the growth we aspire to will take multiple years," she said on a January conference call with analysts.

To accelerate sales growth at a company that went four years without any, Mayer has targeted four product areas for significant investment: search advertising, display ads, video and the company's mobile platform.

She said Yahoo plans to "continually and methodically revamp and innovate" its key products for all the platforms consumers use to access its products: PC desktops, mobile browsers, smartphone apps and tablets.

To succeed, Mayer's plan must accomplish two things:

First, get more people to use Yahoo products and services, by improving them. This would result in more page views and create a larger advertising inventory for the company to sell.

Second, Yahoo must improve the relevancy of the search results and display ads it serves up to users. That will provide online marketers with more clicks for their ad dollars on Yahoo properties, and eventually allow the company to charge more for them.

So far, the results under Mayer have been mixed. In the fourth quarter, while paid clicks rose 11%, Yahoo's cost-per-click edged up just 1%.

Still, fourth-quarter search revenue was the highest it's been since 2010, when Yahoo began sharing part of its search ad revenue with Microsoft in exchange for using that company's search technology.

The partnership has made no headway in reducing Google's dominant share of the U.S. search market, though, and in October, Mayer signaled that she was re-evaluating the deal, which is up for renewal this month.

The existing deal calls for Microsoft to pay Yahoo a guaranteed amount every quarter — if its search technology fails to provide a minimum amount of revenue for Yahoo.

While Mayer complimented the work of the two companies' search teams during the earnings call in January, she also said that there's more work to do.

On that same call, Yahoo Chief Financial Officer Ken Goldman signaled that the partnership would be either ending or changing, when he said the loss of Microsoft's search revenue guarantee will cost Yahoo $100 million in revenue this year.

If the partnership is ended, Yahoo will once again be on the hook for the full cost of search product development.

Mayer has big plans for mobile, with the company set to rollout new mobile versions of a dozen key products.

The first two upgrades came in December, when Yahoo rolled out revamped versions of its Mail product and Flickr, its picture-display site. The changes to Flickr increased photo uploads by 25%, Mayer has said.

Mayer has benefited from two initiatives that were begun by her predecessors at CEO: the unwinding of the Alibaba stake and layoffs that cut a total of 18% of Yahoo's workers in the two years ended in December.

She's also made the most of her good fortune, as when she announced in September that she would return $3 billion of equity to shareholders, using some of the Alibaba proceeds as well as share repurchases funded by Yahoo's existing cash pile.

Mayer cautioned analysts in January not to expect any benefits from the stepped-up product investments to boost income or cash flow until the second half of 2013 — at the earliest.

Indeed, the company's annual forecasts for cash flow and operating margins disappointed some on Wall Street, and the shares stumbled in the week after Yahoo's January conference call.

But soon after, buyers returned, driving the shares 20% higher in the past three months.

With next week's earnings report, Mayer will have the chance to show how capable she is of rewarding investors for their continued optimism.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Microsoft threatened as smartphones and tablets rise, Gartner warns

Story originally appeared on the Guardian.

Microsoft faces a slide into irrelevance in the next four years unless it can make progress in the smartphone and tablet markets, because the PC market will continue shrinking, warns the research group Gartner.

It says a huge and disruptive shift is underway, in which more and more people will use a tablet as their main computing device, researchers say.

That will also see shipments of Android devices dwarf those of Windows PCs and phones by 2017. Microsoft-powered device shipments will almost be at parity with those of Apple iPhones and iPads - the latter a situation not seen since the 1980s.

In a new forecast published on Thursday morning, Gartner says that by 2015 shipments of tablets will outstrip those of conventional PCs such as desktops and notebooks, as Android and Apple's iOS become increasingly dominant in the overall operating system picture. Android in particular will be installed on more than a billion devices shipped in 2014, says Carolina Milanesi, the analyst who led the research.

Meanwhile a new category of "ultramobile" devices - such as the Surface Pro and the lighter ultrabook laptops - will become increasingly important as people shift towards more mobile forms of computing.

For Microsoft, this poses an important inflexion point in its history, warns Milanesi. "Winning in the tablet and phone space is critical for them to remain relevant in this shift," she told the Guardian. "We're talking about hardware displacement here - but this shift also has wider implications for operating systems and apps. What happens, for instance, when [Microsoft] Office isn't the best way to be productive in your work?"

For Microsoft, income from Windows and Office licences are key to its revenues: per-PC Windows licences generate about 50% of its profits, and Office licences almost all the rest.

But while it dominates the PC market, it is a distant third in the smartphone and tablet markets. Latest figures suggest that Windows Phone, its smartphone OS, shipped on about 3% of devices in fourth quarter of 2012, compared to 20% for Apple's iPhone and over 70% for Android - of which 50% connected to Google's servers and 20% were "white box" Android phones in China which do not use Google services.

"Android is going to get to volumes that are three times those of Windows," says Milanesi. "From a consumer perspective, the question becomes: what software do you want to have to get the widest reach on your devices? BlackBerry may say that its QNX software [used as the basis of BB10 on its new phones] can go into cars and phones, but Android is already in fridges. That's the challenge."

BlackBerry, which has just released the first of its BB10 devices, is forecast to see a slow decline in shipments through to 2017, shipping 24.1m devices then compared to 34.7m in 2012. That will leave it well behind Windows Phone in the forecast.

Milanesi added: "the interesting thing is that this shift in device preference is coming from a shift in user behaviour. Some people think that it's just like the shift when people moved from desktops to laptops [a process that began in the early 2000s]. But that's wrong. The laptop was more mobile than the desktop, but with the tablet and smartphone, there's a bigger embrace of the cloud for sharing and for access to content. It's also more biased towards consumption of content rather than production.

"All these things will get consumers to look for the OS and apps that can give them all that," Milanesi says.

A key problem for Microsoft is that it is the people who don't yet own PCs - in emerging markets such as Africa and China - who are most likely to have a smartphone and tablet as their first "computer". Milanesi says: "They're starting with a smartphone, not a PC, so when they're looking for something larger, they look at something that's a replacement smartphone experience - which is a tablet or ultramobile device. And Android or [Apple's] iOS are the two that they're looking at."

Microsoft could then face the vicious circle where developers considering which platform to develop apps for look at those with the largest user base - and that that will not be Windows. By 2017, she says, the number of devices being shipped with iOS, both iPhones and iPads, will be close to that with Windows and Windows Phone combined.

"And that's not assuming that Apple launches a low-end iPhone," Milanesi says. "Our numbers for Apple are conservative, because for a low-end phone it would be a guess about what price point it would use, and what the timing would be." A number of observers have suggested that Apple will launch a lower-cost iPhone in the next year to capture a larger market share, especially in the pre-pay (pay-as-you-go) market. But Apple has given no indication of whether it will do that.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Paid search up 33%, researchers say

Story originally appeared on the BizReport.

Paid search may not be as sexy as social media or as entertaining as video but a large number of advertisers continue to invest in the option. According to new data out from Covario global paid search spending increased 33% in Q1 2013 (vs. Q1 2012).

The highest PPC spending increases were seen in North America (29% Year over Year growth) and a new focus on mobile search options. According to the report mobile PPC spending increased 51% quarter to quarter and more than 120% YoY. Meanwhile European PPC spending increased 20% quarter to quarter.

Mobile now accounts for about 14% of the search spend - 36% of that goes to smartphones and 64% to tablets.

"While efficiency is still the trend in Europe with rising click-through rates," Funk said, "CPC prices have jumped, increasing by 13 percent over Q4," said Alex Funk, author of the report and Director, Global Paid Media Strategy, Covario. "Superfluous impressions have been reined in, resulting in much higher CTRs on ad creative."

Meanwhile in the East, the Asia/Pacific region saw clicks increase by more than 30% for Q1 and spending increase by 24%.

As for how search minded advertisers should approach the remainder of 2013, Funk suggests budgets will increase up to 20%.

As for the search breakdown, comScore reports that in February Google sites accounted for more than 67% of explicit core search queries; Microsoft accounted for 16% and Yahoo for 11.6%. More than 18 billion explicit core searches were queried. More than two-thirds (69.7%) of organic search results included results from Google.

How Google's Panda update is changing content sourcing

Story originally appeared on the BizReport.

For many brands optimized blog content has been considered a huge selling point but one expert warns that Google's latest Panda update is changing how spiders looks at content - and suggests brands need to change their view of content as well.

Kristina: How is Google's latest Panda update impacting brands?

Grant Simmons, Director, SEO and Social Product, The Search Agency: As Panda has iterated, brands have been pushed to focus on the production of higher quality content which both attracts a higher level of user engagement and has the potential for promotion via social sharing & engagement.

Brands that have not moved from a 'quantity to quality' mindset may find themselves penalized in results as Google seeks to rank better content higher in the search results.

Kristina: What do businesses need to know about the algorithm changes to push their brands forward?

Grant: The most important consideration for brands is to change their view of content. It's no longer sufficient to build content that is solely for search engines, so a lens must be applied to content planning and production that asks a few questions:

  • "What would the intent of a user searching for this content likely be?"
  • "Would this content satisfy that intent?"
  • "Is there additional value to a user?"
  • "Would a user be likely to share this content?"
  • "Would other users find this content interesting, educational, humorous, or inspiring?"

The content lens where "every piece of content must answer a particular search query" that is defined (by Google) as focuses on content that may be 'thin,' or provides little value to users, will no longer rank in Google's search results. Creating thousands of articles, product descriptions or city information at scale cannot be easily automated, so brands should prepare and budget accordingly as the cost of SEO content increases with an added focus on quality.

Kristina: How does Panda promote content?

Grant: The Panda update was developed by combining the machine definition of 'quality' with human review, "Google Search Quality Guidelines." In reviewing the factors most likely to result in a test user labeling a page or content as 'thin,' Google was able to overlay a quality factor on their search results, devaluing some content, and promoting others, in an effort to meet their goals of improving the value of search results.

It should not be forgotten that there are many factors in rankings that go beyond content quality. Core optimization, perceived (or calculated) authority, site engagement metrics and social sharing are just a few of the contributions to the over 200 ranking factors. However, much of these factors rely on good content, which in turn is subject to Panda's assignment of value.

Kristina: And how does that impact brands and content providers?

Grant: Quality over quantity should be a brand mantra with the understanding that Google looks at sites as a whole as well as individual pieces of content. Panda factors ratios of quality across a web domain, identifies topic relevance within single pages and looks at distinct topic focus to assess satisfaction of queries. The 'sniff test' of "would a user find this useful" is an integral part of the Panda algorithm, and a lens through which all content should be measured against. Research, resources and restraint are need to implement a content strategy that builds methodically and purposefully to attain great visibility with Google SERPS for core topics.

Facebook smartphone launching next week?

Story originally appeared on FOX News.

Yes, this again.

Facebook on Thursday sent out invitations for a press event that promised to show off the company's "new home on Android," which naturally led to fresh speculation about the company's intention to produce its own Facebook-centric smartphone.

Unnamed sources told 9t5Google that Facebook plans to show off its own modified version of the Android operating system, a move that's similar to the way Amazon has heavily modified Android for its own Kindle Fire HD tablets. 9to5Google's sources also indicate that Facebook is working with HTC to produce a smartphone based on Facebook's modified Android that will be sold "as a lifestyle brand, not specifically for its hardware or software."

This won't be the first time that Facebook and HTC have worked together to make a smartphone.

In case you don't remember, HTC tried something like this back in 2011 with the ill-fated HTC Status smartphone that had a dedicated Facebook button and that looked like a rejected BlackBerry design concept from around 2006.