The European Commission, the same out-of-touch government agency that has been wasting Microsoft’s time and money for years, refused Tuesday to approve Google’s mega-billion dollar deal to buy DoubleClick, putting the entire deal on hold, possibly till March. The Commission is ordering a further review of the deal’s impact on the online advertising business, which will delay the $3.1 billion deal entirely until it is done, at the least.
It’s shocking how much of a disaster this deal has been for Google so far. Google announced the acquisition in April, and it’s now looking like it could take over a year before DoubleClick is part of Google. Meanwhile, Microsoft spent twice as much on aQuantive, announced the deal in May and completed it in under 90 days. Clearly, some very important people are looking at Google as the next big problem company, and they are only going to cause more trouble for the company in the future.
Meanwhile, I keep getting PR emails from Performics, the SEO arm of DoubleClick that would be part of Google if this deal ever completed. They send me one press release about buying trends they’ve identified around the holiday shopping season, showing that the “Cyber Monday” crap we hear every year about the Monday after Thanksgiving is just inaccurate, with successive Mondays having far more shopping activity than “Cyber Monday”.
Apparently, the Mondays between Thanksgiving and Christmas are important, but successive Mondays are bigger than the first one. This year is a perfect storm, with an early Thanksgiving and Tuesday Christmas translating to five Mondays between the two holidays, more than we ever usually see, which could mean increased activity for online retailers above what is normally expected.
Performics also announced 52 new affiliate advertising clients in the third quarter, showing that Performics is growing strongly. I doubt Google would want to unload Performics once the deal is done, seeing how well it’s doing.
Search Engine Land discusses plans in Congress to penalize U.S. companies who cooperate with illegal government spying of civilians in other countries or collect information for internet censorship programs. The efforts, if successful, would lead to a $2 million fine, a symbolic but toothless gesture that comes with a lot of controversy.
I’ve always tried to side against companies that do business with the Chinese government and assist in that government’s censorship efforts, but I’ve also largely argued that they are completely allowed to do what they do. I don’t know of any U.S. law that specifically forbids assisting government spying and censorship in other countries, and I suspect such a law could never be both passed and enforced.
Worse off, they specifically would like to fine companies “if they cooperate with the technological surveillance of political dissidents”, something tech companies are being forced to do, in this country, by the United States government! The hypocrisy of a Congress that would fine a company for assisting the Chinese, but turns a blind eye to domestic spying that would break the same law if it were simply applied in the opposite direction!
I wish those lawmakers luck in passing their toothless, hypocritical, unconstitutional, undiplomatic law. They’ll need it.
Google ran this Google Doodle logo on Thursday for the birthday of Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach:
Philipp notes how this query does an excellent job of showing off Google’s new Universal Search integration.
As LGF points out, Google doesn’t run logos to commemorate Memorial Day or 9/11, but it does mark the birthday of Dahl, who late in his life expressed hatred for Jews and understanding of Hitler’s need to “pick on them”. From Wikipedia:
He told a reporter in 1983 that: “There is a streak in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity”. He further exclaimed, that even a miserable man such as Hitler did not pick on them for no reason.
According to LGF, the logo was pulled from the US Google.com by mid-morning, and it only ran on Google.co.uk in England for the rest of the day.
I don’t blame Google for going with the Dahl logo, especially since one of Google’s founders is Jewish. Henry Ford was an anti-Semetic bastard of the highest order, but we can’t strike him from the history books either, and Dahl’s books have delighted generations of children. If anything, this should merely serve as a reminder of the hatred and racism that was common in earlier generations, feelings that certain people bury until they hit those elderly years where many people lose normal common sense.
In other words, our elderly aren’t perfect. Some of them have hated in ways that younger Americans can’t even imagine (though the youth of this nation aren’t perfect by any means). Racism was a very different thing in the first half of the 20th century, and we shouldn’t forgive our elders for their sins to those of different colors, religions and other differences. Actions like that are sometimes only forgiven when the people who commited them are no longer present on this earth, not just because they no longer have the power to start a lynching.
Some people change and accept those who are different, others just change their tune and keep their hatred hidden. I see it every day in casual racist comments from older people that infuriate me. There were no “good old days”, if you ask me. Lets just move forward and let the ravages of time remove the monsters from our midst.
UPDATE: Google has issued a statement saying it removed the logo due to “user concerns”. Read all you need to into that. Barry notes that the Doodle ran on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which may have caused Dahl’s anti-Semetism to offend even more.
Last year, Google revealed the name of its Chinese subsidiary would be “Guge” (meaning “Valley Song”), an attempt for the company to fit in better with Chinese culture. Well, besides the guy who thought Google should be “Dog Dog”, there’s another party unhappy with the name, and they’re known as Beijing Guge Science and Technology Ltd. Co.. Yeah, Google named themselves the same thing as another company.
Naturally, having a multi-billion dollar company take your name is going to cause problems. Beijing Guge says they were getting calls from everyone trying to reach Google on the phone, causing annoyance and confusion, and interfering with Beijing Guge’s commercially registered name. Guge wants Google to change it, and unless the courts side with Google for political/money reasons (and they certainly could), Google may need to rename itself.
A suggestion: How about 大数, the Chinese translation of the word “googol”?
Google has changed the expiration dates on its browser cookies, setting them to expire after a two-year period instead of the previous thirty-one years. Google is doing this to quiet some privacy concerns that Google plans on identifying users forever, though the idea that a cookie wouldn’t get flushed out within a few years by operating system reinstalls and new computer purchases makes the point rather moot. Still, this should mildy please major Google critics who have pointed at the cookie for years as a sign of Google’s “evil”.
Speaking of which, I wonder what Daniel Brandt thinks of the change?
Oh, that’s right, he’s updated his Google Watch site to address it. He says that Google’s change is unimportant, because the two-year expiration gets renewed every time you access any Google service. As a result, the cookie only expires two years after you stop using Google, making it an everlasting cookie no matter what.
This new technique is not a two-year expiration date by any rational description. Instead, it is practically a guarantee that your cookie will expire two years after your hard disk fails and you toss it into the dumpster.
He’s right. Google’s old cookie gave the appearance of evil. The new cookie no longer appears evil, but if the old one was being used for evil, there is absolutely nothing preventing the new one from enabling the very same evil.
Google is facing a class action lawsuit, being sued over its AdSense For Domains program. Google is being named along with a bunch of domainers, thanks to the program, which provides advertising for parked domains with no content. Google examines the URL of the website and fills up a page with nothing but ads contextually “relevant” to the URL.
Google is being sued as though it were the owner and operator of the domain, and thus a typosquatter for trademarked terms, since AdSense For Domains works not by providing ads, but by actually controlling and creating automatically the entire website. The program’s dirty, damn dirty, but Google sticks with it because of one fun statistic: Ads on parked domains can convert twice as well as ads on search engines. That’s too much of a cash cow for anyone to ignore, “Don’t Be Evil” notwithstanding.
Google wound up embarrassing itself over the weekend, putting up a blog post that tried to use Michael Moore’s new health care documentary, Sicko, to convince the health care industry to buy Google ads. The post said that Moore’s film was going to put a negative spotlight on the industry, and that Google ads would be the best way to combat that. The post was pandering at its worst, offering up excuses for the health care industry that, even if completely deserved, were the kind of PR-doublespeak that a child could see through.
Moore’s film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare’s interest in patient well-being and care.
With all the coverage, it’s a shame no one focuses on the industry’s numerous prescription programs, charity services, and philanthropy efforts.
Frankly, its the kind of post we should expect at a blog called the “Google Health Advertising Blog”, a blog that serves no purpose but to speak to an industry and convince them to buy ads. Frankly, that sort of pitch isn’t ever going to work in public, and the blog can only be used in ways that do a poor job of representing Google.
Michael Arrington said of the employee credited with writing the post:
I’m betting that Lauren Turner’s job duties at Google will no longer include blogging.
Should the blog even exist in the first place? I mean really, what good is a blog basically crying out, “Ooh, we sell ads, and you should buy them, and we’re not going to be coy about it”. Google could have started a Google Health blog, and thrown in ad pitches to spare, but a health advertising blog? There’s no important need being fulfilled here.
Anyway, Lauren apologized in a follow-up post, saying any remarks disparaging the movie and sucking up to the industry were her own, not Google’s. The Official Google Blog has an even stronger statement, saying “We blew it” and that Google believes in helping provide better health care for its employees and as a responsible company.
Philipp has several posts on the subject, saying it is unusual for Google to be reviewing movies, that this demonstrates the fallacy of Google’s “democracy of the internet” arguement, and that ultimately, Google’s heart is in the right place, but the ad industry doesn’t operate with that kind of conscience.
Google may want to be a friendly, happy company, but it is in the advertising business, and there isn’t a company in there that’s managed to pull that off. Google’s engineers may be capable of it, but the ad people have absolutely no idea.
Brian Retkin, a 48-year old British man, is suing Google, claiming the search engine is somehow responsible for the accuracy and defamatory nature of everything written on the internet. Retkin is accused of profiting from the September 11 attacks by offering up domain names in some sort of solidarity promotion with the U.S.. Even assuming the allegations are false, Retkin spent three years trying to convince Google to remove the information, rather than suing the individuals who published it.
I don’t know if Mr. Retkin is a scammer, but he is a moron. International law is clear that service providers are not responsible for the actions of their users in these sort of regards, and the pages indexed by Google have even less of a relationshop than that. Google has no responsibility for the entire internet, rather the persons writing the libelous material bear full and sole responsibility. Retkin is in for a rude awakening when the court tells him to go to hell, as it should and most likely will.
Retkin spoke to WebProNews, saying that Google has already removed close to 15,000 pages from its index, yet he is still suing them. What Retkin doesn’t explain (and he doesn’t seem to have been asked) is why there are so many websites publishing these claims of him harvesting email addresses and spamming them with exclusive offers for .USA domains. Why has he not tried to get them to retract their claims, if they are so false and libelous?
Basically, Retkin’s DotWorlds offers domains with made-up top level domains, like jesus.christ or world.earth, but no one can actually access your domains without a browser plugin, since they don’t resolve to the DNS system like normal domains. I’m shocked that anyone would accuse them of being scammers, what with that brilliant innovation.
It appears that, a week later, eBay has not restored its ads to Google Search. eBay famously pulled the ads last week in response to Google’s Let Freedom Ring party, which Google cancelled in backing down. It appears they have not restored the ads, which will mean a noticeable hit to Google’s bottom line. Reportedly, eBay buys $26 million a month in AdWords ads, which would translate to a loss to Google of about $312 million a year.
As a Google user, I’m glad to see the ads go. eBay used Automatic Keyword Insertion to include ads on a huge number of search terms that were irrelevant and sometimes offensive. eBay would offer great deals on racism, let you buy babies, tried to sell skin cancer, and in one classic post, advertised for “nigga”, “homeless people”, “honky”, “poo”, “crap”, “pee”, and “sisters”.
Should Google fire the person who is responsible for the party? Probably. It’s a major hit to the bottom line as the result of a very juvenile insult against a major competitor who just happens to be a major advertiser. It’s a screwup costing millions in ad revenue, and if I caused it, I’d be packing my desk right now.
Google has started another official blog (the 53rd, I think), this one dealing with public policy. The new blog is there to reach out on Google’s position in the myriad of divisive issues it involves itself in, like copyright infringement, patent reform, privacy, net neutrality, censorship and many others. It’s a very smart addition, giving Google more of a voice, and brilliantly, it even allows comments, letting Google participate in a two-way discussion.
It’ll be really interesting seeing what topics they speak out on, and how Google will deal with comments that are highly critical of Google’s positions. Good for them for taking this important step.
The full current list of Google blogs:
AdWords API blog, AJAX Search API blog, Blogger Buzz, Blogs of Note, Custom Search Engine blog, Docs & Spreadsheets blog, Google Analytics blog, Google Base blog, Google Checkout API blog, Google Checkout blog, Google Code (Featured Projects), Google Code (Updates), Google CPG blog, Google Data APIs blog, Google Enterprise blog, Google Gears API blog, Google Health Advertising Blog, Google LatLong, Google Mac blog, Google Maps API blog, Google Mashup Editor blog, Google Online Security blog, Google Public Policy Blog, Google Reader blog, Google Research blog, Google SketchUp blog, Google Talkabout, Google Testing blog, Google Web Toolkit blog, Inside AdSense, Inside AdSense - Deutsche, Inside AdSense - Espanol, Inside AdSense - Français, Inside AdSense - Italiano, Inside AdSense - Nederlandse, Inside AdSense - Portuguese, Inside AdSense - 日本, Inside AdSense - 한국, Inside AdWords, Inside AdWords - Brasil, Inside AdWords - Espanol, Inside AdWords - 日本, Inside Google Book Search, Inside Google Desktop, Librarian Central, Official Google blog, Official Google blog - 한국, Official Google blog - Australia, Official Google blog - Brasil, Official Google blog - Italia, Official Google blog - Japan, Official Google blog - México, Official Google blog - Polska, Official Google blog - Россия, Official Google blog - 中国, Summer of Code blog, Webmaster Central blog, Webmaster Central blog - Deutsche, YouTube API blog, YouTube blog.
Controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore has been in the news this past weekend because his latest film, “Sicko”, about the U.S. health care industry, has been leaked to torrent sites and file-sharing networks, two weeks ahead of its June 29 theatre release date. Well, the situation is just a little bit worse, because those afraid of prosecution or just too lazy or without the technical skills to use Bit Torrent can even watch the movie on Google Video, and have been able to for the last four days.
If you can still play the movie above this paragraph, that means Google has yet to take down the two hour three minute unreleased motion picture, practically the most visible example of modern internet movie piracy. For Mr. Moore’s sake (not related to his political opinions, but rather any filmmaker’s ability to sell a film to audiences), I hope it doesn’t last too long. As is, you can watch it at Google Video, embed it in a blog, or even download the entire video as a 722 megabyte AVI file.
What a mess.
Does it seem like Google Video takes longer to remove copyright infringements than other services, even Google’s own YouTube?
Privacy International, a London-based privacy watchdog group, released ratings this week that gave Google the lowest possible grade on protecting the privacy of its users. 22 companies were surveyed, and none of them, not Yahoo or Microsoft or AOL, received such a low ranking.
Why did it happen? There are several schools of thought.
On the one hand, maybe you agree with them. Maybe you look at all the data Google collects and it worries you, knowing that Google has your credit card number, emails, instant messages, computer file system, documents, and that Google search displays phone numbers, satellite imagery, street-level photos, images, blog posts, and just about anything personal about you. It is a scary thought, on the surface.
On another hand, maybe we need to question the organization supplying this analysis. Matt Cutts, a pretty (internet-)famous Googler does, noting a sentence in the report that reads:
Every [Google] corporate announcement involves some new practice involving surveillance.
Even if Google is pure evil, that’s a biased statement if I ever saw one. It’s written from the perspective of taking a hypothesis and organizing the facts to support it, something many writers are guilty of. Matt also points out demonstrated evil by Google’s competitors, all things Google didn’t do, like giving user data to the Justice Department.
On another hand, maybe it is Google’s fault. Google complained that Privacy International released the report without talking to Google about its internal practices. Privacy Internation retorted that they did contact Google, but no one got back to them!
“We are disappointed with Privacy International’s report, which is based on numerous inaccuracies and misunderstandings about our services,” said Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general counsel.
“It’s a shame that Privacy International decided to publish its report before we had an opportunity to discuss our privacy practices with them.”
Privacy International contacted Google earlier this month, but didn’t receive a response, said Simon Davies, the group’s director.
My verdict? It is Google’s fault. Google has a ton of scary-seeming information on its users, and it doesn’t communicate well about why anyone should trust them. In fact, it doesn’t communicate well on practically anything! Does Google violate user privacy? Probably not, but how the hell should I know? Google has made it its business to be a poor communicator, and the results are going to be studies like these.
Robert Scoble (knock him all you want, but he knows a thing or two about doing PR for companies perceived as evil) says:
That said, Google’s PR is really stinky. Google isn’t paying attention to what normal people think of it anymore and it’s getting a bad reputation because of that. I heard it slammed over and over again for street-level views on Google Maps and no one from Google responded in most of the mainstream talk shows I heard talking about it. They should have a full-court “feel good” initiative where they have normal everyday citizens come in and meet the engineers, and look at the privacy issues.
The Google blog did post about their data retention policy, saying they will hold their server logs for 18 months, then anonymize them. That’s nice, but it doesn’t exactly scream, “Trust us!” How about giving us a reason to believe “Don’t be evil”? I want answers to the simple questions, straight up, honest, yes or no answers:
- Can any Google employee, right now, give me a list of searches by a single person just by running a query on your systems?
- Can any Google employee, with enough priveleges, read the contents of any Gmail inbox?
- Can any Google employee access Google Checkout data and pull up any customer information, like credit card numbers and addresses?
- Can any Google employee read my Google Docs and Spreadsheets documents, even if privacy protected?
I don’t want to know what’s allowed by company policy, I want to know what’s possible. I want to know if the systems have controls in them, since we know certain classes of employees can access certain data, that would prevent any employee, even the founders of the company, from reading a single user’s search history. I don’t see Google making demonstrations showing how hard it would be to get at that data, showing off the firewalls and multiple levels of access. Google doesn’t seem to believe in transparency to the effect that we don’t know what they do to protect privacy, so why would we trust them?
I don’t believe Google is violating anyone’s privacy, but that’s a personal opinion. I have no data to back it up with, and that’s the problem.
See the discussion on TechMeme.
Publishers hate Google, for the most part, because of its arrogant opt-out position on book scanning in Google Book Search. So its no surprise that at the BookExpo America in New York a publisher decided to teach Google a lesson. He went into the Google booth and stole a laptop. Just walked off with it. They waited at a distance for an hour till someone noticed it was missing, then returned it, telling the attendees they were just treating Google the way Google treats them.
See, the publishers are mad because Google scans books without asking permission. If a publisher objects, Google will not scan a book, but without an objection Google does as it pleases. The logic behind the laptop theft goes the same way: Since Google didn’t put up a sign saying “Don’t steal these laptops”, why surely that means it was okay to steal them. After all, they didn’t opt-out!
It’s delicious irony, and if you have any sense of humor, even if you agree with Google, it was a pretty funny incident.
Some people don’t like jokes that make points they disagree with.
Funny thing is, I may be coming around on this whole thing. Lawrence Lessig has a really great post about the whole Google Book Search controversy, explaining this:
Remember (and I did a 30 minute preso here to explain it) Google Books proposed to scan 18,000,000 books. Of those, 16% were in the public domain, and 9% were in copyright, and in print. That means, 75% of the books Google would scan are out of print but presumptively under copyright.
The publishers and Google already have deals for the 9%. And being in the public domain, no one needs a deal for the 16%. So the only thing the publishers might be complaining about is the 75% which are out of print and presumptively under copyright.
I’m not totally convinced, but I’m getting there. Google has not been forthcoming with hard numbers stating their case, and it is their typical arrogance that is more of the problem. Assuming that Google has deals for all of the 9%, and the 75% are out of print in the sense of being old and abandoned (and not just a year or two old and not having new copies made), Google might be just misunderstood here.
And if Google is being misunderstood, that’s their fault, as usual. I’ve never seen a company that seemed to want to give people a reason to distrust it, till now.
The Federal Trade Commission said last week it is conducting an antitrust review of Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick. The FTC’s decision no doubt was spurred by “concerned” competitors of Google, who are worried that the deal will make it very hard for them to compete. Google’s senior corporate counsel Don Harrison brushed it off, saying that such an inquiry is just routine, though no is investigating Microsoft purchase of aQuantive for almost twice as much.
UPDATE: Currently, 57% of those surveyed at Read/Write Web say that Google should be investigated. Yoiks.
Google has banned essay writing services from advertising on its AdWords platform. The companies, which sell academic essays, theses and dissertations to students who don’t want to write themselves, are now part of a list of unacceptable advertisers that includes the illegal (prostitution, drugs) and the immoral (tobacco, miracle cures), with Google deciding what is acceptable in their minds, and what isn’t.
While anyone can see their point, especially with Google’s close links to academia, there’s a fine line when banning things that are not illegal. After all, many politicians jump on the (First Amendment violating) violent video games bandwagon, and while we expect our politicians to be stupid, I’d be far more dissapointed if Google banned the makers of those games from advertising. Lets hope they stick with banning the scummy, and don’t ban by bandwagon.
Google Korea plans to add an age-verification system to its search engine later this year, in order to prevent users under 19 from finding adult-themed websites in their search results. Users who type in any of 700 words (supplied by the government) will be asked to enter their name and national resident registration number, which will be compared against a national database to determine if the person is over 19 years of age.
Here’s the odd thing: The article only says “Google Korea”, not Google South Korea or Google North Korea. You’d expect to hear stories like this coming from North Korea, but all indications are that this is being done in South Korea (the article does mention Seoul, and Google doesn’t have a search engine for North Korea). This isn’t censorship, and it makes perfect sense to put in extra effort to keep minors away from porn, but…
Effective with this new system, everyone who verifies their age will have their search history potentially linked to their name and national registration number. Nothing has been said as to whether Google will keep that information linked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do so simply due to annoyance factors (who wants to be asked on every search?). Imagine if your searches were linked to your driver’s license? Yikes.
MySpace launched a new feature, called Take Down Stay Down, that prevents users from re-uploading videos that have already been taken down due to copyright infringement. It’s a smart thing, keeping the onus on the DMCA, but at the same time giving the DMCA more teeth, and it shows MySpace’s commitment to keeping infringing content off their site.
MySpace has several other copyright protection features already available, such as an audio filtering application which screens audio files to prevent people from uploading bootlegged music; a video filtering application, which screens video files to prevent illegal video uploads; and a Content Take Down tool, which allows copyright owners to request unauthorized content be taken down.
MySpace is owned by News Corporation, which owns 20th Century Fox film studios and the FOX TV networks, and it shows in their approach to copyrighted content. As a major internet site that is doing a lot more than Google to take this stuff down, they are going to make Google look bad in the coming lawsuits, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly their goal. By fighting hard against this stuff, they defeat a number of Google’s primary arguements, and can just point at their own efforts as evidence Google isn’t doing enough.