Cashing Out: Week of August 5-11 2012 in Online Marketing News

Google Search Experiments with Google+ and Gmail Additions

According to the New York Times Bits blog, as of Wednesday Google took some big steps towards finally creating an all-knowing search engine. Included in the changes: a new voice search tool, which could outdo Apple’s Siri, a tool that will incorporate Gmail messages in search results, all leading to a more comprehensive search. Google’s choice to incorporate Gmail messages in your search results may however make privacy advocates uneasy. According to the Times:

The Gmail tool, which Google is still testing with a limited number of users, shows results from Gmail if a user is signed in to his or her Google account. Search for Amazon, for instance, and in addition to links to the shopping Web site and information about the river, you could see the receipt from your recent Amazon.com order …Search for baby shower games and Google might show you a relevant but forgotten e-mail chain from last year between you and a friend.

“Sometimes the best answer to your question isn’t available on the public web,” explains Amit Singhal, SVP Google Search. “It may be contained somewhere else, such as in your email.”

Google has stated that they are aware that the new tool could raise privacy concerns, a problem it has faced in the past,which is why they are only offering it to a million users who sign up and the company has emphasized that users can turn it off by moving a toggle at the top of the search results page or by signing out of Gmail. Google also emphasized that all searches are encrypted.

According to The Verge, Singhal stated that personalized Google+ results “have now settled in a place which were better than when we launched.” Singhal describes working on the evolving algorithm as “a learning process,” adding, “We experiment, we learn, we improve – that’s what Google does.”

Google Joins Anti-Piracy Effort with Modified Search Results

Google announced on Friday that they have a new plan to fight piracy. According to CNET:

Google announced on the company’s blog today that sites that generate too many take-down notices will find themselves pushed down in the search rankings… Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Web site owners must remove unauthorized files once they’ve received a legitimate takedown notice.

“This change is an important step in the right direction — a step we’ve been urging Google to take for a long time — and we commend the company for its action.” said Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. In The New York Times,  Michael O’Leary, a senior executive vice president for the Motion Picture Association of America stated, “We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online.”

According to another CNET article, for the past two years, Google has made more and more concessions to copyright owners, who have long demanded that Google take steps to prevent its search engine from aiding copyright infringement.

This new plan, as you would imagine, has already come under fire.  John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge ( a public interest group with an interest in copyright law), said in a statement:

Sites may not know about, or have the ability to easily challenge, notices sent to Google. And Google has set up a system that may be abused by bad faith actors who want to suppress their rivals and competitors. Sites that host a lot of content, or are very popular, may receive a disproportionate number of notices (which are mere accusations of infringement) without being disproportionately infringing. And user-generated content sites could be harmed by this change, even though the DMCA was structured to protect them.

Google has stated it would not remove pages from copyright-infringing Web sites from its search engine unless it received a valid copyright removal notice from the rights’ owner.

Google has received copyright removal requests for over 4 millions sites in the last 30 days, more than all of the requests from 2009.

The Times has written that all of this is fallout from the battle in  January, when:

…media companies like Viacom, Time Warner and the Walt Disney Company backed two antipiracy bills, one in the Senate (PIPA, or Protect IP act) and the other in the House of Representatives (SOPA, or Stop Online Piracy Act), while Internet activists and companies like Google and Facebook argued the bills would hinder Internet freedom. Buoyed by a huge online grass-roots movement, and aided by Wikipedia’s going black for a day in protest, the bills quickly died.”

Apple Removes YouTube App from iPhone & iPad

On Monday Apple announced in a statement that “our license to include the YouTube app in iOS has ended.” Owners of Apple devices will be able to use their web browsers to view YouTube videos and that Google is working on a new YouTube app that will be available through the Apple App Store. Apple has included YouTube with its iOS since its first iPhone in 2007. Google owns YouTube.

It’s not surprising that Apple would allow its deal with Google over the YouTube app to lapse. The two companies have been through one of the most visible falling outs in Silicon Valley. According to The New York Times Bits blog Apple’s former chief Steve Jobs was upset with Google’s push into the mobile market with the Android operating system. Apple is also currently involved in a lawsuit with Samsung, which has been said by some to a proxy war against Google. Apple has also stopped using Google Maps in the iOS software.  It will be interesting to see where this tech battle will lead.

Apple Stops Allowing Password Resets Over the Phone

Apple said this Wednesday that they’ve temporarily stopped customers from being able to reset their AppleID passwords by contacting customer service via phone. A hacker used this technique to break into a tech reporter’s account last weekend. Currently customers can reset their passwords on the website. These changes came after Mat Honan, a writer at Wired, reported that a hacker broke into his Apple iCloud account by calling tech support at Apple and giving the last four digits of his credit card, which the hacker obtained by breaking into his account at Amazon.com.

Starbucks Teams Up with Square

The New York Times Bits Blog is reporting that Starbucks has teamed up with Square, a mobile payment startup. Beginning this fall you’ll be able to pay for that mocha with a barcode on your smartphone. Square is definitely coming out ahead in this deal, since in the past they’ve had problems getting consumers to try out their service. Consumers have, in the past, been apprehensive about using a mobile app to pay for things. The Times released a video analyzing the benefits/risks of the Starbucks deal.

According to GigaOm‘s Ryan Kim:

Adam Brotman, Starbucks’ chief digital officer told me after a morning press conference highlighting the deal that it made more sense for Starbucks to team with someone already in the larger mobile payment space than expand its current efforts. So it’s placing a bet on Square to be a leader in the form of a $25 million investment at a reported $3.25 billion valuation.

All in all this is to be a big boost to Square, affirming its role as a hot new startup, but the benefits to Starbucks are still being debated.

According to GigaOm:

[Howard] Schultz said every payment company over the last six months has tried to sell Starbucks on the merits of adopting their system. He chose instead to reach out to Square because of Square’s focus on the customer experience. A quarter of Starbucks transactions now happen via Starbucks cards with a growing percentage of that quickly shifting to mobile.

AppNews Takes the Step of Acquiring Fantuition

AppNews this week took initial steps to acquire Fantuition, according to TechCrunch. Initially this was not very agreeable to co-founder and CEO, Pat McCarthy. McCarthy announced the deal in a blog post and discussed his feelings about being “acqui-hired,” which he views as getting acquired by another company just so that they can hire your team, while your product gets shut down.

The terms of the deal were not released.

In explaining the rationale behind the deal, McCarthy says that the startup’s momentum had “stalled,” though it still “had enough cash left to consider a bunch of options,” such as building an iPhone version of the service. At the same time, Brian O’Kelley suggested an “acqui-hire,” and while McCarthy was initially skeptical, he eventually came around:

I wanted to be a part of something bigger. I wanted to change the game like we did with Right Media, but to do it on a bigger scale and in new ways…Even though it is painful to shut down our product, I’m extremely pleased to be joining one of the best technology companies in the world while also managing to continue to work with our team and live up to our investors’ expectations.

Facebook and FTC Settle without Fine

CNET reported on Friday that Facebook has agreed to the following order from the FTC:

Under terms of the settlement, Facebook has agreed to provide users with “clear and prominent notice” anytime their information is shared. But before that can happen, Facebook must obtain its users’ “express consent” before sharing any information that exists outside the auspices of its privacy settings. In addition, the agency will force Facebook to maintain a “comprehensive privacy program,” and subject its service to biennial privacy audits.

If Facebook doesn’t comply, it could be subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000 for each violation of the order. The FTC first started to investigate Facebook back in 2009. The investigation was finalized and settlement arranged last November, from then until now, the public has had a chance to comment. The announcement Friday marks the official end to the investigation and settlement and marks the beginning of compliance for Facebook.

“We are pleased that the settlement, which was announced last November, has received final approval,” Facebook told CNET in an emailed statement.

Google Hit with $22.5 Million Fine Over Safari Privacy

According to The New York Times Bits blog :

The Federal Trade Commission fined Google $22.5 million on Thursday to settle charges that it had bypassed privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to be able to track users of the browser and show them advertisements, and violated an earlier privacy settlement with the agency. The fine is the largest civil penalty ever levied by the commission. The fine, though large by commission standards, is small for Google.

“The social contract has to be that if you’re going to hold on to people’s most private data, you have to do a better job of honoring your privacy commitments…And if there’s a message the commission is trying to send today, it’s that,” said David C. Vladeck, the director of the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The FTC said Google broke the terms of a 2011 settlement over privacy missteps related to Buzz, a now-defunct social networking tool. Google did not admit to violating the law. Google has said that its actions were unintentional and were a result of a change in Safari that Google was unaware of. When the change was brought to Google’s attention Google states that they stopped tracking Safari users and showing them personalized ads.

In a statement, Google said, “We set the highest standards of privacy and security for our users.” The company added that it had, “taken steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers.”

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