Cashing Out: Week of March 27th – April 2nd 2011 in Online Marketing News

Microsoft goes after Google with antitrust suit

How’s this for a case of the pot calling the kettle black? On March 28, Microsoft filed a formal complaint with the European Commission against Google, over antitrust issues. The complaint reflects Microsoft’s concerns that Google is unfairly restricting competition in online search and search advertising and that it is using its search engine to promote its own products.

Though this isn’t the first such complaint filed against Google, complaints were brought against the search giant before the same European authority in 2010 by some less prominent companies – it is the first time Microsoft has led the claims.

This case is also unique in that Microsoft has itself been accused of the very same practices it is now detracting in its competitor, with a case filed against them by Sun Microsystems which concluded in a decision in March 2004.

In an official blog post, Microsoft’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith mingled some perfunctory praise with some pretty serious accusations. He claimed that Google’s “ broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative” within the search market might constitute a violation in European competition law. He also accused Google of “walling off access to content and data that competitors need to provide search results to consumers and to attract advertisers.”

Among the examples he cites are the fact that Google restricts access to YouTube (a Google acquisition) from competing search engines, and that it has blocked Windows Phones from operating properly on the site, while its own Android phones and the devices of non-competitors work perfectly. The blog post also attacks Google for restricting advertisers access to data within their ad servers.

In a rush toward social, Salesforce buys Radian6 for $326 million

Hey, big spender. In a deal announced March 30, Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) Salesforce.com acquired social media manager Radian6 for about $326 million in cash and stock.

Some, like TechCrunch’s Leena Rao, believe the sum, which is ten times higher than Radian6’s revenue, was bigger than it ought to have been, though there are definite reasons for the CRM’s spare-no-expense attitude.

Salesforce might have developed its own social media monitoring technology, though its CMO Kendall Collins says that could have taken up to three years. In light of the rush by other companies to acquire or develop similar technologies, time was of the essence if the CRM wanted to remain competitive. The acquisition of Radian6, whose customer base includes more than half of the Fortune 100 companies, including Dell, GE and PepsiCo, seemed like the right choice.

According to a Salesforce press release, the CRM plans to use its new acquisition to bridge public social networks and its own private corporate social network Chatter, so that its “feeds will no longer just contain the activity happening within the walls of a company, but will be filled with real time insights from fans on Facebook pages, followers on Twitter, comments on blog posts and more.”

Salesforce will of course use the newly-acquired technology to track hundreds of millions of conversations across social media channels and hopes the use of Radian6 will “accelerate [its] growth” and “extend the value of all of [its] offerings.”

AOL and Microsoft consider Ringleader’s cookie-less tracking technology

A March 31 article on ClickZ reported that AOL and Microsoft will soon be using device fingerprinting technology to better track and target ads on mobile devices.

The technology, developed by Ringleader Digital, acts like cookies to track online activity, but with one key difference.

Unlike cookies, which can be lost or erased periodically by the user, the technology tracks devices themselves, by assigning fingerprints that are created from reassembling information about a device’s settings and properties collected during data exchanges.

These IDs are then used to monitor the device’s behavior online, and remain intact for the duration of the device’s use.

While privacy advocates will naturally be largely opposed to the fingerprints, advertisers are likely to welcome them, as the technology theoretically works for any device with a network connection, including game consoles, tablets, smartphones and TVs, as well as desktop computers.

AOL and Microsoft have yet to respond to inquiries into their relationship with Ringleader.

Gmail’s new ad system begs the question: how private is your email?

March 29, Google announced a new ad system for Gmail that could raise major concerns regarding privacy issues. The system uses signals to prioritize ads, similar to the way the Priority Inbox determines which of your emails will be most relevant to you.

In essence, Google will be spying on your activities and behavior in Gmail, or in less threatening terms, will be learning from your inbox, to tailor ads to its users’ interests. Signals that will be monitored include your location, whether or not you open a message containing certain keywords, who sent the messages you read, or who you send emails to.

On the feature’s help article, Google says it is only seeking to “provide better ads in Gmail” and that it “want[s] its ads to be as relevant and useful as possible,” while reducing the number of overall ads. “Bad ads,” they claim, “tend to annoy people,” and they promise the new system will help “cut down on these ads, and make the ones you do see much more useful.”

If that doesn’t work to appease the potentially wary Gmail user, Google has also promised to throw in that new opiate of the masses, local deals, with “offers and coupons for your local area.”

Google is now in the process of launching the system globally.

Google settles with FTC over privacy violations

Google and the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement March 30 regarding the social network Google Buzz’s violations of Google’s own privacy policies. As part of the settlement Google will have to subject itself to regular privacy audits for the next two decades and will have to begin using a “comprehensive privacy program.”

The irony here is that, without any standard digital privacy legislation in the U.S., it is Google’s initial proclamation of its own privacy policy, and subsequent violation thereof, that landed the search giant in hot water to begin with. The FTC charges were laid on the basis that Google misrepresented itself by failing to act in accordance with its self-made rules, rather than the fact that they abused the privacy of its users.

In an FTC press release, the organization’s chairman Jon Leibowitz stressed that “when companies make privacy pledges, they need to honor them,” adding that the settlement with Google will ensure the company “will honor its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations.”

Texas affiliates testify at Ways and Means hearing

The House Committee on Ways and Means hearing took place in Austin Texas March 27 and Texas affiliates had the date circled on their calendars. More than 30 of them came to the capitol to express their opposition to the proposed Texas House Bill 1317, which would equate the presence of affiliates with a company’s actual physical presence within a state, for the main purpose of collecting taxes from that company.

Among the 30-odd affiliates to participate in the demonstration, over 15 were given the chance to testify at the hearing, which allocated two hours of its total four hour length to discussion of and testimony related to proposed Affiliate Nexus bills.

Proponents of the bill who testified were far fewer, at a piddly three, though the number of debaters present at the hearing is by no means an indication of what its outcome will be.

At the very least, the opportunity to demonstrate and to voice their opinions in a formal setting will offer Texas-based affiliates a much needed morale boost, as is apparent in the attitude of PMA Executive Director Rebecca Madigan.

Recounting her experience at the hearing, she said “the affiliates did a great job of telling their personal stories and gaining some sympathy from the committee. Their testimony really gave lawmakers a lot to consider before voting.”

Mozilla’s do-not-track header now an option on AP sites

The Associated Press certainly seems to be backing the movement towards protecting and maintaining privacy rights online with their adoption and deployment of Mozilla’s Do Not Track (DNT) HTTP Header, announced March 31.

An official Mozilla blog post claims it took one AP engineer just a few hours to successfully implement the feature, which Mozilla says “offer[s] users more control over how their browsing behavior is tracked and used online,” in response to “consumers’ wishes to not be tracked across their Web properties and services.”

Now, users browsing any of the 800 sites on which the AP has deployed the feature will only have to select the DNT preference once for it to be effective on all of them, instead of opting out of tracking over and over again through links on each individual AP site, as used to be the case.

Cheezburger acquires Know Your Meme

You might know Cheezburger best for bringing you humorous memes like LOLcats and FAILs. Now the Internet publisher is likely laughing itself, after its acquisition March 28 of Know Your Meme, a site that researches and documents Internet phenomena, like viral videos and Internet celebrities.

The official press release posted on Know Your Meme fails to mention the cost of the deal, though Tubefilter estimates it to be worth seven figures.

Founder and CEO of Cheezburger Ben Huh says the relationship is a good fit: “Since Cheezburger is the playground of choice for millions of Internet culture fans, this acquisition is a natural compliment for our community,” he says, adding that it will allow Cheezburger to “help the public understand the origins of memes and how content goes viral on the Web.”

Google updates its Commerce Search with recommendations and availability

Google announced updates March 29 to its Commerce Search, a tool for facilitating search on e-commerce sites and online retail stores. Google Commerce Search (GCS) 3.0 builds on previous improvements to the search product, such as a product ranking system, query auto-completion and a cut in the product’s price from $50,000 to $25,000 per year.

The new updates include Instant Search for GCS, which was launched for Google’s search engine last September, and information on product availability, as well as recommendations of items that are like the one being searched, based on purchases made by other users with similar searches.

A post on Google’s official blog says the introduction of Enhanced Merchandising tools will “allow retailers to create product promotions that display in banners alongside related search queries, and to easily set query-based landing pages.”

Forever 21, l’Occitane and General Nutrition Company are already on board with GCS 3.0, which Google says will “create an even more interactive and engaging experience for shoppers and retailers.”

Jumptap raises $20 million, bringing funding so far to $90 million

A recent filing from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicates that Jumptap, a leading independent mobile advertising network focusing on targeted ads, has scored $20 million in funding in a $27 million round.

Who the investors are has not yet been confirmed by the company, though it is possible the SEC filing refers to a recent partnership with Tokyo-based Cyber Communications (CCI), which included an investment into Jumptap.

To date, the mobile ad network has nabbed a total of $90 million dollars in funding, including this most recent investment and others made by the likes of General Catalyst Partners, Summerhill Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Valhalla Partners, and WPP.

Smartphone market to grow by nearly half this year, study says

The results of a study by the International Data Corporation (IDC), revealed in a March 29 press release, make the less-than-surprising forecast that the worldwide demand for smartphones will remain high throughout the year.

The report anticipates the shipment of 450 million such devices in 2011, as compared to 303.4 million in 2010, as well as an overall growth in the smartphone market of 49 percent, a rate nearly four times as fast as that of the general mobile phone market.

The IDC singles out Android as the most likely to take over as leader in the smartphone OS market by next year, hyperbolically noting that, for Android, 2010 was just “the coming-out party,” whereas “this year will see a coronation party.”

The study also suggests that, by 2015, Windows will become the second biggest smartphone OS, especially after its recent collaboration with Nokia, which will see the launch of new devices in 2012.

About Emily Wilkinson

Emily Wilkinson is a Montreal writer and editor who recently joined ReveNews.com. Her experience comes largely from her work at print publications like La Scena Musicale, where she alternated between positions as content manager, copy editor and journalist.
She believes in the importance of strong writing, be it in journalism or in other media, like blogging or even social networking. Her prerogative: though language will and ought to evolve, a good writer need never sacrifice the communicative power of text that is written with thought and care, whatever the venue.
Find Emily on Twitter @EditorWilkinson

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