HUA HIN, Thailand - Google reached a settlement this week with the US Federal
Trade Commission over the social blogging service called Buzz the company
launched early last year. The service raised privacy concerns as it
automatically opened users Gmail contact lists to those of everyone else using
Buzz, meaning any contact could see all others.
The FTC stated that "Although Google led Gmail users to believe that they could
choose whether or not they wanted to join the network, the options for
declining or leaving the social network
were ineffective." Google will now be subjected to independent privacy audits
over the next 20 years.
The search giant is also banned from misrepresenting privacy or confidentiality
of the user information it collects, must obtain consent from users if it
wishes to share their personal information, and must establish and maintain a
comprehensive privacy program.
The company is under fire from many governments and regulators for its privacy
policies and use of personal and private data to further its own advertising
revenues and thwart its competitors.
"We don't always get everything right," the company said in a blog post this
week. "The launch of Google Buzz fell short of our usual standards for
transparency and user control."
Microsoft faced a similar investigation in 2002 over its Passport service,
which also collected personal data. Facebook is next in the firing line from
consumer watchdog and privacy groups.
Google, in its continuing effort to create the perfect search tool, will add a
"+1" button to search results and advertisements so that users can share what
they like or find useful with their friends. The move takes aim at Facebook's
popular "like" button, which does a similar thing for users of the world's
largest social network.
Users with a Google account can click on the button to cast a digital vote for
the website or advertisement which is then shared with others in their social
network within Google's system. Naturally, Google has the ability to record
what gets "liked" (and what doesn't) and by whom; this may influence search
results, website popularity as seen by Google, and display ads for users.
The social search drive could alter the way that people use the search engine -
a priority for Google following the botched Buzz launch in February last year.
The company is looking at what Facebook is doing and wants to beat it at its
own game to increase Google's leadership on web advertising.
With 600 million users worldwide, Facebook has amassed large amounts of
personal data on its user population, as has Google over the years, by
monitoring search and browsing habits. Both companies have previously operated
in different realms on the web. They now seem to be on the same road and
heading for a collision by scrambling to dominate the targeted Internet
Software Microsoft is shipping out the initial test versions of it latest
operating system upgrade, Windows 8, to original equipment manufacturers,
signaling that it is on a development schedule with a very loose launch date of
Little is publicly known about the next iteration of the world's most popular
operating system, but it is likely to have a lot of enhancements for portable
touch screen devices such as tablets. Windows 7 has largely been accepted as a
vast improvement over the preceding Vista.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's autobiography, Idea Man, is due to go
on sale on April 19, and pre-publication excerpts show it carries revealing
statements about former chief executive and colleague Bill Gates going back to
when Gates was a 13-year-old and including arguments between the two as they
created the world's most successful software company.
Online retailer Amazon it targeting Apple's iTunes music monopoly with a
cloud-based music storage service. The new Cloud Drive system gives users five
gigabytes of free storage on Amazon servers; a number of paid options for more
space are also available. Purchased music can be uploaded from any PC or
Android-based mobile device - but the service will not work with an iPhone, for
Online storage facilities and music "lockers" have been tried before, and the
majority of potential users seemingly prefer to have their music on their own
hard drives for convenience rather than on the web. Amazon does offer a few
advantages over rival services, namely the tie-in with Amazon's online store,
which will put any purchases automatically into the Cloud Drive. It also works
with Android, which runs on devices that often lack storage space, and it
allows other file formats such as documents or videos to be stored.
Amazon probably launched the service to increase the value and customer base of
its MP3 store. It has certainly beaten Google in the online music locker race.
Lala was the first to offer such services before Apple snapped the company up
in December 2009 and it became enveloped by the all-consuming and controlling
Apple has since sued Amazon over the use of the term "App Store", over which it
claims to have sole rights. The name has yet to be registered as a trademark in
the United States and while Apple is pursuing this Microsoft is trying to block
the registration along with a number of other companies, claiming that an App
Store is simply that, a store for applications, the same way a shoe store is a
store for shoes.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.