29 Febeuary 2012
Google once considered issuing its own currency, to be called Google Bucks, company Chairman Eric Schmidt said on stage in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress Tuesday.
At the end of his keynote speech, Schmidt hit on a wide array of topics in response to audience questions. “We’ve had various proposals to have our own currency we were going to call Google Bucks,” Schmidt said.
The idea was to implement a “peer-to-peer money” system. However, Google discovered that the concept is illegal in most areas, he said. Governments are typically wary of the potential for money laundering with such proposals. “Ultimately we decided we didn’t want to get into that because of these issues,” Schmidt said.
He also hinted that Google might be preparing for a battle in China once its acquisition of Motorola is complete. “Google’s been willing to take on China pretty well,” he said, in response to a question about whether Google expected to continue to ignore theft of Motorola intellectual property in China, as Motorola has been doing. The acquisition hasn’t closed yet, Schmidt noted. “We’ve taken a pretty strong position on IP. We are well aware of the issues and we are considering your question,” he said.
Google is still waiting for some government approvals of its proposed acquisition of Motorola.
Schmidt, who showed off the new Chrome browser that runs on Ice Cream Sandwich devices, said he expects Android smartphones to continue to get cheaper. Ice Cream Sandwich is the newest version of the Android OS. “We have many partners who are working on phones that will be in the $100 to $150 range,” he said. Their goal is to reach $70. While Android phones may sell in the U.S. at about $150 with a two-year contract, they are often several hundred dollars without a contract.
Schmidt also said he hopes that some companies that are using Android but not adopting any Google products will change their minds. Products like Amazon’s Kindle Fire use Android, which is available through an open-source license, but don’t include the Android Market or other apps that make money for Google. “We hope that people who decided not to use the Android Market will see they’ll be more successful if they do so, but it’s their choice,” he said.
After making prepared remarks that described a future where Internet access becomes a great leveler for even the most disadvantaged and oppressed people, Schmidt sounded only slightly apologetic to one questioner from Iran. The audience member noted that while Gmail is sometimes blocked by the Iranian government, Google itself blocks Android and Chrome from Iran. He asked Schmidt to remove that block.
“The answer is no, I’m sorry,” Schmidt said. Due to U.S. policy, Google isn’t able to allow those products, he said. “We can’t violate U.S. law. I’m with you, but in prison there’s no bandwidth,” he joked.
23 Febeuary 2012
Google has expanded the functionality of its Docs word processing application on Android devices while simultaneously improving the Docs presentation application for desktop browsers.
The Android Docs word processing application is gaining some of the collaboration functionality it already has on desktop browsers, including the ability to see in real time the changes and edits that other users make to documents, Google said in a blog post.
The interface of the Android application has also been enhanced, so, for example, users can now “pinch” the screen of their device to zoom into a document or zoom out for a full-document view. In addition, users of the app now have access to a rich-text formatting feature, which will let them do things such as add different colors to documents.
Meanwhile, Google also announced separately that it has added discussion threads to the presentation application of the Docs suite. Discussion threads will let users post comments next to slides, alert others about the discussion via email and close the loop on comments that are addressed. Similar functionality is available for the Docs word processing application.
The improvements to the Android word processing app and to the presentation app for desktop browsers will be available both to individuals who use Docs as a stand-alone suite and to people who use it as part of the broader Google Apps suite at work.
22 Febeuary 2012
This month, Google+ passed 100 million users. And analyst Paul Allen (Google+ unofficial statistician) predicts that by the end of 2012 the number of Google+ users will exceed 400 million. Who are these people? Many of them are your customers, partners and media professionals. And now with Google+ Your Business, Google is attempting to make it easier for you to connect with them, for free.
So why should you try Google+ — especially if you are already using Facebook and Twitter for social media marketing? Following are nine ways Google+ can help your business.
1. Improves your search engine ranking. Which company do you think is going to get ranked higher on Google’s search engine, the one using Google+ or the one just using Facebook? (That would be a rhetorical question.) “When you Google our company name – Brandignity — the Google+ profile appears right at the top of the search results, which really helps,” says Maciej Fita, SEO Director, Brandignity, LLC, an SEO and social media marketing company. “Clients and potential clients will often search a company name before inquiring further, so this has helped us spread our digital voice that much more efficiently.”
2. A plus for collaboration. “Google+ is a must for CIOs trying to encourage collaboration,” states David Politis, founder, BetterCloud, which provides third-party products for Google Apps. “In a flat world, social tools like Google+ support fast and easy domestic and cross-border sharing [of documents, images and so on], enabling productivity at a fraction of the price of conventional meetings” or videoconferencing.
3. Video chat with customers, colleagues and media — for free. Speaking of collaboration, one of the most buzzed about features on Google+ is Google Hangouts, Google’s video chat tool. “Google Hangouts works well for video conferencing with members in your circle,” says Kenneth C. Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax, a search engine optimization (SEO) company, who has used Google+ to video chat with up to six people (the service can host up to 10 parties currently). “The ‘screen share’ feature works great,” he notes. However, “ensure you have a secure and fast internet connection, otherwise the video can be low quality and lower resolution.”
Google+ Hangouts is particularly useful for those organizations with workers in different offices. “I manage employees and freelancers in North America, Asia and Europe,” explains Casey Armstrong, partner and COO, webbbROI, an online marketing business. “Through Google+ Hangouts, we are able to collaborate in real-time through screen sharing, on Google Docs, and via video chat. In addition, even if I’m on the move, I can video chat through my iPhone on Google+. Talent is everywhere and Google+ removes the location barrier.”
4. Get your message to the right audience with just a click. “Circles are invaluable,” state Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Samson, co-founders of crowdSPRING. “Think of circles as your customer groups. Most businesses will have a variety of different customer groups and sometimes you want to communicate separately with each group,” they explain.
With Google+, you can put customers into different groups or “circles” (by geography, by age, by interest) and then easily communicate with each circle separately, or with multiple circles at the same time. “For example, we created a group of loyal customers. We can customize offers and deals specifically for those customers without sending the same offers generally to the rest of the world or to other customers.”
5. Free focus groups. Why pay for focus groups when you can use Google+ to get answers to questions or elicit customer feedback? That’s what SEER Interactive, a search marketing firm, recently did. SEER used its Google+ page to host an hour long Q&A session covering SEO and PPC topics. “The result was a lively conversation on Google+ with more than 100 comments over the course of an hour,” says Wil Reynolds, founder, SEER Interactive.
6. Good for B2B marketing. If you are looking to connect with other businesses, Google+ Your Business is designed to help. “We have found Google+ to be useful for acquiring new customers,” explains Mike Rheaume, co-founder, SnapKnot, an online wedding photographer directory.
“Google+ is visual and participatory, meaning that photographers can easily share and comment on others’ work. For us, this means it’s easy to share photography-related content and connect with individual photographers [SnapKnot's target customers] beyond the major social media tools like Twitter and Facebook.” Since using Google+, SnapKnot has achieved a high member conversion rate – and Rheaume considers it an excellent B2B marketing tool, especially for visual- and/or content-heavy businesses.
7. A potentially powerful PR tool. Using Google+ circles, you can target your public and media relations. “If we deliver a message, we know that it is going to be picked up by users who are more likely to respond, including key industry personalities and publishers,” states Mike Essex, online marketing manager at Koozai, a U.K. digital marketing agency. Indeed, because Google+ allows users to tailor their message to a specific group (or circle), Essex has found Google+ to be a more effective PR tool than Twitter.
8. Can help promote brand awareness. “With the emergence of the social web, it has become essential for brands to build their reputation online,” states Karim Guessous, founder and CEO of Tradepal, a peer-to-peer trading network. “Google+ gives a unique opportunity for an emerging product, such as Tradepal, to assert our personality and engage our user base.” Through its Google+ page, Tradepal shares original content and tips, and has had dialogues with users, helping to solidify and promote its brand.
9. Another way to advertise promotions. With Google+, it’s easy to offer promotions to those in your circles. For example, Arby’s recently offered a coupon to Google+ users for a $2.99 Fish Sandwich & Small Curly Fries.
21 Febeuary 2012
China Telecom said on Tuesday it will begin selling the iPhone 4S on March 9, making it the second carrier in the country to officially sell Apple’s popular smartphone.
The agreement opens up sales of Apple’s newest iPhone to China Telecom’s 129 million mobile subscribers. Rival China Unicom had previously been the sole carrier of the iPhone in China. Analysts said this helped drive China Unicom’s mobile subscriber growth. It now has 202.8 million users.
Apple has previously said China is its second largest market after the U.S. For the first three months of 2011, iPhone sales in the country increased by 250 percent year-over-year.
“iPhone 4S has been an incredible hit with customers around the world,” said Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu. “We’re thrilled to be launching iPhone 4S with China Telecom and can’t wait to get it into the hands of even more customers in China.”
The agreement with China Telecom could better help meet demand for the iPhone 4S, which attracted massive crowds outside Apple stores in China when it was launched in January. At one store in Beijing, a customer threw eggs at the building after Apple canceled sales at the store. This prompted Apple to suspend all iPhone 4S sales at its physical stores in mainland China, which have as yet to be resumed.
China Telecom and Apple had been in negotiations about offering an iPhone for years now. But in January, signs that an agreement was close appeared when an iPhone device built to be used on China Telecom’s network received approval from Chinese regulators.
The country’s largest mobile carrier, China Mobile, however has yet to offer Apple’s iPhone. China Mobile, which has 655 million customers, is negotiating with Apple about selling the device.
06 Febeuary 2012
Amid widespread concern about its new privacy policies, Google is now facing criticism over an offer to give users Amazon gift certificates if they open their Web movements to the company in a program called Screenwise.
Google says the program launched “near the beginning of the year,” but the company’s low-key offer was disclosed Tuesday night on the blog Search Engine Land.
Google is asking users to add an extension to the Chrome browser that will share their Web-browsing activity with the company. In exchange, users will receive a US$5 Amazon gift when they sign up and additional $5 gift card values for every three months they continue to share. (Amazon is not a partner in the project.) Users must be over age 13, and minors will need parental consent to participate. The tracking extension can be turned off at any time, allowing participants to temporarily close their metaphorical shades on Google.
The company says the program will help it “improve Google products and services and make a better online experience for everyone.”
Google declined to specify exactly how it would achieve those aims. A company spokesperson said, “Like many other web and media companies, we do panel research to help better serve our users by learning more about people’s media use, on the web and elsewhere.”
But David Jacobs, a consumer protection fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, noted that the fine print of Google’s announcement suggested the program might allow Google to track user behavior “at a higher level of detail” than it already does. The offer says Google will observe not just which websites users visit, but also “how [they] use them.” Jacobs noted that the program could potentially capture behaviors like mouse-overs in addition to clicks.
Still, privacy advocates saw some positives to the program, mainly that it is purely opt-in. Both Jacobs and Justin Brookman, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology welcomed that approach.
Brookman saw it as a positive sign about what Google will do with its planned new ability to combine data from a single user’s interactions with multiple products. Privacy advocates worry the company could build detailed user profiles. With the Chrome tracking program, Google is looking for equally detailed information from a single user.
“They’re really asking to lift up the hood,” Brookman said. “It’s a good sign that they’re saying it has to be on an opt-in basis.”
04 Febeuary 2012
A “worrying number” of Facebook users are sharing a link to a malware-laden fake CNN news page reporting the U.S. has attacked Iran and Saudi Arabia, security firm Sophos said Friday.
If users who follow the link then click to play what purports to be video coverage of the attack, they are prompted to update their Adobe Flash player with a pop-up window that looks very much like the real thing. Those who accept the prompt unwittingly install malware on their computers.
Within three hours of the scam’s appearance, more than 60,000 users had followed a link to the spoofed CNN page, according to Sophos Senior Security Advisor Chester Wisniewski. Facebook removed that link, but others are still being shared.
“The bad guys are rotating through scam pages trying to stay ahead of Facebook,” Wisniewski said.
In a statement, Facebook said it was “in the process of cleaning up this spam now, and remediating any affected users.”
A representative status update shown in a screenshot on the Sophos blog reads, “U.S. Attacks Iran and Saudia Arabia. F**k [LINK] The Begin of World War 3?”
Users who accepted the Flash player update prompt installed a fake antivirus tool on their computers. That tool would then alert them that their computer is infected with malware that can be eliminated for a fee. Such scams are one of the most lucrative, Wisniewski said, noting the irony that they net far more money than the legitimate security products Sophos and other security companies peddle.
In addition to exercising a healthy dose of skepticism that the U.S. would attack its ally Saudi Arabia, Facebook users can avoid the scam and others like it by updating Flash only from Adobe’s own website rather than from pop-ups.
31 January 2012
An iPhone developer has acknowledged that a recent update to one of his apps includes the hidden ability to tether the smartphone to a laptop, circumventing carrier fees for the service.
Chris Simpson, best known for creating apps for “jailbroken” iPhones, posted a walk-through on YouTube that shows users of his QuasiDisk app how to set it up for tethering.
By tethering a smartphone to a laptop, users can share the phone’s cellular connection to the Internet with a notebook. Carriers typically levy additional fees for the service: AT&T, for example, charges customers an extra $20 per month for tethering an iPhone, although as part of the deal it also boosts the allowed data usage from 3GB to 5GB.
Although QuasiDisk is billed as a “simple file manager and file viewer” that lets users load files, documents and photos from a third-party FTP server or sync data with a remote device using Apple’s own iCloud, it also can be used for tethering, Simpson said in his instructional video.
The “What’s New” section of QuasiDisk’s App Store listing does not mention the functionality.
Simpson updated QuasiDisk to version 1.1 on Saturday, Jan. 28.
In the video, he spelled out the tethering process with QuasiDisk, which requires the user to start the app’s FTP server, connect it to an “ad hoc” wireless network on a Mac or Windows notebook, and enter SOCKS and HTTP proxy settings on the laptop.
“That’s tethering from the App store without paying your carrier,” said Simpson near the end of the video.
Apple regularly — and quickly — boots tethering apps from the App Store, often with no explanation, but as of 3 p.m. ET Monday, QuasiDisk was still available on Apple’s e-mart.
In November, Apple yanked an app called iTether within hours of its appearance on the App Store.
QuasiDisk currently sells for $1.99 on the App Store.
Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment about QuasiDisk’s tethering feature.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com .
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30 January 2012
Adscend Media, the defendant in lawsuits filed this week by Facebook and the Washington attorney general, on Friday denied the allegations in the complaints and shifted blame to its affiliates.
“At no time did we engage in the activity alleged in the complaints,” Adscend said in a statement.
During a press conference in Seattle on Thursday, Facebook and the Washington state attorney general said that Adscend was behind a so-called “click jacking” scam that has now been blocked. In one example, a Facebook user would see a link to a video on a friend’s wall. If the user clicked on the link, a pop up would appear asking the user to verify their age. Clicking on the verification box, the user would unknowingly share the video on their own Facebook wall.
After clicking the box, another page would pop up, ultimately taking the user to an advertiser’s site that in some cases asked the user to supply personal information or purchase items. During the month of February 2011, the scam tricked more than 280,000 Facebook users into visiting advertiser pages, the Washington suit alleges.
Adscend is hired by advertisers that pay the company each time someone clicks on their page or advertisement. Adscend in turn often hires affiliates to drive traffic to the sites.
It’s those affiliates that Adscend is now pointing a finger at. “We are undertaking an investigation to determine whether any of Adscend Media’s affiliates engaged in the activity alleged by the Attorney General’s office and Facebook. If they did, we are fully certain that the activity was conducted without the company’s knowledge,” the company said in its statement.
In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the state alleges that Adscend supplied the affiliates with the code and templates required to run the scam. “Defendants create and provide their affiliates with technology that is designed to deceive Facebook users into visiting websites that pay defendants for the referral traffic. Defendants encourage and pay their affiliates to create Facebook pages that are titled and designed to ‘bait’ users into visiting other websites,” the suit reads. In addition to Adscend, Jeremy Bash and Fehzan Ali, co-owners of the Delaware company, are named in the suit.
Adscend also complained that the attorney general didn’t contact it in advance of filing the suit. “We find it deeply troubling that the Attorney General’s office made a public spectacle of these serious allegations without first questioning the company as part of its investigatory process and, even more inexplicably, without notifying the company that the complaint was being filed,” Mark Rosenberg, an attorney with Tarter Krinksy and Drogin who is representing Adscend said in the statement. Adscend Media first learned of the allegations from media inquiries.”
The attorney general’s office and Facebook acknowledged that they didn’t ask Adscend to stop the activity or otherwise contact the company before filing their suits.
Facebook filed its complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suits charge Adscend with violating anti-spam and consumer protection laws as well as violating Facebook’s terms of service.
24 January 2012
Google has relaxed somewhat its strict real-names policy on Google+, by letting existing members attach an alternate moniker to their profile name and by letting new members sign up with just a pseudonym, provided it is an “established” identity online or offline.
Google is stopping short, however, of letting people use a brand-new pseudonym as their Google+ member name, although this real-names policy could be further revised in the future, the company said on Monday.
Until now, Google has required that Google+ members use their real, common name to identify themselves on the social networking site, a policy criticized by some who argue that users should have the option to use a pseudonym that masks their real identity for security reasons, as in the case of political dissidents or victims of spousal abuse.
Google will roll out the new feature over the next week, so that current Google+ members will be able to add a pseudonym or a maiden name to their account. If they choose to enter an alternate name, it will be added to their common, real name that’s already registered with the account.
In the case of people who haven’t set up a Google+ account, now they will be able to choose just a pseudonym for a name, as long as they have used it previously online, such as in a blog or in a social media account in services like Twitter and Flickr and generated a “meaningful following,” the company said in a blog post.
Google will also accept “unconventional” names if the person submits as evidence that it’s an established identity with samples of it from print media, or copies of official documentation, like a driver’s license.
Google is confident this will resolve issues with most of the people who have been unhappy with the real-names policy, who are already a very small minority of Google+ users, the company said.
“The vast majority of users sail through our signup process — in fact, only about 0.1% submit name appeals,” wrote Google+ Product Vice President Bradley Horowitz in a blog post on Monday.
About 60 percent of “name appeals” have been from people who want to append a nickname to their real name, while another 20 percent want to use a pseudonym or “unconventional” name, he wrote. The rest are errant appeals from businesses, which already have a special type of profile that they can set up for their brands.
“Today we’re pleased to be launching features that will address and remedy the majority of these issues. To be clear — our work here isn’t done, but I’m really pleased to be shipping a milestone on our journey,” he said.
Thus, Monday’s announcement will not resolve the real-names controversy in its entirety, because it doesn’t allow for creating an account that uses as its name a new pseudonym the person hasn’t used before online, but it adds flexibility to the original policy.
Juan Carlos Perez covers search, social media, online advertising, e-commerce, web application development, enterprise cloud collaboration suites and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.
23 January 2012
Google is continuing to weed out its services and on Friday announced it will shut down Picnik, Google Message Continuity and Needlebase and make changes to some other services.
Google acquired Seattle-based Picnik in 2010, saying it would integrate the photo editing service with its own Picasa. “We’re retiring the service on April 19, 2012, so the Picnik team can continue creating photo-editing magic across Google products,” Dave Girouard, vice president of product management for Google, wrote in a blog post Friday.
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The company is also discontinuing Google Message Continuity, its service for backing up Microsoft Exchange emails. Since launch, “hundreds” of businesses have signed up for the service, but it’s clear many more are interested in Google Apps, Girouard wrote. “Going forward, we’ve decided to focus our efforts on Google Apps and end support for GMC,” he wrote.
Google will shut down Needlebase, a data management platform, on June 1, and the Social Graph API, which isn’t being widely used, on April 20.
Google also will stop offering a client-hosted version of Urchin, an online analytics product on which the company built Google Analytics. It will instead focus on the online offering of Analytics.
Finally, Google plans to open source Sky Map, the Android application that uses GPS to show users constellations in the night sky. Through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, Google hopes to see students use Sky Map for projects, it said.
Last year Google announced the closure of a number of other products and services including Buzz, Code Search, Jaiku, Aardvark, Fast Flip, Sidewiki, Image Labeler and others.
Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy’s e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com
The IDG News Service is a Network World affiliate.