Report: FTC includes social network Google+ in antitrust probe; EPIC urges FTC to watch search changes

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is expanding its antitrust probe of Google to include the inspection of social network service Google+, according to Bloomberg.

The publication sourced two people “familiar with the situation,” and cited “competition issues raised by Google+” as the primary aspect of the FTC’s investigation into whether the globally popular search engine gives preference to its own services. The FTC is also inquiring whether such practices violate antitrust laws, according to Bloomberg, who could not identify its sources due to the investigation’s nonpublic status.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company rolled out “Search, Plus Your World” to its search engine Jan. 10 and dubbed the revision a “personal results” feature that displays Google+ photographs, news and comments when user’s conduct Web searches. The Electronic Privacy Information Center promptly called upon the FTC on Jan. 12 to investigate the recent search changes in a letter posted on its website…

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Google Maps: Unveils new game, updates Android app with indoor LV casino maps, and charts universities

Google Maps is making headlines in a variety of ways this week.

A Jan. 10 update to the Android application made noise at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show yesterday. The Google Maps upgrade claimed to increase battery life while improving location tracking within Google Latitude.

The latest version Google Maps also improved Transit Navigation and more closely estimates location position when GPS signal is lost. The update even increased the number of possible transit routes from three to four.

The final update includes indoor maps that can —well— navigate around various indoor venues in the United States. In this particular update, maps for CES in the Las Vegas area were included (hence all the commotion).

“We hope that these indoor maps will come in handy when finding your way through the slots and to the shops,” announced Google on its LatLong blog. “And for those of you who catch gadget-fever with CES in town, we’ve also partnered with a number of Best Buy stores in the Las Vegas area.”

More information on the updates are available below.

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Google rolls out ‘Search plus Your World’ update with personalized search results

Google began rolling out a new update to search results known as the “Search plus Your World” that includes both public results with privately shared posts and profiles from your Google+ account.

You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to… all from one search box.We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships. We began this transformation with Social Search, and today we’re taking another big step in this direction by introducing three new features.

There are a few scenarios where the Search plus Your World results will prove beneficial. Included in the results are three new features: Personal Results provide photos and posts privately shared from your Google+ account, Profiles in Search, which includes Google+ profiles in results and auto complete, and People and Pages that provides quick links to celebrities and brand pages related to your query.

Of course, there are concerns being raised that Google is favoring its own service’s results over content from other similar social networks. As TechCrunch noted, this is only the beginning of personal search results starting with Google+ and Picasa, but it will eventually likely include results from Gmail, Google Docs, and other Google services. Google is providing a toggle to turn off the new personal results for those who do not want to participate. The company also clarified its stance on potential security concerns for the update:

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Google demotes Chrome homepage after pay-for-post campaign violations; Website’s PageRank lowered for 60 days

Google searches for “browser” no longer reveal the Google Chrome homepage, because the globally popular search engine decided to apply a penalty against the browser’s website after coming under fire for its sponsored post campaign.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company actively fights paid links and junk content under its Webmaster guidelines. However, earlier this week, SEO Book’s Aaron Wall noticed a Google search for “This post is sponsored by Google” displays over 400 websites written by Google marketing campaigns.

Bloggers were found posting low-quality content related to Google Chrome to promote Google content, and at least one of the posts had a hyperlink to the Chrome download page. Hyperlinks can help a website rise in Google search results through Google’s PageRank algorithm.

According to The New York Times, Google penalized JC Penney, Forbes and Overstock last year due to paid links and similar guidline violation issues. Search Engine Land suggested that Google should penalize its own Google Chrome download page to be fair.

Well, that is exactly how Google responded.

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Millions of Google search page views will soon promote Google services under revamped trial design

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Google launched a revamped homepage, but it is still in the trial phase and only a limited number of users have access to the new design. Meanwhile, some experts and lawmakers are claiming Google’s recent face lift intends to promote more of the company’s businesses without cluttering the homepage.

The website’s redesign has undergone various changes since its initial debut over a month ago. The current version omits the black menu bar that runs horizontal along the top of the website, and it is now replaced by a gray Google logo. Upon clicking the new graphic, seven services under the search engine appear with an option to view 13 more services.

The core seven services in the trial design are Google Plus, Search, Images, Maps, YouTube, News, Gmail and Documents. The “More” tab below the vertical menu reveals options for Calendar, Translator, Mobile, Books, Music, Offers, Wallet, Shopping, Blogger, Reader, Finance, Photos, and Videos.

Google users can also change the background image of their homepage with the trial design, and they can access iGoogle or their Google Plus notification center and Settings options from the main search page.

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Google launches US edition of ‘Politics & Elections’ resource for 2012 elections

Previously only available to Egyptian users, Google launched (via Mashable) a new “Politics & Elections” landing page today for the United States – a day ahead of the Iowa Caucuses at Media Filing Center on Tuesday. The website acts as a hub to information on the 2012 elections, providing the ability to filter news articles and video by candidate or specific issues like the economy, immigration, or healthcare.

Along the right side of the page are links to resources like the Google+ Politics & Elections page, the YouTube Politics channel, and the 2012 Political Calendar on PBS. Also available are two interactive tools: “Trends” and “On the Ground”.

Clicking Trends gives you an interactive graph and timeline that charts trends for each candidate based on search volume, mentions in Google News articles, and views on YouTube channels. Clicking Play will let you watch how trends have changed for each candidate through the days, month, or years. The On the Ground tool provides a Google Map with links to election related events as shot by YouTube users.

According to Mashable, Google will also display content from the new website on large screens at the Iowa Caucuses on Tuesday. They will also be holding Google Plus hangouts live from the event.

Google Canada hits 10-year mark: Doubles in size, looks to expand features and headcount in 2012

Google celebrated its 1oth anniversary in Canada by doubling its staff and indicating hopes to have an even larger presence in 2012.

The company currently has 300 employees in four Canadian offices, in Toronto, Waterloo, Ottawa, and Montreal. Google’s global headcount was listed at 32, 353 in the third quarter of 2011.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine first moved north in 2001, and Head of Mobile Advertising Eric Morris was one of the first Google Canada employees to start work for the  North American sect.

“Canada is one of the fastest growing markets for Google and it’s one of our big bets corporately,” said Morris. “It’s a market that Google is very committed to and investing in heavily in terms of resources and growing very, very quickly.”

In 2002, according to Morris, Google projected that 70 percent of Canada’s population would be online by 2017. Canada reached 79 percent in 2010.

“In 2010, 93 percent of households with three or more people, as well as those with at least one member under the age of 18, had home Internet access,” reported a recent Canadian Internet Use Survey. “By contrast, 58 percent of one-person households had home Internet access.”

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British Telecom sues Google over six US patents

British Telecom is suing Google over  six alleged infringements that affect its services in a plethora of areas, including Android Market, Google Maps, Google Search, Google Music, Google Places, Google Offers, Google Plus and location-based advertising.

According to Florian Mueller’s news blog Foss Patents, the lawsuit was reportedly filed in the U.S. district court for Delaware.

BT is seeking damages and an injunction, and its complaint indicates Google refuses to pay. The second sentence of paragraph 21 in the action states: “BT brings this action to recover the just compensation it is owed and to prevent Google from continuing to benefit from BT’s inventions without authorization.”

Google contacted the Wall Street Journal Dec. 19 and issued a statement regarding the recent patent infringement allegations.

“We believe these claims are groundless and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them,” said Google to WSJ.

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Google Plus implements ‘a few big improvements’ for the New Year

Google Plus announced a “goodie basket” of functional features and big improvements for the upcoming New Year on its Official Google Blog today.

Bradley Horowitz, vice president of Google Plus product, posted the blog and claimed the new features were on everyone’s wish list.

The first feature mentioned is “Pump up (or down) the volume,” and through the addition, Google will enable users to fine-tune their streams.

“When viewing the stream for a particular circle, you’ll now see a slider at the top that lets you adjust how posts from that circle should be blended into the main stream,” wrote Horowitz in the blog post. “That way you’ll never miss a post from that special someone, and you can tweak these settings to form your own ‘perfect stream.’”

The first big improvement discussed in the blog is “More useful and attractive notifications,” and with it, Google offers sneak previews to allow users efficient social content navigation… Read more

Google tests Hotel Finder comparison ads above search results

In July Google launched an experimental Hotel Finder tool, which allows users to search specifically for the most relevant hotel related results. The service allows users to find places to stay in select areas, get price comparisons in one convenient location, and compile a shortlist of potential destinations. According to Search Engine Land, Google is now testing rather large “Comparison ads” at the top of hotel related search results that display links to the Hotel Finder tool. The move apparently has the hotel industry concerned…
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Google search gets enhanced movie and theater results on Android and iPhone

Google is rolling out a nice new movie related feature to search on Android and iPhone. Now, when searching for “movies”, the first result will be a swipeable row of movie posters with descriptions, ratings, and the closest theatres and showtimes for the selected film. Tapping the title of any given movie will provide you with details on the cast and a full summary. Some movie posters will also have a play button letting you watch the film’s trailer, and selecting one of the showtimes will link you to where you can purchase tickets. This is obviously Google’s way of making it easier to find what’s playing at your local theatre when on the go.

You can also type “theaters” or the name of a specific movie theatre or movie for more refined results. Try it now by visiting Google.com on your iPhone or Android device.
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Eric Schmidt to meet European antitrust chief over accusations of search abuse

Google chairman Eric Schmidt is set to face the European competition commission this week to address potential antirust issues concerning their dominant position in the search business, according to a report from The Guardian. The meeting will be held by the commission’s antitrust chief, Joaquin Almunia, following initial talks held in January stemming from complaints by several search companies including Microsoft’s own Ciao.

Almunia is expected to present Google with a 400-page “statement of objections” that documents the commission’s research regarding “allegations that Google Inc has abused a dominant position in online search, in violation of European Union rules”.

The antitrust investigation started as far back as November 30, 2010, after claims from several search related companies including 1PlusV, Euro-Cities, and German organizations representing publishers filed complaints. The complaints themselves range from Google displaying there own services in search results to unfairly using content from publishers.

If Google is found guilty of abusing its dominant position in the market they could face fines up to 10% of the company’s annual turnover in Europe, or be forced to make changes to the way it runs its search business in the region. While some reported that during initial negotiations in January Almunia told Schmidt he would have a chance to offer up a solution, Almunia had this to say late last week about the upcoming meeting:
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