Google addresses new privacy policy concerns in letter to Congress

Following the introduction of Google’s new privacy policy, late last week we reported government officials issued a statement and planned to request that the Federal Communications Commission launch a probe to investigate the changes. In response, Google has now issued its own letter to Congress addressing some of the concerns and detailing important issues that are not changing.

Before answering the questions presented in the letter from Congress, Google took some time to outline aspects of its policies that will not change. Among them: Google reminded Congress that the new policy will only apply to users signed into a Google account, while those signed in can still access the usual privacy settings like turning off search history, tailoring ads within Ads Preferences Manager, and setting Gmail chat to “off the record.”

Google noted, “The privacy policy changes don’t affect our users’ existing privacy settings. If a user has already used our privacy tools to opt out of personalized search or ads, for example,” they will remain opted out. The company also made it clear the new policy will not collect any new or additional data. Google further clarified how users will be able to access multiple accounts:

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Lawmakers to Google: ‘We want to make sure’ unified policy protects consumer privacy, calls for FCC probe

Rep. Edward Markey, a prominent U.S. lawmaker on privacy issues, announced earlier this week he was concerned with Google’s new privacy policy, and he further addressed his worries on Thursday by calling for a probe into Google’s handling of consumer data.

Google’s offerings include its globally popular search engine, Gmail, YouTube, Search plus Your World, Google+, and more, which are streamlined under the merging of 60 privacy policies intended to “mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.” The unified policy’s primary objective is to assemble and integrate information from across Google’s products and services as a single throng of data that the Mountain View, Calif.-based Company can use to target advertising dollars.

Markey released a Jan. 26 statement contending that the new policy changes should allot premium consumer control, and in the meantime, he plans to ask the Federal Communications Commission to investigate if such options exists for Google users:

“All consumers should have the right to say no to sharing of their personal information, particularly when young people are involved.  Google’s new privacy policy should enable consumers to opt-out if they don’t want their use of YouTube to morph into YouTrack.  Consumers – not corporations – should have control over their own personal information, especially for children and teens. I plan to ask the Federal Trade Commission whether Google’s planned changes to its privacy policy violate Google’s recent settlement with the agency.”

More information is available below.

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New ‘Google Crisis Response’ project issues public alerts through Google Maps

Folks seeking information on natural disasters or other global emergencies can now access Google Maps for the latest details through a new Google Crisis Response project.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant launched a Google Public Alerts system today to keep users informed of disaster alerts regarding tornadoes, floods, winter and tropical storms, and other hazards menacing throughout the world.

“With today’s launch of Public Alerts on Google Maps, relevant weather, public safety, and earthquake alerts from US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service, and the US Geological Survey (USGS) will be accessible when you search on Google Maps,” announced Google in a blog post.

More information is available below.

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Twitter and Facebook engineers create ‘Don’t Be Evil’ tool to alter Google’s controversial social results

Search Engine Land pointed us to a new browser bookmarklet dubbed “Don’t Be Evil” created by Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook engineers to alter the controversial social search results displayed by Google since its most recent “Search plus Your World” update.

Earlier this month Google began rolling out the new “Search plus Your World” update to Google.com search results. The update consists of Personal results, Profiles in Search, and People and Pages, all of which provide prominent quick links to Google+ content relevant to your search query. It sparked controversy as the update arguably favors Google’s own Google+ social network over relevant social content from competitive services.

The tool is being open-sourced and available free. After performing a search, you simply click the “Don’t Be Evil” bookmarklet in your browser of choice (no IE support), and the social “Search plus Your World” results will be altered to also include content from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Tumblr, Github, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and a hand full of others. The image above shows Google’s Search plus Your World results on the left with the altered results after clicking the “Don’t Be Evil” on the right.

You might be thinking that the tool is instead favoring websites like Facebook or Twitter, much the same way Google is accused of favoring Google+. However, the creators explained that the tool actually utilizes Google’s own search results to determine the most relevant social content to display. Search Engine Land explained exactly how it works:

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Google+ lets users ‘join discussion’ from social network’s search results

While conducting a search on Google+, a user can only comment on an existing post or share a found item, however, the Google+ team announced a new feature today that lets users start a conversation directly from search results.

Until now, options for interacting with a certain phrase or interest was limited to commenting and posting. The newly announced component suddenly turns a search into a conversation and relieves the pressure from users needing original content to partake in discussions…

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Google slows web crawlers to help blackout websites during protest effort

Google and many other websites went black today to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate, but now the globally popular search engine has taken the protest one step further.

Pierre Far, a Webmaster trends analyst at Google, announced on Google+ today that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company slowed its web crawlers to continue support against U.S. anti-piracy bills.

More information is available below.

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Google tests new QR-code secure login, experiment quickly taken offline

Google is experimenting again —but this time, with a QR-code login.

Apparently, a few Web surfers discovered a new QR-code account that served as an authentication tool to help Google users login securely while at a public computer. Keylogger programs are an eminent threat and may snatch and store passwords when people use public desktops to manually access Gmail and other Google services; therefore, a QR-code login could be a safer alternative.

With the new login that was found yesterday, users could use Android-powered smartphones to scan a QR code on a desktop that will automatically take them to a mobile login website. According to Google Software Engineer Walter Chang, users can sign into a Google service on their own device, and the action will directly forward them to Gmail or iGoogle on the public computer. Obviously, fake QR-codes imitating as an authentic Google login could pose a security risk, as well.

The feature made the rounds on the Internet yesterday, and Google Security Team Software Engineer Dirk Balfanz took to his Google+ account to announce the QR-code login as an experimental project.

“Looks like people have found the page for an experiment we’ve been running for phone-based authentication,” said Balfanz.

More information is available below.

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Google protests against US anti-piracy bills and issues campaign promoting online privacy

Google Inc., announced it will insert a link and censor its logo on the search engine’s home page tomorrow to emphasize its opposition to U.S. anti-piracy bills in conjunction to rolling out a new campaign that promotes online privacy awareness.

Business Week reported the globally popular search engine is among many Internet companies that criticize the measures, claiming the bills could encourage online censorship and stunt the growth of the American technology industry.

The movie and music industries have experienced huge sale declines in recent years and subsequently support the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 47 percent, from $14.6 billion to $7.7 billion, since peer-to-peer file sharing emerged in 1999. Moreover, the Motion Picture Association of America released an info graphic (PDF) last year that claimed 29 million American adults by 2010 had downloaded illegal copies of film or television shows.

However, both bills —if passed— would be a means to prevent the sale of illegal content or counterfeit goods by websites operating outside United States borders…

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Google is No. 4 top global brand, pummels Apple value by over $20B

Interbrand assesses brand value across the world, and the consultancy recently released its “2011 Ranking of the Top 100 Brands” with Google sitting tight at the No. 4 spot.

“With a 27 percent increase in brand value in the past year, Google’s position as one of the world’s preeminent brands is growing and nothing seems capable of stopping it,” announced the annual report.

There are three main aspects to the methodology of assessing a brand, according to Interbrand, and those include financial performance, role of brand, and brand strength. Internal factors vary between authenticity and consistency to responsiveness and commitment of the brand regarding strength…

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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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