Colorado Dem Rep cautions FTC to rethink antitrust suit against Google

Jared Polis, U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 2nd congressional district

U.S. Federal Trade Commission officials supposedly want to bring an antitrust case against Google due to complaints about it suppressing competition in the market, but Colorado Rep. Jared Polis cautioned the regulatory body in a letter last week that such a lawsuit would be a “woefully misguided step.”

Many Internet businesses, such as Yelp and Nextag, have criticized Google at open hearings in Congress, asserting Google unjustly applies its search dominance to give web sites lower-quality rankings in search results. The effect would essentially push Internet users toward Google products that provide similar services.

Google has continually rebuffed any wrongdoing, and the Vice President of Engineering Amit Singhal even came to his employer’s defense on the Google Public Policy Blog earlier this summer —in an aggressive tactic not usually taken by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company—to spearhead the rumor-mill accusations in a “claim vs. fact” format.

Democrat Polis specifically wrote in his letter that an anti-trust lawsuit by the FTC would “threaten the very integrity of our anti-trust system, and could ultimately lead to Congressional action resulting in a reduction in the ability of the FTC to enforce critical anti-trust protections in industries where markets are being distorted by monopolies or oligopolies.”

Political newspaper The Hill, which first reported on the letter, further noted that Polis said the market for online search remains adequately competitive despite antitrust complaints:

He noted that customers search Amazon for shopping results, iTunes for music and movies, Facebook for social networking and Yelp for local businesses.

“To even discuss applying anti-trust in this kind of hyper-competitive environment defies all logic and the very underpinnings of anti-trust law itself,” Polis wrote.

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Google Doodle celebrates the marvel of ‘Little Nemo’ and his 107th birthday (video)

Little Nemo first appeared in the New York Herald on Oct. 15, 1905 as the protagonist kid of the “Little Nemo in Slumberland” comic strip, and Google is commemorating the tale’s 107th birthday today with an interactive doodle on the homepage.

Windsor McCay’s early 20th-century newspaper cartoon lasted nine years, while Little Nemo later inspired a slew of spin-offs such as the 1989 animated film “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland” (YouTube video below).

Google’s visually breathtaking doodle transports Web surfers to the fanciful world of Slumberland. Folks can follow Nemo as he falls from his bed into a starlit-realm of dreams and continues tumbling for seven more panes until he ends up back in bed—tussled and amazed. It is certainly one of the search giant’s most stunning doodles ever.

Google’s full artwork for the doodle is below, while “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland” is above.

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Report: FTC officials ‘convinced’ Google illegally used dominance to stifle competition, eyes antitrust case

A Reuters report (via CNBC) from this afternoon claimed top U.S. Federal Trade Commission officials want to bring an antitrust case against Google over numerous complaints about it abusing search dominance to suppress competition in the market.

The FTC announced earlier this year that Washington lawyer Beth Wilkinson is leading its investigation, while FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said last month they would reach a decision by 2013. If found guilty, the FTC and Google could enter settlement talks to resolve the matter or duke it out in court.

Reuters cited “three people familiar with the matter,” and it indicated Google could soon face the gristly negotiation process:

Four of the FTC commissioners have become convinced after more than a year of investigation that Google illegally used its dominance of the search market to hurt its rivals, while one commissioner is skeptical, the sources said. All three declined to be named to protect working relationships. Two of the sources said a decision on how to proceed could come in late November or early December. A long list of companies has been complaining to the FTC, arguing that the agency should crack down on Google.

Yelp  and Nextag have both criticized Google at open hearings in Congress, according to Reuters, asserting Google unjustly gives “their web sites low quality rankings in search results to steer Internet users away from their websites and toward Google products that provide similar services.”

Google has continually rebuffed any lawlessness or partial practices, and the search engine’s vice president of engineering, Amit Singhal, even stormed to the Google Public Policy Blog earlier this summer, in an aggressive tactic not usually taken by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, to address the antitrust accusations in a “claim vs. fact” format.

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Google testing new mobile site

As Google has done with past updates to its products, it appears to be testing a redesigned version of its mobile homepage with a small group of users. A 9to5Google reader noticed the change on Android. There were also reports of iOS users noticing a new UI. As highlighted in the image above, the updated Google mobile website includes a redesigned top toolbar that looks similar to the desktop version. The redesigned toolbar also provides access to a slide-out sidebar that contains quick links to all of Google’s services as opposed to a top bar containing just a few tabs for “Images”, Maps”, “Places”, “more”, etc. The toolbar provides links to the “Web” and “Images”, as well as Google+ notifications and profile information. It is possible Google will push the redesigned UI to all users soon.

Google introduces Search Appliance version 7.0 for enterprises

On the Google Enterprise blog today, General Manager of Enterprise Search Matthew Eichner introduced the latest version of the yellow “Google in a box” search solution for enterprises. GSA 7.0 brings new features nearly 10 years after first introducing the appliance, including: Google-quality search for SharePoint 2010, better smartphone and tablet integration, and refined speed and relevance with assisted navigation and Entity Recognition:

The GSA 7.0 helps you find information stored anywhere in your organization, whether you’re using a desktop, smartphone or tablet. Administrators can easily add content sources from secure storage, cloud services or the public web and social networking sites. GSA 7.0 also provides Google-quality search for SharePoint 2010, making for a more simple and intuitive, all-in-one search experience.

Google described of the other new features in GSA 7.0 including document preview, Google translate, support for more languages, and an improved UI: Read more

A look at how Google builds accurate maps with ‘Ground Truth’ data

Google’s map offerings build in the human intelligence on the front end, and that’s what allows its computers to tell you the best route from San Francisco to Boston.

In an exclusive story by the Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Alexis C. Madrigal, Google for the first time gives us a look at “Ground Truth”. It is a project described by Madrigal as a secretive, complex internal map that contains data, such as “no-left-turns and freeway on-ramps, speed limits and traffic conditions,” necessary to help users navigate through Google Maps:

I was slated to meet with Gupta and the engineering ringleader on his team, former NASA engineer Michael Weiss-Malik, who’d spent his 20 percent time working on Google Mars, and Nick Volmar, an “operator” who actually massages map data. 

“So you want to make a map,” Weiss-Malik tells me as we sit down in front of a massive monitor. “There are a couple of steps. You acquire data through partners. You do a bunch of engineering on that data to get it into the right format and conflate it with other sources of data, and then you do a bunch of operations, which is what this tool is about, to hand massage the data. And out the other end pops something that is higher quality than the sum of its parts.”

Describing Ground Truth to be an elaborate internal Map Maker of sorts, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is just how much human input goes into making the Google Maps experience accurate. In the story, Madrigal noted the Ground Truth Geo team aims to address most of the fixable problems reported by users (thousands daily) within minutes: Read more

Google Now interface rolls out to Google searches performed on mobile devices

In its push to have the Google Now interface in what looks to be across all platforms, Google has incorporated it in Google Search results on mobile devices. When searching for a forecast, stock quote, flight time, math equation, sports score, and more on your smartphone, the information will now be conveniently displayed in Google’s new Now UI. The information is not any different, as Google has been doing this for a while, but it definitely looks much better and easier to manage.

It looks very similar to the interface of Google Now that is available on Jelly Bean. Google also incorporated the look in its upcoming Google Search app update on iOS. The new interface will roll out to all users in the coming days and on desktops soon. [Google]

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Google adds 34-button scientific calculator to search results

You may already be aware that Google search provides a calculator that offers answers to queries, such as 2+2 directly, from the main search results page. As pointed out by a reader, Google recently updated the calculator search functionality, and it now provides a full HTML5 scientific calculator for these types of search queries. The features work with voice—except for on mobile devices, as they do not have access to the full scientific calculator presented on desktops.

Earlier this month, Google started to roll out a similar widget on its search page for unit conversions, like inches to centimeters. Now, unit conversion queries are presented with the live unit conversion tool (pictured below) that allows you to switch between units of measurements for temperature, length, mass, speed, digital storage, and much more.

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Google updates Transparency Report with government requests for blog post removals and user data

As noted in a recent post on the Official Google Blog, Google recently made changes to the Transparency Report that launched a couple of years ago to report data on “government requests.” The interactive reports, which are available here, already included user data requests from courts and government agencies, real-time and historical traffic from various Google services worldwide, and removal requests from both governments and copyright owners. Google is adding data related to government requests today for user information and the removal of blogs posts and videos made from July 2011 to December 2011:

Today we’re releasing data showing government requests to remove blog posts or videos or hand over user information made from July to December 2011… Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers. We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not… For the six months of data we’re releasing today, we complied with an average of 65% of court orders, as opposed to 47% of more informal requests.

An example of some of the requests is outlined by Google’s Senior Policy Analyst Dorothy Chou:
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Google now warns Chinese users certain queries may interrupt connection

In a blog post on the official Google Search blog, Google’s Senior Vice President, Knowledge Alan Eustace today provided some insight into ongoing issues Google Search users in mainland China have been experiencing. As highlighted in the video above, we can see Google observes specific search queries appear to be providing error messages and interrupting the connection. Specifically, users in mainland China over the past couple years have reported frequently experiencing “This webpage is not available” or “The connection was reset” error messages for specific search queries and browsers.

After looking into the issue, Google confirmed the problem doesn’t appear to be originating on its end and has decided to implement notifications to warn users of problem search terms:
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Google Search iPhone app completely redesigned for speed and full screen searching

Google updated its Google Search iPhone app to version 2.0.0 today, which introduced a completely redesigned app that focuses on improvements to speed and full screen browsing features. Among the new features are an auto full screen mode that hides controls when scrolling down and reveals when scrolling up, and a new full-screen image search view.

The updated app also includes “major speed improvements,” a built-in text finder for webpages, and quick links to Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and search options such as images, places, and news. The iPad did not receive the same update, but both the iPhone and iPad will now be able to save images to the iOS camera roll.

A full list of features is below, while the updated app is available on the App Store now.

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