According to a report in the Sunday Times, the country’s Federal Cartel Office would be given powers to curtail Google’s influence, were it decided that it had got too big for its boots.
A document obtained by the newspaper says that under the new rules, technology companies would be treated and regulated like utilities such as electricity and water and subject to the same anti-competitive pricing laws governing their advertising.
Proposals to legislate the internet as a utility are at the heart of the debate that’s under way in the US right now, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is coming under increasing pressure to classify ISPs as “Title II” utilities in order to protect net neutrality.
In Europe, a commitment to net neutrality is already in place, and any German legislation would only serve to further solidify the country’s commitment to avoiding technology strangleholds.
Full details of the 30-page document are yet to be released, with varying reports of its potential impact, ranging from “last resort” to “all out regulation”.
The German government has always been militant in matters of data protection. In 2013, it warned consumers against using Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system due to perceived security risks, suggesting that it provided a back door for the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Of course, this might have had something to do with the fact that German chancellor Angela Merkel was one of the first high-profile victims of NSA surveillance, with some reports saying that the NSA hacked her mobile phone for over a decade.
Mike Weatherley, the UK prime minister’s intellectual property (IP) advisor, has said that internet search firms like Google and Bing do some things to hamper copyright infringement, but not enough.
Weatherley has produced recommendations that has won immediate support from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). He said that with ‘piracy’ costing lots of money in lost revenue, outfits like Google should take responsibility for risking UK jobs and shabby economic growth. This is music to the ears of the BPI, which leaped on it.
“Mike Weatherley’s report is a thorough and carefully considered contribution to the policy debate on the need for action to reduce the prominence of illegal websites in search results,” said BPE chief executive Geoff Taylor.
“We agree with his recommendations and invite search engines to work with us without delay to bring them into effect.” Taylor added that while some firms have volunteered to act, Google is dragging its heels.
“Google, which dominates UK search, has paid lip service to the issue but in practice has done little to address the ethical loophole in its algorithm, which directs millions of consumers to sites it clearly knows to be illegal,” Taylor said.
“If search engines will not now work with the creative sector to give effect to these Recommendations, Government should legislate to boost growth in the digital economy and to give consumers confidence they can search for entertainment safely and legally online”.
Weatherley’s report has 10 recommendations and he and the BPI hope that they win favour with the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Sajid Javid.
The government and industry attention is not news to Google, and it has frequently been called on to veer away from its business and towards an industry that keeps Peruvian cocoa farmers busy and the egotistical out of food service roles.
“Search Engines can – and must – use the resources available to them in order to safeguard the UK’s creative industries,” said MP Weatherley in a statement.
“Piracy remains the biggest threat to the growth of digital commerce; if we want the UK to continue to be a leader in creativity and innovation, the UK must also be an international leader of IP rights protection.”
In March the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the US BPI so to speak, accused Google of being a pirate hangout and piracy facilitator, and like Weatherley it favoured a “voluntary agreement with content owners”, that is, presumably in favour of those owners.
Last year the government wagged a finger at Google and said that it really ought to derank websites that media companies do not like and have arranged court orders against.
Then the web firm told The INQUIRER that actually it does a lot to aid the creative industries and very little to support those who infringe copyrights.
“We removed more than 20 million links to pirated content from our search results in the last month alone. But search is not the problem – according to Ofcom just eight per cent of infringers in the UK use Google to find unlicensed film and 13 per cent to find unlicensed music,” said a spokesperson.
“Google works harder than anyone to help the film and music industry protect their content online.”
We have asked it to comment on the Weatherley report.
EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said that there need to be tougher penalties as part of plans to reform the data protection laws in Europe, otherwise firms will continue to ride roughshod over the laws as they exist. She noted that while both French and Spanish authorities have fined Google, the amounts represented too small a fraction of the company’s income to stop the US giant.
“People need to see that their rights are enforced in a meaningful way. If a company has broken the rules and failed to mend its ways, this should have serious consequences,” she said.
Under the new proposals, Google would have faced a far harsher penalty that would make it think twice before ignoring data protection laws. It would have faced a fine of €731 million ($1bn). A sum much harder to brush off. Reding added, though, that a stronger regime for data protection would not just be a fear tactic to scare businesses into shape, but it would also help provide them with a competitive edge over rivals.
“Our reform will thus not only open the market to companies, it will also help them to conquer this market by helping to build citizens’ confidence. And what is more, strong data protection rules will also give companies with serious privacy policies a competitive edge,” she said.
Data protection reforms within the EU have been debated for some time, but an agreement between nations has yet to be reached. The UK is concerned that overly proscriptive laws could damage the economy. Proposals were meant to be in place by 2015 but that date might slip back if member states cannot agree.
Google Inc plans to roll out new product-endorsement ads incorporating photos, comments and names of its users, in a move to match the “social” ads pioneered by rival Facebook Inc that is raising some privacy concerns.
The changes, which Google announced in a revised terms of service policy on Friday, set the stage for Google to introduce “shared endorsements” ads on its sites as well as millions of other websites that are part of Google’s display advertising network.
The new types of ads would use personal information of the members of Google+, the social network launched by the company in 2011.
If a Google+ user has publicly endorsed a particular brand or product by clicking on the +1 button, that person’s image might appear in an ad. Reviews and ratings of restaurants or music that Google+ users share on other Google services, such as in the Google Play online store, would also become fair game for advertisers.
The ads are similar to the social ads on Facebook, the world’s No. 1 social network, which has 1.15 billion users.
Those ads are attractive to marketers, but they unfairly commercialize Internet users’ images, said Marc Rotenberg, the director of online privacy group EPIC.
“It’s a huge privacy problem,” said Rotenberg. He said the U.S. Federal Trade Commission should review the policy change to determine whether it violates a 2011 consent order Google entered into which prohibits the company from retroactively changing users’ privacy settings.
Users under 18 will be exempt from the ads and Google+ users will have the ability to opt out. But Rotenberg said users “shouldn’t have to go back and restore their privacy defaults every time Google makes a change.”
Information Google+ users have previously shared with a limited “circle” of friends will remain viewable only to that group, as will any shared endorsement ads that incorporate the information, Google said in a posting on its website explaining the new terms of service.
Google, which makes the vast majority of its revenue from advertising, operates the world’s most popular Web search engine as well as other online services such as maps, email and video website YouTube.
Google’s latest terms of service change will go live on November 11.
Searching through Twitter’s archive of tweets can be a harrowing experience– they are sorted on the site by Twitter’s own algorithms, and older tweets tend to get buried. Topsy, an analytics company, wants to improve on that.
The San Francisco-based company announced that it has indexed Twitter’s complete archive of public tweets dating back to 2006, giving users simple tools to search through it.
President Barack Obama’s first tweet? According to Topsy, it was posted six years ago and read: “Thinking we’re only one signature away from ending the war in Iraq.”
People can use the tools for free at Topsy.com. The site offers more advanced paid tools that can be used, for instance, if marketers want to track the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.
Topsy is not new to this game. The company was founded in 2007, already offering tools for finding and analyzing data from the public social Web across millions of websites. Before Wednesday’s announcement, the site indexed Twitter tweets as far back as 2010.
The company describes its service as a way for marketers, agencies and consumers to extract meaningful signals from the social media noise.
But by indexing Twitter’s complete archive, Topsy is hoping to make it easier for the average person to find social data like tweets, links, photos and videos across the Web.
Known as “social search,” it’s an area that has been difficult for the major players like Facebook and Google to crack.
Facebook’s goal is to “make the world more open and connected,” but searching for content from outside the site is difficult when members use different privacy settings to share things only with certain people. The social network is trying to make a better search tool for users with Graph Search.
Google previously offered a way to search for information from people on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other sites through its Real-Time Search tool, but the feature was discontinued in 2011.
Microsoft is trying to do more with social search through its Bing search engine. The site incorporates data from outside social networks such as Facebook and Twitter into how it displays search results involving people. But Bing still occupies a much smaller slice of the overall search pie compared to Google.
The Library of Congress is also trying to archive all of America’s tweets.
A software bug that was identified during routine site maintenance was responsible for the error, Flickr Vice President Brett Wayn said in an online forum thread. Though the affected photos did not appear in search results, they were visible on Flickr between Jan. 18 and Feb. 7, he said.
Only a small percentage of photos, limited to those uploaded between April and December of 2012, were affected, Flickr said.
Flickr has not acknowledged the problem on its official blog; affected users were notified individually with the message that was posted to the forum.
Not surprisingly, users are ticked off, judging from their reactions online. It is “very worrying” that images’ privacy settings could be changed spontaneously, one person said on the forum.
The error is “very frustrating,” another said — “enough for me to go elsewhere.”
Moreover, Flickr may have made things worse in its attempt to fix the problem, by setting any potentially affected photos in users’ accounts to “private.” This means that the links and embeds associated with the images for other websites will no longer work, Flickr said.
Because making a public photo private on Flickr changes the image’s URL, the HTML code needs to be manually corrected for each photo, users are pointing out.
Flickr says it has put in place additional measures to prevent the problem from happening again.
The announcement was made by an official with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) during a Do Not Track (DNT) event hosted by Mozilla, the maker of Firefox. Mozilla has been a major champion of the technology.
Twitter itself kept a low profile, saying only, “We applaud the FTC’s leadership on DNT,” Twitter tweeted from its own corporate account on Thursday.
“Twitter seems to be the one social network that’s doing the right thing [on privacy], said Brian Blau, a Gartner research director who specializes in consumer technology. “They’ve gone out of their way, compared to competitors, to stand up for users’ rights.”
Do Not Track relies on information in the HTTP header, part of the requests and responses sent and received by a browser as it communicates with a website, to signal that the user does not want to be tracked by online advertisers and sites. If a website or service abides by Do Not Track, it must stop tracking users’ movements, usually by discarding a Web cookie that handled the chore.
Twitter did exactly that, according to Jonathan Mayer, one of the two Stanford University researchers who came up with the HTTP header standard.
Twitter is the first social service to support Do Not Track, the initiative that was first endorsed by the FTC in late 2010.
The creators of the mobile app Girls Around Me drew sharp criticism Monday for helping men to “stalk” unsuspecting women, but the incident also reveals how much we still have to learn about what social networks reveal about us.
The app collected data from FourSquare, showing local bars where women had checked in, and matched that with information from their Facebook profile, including photos and sometimes their dating status. The end result was that the app’s users could see how many single women were in a particular nightspot, what they looked like and what their names were.
FourSquare blocked the app’s use of its API, claiming it violated its privacy policies. That forced its developer, the Russian company i-Free, to pull Girls Around Me from the App Store.
But i-Free didn’t hack into people’s accounts to get at the information, it only used what people had made freely available on their social networking sites. The incident shows how compiling such public information can make people uncomfortable when it’s done in unexpected ways.
“When you see something so out of context with what you expect, it ends up being shocking,” said Jules Polonetsky, the director of the Future of Privacy Forum. “I get that when I’m out in a big crowd, I’m not secret. But it’s still seems bizarre if someone scans every face in the crowd and then somehow identifies it. It seems to push beyond the appropriate context.”
The problem, to some extent, resides in a culture gap between developers, who think that if information is available, they can use it to innovate in any way they see fit, and users, who don’t always understand how revealing their digital information can be, privacy advocates said.
John M. Simpson, the director of Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project, said even if people understand what data they’re sharing on social networks, they don’t expect it to be “reconfigured so they can be hit upon.”
“Just because something is technologically possible is no justification for necessarily doing it,” he said.