Google

Google Returns As Default Search Engine In Firefox (techcrunch.com) 136

Mozilla today launched Firefox Quantum, which the company is calling "the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004." It brings massive performance improvements and a visual redesign. It also sets Google as the default search engine again if you live in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. TechCrunch reports: In 2014, Mozilla struck a deal with Yahoo to make it the default search engine provider for users in the U.S., with Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and others as options. While it was a small change, it was part of a number of moves that turned users against Firefox because it didn't always feel as if Mozilla had the user's best interests in mind. Firefox Quantum (aka, Firefox 57), is the company's effort to correct its mistakes and it's good to see that Google is back in the default slot. When Mozilla announced the Yahoo deal in 2014, it said that this was a five-year deal. Those five years are obviously not up yet. We asked Mozilla for a bit more information about what happened here.

"We exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo! based on a number of factors including doing what's best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users. We believe there are opportunities to work with Oath and Verizon outside of search," Mozilla Chief Business and Legal Officer Denelle Dixon said in a statement. "As part of our focus on user experience and performance in Firefox Quantum, Google will also become our new default search provider in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. With over 60 search providers pre-installed as defaults or secondary options across more than 90 language versions, Firefox has more choice in search providers than any other browser."

Google

Google To Add Restaurant Wait Times To Google Search, Maps (techcrunch.com) 59

Google Search and Maps already show you the peak traffic times for your favorite restaurants, but it will soon show you the wait times as well. Google says the feature begins rolling out today, and will eventually expand to include grocery stores. TechCrunch reports: Google's new restaurant wait times also comes from the aggregated and anonymized data from users who opted in to Google Location History -- the same data that powers popular times, wait times and visit duration. In the case of restaurants, Google will now include a pop-up box that appears when you click on a time frame in the popular times' chart. The box shows the live or historical data labeled as "busy," "usually busy," "usually not busy," etc., along with the wait time. Below the popular times chart, there's also a section that helps users plan their visit by offering info on the peak wait times and duration. (e.g. "People typically spend 45 mins to 2 hr here.") The new wait time feature will be supported on nearly a million sit-down restaurant listings worldwide, initially in Google Search.
Google

Google Wins Ruling to Block Global Censorship Order (fortune.com) 89

A U.S. judge has partially blocked a recent decision by Canada's Supreme Court that requires Google to delete search results not just in Canada, but in every other country too. From a report: Citing the violation of American laws as well as a threat to speech, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila agreed to grant Google a temporary injunction, which means the company can show the search results in the United States. The search results in question are part of an intellectual property dispute between a Canadian industrial firm called Equustek and a rival company that is reportedly misusing Equustek's trademarks to poach its business. In response, Equustek obtained an injunction in Canada that treated Google as a defendant even though it had no direct relationship with either company. In a controversial decision in June, Canada's highest court agreed by a 7-2 margin to leave the injunction in place.
Google

Google Has a New Plan for China (and It's Not About Search) (bloomberg.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares a report: More than seven years after exiting China, Google is taking the boldest steps yet to come back. And it's not with a search engine. Instead, Google's ingress is centered around artificial intelligence. The internet giant is actively promoting TensorFlow, software that makes it easier to build AI systems, as a way to forge business ties in the world's largest online market, according to people familiar with the company's plans. It's a wide pitch targeting China's academics and tech titans. At the same time, Google parent Alphabet Inc. is adding more personnel to scour Chinese companies for potential AI investments, these people said. "China is a tremendous opportunity for any company because it is by far the single largest homogeneous market," said Kai Fu Lee, who headed Google's China operations before the company left in 2010. The market dwarfs any other, given how many Chinese people are online, and data from that "can be used to advance products, especially those relating to artificial intelligence," he added.
Google

The Meaning of AMP (adactio.com) 95

Last week, Ethan Marcotte, an independent web designer, shared how Google describes AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). People at Google says AMP "isn't a 'proprietary format'; it's an open standard that anyone can contribute to." But that definition, Marcotte argues, isn't necessarily an honest one. He writes: On the face of it, this statement's true. AMP's markup isn't proprietary as such: rather, all those odd-looking amp- tags are custom elements, part of the HTML standard. And the specification's published, edited, and distributed on GitHub, under one of the more permissive licenses available. So, yes. The HTML standard does allow for the creation of custom elements, it's true, and AMP's license is quite liberal. But spend a bit of time with the rules that outline AMP's governance. Significant features and changes require the approval of AMP's Technical Lead and one Core Committer -- and if you peruse the list of AMP's Core Committers, that list seems exclusively staffed and led by Google employees. Now, there's nothing wrong with this. After all, AMP is a Google-backed project, and they're free to establish any governance model they deem appropriate. But when I hear AMP described as an open, community-led project, it strikes me as incredibly problematic, and more than a little troubling. AMP is, I think, best described as nominally open-source. It's a corporate-led product initiative built with, and distributed on, open web technologies. Jeremy Keith, a web developer, further adds: If AMP were actually the product of working web developers, this justification would make sense. As it is, we've got one team at Google citing the preference of another team at Google but representing it as the will of the people. This is just one example of AMP's sneaky marketing where some finely-shaved semantics allows them to appear far more reasonable than they actually are. At AMP Conf, the Google Search team were at pains to repeat over and over that AMP pages wouldn't get any preferential treatment in search results ... but they appear in a carousel above the search results. Now, if you were to ask any right-thinking person whether they think having their page appear right at the top of a list of search results would be considered preferential treatment, I think they would say hell, yes! This is the only reason why The Guardian, for instance, even have AMP versions of their content -- it's not for the performance benefits (their non-AMP pages are faster); it's for that prime real estate in the carousel. The same semantic nit-picking can be found in their defence of caching. See, they've even got me calling it caching! It's hosting. If I click on a search result, and I am taken to page that has a URL beginning with https://www.google.com/amp/s/... then that page is being hosted on the domain google.com. That is literally what hosting means. Now, you might argue that the original version was hosted on a different domain, but the version that the user gets sent to is the Google copy. You can call it caching if you like, but you can't tell me that Google aren't hosting AMP pages. That's a particularly low blow, because it's such a bait'n'switch.
Google

Google Paid $7.2 Billion Last Year To Partners, Including Apple, To Prominently Showcase Its Search Engine and Apps on Smartphones (bloomberg.com) 57

A reader shares a Bloomberg report: There's a $19 billion black box inside Google. That's the yearly amount Google pays to companies that help generate its advertising sales, from the websites lined with Google-served ads to Apple and others that plant Google's search box or apps in prominent spots. Investors are obsessed with this money, called traffic acquisition costs, and they're particularly worried about the growing slice of those payments going to Apple and Google's Android allies. That chunk of fees now amounts to 11 percent of revenue for Google's internet properties. The figure was 7 percent in 2012. These Google traffic fees are the result of contractual arrangements parent company Alphabet makes to ensure its dominance. The company pays Apple to make Google the built-in option for web searches on Apple's Safari browsers for Mac computers, iPhones and other places. Google also pays companies that make Android smartphones and the phone companies that sell those phones to make sure its search box is front and center and to ensure its apps such as YouTube and Chrome are included in smartphones. In the last year, Google has paid these partners $7.2 billion, more than three times the comparable cost in 2012.
Google

Google Scraps Controversial Policy That Gave Free Access To Paywalled Articles Through Search (theverge.com) 97

For years, Google has provided a nifty trick to get around subscriptions for newspapers and magazines. But the company is now doing away with it. From a report: Google is ending its controversial First Click Free (FCF) policy that publishers loathed because it required them to allow Google search results access to news articles hidden behind a paywall. The company is replacing the decade-old FCF with Flexible Sampling, which allows publishers instead to decide how many (if any) articles they want to allow potential subscribers to access. Google says it's also working on a suite of new tools to help publishers reach new audiences and grow revenue. Via FCF, users could access an article for free but would be prompted to log-in or subscribe if they clicked anywhere else on the page. Publishers were required to allow three free articles per day which Google indexed so that they appeared in searches for a particular topic or keyword. Opting out of the FCF feature was detrimental because it demoted a publisher's ranking on Google Search and Google News.
Google

Apple Replaces Bing With Google as Search Engine For Siri and Spotlight (geekwire.com) 54

Apple is ditching Bing and will now use Google to power the default search engine for Siri, Search within iOS (iOS search bar), and Spotlight on Mac. From a report: TechCrunch reported Monday that Apple users will now see search results powered by Google, instead of Bing, when using those tools. For example, when an iPhone user asks Siri a question that needs a search engine result, the voice assistant will now pull from Google, not Bing. Apple will still use Bing for image search queries using Siri or Spotlight on Mac, TechCrunch reported. Apple said the move was done for consistency; its Safari browser uses Google as the default search engine. In a statement, the company told TechCrunch that "we have strong relationships with Google and Microsoft and remain committed to delivering the best user experience possible." Google is reportedly paying Apple $3 billion this year to remain as the default search engine on iPhones and iPads.
Data Storage

Google, Bing, Yahoo Data Retention Doesn't Improve Search Quality, Study Claims (theregister.co.uk) 38

A new paper released on Monday via the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that retaining search log data doesn't do much for search quality. "Data retention has implications in the debate over Europe's right to be forgotten, the authors suggest, because retained data undermines that right," reports The Register. "It's also relevant to U.S. policy discussions about privacy regulations." From the report: To determine whether retention policies affected the accuracy of search results, Chiou and Tucker used data from metrics biz Hitwise to assess web traffic being driven by search sites. They looked at Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! Search during a period when Bing changed its search data retention period from 18 months to 6 months and when Yahoo! changed its retention period from 13 months to 3 months, as well as when Yahoo! had second thoughts and shifted to an 18-month retention period. According to Chiou and Tucker, data retention periods didn't affect the flow of traffic from search engines to downstream websites. "Our findings suggest that long periods of data storage do not confer advantages in search quality, which is an often-cited benefit of data retention by companies," their paper states. Chiou and Tucker observe that the supposed cost of privacy laws to consumers and to companies may be lower than perceived. They also contend that their findings weaken the claim that data retention affects search market dominance, which could make data retention less relevant in antitrust discussions of Google.
Businesses

Google Rival Yelp Claims Search Giant Broke Promise Made to Regulators (wsj.com) 61

Online-reviews firm Yelp alleged that Google is breaking a promise it made as part of a 2012 regulatory settlement to not scrape content from certain third-party sites including Yelp, escalating its yearslong battle against the search giant. Yelp said in a letter late Sunday to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen that Google is using Yelp photos for local-business listings in its search results, despite Yelp's formal request that Google not pull such content from its site. From a report: As part of a December 2012 settlement to end an FTC investigation into Google, the tech giant agreed to not use content, including photos and user reviews, from third-party sites that opted out of such scraping. Google's commitment lasts through 2017 and applies to a variety of its products, including its local-business listings. "This is a flagrant violation of Google's promises to the FTC, and the FTC should reopen the Google case immediately," said Luther Lowe, Yelp's public-policy chief. Yelp has emerged as a leading critic of Google because the site believes the search giant unfairly uses its influence to stifle competitors.
Firefox

Firefox 57 Will Hide Search Bar and Use a Uni-Bar Approach, Like Chrome (bleepingcomputer.com) 315

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Mozilla will drop an iconic section of its UI -- the search bar -- and will use one singular input bar atop the browser, similar to the approach of most Chromium browsers. This change will go live in Firefox 57, scheduled for release on November 14, and will be part of Photon -- the codename used to describe Firefox's new user interface (UI) -- also scheduled for a public release in v57. Mozilla engineers aren't removing the search bar altogether, but Firefox will hide this UI element by default. Users can still re-enable it by going to "Preferences -> Search -> Search Bar" and choosing the second option. The current Firefox search bar is redundant since most of its features can be performed by the URL address bar.
Google

Google Abused Its Power By Quashing a Report Critical Of Its Service, Reporter Says (gizmodo.com) 279

In the wake of claims that Google got a think-tank research team sacked for criticizing the company, a respected journalist is alleging other abuses by the search giant. Kashmir Hill, a reporter at Gizmodo, is claiming that when she worked for Forbes six years ago, Google told the the magazine's staff that if publishers didn't add the "+" Google Plus social network button at the bottom of stories, those articles would come up lower in search results. From her report: I published a story headlined, "Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers," that included bits of conversation from the meeting. (An internet marketing group scraped the story after it was published and a version can still be found here.) Google promptly flipped out. This was in 2011, around the same time that a congressional antitrust committee was looking into whether the company was abusing its powers. Google never challenged the accuracy of the reporting. Instead, a Google spokesperson told me that I needed to unpublish the story because the meeting had been confidential, and the information discussed there had been subject to a non-disclosure agreement between Google and Forbes. (I had signed no such agreement, hadn't been told the meeting was confidential, and had identified myself as a journalist.) It escalated quickly from there. I was told by my higher-ups at Forbes that Google representatives called them saying that the article was problematic and had to come down. The implication was that it might have consequences for Forbes, a troubling possibility given how much traffic came through Google searches and Google News. [...] Given that I'd gone to the Google PR team before publishing, and it was already out in the world, I felt it made more sense to keep the story up. Ultimately, though, after continued pressure from my bosses, I took the piece down -- a decision I will always regret. Forbes declined comment about this. But the most disturbing part of the experience was what came next: Somehow, very quickly, search results stopped showing the original story at all. As I recall it -- and although it has been six years, this episode was seared into my memory -- a cached version remained shortly after the post was unpublished, but it was soon scrubbed from Google search results. That was unusual; websites captured by Google's crawler did not tend to vanish that quickly.
Google

Google Invites Users To 'Check If You're Clinically Depressed' (theverge.com) 124

Google will now invite U.S. users to "check if you're clinically depressed" by using a clinically-validated screening questionnaire. "The move announced on Wednesday comes out of work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and represents the first time that the search giant has promoted a mental health self-assessment tool in search results," reports Financial Times. From the report: The intervention by the world's most popular search engine comes as people increasingly seek medical advice online: Google says one in 20 searches are health-related, although it will not disclose what proportion are about depression. It is also the latest public move by a technology business to take greater responsibility for content that users see on its platform, after criticism that companies such as Facebook and Google failed to help people distinguish verified from false information. A box of verified information about symptoms and treatments for clinical depression already tops U.S. Google search results for "depression" or queries such as "do I have depression." Google does this for other common conditions, including flu and tonsillitis, and symptoms such as headaches, using information provided by the Mayo Clinic, a non-profit medical organization. But for depression it has added a link inviting users to "check if you're clinically depressed." This takes searchers to a questionnaire widely used by doctors to measure levels of depressive symptoms. People who complete the test get a score indicating the severity of their symptoms, which can aid a physician's diagnosis.
Google

Bing is 'Bigger Than You Think', Says Microsoft (onmsft.com) 220

Microsoft said this week that Bing is "bigger than you think" and provided some numbers that could be a surprise to many. The company claims that fully one-third of searches in the US are powered by Bing, either directly or through Yahoo or AOL (both of which provide results generated by Microsoft). From a report: With 9% market share worldwide and 12 billion monthly searches, almost half of that (5 billion) comes from the United States where Bing has 33% market share.
Google

Google Pays Apple $3 Billion Per Year To Remain On the iPhone, Analyst Says (cnbc.com) 101

In a note to investors on Monday, Bernstein analyst A.M. Sacconaghi Jr. said Google is paying Apple billions of dollars per year to remain the default search engine on iPhones and iPads. "The firm believes that Google will pay Apple about $3 billion this year, up from $1 billion just three years ago, and that Google's licensing fees make up a large bulk of Apple's services business," reports CNBC. From the report: "Court documents indicate that Google paid Apple $1 billion in 2014, and we estimate that total Google payments to Apple in FY 17 may approach $3 billion," Bernstein analyst A.M. Sacconaghi Jr. said. "Given that Google payments are nearly all profit for Apple, Google alone may account for 5% of Apple's total operating profits this year, and may account for 25% of total company OP growth over the last two years."

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