Google

Google Search Will Start Ranking Faster Mobile Pages Higher In July (venturebeat.com) 73

An anonymous reader writes: Google today announced a new project to improve its mobile search results: Factoring page speed into its search ranking. As the company notes, page speed "has been used in ranking for some time" but that was largely for desktop searches. Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches on Google as well. In November 2014, Google started labeling sites as "mobile-friendly" to denote pages optimized for phones. The company then spend the next few years experimenting with using the label as a ranking factor, ultimately pushing those changes in April 2015 and increasing the effect in May 2016. The label was removed in August 2016 as the company noted that most pages had become "mobile-friendly." Google now plans to wield that power again to make mobile pages load faster.
Google

'The Web is Not Google, and Should Not be Just Google': Developers Express Concerns About AMP (ampletter.org) 99

A group of prominent developers published an open-letter on Tuesday, outlining their deep concerns about Accelerated Mobile Pages, a project by Google that aims to improve user experience of the Web. Google services already dominate the Web, and the scale at which AMP is growing, it could further reinforce Google's dominance of the Web, developers wrote. The letter acknowledges that web pages could be slow at times, but the solutions out there to address them -- AMP, Facebook's Instant Articles, Apple News -- are creating problems of their own, developers say. From the letter: Search engines are in a powerful position to wield influence to solve this problem. However, Google has chosen to create a premium position at the top of their search results (for articles) and a "lightning" icon (for all types of content), which are only accessible to publishers that use a Google-controlled technology, served by Google from their infrastructure, on a Google URL, and placed within a Google controlled user experience. The AMP format is not in itself, a problem, but two aspects of its implementation reinforce the position of Google as a de facto standard platform for content, as Google seeks to drive uptake of AMP with content creators: Content that "opts in" to AMP and the associated hosting within Google's domain is granted preferential search promotion, including (for news articles) a position above all other results. When a user navigates from Google to a piece of content Google has recommended, they are, unwittingly, remaining within Google's ecosystem.

If Google's objective with AMP is indeed to improve user experience on the Web, then we suggest some simple changes that would do that while still allowing the Web to remain dynamic, competitive and consumer-oriented: Instead of granting premium placement in search results only to AMP, provide the same perks to all pages that meet an objective, neutral performance criterion such as Speed Index. Publishers can then use any technical solution of their choice. Do not display third-party content within a Google page unless it is clear to the user that they are looking at a Google product. It is perfectly acceptable for Google to launch a "news reader," but it is not acceptable to display a page that carries only third party branding on what is actually a Google URL, nor to require that third party to use Google's hosting in order to appear in search results. We don't want to stop Google's development of AMP, and these changes do not require that.

Google

Google Blocks Pirate Search Results Prophylactically (torrentfreak.com) 38

Google is accepting "prophylactic" takedown requests to keep pirated content out of its search results, an anonymous reader writes, citing a TorrentFreak report. From the article: Over the past year, we've noticed on a few occasions that Google is processing takedown notices for non-indexed links. While we assumed that this was an 'error' on the sender's part, it appears to be a new policy. "Google has critically expanded notice and takedown in another important way: We accept notices for URLs that are not even in our index in the first place. That way, we can collect information even about pages and domains we have not yet crawled," Caleb Donaldson, copyright counsel at Google writes. In other words, Google blocks URLs before they appear in the search results, as some sort of piracy vaccine. "We process these URLs as we do the others. Once one of these not-in-index URLs is approved for takedown, we prophylactically block it from appearing in our Search results, and we take all the additional deterrent measures listed above." Some submitters are heavily relying on the new feature, Google found. In some cases, the majority of the submitted URLs in a notice are not indexed yet.
Google

Germany Orders Amazon To Stop Taking Advantage of People Who Can't Spell 'Birkenstock' (qz.com) 162

Germany has barred Amazon from drawing in online shoppers who misspell iconic German sandal maker Birkenstock in their Google searchers. "Amazon reportedly won business for common Birkenstock misspellings by booking variants like 'Brikenstock,' 'Bierkenstock,' and 'Birkenstok' in Google AdWords, so that they produced search results for shoes sold in Amazon.com," reports Quartz. From the report: According to Reuters, Birkenstock turned to the court because it feared shoppers might unwittingly buy shoddy counterfeits, which could damage its brand reputation. "For us, Amazon is complicit," Birkenstock chief Oliver Reichert told German magazine Der Spiegel, according to Reuters. Birkenstock first walked away from Amazon.com in July 2016. Besieged by counterfeits and rogue merchants, the company said it would no longer supply products to Amazon for U.S. customers starting Jan. 1, 2017. "The Amazon marketplace, which operates as an 'open market,' creates an environment where we experience unacceptable business practices which we believe jeopardize our brand," David Kahan, Birkenstock's CEO for the Americas, wrote in a memo at the time.

A year later, Kahan denounced Amazon in a lengthy memo for attempting to get Birkenstock retailers to sell it their inventory, even though the company had explicitly removed its sandals from Amazon.com in the U.S. "I share in no uncertain terms that this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Kahan wrote. "[A]ny Authorized retailer who may do this for even a single pair will be closed FOREVER."

Google

How Climate Change Deniers Rise To the Top in Google Searches (nytimes.com) 359

If you searched for the words "climate change" into Google, until earlier this week, you could have gotten an unexpected result: ads that call global warming a hoax. "Scientists blast climate alarm," said one that appeared at the top of the search results page during a recent search, pointing to a website, DefyCCC, that asserted: "Nothing has been studied better and found more harmless than anthropogenic CO2 release." Another ad proclaimed: "The Global Warming Hoax -- Why the Science Isn't Settled," linking to a video containing unsupported assertions, including that there is no correlation between rising levels of greenhouse gases and higher global temperatures. These references were first reported by The New York Times (the link may be paywalled). From a report: America's technology giants have come under fire for their role in the spread of fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign, prompting promises from Google and others to crack down on sites that spread disinformation. Less scrutinized has been the way tech companies continue to provide a mass platform for the most extreme sites among those that use false or misleading science to reject the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. Google's search page has become an especially contentious battleground between those who seek to educate the public on the established climate science and those who reject it. Not everyone who uses Google will see climate denial ads in their search results. Google's algorithms use search history and other data to tailor ads to the individual, something that is helping to create a highly partisan internet. A recent search for "climate change" or "global warming" from a Google account linked to a New York Times climate reporter did not return any denial ads. The top results were ads from environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. But when the same reporter searched for those terms using private browsing mode, which helps mask identity information from Google's algorithms, the ad for DefyCCC popped up.
[...] The climate denialist ads are an example of how contrarian groups can use the internet's largest automated advertising systems to their advantage, gaming the system to find a mass platform for false or misleading claims.

Google

Google Works With Hotels To Hurt Travel Competition (wsj.com) 129

An anonymous reader shares a WSJ report: More than 100 million Americans are expected to travel during the holidays, and many will search for lodging online. But travelers may unknowingly pay more and fail to see all of their options because some major hotels have ganged up with Google to undercut competition (The link may be paywalled). Online travel agencies like Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity have replaced brick-and-mortar agents by offering consumers more choice and convenience at a lower price. These OTAs purchase inventory from wholesalers and then market rooms at a discount to consumers in addition to flights, rental cars and travel packages. Many also have agreements with companies like American Express, Costco and Delta to market their inventory. OTA websites let travelers sift through hotel offers based on price, brand, location, amenities and guest rating, among other search filters. OTAs earn a roughly 20 percent commission from hotels for each reservation they book, which covers their cost of marketing, inventory acquisition, customer support and payment processing. As hotels get squeezed by Airbnb and home rental sites, they have begun complaining that OTAs are eating into their profits. Several major hotels are now trying to use Google as a counterweight, while Google is exploiting its search dominance to steer consumers to its travel service. Some 60% of travelers begin trip-planning on Google.
Microsoft

Microsoft Unveils Improved AI-powered Search Features for Bing (engadget.com) 38

Microsoft unveiled a handful of new intelligent search features for Bing at an event held in San Francisco this week. From a report: Powered by AI, the search updates are meant to provide more thorough answers and allow for more conversational or general search queries. First, when answering a question, Bing will now validate its answers by sourcing a number of websites, not just one. And in cases where there are two valid perspectives, like, for example, in response to the question, "Is cholesterol bad," they'll be aggregated and Bing will show both at the top of the search page. Additionally, when there's more than one way to answer a query, Bing will provide a carousel of answers. The Bing team is also adding relevant analogies or comparisons to search answers that make the provided information easier to understand. [...] Bing will also help users find answers to broad or conversational queries by asking clarifying questions that will help refine the search. And Microsoft also introduced Bing's advanced image search capabilities, which will now let users search images or objects within images to, for example, help them track down a particular fashion item they'd like to purchase.
Databases

Searchable Database of 1.4 Billion Stolen Credentials Found On Dark Web (itworldcanada.com) 72

YVRGeek shares a report from IT World Canada: A security vendor has discovered a huge list of easily searchable stolen credentials in cleartext on the dark web, which it fears could lead to a new wave of cyber attacks. Julio Casal, co-founder of identity threat intelligence provider 4iQ, which has offices in California and Spain, said in a Dec. 8 blog his firm found the database of 1.4 billion username and password pairs while scanning the dark web for stolen, leaked or lost data. He said the company has verified at least a group of credentials are legitimate. What is alarming is the file is what he calls "an aggregated, interactive database that allows for fast (one second response) searches and new breach imports." For example, searching for "admin," "administrator" and "root" returned 226,631 passwords of admin users in a few seconds. As a result, the database can help attackers automate account hijacking or account takeover. The dump file was 41GB in size and was found on December 5th in an underground community forum. The total amount of credentials is 1,400,553,869.
IT

Tech Support Scammers Invade Spotify Forums To Rank in Search Engines (bleepingcomputer.com) 33

Tech support scammers have been aggressively posting on Spotify forums to inject their phone numbers in a bid to vastly improve their odds of showing up on Google and Bing search results, a new report claims. And that bet seems to be working. From the report: They do this by submitting a constant stream of spam posts to the Spotify forums, whose pages tend to rank well in Google. While this behavior causes the Spotify forums to become harder to use for those who have valid questions, the bigger problem is that it allows tech support scammers to rank extremely well and trick unknowing callers into purchasing unnecessary services and software. BleepingComputer was alerted to this problem by security researcher Cody Johnston who started to see an alarming amount of tech support scam phone numbers being listed in Google search results through indexed Spotify forum posts. The tech support scams being posted to Spotify include Tinder, Linksys, AOL, Turbotax, Coinbase, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Norton, McAfee and more.
Google

Google's Mobile Search Results Now Include Videos Of Celebrities Answering Your Questions (techcrunch.com) 63

Google is testing a new feature that will allow celebrities and other notable figures to answer users' search queries directly in the form of "selfie" videos posted in the Google Search results. From a report: The company says this program is initially being piloted on mobile with a handful of people for now, including Priyanka Chopra, Will Ferrell, Tracee Ellis Ross, Gina Rodriguez, Kenan Thompson, Allison Williams, Nick Jonas, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Seth MacFarlane, Jonathan Yeo and Dominique Ansel. Of course, the celebs aren't answering users' queries in real-time. Instead, Google has had them pre-record their videos in response to what it already knows are some of fans' most-asked questions typed into the Google search box.
Firefox

Yahoo Sues Mozilla For Breach of Contract -- So Mozilla Counter Sues Yahoo (betanews.com) 112

Mark Wilson writes: Mozilla and Yahoo have started a legal spat about the deal that existed between the two companies regarding the use of the Yahoo search engine in the Firefox browser. On December 1, Yahoo fired the first shot filing a complaint that alleges Mozilla breached a contract that existed between the two companies by terminating the arrangement early. In a counter complaint, Mozilla says that it was not only justified in terminating the contract early, but that Yahoo Holdings and Oath still have a bill that needs to be settled.
Google

Google Seeks To Defuse Row With Russia Over Website Rankings (reuters.com) 71

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google does not change its search algorithm to re-rank individual websites, it said in a letter to Russia's communications watchdog, after Moscow expressed concerns the search engine might discriminate against Russian media. The Roskomnadzor watchdog said earlier this month it would seek clarification from Google over whether it intentionally placed articles from Russian news websites Sputnik and Russia Today lower in search results. Responding to a question about Sputnik articles at a conference earlier in November, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Google was working to give less prominence to "those kinds of websites" as opposed to delisting them.
Businesses

Russia To Act Against Google if Sputnik, RT Get Lower Search Rankings (reuters.com) 192

Paresh Dave and Jack Stubbs, reporting for Reuters: The Kremlin will take action against Alphabet's Google if articles from Russian news websites Sputnik and Russia Today are placed lower in search results, the Interfax news service cited Russia's chief media regulator as saying on Tuesday. Alexander Zharov, head of media regulator Roskomnadzor, said his agency sent a letter to Google on Tuesday requesting clarification on comments Saturday by Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt about how the Russian websites would be treated in search, according to Interfax. "We will receive an answer and understand what to do next," Interfax quoted Zharov as saying. "We hope our opinion will be heard, and we won't have to resort to more serious" retaliatory measures.
OS X

New Windows Search Interface Borrows Heavily From MacOS (arstechnica.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Press clover-space on a Mac (aka apple-space or command-space to Apple users) and you get a search box slap bang in the middle of the screen; type things into it and it'll show you all the things it can find that match. On Windows, you can do the same kind of thing -- hit the Windows key and then start typing -- but the results are shown in the bottom left of your screen, in the Start menu or Cortana pane. The latest insider build of Windows, build 17040 from last week, has a secret new search interface that looks a lot more Mac-like. Discovered by Italian blog Aggiornamenti Lumia, set a particular registry key and the search box appears in the middle of the screen. The registry key calls it "ImmersiveSearch" -- hit the dedicated key, and it shows a simple Fluent-designed search box and results. This solution looks and feels a lot like Spotlight on macOS.
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."

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