Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes with some strong cautions on a Facebook "feature" that lets you search for random phone numbers and find the accounts of users who have registered that number on their Facebook profile. This has privacy implications that are more serious than searching by email address. Especially in light of the expanding emphasis that Facebook is putting both on search qua search and on serving as a VoIP intermediary (not to mention the stream of robocalls that the FCC is unable to stop), this might make you think twice about where your phone number ends up. Read on for Bennett's description of the problem and some possible solutions.
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The Washington Post (among many others) reports on a development from Facebook that may excite many more users than does the much-hyped announcement about richer search capabilities: after launching a Canadian trial balloon not long ago, Facebook is expanding the reach of its free in-app VoiP communications with free voice comms via the company's smartphone app. "Excite" for some people will also mean "infuriate": to get the free candy, the recipient will need to have shared his or her number with Facebook, which many people will understandably be loath to do. From the WaPo article: "To use the feature, Facebook users must hit the 'i' info icon in the corner or a conversation or contact information page. That panel has a 'Free Call' button that you can use if your friend has shared a mobile number with Facebook and is available for a call. The company slowly has been building out the features available in chat — most notably with the 2011 Skype partnership that put video calling on the Web version of its site. When it released Facebook Messenger last fall, it became even clearer that messaging and mobile applications were priorities for the company."
Today at a press conference in California, Mark Zuckerberg announced a big new feature from Facebook: Graph Search. It's a set of tools designed to quickly bring together social information involving "people, photos, places, and interests" in response to a user's query. Zuckerberg was quick to point out that they aren't indexing the web, and thus aren't challenging Google. However, it will use the vast volumes of data already stored on Facebook to answer questions like "What kinds of movies do my friends like?" and "Who are friends of friends that are single in San Francisco?" Addressing the obvious privacy concerns, the company said it wouldn't allow users to search content that wasn't already shared with them (or already public). The searched data does, however, include location data, if it's been shared — you can search by places your friends have been. Significantly, the official site also mentions that Graph Search will help you meet new people, something Facebook hasn't really highlighted until now. Graph Search is being rolled out as a limited beta, with only a few thousand participants. In the coming months, they'll open it to more users and continue working on mobile and non-English versions.
Dupple writes "It looks like the EU is coming close to a decision regarding its investigation of Google. While saying he's 'still investigating,' the head of the European Union's antitrust regulatory body has said that he's convinced Google is 'diverting traffic' and that it will be forced to change its results. From the article: 'Despite the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's move earlier this month to let off Google with a slap on the wrist -- albeit, a change to its business practices, a move that financially wouldn't dent Google in the short term but something any company would seek to avoid -- the European Commission is looking to take a somewhat different approach: take its time, and then hit the company hard.'"
judgecorp writes "Google has abandoned its policy of warning Chinese users against keywords that trigger censorship. The search giant had added a warning that advised Chinese users not to use search terms that could cause the Chinese authorities to shut off their access to Google, but has now abandoned these warnings. While Google says they were ineffectual, free speech campaigners have expressed disappointment."
Dupple writes "A few days ago Google blocked access to its maps on Windows Phone 8, claiming that it 'worked best' on WebKit-based browsers — effectively excluding WP8 users. This, despite Google Maps working fine on desktop versions of IE that use the same rendering engine and users being able to spoof the user agent string on their WP8 devices to gain access. Now it appears that Google has backed down and is now allowing WP8 users access."
itwbennett writes "According to an ITworld report, 'Google has agreed to change some of its business practices, including allowing competitors access to some standardized technologies, to resolve a U.S. Federal Trade Commission antitrust complaint against the company.' This includes 'allow[ing] competitors access to standards-essential patents the company acquired along with its purchase of Motorola Mobility.' Also among the business practices Google has agreed to stop is 'scraping Web content from rivals and allegedly passing it off as its own, said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.'" SlashCloud has some more details, including links to the agreement itself and Google's soft-pedaling description of "voluntary product changes."
An anonymous reader writes "My fiancee is a professional writer. She has a great industry reputation and everyone that knows her loves her. But her ex-husband has maintained a number of websites in her name (literally, the URL is her name) that are filled with insane ravings and defamatory content. Have you ever had to deal with an internet smear campaign? The results float to the top of every Google or Bing search of her name. He currently lives abroad and cannot be served with legal papers. His websites are hosted overseas as well, and do not respond to conventional letters or petitions. Because of his freedom of speech rights, few U.S. courts will assert that his websites are truly libelous, either, and it's still difficult to prove any real 'damages' are done by it. Still, we'd like to see them go away. I'm turning to the best community of geeks in the world: how do I deal with this given the limited options at my disposal?"
hypnosec writes "Babak Parviz, the founder and head of Project Glass at Google, has revealed that the feature set of Google Glass and state of apps is still in flux and that there is a lot of testing going on at the moment. In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, Parviz provided insights into Project Glass, the reasons behind having such a gadget and what's there for the project in near future. Parviz said that they are trying out new ideas and ways in which the platform can be used while also trying to make the platform more robust. There is no specific feature set that Google has been talking about and 'It is still in flux.'" My favorite question / answer pair: "IEEE Spectrum: What kind of business model is associated with Google Glass? Babak Parviz: This is still being worked on, but we are quite interested in providing the hardware."
sfcrazy writes "The year 2012 has not been very good for Canonical and Ubuntu. The end of the year saw harsh criticism of Ubuntu from bodies like EFF and FSF which accused the operating system of 'data leak,' 'privacy invasion' and adding 'spyware' features. Now, Gnome Shell is also getting online shopping lens. Alan Bell has created a Gnome Shell extension which allows a user to conduct online shopping search right from Gnome's Dash. You can install the extension from this link. Once installed you can start searching for online shopping by hitting 'super' key and then enter your search term. One of the greatest differences between the implementations is who is in control. Gnome's Shopping lens shows how it should have been done in the first place, as it puts the user in control, and not the company whose OS you are using. Bell has explained it very well on his blog."
Greg Lindahl writes "blekko is donating search engine ranking data for 140 million domains and 22 billion urls to the Common Crawl Foundation. Common Crawl is a non-profit dedicated to making the greatest (yet messiest) dataset of our time, the web, available to everyone, including tinkerers, hackers, activists, and new companies. blekko's ranking data will initially be used to improve the quality of Common Crawl's 8 billion webpage public crawl of the web, and eventually will be directly available to the public."
dgharmon points out news at CNET and on Ray Kurzweil's own site that Kurzweil will join Google as Director of Engineering. Specifically, "he will be joining Google to work on new projects involving machine learning and language processing," which sounds to me like another way to say "quickening the singularity."
hackingbear writes "One of the Chinese Web censorship's central features has long been blocking searches for the names of top leaders to maintain their public images. Sina Weibo, China's largest microblog service, unblocked searches for the names of many top political leaders in a possible sign of looser controls a month after new senior officials were named to head the ruling party, though a number of other senior leaders are still blocked on Weibo, including Premier Web Jiabao. That (President) Xi might be leading by example on softening Web censorship could be a promising sign for future reforms. It isn't on a major shift, but it could portend one."
New submitter Sebolains writes "Unlike previous years, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has decided to use Bing maps to track Santa's journey as he goes around the world delivering presents. Starting Christmas eve, one will be able to go to the official NORAD Santa tracking site and use Bing maps to see where Santa is delivering presents at that time. In previous years, NORAD has always gone for Google maps to track Saint Nick. The reason for this switch were not disclosed, but since nearly 25 million people are expected to use this tool come this Christmas, this will definitely benefit Bing in the ongoing competition for online map applications."
hcs_$reboot writes "After the disastrous Apple Maps replacement over Google Maps in September, Google has a Maps app on iOS approved and released by Apple today. The app includes turn-by-turn directions, vector-based graphics and live traffic data. It's available from the Apple Store for iPhone and iPod touch (and iPad — iPhone format)." Adds reader snowtigger: "It's a sharper looking, vector-based map that loads quickly and provides smooth tilting and rotating of 2D and 3D views. Google also released the Google Maps SDK for iOS, and a simple URL scheme to help developers use Google Maps when building their beautiful and innovative apps. The new Google Maps app is available for the iPhone and iPod Touch (4th gen) iOS 5.1 and higher, in more than 40 countries and 29 languages." SlashCloud points out that Apple's own maps will be forced to improve as a consequence: "Directions will become more accurate, major towns and landmarks will appear in their proper places. But now that a free, standalone Google Maps app is available for download from Apple’s App Store, will iOS users even give those improving Apple Maps a chance?"