The Almighty Buck

Google Makes Push To Turn Product Searches Into Cash ( 65

Reuters reports of how Google is working to turn product searches into cash by partnering with some of the largest retailers in the United States: Under a new program, retailers can list their products on Google Search, as well as on the Google Express shopping service, and Google Assistant on mobile phones and voice devices. In exchange for Google listings and linking to retailer loyalty programs, the retailers pay Google a piece of each purchase, which is different from payments that retailers make to place ads on Google platforms. The listings will appear under sponsored shopping results and will not affect regular search results on Google, the company said. Google's pitch to retailers is a better chance to influence shoppers' purchasing decisions, a move that is likely to help them compete with rival Amazon. Google hopes the program helps retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search -- the next frontier for e-commerce. The previously unreported initiative sprang from Google's observation that tens of millions of consumers were sending image searches of products, asking "Where can I buy this?" "Where can I find it?" "How can I buy it?" "How do I transact?" Daniel Alegre, Google's president for retail and shopping, told Reuters exclusively.

Yet Again, Google Tricked Into Serving Scam Amazon Ads ( 49

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: For hours on Thursday, the top Google search result for "Amazon" was pointed to a scam site. The bad ad appeared at the very top of the search result for anyone searching for the internet retail giant -- even above the legitimate search result for Anyone who clicked on the ad was sent to a page that tried to trick the user into calling a number for fear that their computer was infected with malware -- and not sent to as they would have hoped.

The page presents itself as an official Apple or Windows support page, depending on the type of computer you're visiting the page from. An analysis of the webpage's code showed that anyone trying to dismiss the popup box on the page would likely trigger the browser expanding to full-screen, giving the appearance of ransomware. A one-off event would be forgivable. But this isn't the first time this has happened. It's at least the second time in two years that Google has served up a malicious ad under Amazon's name.


Google Will Prioritize Stories for Paying News Subscribers ( 36

Google users who subscribe to newspapers will find articles from those publications appearing higher in their search results, part of the tech giant's efforts to help media companies find and retain paying readers, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The Alphabet unit will also begin sharing search data that show who's most likely to buy a subscription, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because they weren't authorized to speak publicly. Google executives plan to disclose specific details at an event in New York on March 20, according to the people. Google declined to comment. The moves could help publishers better target potential digital subscribers and keep the ones they've already got by highlighting stories from the outlets they're paying for. The initiative marks the latest olive branch from Silicon Valley in its evolving relationship with media companies.

Chrome Extension Brings 'View Image' Button Back ( 80

Google recently removed the convenient "view image" button from its search results as a result of a lawsuit with stock-photo agency Getty. Thankfully, one day later, a developer created an extension that brings it back. 9to5Google reports: It's unfortunate to see that button gone, but an easy to use Chrome extension brings it back. Simply install the extension from the Chrome Web Store, and then any time you view an image on Google Image Search, you'll be able to open that source image. You can see the functionality in action in the video below. The only difference we can see with this extension versus the original functionality is that instead of opening the image on the same page, it opens it in a new tab. The extension is free, and it will work with Chrome for Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, or anywhere else the full version of Chrome can be used. 9to5Google has a separate post with step-by-step instructions to get the Google Images "view image" button back.

'Microsoft Should Scrap Bing and Call it Microsoft Search' ( 206

Chris Matyszczyk, writing for CNET: Does anyone really have a deep, abiding respect for the Bing brand? Somehow, if ever I've heard the brand name being used, it seems to be in the context of a joke. That doesn't mean the service itself is to be derided. It does suggest, though, that the brand name doesn't incite passion or excesses of reverence. The Microsoft brand, on the other hand, has become much stronger under Satya Nadella's stewardship. It's gained respect. Especially when the company showed off its Surface Studio in 2016 and made Apple's offerings look decidedly bland. Where once Microsoft was a joke in an Apple ad, now it's a symbol of a resurgent company that's trying new things and sometimes even succeeding. The funny thing about Bing is that it's not an unsuccessful product -- at least not as unsuccessful as some might imagine. Last year, Redmond said it has a 9 percent worldwide search market share, enjoying a 25 percent share in the UK, 18 percent in France and 17 percent in Canada. And look at the US. Microsoft says it has a 33 percent share here. Wouldn't it be reasonable to think that going all the way with Microsoft branding and letting Bing drift into the retirement home for funny names might be a positive move?

Google To Kill Off 'View Image' Button In Search 153

Google is removing the "view image" button that appeared when you clicked on a picture, which allowed you to open the image alone. The provision to remove the button is part of a deal Google has made with stock-photo agency Getty to end their legal battle. The Register reported last week that the two companies announced a partnership that "will allow Google to continue carrying Getty-owned photographs in its image and web search results." The Verge reports: The change is essentially meant to frustrate users. Google has long been under fire from photographers and publishers who felt that image search allowed people to steal their pictures, and the removal of the view image button is one of many changes being made in response. The intention seems to be either stopping people from taking an image altogether or driving them through to the website where the image is found, so that the website can serve ads and get revenue and so people are more likely to see any associated copyright information. That's great news for publishers, but it's an annoying additional step for someone trying to find a picture. Now you'll have to wait for a website to load and then scroll through it to find the image. Websites sometimes disable the ability to right click, too, which would make it even harder for someone to grab a photo they're looking for.

In addition to removing the "view image" button, Google has also removed the "search by image" button that appeared when you opened up a photo, too. This change isn't quite as big, however. You'll still be able to do a reverse image search by dragging the image to the search bar, and Google will still display related images when you click on a search result. The button may have been used by people to find un-watermarked versions of images they were interested in, which is likely part of why Google pulled it.

Google Is Adding Snapchat-Style Stories To Mobile Search Results ( 21

Google is rolling out tappable, visual stories that incorporate text, images, and videos in the style made popular by Snapchat. "It started widely testing the multimedia format, called AMP stories, today (Feb. 13) in an effort to help publishers engage more with readers on mobile," reports Quartz. Google announced the feature in a developer blog post. From the report: Users can now find Google stories in search results -- in a box called "visual stories" -- when they search on mobile at for the names of publishers that have begun using the format, such as CNN, Conde Nast, Hearst, Mashable, Meredith, Mic, Vox Media, and the Washington Post brands. Google worked with those publishers to develop the format. Desktop users can also get a taste of stories through Google's Accelerate Mobile Pages site. When a user selects a story, like Cosmopolitan magazine's piece on apple cider vinegar, it displays in a full-screen, slideshow format, similar to those on Snapchat and Instagram.

The multimedia format is part of Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project, a competitor to Facebook's Instant Articles that helps load pages faster on mobile devices. Like AMP, the AMP story format is open-sourced, so anyone can use it. However, Google is reportedly only displaying stories from a select group of publishers, including those it partnered with on the development, on its own site at the moment. The company said it plans to bring AMP stories to more Google products in the future, and expand the ways they appear in Google search.


Google Autocomplete Still Makes Vile Suggestions ( 238

An anonymous reader shares a report: In December of 2016, Google announced it had fixed a troubling quirk of its autocomplete feature: When users typed in the phrase, "are jews," Google automatically suggested the question, "are jews evil?" Almost a year after removing the "are jews evil?" prompt, Google search still drags up a range of awful autocomplete suggestions for queries related to gender, race, religion, and Adolf Hitler. Google appears still unable to effectively police results that are offensive, and potentially dangerous -- especially on a platform that two billion people rely on for information. Like journalist Carol Cadwalladr, who broke the news about the "are jews evil" suggestion in 2016, I too felt a certain kind of queasiness experimenting with search terms like, "Islamists are," "blacks are," "Hitler is," and "feminists are." The results were even worse. For the term "Islamists are," Google suggested I might in fact want to search, "Islamists are not our friends," or "Islamists are evil." For the term, "blacks are," Google prompted me to search, "blacks are not oppressed." The term "Hitler is," autocompleted to, among other things, "Hitler is my hero."

Google Search Will Start Ranking Faster Mobile Pages Higher In July ( 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.

'The Web is Not Google, and Should Not be Just Google': Developers Express Concerns About AMP ( 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 Blocks Pirate Search Results Prophylactically ( 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.

Germany Orders Amazon To Stop Taking Advantage of People Who Can't Spell 'Birkenstock' ( 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," 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 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 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."


How Climate Change Deniers Rise To the Top in Google Searches ( 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 Works With Hotels To Hurt Travel Competition ( 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 Unveils Improved AI-powered Search Features for Bing ( 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.

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