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Archive for October, 2012


Brazilian newspapers pull out of Google News

All of the major newspapers in Brazil have just quit Google News en masse:

Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers says all 154 members had followed its recommendation to ban the search engine aggregator from using their content.

The papers say Google News refused to pay for content and was driving traffic away from their websites.

Google said previously that the service boosted traffic to news websites.

“Staying with Google News was not helping us grow our digital audiences, on the contrary,” said the association’s president, Carlos Fernando Lindenberg Neto.

“By providing the first few lines of our stories to Internet users, the service reduces the chances that they will look at the entire story in our websites,” he said, in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Though we’re not fans of Google, we fail to see exactly what these newspapers are trying to accomplish by pulling out of Google News. Google News is really just a twist on regular old Google search itself. The difference is that Google News draws its results from media sources instead of the larger Web. Essentially, it’s a filter that can be used to find recent content written by journalists and commentators.

Google News may not have been doing much for Brazil’s newspapers, but it’s very unlikely it was hurting them. The purpose of search engines is to help people find content on the Internet. While it’s true that Google has or is developing offerings intended to monopolize users’ time and attention (such as YouTube), Google News is more like regular old Google than YouTube. If Neto’s group believes that search engines reduce the likelihood that people will read newspapers online, they should be pulling out of Google altogether, not just Google News. But they haven’t, because they don’t want to lose the traffic.

Rather than delisting themselves from Google News, what the newspapers should do is end any participation in Google’s AdSense network. The papers should take charge of their own advertising so Google doesn’t get a cut of that revenue. That would be a sensible thing to do.

We allow Google to index this site because we want people who happen to be using Google to be exposed to criticism of the company. Google’s search engine has problems, but that’s small potatoes compared to the consequences of using offerings like Android, Gmail, Docs, and Drive. Those “services” collect and store a great deal of personal and sensitive information. Google’s search engine does log queries, but it is possible to use Google anonymously through tools like Google Sharing (which we recommend for people who can’t bring themselves to use an alternative like Blekko as their primary search engine).


Google reportedly on the verge of making deal for facial recognition software

Google executives have publicly admitted on a couple of occasions that they have held back from introducing facial recognition technology into the Monster of Mountain View’s products, presumably because doing so would be an embarrassingly obvious jump over “creepy line” former CEO Eric Schmidt says the company avoids trying to cross (in order to prevent there from being a big public and regulatory backlash against Google). But that hardly means the company isn’t working on developing extremely invasive technologies behind the scenes, as this update from CNET shows:

Google is close to completing its deal to buy Viewdle, a Ukrainian maker of facial recognition technology that automatically tags photos, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The acquisition, which has been in the works for more than a year, is expected to close this week, the person said.

Representatives from Google and Viewdle declined to comment.

The move makes sense for Google because Viewdle’s technology provides a way for users of Google+, Android, Picasa, and other services on a range of devices to easily (even, automatically) tag photos of friends. Viewdle’s SocialCamera app automatically tags Facebook friends and the company has released an Android game called Third Eye.

Facebook also has made a play in this space, earlier this year buying along with its Photo Tagger auto-tagging app.

The reason Google and Facebook are so interested in facial recognition technology is that they want to be able to add faces to their rapidly growing databases, which contain profiles of millions of people. The companies already have access to a treasure trove of sensitive information, including names, phone numbers, addresses, credit cards, interests, relationships, and so forth. But they want more. The ability to associate photos of people with their profiles could be very lucrative.