Keeping the Black Box under wraps

Cade Metz explains why Google canceled its pending ad deal with Yahoo rather than disclose its secrets in court:

“We canceled the deal with about one hour to go before a lawsuit was going to be filed against our deal,” Schmidt said. “We concluded after a lot of soul-searching that it was not in our best interest to go through a lengthy and costly trial which we believe we ultimately would have won.”

But surely, when Schmidt speaks of costs, he’s not concerned with paying his lawyers. A monopoly-expanding ad pact with Jerry Yang and Yahoo! would bring Google hundreds of millions of dollars a year. If the company was convinced of an antitrust triumph, legal fees were a drop in the bucket.

As head Mountain View lawyer David Drummond tells it, a long legal battle could damage relationships with Google advertisers – many of whom opposed the Yahoo! marriage. But the costs are even greater: An antitrust trial would finally give the world a window into Google’s black box of an ad engine.

The genius of the Mountain View money machine is that no one knows how it works.

The auction that’s not an auction is the heart of Google’s business, and disclosing its secrets would only unleash a torrent of anti-trust activity. Everybody loves Google because its services are free to consumers, but at the end of the day it’s simply an advertising-supported version of the KGB.

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No deal

Google has announced an end to its monopolistic advertising agreement with Yahoo!:

However, after four months of review, including discussions of various possible changes to the agreement, it’s clear that government regulators and some advertisers continue to have concerns about the agreement. Pressing ahead risked not only a protracted legal battle but also damage to relationships with valued partners. That wouldn’t have been in the long-term interests of Google or our users, so we have decided to end the agreement.

This is good. But Google didn’t strike out completely yesterday, as it successfully bent the ear of the FCC toward wasting the whitespaces on their hare-brained “Wi-Fi without testosterone” scheme. You win some, you lose some.

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Google’s Telephony Patent Application not Novel

Google has apparently filed an application for a system that allows bandwidth provider to bid on phone calls:

Google’s patent is called “Flexible Communication Systems and Methods” and the abstract says:

“A method of initiating a telecommunication session for a communication device include submitting to one or more telecommunication carriers a proposal for a telecommunication session, receiving from at least one of the one or more of telecommunication carriers a bid to carry the telecommunications session, and automatically selecting one of the telecommunications carriers from the carriers submitting a bid, and initiating the telecommunication session through the selected telecommunication carrier.”

Read the full patent here

The thing I find interesting about this is that I invented a similar technique in 1997, motivated by the desire to get bandwidth-on-demand for video conferences. If this is granted, it certainly won’t survive a court challenge.

I’ll post some details on my invention, which was never patented, shortly.

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Google Chrome is Sad

Chrome is a Windows-only browser:

This is just the beginning – Google Chrome is far from done. We’ve released this beta for Windows to start the broader discussion and hear from you as quickly as possible. We’re hard at work building versions for Mac and Linux too, and we’ll continue to make it even faster and more robust.

…and I spend most of my time on Fedora Linux, being an open-source kinda guy, so I wasn’t eager to try it out. But I did install it on my Windows Vista 64 machine, the one that I use to host Virtual Box. It’s clear that Chrome has lots of potential, because it’s fast and clean. But it lacks basic browser features, such as:

1. A modern bookmark handler. You can’t even keep your bookmarks open in a sidebar, so it’s back to Mosaic circa 1996. Chrome doesn’t like bookmarks because Google would rather have you search.

2. Plug-in support. I use ScribeFire to post to my blog, and without it WordPress is useless. Chrome doesn’t support plug-ins because they would slow it down.

3. Linux support.

So it’s nice to load pages fast, but Firefox will have to do because all the shortcomings are too severe for regular use.

Guardian takes on the Google myth

David Smith confronts the Google myth for The Observer, including accounts of the pilgramages politicians take to Google HQ:

Shortly after Obama’s pilgrimage to the ‘Googleplex’, it was the turn of David Cameron. Cameron was accompanied there by Steve Hilton, his director of strategy, who has since moved permanently to California with his wife, Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice-president of global communications and public affairs (she is also godmother to Cameron’s eldest son, Ivan). Andrew Orlowski, executive editor of the technology website The Register, says: ‘The web is a secular religion at the moment and politicians go to pray at events like the Google Zeitgeist conference. Any politician who wants to brand himself as a forward-looking person will get himself photographed with the Google boys.’

Washington, also, is keen to bathe in Google’s golden light. Al Gore, the former Vice-President, is a long-time senior adviser at the company. Obama has been taking economic advice from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and received generous donations from Google and its staff. Google will be omnipresent at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, providing software for delegates such as calendars, email and graphics. ‘Google has moved into the political world this year,’ says its director of policy communications, Bob Boorstin, a former member of the Clinton administration.

Google’s staff in Washington include five lobbyists, among them Pablo Chavez, former general counsel for John McCain. This year Google moved into new 27,000-square-foot headquarters in one of Washington’s most fashionable, eco-friendly buildings. Visiting senators and congressmen can now share in the famed ‘googly’ experience of free gourmet lunches, giant plasma screens and a game room, named ‘Camp David’, stocked with an Xbox 360 and pingpong.

None of this much impressed Jeff Chester, the executive director of the small but influential Center for Digital Democracy, when he was invited there. ‘It puts all the other lobbying operations to shame,’ he says. ‘They invite politicians into their Washington HQ to give advice on using Google to win re-election. It is the darling of the Democratic Party and there’s no doubt that a win by Obama will strengthen Google’s position in Washington.’

Undeterred by criticisms of his benefactor, Google’s professor of piracy rights, Larry Lessig, congratulates Google’s boys at the FCC for protecting the Google monopoly in a rare foray into the world of the written word. It’s quite amusing and utterly deranged.

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Will Google be the FCC’s next target?

Truth is stranger than fiction. This report in ZDNet suggests that Google may well find itself in the crosshairs of net regulators gone wild:

Google clearly wants the FCC to make sure that other private companies’ networks are open equally to all Internet services. Now, it will be interesting to see if that applies to networks in which Google is involved.

On Friday, the Commission takes up the question of whether Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest provider of high-speed access to the Internet, is “secretly degrading peer-to-peer applications,’’ as the FCC agenda puts it.

As Multichannel News reports, Google Inc. is pressing the Commission to provide clear guidance to broadband network owners on acceptable ways of managing Internet traffic.

Google is shortly to become a network operator, a partner with Comcast in the Clearwire 4G network. Google intends to secure itself pride of place with a Google button on the Clearwire phone, a violation of all that is holy and neutral. This should be fun.

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House Anti-Trust Task Force Hearing on Google

C-Span has the archived video of the Conyers hearing on Google’s proposed ad deal with Yahoo:

House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Internet Competition
Recently, a number of transactions and potential transactions have raised anti-competitive and privacy concerns in the field of online advertising, online search, and web platform interoperability. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) chairs a House Judiciary Antitrust & Competition Policy Task Force hearing to examine the state of competition with respect to various online markets.

It’s quite long but as a bonus it’s also quite boring. Google maintains there will be no price-fixing because ads are sold in auctions, Microsoft points out that the auctions have a floor price and a subjective quality index.

The smoking gun was produced: Google proposed this deal to Yahoo the day after Microsoft made their tender offer.

Google’s girl, Zoe Lofgren, tried to spin the old “two guys in a garage can take Google down” myth, but I doubt anyone with a room temperature IQ is buying that nonsense.

There was one wild card on the panel, the Ask The Builder guy who seemed overly fond of the sound of his own voice.

Of all the members, Issa gets it the best. And he should, because he actually started and built a successful technology business before going to Washington.

Lofgren and Conyers – what can I say without being rude?

Some are more equal than others

Android developers are less than pleased with the management of Google’s Android platform:

Google vowed that its Linux-based Android mobile platform would empower enthusiasts and amateur developers, but today we have seen compelling evidence that this is an empty promise. Third-party Android application developers, who have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of SDK updates, were shocked to discover that Google has been secretly making new versions of the Android SDK available to the Android Developer Challenge (ADC) finalists under non-disclosure agreements.

Perhaps it was an inadvertent error.