Google Vs. The FCC: The Street View Privacy Scandal To Be Re-Investigated

The 2010 online privacy investigation into Google’s activities while collecting imaging data for their Street View data was a big deal for the search engine giant. Google were accused of harvesting private data including text messages, e-mails and passwords – whether inadvertantly or deliberately – over unsecured wireless internet connections all over the world, while their Street View image-capturing vehicles were zipping up and down roads all over the globe.

In what was colloquially known as the ‘Wi-Spy’ scandal, an investigation into Google’s activities was initially requested in 2010 by German regulators. After initially claiming that no such private information was being stored by the Street View vehicles, Google were forced by this investigation to admit that the vehicles had been collecting internet users’ private data through unencrypted networks.

The revelation led to umpteen lawsuits lobbied against Google, on grounds of invasion of privacy. Lawyers asserted that the nature of the software committing the violation – which Google vehemently denied all knowledge of – made it apparent that the datamining was carried out deliberately.

An FCC investigation eventually ruled that Google had not violated the laws on wire-tapping. The company were fined $25,000 in May 2012, however, for ‘obstructing’ the investigation. Google were reportedly slow to respond when asked to produce the identities of the engineers responsible for the Street View cars and the rogue software.

Despite initially getting off lightly on these charges of privacy violation, Google’s problems have not ended yet. The UK’s data-protection and privacy watchdog, the Internet Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have decided to re-open the investigations into Google’s ‘accidental’ data theft, which may see the search engine heavyweights come under fire after all.

The prospect of closer investigation may be a dim one for Google – but the investigations are to be hampered by a previous decision by the ICO. Following the close of the initial investigation in 2010, the ICO gave Google the go ahead to delete the raw data that had been mined by the Street View vehicles – an offer that Google were only too happy to take them up on. As part of the conditions of this verdict, Google agreed to put in place staff training measures, designed to teach its workforce the importance of customer privacy and information security, as well as how to handle sensitive customer information.

Now that the collected Wi-Fi data is to be investigated, and is undergoing analysis once more however, the ICO are probably kicking themseles for their lack of foresight. It’s difficult to analyse something that no longer exists, after all.

The ICO is hopeful that, in spite of the erased files, records of any incriminating data will remain. For their part, Google say they will be happy to address the ICO’s concerns – and the company maintains that its project leaders ‘never even looked at’ the (potentially) illegally-obtained data.

The results of the latest investigation have yet to be announced – but times ahead could very well get tougher for Google.

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The Rise And Fall Of Brian Thompson: Yahoo’s Latest CEO Fails To Perform

The past month has seen an immense number of changes for Brian Thompson.

Formerly the CEO of eBay-owned online transaction company PayPal, Thompson was appointed CEO of Yahoo! in January this year – with the intention of changing the fortunes of the struggling internet corporation. Just the latest feather in Thompson’s sizeable cap, this prestigious title was awarded to him in addition to his directorial roles with F5 Networks Inc. and Splunk Inc.

Despite beginning the year with a rosy outlook, Thompson’s professional life has been on a downward spiral since the start of May. Wealthy activist investor Daniel Loeb made accusations early on in the month that Mr. Thompson had fabricated his educational history. Loeb alleged that Thompson claimed to hold a Computer Science degree that wasn’t offered by his college until after Thompson had left.

Rather than nipping the rumours in the bud, or coming clean as to the truth of Loeb’s claim, Thompson evaded questions on the subject, preferring instead to rage against Loeb’s smear tactics. Had Thompson addressed the issue frankly and honestly, he might have received votes of support from the rest of the Yahoo! board of directors. Unfortunately for him, he chose caginess over honesty.

Stoked by Loeb’s allegations, phone calls and messages from top members of the sizeable Yahoo! workforce flooded the company’s board of directors, expressing deep concern as to the truth of the statements. If Thompson did not truly hold the degree that he claimed, the Yahoo! team said, it would compromise the company’s integrity and therefore their positions within Yahoo!

In the meantime, the beleaguered CEO was approaching top Yahoo! executives for votes of confidence – and being rebuffed. Following these failures, Thompson then tried to silence those whom he had approached.

The next hammerblow for Thompson hit when evidence of the truth in Loeb’s statements came to light. Given the CEO’s indiscretion and dishonesty, dismissal seemed assured – as indeed was the case.

Before the decision was finalised, however, Thompson dropped a bombshell – he was undergoing ongoing treatment for a secret battle with Thyroid cancer. The Yahoo! board of directors were unsure if this revelation was simply Thompson providing them with an avenue for his amicable extrication from the company, or an attempt at a sympathy vote.

The decision was eventually reached that Thompson’s health issues should have no bearing on his shortcomings as CEO, and he was denied his severance pay as the announcement was made that he was parting ways with Yahoo!

Having already lost Yahoo! and his health, Thompson’s run of bad luck wasn’t over yet. Over the following week, he was also removed from the board of directors for two other sucessful companies. First F5 Networks Inc. reported his departure on May 19th, followed quickly by Splunk Inc. on May 21st.

Thompson won’t be going hungry, however – despite losing his severance pay, he still left Yahoo! with around $7m worth of restricted stock options and “Make-Whole” cash bonuses.

This unsightly conflict within the company is just the latest in a long line of setbacks for Yahoo! – Yahoo!’s board of directors will no doubt be hoping that Daniel Loeb and his two associates, who have now won three seats on the board, will help to turn the company around in the absence of an acting CEO.

It will take an awful lot of work to ensure that Yahoo! continue to keep pace with internet colossi like Google and Facebook. Only time will tell whether Yahoo! have what it takes to keep moving forward in an industry increasingly dominated by their biggest competitors.

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Brace Yourselves: Microsoft Office Coming To iOS and Android Devices

Android and iOS device users all over the world are rejoicing over the news – although unconfirmed – that Microsoft are working on a version of the seminal Microsoft Office package for release on Android and iOS tablets. Although far from official, these rumours seem to be based in plausibility, if not fact.

In February 2012, The Daily ran a report announcing that they had gotten their hands on an early prototype of an iPad-friendly copy of the rumoured Microsoft Office rework. The package was said to bear similarities to Apple’s OneNote app, with elements of the new design language, Metro, which is used on the Windows Phone and the Windows 8 OS.

However, Microsoft were quick to quash the story, claiming that the prototype app (on the device that The Daily were shown) was a fake. They also claimed that rumours of an Android port for the software were baseless.

It now looks like Microsoft weren’t being entirely truthful there, though. As of May 2012, a source from Boy Genius Review has now seen Microsoft Office being used on an Apple iPad up close, and declared it as near-identical to the leaked version reported by The Daily back in February. Sources close to Microsoft have also confirmed that an Android version of Office is in development, to be distributed to Google’s tablet devices as well as Apple’s.

Based on the fact that the version of Office seen by Boy Genius Review was named ‘Office For iOS’, it seems reasonable to assume that the software will be exported for iPhones and and iPods, as well as iPads. It remains open to speculation whether or not this feature will also be extended to Google mobile phones.

Microsoft have not declared these latest stories false, which would suggest their legitimacy. In spite of this fact, however, it would be unrealistic to assume that circumstances surround the app’s development will not be subject to change. The cross-platform Office releases are speculated to be scheduled for a late November 2012 release – but again, conclusive proof for this has yet to come forward.

Onlookers have questioned Microsoft’s apparent decision to integrate their Office software with devices of their main competitors. As such a recognisable flagship name, Microsoft could hold onto the Office package, keeping it unique to the Windows Phone. This would be a considerable boost to the Windows Phone’s repertoire, which could be used to give it a greater market share over its rivals.

Offering the use of one of Microsoft’s top functionalities to their competitors is a gutsy move by the company – but if handled correctly, it could prove more profitable than it would be to keep it to themselves. The opportunity to use the Microsoft Office name on iOS and Android devices will not doubt have proven expensive to Apple and Google.

It’s interesting to speculate on which company’s stock is likely to see the most benefit from this news. Will Apple’s stock price be pushed even higher by the inclusion of a new functionality? Or will the price of Microsoft shares skyrocket as a result of this new deal’s financial benefit? Only time will tell.

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Google Take The Wheel With Google Drive

If you’ve been following the tech news over the last few years, you’ll most likely have heard a lot about cloud storage, and cloud-based internet services. In essence, cloud storage is a way of saving your files away from your own computer, on servers owned and operated by cloud-based internet companies. This allows you (or someone with whom you want to share your files) to access those files from any computer with an internet connection.

The 24th of April 2012 saw Google’s latest contribution to the cloud-based revolution: Google Drive. Free to use, Google Drive gives users five gigabytes of storage space to play with, with more available pending subscription to the service. There are over thirty types of file that Google Drive can be used to open in your browser – including Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator – regardless of whether or not you have this software installed on your machine.

The advantages of this are self-evident – if you’re collaborating with a work colleague on a particular project, you can both work on the same document, annotating and discussing changes as you make them together. If you want to show your grandparents the photographs from your latest family holiday to Hawaii, you can save those HD photos to your Google Drive account, and send them a link to the files. Your photographs and documents on Google Drive can even be shared via Google+ immediately.

Although as a concept, Google Drive is by no means unique – similar services have existed for a long time, such as Dropbox, the iCloud and Microsoft’s SkyDrive service. Of these four most popular cloud storage services, the first on the scene was Microsoft SkyDrive in 2007 – now unrecognisable, following a raft of updates and overhauls. Soon after in 2008, user-favourite Dropbox was released, and passed the 50 million user mark in a little over three years.

Although usually market leaders in technological advancement, Apple were slow off the mark with the newest generation of cloud-based internet services. Although early iterations of an Apple cloud internet application were available as early as 2000, a version capable of taking on Dropbox and SkyDrive wasn’t released until 2011. However, their iCloud technology is now arguably one of the most effective cloud storage services out there.

Google’s contribution to the Cloud storage, although significantly behind their competitors, is considerable. If nothing else, free access to high-class programs like Adobe Photoshop should prove tempting to users who might otherwise have stuck with their traditional local hard drive.

With Google now joining so many other companies pushing for a cloud-based system, this is an idea that is only going to get bigger. Expect to see more and more news on cloud computing as further companies jump on the bandwagon. Even with the current expansion of interest in this technology, it’s unclear where it will all end. It may be that in ten years time, all computing is carried out on a cloud-based structure, and internal hard drive sizes on computers may begin to shrink to compensate for the lack of local processing required.

All we can really say at this point is – keep your eyes on the clouds.

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Fiat: Evil Marketing Geniuses

The internet has been a medium for pranks and practical jokes for almost as long as it has any for any other purpose. This weekend, news broke that this is even true among international corporations.

In a bold move that definitely deserves a round of applause (albeit grudging, from VW drivers) quick-thinking staff at the Södertälje Fiat office took advantage of the presence of one of Google’s Street View cars to get one over on old enemies, Volkswagon.

A bright red Fiat 500 – the newest model to be released – was used to photobomb the Swedish offices of Fiat’s long-standing rivals, Volkswagon. But before you start worrying about automotive terrorism – photobombing is simply a mischeivous means of ruining a photograph.

Google’s Street View vehicles travel the globe, recording panoramic images of the world around them, which are later fed into Google’s Street View facility. When Fiat staff saw a Street View car drive past their Sweden-based Södertälje office, their resident evil genius hopped inside the gleaming new Fiat 500 and took off in pursuit. Managing to overtake the Street View car before it passed the Volkswagon office forty-five minutes across town, the Fiat’s driver parked it neatly in front of Volkswagon’s office entrance.

When the Google vehicle passed by soon after, its panoramic cameras captured the enemy vehicle sitting cheekily on its rival’s front doorstep.

This story serves to demonstrate more than just the lengths that rival car production companies will go to in the interests of getting one over on their competitors – it’s also a testament to the power of innovative marketing.

Fiat have quite literally turned their opposition into a marketing medium, in such a way that has captured the attention of the media – which means additional exposure. It may have started as a bit of a joke, but Fiat’s cheeky stunt has paid off. Volkswagon are stuck with their shiny red Fiat advertisement on Google Street View for the next year, until the next wave of Street View cars drive past and update the system.

Indications of the importance of innovation don’t come any bigger than the hijinks of some of the world’s most successful companies. If you really want your company to stand out from the crowd – and maybe get one over on your business rivals – you’ll need to think outside the box.

Being a bit cheeky probably wouldn’t hurt, either. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I can’t wait to see what Volkswagon do to get their own back on Fiat next year.

To see for yourself the evil genius of Fiat’s impromptu prank, click the link below and search ‘Volkswagen Group Sverige AB’ to see the Google Street View imaging of the Södertälje Volkswagon offices.

http://maps.google.co.uk/help/maps/streetview/

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Social Media and Bookmarking what your business needs to know

Regardless of whether you use the internet primarily for personal use, or as part of your daily work routine, the chances are that you will have encountered social bookmarking somewhere along the line. Social bookmarking is now being used on all sorts of websites, as a means of shortening the process of sharing an image, video or website with your friends, via social networking websites.

With so many users now registered with social networking services – Facebook alone reports over nine hundred million registered users – this is a massive opportunity for any business. To a personal internet user, the applications of this feature may be limited to showing your friends the latest viral videos or funny pictures, or perhaps even invisible altogether. Social bookmarking has been in use for so long now that users may not consciously notice buttons like these any more:

Business owners should sit up and pay attention to these icons, however, as social media is increasingly becoming one of the most versatile and popular marketing tactics used on the internet today. In July 2011, Mark Zuckerberg (founder and current CEO of Facebook) reported that over four billion pieces of content – anything from status updates to pictures, videos and links – are shared on the social network every day. With the social market expanding rapidly, it can benefit a business hugely to get their brand name out there into the social media arena. With a carefully planned social media campaign, a percentage of those 4bn shares can be related to your company, products or services.

Starting your social media campaign is not a difficult task. Websites like AddThis (http://www.addthis.com/) allow users to automatically generate these types of ‘Share’ buttons, and provide webmasters with the necessary code to implement them on their sites. These buttons allow users, with a single click, to post your website to their Facebook Wall, Twitter feed, or Google+ profile. Friends of these users can then see these shares, which in turn can lead to an increase in traffic to your site, as social users follow links to your site that their friends have shared.

Not only does AddThis provide this functionality, but generating share buttons with http://www.addthis.com/ will also give you access to traffic statistics, allowing you to track how often your website has been shared socially.

Not convinced? Google themselves, a massive player in online business and the company behind what is widely considered the definitive search engine, have now integrated their own social networking platform with their search engine service. This feature, known as ‘search plus your world’, is automatically activated for any Google user who is signed into their Google+ accounts while using the Google search engine. The search engine will display relevant search results not only from the internet, but also from that user’s Google+ connections.

If the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that the social media arena is only getting bigger. For businesses to succeed and stand out online, it will very soon be essential that social media form an important facet of any marketing campaign. Take the time to study up on these techniques now, and give yourself the greatest chance of success going forward. Don’t get left behind!

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The Tablet Devices Revolution

We now live in what has come to be known as the post-PC era. For the past two years, prominent technology companies – led by Apple – have been moving more towards a tablet-oriented mode of internet use. Opinion has been divided on the functionality of these devices from day one, but the fact remains that Apple have almost single-handedly ushered in a new age of web browsing – and the market for tablet devices continues to expand.

April 2010 brought us Apple’s first tablet device – the sleek and shiny iPad. Despite early consideration as a ‘large iPod’, the iPad quickly established itself as much more than the big brother of an old favourite. Capable of browsing the internet, installing hundreds of different apps and even serving as an eBook reader, in addition to the iPod’s music and video playback facilities, it soon became apparent that the iPad was much more than a glorified mp3 player. Now, two years on, many users prefer the use of a tablet device, Apple or otherwise, over a traditional desktop computer setup.

With top business analysts Gartner predicting over 320 million tablet yearly tablet sales by 2015 (http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?doc_cd=217137&ref=g_noreg) it’s apparent that the tablet market could soon soon grow to equal, if not overtake, desktop computer sales.

When the iPad first emerged, however, there was some dispute over the advantages that an iPad could offer over a desktop computer. For home use, there were no notable benefits to choosing a tablet in place of your PC – if anything, the iPad’s limited battery life was seen as a disadvantage. Outside the home was where the iPad began to shine.

Courtesy of tablets, commuters are able to work (or play!) even while sitting on the underground, or riding the bus. Kids on long car journeys are able to read or watch films, and can even give one of the iPad’s many games apps a try – Angry Birds has been a particular favourite among younger iOS users for years.

In response to initial queries or criticisms as to the iPad’s technical capability, Apple followed it up in 2011 with the iPad 2. This new poster-child for the tablet revolution featured double the RAM, a three-axis gyroscope for increased app functionality, as well as front and rear-facing cameras. The iPad 2 was an instant success, prompting renewed growth in the tablet market.

Other companies had by now also begun to release their own takes on this new technological medium, including Android, Samsung and BlackBerry. As in the Smartphone market, Android soon established themselves as Apple’s main competitor when it comes to tablet devices – Android tablets have been praised for their looser software restrictions and geater degree of customisability.

Nevertheless, Apple’s Appstore contained almost three-quarters of a million third-party apps, as of February 2012. The industry’s extraordinary growth is only likely to increase, with March 2012′s release of the third-generation iPad. Following the trend set by the iPad 2, the so-called iPad 3 has a greatly enhanced technical spec when compared to the previous incarnation – a fact that other tablet producers will need to scramble to emulate, if they hope to stay afloat in the tablet revolution.

Now more than ever, technology is migrating towards a hand-held, wireless platform – simply put, the world has been turned on to tablets. Like it or not, you can’t help but appreciate the simplicity of the tablet device, and admire the technical capabilities that even a device as small as the iPad now possesses. Tablets will continue to become a major player within the realms of both recreational and business technology – in the meantime, we suggest you watch this space.

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