John C. Abell

Fear not Google’s bid to rock ‘n’ rule your world

Jan 27, 2012 20:01 UTC


Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Big social media company changes its privacy rules. The Internet goes nuts. The tech press fuels the flames. Much hand-wringing and shouts of promises not kept ensue.

Sound familiar?

This time it’s not Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who’s losing sleep. It’s Google’s Larry Page. The search giant changed its rules mid-game, and it’s getting an earful.

Google’s privacy changes are both less and more than meets the eye. The less: Google has been collecting all the data in question already, most for a long time. The more: It’s one thing to collect data, quite another to change how you use it without giving your customers any flexibility. Google should be lauded for über transparency, but it’s hard to like ”Our Way or the Highway.”

The concept is pretty simple. You’ve allowed Google to cull a lot of personal facts and behavioral details, but each of the services Google provides has had its own privacy rules, and for the most part none of that information about you in each was indexed against the data in others. Your Gmail details are over here, and your calendar deets are over there, and never the twain met. It makes lots of sense to tear down the walls between all the different Google services you may use, so that your likes and habits and movements and appointments are all aware of each other.

The question (and this is the eternal question about digital privacy): Is it as good for you as it is for Google to have all that information mashed up? I’ve argued that the interests of Facebook, its members and the marketers who want to exploit that audience aren’t necessarily aligned. Facebook also hoards scads of information about you, and for about as long as Google has. The social network’s privacy rules are, shall we say, somewhat more complex than Google’s. And nobody seems to care much, if you can infer that from Facebook’s steady increase in membership. (Now at 800 million, roughly 11 percent of the planet.)

SOPA, the Internet, and the benefits of a mutual enemy

Jan 20, 2012 17:25 UTC

That giant sucking sound you hear is the life being drained from SOPA and PIPA.

In an astonishingly effective campaign, a number of prominent websites decided on Jan. 18 to act as though they were being censored. SOPA — the House Stop Online Piracy Act , and PIPA, the Senate’s Protect IP Act  — would, in fact, have little or no impact on U.S. sites but the message was clear: The Net is one seamless organism. An attack on my friend, or even my enemy, is an attack on me.

The big players that made a big show of support for the anti-SOPA/PIPA cause included Wikipedia, which completely shut down its U.S. site, and reddit.com and wired.com (I work for the latter, and both are owned by Condé Nast).

Some big players did not get involved in the protest, including Twitter (which even belittled Wikipedia’s demonstration as “silly”) and Facebook.

TV 2012: A tale of two sets

Jan 18, 2012 16:16 UTC

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the era of big, it was the hour of small. It was the age of complexity, it was the era of simplicity. It was an epoch of freedom, it was a time of tyranny. It was the season of two dimensions, it was the moment of 3D. Everything was before us — and we have seen it all.

With apologies to Dickens, there’s a whole lot going on in the world of television, the medium that has dominated the world’s attention for three generations and was supposed to — at the very least — become an also-ran to the Internet. Convergence (in the 1990s’ sense of the word) is happening, but with no clear winner: Computers became TVs, and TVs are becoming internet-connected computers.

Likewise, TV programming has been in something of a renaissance for a decade — yeah, sure, for every Mad Men there’s a Work It (or 20 of them) — and even the experimentation in programs has something to do with technology, which has made it possible to watch on demand, and in places and at times of our choosing, and enabled new competition that entertains us with things that aren’t on TV at all.

Is Scott Thompson the ‘back to basics’ guy Yahoo’s needed all along?

Jan 6, 2012 17:19 UTC

Yahoo has once again gone outside the company to breathe new life into the once-mighty Internet titan: Scott Thompson, most recently the president of eBay’s PayPal division, takes the helm on Monday, January 9th.

The four-month search ends the latest period of uncertainty for Yahoo, which has been struggling to regain its rightful place in the hearts and minds of the digerati — to say nothing of an indifferent Wall Street.

Investors have been sour on Yahoo for a while. The news of Thompson’s hiring was met with boos on NASDAQ, where Yahoo closed Wednesday at $15.78, down 51 cents. With a “fool me twice” attitude, potential will be no substitute for results. And given the spectacular flame out of former CEO Carol Bartz, investor patience must be wearing thin (if, that is, it still exists at all).