Apple, Google and the price of world domination

In his first appearance at the World Wide Developer’s Conference as spiritual leader of the Apple faithful, CEO Tim Cook made it clear that he intends to not just further Steve Job’s vision but expand upon it. It’s never been more clear that Apple is intent on world domination.

Conspiracy theory? No. Try inescapable conclusion.

What else are we to make of Apple removing Google Maps from the iPhone? Google Maps was a core feature on the very first iPhone, but it will disappear in an iOS software update announced Monday at Apple’s developer conference.

Apple’s tension with Google is legendary. They began as friendly neighbors in largely complementary businesses – former Google CEO Eric Schmidt was even on Apple’s board. But after the introduction of the Android, Steve Jobs’s anger at Google’s entry into the mobile phone business was palpable.

Now Apple is kicking Google out, creating its own “Earth”-like maps and Android-like turn-by-turn navigation. If executed properly, Siri voice command in the iOS 6 update will work like OnStar. You’ll have the ability to be interactive and spontaneous while navigating, asking where the nearest Starbucks is. This is leaps and bounds beyond verbal turn-by-turn instructions and so disruptive to stand-alone in-dash GPS units that some are predicting that it’s game over, smartphones win again – and Apple is setting the pace.

This is how it begins. Making an ally into a competitor; incorporating great ideas from small players and leaving the small guys out of luck (lock-screen message centers, home-screen backgrounds, personal hotspots – these are all borrowed from the underground developer community). These are the signs of an emerging bully regime. Leveraging the advantage of an unlevel playing field is pretty much the big criticism of the Microsoft of yesteryear.

PayPal eyes TV shopping with Comcast, Tivo

PayPal, eBay’s online payments business, is online, heading offline and hopes to be on your TV soon.

PayPal announced partnerships with Comcast and Tivo on Tuesday that aim to get viewers shopping during commercial breaks, pauses and at the end of shows. The projects are in development stages right now, but the goal is to have the services up and running later this year.

“The living room, in particular the TV set and the DVR, is the last leg of the stool,” said Scott Dunlap, vice president of emerging opportunities at PayPal.

Charleston Police to use data mining to fight crime

It’s not quite Minority Report but the Charleston Police Department in South Carolina aims to predict and prevent crimes from happening with the help of IBM’s data analytics tools.

To start the CPD wants to focus on reducing the number of burglaries in Charleston which it says often happen at similar times of day and in similar locations.

“The individuals committing these crimes tend to have predictable patterns, and incidents usually take place near their homes or familiar locations. In addition, property crimes are not displaceable crimes, which means the criminals won’t simply move two miles to another location’” the CDP said.

Intel’s facial-recognition freaks out potential customers

Mine and Yinka Adegoke’s story today on Intel’s proposal to use facial-recognition technology with a virtual TV service and set-top box has raised legitimate concerns about allowing Big Brother into consumers’ living rooms.

People’s reluctance to have a camera keep tabs on who is sitting in front of their TV may be a hurdle that Intel has underestimated as it struggles to convince media content providers to hand over their shows.

When I bought a Kinect for my Xbox last year, I felt paranoid for at least a couple of weeks every time I sat down on my sofa in front of my TV. Each time I turn on my Xbox, a camera — connected to Microsoft and the Internet — sees everything I do.

Facebook’s private experiment with democracy

Facebook is having a vote on changes to its privacy policy. Not that you’d know it.

Voter turnout has always been a problem for developed nations, but what about developed social networks? Facebook, with its 900 million users, is often written about as if it were the personal prelature of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. But Facebook itself prefers the term “ecosystem” – with good reason. Facebook’s engineers provide the basic conditions for life – the agar at the bottom of the social-media Petri dish. In turn, it’s developers and users who really craft their own worlds, their own experiences of Facebook – not Facebook itself. And whatever world they craft, it can only exist in the laws that govern the Facebook universe. Who ultimately decides those laws? Facebook.

Given that reality, it’s amazing that most users don’t care a lick about the vote happening on the site, right now, today, over proposed changes to Facebook’s privacy policies. Nor did they care much about the last vote over the site’s Terms of Service, which happened in 2009. Of course, it’s hard to care about something you don’t know is happening. Even though the vote is making the news here and there, there’s no inkling of any promotion on Facebook itself about what sounds like a rather important site event.

Mary Meeker breaks her investment fast

Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker has finally found a company that meets her standards. Just days after saying she spent the first quarter turning down overpriced investments, her fund is investing $15 million in Lending Club.

Meeker, who leads Kleiner’s $1 billion Digital Growth Fund, told the All Things D conference last week that private-market valuations were high and she and her colleagues “just were having trouble getting comfortable.”

Lending Club is a service that matches people who want personal loans with others who would like to make them. Meeker is taking a seat on its board. John Mack, chairman emeritus of Morgan Stanley, where Meeker worked as an Internet analyst before joining Kleiner in 2010, is also investing $2.5 million.

Betwixt and between: Facebook’s act of desperation

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is considering lowering the minimum membership age to include tweens. It raised eyebrows and kindled a new discussion about privacy and the propriety of inviting youngsters into what the company aspires to make the world’s biggest salesroom.

But I have a different concern: Soliciting children would be pretty strong evidence that Facebook needs a big boost to its already staggering 900 million membership to justify its valuation and business model. Having courted every early, middle and late adopter possible, there isn’t much low-hanging fruit for Facebook anymore. But courting tweens would inevitably invite scrutiny and regulation, since the prospect of cyberstalking is even more toxic that cyberbullying.

In other words, the potential rule change looks like an act of desperation. Coming off a miserable stock market debut, both the merits and atmospherics of this notion are decidedly bad.

Wal-Mart’s annual meeting and the case of the missing Taylor Swift livestream

Taylor Swift, country music’s current sweetheart, performed at the Wal-Mart annual meeting Friday. But her record label doesn’t really want you to know that. Or at the very least, they didn’t want you to see or hear her.

Neither side is saying why, but is this a good time to mention the Mexican bribery allegations swirling around Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart typically brings in top acts for its annual meeting, which is as much a pep rally for its employees as an exercise in corporate governance. Ben Stiller and Will Smith have served as hosts in the past, and this year’s MC duties went to none other than Justin Timberlake. In addition to JT and Swift,  other musical acts who showed up to serenade Wal-Mart workers Friday included Celine Dion, Lionel Richie, Juanes and the Zac Brown Band.

Older and bigger, Facebook rethinks a youthful flirtation with user democracy

With about 900 million people, Facebook is larger than all but two countries in the world. But the nation of Facebook’s experiment with direct democracy may be coming to an end after only a few years.

On Friday, Facebook said it will “review” a process that allows users of the online social network to vote for or against changes to its privacy and site governance policies.

The user feedback process was implemented at a time when Facebook a much smaller, privately-held company and may no longer be well-suited to the company’s current situation, Facebook explained  in a blog post.

Wall Street needs to shed Facebook’s shroud

As Facebook continues its search for a bottom after only eight trading days as a public company, there’s a much bigger problem than the $40 billion in market cap it has lost. The people behind Facebook’s dubious $100 billion-plus self-valuation were apparently as doubtful as the rest of us. At stake is the fate of Wall Street’s soul. To paraphrase Sir Thomas More’s line in A Man For All Seasons: “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world…” – but for Facebook?

Facebook’s interests are no more aligned with The Street’s than with its members‘. Wall Street needs to take the offense, see the handwriting on the wall and project itself as the ultimate defender of transparent, market principles, which is the only asset it has.

Facebook’s much-anticipated public launch has gone from bad to worse. It priced itself at the high range of $38 and opened 30 minutes late – some 20 of those with traders completely in the dark. Nasdaq has egg on its face and a possible liability in the tens of millions of dollars. Retail investors who bought into the hype are still losing money. Days after the May 18 launch, the tangled mess of positions that may or may not have been taken were still being unwound.