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Archive for the ‘Jessica Guynn’ Category

Google plans to merge more user data across its products

posted by Technology @ 3:05 PM
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
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Google is alerting hundreds of millions of users of its products that it's changing the way it treats users' data, combining even more information it knows about them from all of its products, from Gmail to YouTube.

The Internet search giant is putting a notice on its home page and sending emails to users starting Tuesday. Google says the changes will give users a better, more consistent experience on Google products and will help advertisers better reach users who are interested in their products and services.

The changes to Google's privacy policy and terms of service take effect March 1. They remove legal hurdles Google had faced in combining information from certain properties such as YouTube or search history.

Google said the new privacy policy responds to demands from regulators around the globe that users have a simpler, more concise way to understand what Google does with their information. Right now users have to navigate a complex web of privacy policies and terms of service for different Google products.

Google says it's been combining information it gleans about users logged into Google for years to tailor search results and ads to their interests. Now it will be able to do that even more broadly. For example, if you search for skateboard tricks on Google and then hop over to YouTube, the video sharing site will recommend offerings from skateboard pro Tony Hawk.

Google says users can still control their information through the privacy dashboard and the Ads Preferences Manager.

Google says it's helping users. But it’s also clearly helping itself, said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineLand.com.

"This may cause more critics to complain that there is no escaping the clutches of Google," Sullivan said.

And it could throw more fuel on the already heated controversy over Google's recently launched Google Search plus Your World feature which combined information from Google+ into search results.

Under the leadership of Chief Executive Larry Page, Google has moved more aggressively to use its position as the dominant Internet company to promote its Google+ social network.

It's looking to slow the momentum of Facebook and to use personal data from Google+ and other Google products to improve search, maps and ads.

It’s a battle of the Web superpowers. Facebook, which is on the verge of an initial public offering that could raise $10 billion and value the Menlo Park, Calif., company at $100 billion, aims to own everyone’s online identity and already has a rich hoard of information about its users and deep insights into their connections and interests.

To counter Facebook's growing influence, Google is pouring massive resources into reengineering its approach to the Web and make it more social.

Like other major Internet players, it’s walking a fine line between respecting the privacy of users and mining as much information about them as possible.

Google has stumbled when it comes to privacy. Last year it reached a settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that subjects the company to 20 years of privacy audits. It also has drawn heavy regulatory scrutiny in Europe.

Google recently launched a privacy campaign to educate consumers about how it uses their information and how to protect themselves on the Web.

Privacy advocate Ryan Calo, who was given a sneak peek at Google's new privacy policy, says it's unlikely users will read it. Privacy policies are required by law, but few people pay attention to them, even when they are like Google's latest one: short, concise and written in plain English, he said.

"Sounds like Google's overall practices won't be that different; it's more that Google is owning up to how it thinks and what it does," said Calo, who’s with Stanford Law School's Center for Internet & Society, which gets some funding from Google.

But he’s less sure if Google isn’t risking turning off some users with what he calls the "creepiness" factor.

For example, Google says someday it may be able to alert you based on your location, your calendar and local traffic conditions when you are going to be late for a meeting. According to Google: "Google users still have to do too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them."

Do users want Google to do that? It depends, Calo said.

"It's different if I am going to a business meeting or to a strip club,” he said.

RELATED:

Google aims ad campaign at privacy concerns

Privacy watchdog urges investigation of Google search

New Google feature adds a personal touch to search results

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: A sign for Google is displayed behind the Google android robot, at the National Retail Federation, in New York on Jan. 17, 2012. Credit: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo

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Facebook sign outside company's new campus in Menlo Park, Calif.

Facebook's lawyers are asking a judge to order Paul Ceglia to foot the bill for more than $84,000 in fees.

Ceglia, the New York man who claims he's entitled to half of Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar stake in Facebook, was fined for refusing to turn over email account information and ordered to pay reasonable attorneys' fees. 

Facebook's lawyers are also asking Leslie G. Foschio, the federal magistrate in Buffalo, N.Y., to order Ceglia not to file any additional "non-responsive papers or pleadings in the case" until he pays up.

Ceglia's lawyer, Dean Boland, said he has not had a chance to review the court filing in detail, but said he and his client would prepare a response over the coming week.

"If we feel it ought to be modified, we will respond accordingly," Boland said.

Boland, who's from Cleveland, took a shot at Facebook's lawyers for charging Manhattan hourly rates in a case unfolding in Buffalo.

"Cleveland and Buffalo are pretty identical demographically, and I can tell you that no lawyer would survive in the city of Cleveland charging that much an hour because no one would be able to hire him," Boland said.

Orin Snyder, the most senior Gibson Dunn partner, charged $716.25 an hour. His most junior associate charged $337.50 an hour, according to the filing.

Facebook, which is on the verge of an initial public offering that could value the world's most popular social networking company at $100 billion, can clearly afford it.

RELATED:

Federal judge orders Paul Ceglia to pay fine in Facebook case

Paul Ceglia seeks Mark Zuckerberg sanctions

Facebook claimant Paul Ceglia returns to U.S. to press his case

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: The Facebook sign outside the company's new campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Credit:  David Paul Morris / Bloomberg  

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Never thought I'd hear Facebook's chief operating officer say: "I'm, like, Sheryl Sandberg." 

But that's what you get (and then some) from this entertaining interview with Jesse Draper, host of the Web's "The Valley Girl Show" (profiled last year by the San Francisco Chronicle) who rocks a pretty-in-pink wardrobe and lots of girly asides while interviewing Silicon Valley legends.

This week Draper is totally focusing on "Rockin' Women." So she paid a visit to Sandberg at Facebook's splashy new Menlo Park campus. Check out Sandberg's thoughts on the "stalled revolution" of women at the top of corporate America (Sandberg sits on the boards of Disney and Starbucks and pushing women to "sit at the table" is a cause she frequently champions) and her lesser-known erstwhile career as an aerobics instructor (leg warmers and all). 

Like, seriously.

RELATED:

Facebook nabs exec at Google

War heats up for top Silicon Valley talent

Facebook encourages users to share more by adding new apps

– Jessica Guynn

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Dorsey
How to sum up Twitter's latest acquisition? Discover, discover, discover.

Twitter snapped up Canadian startup Summify on Thursday. It's little bit of genius: Summify found the stuff that mattered to you (it generated a daily email with links to the most shared content in your social networks).

And that's the one thing that Jack Dorsey wants Twitter to do much, much better: Filter through millions of updates and massive amounts of information overload that flood users' streams to uncover the hidden gems. And he's been pecking away at how best to do that.

Last month while unveiling Twitter's latest design, Dorsey said one of his primary objectives is to "bubble up" the most relevant tweets, messages of up to 140 characters in length that users broadcast.

So Twitter is shutting down Summify (to the great chagrin of its users) and its team is zipping down to Twitter to focus on Twitter's "Discover" tab, which suggests content to users to encourage them to stick around longer and do more on Twitter.

The yawning need for more and better curation on the Web is, of course, not unique to Twitter (yes, we're talking about you, Facebook). Twitter does have a secret weapon: Flipboard's Mike McCue, who sits on Twitter's board and who is probably an excellent source of advice and wisdom on the subject for Dorsey.

RELATED:

Twitter tries to turn 140 characters into money

High-tech boom brings a sense of deja vu to San Francisco

Twitter's Fly redesign looks to be faster, simpler and more personal

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. Credit: Dave Getzschman

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Google shares plunge after earnings miss

posted by Technology @ 2:27 PM
Thursday, January 19, 2012

Larrypage

Larry Page's honeymoon at the helm of Google may be officially over.

Google reported strong fourth-quarter revenue and profit results after the market closed Thursday (including quarterly revenue of $10.58 billion, its highest for a single quarter) but they missed analyst expectations.

Revenue in the three months ended in December rose to $8.13 billion, with earnings per share of $9.50. Analysts had expected $8.43 billion and $10.51.

Google shares plunged $59.08, or 9%, to $579.30 in after-hours trading.

Page, the chief executive, did not acknowledge the shortfalls in a statement: "Google had a really strong quarter ending a great year."

He added that the company's Google+ social network has grown to 90 million users, more than double the number it announced in October.

Google is also continuing its hiring spree. It hired more than 1,000 people in the last three months of the year. It now has 32,467 full-time staffers.

Despite concerns that Google is spending loads of money, Wall Street had seemed more confident that Page was the right steward to keep Google's moneymaking machine on track. The stock had gained 7% since Page took over as CEO last April.

RELATED:

Google sales, profit crush Wall Street estimates

Larry Page, back as Google CEO, shakes up top ranks

Google+ may reach 400 million users by end of 2012

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Google co-founder Larry Page looks on during a product launch on February 24, 2010. Photo credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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Facebook encourages users to share more by adding new apps

posted by Technology @ 8:27 PM
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Facebook
Facebook wants its more than 800 million users to share everything they do with their friends on Facebook and off of it.

So Facebook has teamed with more than 60 partners to roll out apps that encourage users to tell their friends what they're doing: buying a merino wool scarf at Fab.com, researching a new travel destination on TripAdvisor, donating to a favorite charity on Causes or highlighting a new hobby on Pinterest.

The most popular social networking service is working with new applications so that users can publish their activities on their Facebook pages, Carl Sjogreen, director of platform products, said at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday night (and in a blog post).

Facebook is looking for new ways to get people to spend more time on the site and advertisers to spend more money reaching them. The activities will show up in users' Ticker, News Feed and Timeline.

The announcement comes as Facebook tees up a $100-billion initial public offering, the biggest the tech world has ever seen.

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Bret Taylor said in an interview that the new profile page called Timeline is increasingly becoming Facebook users' de facto online identity and that the new apps would help users personalize their profiles with just a few clicks. He said that expanding the Facebook platform would generate revenue in the "grand scheme" but that the announcement was not "overtly" about making money. He said Timeline has deepened users' relationship with Facebook and increased the amount of time users spend on the site.

Facebook is taking on Google, Apple and other technology giants in competition for eyeballs and ad dollars. It first launched the new wave of apps last year at the company's annual developer conference, allowing Spotify to show songs that users play and the Washington Post to display articles users read. At the time, Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said the new apps created "real-time serendipity" beyond users just telling their friends they "like" something. The apps move beyond the "like" button which has become a universal means of expression on the Web but isn't adequate to communicate the full spectrum of human emotion and activity.

Millions are already using the apps, and Taylor said Facebook was "thrilled" with the response.

Now Facebook is opening up the platform to all developers (not just the 60 launching Wednesday) to help Facebook's users let their friends know when they go for a run or design a new outfit, Taylor said.

That not only gives users a way to express themselves and broadcast to their friends, it gives advertisers and marketers even more insight into their interests and habits. That in turn could give Facebook even more of an edge over Google's social network Google+, which has about 40 million users.

Some privacy advocates are concerned about Facebook's growing knowledge of its users and its reach into their lives.

"Facebook now has more ways to track and target us, as it enables dozens of apps designed to drive user and network behavior," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Facebook now has more profile information it can monetize on its massive base of consumers. While giving the appearance of greater privacy control, Facebook knows that for the most part the default will be that they and their business partners can easily harvest our data."

RELATED:

Facebook wants users to share it all

Facebook updates its status: It wants to be an entertainment hub

Facebook F8: Is Facebook a 'social operating system'?

– Jessica Guynn

 Photo: Facebook's Menlo Park campus Photo credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg 

 

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Yahoo founder Jerry Yang resigns

posted by Technology @ 3:19 PM
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yang
In an end of an era at Yahoo, founder Jerry Yang has stepped down from the struggling Internet company's board.

He has also relinquished all other positions with the company and his posts on the boards of Yahoo Japan Corp. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., according to a statement from the Sunnyvale, Calif., company.

The stock soared 4% on the news in after-hours trading.

"What the market is telling you is that Jerry stepping down removes an obstacle to unlocking some of Yahoo's value," said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.

Yang stepped down as Yahoo undergoes a strategic review, in which the board is deciding whether to jettison its holdings in Yahoo Japan and Alibaba Group or sell a minority stake to private equity investors. Its new chief executive Scott Thompson took the helm two weeks ago. Thompson also joined Yahoo's board.

But Gillis cautioned against a rush of optimism.

"Jerry resigning doesn't improve the fundamentals of the business. The fundamentals are still declining," Gillis said. "There is a lot of work to be done at the company to turn it around."

Yang, one of the Internet's pioneers, has earned the ire of some investors who blamed him for thwarting Microsoft's unsolicited takeover attempt.

In a letter to the Yahoo Board Chairman Roy Bostock, Yang wrote: "My time at Yahoo, from its founding to the present, has encompassed some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. However, the time has come for me to pursue other interests outside of Yahoo. As I leave the company I co-founded nearly 17 years ago, I am enthusiastic about the appointment of Scott Thompson as Chief Executive Officer and his ability, along with the entire Yahoo leadership team, to guide Yahoo into an exciting and successful future."

Yang co-founded Yahoo Inc. in 1995 with David Filo and served on the board since March 1995. He was CEO from June 2007 to January 2009.

In a statement, Yahoo's chairman Roy Bostock said: "With Scott Thompson leading an outstanding team of Yahoos to deliver innovative products and an engaging customer experience, Yahoo's future is bright."

Writes Forbes' Eric Savitz: "The larger question, of course, is what this means for the company. Yang has been a champion of Yahoo staying independent; he played a key role in the company’s rejection of a generous takeover bid from Microsoft in 2008. The company has recently been considering various strategic options; there have been reports that the company could be acquired by private equity investors, perhaps in concert with Microsoft, Alibaba and/or Softbank. Does Yang’s resignation signal that a deal is imminent? The market seems to think so."

RELATED:

Yahoo hires former PayPal head as its chief executive

New Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson pay package worth up to $27 million

Yahoo swipes PayPal exec; EBay boss John Donahoe to run unit

– Jessica Guynn

 Photo: Yahoo founder Jerry Yang Photo credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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Privacy watchdog urges investigation of Google search feature

posted by Technology @ 8:01 PM
Thursday, January 12, 2012

Google office in Brussels

An influential Washington privacy group is urging government regulators to probe a new search feature from Google, saying it invades the privacy of users and shuts out competitors.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed  a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday over the new feature called Search plus Your World. The feature started getting attention this week as it rolled out to users who began to see personal photos and updates from the Google+ social network show up in their search results.

Twitter, a competitor to Google+, complained that its content was being pushed down in search rankings.

EPIC’s executive director, Marc Rotenberg, says Google is using its dominance in Internet search to promote its own products at the expense of its rivals. He also said the new feature violates the privacy settlement that Google reached last year with the FTC over its defunct social network Buzz.

"We believe this is something that the FTC needs to look at," Rotenberg told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the FTC declined to comment.

Google says it’s trying to make its search engine more useful by highlighting personal information from its social network. Google rolled out Google+ six months ago as Facebook and Twitter increased in popularity.

"For years we’ve been working on social search features to help you find the most relevant information from your social connections no matter what site it's on," a Google spokesman said. "Search plus Your World doesn't change who has access to content, it simply helps people rediscover information they already have access to. We've taken special care with our new features to provide robust security protections, transparency and control for our users."

The new feature mostly affects the up to 1 in 4 people who are logged in to Google or Google+ while searching the Web. Those users now have the option of seeing search results that are customized to their interests and connections. If they search for a vacation spot such as Mexico or Hawaii, they may see photos from previous trips or posts from friends.

Google has been working a long time to create a search engine that delivers results tailored to its users. It's also trying to catch up to social networking giant Facebook, which, with more than 800 million users, knows its users far better than Google does.

Google was already facing broad scrutiny of its search and advertising businesses in Washington and Brussels. Critics allege that Google exploits its dominant position in search to promote its own services.

The Federal Trade Commission, attorneys general in six states and the European Commission are looking into complaints. Google handles about two-thirds of Web searches in the U.S. and more than 80% in much of Europe.

Google also faces rising scrutiny on privacy matters. In April, it agreed to submit to 20 years of privacy audits as part of the privacy settlement with the FTC.

In an interview this week, Google Fellow Amit Singhal said Google has taken significant steps to make its new feature private and secure. He also said Google was open to including information from Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

"However," he said, "it has to be done in a way that the user experience doesn't deteriorate over time and that users are in control over what they see from whom and not some third party."

But Google is facing uncomfortable questions about whether it's looking out for its users or itself, said Danny Sullivan, editor of the website Search Engine Land, who has been tracking Google since the 1990s.

Facebook, which generated billions of dollars in revenue last year and is weeks away from filing plans for a $100-billion initial public offering, poses the biggest threat to Google's online advertising business.

Facebook formed an alliance with Microsoft's Bing, a rival to Google, which has been showing information mined from Facebook in its search engine’s results since May.

Facebook declined to comment.

Washington antitrust lawyer David Balto said Google has little to worry about because EPIC does not have a case.

"You would need a super-powered microscope to be able to find any significant competition or privacy concerns from Google's conduct," Balto said.

Users are split on whether they want their search engine to deliver results customized to them.

Dave Mora, 31, an analyst for a Los Angeles entertainment company, said he now gets more relevant search results and consequently is using more Google services.

"Your experience is even that much richer," he said. "How many times have you asked a friend that knows about computers a tech question, you car enthusiasts friend a car question, or even that doctor friend a medical question? It is the same idea, just presented differently.”

But Melissa Cleaver, a 35-year-old blogger from Houston, said that she would turn off the feature and that she's getting increasingly wary of how powerful Google has become on the Web.

"It just seems to me that Google is pulling out all the stops to force you to use Google+," said Cleaver, who has 40% of her investment portfolio in Google stock. "I don't think Facebook or Twitter have anything to worry about. Just another reason that Mark Zuckerberg can sleep soundly tonight."

RELATED:

Google likely to face FTC complaint over 'Search Plus Your World'

New Google feature adds a personal touch to search results

Twitter blasts prominence of Google+ content in search results 

– Jessica Guynn

 Photo: Google office in Brussels. Credit: Virginia Mayo / Associated Press

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Google
A privacy watchdog group probably will complain to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that a new Google search feature raises privacy and antitrust concerns.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said his group is considering filing a letter with the FTC. 

EPIC made the complaint that resulted in Google's settlement with the FTC that requires the Internet search giant to submit to external audits of their privacy practices every other year.

"We believe this is something that the FTC needs to look at," Rotenberg said.

Google calls the new feature rolling out to users of its English-language search engine "Search Plus Your World." It blends information such as photos, comments and news posted on its Google+ social network into users' search results.

It mostly affects the one in four people who log into Google or Google+ while searching the Web. Those users will have the option of seeing search results that are customized to their interests and connections, say, a photo of the family dog or a friend's recommendation for a restaurant.

Google has been working for years to create a personal search engine that knows its users so well it delivers results tailored to them. It's also trying to catch up to social networking giant Facebook, which, with more than 800 million users, knows its users far better than Google does.

But critics contend Google, a laggard in social networking, is using its dominance in Internet search to favor its own products and take on its chief competitor. 

"Google is an entrenched player trying to fight off its challenger Facebook by using its market dominance in a separate sector," Rotenberg said. "I think that should trouble people."

Critics also say the move raises alarm bells for consumer privacy.

"Although data from a user’s Google+ contacts is not displayed publicly, Google's changes make the personal data of users more accessible," EPIC said in a note on his website. 

The effect of Google's latest search feature may be fairly limited — at least for now. The 6-month-old Google+ has 40 million users.

Google is not the first search engine to do this. Microsoft's Bing, which has an alliance with Facebook, has been tapping some information shared on Facebook since May. But Google is attracting more attention because of its dominance in search. It handles as many as two-thirds of all search queries in the U.S.

Twitter has also complained about the new Google search feature. So far Facebook has stayed out of the fray, declining to comment.

When a user is logged into Google or Google+, Google will now tap information from Google+ and photos from its photo-sharing service Picasa, to deliver personalized search results. In the future it will also incorporate other Google services.

Seeing how much information Google gathers could make some people uneasy, said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineLand.com. Google has tried to assuage privacy concerns by switching to technology that encrypts all of its search results.

Rotenberg says the FTC needs to go further to protect consumer privacy on the Web.

"This is a problem the FTC needs to look at closely," he said.

In an interview this week, Google Fellow Amit Singhal said Google has taken significant steps to make its new feature private and secure. He also said Google was open to including information from Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

"However," he said. "It has to be done in a way that the user experience doesn't deteriorate over time and that users are in control over what they see from whom and not some third party."

RELATED:

New Google feature adds a personal touch to search results

Twitter blasts prominence of Google+ content in search results 

Google gets personal, searches your world, not just the Web

– Jessica Guynn

 Photo: Google's new search feature has raised concerns. Credit: Virginia Mayo / Associated Press

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Federal judge orders Paul Ceglia to pay fine in Facebook case

posted by Technology @ 10:16 AM
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Facebook
The New York state man who claims he's entitled to half of Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar stake in Facebook has been fined $5,000 by a federal judge for not complying with a court order.

Paul Ceglia was also ordered to pay some of Facebook's legal fees.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio's ruling is a victory for Facebook and Zuckerberg, who have denounced Ceglia's claims that he and Zuckerberg signed a 2003 contract that gives him an ownership stake in Facebook, which is on the verge of a $100-billion initial public offering.

Facebook plans to ask Foschio to dismiss the lawsuit. 

RELATED:

Paul Ceglia seeks Mark Zuckerberg sanctions

Facebook claimant Paul Ceglia returns to U.S. to press his case

Facebook alleges 'shakedown,' wants Paul Ceglia lawsuit dismissed

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook sign outside the company's new campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Credit:  David Paul Morris / Bloomberg 

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Twitter blasts prominence of Google+ content in search results

posted by Technology @ 4:09 PM
Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Google search results emphasizing Google+ content

Twitter came out swinging after Google said Tuesday it would display content from Google+ more prominently in search results than content from rival social networks.

"As we've seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results," Twitter spokesman Matt Graves said in a statement. "We're concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that's bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users."

Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray, who used to work at Google, on — where else? — Twitter called the launch of the new search feature a "bad day for the Internet." He commented that search was "being warped."

Google responded on Google+: "We are a bit surprised by Twitter's comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer, and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions."

Google's new feature enables users to search for "personal results" that include posts, comments and photos from Google+ and photos from Picasa. But it will not promote results from rivals Facebook or Twitter.

Facebook declined to comment.

Google, which handles about two out of three Web searches in the U.S., is already under antitrust scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission. And lawmakers have questioned whether Google uses its dominant position in search to promote its own services at the expense of competitors and consumers.

Google and Twitter have history. Twitter gets traffic from Google, and Google used to pay Twitter for access to its "firehose" of tweets. It no longer does (although Microsoft's Bing still does). Google can still show tweets in search results because most of the 250 million of them a day are public.

Google has also tangled with Facebook, which does not let Google crawl its site. Facebook poses the biggest threat to Google in the battle for eyeballs and ad dollars. It's on the verge of a $100-billion initial public offering more highly anticipated than any tech offering since Google in 2004.

John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, took to Twitter to express his dismay.

“We are becoming helpless collateral casualties in the war between Google and Facebook,” Barlow wrote.

RELATED:

Heads are turning to Internet's golden child

Google making another attempt at social networking

Google gets personal, searches your world, not just the Web

– Jessica Guynn

Image: Screenshot of Google's new personalized search results. Credit: Google

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Google gets personal, searches your world, not just the Web

posted by Technology @ 7:30 AM
Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Google results
For Google, it's personal. The Internet search giant is no longer going to roll out the same search results to everyone.

Starting Tuesday, Google will pluck only the results most relevant to you — and not just from billions of Web pages but from the personal stuff that you and your connections privately share.

The idea, says Google Fellow Amit Singhal, is that Google now searches your world, not just the Web, and serves up results that combine both for your eyes only.

"Your world was missing from search until now," he said. "We are bringing your world into search."

It's not just a radical departure for Google. It's a major salvo in the Internet search giant's rivalry with Facebook for eyeballs and ad dollars.

Google, with founder Larry Page at the helm, has been looking to blunt the growing influence of Facebook, which is on the verge of a $100-billion initial public stock offering.

Google has been adding more personal touches to its search engine as people flock to Facebook, the Web's most popular hangout with more than 800 million users who share personal photos, updates and recommendations. Now it's looking to combine its dominant search engine with its nascent social networking service, Google+.

"It's one of the most significant things Google has ever done in search," said longtime Google observer Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineLand.com.

Google results 2Singhal explained the new feature called Search plus Your World through a personal anecdote.

As a child, his favorite fruit was the sweet brown chikoo. Singhal was reminded of the fruit a few years ago when his wife held a tiny brown fur ball in the palm of her hand. They decided to name their 4-week-old miniature schnauzer Chikoo and privately shared photos of him as he grew with family members. Now both meanings of Chikoo show up when Singhal is logged into Google and searches the word.

Google, like rival Microsoft's Bing, has been working for years to make search more personal and more social. Google says with this move it's transforming into a search engine that understands not only content but also people and their relationships.

It's doing this in three ways. First, it's expanding search beyond public Web pages to the photos and posts you and others have shared privately. Second, as you type a person's name into Google, it will automatically suggest people you are close to or may be interested in. Third, Google is guiding users to profiles and Google+ pages related to the topic of interest.

But how will users react?

Google profiles"Until now we have not had the mixture of our personal information with our Web search results, and that makes even me a bit nervous," Sullivan said.

Some users may not want or understand why their personal information is appearing in its search results. Google said it would explain the change to users at the top of Web pages.

Even though Google is just making information more visible and easier to find, it may encounter the same kind of resistance that Facebook did when it rolled out its new feature Timeline, Sullivan said.

Like Facebook, Google isn't asking users whether they want the new feature, it's just turning it on for all English-speaking users over the next few days. If you don't want the feature, you have to turn it off.

Google may also be seen as favoring its own products in search results, an allegation that already has made Google a target of an antitrust investigation, Sullivan said. For example, instead of sending someone searching for Britney Spears to her website, Facebook page or Twitter account, Google will suggest her Google+ page, giving the service a "huge advantage," he said.

"It makes you question if Google is doing the best thing for the searcher or the best thing for Google," Sullivan said.

Google says it's hamstrung because Facebook fences off its website from Google's search engine.

"We want users to have control over what personal content they can search for at Google. We don't want third parties dictating to users what they can or can't search for in Google," Singhal said. "Based on the current policies at many social networks, users don't have that control."

Google profilesThat could put pressure on Facebook, Sullivan said.

"This is a really big gun pointed back at Facebook," he said. "This may cause Facebook to say that now that Google has merged social and search, that's what it needs to do as well."

Facebook has an alliance with Microsoft's Bing to lure traffic away from Google, which handles about two of every three Internet search requests. Microsoft owns a 1.6% stake in Facebook. But the partnership has not yielded much, Sullivan said.

Google's new personal approach also raises a broader societal issue, Sullivan said. 

"Until now, search has largely been a common experience," Sullivan said. Jon Stewart gets a lot of laughs over Rick Santorum's "Google problem" (a search for his last name brings up a graphically sexual definition of "santorum"). But if search results are tailored to the beliefs we hold and the people we know, chances are "we might not actually see the same thing Jon Stewart sees anymore," Sullivan said. 

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FTC launches investigation of Google

– Jessica Guynn

Photos: Google's new "personal" search results. Credit: Google.

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Graffiti artist David Choe tags Facebook’s new campus

posted by Technology @ 8:08 PM
Monday, January 9, 2012

David Choe tags Facebook's new campus.

Celebrated graffiti artist David Choe has once again tagged Facebook.

Choe became infamous in Silicon Valley for allegedly being commissioned to spray-paint sexual graphics on the walls of Facebook's first Palo Alto office in 2005 by the company's founding president, Sean Parker. (If that really happened, though, it has been airbrushed out of the official Facebook history). Choe painted less — ahem — colorful murals for Facebook's next digs in 2007, this time at the request of Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg. When Facebook outgrew its office and moved again, it carved Choe's artwork out of the walls and took the pieces to the new place, where they were proudly hung.

So it's not much of a surprise that Choe has christened Facebook's latest address on Hacker Way in Menlo Park. Zuckerberg invited Choe to the new campus and even showed him around before Choe flexed his artistic muscles on Facebook's walls again. He painted a large blue mural in the lobby of one building and tagged the walls elsewhere with a variety of pieces, some of his own inspiration and some suggested by Facebook staffers, who stayed late Friday to "hack out" the office with spray paint and chalk.

Choe's Facebook graffiti art was re-created for the set of the film "The Social Network" by two of his friends, Rob Sato and Joe To.

You can check out more of Choe's adventures at Facebook here.

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Mark Zuckerberg vacations in Facebook-blocked Vietnam

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Graffiti artist David Choe tags Facebook's new Menlo Park campus at the request of Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photo credit: Hunterzpointz

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New Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson

Yahoo picked EBay's pocket when it lured away PayPal boss Scott Thompson as its new chief executive.

Now it's lining Thompson's pocket.

The new CEO, who officially starts at Yahoo on Monday, may receive a $27-million pay package, according to a regulatory filing late Friday.

He'll get a base salary of $1 million and an annual bonus of as much as twice that depending on Yahoo's financial performance with Thompson at the reins. Thompson is also getting an equity grant worth as much as $11 million, an "inducement grant" of $5 million and a cash bonus of $1.5 million to make up for money he forfeited by leaving PayPal, not to mention stock incentives worth up to $22.5 million.

Thompson had a pay package of $10.4 million at PayPal in 2010, including a salary of $645,000. Numbers for 2011 are not yet available.

Thompson's $1-million salary matches that of his predecessor, Carol Bartz. But her pay package in her first year at Yahoo was originally valued at $47.2 million.

Thompson is also joining the Yahoo board. He may not be the only new face there. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo has retained executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles International to hunt for new board members. The paper did not say which board members would be replaced.

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Yahoo hires former PayPal head as its chief executive

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Former PayPal President Scott Thompson fields a question at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco in November 2010. Yahoo announced this week that Thompson will join the company as its new CEO on Monday. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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Jamesburg Earth Station sale: ‘Great place for armageddon’

posted by Technology @ 11:01 AM
Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jamesburg

Interested in owning your very own nuclear bomb-proof earth station, a massive satellite dish and a piece of American space history?

As we told you earlier, the Jamesburg Earth Station, which transmitted some of the first images of the Apollo 11 moon landing, is on the market.

The one-of-a-kind securely fenced 160-acre property comes with a three-bedroom house, a 20,000-square-foot building, a helicopter landing pad and a 10-story satellite dish and antenna. It’s in Cachaua Valley, not far from Carmel Valley and about 20 miles southeast of Monterey.

I spoke with Jeffrey Bullis, CEO of Absolute Turnkey Services Inc., who has owned the Jamesburg Earth Station for seven years.

He says he bought the property next door to his friend Jack Galante who runs a family vineyard. Bullis and his son Adam cleaned up the decommissioned satellite communications station and planted fruit trees and had some cattle.

Bullis paid $1.7 million for the property and then poured another $2 million into it. Then Adam, just 23, died of leukemia.

“It really knocked the wind out of me,” Bullis said. “He was the one who really liked the property.”

After grieving for a few years, Bullis said he put the Jamesburg Earth Station on the market. But so far, no takers.

“It makes a great place for armageddon,” Bullis said. Sheltered from the winds and operating its own self-contained air system, it could survive a biological or nuclear attack, perfect for a survivalist or Ted Nugent, Bullis said.

“It’s an above-ground bunker,” he said. “The building is so strong that you couldn’t knock it over with a 5 megaton nuclear blast. And you could defend it strategically with a small platoon of Marines.”

For the tamer of heart without a military contingent at the ready, the picturesque property in rolling hills could be turned into a winery or olive orchard, he said.

Bullis is a Santa Clara entrepreneur who runs a 30-employee electronic assembly business, a holdout among manufacturing companies increasingly moving offshore. One of his current projects: Building a security system for nuclear sites around the United States.

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Foreign nations push into space as U.S. pulls back

For sale: Nuclear bomb-proof space station in Carmel Valley

Iran’s attempt to launch a monkey into space ends in failure

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Jamesburg Earth Station in Cachaua Valley, Calif. Photo credit: Jamesburgdish.org

 

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For sale: Nuclear bomb-proof space station in Carmel Valley

posted by Technology @ 8:00 AM
Thursday, January 5, 2012

Earthstation

Who wouldn’t want to own a nuclear bomb-proof earth station and a piece of space history?

The Jamesburg Earth Station, which transmitted some of the first images of the Apollo 11 moon landing, is on the market.

The one-of-a-kind securely fenced 160-acre property comes with a three-bedroom house, a 20,000-square-foot building, a helicopter landing pad and a 10-story satellite dish and antenna. It’s in Cachaua Valley, not far from Carmel Valley andabout 20 miles southeast of Monterey, a bit off the beaten track and offbeat, period.

The unusual selling point of this picturesque property situated among rolling hills and wine vineyards: Built at the height of the nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union, the 20,000-square-foot earth station can withstand a five-megaton nuclear blast.

The dish used to transmit satellite communications between the U.S. and other Pacific Rim countries. It was shut down in 2002 by owner AT&T and put up for sale. Some ham radio operators restored and fired up the dish in 2007 and bounced 20 radio signals off the moon.

The current owner of Jamesburg hails from Silicon Valley. He had hoped to turn it into a residence. He even added an exercise room and an indoor basketball court, according to his real estate agent.

For the last year he has been trying to sell the property for $4.2 million, but Bert Aronson of Keller Williams Realty in Carmel said the owner is considering dropping the price by $1 million or so. Local TV reports may generate interest among space history buffs or nearby geeks in Silicon Valley.

“We’ve gotten lots of inquiries but no offers,” Aronson said. “Somebody could use it as a server farm or to store vintage cars or wine. Someone will come up with a use for it.”

Aronson said he has received plenty of interest in the satellite dish from as far away as Australia. “But in this day and age,” he said, “nobody has any money.”

RELATED:

Foreign nations push into space as U.S. pulls back

Iran’s attempt to launch a monkey into space ends in failure

NASA launches satellite from Vandenberg at night [Video]

– Jessica Guynn

 Photo: Jamesburg Earth Station in Cachaua Valley, Calif. Photo credit: Jamesburgdish.org 

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Yahoo swipes PayPal exec; EBay boss John Donahoe to run unit

posted by Technology @ 11:09 AM
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

PayPal president Scott Thompson's departure to run Yahoo took a lot of people by surprise (although not Kara Swisher, natch). That includes EBay's chief executive, John Donahoe.

Donahoe dispatched an email to PayPal employees Wednesday morning, saying Thompson told him Tuesday he was leaving to become the next chief executive of Yahoo. Keeping a secret of that caliber in the insular tech community is deserving of Oscar consideration.

Donahoe
"Scott informed me Tuesday afternoon, saying that despite his passion for PayPal, this was an opportunity he felt he had to take," Donahoe said. "While I'm sure Scott's decision is a shock to many of you, as it was to me, there is one thing I am certain of: PayPal has an enormous opportunity in front of it and we will not slow down."

Yahoo announced Wednesday that Thompson is its new CEO tasked with reviving the struggling Internet company.

His departure creates a big void on the management team at EBay, which now must search for his replacement.

Thompson was its president since 2008. Donahoe has predicted that the PayPal unit will become bigger than EBay in as little as two years.

For the time being, Donahoe will run the unit himself.

RELATED:

Carol Bartz officially out as Yahoo CEO

Yahoo shares rise after exit of CEO Carol Bartz

Yahoo taps PayPal's Scott Thompson as new CEO

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: EBay CEO John Donahoe Photo credit: EBay

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Yahoo names PayPal’s Scott Thompson new chief executive

posted by Technology @ 10:08 AM
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Yahoo
Four months after it fired Carol Bartz for failing to engineer a turnaround, struggling Internet company Yahoo has named Scott Thompson as her successor.

Thompson, who ran EBay's PayPal unit, could "refocus" Yahoo's business, which has deteriorated without a permanent chief executive officer, analysts said.

Thompson will focus on turning around Yahoo's “core business,” its media and advertising assets, and work closely with the board on a review of the company's strategy, Chairman Roy Bostock said.

Thompson starts Jan. 9. His appointment will not slow down the company's strategic review, which includes the possibility of unloading valuable stakes in Asian Internet companies and selling a minority stake to private equity investors. 

Yahoo is still considering "a wide range of opportunities for the company's business as well as specific investments or dispositions of assets," Bostock said.

Thompson must boost Yahoo as it loses eyeballs and ad dollars to Google and Facebook. Yahoo still has an online audience of more than 700 million visitors a month. But it's quickly losing market share to Google and Facebook. Facebook catapulted over Yahoo in U.S. display ad revenue last year while Google remains the third-largest purveyor of display ads, according to research firm EMarketer. 

Thompson, who ran PayPal since January 2008, is credited with increasing revenue to more than $4 billion from $1.8 billion. He helped the payments company expand into online daily deals and mobile payments. He also helped PayPal expand its number of users to more than 104 million from 50 million. But he lacks experience on the media content side of Yahoo's business.

Thompson is betting that Yahoo's business is stronger than people think.

That was also the opinion of Bartz, who during her tenure reduced costs and formed a search partnership with Microsoft, but could not help Yahoo regain its sales growth in advertising and search. Bostock fired Bartz over the phone. Tim Morse, who had been chief financial officer, became the interim chief executive in September. He will return to his post as chief financial officer.

Thompson's selection could signal that Yahoo is preparing to reclaim its mantle as a technology company.

"We believe the appointment of Scott Thompson as CEO is a slight positive for Yahoo as he will likely act quickly to provide direction to the company that it has lacked in the past few months," said Piper Jaffray & Co. analyst Gene Munster. "Thompson's background is strong in technology, but he lacks media experience. We believe this could suggest that Thompson will focus Yahoo more on technology than Carol Bartz or Terry Semel in the past."

Analysts cautioned that Yahoo faces significant challenges.

"As always execution will be key," Macquarie Capital analyst Ben Schachter said. "As much as we respect what Scott has done at PayPal, Yahoo faces significant challenges in terms of brand identity, technology infrastructure, employee morale, competitive challenges, the transition to mobile etc. To say that Scott has his work cut out for himself is an understatement."

Yahoo shares fell 34 cents, or 2%, to $15.91 in trading Wednesday. Shares of EBay fell $1.09 or 3% to $30.25.

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Carol Bartz, who was fired in September as CEO of Yahoo, has been replaced by PayPal's Scott Thompson. Photo credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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Status update: Facebook breaking up a third of UK marriages

posted by Technology @ 12:21 PM
Friday, December 30, 2011

Facebookprivacy
This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

So much for marital bliss. In Great Britain it's all about the Facebook dis.

Apparently, there's no such thing as a no-fault divorce across the pond. Facebook is taking the blame for breaking up a third of marriages in which "unreasonable behavior" was a factor.

The popular social networking site is getting an unfriendly rap because it's a major way that spouses uncover incriminating messages and photos.

According to Divorce-Online, a third of 5,000 petitions in the past year mentioned Facebook. More than 30 million people in the UK — about half the population — log into Facebook each month.

"People contact ex-partners and the messages start as innocent, but lead to trouble," divorce lawyer Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce-Online, told the Daily Mail. "If someone wants to have an affair or flirt with the opposite sex then it's the easiest place to do it."

The law firm said it has noted a 50% jump in the number of petitions that cite Facebook over the last two years.

Facebook is also becoming less and less social as warring exes use it as a "War of the Roses" battleground to air their differences from picking up the kids to paying child support. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner would be proud.

This is not a big surprise in the United States where Facebook is the new "lipstick on the collar" and infidelity uncovered in the form of "Facebook bombs" has been known to torpedo relationships. One dating coach speculates that Facebook is "the source of all future infidelity." There is even a website dedicated to "Facebook cheating."

[For the record, 4:30 p.m., Dec. 30, 2011: An earlier version of this post said that Facebook was a factor in one-third of U.K. divorces; it should have said that Facebook was cited in one-third of U.K. divorces in which "unreasonable behavior" was a factor.]

RELATED:

Report: Investment banks compete for lead role in Facebook IPO

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

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Report: Investment banks compete for lead role in Facebook IPO

posted by Technology @ 4:44 PM
Thursday, December 29, 2011

Zuckerberg

Top Wall Street investment banks are competing to be the lead bankers for Facebook's blockbuster initial public offering, which could come in early 2012.

That's according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, which also says that the Menlo Park, Calif., company held a new round of meetings with Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley after Thanksgiving.

The paper reported last week that Facebook would take the stock public in the second quarter of 2012. The IPO could peg the worth of Facebook at $100 billion or more and could generate as much as $10 billion. That would give bankers a 2.2% cut, or as much as $220 million. But Facebook may negotiate lower fees.

Goldman Sachs mishandled a private placement deal earlier this year and had to limit the offering to investors outside of the U.S. Morgan Stanley recently was the lead banker in the Zynga IPO, but its shares have mostly traded below the offering price.

Representatives for Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Facebook declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal. "As is our typical practice, we just don't get into speculation about an IPO," a Facebook spokesman told me.

The Facebook IPO is widely anticipated. Facebook board member Peter Thiel said last year that Facebook would consider going public in 2012.

"It's a consumer-facing company, which makes it very interesting to people. People can relate to it," Thiel told the Los Angeles Times in an interview last year. "It's somewhat of a unique thing. There is a lot of intensity surrounding it."

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at an event in November 2010 in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images  

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MySpace’s Tom Anderson weighs in on censored pics on Google+

posted by Technology @ 3:36 PM
Thursday, December 29, 2011

Google

Call it the tempest in Google+.

Former TechCrunch writer and current blogger/venture capitalist MG Siegler stirred things up this week by complaining that Google's politically correct overlords had censored his profile picture because in it — not sure how to put this delicately — he was giving the world the finger.

SearchEngineLand's Danny Sullivan explained Google's rationale (in a post on Google+): "Why's Google care so much if +MG Siegler wants a middle finger in his Google+ profile picture? Because in turn, that has him giving the finger in Google's search results. And that mess is kind of Google's own doing on how it has linked author pictures so much to Google+ profiles."

Now in a blast from the past, Tom Anderson has taken to Google+ to pounce on the debate. As the co-founder of Myspace, the guy who was everyone's automatic friend on the service, he has a lot to say including this: MySpace became a "cesspool" because people put up all kinds of potentially offensive content.

"All Google+ has done here is execute on its stated plan: removing offensive photos. This is Facebook’s plan, Twitter's plan and Myspace's before it. When you’re processing hundreds of thousands of photos a day (and in Facebook’s case, millions a day), it’s not easy to spot such material (even with algorithms). It’s not that Google+ has decided to do things differently, it’s just that they’re ahead of the game and doing things better," Anderson wrote.

Further, Anderson says users of Google+ (and presumably Google) "don't need to see you flipping us off, nor do we need to see you naked, or displaying something else generally considered offensive. When a social network lets that stuff slide, it turns into a cesspool that no one wants to visit … sorta like Myspace was."

In a Twitter post, Siegler responds: "As much as I enjoy #fingergate I do have this other job I'm attempting to do…"

The real beneficiary may be Google+ itself which, if you believe predictions from the armchair statisticians out there, is starting to get some real traction.

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Surfboards decorate the main lobby at one of Google's offices in Santa Monica in 2007. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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Google+ may reach 400 million users by end of 2012

posted by Technology @ 8:55 PM
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Larrypage

It's a guessing game but only Google has the real answers: How many users does its Google+ social networking service have? And how actively are they using it?

The Internet search giant is adding 625,000 new users a day to the service and will finish 2012 with 400 million, said Paul B. Allen, founder of Ancestry.com.

Allen, who calls himself Google+'s unofficial statistician, has been estimating the number of users on the service that seeks to challenge Facebook, which has more than 800 million and is preparing for an initial public offering next year that could raise as much as $100 billion. Google, which is stepping up its game in the social arena with Larry Page at the helm, said in October that it had 40 million users.

"It may be the holidays, the TV commercials, the Android 4 sign-ups, celebrity and brand appeal, or positive word of mouth, or a combination of all these factors, but there is no question that the number of new users signing up for Google+ each day has accelerated markedly in the past several weeks," wrote Allen, founder and CEO of FamilyLink.com, a company he helped start in 2006 with other Ancestry.com alumni.

But Allen is not measuring active users, which is what Facebook measures. He's just measuring total users. The real question, as TechCrunch's Eric Eldon points out, is how many people are hanging out on Google+ after creating accounts.

Last week, ComScore reported that Google+ had grown to 67 million monthly unique visitors in November, up 2 million from October. But that's measuring visitors.

Still, the two analyses do suggest that Google+ is growing. 

RELATED:

Google+ continues battle with fading user interest, data say

Pseudonyms, brands coming soon to Google+

Google engineer goofs, tells whole world that Google doesn't get it

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Google CEO Larry Page. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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Mark Zuckerberg vacations in Facebook-blocked Vietnam

posted by Technology @ 11:10 AM
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO

For the holidays, Mark Zuckerberg went where Facebook is not allowed to go: Vietnam.

The Facebook founder vacationed in the communist state, arriving sometime around Dec. 22. Zuckerberg sightings almost immediately began to ricochet around the Web.

VnExpress reported that Zuckerberg was granted a two-week tourist visa to Vietnam on Dec. 16.

He and girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, visited the "Hanoi Hilton" prison in Hanoi on Thursday, according to local news websites.

The Dan Tri website quoted Tran Ngoc Bich, a tour guide at the prison, reporting that Zuckerberg and Chan joined a group of about 10 tourists who were "also very excited at seeing this talented young man."

A report on the VnExpress news website claimed Zuckerberg visited a shop that sells mobile phones on Thursday afternoon, but that his bodyguards would not let fans take photos with him.

The happy couple spent Christmas Eve in Ha Long Bay, local official Trinh Dang Thanh told Associated Press. And Christmas Day they spent at an ecolodge in the northern mountain town of Sapa.

Zuckerberg rode a water buffalo there, reported Le Phuc Thien, deputy manager at Topas Ecolodge. Presumably the buffalo had a gentler fate than the bison who had the misfortune of encountering Zuckerberg.

Vietnam blocks access to Facebook and other websites. But young people in Vietnam bypass censors to use the service.

Facebook does have a representative in Vietnam who told one news outlet that he had not been informed about Zuckerberg's visit.

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– Jessica Guynn

 Photo: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University on Nov. 7. Credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters

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Facebook to boost privacy protections in Europe, Irish agency says

posted by Technology @ 11:54 AM
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Facebookprivacy

Facebook will improve privacy protections in Europe over the next six months after an investigation into its practices there, the Irish data protection agency said Wednesday.

The agency conducted a three-month audit of Facebook’s compliance with European Union and Irish data protection requirements.

Facebook, the Menlo Park, Calif., company that has its European headquarters in Dublin, has agreed to give users more information on how Facebook and third-party apps handle their information, minimize how much data is collected on users when they are not logged in to Facebook and warn European users that Facebook uses facial recognition software that suggests people to tag in photos.

The Dublin headquarters has responsibility for handling hundreds of millions of users outside the U.S. and Canada.

“This was a challenging engagement both for my Office and for Facebook Ireland,” Irish Data Protection Commissioner Gary David said in a statement. “Arising from the audit, FB-I [Facebook Ireland] has agreed to a wide range of ‘best practice’ improvements to be implemented over the next six months.”

There will be another formal review in July.

The agency received 22 complaints from a privacy group, Europe V Facebook, and additional complaints from the Norwegian Data Protection Agency. Facebook said it was pleased that the report underscored a number of Facebook’s “strengths or best practices” in the security of user data and using personal information to target ads. 

“The people who use Facebook take privacy and data protection seriously and so do we,” Richard Allan, Facebook’s director of public policy for Europe, said in a blog post.

Last month, Facebook agreed to settle privacy complaints raised by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The proposed 20-year agreement would require Facebook to get permission from users before sharing information they thought would remain private. The company also agreed to 20 years of privacy audits.

Facebook has run into trouble with its facial recognition software that suggests people for users to tag in their photos. A German data protection agency said it may fine Facebook over the feature and Norway’s privacy watchdog is investigating.

Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking site, is planning a $100-billion initial public offering sometime next year.

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Facebook and FTC reach agreement on privacy protections

Facebook nears settlement with the FTC on privacy

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

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Saudi prince invests $300 million in Twitter

posted by Technology @ 11:59 AM
Monday, December 19, 2011

Dorsey
Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has scooped up a substantial stake in Twitter.

The multibillionaire has made a $300-million investment in the popular social media site that activists used during the Arab Spring uprisings. That's roughly a 3% stake in the San Francisco company.

Twitter confirmed the investment,  which was announced in a press release from Kingdom Holding Co. that touted Alwaleed's desire to invest in "promising, high-growth businesses with global impact."

A nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, Alwaleed owns 95% of Kingdom Holding, which has stakes in Apple, Citigroup and General Motors. He is one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of nearly $20 billion, according to Forbes magazine. For more on him, check out this Charlie Rose interview from last year.

Fortune is reporting that he bought his stake in Twitter from insiders, not the company. Twitter spokesman Matt Graves declined to provide any further details. The prince's investment in Twitter has been rumored since October.

The San Francisco company's worth was pegged at $8.4 billion in a funding round led by Digital Sky Technologies in October.

Twitter says it has 100 million active users who send 250 million tweets per day. 

One of an elite group of privately held social media companies sporting multibillion valuations, Twitter is taking its time before going public. Facebook, which has more than 800 million users, is planning a $10-billion initial public offering. Twitter is also seen as a major player in social media because of its popularity. The company is still working on its fledgling advertising business.

Twitter's advertising business is expected to generate about $140 million this year, up from $45 million last year, according to EMarketer. Twitter may generate $260 million in ad revenue in 2012, the research firm said. Twitter now has more than 700 employees.

 “We believe that social media will fundamentally change the media industry landscape in the coming years. Twitter will capture and monetize this positive trend,” Ahmed Reda Halawani, Kingdom Holdings executive director of private equity and international investments, said in a statement.

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Square and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in June at D9. Credit: Asa Mathat / All Things Digital

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Zuckerberg
A San Jose federal judge rejected Facebook's bid to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that ads telling Facebook users that their friends "like" the advertisers violate a California law on commercial endorsements.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled Friday that the case can move forward but dismissed a claim that Facebook, which makes an estimated 90% of its money from online advertising, was unfairly profiting from the ads.

“We are reviewing the decision and continue to believe that the case is without merit,” Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an e-mailed statement.

The world's most popular social networking site began running the ads called "sponsored stories" in January. Such an ad shows a friend's name and profile picture and notes that the friend "likes" the advertiser.

The lawsuit was brought by Facebook users who contend the site is making unauthorized use of their names and likenesses, violating the state's "right of publicity" statute. Facebook says the law does not apply because of an exemption. The plaintiffs seek to represent tens of millions of Facebook users.

Facebook’s revenue will reach $6.9 billion in 2012 from $4.27 billion this year, according to estimates by research firm EMarketer. Its major selling point to advertisers is the persuasive nature of advertising when a product or service is recommended by a friend. People are twice as likely to remember commercial endorsements from friends and three times as likely to buy the product, according to Facebook executives.

Privacy issues continue to dog Facebook, which reached a privacy settlement three weeks ago with the Federal Trade Commission.

RELATED:

Facebook looks to cash in on user data

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shows off Timeline, a dramatic redesign of users' profiles, in September. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg 

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Zuckerberg

The entrepreneur who legally changed his name to Mark Zuckerberg says he has received mostly "funny reactions" since his story appeared on television news in Israel on Thursday evening.

"I've had a flooding of phone calls, as well from people I haven't seen for years. The people I did talk to think it's a mad idea, but take it with a smile," Rotem Guez — a.k.a. Mark Zuckerberg — wrote in an email.

"It's amusing, you know, because I'm so small while Facebook's huge," he added.

The 32-year-old entrepreneur, who says he also runs an online marketing company and a bailiff company, came up with the idea to change his name to Mark Zuckerberg after Facebook sued him.

"I wanted that once they sue me, they'll face suing 'Mark Zuckerberg,'" he said.

He says Facebook accused him of selling fictitious "likes," but he says they came from real users.

"The idea was, if only 'Mark Zuckerberg' is allowed to sell likes, then for that matter, I'm 'Mark Zuckerberg,'" he said.

Has he heard anything from Facebook about his name change?

"Yes, a few hours ago, my personal profile was disabled," he said. 

No word from Facebook on whether it suspended his Facebook account. In a written statement, a spokesman said: "Protecting the people who use Facebook is a top priority and we will take action against those who violate our terms."

Here's a recap on the strange story of the entrepreneur who would be Mark Zuckerberg.

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg greets a student as he arrives to speak at Harvard University in November. Photo credit: Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg

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Facebook is suing Mark Zuckerberg. No, really

posted by Technology @ 11:02 AM
Friday, December 16, 2011

Zuckerberg
No, this is not a headline ripped from the Onion. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

Facebook is suing Mark Zuckerberg.

Not the Zuckerberg who founded Facebook, of course, but an Israeli entrepreneur who, embroiled in a bitter dispute with Facebook, has legally changed his name to Mark Zuckerberg. 

Gotta admit it's kind of a clever move. I would not have seen that one coming. And it's more than a touch ironic for the giant social network that Zuckerberg built on the idea of authentic identity.

Apparently, Rotem Guez a.k.a. Zuckerberg took Zuckerberg's name after Facebook sued him. That was after he sued Facebook first because it apparently shut down his "Like Store," which sold advertisers fans for their pages in violation of Facebook's terms of service. In December, he changed his name to Mark Zuckerberg.

He has a page on Facebook with more than 3,000 likes.

When one Facebook user took to the page to call him a "huge joke," the newly self-anointed Mark Zuckerberg replied: "The world is big enough for more than one Mark Zuckerberg."

Of course there are other people in the world named Mark Zuckerberg. But most of them were born that way.

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at on Nov. 7. Credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters

 

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Google’s Chrome browser overtakes Internet Explorer 8

posted by Technology @ 5:18 PM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Google's Chrome browser entered the market in 2008.Did Google's Chrome browser just become the globe's most popular?

That's what StatCounter is reporting.

It says Chrome topped Internet Explorer 8 in the last week of November, when Chrome took 23.6% of the global market and IE8 took 23.5%.

Of course, if you combine all of the versions of Internet Explorer, it's still the browser champ. And in the United States, Internet Explorer is still on top, with 27% of the market.

So what's driving the growth? Aodhan Cullen, chief executive of StatCounter, says businesses as well as consumers are adopting Chrome.

Microsoft, which includes Internet Explorer with its Windows operating system, used to have a lock on the browser market. Google didn't even enter the market until 2008.

But Chrome recently surpassed Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser, which it used to support. Firefox launched in 2004 and drove innovation in the market, which was dominated by Internet Explorer since IE overtook Netscape's browser in the late 1990s.

Google CEO Larry Page was always a proponent of Google's getting into the browser market. Google began to build a browser in 2006, concerned that existing browsers were not good enough to support its online services or might lead users away from its search engine. (Microsoft uses Internet Explorer to send users to its own Bing search engine.)

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– Jessica Guynn 

Photo: The logo for the Google Chrome Web browser is shown during a news conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., in September 2008. Photo credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press. 

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Walter Isaacson might add to Steve Jobs biography

posted by Technology @ 4:28 PM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Steve Jobs' biography by Walter Isaacson might get an addendum.You know how you wish for more when you get to the last page of a really good book?

In the case of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, that wish may come true.

Isaacson told Fortune senior editor at large Adam Lashinsky during a talk in San Francisco that he might expand the 630-page book.

That could mean an annotated version or an addendum that describes the period around Jobs' death in October.

"This is the first or second draft," Isaacson said. "It's not the final draft."

The biography topped Amazon.com's list of top 10 bestselling books in 2011.

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Authorized biography of Steve Jobs will be called "iSteve." iSeriously.

– Jessica Guynn

Photo credit: Albert Watson / Simon & Schuster  

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Facebook leaked financials shows it has billions in cash

posted by Technology @ 3:42 PM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces a new messaging system last year.

Someone is leaking very private financial information in advance of Facebook's $100-billion initial public offering next year.

Gawker has the numbers, which it calls "the Silicon Valley equivalent of hard-core pornography."

"The big picture is this: Facebook's income is blowing up, and the company will likely come close to earning a full billion dollars in profit this year, more than double what it reportedly made a year ago and quadruple what it is believed to have made two years ago," Ryan Tate wrote in the Gawker piece. "There have been news reports elsewhere on prior Facebook financial periods; our numbers from the latest quarter show the money keeps pouring in."

According to Gawker's unnamed source, Facebook had $3.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents, $5.6 billion in assets, revenue of $2.5 billion and net income of $714 million this year through September. And — unlike many of us around the holidays — it had zero debt.

(Not everyone is so impressed with the numbers.)

Gawker says it also got an inside peek at who owns Facebook: Employees 30%, Mark Zuckerberg 24%, Digital Sky Technologies 10%, Accel Partners 8%, Dustin Moskowitz 6%, Eduardo Saverin 5%, Sean Parker 4%, Goldman Sachs clients 3%, Microsoft 1.3%, Peter Thiel and/or Clarium Capital 3%, Greylock Partners 1.4%, Meritech Capital Partners 1.6%, Chris Hughes 1 %, Li Ka-shing 0.75%, Interpublic Group 0.5% and Goldman Sachs 0.8%.

"Facebook is clearly drowning in success. CEO Mark Zuckerberg could fill that saltwater lap-lane pool behind his house with hundred dollar bills many times over," Tate wrote.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

RELATED:

Ready or not, it's time for Facebook's Timeline

Facebook looks to cash in on user data

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces a new messaging system on Facebook in November 2010. Photo credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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President Obama doesn’t let his daughters use Facebook

posted by Technology @ 2:32 PM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

President Obama visits Facebook headquarters in April.

President Obama may have friended Facebook. But he and First Lady Michelle Obama don't let their daughters, Sasha and Malia, use it.

The revelation came in a People magazine interview.

"Why would we want to have a whole bunch of people who we don’t know knowing our business? That doesn’t make much sense,” the president said in the interview.

The first lady pointed out that Malia is 13 and Sasha 10, the interview said. Joked the president: "We'll see how they feel in four years."

Technically, only Malia is old enough to have an account on Facebook. Federal regulations prohibit websites from collecting information from users younger than 13. As a result, Facebook requires its users to be at least 13.

That hasn't stopped millions of preteens from signing up for Facebook, often with their parents' help.

Regulators are considering updating laws to reflect the new era of social networks and smartphone apps. The Federal Trade Commission proposed tougher privacy protections for children younger than 13, broadening requirements covering the collection of personal information by websites and online apps as well as how to obtain parental approval.

RELATED:

Survey: Parents lie to help preteens get on Facebook

Tougher preteen privacy rules urged

Obama finds Facebook headquarters a friendly place

– Jessica Guynn

 Photo: President Obama at Facebook headquarters in April. Photo credit: Jim Young / Reuters

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Google awarded U.S. patent for driverless car technology

posted by Technology @ 2:19 PM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Google has quietly made off with a U.S. patent for self-driving cars.

Google applied for the Transitioning a Mixed-mode Vehicle to Autonomous Mode patent in May and it was awarded Tuesday. It covers a method of handing the wheel from a human driver to the self-driving car.

It involves two sets of sensors: one which identifies a "landing strip" where the vehicle stops, the other which receives data about precisely where it is and where it should go. The driverless car could get directions or driving instructions from a URL, QR code or radio link.

"The landing strip allows a human driving the vehicle to know acceptable parking places for the vehicle," according to the patent filing. "Additionally, the landing strip may indicate to the vehicle that it is parked in a region where it may transition into autonomous mode."

In June, Nevada became the first state to legalize self-driving cars, a victory for Google which has been working to put technology in the driver's seat by building cars that use radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate traffic.

Google contends that computer-powered cars will drive more safely than humans. One vehicle in its automated fleet has gotten into an accident. But don't blame the technology. It was operator error.

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Google's self-driving car is in an accident but human was driving, company says

– Jessica Guynn

 

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Facebook, Greenpeace call truce over ‘dirty data’

posted by Technology @ 10:56 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Datacenter
Facebook and Greenpeace have called a truce over so-called dirty data after the environmental organization used the social networking giant's own site to rally for the cause.

Facebook has formed a partnership with Greenpeace to campaign for the use of clean and renewable energy, they said in a joint announcement Thursday.

The announcement was sparse in details but big on public-relations value for Facebook.

"Facebook looks forward to a day when our primary energy sources are clean and renewable, and we are working with Greenpeace and others to help bring that day closer," Marcy Scott Lynn of Facebook's sustainability program said in the statement.

Greenpeace has attacked Facebook for using coal to power its data centers with an Unfriend Coal campaign that drafted 700,000 online activists to call on Facebook to use clean energy instead.

“Greenpeace and Facebook will now work together to encourage major energy producers to move away from coal and instead invest in renewable energy. This move sets an example for the industry to follow,” Tzeporah Berman, co-director of Greenpeace’s International Climate and Energy Program, said in the statement. “This shift to clean, safe energy choices will help fight global warming and ensure a stronger economy and healthier communities.”

Facebook has pledged to use clean and renewable energy in its data centers. Facebook has launched the "Green on Facebook" initiative and the Open Compute Project which aims to build low-cost, highly efficient technology for data centers.

Facebook tipped its hat to Greenpeace's deft use of Facebook.

Last year Facebook opened a data center in Prineville, Ore., that saves energy by taking advantage of the climate there. But Greenpeace protested that Facebook used a power company that generates most of its electricity from coal. It launched a campaign on Facebook to get Facebook to rely on renewable energy. The page has more than 180,000 followers.

Facebook said it would work with the organization to engage users and communities on how to save energy.

Greenpeace said the agreement "raises the bar" for Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and others. IT says that the data centers operated by online services total more than 2% of all U.S. electricity demand.

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Manure could power data centers, Hewlett-Packard scientists say

— Jessica Guynn

Photo: Engineer Lee Rodriguez monitors huge transformers at the Garland Center that would kick in during a power outage and keep the many computer servers in the building running. Photo credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times 

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Apple among most searched in Google Zeitgeist 2011

posted by Technology @ 10:08 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Google's Zeitgeist crunched billions of searches in 2011 to find the most popular and fastest-rising search terms. The result of the 11th annual survey is the online equivalent of climbing into a time machine.

Web celeb Rebecca Black was the fastest-rising query with singer Adele, reality star Ryan Dunn and Casey Anthony following quickly behind. Google+ nabbed the No. 2 spot.

But even as Hurricane Irene struck the U.S. and earthquakes shook Christchurch, New Zealand, and Japan, nothing took a bite out of Google's Zeitgeist like Apple (as GigaOm pointed out).

Three Apple queries appear in the list of the top 10 fastest-rising searches, including Apple's iPhone 5 (which still has yet to make an appearance), the iPad 2 (which did make an appearance and is burning up holiday sales) and the man who helped make it all possible: Steve Jobs, who peaked as a search term in October when he died.

Apple makes other appearances as well. The briskly selling iPhone 4S, for instance, is second-fastest in the consumer electronics category (the iPad2 and the iPad3 also ranked). But it was bested by Amazon's Kindle Fire.

Sure to get a big bump in Google searches today: Google Zeitgeist.

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– Jessica Guynn

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Ready or not, it’s time for Facebook’s Timeline

posted by Technology @ 9:31 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Facebook has rolled out Timeline, its new design for member profiles
Set aside some time for Timeline. Especially if you have been actively using Facebook for years. This is going to take a while.

Fresh off its global debut in New Zealand, Facebook is rolling out its new profile design to all of its more than 800 million users. For the first time, they are getting a look at how their lives are about to appear to all of their friends.

Facebook said in a blog post Thursday that users can either wait for a notification to pop up on their screen or go to facebook.com/about/timeline to get Timeline right away. No point in foot dragging: Eventually all profiles will switch to the new look.

That means that all of those forgotten memories won't be lining the dustbin of your personal history for long. The new design has a way of bringing even the most mundane status update rushing back.

It used to be that profiles surfaced only the most recent stuff. But Timeline is like an obsessive compulsive's digital scrapbook, collecting every detail, no matter how trivial, in chronological order.

It may get people to think twice about what they do and say on Facebook. Or not. It's likely that a lot of people will look at the new profile, throw up their hands and just keep on doing what they've been doing. For now, it probably means that everyone with a Facebook profile is going to spend a lot of time perusing, pruning and doing a whole lot of adding. 

Take it from me: I used a workaround meant for software developers and got Timeline shortly after Mark Zuckerberg unveiled it in late September during Facebook's annual developer conference in San Francisco. I could see what was happening in my life years ago as clearly as today. I proceeded to pore over my profile to highlight what was important to me and hide what wasn't. I also noticed a lot of other folks getting busy adding photos from important moments in their lives to better reflect their lives on Facebook.

It goes without saying that some people will love the new design and some will hate it. It's impossible to make even the smallest change on Facebook without upsetting someone.

If you make the switch now, you have seven days to preview the changes, highlight or hide whatever you want and adjust your privacy settings before Timeline becomes your official Facebook profile.

If you want to see how your Facebook profile appears to other people, click the gear menu at the top of Timeline and click on "View As."

RELATED:

How to get the new Facebook "Timeline" now

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Facebook updates its status: It wants to be an entertainment hub

– Jessica Guynn

Image: Facebook's new profile design Timeline Courtesy: Facebook

 

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Zuckerberg
Facebook is looking to write the final chapter in a long-running legal dispute as the social networking giant prepares for a $100-billion initial public offering next year.

Facebook plans to ask a federal judge in January to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Paul Ceglia, a New York man who contends he's entitled to half of Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg's multibillion-dollar stake in Facebook.

Calling the lawsuit a "shakedown," Facebook said it has evidence the alleged 2003 partnership agreement Ceglia produced was faked two years ago, according to the Buffalo News.

"Since Day One, this case has been about pressuring us into writing a check and from Day One, we've said that's not going to happen," Orin Snyder, a lawyer for Facebook, said during a four-hour contentious federal court hearing Tuesday, the newspaper reported. 

Dean Boland, one of Ceglia's lawyers, accused Facebook's lawyers of damaging the agreement and causing it to turn yellow, which could make some potential jurors question its authenticity. Snyder retorted that Ceglia yellowed the document in an effort to make it appear older.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio did not say how he would rule on a motion to dismiss, but suggested Facebook give Ceglia more time to question its experts.

"You have to put yourself in the court's shoes," Foschio said. "It's an unusual case."

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in October 2007. Credit: David M. Barreda / San Jose Mercury News

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Twitter has redesigned its service to make it simpler, faster and more personalized in an effort to broaden its appeal.

The new version of Twitter, which will roll out to users by the end of the year, is geared toward getting people to use the service more frequently and for longer, and giving advertisers more reasons to spend their dollars there.

Jack Dorsey, a Twitter founder and chairman of the board, summed it up as: “Less places to click, less stuff to learn.”

He added the upgrades to the service were just the beginning of a new push at Twitter — and some of the first signs of things to come now that Dorsey has taken on such a major role at the company.

"These are just the first steps," said Dorsey as he demonstrated the new Twitter for the media, including the home icon (a birdhouse) and a quill icon to compose messages.

In a gesture to the foundation the company says it is laying with its product redesign, Twitter unveiled the redesign in its new headquarters still under construction in a historic Art Deco building on a blighted stretch of Market Street in San Francisco.

"We are setting the foundation so we can move quickly and most importantly innovate quickly," said Dorsey who divides his time between Twitter and mobile payments company Square.

Dorsey said Twitter is simplifying and personalizing its service to address one of its biggest challenges:  Even though many people know what Twitter is, they still don't know how or even why they should use it.

When people first alight on the site or sign up to use the service, Twitter will help them discover information most likely to interest them by registering signals such as their location. In the coming year, Dorsey said to expect an increased emphasis on that kind of "discovery" to "bubble up" the most relevant Tweets, messages of up to 140 characters in length that users broadcast.

The new look of Twitter tries to capture some of Apple's minimalist magic by stripping away unnecessary features and making the service simpler and more intuitive to use.

"We are going to offer simplicity in a world of complexity," Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo said.

The idea is to cut through the jargon such as hashtags (#) and @ handles to help casual users get the hang of the service as easily as its power users.

"Twitter should be usable by those who know the shortcuts and those who don't," Dorsey said.

The new Twitter design extends to iOS and Android apps. More than half of Twitter's members reach the site through mobile devices, Costolo said in September.

The jury's still out on whether the design changes will lure new users, said Greg Sterling, founder of the consulting firm Sterling Market Intelligence.

"A lot of people still won't see the need," Sterling said.

Twitter significantly overhauled its website a year ago in a redesign it called #NewTwitter. Costolo fired off a tweet to his team Thursday, praising them for their work on #NewNewTwitter. Twitter's nickname for the redesign: #LetsFly.

Twitter says more than 100 million people actively use the service, with the majority of those accounts overseas.

Twitter is vying to become an online advertising powerhouse to rival Google and Facebook. Dorsey said on average, 3% to 5% of people engage with ads on Twitter, a higher percentage than other forms of online advertising. But Twitter must compete for advertising dollars with Google, which dominates search advertising and increasingly display advertising, and social networking giant Facebook, which has more than 850 million users.

Costolo said the company is rolling out its widely anticipated "self-serve" system that lets anyone buy ads on Twitter. It's also letting brands such as American Express and organizations such as the American Red Cross to customize their own Twitter pages.

Twitter's advertising business is expected to generate about $140 million this year, up from $45 million last year, according to EMarketer. Twitter may generate $260 million in ad revenue in 2012, the research firm said.

In August, its worth was pegged at more than $8 billion in its latest funding round. It now has more than 700 employees who will move into the new headquarters in mid-2012. The office space has room for thousands.

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– Jessica Guynn

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Edmodo, Facebook for classrooms, lands $15 million, top advisors

posted by Technology @ 5:31 AM
Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Silicon Valley education start-up is getting a big vote of confidence from two venture capitalists who have veritable PhDs in social networking.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, and Matt Cohler, an early employee at Facebook, are joining the board of Edmodo. Their respective venture capital firms, Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital, are leading a new $15-million funding round.

Edmodo"Edmodo has emerged as the engine in the classroom for content sharing, collaboration and assignments," said Cohler, a general partner with Benchmark Capital. "Edmodo works and students get that, teachers get that."

And that has helped the Facebook-like service catch on in the classroom. More than 5 million teachers and students in 60,000 schools around the globe use Edmodo. The site's usership has doubled in the last three months. 

Hoffman, a managing partner with Greylock, said Edmodo is emerging as a key network. Just as Facebook is the social graph and LinkedIn the professional graph, he said, "Edmodo is the educational graph." 

Even as technologies in Silicon Valley have radically transformed our lives and industries, they've been slower to make a major dent in the 21st century classroom. Surveys show that most students still use technology more outside the classroom than in it. And while 73% of teachers say digital content is essential, only 11% of districts are using it, according to a survey of IT professionals.

In their last meeting before he died, Steve Jobs spoke with Bill Gates about the future of digital technology in the classroom given how little headway it had made. They agreed that "computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools — far less than on other realms of society such as media and medicine and law," according to Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.

Teacher ProfileRob Hutter, chairman of Edmodo and a managing partner with Learn Capital, contends that 2011 marks the tipping point with high-speed Internet in 95% of schools and the proliferation of mobile devices, which are more affordable and have longer battery life and the ability to create feature-rich, sophisticated educational initiatives in the cloud.

Edmodo is the brainchild of Nic Borg and Jeff O'Hara, IT professionals from a Chicago-area school district who wanted to bring the connected way people live their lives into the classroom. Most school districts block social networks, but Borg and O'Hara banked on the idea that a safe, secure social network that allowed teachers to network with one another and with students could fly.

How it works: K-12 teachers sign up for free, then add their students to create classroom communities that work on every type of personal computer and mobile device, Hutter said. Teachers can then send messages about assignments, post materials such as photos and videos related to the assignments, conduct quizzes and discuss topics covered in class. Teachers can also share educational content and best practices with each other. Edmodo has even offered interactive lessons on polar bears.

"This is going to be a really big, important network," Cohler said. "The more people join, the better the service gets for everybody."

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– Jessica Guynn

Images: Student profile on Edmodo (top), teacher profile (bottom). Credit: Edmodo

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Facebook

Facebook says it has fixed a security glitch after founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's private photographs were published online.

The incident stemmed from a Nov. 27 post on the Bodybuilding.com Web forum. An anonymous tipster spelled out step-by-step instructions to access photos uploaded by Facebook users, even if the photos were marked as private. Among the photos hackers published: Zuckerberg preparing food and handing out candy on Halloween.

Facebook says the security glitch "was live for a limited period of time." It did not say how many of the site's more than 800 million users were affected. "The precise number of people impacted is unknown at the moment but we continue to investigate," a spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Facebook blamed the problem on a recent "code push" in which it revised some of its software.

"Not all content was accessible, rather a small number of one's photos. Upon discovering the bug, we immediately disabled the system, and will only return functionality once we can confirm the bug has been fixed," a company spokesman said in an email.

The privacy breach struck at Facebook's Achille's heel. Last week Facebook agreed to settle federal government charges that it exposed too much user information without consent.

Security and privacy concerns have not dampened enthusiasm for Facebook, which has soared in popularity. It's preparing for an initial public offering next year that could peg the company's worth at $100 billion.

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

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Nz
New Zealand already has lush rainforests and sandy beaches, bungee jumping and scuba diving, gourmet restaurants and lively night life, even a thriving tech community that has drawn investment from the likes of Peter Thiel. (Of course, they drive on the left side of the road, but hey no place is perfect).

Now the country has something else the rest of the world does not: Facebook's new Timeline feature.

New Zealand is getting first crack at the major redesign of the profile page. Key to the decision: It's English speaking and very far away from Silicon Valley.

That's according to Sam Lessin, product director of Timeline, who told the New Zealand Herald: "We chose New Zealand to be first — and I'll probably get in trouble for saying this — primarily because it is an English-speaking country…. It's far away from our data centers, so we can monitor speed and performance."

It may also have something to do with the country having about 4.4 million people, 2 million of whom are on Facebook.

And just how long will the rest of the world have to wait?

"We're definitely taking our time with this one," Lessin said. "It will give people a chance to get excited about what they can do with it."

RELATED:

How to get the new Facebook 'Timeline' now

Facebook updates its status: It wants to be an entertainment hub

How to limit sharing in the face of Facebook's new features

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: New Zealand triathlete Tanya Dromgool leaves the water during a triathlon in Wanaka, New Zealand. Credit: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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Facebook picks up team behind location-sharing service Gowalla

posted by Technology @ 12:14 PM
Monday, December 5, 2011

Zuckerberg
The team behind Gowalla is going to Facebook.

That's the upshot of a blog post from one of the company's founders, Josh Williams.

Like the more-popular Foursquare, Gowalla is a mobile application that lets people share where they are and what they are doing with friends by "checking in."

Facebook confirmed that it's hiring Gowalla co-founders Williams and Scott Raymond, along with "several other members" of the Gowalla team. They'll move to Facebook in January, joining its engineering and design teams. Facebook did not identify which product or products the Gowalla group would work on.

The move gives Facebook an injection of top engineers as it competes for talent with other tech giants such as Google and Apple and startups such as Square. Facebook said last week it was opening an engineering office in New York to attract engineers. And Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Facebook plans to hire thousands of employees in the next year.

Williams said the talks with Facebook began after the F8 conference in September. For those keeping track, that was one year after Foursquare decided not to sell out to Facebook, opting instead to stay independent — and pursue a truckload of cash from venture capitalists.

A CNN report Friday prompted a weekend of fevered speculation over whether Facebook was buying Gowalla.

But in moving to Palo Alto from Austin, Texas, the Gowalla team won't be packing up the Gowalla service or its technology. Instead, the service will be wound down early next year, Williams said in his post.

"We're sure that the inspiration behind Gowalla will make its way into Facebook over time," a Facebook spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

Gowalla was one of the pioneers in the location-based sharing space. Both Gowalla and Foursquare launched in the same week of 2009. Kara Swisher dubbed the company "Not Foursquare." As she rightly points out, the company had changed tactics several times and was for sale for some time.

Clearly it's not the way Williams and his team had hoped things would turn out. But working for Facebook, which is on the verge of a $100-billion initial public offering, is surely a nice consolation prize.

RELATED:

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– Jessica Guynn

Photo: Mark Zuckerberg at a product unveiling at Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters in August 2010. Credit: Robert Galbraith / Reuters 

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Google+ offers free voice calls to U.S. and Canada from Hangouts

posted by Technology @ 12:23 PM
Thursday, December 1, 2011

Googlecalls
Google+ is offering free voice calls to the U.S. and Canada from Hangouts.

Google staffer Jarkko Oikarinen made the announcement, from where else, Google+.

That means anyone can join a Google+ video chat even if they are not online. Just call them and they can join the Hangout session.

The new feature is available inside Hangouts with extras (plus.google.com/hangouts/extras). To add someone by phone: click invite at the top of the hangouts with extras window. Then click the phone tab on the left of the window and punch in the number. Click call now.

RELATED:

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Google+ continues battle with fading user interest, data say

– Jessica Guynn

Photo: New calling feature in Google Hangouts Credit: Google

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L.A. startup looks for the most interesting engineers in the world

posted by Technology @ 11:13 AM
Thursday, December 1, 2011

Scopley

One L.A. startup is looking for the most interesting engineers in the world.

It has launched a spirited recruiting campaign that spoofs the Dos Equis beer advertising campaign featuring the most interesting man in the world ("At museums, he's allowed to touch the art," "He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels," "The police often question him, just because they find him interesting").

Scopely offers new recruits (or the folks who refer them) all the manly accoutrements that just such an engineer whose reputation is expanding faster than the universe might need: a briefcase filled with $11,000 in bacon-wrapped cash, a year's supply of Dos Equis, a custom-made tuxedo, cigars, sex panther cologne, a spear gun, beard-grooming oil and an oil painting of himself (or, of course, herself) "because Picasso needs a REAL model."

And, because competition for top technical talent has gotten as intense as cliff-diving in Acapulco (or other interesting man exploits), Scopely has turned its website into a digital "we're hiring" billboard that flashes questions such as "Did God use your wireframes to create the Himalayas?" or "Were you able to handle 100,000 requests/second at your high school prom?" next to a photograph of its chief technology officer Ankur Bulsara, who is so interesting that "Web technologies have meetups to discuss him."

Engineers have clearly taken the recruiting ploy seriously. Scopely has netted 1,000 resumes and two hires in the last four months. The oil painting of the first hire the company, ahem, speared, Mike Thomas, a senior software engineer, hangs prominently in the company's West Hollywood lobby.

"We had been using recruiters to help us find talent. It was fairly expensive and you don't always find the best people in the world. So we decided to create something a bit different and more fun than the standard cash bonus award," said Eytan Elbaz, the co-founder of Scopely who's most interesting achievement has been to help create Google AdSense. (Elbaz co-founded Applied Semantics, which sold to Google for $100 million in 2003 and became Google AdSense. He worked at Google until 2007.)

Now Elbaz modestly says he's running L.A.'s hottest (and clearly gunning for most interesting) consumer Internet startup with a team of 17 staffers from Playdom, MindJolt, Warner Bros. and Saatchi and Saatchi.

He won't say exactly what they are doing ("we're working on interesting stuff"), just that Scopely will disrupt the social web, or how much cash they've raised ("we will release it at some point") but investors include Terry Semel's Windsor Media.

That has been a serious enough proposition to lure three staffers from Silicon Valley. But for those engineers determined to remain in that technological hotbed, Scopely provides a helpful link to their pals' recruiting campaign in San Francisco. 

Hipster, which has backing from Google Ventures, Charles River Ventures and Kapor Capital, has come up with a similar pitch: It's offering a year's supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon, $10,000 in cash, a fixed gear bicycle, authentic skinny jeans, Buddy Holly glasses, worn brown boots, 'stache grooming and bang trimming.

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Photo: Mike Thomas, a senior software engineer at Scopley, wears a custom-made tuxedo and holds a spear gun while posing with the rest of his haul: a briefcase filled with $11,000 in bacon-wrapped cash, Dos Equis beer, sex panther cologne, cigars, beard-grooming oil, an oil painting of himself and more. Credit: Scopley

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Facebook increases limit on status updates to 63,206 characters

posted by Technology @ 8:13 PM
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zuckerberg
Wordy and long-winded Facebook users may officially rejoice.

Twitter may limit you to a paltry 140 characters. But Facebook wants you to go on and on (and on).

The social networking site has increased its limit in status updates to more than 60,000 characters  — 63,206 characters to be exact. That means you could fit an entire novel into nine status updates. (If you are a friend of mine, I am asking you nicely not to try).

Just this summer, Facebook pumped up the limit to 5,000 from 500 characters for those who are congenitally incapable of keeping things short and sweet. Back in the olden days (March 2009), the limit was 160 characters, a 20-word premium on Twitter.

Still Facebook doesn't let you go on as long as Google+. There the limit appears to be 100,000 characters.

For that, you may have to buy a few vowels from Vanna White.

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Photo: Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg shows off the social network's new "time line" feature at its annual developers conference in San Francisco in September. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg.

 

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Social network offers ‘smart journal’ users a revamped Path

posted by Technology @ 9:39 PM
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In an unforgettable scene from AMC's "Mad Men," Don Draper pitches Kodak executives on an advertising campaign for their new slide projector.

They want to focus on the technology. He's loaded the carousel with family pictures and the emotional pull of memory.

"This device isn't a spaceship," he tells the suits. "It's a time machine."

PathAnd that's exactly what the founders of Path are trying to build: a smartphone app that is more powerful than memory alone, that becomes a digital vehicle for recording memories so users can roll back through time and return to places that in Draper's words, "we ache to know again."

Dave Morin and Dustin Mierau have distilled that idea into a new version of the Path app for iPhone and Android. They call it a "smart journal" for the smartphone. Think of it as a modern take on the moleskin diary that travelers used to carry in their pockets to jot down notes about the places they had been and the people they met.

Morin and Mierau say they took their cue from their some 1 million users who have turned Path into a handy way to document their lives — screenshots of songs playing on their iPods, notes to friends or themselves, photos from weddings and road trips — and share pivotal moments with a tight-knit circle of friends and relatives.

"People have this deep desire to remember things, to remember their lives. It's a source of real happiness for people," Morin said. "It's the participation of your friends and family in the story that's exciting."

Path is looking to cement its bond with users by rolling out an updated version of the app. The app has been redesigned to be easier on the eyes and make stuff easier to share.

Users can also now share and check in on other networks such as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. And a new feature called Automatic does exactly what the name suggests: it automatically notes changes to your daily routine, such as traveling to a new city, and updates your social circle, essentially becoming a journal that writes itself. (You can turn it off if that's not your thing).

Still, Path has yet to live up to its promise as a new kind of social network. 

Path2

People often say that they want privacy as they gripe about Facebook pushing them to share more information with more people. But is that what people really want?

So far, Path has yet to catch on in a big way. It's early going but Path is still an ant in a land of social media giants. Facebook is the world's largest social networking site with more than 800 million users and an initial public offering coming soon despite concerns over privacy. And Google's new social network, Google+, has already attracted millions (in part by using its mighty presence on the Web and in part by giving users a new way to segment friends in "circles").

So Path is casting a wider net. At the time it launched a year ago, Path let users designate only 50 friends. Path has now upped that limit to 150 friends, but even then lets people accumulate more friends if they want.

Path pitches itself as a social network that is more exclusive and private than Facebook, an antidote to an era of online openness in which people routinely broadcast the details of their lives to friends and strangers alike.

Morin, a former executive at Facebook and Apple, is betting that people crave more intimate interaction with a much smaller circle. 

Path users post snippets and snapshots that over time create a "path." That means your friends and family can see your life through your eyes. The concept got early traction with high-profile investors. Path even turned down a $100-million buyout offer from Google.

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Images: Screenshots of Path include U2's "Beautiful Day" being posted by a user, and friends and family commenting and sharing emotions on a user's post. Credit: Path

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Facebook settles privacy complaint with Federal Trade Commission

posted by Technology @ 11:12 AM
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Zuckerberg

Facebook has settled charges with the Federal Trade Commission that it deceived users by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private and then repeatedly making it public, according to the agency.

The settlement of an eight-count complaint requires Facebook to warn users about privacy changes and to get their permission before sharing their information more broadly, according to the FTC. Facebook has agreed to 20 years of privacy audits, it said.

"Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users," Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said in a written statement. "Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not."

In a blog post, Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is committed to giving its users "complete control" over what they share and with whom.

"I also understand that many people are just naturally skeptical of what it means for hundreds of millions of people to share so much personal information online, especially using any one service.  Even if our record on privacy were perfect, I think many people would still rightfully question how their information was protected. It's important for people to think about this, and not one day goes by when I don't think about what it means for us to be the stewards of this community and their trust," he wrote. "I'm committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy."

Facebook also has created two new positions to make sure it takes privacy seriously, Zuckerberg said.

Erin Egan, a former partner with Covington & Burling, will become chief privacy officer for policy. Michael Richter, Facebook’s chief privacy counsel, will take on a new role as chief privacy officer for products.

Privacy watchdog Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the settlement shows that Facebook "has long misled users and the public."

But another frequent critic, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), applauded the settlement.

"The settlement's privacy protections will benefit Facebook users and should serve as a new, higher standard for other companies to follow in their own efforts to protect consumers' privacy online," Markey said in a written statement. "When it comes to its users' privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: ‘Ask for permission, don’t assume it."

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Photo: Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg greets a student as he arrives to speak at Harvard University. Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard in 2004, met with students as part of an East Coast trip to recruit for the social networking company. Photo credit: Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg 

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