Google and antitrust
Google’s dominance is under the trustbusters' microscope in America(19)
|Google to End Health Records Service After It Fails to Attract Users|
New York Times
By STEVE LOHR Google is giving up on its vision of helping people live healthier lives with online personal health records. When Google Health was introduced in 2008, Marissa Mayer, a Google executive, said it would be a “large ongoing initiative” that ...
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|Google hides their Gay Pride doodle|
(CBS/What's Trending) - Everyone loves a good Google doodle. Whether it is for something major like Christmas or trivial like Pacman's 30th anniversary, the Google doodle has been an everchanging and entertaining aspect to the search engine. ...
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|Oil Release, Afghan Rollback, Google Probe|
Wall Street Journal
Google Inc. said the Federal Trade Commission formally notified the company that the agency had begun a review of its business. Google said it was unclear what the FTC's concerns were, but that it would be working with the agency in the coming months ...
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|On Capitol Hill, it's all about beating down Google|
by Declan McCullagh commentary WASHINGTON--It was inevitable that Google, one of the world's largest technology companies, would find itself in the crosshairs of the Washington antitrust establishment. But what is, or should be, a little surprising is ...
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|Google driverless cars will soon hit the road in Nevada|
By Matt Weinberger | June 24, 2011, 12:24pm PDT Nevada has just passed legislation removing many of the legal barriers to the use of Google's self-driving car technology. Christopher Dawson grew up in Seattle, back in the days of pre-antitrust ...
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|Cutts Believes Google `Doing the Right Thing' for Users|
June 24 (Bloomberg) -- Matt Cutts, lead software engineer and head of the Web spam team at Google Inc., talks about yesterday's announcement that the Federal Trade Commission has begun a review of Google's business practices. ...
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Data Centers Look for Lower-Emission Cooling
By JAMES KANTER
Published: June 19, 2011
BRUSSELS — Putting computers near water is usually discouraged. But water could become vital for some companies seeking to cool the powerful servers that store and exchange vast amounts of information.
Google, which runs five large data centers, is planning to open one of its most efficient facilities in a former paper mill on the coast of Finland later this year.
“It’s the first time that I know that seawater has been used for data center cooling, but in other industries it’s actually quite common,” said Urs Hoelzle, a senior vice president at Google.
“Over all, there is huge opportunity for improvement” in the way the industry approaches energy efficiency, including cooling, Mr. Hoelzle said.
Data centers account for most of the energy used by Google. The servers inside are key to ever-faster search results and data-rich services like video-conferencing and music downloads. Industries like banking and health care are also creating huge demand for added capacity.
In a study published three years ago, Jonathan Koomey, a consulting professor at Stanford University, found that powering and cooling the equipment in data centers represented about 1 percent of total global electricity consumption in 2005, or about 0.3 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide.
Mr. Koomey, who is updating those figures, emphasized that the most useful measure of the environmental footprint for the technology industry was not necessarily the amount of emissions created by data centers or digital devices taken on their own. He said it also was important to examine the way technology improved the environmental performance of the broader economy. He said downloading music represented huge savings in greenhouse gases that otherwise would have been emitted in manufacturing, shipping and recycling CDs.
Mr. Koomey said moving more of the operations run “in house” by companies to more efficient data centers would substantially lower the overall environmental footprint of the industry.
He also said there was a need to continue making all data center equipment as efficient as possible. Locating “data centers near cool bodies of water is one technique that works,” he said.
Even so, building more efficient data centers and getting smarter at managing them could “only blunt the underlying growth” of the sector and the “strong growth in the electricity that data centers consume,” said James M. Kaplan, a partner at McKinsey & Co. in New York.
Google already uses water for cooling at a center in Belgium. The facility treats and cleans water from a canal. The water is pumped to the data center and then into coils, over which warmed air from the servers is passed. The water in the coils absorbs the heat before it is pumped to a tower. Some of the water is recycled and some evaporates into the atmosphere.
That concept is somewhat similar to efforts by PEER 1 Hosting, which operates 17 server farms in Europe and North America and plans to open a new site at Portsmouth, England, in October.
In Portsmouth, PEER 1 plans to funnel air warmed by the servers to a chamber where it is to be cooled as it passes through metal plates sprayed with water. The water would be recycled, while the cooled air would be blown back through specially sealed aisles, rather than wasted on empty parts of the building. Refrigeration could still be used, but only when weather was particularly hot or humid.
New cooling methods could help PEER 1 win business and maintain profitability when electricity prices are rising, said Dominic Monkhouse, the managing director for PEER 1 in Europe. Companies like the giant supermarket chain Tesco that were directly or indirectly using PEER 1 services were demanding lower energy use from all parts of their supply chains, including data centers, as part of efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, he said.
At its best-performing facility in Toronto, PEER 1 needs power for cooling, mostly involving fans, amounting to 35 percent beyond what it uses to run the servers.
At Portsmouth, it aims to lower that figure to 10 percent.
At the five centers owned and operated by Google, that figure is 16 percent.
Mr. Hoelzle said the site at Hamina, northeast of Helsinki, should turn out to be somewhat more efficient in terms of water and energy use than the Belgium location.
Google plans to draw raw seawater directly from the Gulf of Finland into a large tunnel that a paper mill used for cooling. The seawater would then be used to cool a separate set of water pipes, running in a closed loop inside the data center, that would absorb heat from the servers. The warmed seawater would then be allowed to cool before it was pumped back into the gulf to minimize effects on the environment.
Google has invested about $400 million in renewable energy projects, and it plans to buy increasing amounts of electricity from those sources for its centers.
But the company was not about to install windmills or solar panels to feed green power directly.
On-site renewable energy “looks good” but was not “a rational idea,” Mr. Hoelzle said. Suitable sites for data centers “may not be very sunny because you don’t want it to be too hot, and it may not be very windy,” he said.
But putting new farms near bodies of cold water would not always be practical either, because of factors like the need to locate servers near enough to users to offer the best network speed.
“Data center site selection is sort of the art of compromise,” Mr. Hoelzle said.
Mr. Monkhouse of PEER 1 said the race to lower energy use at data centers had generated an explosion of ideas for cooling servers, including some that appeared far-fetched or impractical like immersing the machines in metal cases surrounded by oil to drain heat away even faster than water.“I must get three or four e-mails a week saying, ‘Have you seen our new technology?”’ he said. “At every level, people are trying to innovate.”
Andy Rubin, Google's (GOOG) top mobile-phone executive, likes to talk about everything being "Android-ized." Android has become the top smartphone operating system in the United States, but Google's ambitions for it go well beyond tablet computers and smartphones, even beyond the mobile Web.With its forthcoming Google Wallet payment service, an Android smartphone will become a credit card. Now Google says Android can also become the first mass-market bridge between the virtual world and the physical world, allowing smartphone apps to control light bulbs, homeappliances, and even medical devices.
At its annual I/O developer conference last month, Google announced a program called Android@Home, a system that will allow Android phones and tablets to turn on household lights, activate speakers in a wireless stereo system, or analyze the calories burned on a gym exercise bike. The first Android@Home products are LED light bulbs embedded with technology that can be controlled by an Android device. Built by a Florida company called Lighting Science Group, they will go on sale by December.
But Android's executives say their ambition goes beyond turning a smartphone into a universal remote that could switch on the kitchen coffeemaker from your upstairs bedroom.
"These are fantastic windows into the virtual world," said Joe Britt, the director of Android@Home, holding out a Nexus S smartphone during a recent interview at the Googleplex. "But that's the limitation, right? It's the virtual world.
"Why not enable any physical device that exists to be influenced by or monitored by or controlled by a user, in a way that's as convenient as possible? And in doing that, because (Android is) a platform for applications, we enable a whole new universe of application types that developers can create."
Hoping to spark a wave of creativity similar to what Apple (AAPL) started when it opened the iPhone apps store, Google distributed hundreds of circuitry kits to developers at last month's I/O conference. The Android Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK) allows Android's software to operate and communicate with motors, sensors, controllers and relays, allowing developers to create an interface in which a smartphone app could control or collect data from a thermostat, a lawn irrigation system or a group of lighting fixtures.
"The opportunity exists to dramatically change how you control your home," said Tom Benton of Lighting Science. Over time, "we're talking about the elimination of the wall switch."
With more than 400,000 Android devices being activated worldwide every day and a global community of 450,000 independent Android software developers, Google hopes appliance manufacturers will be willing to embed the company's "Tungsten" control technology in their products, and that consumers will be willing to spend the money to buy Google's wireless control "bridge" that will connect individual appliances to an Android device through a home Wi-Fi network.
"For many of these concepts, the stars need to align a bit in terms of critical mass," acknowledged John Lagerling, director of global partnerships for Android.
Google is hardly the first company to come up with the idea of a universal remote to control household appliances. IBM, Microsoft and other companies have promoted the idea, and a Southern California company called Smarthome has been designing, building and selling home control and automation products since 1992.
While the technology is not a major problem, Scott Burnett, director of IBM Global Consumer Electronics Industry, said "one of the looming issues for the industry is the business model -- how do I make money? -- whether from the perspective of the device maker, the service provider or others in the value chain."
Adding to the uncertainty about Android@Home is that Google has not yet revealed the device the wireless bridge network will use, nor its price. The initial LED lighting products, although far more efficient and longer-lasting than an incandescent bulb, aren't cheap -- LSG's household bulbs retail for about $22 to $35 each before energy rebates; the company has not set prices for those with the Android@Home technology added.
But by starting with the low-hanging fruit -- "Everybody can change a light bulb," Britt said -- Google hopes the payoff in energy savings, convenience and novelty will encourage manufacturers and consumers to jump onboard.
By throwing the door open to the creativity of independent developers, Google hopes to see software apps for the physical world just as ingenious as some of the hundreds of thousands of mobile apps for the virtual world that have been concocted in recent years.
Imagine, Android engineers say, a home alarm system that turns off automatically as you arrive home because your smartphone knows where you are. Or, Android developers could write apps to harness the computing power of the Internet cloud to reduce a home's power and water consumption.
"When the rainy season starts, the Internet knows when that is," Britt said. "We can automatically adjust how much water you're using. If you understand when the most efficient time to use energy is, you can schedule times when your dishwasher runs or your washing machine runs. Those are the examples of control applications that, if wrapped in the appropriate user interface so they are very simple and transparent, this technology enables."
Far more ambitious apps are possible. Scientists at UC Berkeley are using the Android ADK to discover ways to help control mechanical "exoskeletons" that would support the legs of paraplegics, allowing them to stand and walk. Medical sensors connected to an Android smartphone could allow diabetics to monitor their blood sugar, or anyone to monitor their sleep patterns, Langerling said.
Britt, who met Rubin when both worked for Apple two decades ago, has a pedigree in mobile-software technology. Rubin and Britt, along with Matt Hershenson, in 1999 founded Danger, a startup that created the T-Mobile Sidekick before Microsoft bought the company in 2008. Rubin left Danger to found Android in 2003, which Google bought two years later.
"I would come over here (to Android) to see Andy and Matt and have lunch, and the stuff they were working on was always extremely interesting to me, so last November I joined," Britt said. "I've been having a blast. It's a fantastic place. It's a crazy place in a really good way."
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So, Why Are Senior U.S. Officials Using Gmail?
When Google announced that hackers had gone after Gmail users, the company noted that they specifically targeted U.S. government officials and military personnel.
In fact, Google said the hackers, who the company alleges were based in China, were aiming for "senior" U.S. government officials. And that raises the question of what government leaders are doing using Gmail in the first place.
U.S. government officials, after all, have access to official government e-mail systems that have layer after layer of security. So how does Gmail, Google's cloud-based email service, come into play?
There's a two-layered answer.
First, Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, pointed out that Google, which is fighting Microsoft for enterprise customers, has been pushing hard to get government agencies -- all the way from small and local to big, federal organizations -- to move to Google Apps. And that effort seems to be working.
Late last year, for instance, the U.S. General Services Administration, which supports and manages federal agencies, announced that it was moving all of its approximately 17,000 workers to the cloud, and to Gmail in particular . The U.S. State Department, NASA and the Army also have moved some of their email services to Gmail.
Add to that list of users the cities of Seattle and Los Angeles and the D.C. government.
"Look at the Google Apps customer list and you'd be surprised at how many top government agencies utilize Gmail and other Google Apps.... It's pretty staggering," said Shimmin. "They don't tell us how many per industry, but you'll see there are quite a few government agencies using Google Apps and Gmail is a key function of Google Apps -- so you'll see it used a lot."
OK, so some key government agencies officially use Gmail. Now comes the second layer of this issue.
Most people have a work e-mail, but they also have a secondary, generally free, e-mail service for their personal use. Actually, Shimmin noted that 90 percent of Internet users have more than one e-mail address.
That means some government officials might discuss critical, security sensitive topics on their highly secure government e-mail accounts and then get their kid's soccer schedule or make dinner plans on their personal Gmail account. And they also might forward work e-mails to their personal account simply so they can read them at home.
Either way, there are a whole lot of government officials using Gmail. And that means there's some back-and-forth between personal and work accounts, as well.
And that makes the Gmail attack a bit more serious, says Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.
"Any Gmail hack is a bad thing for Google, but having it hit government officials is worse, since these are the people who can focus a lot of regulatory attention on them," added Olds. "Although this sounds, so far at least, like the hacking was due to users getting sucked into phishing attempts, this won't necessarily get Google off the hook."
And since the attack came in the form of a phishing scheme that tried to con users into handing over their passwords, Shimmin said Google shouldn't take a big beating over this.
"The onus lies with the individual on this one," said Shimmin. "If you don't conduct safety practices on your own and you act like an idiot and click on a link you shouldn't click on, that's not Google's fault. Google shouldn't take a beating for this, because people should have been smart enough not to fall for a phishing attack."
However, he also noted that just because Google shouldn't take the blame, that doesn't mean it won't. The allegation that it involves China and espionage makes it a high-profile attack, with Google is right in the middle of it.
"It's a black eye for Google as it is with any vendor that's caught with something this high profile," said Shimmin. "It could have been some kid in the new Jersey who launched a phishing attack. What's giving Google the biggest hit with this is that it's a strange story and it's connected with espionage and China."
As for Olds, he says it's not yet clear how this will play out for Google.
"It's hard to say if this specific incident will have a long-term effect on Google or cloud applications in general," he added. "To me, it's a drip effect where these hacks keep coming, one after the other, and could add up to a general perception that [the cloud] is just not a safe and secure way to transmit and store anything important."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.
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