April 15, 2021

Google Ventures Stresses Science of Deal, Not Art of the Deal

A friend calls a friend who knows a guy. A meeting is taken. Wine is drunk (at, say, Madera lounge in Menlo Park). A business plan? Sure, whatever. But how does it feel?

This is decidedly not how Google, that apotheosis of our data-driven economy, wants to approach the high-stakes business of investing in the next, well, Google. Unlike venture capitalists of old, the company’s rising V.C. arm focuses not on the art of the deal, but on the science of the deal. First, data is collected, collated, analyzed. Only then does the money start to flow.

Google Ventures and its take on investing represent a new formula for the venture capital business, and skeptics say it will never capture the chemistry — or, perhaps, the magic — of Silicon Valley. Would computer algorithms have bankrolled David Packard or Steve Jobs? Foreseen the folly of Pets.com?

The data provides one answer to those questions, at least for now: Since its founding in 2009, Google Ventures has stood out in an industry that, for all its star power, has been dealing its investors a bad hand. In recent years, an investor would have done better with a ho-hum mutual fund that tracks the stock market than with some splashy V.C. fund. Venture capital funds posted an annual average return of 6.9 percent from 2002 to 2012, trailing major stock indexes, according to Cambridge Associates.

Google Ventures, like all venture funds, does not publicly reveal returns. But its partners can count on one hand the number of its 170 investments that have failed, though it is too early to know how many will succeed, and it has missed investing in some superstar companies. Its successes include companies that have gone public, like HomeAway for vacation rentals and Silver Spring Networks for smart grid software, and start-ups sold to Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter.

Whether Big Data — that label for technology and decision-making that is upending so many businesses — can truly transform the industry that helped spawn it remains to be seen. Few deny that crunching data is increasingly important. But some insist that those old intangibles, like instinct and luck, are still paramount.

“V.C.’s, just like all of our portfolio companies, need to be analytically intuitive in the modern era of data analytics,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, which has invested in companies like Amazon.com and Redfin, the real estate site. “But the intuition part is ultimately the biggest factor. And even with all that, a little good luck goes a long way.”

Google Ventures was the first major firm to rely heavily on data. Since then, established funds like Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator have followed suit, and new firms like the Ironstone Group and Palo Alto Venture Science have been created to test the strategy.

Many venture capitalists agree that something needs to change. In the tech industry, where engineers believe any problem can be solved with data, the solution seemed obvious.

“If you can’t measure and quantify it, how can you hope to start working on a solution?” said Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures. “We have access to the world’s largest data sets you can imagine, our cloud computer infrastructure is the biggest ever. It would be foolish to just go out and make gut investments.”

Google Ventures has $1.5 billion under management — a pittance in the wider world of Google, which made $50 billion in revenue last year. It employs seven people who gather data, analyze it and present the results to the investors. Jerome H. Friedman, a prominent statistician at Stanford who writes papers with names like “Data Mining, Inference and Prediction,” consults for a few hours a week.

The firm feeds its algorithms data gleaned from academic literature, past experience and due diligence about start-ups and their founders. Even college dropouts who have never started a company have a quantifiable track record, Mr. Maris said.

Google declined to reveal its secret sauce — the algorithms it uses to parse the data. But it has learned a few lessons.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/technology/venture-capital-blends-more-data-crunching-into-choice-of-targets.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Google Asks Secret Court for Permission to Publish National Security Request Data

Google's motion to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday is the company's latest move to control the public relations crisis that has resulted from revelations of government Internet surveillance.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press Google’s motion to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday is the company’s latest move to control the public relations crisis that has resulted from revelations of government Internet surveillance.

Google on Tuesday filed a motion with the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, asking permission to publish data on national security requests that were made to it and authorized by the court.

The motion is the company’s latest move to control the public relations crisis that has resulted from revelations of government Internet surveillance. It is an escalation of Google’s efforts to publish the data. Last week, it sent a letter to the director of the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence, asking for the same thing.

By law, recipients of national security requests are not allowed to acknowledge their existence. But with the permission of the government, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple have in the last few days published aggregate numbers of national security and criminal requests, including those authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Google has not, because it said that would be less transparent than what it had already published. Its transparency report has since 2010 broken out requests by type, and if it agreed to the same terms the other companies did, it would not be able to publish the report that way in the future.

In the motion, Google argued that it had a First Amendment right to publish a range of the total number of requests and the number of users or accounts they cover.

Google said that its executives had responded to allegations — that it cooperated with the government in Internet surveillance — as best they could, given the government’s restraints on discussing them. But the company said that it wanted to do more for the sake of its reputation, business and users, and for the sake of public debate.

“Google’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations,” the motion said. “Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities.”

The tech companies have been pressing to be able to publish the number of government requests largely to prove that the requests cover a tiny fraction of users. Though the other companies said they were also pushing the government for permission to publish more detailed data, they said the aggregate numbers were useful to control speculation by setting a ceiling on the number of requests.

Other tech companies affected by the government’s surveillance program, called Prism, have considered going to the secret court, an option that is still on the table, according to two people briefed on the discussions. So far, the companies have been individually negotiating with the government instead of acting in concert.

Still, even if they are allowed to publish more detailed numbers, it would leave many questions unanswered, including details of how Prism works. Also, the number of people affected by FISA requests could be much larger than the number of requests, because once the government makes a broad request, it can add individuals and additional search queries for a year.

Google’s motion also revealed that two of its top lawyers, Kent Walker and Richard Salgado, have security clearance, which FISA requires for handling classified legal orders and materials. It was filed on behalf of the company by Albert Gidari, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie who has earned a reputation in tech and legal circles as an expert on surveillance law.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/google-asks-secret-court-for-permission-to-publish-national-security-request-data/?partner=rss&emc=rss

More Data on Privacy, but Picture Is Still Fuzzy

Now, one by one, the companies are putting out data intended to reassure their users that the government gets information on just a tiny number of people. Over the weekend, Facebook and Microsoft released reports about the overall number of data requests they had received from United States law enforcement agencies. On Monday, Apple and Yahoo joined the chorus.

But rather than provide clarity, some of the disclosures have left many questions unanswered.

Apple, for example, said that from Dec. 1, 2012, through May 31, 2013, it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests for data, covering 9,000 to 10,000 accounts, from American law enforcement agencies. Facebook said it got 9,000 to 10,000 requests for information about its users, covering 18,000 to 19,000 user accounts, in the last six months of 2012.

How many of those requests were from investigators seeking to sniff out the next terrorist?

The companies said they were not allowed to say, although they noted that the requests were commonly related to things like local police investigations and searches for missing children. That continuing restriction prompted both Google and Twitter to say they would not publish similar data until they could separate national security requests from the rest.

“We still don’t know what is allowed and how these programs are being implemented,” said Amie Stepanovich, director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit group.

But the companies were under immense pressure to announce something. If customers do not trust that Facebook or Microsoft or Google will keep private data confidential, they could use those services far less, undermining the companies’ business model.

“They’ve got to say to the consuming public that we care about your data, we’re going to do everything we can to preserve your data, and absent a national security contingency, no one gets access to your data,” said Adonis Hoffman, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, who has served as a legal adviser to both the government and the advertising industry.

Pressing on the companies from the other side are the country’s intelligence agencies, which prohibit companies from disclosing virtually anything about the requests for national security data without permission.

“The nature of these orders are that they themselves are secret,” said one frustrated executive at a company involved in discussions with the government over disclosure issues.

Despite a week of arduous negotiations since the first reports about the National Security Agency’s seeking private data from nine major technology companies, the firms still cannot say much. “The government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range,” Facebook wrote when it posted its data late Friday night.

Still, for tech companies that had never before released a transparency report, like Facebook and Apple, the data shed some light on their practices.

Apple, for example, noted in its report that it never gives the government copies of electronic conversations that take place over iMessage and FaceTime because they are protected by encryption that even Apple cannot break. “Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form,” the company said.

Google and Twitter, which had previously released transparency reports, said that lumping all law enforcement requests together, like Apple and the others did over the weekend, would be even less transparent.

Microsoft, which put out its first transparency report in March, decided to disclose the aggregate numbers but said it was pressing for further disclosure. Google, which published its first transparency report in 2010, has been the most aggressive in pushing for more disclosure. In March, it began breaking out data on one type of government request — National Security Letters, which request information on Americans — saying it had received 0 to 999 requests.

Permission to disclose that came after more than a year of negotiations with the government, and Google had been seeking permission to publish data on the other major type of national security request — information on foreigners demanded under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — even before news of Prism, the government’s surveillance program, broke, according to a person briefed on those discussions. It is still in talks to try to publish more detailed data, the person said.

By pushing to be able to publish more data on national security requests, the companies were hoping to shift the debate from the data exchange between the tech companies and the government to how the government can be more transparent about it.

Still, even if the government gives permission to break out FISA requests as a separate data point, the numbers are unlikely to tell the whole story. For every formal FISA request the government makes, intelligence agents are able to add names and additional search queries to that request for up to a year afterward, so the amount of data requested could be much higher.

Also, when the government gave Google and Microsoft permission to publish the number of national security letters they receive, it required them to publish the numbers in increments of 1,000, instead of the exact number, and would most likely do the same for FISA requests.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/technology/more-data-on-privacy-but-picture-is-no-clearer.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Anonymous Payment Schemes Thriving on Web

And so began a collaboration between his organization, major banks, credit card companies, Internet service providers, payment processors, and Internet companies like Google and Microsoft. They had hoped to follow the money and quash child pornography for good.

But at some point the money trail went cold. For the last year, Mr. Allen has been working with global law enforcement and financial leaders to find out why.

He may be getting closer to an answer. Today, cybersecurity experts say billions of dollars made from child pornography and illicit sales of things like national secrets and drugs are being moved through anonymous Internet payment systems like Liberty Reserve, the currency exchange whose operators were indicted Tuesday for laundering $6 billion. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, described it as the largest online money-laundering case in history.

“What we have concluded is that illegal enterprises — commercial child pornography, human trafficking, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and organized crime — has largely moved to an unregulated system that is not connected to any central bank or national authority,” Mr. Allen said. “The key to all of this has been anonymity.”

Liberty Reserve was shut down last weekend, but cybersecurity experts said it was just one among hundreds of anonymous Internet payment systems. They said online systems like the Moscow-based WebMoney, Perfect Money, based in Panama, and CashU, which serves the Middle East and North Africa, require little more than a valid e-mail address to initiate an account. The names and locations of the actual users are unknown and can be easily fabricated. And they worry that the no-questions-asked verification system has created a safe harbor for illicit activity.

“There are a multitude of anonymous payment systems out there, similar to Liberty Reserve, of which there are over one hundred,” said Tom Kellermann, a vice president at the security company Trend Micro. “Many pretend to ‘know your customer’ but do not actually do due diligence.”

Representatives for WebMoney, Perfect Money and CashU did not return e-mailed requests for comment.

Currency exchanges like Liberty Reserve do not take or make payments of actual cash directly. Instead, they work with third parties that take payments and, in turn, credit the Liberty Reserve account.

After the authorities went after Liberty Reserve, underground forums buzzed with comments from people mourning the potential loss of frozen funds and others offering alternatives, including Bitcoin, the peer-to-peer payment network started in 2009 to offer a decentralized way to create and transfer electronic cash around the world.

In closed underground Russian-language forums, one person wrote, “I had almost 6k there. Where to now?” Another suggested, “Maybe another alternative is Perfect Money? I wonder if Bitcoin exchange rate will go up or not.”

Indeed, the value of the Bitcoin virtual currency spiked temporarily on news of the Liberty Reserve shutdown. But law enforcement officials say Liberty Reserve operated with more anonymity than Bitcoin. Unlike Liberty Reserve and other anonymous payment systems, Bitcoin transactions are stored in a public ledger, called a block chain, that make it possible to trace Bitcoin transactions even years after the fact.

“You can track specific Bitcoin movements just as you would the serial number on a U.S. dollar,” said Jeff Garzik, a Bitcoin developer. The real concern, security experts say, are private payment services that claim to do due diligence, but do not do even the most basic verification.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 31, 2013

Because of an editing error, an article on Thursday about anonymous payment schemes and how they are thriving on the Web referred incorrectly to Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer payment network started in 2009. Bitcoin was meant to offer a decentralized way — not centralized — to create and transfer electronic cash.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/technology/anonymous-payment-schemes-thriving-on-web.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Novelties: Estate Planning Is Important for Your Online Assets, Too

But you may want to provide for your virtual goods, too. Who gets the photographs and the e-mail stored online, the contents of a Facebook account, or that digital sword won in an online game?

These things can be important to the people you leave behind.

“Digital assets have value, sometimes sentimental, and sometimes commercial, just like a boxful of jewelry,” said John M. Riccione, a lawyer at Aronberg Goldgehn Davis Garmisa in Chicago. “There can be painful legal and emotional issues for relatives unless you decide how to handle your electronic possessions in your estate planning.”

Many services and programs have sprung up to help people prepare for what happens after their last login.

Google has a program called Inactive Account Manager, introduced in April, that lets those who use Google services decide exactly how they want to deal with the data they’ve stored online with the company — from Gmail and Picasa photo albums to publicly shared data like YouTube videos and blogs.

The process is straightforward. First go to google.com/settings/account. Then look for “account management” and then “control what happens to your account when you stop using Google.” Click on “Learn more and go to setup.” Then let Google know the people you want to be notified when the company deactivates the account; you’re allowed up to 10 names. You choose when you want Google to end your account — for example, after three, six or nine months of electronic silence (or even 12 months, if you’ve decided to take a yearlong trip down the Amazon).

Google has ways to make sure that your electronic pulse has really gone silent; it checks for traces of your online self, for example, by way of Android check-ins, Gmail activity and Web history. Then, a month before it pulls the plug, Google alerts you by text and e-mail, just in case you’re still there. If silence has indeed fallen, Google notifies your beneficiaries and provides links they can follow to download the photographs, videos, documents or other data left to them, said Nadja Blagojevic, a Google manager.

And if you just want to say goodbye to everything, with no bequests, you can instruct Google to delete all of the information in your account.

Naomi R. Cahn, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School in Washington, says Google’s new program is a step forward in digital estate planning. “People should carefully consider the fate of their online presences once they are no longer able to manage them,” she said.

Other companies may also be of help in planning your digital legacy. Many services offer online safe deposit boxes, for example, where you can stow away the passwords to e-mail accounts and other data. Accounts like this at SecureSafe, are free for up to 50 passwords, 10 megabytes of storage and one beneficiary, said Andreas Jacob, a co-founder. Accounts can be accessed from a browser, or from free iPhone, iPad and Android apps. The company also offers premium services for those who need a larger storage space, more passwords or more beneficiaries.

There is always your sock drawer or another physical repository to store a list of your user ID’s, should you be deterred from online lockboxes by fear of cyberattacks or the risk that computer servers that may not be there in a few decades, said Alexandra Gerson, a lawyer at Helsell Fetterman in Seattle.

“Make a private list of all your user names and passwords for all the accounts in which you have a digital presence, and make sure you update the list if you change login information” Ms. Gerson said. “Don’t put user names and passwords in your will, though, as it becomes a public record when you die.”

Make sure that your executor or personal representative understands the importance of preserving these digital assets, and knows how to find them, said Laura Hoexter, a lawyer at Helsell who also works on inheritance issues. “Preferably the person should be tech-savvy,” she said, and know about your online game accounts, your PayPal account, your online presence on photo storage sites, social media accounts and blogs, and even your online shopping accounts where your credit card information is stored so that the information can be deleted.

AFTER you die, an executor or agent can contact Facebook and other social media sites, establish his or her authority to administer the estate, and request the contents of the account.

“Most accounts won’t give you the user name and password, but they will release the contents of the account such as photographs and posts” to an executor, Ms. Hoexter said.

Transfer at death can depend on the company’s terms of service, copyright law and whether the file is encrypted in ways that limit the ability to freely copy and transfer it. Rights to digital contents bought on Google Play, for example, end upon the person’s death. “There is currently no way of assigning them to others after the user’s death,” Ms. Blagojevic said.

Encryption is a common constraint, but there are exceptions. Apple’s iTunes store, for example, has long removed its anti-copying restrictions on the songs sold there, and Ms. Gerson advises people to take advantage of this in their digital planning. “Get your music backed up on your computer,” she said.

Up to five computers can be authorized to play purchases made with one iTunes account, and a company support representative advises that users make sure that their heirs have access. At Kindle, too, family members with user ID information for the account can access the digital content.

Professor Cahn in Washington says the time to prepare for the digital hereafter is now, particularly if serious illness is a factor. “If someone is terminally ill,” she said, “in addition to getting emotional and financial issues in order, you need to get your Internet house in order.”

E-mail: novelties@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/technology/estate-planning-is-important-for-your-online-assets-too.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Eric Schmidt of Google to Meet With British Prime Minister

Given the grilling that Google has gotten this week in Parliament, you might think that Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of the company, would be persona non grata in London these days.

Not so, it appears. Mr. Schmidt is one of 16 high-level corporate executives who have been invited to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron next week. They are members of the Business Advisory Group, which regularly gathers at Mr. Cameron’s office to bat around economic issues.

While the talks are private, it is a safe bet that nobody at No. 10 Downing Street will call Mr. Schmidt “devious,” “unethical” or “evil” – at least not to his face. Those are just some of the terms that Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, used to describe Google during hearings this week on the strategies that multinational companies employ to minimize their taxes.

Ms. Hodge and other lawmakers are upset that Google paid only £6 million in corporate taxes in Britain in 2011, despite generating more than £3 billion in revenue there. Google, which reduces its tax bill in Britain and other European countries by routing sales via Ireland, where corporate taxes are lower, insists that the practice is perfectly legal.

A Downing Street official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said taxation would indeed be included in the discussions of the Business Advisory Group on Monday, which will focus on preparations for the Group of 8 summit meeting next month in Northern Ireland. “Nothing is off the table,” this person said.

“The prime minister has made it very clear that having strong international standards to make sure that global companies, like anyone else, pay the taxes they owe is a priority for the G-8 summit,” Mr. Cameron’s office said in a statement.

In addition to Mr. Schmidt, the advisory group includes prominent chief executives like Vittorio Colao of Vodafone, Tom Enders of EADS and Angela Ahrendts of Burberry. It has been meeting quarterly for more than two years.

One person familiar with Mr. Schmidt’s agenda said he planned to be in London for a number of events next week and would attend the meeting of the advisory group. Mr. Schmidt sits on the council in a “private capacity,” not as an official Google representative, this person added.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/eric-schmidt-of-google-to-meet-with-british-prime-minister/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Financial Times Web Site Is Hacked

The Syrian Electronic Army said it seized control of several F.T. Twitter accounts and amended a number of the site’s blog posts with the headline “Hacked by Syrian Electronic Army.” Hackers used their access to the F.T.’s Twitter feed to post messages, including one that said, “Syrian Electronic Army Was Here,” and another that linked to a YouTube video of an execution. Both messages were quickly removed.

A Financial Times spokesman, Ryann Gastwirth, confirmed by e-mail that several of its Twitter accounts and one FT blog were compromised by hackers Friday morning and that it had secured the accounts.

Hacking has been an increasingly pernicious problem over the last year. The New York Times said its Web site “was subjected to denial of service attacks,” earlier this week, “which made it temporarily unavailable to a small number of users.”

In a so-called distributed denial-of-service attack, hackers try to overhelm a site’s servers with traffic, an assault that can disrupt or block service altogether. The New York Times did not say where the attacks had originated.

The attack against the F.T. follows dozens of other Syrian Electronic Army attacks on the social media accounts of news outlets including The Guardian, the BBC, NPR, Reuters and The Associated Press. In The A.P. attack, the group used its access to the agency’s Twitter feed to plant a false story about explosions at the White House that sent the stock market into temporary free fall.

Researchers who have been conducting digital forensics on these attacks say they are done through so-called spearphishing, in which attackers send e-mails that contain a link to a fake news article to employees at their target organization.

Once clicked, the link redirects employees to a fake Google or Microsoft mail site that asks the employee for their user name and password. The hackers then use that information to get inside employees’ inboxes, where they can send more e-mails to employees who have access to the organization’s social media accounts, then use that access to reset the organization’s password to their Twitter account.

In the attack on The A.P., a hacker who identifies himself as “Th3 Pr0” and a member of the Syrian Electronic Army said in an e-mail that the group convinced 50 A.P. employees to hand over their login credentials, including several of the organization’s social media editors. The hacker sent screenshots taken during the attack to prove the Syrian group was behind it, an assertion researchers confirm.

Security researchers who have been tracking the group since its inception in early 2011 have traced several of the attacks to a Web server in Russia that they believe redirects attack traffic from within Syria. Last weekend, one researcher traced an attack back to an Internet address in Syria that is registered to Syriatel, the Syrian telecommunications company owned by Rami Makhlouf, a first cousin of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Activists point to that connection as proof that the Syrian Electronic Army is backed by the Assad regime, an assertion that members deny.

In an e-mail, Th3 Pr0 said the Syrian Electronic Army has two seemingly contradictory missions. The first is to “attack the media and spread truth on it” and the second is to “make damage to a specific country or to the terrorist groups in Syria by using the famous media’s social media accounts or Web sites to publish false news.”

Meanwhile, the Syrian Electronic Army itself became a hacking target this week. Anonymous, the loose hacking collective, took the group’s Web site offline in a type of digital attack called a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, in which they flood the site with traffic until it collapses under the load.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/18/technology/financial-times-site-is-hacked.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

State of the Art: Three Ways Feedly Outdoes the Vanishing Google Reader

On July 1, it will take away Google Reader. To the dismay of millions, that service will go the way of Google Answers, Google Buzz, iGoogle and GOOG-411. Google hasn’t provided much in the way of a satisfying reason for this “spring cleaning,” saying only that “usage has declined.”

This column is intended to help two kinds of people: Those who used Google Reader, and those who never even knew what it is.

Google Reader is what’s called, somewhat geekily, a newsreader, or painfully geekily, an RSS aggregator.

It’s like an online newspaper you assemble yourself from Web pages all over the world. Instead of sitting down at your desk each morning and visiting each of your favorites sites in turn — say, NYtimes.com, Reddit.com and HuffingtonPost.com — you just open reader.google.com. There, you find a tidy list of all the new articles from all of those sources, organized like an e-mail Inbox. You skim the headlines, you read summaries, you click the ones that seem worth reading.

Occasionally, you can read the entire article without leaving the newsreader page; that’s up to whoever published the article. Usually, though, you see the headline of each item and a quick description of the article, or maybe the first few paragraphs and an accompanying picture.

One click takes you to the originating Web site. It’s all much faster and more efficient than wading through the ads, the blinking and the less interesting articles on the originating Web sites themselves.

There was a huge outcry when Google announced the imminent death of Reader — petitions, blogs, the works — but you might not immediately understand why. Google Reader is notoriously ugly. It’s fairly complicated and busy.

It is, however, complete, customizable and convenient. And once you’ve set up your preferred sources of reading material, they show up identically on every computer, tablet and phone. The masses may not have used Reader or even heard of it, but information devotees, news hounds and tech followers loved it.

They needn’t mourn. Google Reader has plenty of rivals and satisfying replacements. In fact, I fully intended to offer capsule reviews of each of them, until I realized that six presidential administrations would pass by the time I finished.

Newsreaders are available for every kind of phone, tablet and computer: Bloglines, NewsBlur, Pulse, Taptu, Reeder, FeedDemon, Spundge, Good Noows, HiveMined, Prismatic, Netvibes, NetNewsWire, ManagingNews and so on. Some are Web pages like Google Reader; others are stand-alone programs or apps. Some e-mail programs can subscribe to these feeds, too, dropping them right into your Inbox.

The one everybody keeps saying is the natural heir to Google Reader, though, is Feedly.com. In fact, Feedly says the ranks of its four million users have swelled to seven million since Google’s Reader death sentence was announced.

It requires a free plug-in for the Firefox, Chrome and Safari browsers. Three factors in particular make it useful.

First, the biggie: Simply logging into Feedly with your Google name and password instantly re-creates your Google Reader setup. All of your news sources, favorites and tags — category names that you can apply to certain articles, for ease in rounding them up later — magically show up in Feedly, ready to use. The synchronization is two-way; until July 1, you can bounce between Reader and Feedly to your heart’s content, and your newsreader worlds will look identical.

(Behind the scenes, Feedly relies, believe it or not, on Google Reader’s feeds. But the company says it will seamlessly replace Google’s feeds with its own source by July 1.)

Second, Feedly is much nicer-looking than Google Reader. It does a better job with typography — Google does no job at all — the layout is more attractive, and it offers more views of your news.

For example, Feedly can display your feeds exactly the way Google does, in a text-only list; click something in the list to expand and read it right there in the list. But it can also display your articles in much more visual ways. There’s Magazine view (a list of descriptive blurbs, each with a small photo next to it); Cards view (photo and blurb appear on what looks like playing cards filling the screen); and Full Articles view (you don’t have to click to expand anything — each scrolling vertical block shows as much of the article as is available).

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/technology/personaltech/three-ways-feedly-outdoes-the-vanishing-google-reader.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economic Scene: Google Project May Spur Broadband Competition

“At that time the United States was a leader in broadband,” Mr. Medin recalled. Today, he lamented, “I don’t see anybody arguing that the U.S. is anything but mediocre.”

These days, Mr. Medin leads Google’s effort to deploy superspeedy 1 gigabit-per-second networks — 100 times faster than the 10 Mbps plans @Home introduced long ago — in several cities around the country, starting in Kansas City last fall.

Most of the nation’s innovation today relies on a broadband connection. Yet broadband seems to be the one area of the information economy that has not followed Moore’s law, named after the proposition by Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore that the power of digital devices would roughly double every couple of years, radically expanding their capability and driving down their cost.

“Internet access is constraining what people can do,” Mr. Medin said. “This puts American companies at a disadvantage. It puts Google in a place where we can’t innovate as well as we could.”

President Obama has made much of this deficit. In 2010 his administration introduced a National Broadband Plan that promised a path of rapid deployment of high-speed networks, offering 100 million households affordable access to connections of 100 Mbps or more.

“We will not succeed by standing still, or even moving at our current pace,” Julius Genachowski, Mr. Obama’s first chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told Congress at the time. Yet most Americans are still stuck in the Internet slow lane, far from the frontier of our possibilities. And the main roadblock remains much the same as it has been for years: a lack of competition.

Last week, President Obama nominated Tom Wheeler, a veteran lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, to succeed Mr. Genachowski. He has his job cut out for him: achieving fast universal broadband requires figuring out how to shake up the oligopolies that run the nation’s high-speed Internet.

There has been progress lately. The FCC points out that more fiber-optic cable has been laid in the United States than in Europe in the last two years. According to Akamai, the nation’s average broadband download speed is about 7.4 Mbps per second, about twice as fast as it was two years ago. This puts the nation in eighth place in the world, up from 22nd in 2009.

Still, speeds in the United States remain behind those in the world’s most connected countries, like South Korea, Japan and Switzerland. Equally importantly, American broadband, at an average price of $6.14 per Mbps, is more expensive than in most other developed nations.

This has little to do with the actual cost of moving bits. The price of transporting data wholesale across the Internet has fallen to about $1.57 per Mbps, down from $1,200 when Mr. Medin was helping start @Home. And high prices discourage Americans from opting for higher speeds. Though 10 Mbps broadband is available in 90 percent of homes around the country, and four out of five homes have access to 100 Mbps service, last year only 28 percent of homes that had access to broadband at a speed above 6 Mbps actually bought it.

What’s most worrying is that the handful of companies offering high-speed broadband to American consumers may have little incentive to expand their networks, increase their speeds and lower their prices.

According to the F.C.C.’s latest calculation, under one-third of American homes are in areas where at least two wireline companies offer broadband speeds of 10 Mbps or higher. Even including the spottier service offered by wireless providers, which tends to come with strict data caps limiting use, the share is less than half.

That means that in most American neighborhoods, consumers are stuck with a broadband monopoly. And monopolies don’t strive to offer the best, cheapest service. Rather, they use speed as a tool to discriminate by price — coaxing consumers who are willing to pay for high-speed broadband into more costly and profitable tiers.

Blair Levin, who headed the F.C.C.’s broadband initiative until three years ago and is now at the Aspen Institute, traces the roots of broadband’s limits to telephone companies’ decision, back in the 1990s, not to match cable’s costly investments in fiber, trusting that their DSL service would be an adequate competitor.

But DSL couldn’t follow cable past 3 Mbps. Verizon did eventually get on the ball — investing in its FiOS fiber network, which is expected to reach 17 million homes when it is completed. But that’s the exception.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/08/business/google-project-may-spur-broadband-competition.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Google Glass Picks Up Early Signal: Keep Out

But the resistance is already under way.

The glasseslike device, which allows users to access the Internet, take photos and film short snippets, has been pre-emptively banned by a Seattle bar. Large parts of Las Vegas will not welcome wearers. West Virginia legislators tried to make it illegal to use the gadget, known as Google Glass, while driving.

“This is just the beginning,” said Timothy Toohey, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in privacy issues. “Google Glass is going to cause quite a brawl.”

As personal technology becomes increasingly nimble and invisible, Glass is prompting questions of whether it will distract drivers, upend relationships and strip people of what little privacy they still have in public.

A pair of lens-less frames with a tiny computer attached to the right earpiece, Glass is promoted by Google as “seamless and empowering.” It will have the ability to capture any chance encounter, from a celebrity sighting to a grumpy salesclerk, and broadcast it to millions in seconds.

“We are all now going to be both the paparazzi and the paparazzi’s target,” said Karen L. Stevenson, a lawyer with Buchalter Nemer in Los Angeles.

Google stresses that Glass is a work in progress, with test versions now being released to 2,000 developers. Another 8,000 “explorers,” people handpicked by Google, will soon get a pair.

Among the safeguards to make it less intrusive: you have to speak or touch it to activate it, and you have to look directly at someone to take a photograph or video of them.

“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues,” said Courtney Hohne, a Google spokeswoman.

Developers, however, are already cracking the limits of Glass. One created a small sensation in tech circles last week with a program that eliminated the need for gestures or voice commands. To snap a picture, all the user needs to do is wink.

The 5 Point Cafe, a Seattle dive bar, was apparently the first to explicitly ban Glass. In part it was a publicity stunt — extremely successful, too, as it garnered worldwide attention — but the bar’s owner, Dave Meinert, said there was a serious side. The bar, he said, was “kind of a private place.”

The legislators in West Virginia were not joking at all. The state banned texting while driving last year but hands-free devices are permitted. That left a loophole for Google Glass. The legislation was introduced too late to gain traction before the most recent session ended, but its sponsor says he is likely to try again.

In Las Vegas, a Caesars Entertainment spokesman noted that computers and recording devices were prohibited in casinos. “We will not allow people to wear Glass while gambling or attending our shows,” he said.

Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren famously noted in 1890 that “numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’ ”

Glass is arriving just as the courts, politicians, privacy advocates, regulators, law enforcement and tech companies are once again arguing over the boundaries of technology in every walk of life.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted last month to require law enforcement to have a warrant to access e-mail, not just a subpoena. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s use of devices that mimic cellphone towers to track down criminals is being challenged in an Arizona case. A California district court recently ruled that private messages on social media were protected without a warrant.

“Google Glass will test the right to privacy versus the First Amendment,” said Bradley Shear, a social media expert at George Washington University.

Google has often been at the forefront of privacy issues. In 2004, it began a free e-mail service, making money by generating ads against the content. Two dozen privacy groups protested. Regulators were urged to investigate whether eavesdropping laws were being violated.

For better or worse, people got used to the idea, and the protests quickly dissipated. Gmail now has over 425 million users. In a more recent episode, the company’s unauthorized data collection during its Street View mapping project prompted government investigations in a dozen countries.

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Google takes the attitude that people should have nothing to hide from intrusive technology.

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” said Eric Schmidt, then Google’s chief executive, in 2009.

Glass is a major step in Google’s efforts to diversify beyond search, and potentially an extremely lucrative move. Piper Jaffray, an analyst firm, estimates that wearable technology and another major initiative, self-driving cars, could ultimately be a $500 billion opportunity for the company. In the shorter term, IHS, a forecasting firm, estimates that shipments of smart glasses, led by Google Glass, could be as high as 6.6 million in three years.

Thad Starner, a pioneer of wearable computing who is a technical adviser to the Glass team, says he thinks concerns about disruption are overblown.

“Asocial people will be able to find a way to do asocial things with this technology, but on average people like to maintain the social contract,” Mr. Starner said. He added that he and colleagues had experimented with Glass-type devices for years, “and I can’t think of a single instance where something bad has happened.”

An incident at a Silicon Valley event shows, however, the way the increasing ease in capturing a moment can lead to problems — even if unintentionally.

Adria Richards, who worked for the Colorado e-mail company SendGrid, was offended by the jokes two men were cracking behind her at the PyCon developers conference. She posted a picture of them on Twitter with the mildly reproving comment, “Not cool.”

One of the men, who has not been identified, was immediately fired by his employer, PlayHaven. “There is another side to this story,” he wrote on a hacking site, saying it was barely one lame sexual joke. “She gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate,” he complained.

Critics lashed out at Ms. Richards, using language much more offensive than the two men used. SendGrid was hacked. The company dismissed Ms. Richards, saying there was such an uproar over her conduct, it “put our business in danger.

“I don’t think anyone who was part of what happened at PyCon that day could possibly have imagined how this issue would have exploded into the public consciousness,” Ms. Richards reflected later. She has not posted on Twitter since.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/technology/personaltech/google-glass-picks-up-early-signal-keep-out.html?partner=rss&emc=rss