Google’s search results in Europe could soon look a bit different if a number of new reports about the company’s settlement with the European Union’s competition commission are correct. After a three-year investigation into its potentially anti-competitive practices, Google submitted its proposal for an agreement with the EU last week, but the details remained under wraps. According to reports from the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, however, Google’s proposal includes a number of changes to how it will do business (at least in the EU).
According to these reports, Google has offered to “make users clearly aware” when it is linking to its own specialized services and vertical search engines. Every time Google promotes one of its own links, it will also show “at least three links to rival, non-Google sites that have information relevant to a user’s query,” the Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati reports. So whenever a search on Google would naturally highlight a result from Google+ Local, Google would also add links to sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor or other relevant sites.
This part of the agreement would at least cover Google’s search services for restaurants, finance and shopping. Results from Google News, the Financial Times says, would “merely need to be labelled and separated.”
Under this proposed settlement, Google will also offer sites the ability to easily remove 10 percent of their content from its vertical search engines (though it’s not clear how this would actually work) and make it easier for advertisers to move their campaigns to other search engines (similar to what Google is doing in the U.S. after its settlement with the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year). Google’s search algorithm itself would remain untouched in this agreement.
If the EU agrees to these terms, Google will avoid the large financial penalties that the EU could have levied against the search company. The proposal, if the reports are correct, would be binding for five years, and a neutral third party would ensure that Google doesn’t stray from the agreement.
Google competitors, whose official complaint started this investigation, were probably hoping for larger changes, and fines will probably not be in favor of these relatively small changes Google is offering to make. Last week, FairSearch.org already filed another complaint against Google in the EU. This time, the organization, which is backed by Microsoft, Expedia, Oracle, TripAdvisor and 13 other search and technology companies, argues that Google is abusing its power “to dominate the mobile marketplace and cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile.”
Even if Google does settle this latest investigation with the EU then, chances are we haven’t heard the last of this.
Docstoc, the online store for high-quality professional and business documents that made its debut at the TechCrunch40 conference back in 2007, today announced that it has partnered with Microsoft to sell its content directly to Microsoft Office users from within the Office applications. When Office users search for templates, they will now encounter Docstoc as a provider and can start the purchasing process from right inside Office.
Currently, as Docstoc co-founder and CTO Alon Shwartz tells us, 10 Docstoc templates are available in Microsoft’s library (Partnership Agreement, Promissory Note, Resignation Letters, Power of Attorney, Buy-Sell Agreement, Independent Contractor Agreement, Employee Confidentiality Agreement, Offer to Purchase Real Estate, Contract for Sale of Goods and Non-disclosure Agreement). All of them retail for $24.95. In addition, Docstoc has also built an Office 365 and Office 2013 application that gives users direct access to all of the documents in the company’s library.
As Docstoc notes, this partnership “aims to be a cost-effective option for entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses alike, who often lack the funds to buy the needed software.” Shwartz also told us that Microsoft chose to partner with his company because it believes “that the combination of our existing winning technology, high-quality content, deep understanding of the market, and successful experience with monetization of content is the best recipe for success.”
Docstoc has more than 25 million registered users and has created over 12,000 templates and forms since its launch in 2007 (and there are millions of additional documents available on the service, too). Docstoc offers free and paid memberships, as well as the option to buy one-off documents on demand.
Google’s VP8 video compression format, which the company acquired from On2 Technologies, is an open standard and covered by a free patent license. That, however, didn’t stop MPEG LA, the guardians of the H.264 patent and license, from looking into creating a patent pool in 2011 and potentially suing Google for patent infringement upon its competing codec. Today, however, MPEG LA and Google announced that they have come to an agreement. MPEG LA will grant Google a license “to techniques that may be essential to VP8 and earlier-generation VPx video compression technologies under patents owned by 11 patent holders.”
The agreement allows Google to sub-license the techniques covered by the agreement to any VP8 user and also covers the next generation of the VPx codec. As part of this deal, MPEG LA is discontinuing its efforts to form a VP8 patent pool. Chances are Google had to pay for this license, but the financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
The relative uncertainty around VP8 definitely hindered its adoption outside of Google. Microsoft, for example, decided to keep the Google-backed WebM media file format that was built around VP8 out of its browser because of this uncertainty. The WebRTC standard, however, which most browser vendors have now adopted, is built around the VP8 codec.
“This is a significant milestone in Google’s efforts to establish VP8 as a widely deployed web video format,” said Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents, in a statement today.
Despite Google’s efforts, H.264 remains the de facto standard for video codecs. The fact that it is build into WebRTC (and that the standard doesn’t allow for alternative codecs) is a boon for proponents of open standards. Now that the uncertainty around VP8 is out of the way, Microsoft may even decide to adopt WebRTC for Internet Explorer instead of its own version of the standard.
For the time being, however, this virtually no support for hardware-based VP8 encoders and decoders, while virtually every video-enabled device can handle H.264 without taxing the CPU.
With both the next-gen H.265 standards and Google’s VP9 codecs already in the works, today’s agreement could mean we’ll see more competition in the video codec space in the coming months. Mostly, though, this agreement takes away the uncertainty around VP8 and will surely lead to its wider adoption.
Visa believes that by 2020 more than half of all payments made in Europe will be done through mobile devices, so it is continuing to put more investment into how it will remain a central part of those transactions. In the latest development, mobile money specialist Monitise has announced an extended deal in which Visa Europe will license all of Monitise’s technology in an agreement it says will bring in a minimum of €45 million ($59 million) in the next three years, “with greater revenues as certain user generated thresholds are achieved,” a spokesperson says. Visa, a minority shareholder in the mobile company, is also taking a further investment in Monitise of about £15.6 million ($23.5 million), plus options for more investment.
The two have been working together since February 2011 (including this licensing deal from June 2011, when Visa bought Fundamo for emerging market mobile payments solutions) to provide payments solutions and mobile banking technology to financial institutions in the region, a relationship that covers 3,000 banks in 36 countries. There are 466 million Visa accounts in Europe and the company says that with one in every 6.75 euros of spend in the region passes through Visa services.
The investment, meanwhile, follows on from an investment made by Visa Europe in Monitise in August 2012 of about £2.1 milllion. In total Visa currently owns about 7.5% of Monitise. Of this current investment, Monitise writes that when the agreement being announced today is finalized, Monitise will grant Visa Europe a warrant to purchase 43 million ordinary shares of 1 pence each in the Company at a price of 36.25p per Ordinary Share, representing the closing mid-market price of 4 March 2013. “In addition, the Company will grant Visa Europe a further warrant to purchase an additional 6 million Ordinary Shares at a price of 1 pence per Ordinary Share, being the nominal value,” it notes in the statement.
Monitise works both with Visa Inc. in the U.S. as well as Visa Europe, which are separate but coordinated entities. (Part of Monitise’s work with Visa in the U.S. comes in the form of business it picked up by way of buying Clairmail in the U.S. for $173 million a year ago). Monitise says that about $31 billion passes through its services annually.
The deal will specifically cover three products developed by Monitise: Bank Anywhere, Pay Anyone and Buy Anything, which span the range of main services that consumers use mobile devices for today: apps to manage money in their accounts; services to pay others; and services to buy things. The continuing relationship, coupled with Visa’s wider activities to push mobile payments and mobile banking, are a sign of how seriously it is taking the space at the moment.
“Mobile is changing the way we pay and buy. Visa continues to ensure that financial institutions remain at the centre of this important landscape,” said Steve Chambers, Chief Information Officer at Visa Europe, in a statement. “We are delighted to be deepening our long-standing relationship with Monitise to ensure continued best-in-class services for Visa Europe members.”
Monitise chief commercial officer Lee Cameron doesn’t spell out how it will work with other payment providers, which points to how the space will continue to have a degree of fragmentation for some time to come, despite his statement implying otherwise: “Payments is about partnerships and Visa is the industry benchmark for trusted payments innovation globally. This agreement underpins our growth expectations and we are honoured to be playing our role as a technology enabler and ecosystem partner in helping Visa Europe deliver new solutions that ensure its members can offer the most compelling, intuitive and robust Mobile Money services.”
Marissa Mayer has succeeded. In getting people to have an opinion about Yahoo again. While many are skewering Mayer for not being progressive with her work-from-home “ban,” people who are more familiar with what exactly is going on are quietly singing her praises.
Mayer will be putting the official smackdown on remote workers come June. People with a work-from-home agreement will have to report to a local office in the region by then, or else. People who have an agreement to work one or two days from home are strongly encouraged to spend those days in the office — a more subtle “ban” that will affect their performance ratings.
“I have been at Yahoo for four years and let’s just say the house needed and still needs a lot of cleaning up. Marissa is doing just that,” wrote an anonymous Yahoo employee on Quora. “People will use the argument that look at Google and how it allows employees to work from home … We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask.”
A non-tragic ending for Yahoo may justify Mayer’s means. As Chris Dixon and others point out, discouraging working from home at Yahoo and discouraging workers from working from home at other, more on-track tech companies like Google are two different things.
There was and is rampant abuse of the Yahoo work-from-home policy — it was a joke. “Working at [Yahoo] HQ was like paying taxes in Greece,” said Twitter’s Patrick Ewing, who also had friends who cheated the system. The fact that the Yahoo parking lot is relatively empty (compared to, oh, Facebook’s) at 5pm is why you can’t have nice things.
We also spoke to a couple of former and current employees, and while some are sniping at the inconvenience, the move was clearly necessary. According to one source, Mayer explained the rationale at Yahoo’s “Friday FYI,” its equivalent of Google’s TGIF. ”We’ve checked and some people who work from home haven’t even logged into the VPN…” she apparently said.
First world problems: Your boss requires that you actually show up at work.—
Fake Alexia (@alexia_tsotsis) February 26, 2013
So it’s not that Mayer doesn’t get all the studies on workplace productivity, mobile workforce, etc. It’s not that she doesn’t get that going into the office can be a major distraction. She does. It’s not that there aren’t legitimately productive work-from-homers, like the new mom who spends all day at the computer but needs to check in on her kid from time to time. It’s that the bunch of slackers that claimed to be working from home without actually doing any work ruined it for everyone.
In the last four years, Yahoo has gone through five CEOs — An easy environment for people to hide and get lost under the rug. People get away with not working on a single project. And managers are just as guilty as their employees of cheating the system: One VP was given a 100% retention bonus after Scott Thompson laid off everyone… And ended up playing tennis and going to the gym most of the time.
“They simply hired the wrong people over the years and had no metrics to track performance/etc,” one former employee told me. There’s been some internal speculation that the ban will allow the company to lay employees off without paying severance packages, or just get more people to quit in general. “This really is a necessary part of cutting out the cancer that is Yahoo’s current performance,” the same person emphasized. “And while it’s a horrible mess, it’s sadly necessary.”
Read the original post: This Is Why You Can’t Have Nice Things, Yahoos