Dear Rupert: Google responds to News Corp’s criticisms point-by-point in ongoing EU antitrust case

Google has responded to an open letter, written by News Corp for the European Commission, which criticises the company and claims its search engine is negatively impacting news organisations.

In the original letter, News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson said Google was changing the way links are ranked and shown in its search results, which would “inevitably maximise income for Google” and “punish” small companies. Thomson argued this, alongside its handling of Android, was evidence Google now “exploit(s) its dominant market position to stifle competition.”

Today, Google responded with a ‘Dear Rupert’ blog post:

“With the Internet, people enjoy greater choice than ever before — and because the competition is just one click away online, barriers to switching are very, very low. Google is of course very popular in Europe, but we are not the gatekeeper to the web.”

The company also highlighted the different ways readers are now able to find sites and information online: going directly to sites, using publication-specific apps and using specialist search services such as Expedia and TripAdvisor.

In regards to how Google tinkers with its search ranking:

“Of course we regularly change our algorithms — we make over 500 changes a year. But these changes are all about improving the user experience, not punishing small companies. Indeed, it’s well documented that the highest-profile change to our search ranking, called ‘Panda’, actually reduced our advertising revenue.”

It’s worth reading both the original News Corp letter and Google’s response in full to judge the various claims and counter-claims for yourself.

News Corp’s open letter was directed at the Commission as part of a long-running antitrust dispute. Google clinched a deal in February, meaning it would display results from competing services more prominently in search, but earlier this month the Commission reopened talks to try to obtain fresh concessions.

Top image credit: Adam Berry/Getty Images

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Google finally begins allowing its Google Voice service to be integrated with Hangouts

Google appears to have finally hit the button to integrate Google Voice into Hangouts messaging service.

Android Police first noted that users are being given the option to migrate their Google Voice accounts in order to receive calls and text messages via the Hangouts mobile app. The blog notes that the services are integrated on desktops too

The consolidation makes absolute sense, and has been speculated for some time. The move puts Android on a par with Apple’s iPhones, which offer internet-based calls and text messages via its iMessage and FaceTimes services and are integrated into the core messaging and call apps within iOS.

Android Police says there are some hiccups — replies do not appear to be sending, from their experience — but it seems likely that any initial issues will be smoothed out in due course.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment, and will update this article with any further details that we are given.

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AuditFile Raises $3M To Offer Task Management For Accountants


Few jobs require more boring drudgery than what accountants have to deal with on a daily basis when performing an audit — they literally spend their time making sure that numbers in one column reflect what numbers in a bunch of other columns should add up to.

Beyond the nature of the work, the actual process for verifying all those numbers isn’t pretty. According to AuditFile CEO Steven Bong, most CPAs he’s encountered built their workflow on top of the Microsoft Office suite, keeping track of accounts in massive  spreadsheets and audit progress in Word documents.

A typical audit will have hundreds of steps of verification, and some don’t have to be done depending on the results of other steps. But because they’d have to go back and search through Word documents to see those results, huge swaths of time are wasted just figuring out what to work on next. Bong saw this inefficiency as an opportunity, and in 2011 set out to create a service that would put the entire process in a simple web app.

After two years of development, AuditFile landed its first paying client in 2013 — a 15-person accounting firm based in San Francisco. Once it was able to prove that it could significantly increase productivity, Bong says the company began to hunt down bigger game. Today, AuditFile’s clients employ 300 accountants on average, and the majority of accountants at each firm use their software.

To expand, the company is increasing the size of its sales force and building out its app so that it can be used for internal corporate audits, in the hopes that it can become a killer app for finance teams at Fortune 500 companies.

Neither of those plans are cheap, which is why the company recently raised $3 million in a round led by Banneker Ventures that also included investments from Tim Draper, the rapper Nas, Rothenberg Ventures, and Ray Tonsing.

As part of its new sales efforts, the company is rolling out a nationwide ad campaign that includes some old-school strategies for getting attention. Cold-calling, a direct mail campaign, and print ads in the Journal of Accountancy are all part of the plan, which sounds outdated in 2014 — until you remember that this is the same group that managed one of its most important tasks by manually logging progress in Word documents.


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BACtrack releases a $50 smartphone breathalyzer that fits on your keychain

Breathalyzer maker BACtrack today announced the BACtrack Vio, a $49.99 alcohol testing unit that fits on a keychain and feeds the results over Bluetooth to your iPhone or Android smartphone.

BACtrack has been making breathalyzers for years, but it didn’t release its first smartphone unit until last year. The new Vio is more compact and affordable than the original BACtrack Mobile.

Alongside the product launch, BACtrack has also released an improved app with a better-looking design and new features like the ability to guess your blood alcohol content ahead of time.

6430 Vio 730x310 BACtrack releases a $50 smartphone breathalyzer that fits on your keychain

The Vio is a bit thicker than a large USB stick, but it’s not too big for your pocket. The device is powered by a AAA battery, which I prefer over the rechargeable micro-USB batteries that some units have. To test your levels, open up the app on your phone, hold down the button to pair the Vio and then wait for the device to warm up.

Keep in mind that you should wait 15-20 minutes after eating and drinking to test in order to ensure accurate results. Once your reading is in, the app will suggest how much time you have before you’re sober again. You can also save your results over time if you’d like to keep a history of your consumption and how it affects you.

03 test guessBAC vio 220x390 BACtrack releases a $50 smartphone breathalyzer that fits on your keychain     10 result initial1 220x390 BACtrack releases a $50 smartphone breathalyzer that fits on your keychain

As I wrote last year, I’m a big supporter of the move to use our smartphones to make breathalyzers readily available to consumers. Most drinkers have to just guess what their limits are. The extra data could save lives.

Smartphone breathalyzers aren’t going to single-handedly do away with drunk driving, alcohol poisoning and other related problems, but if they make even a small dent, they will have proven themselves as powerful technology. Considering how convenient and affordable BACtrack’s Vio is, there aren’t many obstacles to keeping one on hand. If you’re a regular drinker, I recommend that you pick up the Vio, or a competing product like the Breathometer or the Alcohoot.

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Google Maps for iOS gets improved Search and Explore, plus Gmail events are now shown on the map

Google has tweaked its Google Maps app for iOS with a few new updates today which are primarily designed to make it easier to navigate search results and discover places around you.

Google Maps explore ios Google Maps for iOS gets improved Search and Explore, plus Gmail events are now shown on the mapThe updated app now shows search results with descriptions directly on the map and offers the option of switching between grid and map view in a bid to help you find the place you’re looking for more quickly. Google has also tweaked the ‘Explore’ feature - a local guide that suggests places and activities based on your location and the time – for better results.

Rounding off the list of notable changes is an option to display all of your reservations and events from Gmail labelled directly on the map.

➤ Google Maps [App Store]

Featured Image Credit – Twin Design / Shutterstock

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MobileIron Pops 17% In Public Debut

This morning the public markets welcomed MobileIron to the NASDAQ, sending its shares up 17.67 percent at the time of writing. MobileIron is a mobile-IT provider for large corporations.

MobileIron’s IPO was viewed by some as a proxy for the larger technology markets, given its quickly expanding revenue in its most recent full-calendar year, as well as its deepening losses. Like a number of other technology companies looking to go public, MobileIron is growing its recurring revenue at the expense of short-term losses in the form of sales costs.

In its updated S-1 filing, MobileIron detailed its first-quarter 2014 results, in contrast to its first-quarter 2013 results. Revenue grew, modestly, from $25.82 million to $28.21 million, but “Subscription” revenue jumped from $2.73 million to $5.96 million.

Investors could be focusing more on that figure than the firm’s net loss for the three-month period that widened from $3.14 million in the first quarter of 2013, to $13.96 million in the same quarter in 2014.

During that interval, sales and marketing costs expanded from $13.76 million to $21.76 million. The company’s last reported pre-IPO cash tally totaled $64.44 million.

MobileIron picked up around $100 million today, going public at $9 per share. It is currently trading around the $10.60 mark. The company priced mid-point in its proposed range.

Given that the market appears to have welcomed MobileIron, other companies with expanding losses and expanding revenue could now find the time ripe to hit go. Good Technology and Box are obvious candidates.

Update: I spoke with the CEO of MobileIron, Bob Tinker about his company’s debut. He expressed contentment with the early, strong market reception to the IPO. Asked to describe the current IPO market temperature, Tinker called the market “discerning,” saying that investors were taking the time to understand new offerings. The company declined to discuss forward-looking profit forecasts, citing a quiet period. 

The company’s shares are now up a more modest 12%, following a dip.


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Search engines can be forced to remove links relating to individuals, European court rules

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has ruled today that individuals should have the right to remove outdated information about themselves returned in results delivered by search companies such as Google.

The so-called ‘right to be forgotten’, proposed by the European Union in 2012, means that an individual should be allowed to request that outdated or irrelevant information is removed from a company’s servers and therefore removed from being publicly accessible on the Web. It was a view with which the ECJ agreed:

The Court observes in this regard that even initially lawful processing of accurate data may, in the course of time, become incompatible with the directive where, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the data appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.

The Court adds that, when appraising such a request made by the data subject in order to oppose the processing carried out by the operator of a search engine, it should in particular be examined whether the data subject has a right that the information in question relating to him personally should, at this point in time, no longer be linked to his name by a list of results that is displayed following a search made on the basis of his name. If that is the case, the links to web pages containing that information must be removed from that list of results, unless there are particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, justifying a preponderant interest of the public in having access to the information when such a search is made.

The case was brought about by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, whose name returned 16-year-old news articles results about his sale of properties when he got into financial difficulties, which he wanted removed. After going to a Spanish tribunal seeking to get the results removed, the ECJ was asked to step in and clarify exactly how European laws should be interpreted.

We’ve asked Google for its take on the decision and will update when we hear back.

➤ An internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties [Court of Justice of the European Union - PDF]

Featured Image Credit – Alex Klein/AFP/Getty Images

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Apple’s Greater China Revenue Grew Sequentially In Q2 As iPhone Growth Impresses

Apple’s earnings are out, and the iPhone’s 17 percent growth was likely the most noteworthy number in its hardware results. That’s a big increase for a device that analysts expected to perform pretty much on par in terms of Q2 last year. One probable reason: growth in Greater China, where Apple saw 5 percent increase in revenue sequentially between Q1 and Q2, versus a pretty consistent 20 to 30 percent dip across the board in all other regions, which is the usual course for post-holiday results.

That the iPhone’s growth is probably tied to China comes down to one major factor, and a few smaller ones; Apple launched the iPhone with China Mobile during the quarter, adding a massive new potential subscriber base to its existing customer pool in the area. Analysts had reported that they saw “several million” pre-orders for iPhone on China Mobile ahead of launch, and Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster predicted sales of 3 million devices on the new network through March. On the earnings call today, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the company saw all-time record sales of iPhone in the BRIC countries, and that revenue of near $10 billion in Greater China also represents a new all-time record.

On the call, Cook also noted that in China, 62 percent of iPhone 4S buyers came from Android, as well as 60 percent of iPhone 5c buyers, indicating those lower cost options are doing what Apple needs them to do.

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Microsoft’s Xbox One passes 5M units sold to retailers, but Titanfall boost not enough to beat Sony

Microsoft today announced that it has sold over 5 million Xbox One consoles to retailers around the globe, but sales of the system have still lagged behind rival Sony’s PlayStation 4. By comparison, Sony revealed on Wednesday that PS4 sales had topped 7 million in sales to consumers.

March US sales estimates from NPD put the PS4 in first place for hardware sales for the third month in a row. Both Microsoft and Sony (inFamous Second Son, Titanfall) saw major exclusives released on their platforms last month. Titanfall’s combined Xbox One and PC release took the top spot in game sales, according to NPD, with inFamous Second Son in second.

While we expected to see a bump in sales of Xbox One units due to the Titanfall bundle, Microsoft is continuing to fall behind. It’s still early for this generation’s console war, but the Xbox One will need a few more hit titles to catch up.

Microsoft’s new Xbox head recently admitted that the company had made mistakes with the launch and renewed his commitment to putting “gaming first” on the console.

➤ March NPD Results: Titanfall on Xbox One is Number One Selling Game

Image Credit: GLENN CHAPMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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Restaurant finder app Zomato fully revamped with new social skills and FoodFeed

Zomato has launched its fully overhauled Web and mobile apps today in a bid to increase user activity and engagement though more social interaction across the platform.

Where it was once a simple restaurant finder app, the new version brings a wholly refreshed social element into the equation. One of the key updates is FoodFeed, a scrolling list that shows updates from users you follow, as well as restaurant reviews, ratings and more. You can now also filter search results to only display recommendations from people you follow, who are, presumably, people you trust.

zomato 2 730x411 Restaurant finder app Zomato fully revamped with new social skills and FoodFeed

With the new social graces come a significant change to the way in which the app works: it’s now mandatory to log-in if you want to use it. In the past, you had the option of logging in using your Facebook or Google account, or creating a new one on Zomato using an email address, but there was also the option to skip it altogether. This is no longer possible. Reviews and restaurants can still be shared outside the app across your normal social networks, but the company has made it easier to invite friends too, clearly aiming at increasing its overall user base.

The success – and weakness – of any platform such as Zomato comes in the trustworthiness of the restaurant reviews and the results it serves up to users. To this end, there’s now has an enhanced anti-spam system to weed out any “evidently manufactured” reviews, and restaurant ratings have been normalised to prevent bias and avoid clustering too many within a certain score range.

Zomato 730x413 Restaurant finder app Zomato fully revamped with new social skills and FoodFeed

On top of adding new features and rethinking its restaurant ratings, there’s an all round revamp of the app to check out. For example, Zomato says it now takes fewer clicks to discover new restaurants and that Londoners can search for recommendation by postcode, tube station or near specific landmarks.

The update is available from today across Zomato’s Web, iOS and Android apps.

➤ Zomato | App Store | Google Play

Featured Image Credit – ANA AREVALO/AFP/Getty Images

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