Google+ is Google Itself: Social Network will be Identity Platform

  • Google intends for Google+ to become an identity platform for its other services such as Android, Chrome and YouTube to develop an “understanding of who you are,” Brad Horowitz, VP of product told Wired magazine.
  • “This comes on the heels of comments that Google chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt made earlier this year about how Google+ was intended to be an ‘identity service’ for other projects and services that the company either had in place or was planning to launch,” reports GigaOM. “It wasn’t clear exactly what Schmidt meant by those remarks at the time, but putting them together with Horowitz’s comments, it sounds like Google wants to make Google+ the central repository of everything it knows about you.”
  • GigaOM compares Google’s desire to “aggregate as much as it can about you and your interests via all the services it offers” to Facebook’s recent improvements in accumulating data through social apps and “frictionless” sharing.
  • The article contends that “all of this social-activity data and these ‘social signals’ are crucial information that Google needs not only to make its search better — since socially-influenced search is becoming a larger and larger part of how people find things online — but to make its advertising more targeted as well. Google’s giant market share in online advertising has been built on the back of its understanding of ‘intent’ when it comes to search, and without access to the Twitter firehose and Facebook’s walled garden, Google has to effectively create its own sandbox for social activity.”

Privacy Watchdog Groups Ask the FTC to Investigate Facebook Features

  • An association of privacy groups, led by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, has asked for a federal investigation into Facebook features that broadcast new information about users. The new partnerships with media platforms allow Facebook to acquire extensive data about user behavior.
  • “That information could also be made available to marketing companies for use in focusing advertisements, and potentially to government agencies interested in tracking people’s behavior,” suggests The New York Times.
  • In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, privacy advocates wrote, “frictionless sharing creates several privacy and security problems for users.”
  • Facebook responded by explaining its users have more control than what is being suggested. “Some groups believe people shouldn’t have the option to easily share the songs they are listening to or other content with their friends,” company spokesman Andrew Noyes communicated via e-mail. “We couldn’t disagree more and have built a system that people can choose to use, and we hope people will give it a try. If not, they can simply continue listening and reading as they always have.”
  • According to the article, “the FTC does not comment on whether it is investigating any company unless it has some results to release.”

Tout is Like Twitter for Video: Is This the Next Chapter in Social Media?

  • Social startup Tout offers a Twitter-like microblogging service, but enables users to publish 15-second video clips instead of 140-character text fragments.
  • “In other words, now anyone can be famous for 15 seconds,” suggests San Jose Mercury News.
  • When asked how it’s different from the Facebook feature that lets users post video chats, CEO Michael Downing explained the “abbreviated and near-instant nature of ‘touts’ makes them like mini-conversations.”
  • Endorsements from high-profile users such as Shaquille O’Neal, Mitt Romney and ESPN are helping the service build momentum.
  • O’Neal is one of many celebrities who have taken to communicating via Twitter (he currently has more than 4 million followers). “But what I’ve been noticing about Twitter lately is that you don’t know who the person you’re talking to really is,” he said. “When you can see my picture, you know it’s me.” O’Neal is so impressed with Tout that he took an ownership stake.
  • Since launching in mid-April, the San Francisco-based startup has attracted 4 million unique visitors. “It took Twitter two years to hit 1 million visitors,” explains Downing. “We hit it in under 12 weeks.”

Justice Department Memo Tells Which Telecoms Store Data the Longest

  • “People who are upset that Facebook is storing all their information should be really concerned that their cell phone is tracking them everywhere they’ve been… The government has this information because it wants to engage in surveillance,” an ACLU staff attorney said.
  • A newly released Justice Department internal memo reveals the retention policies of Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint.
  • Verizon seems the most privacy-friendly, but is the only company that retains text message content. Messages are stored for 5 days; other companies don’t retain message content at all.
  • The retention of “cell-site data” (information of a phone’s movement history based on phone tower usage) varied the most among the four providers.
  • “Verizon keeps that data on a one-year rolling basis; T-Mobile for ‘a year or more;’ Sprint up to two years, and AT&T indefinitely, from July 2008,” reports Gizmodo.
  • Senator Patrick Leahy proposed to alter the Electronic Privacy Communications Act to “protect Americans from warrantless intrusions.”
  • To see your provider’s retention policy, check out the graphic featured in the Gizmodo post.

Editorial on Kindle Fire and Silk: Forget iPad Killer, Amazon is Targeting Google

  • Chris Espinosa, a longtime Apple employee, gives his impression of Amazon’s Silk and Kindle Fire announcements.
  • “Amazon will capture and control every Web transaction performed by Fire users. Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet,” Espinosa writes in his blog. “People who cringe at the data-mining implications of the Facebook Timeline ought to be just floored by the magnitude of Amazon’s opportunity here.”
  • “Amazon now has what every storefront lusts for: the knowledge of what other stores your customers are shopping in and what prices they’re being offered there. What’s more, Amazon is getting this not by expensive, proactive scraping the Web, like Google has to do; they’re getting it passively by offering a simple caching service, and letting Fire users do the hard work of crawling the Web,” he adds. “In essence the Fire user base is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, scraping the Web for free and providing Amazon with the most valuable cache of user behavior in existence.”
  • “They use a back-revved version of Android, not Honeycomb; they don’t use Google’s Web browser; they can intermediate user click-through on Google search results so Google doesn’t see the actual user behavior. Google’s whole play of promoting Android in order to aggregate user behavior patterns to sell to advertisers is completely subverted by Amazon’s intermediation. Fire isn’t a noun, it’s a verb, and it’s what Amazon has done in the targeted direction of Google. This is the first shot in the new war for replacing the Internet with a privatized merchant data-aggregation network.”

Facebook Deals Shutdown: Is There a Future for the Social Coupon Biz?

  • Facebook Deals, which offered coupons for local businesses in Facebook users’ main news feeds, officially shut down on Sunday.
  • While some assume the shutdown suggests a failure, sources say that Facebook cut the program because of limited engineering resources the company wanted to place elsewhere.
  • “Groupon and rival LivingSocial are no doubt pointing to Facebook’s withdrawal as evidence that the business is harder to replicate than people previously thought,” reports All Things D.
  • Groupon and BuyWithMe have introduced technology that attempts to track consumer loyalty following their first voucher purchase. Other companies in this space, including Google, are ramping up their coupon platforms, creating mobile solutions that “will recognize when people are close to a deal and allow them to redeem it immediately,” suggests the article.
  • “Last week, Microsoft launched Bing Deals, which is aggregating deals from other major providers to help users browse, find and purchase them in one place,” according to All Things D. “Ironically, that site is being powered by The Dealmap, which Google acquired in August.”

Spotlight on Spotify: Facebook Integration, Radio Feature, Impact on Piracy

  • Spotify has been drawing a great deal of media attention this week, more so than the growing number of other streaming music services.
  • Since the company announced its partnership with Facebook at the recent F8 event, Spotify has gained more than one million new users, despite the public outcry from those who question limiting the service’s signup to Facebook users only.
  • In response to concerns regarding Facebook’s media-sharing philosophy, Spotify released a new update that enables users to access the Facebook app without sharing their listening habits, reports Digital Trends. This may be good news for subscribers not happy with the recent announcement regarding Facebook integration — and could potentially serve as a model for how others offer access to services via social networking.
  • In related news from The Hollywood Reporter, Spotify recently released a radio feature in the U.S. that has long been available to European users. Radio will be accessible on the desktop client, but not on the Spotify mobile app. The add-on is reportedly in no way a Pandora killer, due mainly to its lack of mobility and attention to detail.
  • Additionally, Digital Trends reports that Spotify may be having a significant impact on music piracy. Illegal downloads in Sweden have reportedly dropped 25 percent since Spotify launched there in 2009. “Here in the U.S., Spotify isn’t the only option — and it may not even be the best, depending on user preference. Pandora, MOG, Rdio, Grooveshark — the list goes on,” indicates the article. “We don’t yet have numbers to show how these services are affecting music piracy in the U.S. But we’d put our money on them having a similar effect as Spotify is having in Sweden.”

Viewership on the Rise: Online Video Ads Reach 50 Percent of U.S. Population

  • American consumers cumulatively watched about 2.5 billion minutes of online ads in August, according to a new report released by comScore.
  • The report indicates that 86 percent of U.S. Internet users watched at least some online video content last month, and more than half of that content was accessed via YouTube.
  • Also worth noting: Facebook, already the largest photo site on the Web, was the third largest video site in terms of unique viewers.
  • The rankings “find Facebook retaining third position in August, with 51.6 million unique viewers, trailing VEVO in second (with 62 million) and Google Sites (i.e. YouTube) at 162 million,” reports TechCrunch.
  • According to comScore, video ads accounted for 13.4 percent of all videos viewed — and Hulu generated the highest number of video ad impressions (996 million in August alone), compelling figures for advertisers when you take into account that Hulu does not allow you to skip over videos.

The New Social Network: Should We All Be Scared of Facebook?

  • Writing for his blog Scripting News, Dave Winer offers an interesting perspective (and perhaps frightening downside) to Facebook’s new philosophy of sharing all media, all the time.
  • Since Facebook will be seeking out information on you to report on your behavior (even when you are logged out), the floodgates have opened for a range of possible negative repercussions. Winer suggests this type of “virus-like” behavior warrants “a bad name, like phishing, or spam, or cyber-stalking.”
  • “What clued me in was an article on ReadWriteWeb that says that just reading an article on their site may create an announcement on Facebook,” he explains. “Something like: ‘Bull Mancuso just read a tutorial explaining how to kill a member of another crime family.’ Bull didn’t comment. He didn’t press a Like button. He just visited a Web page. And an announcement was made on his behalf to everyone who follows him on Facebook. Not just his friends, because now they have subscribers, who can be total strangers.”
  • This type of information may ultimately be used in lawsuits, divorces and arrests. If the government did this, it would bring up Fourth Amendment issues.
  • Winer offers a solution (of sorts): “Until Facebook owns the browser we use, there is a simple way to opt-out, and I’ve done it myself. Log out of Facebook. And if Facebook had a shred of honor they would make their cookie expire, right now, for everyone, and require a re-log-in, and a preference choice to stay permanently logged-in. With a warning about the new snooping they’re doing. Probably a warning not written by them, but by Berkman, the EFF or the FTC.”

Future of the Internet: Do Web Technologies Need an Owner?

  • Software engineer Joe Hewitt proposed in a recent blog post that Web technologies may need an owner, and the assumption that the Web must not be controlled by anyone is a dangerous one. “The HTML, CSS, and JavaScript triumvirate are just another platform, like Windows and Android and iOS,” he writes, “except that unlike those platforms, they do not have an owner to take responsibility for them.”
  • He also suggests that “the arrogance of Web evangelists is staggering” since they “place ideology above relevance.”
  • Standards bodies cannot create the kind of cutting edge platforms developers need like they are doing with iOS, Android and Windows.
  • “My prediction is that, unless the leadership vacuum is filled, the Web is going to retreat back to its origins as a network of hyperlinked documents,” writes Hewitt. “The Web will be just another app that you use when you want to find some information, like Wikipedia, but it will no longer be your primary window. The Web will no longer be the place for social networks, games, forums, photo sharing, music players, video players, word processors, calendaring, or anything interactive. Newspapers and blogs will be replaced by Facebook and Twitter and you will access them only through native apps.”

Zuckerberg Vision of Sharing Everything We Do Online a Terrible Plan?

  • Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate, offers a compelling counterpoint to Facebook’s updated “share everything with everyone” philosophy.
  • The article suggests that Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook’s newly-designed profile feature (“it’s called Timeline, and it’s beautiful”) involves encouraging sites to develop social apps within Facebook, a grand vision that could dramatically change our digital lives. On the surface, this sounds like a fascinating idea, but there may be problems that evolve from too much sharing.
  • “If Facebook’s CEO has his way, everything you do online will be shared by default,” explains the Slate article. “You read, you watch, you listen, you buy — and everyone you know will hear all about it on Facebook.”
  • The article uses Spotify, Netflix and Hulu to illustrate Zuckerberg’s concept of “frictionless” sharing: “What he means is that I don’t have to bother with the ‘friction’ of choosing to tell you that I like something. On Facebook, now, merely experiencing something is enough to trigger sharing.”
  • Manjoo does not have privacy concerns or hesitation regarding Facebook’s financial gain based on his personal information. However, the author believes that the “nightmare” of “frictionless sharing” is more about Facebook killing taste. He believes that Zuckerberg is essentially lowering the bar by providing an all-access pass to things we don’t necessarily share with everything because they aren’t worth mentioning in the first place (read: boring).
  • While Manjoo enjoys sharing and discovering new media via Facebook and Twitter, he fears the day these services no longer serve as tools for navigating recommendations once they are bogged down in minutiae.
  • “That’s why I welcome any method that makes it easier for people to share stuff,” he writes. “If you like this article, you should Like this article. And even if you hate this article, you should Like this article (add a comment telling your friends why I’m a moron). But if you’re just reading this article — if you have no strong feelings about it either way, and if you suspect that your friends will consider it just another bit of noise in their already noisy world — please, do everyone a favor and don’t say anything about it all.”

Hulu Hopes to Join Social TV Movement with New Facebook App

  • Hulu has proven successful with providing TV content online (the service is second only to YouTube in terms of viewer engagement), but the video platform has yet to effectively break into practical social offerings. That may change with its new Facebook app, which strives to make the Hulu experience more social.
  • The new app will enable viewing of content directly within Facebook, will allow you to see what your friends are watching (with approval), and will provide options for having conversations about shows and leaving comments.
  • “The coolest part? As you’re watching Hulu content, be it a full show, clip, or film, you can leave comments on particular moments within the video. Oh yes. SoundCloud-style,” reports TechCrunch. “And, naturally, once you leave a comment on a particular moment, you can then blast it out to friends to let them know how clever you are — on both Hulu and Facebook.”
  • Hulu Plus users can access their entire library in Facebook. And you can elect not to share what you watch with friends, via the share settings or privacy settings on Hulu or Facebook.
  • TechCrunch is enthusiastic about the app: “We welcome you, Hulubook. Facebulu.”

Photo Sharing on Upswing: Facebook Touts 140 Billion Uploaded Images

  • Recent estimates from the 1000Memories photo-services blog suggest Facebook now houses more than 140 billion uploaded photos.
  • This figure is roughly 10,000 times larger than the number of photos currently housed by the Library of Congress.
  • Based on recent figures provided by a Facebook engineer, “the social network oversees more than 200 million photos uploaded per day, approximately 6 billion per month,” reports Digital Trends. “TechCrunch also reported that Facebook users uploaded an estimated 750 million photos over the New Year’s holiday earlier this year. 1000Memories estimates that the typical digital camera owner takes about 150 digital images per year and potentially uploads 20 percent of all pictures to Facebook over the course of a year.”
  • The 1000Memories post calculates that approximately 3.5 trillion photos (analog and digital) have been captured since the invention of the camera, of which 10 percent were taken in the last 12 months.

Are There Key Ingredients Missing from Facebook Music Sharing?

  • Following last week’s F8 developer’s conference, and the news that Facebook is making a significant shift into media sharing, Wired offers an interesting take on possible missing elements to successfully sharing music via the social network.
  • “Yes, Facebook will facilitate legal music sharing — something the industry has been trying to do ever since Napster electrified (some would say “electrocuted”) the music business over 10 years ago,” suggests the article. “But as important as it is, Facebook’s music initiative is missing five key ingredients, all of which are within its grasp.”
  • According to Wired, the following are the missing ingredients…
  • True Music Sharing: Facebook should allow people to listen to each other’s music using whatever music service they want. Instead of using the service that the friend is using, you should have the option to select which platform you would like to use. They’ve started doing this (somewhat unfairly) for Spotify with a “play in Spotify” link in shared songs on other platforms, like Rdio.
  • Real-Time Group Listening: “Why didn’t Facebook music launch with the ability to join other listeners on a station in real-time, so that people can chat about what they’re hearing…?”
  • Music Tab in the Ticker: With all the new information coming to Ticker through automatic updates in Open Graph, it would be nice to have a music filter to separate music updates from other things like adding friends.
  • Apple: Apple, iTunes and iCloud were not included in the media system and would be beneficial to users.
  • Independent Developers: Facebook just needs to “stay out of the way” of independent app developers that build third-party players atop their catalogs — apps that could offer a range of interfaces, platforms, designs, features, and more to programs like Rdio or Spotify.

Netflix Teams with Facebook to Offer Social Movies (But Not in the U.S.)

  • Netflix announced a partnership with Facebook to allow members to share what they are watching on Netflix with their family, friends and associates via the social networking site. However, this feature will NOT be available in the U.S. (only in Canada and Latin America) due to a 1988 law that makes sharing that information illegal.
  • The Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) was created to prevent “wrongful disclosure of video tape rental or sale records (or similar audio visual materials, to cover items such as video games and the future DVD format).” Congress passed the law after Robert Bork’s video rental history was published during his Supreme Court nomination.
  • “Unfortunately, we will not be offering this feature in the U.S. because a 1980’s law creates some confusion over our ability to let U.S. members automatically share the television shows and movies they watch with their friends on Facebook,” explains Netflix Director of Government Relations Michael Drobac. “The good news, however, is that some forward-thinking members of Congress have introduced legislation, H.R. 2471, that would allow you to make this choice… If you want the choice to share with your friends, please email Congress to urge them to pass this modernizing legislation.”
  • According to Wired, Netflix currently has 24 million subscribers inside the U.S. and only a million subscribers internationally.