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Google's Privacy Woes Are Growing


In the latest uproar, the company is caught bypassing privacy controls on rival browsers.

Google (GOOG) has launched a multimedia advertising campaign called "Good to Know," because there are times, as the ad explains, "when the Internet can be a little bit scary." It wants to explain the many ways the data it collects on its users enhances their online experience.

See the new Google Privacy Channel on YouTube for details.

It might be a coincidence; after all, the campaign started in January. But it sure looks like Google is worried about its public image. Now it's got another reason to worry.

The latest revelation about Google's tracking of users' activities on the Web comes from the Wall Street Journal, which revealed late last week that Google and some of its advertisers were exploiting a hole in a default privacy control in Apple's (AAPL) Safari browser in order to continue tracking users, even when they thought they were protected from such "third-party" tracking.

Then, Microsoft (MSFT) piped up, saying that Google had been doing the same thing to people using its Explorer browser.

Google responded that the Wall Street Journal had "mischaracterized" its actions, and the intrusion was accidental anyway. It later disabled the tracking code in question.

As for Microsoft, Google declared that its rival browser was using an old-fashioned privacy standard that nobody pays any attention to anyway. This apparently is quite true, which won't make anybody feel any better about it.

The details of what Google was or wasn't doing in other people's browsers are unlikely to be of interest to the vast majority of Web users. But it certainly may add to the queasy sense of intrusion that the "Good to Know" campaign is trying to alleviate.

The latest revelation has added fuel to the fire for opponents of Google's new privacy policy, scheduled to be effective March 1. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (or EPIC) has sued the Federal Trade Commission (or FTC), demanding that it fine Google for violating its agreement on procedures for changing its privacy policies. This week, the FTC asked the US District Court in Washington DC to dismiss the EPIC suit.

Web Weekly In Brief:

Kindle On Fire
Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle Fire captured about 14% of the worldwide market for tablet computers in its debut quarter, with reported shipments of 3.9 million. Trefis, the stock analysis firm, hiked its estimate for Amazon stock to $205, a 14% increase, on the strength of that report. Its analysis notes that the real value of the device to Amazon's bottom line depends upon its ability to drive its users' consumption of movies, games, books and other media from the Amazon store.

Nook for Less
Meanwhile, the last bookstore chain still standing in the (real) world is stepping up its competition with Amazon for virtual bookstore sales. Barnes & Noble (BKS) is releasing a new version of its Nook tablet for $50 less, matching the Amazon Fire's $199 price.

According to CNet, Barnes & Noble also will offer its 2010 Nook Color model at $169 for the hardcore bargain hunters.

The company is already finding it expensive to compete with Amazon. In its latest quarterly results, the company reported a loss of $93.7 million in its digital business, compared with $50.5 million a year earlier. It blamed the losses on its aggressive holiday promotions for the Nook at third-party retailers. Total sales at rose 32%, to $420 million.

Write Your Own iPad Rumor
If you wrote that the Apple iPad3 will walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time, your report would go viral alongside many other rumors that are no less dubious. In any case, here are a couple of unsubstantiated reports that seem to have some credibility:
  • The iPad 3 will really be an iPad 4G. The Wall Street Journal, citing "people familiar with the matter," says a version that is compatible with high-speed LTE networks will be available through Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T).
  • It will be released in March. Maybe March 7.
Comcast Enters Streaming Video Biz
Comcast (CMCSA) is launching its own streaming video service, called Xfinity Streampix. The addition of yet another Netflix (NFLX) rival makes it a pretty crowded field. Verizon recently announced its own service combining streaming video and Red Box rentals.

However, it looks as if Comcast is more concerned about hanging onto its subscriber base, as more people consider cutting the cable cord in favor of streaming services. The new service will be available only to its cable subscribers. It will be free to subscribers of its most expensive package deals, and $4.99 for others.

Netflix is fighting back with high-quality content. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it just struck a deal with The Weinstein Co. to release some of its high-brow hits on Netflix, in their pay TV debut. The selection will include current Oscar contender The Artist.

Retailers Fed Up With Facebook?
Some retailers are climbing off the Facebook bandwagon, according to an article in ReadWriteWeb. They have apparently concluded that the social network is about socializing, not about shopping. Those abandoning "F-commerce" efforts include Gap (GPS), JC Penney (JCP) and Nordstrom (JWN).
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