Google "respectfully disagrees" with €2.42 billion fine

Google expected to be punished by the European Union for anticompetitive shenanigans, but it didn't expect a slap this hard: €2.42 billion, the largest fine on record. The company says it "respectfully disagrees" with both the ruling and the amount and may appeal.

The commission believes it has struck a blow for consumers and for little firms at a time when online advertising - particularly on mobile phones - is dominated by Google and Facebook.

Google believes the regulator has a weak case and has failed to provide evidence that either consumers or rivals have been harmed.

In essence, it sees this as a political move rather than one based on competition law. You can be pretty confident that the Trump administration will share that view.

There's mounting anxiety in European capitals about something called Gafa - Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - the four American giants that play such a huge role in all of our lives. That means we can expect further action to try to limit their powers, with the potential for growing political tension between Brussels and Washington.

Google abused its dominance of search to promote its own shopping services, the European Commission wrote, systematically shutting out competitors, distorting the market and hurting local shoppers.

Since the beginning of each abuse, Google's comparison shopping service has increased its traffic 45-fold in the United Kingdom, 35-fold in Germany, 19-fold in France, 29-fold in the Netherlands, 17-fold in Spain and 14-fold in Italy.

Following the demotions applied by Google, traffic to rival comparison shopping services on the other hand dropped significantly.

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Amazon buys Whole Foods for $13.7bn

Amazon announced Friday that it was acquiring Whole Foods Market for $13.7bn in cash. Bezos: "they make it fun to eat healthy."

Does your tech startup have anything going on with Whole Foods? It doesn't any more. Read the rest

Google asked a website for its data, then just took it anyway

CelebrityNetWorth.com was a popular, data-driven website whose 12 staffers led serious efforts to research public figures and give a credible estimate of their fortunes. Google liked the look of this, so it made site founder Brian Warner a proposition: let Google include the Big Number as a featured "snippet" atop relevant search results, in return for the snippet linking to the website.

Warner, though, knew that the link offer was worthless and said no. Mysteriously, Google started "answering" questions about celebrities' net worth anyway, only occasionally disclosing the source; he seeded his database with a few fake celebrities to prove Google was using CelebrityNetWorth.com's data. The result was just as he predicted when he said no: his site's lost most of its traffic, even as Google depends on it to provide accurate answers.

Google’s push into direct answers has wide-reaching consequences for more than just small business owners who depend on search traffic. The email Google sent Warner in 2014 gives some insight into how Google selects reputable sources. Google wouldn’t answer questions about this, but based on the emails, the vetting was pretty thin; Google seemed more interested in whether the data was machine-readable than whether it was accurate. And the bar for featured snippets — the answers culled algorithmically from the web — is even lower, since it appears that any site good enough to rank in search results is good enough to serve as the source for Google’s canonical answers. That’s how you get erroneous answers that claim Barack Obama is organizing a coup, or that the Earth is flat, or that women are evil...

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A trip to the domain name conference

Ingrid Burrington thought of domain names as "a very niche genre of experimental poetry, one in which radical constraints (availability, brevity, the cadence of an interrupting “dot”) produce small, densely packed pockets of internet magic." At a conference for domainers--the dot.whatever squatters and salesfolk and speculators--she learned that it's more a matter of alchemy.

...brevity is typically a good move, though memorable phrases are also effective. Some TLDs are hot right now (.io), and some single words are always a good investment (lotions.com, furs.com), but good TLDs and good words together don’t always work (as was explained to the owner of furs.io and lotions.io in one session). Long-time domainers also had oddly specific advice—”Hyphens make your domain less valuable—unless you’re in Germany” and “.info is a dead zone.”

Domainers are generally a short-sighted crowd. Lotions.io might be worthless by itself, but one person dedicating themselves day and night to the thorough and remorseless blogging of all the lotions that go in and out? By Christmas lotions.io could be worth thousands. Read the rest

"Who put this dick on my back?"

Reporting from the bustling Chicago Board of Trade, Scott Cohn relays news about the strengh of Japanese Yen futures. Then a wild dick appears. [via] Read the rest

Print is not dead

The New York Times' Daniel Victor posted this to the site yesterday, an item soon jokingly hailed as being among the newspaper of record's greatest hits. A clever blog post given the swanky headline font, perhaps Victor's trusted with publish-button privileges and it's just one of those little jokes editors tolerate now and again.

Today, amazingly, wonderfully, the Times printed it.

The hashtag search Pulitzer is good this morning if you like reading serious journalists lamenting, on Twitter, what this turn of events says about the increasing triviality of their business. Read the rest