It’s an awkward feeling to write about mere commerce on a day the nation mourns its pointless dead.
And so with sorrow, I turn briefly to a pedantic but important topic: Google’s efforts this week to walk back its behavior that has been so destructive to the legacy news business.
Google announced Monday it is ending its “first click free” policy, which News Corp.’s Robert Thompson aptly—if uncomfortably, today—calls “second click fatal.” The first click refers to Google’s insistence until now that publishers who want their stories to be listed in Google’s powerful search results make their content free to readers.
The policy amounted to a deal with the devil for quality publishers, for clarity the demon being the Don’t Be Evil company itself. By submitting to Google publishers assured themselves an audience but injured their efforts to charge for their work. Newfangled online sites like Business Insider and Huffington Post built businesses they later sold for hundreds of millions of dollars by ripping off the work of more talented journalists and then playing Google’s digitally native games better than the old fogeys ever could.
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Some of the best of the old breed have hung in, however, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times being two U.S. examples of thriving subscription news businesses in the age of Google. The search-ad giant is showing some remorse, saying it’ll no longer require the first click to be free and also offering its own services to help publishers sells subscriptions.
There’s a catch, of course. More than one. Google hopes to get between publishers and their customers and also to take a cut of the action for its troubles. Were Google serious about helping the news business it could forgo the commission altogether and prejudice its search algorithm in favor of subscriptions–on the theory that a publisher asking for money must be proud of its offering and therefore likely is offering something good.
Some tech execs like to pat themselves on the backs for wanting to support journalism because of its importance to democracy. And they’re the good ones. Helping publishers pay for their journalism is a good start. Now it’s Facebook’s turn.
Miss. On a tragic day for the country, some big tech companies stumbled. Both Google and Facebook widely promoted false stories on their sites. Google’s top news stories included a 4chan post misidentifying the shooter, while Facebook’s Crisis Response page highlighted a similarly fake story from the right-wing news site Gateway Pundit. In a perhaps connected development, Facebook said it would hire 1,000 people to review ads and seek to avoid a repeat of the Russian propaganda campaign conducted via its social network that reached 10 million people.
Not passing the smell test. A company with close ties to the Russian military reviewed the source code of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s ArcSight cybersecurity software used by the U.S. military, Reuters reported. HPE was trying to gain approval to sell the software to Russian government entities.
Bitcoin Belieber. Plenty of bigwigs in the financial establishment have dissed bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (Jamie Dimon, we’re looking at you), but the head of the International Monetary Fund is a supporter. “It may not be wise to dismiss virtual currencies,” Christine Lagarde said in a London speech on Monday. “Instead, citizens may one day prefer virtual currencies.” Hey, Jamie, is it too late now to say sorry?
Ready for my close up. One of the big advantages of using Google Maps over Apple Maps is the amazing street view feature that lets you see what that new coffee shop or dry cleaner looks like before you even arrive. But Apple may be getting ready to catch up. Geekwire spotted Apple Maps vans driving streets in the Seattle area with wide angle cameras. The vans had previously been spotted in New York City as well. One more thing for Tim Cook at next year’s WWDC?
Goodnight Zune. In the face of too much competition, Microsoft is ending its Groove Music Pass streaming service and shifting customers to Spotify. Originally called “Zune Music Pass,” the service was later renamed Xbox Music, before trying to find its groove in 2015.
Four more years. Former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, who heads President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission, won Senate approval for another term that runs until 2021. That should give him plenty of time to rollback net neutrality rules.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Facebook’s chief of security Alex Stamos leads the company’s investigation into the Russian dirty tricks used during the election. But the 38-year-old security expert had an interesting career even before he got to Facebook in 2015, as Kurt Wagner describes in a profile for Recode. Stamos has tried to get his profession to focus on the big picture, as Wagner writes:
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BEFORE YOU GO
Albert Einstein didn’t win this year’s Nobel prize for physics but he rendered a big assist. MIT’s Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne and Barry Barish of the California Institute of Technology got the prize for helping prove the existence of gravity waves last year. Einstein had predicted such waves existed a century earlier.