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Archive for October, 2010

Google Street View- data watchdog hampered by Data Protection Act

October 29, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

MP Rob Halfon said the Information Commissioner was hampered when it tried to take action against Google in the spring- but has since been given more powers.
Google Street View- data watchdog hampered by Data Protection ActThe UK information commissioner was prevented from taking stronger action against Google earlier this year after its Street View cars collected sensitive wifi because the Data Protection Act at the time limited his powers.

Rob Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, revealed yesterday the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, told him his office was hampered by existing UK data protection legislation when it came to taking action against Google.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has since been given extra powers to fine organisations up to £500,000 for “serious breaches of the Data Protection Act”.

Google admitted to “mistakenly” collecting the data in May, sparking criminal and privacy investigations in a number of countries including the UK.

Graham was criticised for ruling in July that Google was unlikely to have collected “significant amounts” of personal data or data likely to “cause any individual detriment”, despite an ongoing criminal investigation in the UK and contradictory findings by equivalent bodies in other countries.

Google last week admitted the data harvested when its Street View cars photographed residential areas was more sensitive than initially thought. The ICO subsequently said it will re-examine the data following the revelations.

“In the view of the UK information commissioner, who examined the Google computers, there was really nothing to worry about [at the time],” Halfon said, during an MPs’ debate about privacy and the internet held in Westminster Hall.

“I have subsequently spoken to the information commissioner. His view is that he would have liked to take stronger action against Google, but that his office was constrained by the Data Protection Act 1998,” he added.

“Perhaps this is true. But why did he not say so at the time? … Indeed, their public announcement in July was all the more surprising given the actions of foreign governments.”

An ICO spokesman confirmed after the debate in the Commons that the information commissioner had subsequently been granted extra powers.

“On 6 April 2010 the Information Commissioner’s Office was given the power to issue monetary penalty notices, requiring organisations to pay up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act. As the Google Street View data breach occurred before this date, even if it was appropriate, we would be unable to use this enforcement power on this occasion,” he said.

The news will anger privacy watchdogs who called the original ICO ruling “farcical”. Halfon said the body’s action had been “lamentable and lily-livered”.

Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, revealed during the debate that the Metropolitan police “have decided it would not be appropriate to launch a criminal investigation” over Google’s data breach.

Vaizey said he will meet with the information commissioner next week “to discuss what he intends to do as the next step, certainly what he intends to do about the data, but also what he intends to do in terms of Google’s breach of data protection”.

Internet is worth £100 billion to UK economy

October 28, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

The internet is worth £100bn a year to the UK economy, a study has concluded.
Internet is worth £100 billion to UK economy The research, which was commissioned by Google, found that the internet accounts for 7.2% of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If the internet was an economic sector it would be the UK’s fifth largest, said the report from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

This would make the sector larger than the construction, transport and utilities industries.

Some 60% of the £100bn a year figure is made up from internet consumption – the amount that users spend on online shopping and on the cost of their connections and devices to access the web.

The rest comes from investment in the UK’s internet infrastructure, government IT spending and net exports.

The report on the The Connected Kingdom website says that the internet’s contribution to GDP is set to grow by about 10% annually and will reach 10% of GDP by 2015.

The UK, according to the report, is the world’s leading nation for ecommerce. For every £1 spent online to import goods, £2.80 is exported.

“This is the opposite of the trend seen in the offline economy, which exports 90p for every £1 imported,” the report says.

The Connected Kingdom PDF report by BCG can be downloaded in pdf format here (900kb)

Internet companies play a vital role in employment with an estimated 250,000 staff, the report finds.

Small businesses that actively use the internet report sales growth more than four times greater than that of less active companies.

The report also attempts to compare the UK to other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Under its scoring system, the UK ranks sixth, above Germany, the US and France. The highest ranked country is Denmark.

It ranks the top ten nations as:
* Denmark
* South Korea
* Japan
* Sweden
* Netherlands
* United Kingdom
* Norway
* Finland
* Germany
* Iceland

“The internet is pervasive in the UK economy today, more so than in most advanced countries,” said Paul Zwillenberg, partner with BCG.

“Several industries – including media, travel, insurance and fashion – are being transformed by it.”

Matt Brittin, managing director of Google UK, said: “The internet is a central pillar of the UK’s economy.

“The sector has come of age, and with great prospects for further growth the UK internet economy will be vital to the UK’s future prosperity,” he added.

Digg sacks over a third of staff to breakeven

October 27, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Digg, the social news aggregration website, is to sack over a third of its staff, in an effort to cut costs and reach profitability by 2011.Digg sacks over a third of staff to breakevenThe news comes only five months, after the company announced it was axing 10 per cent of its staff.

A total of 25 staff members will lose their jobs, which is just over 37 per cent of the company’s workforce.

The announcement from the company’s new chief executive, Matt Williams, came hot on the heels of the departure of Chas Edwards, Digg’s chief revenue officer.

Williams said: “Unfortunately, to reach our goals, we have to take some difficult steps. The fact is our business has a burn rate that is too high. We must significantly cut our expenses to achieve profitability in 2011. We’ve considered all of the possible options for reduction, from salaries to fixed costs. The result is that, in addition to lowering many of our operational costs, I’ve made the decision to downsize our staff from 67 to 42 people.

“It’s been an incredibly tough decision. I wish it weren’t necessary. However, I know it’s the right choice for Digg’s future success as a business. I’m personally committed to help find new opportunities for everyone affected by the transition. Digg’s Board members have also offered to help find placements within their portfolio companies.”

At the end of August, Digg rolled out a major redesign in a bid to increase the site’s appeal and make the service more personalised.

At the time Kevin Rose, Digg’s co-founder, described the new look as a “major revision” of the platform. Writing on the company’s blog about Digg, version 4, he said: “This is just phase one of what will be an on-going, iterative process, involving lots of input from all of you. We’ll be pushing out features on a regular basis and tweaking often.

“Our goal has always been for Digg to be a place where people can discover and share content and conversations from anywhere on the web. With Digg v4, we are introducing a few things that will make discovering and discussing news a lot better.”

Digg, which was launched in 2004, is a social news service designed to help web users discover and share content from around the internet.

Digg members submit links to stories, and the user community votes on how interesting those stories are by “digging” the articles they like, and “burying” those they don’t.

The site attracts more than 35 million unique users per month, and many news websites and blogs feature Digg buttons to allow readers to easily share articles they’ve enjoyed.

However, its popularity has waned in the last 12 months, with many people preferring to share links to stories through sites like Twitter.

Sony ends production of the Walkman as technology moves on

October 26, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Sony has announced that it has ceased production of its celebrated portable cassette playing audio device- the Walkman.
Sony ends production of the Walkman as technology moves onThe Walkman will be fondly remembered as the device which transformed listening to music from an activity conducted principally in one’s own home,  to a means of listening everywhere.

Friends of Sony Walkman may have predicted its demise when digital technology offered a more compact alternative.

But following its birth in 1979, an astonishing 220 million units were sold – testament to the device’s status as a 1980s icon no less memorable than shoulder pads and Filofaxes.

Tailor-made for that decade’s widespread aspiration for conspicuous, miniaturised consumerism, the Walkman meant no user needed to get home to listen to LPs.

Joggers could motivate themselves with the assistance of the Rocky theme.

Alas, technological progress and the dawn of the CD meant the decade was barely complete before the general public started to recognise that audio cassettes were not, in fact, the medium of the future but a cumbersome, chewing-up-prone source of much annoyance.

CD and MP3 versions of the Walkman will remain in production, but it is via the ubiquity of the music played on Apple iPods leaking beyond their users’ headphones into the earshot of other public transport users that its spirit truly lives on.

UK data watchdog turn to slam Google’s snoops and lies

October 25, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Britain’s data privacy watchdog is to look again at what personal information Google gathered from private wi-fi networks.
UK data watchdog turn to slam Google's snoops and liesThe Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had investigated a sample earlier this year after it was revealed that Google had collected personal data during its Street View project.

At the time, it said no “significant” personal details were collected.
But Google has since admitted that emails and passwords were also copied.

Privacy watchdogs in numerous countries, including France, Germany, Canada and Spain, have also investigated the information.

(Please see the Search Clinic post of last week on Canada’s view of Google’s snooping )

A spokesman for the ICO said it had kept an eye on international investigations since its own one concluded in July.

That investigation said that the information “did not include meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person”.

However, Google’s admission of more detailed data has now prompted further action by the ICO.

“We will be making enquires to see whether this information relates to the data inadvertently captured in the UK, before deciding on the necessary course of action, including a consideration of the need to use our enforcement powers,” a spokesman said.‬

Information about the gathering of personal data came to light following a request by data protection authorities in Hamburg, Germany, for more information about the operation of Google’s Street View technology which adds images of locations to maps.

This revealed that Google had “accidentally” grabbed data from unsecured hotspots for years as its Street View cars captured images of street scenes. In total it is thought to have grabbed about 600 gigabytes of data.

It led to many data protection authorities pressing Google for access to the mass of data it grabbed to see whether laws on the protecting of personal information had been broken.

Google said it had since “strengthened” its internal privacy and security practices.

Alex Deane, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said Google should launch an immediate investigation into how the breach happened.

“As if building up a database of photographs of millions of people’s private homes wasn’t enough, the news that Google has also harvested e-mail addresses and passwords is nothing short of outrageous,” said Mr Deane.

Dr Search wonders whether the UK’s maximum fine potential of £500,000 will be levied as it appears that Google deliberately lied to them and the UK populace.

Phone customers should repay customers’ money Ofcom rules

October 22, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Customers of telecom firms have been told to reclaim money owed to them when they switch contracts.Phone customers should repay customers' money Ofcom rulesThe regulator Ofcom says in the past two years about two million people have left at least £10m on their old accounts.

Typically the money is for line rental paid in advance, or promotional credits offered at the start of a contract.

Ofcom said its advice applied to mobile and landline phone services, broadband connections, and pay TV.

The regulator said all companies should automatically refund all money owed, but until now only three had done so.

It said only BT, Orange and the Post Office had had a policy of automatically refunding all outstanding money on their customers’ accounts.

T-Mobile has now agreed to do so and Vodafone is now doing so for its direct debit customers.

Meanwhile Virgin Media and Virgin Mobile have agreed to do so from 1 December for sums greater than £1, and O2 will now automatically credit sums of more than £20.

But Ofcom said Sky, Talk Talk and Three are still insisting on customers contacting them first.

The regulator criticised this stance, saying everyone in the industry should refund customers with all the outstanding credit they were owed, without customers having to ask first.

“Consumers were telling us that they found it difficult to claim unused credit from their providers when they left their contracts,” said Ofcom’s chief executive, Ed Richards.

“Taken together, people have been millions of pounds out of pocket as a result.

“We hope that automated refund processes, clearer signposting by providers and our new consumer guide should help consumers claim back money that is rightfully theirs,” he added.

Search Clinic on Blog Catalog

October 21, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Search Clinic on Blog Catalog


Google’s Street View in breach of privacy law

October 21, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Google’s accidental collection of personal data as part of its Street View project has been branded a “serious violation” of privacy laws.Google's Street View in breach of privacy lawThe Canadian privacy commissioner found that the incident was the result of “an engineer’s careless error”, which saw rogue code accidentally added to Street View software.

It has called on Google to tighten up its privacy rules by February or face further action. Google has apologised for the error.

“We are profoundly sorry for having mistakenly collected payload data from unencrypted networks,” Google said in a statement.

“As soon as we realised what had happened, we stopped collecting all wi-fi data from our Street View cars and immediately informed the authorities.”

It follows the conclusion of an investigation by the Canadian privacy commissioner, Jenny Stoddart.

“Our investigation shows that Google did capture personal information – and, in some cases, highly sensitive personal information such as complete emails, email addresses, usernames and passwords,” she said.

“This incident was a serious violation of Canadians’ privacy rights,” she concluded.

The investigation found that thousands of Canadians were affected by the incident and that some very sensitive data, including a list of names of people suffering from certain medical conditions, and telephone numbers and addresses, was collected.

Google said that it had “been working with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in its investigation and will continue to answer the commissioners questions and concerns”.

The rogue code, which collected thousands of email addresses and other personal information from unsecured wireless networks, was developed in 2006 by a Google engineer taking advantage of the search giant’s policy of allowing its engineers to use 20% of their time to work on projects of interest to them.

The Canadian investigation found that the engineer developed the code to sample all categories of publicly broadcast wi-fi.

The code was incorporated in the Google Street View cars when the firm decided to collect information about the location of public wi-fi spots in order to feed this information into its location-based services database.

When the decision to use the code was taken the engineer said it created “superficial privacy implications”, but these were never assessed by other Google officials.

The Commissioner recommended that Google enhance its privacy training among all employees.

It also called on Google to ensure that it has the necessary procedures to protect privacy before products are launched. It must also delete all the Canadian data it collected.

If Google complies with these demands, it will face no further action, Ms Stoddart said.

Google is under similar investigation in other countries including the US, Australia and Germany.

Privacy International has said the search company may face prosecution over the incident.

The Canadian privacy commissioner has been particularly active over the issue of privacy and has recently concluded an investigation of Facebook.

Digital communications can be good for your health

October 20, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

The internet and mobile phones will transform patients’ treatments, says Martha Lane Fox.
Digital communications can be good for your healthMartha Lane Fox the co founder of said “I’ve always believed in the power of information and technology as an incredibly useful tool, whether that was while building my online travel company or providing a lifeline to the outside world as I recovered from a serious accident in 2004. The internet was essential in allowing me to research my treatment, keep in touch with friends and family, and even shop when I couldn’t leave the house. It allowed me to re-engage with the world.”

“This, together with my role as UK Digital Champion, has given me an insight into how the experience of patients could be transformed by using everyday technologies such as the internet, email and mobile phones in a more innovative way.”

There’s clearly an appetite for a new approach. The Department of Health is launching a consultation this week into how information and technology can help people take more control of their health and make the best choices for themselves and their families.

This will be looking at, among other things, patients being able to view and share their medical records more easily, email their doctors and access relevant, accurate, user-friendly information. So a patient needing cancer surgery will be able to compare the results of all cancer surgery consultant teams in England and choose between them.

Public expectations are certainly racing ahead.

A recent YouGov poll found that 40 per cent believe the NHS can learn from the services offered by supermarkets, banks and utility companies. A significant 77 per cent said they wanted to book medical appointments in a variety of ways, with 34 per cent preferring to do this online. And this wasn’t just young people. Twenty-six per cent of over-55s thought they would be able to see their GP via webcam in 10 years’ time, compared with 27 per cent of 18-24 year olds.

We now take the ability to shop, bank, compare and switch services and socialise online for granted. And with 44 per cent of mobile phone users estimated to have access to the internet via their handset, we increasingly expect to be able to do these things on the move.

Where the NHS has embraced such innovation, the results have been startling. The number of missed appointments fell by half at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge when text message reminders were introduced. Think of the impact if this approach could be extended so that, for example, patients with long-term conditions who frequently have to visit their doctors to receive test results, or supply self-monitored results such as blood sugar levels, could do it securely by email.

The Department of Health’s Information Strategy consultation will also explore how raw data on the quality of services can be opened up so that a range of organisations can use it to cater for different audiences. Where user-driven sites such as Tripadvisor and Mumsnet have led as powerful advocates for consumers, health information and services can follow to empower patients and families.

We need to ensure that no one is excluded, which is why it is crucial that patients can exercise choice about how they communicate with doctors and access services. Many people interact with the same service in a variety of ways, depending on what they are trying to do.

As a bank customer you can decide to check your balance online, pay bills by phone and pop into a branch to discuss an issue face to face. Those who want to access information and services online should be helped. My campaign, Race Online 2012, is working to make sure that the nine million Britons, many from the most deprived backgrounds, who have never used the internet can get online and experience the benefits of doing so.

Using technology flexibly for the convenience of patients and those who treat them can free up time for invaluable face-to-face contact for those who need it. In these difficult economic times, the efficiency gains in delivering some services digitally can ensure that we maintain the quality of service for everyone. But as important as any gains in efficiency, there is a bigger prize: patients who are armed with more information and are actively involved in their care, which can only lead to better health outcomes.

Martha was interviewed by the Telegraph,

The top two mobile search engines- are both Google

October 19, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

According to ad network Chitika the top two search engines on the iPhone . . . are both Google.

Coming out of the mobile search panel at SMX East earlier this month Chitika’s research director Dan Ruby presented data showing that Google is responsible for about a massive 97 percent (96.9 percent) of mobile search traffic that the company sees on its network.

Here’s the mobile search share breakdown according to Chitika:The top two mobile search engines- are both GoogleThese numbers are very consistent with earlier numbers put out by StatCounter/Royal Pingdom, which showed Google with about 98 percent of mobile search overall.

Earlier research data in 2008 showed a more PC-like distribution of share. But all that appears to have changed dramatically in Google’s favour.

Following the conference Ruby took a look at the sources of Google’s traffic from the iPhone.

Chitika’s Ruby offered the following commentary:

Essentially, the Google App can stand on its own as the second largest search engine on the iPhone.

Yahoo! registers as the next search engine behind Google, but its 2.25% falls short of the Google App’s reach.

Bing is difficult to gauge, as traffic from the Bing app is too small to be accurately tracked at this time.

However, comparing the number of ratings for the Bing and Google apps in iTunes, Bing traffic could be anywhere between 1% and 4%. At the highest estimate, all of Bing’s traffic is still only about half of the Google app.

It’s worth noting how much larger a percentage the toolbar is driving in mobile, according to Chitika’s data, vs. the PC. (I was unable to find updated data but generally speaking it’s less than 20 percent of queries that come from the toolbar on a PC).

Finally here’s Chitika’s comparison of traffic/share from the Google app vs. all other traffic sources. According to Ruby, the Bing app doesn’t pass a referral URL so it’s challenging to track. Hence the two Bing entries below.

A word of caution: these numbers may not be equivalent to all mobile search traffic because they’re from a single network (on a single device), though based on millions of queries. But even if they’re off by a few points, it’s striking — to say the least — how dominant Google’s position in mobile search has become.

Last week Google announced that it was on course to pass the billion dollars in mobile ad revenue mark.

This research was compiled at: