Week in review: In search of trouble

Search giants take more heat over what the giants of the Web search world are doing and what they aren't doing.

Google and its search brethren are taking more heat this week over what the giants of the Web search world are doing and what they aren't doing.

Politicians attacked Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Yahoo for declining to appear at a briefing about China's Internet censorship and called for legislation to outlaw compliance with such requirements. The four technology companies said earlier that they were not able to schedule an appearance on such short notice but would testify at a similar House of Representatives hearing scheduled for Feb. 15.

"These massively successful high-tech companies, which couldn't bring themselves to send their representatives to this meeting today, should be ashamed," said Rep. Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who is co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which organized the briefing. Because his caucus is not an actual congressional committee, it does not have the power to compel companies to testify at its hearings.

Some CNET News.com readers slammed the criticism.

"These companies are caving in to demands from foreign governments because Congress hasn't offered any protections to shield them within our own legal system," wrote Richard Kokoska in News.com's TalkBack forum.

Under fire after censoring a Chinese blogger, Microsoft announced a new policy for dealing with government requests to block content that violates local laws.

Microsoft's new MSN Spaces policy states that the company will remove content only when it "receives a legally binding notice from the government indicating that the material violates local laws" or when the content violates MSN contract terms. When it does take down content, it will be done only in the country issuing the order, and the company said it will also "ensure that users know why that content was blocked."

Google's recent legal spat with the U.S. Department of Justice highlights not only what information search engines record about us but also the shortcomings in a federal law that's supposed to protect online privacy. It's only a matter of time before other attorneys realize that a person's entire search history is available for the asking, and the subpoenas start flying.

CNET News.com has prepared an FAQ to answer questions related to this new privacy concern.

Google raised the ire of stockholders this week when it missed earnings expectations for the first time since it went public in 2004, sending its stock price into an after-hours trading spiral. Google's share price has more than doubled in the past year and risen more than 40 percent since its last earnings report. In after-hours trade, however, the stock fell as much as 19 percent, a loss of more than $24 billion in market value.

Patent problems
Microsoft began e-mailing its corporate customers worldwide, letting them know that they may need to start using a different version of Office as a result of a recent legal setback. The software maker said it has been forced to issue new versions of Office 2003 and Office XP, which change the way Microsoft's Access database interacts with its Excel spreadsheet.

The move follows a jury verdict last year that found in favor of a patent claim by a Guatemalan inventor. Although existing customers can keep using older versions on current machines, any new installations of Office 2003 will require Service Pack 2, released by Microsoft in September. Office XP will need to be put into use with a special patch applied.

In another patent scuffle, wireless e-mail vendor Visto took aim at a fellow rival to Research In Motion, filing a patent infringement lawsuit against Good Technology. Visto and Good Technology are two of several companies looking to capitalize on the legal problems of RIM, which could see its popular BlackBerry service shut down from its own patent problems with NTP.

Visto is charging that Good Technology's products infringe on four patents it holds for sending data wirelessly over a network. The company is seeking a permanent injunction against the GoodLink software that runs Good's system, the same remedy sought by NTP against RIM's wireless software and services.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will re-examine the validity of the so-called JPEG patent held by Forgent Networks, an action that could deprive the company of its multimillion-dollar revenue stream. The Patent Office granted the review at the request of the

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