Tech Industry

Week in review: Go-go Google

Google ratchets up search wars by getting into video archiving, offering up satellite maps to the masses, and even helping you find a cab.

Google ratcheted up the search wars this week by announcing video archiving, satellite maps for the masses, and even help in finding you a cab.

Google will begin archiving personal video clips as part of its ever-expanding search service, according to co-founder Larry Page, who called the move an "experiment in video blogging."

Google satellite

First unveiled in January, Google Video is an engine that lets people search the text of TV shows. The service scours programming from ABC, C-SPAN, Fox News, PBS and the NBA, among others, making broadcasts searchable. People can't yet watch those videos directly from Google's site. Rather, consumers can search on a term to find the TV shows in which it was mentioned, a still image of the video and closed-captioned text of that particular segment of the program.

Google also added satellite technology to its mapping service, allowing people to get aerial photos of the locations for which they are searching. A searcher can enter an address and click on the "Satellite" link to view an area, zoom in or see neighboring locations.

Satellite imaging company Keyhole, which Google acquired in October, provided the technology that allowed the search giant to launch the new mapping feature.

The search giant also added real-time stock prices to its lineup of free offerings, along with a service for locating taxis and shuttles. The Ride Finder service helps people determine which service to choose by displaying the location of various shuttle, limousine and taxi companies' vehicles.

Gone phishing
Google was also busy on the security front, testing phishing protection for its free Web-based e-mail to alert people to potential fraud. When a Gmail user opens a suspected phishing message, the software displays a large red dialog box that warns the user the message may not be from whom it claims to be.

Gmail will also remove all live hyperlinks from suspect HTML-based e-mails to protect people's systems from potentially fraudulent Web sites. The addresses of the sites can still be accessed by examining the original code of the e-mail, a feature that Gmail provides.

While the growth of new phishing attacks has slowed, attackers are apparently busy building more sophisticated traps and using advanced technology to perpetrate online fraud. Last week, the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an online fraud watchdog, reported that the number of phishing e-mails it tracked between January and February grew by only 2 percent.

That figure seems to mark a significant shift in the threat, given that the average growth rate has been 26 percent per month since July 2004. But during the January-February period, phishing attacks also became more sophisticated, experts said, with advances in phishing schemes that use e-mail and the creation of fraudulent Web pages that appear almost identical to their legitimate counterparts.

Meanwhile, police in Estonia have arrested a man suspected of stealing millions of euros from bank accounts across Europe, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald. The unnamed 24-year-old is believed to have infected hundreds of computers with a Trojan horse program to obtain usernames and passwords from them.

Flashpoint for Flash
Macromedia took center stage at the Flashforward2005 conference in San Francisco to promise significant changes in its Flash animation software. Chief Software Architect Kevin Lynch described the bells and whistles in store for Flash authors in the company's upcoming release of the Flash 8 player, code-named Maelstrom, and the authoring tool, code-named 8Ball. Lynch also outlined plans for FlashCast, a new system in development to help mobile phone carriers run a variety of Flash-based applications.

Updates due this year in Flash 8 include both interface changes, to make things easier for designers familiar with other Macromedia applications, such as the Dreamweaver Web-authoring tool, and eye candy for end users, which Macromedia hopes will lure video publishers as well as designers to the Flash format.

But what if you built a Web site in Flash and no one could find it? That's the anxiety that attracted more than 100 Flash authors to a workshop during the conference. The main question on everyone's mind: whether Google indexes pages written in Flash as well as it does "static" Web pages, such as those written in HTML, SHTML, ASP and PHP.

The chief hazard is a site written entirely in Flash. Workshop leader Gregory Cox said that Google will treat that site as a single file. As a result, the site will lose out in important Google indexing metrics, like the ratio certain keywords make up within a page. On a 100 percent Flash site, Google will calculate that ratio based on the total word count of the site.

Flash developers also got an earful from copyright reformer Lawrence Lessig about how their platform of choice is perceived in the free-software world.

"Flash is the enemy," said Lessig, a Stanford University professor and board member of the Free Software Foundation, as he described the opinions of leading free- and open-source-software advocates. These advocates "hate Flash. They think that by participating in the Flash community, you are feeding the devil."

He argued that the digital age has created new demands for the sharing of content that old-media copyright law cannot meet. As a result, he said, outdated copyright law is casting a pall over creative expression and education.

Don't touch that dial
The public got its first view of the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, who said he will continue favoring deregulation to foster change in the telecommunications industry. During an onstage interview at a cable industry convention in San Francisco, Martin also sounded off on the hot-button issue of TV indecency.

martin
Kevin Martin
chairman, FCC

Martin is expected to put a higher priority on media indecency than his predecessor. Although Martin has not confronted this issue yet, he said the growing tide of complaints makes him take the issue seriously.

Meanwhile, executives from leading media companies who gathered at the conference, which was sponsored by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the government's Dec. 31, 2006, deadline for the transition to digital television is unrealistic.

"It's realistic if you're comfortable with chaos," one executive chided. "It's a probable disaster."

On a related note, the long-running icy relationship between high-tech and the cable industries may be thawing. A panel at the conference that included Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen sounded off on ways cable and Silicon Valley can collaborate.

Cable companies are now the nation's largest broadband Internet providers, giving the industry considerable power in dictating what consumers can get over their pipes. But both sides believe current trends could push the two together.

Allen, who owns a controlling stake in cable company Charter Communications, views the concept as a question of how to bring broadband to more devices in the living room. He added that compatibility between the cable network and a variety of devices, be they cell phones or set-top boxes, is essential for the industry to evolve.

Also of note
Canada's long-standing practice of barring news organizations from disclosing what's happening in certain court proceedings is being tested by Internet bloggers...Sony sold more than 500,000 PlayStation Portables during the handheld game player's first two days on the market in North America...Microsoft has urged businesses running Windows XP to upgrade their machines to take advantage of added security features, but only a quarter of corporate XP machines have been upgraded to Service Pack 2.