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Week in review: Google's growing pains

Search giant's birthday celebration is short-lived, while Apple celebrates new products. Also: Gold in being green.

Search giant Google turned 10 on Sunday, but the party was over on Monday.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reportedly hired a well-known antitrust litigator for a possible court challenge to a planned advertising deal between Google and Yahoo. Former Walt Disney Co. Vice Chairman Sandy Litvack has been hired to head any legal challenge to the ad deal.

It was not clear, however, whether any eventual lawsuit would target only the Google-Yahoo deal--or represent a broader assault on Google's business practices. Lawyers have been reportedly deposing witnesses and subpoenaing documents to support a courtroom challenge, which probably would be filed in Washington, D.C.

Google also took heat from the Association of National Advertisers, which sent a letter to the head of the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, citing its opposition to the controversial deal. The ANA, a powerful group of more than 400 companies that spend more than $100 billion in marketing and commercial advertising, said it conducted a comprehensive and independent analysis of its members and held in-person discussions with both companies .

The letter said that "a Google-Yahoo partnership will control 90 percent of search advertising inventory and states ANA's concerns that the partnership will likely diminish competition, increase concentration of market power, limit choices currently available and potentially raise prices to advertisers for high quality, affordable search and advertising."

Meanwhile, Google's share price hit a new 52-week low Wednesday.

And Google's stock isn't the only company losing value lately. One airline stock took a nosedive, and Google might have played a significant role.

The problem began when an investor news service, the South Florida-based Income Securities Advisors, found a news article from 2002 about United Airlines' bankruptcy via Google News and consequently included it in that day's news digest--which wound up on Bloomberg's news wire.

By the time United put out a release denying the news, its stock had plummeted 75 percent from $12.30 on Friday to less than $3. It eventually climbed back up to $10.49, but Nasdaq, which lists United Airline's stock (UAL), decided against rescinding trades that had happened as a result of the mishap.

The SEC has opened a "preliminary inquiry" into the matter, people familiar with the matter said.

Apple harvest
Apple shook up the mobile music sector this week with the introduction of new iPods and a new version of iTunes.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, poking fun at reports speculating on his health, took the stage at Apple's "Let's Rock" promotion to unveil iTunes 8. As he kicked off the event in San Francisco, the screen on stage displayed a message that said, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

One of the more exciting announcements was an iTunes feature called Genius, which lets you put songs together in your library that somehow "go great together." When you hit the Genius button on a certain song, iTunes assembles a playlist for you. Jobs used Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as an example, and it pulled several like-minded artists in there as well, such as Paul Simon and Joan Baez.

Genius works by having iTunes 8 send music information to a central server--anonymously, Jobs promised--and combining that with all kinds of data from other users to apparently track patterns. The results update once a week.

In another iTunes announcement, Jobs also said NBC would be returning to the Apple fold. All the network's shows will be on the store and all will be available in HD. HD shows will be $2.99 and can be watched on a computer or Apple TV.

Meanwhile, Jobs unveiled new iPod Nanos, calling them "nano-chromatic." The new iPod has a "shake to shuffle" feature that allows users to change songs by giving the unit a few shakes, and will be available in eight colors; an 8GB model will sell for $149, a 16GB model will sell for $199. Both are shipping soon: the 8GB should arrive late this week, while the 16GB should show up over the weekend or early next week.

Apple also announced that new in-ear headphones would be out soon. "We think we finally got these right," Jobs said. Jobs said they will be out in October for $79.

Jobs also unveiled a new iPod Touch that's thinner than the previous model. It has the same display, but with integrated volume controls and a built-in speaker. It comes in three models: 8GB for $229, 16GB for $299, and 32GB for $399.

The event provided few surprises but reiterated Apple's commitment to making the kinds of incremental changes to its iPod lineup needed to stay on top of the competition and to keep customers coming back for more. New colorful iPod Nanos and a cheaper iPod Touch introduced by Jobs will be the centerpiece of the company's lineup for the holidays, which account for up to 40 percent of annual sales for iPods.

It's not unreasonable to wonder whether Apple can continue to be the tech darling of the 21st century without the kinds of buzz-generating events that propelled it to the position it enjoys today. Perhaps that's true of the Mac or the iPhone, markets where Apple is a relatively small player among giants. But event-related buzz is much less of an important factor when it comes to the iPod; at this point, few need to be persuaded that Apple has music-player design chops.

Apple is also expected to roll out new MacBooks on October 14, which fits the usual Apple profile of launching new products on a Tuesday. We've expected that new Apple notebooks are coming for some time, with reports of a redesigned exterior for the MacBook to go along with Intel's latest mobile chips.

Going green meets the green
There is gold to be mined in being green.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt outlined an energy plan to reduce America's dependence on oil and create green jobs, and in characteristic Schmidt-Google fashion, he backed up the idea with some calculations. The plan could be compared to something like energy efficiency = savings (or E2=$).

"It's just a math problem," Schmidt said to a crowd of executives in San Francisco this week at the Fairmont Hotel.

He said that, if by 2030, the U.S. were to adopt renewable energy sources for 100 percent of its power generation, replacing energy production from coal-fired plants, and replace at least half of its cars with plug-in hybrids, then it could cut carbon emissions by half. (And potentially avert a global warming crisis.) If the plan is adopted, Schmidt calculated that the U.S. would save 77 percent of $2.7 trillion in energy spending over the next 22 years.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Wales, best known for the open-source Wikipedia he co-founded in 2001, has turned his thoughts toward the environment as well. On Tuesday his for-profit venture, Wikia, in its fourth year, unveiled a community for all things "green."

Anyone can edit Wikia, just like Wikipedia, which is built to attract people passionate about a given topic rather than to provide a general reference. For example, a Wikipedia article about ExxonMobil provides an overview of corporate history, while Wikia Green might zero in on the company's environmental record, with special emphasis on the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

Your green ideas could also land you with some extra green. The X Prize Foundation, the same organization behind the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize to send private vehicles to the moon, said it has put together an eco-challenge for YouTubers called "What's your crazy green idea?" Dream up a world-changing idea to stop global warming, post a two-minute YouTube video about it, and it could be worth $25,000.

Also of note
With two competing Web 2.0 product launch conferences happening at the same time, it can be easy to lose track of the real story here: There are more than 100 new products and companies launching this week and ...Google is making searchable, digital copies of old newspapers available online through partnerships with their publishers...Tipsters in New York City can now send photos and video from computers and Web-enabled cell phones and PDAs to the city's 911 and non-emergency hot lines to report crimes and quality-of-life issues such as potholes.