Week in review: Can Google keep a secret?

Google hasn't had much luck keeping secrets lately, and now it looks like feds will pry loose more info.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
7 min read
Google hasn't had much luck keeping secrets lately.

In the past couple weeks, Google has admitted erring when it posted on its Web site internal projections not meant for the public. Around the same time, company documents that were mistakenly released on the Web revealed that Google is preparing to offer online storage to Web users.

Now the Web search giant has partially lost a case it was trying very hard to win. Late Friday, a federal judge granted part of the Department of Justice's request for excerpts from the search giant's massive database.

U.S. District Judge James Ware said Google must hand over a random sampling of 50,000 URLs accessed by its search engine but said users' search terms were off-limits to government prosecutors.

Ware said the government demonstrated a "substantial need" for Google's random URL sample, which it plans to run through filtering software to test the software's antipornography prowess as the government prepares to defend a child-protection law in court. But the DOJ did not meet that standard regarding search queries, Ware said.

The ruling was in line with comments Ware made at a hearing Tuesday. At that time, CNET News.com readers lamented Ware's stance as a threat to constitutional rights, but one reader, David Arbogast, raised an interesting point in CNET's TalkBack forum.

"When you click on a Google link, you give more information to the Web host than the government is requesting from Google right now," he wrote. "Voluntarily."

But it wasn't all bad news for Google in the courtroom. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a writer who claimed that the search giant infringed on his copyright by archiving a Usenet posting of his and providing excerpts from his Web site in search results.

The lawsuit was filed by Gordon Roy Parker, also known as Ray Gordon, who publishes his writings under the business name of Snodgrass Publishing Group. Parker also posted a chapter of one of his e-books on the Usenet bulletin board network, a collection of thousands of discussion forums called newsgroups.

In his 2004 lawsuit against Google, Parker alleged that the search giant violated copyright law by automatically archiving a copy of his posting on Usenet and by providing excerpts from his Web site in search results. However, the court ruled that under case law, Google's activities, akin to those of an Internet service provider, do not constitute infringement.

A look at Vista
As Microsoft puts the finishing touches on Vista, information is trickling out on how the next operating system will be sold and what we can expect it to do.

Microsoft is building into the new operating system a tool that will rate a PC based on how well it is running and on how much it can take advantage of Vista's capabilities. The "Windows Performance Rating," which can be seen in the latest test version of the operating system, evaluates components such as the processor, the memory, the hard drive and graphics cards to come up with an overall score.

The rating appears in a large blue circle and can be seen in multiple places in the operating system, though Microsoft has said little about what, exactly, the rating signifies. The main rating is on a scale of 1 to 5, but individual components are also given a "sub rating" on some other, unspecified range.

Microsoft is readying a second tool, currently called the Windows Upgrade Advisor, that will take a look at a PC and recommend performance enhancements that will help run Vista better. The tool is most likely to recommend more memory or an improved graphics card.

The operating system is being designed to shut the door on spyware as it exists today. Vista introduces important changes at the heart of the operating system, as well as to Internet Explorer, and includes Windows Defender, an anti-spyware tool.

Microsoft is taking a multipronged approach to fighting spyware. Unlike Windows XP, Windows Vista will run with fewer user privileges. Users will have to invoke full "administrator" privileges to perform tasks such as installing an application.

Also, Internet Explorer will prevent silent installations of malicious code by stopping the browser from writing data anywhere except in a temporary-files folder without first seeking permission. Lastly, Windows Defender will block and clean up any infections that do make it through.

Vista isn't the only big product coming out this year, and Microsoft is planning to spend $500 million in 2006 to promote upcoming products designed to make business workers more productive, CEO Steve Ballmer said. Software due to arrive over the next year will cater to information workers in corporations, he said.

Microsoft is also releasing a suite of Office 2007 products by the end of the year. In addition, the company is getting ready to launch an expanded communications product line around its Exchange e-mail server software.

Inside Apple
A Macintosh enthusiast has apparently managed to load Windows XP on an Intel Mac, nabbing a prize of almost $14,000. The contest, which has been running since just after Apple Computer announced the first Intel-based Macs, collected donations from individuals and companies to raise the prize money.

Although both Macs and Windows PCs now use Intel chips, the task of loading Windows on the Intel Macs has proved more complicated,

in part because both use different means of booting up. There had been hope that the next version of Windows would make things easier, but an Apple executive last week said booting Vista on Macs may not prove that easy, either.

According to the rules, the sponsor of the contest, Colin Nederkoorn, now has the rights to publish the solution on his Web site. The solution appears to be available for download, though traffic to the site has been heavy.

Nederkoorn took a few minutes away from trying to keep the site up to talk with CNET News.com about the solution and how it was found.

Apple promo

Despite this contest, most Mac fans were focused on what former Apple executives were up to.

In a rather unusual stock sale, three former Apple executives received more than $140 million to set up a new technology venture. Acquicor Technology, a company launched by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former Apple CEO Gil Amelio and former Apple CTO Ellen Hancock, raised the money this week. But in a twist, they will only get to use the proceeds of the stock offering if they can find a company to buy.

In the prospectus for Acquicor, the founders describe the effort as a "blank-check company" that was formed to snap up a company somewhere in the tech arena. The company said it is generally looking for opportunities created by the convergence of various Internet Protocol-based technologies.

As part of that effort, Wheels of Zeus, the start-up formed by Wozniak a few years ago, has been closed. The Ravix Group, a consulting firm that provides financial and human resources advice, is helping WoZ wind down its affairs, a representative for Ravix said. No one at WoZ could be contacted, but the company's phone number has been changed to the phone number at Ravix.

Formed in 2002, WoZ hoped to bring to market a compact, somewhat inexpensive GPS system for consumers. It also dabbled in RFID. Motorola took out a license with WoZ, but it is unclear whether Motorola, or any other company, ever used any WoZ technology in a product.

Taking sides over Net neutrality
Speculation that the two biggest phone companies in the country, AT&T and Verizon Communications, are planning to create a tiered Internet system that would require big bandwidth hogs like Google or Yahoo to pay more for their access has become a hot-button issue in the tech industry. Increasingly, it's also an issue on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are developing rules to maintain so-called Net neutrality--also called network neutrality--and prevent the emergence of a tiered system.

CEOs from network owners AT&T and Verizon have suggested that they are planning a system in which some companies would have to pay more for their data-intensive use of the Net, which, they argue, slows access for regular customers. On the other side of the debate are companies such as Google, eBay and Yahoo, which are against any companies taking on the role of "IP traffic gatekeeper."

However, a key senator said that a much-anticipated proposal to overhaul U.S. telecommunications laws may not require network providers to follow Net neutrality principles. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, told reporters that he supports the idea of Net neutrality--that is, legally requiring network providers to treat everyone equally--in principle.

Because Stevens' committee is the Senate panel responsible for updating the 1996 Telecommunications Act, his lukewarm endorsement of Net neutrality could be a setback for companies that have been pressing for it to be mandated by law.

Meanwhile, Richard Notebaert, CEO of Qwest Communications International, says it's only fair to offer some companies a "competitive edge" in Internet service, for the right price. Addressing attendees at the Voice on the Net conference in San Jose, Calif., Notebaert also said he opposes blocking traffic on his company's network.

Unlike AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre, who said that he didn't want Google to get a free ride on the AT&T network, Notebaert--whose company is the smallest of the Baby Bells--took a more tactful approach to the subject. He said he views content providers like Google and Amazon.com as customers. And he wants to work with them so they can provide better service to their customers.

Also of note
Apple is offering iTunes Music Store customers a chance to buy condensed versions of the 63 Division 1 men's NCAA basketball games...Apple released further updates on its Mac OS X security fixes...As part of its monthly patch cycle, Microsoft released fixes for six security holes in Office and one flaw in Windows.