Technology

Are consumers at the mercy of Google?


The Senate Antitrust Subcommittee has called Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to testify during a hearing examining online competition.  Google seemingly showers consumers with dozens of free services—and connects us to other businesses—so why is its chairman being called to DC?
 
The issues involve threat to consumer privacy and anticompetitive risks that limit market choices and innovation.  Members of the U.S. Senate are right to ask Schmidt some tough questions about how Google operates, its 100-plus mergers and how its operations impact consumers and healthy marketplace competition.
 
Whether you realize it or not, Google is virtually impossible to avoid on the Internet. The company’s dominant position in search, search advertising, mobile search, online video, mapping, and website analytics means Google constantly collects your data.  And Google is now leveraging its dominant position to move into other markets, including travel, local information services and mobile phones.

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The research and development gap

America is in grave danger of loosing its edge. For over one hundred years, American leadership in science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing has been unrivaled. It has created for us not only one of the highest standards of living any civilization has ever achieved, but also brought American preeminence in the world and a strong national defense.

Now, unfortunately, this is all at risk due to the lack of long-term planning, little political will, and slowing investment in science and engineering research.

As every business leader knows, prosperity tomorrow requires investment today. This is true whether the economy is in a period of boom or bust. The United States will not simply “grow” its way out of economic malaise. We need a rebirth of innovation: new products, new ways of doing things, new scientific achievements.

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Google's big bet on the mobile future

From the debt ceiling debate to presidential primary rhetoric, national politics are whipping into a partisan frenzy in the march to the 2012 elections. At the moment, the hot air has had a largely deflationary effect on the nation’s spirits (and markets)—leaving the public wondering what our leaders can do to get the one in five un- or under-employed Americans back to work.

Against this bleak backdrop, the U.S. innovation community is buzzing over the fresh news of Google’s bullish $12.5 billion bet on the mobile future. The mega-deal to acquire Motorola Mobility is the largest acquisition yet for the company. And, it puts the online search giant squarely into the device-making business—and right into the competitive crosshairs of Apple and other manufacturers of modern, must-have smartphones and tablets.

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Don't forget about the under-banked consumer

Banks have always talked about "banking the unbanked,” however, what they meant was "how can (they) educate these consumers so they can become bankable." Banks have never been willing to change their product offerings to meet the real needs of this massive consumer group by adding services such as check cashing, money transfers, walk up bill payments, and now prepaid Visa/MC debit cards.

More and more today banks are focused on redefining their product set to meet the needs of these consumers by offering them the services they are buying today at the corner check casher or market. This shift in mentality has been pushed along by recent legislative changes in Washington (Durbin, etc.) that will significantly reduce the fee income these banks generate from deposit accounts, debit cards, and credit cards.

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Varney's depature is unfortunate for DOJ's antitrust division

On Friday, August 5, Christine Varney will leave her post as assistant attorney general for antitrust just as her staff is in the middle of evaluating one of the most significant transactions this country has seen in decades.

AT&T's proposed $39 billion takeover of national rival T-Mobile would, if approved reshape the telecommunications landscape, handing AT&T and Verizon control over 80 percent of this country's wireless market.

The good news about Varney's departure is that the Antitrust Division's professional staff is well along in its analysis of the deal. The bad news is that her departure presents the opportunity for mischief, which should be denied at all costs.

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Make more energy-efficient gadgets

How many electronic devices do you have in your home? How many televisions, computers, iPods, video games, and telephones do you use on a daily basis? Electronic gadgets already account for about 15 percent of household electric consumption, and as these gadgets proliferate, their energy use continues to grow.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2030, new electronic gadgets will triple their energy consumption to 1,700 terawatt hours, the equivalent of the home electricity consumption of the US and Japan combined. According to the IEA, the international community will have to build over 15,000 wind turbines (or 200 nuclear power plants) to power all the TVs, iPods, PCs and other home electronics expected to be plugged in by 2030. The electric bill to power all household electronics will top $200 billion a year, compared with last year’s bill of $80 billion. Most of this increase in consumer electronics will occur in developing countries, where economic growth is outpacing developed nations and ownership rates of gadgets are lowest. 

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The SAFE Data Act does not ensure data security

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade held a markup on H.R. 2577, the SAFE Data Act.  

Unfortunately, the name of the bill is quite deceiving. Passage of the bill will not make consumer data safer. Instead, it preempts important state laws in this area and leaves a weak federal one in their place.

This bill does not even address the recent data breaches at Sony and Epsilon, the very data breaches that prompted the Committee to act in the first place. Both of those breaches involved email addresses; H.R. 2577 does not require companies to secure consumers’ email addresses or to inform them if they’re taken by hackers.

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Life changing technology for consumers with disabilities

In today’s world, Smartphones with accessibility features make it possible for people who are blind to use mobile apps to identify money and have their e-mails read aloud. And, with augmentative communications technologies, a person who has difficulty speaking can now fully participate in their community. Mobile technologies and services, once only dreamed of in science fiction movies, today are helping transform the way people with disabilities interact within society, improving their lives dramatically.  

At the National Council on Independent Living, we are dedicated to creating a society in which people with disabilities can live independently and fully participate and engage in their communities. Today marks the 21st anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a day when we can reflect on the progress that has been made and look forward to the promise that tomorrow holds. Communications technology and mobile broadband in particular, has been instrumental in improving the lives of people with disabilities, enabling technologies used in everyday life that much of the population may not even realize exist.

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SAFE Data Act protects against identity theft

American consumers are under constant assault. As quickly and quietly as a wallet can be stolen by a skilled pickpocket, your personal identity can be hijacked without you knowing it by online hackers and cyber thieves.

Every year, for millions of Americans, identity theft has become the bogeyman in the closet. It’s a crime that lurks in the shadows and strikes without warning, often leaving its victims trapped in a real-life nightmare where they can spend years trying to recover stolen assets, restore their credit and resume a normal life – if they’re lucky.

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Economic growth out of thin air

Mobile broadband usage is projected to grow by 35 times from 2009 to 2014. The explosion of wireless broadband demand created by the growth of smartphones, tablets, and wirelessly connected laptops will fast outstrip the current capacity of the wireless spectrum. The demand placed on the wireless spectrum by a single smartphone is the equivalent of 24 traditional cellular phones; a tablet, 122 cell phones.

For this reason, as a part of the 2009 National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission is working towards making 500 megahertz of additional spectrum available over the next decade, 300 megahertz of which will be made available by 2014. The government, however, remains embroiled in the process of developing a plan to repurpose spectrum from its current uses for wireless broadband.

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