THE LEDE: Google rolled out a new social network on Wednesday — but many users of the search giant's popular Gmail service might still be unaware. Google quietly rolled out its new "+1" feature that allows users to publicly recommend links and search results to others in their social circles. Observers are calling the new tool Google's first true social media application and a threat to Facebook's "Like" button.
The news came the same day Google finally resolved the mess created by the debut of the Google Buzz social network last year. The company agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that will require the firm to undergo outside privacy audits every two years for the next two decades. The FTC charged that Google had enrolled users in aspects of Buzz without their consent and made the privacy settings confusing and difficult to find.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) used the news of the settlement to once again stump for his promised privacy bill, which he said will clearly outline how firms should handle data collected from consumers. The White House has also called on Congress to pass privacy legislation this year.
House takes up patent reform: House Judiciary chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) finally unveiled his patent reform bill Wednesday ahead of an afternoon hearing on it in front of the subcommittee on Intellectual Property. Smith's bill closely tracks the bill from Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that sailed through the upper chamber by a 95-5 vote earlier this month.
Like the Senate bill, Smith's would shift the United States to a first-to-file system and allow the Patent and Trademark Office to keep the fees it collects. Several advocacy groups praised the bill, while firms expressed concern about measures that would expand the post-grant review process. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) charged that the protections in the House bill were not on par with its Senate counterpart.
“The legislation includes two particularly troubling provisions. It would create a new post-grant review process, and it makes changes to the existing inter partes reexamination process," Michaud said.
"Both of these provisions allow infringers to challenge patents more easily. In addition, the bill does not include all necessary safeguards to prevent strategic attacks of patents that are often used to the disadvantage of American inventors. At minimum, the House should consider the safeguards included in the recently passed Senate counterpart to this legislation."
Genachowski dodges questions on Google privacy breach: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski ducked questions on a possibly stalled investigation into a major consumer privacy breach by Google. During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Genachowski refused to provide an update, citing an ongoing investigation despite dogged questioning by Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.).
House Oversight chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) said the Obama administration is no more transparent than its predecessor.
The Pentagon and Department of Transportation told the FCC they want more input on LightSquared.
The film industry praised Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for cracking down on online piracy.
Twitter was mostly down on Wednesday afternoon. Sara was lost.
NSA is helping to investigate the October attack on Nasdaq.
"I had helped start the company and was still an active member of management, though limited by my illness, and now my partner and my colleague were scheming to rip me off. It was mercenary opportunism, plain and simple."
— Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in his new book discussing co-founder Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer