By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Google has rejected EU antitrust charges that it abused its market power, exposing the company to the risk of a hefty fine if it does not alter its business practices.
The company’s comments came after the European Commission in April accused it of distorting internet search results to favor its shopping service, harming both rivals and consumers.
“Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive,” Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, wrote in a blog on Thursday.
“We believe that the statement of objection’s preliminary conclusions are wrong as a matter of fact, law, and economics.”
The comments coincide with the company’s 150-page submission countering the Commission’s charges.
Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso confirmed the receipt of Google’s response to the charge sheet. “We will carefully consider Google’s response before taking any decision on how to proceed and do not want to prejudge the final outcome of the investigation,” he said.
If found guilty, the company could face a fine set at a level sufficient to ensure deterrence, according to the Commission’s charge sheet seen by Reuters. The EU antitrust authority can sanction wrongdoers up to 10 percent of their global turnover.
In his blog, Walker said the EU authority had failed to take into account strong competition from online retailers Amazon.com and eBay.
He also said internet traffic had risen by 227 percent in the last decade in the countries where the Commission said it had abused its power to the detriment of rivals.
Walker said the regulator’s demand that Google give equal treatment to its rivals was “peculiar and problematic” and only justifiable if the company provided an essential service like an electricity company.
Google’s foes were scathing of the company’s arguments.
“We have seen this movie before. Defendants in big European antitrust cases have made the same arguments,” said Thomas Vinje, a lawyer at lobby group FairSearch, whose members include Microsoft, Nokia, and TripAdvisor.
“And they argued, again like Google today, that the antitrust authorities just don’t get it, and that the remedy they demand cannot be implemented without causing technical and market chaos.”
Google has however been backed by one study by the Centre for European Reform, a pro-EU think tank. It surveyed prices of 63 items in Britain’s consumer inflation basket, comparing prices on Google Shopping with those of the first-placed retailer in normal search results.
Google Shopping was 2.9 per cent cheaper.
“Those who lose most from Google’s behavior are producers, not consumers, at least in the UK,” author John Springford said in a report published last month.
“If Google’s prioritization of its own shopping service gave it monopoly power, one would expect prices to be higher in its own service.”
(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in Frankfurt; Editing by Susan Thomas and David Holmes)
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Google has been working with Adobe to make Flash content more power-efficient in Chrome. In March, a setting was introduced to play less Flash content on the page, but it wasn’t turned on by default, and in June, the option was enabled in the browser’s beta channel. Google also hinted all users would get the feature as soon as next month, and today the company confirmed it would start rolling out on September 1.
Here’s how the feature works. Chrome will automatically pause Flash content that isn’t “central to the webpage” while keeping central content playing without interruption. For example, the video you’re trying to watch will be unaffected while animations on the side will be paused. If Chrome pauses something you’re interested in, you can resume playback by just clicking on it.
If this sounds like a feature you want to start using now, you can turn it on before next week. Open Chrome’s menu, click on Settings, choose “Show advanced settings,” scroll down to the “Privacy” section, and hit the “Content settings” button. In the Plugins section, change “Run all plugin content (recommended): Chrome will run all plugins” to “Detect and run important plugin content: Chrome will run the main plugin content on websites.”
Over the last few months, Google has admitted the feature would pause a lot of plugin content, including “many Flash ads.” The goal, according to the company, is to increase page-load speed and reduce power consumption, though it hasn’t shared any hard data on what kind of improvements users can expect.
While the majority of Google’s revenue depends on ads, and many are still delivered in Flash, this move is part of a broader effort to ditch the insecure and slow technology. In January, YouTube ditched Flash for HTML5 by default, and in February Google started automatically converting Flash ads to HTML5. Now it’s Chrome turn to join the party.
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Google has announced a new tool designed to help developers build apps for Android Auto.
With Desktop Head Unit (DHU), Google is essentially letting devs emulate a car dashboard running Android Auto, thus making the testing process far more practical.
All a developer needs to do is connect their phone to a computer via USB, and the mobile device will think it’s connected to a physical car. They can then test it properly and iron out bugs, before releasing it to the public.
First announced at Google I/O in June 2014, Android Auto basically turns your car into an extensino of your Android phone, relying on the device to power the service. It’s compatible with maps, music, Web search, SMS, and telephone, however support is limited to only a handful of cars at present, though it is possible to retrofit some cars with Pioneer’s multimedia receivers.
Google says that with the launch of the DHU emulator, previous simulators on offer will be wound down.
Last year, Google was considering purchasing the livestreaming site Twitch. That fell through, but this didn’t stop the company from pushing forward with a gaming initiative all its own: YouTube Gaming. This launched today, and GamesBeat is taking a closer look at all of its slick new features (game hubs) along with its remaining warts (the copyright-protecting algorithm ContentID).
If I were to get reductive about YouTube Gaming, I would call it nothing but a new skin for existing YouTube content. But that’s a bit unfair. This new feature has a totally reworked user interface that enables gamers to keep up with videos — both live and recorded — featuring their favorite games.
That is perhaps the biggest change with YouTube: It turns a site that previously had lots of gaming videos into something that is much closer to a real gaming website. You can see that shift when you first load up gaming.youtube.com or the apps.
On the right side of the YouTube Gaming homepage, you can see a bunch of people who are livestreaming games. Some of the most popular people already have well more than 10,000 viewers.
But the left sidebar is more interesting, as it enables you to star and follow certain games that you like. I chose Super Mario Maker, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and Counter-Strike. Clicking on one of those games from my sidebar takes me to its hub page. Again, Google uses its algorithm to fill in the data. This includes a game description ripped from Wikipedia as well as a number of recorded and live videos. Most interestingly, each game hub also has a tab where you can find “let’s plays” or reviews. The let’s plays — where gamers record themselves playing a game from beginning to end — automatically fills with playlists. The review page naturally pulls in video reviews for said game.
Does it work?
For people who prefer watching videos over reading text, I could see YouTube Gaming easily taking over as the go-to site for content. Some games, like Super Mario Maker, aren’t even out yet, but you can head to its page and get a ton of videos from a variety of different people in an instant.
Some people might miss the editorial control you get from a website run by humans and not algorithms, but I’m thinking most won’t even notice the difference.
How it compares to Twitch
Of course, YouTube Gaming doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it is very difficult to see it as anything but a reaction to Twitch. So let’s go ahead and make the inevitable comparisons.
How it’s better than Twitch
- YouTube Gaming seems so much more modern than Twitch.
- The UX is cleaner and better looking.
- The gaming hubs have so much more content.
- YouTube has a built-in advantage in that it has way more recorded content, which Twitch doesn’t save for long.
- With a click of a button you know you can get live broadcasts, let’s plays, or reviews.
- Just about anyone can start earning money from YouTube in an instant.
- Streaming to YouTube instantly uploads a video once you’re finished.
- It doesn’t have Twitch chat.
How Twitch is still better
- Twitch is still going to have the most live content.
- Software like OBS and Xsplit (which is how most people broadcast gameplay) have more support for Twitch.
- YouTube’s ContentID works on live broadcasts, where Twitch doesn’t interfere with live shows.
- That means that a developer could potentially use ContentID to shut down a stream if you’re saying something you don’t like. That’s something that hasn’t happened on Twitch yet.
- Twitch’s community efforts are still ahead of YouTube. Proof of that includes the upcoming TwitchCon event next month.
- Twitch doesn’t have YouTube comments.
YouTube Gaming does not spell the immediate doom of Twitch. While I like some aspects of what Google is doing better, it’s not perfect. And Twitch didn’t get to the top of broadcasting by accident. It has a smart team that knows what gamers want, and now it also has some real competition that should make everything about this space better.
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All of this is better explained with a quick video that shows Chrome before and after the change:
Because users often interact with pages more than once in a row, or at least expect some kind of rerendering, it’s easy to see how much a difference this performance tweak can have. Chrome beta’s scheduler now delays impending expensive timers after a tap.
This allows many webpages to be scheduled more efficiently. In fact, Google says this change results in up to a 50 percent input latency improvement on websites that use timers heavily.
This improvement is enabled by default in Chrome beta, but Google didn’t say when it will hit the Chrome stable channel. Chrome 45 will launch next month, though this improvement could be delayed until Chrome 46, which will likely arrive by November.
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Google today announced the general availability of Google Container Engine, a cloud-based implementation of the Kubernetes open-source software Google first released last year. The service first became available in open alpha in November.
Now the service is backed up by Google 99.95 percent service level agreement to assure customers of its availability. Customers will be able to run basic clusters with as many as five virtual machines (VMs) for free, and standard clusters, with up to 100 VMs, will cost 1.5 cents an hour, according to the product’s web page.
If companies choose to use this tool, they won’t need to worry about setting up and maintaining a tool to orchestrate the deployment of containers (which are considered a lightweight alternative to more traditional VMs).
“Container Engine schedules your containers into your cluster and manages them automatically, based on requirements that you declare,” Google product manager Craig McLuckie wrote in a blog post on the news. “Simply define your containers’ needs, such as the amount of CPU/memory to reserve, number of replicas, and keepalive policy, and Container Engine will actively ensure requirements are met.”
Container Engine users include Lithium and Porch, McLuckie wrote.
Now that Container Engine is available with an SLA, Google has a better shot at competing with public cloud market leader Amazon Web Services when it comes to being the ideal place to host container-based applications. Amazon’s EC2 Container Service has been generally available since April. The IBM Containers service hit general availability in June.
Microsoft Azure, another prominent public cloud, does not currently have a managed service for deploying containers.
Of course, Google Cloud Platform competes with these other cloud providers on other fronts, but all of these companies want to be seen as the best place to build and run modern applications.
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