The Attack of the Drones


This past Monday marked the first day that drone owners could register their drones with the FAA. And while it is expected that many drone owners think that they can get away with not registering, the program is somewhat of a success as the FAA has seen 45,000 registrations within the first 48 hours.

If you own a drone (or any model aircraft) that weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds (including payloads like cameras), you now have to register with the FAA. Registration will be free until January 21. After that, it’ll cost $5. Registrations are valid for three years and if you don’t register, you risk penalties of up to $27,500 and even up to three years of jail time.

The FAA announced that “The agency has seen strong initial demand, with more than 45,000 registrations completed since the site opened for business Monday afternoon. According to industry estimates, as many as 400,000 small UAS could be sold during the holidays.”

However with 400,000 drones estimated to be sold and in addition to the number already available, 45,000 seems like a drop in the ocean but a good sign all the same.

Volkswagen Dodges Carbon Dioxide Bullet


Volkswagen has announced that a problem with its carbon dioxide emissions is far smaller than initially suspected, with further checks finding “slight discrepancies” in only a few models and no evidence of illegal changes to fuel consumption and emissions figures.

In a case that is separate from its scandal over cheating on U.S. emissions tests for the pollutant nitrogen oxide, Volkswagen said in November it had also found “unexplained inconsistencies” in the carbon dioxide emissions from up to 800,000 vehicles. However, it said that further internal investigations and measurement checks found that “almost all of these model variants do correspond to the CO2 figures originally determined.”

Slight deviations were found in nine variants of Volkswagen brand models with an annual production of some 36,000 cars, or 0.5% of the brand’s total production. Those deviations amount to “a few grams of CO2 on average.” The German car manufacturer initially said that issues with carbon dioxide emissions could cost it another 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) on top of the costs incurred in the scandal over the nitrogen oxide emissions-cheating.

Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority ordered after Volkswagen’s announcement last month that the CO2 emissions of the models in question be measured anew, and the government said it was sticking to that.

FAA Will Likely Require Drone Registration Soon


The Federal Aviation Administration is getting closer to announcing rules for using recreational drones, and will likely start with the requirement to register every drone once it is purchased. However, the registration will only be able to help the FAA keep count of how many there are purchased, and to identify drones that cause collisions and break rules.

Will this signal the start of other laws to follow? Will previous owners of drones need to also register? Surely, registering the hundreds of thousands of drones already in the U.S. that are used for recreational purposes will not be an easy feat.

The number of drones has been steadily increasing over the years, as the FAA has reported pilot sightings of drones over 650 times this year. This number has jumped greatly in one year as pilots reported sighting a drone 238 times for most of 2014. An even greater influx of drones in the sky are expected shortly after the holidays as the FAA has estimated that 1 million drones are expected to be sold for Christmas.

Volkswagen Scandal Raises Questions of Clean Diesels


As Volkswagen admitted that it had cheated on emissions testing of its “clean diesel” engines, it has tarnished the automaker’s reputation, while disrupting the entire industry and put diesel engines on trial in a country that was finally starting to embrace them. Volkswagen offered a diesel engine that had performance, good fuel economy, environmentally friendly and affordable enough to put in a small car.

Supporters of diesels have fought for decades to prove they can be clean and efficient alternatives for automobiles in the U.S. without giving up performance. And they were starting to gain ground largely because of VW’s heavily marketed clean-diesel technology that worked in a small car. It gave auto buyers environmental peace of mind.

The automaker has lost the trust of its customers in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency discovered the existence of the illegal “defeat device” software, which VW installed on 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. to make its diesel engines appear to meet air quality standards when they really did not under regular driving conditions. In Germany, the government said 2.8 million vehicles sold in Germany also have the software.

In addition to the EPA probe, criminal investigations, lawsuits and other agency investigations are under way. The scandal continued to grow with Wednesday’s resignation of VW CEO Martin Winterkorn after the admission that 11 million vehicles globally have the defeat device software, prompting agencies around the world to start checking emission levels of Volkswagen vehicles. Other automakers who sell vehicles with diesels find themselves in agency crosshairs. The EPA now sees the need for industry-wide checks and is working on new tests to detect cheating.

Google in Trouble with Russia’s Antimonopoly Agency


Russia’s antimonopoly agency has given Google until November 18 to make amendments to features of its Android platform that it deemed anticompetitive. If Google fails to make the demanded changes, it could face stiff penalties of up to 15% of its revenue gained from mobile applications in Russia.

Google’s policy that when a device maker chooses to install Android, it must also install the Google Play store app and several other Google applications. In addition, device manufacturers are restricted from installing apps and services that compete with Google’s core offerings.

The case against Google in Russia was launched by Yandex, a domestic search competitor that’s been losing market share as consumers pick up low-cost Android handsets pre-installed with Google search. If Google makes the changes laid out by the Federal Antimonopoly Service in Russia, it would allow third-party app developers like Yandex to get their own services installed on Android devices.

Google is already paring down the number of apps it bundles on new phones, which could help its case. Of course, Google is always going to want to include its best apps with Android to bring people deeper into its ecosystem of services, so whatever changes it makes are unlikely to fully wipe those apps away, not unless it really has to.

Google and Microsoft Kiss and Makeup?


Google and Microsoft are playing nice, burying all current patent infringement lawsuits that they have had ongoing for some time, all 18 of them.

Microsoft has been systematically targeting Android handset makers with a set of undisclosed patents that were violated by the use of the Android operating system. However, current leadership at Microsoft seems to be shifting from their old ways of confrontation to making way for more collaboration. Arguably, Microsoft used to be quick to sue and drag matters out in court, but it seems newer players within the company are becoming quicker to settle and partner.

Possibly signaling the winding down of the global smartphone wars, the two companies said the deal puts an end to court fights involving a variety of technologies, including mobile phones, Wi-Fi, and patents used in Microsoft’s Xbox game consoles and other Windows products. The agreement also drops all litigation involving Motorola Mobility, which Google sold to Lenovo last year while keeping its patents.

Predictably, as Microsoft and Google continue to make products that compete directly with each other, the agreement notably does not preclude any future infringement lawsuits. The two have said they have been co-operating on such issues as the development of a unified patent court for the European Union, and on royalty-free technology for speeding up video on the Internet.

Will the “Right to Be Forgotten” End in the EU?


Google is refusing to follow a French Ruling that is asking to delete records globally, each time an individual requests the right to be forgotten. The company is clarifying its stand saying that the European ruling of Right to Be Forgotten should not be applied globally. By not following the ruling, Google might be inviting trouble and is likely to be fined for its stand.

CINIL, the data protection authority in France, made the order on the basis of the European court ruling that Google will have to delete irrelevant and outdated information when it receives a request from the individual or organization. Since the ruling, Google has received millions of requests and even cleared many of them. But it is refusing to accept the order that asks it to remove the name from the global list, arguing that the search is already being routed locally.

Google has further pointed out that one country should not have the authority to decide and control what content users in another country can find and access. The company notes that such a measure isn’t necessary, because as much as 97% of Internet users in France access a European version of Google’s search engine.

Google argues in a new post on its official blog for Europe: If the CNIL were to get its way, “the Internet would only be as free as the world’s least free place.”

Google Meets The Pelican Brief


Sometimes, I find a story that is so weird and apparently unlikely that it can’t be real. But then, suddenly it is.

A few months ago, I read The New Jim Crow, which sets out a well substantiated case that the political right wing of America conspired to essentially jail our young men of color by the thousands as a way to keep the black population “in their place,” following the progress made through the civil rights movement. It’s a staggering story. A more recent and less wide scale story — but almost equally unlikely — has emerged around Google. And this time, Google is the victim. Here’s what appears to have happened:

The film industry hates movie piracy. It’s an entirely understandable position, and one they have been pursuing by all available means in recent years. They had placed a lot of hope in the Stop Online Piracy Act, which nearly made it into law a couple of years ago, but fell at the last fence when mighty Silicon Valley lobbyist (led by Google) convinced the Obama Administration that it would amount to far reaching and unprecedented censorship of all things online. The act would have made search engines, in some part, responsible for displaying pirated content in search results. Search engines understandably hated and feared this idea, as it would strip from them the safe harbor they had been enjoying since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protected them back in 1998.

I understand this is profoundly dull so far, but bear with me; this gets good. Having failed through the judicial process, the movie studios plotted (conspired is such a harsh word) to have various state Attorneys General file suit against Google, with the goal of tying them up in legal knots and making them so miserable that they remove their support from the anti SOPA campaigns, leaving them with the chance to get it reinstated at some point, perhaps under a Republican President.

It was nothing if not ambitious in scope and breadth, budgeting $500,000 per year to fund this process. They even suggested that News Corp (Fox) and NBC plant stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Today Show speculating on the likely impact these actions might have on Google’s stock price. Leading the charge for the bad guys was the AG for Mississippi.

Why Mississippi, you ask? Why not California, where movies are made? The neat wrinkle is that the tax climate in California is so hostile to business that it has allowed other states to offer tax breaks to encourage productions to move there. Mississippi has benefited enormously from these changes, so it makes perfect sense that they sign up to be the stalking horse for this process.

There are many twists and turns with which I won’t bore you, but Google has just filed additional documents in its case against Fox, NBC Universal and Viacom detailing an arsenal of smoking guns. The bad guys weren’t exactly successful in covering their tracks; it would be comical if it weren’t so revolting. The case continues…

A Kinder, Softer Google?


Anyone who has ever dealt with Google knows what a ruthless, relentless competitor they are. If you don’t like their way, you can go pound and…”We are Google, dammit!” So it was a little surprising to see a new, fluffy Google attempting to make love not war with the EU newspaper industry.

Remember newspapers? In the EU, there has been a growing clamor against all things Google led in part, at least, by the rich and powerful newspaper groups. Though they are considerably less rich and powerful owing to the thrashing their industry has taken in the last couple of decades, they still have a loud voice in Europe. Massive cross media conglomerates, like Axel Springer and NewsCorp, still carry a big stick and have been in a standoff with Google for a while.

Google has just announced a new “Digital Initiative” with a group of major EU publishers. They have pledged about $170 million over three years to help newspapers grow their digital products and revenues. Given the insane amounts of money Google has thrown at projects like Nest and Glass, the amount seems a little patronizing, if not insulting. But it’s better than nothing and it’s better than being at war with the major EU news publishers.

In a kerfuffle I documented in this very blog a few months back, the Spanish government passed a law that essentially required Google to pay to include snippets culled from Spanish news sites in their search results. In response, Google shut down their Spanish news site entirely (a very Google move, BTW). That led to the implosion of many news sites who lost most of their search referral traffic. Both parties backed away from the mess, and this uneasy, somewhat patronizing initiative seems to be the result.

What’s really happening here is that Google is trying to narrow the number of concurrent battles they’re waging in Europe. The EU competition commissioner is leading a pretty strong assault on Google for what looks to be a very tightly-defined accusation of anti-competitive behavior. Indeed, there are some in the EU lobbying for a “Google Tax” on all things Google.  That would be a problem, as would a $2Bn monopoly-based fine. Having the very vocal news industry editorializing about how evil Google is won’t help that cause. I’m sure Google is hoping that the digital bone they have thrown the EU news hounds will keep them quiet for a while.

It Just Got Real in the EU


It’s fair to say that a good number of folk in Europe just hate Google.

I was selling search to European web sites and portals back in the early 2000s. As I recall, we charged 65c per thousand queries answered. Back then, there was an upstart search company called Google that was powering Yahoo and had a web site with no ads on it. My then company was doing really well at selling search; so well, in fact, that Yahoo bought them for something over $100MM. Then Google came up with a new and remarkable sales strategy: they started giving search away for free. In addition, they said that they would pay the portals if they could run ads on their results pages. As you can imagine, it was a pretty successful offer.

I clearly remember having conversations with clients along the lines of, “If you go with Google, it will be cheaper initially. But people will quickly realize that they are behind your search, and they will go to Google directly. Their site is extremely fast and doesn’t have all those horrible, slow-to-load ads you slather all over your site.” My words fell on deaf ears, and now Google controls over 90% of the entire European market.


It’s this over-arching monopoly that sticks in the craw of many EU legislators, and they have been firing warning shots over Google’s bow for several years. Absent of a settlement, the EU ministers have now filed suit against Google for monopoly practices. To the American observer, this looks like something between sour grapes and silliness. If you don’t like Google, then use something else.

The suit alleges that Google favors its own shopping results over those of competitors. The EU has limited the scope of the argument to just that— partly because it’s blindingly clear that is exactly what Google is doing and partly to get the case done quickly. Europe takes a dim view of monopolistic behavior. Dominant companies have a duty to ensure that they don’t exploit their positions.

Google is a voracious competitor, entirely not the goofy-friendly company they try to position themselves as in the US. Their argument that the Internet is a big place and nobody forces you to use Google might seem fair enough to an American viewer, but likely won’t cut it in Europe.

If this goes all the way and Google loses, the company will likely find itself on the wrong side of a fine for six billion dollars (or more). Beyond just the fiscal pain, they will also likely have to make significant concessions to avoid further cases. Google hates that kind of situation. When the Spanish government tried to force Google to pay for news stories they indexed from newspaper sites, they shut down the Spanish news search entirely. It will be interesting to see where this ends up.