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In last week’s column (Is Google going the way of Ma Bell?), I wrote:

“Is Google abusing its monopoly power to extend into new markets and crush its competitors? Do its search results favor its advertisers and their products? Could be.

The Federal Trade Commission has opened an antitrust investigation that goes to the heart of Google’s business: its core search and advertising systems that account for nearly all of Google’s $29 billion in annual revenue. The 12-year-old company faces similar charges in Europe.

According to a published report in the New York Times, this has the potential to evolve into “the biggest showdown between the United States government and a major technology company since the Microsoft antitrust trial that began in the late 1990s.” And it could take years to investigate. It is reported to be the most serious legal threat yet to the Internet giant.”

Now Google is challenging Facebook (used by more than 650 million worldwide) with Google+, a Facebook-like social network that features three main products: Circles, Sparks and Hangouts (View Google+ video).

Last week I received an invitation from a fellow blogger to join Google’s latest product, Google+.

She was one of a number of Google users who noticed a small red envelope with Google’s “G+” logo and the words “invite people to join Google+” that popped up and started inviting people in. There was such an overwhelming response to Google’s unofficial announcement, Google’s Vic Gundotra, who is overseeing the effort for Google+, said in a post: “We’ve shut down invite mechanism for the night. Insane demand. We need to do this carefully, and in a controlled way. Thank you all for your interest!”

No word yet on when Google+ invites will resume, but Gundotra said, “For any who wish to leave, please remember you can always exit and take your data with you by using Google Takeout,” Gundotra said. “It’s your data, your relationships, your identity.” This is a feature not offered by Facebook.

Not to be outdone by Google, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg says “something awesome” is coming to Facebook. Tech publications speculate it could be the introduction of Skype-powered video-chat. The announcement is scheduled for July 6.

Taking a page from Google+, Facebook engineers have devised a new method for adding Facebook friends to your circle. Check out Circlehack, a much simpler tool to build Facebook Friend lists.

End of an era?

And finally, on the browser battlefield, Chrome waxes, IE wanes.

The power of celebrity Twitter

Los Angeles Police are using celebrities with large Twitter followings to help warn the public about a freeway closure.

The LAPD figures they can instantly and efficiently get the word out to millions of people by enlisting the help of celebs like Kim Kardashian (8 million followers), Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore (7 million and 3.7 million respectively) and Lady Gaga (nearly 11.3 million followers) to avoid a ten-mile stretch of the 405 freeway that will be closed the weekend of July 15.

Smart cops! Just one more way Twitter is making itself indispensable in today’s world of instant information.

According to Twitter, users are now sending 200 million Tweets per day. Compare: in January of 2009, users sent two million Tweets a day, and one year ago they posted 65 million a day.

“A billion Tweets are sent every five days. What’s in them?” the Twitter blog asks. “Everything about every topic imaginable – whether it’s a unique bird’s-eye view of the shuttle launch as seen from an airplane window or cheers of support for soccer teams in this year’s Champions League tournament. Using Twitter helped a homeless man reunite with his daughter, sent two Cincinnati Reds fans to spring training on a player’s dime and even helped residents of a small city in Korea find fresh water after its supply was cut off.”

See how Twitter tweets pulse across the globe in these videos. And learn how the homeless turn to Twitter for food, shelter (via @cnntech) in these Clever Twitter Accounts.

Google isn’t the only social networking company under investigation. It seems the Federal Trade Commission is keeping itself very busy these days, this time placing Twitter under the regulatory agency’s microscope. The FTC’s antitrust division is reviewing Twitter’s dealings with at least one company that makes software designed to interact with the service. Twitter’s relationship with software developers has been described as a “rocky” one.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone leaving Twitter

Twitter founder “Biz” Stone is moving on. The 37-year-old Stone, who five years ago created with co-founder Evan Williams the microblogging site that has become integral in worldwide communication, says he’ll work with the company in the years to come. But he adds it’s time for him to “get out of the way” of Twitter’s new leadership team and shift his focus to charity work.

Stone says he plans to focus on helping schools, nonprofits and company advisory boards. He’s also relaunching Obvious Corp. with fellow Twitter co-founder Evan Williams to develop new projects.

The “fusion of entertainment and enlightenment” leaps forward

Touting it as “The network of tomorrow, a day early,” radio and television personality Glenn Beck has launched GBTV, a Live HD Video Network that will feature his two-hour daily TV program, live radiocasts, original programming, news documentaries, reality programs and behind-the-scenes shows.

But Beck’s GBTV isn’t the first television entry to the ‘Net, just the first to make the jump from traditional TV and charge a subscription fee for it. RightNetwork launched more than a year ago with free original programming that includes a full menu of news, interviews, comedy and more targeted to the conservative viewer. Both channels can be downloaded to your mobile device for on-the-go viewing.

Beck’s foray onto the Internet is yet another step up to the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment on one channel. As he has all along, Beck continues to blaze a trail in the new media, building on his former Fox News daily show, his online news journal “The Blaze,” daily radio program, book publishing company and monthly magazine. No doubt television “suits” are watching Beck’s business model closely.

As I wrote in this column two weeks ago (“America Cuts Its Cable,” June 20, 2011), television programming has become increasingly more available online with free offerings as well as paid services like Netflix, which recently released a report showing that 32 percent of its users tend to discontinue their cable service within 12 months. Another factor is the declining economy, which has cable providers concerned about diminishing subscriptions.

“In 2010, approximately 1 million U.S. households cut the cord,” a Denver TV critic recently reported. “By the end of this year, 2.07 million households are expected to have dropped cable during the past four years, according to The Convergence Consulting Group, a company that reports to the entertainment industry.”

Cash strapped states impose new taxes, online sellers take hit

In previous Surfin’ Safari columns, we reported that Amazon.com has stopped doing business with online sellers in states that now require the retailer to collect sales taxes on purchases their customers make online. Amazon in Seattle and Overstock in Salt Lake City have told affiliates that if they want to continue earning commissions for referring customers, they’ll have to move to a state that does not impose the tax.

Last Friday, California was the latest of seven states that do. According to a published report, Amazon and online retailer Overstock.com Inc. told some 25,000 California Internet marketing affiliates they will stop paying commissions for referrals of so-called click-through customers. The affiliates paid $152 million in state income taxes last year.

According to the Los Angeles Times, California is the seventh and largest state in the country to pass a law to collect taxes on out-of-state Internet sales. Illinois, Arkansas and Connecticut acted earlier this year, North Carolina and Rhode Island in 2009 and New York in 2008.

California’s new tax collection requirement is expected to raise an estimated $317 million a year in new state and local government revenue.

Coming soon to your state? Could this be the beginning of even more controls and fees on Internet users?

News Corp. takes huge loss with MySpace

News Corp. has sold the flailing social network MySpace to a digital media firm specializing in online advertising for $35 million, after paying $580 million in 2005 for the formerly hot social site.

The new owner paid a fraction of the $580 million that News Corp. paid for the once-dominant social network in 2005. Monthly visitors to MySpace in the United States peaked in October 2008 at 76.3 million, but shrank to about 35 million in May.

Why did MySpace fail? “Mismanagement, missed opportunities and miscalculations”, according to one financial expert.

“The reason Facebook has consistently [drubbed MySpace] is [Facebook Chief Executive] Mark Zuckerberg owns product strategy,” said Mark Suster of GRP Partners, a leading venture capital firm in Southern California. “When the company needs to turn on a dime, they’re able to do so. You don’t get this quagmire of bureaucracy.”

Saving battery life on the info highway

New Wi-Fi technology could double your phone’s battery life. SleepWell, developed by a Duke University computer science grad student, is software that puts your phone’s Wi-Fi device to sleep when others in your area also are riding the bandwidth highway. This allows your phone to maximize battery efficiency while waiting for enough bandwidth to download. When the traffic clears, SleepWell alerts your Wi-Fi device, and away you go!

If Peter Piper picked a peck of passwords…

With everything that’s being written about hacking – see last week’s column about LulzSec – you should pay close attention to picking a password that’s hard to hack. Here’s how.

Related: LulzSec ceases hacking operations. According to Computer World, “Mounting pressure from law enforcement … finally caused LulzSec to disband,” said E.J. Hilbert, president of Online Intelligence and a former FBI agent who has been following the group closely. “LulzSec was a group of punk kids out to have some fun that just kept pushing and pushing, and they took it too far.”

Lulz Security, in a final statement on its webpage offered no reason for disbanding.

iPhone enters medical field with Parkinson’s testing app

Researchers at Georgia Tech’s Research Institute, or GTRI, are posed to enter the medical field with a newly developed iPhone application that could be good news for those with neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease sufferers.

In a published report at Georgia Tech Research News:

“The researchers believe the application could replace subjective tests now used to assess the severity of tremors, while potentially allowing more frequent patient monitoring without costly visits to medical facilities.

The program – known as iTrem – could be offered later this year by the App Store, an Apple Inc. website that sells iPhone applications. But iTrem will first undergo a clinical study at Emory University and must receive any required approvals from the Food and Drug Administration.”

Given the amount of research being done on medical applications development, it’s a fair guess it won’t be too far off in the future when several more medical tests can be conducted through our mobile devices.

Bits & bytes

The time capsule

1776 – The Declaration of Independence

1935 – FDR signs National Labor Relations Act

1971 – President Nixon signs 26th amendment to the Constitution

1976 – Israeli commandos rescue hostagesRaid on Entebbe movie

1988 – USS Vincennes mistakenly shoots down Iranian Airbus

1989 – LTC Oliver North sentenced for Iran-Contra, avoids prison

Now playing at the Princess Theater in Urbana, Ill.

Congratulations to WND readers Tim Kerlin of Watervliet, Mich., and Cathy McCarthy of Lafayette, Ind., who were among the first to correctly guess actor Paul Giamatti in his portrayal of John Adams in the 2008 HBO mini-series about the life of John Adams and the first 50 years of the United States. The series also starred Laura Linney and John Dossett, and won four Golden Globes, another 32 wins and 23 nominations.

The quote was: “In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.”

This week’s quote: “There’s already been one radical in the White House. I don’t believe it could survive another.”

Name the movie, the actor and the character. Send your answer to me at the email address below. Good luck!

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