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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Microsoft Attacks Google on Gmail Privacy

On Thursday, Microsoft plans to unveil a new print, television and online advertising campaign that attacks Google on an issue that Microsoft believes is one of its great vulnerabilities: privacy. The ads will showcase research that shows most people don’t know that Web e-mail providers like Google scan the contents of their e-mail messages to deliver personalized ads to them â€" and when they do find out, they don’t like it.

If Gmail was a physical product, Microsoft’s actions would amount to putting a sticker on it that said, “Warning: Google is creepy.”

Microsoft has gone after Google in this fashion before, most recently with an advertising campaign over the holidays under the slogan “Scroogled” that attacked Google for compromising the quality of its shopping search results. It has even slammed the company on privacy before in a campaign that featured a goofy personification of Google’s e-mail service that Microsoft named “Gmail Man.”

Microsoft has been investing more in its Google attacks in recent months. Mark Penn, the former Democratic political consultant and adviser to both Bill and Hillary Clinton, joined Microsoft as an employee last year in part to help the company identify chinks in Google’s armor and to craft advertisements that seek to turn them into full-blown cracks. Mr. Penn was involved in the latest Gmail campaign, as he was on the Scroogled campaign over the holidays, according to Microsoft.

Google supporters say that Microsoft’s ads are distasteful, the last resort of a company that has been unsuccessful at competing against Google on the more noble battleground of products or, so far, in instigating serious regulatory action against its rival.

But privacy is a real issue for many consumers, and Microsoft argues that Google’s customers simply don’t understand the ways in which Google is using their personal data. Google automatically scans e-mail messages in Gmail to display ads that might be relevant to their content. Get an e-mail about an Alaska cruise and Gmail gives you ads for cruises, and so on.

In an interview late last year, Frank Shaw, a Microsoft spokesman, described in colorful terms how Microsoft thinks about the issue: “Privacy is Google’s kryptonite.”

Microsoft says its Web mail service, Outlook.com, does not scan the contents of messages to create targeted ads, though the company does employ other data that users provide when they sign up for service, like sex and location, when it delivers ads. The company also automatically scans e-mal messages as part of its spam filtering process.

Stefan Weitz, senior director of online services at Microsoft, said in an interview that Microsoft commissioned a telephone survey in which 70 percent of respondents said they were not aware that major e-mail services scan their private messages for targeting ads and, when they learn that fact, 88 percent of them disapprove of the practice. Mr. Weitz said its poll did not mention Google, Microsoft or any other e-mail provider by name.

Mr. Weitz said Microsoft is one of the only companies that has the scale and resources to highlight what Google is doing without worrying about repercussions from Google. “There’s a lot of fear out there,” Mr. Weitz said. “We can bring these issues to light without fear.”

Google said in a statement that advertising is what keeps Google’s services free for consumers. “We work hard to make sure that ads are safe, unobtrusive and relevant,” the company said. “No humans read your e-mail o! r Google ! Account information in order to show you advertisements or related information. An automated algorithm â€" similar to that used for features like Priority Inbox or spam filtering â€" determines which ads are shown.”

Microsoft declined to say how much it will spend on the new Gmail ad campaign, which will also use the Scroogled slogan and appear on a Web site Microsoft has set up to showcase its Google ads at Scroogled.com.

Egyptian Prime Minister Criticized for Soliloquy on \'Ignorant\' Mothers

Arabic-language video of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil blaming infant diarrhea on the unclean breasts of “ignorant” nursing mothers.

With angry protesters challenging the Egyptian government’s grip on strategic cities of the Suez Canal, the army chief warning of the potential “collapse of the state,” violent sexual assault plaguing demonstrations in Tahrir Square and more than 50 deaths in the latest round of street clashes, the nation’s prime minster spoke this week on state television about a social problem that few people saw coming: unclean breasts.

As Al Arabiya English reported, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said: “there are villages in Egypt in the 21st century where children get diarrhea” because, “the mother nurses them and out of ignorance does not undertake personal hygiene of her breasts.”

Mr. Qandil, an agricultural engineer and former water minister, spoke specifically about villages he said he had visited in the rural province of Beni Suef, 70 miles south of Cairo, the capital. Video of the remarks posted on YouTube shows that several male and female listeners appeared uncomfortable as the prime minister spoke.

Women present for the Egyptian Prime Minister's remarks blaming YouTube Women present for the Egyptian Prime Minister’s remarks blaming “ignorant” mothers unclean breasts for diarrhea in nursing infants appeared confused and uncomfortable.

The remarks have sparked controversy online and in Egypt’s raucous Arabic-language media. On Monday night, a talk show host on the independent Tahrir television network, Dina Abdel Fattah, asked her viewers: “can you imagine, an Egyptian prime minister addressing a topic like that, while we have martyrs in the street, we have people being killed every day, e have entire provinces in a state of unrest”

An Egyptian television host, Dina Abdel Fattah, attacked the prime minister for his comments blaming rural women’s personal hygiene for infant diarrhea.

On Twitter, several people agreed that it was odd for the prime minister to broach this subject in the midst of Egypt’s multiple political crises. Others were shocked that Mr. Qandil, who holds a Ph.D from North Carolina State University, would argue that women’s personal hygiene could cause diarrhea.

In the United States, medical consensus says that breastfeeding is in fact beneficial for babies, and few studies appear to have been done on the impact of a mother’s personal hygiene on infant digestion. According to a pamphlet produced by the Office of Women’s Health at the United States Department of Health and Human Sevices, breast milk is “liquid gold,” rich in nutrients and antibodies, with “just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein” to help babies grow.

Online Campaign Draws Attention to Case of Saudi Father Accused of Rape and Torture

Reports that a man in Saudi Arabia, who has appeared on television as a preacher, had raped and tortured to death his 5-year-old daughter have fueled outrage online about the way the legal system works in the conservative kingdom and about the lack of protections for domestic abuse victims.

The man, Fayhan al-Ghamdi, was accused of raping and torturing his daughter Lama, who died from her injuries in October. While Saudi news organizations have reported on the case, over the past week activists in the kingdom have used the Twitter hashtag #IamLama, and its Arabic language equivalent, to draw much more attention to it.

The two female activists behind the campaign, Aziza al-Yousef and Manal al-Sharif, are both known for their efforts to break the ban on driving by Saudi women. Last week, they posted a press release online, in which they expressed dismay at a report that a court had ruled that the prosecution could seek a payment of “blood money” to the girl’s mother, but the time the defendant has served in prison since Lama’s death would suffice as punishment.

As the activists behind the campaign did with the driving issue, in their comments on Lama’s death they have pointed to underlying issues, namely, the tradition of male guardianship, and the way that domestic abuse is dealt with in the kingdom.

Pointing to a report in the Saudi newspaper Al Watan in January, the women wrote:

The ruling is based on a Shariah argument that fathers cannot be executed for murdering their children, nor can husbands be executed for murdering their wives. Fathers and husbands who murder their children or wives are consistently sentenced to five to twelve years in prison at most. This leniency is not extended to! mothers ! and wives. In the history of Saudi Arabia, there has only been one case in 2008 where a father and his second wife were executed for torturing his daughter to death.

The courts’ leniency towards male abusers and murderers reflects the larger problem of the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia, wherein ALL women are considered minors and are automatically assigned to the care and judgment of their most immediate male relative. This guardianship gives the male relatives the power to sell girls legally into child marriages and to ban adult women from work, travel and obtaining medical operations.

In an interview with CNN this week, Ms. Yousef said that the case had “shocked” a broad spectrum of Saudi society.

The CNN report included footage of one of the man’s appearances as a televangelist, in which he wept over the abuse of a boy.

Wile the Twitter campaign spread awareness about the case inside the kingdom and abroad, it remains unclear, if the ruling on the limits on sentencing reported by Al Watan was final. In a post on the case for The Daily Beast, Bayan Perazzo reported:

it appears that the reports on this ruling were premature. Itmad AlSunaidi, a legal researcher at the Human Rights Association in Riyadh, told Asharq al-Awsat Tuesday that the hearing would begin this week, that no blood money sentence has been issued, and in a crime this big that no sentence would be called in just one session. Al Watan reported that the court session would be on February 5, and that it would be the first hearing where Lama’s mother would have legal representation.

Ms. Perazzo, a professor in Saudi Arabia who blogs about the kingdom for the site Muftah, also noted that Asharq al-Awsat had reported that Dr. Mohammed Mehdi, the medical examiner in Lama’s case, said in an interview that the “offender committed all sorts of physical abuse on the victim” and that the 5-year-old girl suffered from clear evidence of sexual abuse and rape, including “swelling in the region of he genitals and laceration in her anal area.”

According to Ms. Perazzo, the case highlights “the flaws in Saudi Arabia’s justice system, which leaves the fate of any individual in the hands of the judge. There exists no unified code of punishments in the country, thus similar crimes often result in very different punishments, as long as the judge can find some sort of justification for his decision in Islamic texts. The Saudi government’s very rigid interpretation of Islam also leaves the possibility for these judges to base their ruling in religious texts with very weak sources, which are considered invalid in other Islamic interpretations.”

The Saudi blogger Eman al-Nafjan, who helped draw attention to the case in a post last week, stressed that activists and the girl’s mother simply want to make sure the father receives an appropriate punishment under the law.

What human rights activists & Lama’s mother want is that Fayhan Al Ghamdi get the maximum punishment. 1/3

â€" Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman) 4 Feb 13

The case has emerged just as the annual Human Rights Watch World Report, released in January, noted that punishments in Saudi Arabia for domestic violene remained lax.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

Apple\'s iPad Dominated PC Market During Holiday Season

The iPad is defined as a tablet, but you might as well call it a personal computer. Over the holiday season, about one in six people buying computers around the world bought Apple’s tablet, according to research from Canalys.

The report, released Wednesday, said that when tablets were included, worldwide PC shipments over the fourth quarter increased 12 percent compared with the previous year. Apple led the computer market with 27 million iPads sold. Hewlett-Packard was in a distant second place with 15 million PCs shipped, and Lenovo shipped about 14.8 million computers.

Amazon and Samsung are quickly gaining traction in the computer market with their tablets. Amazon shipped 4.6 million tablets, including its Kindle Fire, over the quarter, and Samsung shipped 7.6 million. Over all, tablet shipments accounted for about one-third of the PC market over the quarter.

IDC, the research firm, reported similar umbers on PC shipments over the fourth quarter, but did not include tablets in its analysis.

Typically research firms don’t count tablets as a PC, because they are quite different from traditional laptops and desktops. But when sales of these two categories are stacked side by side, the numbers give perspective for how quickly the tablet is dissolving the old-school PC.

IDC’s report certainly makes the late Steve Jobs sound prescient. When he introduced the iPad 2 in 2011, he said tablet devices were ushering people into a “post-PC” era:

A lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.

And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach! to this. That these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC. That need to be even more intuitive than a PC. And where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.

It appears that era has already arrived.

Google Buys E-Commerce Company to Improve Shopping Search

Google is moving deeper into e-commerce. On Wednesday, it announced it has agreed to acquire Channel Intelligence, a company that provides services to online retailers, for $125 million.

Google hopes the company will help it improve Google Shopping, its comparison shopping service, which it has recently revamped and which has weathered criticism.

Channel Intelligence, which is part of ICG Group, helps clients, including Target, Neiman Marcus and Best Buy, promote their products across the Web, and says it is responsible for $2 billion in online sales a year. Among other services, it helps retailers manage their product listing feeds on comparison shopping sites, including Google Shoping, and add a “where to buy” button to Web sites.

Late last year, Google began charging retailers to show their products on Google Shopping, which Google said would improve the quality of the listings.

While some retailers say their sales increased as a result and the new ads contributed to Google’s fourth-quarter revenue, the change has also had some downsides. Many users say that Google Shopping is at times a worse experience for consumers because it now shows an incomplete selection of items, based on which retailers have paid for inclusion. And for retailers, especially small ones without vast advertising resources, it is sometimes prohibitively complicated to manage yet another ad campaign.

Channel Intelligence could help retailers improve their product feeds â€" choosing which products to feature, for example, and including photos, sizes, colors and other information â€" and bid for advertising space on Google.

Google declined to say how it would integrate Channe! l Intelligence into the company. In a statement, Google said, “We want to help consumers save time and money by improving the online shopping experience. We think Channel Intelligence will help create a better shopping experience for users and help merchants increase sales across the Web.”

The acquisition is Google’s latest effort to take on Amazon.com, which has become an archrival in shopping search. A third of shoppers start their searches on Amazon, compared with just 13 percent on a search engine, according to Forrester Research. That’s a shift from several years ago, when a quarter started shopping research on a search engine and 18 percent on Amazon.

It is also the latest example of Google’s moves into building vertical search engines for searching certain topics, like local businesses, flights or shopping. Google’s stiffest competition has come from these types of businesses, like Yelp, Kayak and Shopping.com.

TimesCast Media+Tech: Industry Shifts With Dell Deal

The effects of Dell's landmark move to go private. Kit Eaton reviews video editing apps. The entrepreneur and inventor James Dyson.

Video of Protests Across Tunisia After an Opposition Leader Is Gunned Down

Video a protest outside the interior ministry in Tunis on Wednesday from the blog Nawaat.

As my colleagues Kareem Fahim and Gerry Mullany report, there were protests across Tunisia on Wednesday following the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leader of the secular opposition.

Video shot by activist bloggers for the independent Tunisian site Nawaat showed protesters rallying outside the interior ministry on the tree-lined Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis early in the day, and then being chased from the street by police officers who fired tear gas into the crowd and beat dmonstrators.

The Tunisian blog Nawaat’s video of police officers attacking protesters in Tunis on Wednesday.

After the avenue was cleared, witnesses reported that a small crowd accompanied the ambulance carrying Mr. Belaid’s body down the same street.

As news of the assassination spread, there were protests in other cities and reports of attacks on the offces of Ennahda, the ruling Islamist party. Mr. Belaid had criticized Ennahda’s leaders for failing to condemn violent attacks on his party’s activists by young Islamists, in a television appearance shortly before his death, the French radio station Europe 1 reported.

Agence France-Presse video showed protesters marching in Sidi Bouzid, the town where the Tunisian revolt began.

More video of the demonstration in Tunis, and a clip of protesters occupying the headquarters of Ennahda in the city of Sfax, was posted online by Jadal, a Tunisian news site set up by the Institute for Peace and War Reporting.

Video from the Tunisian news site Jadal, said to show protesters occupying the offices of the ruling party in Sfax on Wednesday.

A demonstration outside the office of Ennahda in the coastal city of Mahdia was caught on video by a Nawaat blogger.

Before the demonstration at the interior ministry was attacked by the police, activists in the crowd posted updates on the protest on Twitter.

Among the chants, witnesses reported, were calls for the resignation of the interior minister, Ali Larayedh, a leader of Ennahda who is a former dissident.

Mr. Larayedh called the assassination of Mr. Belaid a “terrorist act” and “a blow to the democratic transition experience in Tunisia,” the state news agency reported.

Oe member of the crowd was Amira Yahyaoui, the president of the rights organization Al Bawsala, who suggested that Tunisians ad waited long enough for real reform of the hated police force that has allowed such political violence to escalate. After Mr. Balaid’s death, she wrote, it was “necessary to go inside the interior ministry and clear out the incompetents and, worse, the facilitators.”