E.U. Launches Antitrust Investigation into Google

The European Commission has opened an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google Inc. has abused a dominant position in online search, it said Tuesday.

Complaints from smaller Web businesses claim that Google downgraded their sites in its search results to weaken potential competitors for advertising.

The commission said it would also look into whether Google might have given its Web services “preferential placement” in search results.

“This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the commission has proof of any infringements,” the commission said in a statement. “It only signifies that the commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority.”

Google said Tuesday it would work with the commission “to address any concerns.”

“We built Google for users, not websites, and the nature of ranking is that some websites will be unhappy with where they rank,” a Google spokesperson said. “Those sites have complained and even sued us over the years, but in all cases there were compelling reasons why their sites were ranked poorly by our algorithms.”

Specifically, the E.C. will focus on the four following areas:

1) Rankings: Google allegedly lowered the ranking of unpaid search results of competitors that specialize in services such as price comparisons. The firm has also allegedly given preferential placement of its own search services in order to shut out competitors.

2) Sponsored Advertising: Google allegedly lowered the ‘Quality Score’ for sponsored links of competing vertical search services. The Quality Score is one of the factors that determine the price paid to Google by advertisers.

3) Advertising Obligations: Google allegedly forced exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their Web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.

4) Data Portability: Google allegedly restricted services from transporting advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms.

If Google is found in violation of European competition law, the commission has the power to fine it up to 10 percent of its annual revenue, which totaled more than $23 billion last year.

In-Car Technologies Not Safe for Drivers

New technologies in cars, from navigation screens to built-in Internet hot spots and voice-activated systems, are ultimately dangerous, U.S. safety experts say.

Many drivers are cruising around with the latest high-tech frills and accessories in their ride but may be putting everyone at risk.

Even though these technologies are designed to help drivers keep both hands on the wheel, such technology can cause “cognitive distractions” and are ultimately dangerous, experts say.

An example, critics say, is Ford’s latest enhancement of its popular voice-activated SYNC in-car communications system, with a completely voice-controlled interface for entertainment, AM/FM and satellite radio, HD, CD, MP3, as well as climate control, phone, navigation and can even link to a smartphone to access and control other applications.

“Ford is committed to addressing driver distraction in empirical, research-driven ways and implementing our findings in active safety systems and advanced infotainment systems throughout our vehicle lines,” Louis Tijerina, Ford senior technical specialist, said in a recent statement.

“Ford may say it’s hands-free, but it’s certainly not risk-free,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for the auto club AAA New York. “The distractions that do exist are very mentally distracting, especially when it comes to checking social networking sites. We find all of this very disturbing.”

Sinclair said he believes engaging in social media sites while on the road demands significantly more concentration than a phone call.

“Going on Facebook or sending a Tweet is engaging in a complex conversation that should absolutely not be done while driving,” he said. “Drivers are already controlling a heavy object, watching out for lights, signs and, of course, other vehicles. Just a two-second distraction is enough time for someone to be involved in a crash.”

“Car manufacturers think they are doing the right thing and that they are on God’s side by preventing someone from using a hand-held device, but it’s just more harm than good,” Sinclair added.

Heavy Kids Become Heart Risk Teens

A recent study shows preteens with a high body mass index (BMI) have increased risk factors for coronary artery disease in adolescence.

Kids between the ages of 9 and 12 who are overweight with a high BMI are more prone to having high blood pressure, blood insulin levels and cholesterol when they reach adolescence than those with normal or low BMIs, say researchers from the University of Bristol in England.

The study suggests children who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may be able to help ward off atherosclerosis in adulthood, a precursor of heart disease.

“Our findings highlight the need to develop interventions that safely and effectively reduce weight and improve cardiovascular risk factors in overweight/obese children,” the researchers said in a statement.

Researchers looked at data for 5,235 kids 9 to 12 years old who participated in a larger children’s health study.

By age 12, children in the highest heart disease risk factor group had a 48 percent increased risk of thicker carotid arteries. This risk rose to 56 percent by 15, the researchers noted.

2011 Oscar Hosts Announced

James Franco and Anne Hathaway will be the hosts of the 2011 Academy Awards.

Both actors are also possible nominees for awards. Mr. Franco may be nominated for his role as the wounded hiker Aron Ralston in “127 Hours”. Ms. Hathaway may be nominated for her role playing a lusty Parkinson’s patient in “Love and Other Drugs”.

Lately, the Oscars have been led by comics and actors, including Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman and Steve Martin.

“I am cohosting with James Franco at the Oscars this year, which is not something that I ever though I would do,” Hathaway told E! News at last night’s Gotham Awards. “Hosting SNL is just as scary as getting naked on screen then hosting the Oscars is like doing SNL naked. I just think the logic follows that line. So I guess I like a challenge.”

While this may be an unusual paring to host the prestigious awards, it may also be a brilliant move by the Academy by appealing to the younger audience.

Wisconsin High School Student Hostage Standoff

A 15-year-old high school sophomore, accused of holding 23 classmates and a teacher hostage at gunpoint at his Wisconsin school on Monday.

The five-hour ordeal ended with the sophomore shooting himself and later died of his wounds, police announced today.

The gunman, identified as Marinette High School sophomore Sam Hengel, was prounced dead by the county coroner this morning, Marinette Police Chief Jeff Skorik said.

All 24 hostages were unharmed after the incident. Police Chief Jeff Skorik said police are still trying to determine a motive, saying the student was well-liked, had no prior law enforcement contact and “was a good student.”

The Hengel family released a statement this afternoon, saying “Our family is extremely distraught over the events that have taken place over the course of the last 24 hours that have concluded with the passing of our son.”

They said they wished they “knew and could provide the insight to what led Sam to take these drastic acts” and “there were no indicators to make us think something was wrong.”

George W. Bush Has His Day on Facebook

Former President George W. Bush participated in an hour-long discussion on Facebook Live with the site’s chief executive and founder, Mr Mark Zuckerberg on Monday.

Close to 7,000 users tuned in to Facebook Live to watch the unlikely pair discuss the social networking company, their shared passion for education, and Wikileaks.

Bush was primarily promoting his new memoir “Decision Points”. “The truth of the matter is, I am shamelessly marketing,” the former president said when asked why he chose to appear on Facebook. “You got a lot of people paying attention to us, and I’m trying to sell books.”

And while he characteristically resisted initially when asked to comment on controversial current affairs, Bush gave in to offer his thoughts on Wikileaks. “Leaks are very damaging, and people who leak ought to be prosecuted,” he said.

Thailand Celebrates Annual Monkey Festival

Around 3000 long tailed macaques dined on a buffet of boiled eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables as part of an annual Monkey Festival in the town of Lopburi in Thailand.

The massive feast is put on every year by locals as a ‘thank-you’ for attracting tourists to the area.

Tables were set up for the feast at two of the town’s most sacred sites, and monkeys roamed the buffet tables freely as they enjoyed their meal.

The popular event takes place every year in Lopburi, 150 kilometers north of Bangkok. The town is famous for the small but feisty, and sometimes downright vicious, long-tailed macaques that live amongst its ancient temples. Every year on the last Sunday of November, these monkeys are offered a huge selection of fruits, vegetables and other treats like soda.

The Thai version of the Ramayana legend claims that Rama created the ancient city of Lopburi with the help of his friend Hanuman the Monkey King. Many of Lopburi’s residents consider the macaques descendants of Hanuman, hence this monkey feast is held in their honor, and to promote tourism, of course, as thousands of people come to the town every year to check it out in person.

Comcast Internet Outage

Comcast Internet subscribers found themselves left out in the cold yesterday when the nation’s largest broadband Internet provider suffered a major Internet outage.

The outages were mainly near Washington, D.C, and the Boston area and lasted only a few hours and did not affect cable or phone service according to company spokesman Charlie Douglas.

Users started failing to get on the Internet about 8 p.m., and the system was back up and running about 11 p.m.

The outage was caused by unidentified problems at two of Comcast’s major computer operations centers, in Framingham, Mass., and Manassas, Va., Douglas said.

The trouble apparently had to do with domain name servers.

“Internet service continues to work properly this morning, but we continue to monitor service carefully. Engineers are investigating the root cause,” the company said in a statement. “It’s unclear how many customers were affected. We know it was primarily located in New England/Greater Boston and DC/Beltway areas. Video and phone services were unaffected during the few hours it took engineers to restore service. We certainly apologize to any customers who were affected during this time.”

Harry Potter Beats Tangled on Holiday Weekend

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” took in $49.1 million over Thanksgiving weekend to remain the No. 1 movie.

The animated musical “Tangled,” an update of the Rapunzel fairy tale, debuted in second-place with $48.8 million.

The seventh installment in the beloved Potter novel-turned-film series has earned $220.4 million after two weekends in theaters.

“Megamind” came in third with $12.8 million. Cher/Christina Aguilera musical “Burlesque” came in fourth with $11.8 million, followed by Denzel Washington’s “Unstoppable” with $11.7 million.

It can’t be ignored that “Tangled” debuted in almost 2,500 3-D locations, meaning higher ticket prices, while Warner Bros. opted to skip 3-D altogether for the first “Deathly Hallows” installment.

Eating Disorders on the Rise in Children

Eating disorders among children are rising at an alarming rate, according to “The American Academy of Pediatrics.”

In the past decade, hospitalizations for eating disorders, for kids under 12, went up more than 100 percent.

Below are some of the results from the new study:

– Hospitalizations for kids younger than 12 were up 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.

– Kids with eating disorders are at risk for malnourishment, organ damage, stunted growth, heart attacks and sudden death. Even scarier, at times there may be no obvious signs at all.

– Males now represent 10 percent of the eating disorder population.

“We want health care providers and family members to be tuned in to the possibility that eating disorders can occur much earlier than they might think,” says report lead author Dr. David S. Rosen, a professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, internal medicine and psychiatry at the U-M.

“There is new research regarding treatment and prognosis that we wanted primary care providers to have. We want to give them the tools they need to do the very best job,” says Rosen, who previously served on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence.