Sep 14

China Watch Blog has learnt that approximately 4.93 million Gmail usernames and passwords were published to a Russian Bitcoin forum on Tuesday, as first reported by Russian website CNews. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that this leak doesn’t seem as massive upon further inspection. First off, we got in touch with Google regarding the issue. The company does not believe this is the result of any sort of security breach on its end.

“The security of our users’ information is a top priority for us,” a Google spokesperson told TNW. “We have no evidence that our systems have been compromised, but whenever we become aware that accounts may have been, we take steps to help those users secure their accounts.”

Next, since the posting, the forum administrators have purged the passwords from the text file in question, leaving only the logins. Furthermore, tvskit, the forum user who published the file, claimed that some 60 percent of the passwords were valid.

A quick analysis of the text file shows it includes mainly English, Spanish, and Russian accounts, but also that it seems to combine older lists accumulated over a longer period of time. There could thus be a link to hacks of sites unrelated to Gmail or any of Google’s services, especially if users are choosing the same usernames and passwords for other accounts, as well as phishing attacks.

As a result, this leak likely affects significantly fewer than 5 million users. Many have likely changed their passwords, and certain entries could be for suspended accounts, duplicates or simply outdated.

If you want to check whether your account is included in the leak, you can head to isleaked.com and input your email address (English translation here). We wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing so, however (email addresses could always be accumulated for later spamming): changing your password regardless of whether you’re on the list or not can’t hurt.

Google has taken steps to help them secure their accounts and given them usual recommendations to protect their devices from malware. The company also recommended enabling 2-step verification.

 

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Feb 06

China Watch Blog reports Apple’s revenue may have missed expectations as sales of the iPhone reportedly disappointed. However, data from leading independent digital marketing agency, Greenlight, shows no slump in the number of online searches pertaining to iPhones, in the lead up to Christmas.

In fact, search volumes for the term ‘iPhone 5’ saw a dramatic 594% jump. However, the opposite was true for the term ‘Blackberry’. Just last week, its inventor, Research in Motion (RIM), showed off two new smartphones for its newly built BlackBerry 10 operating system.

According to Greenlight’s ‘Brown Goods Sector Report – Issue 14’, in November 2012, a total of 12 million searches were made on Google UK for Audio & Accessories, Cameras & Camcorders, PCs, Laptops and Tablets, Phones & Accessories and TVs & DVD Players, up 5 million on August 2012 levels.

Phones & Accessories-related search terms proved most popular. They accounted for 53% of all Brown Goods-related queries compared to 32% in August, when searches pertaining to PC’s, Laptops and Tablets dominated (48%).

‘iPhone 5’ search volumes see a six-fold rise

According to Greenlight, the term ‘iPhone 5’ was queried more than 4 million times, accounting for 34% of all Brown Goods-related searches in November, up from August’s 673,000.

In the case of ‘Blackberry’ however, the opposite was true. Greenlight’s data shows search volumes for the term totalled 246,000 compared to 301,000 in August.

Apple knocks Amazon UK off top spot to become the most visible site for Brown Goods

Greenlight also assessed which brands, retailers and review sites were the most visible in both Natural Search* and Paid Media** results and therefore had the greatest share of consideration when UK consumers searched on Google UK for Brown Goods in November.

Greenlight’s Integrated Search league table shows that Apple, which in August lay in fifth place, snatched Amazon UK’s lead to become the most visible website overall. In November, it achieved a dominant share of visibility across both the Natural Search and Paid Media listings – 60% and 72%, respectively.

Whilst Amazon UK was relegated to fourth place, it was one of just three sites that managed to hold on to a spot in Greenlight’s top ten, from August.

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Nov 17

China Watch Blog brings to you a report from CNN which exposes how the tangled David Petraeus scandal highlights how easily the U.S. government can access citizens’ private e-mails.

CNN said the FBI’s request to access Paula Broadwell’s personal Gmail account was one of 7,969 similar requests Google received from the U.S. government in the first half of 2012, according to Google and news reports. The company said it complied with the requests, either fully or partially, 90% of the time.

According to the latest Google Transparency report, Google fielded 20,938 requests for private account data from governments around the world between January and June of this year. That’s up from 18,257 such requests during the last half of 2011, the company said.

“One trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise,” Dorothy Chou, a Google senior policy analyst, writes in the blog post announcing the latest report — the sixth Google has released in the last three years.

Google stores huge amounts of data and personal information about its users. In addition to the wealth of information in e-mail and Google Drive accounts, the company also has users’ IP addresses, which can be used to determine locations.

Beginning in May of this year, the FBI accessed Gmail accounts used by Broadwell to communicate with Petraeus, the former CIA director, during their affair, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The bi-annual Google Transparency report is Google’s attempt to “shine a light” on how often governments around the world ask to access user data as part of criminal investigations.

The company also publishes data on how often government agencies request that public content be removed from Google services, such as YouTube videos or blog posts on Blogger. The most common reason cited for wanting content taken down is defamation.

U.S. law enforcement agencies seem to be the most curious. The country continues to top the list for the most requests for user data in the world, followed at a distance by India. While Google is admirably proactive about releasing data on government requests, in the majority of cases it does turn over the requested information. The company said it cooperates with U.S. government requests more than any other country.

Outdated laws have created loopholes that allow government and law enforcement agencies to request information and conduct electronic surveillance without warrants. The piece of legislation at the heart of the issue is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986.

Technology has changed radically in the past 25 years. E-mails, cellphones, location information and data stored on cloud services weren’t considered when the original law was drafted.

Google is an active member of the Digital Due Process Coalition, which has been pushing for reform of the ECPA. The group’s members include Apple, Amazon, the ACLU, Facebook, Google and Twitter along with a slew of other big-name tech companies and civil liberties groups. Other technology companies, including Twitter and LinkedIn, are joining Google and releasing their own transparency reports.

The United States Justice department is against any updates to the law that would require more warrants.

Revising the ECPA wouldn’t prohibit the government and law enforcement agencies from requesting the information, it would just require they go through an approval process to get the warrants. In a bit of circular logic, the Justice Department has argued that the electronic evidence gathered without warrants is necessary to build enough of a case to later get search warrants.

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Aug 11

China Watch Blog has learnt that Google has announced a trial which will enable people using the search engine to see search queries feature results from their Gmail account.

The search giant also said it is extending Google Knowledge Graph to every English speaking country. According to Adam Bunn, Director of search engine optimisation (SEO) at leading independent digital marketing agency, Greenlight, the former, if rolled out permanently, would have some drawbacks for marketers data-wise and, whilst it could be viewed as an opportunity from an email marketing perspective, that would be highly dependent on message retention. The Knowledge Graph meanwhile will benefit retailers, brands and digital marketers.

Gmail in search results will make site visit data tricky to track – Marketers will need to seek out marketing technology solutions that will help plug the data void

“In terms of the impact of Gmail integration on search as we know it, there will start to be cases where Google searches will surface relevant emails the searcher has forgotten about that end up winning the click at the expense of advertisers and sites that rank in the ordinary search results,” says Bunn.

“For example, if a friend of mine has sent me an email recommending a particular restaurant to try, and that email appears on the right hand side of the search results the next time I type “restaurants in London”, then it seems likely I’ll at least consider re-reading that recommendation rather than clicking on one of the normal search results.”

According to Bunn, this will also encourage people who currently go digging around in their Gmail accounts for information, to perform a Google search instead, as in the “my flights” example that is being discussed currently.

“Over time, this should increase the share of Google users who stay logged in when searching; this will make personalised search a bigger deal, and swell the number of visits to sites that can’t be tracked to the keyword level due to logged in users appearing as “not provided” or similar in Google analytics.”

However, this can be plugged by utilising marketing technology solutions, such as Hydra’s One Platform, which can transform real-time unstructured ‘big data’ into actionable intelligence; uncovering opportunities to achieve optimal performance.

With ‘personalisation’ in search growing, it is key for marketers and brands to focus on how well they engage with customers

According to Bunn, whilst Gmail in Google search results may be perceived as an opportunity for email marketing, it would be heavily dependent on people retaining the message.

“It’s pretty obvious that email marketing can jump on this as an opportunity. But how likely is it that your email will stay in someone’s inbox to appear later in their search results if they don’t know and like your brand, something that needs to be created and supported offline and online with digital PR, social media engagement, natural and paid search presence? Equally as unlikely that someone will have recommended your restaurant, I’d bet.”

Either way, with personalisation of one sort or another growing on all fronts, the reaction of marketers should be – how well am I engaging with my customers and potential customers across all channels?

The expansion and roll out of the Knowledge Graph bodes well for marketers

In Bunn’s view, the expansion and roll out of the Knowledge Graph is also important.

Boiled down, the “Knowledge Graph” is a glorified version of “related searches”, except Google has a smarter way of interpreting what is related to your original query such that the related results are broader and more intelligent. Furthermore, says Bunn, they are (or will be) displayed even more prominently than they have been to date in the new carousel format.

“What matters about this development is that the things Google puts in the carousels are links to further search results; this move is actually reasonably good for marketers, since before the introduction of the carousel, the related results were below a mini wikipedia-esque listing (see below). Now it seems likely they will be somewhat more prominent. This is useful because it, in theory, broadens the search patterns of users giving marketers who focus on targeting a broad array of related keywords more opportunities to gain traffic from Google.

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Jul 18

China Watch Blog has learnt that Marissa Mayer, one of the top executives at Google, will be the next C.E.O. of Yahoo, making her one of the most prominent women in Silicon Valley and corporate America.

The appointment of Ms. Mayer, who was employee No. 20 at Google and was one of the few public faces of the company, is considered a surprising coup for Yahoo, which has struggled in recent years to attract top flight talent in its battle with competitors like Google and Facebook.

Ms. Mayer, 37, had for years been responsible for the look and feel of Google’s most popular products: the famously unadorned white search homepage, Gmail, Google News and Google Images.

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Sep 22

China Watch Blog has learnt that Google recognizes the newly independent nation of South Sudan on Google Maps after a call for action on Change.org, which has become a very powerful force that the world is seeing.

Google has separated South Sudan from Sudan on Google Maps after more than 1,600 Change.org members called on Google and other major online map service providers to recognize the newly independent nation of South Sudan by marking it on their web maps.

South Sudan became an independent, sovereign nation on July 9th, 2011 after nearly 99% of the population voted in favor of independence. The referendum followed 50 years of civil war and brutal conflict which resulted in over 2 million deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people.

Six weeks after his home country gained independence, John Tanza Mabusu, a journalist from South Sudan currently living in Washington, DC, launched a petition on Change.org calling on online mapping services to update their maps to include the new country.

“The inclusion of South Sudan will give the people of that new nation pride and a sense of belonging, as citizens of a sovereign nation on the map,” said Mabusu. “I’m hoping that now that Google has officially recognized South Sudan on their maps, the other major online mapping services will quickly follow suit. The people of South Sudan fought long and hard for their independence and suffered greatly. It’s time these maps reflect their efforts and catch up.”

While South Sudan can now be found on Google Maps, it is still missing from Yahoo!, Microsoft and National Geographic maps.

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Jul 11

China Watch Blog presents the fourth and last part of the SEOs Factors or Myths, which is the Part 4 of the IV part series by Michael Bluejay.

Q13. Should at any time my rankings change, or even disappear from the results, then should I consider that a permanent change?

FACT: Rankings are fleeting. There is no such thing as ever achieving a permanent ranking in Google or any other engine. The engines constantly modify their ranking algorithms (and keep them secret to boot), and every day new pages appear on the web, some of which will by vying for your spot in the SERPs. Think of every search you do in an engine as a snapshot of that moment in time. Just because you’re on the first page doesn’t mean you’ll stay there. And just because you drop from the first page and disappear from the top 100 doesn’t mean that you’re lost forever, either. Also realize that there is no real way to tell when a change happens and for how long that change will last. You might drop out of the top 100 for a couple of days or weeks, or it may be many months. The point is that there’s no way to tell. Consider the SERPs as 100% fleeting.

It’s not uncommon in Google for a new site to be ranked amazingly well at first, and then to drop several hundred results down, or completely out of the database entirely, and then reappear. It’s also typical for sites to bounce up and down through the rankings before stabilizing near a certain position. But even “stabilizing” is fleeting, because no ranking lasts forever, since the engines are in a constant state of flux. This is just the nature of the engines, and there’s nothing that we can do about it.

The important thing to take from this is to accept that rankings change, you will rarely know why, and you shouldn’t panic if your ranking drops or even if it disappears.

Q14. Are the search engine evaluation of my site’s front page the same as the inside pages?

FACT: The search engines evaluate each page on your site individually, on its merits. That means that your inside pages could rank as well or better than your front page. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing. Most webmasters concentrate on getting a lot of visitors to their home page from a few “money” search terms. But you can easily get more traffic to your site overall by getting a few visits to each of your inside pages from less common searches. Yesterday the most popular way people found my personal site was by searching the engines for “austin radio stations”. A total of 22 people did that. But 939 people found my site through the search engines total, on any term. The #1 search into my site still accounts for only 2.3% of my traffic from the engines.

All this means that you must think of every page on your site as a possible entryway, and make sure it’s able to stand alone. If a page makes sense only if a visitor got there from somewhere else inside the site, that page should be modified. If you’re selling something, try to make it easy for a visitor to buy something from every page. If your site carries a few “flagship” products or articles, make sure those are promoted on every page.

PageRank (PR) — Google’s measurement of how important a page is.

Q15. Is it true that the sites with the highest “PageRank” will always rank higher in the SERPs.

FACT: PageRank is just one criterion Google uses in figuring out how to rank pages. A site with a lower PageRank will show up higher in the SERPs if Google thinks it’s more relevant than one with a lower PageRank.

16. Should I consider another site’s PageRank when deciding whether to link to them or whether to ask for a link.

FACT: And how would that serve your visitors? Link to another site if you think it’s of value to your visitors. Ask for a link if you think your site is of value to the other site’s visitors. Don’t focus on PageRank. Focus on building a good site.

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Jul 11

China Watch Blog presents the third part of a four part series from Michael Bluejay on SEOs, factor or myth.

Q9. Do sites that use JavaScript get penalized?

FACT: Search engines aren’t stupid. They’re not going to penalize a site for using standard technology. If your links exist only in JavaScript (e.g., ) then the engines can’t follow those links, but that’s not a penalty, that’s poor development on your part. Having JavaScript links is no problem as long as you also have standard links (e.g., ) somewhere on the page.

Q10. Should I try to rank well for a single-word term instead of the 2- to 3-word phrases that searchers actually use so that I actually have a hope of ranking well for.

FACT: Trying to rank well for a single-word query is missing the point. First of all, you can’t rank well for just a single word. There are too many billion other websites out there to compete with. Second, people actually search for multi-word phrases, because such phrases give them more relevant results. If you want to rank well for a single word then you need to step back and think about what people actually search for and what it is your site actually offers.

Q11. Should most of my traffic come from one or two search phrases, or rather than hundreds, most of which haven’t even occurred to me.

FACT: On an info-rich site, which is what yours should be, a huge number of search phrases will be used by just a few visitors each, rather than a huge number of visitors using just a few specific search phrases. In January 2006, the top three search queries used by visitors to find my site brought fewer than 1500 visitors each. That’s out of 71,000 total queries, with 41,000 of them being unique. You don’t know all the ways that visitors will find a way into your site — but then again, you don’t have to. Build a quality, information-rich site and it will naturally rank well for combinations of words you never thought of.

Q12. When at any time my rankings go up or down, should I assume that it’s the result of some change I made, or even better, if my rankings drop should I assume that someone at Google manually looked at my site and penalized it.

FACT: It’s nearly impossible to discern cause and effect in the search engines. Webmasters new to search rankings are usually quick to ascribe a change in position to some recent change on their site. Maybe that’s accurate, but maybe it’s not — and I’m tempted to say that it’s probably not. A change in position could be the result of a completely different change you made to your site three months ago that you forgot about. Or it could be the result of changes competitors made to their sites. Or it could be that the engines changed their algorithm and the changes on your site had nothing to do with it. In the end, it’s nearly impossible to correlate changes on your site with changes to your ranking. So what’s the strategy here? Simple: Don’t worry about it. Focus on creating the best site you can: the general things, not the specific ones.

It’s tempting to think that a change in your rankings was the result of some change you made, but it’s just as likely to be coincidence. It could be the result of an algorithm change or competing sites doing things that caused them to rank better. Google doesn’t have the resources or the inclination to police the billions and billions of pages on the Internet. Humans at the search engine are not personally monitoring your website; your website is not that important.

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May 24

China Watch Blog has learnt from Michael Bluejay that one problem with using tricks is that the effects are temporary.

He says if you put yourself in Google’s shoes: Do you want to list the very best sites or do you want to list the ones that are most adept at employing tricks?

Obviously you hate tricksters because when you return a list of crappy sites instead of the very best ones then that reflects poorly on you. So you do everything in your power to weed out the tricksters.

As soon as webmasters start using some trick, you change your calculations to ignore that trick. The algorthims are secret, and they’re always changing to boot. (About six changes a week, according to the NY Times.) As a webmaster, obviously your time is better spent making your site better than screwing around playing cat-and-mouse games with the search engines.

Many webmasters also can’t see the forest for the trees. Google wants them to create quality pages which have certain attributes.

Many webmasters mistakenly focus on those attributes rather than the quality of the page. Here’s a good analogy: Years ago scientists found that people who ate more fruits and vegetables and less meat and dairy were much healthier and lived longer, and noted that fruits and vegetables are low in fat.

The proper response then would be to eat more fruits and vegetables. But instead Americans started eating processed low-fat junk food instead, which didn’t do them any good.

Google doesn’t want you to fill your pages with crap in hopes of impressing them, nor do they want you to get links from any and everybody. Google wants you to build a high quality website. Why would they want anything else?

So, if you are thinking of a good ranking, just go ahead a build high quality website and the ranking will follow.

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May 04

China Watch Blog has learnt that a Google Hong Kong report released today on the Internet’s contribution to the city’s economic vitality expects the local Internet economy to reach $146 billion by 2015, driven by growth in mobile and online shopping.

The Government welcomed the report’s findings, which suggest the local Internet economy was worth about $96 billion, or 5.9% of its gross domestic product, in 2009. It is expected to equal 7% of GDP by 2015.

Consumption contributes a third of Hong Kong’s Internet economy. Another third comes through net exports of e-commerce and Internet-related hardware, and the rest from Government and private investment in Internet-related goods and services.

Strong Government investment in infrastructure and an open Internet policy which allows the free flow of information across industries like finance and import/export has enabled the Internet to strengthen Hong Kong’s position as a global trading hub, the report notes.

Most small and medium-sized enterprises that actively use the Internet achieved higher sales, it says. It also notes Hong Kong’s average broadband speed is one of the fastest in the world, with broadband penetration ranking sixth worldwide.

Government Chief Information Officer Stephen Mak said facilitating a digital economy is a vital part of the Government’s Digital 21 Strategy, which sets out the blueprint for Hong Kong’s information and communications technology development.

“We will continue to play our role to ensure that the Internet is a robust, secure, fair and accessible platform for exchanging information, generating innovative ideas and doing business,” he said.

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