Google started the year as top dog in the search world, looking pretty much invincible. A series of setbacks have taken their toll, however, and the web giant's executives are looking forward to an 'interesting' 2011.
Google started the year with a bombshell when it announced that it was going to stop censoring its search results in China, after a massive hacking attack over the holiday season. It, and around 20 other companies, were targeted in what became known as Operation Aurora.
Google's claim that the purpose of the attack was to gather information on Chinese dissidents was swiftly denied by the Beijing authorities. Subsequent leaked cables have shown the US government backs Google’s story and highlighted new concerns about Chinese hacking.
The announcement caused the company some immediate problems and Google has shifted its operations to Hong Kong. Nevertheless business must go on and China renewed Google’s operating licence for another year. The company is very much the second fiddle in the Chinese search market behind Baidu and next year Google faces a tough challenge to keep market share, let alone regain it.
Google’s pre-eminence in the rest of the world’s market for search and advertising has been steady, and the company isn’t losing too much ground to the competition. There have been new entrants into the market, notably Wolfram-Alfa and Blekko, but they are not a real threat as yet.
The company has been continually changing its search engine technology to stay current, adding Instant Search and Preview functions to results. Some of these moves have been welcome, but others have sparked security concerns and even a backlash from users. On the whole, however, users seem happy with Google’s search service and its market share is steady.
But Google’s dominance is continuing to cause wider concerns. Its deal to buy AdMob led to a storm of protest within the industry, and its Book Search Project worried regulators. But by far the biggest controversy centred on Google’s Street View service.
This year, the firm admitted that it wasn’t just photos the Street View cars were taking, but Wi-Fi data too. At first Google defended its stance, but it then transpired that the data collected had included data from unencrypted connections, something the company blamed on a mistake in the application.
The case saw government enquiries and a possible banning of Street View by some countries in Europe. The situation was exacerbated by Google’s subsequent failure to delete all the data.
This incident may have contributed to Google’s biggest regulatory hurdle of next year, the forthcoming EU investigation into possible anti-competitive behaviour. Google says it isn’t worried by the problem, but the same could probably been said for Microsoft and Intel, which in the past have paid very heavily for provoking the ire of EU regulators.
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