Hard to imagine why the administration is ignoring the Euro

With the Euro up 36 percent since the beginning of the Bush Administration and the dollar “dropping ‘like a stone'” since the election, the Bushies should be very concerned about the viability of American products and services in Euro-denominated countries, not to mention everywhere else the dollar has dropped.

The U.S. trade deficit is at record levels—$166.18 billion in the second quarter of 2004—but Secretary of Commerce Don Evans said “there’s no reason to be alarmed” because trade surpluses aren’t always a good thing. It is, of course, a long way from a trade surplus when you are running the largest deficit in history, though that’s not enough to trouble the Bush Administration.

Add to this the fact that the United States ran its first agricultural trade deficit since 1986 in June and August, a “very worrisome” development according to Sung Won Sohn, Wells Fargo & Co.’s chief economist. If the United States loses the confidence of foreign investors or, more critically, a foreign government such as China, which acts as a kind of deficit financier for the U.S. deficit by buying bonds, cuts is lending, the economy would be hard hit.

At a time when the Bush Administration has alienated most of the governments of the world by acting with disdain for diplomatic manners, the world could exert a harsh economic price on us through a concerted attack on our trade deficit financing. Of course, they won’t let the U.S. economy tank too badly, because it would redound on everyone else, but the price of cooperation in restoring the dollar will be high.

Just as the Federal Reserve as carefully and preemptively managed interest rates in the United States, the Bush Administration must act to support the dollar in advance of the opportune moment when our rivals decide it is time to act to bring us down many economic notches.

This isn’t a subject that will be much helped by prayer or threats of armed force.

Do you want a marketer inside your hard drive?

Google’s been getting a lot of press for its broad attack on competitors in recent weeks. It has introduced SMS messaging, a book search system and, most recently, a desktop hard drive search utility that plugs into its browser-based search services to integrate results from the files and applications on the user’s system with those generated by Google’s Web search.

Back in 1990 Lotus Development Corp. announced plans to release Marketplace, a comprehensive database of household demographic information that described 120 million American households, which was promptly attacked from every degree of the political spectrum as a serious intrusion on privacy. Lotus backed down, pulling the product before it ever reached the market. Eventually, after Marketplace was sold off, it did make it to market. That’s the nature of the erosion of privacy; it is worn away by repeated efforts to take away small parts of the personal space that surrounds us.

What a long way we’ve come, accepting with many of the steps along the information highway a dilution of personal privacy in exchange for convenience. Some of those trade-offs have been worthwhile. For example, I don’t think that the geolocation information available from my mobile phone, which allows me to dial 911 and have my location available to emergency services, is a serious loss of privacy, especially since I could leave my phone behind if I wanted to keep my location a secret, I’d just leave my phone behind.

I think Google’s desktop search, because it uses search terms to place contextual advertising around the results (see the screen shot, in which desktop and Web results are blended, above), is one of those huge chisels that is going to take a key chunk of our privacy away without any consideration by the public. According to the Google Desktop privacy policy:

What does Google Desktop Search do with the information on my computer?

So that you can easily search your computer, the Google Desktop Search application indexes and stores versions of your files and other computer activity, such as email, chats, and web history. These versions may also be mixed with your Web search results to produce results pages for you that integrate relevant content from your computer and information from the Web.

Your computer’s content is not made accessible to Google or anyone else without your explicit permission.

What information does Google receive?

By default, Google Desktop Search collects a limited amount of non-personal information from your computer and sends it to Google. This includes summary information, such as the number of searches you do and the time it takes for you to see your results, and application reports we’ll use to make the program better. You can opt out of sending this information during the installation process or from the application preferences at any time.

Personally identifying information, such as your name or address, will not be sent to Google without your explicit permission.

How we use unique application numbers, cookies and related information.

Your copy of Google Desktop Search includes a unique application number. When you install Google Desktop Search, this number and a message indicating whether the installation succeeded is sent back to Google so that we can make the software work better. Additionally, when Google Desktop Search automatically checks to see if a new version is available, the current version number and the unique application number are sent to Google. If you choose to send us non-personal information about your use of Google Desktop Search, the unique application number with this non-personal information also helps us understand how you use Google Desktop Search so that we can make it work better. The unique application number is required for Google Desktop Search to work and cannot be disabled.

Google Desktop Search uses the same cookie as Google.com and other Google services. If you send us non-personal information about your Google Desktop Search use, we may be able to make Google services work better by associating this information with other Google services you use and vice versa. You can opt out of sending such non-personal information to Google during the installation process or from the application preferences at any time.

While this seems to say that the content of your searches will not be transferred to Google, the terms you use are, by default, transmitted to the company—otherwise Google would not be able to place links in context to those results. Certainly, the content of your files will not be transmitted to Google, but the number of hits on your hard drive appear to be within the scope of the summary information collected by the company, or could be within that scope, because it appears to be written vaguely.

I’d suggest you take a look at Google’s Orkut privacy policy, which is far more explicit about what you are sharing with the company and its customers:

We may share both personally identifiable information about you and aggregate usage information that we collect with Google Inc. and agents of orkut in accordance to the terms and conditions of this Privacy Policy. We will never rent, sell, or share your personal information with any third party for marketing purposes without your express permission.

You understand and agree that orkut.com may access, preserve, and disclose your personal information and the contents of your account if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to comply with legal process, such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order, or to protect the rights and property of orkut.com, its affiliates or the public.

We use the non-personally identifiable information and certain technical information about your computer in order to operate, maintain and manage orkut.com.

Google’s goal with all its services, from GMail to Orkut and Desktop Search, is to gather more information about our individual interests. This allows Google to place ads in context wherever you go that Google AdWords-based ads are displayed. Today, those ads usually have something to do with the content of the page you are looking at, but in the future, Google wants to be able to target you personally with ads for the things you may be talking about on GMail or in Orkut. If Google can find out that you are searching for particular terms on your hard drive it gives the company another way to see inside your interests in order to target ads based on your most pressing needs.

It’s a profound vision, for sure, but one that offers such deep insight into our personal preferences that we should be discussing more completely what it means to our privacy. Google’s constant claim that it is “not evil” seems designed to prevent people from considering the implications of the company’s access to personal information. But unbridled power has a vast potential to corrupt.

Before this business model becomes too entrenched, people should be thinking about what they are getting in return for their valuable personal information. Some cheap software isn’t worth opening a door on your life to a marketing organization. Maybe Google should be paying us to use this software. Maybe we shouldn’t be using this software at all. None of these are questions to take lightly.

Fun support facts to know and tell

If you want to install Apple’s Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro on Mac OS X Server, you can’t. Although the software is supported on “Mac OS 10.2.5 and above” it doesn’t run on the server version of Mac OS, which makes no sense to me, especially since that’s what I run all my audio applications on already.

Having Googled this question before I bought the software, and having learned the answer from Apple’s support line, I thought I’d post it here in case anyone else wants to find the answer.

The power of the little voice

Folks, there’s a wave building to realize the dream of audioblogging at a scale few people could have anticipated. A week ago if you Googled “podcasting,” you’d have found a couple dozen references to the term. Today, as I write, the search produces 12,900 results. That’s some tipping point behavior, if you ask me.

A couple years ago, when a few of us were posting audio on blogs, there was talk about someday, when there would be a system for sharing audio conveniently so that people could program their own listening. Dave Sifry and I discussed hiring people to read blogs for a radio program at that time.

Rob Greenlee at WebTalkRadio was cutting a deal with Microsoft to distribute his show through Windows Media Player and, as a result, the program boasts more than a million listeners a month today. The appearance of iPodder, an application that routes audio from the net to iTunes playlists, from Adam Curry, who also produces the program Daily Source Code, upstart content creators like Dave Slusher of EvilGeniusChronicles and myriad other technology and creative folks is taking all the talk and making it real.

The reason iPodder is wicked cool is that it automates the delivery of audio files to a portable device. This functionality is going to be breaking out all over, but iPodder broke the conceptual barrier. Howard Greenstein provides an excellent summary about how to get these programs if you don’t have an iPod. Just wait, there is a tidal wave of this kind of functionality just around the corner.

Likewise, there are a slew of tools for producing audio that can be distributed through these new channels. If you look at this picture of the WebTalk studio, you’ll see a lot of equipment you don’t need anymore. Most of the functionality needed is available on the Mac or PC today, using a standard microphone and applications like Skype to connect guests to a host for recording direct to hard disc.


A million people are listening to this studio

All this points to an environment in which almost anyone can produce a program and, with a little luck and marketing skill, get it to millions of listeners. Al Gore’s INdTV network, which is hiring, is predicated on the same ideas applied to video (see my Red Herring posting about this). The result is a seriously large shift in media.

Add to that the fact that an established star like Howard Stern can get a half-billion dollar deal to take his show to satellite radio and the Internet and you can see the end of the line for media companies based on mass audiences. However, what’s missing is an economic model and that’s where the real fun will be, because it’s likely that smaller companies that can provide a way for break-out producers to turn their talent into a fortune are going to have a heyday.