The "Internet of Things" buzzword, referring to devices for homes, cars and persons that are made "smart" by being networked to the cloud, permeated many new product unveilings at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas earlier this month. While many manufacturers addressed security concerns in their product announcements, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez warned that "Any device connected to the Internet is vulnerable to being hijacked," and "As we purchase more smart devices, they increase the number of entry points an intruder could exploit to launch attacks on or from."
A Google spokesperson said that "Penguin is shifting to more continuous updates" and that Google plans to finetune their link-spam-fighting algorithm "as they go." This gradual method of rolling out Google Penguin updates seems to have begun with the Penguin 3.0 update, which began Oct. 17, 2014 but continued to have noticeable updates at least through mid-December.
Google confirmed on Dec. 22 that it was in the process of rolling out the Pigeon algorithm update (which aims to improve local search results) to the U.K., Canada, Australia and all other English-speaking locations except for India. Pigeon was first launched in the U.S. on Jul. 24, 2014.
You can now put structured markup on your official website to have Google include your social profile links in the Google Knowledge panel in search results.
Google also upgraded its Structured Data Testing Tool and improved the user documentation and support available to webmasters.
Bing Ads will no longer allow phone numbers in pay-per-click ad copy. PPC advertisers will have to use locations or call extensions instead, as Google AdWords advertisers have been doing since Google discontinued allowing phone numbers in April 2013.
Instagram's active user count now tops Twitter's. The service also plans to add badges to verify celebrities, athletes and brands.
Facebook now lets U.S. advertisers put a call-to-action button — such as Sign Up, Shop Now, Learn More, or four other choices — on an ad. The feature will roll out to other markets soon.
Facebook search has been improved so users can find posts they've seen before. Meanwhile, business accounts need to rethink their Facebook strategy to make posts less promotional if they want to maintain distribution. For advertisers, improvements to the way Facebook right-hand column ads appear are reportedly making them more effective at driving views and clicks.
Facebook has launched its new enterprise social product Facebook at Work. The app, which is available as an iOS or Android download, creates a private social-sharing environment for use within a company or other group.
Google has launched a new service to help people choose a domain and get a website up and running easily. Google Domains partners with several popular website builder services, integrates with Blogger.com, and offers domain names with many creative domain extensions (.dance and .guru are among the 60+ choices). Packages start at $12/month.
Google News Archives can be searched again, back to 2003. Google has re-enabled this feature, which was shuttered in 2011, based on popular demand.
Yahoo Search has been spotted testing a new results page format that looks similar to Google's search engine results page layout.
Microsoft is reportedly building a new web browser to be introduced with its Windows 10 rollout. Code-named "Spartan," the new browser will operate more like competitors Chrome and Firefox.
Microsoft releases the new Denim update for Windows phones this month. Highlighting this release are improvements to the Cortana voice assistant, ability to add Live Folders, and the new Lumia Camera.
Pinterest officially made Promoted Pins available to all advertisers on Jan. 1, following eight months of beta testing in which advertisers experienced a 30 percent increase in earned media (free impressions) and good engagement (repins).
A major upgrade to LinkedIn's search function now enables non-premium members to search more widely, including connections, friends, and friends-of-friends rather than just their own connections. The increased search reach means better visibility for people, jobs, and content on the LinkedIn platform.
Also in the works are plans to add intra-office communication features to LinkedIn. A feature for sending InMail between coworkers even if they're non-users will be tested in coming weeks; then a separate app will let companies share content with specific groups of employees.
The controversial satirical comedy The Interview, which was pulled from theaters in response to threats from a cyberattack group allegedly backed by North Korea, became Sony Pictures' top online movie release ever, earning more than $15M during the first four days it was available for rent or purchase.
In China, access has been partially blocked to Google properties including Search and Gmail. Many Chinese users reported being unable to access these features beginning Dec. 25, and Google's transparency reports show greatly reduced usage in the country.
AT&T announced it will be the first U.S. carrier to support WebRTC (Web RealTime Communication), which enables users to make voice and video calls natively in the browser without needing a plug-in such as those used by services such as Skype and Google+ Hangouts.
The Federal Communications Commission will vote on proposed new rules for net neutrality, regulating Internet providers, at its Feb. 26 meeting. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler drafted legislation for his fellow commissioners to review this month; resistance from industry advocates and Congress is expected.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 16 Republican lawmakers in both houses introduced legislation that would make net neutrality the law, prohibit the FCC from regulating it, and maintain broadband service's current classification as a Title 1 "information service," which is more lightly regulated than Title 2 "common carriers," a reclassification President Obama supports and the FCC may be planning to attempt.
Pres. Obama stated that encryption in online messaging apps and smartphones should not be so strong that police and spies cannot gain court-authorized access. "If we find evidence of a terrorist plot… and despite having a phone number, despite having a social media address or email address, we can't penetrate that, that's a problem," he explained. His remarks followed two days of meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is pursuing a ban on encrypted messaging apps in the U.K. unless intelligence agencies can have access.
The U.S. and the U.K. have agreed to work together to simulate cyber war games designed to test each other's resilience to cyberattack and share information. The first simulated attack is expected to target the financial industry later this year.