Tech Ticker: Google reacts to "fake news" criticism; Office Depot reportedly using fake viruses to sell "protection"

This week's headlines: A report claims Google plans to change its search results to avoid publicizing fake news sites. An investigation found that Office Depot repair technicians are selling unneeded security plans to meet sales goals. Also, tech publishing giant IDG is reportedly in talks to sell itself to a Chinese group.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Short takes and quick hits for the week of November 14 - 20, 2016.

Report: Google to remove "In the news" from search results

Posted November 19, 2016 1:30 PST

A report in Business Insider says Google plans to remove the "In the news" section from the top of search results, apparently in reaction to an epidemic of fake news stories at Google, Facebook, and other high-traffic sites.

Following criticism over fake news on its platform, Google plans to remove its "In the news" section from the top of desktop search results in a matter of weeks, according to a source familiar with the matter.

It will be replaced by a carousel of "Top stories" similar to what now exists on mobile. This move had been planned for quite some time, the source said.

The change doesn't affect Google News, which reportedly approves sites for inclusion in that section.

- EB

Report: Office Depot techs use nonexistent viruses to sell unnecessary products

Posted November 17, 2016 10:10 PST

Investigative reporters at KIRO-TV in Seattle have published a damning report that alleges Office Depot repair technicians are falsely claiming that computers brought in for routine repairs are infected with viruses. The motive? To upsell "protection plans" and meet aggressive sales goals.

To investigate the claims, the station took six computers to various Office Depot stores in Washington and Oregon for PC Health Checks.

There technicians determined that four out of the six computers showed symptoms of malware. To fix the issues, the employees attempted to sell services costing up to $200.

The only problem? The computers were out of the box new. A second test by a unaffiliated computer security firm found no symptoms of malware and no needs for repair.

An Office Depot employee told KIRO about the pressure to sell: "[T]he company posts sales goals and current employee sales in the break room for all to see."

If this sounds familiar, it's pretty much the same blueprint Wells Fargo used in a scheme that lasted years and forced the CEO to resign.

An Office Depot spokesperson told KIRO that it in "no way condones any of the conduct that is alleged" and will "take appropriate action."

- EB

Reuters: IDG in advanced talks to sell itself to Chinese group

Posted November 15, 2016 6:00 PST

Reuters reports that International Data Group is up for sale:

International Data Group, a pioneer in technology publishing and owner of such venerable names as PCWorld and the market research firm IDC, is in talks to sell itself for more than $1 billion to a Chinese investor group headed by IDG of Greater China chairman Hugo Shong, according to people familiar with the matter.

The identity of the other investors in the group and the exact size of the deal could not be learned. The privately held company had been seeking a valuation of $500 million to $1 billion, according to the people, who did not want to be named because the matter is private.

IDG founder Pat McGovern died two years ago, and the privately held company announced earlier this year that it had hired investment bank Goldman Sachs to "explore strategic options," according to the Reuters report.

No details of sales price were available, and sources cautioned that the deal could fall apart.

Harry McCracken, longtime PC World editor-in-chief, reacted positively on Twitter to the news:

- EB

Priceline takes big writedown as OpenTable growth stalls

Posted November 14, 2016 8:00 PST

The Priceline Group isn't exactly having a great year. In April, the company's CEO resigned after an in-house investigation determined he had an inappropriate relationship with an employee. And now one of that CEO's signature acquisitions is causing the company further headaches.

Was former Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston's signature $2.6 billion acquisition of dining reservations platform OpenTable a big misstep for the company?

While it's way too early to issue a long-term verdict on the wisdom of the deal, OpenTable's struggles adversely impacted the Priceline Group's third quarter net income as the Group took a $941 million non-cash impairment charge against OpenTable's goodwill, and announced that it was ratcheting back the pace of OpenTable's growth.

The company said it would continue "building its inventory, its cloud-based tools for restaurants, and new product development, particularly for casual dining -- albeit with a new strategy of growth at a slower pace."

Not surprisingly, interim CEO Jeffery Boyd says the company "remain[s] enthusiastic about the long-term prospects for OpenTable."

- EB


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