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A roundup of the latest high-tech news from The Associated Press:
- Google’s e-mail gets social in Facebook face-off
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Google is making it easier to socialize on its e-mail service. It’s unveiling a new "Google Buzz" feature that sets up a face-off with Facebook.
The feature unveiled Tuesday will enable Gmail users to create status updates on Google Buzz and read and comment on the updates posted by their friends.
Other tools turn Gmail into a showcase for sharing video, pictures and Web links to interesting stories, just as users can on Facebook and Twitter.
Gmail’s new twists are a direct response to Facebook’s rapid rise since it started six years ago.
Facebook now has more than 400 million worldwide users, many of whom post information that can’t be indexed by Google’s search engine. Facebook’s large audience also threatens to siphon away some of Google’s advertising sales.
• Google cuts fee to break Nexus One contract
WASHINGTON – Google Inc. has lowered by $200 the fee it charges customers who break a standard two-year contract for its new Nexus One phone on the T-Mobile USA Inc. network.
The Google fee was dropped to $150 from $350, but customers who break a contract on the phone will still have to pay an early termination fee of $200 to T-Mobile.
The lower "equipment recovery fee" on the Nexus One, which took effect on Jan. 4, will apply to customers who break their contract after the 14-day trial period but before 120 days. Customers who break the contract after 120 days will not have to pay any fee.
Google also lowered the equipment recovery fee for existing T-Mobile customers who upgrade to the Nexus One from another handset and then break their contract to $50 from $250.
The Nexus One phone costs $179 for customers who sign up for a two-year plan with T-Mobile, or $529 for those who purchase an unlocked phone that can be used with any GSM wireless network, including T-Mobile’s.
Google’s decision to lower the equipment recovery fee comes amid a Federal Communications Commission inquiry into early termination fees across the wireless industry. Last month, the agency sent letters letters to AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp., T-Mobile and Google seeking information about their approaches to early termination fees.
• MySpace Music experiments with audio ads
LOS ANGELES — Hoping to boost revenue, MySpace Music has begun experimenting with audio advertisements that users must hear if they want to listen to music for free online.
The 30-second ads began appearing last week when users listen to songs on artist profiles, album pages, playlists and pop-out players. They expand on a trial that began in December.
The ads are impossible to avoid, unlike the visual, banner ads that can be put out of sight in background windows as users listen along while doing other Web surfing or computer work. But the audio ads are timed so that a user can listen to up to 100 songs on a playlist or to a full album with just a single interruption after the first song.
The oral pitches make online listening more like over-the-air radio, although online listeners can choose which songs they hear.
MySpace Music, a joint venture between major recording companies and News Corp., wants to boost the frequency of such ads this month before settling on how often they’ll be running. Other online music sites such as Pandora and Yahoo Music already run similar audio ads.
"We’re testing some new ad products and the response from our users has been positive," MySpace Music said in a statement. "As always, we are interested in hearing feedback from our users and advertising community as we run these tests."
• Barry Diller’s IAC writes off $992 million
SAN FRANCISCO — Internet company IAC/InterActiveCorp lost $1 billion in the fourth quarter because it wrote down the value of its search business, but the results beat expectations and offered the latest indication that the online advertising market is improving.
IAC, which is run by media billionaire Barry Diller, said Tuesday its net loss amounted to $7.94 per share in the last three months of the year. This compares with a net profit of $227.4 million, or $1.57 per share, in the year-ago quarter.
In the most recent quarter IAC took a $991.9 million impairment charge to account for decreased projections for revenue and profit growth at IAC’s search properties, which include such Web sites as Ask.com and Dictionary.com.
Excluding one-time items, the company earned 20 cents per share — 2 cents more than analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected.
Revenue climbed 5 percent to $367.2 million, beating analyst expectations for $339.6 million.
Even as IAC wrote down the value of its search business, overall the company appeared to be reversing some downward trends.
Revenue from IAC’s core search business, which includes the Ask search engine and online city guide Citysearch and makes money from ads, rose 3 percent to $185.4 million. Revenue had dropped in the first nine months of the year.