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Google tries to improve timeliness of searches

SAN FRANCISCO — Acknowledging that some searches were giving people stale results, Google revised its methods Thursday to make the answers timelier. It is one of the biggest tweaks ever to Google’s search algorithm, affecting about 35 percent of all searches.

The new algorithm is a recognition that Google, whose dominance depends on providing the most useful results, is being increasingly challenged by sites like Twitter and Facebook, which have trained people to expect constant updates with seconds-old news. It is also a reflection of how people use the Web as a real-time news feed.

“This is the result of them saying, ‘We need to find a way to more effectively get fresh content up,”’ said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land and an industry expert. “It does help with the issue of people thinking, ‘Wow, if I need to find out about something breaking, I’ll go to Facebook or Twitter for that.”’

Google tried once before to create real-time search, in 2009, when it introduced google.com/realtime, a service that incorporated Twitter posts that Google paid Twitter to use. But that contract expired in July and the two companies could not agree on terms to renew it, so Google disabled the site.

—Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times

Cuba to allow buying and selling of property

MEXICO CITY — Cuba announced a new property law Thursday that promises to allow citizens and permanent residents to buy and sell real estate — the most significant market-oriented change yet approved by the government of Raul Castro, and one that will probably reshape Cuba’s cities and conceptions of class.

The new rules go into effect on Nov. 10, according to Cuba’s state-run newspaper, and while some of the fine print is still being written, the law published on Thursday amounts to a major break from decades of socialist housing. For the first time since the early days of the revolution, buyers and sellers will be allowed to set home prices and move when they want. Transactions of various kinds, including sales, trades and gifts to relatives by Cubans who are emigrating, will no longer be subject to government approval, the new law says.

“To say that it’s huge is an understatement,” said Pedro Freyre, an expert in Cuban-American legal relations who teaches at Columbia Law School. “This is the foundation, this is how you build capitalism, by allowing the free trade of property.”

—Damien Cave, The New York Times

Detroit mayor says city may need emergency manager

Detroit, wrestling with a budget gap and a shrunken tax base, may soon require intervention from a state-appointed emergency manager to save itself from financial ruin, Mayor Dave Bing has told other city leaders.

Such a notion would place the city’s finances and operations under the control of an appointed manager only months after Michigan leaders vastly expanded the power of such emergency managers, including giving them the ability to set aside contracts with public workers’ unions.

Bing’s suggestion comes as Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, faces a shortfall in its budget that is estimated to reach about $150 million early next year and has no signs of an imminent solution.

“An emergency manager is what we want to avoid,” said Dan Lijana, a spokesman for Bing, who briefed City Council members on the issue privately in recent days. “But if we don’t address the $150 million shortfall, there isn’t another option.”

Critics of the mayor, however, denounced the notion as unnecessary for Detroit and as an empty threat aimed at forcing concessions now from labor unions on health care costs and pension benefits.

—Monica Davey, The New York Times

Glaxo to pay $3 billion in settlement with US

British drug company GlaxoSmithKline said Thursday that it had agreed to pay $3 billion to settle U.S. government civil and criminal investigations into its sales practices for numerous drugs.

The settlement would be the largest yet in a wave of federal cases against pharmaceutical companies accused of illegal marketing, surpassing the previous record of $2.3 billion paid by Pfizer in 2009. In recent years, drug companies have been prime targets of federal fraud investigations, which have recovered tens of billions of dollars for Medicaid and Medicare.

The cases against GlaxoSmithKline include illegal marketing of Avandia, a diabetes drug that was severely restricted last year after it was linked to heart risks. Company whistle-blowers and federal prosecutors said the company had paid doctors and manipulated medical research to promote the drug.

GlaxoSmithKline had already set aside cash for the settlement, which analysts said would remove legal uncertainty. The company’s stock rose 2.96 percent Thursday to $44.55 a share, near its 52-week high, amid a broader market advance of about 2 percent.

“This is a significant step toward resolving difficult, long-standing matters which do not reflect the company that we are today,” GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO, Andrew Witty, said in a statement. “In recent years, we have fundamentally changed our procedures for compliance, marketing and selling in the U.S. to ensure that we operate with high standards of integrity and that we conduct our business openly and transparently.”

The agreement to settle its biggest federal cases should be completed next year, the company added in the statement. It said $3 billion would settle not only the Avandia case, but also a Justice Department investigation of its Medicaid pricing practices and a nationwide investigation led by the U.S. attorneys in Colorado and Massachusetts into the sales and marketing of nine of its drugs from 1997 to 2004.

—Duff Wilson, The New York Times