Syria goes offline: Web traffic from Syria dropped to nothing Thursday, raising speculation that the Syrian government has pulled the plug on the Internet within its borders.

Renesys, a Web monitoring firm, was among the first to notice the drop off at 8:31 a.m., Eastern.

As The Washington Post reported, it’s not clear if this a preemptive or reactive shutdown and if cellphone service has also been disrupted to some degree.

ECPA advanced through committee: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance amendments to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act through its committee and onto the Senate floor.

The amendment proposes to eliminate a “180-day rule” that currently allows government officials to demand service providers to turn over e-mails over six months old with nothing more than a subpoena. The amendment Thursday made it clear that these changes would not alter counterterrorism or other criminal laws.

The Washington Post editorial board lent its support to the measure in Thursday’s paper, saying that the proposed changes were already “too long in coming.”

Google, FTC: Google is said to be nearing a deal with the Federal Trade Commission, The Washington Post reported, drawing down a two-year investigation into the company’s search practices. Several people who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity said that allegations of search bias are not the main point of the discussions, a development that does not sit well with Google’s competitors and critics.

“The buzzards are circling for that, and there’s just going to be massive resistance if they try to do that,” said Silicon Valley attorney Gary Reback, who represents several companies that have complained about Google. “If a settlement were to be proposed that didn’t include search, the institutional integrity of the FTC would be at issue.”

LivingSocial: Washington-based company Living Social is laying off 400 employees — 160 based in its D.C. office, the Post reported. It’s unclear whether the layoffs will make the company — often considered the centerpiece of an effort to nurture D.C.’s tech industry — ineligible for a $32.5 million tax credit passed by the D.C. Council earlier this year.

LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy is the son-in-law of Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co.

Microsoft hits out at Google for shopping ads: Microsoft’s Bing search engine has begun running ads criticizing Google for shopping searches.

“Simply put, all of their shopping results are now paid ads,” Bing’s site says, pointing to a May announcement from Google that product listing ads are ranked through a combination of bid price and the quality of the ad.

In a statement, Google defended the quality of its shopping listings.

“Google Shopping makes it easier for shoppers to quickly find what they’re looking for, compare different products and connect with merchants to make a purchase,” the company said in a statement. “With new 360-degree, interactive product images, social shopping lists and a fast growing inventory of more than a billion products worldwide, Google is a great resource for shoppers to find what they need, at great prices for their loved ones this holiday season.”

Microsoft was quickly criticized for the ads, with observers such as Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land noting that Bing engages in similar practices.

“[There] is currently only one way to get listed in Bing Shopping, which is to submit to, which lists people who agree to pay,” Sullivan wrote.

Both companies, Sullivan said, have merchants pay to be included in the listings, but do not factor payment into rankings.