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  1. Did you notice a recent change to how Google search results are displayed on the desktop? I noticed something last week -- thinking there must be some kind of weird bug messing up the browser's page rendering because suddenly everything looked similar: A homogenous sea of blue text links and favicons that, on such a large expanse of screen, come across as one block of background noise. I found myself clicking on an ad link -- rather than the organic search result I was looking for. Here, for example, are the top two results for a Google search for flight search engine 'Kayak' -- with just a tiny 'Ad' label to distinguish the click that will make Google money from the click that won't... Turns out this is Google's latest dark pattern: The adtech giant has made organic results even more closely resemble the ads it serves against keyword searches, as writer Craig Mod was quick to highlight in a tweet this week. Last week, in its own breezy tweet, Google sought to spin the shift as quite the opposite -- saying the "new look" presents "site domain names and brand icons prominently, along with a bolded 'Ad' label for ads": But Google's explainer is almost a dark pattern in itself. If you read the text quickly you'd likely come away with the impression that it has made organic search results easier to spot since it's claiming components of these results now appear more "prominently" in results. Yet, read it again, and Google is essentially admitting that a parallel emphasis is being placed -- one which, when you actually look at the thing, has the effect of flattening the visual distinction between organic search results (which consumers are looking for) and ads (which Google monetizes). Another eagle-eyed user Twitter, going by the name Luca Masters, chipped into the discussion generated by Mod's tweet -- to point out that the tech giant is "finally coming at this from the other direction". This' being deceptive changes to ad labelling; and 'other direction' being a reference to how now it's organic search results being visually tweaked to shrink their difference vs ads. Google previously laid the groundwork for this latest visual trickery by spending earlier years amending the look of ads to bring them closer in line with the steadfast, cleaner appearance of genuine search results. Except now it's fiddling with those too. Hence 'other direction'. Masters helpfully quote-tweeted this vintage tweet (from 2016), by journalist Ginny Marvin -- which presents a visual history of Google ad labelling in search results that's aptly titled "color fade"; a reference to the gradual demise of the color-shaded box Google used to apply to clearly distinguish ads in search results. Those days are long gone now, though. Now a user of Google's search engine has -- essentially -- only a favicon between them and an unintended ad click. Squint or you'll click it. This visual trickery may be fractionally less confusing in a small screen mobile environment -- where Google debuted the change last year. But on a desktop screen these favicons are truly minuscule. And where to click to get actual information starts to feel like a total lottery. A lottery that's being stacked in Google's favor because confused users are likely to end up clicking more ad links than they otherwise would, meaning it cashes in at the expense of web users' time and energy. Back in May, when Google pushed this change on mobile users, it touted the tweaks as a way for sites to showcase their own branding, instead of looking like every other blue link on a search result page. But it did so while simultaneously erasing a box-out that it had previously displayed around the label 'Ad' to make it stand out. That made it "harder to differentiate ads and search results," as we wrote then -- predicting it will "likely lead to outcry". There were certainly complaints. And there will likely be more now -- given the visual flattening of the gap between ad clicks and organic links looks even more confusing for users of Google search on desktop. (Albeit, the slow drip of design change updates also works against mass user outcry.) We reached out to Google to ask for a response to the latest criticism that the new design for search results makes it almost impossible to distinguish between organic results and ads. But the company ignored repeat requests for comment. Of course it's true that plenty of UX design changes face backlash, especially early on. Change in the digital realm is rarely instantly popular. It's usually more 'slow burn' acceptance. But there's no consumer-friendly logic to this one. (And the slow burn going on here involves the user being cast in the role of the metaphorical frog.) Instead, Google is just making it harder for web users to click on the page they're actually looking for -- because, from a revenue-generating perspective, it prefers them to click an ad. It's the visual equivalent of a supermarket putting a similarly packaged own-brand right next to some fancy branded shampoo on the shelf -- in the hopes a rushed shopper will pluck the wrong one. (Real life dark patterns are indeed a thing.) It's also a handy illustration of quite how far away from the user Google's priorities have shifted, and continue to drift. "When Google introduced ads, they were clearly marked with a label and a brightly tinted box," said UX specialist Harry Brignull. "This was in stark contrast to all the other search engines at the time, who were trying to blend paid listings in amongst the organic ones, in an effort to drive clicks and revenue. In those days, Google came across as the most honest search engine on the planet." Brignull is well qualified to comment on dark patterns -- having been calling out deceptive design since 2010 when he founded darkpatterns.org. "I first learned about Google in the late 1990s. In those days you learned about the web by reading print magazines, which is charmingly quaint to look back on. I picked up a copy of Wired Magazine and there it was - a sidebar talking about a new search engine called 'Google'," he recalled. "Google was amazing. In an era of portals, flash banners and link directories, it went in the opposite direction. It didn't care about the daft games the other search engines were playing. It didn't even seem to acknowledge they existed. It didn't even seem to want to be a business. It was a feat of engineering, and it felt like a public utility. "The original Google homepage was recognised a guiding light of purism in digital design. Search was provided by an unstyled text field and button. There was nothing else on the homepage. Just the logo. Search results were near-instant and they were just a page of links and summaries - perfection with nothing to add or take away. The back-propagation algorithm they introduced had never been used to index the web before, and it instantly left the competition in the dust. It was proof that engineers could disrupt the rules of the web without needing any suit-wearing executives. Strip out all the crap. Do one thing and do it well." "As Google's ambitions changed, the tinted box started to fade. It's completely gone now," Brignull added. The one thing Google very clearly wants to do well now is serve more ads. It's chosen to do that deceptively, by steadily -- and consistently -- degrading the user experience. So a far cry from "public utility". And that user-friendly Google of old? Yep, also completely gone. Source
  2. A researcher who studies AI principles warns that giving too much credence to Big Tech is like “asking the fox for guidance on henhouse security procedures.” When it comes to AI, Big Tech wants a hand in developing regulation. In a January 20 piece for the Financial Times calling for the regulation of the technology, Google CEO Sundar Pichai argued that his company’s artificial intelligence principles could be used as a template for future laws. Brad Smith of Microsoft said the same in a talk at the World Economic Forum earlier this week. Google and Microsoft are right that it’s time for government to step in and provide safeguards, and that regulation should build on the important thinking that’s already been done. However, looking only to the perspectives of large tech companies, who’ve already established themselves as dominant players, is asking the fox for guidance on henhouse security procedures. We need to take a broader view. Rapid advances in machine learning technology, which falls under the general umbrella of AI, have lent urgency to questions about how to build and use AI systems responsibly, safely, and ethically. Criminal justice algorithms are racially biased, autonomous vehicles have been involved in fatal crashes, and algorithmic content moderation has contributed to a wave of disinformation efforts. The task of ensuring AI actually supports human rights and well-being has at times felt overwhelming, the questions unanswerable. That hasn’t stopped a lot of people from trying to answer them. Alongside Google’s and Microsoft’s, there have been principles for ethical AI from national governments and intergovernmental organizations, advocacy organizations, expert groups, and more. Over the past year, I worked with a team of researchers to analyze AI principles from around the world, trying to see what they might have in common. We coded each principle in the 36 documents we ended up focusing on and uncovered eight key themes: Fairness and nondiscrimination: AI systems shouldn’t reinforce social inequality—instead, they should promote inclusivity. Accountability: Developers should plan for their technology’s impacts. Monitoring and auditing mechanisms need to be in place, and impacted individuals and populations should have access to adequate remedies. Privacy: AI should respect privacy, both in sourcing the data that is used for development and in giving people agency over when and how their personal info is used to make decisions about them. Transparency and explainability: We should know where AI systems are being used and how they reach the decisions they do. Safety and security: AI systems should be tested to ensure they perform as intended and resist interference from unauthorized parties. Professional responsibility: The people involved in the development and deployment of AI systems have an obligation to prioritize integrity, collaboration, professionalism, and foresight. Human control of technology: To promote trust and respect autonomy, there should be human checks on AI, from review of important decisions to fail-safe mechanisms that kick in for extenuating circumstances. Promotion of human values: We should be guided by our core values and the well-being of all humanity when we design and deploy AI systems. The coherence of these various principles documents—from different regions and interest groups—suggests that social norms for AI are emerging. Law and regulation originate in social norms, which makes Microsoft and Google correct to posit that these near-universal themes among AI principles are a good starting point for regulation. However, as we note in our paper, there’s a wide and thorny gap between being able to articulate goals for AI such as fairness, transparency, and safety, and writing rules that would govern the thousands of decisions, big and small, that result in any given technology being built and used responsibly. One way to register that gap is to recognize the very divergent visions different organizations advance within these themes. For example, every document we looked at included some version of a fairness or nondiscrimination principle. But they call for different implementations. Some focus, for example, on forbidding the use of biased datasets—even though arguments that truly unbiased data don’t exist are pretty persuasive. Others call for greater diversity on development teams to ensure that a broader range of perspectives is baked into technologies from the start. Still others want to see AI used to uncover and remedy existing instances of discrimination. Regulators would need to parse these options carefully and decide which were appropriate. In all, if advances in AI technology have landed us in unfamiliar territory, an analysis of AI principles might be the map we need to make sense of it all. But that’s only true if we look outside U.S.-based tech companies’ visions for the regulations that would best serve them. Principles from a broader range of stakeholders provide visibility into everything from the greatest risks that AI poses to vulnerable and marginalized populations to the key human values, such as self-determination, equality, and sustainability, that we should be seeking to protect. AI principles are a map that should be on the table as regulators around the world draw up their next steps. However, even a perfect map doesn’t make the journey for you. At some point—and soon—policymakers need to set out the real-world implementations that will ensure that the power of AI technology reinforces the best, and not the worst, in humanity. Source
  3. Commentary: The narrowing of choice online all but forces us into decisions driven by impulse and necessity, eroding our values and conscience over time. Let me show you a magic trick. Make a choice -- any choice. You're already online, so maybe you want to read the news, check your email, surf your newsfeed, buy some food or any other number of things. Now for the trick, I'm going to tell you the companies that facilitated whatever choice you just made. It was almost certainly Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft or Facebook. OK, not much of a trick. After all, everyone knows these five tech giants control vast swaths of the internet, directly or indirectly -- Amazon alone, for instance, facilitates nearly 40% of online commerce in the US and holds a whopping 23 million IP addresses thanks to its subsidiary Amazon Web Services. That online control has material ramifications. Last week, leaders of companies like Sonos and Popsockets took shots at Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook in a House antitrust hearing, arguing that the tech giants exert unfair control over their respective markets -- shutting out competitors, squashing startups and exploiting smaller companies to maintain their immense power and profit. Ah, monopoly: It's a tale as old as, well, the board game, at least. But the problem goes deeper than the economy. These massive companies might actually be making us worse people. They're narrowing our choices online, intentionally corralling us toward behavior that benefits them. Rather than outright coercing us, though, these companies use a handful of key motivators -- convenience chief among them, not to mention the "approval, attention, retweets, shares and likes" of social media -- to condition us to behave in certain ways. But that conditioning has an unexpected outcome: As we practice decision-making driven more by impulse and economic self-interest than by any more deeply held values, we erode our conscience over time. In short, we're becoming worse human beings. Mapping the Amazon The first part of any good magic trick is creating the illusion of choice. When Google search exploded almost 20 years ago, for example, the search results it offered were selected by a number of factors attempting to measure, essentially, relevance. You were searching for something, and Google wanted to help you find it -- from a credible source. Google's goals have shifted. Now when you Google something, the page is typically filled with options selected not simply by relevance, but by which companies have paid Google for the publicity. David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of the software company Basecamp, pointed out in last week's antitrust hearing that companies can take out advertisements against their competitors' names. That means if you Google "Basecamp," the top results could actually be the websites of its direct competitors. Google is requiring businesses to "pay protection money," Heinemeier Hansson argues, just to be properly represented in customers' online search results. Google is wringing significant profit from its old identity as an unbiased purveyor of information, and it's not the only one. Amazon, too, exerts power over the companies selling products through its online store, imposing stringent requirements and charging extra fees that, according to many third-party sellers on the site, damage their businesses. Amazon's dual role as platform and competitor represents a fundamental conflict of interest, letting the tech giant easily (and legally) undermine direct competitors in subtle ways, such as changing policy without due notice, refusing personal support for sellers without additional fees and even requiring sellers to deal directly with Amazon, which can then set its own prices on their products. The list goes on for these tech giants: Apple's control of the App Store; Google's control of the Play Store; Facebook's control of content and user privacy. Each of these platforms claims to offer choice, but that choice is always highly directed. Going beyond the advertisement OK, OK. You get it. But using advertising to direct customer decisions has been around for at least a century, and isn't this whole situation better for the consumer anyway? Last week I drove to two stores looking for batteries to use in a set of smart shades. Both stores were out of stock in the variety I needed, so I pulled up my Amazon app, ordered a box (which was cheaper than in both stores) and received them the next afternoon. I was reminded in that moment that, problematic advertising and conflicts of interest aside, Amazon still offers an impressive customer experience, by and large. Maybe it's winning online retail so handily because it provides the best user experience. But it goes beyond delimiting and directing customer choice in the traditional ways. Amazon is able to provide that best experience in part because it can adopt short-term policies that lose the company money in order to completely shut out competitors. Say, theoretically, a "Smart Battery" costs $10 on the Amazon site. If Amazon wants to, assuming the trademark is up, it can sell an Amazon-branded Smart Battery at a loss, for $8. Customers buy the cheaper option, its competitors go out of business, and three years later Amazon can push its price up to $12. Amazon likely wouldn't use such tactics on a small scale, but it's already doing so on a larger one. It's called buying growth. Last quarter, Amazon spent an estimated $1.5 billion to make 24-hour shipping a reality for Prime customers. Good for users in the short term, sure, but the long game is to supplant local convenience or grocery stores, which provide competition in key areas Amazon wants to control. And Amazon can always bump up its Prime membership fee incrementally to help close the gap created by 24-hour shipping. Pragmatic magic You forgot about the magic trick, I can tell. Which is actually part of the trick. At some point, these companies become so ubiquitous that life without them becomes almost untenable, as reporter Kashmir Hill demonstrated so thoroughly in her series Life Without the Tech Giants. But for those of us using smart home technology, the problem becomes even stickier: Google and Amazon's voice assistants have become the new hubs for the vast majority of connected home technology. Amazon has partnered with some 9,500 companies, representing over 100,000 devices. What's more, we become so busy, so pressed for time, that our short-term economic interests further inoculate us. We buy something on Amazon because it's quicker and cheaper. We use Gmail because it's most reliable. We use Face ID on our iPhones because it's quicker than that pesky passcode. And we forget the reports that Amazon is stacking the deck, that Google shares our emails with companies and that Apple shares our faces with apps. Ta-da! But something else gets lost in the shuffle of this trick. Despite the common misconception that our values always direct our behavior, the opposite is often true. What we do, we come to value. The problem with Amazon and Google and all the other tech giants restricting our choices goes beyond the material. These companies are actually training us -- intentionally or not -- for hours each day to act primarily on impulse, convenience and short-term economic self interest, even when our more deeply held values are at odds with that. After all, high percentages of people value buying local products (it's why I drove to two stores before ordering batteries from Amazon). We value privacy (which is why so many struggle to understand the subtle ways we're losing it all the time). We value choice (which is why so many use ad-blockers and scroll past the promotional content on so many platforms). But when we're consistently confronted with the choice between convenience and inconvenience, a lower price tag and a higher one, it's natural to respond to our immediate, material concerns. But each time we do that, we have to make a second choice: Do we care that we're making decisions at odds with our values, or do we just refashion our values to align with our behavior? Tech giants are neither evil nor altruistic, but they are undoubtedly reshaping economies, replacing markets and monetizing seemingly everything. We shouldn't let them rewrite our values, too. Source
  4. Google has announced some changes made to its Collections feature that make it easier to find and share content related to the things you’ve searched for and saved. The feature builds upon the activity cards Google introduced last year, this time tapping artificial intelligence to group similar pages the user has visited based on the activity. This is joined by a couple of other changes for desktop and mobile users. These grouped similar pages are referred to as ‘suggested collections’ by Google, which says you have the option of saving them if you like what you see. Users are able to view the suggested collections within the Collections tab on Google’s desktop website and mobile app. There’s also the option of getting rid of them within Settings if you don’t want these suggestions. In addition, and assuming you have a collection saved, Google says that it can now show you other related content that you might be interested in — stuff that is related to the collection, of course. This is made possible by the ‘Find More’ button, which reveals the new content within the saved collection when tapped. Beyond that, Google users can now collaborate with their friends and family on building a collection using the new ‘Share collection’ feature. You’re given control over whether the recipient is only allowed to view the collection or if they are allowed to make edits to it. Google says the shared collections can be made private again at any time. Google is rolling out the collaboration feature to all users around the globe, whereas the related content feature will be arriving ‘in coming weeks,’ according to the company. Users located in the US who have their account set to English will see suggested collections arrive starting this week; other regions and languages will get it ‘over time.’ source
  5. (Reuters) - Google researchers have found multiple security flaws in Apple Inc’s Safari web browser that allowed the tracking of users’ browsing behavior, Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing a soon-to-be published paper. The vulnerabilities were found in a tool specifically designed to protect privacy and could have allowed third parties to obtain “sensitive” information about the browsing habits of users, the report added. Google disclosed the flaws to Apple last August, according to the report. Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Source
  6. Requirements: Android smartphone running Android 9 Pie or Android 10. The app wasn’t built for Android versions older than Android 9 Pie. Mod info: Contains the latest version of .apk (version 1.1.284); It has the same package as the original, but was signed by a different signing key; The only thing changed was the requirement to have the PIXEL_2017_EXPERIENCE feature flag for non pixels devices. Download: Site: https://mega.nz Sharecode: /#!67J1BQoZ!qEVj4vQ6sbqy1cqxaCclvloChuy_RIRgFuZ22Bzq6gg
  7. Google releases a trio of apps designed to help curb your phone addiction For the last couple of years, Google has been addressing phone addiction concerns via initiatives like Digital Wellbeing. Since then, the feature has seen numerous additions and tweaks. Most recently, we've seen additions like a Focus mode, a thirty-minute pause to Wind Down, and the launch of a standalone initiative dubbed Digital Wellbeing Experiments. Today, Google has taken yet another step in curbing phone addiction by releasing a trio of apps meant to address the issue directly. The three apps are as follows: Envelope Activity Bubbles Screen Stopwatch First up, Envelope, supported only on the Pixel 3a currently, transforms one's phone into a device that is capable of doing the bare essentials. The implementation is certainly interesting; you basically print out an envelope and insert your Pixel 3a inside it. Leaving the fingerprint reader and the main camera uncovered, the enveloped phone will allow you to make calls, check the time, and snap some photos and videos, all with some caveats. It sounds weird, but here's a video demonstration of the application: Then we have Activity Bubbles. This app strives to present a visual representation of your phone usage through bubbles that grow larger as your phone usage increases. Screen Stopwatch does something similar, but instead, it displays the time you've used your phone. From the moment you unlock the phone, the app begins to count the time and like Activity Bubbles, it displays it via a live wallpaper on your home screen. Activity Bubbles Screen Stopwatch All three applications are under the umbrella of Digital Wellbeing Experiments and you can grab them for free on the Play Store (links above). However, as stated before, Envelope is Pixel 3a exclusive right now. Source: Google releases a trio of apps designed to help curb your phone addiction (Neowin)
  8. Google to end support for Chrome apps for Windows, Mac, and Linux this year to push ahead with web apps. Chrome apps that work offline for Windows, Mac, and Linux have been around since 2013, but Google has now committed firm dates for switching off support for them. Google has announced that it will wind down support for Chrome apps over the next two and a half years. The company in 2016 targeted early 2018 to end support for Chrome apps on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but then pushed back the date indefinitely while still encouraging developers to move the apps to the web in the form of progressive web apps, or PWAs. Google now says from March 2020, the Chrome Web Store will no longer accept new Chrome apps although developers will be able to update existing apps until the end of June 2022, which is when it will pull the plug on Chrome apps for Chrome OS for customers with Chrome Enterprise and Chrome Education Upgrade. In June 2020, Google will end support for Chrome apps on Windows, Mac, and Linux. However, customers with Chrome Enterprise and Chrome Education Upgrade will be able to continue supporting the apps until the end of 2020. Come June 2021, Chrome will no longer support the NaCl, PNaCl, and PPAPI application programming interfaces. The death of Chrome apps does not impact support for Chrome extensions, which can also now be installed on Microsoft's new Chromium-based Edge browser. "Google will continue to support and invest in Chrome Extensions on all existing platforms," said Anthony Laforge, technical director of the Chrome Platform Team. "Fostering a robust ecosystem of extensions is critical to Chrome's mission and we are committed to providing a useful extension platform for customizing the browsing experience for all users." Laforge reckons the state of "modern browsers puts the web in a good position to answer the vast majority of use cases". Google Chromium developers in December outlined the vision for the web was that "applications shouldn't require heavyweight downloads or updates", effectively eliminating the question of whether an app supports a particular operating system. Source
  9. Microsoft highlights historical tech innovations, including the Windows Subsystem for Linux, that were enabled in the same way Google used Java APIs. IBM, Microsoft and other tech companies have filed court documents in support of Google ahead of the Supreme Court of the US hearing over whether copyright applies to software application programming interfaces. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the Google vs Oracle case in March, after the court last year agreed to reconsider a favorable decision towards Oracle by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 2014. The court reversed a federal court jury decision that Google's use of Java API packages in its Android operating system constituted "fair use". Google filed its opening brief on January 6 and since then dozens of stakeholders, including IBM, Microsoft, and Firefox-maker Mozilla, have filed a total of 27 'friend of the court' briefs outlining opposition to the idea that software APIs should be copyrightable. "Computer interfaces are not copyrightable. That simple, yet powerful principle has been a cornerstone of technological and economic growth for over 60 years," IBM opens up in its filing. "Not once, until this case, has a Court of Appeals held that software interfaces are protected by copyright separate and apart from the code embodying the implementation of those interfaces. This is not because this principle is fringe; it is because it has always been accepted – based on legal precedent dating back 140 years." Microsoft said the Court of Appeals decision "takes an unduly narrow view of fair use that elevates functional code to the same level of copyright protection as the creative expression in a novel". Microsoft added that the court also applied a "problematically narrow standard" for evaluating 'transformative use' of functional code. "While Google used the software interfaces at issue for the same purpose as in Oracle's Java platform – allowing a program to invoke computer functionalities – it incorporated them into a completely different platform that opened new possibilities for programmers and consumers," wrote Microsoft. The company argues that open APIs are critical to interoperable systems, spanning documents, Internet browsers, the cloud, the Internet of Things, and smart home products. It explains the implications of companies being able to copyright APIs in a way that non-technical judges may easily understand. "If, as in computing's early days, every device had its own proprietary interface, one could never add a product outside a particular vendor's offerings to the system. But in today's interoperable ecosystem, consumers generally can choose smart products based on their merits and functionality, without worrying about compatibility with their existing system," wrote Microsoft. Microsoft details major historical examples where developers have repurposed functions in the same way that Google used Java APIs, pointing to Compaq, Dell, and others' use of functional elements of IBM's PC BIOS APIs in the 1980s to create an ecosystem of IBM-compatible PCs. It goes on to highlight the open-source WINE program that developers used in the 1990s to run Windows applications on Linux machines. "Years later, Microsoft created 'the inverse of WINE', reimplementing the structure of certain Linux APIs to create the Windows Subsystem for Linux, a program that allowed Linux programs to run on Windows," Microsoft explains. Microsoft's points are aligned with recent comments by Google's chief legal officer, Kent Walker. "Open interfaces between programs are the building blocks of many of the services and products we use today, as well as of technologies we haven't yet imagined," wrote Walker. "An Oracle win would upend the way the technology industry has always approached the important issue of software interfaces. It would for the first time grant copyright owners a monopoly power to stymie the creation of new implementations and applications. And it would make it harder and costlier for developers and startups to create more products for people to use." Source
  10. The rain in Maine, explained — How Google researchers used neural networks to make weather forecasts Google says its forecasts are better than existing methods—but only for 6 hours. Enlarge YakobchukOlena A research team at Google has developed a deep neural network that can make fast, detailed rainfall forecasts. The researchers say their results are a dramatic improvement over previous techniques in two key ways. One is speed. Google says that leading weather forecasting models today take one to three hours to run, making them useless if you want a weather forecast an hour in the future. By contrast, Google says its system can produce results in less than 10 minutes—including the time to collect data from sensors around the United States. This fast turnaround time reflects one of the key advantages of neural networks. While such networks take a long time to train, it takes much less time and computing power to apply a neural network to new data. A second advantage: higher spatial resolution. Google's system breaks the United States down into squares 1km on a side. Google notes that in conventional systems, by contrast, "computational demands limit the spatial resolution to about 5 kilometers." Put these together and you could have a forecasting system that's much more useful for short-term decision-making. If you're thinking about going for a bike ride, for example, you'd be able to look up a minute-by-minute rainfall forecast for your specific route. Today's conventional weather forecast, by contrast, might just tell you that there's a 30-percent chance of precipitation in your town over the next couple of hours. This animation compares a real-world weather pattern (center) to a conventional weather forecast (left) and Google's own forecast (right). Google's forecast has significantly more detail in both time and space. Google Google says that its forecasts are more accurate than conventional weather forecasts, at least for time periods under six hours. "At these short timescales, the evolution is dominated by two physical processes: advection for the cloud motion, and convection for cloud formation, both of which are significantly affected by local terrain and geography," Google writes. Beyond that, however, things start to break down. For longer time periods, conventional physics-based modeling still produces more accurate forecasts, Google admits. How Google’s neural network works Interestingly, Google's model is "physics-free": it isn't based on any a priori knowledge of atmospheric physics. The software doesn't try to simulate atmospheric variables like pressure, temperature, or humidity. Instead, it treats precipitation maps as images and tries to predict the next few images in the series based on previous snapshots. It does this using convolutional neural networks, the same technology that allows computers to correctly label images. You can read our deep dive on CNNs here. Specifically, it uses a popular neural network architecture called a U-Net that was first developed for diagnosing medical images. The U-net has several layers that downsample an image from its initial 256-by-256 shape, producing a lower-resolution image where each "pixel" represents a larger region of the original image. Google doesn't explain the exact parameters, but a typical U-Net might convert a 256-by-256 grid to a 128-by-128 grid, then convert that to a 64-by-64 grid, and finally a 32-by-32 grid. While the number of pixels is declining, the number of "channels"—variables that capture data about each pixel—is growing. Experience has shown that this downsampling process helps a neural network identify high-level features of an image. Values inside a neural network are never easy to interpret explicitly, but this 32-by-32 pixel grid might implicitly capture important variables like temperature or wind speed in each region of the image. The second half of the U-Net then upsamples this compact representation—converting back to 64, 128, and finally 256-pixel representations. At each step, the network copies over the data from the corresponding downsampling step. The practical effect is that the final layer of the network has both the original full-resolution image and summary data reflecting high-level features inferred by the neural network. To produce a weather forecast, the network takes an hour's worth of previous precipitation maps as inputs. Each map is a "channel" in the input image, just as a conventional image has red, blue, and green channels. The network then tries to output a series of precipitation maps reflecting the precipitation over the next hour. Like any neural network, this one is trained with past real-world examples. Thousands of past real-world weather patterns are fed into the network, and the training software tweaks the network's many parameters to more closely approximate the correct results for each training example. After repeating this process millions of times, the network gets pretty good at approximating future precipitation patterns for data it hasn't seen before. Source: How Google researchers used neural networks to make weather forecasts (Ars Technica)
  11. Quick Tip Today am gonna show you how you can download your favorite Android Apps directly from Google Play Store. From the Play Store, search for your favorite app, copy the link with the app id visit apps.evozi.com/apk-downloader/ Paste the link and click generate download link. Wait for some seconds as your download link is been generated. After some few seconds, your link should be ready for download. eNJOy!!! source: thetechblog
  12. By Kate O'Flaherty Apple iPhones are considered secure devices, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to hacking. And yesterday, Google Project Zero’s ethical hackers showed just how easy it can be to access your iPhone or iPad without your knowledge. Armed only with a user’s Apple ID, security researcher Samuel Groß was able to remotely hack an iPhone within minutes, stealing passwords, text messages and emails. Leveraging just one vulnerability labeled CVE-2019-8641, Groß was also able to remotely activate an Apple iPhone’s microphone and camera without any interaction from the user. In simple terms, this means an attacker could gain access to your iPhone without you clicking a malicious URL. First things first: This vulnerability was fixed by Apple, so it’s not a danger to you any longer–unless of course you have avoided applying iOS updates on your phone. What’s CVE-2019-8641? CVE-2019-8641 is the name given to the remote memory corruption vulnerability Google’s Groß used to take over a user’s iPhone with just their Apple ID. The issue was originally discovered and reported to Apple as part of Groß’s joint project with Natalie Silvanovich back in July, with a proof of concept exploit published in August. The vulnerability was first dealt with in iOS 12.4.1 on August 26 when Apple made the vulnerable code unreachable over iMessage. It was fully fixed on October 28 last year when iOS 13.2 dropped. Multiple other Apple vulnerabilities have been found by Google’s Project Zero over the last year. For example, in July it was revealed that a vulnerability in Apple's iMessage could render an iPhone useless and force a factory reset. Also in July, a vulnerability was discovered that could enable an attacker to read the files on an iPhone without having physical access to it. What does Google’s blog tell us about the iPhone hack? The Google Project Zero blog reveals more details about Groß’s research, which was first unveiled at a hacking conference in December. It’s part of a three part series, which the more technical among you might enjoy delving into. The video of Groß’s talk is available for those of you who like a visual accompaniment. In the blog, Groß showed how a data randomising security feature called ASLR, which is meant to protect against exploits, is “not as strong in practice.” He demonstrated how an attacker could set up a side communications channel to interact with a user’s device. Remote code execution could be achieved through abuse of the “Receipts” feature that lets people know their iMessages have been delivered. As a result of the research, Groß has recommended new security measures to Apple, some of which the iPhone maker has already implemented. This should make similar exploits “significantly harder,” from now on, he said. How bad is the vulnerability and how can I protect my iPhone? One of the biggest concerns about the Apple iPhone vulnerability reported by Google is that it doesn’t require any interaction from the user to exploit. “This makes the vulnerability different from a lot of other mobile issues,” says security researcher Sean Wright. “Typically, they require some user interaction, such as installing a malicious application. It appears that this vulnerability only requires the attacker to know the user’s phone number to be able to exploit it.” Thankfully, the issue has been fixed, and it was reported responsibly by Google’s Project Zero. Because the full fix wasn’t available to iPhone users for some time, the details were not revealed until much later. This stops attackers from being able to easily exploit the vulnerability and ensures people can update their operating systems when a fix is available. What should I do? The issue shouldn’t be a problem if you keep your iPhone up to date, so there’s nothing you need to do. But I’m still going to get a bit preachy: Please ensure you update your Apple iOS to the latest version as soon as it becomes available. Yes, some people like to wait until bugs are ironed out, but it can be dangerous to leave your updates when serious vulnerabilities such as this one are out there and detailed. In addition, it’s a good idea to make sure you are taking steps to secure your iPhone, perhaps by using a security key which is now available in Safari following the launch of iOS 13.3. Apple is also making it easier to improve your iPhone and iPad privacy by locking down the apps that collect your data. It’s true that iPhones can, in theory, be more secure due to the closed nature of the Apple ecosystem–compared to the more fragmented Google Android. However, that doesn’t mean iPhones are immune from attack, as Google’s Project Zero has clearly shown here. Source
  13. Google offers extended Chrome support for Windows 7 to cater to businesses that haven't finished migrating. Just as it did for Windows XP, Google is offering extended Chrome support for Windows 7 for at least 18 months after Microsoft stops delivering free patches for the desktop OS. As most ZDNet readers would know, Microsoft is ending free support of Windows 7 next week, on January 14, 2020. Yet US government website traffic suggests nearly 20% of visitors who use PCs are still running Windows 7. While consumers can either upgrade or live dangerously without Microsoft patches, businesses do have the option to pay for Extended Security Updates for Windows 7. It's the business crowd that Google is considering with its new minimum 18-month extension on Chrome support for Windows 7 PCs. "We will continue to fully support Chrome on Windows 7 for a minimum of 18 months from Microsoft's End of Life date, until at least July 15, 2021," Max Christoff, engineering director at Google Chrome, said. Of course, Christoff gives a plug to Chromebooks and Chrome OS, arguing IT teams want the latest OS version quickly with minimal cost and disruption, and what better time to shift gears when "there's a major reliance on cloud and SaaS apps", which all run in the browser anyway. "We have enterprises covered, even if they haven't yet made the full move to Windows 10… So if you haven't started your move to Windows 10 yet, or even if your organization is mid-way through migration, you can still benefit from the enterprise capabilities of Chrome," said Christoff. Google's announcement of extended Windows 7 support in Chrome comes as Microsoft prepares to release its Chromium-based Edge, which is scheduled for general availability on January 15, the day after Windows 7 support ends. No doubt, Microsoft had similar ambitions in mind for the new Chromium-based Edge would support Windows 7 when it announced the change in December 2018. Key benefits Google touts for enterprise with Windows 7 machines include its Safe Browsing technology, Chrome's site isolation protection, password and phishing protections, as well as policy management for IT admins. Microsoft is also working on policy management for Chromium-based Edge, recently noting in its draft of a security baselines document for the browser some changes to Group Policy settings. Depending on how slow the transition away from Windows 7 is, Google could continue extending support for beyond 18 months. The company extended Chrome support for Windows XP for nearly two years. Source
  14. Google has announced the inaugural winners of its controversial Android “choice screen” search engine auction in Europe, with privacy-focused Google alternative DuckDuckGo emerging as one of the big winners. Microsoft’s Bing, by contrast, faired less well. DuckDuckGo will be one of three alternative search engines offered by Google during new Android phone setups in every European country, while Bing will be an option only in the U.K. However, given that this was a closed auction process, it’s difficult to know which search providers applied for inclusion in which markets — it could be that Microsoft only applied for Bing in the U.K. The story so far By way of a quick recap, EU antitrust regulators hit Google with a record $5 billion fine in 2018 over the way it bundled its services on Android, claiming that Google forced manufacturers to preinstall certain Google apps to gain access to others. While Google (correctly) argued that manufacturers are free to use Android as they wish, given that the operating system is released under an open source license, to offer core services such as YouTube and Google Maps they have to preinstall a broader array of Google apps, including Chrome and Google as the default browser and search engine, respectively. In response to the fine, Google overhauled its Android licensing model in Europe, electing to separate Google Search and Chrome from its other suite of apps and to offer different licenses for each “bundle” — which it would charge for. As part of measures to placate European regulators, Google started suggesting alternative browsers and search engines for Android users, though these were in addition to Chrome and Google Search, which were still set as defaults. The next step toward appeasing regulators was an auction process that would give alternative search engines a better chance to become the default provider on mobile devices in Europe. The winner would agree to pay Google every time a user chose them as the default search engine (regardless of whether the user later changed their choice). Above: Default search example screenshot: Google’s Android Not every Google Search rival was ecstatic about this auction process. Ecosia, the Berlin-based not-for-profit search engine that plants trees with 80% of its surplus income, called this an “affront” to the EU’s ruling the previous year. And Cliqz, a browser that sports its own built-in search engine, said the auction “obstructs the market for competitors.” Needless to say, neither Ecosia nor Cliqz entered the auction process, and as a result they don’t appear as a default choice anywhere in Europe. “We believe this auction is at odds with the spirit of the July 2018 EU Commission ruling,” Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll told VentureBeat. “Internet users deserve a free choice over which search engine they use, and the response of Google with this auction is an affront to our right to a free, open, and federated internet. Ecosia is the largest European search engine, which begs a question: Why is Google able to pick and choose who gets default status on Android? Planting trees in biodiversity hotspots is our priority, this means that biddings processes like this cut out purpose-driven search engines like Ecosia.” The winners by market Above: Android choice screen options in Europe (March to June, 2020) The options vary by country, with Google’s Russian rival Yandex showing up in Estonia and Finland, and meta search engine Info.com, which aggregates results from multiple search providers, appearing as an option in all 31 markets across the European Economic Area (EEA), much like DuckDuckGo. Upon selecting an option, the user will then access that search engine by default through the search widget on their device’s homescreen, and it will also become the default search engine in Chrome if it’s installed. Google will also install the Android app of the chosen search engine provider if it isn’t already installed. These options will start showing up on new or factory-reset devices from March 1, 2020 for a four-month period, after which Google will repeat the auction process again for each quarter. This appears to be at odds with Google’s original plan — back in August it said that it would operate the auction on an annual basis. At any rate, the entire auction process could still come unstuck, with Ecosia already planning to raise its concerns with European regulators. “Now that this process has come to a conclusion, we’ll raise our broader concerns over Google’s monopolistic behaviour with European Union legislators — we’ll also look at other ways to work with regulators to challenge this result,” Kroll continued. “If this were to go unchallenged, we firmly believe that this would set a dangerous precedent over how large technology firms address competition rulings.” Source
  15. Following what the company described as years of back-and-forth, Sonos has filed suit against Google for alleged patent infringements related to the company’s smart speakers. Sonos said that Amazon was also infringing on their IP, but that they can only afford to take on one tech titan. The lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles and for the United States International Trade Commission, specifically calls out Google for five alleged patent violations including technologies that allow their speakers to wirelessly communicate and synchronize with each other. Sonos tells The New York Times that both Amazon and Google are currently violating “roughly 100” of its patents. “Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology,” Sonos CEO Patrick Spence said in a statement to the Times. “Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We’re left with no choice but to litigate.” We have reached out to Google and Amazon for comment. Google and Amazon have both wandered headlong into hardware over the past several years with internet-connected speakers representing one of their most concerted efforts. As the companies have built out their platforms, they have jumped into Sonos territory as they’ve pursued multi-room audio capabilities. The lawsuit complicates the business relationship between Google and Sonos. The Google Assistant is one of the available voice assistants available on Sonos products and allows users to ask questions and control their music libraries with their voice. The Times report details that there had been quite a bit of back-and-forth between Google and Sonos, and that Sonos has been pushing for Google to pay licensing fees on the tech and that Google’s counters were that Sonos was also using Google IP and that proposed licensing payments weren’t satisfactory to them. For Google’s part, a company spokesperson highlighted that the companies had been in the midst of negotiations. “Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies’ IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith. We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously.” Source
  16. The messaging app, which the New York Times reported is secretly a surveillance tool, is suddenly back online. Google has allowed chat app ToTok back onto the Play Store after originally removing the app in December. That month the New York Times reported that ToTok was secretly a surveillance tool for the United Arab Emirates government, allowing it to spy on ToTok users' locations, messages, and social connections. “We take reports of security and privacy violations seriously. If we find behavior that violates our policies, we take action," a Google spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. Citing unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, the New York Times wrote ToTok is "used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image of those who install it on their phones." The app was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, the report added. After the Times approached Google and Apple for comment, both companies removed ToTok from their app stores as they investigated. Motherboard processed the ToTok Android application through malware search engine VirusTotal on the same day the Times published their article. At the time, no anti-virus companies marked the app as malicious. On Monday, ESET, Fortinet, and Symantec all flagged the same version of the app as malicious. The version of ToTok on the Play Store is an updated version. Under a "what's new" section, the ToTok app page reads "There is a newly designed dialog to ask your authorization of accessing and syncing your contact list." When Google originally removed the app, it told the New York Times ToTok had violated unspecified policies. "The wait is over. We are happy to inform you that #ToTok is now available for download on the Google Play Store. Thank you for your patience. Let's connect!‬" ToTok wrote in a short announcement on its website on Sunday. ToTok co-creator Giacomo Ziani defended the app in an interview with the Associated Press, and said he had no knowledge that people linked to his project had ties to UAE intelligence. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it will also reinstate the application on its own app store. Source
  17. So-called "smart" security cameras have had some pretty dumb security problems recently, but a recent report regarding a Xiaomi camera linked to a Google account is especially disturbing. One Xiaomi Mijia camera owner is getting still images from other random peoples' homes when trying to stream content from his camera to a Google Nest Hub. The images include stills of people sleeping and even an infant in a cradle. In the meantime, Google has entirely disabled Xiaomi integration for Google Home and the Assistant while it works out the issue with Xiaomi. This issue was first reported by user /r/Dio-V on Reddit and affects his Xiaomi Mijia 1080p Smart IP Security Camera, which can be linked to a Google account for use with Google/Nest devices through Xiaomi's Mi Home app/service. It isn't clear when Dio-V's feed first began showing these still images into random homes or how long the camera was connected to his account before this started happening. He does state that both the Nest Hub and the camera were purchased new. The camera was purchased from AliExpress and noted as running firmware version 3.5.1_00.66. When attempting to access a video feed from his connected camera (as depicted in the video above), instead of the expected local video feed, he's provided a random, occasionally partly corrupted black and white still image from another home. Among the eight or so examples initially provided to Reddit are a handful of disturbingly clear images showing a sleeping baby, a security camera's view of an enclosed porch, and a man seemingly asleep in a chair. Dio-V also believes the content of the random still images being fed to his Nest Hub, which contain Xiaomi/Mijia branded date/timestamps, depict a different time zone than his own. It's technically possible this could be an elaborate hoax, but the video evidence is pretty damning. Whatever feed is trying to be accessed is clearly something that is actually integrated with Google Home/Assistant, and the fact that it's intermittently corrupted and showing still images rather than the expected video is also pretty high-effort for a fake. It's also possible these could be some sort of test images and he's inadvertently accessing a debug mode/feed, among other potential explanations. Google isn't taking any chances, though. We reached out to the company and were provided with the following statement after our story was initially published: "We’re aware of the issue and are in contact with Xiaomi to work on a fix. In the meantime, we’re disabling Xiaomi integrations on our devices." We reached out for further confirmation that this would mean a blanket disabling of all Mi Home product integrations or commands for the Assistant, and we have confirmed that this is the case. Our own subsequent attempts to use Mi Home integrated devices through Google Home/Assistant show that Google has already disabled this functionality at the time of our update, and Dio-V (the Reddit user with the original report) has confirmed for us that his camera is no longer working on his Nest Hub. We've reached out to Xiaomi for comment, as well as additional details surrounding how an issue like this could occur, but the company did not immediately respond. This isn't the first time that smart home security cameras have has this sort of problem before. Memorably, some used Nest cameras would remain linked to an original owner's account, providing them a glimpse inside the new purchaser's home. More recently, Wyze, who makes smart security cameras, also recently suffered a "mistake," storing unsecured user data in a publicly accessible manner and requiring all customers to pair/set up devices again. Google says it's disabling Xiaomi integrations A Google spokesperson has provided us with the following short statement: "We’re aware of the issue and are in contact with Xiaomi to work on a fix. In the meantime, we’re disabling Xiaomi integrations on our devices." We have further confirmed and verified that this is a blanket disabling of all Mi Home product integrations for Google Home and the Assistant. Our coverage above has been updated with this information. Source
  18. steven36

    Chrome OS has stalled out

    Nearly ten years ago, Google shipped an unassuming, totally unbranded laptop to a large group of journalists and tech enthusiasts as part of a 60,000 unit pilot program. That laptop was the CR-48, and it was designed to showcase a project Google had been working on internally for well over a year. It was called Chrome OS. I was among the first of those lucky folks to receive a CR-48, and I used it as much as humanly possible for almost a year. It was kind of the worst: constant crashes, an insanely slow single-core Intel Atom processor, and questionable build quality would make it clear to anyone that it was very much a product built for dogfooding, not as a replacement for your Windows or Mac notebook. I loved my CR-48 in a very weird, semi-abusive sort of way; I would curse its abominable slowness, slam it shut when it would lose all of my tabs for no apparent reason, lament the mushy keyboard, and just about smack myself in the forehead when I'd run through my monthly 100MB of CDMA data allowance and couldn't find Wi-Fi, rendering the machine useless. Of course, that was also a very different time. In 2010, Wi-Fi wasn't nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. Tethering was something I would only do under the most urgent of circumstances, given my (rooted) phone's measly data plan allowance. The Chromebook was here, but the world wasn't quite ready for the Chromebook. In 2019, a public space, restaurant, or even a shopping center without free Wi-Fi is basically unconscionable. Tethering using your smartphone is easier and more practical than ever. Connectivity is all around us, and technologies like Bluetooth and mesh networking have made our lives the most wire-free they've been since, well, wires were a thing. We live in a world where the Chromebook, and Chrome OS, should be thriving. But increasingly, it looks like Google's cloud-first laptop platform has hit a dead end, and I'm not sure there are many available detours that can get it back on track. Apps are not a solution Chrome's problems really became apparent to me when Android app compatibility was introduced, around five years ago. (This also isn't the first time we've pointed out that approach's failings, Corbin did so in an editorial last year.) Getting Android apps to run on Chrome OS was simultaneously one of the Chrome team's greatest achievements and one of its worst mistakes. In 2019, two things are more obvious than ever about the Android app situation on Chrome. The first is that the "build it and they will come" mantra never panned out. Developers never created an appreciable number of Android app experiences designed for Chrome (just as they never did for Android tablets). The second is that, quite frankly, Android apps are very bad on Chrome OS. Performance is highly variable, and interface bugs are basically unending because most of those apps were never designed for a point-and-click operating system. Sure, they crash less often than they did in the early days, but anyone saying that Android apps on Chrome OS are a good experience is delusional. Those apps are also a crutch that Chrome leans on to this day. Chrome OS doesn't have a robust photo editor? Don't worry, you can download an app! Chrome doesn't have native integration with cloud file services like Box, Dropbox, or OneDrive? Just download the app! Chrome doesn't have Microsoft Office? App! But this "solution" has basically become an insult to Chrome's users, forcing them to live inside a half-baked Android environment using apps that were almost exclusively designed for 6" touchscreens, and which exist in a containerized state that effectively firewalls them from much of the Chrome operating system. As a result, file handling is a nightmare, with only a very limited number of folders accessible to those applications, and the task of finding them from inside those apps a labyrinthine exercise no one should have to endure in 2019. This isn't a tenable state of affairs—it's computing barbarism as far as I'm concerned. And yet, I've seen zero evidence that the Chrome team intends to fix it. It's just how it is. But Android apps, so far as I can tell, are basically the plan for Chrome. Certainly, Linux environment support is great for enthusiasts and developers, but there are very few commonly-used commercial applications available on Linux, with no sign that will change in the near future. It's another dead end. And if you want an even more depressing picture of Chrome's content ecosystem, just look at the pitiable situation with web apps. Features that never seem to come A lack of native applications may be Chrome's biggest structural problem in the long term, but in the here and now, the Chrome team has simply failed to innovate in ways that the platform so desperately needs to remain competitive with Windows and Mac OS. Where is biometric support (we got it on the Pixel Slate, but nowhere else)? Desktop customization? Where are LTE Chromebooks? HDR? Phone notification mirroring (really, any meaningful phone integration)? Dual booting (cancelled)? Network-attached storage? A remotely passable file directory? A dark theme (soon, allegedly)? Even rudimentary video or audio editing? The fact is, laptops aren't something everybody has anymore—phones have filled that need for many, many people. Those that are buying laptops are using them much more as tools than they were when Chrome OS debuted 10 years ago. But Chromebooks just aren't very good tools. And to be sure, some of these things are probably languishing on an internal tracker somewhere at Google, some of them may depend on the support of other companies (Intel, for example), and some of them may depend on the work of other groups at Google (like the Android team). But it doesn't make these omissions any less glaring. As professional laptops from Apple, Microsoft, Lenovo, Dell, and others make obvious, Chromebooks are far more easily defined by what they don't do, because the features that do make Chrome OS unique are of so little consequence in light of its limitations. I say this even as one of the few people who can do 95% of my job on a Chromebook: that 5%, when you really, really need it, is more than enough reason to avoid a platform entirely. And for many others, it's much more than 5%: it's their entire workflow. Built for the future—one we never got Increasingly, I get the sense that Google is largely content with Chrome OS as it sits, and that it serves the US education market well enough that it sees radical changes as unnecessary; it will simply wait for the web to "catch up" to traditional operating systems. But with products like the Pixelbook and Pixelbook Go (and the disastrous Pixel Slate), it's clear that Google's hardware team very much wants us to believe that Chrome OS is a real laptop-ready platform right now. And even as someone with all the love in the world for Google's hardware design team (the Pixelbook is truly a wonderfully designed laptop), it frustrates me endlessly to see such excellent hardware showcasing a platform that has very much begun to languish. It's like going through all the trouble of building a beautiful custom home... and then filling it with furniture from Walmart. The failure to fulfill that potential is maddening. And yes, there are plenty of people out there perfectly happy with their Chromebooks. They make excellent (and often very affordable) couch and bedside web surfers, and they're great as portable displays for streaming whatever's on Netflix. I would never go so far as to say Chromebooks are without function—they have many perfectly valid uses. They are the true spiritual successors to the netbooks of yore. But as things stand, I don't ever see them becoming more than that. And I don't see the position they've carved out as an invulnerable one: Chrome OS accounts for a mere 6.5% of personal computers in the US, and a far, far smaller proportion globally. Much of that 6.5% is likely the tens of millions of Chromebooks in American schools (Google's growth in that market also seems to be leveling out). We've all been spun the tale that Chrome is a platform built for computing's future, on the web. I, for one, am tired of waiting for the web to catch up. After 10 years, I think it's safe to say that Google's crystal ball was busted. Source
  19. Google will finally stop using controversial Irish and Dutch tax loopholes Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Regulations will end the ‘Double Irish’ and ‘Dutch sandwich’ tax scheme The era of Google using a pair of controversial loopholes to save billions of dollars in taxes on overseas ad revenue is coming to a close, according to a new report from Reuters. In 2020, the company will no longer take advantage of the so-called “Double Irish” and “Dutch sandwich” loopholes, which allowed it and countless other corporations to shift money from Ireland to the Netherlands and Bermuda, sheltering billions from taxes in the process. The move comes as regulations aimed at changing how companies skirt taxes take effect in both the US and Ireland. Previously, multinational organizations like Google were able to use a network of affiliate organizations located in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Bermuda to collect and hold money made overseas, thanks in large part to lenient Irish tax laws. The name comes from the strategy of moving money from an Irish subsidiary to a Dutch holding company, and then back to an Irish shell company located in Bermuda that has the rights to license Google intellectual property, thus the “Dutch sandwich” in between. Bermuda has no corporate income tax, making it a lucrative final stop to report income. The whole process effectively avoids paying US income tax and European withholding taxes on overseas profits, although some money is still paid to the Irish government. In 2014, facing mounting pressure from the EU and the US, Ireland closed these loopholes. Companies were given until 2020 to comply with the new regulations, which is why Google is just changing its tax structure now. Google continued to use the tax scheme to funnel money around the globe until the deadline. According to Reuters, the company moved $23 billion to Bermuda in 2017 alone using this tax avoidance strategy. In the US, the Trump administration has also tried to incentivize companies to return profits to the US by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018 allowed companies to return money made overseas to the US without facing more US taxes. These changes could prove critical for Google, which is sitting on tens of billions in overseas earnings. “We’re now simplifying our corporate structure and will license our IP from the US, not Bermuda,” a Google spokesperson told The Verge. “Including all annual and one-time income taxes over the past ten years, our global effective tax rate has been over 23%, with more than 80% of that tax due in the US.” Source: Google will finally stop using controversial Irish and Dutch tax loopholes (The Verge)
  20. Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. would face limits on the online tracking and data sharing that power their advertising businesses under a bipartisan House proposal to establish the nation’s first federal privacy law. The draft legislation from the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees online privacy issues, could diminish companies’ ability to monitor users across the web and require them to get permission to share their customers’ data with others. It would also allow consumers to opt out of receiving advertising from companies with which they already have relationships. The measure comes as giant technology companies are coming under pressure in Washington on multiple fronts, including antitrust scrutiny, outrage over their lack of control over content on their platforms and allegations that they are biased against conservative ideas. If passed, the measure could become one of the biggest challenges to their crown jewels -- in-depth knowledge about their users -- and a test of whether their lobbying clout can fend off the threat. The prohibitions could gum up the gears of the vast ad-technology machinery that Google and Facebook have built. Taken together, those new responsibilities and others would make the proposal stronger than a strict new California law, said Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, who helped develop the text. Companies are moving to comply with the California statute, which goes into effect Jan. 1., but won’t be enforced until next July. The limits in the proposal, which is the product of a year’s worth of discussion by lawmakers in both parties, could dent the profitability of practices that helped Google and Facebook establish their dominant position in the $330 billion digital ad market. The companies not only monitor users on their own platforms, they also track consumers on millions of third-party sites. The practice often explains why people see ads for products they’ve looked at elsewhere, often within seconds. The text of the House bill calls for requiring “express, affirmative consent” for such tracking, meaning that consumers can say no and block the companies’ ability to follow their online behavior and collect data on their interests and activities. “Facebook knows every other site I go to, and Google knows every other app I use,” said Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy for Consumer Reports. “I think it’s appropriate to explicitly call that out.” In addition, the proposal’s requirement that companies get consent to share data may limit brands’ ability to transfer information to Google and Facebook to buy advertising. That measure has similarities with a provision of California’s law, which will be enforced after July 1 under rules drafted by the state attorney general, Xavier Becerra. Read More: Toughest U.S. Data-Privacy Law Gets Teeth to Punish Violators Finally, the congressional bill would allow consumers to prevent brands from sending them advertisements even if they’ve already allowed the company to use their information for another reason -- such as a mailing address when shopping online. Depending on how these restrictions on first-party advertising are defined, they could also limit how Facebook and Google target users by using large stores of data they hold internally, but don’t share with outside parties. Google declined to comment on the House’s proposal. Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the company looked forward to reviewing it. The obligations in the text could also affect brands and companies in the digital advertising market beyond Facebook and Google, according to Stu Ingis, a lawyer who is advising Privacy for America, a coalition that counts several advertising industry trade groups as members. Ingis welcomed the bill, but said it would hurt small business and entrench larger players. “On marketing and advertising, they just got it completely wrong,” said Ingis, who also chairs the law firm Venable LLP. He argues that marketing is the lifeblood of small businesses that are seeking new customers and media companies that want help paying for content -- all of which would become harder if the draft becomes law. The law may offer stepped-up consumer protections, but that doesn’t mean it will wipe out Google and Facebook’s advertising revenues. Europe’s privacy rule, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, requires companies to secure affirmative consent to use data, but someanalyses say it has hurt small rivals more than Google and ultimately helped entrench its dominance because compliance is easier for big firms. Facebook has extended the European protections worldwide, and both companies emphasize that they seek consent for their activities when users sign up for personalized services. The House proposal would likely undergo significant changes before it becomes law. The committee staff has asked stakeholders to file comments by Jan. 24. Despite the potential effect on advertising, industry groups haven’t taken a hard-line approach to the draft, particularly because it’s bipartisan and follows progress in the Senate. “The internet industry is optimistic that Congress can reach a bipartisan solution to ensure all Americans have meaningful privacy protections and controls across industries and state lines,” said Michael Bloom, senior vice president for global government affairs at the Internet Association, a lobbying group that counts Facebook and Google as members. Business groups are hoping a federal law can overrule state statutes such as California’s, that give consumers the right to sue for some data breaches. Companies also want to avoid having to comply with a patchwork of state laws. One privacy advocate panned the draft because it doesn’t give consumers the right to sue companies that fail to comply with the law. “The staff discussion draft scores poorly when measured against the basic elements of a modern privacy law,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. He also criticized it because it relies on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for enforcement, rather than creating a new agency to regulate data practices, and it doesn’t create guardrails to address decisions made by algorithms. With the impeachment of President Donald Trump fueling a sharply divided political climate before the 2020 presidential election, many observers see the opportunities to pass a privacy law before 2021 narrowing. Still, Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, the chairwoman of the subcommittee that developed the draft, said that she has shared it with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and that the goal is to finish a bill in 2020 despite political headwinds. “We’ll move as quickly as we can,” she said in an interview Wednesday. Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who is leading that chamber’s efforts, has also called privacy “a top priority” for next year. “There is a consumer demand out there,” Schakowsky said. “And I think all the companies know it’s coming.” Source
  21. A Lithuanian hacker will spend the next five years behind bars for masterminding a massive $120m (£92.05m) business email compromise involving Facebook and Google. image: Evaldas Rimasauskas The New York Southern US District Court on Thursday handed Evaldas Rimasauskas the 60 month sentence, along with a bill for $26,479,079 in restitution, after he admitted to one count of wire fraud. He had faced a maximum of 30 years in prison. This came after Rimasauskas pled guilty to overseeing the phishing scam that allowed him to collect money transfers from Google and Facebook under the guise of a Taiwanese equipment manufacturer. According to the guilty plea Rimasauskas entered back in March of this year, he pulled off the massive cash scam by creating lookalike domains and email accounts for Quanta, a Far Eastern contract manufacturer that builds, among other things, server components. Those fake accounts were then used to contact employees at both Facebook and Google between 2013 and 2015 and supply them with phony invoices that each of the tech giants thought were for real purchases (they were, mind you, likely doing business with the real Quanta while this was going on.) Rimasauskas then directed his victims to make wire payments into overseas accounts he controlled. While these sort of business email compromise attacks are hardly new concepts, it is rare to see one succeed against two companies of this size and net such a large payout for the attacker. When all was said and done, it was estimated that the two tech giants filled Rimasauskas' coffers to the tune of just over $120m. He was indicted on the charge just before Christmas of 2016, got picked up by Lithuanian police in March of 2017, made his initial US court appearance in August of that year, and finally agreed to take the guilty plea on one count of wire fraud in March of 2019. Now, almost exactly three years after his indictment was filed under seal, Rimasauskas has been given the five-year prison term. Following his release, he will also face deportation to Lithuania. "Evaldas Rimasauskas devised an audacious scheme to fleece U.S. companies out of more than $120m, and then funneled those funds to bank accounts around the globe," boasted US attorney Geoffrey Berman, prosecutor in the case. "Rimasauskas carried out his high-tech theft from halfway across the globe, but he got sentenced to prison right here in Manhattan federal court." Source
  22. PARIS (Reuters) - France’s competition authority fined Google (GOOGL.O) 150 million euros ($167 million) for anti-competitive behavior and for having unclear advertising on the Google Ads page. The fine comes as France and other European countries maintain high levels of scrutiny on major U.S. tech companies such as Google, Facebook (FB.O), Apple (AAPL.O) and Amazon (AMZN.O), which are often criticized for having relatively low tax payments. In September, Google agreed to pay close to 1 billion euros to French authorities to settle a fiscal fraud probe that began four years ago. Google, which is the world’s biggest internet search engine, has also faced growing regulatory scrutiny about the content it promotes in search results and ads. Isabelle de Silva, head of the French competition authority, told news conference that Google’s dominance in the online advertising business was “extraordinary”, with the U.S company having a market share of around 90% in that field. Google said it would appeal the fine. In January, France’s data protection watchdog had fined Google 50 million euros for breaching European Union online privacy rules. The French watchdog stated in that January ruling that Google lacked transparency and clarity in the way it informed users about its handling of personal data, and had failed to properly obtain their consent for personalized ads. ($1 = 0.8997 euros) Source
  23. SYDNEY (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc’s Google has settled a “longstanding” tax dispute with Australia’s tax office, it said on Wednesday, after paying an extra A$481.5 million ($326.75 million) on top of its previous tax bill. The settlement comes after an audit that looked into the tech giant’s tax practices between 2008 and 2018, a Google spokeswoman said. In a separate statement, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said it has now netted A$1.25 billion after also settling tax disputes recently with other tech giants such as Microsoft, Apple and Facebook under the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL). “Thanks to the efforts of our ATO officers under the Tax Avoidance Taskforce and the introduction of the MAAL, Australian sourced sales by these digital giants will now be returned to Australia’s tax base,” the ATO said in a statement, calling the settlement “another e-commerce victory.” Facebook, Google, Amazon and other large technology companies have faced criticism globally for reducing their tax bills by booking profits in low-tax countries regardless of the location of the end customer. Such practices are frowned upon by many countries as unfair. A Google spokeswoman said the settlement with the ATO will provide certainty for future tax treatment. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement the establishment of the tax avoidance taskforce in 2016 has helped strengthen tax compliance of multinationals and large corporations. “Ensuring large companies and multinationals pay the right amount of tax means we can continue to deliver the essential services Australians rely on,” Frydenberg said. Source
  24. LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s competition regulator said there was a strong argument for tougher regulation of Google and Facebook to curb any negative consequences stemming from their domination of online advertising. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Google accounted for more than 90% of all revenue earned for search advertising in the UK in 2018, with revenue of about 6 billion pounds, and Facebook accounted for almost half of all display advertising in the same year. It said ‘big’ was not necessarily ‘bad’ and the platforms had brought innovative and valuable products and services to the market, but it was concerned their position may have negative consequences for the people and businesses who used their services every day. It was also concerned that people did not feel in control of their data when they were on the platforms. “Most of us visit social media sites and search on the internet every day, but how these firms work can be a mystery,” CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said. “Digital advertising fuels big businesses like Google and Facebook and we have been building a picture of how this complex new market works.” The CMA launched its investigation into digital advertising, including the ownership of data, in July. It said on Wednesday it had looked at how the firms collected and used people’s data, how they monetized it and what this meant for rival companies, as well as the people and businesses using these services every day. It said it was now inviting comments on what it had found, and would most likely make recommendations to Britain’s new government about how it regulates the sector. The CMA added that it stood ready to act directly through its own powers if, ultimately, these issues were not addressed in other ways, whether domestically or internationally. Source
  25. Google devs "forgot" to move some user data during the Chrome 78 to Chrome 79 update process. Google has halted the rollout of Chrome 79 on Android after mobile app developers reported a major bug that was deleting user data and resetting mobile apps. The bug occurred during the update process from Chrome 78 to Chrome 79. In Chrome 79, Google developers changed the location of the Chrome directory. In a bug report filed last week, Google developers admitted to making a mistake with this operation and forgetting to move the contents of localStorage or WebSQL into the new Chrome 79 directory, making the data inaccessible for all users. localStorage and WebSQL are widely used in mobile apps Both localStorage and WebSQL are storage mechanisms that allow a website or web app to store data on a user's device, inside a user's Chrome profile directory. While some websites use localStorage or WebSQL, most prefer to use dedicated database servers to store user data on the server-side. However, localStorage and WebSQL are widely used on mobile devices, and especially by mobile app developers. These days, many Android apps are nothing more than a website loaded inside the WebView component -- a stripped-down version of Chrome. These apps heavily depend on mechanisms like localStorage or WebSQL to save settings and user data locally, instead of using a separate and bulkier SQLite database. When Chrome 79 started rolling out, these apps lost access to all the files and data saved inside the old Chrome 78 localStorage and WebSQL folders. App users lost data, settings, files, and even access to their accounts. "When I say 'broken,' I mean that their encrypted login information has been wiped and they can't remember their credentials (and resetting them are practically impossible in the case of our app)," said the developer of a mobile cash management app. In his case, over 250,000 users have been affected already, with two million more facing a similar problem in the coming days. However, he is not alone. There are countless other Android app developers who are facing similar issues. And for good reasons, app users are getting angry. Unfortunately, they're getting angry at the wrong persons -- namely, the app developers, not knowing this is a Chrome issue. "My app currently get[sic] review bombed with 1-star ratings because all users lose[sic] currently all stored data," said another app dev on Reddit. A fix is not 100% guaranteed to save restore user data Chrome 79 was released on Tuesday, December 10. A first bug report was filed on Thursday, and Google stopped the Chrome 79 rollout on Android on Saturday. Unfortunately, the update already reached around 50% of the Android userbase, meaning it already caused quite a lot of breakage. Google developers are currently working on an update that fixes the data migration process, but for many, this might be too late. Even Google developers don't know if the older localStorage and WebSQL files were left behind, or the Chrome update process wiped the data. In some cases, "cleaner aps" might have deleted the data after the update operation. Further, moving the old files to the new location might end up overwriting new files the user has created in the meantime, leading again to data loss. A solution for the bug is still being discussed on the Chromium bug tracker. Source
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