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  1. Google is bringing the fruits of its cross-platform app making framework Flutter to Linux desktops with help of Canonical no less. Over 500,000 developers already use Flutter, Google’s open source UI framework, to building mobile apps, and tech is often pitched as an alternative to React Native. But while the Flutter SDK has been available on Linux to create apps for other platforms it wasn’t possible to build desktop Linux apps. That changes today. Build Linux Apps with Flutter “[We] are happy to jointly announce the availability of the Linux alpha for Flutter alongside Canonical, the publisher of Ubuntu, the world’s most popular desktop Linux distribution,” writes Google’s Chris Sells in a blog post. Google said last year that it wanted to bring Flutter build software to desktop platforms. And with Ubuntu the go-to OS for mobile app creation (including ones built using the Flutter SDK) there’s much merit in allowing devs to use the software to make apps for the underlying platform too. But don’t fear some kind of Frankenstein mobile fudge; Flutter aims to be a first-class citizen on Linux. Google says it has done ‘extensive refactoring’ to the engine to support, power, and provide native desktop experiences. While Dart, the programming language that underpins the toolkit, is now able to take advantage of desktop integration features. Canonical investing heavily Canonical is also putting a team of developers to work on the tech alongside Google’s own engineers. The company says it will collaborate with Google to “improve Linux support and maintain feature parity with the other supported platforms”. What makes Flutter so popular? Well, the tech allows devs to code an app once and have it run on multiple different platforms, including mobile and macOS. But with the new alpha apps built using this tech can also run on the Linux desktop. Install Flutter SDK on Ubuntu To get started building apps (for whatever platform) you don’t need to install a spaghetti tnagle of intertwined dependencies and developer tools. Just install the Flutter SDK from the Snap Store, add the Dart plugin in an IDE like Visual Studio Code, and get coding: Install Flutter SDK from the Snap Store here Note: to build desktop Linux apps using Flutter you do need to run the following commands after installing the SDK: flutter channel dev flutter upgrade flutter config --enable-linux-desktop You may also wish to install the flutter-gallery snap too. This showcases the range of widgets and interface components available for use — and will almost certainly give you lots of inspiration for what you could create! Finally if you’re less interested in making apps and more keen on trying them do check out Flokk Contacts. This is sample desktop Flutter app built to show off what the tech is capable of on desktop. Source
  2. Google, Facebook, and Twitter halt government data requests after new Hong Kong security law The companies are reviewing a new security law that gives China power to stifle dissent Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Google, Facebook, and Twitter are pausing the processing of data requests from the Hong Kong government as they review a new security law that went into effect on July 1st. Google put its pause into place as soon as the law took effect last Wednesday. “[W]hen the law took effect, we paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities,” a Google spokesperson told The Verge in an email, “and we’ll continue to review the details of the new law,” the spokesperson said. Twitter also halted its handling of government requests as of July 1st, with Facebook announcing its pause on Monday, The New York Times reported. Social media platforms typically produce private user information in response to valid court orders, depending on the legal process in various countries. But under this new position, all the companies will, at least temporarily, ignore the requests coming from the government of Hong Kong. The new policies are in response to China’s new national security law in Hong Kong, which was first proposed in May. Hong Kong has traditionally enjoyed significant independence from mainland China, but the central Chinese government has tightened restrictions on speech in Hong Kong in recent months, bringing a gradual end to the “one country, two systems” principle. China’s push toward more control has led to widespread protests across Hong Kong, which began last year. In particular, the new security law gives China the power to limit political dissent against the Communist Party, making it unlawful to engage in “secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.” Those powers are particularly relevant for social platforms, which may be hosting the now-criminalized subversive activities. Google, Facebook, and Twitter have both been banned in China for several years, part of the so-called “Great Firewall,” under which government censors and monitors track online activity. The new security law has already compelled several political opposition parties in Hong Kong to disband, NPR reported, and is expected to further chill political dissent against Beijing in Hong Kong. “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email to The Verge. Twitter says it is reviewing the new law to assess the implications, adding many terms of the new law are “vague and without clear definition,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to The Verge. “Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law.” Facebook has a process for reviewing government requests, which takes into account its own policies and local laws as well as international human rights standards, the spokesperson added. “We are pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.” Facebook has offices in China and uses Chinese suppliers to manufacture some of its hardware, including its Oculus VR headsets and its Portal video chat devices. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has attempted to mend relations with China in the past, meeting with Communist Party leaders while in Beijing for an economic forum in 2016. More recently, he’s pushed concerns about China setting the terms for online engagement. “If another nation’s platform sets the rules,” Zuckerberg said last year, “our nation’s discourse could be defined by a completely different set of values.” Google, Facebook, and Twitter halt government data requests after new Hong Kong security law
  3. Google begins rolling out dark mode support for Sheets, Docs, and Slides Google is beginning to roll out dark theme support to Sheets, Docs, and Slides on Android starting today. The apps have been one the holdouts for dark theme support, with the search giant bringing the theme to its other services and offerings such as the Google app. The company says that the dark theme will “intelligently adjust the product interface and user-generated content” to make the app more usable in darker environments. Once the feature is made available, the apps will obey the system’s theme settings. However, as is customary with most apps, users can switch to the light theme through the settings for each individual app by heading to Menu > Settings > Theme > Dark. In addition to that, users can also view how their content will look in the dark mode by heading to the three-dot menu and tapping on the ‘view in light theme’ toggle. The colors in the content are not affected by the change in modes and remain constant. The ability to change to a darker theme is a welcome addition for those that prefer the mode on other apps and the system. The firm notes that the feature is rolling out to all G Suite customers and users with personal accounts starting today. However, the rollout is staggered, and the Mountain View company says that it could take longer than 15 days for the feature to be visible to all customers. There is no information on when the theming option will be made available to iOS users. Google begins rolling out dark mode support for Sheets, Docs, and Slides
  4. geeteam

    Hidden Android Secret Codes

    How well do you know your Android device? Here are some of the hidden Android secret codes. Since most hidden menus are manufacturer specific, there’s no guarantee that they’ll work across all Android smartphones, but you can try them out nevertheless on your Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony and other devices. Be advised, though, that some of these can cause serious changes to your device’s configuration, so don’t play with something that you don’t fully understand. You can find more of these spread across the internet, and they’re usually very handy to have, even if just to show off your geekiness to your social circle. Update x1: More codes! Source : Redmondpie
  5. Google Phone gets Verified Calls to let you know why a business is calling Google is rolling out a new Verified Calls feature for the Phone app to let a user know that they are receiving a call from a business and the reason behind it. The company explains that the Verified Calls feature is meant to avoid scams and fraud calls by verifying the identity of the business that is calling, display their reason for calling as well as their business logo. All these details will be shown on the incoming call screen so a user knows that they are receiving a genuine call from a business and its purpose without picking the phone up. Google also confirms that a user's private data is not shared with the businesses at any time during this process. Verified Calls are different from call screening as in the latter, Assistant screens the calls after it is picked up. The former requires businesses to send their phone number, the phone number they are calling, and the reason they are calling like "Scheduling your internet installation." This information is then relayed by Google's server to the Phone app on your device. Then, when the business calls you, Google compares the incoming call information with the one provided by the business and then shows it on the Phone app. Within a few minutes of the verification being completed, Google will delete your phone number and the reason for calling from its servers. The Verified Calls feature is turned on by default provided you have the Google Phone app on your device and have your number linked to your Google account. Google Phone gets Verified Calls to let you know why a business is calling
  6. Sounds like Google’s Pixel 4A is nearly ready — and won’t have radar The FCC just authorized a new Google phone dubbed “G025.” Image: @OnLeaks / 91Mobiles “Where is Google’s Pixel 4A?” That’s the question we asked two weeks ago, bringing you up to speed on how Google had seemingly missed the typical window to release its thoroughly-leaked followup to the company’s impressive but short-battery-lived Pixel 4 flagship. But a new FCC filing today, spotted by XDA-Developers, suggests the more affordable Pixel 4A is nigh. Technically, it’s not a given that the Google phone newly authorized by the Federal Communications Commission actually is the Pixel 4A, nor that Google is actually going to announce it anytime soon, if ever. All we know for sure is that the Google “G025J” can now be sold in the United States, and that we typically see the FCC authorize such phones shortly before they’re official. Google doesn’t make a lot of phones, and it seems likely that since “G020” meant Pixel 4, a “G025” would be some sort of half-step successor. Oh, but I lied, we can glean one other thing from the FCC filings: this phone almost certainly won’t have Google’s tiny Soli radar sensor chip for “Motion Sense” gesture controls and quicker face unlocks. Why do I say that? That radar tech uses millimeter wave radio frequencies, which would have to be disclosed in these FCC docs... and they’re not. They showed up in the Pixel 4 FCC’s filings as appearing between 58 and 63.5GHz. But it’s not like previous leaks suggested the Pixel 4A would have Soli, and it’s not clear where the sensor would have even lived: leaked images suggest the new phone won’t have the Pixel 4’s same sensor-filled bezel to begin with. Here’s everything else we think we know about the Pixel 4a so far, including its rumored 5.81-inch display, processor, battery, camera, and the return of the headphone jack and fingerprint reader. Image: Pigtou Sounds like Google’s Pixel 4A is nearly ready — and won’t have radar
  7. Google will automatically delete activity history for new Google accounts Google has announced some improvements in its approach to protecting user privacy. Last year, the company introduced the ability for users to setup auto-delete for their location history as well was their web and app activity. This let users set how long they want to allow Google to keep their data before it's deleted. Later in the year, a similar feature was announced for YouTube data. Starting today, new Google accounts will no longer need to set up automatic data deletion for web and app activity or location history. When you create a new account, it will automatically set to automatically delete your data after 18 months, though you can still choose to keep it forever or delete it sooner. For existing accounts, whichever option is currently selected will remain active. For YouTube history, a similar principle is being followed, but data will be kept for 36 months instead of 18 by default. This will also apply to new accounts, or accounts turning on the YouTube history for the first time. There are more changes on the way, though. Google is making it possible to access your privacy settings by using Search, so you can type in things like "Google Privacy Checkup" to get a card where you can change the privacy settings for your account. Google is also making it easier to enable Incognito mode in its apps by pressing and holding on your profile picture to switch instantly. This feature is currently available in Search, Maps, and YouTube on iOS, and will roll out more broadly over time. Google is also bringing its Password Checkup tool - which can tell users if their password has been compromised in a known breach - into the Security Checkup tool for Google Accounts. As a result, the Password Checkup extension for Chrome will be discontinued in the coming months. Going forward, Google promises to continue to invest in keeping its users' data private, expanding its differential privacy library to Java and Go programming languages, and working to comply with privacy regulations around the world. Google will automatically delete activity history for new Google accounts
  8. Google is on a mission to stop you from reusing passwords It’s adding its Password Checkup tool to the Security Checkup dashboard Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge “Passwords are one of the worst things on the internet,” Mark Risher, Google’s senior director for account security, identity, and abuse told The Verge. Though they’re essential for security and to help people log in to many apps and websites, “they’re one of the primary, if not the primary, ways that people actually end up getting compromised.” It’s a strange thing for a Google security executive to say because the last time you logged into Gmail, you probably typed in a password. But the company has been trying to nudge users away from the model for years, or at least minimize the damage. And in the coming weeks, one of Google’s quietest tools in that fight — the Password Checkup plugin — will be getting a higher profile, as it joins the Security Checkup dashboard built into every Google account. Risher is right to be concerned. Though you can use a tool like a password manager to help keep track of your logins, a lot of people just end up reusing passwords for many accounts. Fifty-two percent of people reuse the same password for multiple accounts, according to the results of a poll published in February 2019 by Google and polling firm Harris. Thirteen percent of people reuse that password for all of their accounts, that poll found. And Microsoft said in 2019 that 44 million Microsoft accounts used logins that had been leaked online. While reusing passwords can be one way to remember a complex word, phrase, or combination of letters, numbers, and symbols that you think no one will ever be able to guess, the practice can put your personal information in danger. If that reused password gets leaked as part of a data breach, hackers could then have the key to many of your other online accounts — no matter how complex the phrase is. “We know from other research we’ve done in the past that people who’ve had their data exposed by a data breach are 10 times more likely to be hijacked than a person that’s not exposed by one of these breaches,” said Kurt Thomas, a member of Google’s anti-abuse and security research team. Google has been trying to help users build better password habits for some time, slowly but surely. For years, the company has offered a built-in password manager in Google Accounts on Chrome and Android that can save your passwords and autofill them on websites and apps, for example. But over the past year or so, Google has also been working to help people proactively make better passwords with Password Checkup. The tool checks logins against a database of 4 billion leaked credentials, seeing if the password you’re typing in matches one that’s already leaked. It’s not a new idea, but Google is uniquely well-positioned to offer something like Password Checkup. The company has access to billions of passwords and the scale to roll out Password Checkup to billions of users in a way that integrates with account security tools on which many people already rely. Here’s what Password Checkup will look like in Security Checkup. Image: Google Figuring out how to let Password Checkup flag compromised credentials in a privacy-respecting way was a tough technical problem that required a combined effort from both Google and Stanford. The challenge was finding a way to automatically check a user’s credentials against a database of breached logins without revealing that information to Google or giving the user access to the whole database, all while scaling that solution to Google’s huge user base, researchers from both organizations told me. To do so, Google stores a hashed and encrypted version of every known username and password exposed by a data breach. Whenever you log into an account, Google will send a hashed and encrypted version of your login info against that database. That way, Google can’t see your password, and you can’t see Google’s list of known-compromised logins. If Google detects a match, Google will show an alert recommending that you change your password for that site. An infographic from Google describing how Password Checkup works. Image: Google Google gets compromised logins from “multiple different sources and trusted partners,” Thomas said, including underground forums where password dumps are openly shared. “We have an ethical policy that we will never pay criminals for stolen data,” he continued. “But just by virtue of how these markets work, very often, [stolen data] will bubble up and become available.” Using personas Google has in those marketplaces, the company can acquire the data, he said. Password Checkup took about two to three years from inception to having it appear in many Google products, according to Thomas. Down the line, Google wants to have Security Checkup email you when it detects that a stored login has been compromised in a data breach, which the company plans to launch in the coming months. And later this year, Google aims to let people use Password Checkup in Chrome even if they aren’t logged into a Google account. Google isn’t the only company to offer some kind of password-checking functionality. Paid password manager 1Password recommends changing weak or duplicated passwords and also offers Watchtower, which checks your logins against Troy Hunt’s Have I Been Pwned database of more than 9 billion compromised accounts and flags any matches. And Apple announced yesterday that its next version of Safari will have a password-monitoring tool that appears to work similarly to Password Checkup. But Google has an advantage in helping people with their passwords thanks to its massive scale. And tools like Password Checkup and the built-in password manager ladder up to a broader goal to make online security easier for users. “What I like security to be — and what I think [Password Checkup] is a good example of — is, ‘how do you make it easier for regular people to do the right thing?’” Google’s VP of security engineering Royal Hansen told The Verge. “It’s not about alerting you with more and more problems,” he said. “It’s about making it easier for you to do, frankly, the most basic step.” Google is on a mission to stop you from reusing passwords
  9. Google doesn't always show the most relevant results to users. Much to the delight of copyright holders, popular pirate sites have started to 'disappear' from the search engine. This goes far beyond traditional DMCA takedown notices and is not without collateral damage. Google is widely regarded as the best search engine, a reputation the company has carefully built up over the past two decades. However, when it comes to one particular niche, Google’s results are rapidly deteriorating. We’re talking about pirate sites. As background, it’s good to mention that search engines have been under a lot of pressure to remove pirate sites from their indexes entirely. Google categorically refused to do so. Instead, it chose to push down popular pirate sites for certain keywords, including movie and music titles. This started many years ago and worked as intended, according to Google. Someone searching for “Game of Thrones torrent” was not going to find The Pirate Bay in the top results. Similarly, filters were set up for music-related queries as well. As a result, pirate sites saw their search traffic decline drastically. This meant a drop in new visitors to these sites. However, people could still find these pirate sites by searching for their name. We use the past tense here because that has changed for many sites as well. Over the past few months, it has become harder and harder to find the homepages of some popular pirate sites. Instead, Google points people to Wikipedia pages or entirely different – sometimes scammy – sites that use the same name. We’ll address a few examples here, contrasting our findings with Bing and DuckDuckGo. We start with 1337x.to, a popular torrent site that has been around for well over a decade. While search results may vary from day to day and can differ based on location, our tests across several continents failed to show the official ‘1337x.to’ domain in the top results when searching for “1337x.” 1337x’s official Wikipedia entry is highlighted among the top results and in the “knowledge graph“. However, it sits among a list of unofficial ‘1337x’ entries which drives visitors to third-party sites. This provides a major opportunity for scammers and phishing sites. Of course, Google hasn’t suddenly forgotten the details of the real 1337x site. Also, the ‘disappearance’ of the main domain is not the result of a DMCA notice, as that would be explicitly highlighted and 1337x’s homepage doesn’t link to any infringing content directly. The official site has likely been punished based on some algorithms. When we compare the results to other search engines, the difference is clear, with Bing and DuckDuckGo returning the official 1337x homepage on top. That is the correct result for this query. The same disappearing trick also applies to other popular torrent sites, such as Torrentz2, EZTV, NYAA, and LimeTorrents. Google users who enter these keywords in Google’s search engine are not directed to the official sites, but will see unaffiliated sites on top that hijack traffic by using the same name. A search for NYAA on Google, for example, doesn’t show the official domain anywhere on the first results pages. Again, DuckDuckGo has no trouble finding the official site and Bing returns the proper result as well, including a search box that allows people to search the site directly. TorrentFreak spoke to the operator of LimeTorrents.info, one of the most popular torrent sites, who confirmed that Google’s actions have impacted the site’s traffic. That also applies to the site’s official proxy domains too. However, the number of people searching for ‘Limetorrents’ hasn’t dropped, so these people end up elsewhere now. “Google removed almost all torrent site homepages from its search results and our site’s traffic is affected too,” LimeTorrents’ operator says. In this case, the disappearance is not linked to a DMCA notice either. The disappearance of homepages is not limited to torrent sites. The same can be observed for other pirate sites, including streaming portals. For example, Kissanime is nowhere to be found in Google’s top results. Again, Bing and DuckDuckgo have no trouble locating the correct URL. That doesn’t mean that other search engines are without ‘issues.’ When we searched for Fmovies on Bing and DuckDuckGo we noticed that all official URLs have been removed. Google still indexes Fmovies.to links (not in the top results of course), but doesn’t show them when searching for “Fmovies” In some instances, Google’s ‘decisions’ can result in outright embarrassing situations. For example, a search for Fmovies and other popular pirate brands now shows an Associated Press (AP) story on top. This may sound like a legitimate link but it’s not. AP runs paid press releases filled with pirate keywords which promote the pirate streaming portal Yolamovies. That’s not a good look. When we look at The Pirate Bay’s results, things get complicated. In many of the locations the popular torrent site wasn’t listed in the first pages of results. This can be quite confusing and points people to malware warnings and copycats, a trap even the BBC fell for. Interestingly, however, the official TPB domain was the top result in our North American tests. This means that TPB’s localized ‘disappearance’ may be the result of local traffic patterns, which change in countries where the site is blocked. While these observations are intriguing, we have no idea why Google is acting this way. A likely option would be to limit the exposure of certain infringing sites. However, the question is whether it actually improves the situation, as people are now driven to third-party pirate sites, which may not have good intentions. Google’s actions are also interesting in light of comments that were made earlier regarding the removal of entire domains. “Whole-site removal is ineffective and can easily result in the censorship of lawful material,” Google previously said, adding that it would send “the wrong message by favoring over-inclusive private censorship over the rule of law.” With their current measures, pirate sites remain indexed. However, when one can no longer find 1337x’s non-infringing homepage by typing in “1337x,” there’s certainly some type of algorithmic censorship involved, inadvertent or not. Source
  10. The tech giants have funded a bevy of political groups, including those producing positive polling, and engaged in other fingerprint-free tactics designed to deter regulators. David Espinoza appeared unhappy when Arizona joined scores of states investigating Google last year. The Phoenix-based owner of a shoe-and-leather store wrote in a local newspaper he was “amazed and a little dumbfounded” by regulators’ campaign to “change how digital platforms operate.” “The current system is working for small businesses, and as the old saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he wrote. But Espinoza’s words, published in September by the Arizona Capitol Times, weren’t entirely his own. They were written on his behalf by an advocacy group that’s backed by Google and other tech behemoths, reflecting Silicon Valley’s stealthy new attempts to shape and weaponize public perception in response to heightened antitrust scrutiny. Under the withering microscope of government watchdogs, tech giants including Amazon, Facebook and Google have funded a bevy of political groups that have helped push positive polling and engaged in other fingerprint-free tactics designed to deter regulators who are seeking to break up or penalize the industry. The approach reflects the growing threats they now face from the Justice Department and the country’s top attorneys general, who have been investigating them on antitrust grounds. The Connected Commerce Council, for example, is a Washington-based nonprofit that bills itself as a voice for small businesses. But it counts Amazon, Facebook and Google as “partners,” and in recent months the group known as 3C has put its muscle to work arguing that Silicon Valley giants do not threaten competition, stifle smaller rivals and harm consumers in the process. Espinoza, a bootmaker by profession, said he was approached by 3C last year after he participated in a Google seminar meant to help small businesses better use digital tools. The advocacy group then wrote the opinion piece largely on his behalf, which appeared online just days after state attorneys general announced their antitrust probe of the company. The opinion piece did not indicate that 3C largely penned it. Espinoza said he still supported Google, whose technology, including its ad tools now under government investigation, have helped his company reach new customers across the country. But he also said he didn’t know about Google’s relationship with 3C, a group of which he is a member, before being contacted by The Post this week. “I’m not surprised,” Espinoza said. Google is “a big company … and they have the finances to extend themselves as much as they can.” Jake Ward, the president of 3C, said his organization represents thousands of small businesses, not Silicon Valley’s largest players. The organization often seeks to encourage corporate founders to share their views publicly, he added. “It is our responsibility, on behalf of our small business members, to protect the existing model and promote the market, which is working exceedingly well,” Ward said, later adding: “We are not, and will not work for, Big Tech.” Amazon and Facebook declined to comment. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Julie Tarallo McAlister, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a statement that the company supports “a range of organizations like the Connected Commerce Council that are working to help small businesses grow and prosper online.” Silicon Valley tech giants — and companies across a range of industries — often back a wide array of advocacy groups to boost their political fortunes. They aren’t required to disclose how much they spend on these organizations and exactly how involved they are in their day-to-day decisions, but ethics watchdogs say their participation alone is important. “It is an example of industry spending money and exerting influence, but doing it in a way that is meant to give the impression that it is not coming from industry,” said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group. Bookbinder added: “They wouldn’t be members if they didn’t agree with the thrust of what these organizations are pushing for.” The tech industry’s attempts to shore up its public image in recent months reflects the seriousness of the U.S. government’s new antitrust scrutiny. After years of threats, state and federal leaders have embarked on the kind of inquiries that could result in dramatic changes to the way Amazon, Facebook and Google operate, including punishments that could break apart those companies. With Amazon, regulators are concerned that the e-commerce giant improperly gleans data from third-party sellers in an attempt to give its own products and services an advantage. In looking at Facebook, government officials have probed complaints it has gobbled up its digital rivals, leaving few viable competitors in social networking. And watchdogs have probed Google’s search, advertising and smartphone businesses to determine whether they’ve stifled competition, following in the footsteps of European regulators who have already penalized the company. All three tech giants deny they have violated state and federal antitrust rules. Still, Justice Department officials are expected to file a lawsuit against Google alleging it violated federal competition laws as soon as this month. Nearly every state’s attorney general, meanwhile, could follow with their own complaint in July, The Post previously reported. The antitrust lawsuits come roughly seven years after U.S. officials first probed Google for violating competition law but ultimately decided against bringing a case in court. With legal action imminent — and President Trump recently taking fresh, aggressive aim at Silicon Valley — the industry’s largest companies have shelled out sizable sums to lobby in Washington. Amazon, Facebook and Google have spent more than $11 million combined over the first three months of 2020 to influence federal action on a range of issues, including antitrust, according to ethics disclosures filed with Congress. The amount is slightly higher than the same period in 2019. But those figures do not reflect the hard-to-track sums spent by the industry to shape public opinion beyond the Beltway. Many in the tech industry privately say they’ve adopted such tactics because they face an onslaught of criticism from a wide array of new opposition groups, such as the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit that has produced research critical of tech companies including Amazon and Google. The group does not list its current backers, and it declined to detail them fully Tuesday. In the past it has courted Google’s critics, including Oracle, though the campaign maintains it is not taking corporate contributions. Facebook, for example, already has invested in a forthcoming advocacy group known as American Edge. The organization shares a similar structure to organizations such as the National Rifle Association, which blitzes airwaves with ads and doesn’t have to disclose its donors. The new tech group has sought to enlist support from other tech companies including Amazon and Google, according to two people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. It is not clear whether either company intends to join. The Post first reported last month on the group’s imminent plans for launch. The tech industry also has sought to funnel dollars to a wide array of conservative groups in recent years, hoping to earn more favor among Republicans in power at the White House and in Congress. That includes the National Taxpayers Union, a right-leaning outfit that typically targets government spending it sees as wasteful. Last month, the NTU tapped a firm that previously polled for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to gauge voter sentiment about big tech. They focused their efforts on Arizona, Texas and other states that are actively investigating Google and other companies, and their findings concluded that voters would rather see their attorneys general focusing on other issues, including the opioid epidemic. The survey explicitly asked if states should punish companies including Amazon and Google, which publicly have acknowledged their past financial support of the NTU. Pete Sepp, the president of the organization, declined to discuss the NTU’s donors or the exact reasons it commissioned the poll, though he stressed that he and his organization have worked on competition-related issues for decades. “We have huge historical footprint in the antitrust issue space that transcends any tech firm and goes well before their founding,” he said. Such research — seeking to channel public sentiment — is a battle-tested tactic in antitrust probes, former regulators say. It’s meant to “press upon public officials, and indirectly upon agencies, that [companies] enjoy broad public support for what they’re doing,” said William Kovacic, a top professor at George Washington University’s law school who previously served on the Federal Trade Commission. “To tamper with them in a significant way is to anger the broader public.” Two years ago, the Connected Commerce Council launched as a voice for small businesses, and Ward, its leader, has grown the organization into an operation that represents more than 10,000 entrepreneurs. The group provides technical support, helping owners and employees use tech tools to place ads, manage their checkbooks and reach new customers online, he said. The goal was to connect these smaller operators to larger companies, according to Ward, who found that “policy and politics collided pretty quickly on what I was trying to do.” In the end, he has found himself defending Amazon, Facebook and Google because it’s better for the start-ups 3C represents, he said. By September 2018, 3C members had sounded off in support of major tech companies during a regulatory proceeding at the Federal Trade Commission. 3C also helped produce opinion pieces, including the one published by Espinoza in 2019. Ward said the work is critical because regulators and readers otherwise never would hear from small businesses. In more recent months, 3C has amped up its letter-writing campaigns, dispatching missives targeting Texas and other states now investigating large technology companies. Its letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May, signed by 200 members, even said the state should not penalize Big Tech amid the coronavirus crisis. “During a pandemic, when many storefronts are shuttered and businesses that are still running are operating entirely online, it is the wrong time to demand changes in digital technology operations and business models,” they said. In doing so, however, Ward has stressed his organization’s independence. “We don’t lobby on their behalf,” he said. “And we’re not advocates for their larger positions.” Paywall Source Free Mirror Source
  11. Google promotes Prabhakar Raghavan to lead Search, replacing Ben Gomes Jerry Dischler becomes the new head of Google Ads, Gomes takes over Google Education, while Google veteran Jen Fitzpatrick takes on engineering. Google announced several major personnel changes Thursday. They involve search, engineering and ads and the internal promotion of some Google veterans to new roles: Prabhakar Raghavan, Jerry Dischler, Jen Fitzpatrick and Ben Gomes. Ben Gomes moves from Search to Education Gomes isn’t leaving Google; he’ll be taking on a new role connected to various Google education and learning initiatives: Google for Education, Google Scholar and education search, as well as Google Arts & Culture. These areas are said to be a “big priority” for the company with the increased importance of distance learning in the wake of COVID-19. Gomes, according to a Google spokesperson, will also remain a technical advisor to Search. Gomes has been at Google for 20 years and was one of its first principal engineers. He’s also described as “one of the founders of Google search.” Prabhakar Raghavan is the new head of Search and Assistant Prabhakar Raghavan, who was running Ads and Commerce (since 2018), will replace Ben Gomes as the new head of Search and Assistant. Search encompasses News, Discover, Podcasts and Google Assistant. Raghavan’s got a long history in search, having worked on it at IBM in 1995, followed by a position at Stanford where he taught the first course in its computer science department on search. He also authored a foundational text on the subject. Raghavan later founded the research lab at Yahoo after joining the company in 2005. In 2010, he spoke about the concept of the “web of things” vs. the “web of objects” (documents). He said at the time that the overwhelming majority of Yahoo search queries included nouns, indicating people were using search to find information about the real world. Raghavan joined Google in 2012 and worked initially on Search and mobile location initiatives. He then ran Apps (Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar) and in 2018 took over Ads and Commerce from Sridhar Ramaswamy who went to the venture capital firm Greylock Partners. Jen Fitzpatrick exits Maps/Geo for central engineering Jen Fitzpatrick has been with Google’s Geo team for more than a decade and took over as its head six years ago. She’s been at Google for more than 20 years and came to the company from Stanford as part of its first intern program. During her tenure at the company, Fitzpatrick has worked on Search, Ads, News and Shopping and co-founded the company’s user experience team. Fitzpatrick’s new role will be to run the company’s central engineering team, which has 8,000 employees, and is responsible for the company’s core technical systems and infrastructure: corporate IT, UX / design, Google accounts and privacy. We were also told that her team will expand and be adding “some new corporate engineering functions.” Geo will now be led by Liz Reid and Dane Glasgow. Jerry Dischler becomes the new head of Ads Jerry Dischler has been working on Google Ads for more than 10 years. The company says he’s been instrumental in defining Google’s Ads strategy over the years. Dischler came to Google in 2005 and worked on Google Checkout, the company’s early payment product (now Google Pay). He also worked on Product Search (Shopping). He moved over to Ads in 2009 and assumed leadership of Search Ads in 2013. He later added YouTube Ads and then ads on Google’s owned and operated properties (Shopping, Travel, Gmail). He has been a keynote guest at SMX events over the years. Significant internal changes during a time of upheaval These changes are significant but not disruptive internally. Many teams will now roll up under Prabhakar Raghavan: Search, GEO, Ads, Commerce and Payments. Dischler and Bill Ready, who leads Commerce, will continue to report in to Raghavan. But this marks a change from the current org structure and a return to the way things were organized several years ago. Raghavan in turn reports directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. In addition to advancing highly qualified people who’ve been at Google for many years, the company is positioning itself for what feels like a new era — one that will see new growth, as well as ongoing social, political and regulatory challenges in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s the internal email from CEO Sundar Pichai announcing the changes: [Note about the info that follows: Given everything that’s going on in the world, I recognize this is not a great time to be making changes to how we work. Last week we started to roll out this announcement and then held it back out of respect for what our colleagues — most especially Black Googlers — are dealing with. In the course of preparing for these changes, we had to inform a number of people of our plans, and the news naturally began to filter out to more and more people. It’s important to me that Googlers hear about changes affecting their work in the right way, rather than through rumors or news stories. Since we did not think we could successfully hold back the news any longer, I am sharing this with you today.] Hi Googlers, For some time now, I’ve been thinking about how we could bring the voice of the user more clearly into our products so we can be more helpful to them. I think we’ve done this well in the context of the Covid crisis, delivering useful information and experiences across so many products and surfaces. While there are many separate teams working on different parts of the user journey, from the user’s perspective, it’s just Google helping. I want every user experience to feel like this and I’ve been thinking about how we can best achieve it. So, when Ben and Jen — who both just celebrated their 20th Googleversaries last year — mentioned they were ready for new challenges, I took the opportunity to make some changes across our flagship knowledge products and help them work together more seamlessly. Here’s what’s changing: Ben, after two extraordinary decades building Search from the ground up, will move to a new role tying our longstanding efforts for learning — across areas like Education and Arts & Culture — more closely to our flagship products and core user experiences. Ben has always had a deep interest in education innovation, and we’re excited to see him build on our work here. Ben will remain a product and technical advisor on Search and will also partner closely with Google.org on product and technical initiatives related to our corporate philanthropy priorities. Jen, after 10 years of mapping the world and leading our Geo teams to make our products ever more helpful, will take on a big, new challenge leading the Core and Corp Eng teams. Jen’s deep product knowledge and experience focusing on important areas such as privacy will set her up well to lead these teams. This role gives her the opportunity to further improve our cross-product and cross-PA systems and user experiences, as well as deliver great experiences to both Googlers and developers. The move will also give Luiz additional time to really drive technical roadmaps, expedite cross-PA tech decisions, and manage engineering investments across the company. This was a key part of his mandate when forming Core a year ago. Luiz will remain in Core, reporting to Jen, and is committed to doubling down on Core’s mission as the organization continues to grow. Prabhakar will be stepping up to lead Search and Geo, with Ben and Jen’s senior leads reporting directly into him. To support Prabhakar in these efforts, Jerry will step up to lead the Ads organization. Prabhakar will also continue managing Commerce (led by Bill) and Payments/NBU (led by Caesar), bringing a user focused view across our knowledge product efforts. For Prabhakar, this new role brings his experience with search full circle. He’s spent more than two decades obsessing over algorithms and ranking, and his association with Google Search predates … Google. He published a foundational text on search and then went on to lead search teams at IBM and Yahoo. He joined Google in 2012, and — prior to his current role — worked with teams in Research, Geo, and Google Apps. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Prabhakar is one of the most respected engineering minds in our field. His experience working across so many of our product areas gives him the perfect lens to spot the seams between them. For many of you these changes will feel quite minimal. For others, they may feel more significant Personally, I think it’s always good to see leaders embracing this type of career mobility as it helps bring fresh perspectives to our teams. I realize that any change right now might be harder to process at a time when everything outside of Google feels very uncertain as well, so please do take care of yourself first. Your managers and leaders will be there to support you and answer any questions. In the meantime, please join me in congratulating all the leaders who are taking on new opportunities. Look forward to working together in your new roles! Source
  12. (Reuters) - Google was sued on Tuesday in a proposed class action accusing the internet search company of illegally invading the privacy of millions of users by pervasively tracking their internet use through browsers set in “private” mode. The lawsuit seeks at least $5 billion, accusing the Alphabet Inc unit of surreptitiously collecting information about what people view online and where they browse, despite their using what Google calls Incognito mode. According to the complaint filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, Google gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads. This helps Google learn about users’ friends, hobbies, favorite foods, shopping habits, and even the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online, the complaint said. Google “cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone,” the complaint said. Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman, said the Mountain View, California-based company will defend itself vigorously against the claims. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” he said. While users may view private browsing as a safe haven from watchful eyes, computer security researchers have long raised concern that Google and rivals might augment user profiles by tracking people’s identities across different browsing modes, combining data from private and ordinary internet surfing. The complaint said the proposed class likely includes “millions” of Google users who since June 1, 2016 browsed the internet in “private” mode. It seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. Boies Schiller & Flexner represents the plaintiffs Chasom Brown, Maria Nguyen and William Byatt. The case is Brown et al v Google LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 20-03664. Source
  13. Pixel Buds 2 review: These earbuds are “much better than OK,” Google Enough quality, comfort, style, and usefulness to merit a $180 price—just barely. Enlarge / OK Google, try again with Pixel Buds 2. Sam Machkovech 61 with 47 posters participating, including story author The 2017 Pixel Buds were one of Google's worst hardware launches in the company's history. Really, these things were an utter nightmare. Their sound quality, feature set, awkward fit, and finicky case might have been tolerable as a free pair of buds included with a Google-branded phone—but not a standalone $160 purchase. Any hardware refresh had enough work to do to catch up to 2017's standard of quality and convenience, but Google put itself into a deeper hole by launching this month's Pixel Buds 2 nearly three years later. Lucky for us, the company's new Buds, priced at $180, have turned out to be real buds. As in, buddies, homies, the kind I wanna lug around with me on a regular basis. Google needed some good hardware news right about now, and that news comes in the form of Pixel Buds 2: a solid, competitive option for everyday earbuds in the year 2020. "Competitive" does not mean "perfect," but it does mean they're worth considering next time you think about buying earbuds. Caveats and equipment Before we dive in, I'd like to offer my usual "audio is tough to review" caveats. Ars Technica is not a dedicated audio-review site, due in part to the field's highly subjective nature, and that goes triply for devices that slide into an ear canal; one person's perfect fit is another person's utter annoyance. Still, I've been reviewing audio hardware for years at Ars Technica with aims to be as transparent about my opinions and testing methods as possible so that you can triangulate how your aural opinions might line up. Additionally, while preparing this review, I tested other major modern Bluetooth earbud options, including the Jabra Elite Active 75t, the Beats Powerbeats Pro, Jaybird Vista, Sony WF-1000XM3, and Apple Airpods Pro. All of these, along with Pixel Buds 2, have a charging carrying case in common, along with wireless Bluetooth functionality as your only connectivity option. I did all of my testing on my personal smartphone: a Samsung Galaxy S9. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack as driven by a high-quality DAC, which is a big reason I favor this phone. But while I prefer a hearty pair of wired cans when I want to take in every piece of the aural picture, I'll admit that convenient, high-quality Bluetooth earbuds have a place in my regular audio diet. Cool? Cool. Let's jam. Case, fit, and the beginning of many Airpod comparisons First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 7 images. Pixel Buds 2 waste no time inviting a comparison to Apple's Airpods line. The launch model comes in a tone of white that's almost a Pantone-perfect match for Apple's. Their carrying case is nigh-identical in terms of dimensions: 63×47×25mm (2.48×1.85×0.98 inches). Its case is a hair bigger than Apple's Airpods Pro case in each of those dimensions, but the total size is possibly identical, owing to Google's new case having much rounder top and bottom edges. As a result, Google already pulls ahead of the competition with the best earbud case we've seen thus far. Its matte finish is more handsome as a practical, handheld case than Apple's glossy, finger-smudged finish; the latter looks like an old iPod in comparison. Google's noticeably smoother edges feel better to either cradle in your hand or to tuck into a pocket. And if you've seen video coverage of Pixel Buds 2 thus far, you've seen—and heard—people repeatedly open and shut the case for a reason. Mmm. Whoever set the magnets and the carving of this plastic pattern knew what they were doing, in terms of the speed, the magnetic clasping, and even how the click sounds when this opens and shuts. The lead designers on that team deserve a raise before they're poached, Google. Outside of their case, the Pixel Buds 2 are, like their predecessors, designed differently from most competitors. Though this time, that's not a terrible thing. (Seriously, Google, who thought itchy expandable nylon straps through the ear canal was a good idea?) First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 5 images. The Pixel Buds 2 shift from a hard plastic earpiece to a rubberized tip, meant to insert directly into your ear canal, much like how the Airpods Pro did compared to its predecessors. You get three size options for these tips. Unlike most of its major competitors, Google is still married to this idea of a secondary bracing point for your ear, so the Pixel Buds 2 also include small rubber "wings." Personally, I am fine with these, because they do two crucial things: they take a tiny percentage of earbud bracing out of your ear canal (and every smidge of assist there helps), and they help users feel the bracing point required to get the Pixel Buds 2 to their maximum audio-quality level. Sound quality: The bass is the base Earbuds can only do so much in terms of punchy bass resonance, and like some of the boomier earbuds on the market, the Pixel Buds 2 distribute their lows outside of the rubber-tip portion. But at their worst, earbuds can crank their bass too far, to the point where you need to go into a manufacturer's official app and play with an equalizer to undo the default BWOMP BWOMP effect. Pixel Buds 2 opt for a noticeable-yet-subtle spread of bass through the ear canal. You won't truly appreciate this effect until you twist your earbuds such that the rubberized fin locks into place. And Google loses points by not clearly demonstrating this to users in the setup process. The official Pixel Buds app mentions this twist-to-fit feature and suggests users rock the Pixel Buds 2 back and forth until the fit is just right, but there's no way to really confirm that the fit is just so with a lot of typical music. Put on a catchy song—one whose bass you might otherwise ignore—and you'll hear the highs and mids come through in impressive fashion and assume you're done. Not that it matters in May 2020, but this Run the Jewels song has no curse words for its first 2:20 and is a great test for bass performance within a melodic soundscape. Crisp vocals, dominant mids, and a range of bass-heavy instruments make this a good one if you have to listen to a song over and over while testing headphones or earbuds. Google's official app would greatly benefit from a bass-heavy sample app to help new users understand the difference a proper fit makes. I suggest that new users put on a melodic hip-hop track with some sort of dominant tune and high-end ring of percussion throughout, then notice the punch of whatever bass comes thumping in on the beat; a melodic bass line demonstrates this better than a plain ol' thump-thump-thump option. (Some suggestions: "Piku" by the Chemical Brothers, or "Thieves!" by Run the Jewels.) Time and time again, I kept coming back to an amazing demo song for the Pixel Buds 2: "BFG Division" from the Doom 2016 video game soundtrack. With Google's buds inserted properly, this track put me into a pumped-up workout rage. The instrumental song begins with a thudding swell of bass beneath a tap-tap-tap of high-pitched beeps. Then some industrially augmented guitar snarls and ominous synth pads set the tone of crushing metal to come, and at the 1:02 mark, this song's version of "the drop" includes some twinkling computerized notes before a wall of rock blows over. Suggestion: put on your best headphones, then move every fragile and delicate object away from your current five-foot radius before hitting "play" on Mick Gordon's "BFG Division." After noticing how much this song rocked me on the Pixel Buds 2, I went through every listed earbud above to see how each fared. The Jabra Elite Active 75ts were a little too boomy. The Airpods Pro were a little too anemic. The Sony WF-1000XM3s came closest, with better straight-into-the-canal drivers that brought out more high-end clarity, particularly in the constant din of the high-hat during the loudest parts. But the Pixel Buds 2 nail this song's most impressive trick: the frequency-trickery WHOOSH that repeats over and over during the "chorus" riff, where a mild drop-out of drums and a "dunnh-nunna-nuh" of guitar repeatedly explode in a snare-cymbal-thump pop. This exact pop consistently earns a bang of my head and a pump of my fist. Killer audio... in ideal circumstances I'm the kind of music listener who obsesses over perfectly nailed synesthesia (you can see me wax poetically about this in my Tetris Effect game review, among other Ars pieces), and this moment in "BFG Division" would be spoiled by any fake-sounding carving of frequencies or inadequate audio drivers. Out of my roster of tested earbuds, only the Pixel Buds 2 consistently nailed this effect. The same goes for every other genre of music I tested (here, enjoy a Spotify playlist of my preferred testing selections). Sony's earbuds always came out mildly better in terms of clear frequency separation. Apple's earbuds always sounded "good enough"—clear, balanced, and comfortable, with mild-but-appreciable bass. And Google's earbuds always felt like the "one higher" option, delivering artists' and recording engineers' original sonic intent for the entirety of a given song. But that's assuming you're in an ideal environment, which Pixel Buds 2 can lose points on in two ways. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 2 images. First, you must situate Pixel Buds 2's little wings just right to enjoy this balanced-bass impact. In my week of testing, I was able to guarantee a comfortable, fixed fit during milder activities: working from home, walking (with a mask on) around my neighborhood, and hitching a car ride (with a mask on and a driver in my current "trusted" circle). The exception came while working out, which for me as of late is a mix of dumbbells, yoga poses, calisthenics, and careful jogs through wide side streets. (By the way, gosh, I wonder how well this article will age.) I am, without a doubt, Ars Technica's sweatiest staffer. (Don't ask how I figured that one out.) After only a few minutes of activity, my body starts dumping sweat, which means, among other things, I have to strip down as soon as I start playing high-impact VR games like Beat Saber. Any earbud that becomes uncomfortable during a sweat-dumping workout is a deal breaker. In good news, Pixel Buds 2 stay put while I work out—and arguably more so than my previous pick for a sweat-friendly earbud, the Apple Airpods Pro, which rely entirely on a single, specially shaped rubberized tip per ear. Neither slips out of my ear after getting lubed up by my drenched reams of sweat, but Pixel Buds 2's wings are another "one higher" variable to consider in that use case. However, I've yet to find an earbud that automatically drains any sweat buildup between my ear's skin and my earbuds; they all have to come out for a shake-and-wipe every 10 minutes into my sweatiest routines. And in Pixel Buds 2's case, once I'm sweaty, I have to repeatedly check the wings' seal to return to ideal bass performance. They'll still sound good, but if I want to guarantee a "raaaarrgh," pumped-up sensation in a song near the end of my workout, I have to remove and wipe each ear every four minutes. What’d you say, sonny? Second, Pixel Buds 2 do not include an active noise-cancellation feature, so your total listening experience will vary depending on your environment. Pixel Buds 2 seal pretty well in the ear, owing to their wing-based construction, so medium-volume music will sound fine in lower-volume environments, and loud music will do great anywhere. But even the mildest noise-canceling earbuds surpass Google's option when walking down a noisy street or enduring the ever-present din of an airplane (which I had to simulate using speakers in my home office). I've personally yet to test noise-canceling earbuds that surpass over-ear headphones released in the same year, so I don't prioritize noise cancellation in my own earbud use. But earbuds are getting better at this trick in many other manufacturers' lineups, so I wouldn't blame you for calling that a deal breaker in terms of a $180 pair of earbuds in 2020. Additionally, there's no way to enable a form of "pass-through audio" for Pixel Buds 2, which most other modern earbud options include as a default. If I wear Pixel Buds 2 while picking up a takeout order at a neighborhood bakery or restaurant, and I want to chat with the clerk for a minute while standing outside, I run into this issue roughly half the time: the Pixel Buds 2 obscure just enough outside noise that I find myself mishearing the other person within 20 seconds. That's not ideal for a brief, polite exchange. As a result, I either remove Google's earbuds outright or twist them within my ear so that the wings are dislodged. The latter is quite uncomfortable after only a few seconds, so I typically find myself popping an earbud out—not ideal for tiny, expensive earbuds. While I'm on the subject: Pixel Buds 2 include an "adaptive sound" option, which Google describes as "subtly and automatically optimiz[ing] volume based on the noise level of your environment." Subtle my tuchus. If I walk down the street and a single loud truck zooms past with this function enabled, Pixel Buds 2 wait a full second to react by cranking my volume as if I'd tapped the "volume-up" button twice. It's jarring, it always comes too late, and then it takes too long to drop back down. I'll wait for Google to retune this feature before I even think of enabling it again. Comfort, battery, and microphones First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 3 images. In terms of long-term comfort, I began my tests unsure whether the Pixel Buds 2 were ideal for my preferences. But after two full days of testing, the mild discomfort I felt from their specific fit faded away. I'm typing this nine days into my testing, and I've reached a point where I can leave them in for their rated five-hour battery life and feel pretty much the same as I do with any other comfortable earbuds I own (particularly Koss' line, which is still my gold standard for comfort and fit). No matter how they're constructed, buds are foreign objects in your ears and are nice to remove every few hours, but the Pixel Buds 2 are otherwise not oppressive, itchy, or painful. And no, they never feel like they're about to fall out. Comparatively, the Airpods Pro rank mildly higher in terms of comfort—especially since they don't require any twisting to get into their "ideal" fit state—while I burnt through five out of the seven included ear-tip pieces that come with the Sony WF-1000XM3 in search of a comfortable fit. Even once I found their best mix of sound quality and tight fit, I found myself noticing and disliking their tightness within seconds of each use—a sensation I've never really gotten used to. Like most other modern earbuds, Pixel Buds 2 drain battery when they're left out of their charging case, and this is a good motivator to regularly put them into their satisfyingly clicky, egg-like home. They run at lower power while out of your ears and not playing audio, and they have a handy "don't play audio when they're not in my ears" feature, enabled by a new sensor. That standby time is only about 12 hours (which will become relevant in a bit), compared to roughly five hours of active music- or podcast-listening time. Google's earbuds pop into and out of their case easily enough, thanks to a firm-yet-loose magnetic system, and their fast-charge promise is no joke: 10 minutes in their little egg will indeed charge to roughly 100 minutes of listening time. Figuring out exactly how good your favorite Bluetooth earbuds' microphones will sound in audio and video calls can be tricky, owing to many Android recording apps relying on a phone's built-in microphone array. By using a freeware Bluetooth-specific app, I confirmed what I suspected: Pixel Buds 2 don't magically improve recording quality, instead hovering neck and neck with the competition. The results seemed a smidgen ahead of Airpods Pro but not enough to where I'd recommend one over the other in that metric. Ultimately, if you want to sound good while calling someone on your smartphone, none of the earbuds I tested hold a candle to a dedicated microphone that hovers close to your mouth. (You know, like the ones you'll find on 3.5mm-compatible headsets.) Touch-sensitive bulbs, included app The last thing to review is Pixel Buds 2's touch-control system, which was easily the best aspect of Google's first Buds, and its return is welcome. The touch controls have improved over last time, but they're still not perfect. Many earbuds ask users to click into a firm button, which usually jams their plastic bodies further into your ear canal. This is absolutely a deal breaker for me—truly, the reason you'll never see me purchase push-button models from Jabra, Jaybird, and Beats. Pixel Buds 2, conversely, ask you to tap, swipe, or hold a finger on their touch-sensitive bulbs. These bulbs, which hover in the ear canal, are nearly identical in size to the last ones: at a finger-friendly diameter of 0.77 inches (19.5mm). Freak disconnects During my first nine days of testing, I ran into two partial or total disconnects. The first happened while I was jogging without the Pixel Buds 2's case, at which point connectivity repeatedly turned off and on and off and on. Returning them to their case fixed this. The second time, I took the Buds out of their case while music was playing from my phone's speakers. Only one Pixel Bud 2 would turn on, and this persisted until I unpaired the entire headset, power-cycled the phone, and paired them again. We didn't find reports about either of these issues at other sites, and our review pair otherwise did a bang-up job of syncing with my phone no matter how many different earbud pairs I switched between. Finger recognition is absolutely improved since last time, as is the earbuds' ability to differentiate between taps and swipes. If you're sitting still and need to play/pause (tap), skip ahead (tap twice), rewind (tap three times), adjust volume (swipe forward for more, backward for less), or bring up Google Assistant (hold your finger until you hear a tone, then either speak a command or let go to hear notifications), all of these work as you'd expect. I can't say the same for trying these maneuvers when you're walking briskly or jogging, on the other hand. The bulbs' diameter is just small enough to make accurate tapping placement a bit tricky when they become moving targets. Worse, any dreams of accessing Google Assistant with sweaty ears and fingers is an utterly lost cause; the required press-and-hold is a nightmare with sweat in the picture. One solution to this issue might be tap customization—especially since Pixel Buds 2 feature touch controls on both ears this time, compared to a single ear in the original model. However, as of press time, Google has opted to duplicate the same commands for both ears and deny any discrete customization control. I appreciate Google making its touch controls identical across both ears by default; figuring out Sony's spread of controls across both WF-1000XM3s was a pain in the butt as a new user. But denying any additional options to picky users is ridiculous, especially for earbuds that come with their own dedicated app. Really, the Pixel Buds app is a snoozer. Its best toggle as of press time is a "find device" toggle, which makes each Pixel Bud 2 ring in case you've dropped or lost either. (At least, so long as you haven't exceeded their aforementioned 12-hour standby time.) Otherwise, the app controls the Buds' Adaptive Sound option (remember: it stinks, turn it off), lets you disable the handy in-ear detection system (remember: it's great, leave it on), confirms each earbud's battery level, and explains how the touch panel works if you've forgotten. You won't find an equalizer or any other customization options here. Wake in the morning feelin’ like Pixel Diddy Personally, I steer clear of equalizer options on any audio device. I'm one of those weird sticklers for listening to music the way artists and producers delivered it, even if that comes at the cost of sounding "flat" compared to what you might get out of an equalizer. I'll always err on the side of ponying up for better audio hardware to improve everything I listen to across the board, as opposed to an equalizer I have to fiddle with as I hop from genre to genre. Unlike the original Pixel Buds, which engaged in automatic frequency-tweaking tomfoolery, Pixel Buds 2 either don't need such a poor-sounding gimmick or do it so masterfully that I've never noticed. Either way, my massive music-testing library, which ranges from fields of static noise and ambient warbling to delicately finger-picked guitar as well as from critically acclaimed '60s hard-bop jazz to the stupidest party jams ever written by Kesha, always compared favorably on Pixel Buds 2 to my favorite bookshelf speakers and favorite wired headphones. As a result, every time I glance at my earbud shelf, covered in seven options, I keep instinctively reaching for Pixel Buds 2 before taking my music or podcasts on the go. That being said, I'm the kind of user who's willing to contend with Pixel Buds 2's clear failings compared to the competition: a total lack of noise cancellation and pass-through audio options, and the need to frequently check the earbuds' fit to guarantee optimal sound quality. If either of those would annoy you in high-end earbuds, the Apple Airpods Pro will make you happier. For me, once I'm past the $100 mark for audio gear, sound quality is paramount—so long as the rest of the package is quality enough. For that reason, I'm swallowing Pixel Buds 2's biggest issues and sticking with them as my Bluetooth audio option for the foreseeable future. The Good: Musical reproduction. Higher frequencies are the slightest bit diminished, yet overall impact is best-in-class. You'll love toting this comfortable, handsome, satisfyingly clicky charging case in your pocket. Snug, comfortable fit, once I got used to the rubber wing tips—and they stay put, even when drenched in sweat. Five hours of musical playback per recharge is enough for me, and the quick-recharge case works as advertised. The only good things from the first Pixel Buds, the touch-sensitive bulbs, return in improved fashion. The Bad: No noise cancellation. No pass-through audio option. If the idea of fussing with rubber wings for optimal audio during sweaty workouts sounds annoying, these may not be for you. Five hours of musical playback per recharge may not be enough for you. Touch-sensitive bulbs are more finicky during sweaty workouts than I'd hoped. The Ugly: Why can't we customize the tapping and swiping gestures, Google? What year is this? Verdict: Google's latest stab at great earbuds for a wide audience is a surprising success. If you need Android earbuds and want to spend big, consider these strongly (but not universally) recommended. Source: Pixel Buds 2 review: These earbuds are “much better than OK,” Google (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image galleries, please visit the above link)
  14. Google Pixel 4a performance compared to Pixel 3, 3a XL ahead of launch The Google Pixel 4a was seemingly supposed to launch this week before its launch was pushed back to early June. Nonetheless, the device has leaked extensively and almost everything about it has been revealed. In fact, its camera performance has also been reviewed and compared to other devices ahead of launch. Going further ahead, the performance of the Pixel 4a has now been showcased on video by running some benchmarks on it, with the numbers then being compared to other Pixel devices including the Pixel 3XL and the Pixel 3a XL. As a reminder, the Pixel 4a will come with a Snapdragon 730 chip, 6GB RAM, and pack up to 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage. The Snapdragon 730 is not exactly Qualcomm's premium mid-range chip now as there are other better offerings including the Snapdragon 730G and the Snapdragon 765. However, the Snapdragon 730 is still a decently powerful mid-range chip. You can check the video above to see the Pixel 4a being put through its paces in benchmarks like Geekbench and running heavy games like PUBG. The folks over at XDA Developers compiled all the benchmark data and have compared it to some older Pixel smartphones as well. In Antutu, the Pixel 4a with a score of 268k easily beats the Pixel 3a XL and scores nearly the same as the Pixel 3 XL (278k). In Geekbench's single-core benchmark, the device managed to beat the Pixel 3 XL by a narrow margin -- 548 vs 521. In the GPU department, the Pixel 4a's Snapdragon 730 performance is not as good as the Pixel 3 XL, though it is still good enough for a mid-range phone. The Pixel 4 with its more powerful Snapdragon 855 chip easily beats the Pixel 4a's Snapdragon 730 chip in all benchmarks. Below is a table from XDA comparing the benchmark scores of the Pixel 4a to other Pixel smartphones in various benchmarks. The Pixel 4a is likely going to be priced at $399 so its performance seems adequate for a mid-range phone, though it is notably behind the $499 iPhone SE which features an A13 Bionic chip from Apple. Source: Google Pixel 4a performance compared to Pixel 3, 3a XL ahead of launch (Neowin)
  15. People who search for Disney or Netflix films using Google will see a reel of posters from movies produced or distributed by these entertainment giants. This helps users to discover new content quickly. Interestingly, this also works for some pirate sites. Searching for 'Movies YTS,' for example, shows a list of films that are available on the torrent site. To help hundreds of millions of people find what they search for, Google has implemented some nifty features over the years. A search for a movie title, for example, doesn’t only return the most relevant websites. It also comes with ‘snippets’ that show detailed information about the film, including review score and showtimes, when available. Another Google feature is the movie reel. A search for “Disney Films” returns a carousel of Disney produced titles, and the same is true for other studios and platforms such as Netflix. This trick even works for release years and movie genres. “Disney Movies” These features are all powered by Google’s advanced algorithms which tend to be very accurate and effective. The search results are appealing to most users and we assume that the movie studios are happy with them too. The more exposure, the better, after all. That said, there may be some uses for the movie carousel that Hollywood will be less pleased with. As it turns out, it also works for several piracy-related searches. For example, when we search for YIFY and YTS movies, we see a featured list of movies that were released by the popular torrent site. While these posters don’t link to any torrents, the torrent site’s domain name is at the top of the search results. “Movies YTS” This result makes sense, as YTS is a movie distributor. However, it certainly doesn’t have the rights to share these films in public. It appears that the movie titles and posters are somehow being scraped from the YTS website as the posters do indeed match up YTS torrent releases. The best illustration is the missing poster for Angel Has Fallen. YTS removed that film from its site as part of a copyright settlement. The results may differ depending on one’s setup and configuration but we confirmed that the feature works in various settings. Also, it’s not limited to YTS and YIFY either. A search for “Fmovies films” returns a similar reel. “Fmovies Films” As mentioned, the posters don’t link to any infringing content. Clicking on them simply brings up more movie details. That said, it’s pretty unusual that pirate releases are highlighted at all. That also applies to Google’s list of “pirated movies,” which shows up as a ‘related search’ for some terms that are linked to piracy. “Pirated Movies” Clicking on those posters actually links to a search for the movie title with the keyword “pirated.” A few years ago that would point to pirate sites, but those have been scrubbed from the top search results now. Finally, for those who were hoping that this would also work for The Pirate Bay, we have to disappoint. Instead of a reel of Pirate Bay releases, Google just features three films that mention The Pirate Bay. This isn’t the first time that Google’s algorithms have delivered an unexpected piracy twist. A few years ago, movie ratings from pirate sites showed up in Google’s search snippets, accidentally promoting pirate releases. These soon disappeared after the faux pas was made public. Source
  16. Google unifies all of its messaging and communication apps into a single team Integration isn’t on the roadmap, but coherency may be In October of last year, Google hired Javier Soltero to be the VP and GM of G Suite, its set of office apps and — importantly for today’s news — Google Meet and Google Chat. Now, the company is putting him in charge of yet another set of products: Messages, Duo, and the phone app on Android. The move puts all of Google’s major communication products under one umbrella: Soltero’s team. Soltero tells me that there are no immediate plans to change or integrate any of Google’s apps, so don’t get your hopes up for that (yet). “We believe people make choices around the products that they use for specific purposes,” Soltero says. Still, Google’s communications apps are in dire need of a more coherent and opinionated production development, and Soltero could very well be the right person to provide that direction. Prior to joining Google, he had a long career that included creating the much-loved Acompli email app, which Microsoft acquired and essentially turned into the main Outlook app less than two months after signing the deal. Soltero has also moved rapidly (at least by the standards of Google’s communication apps) to clean up the Hangouts branding mess, converting Hangouts Video to Google Meet and Hangouts Chat to Google Chat — at least on the enterprise side. Google Meet also became free for everybody far ahead of the original schedule because of the pandemic. Cleaning up the consumer side of all that is more complicated, but Soltero says, “The plan continues to be to modernize [Hangouts] towards Google Meet and Google Chat.” The way Soltero characterizes his job is to “drive more innovation and more clarity around how these products can fulfill their specific missions.” This suggests he doesn’t intend to integrate all of Google’s chat apps in the way that Facebook is planning to do with Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. In fact, he says that “these products are playing an important role in people’s lives” and “it would be irresponsible” to make too-rapid chances to these products as people depend on them. Soltero will remain on the cloud team but will join Hiroshi Lockheimer’s leadership team. Lockheimer himself has taken over more and more of Google’s platform products, overseeing both Android and Chrome OS, for example. For his part, Lockheimer believes that there are opportunities to better integrate Google’s apps into its platforms — Chrome OS could stand to work better with G Suite apps, for example. Android has already very nearly made Google Duo the default video chat app for most phones. Lockheimer says he intends to keep these platforms open and not locked into Google’s own apps, however. He also agrees that it doesn’t make sense to force integration or interoperability too quickly. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing that there are multiple communications applications if they’re for a different purpose,” Lockheimer says. “Part of what might be confusing, what we’ve done to confuse everyone, is our history around some of our communications products that have gone from one place or another place. But we’re looking forward now, in a way that has a much more coherent vision.” Here’s Google’s full statement on the leadership change: We are bringing all of Google’s collective communication products together under one leader and unified team that will be led by Javier Soltero, VP and GM of G Suite. Javier will remain in Cloud, but will also join the leadership team under Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP of Platforms and Ecosystems. Outside of this update, there are no other changes to the personnel and Hiroshi will continue to play a significant role in our ongoing partnership efforts. Soltero has reminded me a few times that he’s relatively new at Google. That means he is inheriting a lot of that historical baggage — but at least he can put a fresh pair of eyes on it. Other than cracking jokes, it sort of doesn’t matter anymore that Google Plus begat Hangouts begat Allo begat RCS chat in Android Messages. What matters now is that Google needs to extricate itself from that history and create good communication apps that make sense together. “The issue that people tend to have is their ability to see across [these apps] and see themselves as a Duo user and a Meet user and a Gmail user and so forth,” Soltero says. “[Users are telling me] ‘I’m everywhere, I fit into all of those buckets, can you just kind of make my life easier and better?’ And the answer is yes, that is the purpose of bringing these things together.” Source: Google unifies all of its messaging and communication apps into a single team (The Verge)
  17. Google wants to dump Qualcomm, launch smartphone SoC as early as next year The Pixel 6 could have a Google-built processor. Ron Amadeo/Intel 93 with 63 posters participating A new report from Axios claims that Google has "made significant progress toward developing its own processor to power future versions of its Pixel smartphone" and that a Google-made SoC could debut in a phone as early as next year. Google is apparently teaming up with Samsung, which is providing design support and manufacturing for the project, codenamed "Whitechapel." The report says the Google SoC is an eight-core ARM processor with hardware "optimized for Google's machine learning technology" and the always-on capabilities of the Google Assistant. The chip would be built at Samsung's foundries on the firm's upcoming 5nm process, and, in addition to being aimed at the Pixel, the report says that "subsequent versions" of the chip could be used in Chromebooks. Google has been building custom smartphone silicon for a while now. It debuted a custom camera SoC—not a main system SoC—in the Pixel 2, called the "Pixel Visual Core," which was built in collaboration with Intel. The Pixel 3 and 4 have had similar photography-focused chips, now called the "Pixel Neural Core." Since the Pixel 3, the phones have had Google's "Titan M" security module, an isolated chip that handles the phone's verified boot and cryptographic key storage. In the Pixel 4, there's also Project Soli, a radar system that was shrunken down to a tiny piece of silicon. You can see how Google building its own system SoC could be a natural step after all this other silicon work. The company has been hiring chip designers from Intel and Qualcomm for some time now. Google developing its own phone processor would mean dumping the Qualcomm SoCs it usually uses. Of course, you can never truly be rid of Qualcomm: Google would presumably still need to use Qualcomm modems, something that even Apple still needs to do. There are other modem manufacturers out there—Samsung, Huawei, Mediatek—but Qualcomm's combination of patents and strong-arm licensing techniques has effectively locked its competitors out of the US and other markets. An SoC division would give Google some much-needed flexibility when it comes to hardware. The report doesn't mention anything about smartwatches, but the real problem Google's hardware ecosystem has right now is a lack of smartwatch chips. Qualcomm has an SoC monopoly but has decided to basically ignore the smartwatch market, so for years there have been no modern options for a smartwatch chip. This isn't just about smartwatches, ether. If Google wants to build any kind of new form-factor wearable, it needs to get Qualcomm on board first. Right now, if Qualcomm says no, like it did for smartwatches, the market ceases to exist. The most successful in-house SoC division is easily Apple's, which regularly produces chips that wipe the floor with Qualcomm's smartphone and smartwatch SoCs. Apple's SoC division lets it produce chips for whatever hardware form factors it wants—the Apple Watch owes its entire existence to Apple's fast and battery efficient "S" SoCs. Airpods run on the "H" SoCs and can pick up whatever features Apple wants. Apple can choose its own destiny instead of assembling puzzle pieces from other vendors. Similarly, Huawei has had all US hardware stripped away from it via executive order and keeps on trucking thanks to the protection offered by its in-house "HiSilicon" SoC division, which produces smartphone and smartwatch SoCs. Samsung's Exynos SoC division isn't as successful as Apple's and Huawei's, but it lets it build viable smartwatch SoCs for its Galaxy Watch line. The company hasn't been as successful with smartphone SoCs, which are generally worse than Qualcomm's options. Source: Google wants to dump Qualcomm, launch smartphone SoC as early as next year (Ars Technica)
  18. French regulator says Google must pay news sites to send them traffic Officials rejected Google's plan to stop using snippets in news search results. Enlarge Sarah-Jane Joel / Getty Images 156 with 95 posters participating, including story author France's competition authority says that Google must go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a rate that the search giant will pay to link to articles on French news sites. So far, Google has flatly refused to pay fees to link to news articles, despite a new EU copyright directive designed to force Google to do so. France was the first country to transpose the EU's order into national law. Google read the French law as allowing unlicensed use of the headline of a story, but not more than that. So in September, Google removed the "snippet" that often appears below headlines from its French news search results, as well as thumbnail images. "We don't accept payment from anyone to be included in search results," Google wrote in a September blog post. "We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That's also why we don't pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result." French news publishers cried foul. The goal of the French law, after all, was to get Google to give them money, not to make their articles less conspicuous in search results. So they complained to the French Competition Authority. In a preliminary order Thursday, the agency said that Google's new strategy represented a "likely" abuse of its market power. "Since the European Copyright law came into force in France last year, we have been engaging with publishers to increase our support and investment in news," Google executive Richard Gingras said in an emailed statement. "We will comply with the FCA's order while we review it and continue those negotiations." The French government wants Google to pay up Under the ruling, Google must conduct "good faith negotiations" with French news organizations to arrive at a non-zero price for Google to pay to link to their content. Google must begin negotiations with news organizations within three months and send the competition agency monthly reports on its progress. During negotiations, Google must reinstate snippets in news article search results. Google will be required to retroactively pay news organizations for linking to them, going back to October 2019, at whatever rate is determined in the negotiations. The regulator is also ordering Google not to alter the indexing, classification, or presentation of "protected content"—e.g. French news articles—in its search results. Thursday's ruling was a preliminary decision designed to protect French newspapers from Google's allegedly abusive practices while the competition authority works on its ultimate ruling on the legal merits. Google controls more than 90 percent of the French search market, and the agency says that makes it likely to hold a dominant position. Thursday's decision held that Google's recent actions were "difficult to reconcile" with the new French copyright law, which was designed to generate payments from technology platforms to news organizations. French authorities are trying to avoid the outcome of a similar law passed in Spain back in 2014. That law tried to force Google to pay Spanish news organizations for linking to them, but Google responded by shutting down the Spanish version of Google news. Traffic to Spanish news sites fell as a result, with smaller news publications taking the biggest hit. The French fight could be a preview of battles in other EU nations, all of which are supposed to pass their own versions of the EU copyright directive, including the controversial provision on linking to news sites. Source: French regulator says Google must pay news sites to send them traffic (Ars Technica)
  19. Google bans its employees from using Zoom over security concerns The Zoom backlash has arrived at Google Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Google is issuing a ban on the use of the Zoom teleconferencing platform for employees. The company is citing security concerns with the app that have arisen since Zoom became one of the most popular services for free video chatting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The news was first reported by BuzzFeed News earlier today. Google emailed employees last week about the ban, telling workers who had the Zoom app installed on their Google-provided machines that the software would soon no longer function. It is worth noting that Google offers its own enterprise Zoom competitor called Meet as part of its G Suite offering. “We have long had a policy of not allowing employees to use unapproved apps for work that are outside of our corporate network,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda tells The Verge. “Recently, our security team informed employees using Zoom Desktop Client that it will no longer run on corporate computers as it does not meet our security standards for apps used by our employees. Employees who have been using Zoom to stay in touch with family and friends can continue to do so through a web browser or via mobile.” Even well before the COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on Zoom’s vulnerabilities, the company was facing criticism for lax privacy and security protections, like in July of last year when a macOS flaw allowed a Zoom URL to forcibly activate a MacBook webcam. Since Zoom has emerged as a leading teleconferencing provider during the pandemic, however, the platform’s litany of other issues have been magnified, especially around the ease with which random strangers can locate and jump into Zoom calls. The practice is now known as “Zoombombing,” and the FBI says it will prosecute people for it. Part of the reason is due to Zoom never having been designed for consumer use at this scale; the company said earlier this month that it grew from 10 million to 200 million users in the past three months. Other issues have included exposed Zoom recordings, undisclosed data sharing with Facebook, exposed LinkedIn profiles, and a “malware-like” installer for macOS. The company now faces a full-blown privacy and security backlash. Zoom has responded by racing to plug holes and beef up its consumer and corporate protections to stave off stiff competition from Microsoft Teams and Skype, Google’s G Suite apps, and other more traditional teleconferencing providers. Zoom said earlier this month that it would pause new features for 90 days to focus on privacy and security. Source: Google bans its employees from using Zoom over security concerns (The Verge)
  20. Google’s coronavirus website finally launches alongside enhanced search results After lots of complicated drama, a simple website Google’s Covid-19 information website, at google.com/covid19 One week ago, President Donald Trump held a press conference wherein he claimed Google would be building a screening website for the coronavirus that would direct people to testing sites. As we learned in the following days, that wasn’t true. Google’s sister company Verily did launch such a site, but only for the Bay Area and reportedly it only offered tests to a very small number of people. Google, however, did say it would launch some sort of website and after a small delay, it’s here. Alongside the website and potentially more importantly, Google will start providing more enhanced information cards for people who search for terms related to the coronavirus. There will be information tabs for symptoms, prevention, global statics, and locally relevant information. It will look a bit like this: Google The website is at google.com/covid19. It does have useful resources, including a card that mimics what you see above. Google’s post announcing the site says that you will be able to find “state-based information, safety and prevention tips, search trends related to COVID-19, and further resources for individuals, educators and businesses.” Google emphasizes that it’s pulling information from “authoritative” sources like the WHO and the CDC. It’s only available in English right now, but a Google spokesperson tells The Verge that Spanish language support is soon to follow. The site was also designed with accessibility in mind, including with the larger fonts that Google usually uses. The website has videos in ASL, a global map showing confirmed cases by country, and plenty of information about Google’s other relief efforts — plus some feel-good YouTube videos. Reading through that description, however, you’ll notice that it doesn’t include what Trump originally claimed it would. The nearest thing to finding a test is a drop-down menu that provides links to local websites — for example, choosing California provides a link to the California Department of Public Health. Right now, the CDC has a “self-checker” chatbot that Microsoft helped build, but the WSJ quoted an executive from a healthcare provider who put in a realistic context: “It’s just something consumers need now to help with anxiety.” In other words, lots of big tech companies are making efforts to provide coronavirus-related support, but none of them are able to solve some of the biggest problems in the pandemic: access to testing and the impending crisis in our healthcare infrastructure. At some point in the future, Google may actually provide a questionnaire and information about local drive-thru testing locations. But a spokesperson says that the company won’t do so until there’s authoritative and trustworthy information on those sites. That could be a long time coming, unfortunately. Source: Google’s coronavirus website finally launches alongside enhanced search results (The Verge)
  21. Google: "Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases." Google said today it is pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The company cited "adjusted work schedules" as the primary reason for the delay, as most of its engineers are now working from home. The company published an official statement today after ZDNet reached out for comment last night, when Google failed to release Chrome v81. YouTube videos, tweets, and blog posts announcing the new Chrome release were posted online yesterday -- most likely scheduled days or weeks in advance. However, the actual Chrome v81 release never made it to users' devices, and the same videos, tweets, and blog posts were removed shortly after Google's PR realized their mistake. While investigating the reasons why the Chrome v81 release was pulled last night, several Google employees told this reporter the v81 release had been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak and the availability of some engineers in the case of errors or other issues related to the rollout. Following an inquiry last night, Google made a formal announcement today in regards to the confusion surrounding the abandoned Chrome 81 release and its future releases. For the moment, Google plans to release all the Chrome 81 security updates as a minor Chrome 80 release, and pause any other major stable rollouts while it waits for things to return to normal. The decision is understandable, as Chrome is one of the most used software applications in the world, and even the slightest error can cause problems for thousands of users and organizations. Take this incident from November 2019, as an example of how even the smallest Chrome change can cause unimaginable havoc. Google's official statement on the matter is below, in full: "Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases. Our primary objectives are to ensure they continue to be stable, secure, and work reliably for anyone who depends on them. We'll continue to prioritize any updates related to security, which will be included in Chrome 80. Please, follow this blog for updates." Google Chrome 81 was initially scheduled to be released yesterday, on March 17. Yesterday's release was supposed to add improved support for WebXR (Chrome's Augmented Reality feature), to deprecate the TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1 encryption protocols, and add initial support for the Web NFC standard. Source
  22. Google tells employees to work from home to prevent coronavirus spread Google wants all North American employees to work remotely through April 10. Enlarge / Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet, May 2018. Getty Images | zphotos 39 with 32 posters participating The threat of the new coronavirus is making working from home a more and more popular option for tech companies, and yesterday Google expanded its work-from-home recommendation to all North American employees. In a memo obtained by CNN, Google's vice president of global security, Chris Rackow, said, "Out of an abundance of caution, and for the protection of Alphabet and the broader community, we now recommend you work from home if your role allows." For now, Google's work-from-home recommendation extends through April 10, with the company saying it is "carefully monitoring the situation and will update the timeline as necessary." Alphabet, Google's parent company, employs around 120,000 people, and as a US-based company, the majority of those employees are based in North America. The new coronavirus has led to the cancellation of most of this year's large trade show gatherings. Mobile World Congress, which was scheduled for February, was canceled at the last minute. Google killed Google I/O 2020 just last week, Facebook shut down F8, and E3 was canceled yesterday. Big gatherings present a higher risk for spreading the virus, and along the same lines of thinking, going to work at your big tech campus is also a vector for infection. In a blog post yesterday, Google said it is "establishing a COVID-19 fund that will enable all our temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19, or can’t come into work because they’re quarantined. Working with our partners, this fund will mean that members of our extended workforce will be compensated for their normal working hours if they can’t come into work for these reasons." Source: Google tells employees to work from home to prevent coronavirus spread (Ars Technica)
  23. Google removes banner dissuading Edge users from running Chrome extensions Microsoft announced back in December of 2018 that it was building a Chromium-based Edge browser, which then became generally available in January 2020. An advantage of using Chromium is the ability to run Chrome extensions. However, Google had a somewhat dissuasive banner for Edge users recommeding them that the extensions be used on Chrome for them to run “securely”. It looks like with the backlash from users and tech journalists, Google has decided to remove the banner (spotted first by Techdows). It is not clear as to when this change was made. The Chrome Web Store on Edge now shows a banner from the Redmond giant itself that reads “You can now add extensions from the Chrome Web Store to Microsoft Edge – Click on Add to Chrome”. This is a welcome change from Google since the prompt asking users to run Chrome for using the extensions securely was misleading. Any security issues with extensions are likely to affect either of the browsers. Interestingly, even Microsoft has begun using more subtle verbiage on Edge when users head to the Chrome Web Store for the first time. The message asks users to ‘Allow extensions from other stores” to be able to run Chrome extensions. This contrasts with some earlier messages which implied that running “unverified” extensions from other stores might affect performance. With the two companies working together to contribute to Chromium and bring about features from each other’s offerings, refraining from petty tactics to dissuade users from using competing offerings seems like the right thing to do. Source: Google removes banner dissuading Edge users from running Chrome extensions (Neowin)
  24. Federal Court ordered Google to reveal the identity of someone who wrote a negative review. On Thursday, the Federal Court ordered Google to reveal the identity of someone who left a negative review about a teeth whitening practice, the ABC reported. Melbourne dentist Matthew Kabbabe, who runs the teeth whitening service Asprodontics, called for Google to reveal the identity of a person who left a negative review of his business so he could take legal action. The user review. Image: Screenshot. Kabbabe told the ABC that the negative review from a user with the name “CBsm 23” – the only negative review at the time amid five star ratings – was put up on Google three months ago and affected both his life and business. Kabbabe’s lawyer Mark Stanarevic said in the report he believes Google “has a duty of care” to businesses for allowing these reviews. “A bad review can shut down a business these days because most people live and breathe online,” Stanarevic said. Google was ordered to hand over information that identified “CBsm 23”, including phone numbers, names, location metadata and IP addresses. This may require companies to think harder about their business practices around reviews Rob Nicholls Associate Professor at the UNSW Business School told Business Insider Australia, “The dentist had no way of being able to serve court papers on that person directly because they were shielded by Google. So the court said to Google, you have to get rid of that shield so that the normal process can continue.” At the same time, the dentist claimed the reviewer hadn’t actually been to the business. “If that reviewer had been to their practice, they wouldn’t need to have called on Google because they’d actually have their names and addresses,” Nicholls added. Nicholls believes in practice it’s “not such a big threat” for companies like Google because getting a court to agree that the action of the reviewer has caused such harm as to give rise to a case for defamation is “not likely to happen often”. What it does mean, Nicholls said, is that Google and other companies might have to think much harder about their business practices in relation to reviews. “Potentially Google and others might have to think a bit harder about what reviews they allow to be published if they can see that on their face they look as if they’re defamatory,” he said. But that wouldn’t stop a bad review, he added. While Nicholls thinks Google will have to identify the reviewer in this case, he said if he was advising Google he would opt to appeal the decision so as not to give out the information. That way Google wouldn’t need to change its business model if it was successful. “Otherwise Google and all publishers of reviews will have to think about how do they manage potentially defamatory reviews,” Nicholls said. He explained that it could add an extra business process step for these companies “under which an AI system looks to see if a review is essentially defamatory and won’t publish that immediately until it’s been reviewed or simply doesn’t publish it.” Will this impact privacy? When asked whether this situation has any implications on privacy, Nicholls didn’t think so, especially with companies like Google and Facebook already knowing who people are. “The reality is, Google knows the name of the reviewer,” he said. “In effect, from an individual’s perspective, you’ve given up… some of the privacy by agreeing to Google and Facebook’s standard of submission.” Google told Business Insider in an email that it takes court orders seriously but does not comment on ongoing legal matters. Source
  25. Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM are under pressure to follow Google and drop gender labels like 'man' and 'woman' from their AI Google's API no longer uses gendered labels for photos Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon are under pressure to stop using gender labels such as "man" or "woman" for their facial recognition and AI services. Google announced its AI tool would stop adding gender classification tags in mid-February, instead tagging images of people with neutral terms such as "person." Joy Buolamwini, a researcher who found AI tools misclassified people's gender, told Business Insider: "There is a choice... I would encourage all companies to reexamine the identity labels they are using as demographic markers." Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM are under pressure to stop automatically applying gendered labels such as "man" or "woman" from images of people, after Google announced in February it would stop using such tags. All four companies offer powerful artificial intelligence tools that can classify objects and people in an image. The tools can variously describe famous landmarks, facial expressions, logos and gender, and have many applications including content moderation, scientific research, and identity verification. Google said it would drop gender labels from its Cloud Vision API image classification service last week, saying that it wasn't possible to infer someone's gender by appearance and that such labels could exacerbate bias. Now the AI researchers who helped bring about the change say Amazon's Rekognition, IBM's Watson, and Microsoft's Azure facial recognition should follow suit. Joy Buolamwini, a computer scientist at MIT and expert in AI bias, told Business Insider: "Google's move sends a message that design choices can be changed. With technology it is easy to think some things cannot be changed or are inevitable. This isn't necessarily true." Microsoft's AI continues to classify people in images by binary gender Source
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