Google Testing 3.5GHz WiFi in Kansas City

Google has been granted approval to test its new 3.5GHz wireless technology within Kansas City, Missouri, using antennae mounted on street lights and other structures to deliver high-speed WiFi to eight areas within the city.

“3.5GHz is pretty innovative and could help Google create a city wide broadband network in KC,” said Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told Computer World.

The trial – part of the Federal Communications Committee’s (FCC) Citizens Broadband Radio Service, which aims to deliver 3.5GHz “innovation band” WiFi to cities across the US, using dynamic spectrum sharing – is set to last up to 18 months and will be placed in areas that cannot be practically reached by Google Fiber connections.

“If Google is successful in the 3.5GHz test and goes on to provide commercial services, KC will become the most wirelessly connected gigabit region to benefit from new advanced wireless services,” Assistant City Manager Rick Usher said.

The Kansas City Council voted 11-2 in favour of the 3.5GHz WiFi trial, with Google granted a discounted rate for maintaining the network during the test period.

“Shared spectrum in the 3.5GHz space has the potential to reduce costs and assist in our efforts to erase the digital divide in KC,” Usher added. “Wireless connectivity is a critical element of smart city success due to the massive amount of data generated and utilized in the networks.”

Material Design UI Overhaul In Chrome OS Version 50

A few months ago, we got a sneak peek at how the Chrome web browser would look following a design overhaul to match Google’s Material Design aesthetic. Now, Chrome version 50 has begun to be deployed to a number of platforms, but for Chrome OS users, this milestone release will also see a complete Material Design makeover according to Sebastian Gabriel, a senior designer at Google.

Material Design is Google’s unifying company-wide style guidelines that started to be deployed to the company’s many products starting with Android 5.0 Lollipop. For Chrome users, the design changes are very minimal and the UI will function in mostly the same way, with many of the adjustments being purely visual. On the whole, the UI makes use of more flat colours, doing away with many of the shadows and gradients that used to feature in the UI.

Chrome OS users will be pleased to know the changes aren’t just skin deep, with the update also increasing performance behind the scenes. The Material Design UI is reportedly rendered fully programmatically, which allows a large number of image resource files to be unnecessary and the UI being based on vectors allows it to scale better to super widescreen and other unconventional screen resolutions.

The update to this new version will be automatic for Chrome OS users while users on Windows and Mac may have to wait a little longer for the final version of the Material UI for Chrome. For those willing to give it a try early using Chrome Canary and accessing “Chrome://flags”, where they will find the ability to enable Material Design. As before this is just a preview and users may run into bugs and the UI is still subject to change.

Android Security Report Published by Google

Compared to Apple and their almost uncrackable iOS, security on Android has always seemed poor. Despite the constant security patches, it seems like Google’s mobile OS is fraught with security flaws with new flaws like Stagefright appearing and reappearing with troubling frequency. Google don’t agree with this image, however, and their second annual Android security report seems to back up their stance that Android is, in fact, quite secure.

The majority of the issues identified with their security came from apps not loaded through the Google Play Store. Between 2014 and 2015, attempts to load malware through the Play Store dropped drastically with only 0.15 percent of users being infected with rogue code from the app platform. When you compare this to the 0.5 percent of all Android users that have been hit with malicious code, it shows an increase in attempts to attack Android devices without going through the Play Store.

Lead engineer of Android Security, Adrian Ludwig, released a few snippets of data to illustrate the lengths Google go to in order to keep Android secure.

  • Google checks six billion installed apps daily for malware (Potentially Harmful Apps in Google’s parlance).
  • A total of 400 million devices per day are scanned for network-based and on-device threats.

Android’s security is only set to improve too, with the monthly security updates able to respond to new threats quickly after they emerge. Google are also pushing for device manufacturers to keep up to date with the monthly updates that are automatically rolled out to their Nexus devices.

The full 2015 security report is 48 pages long and can be found on Google’s website.

Microsoft Edge to Gain Google WebM and VP9 Support

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer have long been panned as the red-headed stepchild among the various web browsers. The built-in Windows browser suffered from both a real and perceived lack of speed, features, and extension support. With Microsoft Edge, the company looks to be making sure their latest browser will keep up to date with current standards. As a result, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update will bring WebM and VP9 support to the Windows 10 browser.

VP9 is Google’s latest experiment with video codecs. After VP8 largely failed against H.264 due to patent issues and a delayed release, Google is hoping VP9 take hold. Together with Microsoft and the rest of the Alliance for Open Media, Google hopes VP9 will offer a royalty-free alternative to H.265. As 4K content hasn’t yet quite taken hold, VP9 still stands a good chance to become the industry standard. The WebM container format and Opus audio codec will also be added as well.

Unfortunately for those involved, VP9 doesn’t have widespread hardware acceleration support yet. This means devices playing back VP9 content will likely have to resort to the CPU instead of a more power efficient ASIC. For Microsoft Edge, VP9 support will be turned off by default unless hardware acceleration is detected. Even with this glaring fault, the extensive use of VP9 on YouTube may eventually sway hardware manufacturers. Let the codec wars begin!

‘Click Farms’ to Inflate Online Popularity Exposed

How do you get a few hundred people to like your “Why are courgettes* so neglected?” page? Paid advertisements? Viral publicity? Trusting in the innate power of that most underestimated of Summer squashes? With the success of such options being variable at best – leaving much to chance – there are some who would rather try to cheat the system, paying for likes, followers, and other quantifiable indicators of popularity.

The “Why are courgettes so neglected?” Facebook is one of many that has been exposed as paying for likes, using companies that hire ‘click farms’ – low-paid workers tasked with clicking on the appropriate button (‘Like’, ‘Follow’, ‘Retweet’), over and over, via a series of fake accounts – to inflate their popularity. This particular page paid a team in Dhaka, Bangladesh for its measly half-a-thousand likes.

Dispatches, a Channel 4 investigative journalism show in the UK, has exposed just how prevalent this underhanded practice really is. The reveal is sure to hurt the veracity of social media platforms and their accidental involvement in misleading their users.

“There’s a real desire amongst many companies to boost their profile on social media, and find other customers as well as a result,” Graham Cluley, an independent security consultant, told The Guardian.

Using ‘click farms’ is not limited to pages about green vegetables, though – Dispatches found an online casino, which had licensed the Monopoly brand from owner Hasbro, was also guilty of the practice. Hasbro ordered that the page be closed following the deception’s reveal, saying that it was “appalled to hear of what had occurred.”

“Potentially, a number of laws are being breached – the consumer protection and unfair trading regulations. Effectively it’s misleading the individual consumers,” Sam DeSilva, IT and Outsourcing Law lawyer for Manches LLP, added.

An undercover sting also exposed the middlemen who act as agents for ‘click farms’, with Dispatches secretly recording its meeting with Sharaf al-Nomani, owner of Shareyt.com, which offers likes, follows, and other indicators of popularity on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube, for a fee.

While the site claims that it is “a crowd-sourcing platform to help you improve social media presence and search engine ranking FREE,” al-Nomani, in meeting with undercover Dispatches reporters, revealed that “around 30% or 40% of the clicks will come from Bangladesh” as part of a deliberate, organised strategy.

*That’s a zucchini to anyone from the Americas.

Google Plans to Build its Own City

As part of its reorganisation last year, Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. converted its private city planning outfit Sidewalk Labs – tasked with modernising US cities to help integrate new technologies – into its own subdivision. The mission statement of this new subsidiary, though, appears to be more than just guiding existing cities into the future, with plans revealed that it is seeking to create its own “digital districts”; in effect, new, Google-built cities.

“The idea under consideration is for Sidewalk to create an area in the U.S. that serves as a testbed for new technologies from superfast Internet to autonomous cars, according to several people involved in the effort,” reports The Information (paywalled, via re/code). “Some 100 city planning experts, researchers and technologists have been involved with the project, including Stuart Miller, the CEO of home builder Lennar, Anthony Townsend, research director of Institute of the Future, Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar and Harvard economist Ed Glaeser. The consulting firm McKinsey has also been advising.”

When approached for comment, a representative of Sidewalk Labs called the plan “speculation,” while Alphabet refused to comment.

Sidewalk Labs’ major contribution to US city modernisation thus far is the LinkNYC free WiFi network established in New York last Summer.

Short URL Addresses May Be Creating Easy Paths To Spy On Your Data

We’ve all seen those huge URL’s, be it for a website or a document you have saved in the cloud, they just seem to go on and on with no sign of ever stopping. Then you spot the tiny URL they offer you instead, short and sweet with only a few letters and numbers to copy and paste before you can open your document anywhere you want. Why not use it? well for starters that small URL may be creating just as easy a path to spy on your data!

Research conducted by Martin Georgiev and Vitaly Shmatikov suggest that looking at the abbreviated “short URL’s” used by companies such as Google, Microsoft, and even bit.ly, a company dedicated to creating and sharing short URL addresses, revealed that using a simple trial and error method they were able to gain access to your cloud storage files.

In particular, Georgiev and Shmatikov were able to find and access files shared through Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive with short URLs. If this wasn’t scary enough, someone could place malicious code in the files that had write permissions enabled, allowing them to infect and spread their effect all through one of your files stored in the cloud. Estimating that around 7 percent of the accounts on OneDrive and Google Drive they scanned were vulnerable to this flaw, it’s scary, to say the least.

More worrying may be companies differing responses to be being alerted about this result, with Google doubling the character length of their short URLs, while Microsoft stated that the vulnerability “does not currently warrant an MRSC case”, while quietly removing the short link function on OneDrive so not to expose others to the problem while they no doubt investigate.

Get a Custom Nexus 5X or 6P Live Case Now From Google

Using a case to protect your phone from unwanted damage is somewhat commonplace, with a variety of styles available for those wishing to look after their mobile device. For many, the typical case is considered to be unsightly. For this, Google has an answer in the form of their newly launched the $35 “Live Case” for their Nexus 5X and 6P handsets.

These Live Cases are fully customizable by the customer, able to include either an image of choice or map location as the decoration for their case and each case comes with a companion wallpaper for the phone, so it’ll fit right in. The cases don’t just look pretty either, with each case including a programmable shortcut button on their body that allows for an app to be launched straight from the case instead of the normal tapping and swiping at the screen.

Each type of case even comes with their own special feature, with the photos version shipping with a customized photo gallery while the maps version help to create a stylized map of a selected location that can be used on both the case and wallpaper for a mirrored back-and-front look. All of the customization is done from a simple web app available on Google’s website and cases come in a choice of matte or glossy finishes.

Already available directly from Google, these cases are sure to appeal to those who are tired of the boring everyday blank or bulky case and for a relatively cheap sum, allow them to show off their artistic streak right on their device.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrinxYzhq-E

Chrome 50 Will Finally Drop Windows XP Support

One of the prices of great success is that they never go away even when you want them to. Microsoft has been dealing with this problem ever since they dropped Windows XP support back in 2014. Now, 2 years later and 15 years since launch, the OS is still very popular and ahead of all OSX computers combined. In what is happy news for Microsoft, Google is dropping Windows XP support with Chrome 50.

When Microsoft first took Windows XP off support, Google and Mozilla both promised their respective browsers would continue to support the OS for a year. After extending the deadline for a year, Google has decided enough is enough. Moving forwards, Chrome won’t install on Windows XP and things like sync and account sign in might not work even with current Chrome installations  once Chrome versions advance enough.

For those you who still insist on using Windows XP and want to browse, there is still Firefox 45 which supports the OS. How long Mozilla will continue supporting the OS remains to be seen. Given the fact that you’re running an unsupported OS, though, running an unsupported browser is likely the least of your worries. Perhaps, one day XP will truly die, at least for network connected devices.

Developer Preview 2 of Android N Released By Google

Last month, Google made a developer preview version of the upcoming version of their popular mobile operating system, named Android N, available for public download. This release included a number of great new features including split screen functionality and more. Now, a second version of the Android N developer preview has been released for use, which should come as a welcome update for current users of the developer preview as it includes a number of major bug fixes as well as some new functionality too.

Some of the bugs that are addressed in this updated developer preview address issues such as connecting to hidden Wi-Fi networks, pauses during multi window function and over 50 issues that had been reported through the public issue tracker. This doesn’t mean that Android N is ready for everyday use, though, and Google stresses that this is still an unstable preview build meant to allow developers and testers a chance to try out and help improve Android.

On the new features front, this build includes new support for the Vulkan 3D graphics API, launcher shortcuts defined by apps and support for Emoji Unicode 9 support. The addition of Vulkan is aimed entirely at developers and will assist in the development of games and 3D graphics heavy applications while also allowing them to be well optimized for low resource use and battery drain. Launcher shortcuts could make commonly used features in apps even easier to access, giving developers the ability to allow launcher shortcuts to point to a specific point in the app, such as messaging a friend or setting a route to home in a navigation app. Emoji support speaks for itself, but Google is moving away from the generic emoji used in previous Android versions in favour of more human looking designs.

Overall, this update should be a must-have for those already using the previous Android N developer preview, but there aren’t enough new features added in order to give a good reason for more people to adopt it unless some of the existing bugs were their main hang-up. As with the existing preview, this version can be gotten through the Android Beta Program on supported Nexus devices or flash their device manually.

Google Pledges $20 Million To Support Disability Technologies

Technology is a great thing, it can be used to help people all over achieve and complete tasks that they previously considered difficult or even impossible. Science and technology have enabled those who couldn’t walk to walk again, those who would lose their eyesight to keep it and even those who might die to survive. In their latest support, Google.org has pledged $20 to support disability technologies.

Spread over 29 programs, each receiving $750,000, with six grant winners getting more than $1m each. The programs that the money will support can be contained within five categories, hearing, mobility, cognitive, vision and communication. The projects include My Human Kit, a provision to provide people low-cost 3D printed prosthetics and The Center for Discover which looks to turn everyday manual wheelchairs into powered chairs.

Perkins School for the Blind looks to enable the creation of GPS instructions to help those with visual impairments navigate around the world while the Dan Marino Foundation looks to provide a tool for people with autism to train for job interviews.

As part of their Impact Challenge, Google.org (Google’s philanthropic division) looks to help the millions of people who live with disabilities, and if technology can do anything to help people’s lives I’m all up for supporting it.

Host of Potential Yahoo Buyers Emerge – Major Companies Linked

Yahoo is up for sale, and some of the major players in media and technology are keen to pick over the bones of the once-great company, with Microsoft, Google, Verizon, Time, and the Daily Mail all indicating an interest in future bids.

“Media companies, such as the Daily Mail and Time Inc., are reportedly thinking of making an offer,” reports CNN Money. “A Daily Mail spokesman confirmed to CNN Money that the company is looking at bidding for Yahoo.”

Yahoo is currently valued at around $34b – a shadow of its value in late-2000, when the company was worth closer to $255b – with the company’s Asian stock accounting for the bulk of that valuation, indicating that the company’s internet business is practically worthless.

Google and Microsoft have also been linked with purchases of pieces of Yahoo’s business, though the former is unlikely to make any such deals over concerns of breaking antitrust laws. Microsoft, however, already has a close relationship with Yahoo, and previously attempted a $45b takeover of the company back in 2008.

“Verizon could also be a player,” CNN Money adds. “It owns Yahoo rival AOL and other media assets, and the company has publicly expressed interest in taking a look at Yahoo. AOL is like a mini version of Yahoo, with a sizable digital advertising and online content business. Verizon bought AOL last year for more than $4 billion.”

“Private equity firms General Atlantic, TPG and KKR are also widely reported to be considering buying Yahoo,” CCN Money reveals.

Former Vice President of Google Product Search Marissa Mayer was appointed CEO of Yahoo in 2012, tasked with changing the fortunes of the ailing business. After a promising start, Mayer soon proved impotent in her efforts to stop the rot that had already decimated Yahoo, with her cost-cutting measures of sub-division closures and staff redundancies designed to keep the company ticking over until it could find a new owner.

Google Fiber Has Dropped Its Free Tier In Kansas City

Google Fiber is Googles way of providing the internet for a variety of users, with a wide range of choices to help people in all situations. Their $70 gigabit internet access was their most commonly known option, but for those in Kansas City you could also get 5Mbps internet for a small construction fee, or at least you could as it would appear that Google Fiber has now dropped its free tier. The free 5Mbps option is now longer available for selection

The free 5 Mbps option is no longer available for selection, with a new 100 Mbps costing $50 a month and the $100 installation fee waived in exchange for a one-year commitment. Those who are currently on the tier have until the 19th May to say they want to keep it, but with the option also being available in Austin and Provo, the question is will they soon lose the low-cost option.

With the removal being unannounced and no word from Google yet regarding the removal, it is up to anyone’s guess why they have made this move. It could simply be that the days of fiber being considered a luxury experiment are over and with so many people now offering fiber connections for cheap prices, Google fiber may just need to start making money.

The Music Industry Wants The Digital Copyright Law Reformed

First, we had live music, then we got vinyl records, then cassettes and CD’s and now we can enjoy our music anywhere we like in the palm of our hand thanks to Digital music. The problem is that being able to share and copy music so easily isn’t for everyone and the American music industry wants the Digital Copyright Law Reformed.

Why does someone want the Digital Copyright Law reformed? The American music industry argues that the approach of issuing takedown notices to people who upload content illegally just doesn’t work when combating the number of web addresses and options people have for uploading music. They claim that the safe harbor passages of the Digital Copyright Law actually protect those who benefit from piracy, such as google with its search engine and YouTube videos.

As part of the reform, the music industry is looking at technology like audio fingerprinting to spot piracy before something is even uploaded. They are also asking that a takedown notice for say a song on YouTube, would affect all illegal copies of the song on that site. While the music industry may argue that issuing takedown requests at the moment doesn’t help enough, Google would argue that after a recent study as many as 30 percent of the takedown requests they received were dodgy.

People currently argue that the Digital copyright law is a guilty-until-proven-innocent piece of legislation, that often ends up with videos and content that use music for legal reasons are flagged up on systems. Asking for copyright law to be reformed, especially around its safe harbor passages, could result in the law being relaxed, or entirely new measures being put in place to combat the onslaught of takedown requests sites and search engines receive for both genuine and ‘dodgy’ reasons.

Clean Energy Rules Backed by Leading Tech Companies

People like the idea of clean energy, the ability for us to generate more energy than we use all from renewable sources that don’t damage the environment. France requires that new buildings have solar panels or grass on the roofs, and an Indian airport has decided that solar power is the way they want to go. In a move to help further our advances towards clean energy governments are making more and more pushes, this time, it would seem that the clean power plan in America is getting some backing from rather large companies in the technology industry.The Clean Power Plan is designed to cut carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005’s levels, all by the time we reach 2030. With more and more pressure on reducing our CO2 output, coal-fired plants are under increased pressure to become more efficient (same energy, less CO2,

The Clean Power Plan is designed to cut carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005’s levels, all by the time we reach 2030. With more and more pressure on reducing our CO2 output, coal-fired plants are under increased pressure to become more efficient (same energy, less CO2) while also groups and companies are under more pressure to promote and use renewable energy sources like solar or wind farms.

Considering themselves “major purchasers of electricity”, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have come together and formally backed the Clean Power Plan in the United States Court of Appeals where the act is currently on hold.

With both large tech companies and the Obama administration pushing for this act to go through, it is hard to see how anything supporting renewable energy could be seen as negative but some claim the rules are onerous and overreach the abilities of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Backfiring Gmail April Fools’ Gag Allegedly Lost People Jobs

Google’s Gmail April Fools’ Day prank has earned the wrath of users after its new, jokey feature landed some people in hot water, some even losing jobs over it. This morning, Gmail introduced a secondary reply button, dubbed the ‘mic drop’. Replying to an e-mail with this button sent a gif of a Minion performing said task – a shorthand for a deliberate, abrupt end to a conversation – and hid any following replies.

“Email’s great, but sometimes you just wanna hit the eject button,” an announcement on the Gmail blog reads. “Like those heated threads at work, when everyone’s wrong except you (obviously). Or those times when someone’s seeking group approval, but your opinion is the only one that matters (amirite?). Or maybe you just nailed it, and there’s nothing more to say (bam).”

“Today, Gmail is making it easier to have the last word on any email with Mic Drop,” the post continues. “Simply reply to any email using the new ‘Send + Mic Drop’ button. Everyone will get your message, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear about it. Yes, even if folks try to respond, you won’t see it.”

The ‘mic drop’ button, however, was placed right next to the regular ‘reply’ button, which meant that some unfortunate users – often using Gmail for professional means – accidentally pressed the gag button to send their replies. Some of the resulting horror stories – recounting tales of embarrassment, or even loss of jobs – are listed on the Google Gmail product forum:

“I had to write another email and apologize for Google’s jokes!!!!! Why should I? Sometimes I do feel those very intelligent people are living on an isolated island and don’t know what normal people need and want! They think they are genius when creating this but in normal people’s eyes, they are very idiotic!”

“This mic drop is perhaps the most stupid thing you could possibly come up with. I have been interviewing with this company for 3 months now and mistakenly sent the email directly to guess who? The HR! Why would you do that? I so want this job; was due to start on Monday!”

“I just sent off an email with my resume to the first person who wanted to interview me in months.  I clicked the wrong button and sent it with the mic drop.  Well, I guess I’m not getting that job. Words cannot describe how pissed off I am right now.  I’m actually shaking.  One click, ONE CLICK and I lost the job.  Goddamnit.  Not funny, google.  I’m going to go cry now.” 

Now, whether the comments themselves are April Fools’ jokes is another matter. Google, though, took them seriously and pulled the ‘mic drop’ button early. “Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year,” an update to the blog post reads. “Due to a bug, the Mic Drop feature inadvertently caused more headaches than laughs. We’re truly sorry. The feature has been turned off. If you are still seeing it, please reload your Gmail page.”

Google Fiber Home Phone Service Announced

It had already been revealed in a leak of the trial program, but now Google has publicly announced Fiber Phone, the home phone addition to the existing Google Fiber high-speed internet and television package. This comes as part of a move by Google to offer a single package of broadband, TV and landline in a single package, as despite the increasing move towards mobile phones, many still consider a landline important and according to Google Fiber’s product manager, John Shriver-Blake, they are planning to bring the landline into the future.

Fiber Phone costs $10 per month, which will include unlimited local and nationwide calling and rates identical to the existing Google Voice service for international calls. Fiber Phone also takes cloud-stored phone numbers from Voice, with users able to take either an existing phone number with them to Fiber Phone or pick a new one and have it available wherever they are. “You can use it on almost any phone, tablet or laptop. It can ring your landline when you’re home, or your mobile device when you’re on-the-go,” said Shriver-Blake. And if you can’t take a call, the service will transcribe your voicemail messages into text and send them to you via text or email, so you won’t have to rely on calling up voicemail.

The service won’t be rolling out to all Fiber-supported locations immediately, with it planned to be slowly made available to all customers in Fiber cities. Getting Fiber Phone will involve signing up with Google and going through a “simple installation process”, including a Fiber Phone Box that works with existing home phones. How quickly this rollout will happen is unclear, but those interested in the service can sign up for the latest updates here and be ready for when it is available in their location.

Google Could Be Working on a Rival for the Amazon Echo

Amazon’s Echo is certainly a useful little gadget, as it is capable of voice interaction and is able to create to-do lists, playback your favorite music and provide useful information regarding traffic and weather. However, rumours indicate that Google might actually be working on its own version of this popular wireless speaker, a version that could potentially provide even more useful features at a similar price. Even though Google has not replied to inquiries about an Echo rival at the time of writing, it would certainly make sense for the company to produce such a device, particularly since it already owns all of the necessary tools to do so. Experts seem to agree as well, as a Moor Insights & Strategy analyst named Patrick Moorhead has stated the following:

“Google has all the capabilities that Amazon Echo has. However, Google’s been focused on smartphones and tablets right now. “I believe Google will build a plugged-in device that does what Echo can do — and more.”

Moreover, another analyst named Ezra Gottheil has brought up an interesting topic: if people are already used to controlling their mobile devices using voice commands, it probably makes sense for them to do the same with other gadgets.

“Why not be able to do that when your hands are full of food or baby or puppy? Whatever Google builds will have to be better than Echo, but I don’t think that will be hard. Google’s current voice-based product, Google Voice Search, is available in a bunch of languages, while Echo is English-only. Echo does interface with Gmail but I would be surprised if Google can’t come up with deeper integration.”

Obviously, creating a rival for the Echo and selling it successfully will give Google an even better opportunity to learn more about its users, especially since the device would operate out of its owners’ homes at all times. Would you buy a smart wireless speaker developed by Google?

Gmail Says Use of Encrypted Emails Has Risen 25%

We use email every day, be it sending them for work or personal reasons or getting a thousand and one emails advertising everything from something you are interested in helping a foreign prince distribute their wealth. One way that you can be protected when sending emails is to send encrypted emails, something which has risen in use by 25% for Gmail users.

What caused this spur of encrypted emails? Google stated last year that they would start flagging up emails which were unencrypted, warning users which providers and emails were being sent from services that supported TLS encryption. This change came into effect in February this year, the end result of which was the 25% increase in encrypted emails that Gmail has reported in the last month.

Google isn’t acting alone on this, with Comcast, Microsoft, Yahoo and other companies in the industry looking to create SMTP, a new standard that could be used to help protect emails from man-in-the-middle attacks.

Combining all these with their recent push on security updates in Chrome and Android, including their use of two-factor authentication encryption and warning people about state-sponsored attacks on accounts, it’s becoming more and more clear that even in the digital world, companies want your private information to remain private.

Ever Wondered What’s In Google’s Data Centres?

Google is known for a lot of things but the company was built on data, the storage and searching of information from all over the internet. Typically these things are locked behind closed doors but Google wants to show it all through an eight-minute video tour showing you everything you need to see in Google’s Data Centres.

First off you need security clearance, as even for Google employees the sites are normally locked down. After a small interview regarding all the different bits and systems that help ensure a 24-7 service of their systems. Stepping into the actual data centre requires more than just a pass as you need to get through a circle door locked by an iris scanner as part of the dual authentication.

Through the entire video, you can see how large a data centre is with it giving you just a small glimpse of the building. In an interview with Virginia, one of the people responsible for the network it’s revealed that a single building can support up to 75,000 machines while transmitting over a petabit of data per second.

They even go into detail about how data and drives are removed from the system. First, the drives are wiped only to then be placed in what is essentially a wood chipper designed just for hard drives.

Take the tour in the video below and see for yourself just how big a company Google is and how many steps it takes to protect both companies and customers data. Be warned though the video is a bit of an advert for Google’s cloud platform so it may be a little cheesy at times.

Google Makes Photography Tools Free

Google has lots of software under its belt, one of which was the mobile editing app Snapseed. They gained control of this back in 2012 when it acquired the German Developer Nik, creator of Snapseed and several other photography tools. In its latest move with the software, Google has made the photography tools it acquired free.

The photography tools are part of the Nik Collection, a grouping of desktop plug-ins aimed at helping photographers with their images. Below is a list of the tools which integrate with Lightroom, Aperture, and Photoshop:

  • Analog Efex Pro
    • “Explore the look and feel of classic cameras, films, and lenses.”
  • Color Efex Pro
    • “A comprehensive set of filters for color correction, retouching, and creative effects.”
  • Silver Efe Pro
    • “Master the art of black-and-white photography with darkroom-inspired controls.”
  • Viveza
    • “Selectively adjust the color and tonality of your images without complicated masks or selections.”
  • HDR Efex Pro
    • “From natural to artistic, explore the full potential of HDR photography.”
  • Sharpener Pro
    • “Bring out hidden details consistently with the professional’s choice for image sharpening.”
  • Dfine
    • “Improve your images with noise reduction tailored to your camera.”

You can grab the collection from here for free, and if you purchased it (for the previous price of $149) this year you will automatically be rewarded. While the move suggests there will no future support for the tools, the fact that everyone can use them will surely only improve interest in the product and services the company provides.

Images courtesy of Ivan Slade and Saurabh Paranjape

Google Fined by France Over Right to be Forgotten

Google have been handed a fine by the French data protection authorities as a result of them failing to conform to the ‘right to be forgotten’ as ordered.

In a decision made last year by the French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL), Google would have to agree to requests made for the delisting of personal information, not just on its products under European domains, but across all Google properties. Previous to this, Google had been removing requested personal results from the European versions of its search engine, including google.co.uk and google.fr, excluding other instances of the site, such as google.com, which is still accessible from within Europe.

This breach of the ruling could have allowed CNIL to charge Google as much as €300,000, however, the French organization, in the end, settled on only a €100,000 fine.

The right to be forgotten has existed since 2014 when a European court ruling allowed Spaniard Mario Costeja González to erase online evidence of a court-ordered auction of his real estate to recover debts. Those hosting the information were allowed to keep it online, but Google was ordered to remove all reference to the articles from searches of Costeja González’ name. The spirit of the decision being that minor misdemeanors or embarrassments could be covered up, but not completely removed.

Google still refuse to conform with the ruling as closely as CNIL would like, with information hidden on worldwide services, but only for users in the same nation as the one who requested the removal. For example, a Spanish user would no longer be able to find references to the auction on any Google product, including google.com, but a user from another European nation would be able to get the results through any non-European Google domain.

With over 400,000 people having already invoked their right to be delisted in Europe, they would hope that their past acts could be forgotten by all, not just those of their nation. It is unclear as to whether CNIL will make any efforts for Google to more broadly delist people, but with a fine already levied against them, they may be more compliant should the cost get steeper.

Google Allows Developers to Use Its Machine Learning Platform

Google’s Cloud Machine Learning platform, which is utilized by a number of applications including Google Photos, Translate and Inbox has been made available for use by developers today. The announcement was made by Alphabet’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt at NEXT 2016, where he explained that machine learning was “what’s next”.

This move will give developers the chance to leverage the power that Google currently makes use of every day in their own apps.  These powerful machine learning tools will be available to use through a number of easy-to-use REST APIs according to Fausto Ibarra, Google’s director of product management. He went on to state that “Cloud Machine Learning will take machine learning mainstream, giving data scientists and developers a way to build a new class of intelligent applications.”

The Cloud Machine Learning platform APIs initially on offer by Google include translation, photo, and speech recognition tools which power Google Now, Google Photos, voice recognition in Google Search and many other systems.

This release by Google makes them the third major company to roll out a machine learning platform for developers, with Microsoft’s Azure platform releasing in 2015 and Amazon Web Services including machine learning since 2015. With Google declaring that machine learning is set to be the next big thing in computing, it may not be too long before we see our everyday apps getting even smarter, as developers benefit from Google’s platform and Google in turn benefit from its usage allowing furthering development. It may only be in developer preview for now, but I am sure that many app developers, both old and new, will be jumping at the chance to put these cutting edge tools to use.

Google Is Killing off the Chrome App Launcher

In an effort to make Chrome as light and as less bloated as possible, Google has decided to completely remove the Chrome App Launcher from Linux, Apple and Microsoft operating systems, which means that you’re in for quite a shock if you’re used to launching Google apps from the App Launcher directly. Fortunately, the App Launcher will remain in place on Chrome OS, so there’s that at least. Apparently, the removal will take place steadily over the next few months, and the launcher will lose its ability to install new apps within the next few weeks. The feature will be killed off completely in July, which is three years after it was introduced for Microsoft Windows in the first place.

In order to make sure that this change won’t catch too many users by surprise, Google says that it will notify all of the launcher’s fans of this big change. Last summer, Chrome was stripped of its notification center in a similar effort to make the user’s experience better. We can all hope that the removal of the App Launcher will make Chrome lighter and less resource hungry, but I have to say that the decision doesn’t make too much sense to me as this component is actually optional.

New SMTP STS Email Security Standard Published by Industry Leaders

A number of engineers from some of today’s top tech firms have come together to provide a new standard of security for the sending and receiving of emails. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Comcast, LinkedIn and 1&1 Mail & Media Development & Technology are all part of this new standard that is named SMTP Strict Transport Security (SMTP STS). The new standard will allow email providers to define policies and rules that control the sending and receipt of encrypted email communications, which is a vast improvement over current email security.

When SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) was envisioned back in 1982, it included no facilities for encryption or security. This same protocol has been in use to this day, and despite additions over the years, such as  STARTTLS that have added support for TLS (Transport Layer Security) to SMTP connections, its adoption rate has been low and the majority of email traffic is as unencrypted as in the 80s. Between May and August 2014, in the wake of Edward Snowdon’s leaks, Facebook saw adoption for STARTTLS jump from 58% to a whopping 95%. STARTTLS is not without flaws, though, as it does not validate the digital certificates and is vulnerable to both man-in-the-middle attacks and simple stripping of the encryption.

The newly proposed SMTP STS addresses both of the main flaws that exist in STARTTLS. Firstly, it informs connecting clients that TLS is available and recommended for use as well as how the certificate should be validated and the consequence of failure to establish a TLS connection. SMTP STS policies are set via special DNS records added to the email for the server’s domain name, providing ways for clients to validate the policies and report failure. Man-in-the-middle attacks can be foiled by a mail server telling a client to cache its SMTP STS policies for a set duration, to prevent false policies being injected.

Whether this new standard will catch on the wider world of the internet remains to be seen, but with so many key companies involved in its development and security being such a key topic in the modern-day, we can only hope that it allows us to keep our emails that much secure and private.

Robotic Car Sharing Could Have 400 Million Users By 2030

People like using things which are easy to navigate and control. This may be the reason for the recent boom of car sharing app’s and systems in place. With people using systems like Uber to quickly call a taxi and having someone pick you up with ease saving you precious minutes (and $$$) when you need to get somewhere. With the use of automated cars though you could see as many as 400 million users relying on robotic car sharing by 2030.

You wake up and realise you are running late to work. You send a quick text to request a pickup and start getting ready, within half hour a car is sitting outside your house and you are off to work. You’re not driving, and neither is your work colleague who is sharing the same car because he lives in the next set of buildings down the road. Robotic cars could soon see you doing away with steering wheels and instead rely on LiDAR technology and exterior cameras to drive you safely to work.

With groups like the White House looking to create self-driving cars alongside companies like Google, it was only a matter of time before the idea of self-driving sharing taxi’s arrived. Google have already announced that they want to have some out on the roads this year, something that we can all look forward to.

Alphabet to Sell Boston Dynamics

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are working on ventures in a great number of fields, however, the rumours that their robotics division was in trouble could be worse than expected. In a report published by the Bloomberg News, Alphabet is looking to sell off Boston Dynamics, their most prominent robotics company, who developed robots such as Spot the dog.

In 2013, Google picked up 8 robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics to form their new robotics division named Replicant. Even this early on it was reported that the numerous firms that made up Replicant had very little in common and were scattered about the globe, causing difficulties in many collaborative efforts. When the head of Replicant, Android founder Andy Rubin, left Google, those who had joined the tech giant in robotics research and development were left confused and disorganised.

After reorganizing into Alphabet, the situation got worse, with the new parent company focused on seeking investors for its sub-companies. While Boston Dynamics constantly put out publicity videos showing off their developments growing fear amongst workers that robots could eventually take away their jobs and the lack of faith that they would have a marketable product in the next few years made Boston Dynamics a liability. While many of the startups that made up Replicant have been moved to the Alphabet X division, the future seems bleak for robotics development at Alphabet.

Where Boston Dynamics will end up remains to be seen, however, the best guesses seem to currently be that Toyota or Amazon will be looking to pick up the firm, with the former recently putting a lot of funding into robotics development. Neither company has come out with a statement regarding the possible acquisition, so it really could be up for grabs. We can only hope that no matter who their next owner ends up being, that Boston Dynamics keep pushing the field of robotics forward with their work.