Ring, Google and the police: what to know about emergency requests for video footage

CNet decided to ask makers of home security cameras about their policies when it comes to dealing with requests from United States law enforcement: Ring, the Amazon-owned video doorbell and home security company, came under renewed criticism from privacy activists this month after disclosing it gave video footage to police in more than 10 cases without users’ consent thus far in 2022 in what it described as “emergency situations.” That includes instances where the police didn’t have a warrant. While Ring stands alone for its extensive history of police partnerships, it isn’t the only name I found with a carve-out clause for sharing user footage with police during emergencies. Google, which makes and sells smart home cameras and video doorbells under the Nest brand, makes as much clear in its terms of service. Other manufacturers of home security cameras, such as Wyze and Arlo, only provide footage after a valid warrant, while devices that use Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video are end-to-end encrypted, so footage cannot be shared at all. In other words, if you live in the United States, it’s best to avoid Amazon’s and Google’s offerings – especially if you’re a member of a minority or are a woman seeking essential healthcare – and stick to Apple’s offerings instead.

Chrome use subject to restrictions in Dutch schools over data security concerns

The Dutch Ministry of Education has decided to impose some restrictions on the use of the Chrome OS and Chrome web browser until August 2023 over concerns about data privacy. The officials worry that Google services collect student data and make it available to large advertising networks, who use it for purposes beyond helping education. Since the national watchdog doesn’t know where or how the students’ personal data is stored and processed, there are concerns about violating European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). It always irritates me to no end when people claim all the GDPR ever did was create cookie prompts (it didn’t – those prompts aren’t even GDPR compliant), when in fact, it’s been leading to things like this, where governments and advocacy groups now have the legal means to fight companies that violate the privacy rights of those of us in the EU. In this particular case, Google is being forced to change its privacy systems for the better. It’s a sign of things to come now that the DMA has been fully passed.

Gmail’s new look is now rolling out to everyone

We’ve been tracking the progress of Google’s interface refresh for Gmail since February, and as promised, the company says it’s now becoming available for all Gmail users. The rework pulls Meet, Chat, and Spaces closer together as part of the overall experience and includes elements from Google’s Material Design 3. It’s not stopping there and says that, later this year, we should see improvements to Gmail for tablet users, better emoji support, and more accessibility features, among other upgrades. I don’t like the Gmail web experience at all, and the changes over the recent years have done little to change my mind. I’m old-fashioned and prefer proper email applications that are fast, native, and integrate with my wider computing environments.

Not so Common Desktop Environment (NsCDE) 2.2 released

NsCDE is a retro but powerful UNIX desktop environment which resembles CDE look (and partially feel) but with a more powerful and flexible framework beneath-the-surface, more suited for 21st century unix-like and Linux systems and user requirements than original CDE. NsCDE can be considered as a heavyweight FVWM theme on steroids, but combined with a couple other free software components and custom FVWM applications and a lot of configuration, NsCDE can be considered a lightweight hybrid desktop environment. It also contains themes for Qt, Gtk, and more, to ensure a consistent CDE look and feel. NsCDE 2.2 has just been released, and it contains a ton of improvements. This is such a cool and fascinating project.

Google Play Store is bringing back the app permissions list

With the addition of the developer-generated Data safety section this year, Google Play removed the old list of app permissions. The Play Store is now reversing this decision in response to user feedback and will have both coexist. This was a baffling decision to begin with – the Data safety section relied on developers being honest and truthful about their privacy practices and permissions usage, which was never going to work out with the amount of downright scams and sleaziness targeting children that are in the Play Store (and App Store).

The Windows 11 taskbar is getting better for people who open tons of apps

The most interesting addition we’ve seen in a while is rolling out to users on the experimental Dev Channel now: a modified version of the taskbar with much-improved handling of app icon overflow when users have too many apps open at once. Click an ellipsis button on your taskbar, and a new icon overflow menu opens up, allowing you to interact with any of those extra icons the same way you would if they were sitting on the taskbar. This would be a big improvement over the current overflow behavior, which devotes one icon’s worth of space to show the icon for the app you last interacted with, leaving the rest inaccessible. That icon will continue to appear on the taskbar alongside the new ellipsis icon. Microsoft says that app icons in the overflow area will be able to show jump lists and other customizable shortcuts the same as any other app icon in the taskbar. Nice little change, but it seems rather telling that they only got to this now.

DMA: Council gives final approval to new rules for fair competition online

The Council today gave its final approval on new rules for a fair and competitive digital sector through the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA ensures a digital level playing field that establishes clear rights and rules for large online platforms (‘gatekeepers’) and makes sure that none of them abuses their position. Regulating the digital market at EU level will create a fair and competitive digital environment, allowing companies and consumers to benefit from digital opportunities. This final approval was a formality, but you never know with corporations.

Nova Launcher acquired by mobile links and analytics company Branch

Hello Nova Community, I’m Kevin Barry, the creator of Nova Launcher. I’ve made, make and will continue to make Nova Launcher. Today I’m announcing that Branch has acquired Nova Launcher, and hired myself and Cliff Wade (Nova Community Manager). Branch has also acquired Sesame Search and hired the Sesame Crew (Steve Blackwell and Phil Wall). I’ll continue to control the direction and development of Nova Launcher, and that direction is unchanged. Nova focuses on power users and customization. I will be adding some features powered by Branch, they’ll be optional like most features in Nova. This is a tough pill to swallow. I’ve been a dedicated Nova user since… I honestly can’t even remember, and to me, Nova equals Android, and it’s always been clear Nova thoroughly and truly understood what demanding Android users were looking for. I have really never used any other launcher, and it’s the first application I install on all my Android devices. Seeing this vital application bought up by a mobile analytics form of all things is gut-wrenching. Several decades covering this industry have taught me that acquisitions like this pretty much exclusively mean doom, and usually signal a slow but steady decline in quality and corresponding increase in user-hostile features. I’m always open to being proven wrong, but I don’t have a lot of hope. In any event, I guess it’s time to find another launcher.

Carbon, a new programming language from Google, aims to be C++ successor

Carbon, the latest programming language to be built within Google, was unveiled today as an experimental successor to C++. To that end, while Carbon has many of the same goals as Rust, such as helping developers to create “performance-critical software,” Carbon is also intended to be fully interoperable with existing C++ code. Additionally, the goal is to make migrating from C++ to Carbon as easy as possible, if desired. This is not my area of expertise, so I’ll leave it to you readers to say more interesting things. The code for Carbon – not entirely sure about the name, but alright – is on github, along with more information.

Google Play will allow alternate billing systems in Europe with reduced service fee

Following regulation in South Korea last year and a somewhat more voluntary “User Choice Billing” in March, Google announced today that it would soon allow nongaming Android apps to offer users in Europe (European Economic Area) an alternative to Google Play’s billing system. This is in response to the Digital Markets Act, with Google saying it’s “committed to meeting these new requirements while ensuring that we can continue to keep people safe on our platforms and invest in Android and Play for the benefit of the entire ecosystem.” It’s almost like regulation works. We’ll have to wait and see if these changes are enough.

Android removes much of Fuchsia-related code as Starnix project progresses

Work on this Fuchsia project within Android — dubbed “device/google/fuchsia” — stalled in February 2021, with no public indication of how things were progressing. This week, all of the code for “device/google/fuchsia” was removed from Android, formally signaling the end of this particular avenue. In its place, we have a lone “TODO” message, suggesting that Google may be building up something new in its place. The developer responsible for the change primarily works on Fuchsia’s “Starnix” project. First shared in early 2021 as a proposal, Starnix is designed to make it possible for Fuchsia to “natively” run apps and libraries that were built for Linux or Android. To do this, Starnix would act to translate the low-level kernel instructions from what Linux expects to what Fuchsia’s Zircon kernel expects. Fuchsia is still very much in flux, and stuff like this further illustrates that while I firmly believe it’s the future of Google’s consumer operating system efforts, it’s still got a long way to go.

Microsoft Validation OS

Microsoft Validation OS is a lightweight, fast, and customizable Windows 11-based operating system that you can use on the factory floor to diagnose, mitigate and repair hardware defects during Windows device manufacturing. Validation OS boots into a Command Line environment to increase reliability on the factory floor and supports running Win32 apps, smoothing the transition from early hardware bring-up to retail OS and apps development. This is an intriguing Windows variant I’d never heard of before. Validation OS boots to a command line and sports a basic UI framework, and is supposedly capable to run Win32 applications, but if the early reports on forums are anything to go by, it’s currently quite broken and effectively useless since Win32 applications do not actually run. As such, I’m not entirely sure who or what this is for, or if this is a very early release that needs a lot more work. In any event, it’s free, so no harm done in giving it a go.

Microsoft moves to new Windows development cycle with major release every three years, feature drops in between

Microsoft is shifting to a new engineering schedule for Windows which will see the company return to a more traditional three-year release cycle for major versions of the Windows client, while simultaneously increasing the output of new features shipping to the current version of Windows on the market. The news comes just a year after the company announced it was moving to a yearly release cadence for new versions of Windows. According to my sources, Microsoft now intends to ship “major” versions of the Windows client every three years, with the next release currently scheduled for 2024, three years after Windows 11 shipped in 2021. Windows’ release schedule and system have become so incredibly obtuse I honestly have long ago lost track of what, exactly, has been released, which features are widely available and which are only in one or more of the testing releases, and so on. The continuously shifting plans from Microsoft do nothing but muddy the waters.

A Graphical OS for the Atari 8-bit

Atari 8-bit fans have long hankered after a GUI similar to GEOS on the Commodore 64. Diamond GOS went some way to addressing this deficiency, and since then there have been several creditable attempts at implementing a GUI OS on the A8. Now there’s another one in the pipeline: an as yet unnamed project which aims to bring a pre-emptive multi-tasking graphical operating system to the 8-bit Atari. This is a seriously impressive project with ambitious goals, and it looks great considering the hardware it’s running on.

ChromeOS Flex officially released

Today, we’re excited to announce that ChromeOS Flex, the cloud-first, easy-to-manage, and fast operating system for PCs and Macs, is now ready for your fleet. Just like too much sun, software bloat, clunky hardware, and security vulnerabilities can cause unwanted damage. Thankfully, ChromeOS Flex is just the sunscreen your legacy devices need. And thanks to everyone who has participated in our early access program, we’ve been able to significantly improve the product in many areas while continuously certifying devices to run ChromeOS Flex. ChromeOS Flex is effectively ChromeOS for everyone who doesn’t want to buy ChromeOS hardware, based on Google’s acquisition of CloudReady. There are various community projects that offer the same, but having an official offering from Google is great for organisations and companies.

CP/M’s licensing situation cleared up

CP/M has been in a sort of legal limbo for quite a while – the code was openly available, but not through a license, but a short paragraph in an email that contained an odd piece of phrasing that wasn’t entirely clear, and could easily be misunderstood as “you can only distribute any derivative works through this one specific website”. This has now been clarified by the rights holder – DRDOS, Inc. and Bryan Sparks, president of DRDOS… In an email. However, this time the wording is a lot more clear. “Let this paragraph represent a right to use, distribute, modify, enhance, and otherwise make available in a nonexclusive manner CP/M and its derivatives. This right comes from the company, DRDOS, Inc.’s purchase of Digital Research, the company and all assets, dating back to the mid-1990’s. DRDOS, Inc. and I, Bryan Sparks, President of DRDOS, Inc. as its representative, is the owner of CP/M and the successor in interest of Digital Research assets.” This still is far from ideal, since a real license, e.g. MIT or BSD or whatever, would be easier, but at least this clears the waters quite a bit.

Windows 3.1 flash edition

Recently, a friend of mine paid me a visit with a few of his ThinkPads. Over a course of a weekend, I’ve prepared a SPI flasher based on flashrom and a Raspberry Pi and flashed a few ThinkPads. Besides my rage that was mostly a result of badly written libreboot and coreboot docs (things are hard to find, a ton of the info is outdated, etc), I came up with an idea for corebooting my own X200. This is not going where you think it might be going.