I want to say a few words about my current adventure. I joined the Fuchsia project at its inception and worked on the daunting task of building and shipping a brand new open-source operating system. As my colleague Chris noted, pointing to this comparison of a device running a Linux-based OS vs Fuchsia, making Fuchsia invisible was not an easy feat. Of course, under the hood, a lot is different. We built a brand new message-passing kernel, new connectivity stacks, component model, file-systems, you name it. And yes, there are a few security things I’m excited about. Fuchsia is a much bigger deal than most people think. Make no mistake about it – this is the future of all of Google’s end-user facing operating systems, from Chrome OS, Android, all the way down to Wear OS and Google Home devices. The amazing thing is that with the way Fuchsia is built and designed, including its support for Android applications, most users will be none the wiser they’ve jumped from Linux to something new.
As Android Police reports: Google has tried multiple times for years to dumb down the internet by simplifying Chrome’s “scary” address bar. It first tried to erode the URL entirely by showing just search terms in the omnibox, but its impractical design forced Google to retire it. The developers recently tried to simplify the omibox again — this time hiding all parts of the web address except the domain name. While it received a fair amount of criticism from users, Google defended its decision to move forward, citing its intention to help people better identify malicious sites. But now it seems that Google has reconsidered things, as it recently decided to close the curtains on its experiment. Good. URLs present important information, and preventing or limiting access to it is simply dumb, and asking for trouble.
Android 12 got the biggest privacy boost in recent years. Most were analogous to iOS 14’s privacy features with an exception in Bluetooth permission. By removing access to location services from Bluetooth, Google managed to weaken Facebook’s location-based advertisement business. However, the absence of a similar feature like App Tracking Transparency from Google I/O 2021 was a bummer. Gladly, though, our disappointment was short-lived. Only yesterday, Google announced its plans to make advertising ID an opt-out feature. Google doing this means they have an alternative the rest of the industry doesn’t.
Newly unredacted documents in a lawsuit against Google reveal that the company’s own executives and engineers knew just how difficult the company had made it for smartphone users to keep their location data private. Google continued collecting location data even when users turned off various location-sharing settings, made popular privacy settings harder to find, and even pressured LG and other phone makers into hiding settings precisely because users liked them, according to the documents. The cold and harsh truth is that these companies can pretty much get away with anything. In fact, hordes of people will crawl out of the woodwork to defend this kind of behaviour, all in the name of greed and wealth that they themselves never see anything of anyway, since it disappears into the pockets of a small number of billionaires, trickling down only as far as the drip after the last shake makes it to their shoe.
Google has made a deal for access to patient records from HCA, which which operates 181 hospitals and more than 2,000 healthcare sites in 21 states, so the tech company can develop healthcare algorithms, The Wall Street Journal reports. Google will store anonymized data from patient health records and internet-connected medical devices. That data will be used to build programs that could inform medical decisions made by doctors. The deal is described as “multiyear” by the WSJ, without specifying how many years. This feels uncomfortable on so many levels.
Google’s long-in-development, from-scratch operating system, Fuchsia, is now running on real Made by Google devices, namely, the first-generation Nest Hub. Google has told us that as of today, an update is beginning to roll out to owners of the first-generation Nest Hub, first released in 2018. For all intents and purposes, this update will not change any of the functionality of the Nest Hub, but under the hood, the smart display will be running Fuchsia OS instead of the Linux-based “Cast OS” it used before. In fact, your experience with the Nest Hub should be essentially identical. This is possible because Google’s smart display experience is built with Flutter, which is designed to consistently bring apps to multiple platforms, Fuchsia included. A big moment for the Fuchsia team, and the culmination of years and years of work. Google is clearly testing the waters here, allowing the brand new operating system to get some experience under its belt in a relatively controlled environment. Theoretically, Google could do the same transparent rollout on Android devices, since Fuchsia can run Android applications just fine – users wouldn’t even notice. However, I’m sure that is still a few years away.
9to5Google can report today that Google’s upcoming phones for this fall, including the presumed Pixel 6, will be among the first devices to run on the “GS101” Whitechapel chip. First rumored in early 2020, Whitechapel is an effort on Google’s part to create their own systems on a chip (SoCs) to be used in Pixel phones and Chromebooks alike, similar in to how Apple uses their own chips in the iPhone and Mac. Google was said to be co-developing Whitechapel with Samsung, whose Exynos chips rival Snapdragon processors in the Android space. Per that report, Google would be ready to launch devices with Whitechapel chips as soon as 2021. According to documentation viewed by 9to5Google, this fall’s Pixel phones will indeed be powered by Google’s Whitechapel platform. Google’s been hinting at this for a few years now. I’m curious to see how these will stack up against Apple’s and Qualcomm’s chips, because unlike what some people seem to think, Google has a lot of experience designing and building chips – just not for consumer devices.
For years now, we’ve been watching and waiting as Google has gradually developed their Fuchsia operating system from the ground up. Now evidence has appeared pointing to Google’s Fuchsia OS getting its first — and second — proper release. We’re still a few years away, but everything seems to be pointing towards Fuchsia becoming the company-wide operating system for virtually all of Google’s user-facing products – and it seems designed and set up in a way that regular users won’t even know they’ve made the transition from e.g. Android-on-Android-proper to Android-on-Fuchsia.
Google Chrome version 89 began rolling out to users in the stable channel on March 2 and should be on most people’s machines by now. The new build offers significant memory savings on 64-bit Windows platforms thanks to increased use of Google’s PartitionAlloc memory allocator. On macOS, Chrome 89 plays catch-up and gets closer to the performance of the flagship Windows builds. I feel like we get these reports and promises about Chrome’s performance every few months, yet Chrome keeps being the butt of jokes regarding its resource usage, especially on the Mac. Maybe this round will yield tangible improvements.
Chromebooks launched 10 years ago with a vision to rethink computing by designing a secure, easy-to-use laptop that becomes faster and more intelligent over time. As more and more people began using devices running Chrome OS, we evolved and expanded the platform to meet their diverse needs. Today, Chrome OS devices do everything from helping people get things done to entertaining them while they unwind. But we want to do more to provide a powerfully simple computing experience to the millions of people who use Chromebooks. We’re celebrating 10 years of Chromebooks with plenty of new features to bring our vision to life. It’s hard to imagine it’s already been ten years. Chromebooks are definitely a big success, and I’d love to finally sit down and properly review a Chromebook. I’ve barely even used one, and I want to know what it’s really like to live in a always-online world.
On OSNews we recently reported on how Google plans to remove support for third-party cookies. Many have seen this as offering a privacy boost for users, leading to a better Web where targeted ads based on web-browser behaviour are a thing of the past. The EFF takes a different view. Google is leading the charge to replace third-party cookies with a new suite of technologies to target ads on the Web. And some of its proposals show that it hasn’t learned the right lessons from the ongoing backlash to the surveillance business model. This post will focus on one of those proposals, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which is perhaps the most ambitious—and potentially the most harmful. FLoC is meant to be a new way to make your browser do the profiling that third-party trackers used to do themselves: in this case, boiling down your recent browsing activity into a behavioral label, and then sharing it with websites and advertisers. The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party cookies, but it will create new ones in the process. It may also exacerbate many of the worst non-privacy problems with behavioral ads, including discrimination and predatory targeting.
Huge news from Google, who announced today that they are going to stop using your web browsing behaviour to display targeted advertisements. It’s difficult to conceive of the internet we know today — with information on every topic, in every language, at the fingertips of billions of people — without advertising as its economic foundation. But as our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created a proliferation of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies. This has led to an erosion of trust: In fact, 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center. If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web. That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies, and why we’ve been working with the broader industry on the Privacy Sandbox to build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers. Even so, we continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers. Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products. This is a big step that will have massive consequences for the advertisement industry as a whole, but at the same time, companies do not just give up on revenue streams without having alternatives ready. My hunch would be that Google has become so big and collects data from so many other sources, that it simply doesn’t need your web browsing behaviour and third-party cookies to sell targeted ads effectively.
This document proposes a mechanism for running unmodified Linux programs on Fuchsia. The programs are run in userspace process whose system interface is compatible with the Linux ABI. Rather than using the Linux kernel to implement this interface, we will implement the interface in a Fuchsia userspace program, called starnix. Largely, starnix will serve as a compatibility layer, translating requests from the Linux client program to the appropriate Fuchsia subsystem. Many of these subsystems will need to be elaborated in order to support all the functionality implied by the Linux system interface. As we expand the universe of software we wish to run on Fuchsia, we are encountering software that we wish to run on Fuchsia that we do not have the ability to recompile. For example, Android applications contain native code modules that have been compiled for Linux. In order to run this software on Fuchsia, we need to be able to run binaries without modifying them. Just more signs that Google has big plans for Fuchsia. With Google it’s always difficult to assess if they’ll go through with it, but I think they intend for Fuchsia to become the base operating system across Chrome OS, Android, their smart devices like Google Home, and everything else they might one day make. The project is too wide and deep to be anything else.
You think you can escape my ire today, Google? You’re no better than Apple. Case in point: Google is in hot water after banning the Google account of Andrew Spinks, the lead developer of the hit indie game Terraria. The YouTube account of Spinks’ game dev company, Re-Logic, was hit with some kind of terms-of-service violation, resulting in Google banning Spinks’ entire Google account, greatly disrupting his company’s ability to do business. After three fruitless weeks of trying to get the situation fixed, Spinks announced that his company will no longer do business with Google and that the upcoming Stadia version of Terraria is canceled. “I will not be involved with a corporation that values their customers and partners so little,” Spinks said. “Doing business with you is a liability.” This is, sadly, a very common occurrence. Google has a long history of blocking accounts for no reason at all, without giving the affected people any recourse since the company effectively has no customer service department. These cases can be absolutely devastating, causing people to lose photos, emails, access to their business financials, and god knows what else. We at OSNews use what was once called Google Apps for Your Domain (launched in 2006), only for us to be grandfathered into GSuite, which is now called Workplaces, which has led to a lot of frustration for me since GSuite accounts are locked out of a ton of Google services for no particular reason, and there’s no way to convert an existing Google account from one type to another. We were never asked if we wanted to be converted to the much more limited GSuite accounts. Google just did it. In any event, I have been pondering if we should switch to something else, but it’d be a lot of work I’d be putting on the plate of someone else – OSNews’ owner.
Google has announced that it is cutting off access to the Sync and “other Google Exclusive” APIs from all builds except Google Chrome. This will make the Fedora Chromium build significantly less functional (along with every other distro packaged Chromium). It is noteworthy that Google gave the builders of distribution Chromium packages these access rights back in 2013 via API keys, specifically so that we could have open source builds of Chromium with (near) feature parity to Chrome. And now they’re taking it away. The reasoning given for this change? Google does not want users to be able to “access their personal Chrome Sync data (such as bookmarks) … with a non-Google, Chromium-based browser.” They’re not closing a security hole, they’re just requiring that everyone use Chrome. Or to put it bluntly, they do not want you to access their Google API functionality without using proprietary software (Google Chrome). There is no good reason for Google to do this, other than to force people to use Chrome. This is what we in the business call a “dick move”.
A group of Google workers have announced plans to unionize with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The Alphabet Workers Union will be open to all employees and contractors at Google’s parent company. Its goal will be to tackle ongoing issues like pay disparity, retaliation, and controversial government contracts. “This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” said Nicki Anselmo, a Google program manager. “From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively.” Good. There’s a lot of worker exploitation and other unfair labour practices in the technology sector – and in the US in general – and unions are a proven and effective way to combat this.
Neverware lets you turn old PCs and Macs into Chromebook-esque devices through its CloudReady OS. While primarily aimed at schools and enterprises, a free “Home” edition for everyone is available. Google has now acquired Neverware and CloudReady with plans to integrate it with Chrome OS. Seems like a reasonable acquisition. I’ve always found it odd that Google hasn’t tried to push Chrome OS as a downloadable, installable operating system for people to install. The only way to really experience Chrome OS is to buy a device that comes with it, which often simply doesn’t make any sense. I hope this acquisition means Google intends to offer a version of Chrome OS that we can freely download and install.
Google has finally – finally – truly and honestly confirmed Fuchsia is a thing. Fuchsia is a long-term project to create a general-purpose, open source operating system, and today we are expanding Fuchsia’s open source model to welcome contributions from the public. Starting today, we are expanding Fuchsia’s open source model to make it easier for the public to engage with the project. We have created new public mailing lists for project discussions, added a governance model to clarify how strategic decisions are made, and opened up the issue tracker for public contributors to see what’s being worked on. As an open source effort, we welcome high-quality, well-tested contributions from all. There is now a process to become a member to submit patches, or a committer with full write access. In addition, we are also publishing a technical roadmap for Fuchsia to provide better insights for project direction and priorities. Some of the highlights of the roadmap are working on a driver framework for updating the kernel independently of the drivers, improving file systems for performance, and expanding the input pipeline for accessibility. It has been a very, very long time since any of the major technology companies built a new operating system from the ground up. Windows 10 is Windows NT, a project started in 1989 and first released as Windows NT 3.1 in 1993. The Linux kernel was first released in 1991. macOS grew out of NeXTSTEP, development of which started in 1985, seeing its first release in 1989. These operating systems are old. Fuchsia is truly new, and developed by one of the biggest companies in the world, and while Google has a spotty track record when it comes to corporate attention span, I doubt they’d roll out the red carpet like this after four years of sort-of-but-not-really open development if they intend to kill the entire thing two years from now. And even if they do – the code’s out there anyway. There’s a guide on how to build Fuchsia and set up an emulator (for Linux and macOS), so you can start poking around today.
Back in June, Google announced that Windows apps are coming to Chrome OS through a third-party partnership — instead of an in-house solution. Parallels Desktop for Chromebook Enterprise is launching today to provide access to Windows apps that some businesses still need. This virtual machine sees a full version of Windows installed on your Chrome OS device that works offline. Google created a secure sandbox for Windows that can easily be wiped if needed. For now, it launches an entire virtual machine instance, desktop and all, but in the future, you’ll be able to launch specific applications without seeing the Windows desktop at all.
In Google Chrome’s “Cookies and site data” settings, accessible via the Preferences menu item or directly with chrome://settings/cookies in the address bar, you can enable the setting “Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome”. However, I’ve discovered that Chrome exempts Google’s own sites, such as Search and YouTube, from this setting. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Technology companies are particularly adept at being hostile towards users, and Google is no exception.