Google intends to deprecate the user agent string in Chrome. According to the proposal, the first step is to deprecate the “navigator.userAgent” method used to access the User Agent string, suggested to start in March with Chrome 81. This change won’t have any visible effect for most people, and websites will continue to work completely as normal. However, web developers will be given explicit warnings in the Chrome development console that retrieving the User Agent string is no longer a good idea. Next, with the release of Chrome 83 in June, Google will begin to freeze, or stop updating, the User Agent string with each update to Chrome. At the same time, Chrome will also “unify” the information shared about your device’s operating system, for example meaning that two computers on slightly different Windows 10 updates should have the same User Agent. This will eliminate one more potential fingerprinting method. Finally, beginning in September’s Chrome 85 release, every Chrome rowser running on a desktop operating system, such as Windows, macOS, or Linux, will report the exact same User Agent string, eliminating all possible User Agent fingerprinting. Similarly, Chrome 85 will unify the User Agent on mobile devices, though devices will apparently be lumped into one of a few categories based on screen size. User agent strings have long outlived their usefulness, and today only serve to artificially restrict browser access in the stupidest of ways. I’m obviously not comfortable with Google spearheading this effort, so I’m counting on a lot of scrutiny from the web community and other browser makers.
Of course, that was also a very different time. In 2010, Wi-Fi wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. Tethering was something I would only do under the most urgent of circumstances, given my (rooted) phone’s measly data plan allowance. The Chromebook was here, but the world wasn’t quite ready for the Chromebook. In 2019, a public space, restaurant, or even a shopping center without free Wi-Fi is basically unconscionable. Tethering using your smartphone is easier and more practical than ever. Connectivity is all around us, and technologies like Bluetooth and mesh networking have made our lives the most wire-free they’ve been since, well, wires were a thing. We live in a world where the Chromebook, and Chrome OS, should be thriving. But increasingly, it looks like Google’s cloud-first laptop platform has hit a dead end, and I’m not sure there are many available detours that can get it back on track. I haven’t yet used Chrome OS for any appreciable amount of time other than a short stint after getting it running on my Surface Pro 4 – a fun side project – but a good Chromebook has been on my list for a long time. I gave my aunt one a few years ago, set it up, and never heard any tech help question from her ever again – the device has been rock solid, zero issues, and she loves it. A radical departure from her Windows laptop before that, for sure, which was a support nightmare. In any event, I find it difficult to say anything meaningful about the linked editorial, since I simply lack the long-term experience as a user of the platform. I do think Chrome OS’ slowing development – if that is actually taking place – might simply be because the platform has grown up, has found its niche, and is content settling there. I don’t think Chromebooks have it in them to truly break into the wider PC market, since Windows and Apple PCs have that pretty well locked down.
Back in October, Wladimir Palant, developer of the popular AdBlock Plus browser extension, published a blog post outlining how extensions from security company Avast/AVG were collecting massive amounts of data from users. In a somewhat-belated response, Google has now removed some of Avast’s extensions from the Chrome Web Store. I’m so surprised.
With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about! This seems more like an administrative confirmation of a changeover that happened years ago.
Four of our colleagues took a stand and organized for a better workplace. This is explicitly condoned in Google’s Code of Conduct, which ends: “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right — speak up.” When they did, Google retaliated against them. Today, after putting two of them on sudden and unexplained leave, the company fired all four in an attempt to crush worker organizing. Google hired a union-busting firm, so the olden days of The Pinkerton Detective Agency which never sleeps, the Homestead Strike, the Colorado Labor Wars, and other late 19th century and early 20th century battles between workers on one side, and factory owners, the government, and independent “security” agencies on the other, seem back in swing. Not that it matters. Extremists will praise Google, centrists will excuse it away, and the rest will condemn Google, but keep using Google Search and Android anyway – and Google knows it. In a corporatocracy, companies and their leaders are untouchable.
Google is teaming with one of the country’s largest health-care systems on a secret project to collect and crunch the detailed personal health information of millions of Americans across 21 states, according to people familiar with the matter and internal documents. The data involved in Project Nightingale includes lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, complete with patient names and dates of birth. Neither patients nor doctors have been notified. At least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter. There’s a lot of money to be made in healthcare, and it was only a matter of time before creepy technology companies like Google would want a piece of this pie – through massive amounts of personal information. Technically, this is all above board, though. It’s fully within federal regulations and laws, so this practice is unlikely to stop.
One of the best parts of Chromebooks is that every new version of Chrome OS brings dozens of improvements to keep your device safe, fast and hassle-free. The latest version of Chrome OS includes tools to help you organize your workspace, make phone calls more easily, and print and share feedback more quickly. Chrome OS now supports virtual desktops, and the only reason I’m posting this is because I just can’t believe it’s taken them this long.
Today, we’re announcing that Google has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Fitbit, a leading wearables brand. Over the years, Google has made progress with partners in this space with Wear OS and Google Fit, but we see an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market. Fitbit has been a true pioneer in the industry and has created engaging products, experiences and a vibrant community of users. By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI, software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world. Maybe this will get Google to take Wear OS seriously, because it has been lingering for years now.
Google employees have accused their employer of creating a surveillance tool disguised as a calendar extension designed to monitor gatherings of more than 100 people, a signal that those employees may be planning protests or discussing union organizing. Google parent company Alphabet “categorically” denies the accusation. The accusation, outlined in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, claims severe unethical conduct from high-ranking Google employees, who they say allegedly ordered a team to develop an Chrome browser extension that would be installed on all employee machines and used primarily to monitor internal employee activity. Employees are claiming the tool reports anyone who creates a calendar invite and sends it to more than 100 others, alleging that it is an attempt to crackdown on organizing and employee activism. The company that earns its money by finding new ways to extract actionable data from us to sell ads more effectively is employing that same kind of technology to prevent its employees from unionising and demanding better working conditions? I’m so surprised.
In reality, these auto-delete tools accomplish little for users, even as they generate positive PR for Google. Experts say that by the time three months rolls around, Google has already extracted nearly all the potential value from users’ data, and from an advertising standpoint, data becomes practically worthless when it’s more than a few months old. “Anything up to one month is extremely valuable,” says David Dweck, the head of paid search at digital ad firm WPromote. “Anything beyond one month, we probably weren’t going to target you anyway.” Colour me entirely the exact opposite of surprised.
You thought Google would escape my ire today, didn’t you? A coalition of attorneys general representing 50 US states and territories today announced a long-awaited joint probe into antitrust complaints against one of the biggest tech companies in the world, Google. The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is spearheading the bipartisan investigation, which is beginning with the search and digital advertising markets. Google “dominates all aspects of advertising on the Internet and searching on the Internet,” Paxton told reporters during a press conference. Is anybody surprised by this? Google’s dominance in search is bad enough as it is, but the company’s real monopolistic power comes not from search, but from its more nebulous online advertising business. It’s not nearly as sexy as App Store manipulation or bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, but it’s just as potentially detrimental to the overall market as they are.
Blocking cookies is bad for privacy. That’s the new disingenuous argument from Google, trying to justify why Chrome is so far behind Safari and Firefox in offering privacy protections. As researchers who have spent over a decade studying web tracking and online advertising, we want to set the record straight. Google’s refusal to join Firefox’ and WebKit’s strong privacy positions is both entirely unsurprising and wholly sad. Chrome is the most popular browser in the world, and while I have no doubt Chrome engineers themselves would love to make their browser and engine more privacy-conscious, Google itself obviously has no incentive to do so.
With Chrome 76, Google has once again started to strip the “www” subdomain and “https://” identifier from URLs shown in the address bar. In a Chrome bug post regarding this issue, product manager Emily Schechter stated that after testing for several months in the Canary, Dev, and Beta channels, they are going to start hiding “https” and “www” in the Chrome omnibox starting in version 76 on desktop and Android. Surely we can all agree that URLs aren’t exactly as userfriendly as they once were – the kinds of garbage strings you often get these days are entirely pointless to users – but just flat-out removing parts of the URL for simplicity’s sake seems rather pointless.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Google’s vice president of public policy, Karan Bhatia, said that the tech giant’s much-criticized effort to launch a search engine in China had been abandoned. “We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” Bhatia said of the controversial search app for the Chinese market that Google had reportedly been working on last year. He was responding to a series of questions from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley about Google’s business with China. Google employees were decidedly not happy with this project, so internal pressure certainly seems to have made an impact.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to end the company’s monopoly without breaking up its search engine, and that is to turn its “index”—the mammoth and ever-growing database it maintains of internet content—into a kind of public commons. There is precedent for this both in law and in Google’s business practices. When private ownership of essential resources and services—water, electricity, telecommunications, and so on—no longer serves the public interest, governments often step in to control them. One particular government intervention is especially relevant to the Big Tech dilemma: the 1956 consent decree in the U.S. in which AT&T agreed to share all its patents with other companies free of charge. As tech investor Roger McNamee and others have pointed out, that sharing reverberated around the world, leading to a significant increase in technological competition and innovation. This is an interesting proposition. I don’t know if this will increase competition in any meaningful way, or if it’ll just lead to a shift in power from Google to the other major technology companies without really creating opportunities for newcomers, but it’s certainly yet another proposal on how to deal with the ever growing power these companies wield.
It’s somewhat strange that they’ve chosen to support the Snapdragon 835, as the chip is now two generations behind. Thus far, many of the chips in devices Google has developed Fuchsia support for had not even hit the market when development began. Perhaps supporting the Snapdragon 835 will act as a stepping stone toward newer chips like last year’s Snapdragon 845 or this year’s Snapdragon 855. The only reason I’m linking to this rather uneventful story is the name of one of the reviewers of the commit in question – Travis Geiselbrecht.
From Google’s open source blog: Today, we announced that we’re spearheading the effort to make the REP an internet standard. While this is an important step, it means extra work for developers who parse robots.txt files. We’re here to help: we open sourced the C++ library that our production systems use for parsing and matching rules in robots.txt files. This library has been around for 20 years and it contains pieces of code that were written in the 90’s. Since then, the library evolved; we learned a lot about how webmasters write robots.txt files and corner cases that we had to cover for, and added what we learned over the years also to the internet draft when it made sense.
Kyle Bradshaw at 9to5Google: As was repeatedly made plain to see during this year’s Google I/O, developers are eager to learn more about Google’s Fuchsia OS. Today, those appetites are beginning to be satisfied thanks to the quiet launch of the official Fuchsia OS developer website, Fuchsia.dev. This isn’t our first run-in with Fuchsia.dev, as the site briefly went live just after Google I/O, though it had no real content to share at the time. This morning, as noted by the Fuchsia Reddit community, Fuchsia.dev is live once again with a new design and tons of official Fuchsia documentation. This is the first time Google officially and openly acknowledges its new operating system as a real thing that exists that it wants to involve others in. Very interesting.
Google is locking down API access to Gmail data (and later, Drive data) soon, and some of your favorite third-party apps might find themselves locked out of your Google account data. The new API policy was announced back in October, but this week Google started emailing individual users of these apps, telling them the apps will no longer work starting July 15. The new policy closes off OAuth access to Gmail data, and while we by no means have a comprehensive list of what isn’t affected yet, so far we’ve seen users of Microsoft’s SwiftKey and the open source app SMS Backup+ receive notification emails. On the one hand, it’s good that Google is trying to make account access by third parties as secure as possible. On the other hand, it highlights just how dependent many of us are on data stored in the bellies of larger technology giants – and as consumers, we have little to no recourse in case one of our favourite applications gets cut off like this.