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.
For a while now, Google has been working on changing the way Chrome extensions work. Among other changes, the Web Request API will be replaced by the Declarative Net Request API, which is stricter in the kind of data extensions need to function. However, current ad blockers also use the Web Request API currently, and the replacement API limits these extensions in what they can do. Google has written a blog post explaining their reasoning. It concludes: This has been a controversial change since the Web Request API is used by many popular extensions, including ad blockers. We are not preventing the development of ad blockers or stopping users from blocking ads. Instead, we want to help developers, including content blockers, write extensions in a way that protects users’ privacy. You can read more about the Declarative Net Request API and how it compares to the Web Request API here. We understand that these changes will require developers to update the way in which their extensions operate. However, we think it is the right choice to enable users to limit the sensitive data they share with third-parties while giving them the ability to curate their own browsing experience. We are continuing to iterate on many aspects of the Manifest V3 design, and are working with the developer community to find solutions that both solve the use cases extensions have today and keep our users safe and in control. I don’t doubt that Google’s Chrome engineers are making these changes because they genuinely believe they make the browser better and safer. I’m concerned with the bean counters and managers, and Google’s omnipresent ad sales managers, who will be all too eager to abuse Chrome’s popularity to make ad blocking harder.
Google is essentially saying that Chrome will still have the capability to block unwanted content, but this will be restricted to only paid, enterprise users of Chrome. This is likely to allow enterprise customers to develop in-house Chrome extensions, not for ad blocking usage. For the rest of us, Google hasn’t budged on their changes to content blockers, meaning that ad blockers will need to switch to a less effective, rules-based system, called “declarativeNetRequest.” I’m glad I switched to Firefox already, and I suggest you do the same. A browser that is not tied to a platform vendor (like Safari) or run by an ad company (like Chrome).
In “Direct speech-to-speech translation with a sequence-to-sequence model”, we propose an experimental new system that is based on a single attentive sequence-to-sequence model for direct speech-to-speech translation without relying on intermediate text representation. Dubbed Translatotron, this system avoids dividing the task into separate stages, providing a few advantages over cascaded systems, including faster inference speed, naturally avoiding compounding errors between recognition and translation, making it straightforward to retain the voice of the original speaker after translation, and better handling of words that do not need to be translated (e.g., names and proper nouns). As a translator, I feel less and less job-secure every time Google I/O rolls around.
It’s a miracle! Google has finally actually mentioned Fuchsia a few times during Google I/O… Without really saying much of anything at all. Head of Android and Chrome, Hiroshi Lockheimer, said during a live taping of The Vergecast: “We’re looking at what a new take on an operating system could be like. And so I know out there people are getting pretty excited saying, ‘Oh this is the new Android,’ or, ‘This is the new Chrome OS,’” Lockheimer said. “Fuchsia is really not about that. Fuchsia is about just pushing the state of the art in terms of operating systems and things that we learn from Fuchsia we can incorporate into other products.” He says the point of the experimental OS is to also experiment with different form factors, a hint toward the possibility that Fuchsia is designed to run on smart home devices, wearables, or possibly even augmented or virtual reality devices. “You know Android works really well on phones and and you know in the context of Chrome OS as a runtime for apps there. But Fuchsia may be optimized for certain other form factors as well. So we’re experimenting.” That’s all still quite cryptic, and doesn’t really tell us anything at all. Still, it’s the first time Google has openly said anything about Fuchsia at all. Fuchsia also gets a short mention in a Google blog post about Flutter for the web, so maybe Google is finally going to be a bit more open about its plans for the operating system going forward.
Today marks an important milestone for the Flutter framework, as we expand our focus from mobile to incorporate a broader set of devices and form factors. At I/O, we’re releasing our first technical preview of Flutter for web, announcing that Flutter is powering Google’s smart display platform including the Google Home Hub, and delivering our first steps towards supporting desktop-class apps with Chrome OS. Do any OSNews readers with a far better grip on such frameworks than I do have experience with Flutter?
With as quickly as Fuchsia is being developed, this may not be relevant for too long, but I hope that it can help at least a few people for the time being. Horus125 and I have been working on this for the past couple days or so and we’re glad we finally got it working and are happy to share our process. We still have no idea what Google intends to do with Fuchsia, but at least we can run in the Android Emulator.
You can already use your Google Account to access simple on/off controls for Location History and Web & App Activity, and if you choose—to delete all or part of that data manually. In addition to these options, we’re announcing auto-delete controls that make it even easier to manage your data. Choose a time limit for how long you want your activity data to be saved—3 or 18 months—and any data older than that will be automatically deleted from your account on an ongoing basis. These controls are coming first to Location History and Web & App Activity and will roll out in the coming weeks. And now we have to assume that they will actually delete said data. Do we really have any way to check? Or due to a complete lack of oversight into the kind of data these companies store, can we only believe them on their blue eyes?
So why am I writing all of this? Unfortunately, email is starting to become synonymous with Google’s mail, and Google’s machines have decided that mail from my server is simply not worth receiving. Being a good administrator and a well-behaved player on the network is no longer enough. This is already a big philosphical problem now, and it will only get worse as large tech companies try to wrestle ever more control over the web away from users. And because this sort of stuff is so low-level and technical, it’s not going to grab headlines or stirr the masses.
Starting today, the NoScript Firefox extension, a popular tool for privacy-focused users, is also available for Google Chrome, Giorgio Maone, NoScript’s author, has told ZDNet. The NoScript Chrome port, on which Maone has worked for months, is now available from the official Chrome Web Store, via this link. Always a useful tool.
Google has been hit with a €1.49bn (£1.28bn) fine from the EU for blocking rival online search advertisers. It is the third EU fine for the search and advertising giant in two years. The case accuses Google of abusing its market dominance by restricting third-party rivals from displaying search ads between 2006 and 2016. In response, Google changed its AdSense contracts with large third parties, giving them more leeway to display competing search ads. I’m glad at least someone has the guts to face megacorporations head-on.
Google employees have carried out their own investigation into the company’s plan to launch a censored search engine for China and say they are concerned that development of the project remains ongoing, The Intercept can reveal. Late last year, bosses moved engineers away from working on the controversial project, known as Dragonfly, and said that there were no current plans to launch it. However, a group of employees at the company was unsatisfied with the lack of information from leadership on the issue — and took matters into their own hands. The group has identified ongoing work on a batch of code that is associated with the China search engine, according to three Google sources. The development has stoked anger inside Google offices, where many of the company’s 88,000 workforce previously protested against plans to launch the search engine, which was designed to censor broad categories of information associated with human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest. I wonder how many times corporations like Google and Apple have to actively aid the Chinese government in its brutal regime of oppression, torture, concentration camps, and executions before the collective tech press and bloggers stop treating them like golden magic prodigies of democracy and freedom.
Google has declined to remove from its app store a Saudi government app which lets men track women and control where they travel, on the grounds that it meets all their terms and conditions. Google reviewed the app — called Absher — and concluded that it does not violate any agreements, and can therefore remain on the Google Play store. Western companies talk a lot about morals and values back home, but overseas, these very same companies drop those morals and values left, right, and centre – whether it’s Apple ignoring all its privacy chest-thumping in China, or in this specific case, Google having zero qualms about hosting and spreading an application that Saudi-Arabian ‘men’ use to opress and abuse women.
The dominance of Chrome has a major detrimental effect on the Web as an open platform: developers are increasingly shunning other browsers in their testing and bug-fixing routines. If it works as intended on Chrome, it’s ready to ship. This in turn results in more users flocking to the browser as their favorite Web sites and apps no longer work elsewhere, making developers less likely to spend time testing on other browsers. A vicious cycle that, if not broken, will result in most other browsers disappearing in the oblivion of irrelevance. And that’s exactly how you suffocate the open Web. When it comes to promoting this mono-browser culture, Google is leading the pack. Poor quality assurance and questionable design choices are just the tip of the iceberg when you look at Google’s apps and services outside the Chrome ecosystem. Making matters worse, the blame often lands on other vendors for “holding back the Web”. The Web is Google’s turf as it stands now; you either do as they do, or you are called out for being a laggard. Without a healthy and balanced competition, any open platform will regress into some form of corporate control. For the Web, this means that its strongest selling points—freedom and universal accessibility—are eroded with every per-cent that Chrome gains in market share. This alone is cause for concern. But when we consider Google’s business model, the situation takes a scary turn. An excellent article on just how dangerous the Chrome monoculture has become to the open web. I switched away from everything Chrome recently, opting instead to use Firefox on my laptop, desktop, and mobile devices.