Google has been ramping up the Linux environment on Chrome OS lately, with features like microphone support and USB connections. For those of you who spend a lot of time in the command-line Terminal, Chrome OS 83 (currently in the Dev channel) has updated the app with new themes and customization options. The Terminal app on Chrome OS has changed very little since the Linux container was originally released — it’s a single window with text. However, the new version shipping in Chrome OS 83 offers tabs, pre-made themes, customizable colors and fonts for text, and even cursor options. To be honest, I’d rather have a proper, traditional Linux distribution than Chrome OS, but I guess these are welcome additions for those among us using the terminal on Chrome OS.
Google announced its decision to drop support for the User-Agent string in its Chrome browser. Instead, Chrome will offer a new API called Client Hints that will give the user greater control over which information is shared with websites. We’ve talked about this earlier this year, but I want to highlight it again since it’s very important this initiative doesn’t devolve into Google and Chrome shoving this alternative down the web’s throat. Deprecating user agent strings is a good thing, but only if the replacement is a collective effort supported by everyone.
Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases. Our primary objectives are to ensure they continue to be stable, secure, and work reliably for anyone who depends on them. We’ll continue to prioritize any updates related to security, which will be included in Chrome 80. Basically, Google wants to ensure the stability of Chrome and Chrome OS now that a lot of people are working from home due to the pandemic. Good call.
In software development, and especially Google’s development cycles, there’s usually a point where the developers “eat their own dogfood” or use their own work, before letting normal users try it. It seems that Google’s long-in-development Fuchsia OS may finally be reaching this “dogfood” stage. And yet, we’re still no closer to what, exactly, Fuchsia is going to be for.
Google is planning to move its British users’ accounts out of the control of European Union privacy regulators, placing them under U.S. jurisdiction instead, sources said. The shift, prompted by Britain’s exit from the EU, will leave the sensitive personal information of tens of millions with less protection and within easier reach of British law enforcement. Brexiteers getting what they wanted and deserve.
With Google Takeout, you can download your data from Google apps as a backup or for use with another service. Unfortunately, a brief issue with the tool last November saw your videos in Google Photos possibly get exported to strangers’ archives. How does this even happen? Too bad companies like this have armies of lawyers and obtuse terms of service to hide behind – since software is a special little butterfly that isn’t held to the same standards as any other product we use – so nobody will ever be held accountable for this.
A couple of weeks back, Google redesigned the search results for its desktop website. According to the firm, the new layout was meant to mimic the ordering of search results on the mobile version of the website. Most significantly, the changes allowed the inclusion of favicons next to display results and the removal of color overlays. This meant that advertisements and traditional search results were displayed inline with little to distinguish between the two. And now Google is backpedaling. As a DDG user, this thing kind of passed me by, but upon checking Google, I have to say I agree that this feels so off. You’d think adding favicons to search results wouldn’t make a big difference, but it really does – and not for the better.
When we first launched Chromebooks, devices only received three years of automatic updates. Over the years, we’ve been able to increase that to over six. Last fall, we extended AUE on many devices currently for sale, in many cases adding an extra year or more before they expire. This will help schools better select which devices to invest in and provide more time to transition from older devices. And now, devices launching in 2020 and beyond will receive automatic updates for even longer. The new Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet and Acer Chromebook 712 will both receive automatic updates until June 2028. So if you’re considering refreshing your fleet or investing in new devices, now is a great time. Eight years is a decent amount of time, especially since most Chromebooks are quite cheap – so this longevity is really good value. I only wish Google were this dedicated to Android, too.
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.