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.
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.