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.
Google is finally ending forced arbitration for its employees. These changes will go into effect for both current and future Google employees on March 21. While Google won’t reopen settled claims, current employees can litigate past claims starting March 21. While it’s nice of Google to end this policy, forced arbitration for employees should clearly be illegal in the first place.
Today, the Norwegian Consumer Council has filed a complaint against Google. Based on new research Google is accused of using deceptive design and misleading information, which results in users accepting to be constantly tracked. Google tracks users through “Location History” and “Web & App Activity”, which are settings integrated into all Google accounts. For users of mobile phones with Android, such as Samsung and Huawei phones, this tracking is particularly difficult to avoid. Google is processing incredibly detailed and extensive personal data without proper legal grounds, and the data has been acquired through manipulation techniques, says Gro Mette Moen, acting head of unit, digital services in the Norwegian Consumer Council. Is anybody surprised by this?
Google, whose employees have captured international attention in recent months through high-profile protests of workplace policies, has been quietly urging the U.S. government to narrow legal protection for workers organizing online. During the Obama administration, the National Labor Relations Board broadened employees’ rights to use their workplace email system to organize around issues on the job. In a 2014 case, Purple Communications, the agency restricted companies from punishing employees for using their workplace email systems for activities like circulating petitions or fomenting walkouts, as well as trying to form a union. In filings in May 2017 and November 2018, obtained via Freedom of Information Act request, Alphabet Inc.’s Google urged the National Labor Relations Board to undo that precedent. When Google employees protested their company’s policies en masse in walkouts all over the world – organised through company e-mail – Google’s CEO and leadership publicly supported them. Behind their backs, though, they are trying very hard to make such protests much harder to organise. Charming.
We learned in 2016 that Google was working on an entirely new operating system called Fuchsia. Development continues with newfeatures and testing on a variety of form factors spotted regularly. Google has since hired 14-year Apple engineer Bill Stevenson to work on its upcoming OS, and help bring it to market. It’s not surprising why Google would want someone with that background and experience to bring up Fuchsia. In a LinkedIn post shared yesterday, Stevenson specifically notes “joining Google to help bring a new operating system called Fuchsia to market.” That’s a serious name Google is adding to the already large Fuchsia team, and the focus on bringing the new operating system to market adds fuel to the fire that Fuchsia is definitely more than just a mere research or vanity project.
A proposed change to Chrome would neuter content blockers: While we’re still waiting for a Chromium-powered version of Microsoft Edge to materialize, we do know that it is intended that the browser will end up supporting Chrome extensions. However, according to a draft of the Chrome Extension Manifest V3 implementation, it appears that there could be some bad news for content blocking solutions designed for the browser. According to the draft, use of the webRequest API currently used by content blockers “will be discouraged (and likely limited) in its blocking form” while a non-blocking implementation would allow nothing more than observation of network activity. Instead, developers will have access to the new declearativeNetRequest API. However, the proposal has drawn the ire from content blocker heavyweights such as Raymond Hill, best known as the author of uBlock Origin and uMatrix. This clearly feels like a slippery slope where eventually all forms of content blocking will be either made impossible or very limited. Google is an advertising company, after all, and content blockers must in some way influence the company’s bottom line. Luckily, there’s always Firefox.
Rumors about a Pixel Watch have abounded for years. Such a device would certainly make sense as Google attempts to prove the viability of its struggling wearable operating system, Wear OS. Seems the company is finally getting serious about the prospect. Today Fossil announced plans to sell its smartwatch IP to the software giant for $40 million. Sounds like Google will be getting a nice head start here as well. The deal pertains to “a smartwatch technology currently under development” and involves the transfer of a number of Fossil employees to team Google. Wear OS is definitely struggling, but it sure isn’t because of lack of trying from Fossil. The company has been churning out a whole wide variety of Wear OS devices, and they offer enough choice in design that anyone can find something they like – at acceptable price points, too. Sadly, like any other Wear OS OEM, they’re held back by a lack of acceptable silicon, since Qualcomm has been unable to deliver a chip that’s even remotely as good as Apple’s wearable SoC. Perhaps Google’s stewardship can address this problem.
We’ve long suspected that Google’s upcoming operating system, Fuchsia, would join the ranks of Chrome OS (and Android) in its support for Android apps. Today, that suspicion has been confirmed by a new change found in the Android Open Source Project, and we can say with confidence that Fuchsia will be capable of running Android apps using the Android Runtime. This just adds more fuel to the fire for Fuchsia’s future.