Google

Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google (wsj.com) 1

Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, "Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps." From the report (alternative source): It's likely that Google has shadow profiles (data the company gathers on people without accounts) on as at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, CEO of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft. Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting, though, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data. Google Analytics is far and away the web's most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in. Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways. In 2016, Google changed its terms of service, allowing it to merge its massive trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts.

Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we've installed, demographics like age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we've shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn't use information from "sensitive categories" such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health. Because it relies on cross-device tracking, it can spot logged-in users no matter which device they're on. Google fuels even more data harvesting through its dominant ad marketplaces. There are up to 4,000 data brokers in the U.S., and collectively they know everything about us we might otherwise prefer they didn't -- whether we're pregnant, divorced or trying to lose weight. Google works with some of these brokers directly but the company says it vets them to prevent targeting based on sensitive information. Google also is the biggest enabler of data harvesting, through the world's two billion active Android mobile devices.

Google

Google's AR Microscope Quickly Highlights Cancer Cells (uploadvr.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from UploadVR: Google Research this week revealed an AR microscope (ARM) capable of detecting cancerous cells in real-time with the help of machine learning. Locating cancer with a standard microscope is a difficult and time-consuming process, with a raft of information for doctors to study and investigate. With this new solution, though, the microscope is able to quickly locate cancerous cells and then highlight them as a doctor peers inside. The platform uses a modified light microscope integrated with image analysis and machine learning algorithms into its field of view. An AR display sits above a camera that communicates with the algorithm to display data as soon as it locates an issue. In order words, the microscope immediately begins looking for cancerous cells as soon as you place a sample beneath it. It's effectively doing the same job as a doctor just, according to Google, a lot faster. Google posted a video about the AR microscope on YouTube.
The Almighty Buck

Kurzweil Predicts Universal Basic Incomes Worldwide Within 20 Years (hackernoon.com) 290

Google's director of engineering Ray Kurzweil made a startling prediction at the 2018 TED conference. Hacker Noon reports: "In the early 2030s, we'll have universal basic income in the developed world, and worldwide by the end of the 2030s. You'll be able to live very well on that. The primary concern will be meaning and purpose," he said onstage at the annual event...

Kurzweil believes that by 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence. It's not inconceivable then that AI will be distributing UBI to humans based on algorithms that are capable of crunching numbers in ways we cannot follow. Indeed, what we call the "State" in even just 10 years time may have been transformed by AI and blockchain tech in a way whereby even our experience of consensus decision making and democracy itself may have evolved.

AI

AI Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit (nytimes.com) 82

One of the poorest-kept secrets in Silicon Valley has been the huge salaries and bonuses that experts in artificial intelligence can command. Now, a little-noticed tax filing by a research lab called OpenAI has made some of those eye-popping figures public [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. It paid another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, more than $800,000 -- even though he was not hired until March of that year. Both were recruited from Google. A third big name in the field, the roboticist Pieter Abbeel, made $425,000, though he did not join until June 2016, after taking a leave from his job as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Those figures all include signing bonuses.

[...] Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology and thousands of companies want to work with it. Element AI, an independent lab in Canada, estimates that 22,000 people worldwide have the skills needed to do serious A.I. research -- about double from a year ago.

Google

Google Is 'Pausing' Work On Allo In Favor 'Chat,' An RCS-Based Messaging Standard (theverge.com) 137

An anonymous reader shares an exclusive report from The Verge about Google's next big fix for Android's messaging mess: Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it's trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It's going to be called "Chat," and it's based on a standard called the "Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services." SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google's goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps. As part of that effort, Google says it's "pausing" work on its most recent entry into the messaging space, Allo. It's the sort of "pause" that involves transferring almost the entire team off the project and putting all its resources into another app, Android Messages. Google won't build the iMessage clone that Android fans have clamored for, but it seems to have cajoled the carriers into doing it for them. In order to have some kind of victory in messaging, Google first had to admit defeat. Some of the new features associated with Chat include read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images and video, and group texts. It's important to keep in mind that it's a carrier-based service, not a Google service. It won't be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. The new Chat services will be switched on in the near future, but ultimately carriers will dictate exactly when Chat will go live. Also, you may be persuaded to upgrade your data plan since Chat messages will be sent with your data plan instead of your SMS plan.
Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 139

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

Transportation

LA Councilman Asks City Attorney To 'Review Possible Legal Action' Against Waze (arstechnica.com) 211

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Yet another Los Angeles city councilman has taken Waze to task for creating "dangerous conditions" in his district, and the politician is now "asking the City to review possible legal action." "Waze has upended our City's traffic plans, residential neighborhoods, and public safety for far too long," LA City Councilman David Ryu said in a statement released Wednesday. "Their responses have been inadequate and their solutions, non-existent. They say the crises of congestion they cause is the price for innovation -- I say that's a false choice." In a new letter sent to the City Attorney's Office, Ryu formally asked Los Angeles' top attorney to examine Waze's behavior. While Ryu said he supported "advances in technology," he decried Waze and its parent company, Google, for refusing "any responsibility for the traffic problems their app creates or the concerns of residents and City officials."
Advertising

German Supreme Court Rules Ad Blockers Legal (faz.net) 132

New submitter paai writes: The publishing company Axel Springer tried to ban the use of ad blockers in Germany because they endanger the digital publishing of news stories. The Oberlandesgericht Koln (Germany's Higher Regional Court of Cologne) followed this reasoning and forbade the use of ad blockers on the grounds that the use of white lists was an aggressive marketing technique. [The business model allows websites to pay a fee so that their "non aggressive" advertisements can bypass AdBlock Pro's filters. Larger companies like Google can afford to pay to have the ban lifted on their website.] The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice or BGH) destroyed this court ruling today and judged that users had a right to filter out advertisements in web pages.
Chrome

Millions of Chrome Users Have Installed Malware Posing as Ad Blockers (vice.com) 42

Kaleigh Rogers, writing for Motherboard: Andrey Meshkov, the cofounder of ad-blocker AdGuard, recently got curious about the number of knock-off ad blocking extensions available for Google's popular browser Chrome. These extensions were deliberately styled to look like legitimate, well-known ad blockers, but Meshkov wondered why they existed at all, so he downloaded one and took a look at the code. "Basically I downloaded it and checked what requests the extension was making," Meshkov told me over the phone. "Some strange requests caught my attention."

Meshkov discovered that the AdRemover extension for Chrome -- which had over 10 million users -- had code hidden inside an image that was loaded from the remote command server, giving the extension creator the ability to change its functions without updating. This alone is against Google's policy, and after Meshkov wrote about a few examples on AdGuard's blog, many of which had millions of downloads, Chrome removed the extensions from the store. I reached out to Google, and a spokesperson confirmed that these extensions had been removed.

Google

Turn Right at the Burger King: Google Maps Begins Using Landmarks To Help With Guidance (techcrunch.com) 135

Most navigation apps give you instructions based on streets or distance. But it's arguably in contrast to how people usually provide directions -- some usually point to landmarks that are easier to spot. Google sees some merit in that. The idea is that Google Maps is highlighting some landmarks and other points of interest (fast food restaurants) to help with guidance. TechCrunch reports that some users are already seeing this on Google Maps. And maybe to Google, this opens door for some business opportunities as well. Only time will tell.
Businesses

Marissa Mayer is Back (bloomberg.com) 97

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer is starting a technology business incubator, Lumi Labs, with longtime colleague Enrique Munoz Torres, she revealed in an interview with The New York Times. Bloomberg: The venture will focus on consumer media and artificial intelligence, according to the company's website, which is set against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. Lumi means snow in Finnish, Mayer told the New York Times, which reported the news earlier Wednesday. The next project for Mayer, who was an early employee at Google and worked there until leaving to run Yahoo in 2012, had been a matter of considerable speculation in Silicon Valley. She left Yahoo, once a leading search engine and web destination, after it was sold to Verizon Communications last year.
The Internet

4.9% of Websites Use Flash, Down From 28.5% in 2011 (bleepingcomputer.com) 129

Web makers continue to ditch the infamous Flash for other safer, improved technologies. In 2011, more than 28.5 percent of websites used Flash in their code, a figure technology survey site W3Techs estimates to have dropped to 4.9 percent today. BleepingComputer: The number confirms Flash's decline, and a reason why Adobe has decided to retire the technology at the end of 2020. A decline from 28.5 percent to 4.9 percent doesn't look that bad, but we're talking about all Internet sites, not just a small portion of Top 10,000 or Top 1 Million sites. Taking into account the sheer number of abandoned sites on today's Internet, the decline is quite considerable, and W3Techs' findings confirm similar statistics put out by a Google security engineer in February.
Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 59

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
Microsoft

Microsoft Ports Edge Anti-Phishing Technology To Google Chrome (bleepingcomputer.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft has released a Chrome extension named "Windows Defender Browser Protection" that ports Windows Defender's -- and inherently Edge's -- anti-phishing technology to Google Chrome. The extension works by showing bright red-colored pages whenever users are tricked into accessing malicious links. The warnings are eerily similar to the ones that Chrome natively shows via the Safe Browsing API, but are powered by Microsoft's database of malicious links —also known as the SmartScreen API.

Chrome users should be genuinely happy that they can now use both APIs for detecting phishing and malware-hosting URLs. The SmartScreen API isn't as known as Google's more famous Safe Browsing API, but works in the same way, and possibly even better. An NSS Labs benchmark revealed that Edge (with its SmartScreen API) caught 99 percent of all phishing URLs thrown at it during a test last year, while Chrome only detected 87 percent of the malicious links users accessed.

The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 72

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
The Internet

Chrome 66 Arrives With Autoplaying Content Blocked By Default (venturebeat.com) 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Google today launched Chrome 66 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. The desktop release includes autoplaying content muted by default, security improvements, and new developer features. You can update to the latest version now using the browser's built-in silent updater or download it directly from google.com/chrome. In our tests, autoplaying content that is muted still plays automatically. Autoplaying content with sound, whether it has visible controls or not, and whether it is set to play on loop or not, simply does not start playing. Note that this is all encompassing -- even autoplaying content you are expecting or is the main focus of the page does not play. YouTube videos, for example, no longer start playing automatically. And in case that's not enough, or if a page somehow circumvents the autoplaying block, you can still mute whole websites.
Businesses

Cybersecurity Tech Accord: More Than 30 Tech Firms Pledge Not to Assist Governments in Cyberattacks (cybertechaccord.org) 67

Over 30 major technology companies, led by Microsoft and Facebook, on Tuesday announced what they are calling the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a set of principles that include a declaration that they will not help any government -- including that of the United States -- mount cyberattacks against "innocent civilians and enterprises from anywhere."

The companies that are participating in the initiative are: ABB, Arm, Avast, Bitdefender, BT, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cloudflare, DataStax, Dell, DocuSign, Facebook, Fastly, FireEye, F-Secure, GitHub, Guardtime, HP Inc., HPE, Intuit, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Nielsen, Nokia, Oracle, RSA, SAP, Stripe, Symantec, Telefonica, Tenable, Trend Micro, and VMware.

The announcement comes at the backdrop of a growing momentum in political and industry circles to create a sort of Digital Geneva Convention that commits the entire tech industry and governments to supporting a free and secure internet. The effort comes after attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya hobbled businesses around the world last year, and just a day after the U.S. and U.K. issued an unprecedented joint alert citing the threat of cyberattacks from Russian state-sponsored actors. The Pentagon has said Russian "trolling" activity increased 2,000 percent after missile strikes in Syria.

Interestingly, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter are not participating in the program, though the Tech Accord says it "remains open to consideration of new private sector signatories, large or small and regardless of sector."
Encryption

Russia Begins Blocking Telegram Messenger (reuters.com) 59

Russia's state telecommunications regulator said on Monday it had begun blocking access to Telegram messenger after the company refused to comply with an order to give Russian state security access to its users' secret messages (encryption keys). From a report: The watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement on its website that it had sent telecoms operators a notification about blocking access to Telegram inside Russia. The service, set up by a Russian entrepreneur, has more than 200 million global users and is ranked as the world's ninth most popular mobile messaging app.
Encryption

Former FBI Director James Comey Reveals How Apple and Google's Encryption Efforts Drove Him 'Crazy' (fastcompany.com) 351

An anonymous reader shares a report: In his explosive new book, A Higher Loyalty, fired FBI director James Comey denounces President Trump as "untethered to the truth" and likens him to a "mob boss," but he also touches on other topics during his decades-long career in law enforcement -- including his strong objection to the tech industry's encryption efforts. When Apple and Google announced in 2014 that they would be moving their mobile devices to default encryption, by emphasizing that making them immune to judicial orders was good for society, "it drove me crazy," he writes. He goes on to lament the lack of "true listening" between tech and law enforcement, saying that "the leaders of the tech companies don't see the darkness the FBI sees," such as terrorism and organized crime.

He writes, "I found it appalling that the tech types couldn't see this. I would frequently joke with the FBI 'Going Dark' team assigned to seek solutions, 'Of course the Silicon Valley types don't see the darkness -- they live where it's sunny all the time and everybody is rich and smart." But Comey understood it was an unbelievably difficult issue and that public safety had to be balanced with privacy concerns.

Facebook

Facebook Competitor Orkut Relaunches as 'Hello' (bloombergquint.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: In 2004, one of the world's most popular social networks, Orkut, was founded by a former Google employee named Orkut Buyukkokten... Orkut was shut down by Google in 2014, but in its heyday, the network had hit 300 million users around the world... "Hello.com is a spiritual successor of Orkut.com," Buyukkokten told BloombergQuint... "People have lost trust in social networks and the main reason is social media services today don't put the users first. They put advertisers, brands, third parties, shareholders before the users," Buyukkokten said. "They are also not transparent about practices. The privacy policy and terms of services are more like black boxes. How many users actually read them?"

Buyukkokten said users need to be educated about these things and user consent is imperative in such situations when data is shared by such platforms. "On Hello, we do not share data with third parties. We have our own registration and login and so the data doesn't follow you anywhere," he said. "You don't need to sell user data in order to be profitable or make money."

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