Archive for Google

VICE Says Google Maps Is The “Creepiest” App On Your Phone

Posted in Commentary with tags on November 13, 2020 by itnerd

VICE has highlighted six reasons why Google Maps is the creepiest app on your phone. And I do mean creepy:

1. Google Maps Wants Your Search History: Google’s “Web & App Activity” settings describe how the company collects data, such as user location, to create a faster and “more personalized” experience. In plain English, this means that every single place you’ve looked up in the app — whether it’s a strip club, a kebab shop or your moped-riding drug dealer’s location — is saved and integrated into Google’s search engine algorithm for a period of 18 months. Google knows you probably find this creepy. That’s why the company uses so-called “dark patterns” — user interfaces crafted to coax us into choosing options we might not otherwise, for example by highlighting an option with certain fonts or brighter colors. 

2. Google Maps Limits Its Features If You Don’t Share Your Search History: If you open your Google Maps app, you’ll see a circle in the top right corner that signifies you’re logged in with your Google account. That’s not necessary, and you can simply log out. Of course, the log out button is slightly hidden, but can be found like this: click on the circle > Settings > scroll down > Log out of Google Maps. Unfortunately, Google Maps won’t let you save frequently visited places if you’re not logged into your Google account. If you choose not to log in, when you click on the search bar you get a “Tired of typing?” button, suggesting you sign in, and coaxing you towards more data collection. 

3. Google Maps Can Snitch On You: Another problematic feature is the “Google Maps Timeline,” which “shows an estimate of places you may have been and routes you may have taken based on your Location History.” With this feature, you can look at your personal travel routes on Google Maps, including the means of transport you probably used, such as a car or a bike. The obvious downside is that your every move is known to Google, and to anyone with access to your account. And that’s not just hackers — Google may also share data with government agencies such as the police. […] If your “Location History” is on, your phone “saves where you go with your devices, even when you aren’t using a specific Google service,” as is explained in more detail on this page. This feature is useful if you lose your phone, but also turns it into a bonafide tracking device. 

4. Google Maps Wants to Know Your Habits: Google Maps often asks users to share a quick public rating. “How was Berlin Burger? Help others know what to expect,” suggests the app after you’ve picked up your dinner. This feels like a casual, lighthearted question and relies on the positive feeling we get when we help others. But all this info is collected in your Google profile, making it easier for someone to figure out if you’re visiting a place briefly and occasionally (like on holiday) or if you live nearby. 

5. Google Maps Doesn’t Like It When You’re Offline: Remember GPS navigation? It might have been clunky and slow, but it’s a good reminder that you don’t need to be connected to the internet to be directed. In fact, other apps offer offline navigation. On Google, you can download maps, but offline navigation is only available for cars. It seems fairly unlikely the tech giant can’t figure out how to direct pedestrians and cyclists without internet. 

6. Google Makes It Seem Like This Is All for Your Own Good: “Providing useful, meaningful experiences is at the core of what Google does,” the company says on its website, adding that knowing your location is important for this reason. They say they use this data for all kinds of useful things, like “security” and “language settings” — and, of course, selling ads. Google also sells advertisers the possibility to evaluate how well their campaigns reached their target (that’s you!) and how often people visited their physical shops “in an anonymized and aggregated manner”. But only if you opt in (or you forget to opt out).

I haven’t had Google Maps on my iPhone for years. And this report really doesn’t make me want put it back on my phone. Google needs to get their act together as privacy is a big deal for a lot of people, and they’re on the wrong side of that argument. As usual. I would suggest to the company who claims to “do no evil” actually live up to that mantra. But perhaps I expect too much.

Google Pixel 5 Is Now Available On The TELUS 5G Network

Posted in Commentary with tags , on October 29, 2020 by itnerd

The Google Pixel 5 is now available at TELUS. The latest 5G enabled device allows for fast downloads and streaming all for $0 upfront with TELUS Easy Payment® on the fastest 5G network in Canada providing speeds up to 1.7 Gbps.

The Pixel 5 is the phone made the Google way – bringing together the best of Google hardware, software and AI together – all at an affordable price. Key features include: 

  • A camera that helps you take your best shots. Have a photo shoot day or night, capture moments with stunning clarity, and  take clips with Hollywood-inspired effects.
  • A phone that’s also a wireless charger. Charge wirelessly, stay powered up all day, and get up to 48 hours of battery life when you need it most with Extreme Battery Saver.
  • Protection from security threats and water spills. A water-resistant metal body and superhero-level security chip help ensure that your data, and device, stay protected.

TELUS 5G will be available at no additional cost on TELUS Peace of Mind plans, starting at only $75/20GB of high-speed data until October 31, with endless data and no overage fees.

Google Cloud Awarded Framework Agreement For Secure Cloud Services By Canadian Federal Government

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 22, 2020 by itnerd

Google Cloud announced today that it has secured a Framework Agreement for Secure Cloud from the Canadian federal government. This agreement now enables Google Cloud to directly sell innovative cloud platform and collaboration technologies to federal agencies, helping them digitally transform and better serve their communities and constituents.

To secure this framework, Google Cloud was assessed by the Canadian federal government against all relevant security, privacy, and usability standards. While Google Cloud already works with several Canadian federal government agencies, the new agreement will permit Google Cloud to better support a wide range of federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations.

Citizens have become accustomed to convenient, easy-to-use, digital services in their daily lives. Government organizations face increased pressure to deliver the same convenience as consumer experiences, often under financial constraints and using legacy systems. This new framework agreement with Google Cloud will enable governments to procure cloud services—and subsequently help close the gap between government and consumer services.

Feds Plan To Sue Google For Anti-Trust As Early As Today [UPDATE]

Posted in Commentary with tags , on October 20, 2020 by itnerd

The US Justice Department plans to accuse Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit to be filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation, according to officials at the agency:

In its suit, to be filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C., the agency will accuse Google, a unit of Alphabet, of illegally maintaining its monopoly over search through several exclusive business contracts and agreements that lock out competition, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record. Such contracts include Google’s payment of billions of dollars to Apple to place the Google search engine as the default for iPhones. The agency will argue that Google, which controls about 80 percent of search queries in the United States, struck agreements with phone makers using Alphabet’s Android operating system to pre-load the search engine on their phones and make it hard for rival search engines to become a replacement. By using contracts to maintain its monopoly, competition and innovation has suffered, the suit with argue.

The suit reflects the pushback against the power of the nation’s largest corporations, and especially technology giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. Conservatives like President Trump and liberals like Senator Elizabeth Warren have been highly critical of the concentration of power in a handful of tech behemoths. Attorney General William P. Barr, who was appointed by Mr. Trump, has played an unusually active role in the investigation. He pushed career Justice Department attorneys to bring the case by the end of September, prompting pushback from lawyers who wanted more time and complained of political influence. Mr. Barr has spoken publicly about the inquiry for months and set tight deadlines for the prosecutors leading the effort.

This will be interesting to watch because this can be the first of many lawsuits to be filed by the feds. Lawyers at Amazon, Facebook and Apple have to be very worried as it looks like Google is going to be made an example of. If and when the lawsuit gets announced, I’ll update this post.

UPDATE: The Lawsuit has dropped.

UPDATE #2: Google calls the lawsuit “deeply flawed” in a blog post.

Google To Get Slapped With Anti-Trust Lawsuit: The New York Times

Posted in Commentary with tags on September 4, 2020 by itnerd

Well it seems that a crackdown on big tech may be inbound. And it starts with Google according to the New York Times who say that against the advice of career lawyers in the Department of Justice, William Barr is going ahead with an anti-trust lawsuit against Google:

Justice Department officials told lawyers involved in the antitrust inquiry into Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, to wrap up their work by the end of September, according to three of the people. Most of the 40-odd lawyers who had been working on the investigation opposed the deadline. Some said they would not sign the complaint, and several of them left the case this summer.

Some argued this summer in a memo that ran hundreds of pages that they could bring a strong case but needed more time, according to people who described the document. Disagreement persisted among the team over how broad the complaint should be and what Google could do to resolve the problems the government uncovered. The lawyers viewed the deadline as arbitrary.

While there were disagreements about tactics, career lawyers also expressed concerns that Mr. Barr wanted to announce the case in September to take credit for action against a powerful tech company under the Trump administration.

Well, this can go horribly sideways. I can easily see a scenario where rushing to file a lawsuit when you haven’t dotted the “i”‘s and crossed the “t”‘s can end up in Google kicking the DOJ in the posterior and making them look like fools. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Epic Games Picks A Fight With Apple And Google…. And Apple Is Going To Be On The Wrong End Of This Fight

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on August 14, 2020 by itnerd

Epic Games, makers of the insanely popular game Fortnite have decided to pick a fight with Apple and Google over being able to offer in app purchases without giving Apple and Google a cut. And to nobody’s surprise, Apple and Google have retaliated by banning Fortnite from their respective app stores. Epic Games didn’t take that well, and sued both Apple and Google.

Here’s how we got here:

  • Epic Games announced that it has introduced a new direct payment option in the Fortnite app for iPhone and iPad, allowing players to purchase 1000 V-Bucks for $7.99 rather than $9.99 through an in-app purchase mechanism which would give Apple and Google a cut. In a FAQ, Epic Games described Apple’s and Google’s 30 percent commission on in-app purchases as “exorbitant,” leading it to introduce this alternate payment system so that it can offer the same permanent discount of up to 20 percent on V-Bucks that it is now offering to players on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mac, and PC.
  • To nobody’s surprise, Apple and Google said that this violated their app store rules and both companies pulled the game from their respective app stores.
  • Epic responded to this by dropping this video which has similar overtones to Apple’s “1984” video that launched the original Macintosh:

Here’s Apple’s “1984” video for comparison:

The next thing that Fortnite did is sue Apple [Warning: PDF] and Google. Epic’s is also encouraging Fortnite players affected by the ban to tweet at Apple with the #FreeFortnite hashtag. But I should note that it’s not doing the same thing with Google.

Clearly Epic Games was expecting things to play out the way that they have as they clearly had things ready to go. And this will end badly for Apple as this isn’t about Google despite the fact that Google is being sued as well. Here’s why. You can also still play Fortnite on Android by sideloading the app, avoiding the Google Play Store entirely. However you can’t do this on the Apple App Store. Which means that iOS users who want to play Fortnite can’t do so unless they have already have it on their iDevice. And they can’t update the game either. Which means that Apple holds all the cards. This caught the attention of Congress not too long ago and has Apple under a microscope at the moment. An example of this is Apple’s rather stupid reason for banning game streaming services. Thus Epic Games is likely assuming that if they force this issue now, Apple will be put under all sort of pressure and be the subject of negative press which will make them change course. Or encourage Congress to use anti-trust law to force Apple to change course. And seeing as Epic Games has one of the most popular games in the world at the moment, they have a lot of power. As for Google, I am pretty sure that Epic Games thinks that if Apple gets taken down, Google will likely settle very quickly.

Apple is not in a good place when it comes to this and Apple is going to lose if they don’t come up with a way out of this. Epic Games has played this perfectly and I am sure that a lot of people at Apple Park are very worried about this. Apple has pretty much have been pwned in Epic fashion.

Google Home Speakers May Have Been Recording Sounds Without Your Permission

Posted in Commentary with tags , on August 10, 2020 by itnerd

Your Google Home speaker may have been quietly recording sounds around your house without your permission or authorization it was revealed this week.

A Google spokesperson told Protocol that the feature was accidentally enabled for some users through a recent software update and has since been rolled back. But in light of Monday’s news that Google invested $450 million — acquiring a 6.6% stake — in home security provider ADT, it may be a sign of things to come for Google, as it hints at the company’s secret home security superpower: millions of smart speakers already in people’s homes.

There have been a few people on Reddit who have discovered this, and frankly this bothers me. And it should bother you. I can see how this could be a powerful feature. But I can also see how this could become a privacy nightmare. Google really needs to come clean in terms of this, and give users of these smart speakers the info that they need to give them the ability to have the privacy that they need.

Tech CEOs To Get Grilled By Congress Today…. Here’s How To Watch

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on July 29, 2020 by itnerd

Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook are set to be grilled by Congress today. Specifically the Judiciary Committee. The hearing is to find out if tech companies are using their dominant market positions to stifle competition which would be harmful to consumers. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as this is an election year which means that you might see some things might happen for no other reason than to increase the chances of re-election for some politician. If you’re interested in watching the “fun”, here’s a link to watch it live starting at noon ET:

Expect some feedback from yours truly once this is over.

COVID-19 Apps Meant To Be Privacy Focused Ask For Device Location Access On Android…. WTF?

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 21, 2020 by itnerd

When Google and Apple released their COVID-19 exposure notification API, it was promised to put privacy first. But that may not be true. At least on the Android of the fence as The New York Times describes:

When Google and Apple announced plans in April for free software to help alert people of their possible exposure to the coronavirus, the companies promoted it as “privacy preserving” and said it would not track users’ locations. Encouraged by those guarantees, GermanySwitzerland and other countries used the code to develop national virus alert apps that have been downloaded more than 20 million times. But for the apps to work on smartphones with Google’s Android operating system — the most popular in the world — users must first turn on the device location setting, which enables GPS and may allow Google to determine their locations. 

And what is interesting is that Apple iPhones don’t require this setting. So this is just a Google thing. That sounds sketchy to say the least. And to the surprise of nobody, this has caused some alarm:

Some government officials seemed surprised that the company could detect Android users’ locations. After learning about it, Cecilie Lumbye Thorup, a spokeswoman for Denmark’s Health Ministry, said her agency intended to “start a dialogue with Google about how they in general use location data.” Switzerland said it had pushed Google for weeks to alter the location setting requirement. “Users should be able to use such proximity tracing apps without any bindings with other services,” said Dr. Sang-Il Kim, the department head for digital transformation at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health, who oversees the country’s virus-alert app. Latvia said it had pressed Google on the issue as it was developing its virus app. “We don’t like that the GPS must be on,” said Elina Dimina, head of the infectious-disease surveillance unit at Latvia’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Google’s location requirement adds to the slew of privacy and security concerns with virus-tracing apps, many of which were developed by governments before the new Apple-Google software became available. Now the Android location issue could undermine the privacy promises that governments made to the public.

Google for its part had this to say:

Pete Voss, a Google spokesman, said the virus alert apps that use the company’s software do not use device location. That’s including for people who test positive for the virus and use the apps to notify other users. The apps use Bluetooth scanning signals to detect smartphones that come into close contact with one another — without needing to know the devices’ locations at all.

Well, that’s a lame answer as if it doesn’t use location services, why does it ask for it?

For these apps to work, as many people as possible have to download them and use them. And by as many people as possible, I mean something in the range of 70% or more. This news does not help that adoption rate as this will scare users into not downloading the app. This is one situation where Google’s sketchy behavior threatens to undermine the response to the greatest health crisis this planet has ever seen. Which means that if they truly aspire to “do no evil”, which by now should be clear that they don’t mean that, then they need to respond to this in a much more robust manner so that it encourages people to use these apps to help to get the planet out of this crisis.

Google Being Served With A $5 Billion Lawsuit That Accuses Them Of Tracking Chrome Users In Incognito Mode

Posted in Commentary with tags on June 3, 2020 by itnerd

Google is facing a massive lawsuit accusing them of tracking users in incognito mode. According to Reuters, the class action argues that Google was collecting information about what people view online and where they browse when they use Chrome’s Incognito mode. In effect, Google has been intentionally deceiving customers into believing that they have control over the information they share with the company.

Now Google says it will defend itself “vigorously’ against the claims. But they served up an interesting response:

“As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,”

This is something that I am not sure that most Google Chrome users are aware of. As in Incognito mode doesn’t fully allow you to browse with no repercussions. This Google support document speaks to what Incognito mode does and doesn’t do. If you are a Google Chrome user, I would suggest that you read this document so that you are aware that Incognito mode doesn’t keep you from having your sketchy activities discovered by anyone. And that likely includes Google itself.