Tag Archives: google

Google, Mozilla, and Apple Block Kazakhstan’s Root Certificate



Three big browser makers are now blocking the use of a root certificate that Kazakhstan’s government had used to intercept internet traffic. According to Ars Technica, Khazakhstan reportedly said it halted the use of the certificate. Ars Technica reported that the actions taken by Google, Mozilla, and Apple could protect users who already installed it or prevent future use of the certificate by Kazakstan’s government.

Apple told Ars Technica that it is blocking the ability to use the certificate to intercept internet traffic.

Mozilla posted on The Mozilla Blog “Today, Mozilla and Google took action to protect the online security and privacy of individuals in Kazakhstan. Together, the companies deployed technical solutions within Firefox and Chrome to block the Kazakhstan government’s ability to intercept internet traffic within the country.”

The response comes after credible reports that internet service providers in Kazakhstan have required people in the country to download and install a government-issued certificate on all devices and in every browser in order to access the internet. This certificate is not trusted by either of the companies, and once installed, allowed the government to decrypt and read anything a user types or posts, including intercepting their account information and passwords. This targeted people visiting popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, among others.

Google posted information on its Google Security Blog. Part of that blog post says: “In response to recent actions by the Kazakhstan government, Chrome, along with other browsers, has taken steps to protect users from the interception or modification of TLS connections made to websites.”

It continues: “Chrome will be blocking the certificate the Kazakhstan government required users to install. The blog post has more specific details about that certificate.

It is good that these companies, all of whom make browsers, are taking a stand against government intrusion into people’s privacy. I hope that these companies will take the same action whenever another government chooses to spy on its own people in an effort to sneakily discover what those people do online.


Amazon Allows You to Disable Human Review of Recordings



Amazon is now allowing people who use Alexa to opt-out of human review of their voice recordings, Bloomberg has reported. This comes after a researcher revealed that some of Google’s Assistant recordings had been listened to by human contractors, and people started to become concerned about what other voice activated assistants do with recorded speech.

A new policy took effect Friday that allows customers, through an option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app, to remove their recordings from a pool that could be analyzed by Amazon employees and contract workers, a spokesman for the Seattle company said. It follows similar moves by Apple, Inc., and Google.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon’s decision to let Alexa users opt-out of human review of their recordings follows criticism that the program violated customers’ privacy. Amazon says the Alexa app will now include a disclaimer in the settings menu that acknowledges that people might review recordings through Alexa. Bloomberg explains how to disable that and opt-out of human review.

The Guardian reported that Apple has suspended its practice of having human contractors listen to users’ Siri recordings to “grade” them. That decision came after a Guardian report that revealed that Apple’s contractors “regularly” hear confidential and private information while carrying out the grading process. The bulk of the confidential information was recorded through accidental triggers of the Siri assistant.

Google posted on The Keyword that it has provided tools for users to manage and control the data in their Google account. You can turn off storing audio data to your Google account completely, or choose to auto-delete data after every 3 months or 18 months.


U.S. Department of Justice Announced Antitrust Review of Big Tech



The United States Department of Justice announced that the Department’s Antitrust Division is reviewing whether and how market-leading platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.

The Department’s review will consider the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online. The Department’s Antitrust Division is conferring with and seeking information from the public, including industry participants who have direct insight into competition in online platforms, as well as others.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the inquiry by the Justice Department add “a new Washington threat for companies such as Facebook Inc., Google, Amazon.com Inc., and Apple Inc.”

CNBC reported: “The move is the strongest by Attorney General William Barr towards Big Tech, which faces increased scrutiny from both political parties because of the expanded market power the companies have and the tremendous amount of consumer data they control”.

CNBC also reported that shares of Facebook, Alphabet, and Amazon all fell more than 1% immediately after the announcement and that Apple’s stock also dropped.

This follows the European Commission’s antitrust investigation to assess whether Amazon’s use of sensitive data from independent retailers who sell on Amazon’s marketplace is in breach of EU competition rules.

There have been several investigations, by other countries, regarding questionable practices made by the big technology companies.

It seems to me that the more investigations that happen, the less likely it is that all of these big tech companies will come away from this without facing penalties, fines, or requirements that they make changes.


Google Discusses Safeguarding Speech Data After Leak



Tim Verheyden, a journalist with Belgian public broadcaster VRT, gained access to more than 1,000 audio files from a Google contractor. The contractor was part of a workforce paid to review some audio captured by Google Assistant, smart speakers, phones, and security cameras.

While most of those recording were intended (for example, people asking for weather data), others were not. In about 150 of the recordings, Google Assistant appeared to have activated incorrectly after mishearing its wake word.The audio captured includes private conversations.

Today, Google posted information on The Keyword blog about their processes to safeguard speech data. In it, Google acknowledges the leaked Dutch audio data.

We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducing a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.

Google admitted that language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help Google better understand those languages. Part of the blog post involves Google explaining how to activate Google Assistant and insisting that devices that have Google Assistant built in “rarely” experience a “false accept”.

To me, it feels like Google is trying to direct people’s attention to the language reviewer who leaked some of the “rarely” recorded speech after a “false accept”. Google is trying to blame the messenger (the language reviewer and/or the VRT broadcaster).

In doing so, Google is trying to deflect attention away from its lack of responsibility with the voice data Google Assistant records. The leak of the unintentionally recorded speech data makes it clear that Google is recording, and keeping, a whole lot of audio that people never intended Google Assistant to grab. That’s not ok.

That said, Google explains that it will provide users with tools to manage and control the data stored in their account. You can turn off storing audio data completely, or choose to auto-delete data every 3 months or 18 months. But, how will we know, for certain, that Google isn’t keeping a copy for itself?


Google is Investing $1 Billion in Bay Area Homes



Google announced that they are investing $1 billion in housing across the San Francisco Bay Area. They chose this location because Google is one of the Bay Area’s largest employers. Google wants to help solve the problem of a chronic shortage of affordable housing options for middle and low-income residents.

First, over the next 10 years, we’ll repurpose at least $750 million of Google’s land, most of which is currently zoned for office or commercial space, as residential housing. This will enable us to support the development of at least 15,000 new homes at all income levels in the Bay Area, including housing options for middle to low-income families.

After that, Google will establish a $250 million investment fund so they can provide incentives to enable developers to build at least 5,000 affordable housing units across the market. Google will also give $50 million in grants through Google.org to nonprofits focused on the issues of homelessness and displacement.

In addition, Google will work with local municipalities to support plans that allow residential developers to build quickly and economically. And, Google will also fund community spaces that provide free access to co-working areas for nonprofits, improve transit options for the community and Google’s employees, and support programs for career development, education, and local business.

Personally, I think this is a great idea! One of the problems California has is the lack of affordable homes for middle-income and low-income individuals and families. It is nice that Google is using some of its wealth to help solve this problem.


Google Stops Syncing Between Photos and Drive



How stupid is this? Google has announced that from July, photographs will no longer sync between Google Drive and Google Photos citing “the connection between these services is confusing”. What?

Sorry, but how is this confusing? Images are synchronised between Google Drive and Google Photos. If you do something in one, it’s also done in the other. How hard is that to understand? Seems straightforward to me.

And let’s not forget that you have to turn the syncing feature on. It’s not as if Google forces you to sync. Surely if someone finds “the connection between these services is confusing” they could turn it off? Drive goes out of its way to make sure that you understand the impact of, say, deleting a file.

I like this feature because it makes working with photographs as files so much easier, and apps only have to be compatible with Drive to work effectively. They don’t need to know about Photos explicitly. As long as you can navigate to the Googe Photos folder in Drive, there are all your photographs carefully arranged by year and month.

Perhaps they’re telling the truth but I’m a suspicious old dog and I think this is more about Google trying to stop people getting their photographs out of the service by making it as inconvenient as possible. And what really annoys me is that I pay extra for additional Google storage.

Maybe Google should remember that Microsoft’s Office 365 Personal is GB£5.99 per month, comes with 1 TB OneDrive storage and Office apps for PC and mobile. That’s much better value than £2.49 per month for 200 GB and copycat apps.

Ciao Google.


Google Announced First Collection of Stadia Games



Google announced the first collection of game that are coming to Stadia, the company’s game platform. A limited number of Stadia Founder’s Edition are available for preorder at the Google Store.

Those that buy Stadia will have the ability to play games across multiple screens. People who have a 4K TV and Stadia Pro will get up to 4K HDR resolution at 60 frames per second with 5.1 surround sound. Coming in 2020, Stadia Base is how you will play games you purchase in up to 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second without an active subscription to Stadia Pro.

The Stadia Founder’s Edition is priced at $129. It will ship in November of 2019 in U.S., Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. Google is working to expand to additional countries in 2020.

The Stadia Founder’s Edition includes:

  • Three-months of Stadia Pro
  • A three-month Buddy pass
  • A Founder’s badge
  • A Chromecast Ultra
  • A limited-edition Night Blue Stadia Controller
  • Dibs on selecting a Stadia Name
  • A Google Chromecast Ultra for streaming to your TV

Stadia will include free content, as well as discounts on titles you buy. The first free title is Destiny 2, and it comes with the base game, all previous add-ons, the upcoming Shadowkeep expansion and the annual pass. After your three-month subscription ends, Stadia Pro is $9.99 per month.

You can purchase an extra controller for multiplayer games, or for your laptop. Controllers come in three colors: Just Black, Clearly White or Wasabi. Each costs $69.99.

One of the things that I like about Stadia is that it lets you play games without a console. It also doesn’t make players wait for game downloads. It is intended to be a “jump right in” and play kind of situation.

Additional games are available for purchase, including titles like DOOM Eternal, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Tomb Raider Trilogy, The Elder Scrolls Online, Baldur’s Gate 3, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Farming Simulator 19, and Final Fantasy XV. Right now, it is unclear what each of these games will cost. The interesting thing is that people will buy the games – not rent them.