Tag Archives: google

Google Nest Hub gets Disney+



Disney+ launched not long ago (November 12, 2019 to be precise) and it has a lot of content, that isn’t just for children, although there is plenty of that. After all, these parks also cater to adults and so to do the movies and TV shows on its network. The company built by Mickey has come a long way.

With a subscription, you get all of the content, from the animated movies from Disney and Pixar to things like Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and others.

The company claims it’s as easy as “Say, ‘Hey Google, play “The Mandalorian’ on Disney+” to start streaming instantly. You can also already cast Disney+ from your compatible mobile devices to your Nest Smart Displays and Assistant-enabled devices by opening the streaming service’s mobile app and tapping the Cast icon, or stream anytime on your Android TV.”

Google also announces that Otterbox has created a way to make your device look like Mickey Mouse, just to fit with the new Disney+ feature.

In addition, the search giant has released “Frozen” entertainment for everyone. “Join some of your ‘Frozen’ favorites –Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and Kristoff — around the campfire as they tell legends exploring the world of ‘Frozen 2.’ You can hear these stories on Google Assistant-enabled Android and iOS phones, smart speakers and Smart Displays. To get started, just say, “Hey Google, tell me a ‘Frozen’ story” and you can pick which character you’d like to narrate.”

If you have one of these devices and a Disney+ subscription then you can get started right now.


Google Rolls Out Visual Improvements to Maps



Google announced that it is rolling out visual improvements to Google Maps. The purpose seems to be to give people a way to get a good look at the details in a specific location. I imagine that those who really want to travel, but cannot due to COVID-19, might use the update Google Maps to do some virtual traveling.

Google Maps has high-definition satellite imagery of 97 percent of the world’s population. With a new color-mapping algorithmic technique, Google is able to take that imagery and translate it into an even more comprehensive, vibrant map of an area at a global scale. The result is that people can more easily look at the natural features of a specific area.

With this update, Google Maps has one of the most comprehensive views of natural features on any major map app – with availability in all 220 countries and territories that Google Maps supports. That’s coverage for over 100M square kilometers of land, or 18 billion football fields.

In addition, Google Maps will soon enable users to see highly detailed street information that shows the accurate shape and width of a road to scale. It will show exactly where sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian islands are located. Google points out that this kind of information is crucial to people who have accessibility needs.

Personally, I think this addition is fantastic! People who use wheelchairs need to know if a sidewalk has a “curb cut” or slope that will make it possible for them to get their wheelchair onto or off of a sidewalk. The same feature can help parents who are talking a walk and pushing their infant or toddler in a stroller.

Google will start rolling out detailed street maps in London, New York, and San Francisco in the coming months. The company has plans to expand more cities over time.


Google Posted Open Letters to Australians to Avoid Revenue Sharing



In April of this year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) created a mandatory code of conduct that would require Google and Facebook to pay media companies for news. Large companies, like Google and Facebook, tend to resist having to share the money they make from the content that newspapers created.

According to The Guardian, Google has started targeting Australians with pop-up ads that link to an open letter that appears to be designed to scare people. Google doesn’t want a proposed law called the News Media Bargaining Code to go into effect.

Google’s Open Letter to Australians has a bright yellow caution sign at the top of it. Caution signs tend to make people nervous, wondering why a site had been flagged with that warning. In this case, Google intentionally put it there.

We need to let you know about new Government regulation that will hurt how Australians use Google Search and YouTube.

A proposed law, the News Media Bargaining Code, would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia.

According to Google, the law would “force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses – news media business – over everyone who has a website, YouTube channel or small business.” Google says “the proposed changes are not fair and they mean that Google Search results and YouTube will be worse for you”. Google also implies that they would have to hand user’s date over to news businesses, and that “your search data may be at risk”.

The Guardian reported that Chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims, said Google’s letter “contains misinformation” about how the code connected to the law works. He also said, “Google would not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so. Google would not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.”


Google Shutters Play Music for YouTube Music. Really?



In a YouTube blog posting, Google has confirmed that it’s the end of the road for Play Music and YouTube Music is the new place to be. Starting in September for the Antipodes and October for the rest of the world, Play Music will stop streaming, though I assume the Play Music app will still play local content. Albums and tracks can be transferred from Play to YouTube from now through December, but come 1st January 2021, Play Music will be gone.

When I heard that Google was closing the doors on Google Play Music in favour of YouTube Music, I wasn’t terribly bothered. I do have a few purchases at Play Music but I’m a subscriber at Spotify and that’s my main source of tunes, so the personal impact is minimal. I’ll get my tracks downloaded to my home NAS and all will be well. I’ve no intention of signing up for YouTube Music.

However, I did wonder about the choice of the YouTube brand for the music service. Undoubtedly, YouTube is a popular and well-known brand but it’s not what I’d associate with quality or trustworthiness. The platform has a healthy selection of clickbait, misinformation and ripped-off content. Yes, there’s some great content on YouTube, but the problem is finding the wheat amongst the chaff. I don’t expect YouTube to be the BBC, but to now suggest that YouTube Music is a purveyor of high-quality legal music is quite a pivot for the brand.

For the purposes of research, I tried out the “YT Music” app on my phone and it’s nothing special. To be honest, I was bit annoyed, because being Google and YouTube, the app tried to pull in my supposed preferences from historical YouTube searches and also tried to make suggestions based on the idea that I was at home and bedtime. I’d really like it, if for once, Google took its nose out of my business. It’s going beyond helpfulness to intrusion.

Sorry Google, but I’m downloading my music and then I’m out of your music service, whatever the brand.


Google Cloud Announced Confidential Computing with Confidential VMs



Google Cloud has announced two new security products: Confidential Computing, and Confidential VMs. Google believes the future of cloud computing will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where users can be confident that they are in control over the confidentiality of their data.

Confidential Computing is described by Google as: a breakthrough technology which encrypts data in-use – while it is being processed. Confidential Computing environments keep data encrypted in memory and elsewhere outside the CPU.

Confidential VMs are now in beta. It is the first product in Google Cloud’s Confidential Computing portfolio. Google says it already employs a variety of isolation and sandboxing techniques as part of their cloud infrastructure to make multi-tenant architecture secure. Confidential VMs offers memory encryption so people can further isolate their workloads in the cloud.

Google stated that Confidential VMs can help all of their customers, but they think that it will be “especially interesting” to those in regulated industries.

9to5Google reported that healthcare providers, financial services, and governments are concerned about not having the same level of control in the cloud as they would have by maintaining their own data centers. Confidential VMs will have encryption keys that are generated in hardware for each virtual machine. The encryption keys are not exportable.

I think this extra protection provided by Confidential Computing and Confidential VMs could be good for banks and healthcare providers. I’m unconvinced that it will be useful to the U.S. government, though.

Some states have unemployment departments that are still using COBOL, a computer language that emerged in the 1950s before computer science was taught at universities. I’m not convinced that the computers in other parts of the government are up to date enough to make use of the cloud.


Google Faces $5 Billion Lawsuit for Invading Privacy of Users



Google users might be surprised to learn that “private” mode doesn’t actually mean that Google won’t track your internet use. Reuters reported that there is a proposed class action lawsuit against Alphabet Inc. that is seeking at least $5 billion. The lawsuit alleges that Google has been illegally invading the privacy of millions by tracking their internet use through browsers set in “private” mode.

The case is Brown et al v Google LLC et al, which was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. I tried to find more information about this lawsuit, but could not find anything. Typically, a controversial lawsuit, that has the potential to affect many people, is embedded somewhere online. This one does not appear to be.

Google calls their private mode “incognito mode”. It would be reasonable to presume that a private mode would enable users to find information that they would not be comfortable having Google know about. For example, people might choose to look up “intimate and potentially embarrassing things” (as the lawsuit states) in Incognito mode, believing that Google would not track it.

According to the complaint filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, Google gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda told Reuters: “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity”. As you may have guessed, Google intends to defend itself vigorously against the claims in the lawsuit.

If this situation troubles you, there are other options. Some people prefer to use more ethical search engines such as Duck Duck Go, or Ecosia (which plants a tree for every search). Mozilla’s Firefox has the capability of blocking certain types of trackers. Keep in mind, though, that nothing on the internet is 100% private.

The lawsuit seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. It will be very interesting to see if this case gets anywhere. Whenever a gigantic company is the defendant in a lawsuit, I have concerns that the case will disappear before a court can hear it.


Apple and Google Released a FAQ About their Coronavirus Tracker



Earlier this month, Google and Apple announced a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As you may have expected, people had questions about how that contact tracing technology would work.

In response, Apple and Google released a Frequently Asked Questions PDF with more information. Some of it explains what contact tracing is, how it works, and how it can help slow the spread of COVID-19. It also covers how their contact tracing system will protect user privacy.

Here are some key points about user privacy:

  • Each user will have to make an explicit choice to turn on the technology. It can also be turned off by the user at any time by uninstalling the contract tracing application or turning off exposure notification in Settings.
  • This system does not collect location data from your device, and does not share the identities of other users to each other, Google or Apple. The user controls all data they want to share, and the decision to share it.
  • Bluetooth privacy-preserving beacons rotate every 10-20 minutes, to help prevent tracking.
  • Exposure notification is only done on device and under the user’s control. In addition people who test positive are not identified by the system to other users, or to Apple or Google.
  • The system is only used for contract tracing by public health authorities apps.
  • Google and Apple can disable the exposure notification system on a regional basis when it is no longer needed.

However, the FAQ also makes it clear that government health authorities will have access to the information facilitated by the app. “Access to the technology will be granted only to public health authorities. Their apps must meet specific criteria around privacy, security, and data control. The public health authority app will be able to access a list of beacons provided by users confirmed as positive for COVID-19 who have opted into sharing them. The system was also designed so that Apple and Google do not have access to information related to any specific individual.”

The FAQ states a user can choose to report a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 to their contact tracing app. The user’s most privacy-preserving beacons will be added to the positive diagnosis list shared by the public health authority so that others who came in contact with those beacons can be alerted. I don’t see how that can be done without the app being able to identify one individual user from another.

It comes down to how much you trust your government to use the information from the app to help people. This sort of heath information can be used to prevent people from being eligible for health insurance coverage, or to be discriminated against in other ways. Personally, I am not going to use this app.