Chrome

Google is making autofill on Chrome for mobile more secure

Posted by | Access Control, Android, biometrics, Chrome, computing, cryptography, Google, Identification, identity management, internet security, Mobile, Password, password manager, Security, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Google today announced a new autofill experience for Chrome on mobile that will use biometric authentication for credit card transactions, as well as an updated built-in password manager that will make signing in to a site a bit more straightforward.

Image Credits: Google

Chrome already uses the W3C WebAuthn standard for biometric authentication on Windows and Mac. With this update, this feature is now also coming to Android .

If you’ve ever bought something through the browser on your Android phone, you know that Chrome always asks you to enter the CVC code from your credit card to ensure that it’s really you — even if you have the credit card number stored on your phone. That was always a bit of a hassle, especially when your credit card wasn’t close to you.

Now, you can use your phone’s biometric authentication to buy those new sneakers with just your fingerprint — no CVC needed. Or you can opt out, too, as you’re not required to enroll in this new system.

As for the password manager, the update here is the new touch-to-fill feature that shows you your saved accounts for a given site through a standard Android dialog. That’s something you’re probably used to from your desktop-based password manager already, but it’s definitely a major new built-in convenience feature for Chrome — and the more people opt to use password managers, the safer the web will be. This new feature is coming to Chrome on Android in the next few weeks, but Google says that “is only the start.”

Image Credits: Google

 

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Tree planting search engine Ecosia is getting a visibility boost in Chrome

Posted by | Android, antitrust, Chrome, chromium, competition, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Europe, european union, Google, google search, google-chrome, Mobile-Search, Qwant, search engine, search engines, TC, Web browsers, Yahoo | No Comments

Ecosia, a not-for-profit search engine which uses ad generated revenue to fund planting trees, is set to get a visibility boost in Chrome. A change Google is making to its chromium engine will see it added as a default search engine choice in up to 47 markets for the version 81 release of Google’s web browser.

Ecosia will soon be included on Chrome’s default search engine list in several major markets, including the UK, US, France and Germany — alongside the likes of Google Search, Bing, DuckDuckGo and Yahoo!

It’s the first time the not-for-profit search engine will have appeared in Chrome’s default search engine choice list. And while users of Chrome can always navigate directly to Ecosia to search, or download an extension to search via it directly in the browser’s URL bar, those active steps require prior knowledge of the product. Whereas being listed as a default option in Chrome means Ecosia will be put in front of people who aren’t yet familiar with it.

The Berlin-based search engine said Google Chrome’s selection of default search engines is based on search engine popularity rankings in different markets.

The full list of markets where it will be offered as a choice in the v81 release is: Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Denmark, Ecuador, Spain, Faroe Islands, France, Guatemala, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Oman, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Paraguay, Sweden, El Salvador, Taiwan, United States, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam.

The shift comes after what Ecosia said was a record year of usage growth for its search engine — with monthly active users rising from 8 million to 15 million during 2019.

The company dedicates 80% of advertising profits to funding reforestation projects in biodiversity hotspots around the world, and says it has planted 86 million+ trees since it was founded back in 2009 — a total it’s expecting will grow as a result of Google’s decision to include Ecosia as a default choice.

Commenting in a statement Ecosia CEO Christian Kroll said: “Ecosia’s growth over the last year shows just how invested users are in the fight against the climate crisis. Everywhere, people are weighing up the changes they can make to reduce their carbon footprint, including adopting technologies such as Ecosia. Our addition to Chrome will now make it even easier for users to help reforest delicate, at-risk and often devastated ecosystems, and to fight climate change, just by using the internet.”

“It’s also good news for user choice and fairness,” he added, pointing to recent research which he said indicates that providing a choice of search engines has the potential to increase the collective mobile market share of Google alternatives by 300-800%.

“It’s important that there are independent players in the market that don’t just exist for profit. We put our profits into tree planting and we are also focused on privacy, so users can have a positive impact on the environment while having greater control over their personal information.”

The chromium update will also see rival search engines DuckDuckGo and Yahoo added as a default in more markets when the v81 release of Chrome is pushed out.

These are the latest revisions to Chrome’s search engine defaults. But in a major shift this time last year Google quietly expanded the choice of search product in a way that gave the biggest single boost to the visibility of pro-privacy search engine rival DuckDuckGo.

It said then that the changes derived from “new usage statistics” from “recently collected data.”

But the company’s business had been facing rising attention over privacy and competition concerns.

As, indeed, Google still is…

In Europe, meanwhile, antitrust enforcement around how Google operates its Android smartphone platform has already forced the tech giant to offer a choice screen that surfaces alternative search engines and web browsers alongside its own products.

In 2018 the EU’s competition competition concluded Google had violated antitrust rules by requiring Android device makers pre-install its own search and browser apps. It was fined $5BN and ordered to cease the infringement — initially responding with a choice screen prompt that appeared to select products based on marketshare. Before announcing it would move to a ‘pay-to-play’ auction model to assign the non-Google slots on the screen starting early this year.

Rival search engines including Ecosia, DuckDuckGo and French pro-privacy search engine Qwant have been highly critical of this pay-to-play switch — hitting out at the limited slots and sealed bid auction structure Google devised. And DuckDuckGo has remained critical despite winning a universal slot on the screen early this year.

Ecosia chose to boycott the auction entirely — telling the BBC in January it’s at odds with the spirit of the Commission ruling.

“Internet users deserve a free choice over which search engine they use and the response of Google with this auction is an affront to our right to a free, open and federated internet. Why is Google able to pick and choose who gets default status on Android?” Kroll said then.

Asked for current Android usage metrics the company told us Ecosia’s total daily active users on Google’s platform have grown from 489,422 this time last year to 1,245,777 now — a 155% year over year rise in DAUs.

Though it remains to be seen whether Google’s shift to a paid auction model which Ecosia is not participating in — given doing so would require the not-for-profit to spend money paying Google to appear as a choice rather than ploughing those revenues into planting more trees — will put a dampener on Ecosia’s Android growth this year.

On the Android choice screen Kroll told us: “The pay-for-play auction on Android stops purpose-driven search engines, like Ecosia, from getting a higher market share on mobile that they’d receive if users had a free and fair choice on Android as well. Google are offering access to Chrome based on usefulness to the user and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t see this on Android as well.”

“This is a small step in the right direction, but Google still must do more to level the playing field in the search engine marketplace,” he added. “This announcement doesn’t change the fact that Google’s ‘choice screen’ on Android is still a cop-out, and an affront to the EU Commission’s ruling on their practices in 2018.”

A spokesman for Ecosia pointed us to statcounter figures that estimate it took a 0.22%market share of mobile search in Europe between February 2019 and February 2020.

On desktop the search engine takes a higher regional share, per statcounter, account for 0.5% of desktop searches.

Overall, across mobile and desktop, Google’s share of the European search market over the same period is 93.83% vs 0.33% for Ecosia.

This report was updated with additional comment

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What to expect from Google I/O 2019

Posted by | Android, Apps, Assistant, Chrome, Cloud, events, Google, Google I/O 2019, hardware, home | No Comments

Developer season has begun! Next week, Google will be putting on a big party at the pointy outdoor amphitheater in Mountain View. It’s shaping up to be a biggie, too, if this week’s Google earnings call was any indication. Sundar Pichai teased out a number of upcoming offerings from the company that we can expect to see on full display at the show.

From the looks of it, there’s going to be a LOT of news coming hot and heavy out of the South Bay, from new Android and Assistant features, to some rare hardware debuts. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’re expecting from the big show.

More Q

Quiche? Quindim? I had to look up the latter — it’s a “popular Brazilian baked dessert, made chiefly from sugar, egg yolks, and ground coconut” according to Wikipedia. Basically Brazilian custard.

We’re probably not getting a name either way at the event, of course. We will, however, get our best look yet and Pie’s successor. As ever, the latest version of Android will take center stage at I/O. With an expected arrival date of this summer, we’ve already seen some key pieces of Android 10 courtesy of a couple of betas.

So far, the keys are improvements to privacy/permissions and multi-tasking through Bubbles. Expect a lot more here. Rumors include pressure-sensitive touch features and across the board dark mode.

Unfolding foldables

It’s admittedly been a tough couple of weeks for the ascendant form factor, thanks almost exclusively to malfunctioning Galaxy Fold units. On this week’s call, however, the company reiterated that it’s still bullish on the tech. And it kind of has to be. Google’s devoted a lot of mindshare to making Android more foldable friendly, in hopes of jumpstarting a stagnant smartphone industry.

And while the Fold has been put on hiatus, we do expect a release date soon, along with Huawei’s Mate X and upcoming models from Motorola, Xiaomi, TCL and more. Expect to see the form factor positioned as the future of Android interaction.

The budget Pixel

Like other developer-focused shows, I/O isn’t really much of a consumer hardware event. That’s likely to change this year, however. In an earnings call this week, Sundar Pichai all but confirmed the long-rumored arrival of the Pixel 3a. Initially floated as the Pixel Lite, the budget take on the company’s flagship is designed to curb stagnate smartphone sales by offering some flagship features at a lower price point.

Rumors so far have the product somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 and include, among other things, the return of the headphone jack — an acknowledgment that Bluetooth headphones are still cost prohibitive. Equally interesting, this would make a push to roughly a six-month release cycle for Pixel products, assuming the 4 arrives around an October time frame.

Google’s made it clear that the Pixel line is about more than just showing off the latest version of Android, and a massive investment in HTC’s hardware team that includes a new Taipei campus certainly demonstrates that it’s not screwing around here.

Gaming

Stadia had its moment at GDC back in March. The company is harnessing its live-streaming technology to finally help gamers realize the promise of going hardware agnostic. Stadia was far and away the buzziest announcement out of the gaming show, but Google held back a lot of details, only to have Apple reveal its own gaming strategy a couple of weeks later.

Pichai talked up the service during Alphabet’s earnings call, seemingly priming the pump for some stage time at I/O next week.

Smart Home

Google Hardware Event 2018

Growing its smartphone business has been a struggle, but Google’s been firing on all cylinders on the home front. Assistant is a stronger offering than Alexa, and hardware like the Home Mini and Hub have been selling briskly. We’ll undoubtedly see a lot more tricks out of Assistant this time around, including a bit of focus on AI and Machine Learning smarts.

In addition to a new Pixel, we may also be getting a smart home piece of hardware from Google in the form of the Nest Hub Max. As the name implies, the device is a bigger take on the smart screen — 10 inches, according to rumors — with a focus on serving as a centralized smart home panel. The device will no doubt be primed to work well with other Google Home and Nest offerings, at a higher price point than Hub.

Etc.

Expect more on the ARCore front at the show. The oft-neglected Wear OS, which just got a nice update this week, could get some love as well. Ditto for Android Automotive. ChromeOS will be getting some face time, as well, though I’d be surprised to see much in the way of hardware from any of the above.

Whatever comes, we’ll be on-site at Mountain View next week, bringing it to you live.

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Google starts rolling out better AMP URLs

Posted by | Amp+, Chrome, digital media, Google, google search, HTML, Mobile, mobile web, online advertising, TC, world wide web | No Comments

Publishers don’t always love Google’s AMP pages, but readers surely appreciate their speed, and while publishers are loath to give Google more power, virtually every major site now supports this format. One AMP quirk that publisher’s definitely never liked is about to go away, though. Starting today, when you use Google Search and click on an AMP link, the browser will display the publisher’s real URLs instead of an “http//google.com/amp” link.

This move has been in the making for well over a year. Last January, the company announced that it was embarking on a multi-month effort to load AMP pages from the Google AMP cache without displaying the Google URL.

At the core of this effort was the new Web Packaging standard, which uses signed exchanges with digital signatures to let the browser trust a document as if it belongs to a publisher’s origin. By default, a browser should reject scripts in a web page that try to access data that doesn’t come from the same origin. Publishers will have to do a bit of extra work, and publish both signed and un-signed versions of their stories.

 

Quite a few publishers already do this, given that Google started alerting publishers of this change in November 2018. For now, though, only Chrome supports the core features behind this service, but other browsers will likely add support soon, too.

For publishers, this is a pretty big deal, given that their domain name is a core part of their brand identity. Using their own URL also makes it easier to get analytics, and the standard grey bar that sits on top of AMP pages and shows the site you are on now isn’t necessary anymore because the name will be in the URL bar.

To launch this new feature, Google also partnered with Cloudflare, which launched its AMP Real URL feature today. It’ll take a bit before it will roll out to all users, who can then enable it with a single click. With this, the company will automatically sign every AMP page it sends to the Google AMP cache. For the time being, that makes Cloudflare the only CDN that supports this feature, though others will surely follow.

“AMP has been a great solution to improve the performance of the internet and we were eager to work with the AMP Project to help eliminate one of AMP’s biggest issues — that it wasn’t served from a publisher’s perspective,” said Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare. “As the only provider currently enabling this new solution, our global scale will allow publishers everywhere to benefit from a faster and more brand-aware mobile experience for their content.”

 

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Watch Google I/O developer keynote live right here

Posted by | Android, Android P, Apps, Chrome, Cloud, Developer, Google, google i/o, Google I/O 2018, Mobile | No Comments

Google I/O is nowhere near done. While the mainstream keynote just ended, the company is about to unveil the next big things when it comes to APIs, SDKs, frameworks and more.

The developer keynote starts at 12:45 PM Pacific Time (3:45 PM on the East Cost, 8:45 PM in London, 9:45 PM in Paris) and you can watch the live stream right here on this page.

If you’re an Android developer, this is where you’ll get the juicy details about the next version of Android. You can expect new possibilities and developer tools for you and your company. We’ll have a team on the ground to cover the best bits right here on TechCrunch.

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Watch Google I/O keynote live right here

Posted by | Android, Apps, Chrome, Developer, Gadgets, Google, google i/o, Google I/O 2018, Mobile | No Comments

How did you find Microsoft Build yesterday? We don’t really have time for your answer because Google I/O is already here! Google is kicking off its annual developer conference today. As usual, there will be a consumer keynote with major new products in the morning, and a developer-centric keynote in the afternoon.

The conference starts at 10 AM Pacific Time (1 PM on the East Cost, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris) and you can watch the live stream right here on this page. The developer keynote will be at 12:45 PM Pacific Time.

Rumor has it that Google is about to share more details about Android P, the next major release of its Android platform. But you can also expect some Google Assistant and Google Home news, some virtual reality news and maybe even some Wear OS news. We have a team on the ground ready to cover the event, so don’t forget to read TechCrunch to get our take on today’s news.

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Google’s on-by-default ‘Articles for You’ leverage browser dominance for 2,100 percent growth

Posted by | Apps, Chrome, Google, Mobile, privacy, TC | No Comments

When you’ve got leverage, don’t be afraid to use it. That’s been Google’s modus operandi in the news and publishing world over the last year or so as it has pushed its AMP platform, funding various news-related ventures that may put it ahead, and nourished its personalized Chrome tabs on mobile. The latter, as Nieman Labs notes, grew 2,100 percent in 2017.

You may have noticed, since Chrome is a popular mobile browser and this setting is on by default, but the “Articles for You” appear automatically in every new tab, showing you a bunch of articles the company things you’d like. And it’s gone from driving 15 million article views to a staggering 341 million over the last year.

In late 2016, when Google announced the product, I described it as “polluting” the otherwise useful new tab page. I also don’t like the idea of being served news when I’m not actively looking for it — I understand that when I visit Google News (and I do) that my browser history (among other things) is being scoured to determine what categories and stories I’ll see. I also understand that everything I do on the site, as on every Google site, is being entered into its great data engine in order to improve its profile of me.

Like I said, when I visit a Google site, I expect that. But a browser is supposed to be a tool, not a private platform, and the idea that every tab I open is another data point and another opportunity for Google to foist its algorithms on me is rankling.

It has unsavory forebears. Remember Internet Explorer 6, which came with MSN.com as the default homepage? That incredible positioning drove so much traffic that for years after (and indeed, today) it drove disgusting amounts of traffic to anything it featured. But that traffic was tainted: you knew that firehose was in great part clicks from senior citizens who thought MSN was the entire internet.

Of course the generated pages for individual users aren’t the concentrated fire of a link on a major portal, but they are subject to Google approval and, of course, the requisite ranking bonus for AMP content. Can’t forget that!

But wherever you see the news first, that’s your news provider. And you can’t get much earlier than “as soon as you open a new tab.” That’s pretty much the ultimate positioning advantage.

Just how this amazing growth occurred is unclear. If there’s been any word of mouth, I missed it. “Have you tried scrolling down? The news is just right there!” It seems unlikely. My guess would be that the feature has been steadily rolling out in new regions, opting in new users who occasionally scroll down and see these stories.

And unlike many other news distribution platforms, there isn’t much for publishers or sites like this one to learn about it. How are stories qualified for inclusion? Is there overlap with Google News stuff? What’s shown if people aren’t signed in? I’ve asked Google for further info.

Do you, like me, dislike the idea that every time you open a tab — not just when you use its services — Google uses it as an opportunity to monetize you, however indirectly? Fortunately, and I may say consistent with Google’s user-friendliness in this type of thing, you can turn it off quite easily — on iOS, anyway.

Open the menu at the top right of any tab and hit settings. There should be a “Suggested articles” toggle — disable that and you’re done. While you’re at it, you might just head into Privacy and disable search and site suggestions and usage data.

On Android? You’ll have to dig into the app’s flags and toggle the hidden setting there. Not as user-friendly.

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Google brings six-second video previews to mobile search

Posted by | Chrome, Google, Mobile, Mobile-Search, TC, video previews | No Comments

 Google announced a major update to its mobile search results pages today. Whenever your query brings up a video, Google will now show you a silent six-second clip to help you decide if it’s actually a video you want to see.
This will work for the vast majority of videos on the web today — including, but not limited to, YouTube. Indeed, as Emily Moxley, Google’s director of… Read More

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Offline content gets a boost in the new version of Chrome for Android

Posted by | Android, Chrome, Downloads, Google, Mobile, offline reading, read it later | No Comments

 Google rolled out a “Downloads” feature in its mobile web browser Chrome for Android in December that allows you to save web pages, music and videos for offline access. Today, the company is introducing a series of improvements to make it easier to save content for offline access, as well as quickly find the pages you had already saved. To download a web page previously, you would… Read More

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Google is fixing up Chromecast’s ‘Cast a tab’ feature and you can try the new version now

Posted by | Chrome, chromecast, Gadgets, Google, TC | No Comments

 I’ve been saying it for a few years now, but I really, really like the Chromecast — Google’s simple little dongle for streaming Netflix/Hulu/YouTube etc. from your devices to your TV with just a tap or two. It does what it’s supposed to do, does it well and doesn’t try to do anything more than that. Well… that’s not entirely true. Read More

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