This week, Google held its annual I/O Developer Conference, where the company unveiled new software updates such as Android 13 and even some new hardware devices, including Pixel 6a, Pixel 7, and the Pixel Watch. In addition, it also unveiled a number of security and privacy features that are coming to its apps and services later this year.
Google says that it wants to safeguard user privacy and wants to build a safer internet by making its products secure by default, private by design, and putting the user in control of their data. To accomplish this goal, Google has announced several new features, such as Account Safety Status, Automatic 2-Step Verification, Virtual Cards, and others that are coming to its services soon. Here’s everything you need to know.
New Security and Privacy Features Announced at Google I/O 2022
When asked about how people trust big tech companies with their data, users usually rate Apple higher than companies like Google and Meta, which are often found towards the other end of the spectrum. But it appears that Google wants to change this perception. Here are some security and privacy features coming to Google apps and services soon.
The trend of online shopping, getting things delivered straight to your letterbox, isn’t slowing down, and more and more people are making online payments every day. As the online usage of cards increases, the risk of your payment details being exposed to hackers and cybercriminals also increases. To safeguard your payment details, such as credit/debit card numbers, CVVs, and others, Google is launching a new feature called “Virtual Cards” on Chrome and Android.
Currently, when you pay for something online, you can auto-fill payment details and card information using Google’s pop-up menu. To add an extra layer of protection, Google is launching Virtual Cards that will hide your actual card number from the payment system. It will replace your actual credit/debit card number with a distinct, virtual number. You will be able to generate, manage, and see all the transactions of your Virtual Card from pay.google.com later this year. The feature is exclusive to the United States for now, but Google may expand it to other regions in the future. Virtual Cards will support all Visa, American Express, Mastercard, and Capital One cards at launch.
My Ad Center
Google ads are everywhere. Most of the websites you visit, on YouTube, on Android apps, and even in Search and Discover feed, you can spot a Google ad pretty much everywhere on the internet. Currently, Google customizes ads based on what you search, like, dislike, and many more things. In 2022, Google will provide you with more granular control over what type of ads you see.
Google has announced that it will launch a new “My Ad Centre” that will give people control and provide an easier way to choose whether to personalize your ads. “You’ll be able to choose the types of ads you want to see — such as fitness, vacation rentals, or skincare — and learn more about the information we use to show them to you,” says the company. You will also be able to mark certain types of ads so that you never see them again. The company will roll out My Ads Center later this year.
During the I/O keynote, Google announced that it’s changing the way how, when, and where data is processed. The company announced “Protected Computing,” which will ensure the privacy and safety of your data. Google says that advances in technologies have allowed it to drastically reduce the amount of your personally identifiable data. The company says that it intentionally adds “statistical noise” to strip your identity from your data. Lastly, Google announced that it would continue to add end-to-end encryption to more and more services, making it impossible to access your sensitive data.
Remove Personal Information from Google Search
With so much data scattered on the internet, it’s possible that some of your personal information, such as email address, phone number, or home address, can pop up in a Google search result. Google says that it will now allow users to get their personal information removed from Google Search. This feature will be available in the Google app later this year. In addition, you can also raise a request by clicking the three dots next to individual Google Search results.
Phishing Protection and Safety Status Notification in More Apps
Google already blocks phishing and spam messages in Gmail. The company says that its system blocks nearly 15B phishing emails every day. The company says that it is now expanding its “proven” phishing protection to Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets. If you access a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide that contains a phishing link, you will get an alert on the screen. In addition, the company says that it is now expanding its account safety status to more and more apps. If there’s something wrong with the safety of your account, a simple yellow alert icon on your profile picture will appear. It will then show actions that you should take to secure your account.
Automatic Two-Factor Authentication
Google says that it is working to bring password-less sign-in technology to people. However, to ensure safe sign-in, multi-factor authentication is very important. To make 2FA easier, Google is bringing one-click 2-step verification, which will not require the user to input a six-digit authentication code. Instead, users can simply use their existing iOS and Android devices to approve sign-in requests.
These are some of the features that will make it to your Google accounts and services soon. Personally, I’m looking forward to the Virtual Card feature. Currently, this technology is available in the Apple Card. Whenever you use an Apple to make a non-Apple purchase online, it generates a random card number every time.
However, the key difference between Apple’s and Google’s approaches is that Google’s Virtual Card technology works with almost all the cards. The company has has partnered with all the major card providers in the United States. It will allow you to use your existing cards and will not be limited to one card. Which feature are you excited about? Let us know in the comments section below!
YouTube is finally getting some useful features
YouTube is notoriously slow at implementing new features and solving critical problems – and it’s great at taking away essential features such as the dislike counter – but the video streaming service announced that its testing two new features that aim to improve the experience for users, and make it easier to jump through video sections. YouTube announced that it’s adding a “Most replayed” graph to the video player, and revealed that it’s experimenting with a new way to skip through content with a new layout.
YouTube announced a few new updates yesterday (via 9to5Google) and announced a brand new feature finally coming to the platform. The “Most replayed” graph will help users identify parts of a video that has been watched the most times by other users. This should, in theory, help people find content that is relevant and most helpful, without needing to scrub through the entire video, or read the comments to find the best and most exciting parts.
The new graph feature has been in the testing phase for some time, and it’s now rolling out more widely to both desktop and mobile users on all platforms.
Another great new feature that YouTube announced to be trialing is a new way user interface to find interesting video moments. They work similarly to chapters. Whenever a user scrubs through the timeline, the seek bar will show the visuals and thumbnails of what’s happening at each part of the video. YouTube says that Premium subscribers will be able to test out the feature at YouTube.com/new, which used to be home to other features such as Picture-in-Picture (PiP) for iOS.
YouTube is slowly getting better, but it needs to hurry up in solving problems
It’s great to see that YouTube is finally adding genuinely useful features, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and we must not forget about the platform not doing enough to solve major issues. You may be tired of hearing this, but YouTube has a massive problem filtering the comments. The platform lets spam and bot accounts be created without a problem, and these can often impersonate verified users, and scam viewers out of their passwords, money, and other confidential information. Several content creators, including Marques Brownlee, Linus Sebastian from LTT, and other media outlets such as GSMArena have raised their concerns in the past; however, it seems like Google and YouTube constantly overlook and ignore it.
The fact that the platform decided to hide the dislike counter also raises a lot of red flags for viewers, making it harder to differentiate content that would otherwise waste people’s time by being vague and off-topic. I can’t even count how many times I have opened tutorial videos with clickbaity titles, promising to solve the solution, only to find out that it’s completely irrelevant from the headline. A simple dislike did not only leave a bad review for the uploader, but it also warned other users to watch out and not waste their time.
YouTube has a real problem, and until it can solve these problems, it will always have a bad reputation for doing too little too late for the content creator community, and those who regularly watch content on the platform.
YouTube is also constantly borrowing features from other platforms such as Twitch, Patreon, and others, which is a good thing. As a result, users can now donate premium memberships to other users during YouTube Live streams, and the membership is also likely going to receive a lot of enhancements in the near future to make it more appealing for hard-core fans and users to join and support their favorite creators. Like Twitch, YouTube gets a cut from all membership subscriptions, and it’s no surprise that the video streaming platform wants to make it popular and more appealing in the future to increase its profits, and offer a new way for content creators to make a living.
What do you think about the slow advancements and new features coming to YouTube? What do you think, how could YouTube solve the moderation problem? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Mastercard wants your face and hand imprint for payments
Mastercard today announced a new way to make payments called the Biometric Checkout Program. Instead of looking for your phone or wallet at checkout, the new system aims to speed up the process by only using either your face or your hand to make a purchase at a kiosk. Earlier last month, we took a closer look at the Chip Man, who put 32 chips under his skin to this day to make payments by simply touching his hand on the contactless reader.
Mastercard announced the new Biometric Checkout Program today which represents a “first-of-its-kind technology framework to help establish standards for new ways to pay at stores of all sizes,” including major retailers to corner shops. The new program sets out new standards that banks and merchants can adhere to and follow, to ensure that the security and the privacy and other personal data are kept safe and secure, after all, it’s processing faces and hand imprints.
“The way we pay needs to keep pace with the way we live, work and do business, offering choice to consumers with the highest levels of security,” said Ajay Bhalla, president, Cyber & Intelligence at Mastercard. “Our goal with this new program is to make shopping a great experience for consumers and merchants alike, providing the best of both security and convenience.”
Before we raise the privacy concerns, let’s take a look at some statistics and how the program works in practice. Mastercard proudly shows that 74% of consumers have a positive attitude towards biometric technology, which is projected to reach $18.6 billion by 2026. The survey relates to making payments with a fingerprint sensor by unlocking a smartphone or a card. The research also shows that “70% have used fingerprint biometrics with 55% having used it to unlock their smartphone.” Biometrics, in this sense, refers to fingerprint, facial, voice, and iris.
How does the Mastercard Biometric Checkout Program work?
Participating stores can enter into the Mastercard Biometric Checkout Program and offer consumers the option to enroll in the service. Consumers who choose to participate can download the provided application and set up their accounts. The process isn’t explained, but we assume it requires the person’s existing account details, asking the user to scan their face and hands.
Once everything is set up, the consumer can enter a participating store, check the bill, smile into a camera, or wave their hand over a reader to make the purchase. Mastercard says that the new technology “ensures a fast and secure checkout experience, whilst also empowering consumers to choose how they want to pay.”
Benefits of using the new technology & Availability
The press release says that stores would also benefit from using the new technology as it could result in faster transaction times, shorter lines, greater hygiene, and heightened security. The new system also allows retailers to integrate loyalty programs and offer personalized recommendations to help consumers “find products they might be interested in based on previous purchases.”
Mastercard is already working with NEC, Payface, Aurus, PaybyFace, PopID and Fujitsu Limited to launch and scale this new technology. The first pilot program launched this week in Brazil with Payface and St. Marche. The new system will be implemented across five St Marche supermarkets in São Paulo. Future pilot programs are planned to roll out in the Middle East and Asia.
Security & Privacy concerns
It’s well-known that many banks and other payment providers often sell data to increase their profits and help advertisers make more effective ad campaigns. This helps them track you throughout websites, helping them make a better profile about your preferences and interests. Mastercard explains that it wants to replace passwords and PINs with you, the person, to enhance privacy and security. Still, it raises many questions about how it would handle the highly confidential data from customers who choose not to opt-in.
Mastercard’s press release states the following:
“Mastercard has long pioneered biometrics – instore and online – as a secure way to verify identity, replacing the password with the person. The effort, which builds on the EMV 3-D Secure standard, enables people to shop and pay through biometric-powered payment cards, devices and wearables. Biometrics have also featured in confirming online shoppers’ identities through “selfie pay” and online, leveraging key standards such as FIDO (Fast Identity Online).
As this technology is increasingly adopted across the world, Mastercard is helping ensure all stakeholders maintain the highest levels of security and privacy to protect consumers. The Biometric Checkout Program is governed by Mastercard’s principles for data responsibility, reinforcing that consumers have the right to control how their personal data is shared and benefit from its use.”
Many people, including myself, find that paying with credit or debit cards (non-contactless) and phones are much safer as one requires a PIN, while the other requires the smartphone to be unlocked or verified. I have always been against contactless card payments as the card could easily be picked up by anyone and used to make a purchase. Using facial recognition or the hand imprint raises a lot of privacy questions. Until Mastercard can provide more information about how it processes this information, I doubt many will want to voluntarily give up their data to be stored in a database. Even if the data is fully encrypted and backed up by a billion-dollar security system, it still leaves room for hackers to find a flaw and attempt to access the information.
Biometrics information never usually leaves the device (on smartphones, computers and tablets), hence making facial recognition, iris scan, and fingerprint recognition seamless and safe. While Mastercard has an excellent reputation for keeping private information safe and secure, but the newly introduced system raises a lot of red flags. The system is opt-in and very limited at the moment, and hopefully, it stays that way.
Would you switch to using the Biometric Checkout Program by Mastercard, or do you prefer using your existing card or smartphone to make small purchases at supermarkets and other shops? Let us know in the comments!
Apple developers could charge you extra without you knowing
Apple offers auto-renewable subscriptions for its App Store that lets people access content, services, and other premium in-app features. A recent change allowed App Store developers to automatically charge users when a subscription price goes up. Here’s everything you need to know and watch out for to prevent higher bills at the end of the month. Yesterday, we also showed you how to charge your iPhone with a USB-C cable.
Up until today, subscriptions required users to opt-in before the developer applied an increase, which is set to change as it will no longer need any input from users. Apple’s reasoning for the change is that the manual opting in or out of these subscriptions was a tedious task and that it often “led to some services being unintentionally disrupted for users as they must take steps to resubscribe within the app, from Settings on iPhone and iPad, or in the App Store on Mac.”
With the new policy update, developers will be able to offer an auto-renewable subscription price increase without requiring the user to take any action. Users will still receive advance notifications and emails about upcoming changes to their subscription price, but they’ll automatically opt-in, even if they manage to cancel and change their package too late.
There are a few specific conditions that developers must meet in order to apply higher subscription prices without requiring the user to opt-in manually, and those are the following:
The price increase cannot occur more than once per year, and it “doesn’t exceed US$5 and 50% of the subscription price, or US$50 and 50% for an annual subscription price, and is permissible by local law.”
Anything above the annual threshold will require subscribers to opt in before applying the price increase. Those who don’t opt-in before their next billing period will have their subscription canceled. The user can always resubscribe within the app, just like before.
The process above isn’t entirely new, and phone contracts – at least here in the UK – work similarly. Before a user can take the phone home, the contract has to be signed, where the small print states that the monthly cost could increase or decrease based on the inflation and other price adjustments, and it usually goes up by a few percent annually. For instance, a phone contract that you purchase for $20 a month could be $22 a month the year after the adjustments. That, however, is for a phone contract that is explicitly stated before it is signed; therefore the user has no reason not to accept the changes as they must have read and understood the agreement before signing up for it.
Allowing developers to do the same practice to adjust their prices within the threshold can be dangerous. A quick look around the App Store reveals that developers keep abusing users’ trust and force them to sign up for weekly and monthly subscriptions. There are a lot of phone wallpaper apps – only using this as an example – on the app store that tricks people into paying weekly without people realizing that they have signed up for a subscription service. The practice can be dangerous by bad actors. It could lead to higher bills than expected, especially if the emails and other forms of communication go unnoticed for whatever reason.
The fact that Apple is promoting this is a little surprising, but it makes sense to a certain degree. Accepting and opting into price increases can be a daunting task for less tech-savvy users, and it might be easier just to let them know about the changes and charge them anyway when the time comes. But, it once again raises the question of whether it is ethical to use these customers to generate revenue. It’s a grey area, since the user can, at any time, go ahead and cancel their subscription, and they could even contact Apple to request a refund for an accidental sign-up.
I am not a fan of these changes, and I prefer to stay in control at all times. If a service increases its prices, I want a clear explanation of why that is happening, what I can do about it if I refuse to pay the higher costs, and how I can easily accept and opt-in. Most services automatically renew subscriptions when the price goes up, but it’s not something that Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other platforms should adapt. It’s also questionable what the UK regulator and the European Commission will think of the practices. They have recently demanded that Microsoft change how their subscriptions work, making it easier for users to cancel their Game Pass when they no longer use or have access to the service.
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