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Archive for September, 2017

30
Sep

Did Russia exploit Google’s offerings to meddle in the 2016 United States presidential election?

An investigation is underway:

Google is examining what role its services could have played in Russian interference during the 2016 US presidential election, according to a report published Friday by The Wall Street Journal.

The search giant joins its rivals Facebook and Twitter in their own probes, as they try to figure out how Russian agents could have misused their advertising platforms, among other services, to meddle in the campaign.

“We will of course cooperate with inquiries,” a Google spokesperson said. “We’re looking into how we can help with any relevant information.”

But will the results be made publicly available? Facebook has been less than forthcoming about what its probes have turned up.

28
Sep

AlterNet: Google is a “monopoly on steroids”

The venerable progressive news outlet AlterNet has published an editorial making the case that it has gotten swept up in Google’s crackdown on “fake news”:

The New Media Monopoly Is Hurting Progressive and Independent News

The story is about monopoly on steroids. It is about the extreme and unconstrained power of Google and Facebook, and how they are affecting what you read, hear and see. It is about how these two companies are undermining progressive news sources, including AlterNet.

In June, Google announced major changes in its algorithm designed to combat fake news. Ben Gomes, the company’s vice president for engineering, stated in April that Google’s update of its search engine would block access to “offensive” sites, while working to surface more “authoritative content.”

This seemed like a good idea. Fighting fake news, which Trump often uses to advance his interests and rally his supporters, is an important goal that AlterNet shares.

But little did we know that Google had decided, perhaps with bad advice or wrong-headed thinking, that media like AlterNet—dedicated to fighting white supremacy, misogyny, racism, Donald Trump, and fake news—would be clobbered by Google in its clumsy attempt to address hate speech and fake news.

Read the whole thing.

18
Sep

Malware still lurking in the Google Play mobile app store

Embarrassing:

It seems almost too ironic that the Google Play Store has been secretly invaded by even more malware after it has promoted its Google Play Protect security platform for Android. Boasting of technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, Play Protect promises to protect Android users more thoroughly without having to increase manpower. Alas, it seems that another malware, named ExpensiveWall, has gotten past the Play Store’s security and this lapse is costing users a lot more than just peace of mind but actual money as well.

Check Point, the cybersecurity firm who reported this latest news, says that ExpensiveWall, named after one of its carriers, “Lovely Wallpaper” is actually a new variant of another malware discovered earlier this year. Both types of malware care costing users money by silently signing them up for premium subscriptions or sending premium SMS. Both strains have also made it past Google’s security checks and have been downloaded thousands of times by users.

SlashGear, which posted the report excerpted above, says Google needs to step its security game. Duh. Supposedly, that’s what they were doing when they launched “Play Protect”. But obviously, they failed.

Anyone who wants a secure mobile platform should invest in a BlackBerry device — and preferably one that runs the secure BlackBerry 10 operating system — to keep their data and networks secure.

14
Sep

Lawsuit alleges Google is a discriminatory place to work

Kudos to the plaintiffs for bringing this suit:

Google systematically pays women less than men doing similar work, according to a class action-lawsuit accusing the technology company of denying promotions and career opportunities to qualified women who are “segregated” into lower-paying jobs.

The complaint, filed Thursday on behalf of all women employed by Google in California over the last four years, provided the most detailed formal accounts to date of gender discrimination and pay disparities at the company after months of criticisms and a growing chorus of women publicly speaking out.

Allegations of possible employment violations emerge at court hearing as part of lawsuit to compel company, a federal contractor, to provide compensation data

“We’ve been talking about these issues for a long time, and it hasn’t really changed,” Kelly Ellis, a former Google employee and a lead plaintiff on the case, told the Guardian in her first interview about the suit. “There’s been a lot of PR and lip service, but … this is going to be one of the only ways to get these companies to change how they hire and compensate women.”

Any effort to hold the Monster of Mountain View accountable for its bad business practices is an effort we support. For a company with a motto of “do no evil”, Google sure does a lot of evil things.

11
Sep

Google releases new version of Chrome that incorporates a technology called “WebUSB”

USB, or Universal Series Bus, is already a technology that has a lot of security problems. Now Google is rushing to put into its increasingly dominant web browser (Chrome) a technology that allows websites to interface with USB devices via Javascript, which has to be one of the worst ideas they’ve ever come up with:

Google has wrapped up coding the desktop version of Chrome 61, and will be rolling it out for Windows, Mac and Linux “over the coming days/weeks”.

Chrome 61 extends the visibility of USB-connected devices to Web apps. First proposed last year, WebUSB was pitched as an easier way to set up USB devices, since (for example) a vendor’s site could use the API to push a config to a newly-connected gadget.

The feature’s focus, Google says, is on specialist devices that don’t have a standard way to advertise their capabilities. Keyboards or mice are easy, but as is explained in the specification, USB-connected educational devices (say, microscopes) or 3D printers aren’t conveniently accessible.

There’s also the vexed question of USB device updates: the Chrome devs explain WebUSB could let manufacturers update a device by getting users to visit the page and give permission to the update [What could possibly go wrong? – Reg].

What could possibly go wrong, indeed! That wasn’t just the reaction of the folks at The Register; it was also the reaction of a commenter at Phoronix, who also wisely said No thanks, Google.

We’ve learned over the past few years that everything connected to the internet tends to be less secure. Therefore, it follows that a device can be made more secure if it’s not connected to the internet. Perhaps we should strive to minimize how many devices can be connected directly to the internet by emphasizing localized control and asking ourselves, “Do we really need internet-controlled light-bulbs?”

This may not be to Google’s advantage, as it won’t be able to obtain as much data from non-internet-connected devices, but it may be to the benefit of the internet at large. Some devices may actually work better and be more useful when connected to the internet, but the majority of the “Internet of Things” probably doesn’t actually need an internet connection, especially if those devices can be controlled locally, either through a physical push of a button or through local networks such as Bluetooth, NFC, Thread, or other P2P mesh networking technologies. The latter could bring much of the same convenience of controlling a smart device from an app, without the downside of allowing someone from the other side of the world to connect to it as well.

Well said. Putting WebUSB in Chrome was a mistake. Then again, using Chrome is a mistake. LGB recommends Firefox instead, or one of its derivatives, like Waterfox or Pale Moon.