Google’s New Application Tools for Maps, YouTube, and Assistant Put Privacy in the Hands of Its Users

Image Source: www.iStock.com/IngusKruklitis

Just in time for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Assistant were recently announced to have new tools related to user privacy and security. The new updates to these applications give users more control over what data Google can retrieve, and even gives the option for users to delete already collected data such as within Google Voice Assistant. 

Google Maps has now included an incognito mode to keep the application from tracking which places you search for and where you travel to, this thus giving its application users more control over privacy. Incognito mode also helps to keep users’ personalized recommendations from including any locations that would otherwise be irrelevant. Android and iOS users are expected to have this feature available to their Maps application this month.

Image Source: Google | https://www.blog.google/technology/safety-security/keeping-privacy-and-security-simple-you/

 

YouTube is receiving an update as well, with users now able to choose when the app will automatically delete accumulated history. You can choose to keep your watch history for three or 18 months, or just choose to keep the data until you delete it manually.

Google Assistant is also getting an update that allows users to delete any saved voice data. By saying phrases like “Hey Google, delete the last thing I said to you,” or “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you last week,” to your device, Google Assistant will delete its “Assistant Activity”. Deleting voice data from a while back would require you to go into account settings.

After it was revealed that actual people could listen to voice recordings for the purposes of improving voice assistants, Google, Amazon, and Apple all took action to remedy the privacy situation. Alexa, for instance, was implemented with the option for consumers to choose whether recordings will be reviewed. Two months ago, Apple also stated the suspension of its Siri grading program which similarly recorded user audio. The company commented on how they would incorporate consumer participation choice in the grading program with a future update. 

Image Source: Google | https://www.blog.google/technology/safety-security/keeping-privacy-and-security-simple-you/

 

This Google Assistant feature is expected to be released in all languages by next month. The English commands will be available this month. 

Lastly, Google had released Password Checkup within its Password Manager tool. The Checkup feature notifies its users if their passwords have been compromised from a data breach, weak and need to be strengthened, or whether a password has been reused. Google will be adding this tool to Chrome soon, but users can still take advantage of the feature at passwords.google.com.

Google Study Reveals Many People Are Still Using Breached Passwords

Recently, a Google study showed that about 316,000 passwords have already been breached and are still in use. These used password credentials also include financial and governmental accounts. The information used to create this study was from Google Chrome’s Password Checkup extension. Google recently stated on their blog, “The study illustrates how secure, democratized access to password breach alerting can help mitigate one dimension of account hijacking.”

The Password Checkup Extension activates when someone signs into a site, which uses one out of 4 billion username/passwords that Google finds unsafe due to a third-party breach. Google found out that out of 21 million passwords and usernames, 1.5% of these sign-ins were risky. They also stated that many people like to reuse passwords that tend to be vulnerable, which puts them at risk. People use vulnerable passwords when it comes to entertainment and news websites, and sometimes on shopping sites where there could be credit card information stored. About 26 percent of unsafe passwords were reset by users. In addition to that, 60 percent of those new passwords are secured, leaving out the possibility of guessing attacks, which would take a hacker over a hundred million guesses before figuring out the user’s new password. 

Not changing used passwords can lead to cybercriminals gaining unauthorized account access. There have been “credential-stuffing incidents”, which affected companies like Dunkin Donuts and State Farm. Hackers would use lists of breached usernames and passwords to log in to web application accounts through automated requests. When the right username and password combination are found, cybercriminals can gain access to the targeted account. 

Google recommends using their Password Checkup Extension as a precautionary measure to alert users of whether their password has been breached. It is good practice to use different passwords for all your accounts and store them in a secure password manager application. As always, avoid using simple-to-guess passwords and instead use phrases with numbers and symbols. 

Overnight Phone Charges Could Be Harmful for Your Device’s Longevity

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Charging our phones overnight is a lot more harmful than we thought. It could actually shorten the lifespan of your phone instead of extending it or helping it. Most phones nowadays have a system in place that stops your phone from overcharging. Many smartphones do not stay at one hundred percent for too long.

Leaving your phone charging after it has hit 100% could impact your phone negatively. Business Insider’s Antonio Villas-Boas stated, “As a lithium-ion battery ages, the chemistry within changes and becomes less efficient at storing and delivering power to your device.” As batteries age and since we use our phones daily, their batteries begin to decay due to these reasons.

Phone companies don’t see overcharging your phone as an issue. Apple talks about their lithium-ion batteries in their iPhones, but has never really mentioned overcharging effects on its devices. Google claimed that overcharging is a dated issue. Since technologies are constantly updated, overcharging should not be an issue since their phone’s battery stops charging when it hits 100%.

Phone makers claim that phone’s battery should not be at 100% when you plan on not using them and store them away. If you plan on not using your phone for a while, it is recommended to store your phone away at 30% to 50% because that is when it ages the slowest. Samsung and Apple both stated to keep your phone around 50% for such purposes.

If you’ve been noticing your phone’s battery life deteriorating much quicker than its aging, it’s a good idea to set aside those overnight charges. Accumulated damage from such charges may cause shorter battery life span on a phone you plan to keep for a while. However, it does not matter how careful you are with your phone charger, it will deteriorate overtime regardless. Many phone makers now give you the option to replace your battery for a small price.

Google has Come Out with a New Site Feature that Makes Traveling Easier

Google has come out with a new landing page called “Trips”, which has all of the necessities to help you plan your next getaway. It consists of the app, Google Trips, as well as Google Flights, Google Hotels, and a few more. This makes it easier for the user to plan one trip using all of Google’s provided travel-related products starting from finding a destination to vacation packages and travel guides.

Even if you don’t use the tools Google provides, you can still sketch out your itinerary, see the weather reports, confirmation codes, and so much more for your trip on the “Trips” site. “Trips” has been spread out within Google’s products (i.e. Maps, Flights, Hotels, etc.). For instance, when you make reservations, the reservation will pop up on Google Maps, showing your reservation confirmation on the page.

When planning your vacation using the “Trips” site, you also get access to Google Maps’ Explore tool, allowing you to track flight prices by using Google search. According to Google, this will soon apply to hotels as well.

Google stated that the “Trips” site will be available to use through Google Maps soon. “Trips” is now live, but Google has not stated how it will impact the mobile app and their TripIt competitor for showing itineraries.  

New and Exciting Updates to Google Lens That Will Help on Your Next Outing

On Tuesday, May 7th, during a Google I/O event, Google revealed that they will be updating their Lens technology. This new update to the Lens technology will use artificial intelligence, which would give you the ability to actually “see” what you see when looking through the app on your phone.

One such update that Google revealed was adapted towards people who enjoy the experience of eating at restaurants. Users will have the ability to point their phone’s camera at the bill in a restaurant, and the update will be able to determine how much to split with friends and how much to leave as a tip. This update was said to be released later this month and would help out with any difficulties that might come along with a dining experience.

Some other updates that the Lens will have are:

  • People will be able to point their phones at a text in foreign language and the Lens will be able to translate it and read it out loud in whichever language they choose.
  • Users will be able to point their phone camera at a restaurant menu and the update will let the user know which dishes are popular. In addition, if you tap on the highlighted dish, it will show pictures of that particular dish that others have tried.
  • People will have the ability to learn how to prepare a dish. If you were to point the camera at a recipe, it will show a video of how the food is prepared.

Augmented Reality Tech is Coming to Google Search

Google’s I/O developer conference had some interesting technological reveals this week, one of them including Augmented Reality technology that will be brought to Google Search.

During the conference, Google demonstrated different examples of how the new search function would operate. For instance, if a user were to search “great white shark”, an option to use your camera for a 3D model will be available for a more immersive experience. 3D objects can be viewed in your own space to give a sense of what the object would look like in detail.

Image Source: TechCrunch via Google; Image showing AR of human muscular system

Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained that the company’s “goal is to build a more helpful Google for everyone,” and to help “[get] things done.”

Brands may also be able to take advantage of the AR search experience by providing a digital view of products for consumers. The AR search result could help unsure consumers in making a decision to purchase a particular product when previewing it in better detail.

There is no word on how many 3D models will be available to users or whether other publishers can contribute to the AR search with their own models.

The new AR features are expected to roll out by the end of this month according to a twitter post by Google.

Google Releases its Google Fit App for iOS Devices

Image Source: Google

Google wants to help its users become more health conscious through exercise. That’s why the company has introduced its Google Fit app to a wider audience, this time bringing it to iOS devices. Launched last year, Google Fit’s mission stands to help change lives for the better, helping more and more people become active, get better sleep, and improve their mental health.

The app essentially keeps track of two goals: Move Minutes and Heart Points. Move Minutes logs your daily movement through walking or other motion activities. Heart Points can be earned through more intense movement from activities such as biking, running, and hiking.

The app keeps in mind the American Heart Association and World Health Organization’s weekly recommendations on exercise which consists of 150 minutes – or 2.5 hours – of “moderately intense” physical activity or 75 minutes of “vigorous aerobic activity”.

Google Fit can be paired to function with the Apple Watch and works with Apple Health as well. The application is now available in the App Store.

Malware Increases on Google Play Due to Click-Fraud Apps

Since the previous year, there has been a 100 percent increase in the number of malware that comes from Google, specifically Google Play. Google stated that the reason behind this increase is because potentially harmful apps (PHAs) now contain click -fraud apps.

Google later stated that the rates of malware downloads are quite low and customers are better off with the safer option of continuing to download applications from Google Play. According to ZDNet via Google, “28 percent of malware outside the Play Store are backdoors, while 25 percent are trojans, 22 percent are hostile downloads, and just 13 percent are click-fraud apps.”

Google believes that if they remove click-fraud stats, it would show that the PHAs that were installed would decrease by 31%, however, there are about 55 % of PHAs that have been installed through Google Play. The click-fraud apps is an outcome of application developers using SDK, software developer kit, without realizing that it’s the cause of the fraud.

There have been about 1.6 billion PHAs installation attempts in the last year, but Google Play’s anti-malware system prevented this. There has been a 20% improvement in blocking PHAs installations. Chamois, which is the same house of malware, sometimes come preinstalled in certain Android devices. As the article on ZDNet explains, “Chamois apps are preinstalled on popular devices from different OEMs that didn’t carefully scan for malware. As a consequence, users are buying compromised systems. When users start up their new devices, the preinstalled Chamois apps (usually disguised as system apps) download and install PHAs and other apps in the background.”

6 Security Tips to Keep in Mind When Using Device Apps

Nowadays, data breaches are happening more and more frequently, and an app you’ve once entrusted to keep your data and privacy safe can put your information at risk of being stolen through malicious hackers using security exploits, or through the developers’ means of using a third-party application to harvest your data. As you download your favorite applications from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, you’ll want to keep these security tips in mind:

  1. Using a password manager can help keep your accounts secure

Password manager applications are there to assist us when there are many accounts to keep track of. Often times, users rely upon using the same passwords which puts them at risk during massive data breaches. Easy-to-guess passwords like “Password” and “123456” are still among the top worst choices for users’ accounts, and slightly changing passwords to include a symbol or number is not always the best line of defense against hackers guessing your codes.

Using a password that is created by a random string of numbers and letters is assuredly a strong way of protecting your accounts. However, remembering these passwords comes as another issue at hand.

To help store your passwords in a secure and encrypted space, users can take advantage of password manager apps.

  1. Use a VPN when you use public WiFi

A virtual private network (VPN) can help keep your data secure when on public WiFi. VPNs can secure transactions and keep users anonymous when on the internet, ultimately masking any data transmissions.

When looking for a VPN provider via an app store, make certain you read the app’s data collection policies.

  1. Be aware of what permissions you grant to applications

Users should always be wary of what information apps ask to gain access to, such as contacts lists, location, and photos. A good form of practice is to always question an app’s request for certain permissions. For instance, if a note-keeping application asks for photo access, users should question the app’s motives in harvesting photo data.

It is also important to take note of any unusual behavior after certain application downloads. If your battery life performance drops or you notice your phone acting slower than usual, the malicious app could be collecting data in the background.

  1. Do your research on specific applications you want to download

Before you decide to download an app onto your phone, another good practice is to search the application on Google and see if it was involved in any recent data breaches or scams.

If previously involved in a data breach, take note of the way a company/developer handles the occurrence. A developer should take extreme precautionary measures to make certain this does not affect its users again, while also making sure the app’s security is heightened after a breach has already happened.

  1. Keep your phone’s software updated

Often times, OS updates are released to patch any device vulnerabilities that may allow hackers to access your data via malicious application downloads. By updating your device regularly, you can reduce the risk of hackers using data exploits to their advantage.

  1. Download legitimate applications from a trustworthy source, such as Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store

Most applications found within Apple’s and Google’s stores “meet a standard quality of data protection and [are]…required to produce a dedicated privacy policy [to]…protect your data,” says Stephen Hart in an interview with CNET.

It is better to avoid any untrustworthy sources outside of reputable app stores, as a user runs the risk of downloading an app that may contain a virus onto their device.

New Chrome Extension from Google Can Notify You If Your Passwords Are Secure

As perfect timing for today’s Safer Internet Day, Google released a new Chrome extension that allows users to check if their passwords were exposed after the latest data breaches.

Once the extension has been added to your Chrome browser, Google notifies you with a warning if your login credentials matched any information found within an extensive database of four billion usernames and passwords from previous breaches.

Many of us are guilty with using the same passwords for our accounts, which is why breaches like that of Collection #1 remind us to use unique passwords instead. Regardless, even having many different passwords could be difficult in terms of knowing which hasn’t been compromised in such massive data breaches. However, thanks to Google’s extension, you can protect your accounts the next time you log in.

Image Source: Google

The Password Checkup extension works by encrypting the login credentials that are sent to Google. As Jon Porter from The Verge reports, “[p]asswords in the database are stored in a hashed and encrypted form, and any warning that’s generated about your details is entirely local to your machine.”

If you find out your password has been compromised, you can even use Chrome’s password generator to create a new password.

Though Chrome’s Password Checkup helps users in this time of need, this underlying concern still remains: are passwords really safe to use nowadays? WebAuthn–which uses tokens instead of passwords–may be a safer option, for example, but has yet to be implemented into more web browsers.

While you use Chrome’s new extension, make sure to utilize other resources to your advantage such as a password manager and two-factor authentication system. Furthermore, always use unique passwords when setting up your accounts.