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Microsoft fires back at Google with Bing contextual search on Android

“Snapshots on Tap” echoes a feature coming with the next version of Android

Microsoft has pre-empted a new feature Google plans to include in the next version of Android with an update released Thursday for the Bing Search app that lets users get information about what they’re looking at by pressing and holding their device’s home button.

Called Bing Snapshots, the feature is incredibly similar to the Now on Tap functionality Google announced for Android Marshmallow at its I/O developer conference earlier this year. Bing will look over a user’s screen when they call up a Snapshot and then provide them with relevant information along with links they can use to take action like finding hotels at a travel destination.

For example, someone watching a movie trailer can press and hold on their device’s home button and pull up a Bing Snapshot that will give them easy access to reviews of the film in question, along with a link that lets them buy tickets through Fandango.

Google Now On Tap, which is slated for release with Android Marshmallow later this year, will offer similar features with a user interface that would appear to take up less screen real estate right off the bat, at least in the early incarnations Google showed off at I/O.

The new functionality highlights one of the major differences between Android and iOS: Microsoft can replace system functionality originally controlled by Google Now and use that to push its own search engine and virtual assistant. Microsoft is currently beta testing a version of its virtual assistant Cortana on Android for release later this year as well.

A Cortana app is also in the cards for iOS, but Apple almost certainly won’t allow a virtual assistant to take over capabilities from Cortana, especially since Google Now remains quarantined inside the Google app on that mobile platform.

All of this comes as those three companies remained locked in a tight battle to out-innovate one another in the virtual assistant market as a means of controlling how users pull up information across their computers and mobile devices. For Microsoft and Google, there’s an additional incentive behind the improvements: driving users to their respective assistants has the potential to boost use of the connected search engines.


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Google pushes back Project Ara testing to 2016

The company plans to test the device in the U.S.

Google is delaying initial testing for its modular smartphone, known as Project Ara, to 2016.

The company plans to test the device in the U.S., according to several tweets posted Monday by the Project Ara team. Neither the exact location nor precise timing of the tests was given.

The Project Ara smartphone is designed to let users easily swap out its components.

The idea is that users purchase the hardware modules, like processors and sensors, themselves and snap them together to create a customized smartphone. In so doing, users could improve their device on their own terms, rather than buying a new phone outright.

Google had planned to commence initial testing in Puerto Rico this year, though those plans were scrapped as part of a “recalculation,” announced last week.

The hastag #Yeswearelate was affixed to one of the tweets on Monday.

Google did not immediately respond to comment further.

 


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Google to kill off SSL 3.0 in Chrome 40

To protect against POODLE attacks and other vulnerabilities in SSL 3.0, Google will remove support for the aging protocol in version 40 of its Chrome browser.

Google plans to remove support for the aging Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) version 3.0 protocol in Google Chrome 40, which is expected to ship in about two months.

The decision comes after Google security researchers recently discovered a dangerous design flaw in SSL 3.0. Dubbed “POODLE,” the vulnerability allows a man-in-the-middle attacker to recover sensitive, plain text information like authentication cookies, from a HTTPS (HTTP Secure) connection encrypted with SSLv3.

Even though POODLE is the biggest security issue found in SSL 3.0 so far, it is not the protocol’s only weakness. SSL version 3 was designed in the mid-1990s and supports outdated cipher suites that are now considered insecure from a cryptographic standpoint.

HTTPS connections today typically use TLS (Transport Layer Security) versions 1.0, 1.1 or 1.2. However, many browsers and servers have retained their support for SSL 3.0 over the years — browsers to support secure connections with old servers and servers to support secure connections with old browsers.

This compatibility-driven situation is one that security experts have long wanted to see change and thanks to POODLE it will finally happen. The flaw’s impact is significantly amplified by the fact that attackers who can intercept HTTPS connections can force a downgrade from TLS to SSL 3.0.

Based on an October survey by the SSL Pulse project, 98 percent of the world’s most popular 150,000 HTTPS-enabled sites supported SSLv3 in addition to one or more TLS versions. It’s therefore easier for browsers to remove their support for SSL 3.0 than to wait for hundred of thousands of web servers to be reconfigured.

On Oct.14, when the POODLE flaw was publicly revealed, Google said that it hopes to remove support for SSL 3.0 completely from its client products in the coming months. Google security engineer Adam Langley provided more details of what that means for Chrome in a post on the Chromium security mailing list Thursday.

According to Langley, Chrome 39, which is currently in beta and will be released in a couple of weeks, will no longer support the SSL 3.0 fallback mechanism, preventing attackers from downgrading TLS connections.

“In Chrome 40, we plan on disabling SSLv3 completely, although we are keeping an eye on compatibility issues that may arise,” Langley said. “In preparation for this, Chrome 39 will show a yellow badge over the lock icon for SSLv3 sites. These sites need to be updated to at least TLS 1.0 before Chrome 40 is released.”

Google Chrome typically follows a six-week release cycle for major versions. Chrome 38 stable was released on Oct. 7, meaning Chrome 40 will probably arrive towards the end of December.


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Google lowers search ranking of websites that don’t use encryption

The move is intended to promote better security practices across the Web

Websites that aren’t encrypting connections with their visitors may get a lower ranking on Google’s search engine, a step the company said it is taking to promote better online security practices.

The move is designed to spur developers to implement TLS (Transport Layer Security), which uses a digital certificate to encrypt traffic, signified by a padlock in most browsers and “https” at the beginning of a URL.

As Google scans Web pages, it takes into account certain attributes, such as whether a Web page has unique content, to determine where it will appear in search rankings. It has added the use of https into those signals, although it will be a “lightweight” one and applies to about 1 percent of search queries now, wrote Zineb Ait BahajjiA andA Gary Illyes, both Google webmaster trends analysts, in a blog post.

All reputable websites use encryption when a person submits their login credentials, but some websites downgrade the connection to an unencrypted one. That means content is susceptible to a so-called man-in-the-middle attack. Content that is not encrypted could be read.

Rolling out https is fairly straightforward for small websites but can be complex for large organizations that run lots of servers, with challenges such as increased latency, support issues with content delivery networks and scaling issues.

LinkedIn said in June it was still upgrading its entire network to https after Zimperium, a security company, found it was possible in some cases to hijack a person’s account. People using LinkedIn in some regions are flipped to an unencrypted connection after they log in, making it possible for a hacker to collect their authentication credentials.

Facebook’s Instagram was found to have the same problem last month. Instagram’s API (application programming interface) makes unencrypted requests to some parts of its network, which could allow a hacker on the same Wi-Fi network to steal a “session cookie,” a data file that reminds Instagram a person has logged in but which grants access to an account.


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Google-Car

Quick look: Google’s self driving car

Google’s sensors avoid trouble, even when other drivers try to distract the cars

Google’s self-driving car technology likely will not be available for several more years – think 2017 or beyond. Recently the company took a number of reporters on little rides to show off what the car’s technology can do now. Here’s a look at the picture profile Reuters shot at the event.

A Google self-driving vehicle drives around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, Calif.

A look at the sensing/camera device on the roof of the Google Lexus RX 450h car.

A closer look at the roof mounted sensor because of the roof-mounted laser sensor which spins 10 times a second, gathering a 360-degree view of the car’s surroundings.

Another sensor mounted on a Google self-driving vehicle. According to a Reuters story: Other drivers who spot the self-driving car often swerve in front of it and tap on their brakes, hoping to gauge the Google car’s reaction, according to the two Google staffers in the car’s front seats. Another favorite involves car drivers waving their hands in the air, in an attempt to get the Google driver-seat staff member to take his or her own hands off the wheel and prove the car is really steering itself. “We just laugh at them,” said one of the Google staff members in the car.

Google’s cars have never “caused” an accident in self-driving mode, although they have been involved in a few fender benders, such as an incident in which a Google car stopped at a red light got rear-ended, Chris Urmson (pictured here], the head of Google’s self-driving car project told Reuters.

A screen displays views from various onboard sensors in a Google self-driving vehicle.

Picture given out by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles shows a Google self-driven car in Las Vegas, May 1, 2012. Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles approved the nation’s first autonomous vehicle license in 2012.

A video look at Google’s car and report on Computer History Museum’s new driverless car exhibit.

Google of course isn’t the only company interested in driverless cars. Here we take a look at Ford, MIT and Stanford efforts.


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Exclusive: Google may offer Wi-Fi for cities with its Google Fiber

Cities getting gigabit-speed fiber Internet could also gain Wi-Fi networks

Google is considering deploying Wi-Fi networks in towns and cities covered by its Google Fiber high-speed Internet service.

The disclosure is made in a document Google is circulating to 34 cities that are the next candidates to receive Google Fiber in 2015.

Specific details of the Wi-Fi plan are not included in the document, which was seen by IDG News Service, but Google says it will be “discussing our Wi-Fi plans and related requirements with your city as we move forward with your city during this planning process.”

If the plan goes ahead, it would be a further step by Google toward competition with traditional telecom carriers. For citizens of the cities involved, it could mean increased reliance on services by the dominant Internet company.

Google declined to answer specific questions about the plans but in an emailed statement said, “We’d love to be able to bring Wi-Fi access to all of our Fiber cities, but we don’t have any specific plans to announce right now.”

Google Fiber is already available in Provo, Utah, and Kansas City, and is promised soon in Austin, Texas. It delivers a “basic speed” service for no charge, a gigabit-per-second service for US$70 per month and a $120 package that includes a bundle of more than 200 TV channels. Installation costs between nothing and $300.

Google has sent the 34 cities that are next in line for Google Fiber a detailed request for information and they have until May 1 to reply.

It asks for a list of all the addresses in each city and a description of building types, and requests numerous geospatial data files containing information on streets, boundaries, rights of way, manholes, utility poles, zoning types and the condition of pavement across the city.

Google is also asking cities to identify locations it would be able to install utility huts. Each 12-foot-by-30-foot (3.6-meter-by-9.1-meter) windowless hut needs to allow 24-hour access and be on land Google could lease for about 20 years.

The huts, of which there will be between one and a handful in each city, would house the main networking equipment. From the hut, fiber cables would run along utility poles — or in underground fiber ducts if they exist — and terminate at neighborhood boxes, each serving up to 288 or 587 homes.

The neighborhood boxes are around the same size or smaller than current utility cabinets often found on city streets.

Once each municipality has sent the information to Google, the Mountain View company said it will conduct a detailed study.

“This process will take some time, but we hope to have updates on which cities will get Fiber by the end of the year,” the company says in the document.


 

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Google bans Windows Chrome extensions found outside the Chrome Web Store

Google is going to stop allowing non-sanctioned extensions to work on its Chrome for Windows browser. It’s for your safety, you understand.

The sad march towards tribal fiefdoms continued Thursday, as Google announced that it will only allow Chrome for Windows users to download extensions hosted by Google’s own Chrome Web Store starting in January.

Google says the decision to transform Chrome into a gated community stems from security concerns, in an echo of the official reason that Microsoft moved to the Windows Store model to distribute modern UI apps. Google engineering director Erik Kay points the finger at the damage caused by rogue extensions in a blog post detailing the lock-down.

“Bad actors have abused this mechanism, bypassing the prompt to silently install malicious extensions that override browser settings and alter the user experience in undesired ways, such as replacing the New Tab Page without approval. In fact, this is a leading cause of complaints from our Windows users.”

The policy shift will no doubt make it easier for Google to police the sanctity of said extensions. Google’s been on a bit of a security tear recently; last week, the company announced plans to step up Chrome’s malware-busting chops.

But, it’s also worth noting, developers who want to include their Chrome Web Store have to pay a $5 registration fee–and if your Chrome Web Store-hosted app or extension generates income, Google will take a 5 percent cut of the revenue.

The move to a gatekeeper-type model carries other implications: For example, while you can currently find the Adblock Plus extension in the Chrome Web Store, Google scrubbed the app from Android’s Play store earlier this year. Android users can still sideload the Adblock Plus app after jumping through some hoops.

Everyday Chrome users would not have the same ability under the new extension policy, though developers and enterprise Chrome users will still be able to install “unauthorized” extensions.

Crappy par for a crappy course

Sadly, the shift away from the Open Web ideal is nothing new.

Windows 8’s move to the walled-off Windows Store caused anger amongst developers (andA may have spurred the creation of the Linux-based SteamOS in response). Earlier this year, Google caught flak from privacy advocates for shifting away from the open XMPP technology built into Google Talk to the proprietary technology in its new Hangouts messaging service. Android looks less and less open by the day. And this week alone, both Microsoft and Google announced plans to cut off third-party client access to bothA Skype and Google Voice, respectively. (Again, they “pose a threat to your security.”)

Before I sign off, I’ll leave you with the words of Google co-founder Larry Page, from this year’s Google I/O keynote.

“And I think that we’ve really invested a lot into the open standards behind all that. And I’ve personally been quite saddened at the industry’s behavior around all these things… I’d like to see more open standards, more people getting behind things, that just work, and more companies involved in those ecosystems.”

Lofty ideals indeed, and noble ones. Just don’t forget to practice what you’re preaching, Google.


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Google creates network for tech startups

Network of support starts in seven North American cities

Google announced today it is building a network for tech entrepreneurs in seven North American cities.

The venture, dubbed Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Network, is focused on connecting emerging local tech companies and leaders with each other, as well as with resources at Google.

The company is partnering with tech hubs in Chicago, Denver; Detroit, Durham, N.C., Minneapolis, Nashville and Waterloo, Ontario.

“Through our work in more than 100 countries, we’ve been incredibly impressed with the catalyzing impact that tech hubs have had: helping startups grow, and creating jobs in local communities in the process,” wrote John Lyman, head of partnerships for Google for Entrepreneurs, in a blog post. “We’re partnering to create a strong network, providing each hub with financial support alongside access to Google technology, platforms and mentors, and ensuring that entrepreneurs at these hubs have access to an even larger network of startups.”

The hubs, he said, offer a new approach to starting a successful new business.

“We’re excited to exchange ideas and connect hubs with each other and with Google to have an even bigger economic impact on local communities,” Lyman added.


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Google tells Microsoft to shut down its YouTube app for Windows Phone

App allegedly strips advertisements, lets users download videos

Google on Wednesday demanded that Microsoft yank its YouTube app for Windows Phone from the market and disable any downloaded copies of the app, according to Wired.com, which received a copy of Google’s cease and desist letter.

Microsoft has until May 22 to comply, according to the story by Wired’s Mat Honan.

The Microsoft-written YouTube app violates YouTube’s service terms in two ways: it strips out the ads in the videos and lets users download content from the video site. Users can download the Microsoft app from the Windows Phone App Store.

UPDATE 1: But there are at least three other Windows Phone apps, available on Microsoft’s online app store, that also appear to violate one or the other of these restrictions. All three let users download videos to their phones. A paid version of one of them lets the user block advertisements.

Here’s the list:

Tube Pro, free, by Fast Code; the WindowsPhone Store listing offers an email address for support and questions. “If you want to remove adverts, Please buy the paid version.”

YouTube Downloader, free, by AnKo Software, which seems to be a Russian developer; on Twitter @AnKo_software

YouTube Downloader, $2.49, by AutoExpert Net. No vendor contact information available, but it was the only vendor that posted a disclaimer about downloading content: “AutoExpert Net does NOT in any way endorse and is NOT responsible for downloading copyrighted material from YouTube. This application should only be used for non-copyrighted material and/or for educational purposes. All the rights of the videos/audios are the property of their respective owners. By using this application you agree to abide by local and national copyright laws.”

“Network World” emailed AutoExpert Net. and tweeted AnKo Software for comment.

“These features directly harm our content creators and clearly violate our Terms of Service,” according to Google’s letter. “We request that you immediately withdraw this application from the Windows Phone Store and disable existing downloads of the application by Wednesday, May 22, 2013.”

“Just today, during his presentation at the Google I/O keynote, Google CEO Larry Page decried Microsoft for “milking off” of Google’s innovations,” Honan writes.

The Wired story includes the full text of the letter, dated May 15. It was sent to Todd Brix, Microsoft general manager, Windows Phone apps and store. It was signed by Francisco Vareta, director, global platform partnership, for Youtube.

Wired contacted both Google and Microsoft for comment. As of this posting, Wired apparently has received none.

 


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