Google adds biometric verification to Play Store to keep your in-store wallet safe

Google has been emailing Android users about an update to the Play Store allowing you to enable biometric verification for purchases. We got the message over the weekend buried in our inbox. It states users can set fingerprint or facial recognition on the digital storefront as long as they have a mobile device that supports the technology. Once set up, “you’ll be asked to verify it’s you with biometrics” every time you buy something on the platform. 

We can confirm the update is live as it appeared on our phone. To turn it on, open the Play Store app then tap Settings near the bottom. Expand Purchase Verification and toggle the switch to activate Biometric Verification. The storefront will then ask you to type in your password to confirm the setting change. 

It’s important to mention that the final step will change within the coming weeks. According to the email, Google will let users use biometrics instead of requiring them to enter their account password.

The purpose of this feature is to seemingly provide an extra layer of safety to protect yourself against unauthorized transactions in case your phone is ever compromised. You don’t have to use a password anymore, although you will always have the option.

Google Play Store's new biometric verification

(Image credit: Future)

Minor, yet important detrails

There are a few minor details you should know regarding the feature. 

At a glance, it seems the biometric verification will primarily live on the Play Store. We attempted to purchase an ebook and were met with a fingerprint reader to authenticate our identity before checkout. Then we discovered the security feature will appear on third-party apps, but its presence on them varies. 

We purchased items for the game Arknights on our Android phone to see if a biometric verification reader popped up. It didn’t. The checkout went through without any hindrance. However, when we signed up for a three-month trial on Amazon Music, a Play Store message showed up asking if we would like to enable biometrics for future purchases. 

This leads us to believe that some apps will support the new verification method while others won’t. It may depend on whether or not a developer decides to support the security fixture on their product. 

Do note this has been our personal experience with the tool. It may operate differently for you. Google didn’t provide much information in their email or Play Store Help page. Of course, we reached out to the tech giant for clarification and will update the story if we learn anything new.

If you're looking for a great new app to download, be sure to check out the best 10 Android apps of 2023 according to Google.

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How much will it cost to keep Windows 10 alive next year? You’ll have to wait to find out

Microsoft is keeping its cards close to its chest regarding how much consumers will need to pay if they want to keep Windows 10 support alive when it officially runs out in October 2025.

Windows Latest noticed that Microsoft penned a blog post detailing the options and costs for businesses looking to have extended support in terms of security updates being piped through into 2026 and potentially beyond.

This is nothing to do with consumers, however, although everyday users of Windows 10 will also have a choice to pay for extending security updates should they want to keep the OS after October 2025.

Microsoft has clarified that point in an update to the post, stating that: “The details and pricing structure outlined in this post apply to commercial organizations only.”

So when will we find out about the cost for consumers? We don’t know is the short answer – you’ll have to wait. Microsoft wrote: “Details will be shared at a later date for consumers on our consumer end of support page.”

Note that even with paying for extended support, this is just security patches you’ll be getting, and Microsoft won’t be developing or applying any new features to Windows 10.


Analysis: Should you pay for extended Windows 10 support?

Windows 10 Logo on Laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock – Wachiwit)

To be fair to Microsoft, we are still a year and a half away from support expiring for Windows 10, so it’s not exactly a surprise that pricing options aren’t worked out fully yet. Although if Microsoft has managed to count the relevant beans and do the math for business customers, hopefully consumers won’t be left in the dark for too much longer. It's a little frustrating to see pricing for some customers, and not for others.

As to the wider issue of whether you want to pay for extended support for Windows 10, well, there are some folks in the unhappy position of not being able to upgrade to Windows 11 due to the hardware requirements. If you’re in that boat, then it might be worth exploring the options available to make your PC compatible and then migrate to Windows 11 – depending on what that entails.

If it’s a matter of adding a TPM (trusted platform module), that wouldn't be very expensive compared to the ongoing cost of subscribing (on a monthly or perhaps yearly basis) to post-support security updates for Windows 10. You could even pay a computer repair shop to help with the upgrade, as that’ll likely still work out cheaper than a support subscription in the longer run.

On the other hand, if you'll likely need to upgrade much of your PC to be able to install Windows 11, that would be more challenging (both financially and practically). For example, you may have an older unsupported CPU, which would likely requite a new motherboard or RAM. That being the case, staying on Windows 10 could make sense until you can afford a new Windows 11 PC – or indeed a Windows 12 device by that time, no doubt.

The other alternative is to shift away from Microsoft completely to one of the best Linux distros, which won’t cost you a penny – and you can always choose a distro that’s a fair bit like Windows in its interface. Although bear in mind that you’ll still face a lot of limitations using Linux rather than Windows.

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Google Drive could add a smart new way to keep your files organized

Finding your way around your Google Drive files could be about to get a lot easier: there's evidence that you'll soon be able to categorize your files into different groups, like banking and work, to keep them better organized.

This is according to hidden code spotted in the Google Drive app by TheSpAndroid (via Android Police). Apps often lay the coding groundwork for future features, before those features go live and are announced to users.

As per the app, the categories you'll be able to make use of are Auto, Banking, Expenses, Home, IDs, Insurance, Medical, Pets, School, Taxes, Travel, and Work. From this leak, it doesn't seem as though custom labels will be allowed, but those 12 categories cover the business of modern life pretty well.

As Android Police points out, these categories are similar to the labeling system that companies can use in Google Workspace. However, this should be available to individual users too, across Android, iOS, and the web.

How it'll work

Google Drive category feature leak

How the upcoming feature might look (Image credit: TheSpAndroid)

Here's how it's going to work: From the Home tab in the Android app, you'll be able to tap the three dots next to a file, then choose from the categories list. A file can be in multiple categories, potentially making the feature more useful than the current folders system.

We don't get any indication here about when the switch might be flipped to give users access to file categories: the report on TheSpAndroid says “it won't come very soon”, so presumably there's still work to do before it's ready for the public.

Given Google's recent and very committed push into artificial intelligence features, it's possible that some kind of AI processing might be involved as well, in categorizing files for you (or at least suggesting categories based on a file name or its contents). Suggested categories do appear in the screens produced by the hidden code.

We now know that Google I/O 2024 is getting underway on May 14 this year, so in between all the Android 15 and Pixel 8a news we might get an announcement or two regarding new Google Drive features – and of course we'll bring you all the news from the event.

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This upcoming feature on Google Keep may finally sway me away from Apple Notes for good

Google Keep is a popular task management and note-taking tool integrated with Google Suite so you can create and tick off to-do lists as you work on your computer or phone. The mobile version of Google Keep could be about to get a new feature that may tempt people away from their other note-taking apps – lock screen access to your notes.

According to 9to5Google, the team behind Google Keep has been pushing to become the default note-taking app on Android devices. In the same way, Apple Notes is the default note-taking app on every iPhone, iPad, and Mac. If Google Keep does become the de facto note-taking app of choice on Android devices, this opens the door to the app having more features that can be integrated more intimately into your phone. 

Alongside lock screen access to recent notes, we could also see improved stylus support so you can jot down your thoughts quickly and do fun doodles with a bit more control of your strokes. In version 5.24 of the app, there’s a new section of the settings menu that lists the lock screen access as ‘coming soon’, which gives me hope that we’ll see the feature sooner rather than later. 

I have no memory, I need lock screen access, please

As an extremely forgetful person who needs to make lists for everything, I am so excited about the possibility of being able to look at my lock screen and see all my important to-dos at a glance, especially if the feature becomes available to non-Android users too. 

You can have shopping lists, reminders, positive affirmations, and reflections all on your lock screen and tick them off as you go through them without even needing to unlock your phone. I currently use Google Keep on my work computer exclusively to tick things off as I go through the day. If I can have my professional to-do list not just on a mobile app but very visible on my lock screen, I can keep tabs on what needs to be done while on my commute to work, and jot down tasks to carry over to the next day on the way back home. 

Apple Notes has been my default note-taking app mostly because I’m an iPhone user, and while it has had a few improvements here and there (like adding grids, text formatting options, and being able to drop in photos into the app) it’s ultimately nothing special in the world of note-taking apps. If Google Keep can implement lock screen access outside of just Android phones, you’d better believe I’m shifting all my shopping list reminders over immediately and saying goodbye to Apple Notes for good. 

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The Apple Vision Pro comes with a Guest Mode dilemma – you can share the love but can’t keep the settings

Apple’s newly-launched Vision Pro comes with a guest mode, but it appears to be frustratingly limited. It seems that (rather reluctantly), Apple has included a “Guest User” mode to let users share their shiny new device with family and friends without having to give them access to your personal information and data. That said, if you hope it’ll be like guest modes on other devices we’ve become accustomed to, you’ll need to think again. 

While friends and family will be able to experience the magic of the Vision Pro on a user’s device, according to 9to5Mac the device won’t store any of their settings. This will no doubt be disappointing for anyone who got it hoping to be able to share it with a group – such as with the rest of their family. Also, Guest Mode will allow you to “share specific apps and experiences with family and friends,” which sounds like the ability to share may not extend to all apps.

So, guest users will only have limited settings and app capabilities, settings will not be stored from any sessions, and the Vision Pro won’t actually even save guest calibration data. If a guest wants to use a specific user’s Vision Pro other than their own, they’ll have to go through the process of calibrating eye tracking, hand scanning, and pairing ZEISS Optical Inserts every time.

An Apple Store staff member shows a customer how to use a Vision Pro headset.

(Image credit: Apple)

Possible concerns ahead for the Vision Pro

This isn’t due to a technical limitation either, Apple chose to have it be this way. If a friend or family member just wants to give it a spin and try it, this isn’t so bad. However, with a $ 3,500 price tag, some people probably bought it hoping to be able to share it with people they live with. 

This Guest Mode makes it tough to do so, and puts users and guests off of using it like this multiple times. As far as we know, that’s how things stand for now – you can have one main user account, plus the built-in Guest Mode, but there's no option to create separate accounts (guest or otherwise). 

While not totally unheard of for Apple, I can imagine this being disappointing news for some recipients of the Vision Pro. For example, the iPad doesn’t have guest-sharing specific features, but this doesn’t really hinder sharing the iPad with people, and a guest mode probably doesn’t add as much to it. To be able to use the Vision Pro at all, you have to at least calibrate it to your face and eyes, so it’s a different story. 

We await the Vision Pro’s arrival in US stores on February 2 and reviewers have already started posting their first impressions of the device. I can see this becoming a real drawback that users get vocal about  – but would it convince Apple to change the guest mode? Because this is a bold first-gen launch for Apple, users are willing to let its vision develop and give it a chance. Hopefully Apple doesn’t burn through that good will.

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Keep an eye on your Mac: macOS Sonoma could be auto-installing right under your nose

Some Mac users are being affected by an unexplained bug that causes macOS to automatically update to the new macOS Sonoma. The issue appears to have been ongoing for a few weeks now, with gradually more users affected, but only Mac devices that were previously running macOS Ventura. The complaints have been highlighted on Apple’s forums and Reddit, though we’ve yet to hear any official statement from Apple.

MacRumors reports that the complaints have also been posted on its own forums, detailing that the forced Sonoma update can occur even with automatic updates turned off. A majority of the complaints reported that a desktop notification would pop up alerting users that the Sonoma update was available, and despite the notification being dismissed their Mac would begin to install Sonoma anyway. 

So far Apple hasn’t commented on this unusual situation and it’s currently unclear why some Macs are auto-updating without permission while others remain on macOS Ventura. There doesn’t seem to be any particular device being affected; everything from iMacs to the M1 MacBook Air seems to be vulnerable.

Right under my nose!

While this is definitely an annoying issue, if you’ve had this strange forced upgrade happen to your device you can at least go back to the previous Ventura update. We should note that Apple allows you to downgrade older software a lot easier on Macs than it does with iOS updates on iPhones, so you’ll be able to downgrade back to Ventura. 

If you do want to return to Ventura – perhaps because you’ve got an older Mac product that is struggling with the Sonoma update – you’ll have to use the Time Machine recovery function to do so. If you made a Time Machine backup before the Sonoma upgrade, it’s a pretty streamlined process. You can restart your Mac in recovery mode and select the option to Restore from the Time Machine Backup, which once restored should take you back to Ventura.

That being said, we wouldn’t recommend doing this just yet; at least, not until we get more information from Apple as to how to move forward. Recovery from Time Machine may work, but it does put you at risk of losing valuable data. Another possible option is to factory-reset your Mac (if it’s an older model) which will return it to the original macOS version it shipped with and then allow you to update to Ventura – but again, this is an extreme measure and you’ll need to back up all your files first.

If you’d like to double-check what version of macOS you are on and make sure your automatic updates are turned off (though that might not protect you from this glitch), open up your System Settings app and head over to the ‘Software Update’ section of the general settings. Once you’re there you’ll be able to see what version of macOS your device is currently running on and whether or not your automatic updates are enabled or not. 

Hopefully, Apple will soon release an official comment (and bug fix!) to resolve this issue. Until then, keep an eye on your Mac…

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ChatGPT’s new AI store is struggling to keep a lid on all the AI girlfriends

On Jan 10, OpenAI officially launched its GPT Store, thus opening the door for select users and official partners to create, search for, and try out customized ChatGPTs (read: Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformers – or AI chatbots) provided they subscribe to either ChatGPT Plus for $ 20 / £16 / AU$ 20 a month, Enterprise, or the new Teams plan. 

And despite OpenAI's usage policies explicitly stating “We also don’t allow GPTs dedicated to fostering romantic companionship or performing regulated activities”, alongside warnings to creators such as: “Don't build tools that may be inappropriate for minors, including sexually explicit or suggestive content”, after just seven days the Store has seemingly been flooded with virtual girlfriends. 

Both Quartz and subsequently Mashable published images of searches for “girlfriend” and later “sweetheart” (by Mashable) in the GPT Store yielding many results, although some hits had disappeared in the four days between reports. 

For us, the search bar within the GPT Store (which we might use to search for “girlfriend”, “sweetheart,” “flirting” and so on) has seemingly been removed, thus suggesting OpenAI is trying to get a handle on the situation – although we do still see a tab to 'Create a GPT' in Beta. 

Analysis: users want AI girlfriends, so creators will do what they do best – get creative 

A screen-grab of the GPT Store's landing page, with no search bar

Note the lack of search bar for us in the GPT Store (Image credit: GPT Store)

So how easy is it to get an AI girlfriend on OpenAI's GPT Store, despite these kinds of chatbots directly contradicting the company's clear Ts&Cs? 

Although the store’s page isn't currently allowing us to search for virtual romantic partners (or any kind of GPT) because the search bar just isn't there right now, third-party sites will still let you perform these kinds of searches, with some links going to the actual GPT Store. 

I tried “girlfriend” (plenty of options) and even “secret lover” on the site GPTStore.ai, which yielded a GPT described as a “Romantic AI partner for text adventure dates with image creation”, albeit linking to the author's website rather than to the official GPT Store. And yes, I am now waiting for the call from IT about my questionable searches today… 

The GPT Store was originally announced last November as part of the company’s first DevDay conference, alongside OpenAI’s then-new create-a-chatbot service. The store was slated to open by the end of that month but was delayed several times, likely in part due to the somewhat abrupt dismissal and reinstatement of CEO Sam Altman.  

There is of course a wider discussion to be had here regarding the very real danger of users developing romantic attachments to AI. Business Insider reported on Monday (January 15) that the recent surge in platforms dedicated to AI companions has seen chatbot app Replika (described as an “AI for anyone who wants a friend with no judgment, drama, or social anxiety involved”) downloaded more than 10 million times.

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Google Photos’ Locked Folder can now keep your sensitive images safe on iOS

Google is expanding the reach of its Locked Folder tool on the Google Photos app so it will soon be available on iOS and web. This means that if you decide to switch from an Android device to an iPhone, you can still access your secure files without issue.

It doesn’t appear like there’s any major difference between the three versions. All three types of users can store their content in a Locked Folder then back it up so it can be accessed across multiple devices. According to Google in the official announcement that you’ll be saving your files on “one of the world’s most advanced security infrastructures.”

When it first launched, Locked Folder was exclusive to Google Photos on Android. It provided users a “passcode-protected space” for images or videos, ensuring that they won’t appear on your “photo grid or other apps.” 

The problem was the Locked Folders feature wasn't available outside of Android smartphones, as we just covered. So if an iPhone owner wanted to hide particularly sensitive media, they were out of luck. Those images could end up on other connected apps where they're displayed in full view. 

With this update, you can rest easy knowing that moving forward, any embarrassing snapshots of you at that Christmas party will remain hidden on your iPhone.

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In addition to the expansion, the company is also simplifying the settings page on Google Photos to make finding and adjusting privacy controls easier. The menu will no longer have everything messily displayed on a single screen. Instead, individual tabs will be compartmentalized into larger sections for a much cleaner look. The Privacy tab, for example, will have all of the sharing tools where you can decide which of your friends has access to your image folders.

Availability

Keep an eye out for the update patch when it arrives. Google states the new layout for the settings page is now available on Google Photos for Android and iOS. Also, Locked Folder support begins rolling out to iOS users today. 

It’s unknown when Locked Folder will make its way to Google Photos on web browsers. We didn’t see anything on our personal account. However, it is worth mentioning there are instructions for setting up Locked Folders for desktop via the official Google Photos Help website. This could mean the browser update will be launching soon – although we don’t know when. We reached out to Google for more information about when we can expect the final patch. This story will be updated at a later time.

If you’re looking for alternatives, be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the best photo storage and sharing sites for 2023

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People in Montana will soon need a TikTok VPN to keep accessing the app

People living in Montana will soon need to download a VPN service to keep accessing TikTok.

Republican Governor Greg Gianforte signed for the proposed ban to become law on Wednesday May 17, with the block due to be officially enforced on January 1, 2024.

The move makes Montana the first US state to ban TikTok, raising concerns over their right to free speech – so we've looked at what's at stake for the future of the Chinese social media giant in the country and how using a TikTok VPN might help.

Montana TikTok ban

Gianforte described Montana's TikTok ban as, “our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance,” the BBC reported.

Perhaps the most downloaded app worldwide, TikTok has been facing growing scrutiny in the US and its allied nations recently. Politicians are especially worried about the app's link with Beijing, fearing that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could access US user data and spread nationalist propaganda.

Earlier this month, an ex-employee of TikTok's parent company ByteDance claimed the CCP had “supreme access” to all data as part of a larger wrongful layoff's lawsuit.

We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points

Keegan Medrano, ACLU of Montana

In December 2022, it was the news of ByteDance employees spying on some US journalists to raise the alarm. The video-sharing app was then banned on government devices among a long list of democracies, including the US, UK, New Zealand, Canada and some EU countries.

A total block is, however, what the US is striving for with the RESTRICT Act (now passing through the Congress) – exactly what Montana appears to have now finally achieved.

At the same time, experts argue that the US government has so far failed to bring concrete  evidence of the alleged wrongdoings. Many commentators also warn of the potential consequences of making TikTok illegal in the US, arguing that the move will restrict Americans' digital rights.

“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” said Keegan Medrano, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana. 

“We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points.”  

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The law will prohibit TikTok from operating inside the state borders, while also requiring app stores to prevent people in Montana from downloading the app. Non-compliance punishments could reach up to $ 10,000 of starting fine, in addition to another $ 10,000 for every day the violation continues. 

“It would certainly be a costly gamble to keep download options available once the Bill comes into force and app stores would be well advised to comply,” Olexandr Kyrychenko, Partner at London-based law firm IMD Corporate, told TechRadar. 

All this might also create even worse security risks for TikTok users in Montana as 2024 starts won't be able to download any new updates and fix potential vulnerabilities.

VPN provider Private Internet Access (PIA) also believes that such a move would set a “worrisome precedent” over the future of digital freedom in the US. “Prohibiting the use of certain technologies or social media sites is a restrictive and likely ineffective way to protect US citizens’ data; who should have the right to choose whether or not they want to use these platforms.” 

According to the BBC, TikTok is expected to challenge the new law in court. 

In an official statement, the tech firm wrote: “We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

In the meantime, we advise people in Montana to get a secure VPN service before the end of the year. This security software can, in fact, spoofs users' IP address location and make them appear if they're browsing from a completely different country within seconds.

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WhatsApp’s new Chat Lock feature will keep your private conversations safe

WhatsApp is currently rolling out a new Chat Lock feature that will ensure your private conversations stay that way.

The Chat Lock update takes chat threads and places them behind their own locked folder which can only be accessed via your device’s own password or biometrics. Additionally, the content of those conversations will be hidden in your notifications so nosy people can't see what you're talking about.

Meta states in the announcement post that Chat Lock is ideal for people who share an unlocked smartphone with family, or, as shown in the official trailer, have their device stolen by their annoying, little brother. To enable the protection, all you have to do is tap the name of the chat and select the locking option. To reveal those chats, “pull down on your inbox” then enter your password or biometric in order to unlock them. Pretty simple stuff.

There are plans to expand Chat Lock options “over the next few months”. Meta states it’ll be possible to lock your conversations on companion devices. Plus, users will soon be able to create custom passwords for the chat that differ from the ones on their smartphones.

As for the launch, the post doesn’t say whether or not this is a global rollout nor does it mention anything about being able to use Face ID to unlock chats. We reached out to Meta for clarification. This story will be updated if we hear back. 

Chat Lock feature on WhatsApp

The new Chat Lock feature on WhatsApp (Image credit: WhatsApp)

Room for improvement

Chat Lock joins WhatsApp’s long list of security features from Device Verification to end-to-end encryption and two-factor authentication, but that doesn’t mean things are perfect. There's always room for improvement as every now and again something goes wrong.

In this instance, we’re specifically referring to a recently discovered bug that allows WhatsApp to continuously use a phone’s microphone even if the app is closed. This was first discovered by a Twitter engineer who posted a screenshot of the app using the mic at least nine times in the early morning of May 6. Meta is aware of this but claims it isn’t their fault. Instead, the official WhatsApp Twitter account points the finger at Google, claiming there’s a bug in the Privacy Dashboard on Android. Regardless of whose fault it is, we do recommend turning off your microphone through your device’s settings menu to ensure complete privacy. 

But if that doesn’t satisfy you, check out TechRadar’s list of the best-encrypted messaging apps of 2023 for alternatives. 

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