Google unveils another step in its much-needed privacy boost

Google has announced that its Privacy Sandbox proposal is one step closer to becoming reality as the company is preparing its next stage of trials which will focus on ads relevance and measurement.

For those unfamiliar, the search giant first unveiled its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) plan to replace third-party browser cookies before announcing Google Topics as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative as a replacement following backlash on the move. 

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As the name suggests, Google Topics splits the web into different topics and divides users into groupings depending on their interests. Meanwhile, FLEDGE is dedicated to facilitating remarketing or showing ads on websites based on a user’s previous browsing history.

Now though, Google is moving ahead with testing its Privacy Sandbox and developers will be able to begin testing the Topics, FLEDGE and Attribution Reporting APIs in Chrome Canary.

Privacy Sandbox testing

Google plans to begin testing Topics and Fledge with a limited number of Chrome Beta users before making API testing available in the stable version of Chrome once things are working smoothly in Beta according to a new blog post.

The company also plans to begin testing its updated Privacy Sandbox settings and controls that will allow users to see and manage the interests associated with them or turn off the trials altogether.

Product director for Privacy Sandbox, Vinay Goel also provided some sample images of the settings the search giant plans to test in his blog post. In the Privacy Sandbox Beta menu, users will be able to toggle the trials on or off as well as customize their choices for Browser-based ad personalization, Ad measurement and Spam & fraud reduction. Here they’ll be able to remove interests from Topics and edit the list of sites that Privacy Sandbox users to infer their interests.

While Chrome users in the US will be opted in to the latest Privacy Sandbox trials, those in the EU will have to opt in by changing the position of the toggle in settings. This is due to GDPR and other data protection laws that apply to Europeans.

We’ll likely hear more from Google once its initial trials are complete and the company expands them to the stable version of Chrome.

Via TechCrunch

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The first Android 13 beta is out now and it’s big on privacy

Right on schedule, the first beta version of Android 13 has now been released by Google, but as usual this first release is a developer preview, so it’s not designed for consumers.

In fact, if you download it and you aren’t a developer then you probably won’t see much that’s new or different, as the initial changes are largely hidden features aimed at developers.

Highlights of this release include a photo picker tool, which allows users to select media files (such as photos) without having to grant the app they’re in access to their entire media library. So that’s aimed at maintaining your privacy and not giving apps more access than they need.

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There’s also a new ‘Nearby device permission for Wi-Fi’, which allows apps to discover and connect to nearby devices over Wi-Fi, without also needing access to your location. So again, this is a feature that has privacy in mind.

Another change is the ability for the color of all app icons to match your theme if you’re using a Pixel phone.

Currently, Google’s dynamic theming will change the color of app icons and other interface elements to complement whatever wallpaper you use, but it doesn’t work with third-party apps. With Android 13 it will, though developers will need to provide compatible icons. Google claims this support will eventually come to other phones too.

Three screenshots showing themed icons in Android 13

(Image credit: Google)

There are also other tools very much aimed at developers, like a simplified process for adding custom Quick Settings tiles, while one other user-facing change is a per-app language preference, so you don’t need to have all apps defaulting to the same language, which could be handy if you’re multi-lingual (or trying to be).

That’s about it. If you have a Google Pixel 4 onwards then you can grab this preview, but we’d strongly advise you don’t if you’re not a developer. It won’t be stable, and as you can see, there’s not much here for you. We’d expect more exciting features will appear in public betas.

An image showing the Android 13 roadmap

(Image credit: Google)

Analysis: the Android 13 roadmap

Alongside this beta, Google has handily released a roadmap for its Android 13 plans, so we can see that the first public beta will probably land in April, with the software becoming stable in late June or early July. This might coincide with Google I/O, where the company typically reveals a bunch of big features for its upcoming OS version.

The final release then looks like it might land in September, though October is possible too, as that’s when Android 12 was released.

We wouldn’t really suggest grabbing any of the betas before Google reaches platform stability, but at a minimum you should probably wait for the first public beta in April.

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Chrome 98 brings better screenshot support and a privacy guide

Another month brings a new version of Google’s web browser, with Chrome 98 showcasing a bunch of features that are hidden behind a flag.

A privacy guide gives you a better understanding of the sites that have been tracking you for example, alongside a better screenshot function that’s been in development since 2021. Chrome should have updated itself automatically, but you can check by going to About Google Chrome and seeing if it’s either at version 98 or if it’s in the midst of being updated.

For the time being, however, these need to be enabled through the flag feature. This hides experimental features under development, but by going to chrome://flags, you can enable the screenshot and privacy guide function that Google Chrome 98 brings.

With Chrome being released on a monthly schedule, and version 100 being on track to be released in March, there are features being brought to the forefront to better help users, rather than the incremental background updates that are invisible to the casual user. But it shouldn’t be long until we see the privacy guide appear without having to be enabled through a flag. 

Analysis: Google, let’s refine the flags page at last

The flag feature has been in Chrome for as long as the web browser has been released to users. Since 2010, the feature was renamed from Labs to Flags, where the experimental features have remained at chrome://flags.

But the way of navigating these flags has always been a struggle, as you can use a search engine to find a feature, but there’s currently no way of filtering the flags that are enabled. It’s either scrolling up or scrolling down to find these.

Google Chrome flag page

(Image credit: Google)

While Google maintains that this is strictly for power users and developers, having to enable a better screenshot function in Chrome 98 seems pointless for these types of users. It would be great to see a refresh of the flags page, with screenshots for each flag, alongside a way of displaying what flags have been enabled so far.

As we’re heading into triple figures in March with version 100, it could be a nice touch to see this page be modernized for the next 100 updates that Chrome is inevitably going to get.

In recent releases, we’ve seen improvements to the engine that powers Chrome and how it displays web pages, but it would be encouraging to see more features be showcased on the flag page, for the casual user instead.

We’re heading into an age where the web browser is going to be used for much more than work and gaming, as Opera has currently showcased. To appeal to users of features that they can switch on and off by themselves while explaining the benefits could be a good next step for Chrome going forward.

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WhatsApp introduces new privacy settings to keep you safe

WhatsApp is giving its legions of users greater control over who can see data about them. As part of a move to protect people from unauthorized third-party apps, new privacy controls are rolling out.

If you've noticed that you have been unable to see the online status of businesses or contacts you are trying to connect with, these changes help to explain just why this is.

If you have never chatted with a particular account, you will not be able to see either their online status, or details of when they were last seen. The same is true of other people's – and apps' – ability to see information about you.

WhatsApp says of the changes that “to improve the privacy and security of our users, we're making it harder for people you don't know and haven't chatted with from seeing your last seen and online presence on WhatsApp.”

To allay fear about the implications of the change, WhatsApp adds: “This will not change anything between you and your friends, family, and businesses who you know or have previously messaged”.

Keep it private

On the face of things, this feels like quite a small change, but it's just one of a growing number of privacy and security tools available to WhatsApp users.

It also helps to close a fairly significant security loophole that was being used by some third-party tools. There are a number of apps available for download that can be used to track people's online status – or at least they could be used fore this purpose before WhatsApp introduced the changes.

For anyone who is concern about their privacy, but particularly anyone who has been a victim of cyberstalk, these changes are great news that will be warmly welcomed.

Via WABetaInfo

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Zoom could owe you a pay-out after court ruling over privacy breaches

Zoom has settled a class-action lawsuit that alleged the company was in breach of privacy laws and put its users’ data at risk. As a result, it now needs to pay a small sum to all customers that can prove they were affected. 

The lawsuit alleged that the video conferencing app, Zoom Meetings, shared certain user information with third parties, did not do everything it could to prevent unwanted meeting disruption by third parties, and that the company falsely advertised its service as end-to-end encrypted.

In the legal notice of class-action settlement, which was published on the Zoom Meetings Class Action website, it was said that Zoom “denies any liability whatsoever, and believes that no member of the Settlement Class, including the Plaintiffs, has sustained any damages or injuries due to these allegations”.

However, because the company has decided to settle the suit, it is still required to issue compensation.

Who is eligible for compensation from Zoom?

Zoom will be paying out $ 85 million in total, and also agreed to change its policies and practices to benefit the members of the settlement class.

It seems that quite a large number of people are eligible to receive a small amount of compensation as a result. They fall into two categories: paying customers and those who use the free version.

Paying users that subscribed between March 30, 2016 and July 30, 2021 can file a claim for $ 25, or 15% of the subscription fee, whichever sum is greater. Those who used the free version by registering an account or downloading the Zoom Meeting app during the same time frame can file a claim for $ 15.

It’s important to keep in mind that the sum could change, depending on the number of people who file the claim. The claims must be submitted by March 5, 2022, with the final approval hearing scheduled for April 7, 2022.

Those who used an enterprise-level account or government account are not eligible for any compensation.

Claims can be filed here.

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