Google today updated its Gmail app for iOS devices with a new image blocking setting for easier access to the option designed to prevent Gmail from automatically loading attached images.
Many email tracking clients use small, invisible images as a means of tracking when an email has been opened and viewed, allowing for invasive features like read receipts.
Gmail on the desktop has long had the setting that lets images be blocked by default, but now that setting is also accessible on iOS devices for personal Gmail accounts, so it's easier for those who primarily use iOS devices to activate it. From the release notes for the latest update of Gmail:
You can now choose to be asked before external images are displayed automatically. To enable this for new incoming messages, go to Settings > specific account > Images and select Ask before displaying external images.
As The Verge points out, this appears to be a response to a recent controversy with Superhuman, an email app that allowed users to track the location of a person who opened an email as well as what time of day the email was read.
Location tracking has been removed entirely and read receipts are off by default in Superhuman following public outcry, but the issue did raise awareness about tracking features in email apps, which may have prompted Google to expand the setting to iOS devices in addition to the web.
Google's Project Zero published a blog post this week about a previous security threat wherein malicious websites quietly hacked into the victim's iPhone. This small collection of hacked websites were used in what was described as "indiscriminate" attacks against unsuspecting visitors for years, but the threat has been addressed by Apple.
If the attacks were successful, a monitoring implant would be installed on the targeted iPhone, able to steal private data including messages, photos, and GPS location in real time. Google estimated that thousands of visitors headed to these websites per week over the course of two years, and that iOS versions ranging from iOS 10 to iOS 12 were exploited.
There was no target discrimination; simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack your device, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant. We estimate that these sites receive thousands of visitors per week.
TAG was able to collect five separate, complete and unique iPhone exploit chains, covering almost every version from iOS 10 through to the latest version of iOS 12. This indicated a group making a sustained effort to hack the users of iPhones in certain communities over a period of at least two years.
Project Zero discovered exploits for a total of 14 vulnerabilities in iOS, seven for Safari, five for the kernel, and two separate sandbox escapes. The team reported these findings to Apple in February, and Apple's release of iOS 12.1.4 that same month addressed the issues.
Google's deep dive into the iOS exploit can be read on the company's Project Zero blog.
Google today announced its next major version of Android will be named Android 10, as the company has decided to move past dessert-inspired names for the operating system like Ice Cream Sandwich, Lollipop, and Marshmallow.
Android's new logo
Android's naming scheme is now consistent with iOS. Android is only on version 10 though, compared to iOS 13, because Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, and KitKat were all considered version 4.0 through version 4.4.4 releases between 2011 and 2014. Android also launched over a year after the original iPhone.
Until now, Android 10 was expected to be named Android Q, but there are few well-known desserts that start with that letter, perhaps contributing to Google's decision to switch to a numbered scheme. Google also admitted that the dessert names "weren't always understood by everyone in the global community."
Google has also revamped the Android logo for the first time since 2014 and shared a video to unveil the new branding:
The final beta of Android 10 was seeded earlier this month. The update will be publicly released in the third quarter.
Google Assistant is about to gain a new reminder feature that allows you to get someone else to do your bidding.
Called Assignable Reminders, the feature lets you set reminders for other people, so long as they are in your Google Contacts or opted in to your Family Group.
You can create a reminder using your voice ("Hey Google") or text, and set it to be delivered to a phone or via a smart device at a certain time, or make it geo-location aware so it shows up when the person arrives at a particular place, like the home or office.
According to Google, Assignable Reminders can be set to repeat, and you'll be able to check a history of reminders you sent to other people and any that have been assigned to you.
For children under 13 to use assignable reminders, they must be granted access to the Assistant on Google Home by adults in the household, and all users can block someone from sending them Assignable Reminders.
Assignable Reminders will roll out over the next few weeks in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. The feature will work on Google's smart speakers, Android devices, and iPhones and iPads with the Google Assistant app installed.
Following Apple's decision last week to suspend a Siri program that allows employees to listen to audio recordings for quality control purposes, Amazon and Google have both chosen to make their policies on human reviews of voice assistant audio more clear.
Late last month, Apple confirmed that a small number of anonymized Siri requests are analyzed for the purpose of improving Siri, after a Guardian report revealed that contractors regularly hear private conversations recorded by Apple's voice assistant.
To allay privacy concerns, Apple said it was temporarily stopping the program while it reviewed the process that's currently used. It also said it plans to release a software update that will let Siri users opt out.
On Friday, Google said it had also suspended its policy of reviewing Google Assistant audio. The company actually suspended the practice across the EU on July 10 when a German privacy regulator started investigating it following a Belgian media report, but this is the first time Google has confirmed the fact publicly.
According to Bloomberg, Amazon will let Alexa users opt out of human review of their voice recordings. The new policy took effect Friday, and adds an option in the settings menu of the Alexa mobile app for removing recordings from analysis by Amazon employees.
All of the tech companies employ staff to review a small subset of voice recordings while claiming to anonymize the source. For example, Google distorts the recording before it is listened to, so as to disguise the user's voice, while Apple strips them of identifiable information and assigns each one a random device identifier.
However, Bloomberg revealed that some of Amazon's audio reviewers had access to the home addresses of Amazon customers, before the company moved to restrict the level of access. Many members of the public were unaware the practice even existed until Bloomberg reported on it earlier this year.
Google parent company Alphabet has overtaken Apple to become the world's most cash-rich company, reports The Financial Times this morning.
According to the FT, Apple’s cash hoard has fallen to $102 billion, down from a peak of $163 billion at the end of 2017. Meanwhile, Alphabet's $117 billion cash reserve has risen by almost $20 billion over the same period.
However, as FT notes, Alphabet's new title as "king of cash" may be somewhat of a poisoned chalice, as it could antagonize investors who would rather see the cash being used to reward shareholders with buybacks or dividends.
The leadership switch is said to be a result of Apple's own efforts to reduce its liquidity, by taking advantage of US tax reforms to repatriate overseas reserves and pay out to investors. The company has spent $122 billion on buying back stock and paying dividends in the past 18 months.
Alphabet's stock buybacks, by contrast, have been paltry. In the nearly four years since it began repurchasing its own stock, it has spent an average of only $1.7bn a quarter.
In that time, it has handed out more new shares in the form of employee stock benefits than it has bought back through its repurchase programme. As a result, the payments have done nothing to lift its earnings per share — the reason investors generally welcome buybacks.
Alphabet's new cash-rich status also comes at a time when it is under more intensive scrutiny than ever before. Google and its parent company have received over $9 billion in antitrust fines by the EU in the past two years. It is now facing a new antitrust investigation by the Justice Department.
Alphabet's cash reserves have actually increased despite the parent company's heavy investment in real estate for new office builds and data centers, which will form part of the infrastructure supporting Google's increasing AI endeavors.
In terms of most valuable company on the planet, Apple has been overtaken by both Amazon and Microsoft, with the latter now taking that particular crown. Microsoft is now worth nearly $1.1 trillion, after soaring on the back of optimism about its cloud business.
Face Unlock is designed to unlock the Pixel 4 much like Face ID unlocks modern iPhones, and the Pixel 4 is even using a 3D sensing camera similar to the iPhone X and later.
There are two Face Unlock IR cameras, an ambient light/proximity sensor, a Soli radar chip that powers Face Unlock and other features, a dot projector, and a Face Unlock flood illuminator.
The Face Unlock feature on the Google Pixel 4 will support secure payments and app authentication, which is unique as most Android devices do not have a secure enough facial recognition system to allow it to be used for payments.
Google says that it is designing its facial recognition system differently than Apple’s, making it a more fluid experience that works in any orientation.
According to Google, when you reach for the Pixel 4, the face unlock sensors are activated, recognizing that you want to unlock your phone. If the face unlock sensor recognizes you, the phone will open as you pick it up, all in one motion.
Google suggests this is superior to other methods such as the Face ID unlocking sequence on iPhones. “Other phones require you to lift the device all the way up, pose in a certain way, wait for it to unlock, and then swipe to get to the homescreen,” read’s Google’s blog post on the feature. “Pixel 4 does all of that in a much more streamlined way.”
As with Face ID, Face Unlock works on device, so no facial recognition data is shared with Google or Google services. Google says that face data is stored in the Pixel’s Titan M security chip, which sounds similar to the Secure Enclave used in Apple’s iPhones.
The aforementioned Soli radar chip is designed to sense small motions around the phone, which enables the sensors to activate when you reach for the device and also powers a new Motion Sense feature. Motion Sense will allow users to skip songs, snooze alarms, and silence phone calls by waving a hand in front of the phone.
Rumors have suggested that Apple is also working on iPhones that will incorporate touchless gesture controls for release in the future, though we’ve heard little about the feature and it’s not known when iPhones with this functionality might launch.
As with Google’s Motion Sense feature, rumors about Apple’s work on gesture-based controls indicate that iPhone users would be able to navigate the operating system by moving their finger close to the screen without actually tapping it.
There’s no official word on when Google will launch the Pixel 4, but past Pixel devices have come out in October, so it’s likely that this year’s launch will also be in October. That’ll allow Google to release its new flagship device approximately a month after Apple unveils its new 2019 iPhone lineup in September.
Google Maps this week expanded real-time bikesharing information to 23 additional cities in 16 countries around the world.
In addition to New York City, the feature is now available in Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, Chicago, Dublin, Hamburg, Helsinki, Kaohsiung, London, Los Angeles, Lyon, Madrid, Mexico City, Montreal, New Taipei City, Rio de Janeiro, the San Francisco Bay Area, São Paulo, Toronto, Vienna, Warsaw, and Zurich.
In these cities, users can now locate bikeshare stations and pinpoint how many bikes are available near them in the Google Maps app for iOS or Android. Users can also find out whether there are empty spaces at bikesharing stations.
The feature is powered by real-time transit data company Ito World.
Google has killed its Nest app for Apple Watch, meaning Nest smart thermostat owners can no longer control the device's target temperature and operating mode directly from their wrist.
The deprecation of the wearable apps for both Apple Watch and Wear OS coincides with version 5.37 of the Nest mobile app, which was released on Tuesday.
Any mention of the Apple Watch app has since been removed from the Nest App Store listing, while Wear OS device users who try to launch the app from their watch are now met with the message "Nest is no longer supported for Wear OS" and are advised to uninstall the app.
Google's reason for the watch app's demise is simple. According to the company (via 9to5Google), "only a small number of people" used the watch apps, therefore Nest will focus on developing its full mobile app and Wear OS-only Google Assistant functions going forward.
We took a look at Nest app users on smart watches and found that only a small number of people were using it. Moving forward our team will spend more time focusing on delivering high quality experiences through mobile apps and voice interactions.
Google advises Nest owners that they can no longer adjust their thermostat or change the Home/Away mode from their Apple Watch, but these actions can still be controlled remotely via the Nest mobile app, which can also still deliver notifications to their watch.
The Nest app joins a long line of high-profile Apple Watch apps that have met their demise over the last two years. Beginning in 2017, Twitter, Google Maps, Amazon, and eBay all quietly removed their Apple Watch apps from the App Store, after seemingly concluding their continued development was no longer worth the effort because not enough people were using them.
In a bid to rekindle interest in developing Apple Watch apps, Apple has added an App Store in its upcoming watchOS 6 that can be accessed right on your wrist, allowing apps to be downloaded on the Apple Watch independent of an iPhone.
This means developers won't need to create Apple Watch client extensions as part of their iPhone apps, and can instead create truly standalone versions for Apple Watch, or even create watch apps that don't have iPhone versions at all. Still currently in beta testing, watchOS 6 is due to be released in the fall.
Google today announced a major update for Google Maps on both Android and iOS, introducing new transit-related features.
Google Maps will now provide details on live traffic delays for buses in places where real-time information doesn't exist from local transit agencies, which will let Maps users see if a bus will be late, how long the delay might be, and how long travel might take.
Me during my commute: MOVE. THAT. BUS.
Now you can see real-time delays and how crowded your bus is on your way to work 🙌
The app will provide details on exactly where delays are on the map so riders will know what to expect before getting on a bus.
Along with live traffic information for buses, Google is adding crowdedness predictions for transit routes. Based on past ride information, Google Maps will offer up details on how crowded a bus, train, or subway is likely to be.
The new Google Maps features are rolling out today on Android and iOS in close to 200 cities around the world.