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Google updates terms in plain language after EU scrutiny

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SAN FRANCISCO

Google is attempting to make sure people know exactly what they’re signing up for when they use its online services — though that will still mean reading a lengthy document.

The company updated its terms of service on Thursday — its largest update to the general use contract since 2012 — in response to a pair of court orders in Europe.

As Britain leaves the European Union, Google also announced that U.K. customers will now legally be part of its main U.S. operations rather than a separate European center based in Ireland. The company says the move won’t change how U.K. customers’ data is protected or stored. U.K. officials have said they will still abide by the EU privacy rules, called GDPR, for now.

Google has been updating its policies and tweaking what’s allowed on its services as scrutiny of the tech industry heats up in the U.S. and Europe. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other digital companies have been under a spotlight as regulators and consumers examine just how much the companies know about their users and what they do with that information.

Facebook updated its terms of service last year to clarify how it makes money from user data.

Google says it hasn’t changed anything significant in the document, but rather used plain language to describe who can use its products and what people can post online.

“Broadly speaking, we give you permission to use our services if you agree to follow these terms, which reflect how Google’s business works and how we earn money,” the document reads.

The new document is now about 2,000 words longer than it was before, in part because Google included a list of definitions and expanded it to cover Google Drive and Chrome. The new terms take effect in March.

Google’s privacy policy is separate and was substantially updated in 2018 after Europe enacted broad-reaching privacy laws.

The company also updated its “About Google” page to explain how it makes money from selling advertisements, often informed by the vast amount of customer information it collects.

As for U.K. customers, the switch to U.S. operations restores Google’s practice prior to last year. Google had switched U.K. and other European customers to Ireland last year as the GDPR privacy law took effect.

The switch back is likely to avoid having a third country’s law apply to U.K. data, said Mike Chapple, a professor of information technology at the University of Notre Dame.

“Google is one of the first companies that’s trying to untangle this messy legal aftermath of Brexit,” he said.

If it left U.K. customers to Ireland, Google could risk “double-jeopardy for fines and other sanctions” in the case of any breach because it would be subject to both U.K. and EU laws, said Michael Veale, a lecturer at University College London.

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Apps

Google Maps Makes It Easier To Share Your Location With Plus Codes — No Address Required

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Google Maps is launching a new feature that generates a unique six-digit code based on your location. This code can be given to others and used when you’re located away from a traditional street address. It’s called a “Plus Code,” and it’s available with a tap of the blue circle icon that represents your location in the app.

The new change is rolling out to Google Maps for Android through the latest version. Notably, Google Maps has the option to show Plus Codes since August 2015. The new change, however, is aimed to expand Plus Codes usage by allowing users to easily share their locations. There is no word on when iOS users will get the latest Google Maps update.

To give you a brief about the feature, Plus Codes are simple and easy to use digital addresses that have been derived from the latitude and longitude of a users’ location. These codes can be used to uniquely identify any location. They work in places that haven’t been mapped and they don’t use country codes to identify an individual’s location.

Starting today on Android, whenever you want to share your exact location, you can simply tap on your blue location dot within Google Maps.  Once you tap on it, you’ll see your Plus code, as well as the option to share it with others or save the location. You can also choose to share your phone number along with it.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Plus_Codes_blue_dot.gif

You can also access the Plus Code for a separate location by tapping and holding on the map to drop a pin; you’ll then be able to see the plus code for that place.

These codes are searchable in both Google Maps and Google Search, so they’re a convenient way to provide a location for meetups and events without an exact address. They can also be a literal life-saver for emergency situations when you might not know your exact location.

Plus Codes aren’t the only technology that’s attempting to solve this problem. What3Words takes a similar approach, but it displays its digital addresses in the form of three words separated by periods. Although What3Words is supported in a number of different mapping services, its digital addresses can’t be entered directly into Google Maps.

The technology behind them is also open source, so developers are free to implement them into their own apps. Now that Google is making them more prominent, they might actually become more commonplace. The Plus Codes update is rolling out to Android users “over the coming weeks,” though for some users the feature may already be live.

Back in February, Google CEO Sundar Pichai described Plus Codes as an important part of making Google Maps work for more people around the world. “With a digital address, more people will be able to access things like banking and emergency services, receive personal mail and deliveries, and help people find and patronize their businesses,” the CEO wrote. “It’s still in early days, but we’re excited about the potential.”

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Apple

Apple, Google Release Early Version of Their Contact Tracing Tech, Say 23 Countries Show Interest

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Authorities in 23 countries across five continents have sought access to contact tracing technology from Apple and Alphabet’s Google, the companies announced on Wednesday as they released the initial version of their system.

But authorities would have to stop requiring phone numbers from users under the companies’ rules, one of several restrictions that have left governments fighting the novel coronavirus frustrated that the world’s top two smartphone software makers undercut the technology’s usefulness by prioritizing user privacy.

Apple and Google said) several US states and 22 countries have sought access to their technology, but it is unclear how many will end up publishing mobile apps that use it.

Using apps to accelerate contact tracing, in which authorities identify and test people who were recently near a virus carrier, has emerged as a tool to stem new outbreaks. It could help authorities test more potentially infected individuals than they would normally be able to based on patients recalling recent interactions from memory.

But some governments contend their app-based efforts would be more effective if they could track users’ locations to identify hot spots for virus transmission and notify them about possible exposure through calls or texts, rather than a generic push notification.

Apple and Google have barred authorities using their technology from collecting GPS location data or requiring users to enter personal data.

“We have a collision of tech, privacy and health professionals and the Venn diagram doesn’t really have a spot where they all overlap,” said Chester Wisniewski, a principal research scientist at cybersecurity company Sophos.

Australia, the United Kingdom, and other countries that have sought to develop their own technology are experiencing glitches, draining device batteries and seeing limited adoption.

Apple and Google have said their system will more reliably use Bluetooth connections between devices to log users who are in physical proximity for at least five minutes.

Developers of contact tracing apps for Austria, Germany, and Switzerland told Reuters this week they were moving forward with the Apple-Google technology and were fine not knowing users’ phone numbers.

Other governments are hedging their bets. Norway plans to compare the effectiveness of its Smittestopp app with an Apple-Google-based app, Gun Peggy Knudsen, acting deputy director of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said in an interview.

Smittestopp, which has a development budget of about $5 million (roughly Rs. 37.8 crores), accesses GPS location and requires phone numbers. But it has seen limited use because of a low number of new infections.

“If the tracing is so much better with the Apple-Google tool, then perhaps we should switch and we would consider what we need to do to do the switch,” Knudsen said.

North Dakota, which offered the first US contact tracing app, told Reuters on Wednesday it will leave its initial Care19 app as a location-tracking “diary” tool to help patients jog their memories. But it also will release a new Care19 Exposure app based on the Apple-Google technology.

The Australian government said it was in talks with Apple and Google about enhancing its COVIDSafe app, which currently requires phone numbers, postcodes, and age ranges.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google Pixel 4a tipped to launch next month, to go on sale starting May 22

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The release date for Google Pixel 4a has yet to be officially announced, but a new report has suggested possible details of the phone’s availability in Germany. Pixel 4a will reportedly be available for purchase in the country starting May 22 via Vodafone Germany. It is not clear whether Google will organise a launch event in advance or on the same day. As the company was going to organise its Google I/O developer conference from May 12 to May 14, one of these could be the possible date of launch.

The news about the sale of the phone comes courtesy of Germany’s Caschys Blog which has leaked internal documents of Vodafone about the sale of the Pixel 4a. Since Pixel 3a was available in Germany on the same day as the US, May 22 might be the global availability date, Android Police notes. Additionally, Pixel 4 was launched on October 15 and the pre-orders and shipping started after nine days on October 24. All these things point towards a launch around May 12.

Google Pixel 4a leaked specifications

The Google Pixel 4a is rumoured to feature a 5.8-inch Full HD+ (2340 x 1080 pixels) resolution OLED screen. The display has a punch-hole cutout for the front-facing 8MP camera with an 84-degree field-of-view.

It could be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 chipset with an octa-core CPU and Adreno 618 GPU. This is paired with 6GB RAM and up to 128GB storage options to choose from.

It is fitted with a 3,080mAh battery with support for 18W fast charging but skips out on wireless charging.

Pixel 4a has a single 12.2MP camera with support for both OIS and EIS, while the front-facing camera is reportedly the same as the Pixel 3a. The phone’s rear camera is capable of recording in 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30/60/120fps and 720p at up to 240fps while the selfie camera can shoot Full HD videos at 30fps. The phone comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack and could come in two colours– Just Black and Barely Blue.

The 4a does have the company’s proprietary Titan M security chip but still misses out on the Pixel Neural Core. Also missing is the array of Soli radar chip and other sensors that debuted on the Pixel 4 last year. This, hopefully, indicates that Google could bring the Pixel 4a to India as the presence of Soli chip earlier on the Pixel 4 didn’t allow it to get certified for commercial use according to Indian laws.

The phone has been tipped to start to expect the selling price at $399.

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