The Google Assistant app will walk you through your day

Google’s Assistant app mostly functions as a surrogate for its line of connected Home devices. But what about all of that information it’s aggregating? The company will start putting that to use, providing a “visual snapshot” of the day to come.

The new feature, rolling out to the app on Android and iOS today, pulls in a bunch of relevant information from across Google services, including calendar, reminders, stocks, package deliveries, flights, restaurant/movie reservations and suggested Actions. It also provides travel times to and from appointments to offer up a better idea of when to leave.

More features will be rolling out soon, including notes from Google Keep,  Any.do, Bring and Todoist, along with parking reminders, nearby activities and recommendations for music and podcasts. In other words, the Google Assistant app is angling to become your one stop shop for — well, basically ever single thing you do in a given day.

While Amazon’s Alexa play has been centered around commerce, it’s pretty clear that Google’s in it for the same reason as always: information. Using a voice controlled smart speaker is yet another way to gather all of that data from a user, and now it’s being out to use in a single spot.

It’s an obvious play — and an important reminder of just how much information these companies have on us at a given time.

Google builds its own subsea cable from the US to France

Google, like all major internet companies, often participates in building new subsea cables because it wants to own the connectivity between its data centers around the world. Those cables are typically built and owned by a consortium of companies (and sometimes shared by competitors). Now, however, Google is building its own cable that will span from Virginia Beach in the U.S. to the Atlantic coast of France.

This marks Google’s fourth private cable. Its first two efforts spanned significantly shorter distances, though its ‘Curie’ cable connects Los Angeles and Chile. Over the course of the last few years, Google has also made significant investments in consortium-driven cables that span the Atlantic and the Pacific, and quite a few of these will go online in 2019.

The new so-called ‘Dunant’ cable (named after the first Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Red Cross) will likely go online in 2020. And while it will land in France, it will actually connect Google’s North Virginia region directly to its Belgium region.

TE SubCom is the contractor for the project, which will be an almost 4000-miles long four-fiber pair system.

As Google notes, owning the cable means that it can lay it exactly where it needs it to be to connect its data centers, without having to take the needs of other consortium partners into account. Owning the cable also means that Google owns all the bandwidth for the lifetime of the cable (usually 15 to 25 years).

 

Apple’s App Store revenue nearly double that of Google Play in first half of 2018

Apple’s App Store continues to outpace Google Play on revenue. In the first half of the year, the App Store generated nearly double the revenue of Google Play on half the downloads, according to a new report from Sensor Tower out today. In terms of dollars and cents, that’s $22.6 billion in worldwide gross app revenue on the App Store versus $11.8 billion for Google Play – or, 1.9 times more spent on the App Store compared with what was spent on Google Play.

This trend is not new. Apple’s iOS store has consistently generated more revenue than its Android counterpart for years due to a number of factors – including the fact that Android users historically have spent less on apps than iOS users, as well as the fact that there are other Android app stores consumer can shop – like the Amazon Appstore or Samsung Store, for example. In addition, Google Play is not available in China, but Apple’s App Store is.

Last year, consumer spending on the App Store reached $38.5 billion, again nearly double that of Google Play’s $20.1 billion.

As the new figures for the first half of 2018 indicate, consumer spending is up this year.

Sensor Tower estimates it has increased by 26.8 percent on iOS compared with the same period in 2017, and it’s up by 29.7 percent on Google Play.

The growth in spending can be partly attributed to subscription apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, and even Tinder, as has been previously reported.

Subscription-based apps are big businesses these days, having helped to boost app revenue in 2017 by 77 percent to reach $781 million, according to an earlier study. Netflix was also 2017’s top non-game app by revenue, and recently became ranked as the top (non-game) app of all-time by worldwide consumer spend, according to App Annie’s App Store retrospective.

Many of the other all-time top apps following Netflix were also subscription-based, including Spotify (#2), Pandora (#3), Tencent Video (#4), Tinder (#5), and HBO NOW (#8), for example.

And Netflix is again the top non-game app by consumer spending in the first half of 2018, notes Sensor Tower.

Game spending, however, continues to account for a huge chunk of revenue.

Consumer spending on games grew 19.1 percent in the first half of 2018 to $26.6 billion across both stores, representing roughly 78 percent of the total spent ($16.3 billion on the App Store and $10.3 billion on Google Play). Honor of Kings from Tencent, Monster Strike from Mixi, and Fate/Grand Order from Sony Aniplex were the top grossing games across both stores.

App downloads were also up in the first half of the year, if by a smaller percentage.

Worldwide first-time app installs grew to 51 billion in 1H18, or up 11.3 percent compared with the same time last year, when downloads were then 45.8 billion across the two app stores.

Facebook led the way on this front with WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram as the top four apps across both the App Store and Google Play combined. The most downloaded games were PUBG Mobile from Tencent, Helix Jump from Voodoo, and Subway Surfers from Kiloo.

Google Play app downloads were up a bit more (13.1 percent vs iOS’s 10.6 percent) year-over-year due to Android’s reach in developing markets, reaching 36 billion. That’s around 2.4 times the App Store’s 15 billion.

Despite this, Apple’s platform still earned more than double the revenue with fewer than half the downloads, which is remarkable. And it can’t all be chalked up to China. (The country contributed about 31.7 percent of the App Store revenue last quarter, or $7.1 billion, to give you an idea.)

Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that even if China was removed from the picture, the App Store would have generated $15.4 billion gross revenue for first half of 2018, which is still about 30 percent higher than Google Play’s $11.8 billion.

Google Cloud’s LA region goes online

Google Cloud’s new region in Los Angeles is now online, the company announced today. This isn’t exactly a surprise, given that Google had previously announced a July launch for the region, but it’s a big step for Google, which now boasts five cloud regions in the United States. It was only three years ago that Google opened its second U.S. region and, while it was slow to expand its physical cloud footprint, the company now features 17 regions around the world.

When it first announced this new region, Google positioned it as the ideal region for the entertainment industry. And while that’s surely true, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of other companies use this new region, which features three availability zones, to augment their existing deployments in Google’s other West Coast region in Oregon or as part of their overall global cloud strategy.

The new region is launching with all the core Google Cloud compute services, like App Engine, Compute Engine and Kubernetes Engine, as well as all of Google’s standard database and file storage tools, including the recently launched NAS-like Cloud Filestore service. For businesses that have a physical presence close to L.A., Google also offers two dedicated interconnects to Equinix’s and CoreSite’s local LA1 data centers.

It’s worth nothing that Microsoft, which has long favored a strategy of quickly launching as many regions as possible, already offered its users a region in Southern California. AWS doesn’t currently have a presence in the area, though, unlike Google, AWS does offer a region in Northern California.

ACLU calls for a moratorium on government use of facial recognition technologies

Technology executives are pleading with the government to give them guidance on how to use facial recognition technologies, and now the American Civil Liberties Union is weighing in.

On the heels of a Microsoft statement asking for the federal government to weigh in on the technology, the ACLU has called for a moratorium on the use of the technology by government agencies.

“Congress should take immediate action to put the brakes on this technology with a moratorium on its use, given that it has not been fully debated and its use has never been explicitly authorized,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel, in a statement. “And companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and others should be heeding the calls from the public, employees, and shareholders to stop selling face surveillance technology to governments.”

In May the ACLU released a report on Amazon’s sale of facial recognition technology to different law enforcement agencies. And in June the civil liberties group pressed the company to stop selling the technology. One contract, with the Orlando Police Department, was suspended and then renewed after the uproar.

Meanwhile, Google employees revolted over their company’s work with the government on facial recognition tech… and Microsoft had problems of its own after reports surfaced of the work that the company was doing with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service.

Some organizations are already working to regulate how facial recognition technologies are used. At MIT, Joy Buolamwini has created the Algorithmic Justice League, which is pushing a pledge that companies working with the technology can agree to as they work on the tech.

That pledge includes commitments to value human life and dignity, including the refusal to help develop lethal autonomous vehicles or equipping law enforcement with facial analysis products.

The most ambitious browser mitigation yet for Spectre attacks comes to Chrome

Google’s Chrome browser is undergoing a major architectural change to enable a protection designed to blunt the threat of attacks related to the Spectre vulnerability in computer processors. If left unchecked by browsers or operating systems, such attacks may allow hackers to pluck passwords or other sensitive data out of computer memory when targets visit malicious sites.

Site isolation, as the mitigation is known, segregates code and data from each Internet domain into their own “renderer processes,” which are individual browser tasks that aren’t allowed to interact with each other. As a result, a page located at arstechnica.com that embeds ads from doubleclick.net will load content into two separate renderer processes, one for each domain. The protection, however, comes at a cost. It consumes an additional 10 to 13 percent of total memory. Some of the performance hit can be offset by smaller and shorter-lived renderer processes. Site isolation will also allow Chrome to re-enable more precise timers, which Google and most other browser makers disabled earlier this year to decrease chances of successful attacks.

Site isolation has been available in Chrome as an optional mitigation since early this year, but starting with version 67, it’s being enabled by default for 99 percent of users. Google is leaving it off for the other 1 percent so engineers can monitor and improve performance. The protection is also being enabled in the Chrome desktop. For performance reasons, it isn’t available in Chrome for Android for the time being.

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Google’s Apigee teams up with Informatica to extend its API ecosystem

Google acquired API management service Apigee back in 2016, but it’s been pretty quiet around the service in recent years. Today, however, Apigee announced a number of smaller updates that introduce a few new integrations with the Google Cloud platform, as well as a major new partnership with cloud data management and integration firm Informatica that essentially makes Informatica the preferred integration partner for Google Apigee.

Like most partnerships in this space, the deal with Informatica involves some co-selling and marketing agreements, but that really wouldn’t be all that interesting. What makes this deal stand out is that Google is actually baking some of Informatica’s tools right into the Apigee dashboard. This will allow Apigee users to use Informatica’s wide range of integrations with third-party enterprise applications while Informatica users will be able to publish their APIs through Apigee and have that service manage them for them.

Some of Google’s competitors, including Microsoft, have built their own integration services. As Google Cloud director of product management Ed Anuff told me, that wasn’t really on Google’s road map. “It takes a lot of know-how to build a rich catalog of connectors,” he said. “You could go and build an integration platform but if you don’t have that, you can’t address your customer’s needs.” Instead, Google went to look for a partner who already has this large catalog and plenty of credibility in the enterprise space.

Similarly, Informatica’s senior VP and GM for big data, cloud and data integration Ronen Schwartz noted that many of his company’s customers are now looking to move into the cloud and this move will make it easier for Informatica’s customers to bring their services into Apigee and open them up for external applications. “With this partnership, we are bringing the best of breed of both worlds to our customers,” he said. “And we are doing it now and we are making it available in an integrated, optimized way.”

Ransomware technique uses your real passwords to trick you

A few folks have reported a new ransomware technique that preys upon corporate inability to keep passwords safe. The notes – which are usually aimed at instilling fear – are simple: the hacker says “I know that your password is X. Give me a bitcoin and I won’t blackmail you.”

Programer Can Duruk reported getting the email today.

The email reads:

I’m aware that X is your password.

You don’t know me and you’re thinking why you received this e mail, right?

Well, I actually placed a malware on the porn website and guess what, you visited this web site to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching the video, your web browser acted as a RDP (Remote Desktop) and a keylogger which provided me access to your display screen and webcam. Right after that, my software gathered all your contacts from your Messenger, Facebook account, and email account.

What exactly did I do?

I made a split-screen video. First part recorded the video you were viewing (you’ve got a fine taste haha), and next part recorded your webcam (Yep! It’s you doing nasty things!).

What should you do?

Well, I believe, $1400 is a fair price for our little secret. You’ll make the payment via Bitcoin to the below address (if you don’t know this, search “how to buy bitcoin” in Google) .

BTC Address: 1Dvd7Wb72JBTbAcfTrxSJCZZuf4tsT8V72
(It is cAsE sensitive, so copy and paste it)

Important:

You have 24 hours in order to make the payment. (I have an unique pixel within this email message, and right now I know that you have read this email). If I don’t get the payment, I will send your video to all of your contacts including relatives, coworkers, and so forth. Nonetheless, if I do get paid, I will erase the video immidiately. If you want evidence, reply with “Yes!” and I will send your video recording to your 5 friends. This is a non-negotiable offer, so don’t waste my time and yours by replying to this email.

To be clear there is very little possibility that anyone has video of you cranking it unless, of course, you video yourself cranking it. Further, this is almost always a scam. That said, the fact that the hackers are able to supply your real passwords – most probably gleaned from the multiple corporate break-ins that have happened over the past few years – is a clever change to the traditional cyber-blackmail methodology.

Luckily, the hackers don’t have current passwords.

“However, all three recipients said the password was close to ten years old, and that none of the passwords cited in the sextortion email they received had been used anytime on their current computers,” wrote researcher Brian Krebs. In short, the password files the hackers have are very old and outdated.

To keep yourself safe, however, cover your webcam when not in use and change your passwords regularly. While difficult, there is nothing else that can keep you safer than you already are if you use two-factor authentication and secure logins.