Google Workspace Individual announced – new teleconferencing functionalities for SMBs

Google Workspace, previously known as G Suite, was launched back in October 2020 and served as a combination of Google’s apps such as Docs, Slides and Gmail which was only available for businesses and enterprises initially who paid a subscription fee for a G Suite business account.

The standard Workspace productivity site service has now been made free to everyone with a Google account and this is set to see growth to the already three billion strong Workspace users currently as Google attempt to rival both Microsoft Teams and Zoom in the videoconferencing and workplace collaboration market spheres.

Workspace’s recent updates have included a plethora of new functionalities including changes to Google Meet to enable collaboration equity, the development of ‘Rooms’ in Google Chat to ‘Spaces’ and new privacy/security settings across Workspace.

A highlight of the new security features introduced is that Google will offer users client-side encryption where they will be able to shield their data with encryption keys they possess making the data indecipherable to Google themselves or potential cyber criminals.

One major feature of the 14th June update rollout was the announcement of Google Workspace Individual. Priced at $9.99 per month, Workspace Individual expands the productivity suite’s availability to small businesses with options to upgrade their Gmail accounts for calendaring, email newsletter and video chat capabilities.

Google states that Workspace Individual allows the user to “create a secure collaboration space in Google Chat to keep everyone up-to-date, share ideas, and keep track of all your important info in one place, from videos and pictures of your last trip to a Google Sheet of your family’s annual budget”

Workspace Individual is deploying out soon to six markets, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Japan.


GSuite Rebrands as Google Workspace

Google have re-branded GSuite as Google Workspace, in an effort to consolidate the Google software brand for business users.

The re-designed platform brings Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs apps, Google Meet and more all under one banner more officially, and follows other recently announced updates to the platform including new file deletion rules for Google Drive.

New collaboration tools for the post-lockdown world have been added – including simpler sharing of co-authored documents, previewing documents before opening them, and introducing popout video calling during co-authoring.

collaboration


“…We’re bringing Meet picture-in-picture to Gmail and Chat, so you can actually see and hear the people you’re working with, while you’re collaborating.”

Google Workspace Blog


More eagle-eyed customers will notice that Google’s GSuite license types have also been adjusted: although UK users may see a price cut in the overall monthly cost, the corresponding apps and services available to each user have also been limited to reflect this.

Existing Gsuite customers will not face contract changes for at least 12 months, although redesigned app icons and extra features will begin appearing during October 2020, and new Google Workspace customers will be expected to choose from the new licensing packages immediately.

More information for both existing and new customers is available on the officially rebranded Google Workspaces Blog here.

 

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Your Google GPS Data shows a UK in Lockdown

Google have released aggregated smartphone location data which shows the UK under lockdown.

According to the newly published ‘Community Mobility Report’, in which Google GPS data from the location settings of Android phones is broken down by country, the UK has seen a dramatic drop in those going outside during March, as people stay in lockdown for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

google gps data summary

‘Retail and Recreation’ visits, which includes restaurants, cafes, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries and cinemas are down 85% against normal rates, and ‘Parks’ show a 53% decrease.

‘Transit Stations’ including public transport hubs are down an astonishing 75% as people remain at home rather than travelling.

‘Grocery & Pharmacy’ visits show a smaller decrease, at 46%, as people continue to shop sparingly for essentials.

google gps data devon

However, Google GPS data varies across the UK – with Google warning readers not to compare rural and urban areas. Remoter parts of Scotland and Wales are less consistent both in lockdown severity but also available data to measure.

This measurement difficulty is something also noted by the Kings College Covid-19 sympton tracker app, which gathers self-reported data from across the UK and has risen rapidly up the Google Play and Apple App Store app charts in recent days.

Data for Devon suggests the lockdown is being observed slightly more strictly, with even lower rates of shopping and leisure trips being made compared to the UK average, but marginally higher attendance at workplaces and at public transport hubs.

You can find the Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Report for the UK and other countries here.

 

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Google Chrome Adds a Hacked Password Alarm

Google Chrome 79 will contain a Chrome hacked password alarm to notify at-risk users.

‘Password Checker’, which first appeared in October, will regularly compare user passwords saved in-browser against publicly-known data breaches.

The service will feel familiar to those who’ve tried the (often terrifying) but essential https://haveibeenpwned.com/ – which shows visitors where their email addresses have been compromised.

Chrome’s update is being gradually rolled out to new users, and is available within Settings > People > Sync and Google Services > Other Google Services, and is named ‘Warn you if passwords are exposed in a data breach.’

The alert mechanism is just the latest in a series of attempts to push users to safer browsing: 2019 also saw Google Chrome actively warn users of websites without valid security certificate, and penalise such websites in Google search rankings.

Chrome 79’s new hacked password alarm mechanism should prompt systematically when account credentials need password updates, and allow users to keep their accounts secure.

 

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Google Apologises for Chrome Experiment Gone Wrong

Thousands of devices were left with broken browsers this week, after a Google Chrome experiment rolled out a hidden change to the world’s most-used browser.

Launched exclusively on ‘stable’ versions, the update left IT admins around the world puzzled at blank tabs that refused to load.

The test initiated a new WebContents Occlusion feature, designed to reduce Chrome’s device resource use for tabs while not currently being viewed – no doubt part of Google’s effort to address Chrome’s reputation for heavy resource usage and the ever-increasing pattern of users deploying more and more tabs during the shift to cloud services.

Online forums were suddenly filled with complaints from system admins fielding complaints from users and businesses all over the world – including US wholesaling giant Costco, who claimed their entire call centre environment was unavailable.

Larger organisations typically use device control to specify applications such as which browser an employer uses – which left System Admins at large enterprise businesses unable to simply direct users to an alternative browser, and furious that Google can roll-out unexpected changes to the platform.

 

Google has now issued an apology:

“After the rollout, we received reports that in some virtual environments, Chrome on Windows displays a blank page, which may be because Chrome mistakenly believes it’s covered by another window. As soon as we confirmed the reports, the feature was disabled.

“If Chrome on Windows is displaying blank pages, restart Chrome. On the next start, this feature will be disabled.

We also want to provide an explanation of how this change was rolled out. For some features, Chrome uses a gradual rollout process that happens more slowly than the main rollout. This allows us to quickly revert a change if we discover a bug that wasn’t uncovered in prior testing.

Once we received reports of the problem, we were able to revert it immediately. We sincerely apologize for the disruption this caused.”

 

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Google Plus to be Shut Down

Google Plus is to be shut down, following a data leak which put almost half a million user accounts at risk.

The tech giant announced on Monday that the consumer social media platform would be retired by the end of August 2019.

Launched in 2011, Google Plus has had a rocky history – spawning a comedic sub-genre focused around it’s slow adoption, weirdly vocal support from Google employees, and failure to compete with larger social media rivals such as Facebook.

Google’s own statement acknowledges this in harsh terms:

Google Plus

More controversial however have been recent security problems. This month the Wall Street Journal published details of a bug in the Google+ API which had allowed app developers to access user data without permission via their friends, (an almost identical vulnerability to that underlying 2018’s Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal which resulted in Facebook executives testifying before Congress – in Google’s case potentially exposing 496,951 Google+ user accounts.) Google estimate around 400 application developers would have had access to private profile data as a result of the bug.

First discovered in March shortly prior to GDPR coming into effect in the EU, Google was not legally bound to report the breach to all European users, but would now be required to do so within 72 hours from discovery under ICO rules, if a similar breach were to re-occur.

News outlets have linked Google’s failure to disclose the leak with the final decision to close the platform, despite Google’s insistence that widely known low user-engagement is behind the move. Existing Google+ users may choose to restrict security permissions or remove content, although the platform’s lack of success suggests many will allow ‘phantom’ accounts to be disregarded.

In overlapping new coverage, Google is expected to launch the newest version of its flagship android Pixel smartphone in just a few hours time.

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Google hit with €4bn Android anti-competition fine

The European Commission has issued Google with a €4.34 billion fine for Android anti-competition practices, after ruling the popular operating system unfairly cemented the dominance of Google Search.

The EC found Google had, via ’significant’ payments to smartphone manufacturers, ensured exclusive installation of Google’s own search application, and bundled Google apps such that selectively omitting services was impossible on the mobile platform prior to release.

More than 95% of all searches on European Android devices are made via Google search, testifying to the search giant’s unprecedented reach via pre-installation.

Many users (as Microsoft’s Bing search engine can surely attest) never change their system defaults, and although many rival search and browser providers are available for Android, these must be installed separately, often via Google Play.

Many will remember similar court battles fought between the US Government and Microsoft, resulting in the former’s eventual ruling that the latter had unfairly influenced the market via pre-installation of Internet Explorer, and creating the convention of an initial default browser choice on all new Windows PCs.

Microsoft eventually paid $561 million, but also continued losing ground to rival web browsers, including Google Chrome, among those using the internet on their operating system. Since 2013, the number of affected devices (particularly handhelds operating various versions of Android) has increased hugely. In future, new Android devices may be forced to include a similar initial search/browser selection, to help maintain consumer choice.

Google has defended its actions throughout, and has already announced it will appeal the decision, with the case expected to continue for some years.

 

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Android Chat app to (finally) challenge iMessage

Google have made public their plans to release a comprehensive Android Chat app, comprising of both SMS and a new rich communication standard (RCS.)

In an exclusive with the Verge, Android announced the new app, which looks distinctly like the direct challenge to Apple’s iMessage fans Android have been hoping for, and which will be able to centralise messaging under a single platform.

Unlike Apple users, content with the excellent iMessage, Android users have long been split among a variety of messaging apps. They must suffer SMS run via Android’s ageing ‘Messages’ app, and direct messaging spread out among video/IM hybrid Google Hangouts, world domination software WhatsApp, various invasive species of Facebook Messenger, the re-branded Microsoft Skype app, and Google’s own doomed chat app: Google Allo. It’s all a bit of a mess.

In addition to overhauling this, Android Chat will also be available from a desktop client with SMS abilities (much like iMessage) and include new rich communication standard style messaging familiar to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp users.

A single ‘feed’ encompassing rich content abilities also tracks the trend in the commercial sector: with firms looking to adapt from email to group-managed, millenial-friendly, cross platform communication apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

However, in addition to trying to build a fan-base for individual use, Google is presenting fresh opportunities for businesses. RCS has already been trialled by the tech giant in partnership with a number of companies (pictured), who plan to evolve currently SMS-based messaging services into RCS based customer service that integrates more complex tasks, such as calendar bookings and imagery.

Google Allo ran out of steam around 50 million installations. Whether, like iOS, Android can finally centralise disparate systems under a kingmaker will soon be tested.


Chromebooks to run Android Apps

Chromebooks

Chromebooks will soon run Android apps, after Google announced their Chrome and Android operating systems are to become fully compatible.

The minimal hardware, low cost, web-access laptops will now mirror existing Android smartphones and tablets. Apps available through Google Play on Android will operate fully on Chrome OS, granting many third-party software developers access to the rapidly growing numbers of Chromebook users out there.

The announcement itself comes at a fascinating time for Chromebooks, which with over 2 million devices purchased according to data from IDC analysts, outsold Macs in the United States for the first time during Q1 of 2016.

The popularity of Chromebooks, especially in sectors where cost-effective, limited capability devices are favoured (such as in education, or to equip remote workers) have been a surprise hit – which could have some interesting consequences for the industry.

Will the new capabilities spook Microsoft and Apple? Entirely possible: with most of the big brand hardware manufacturers releasing Chromebook models of their own, it’s clear that both the hardware has become widely available and the concept itself has taken flight.

More importantly, the traditional argument for buying a Windows PC was the use of Windows exclusive desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office. Office 365 and similar apps has been fully mobile on portable Android devices for a while now, but many users still prefer a larger screen with a keyboard for document processing – forcing them to buy a traditional desktop PC at traditional costs.

With a wide range of these ‘PC’ type apps becoming available on your Chromebook, that’s about to change.

 

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Google and Apple unite over user privacy

 

Google and Apple’s respective CEOs have joined forces over the issue of customer privacy, with Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly refusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ‘backdoor’ access to iPhone software.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai backed Apple’s decision on Twitter, arguing that assisting the FBI to gain such access to a private individual’s smartphone would be a ’troubling precedent.’

The mobile phone privacy dispute with the FBI over encryption comes 2 months after Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people in a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, with investigators demanding that Apple now assist the authorities in accessing Farook Malik’s iPhone 5C.

Both Apple and Google argue that ‘backdoor’ decryption would put the privacy of millions of ordinary smartphone users at risk from Government intrusion, with Tim Cook famously arguing that ‘You can’t have a back door that’s only for the good guys’. In theory, each iPhone’s encryption method is unique, and Apple argue that there should be no possible method for accessing a given user’s data.

On Tuesday however a Federal Judge ordered Apple to disable Farook Malik’s suspected phone setting which enforces usage delays or wipes the iPhone in the event of multiple incorrect password attempts, giving the FBI the opportunity to automatically test millions of possible passwords without penalty.

Both companies’ actions are being driven by the issue of reputation: giving law enforcement authorities the ability to access an individual’s data would utterly undermine smartphone manufacturers’ advertisement of user security.

With neither side willing to back down, expect the dispute to go to the courts, with the key issue being whether Apple can control permitted access to this iPhone, and this iPhone only.

 

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