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Google will stop websites from blocking Incognito mode

Google is working on closing a loophole that allowed websites to detect if a user was browsing via Chrome's Incognito mode.
Google is working on closing a loophole that allowed websites to detect if a user was browsing via Chrome’s Incognito mode.

Image: Gokhan Balci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Google is about to close a loophole that many companies used to track how people were browsing their website in Chrome.

According to 9to5Google, Google is aware of a trick that web developers have been exploiting which enables them to detect if a user is visiting a website in Chrome’s Incognito mode. This loophole allows websites to block visitors from accessing the site’s content, forcing them to switch out of Incognito mode if they want to view the page. 

The workaround is fairly simple. Chrome disables the FileSystem API, which stores application files, when Incognito mode is being used. Websites looking to block private browsing in Chrome can just check for this API when a browser loads the page.

Google is working to fix this exploit by having Chrome create a virtual file system in RAM. By doing this, websites won’t notice the missing API. To ensure data is not saved, this virtual system will automatically delete when a user leaves Incognito mode. According to 9to5Google, the search giant is also looking to completely remove the FileSystem API from Chrome altogether. 

Incognito mode allows users to privately surf the internet without site data and browsing history being saved. It also prevents websites from tracking visitors with cookies. While in Incognito mode, users are basically blocking advertisements from targeting them based on their web history. It can also be used to get around article limits on subscription based websites.

One example of a website utilizing this Chrome loophole is The Boston Globe, which replaces articles viewed in Incognito mode with an on-screen prompt in an attempt to stop users from circumventing its paywall.

“You’re using a browser set to private or incognito mode,” says any article page on The Boston Globe’s website. “To continue reading articles in this mode, please log in to your Globe account.”

Google is set to close the loophole via an opt-in feature with Chrome 74, which The Verge point out is expected to arrive in April. The option is tentatively expected to be the default option by Chrome 76.

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Apple, Google pressured to drop Saudi app that lets men track and control women

Apple CEO Tim Cook was recently asked about whether his company would keep an app that oppresses Saudi women in its store.
Apple CEO Tim Cook was recently asked about whether his company would keep an app that oppresses Saudi women in its store.

Image: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Google and Apple are under pressure from human rights groups and a U.S. senator to remove from their stores an app called Absher. The app was created by the Saudi government and includes a feature that helps men monitor and control women who are under their guardianship, including wives and unmarried daughters.

Saudi men have this right thanks to the country’s oppressive guardianship laws, which mandate every woman has a male guardian to make critical life decisions on her behalf. That guardian can be a father, brother, husband, or son, according to Human Rights Watch. So men get the power to approve things like whether a woman applies for a passport, studies abroad, travels outside the country, or gets married. That system was already well in place before Absher’’s debut, but the app makes controlling women much more efficient. 

While Absher was developed by the Saudi government and released in 2015, it’s prompted new scrutiny. One woman pursuing asylum recently indicated that she tried to flee the country without being detected by Absher and her male guardian. In order to travel, women must be granted permission through the app. Many can’t make it far because the app alerts guardians every time their dependents use their passports, according to Insider

Now human rights groups, as well as Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, are urging Apple and Google to remove Absher from their app stores. 

“By permitting the app in your respective stores, your companies are making it easier for Saudi men to control their family members from the convenience of their smartphones and restrict their movement,” Wyden wrote in a letter addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.  

Cook replied vaguely when asked about the app during an NPR interview this week. “I haven’t heard about it,” he said. “But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case.”

Google told CNN the company would be “looking into it.”

Even if Google and Apple remove the app from their stores, it won’t solve the problem of male guardianship. As columnist Mona Eltahawy pointed out on Twitter, the app simply “enables gender apartheid in #Saudi Arabia, remember that it is male guardianship that is the issue here.” 

Still, activists believe Apple and Google could send a powerful message to the Saudi government by dropping Absher. 

Hala Aldosari, an activist and scholar who studies gender in the Arab Gulf states, told the New York Times: “If the tech companies would say, ‘You are being oppressive,’ that would mean a lot.”

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Peltarion raises $20M for its AI platform

Peltarion, a Swedish startup founded by former execs from companies like Spotify, Skype, King, TrueCaller and Google, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Euclidean Capital, the family office for hedge fund billionaire James Simons. Previous investors FAM and EQT Ventures also participated, and this round brings the company’s total funding to $35 million.

There is obviously no dearth of AI platforms these days. Peltarion focus on what it calls “operational AI.” The service offers an end-to-end platform that lets you do everything from pre-processing your data to building models and putting them into production. All of this runs in the cloud and developers get access to a graphical user interface for building and testing their models. All of this, the company stresses, ensures that Peltarion’s users don’t have to deal with any of the low-level hardware or software and can instead focus on building their models.

“The speed at which AI systems can be built and deployed on the operational platform is orders of magnitude faster compared to the industry standard tools such as TensorFlow and require far fewer people and decreases the level of technical expertise needed,” Luka Crnkovic-Friis, of Peltarion’s CEO and co-founder, tells me. “All this results in more organizations being able to operationalize AI and focusing on solving problems and creating change.”

In a world where businesses have a plethora of choices, though, why use Peltarion over more established players? “Almost all of our clients are worried about lock-in to any single cloud provider,” Crnkovic-Friis said. “They tend to be fine using storage and compute as they are relatively similar across all the providers and moving to another cloud provider is possible. Equally, they are very wary of the higher-level services that AWS, GCP, Azure, and others provide as it means a complete lock-in.”

Peltarion, of course, argues that its platform doesn’t lock in its users and that other platforms take far more AI expertise to produce commercially viable AI services. The company rightly notes that, outside of the tech giants, most companies still struggle with how to use AI at scale. “They are stuck on the starting blocks, held back by two primary barriers to progress: immature patchwork technology and skills shortage,” said Crnkovic-Friis.

The company will use the new funding to expand its development team and its teams working with its community and partners. It’ll also use the new funding for growth initiatives in the U.S. and other markets.

Google Maps might get an important new privacy option soon

Google Maps might soon become a bit more mindful of your privacy.
Google Maps might soon become a bit more mindful of your privacy.

Image:  Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Here’s the trouble with letting apps know your location data: It’s a potential privacy nightmare, but it also makes certain apps a lot more useful. 

Case in point: Google Maps. You don’t have to let the app access your location or retain your location history, but then it’s not nearly as good. And if you do let it retain your location history, the only way to make it forget that data is to periodically go into the app’s settings and tap an option manually. 

No more. 9to5Google spotted that a new beta of Google Maps for Android, version 10.10, has an option to automatically delete your location history after a set interval. 

The option is not yet live, but some of the code is there, indicating that you’ll be able to set a range of history you want to keep and then have the app continuously delete everything outside that range. 

We’re talking about beta software, so there’s no guarantee that this feature will make it to the final version, but it does make it quite likely. The feature might have something to do with EU’s ever-tightening privacy rules, but it’s good news for anyone that cares about privacy. 

Right now, you can delete your location history in Google Maps for Android, but you have to do it manually. A new setting in the works will let you do it automatically.

Right now, you can delete your location history in Google Maps for Android, but you have to do it manually. A new setting in the works will let you do it automatically.

Image: stan schroeder/Mashable

Google Maps 10.10 beta has another interesting option. A new setting called “Personal events” (located under Personal content) will show “personalized features in Maps, such as map annotations and trip suggestions, based on events from your Calendar and reservations in Gmail.” Given how good Google’s algorithms have become in the past couple of years, this could become very handy, especially when traveling. 

Unlike the location history setting, the Personal events option is live in Maps 10.10 beta for Android. To get this version of the app, you must sign up for Google’s Maps beta program, here

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