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The Google News tab is getting a makeover. Google announced this week, by way of a tweet, a significant redesign of the Google.com News tab on the desktop, which will organize articles in a card-style layout, while also better emphasizing publisher names. The end result makes Google News more aesthetically pleasing, but it comes at the expense of information density.

To be clear, the changes here are focused on the News tab of Google.com — not the dedicated Google News product at news.google.com. You land on the News tab when you search for a term on Google.com, and then click over to “News” to see the latest coverage instead of Google’s list of search results.

As the preview of the redesign shows, news articles are currently organized in a compact list of links, allowing you to see several headlines around a single topic with just a glance. This design, admittedly, is a bit old-school — but it works.

Within the stack of links, the headline is blue, the publisher is green, and the articles are labeled as “In-depth” or “Opinion,” when relevant. There are small photo thumbnails by the lead story, with other publishers’ links underneath appearing as only text.

Screen Shot 2019 07 12 at 11.16.03 AM

 

The updated design is more readable as articles are spaced out and placed in cards, similar to the main Google News product. There’s more white space and longer previews of each story, as well.

But the change means you’re seeing far fewer results on the screen before you have to scroll down.

 

The updated News tab makes it more obvious where the news is coming from, because publishers’ names are given more prominence. They also get their logo next to the headline, so it’s easier to identify your favorite news outlets with a glance. This is reminiscent of the recent mobile redesign for Google Search, which also put increased attention on the publishers by featuring them at the top of a link alongside their logo.

In addition to providing you with a set of News search results, the redesigned tab includes a new carousel labeled “People also searched for” that points you to other relevant news based on your search query.

Not everyone is thrilled about the update, given it makes it more difficult to quickly scan a number of headlines at once. And because there are fewer publishers’ articles on the first screen, traffic to those “below the fold” will likely drop.

Google says the changes will roll out over the next couple of weeks.


TechCrunch

Google has responded to a report this week from Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS, which revealed that contractors were given access to Google Assistant voice recordings, including those which contained sensitive information — like addresses, conversations between parents and children, business calls, and others containing all sorts of private information. As a result of the report, Google says it’s now preparing to investigate and take action against the contractor who leaked this information to the news outlet.

The company, by way of a blog post, explained that it partners with language experts around the world who review and transcribe a “small set of queries” to help Google better understand various languages.

Only around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets are reviewed by language experts, and these snippets are not associated with Google accounts during the review process, the company says. Other background conversations or noises are not supposed to be transcribed.

The leaker had listened to over 1,000 recordings, and found 153 were accidental in nature — meaning, it was clear the user hadn’t intended to ask for Google’s help. In addition, the report found that determining a user’s identity was often possible because the recordings themselves would reveal personal details. Some of the recordings contained highly sensitive information, like “bedroom conversations,” medical inquiries, or people in what appeared to be domestic violence situations, to name a few.

Google defended the transcription process as being a necessary part of providing voice assistant technologies to its international users.

But instead of focusing on its lack of transparency with consumers over who’s really listening to their voice data, Google says it’s going after the leaker themselves.

“[Transcription] is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant,” writes David Monsees, Product Manager for Search at Google, in the blog post. “We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” he said.

As voice assistant devices are becoming a more common part of consumers’ everyday lives, there’s increased scrutiny on how tech companies are handline the voice recordings, who’s listening on the other end, what records are being stored, and for how long, among other things.

This is not an issue that only Google is facing.

Earlier this month, Amazon responded to a U.S. senator’s inquiry over how it was handling consumers’ voice records. The inquiry had followed a CNET investigation which discovered Alexa recordings were kept unless manually deleted by users, and that some voice transcripts were never deleted. In addition, a Bloomberg report recently found that Amazon workers and contractors during the review process had access to the recordings, as well as an account number, the user’s first name, and the device’s serial number.

Further, a coalition of consumer privacy groups recently lodged a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission which claims Amazon Alexa is violating the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by failing to obtain proper consent over the company’s use of the kids’ data.

Neither Amazon nor Google have gone out of their way to alert consumers as to how the voice recordings are being used.

As Wired notes, the Google Home privacy policy doesn’t disclose that Google is using contract labor to review or transcribe audio recordings. The policy also says that data only leaves the device when the wake word is detected. But these leaked recordings indicate that’s clearly not true — the devices accidentally record voice data at times.

The issues around the lack of disclosure and transparency could be yet another signal to U.S. regulators that tech companies aren’t able to make responsible decisions on their own when it comes to consumer data privacy.

The timing of the news isn’t great for Google. According to reports, the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing for a possible antitrust investigation of Google’s business practices, and is watching the company’s behavior closely. Given this increased scrutiny, one would think Google would be going over its privacy policies with a fine-toothed comb — especially in areas that are newly coming under fire, like policies around consumers’ voice data — to ensure that consumers understand how their data is being stored, shared, and used.

Google also notes today that people do have a way to opt-out of having their audio data stored. Users can either turn off audio data storage entirely, or choose to have the data auto-delete every 3 months or every 18 months.

The company also says it will work to better explain how this voice data is used going forward.

“We’re always working to improve how we explain our settings and privacy practices to people, and will be reviewing opportunities to further clarify how data is used to improve speech technology,” said Monsees.


TechCrunch

Google’s vice president of finance, has joined Postmates’ board of directors, the latest sign that the on-demand food delivery startup is prepping to take the company public.

Postmates announced Friday that Kristin Reinke, vice president of Finance at Google, will join the San Francisco startup as an independent director.

Reinke has been with Google since 2005. Prior to Google, Reinke was at Oracle for eight years. Reinke also serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Economic Advisory Council.

Her skill set will come in handy as Postmates creeps towards an IPO.

Earlier this year, the company lined up a $ 100 million pre-IPO financing that valued the business at $ 1.85 billion. Postmates is backed by Tiger Global, BlackRock, Spark Capital, Uncork Capital, Founders Fund, Slow Ventures and others. Spark Capital’s Nabeel Hyatt tweeted the news earlier Friday.

“Postmates has established itself as the market leader with a focus on innovation and route efficiency in the fast‐growing on‐demand delivery sector. Given their strong execution, accelerating growth, and financial discipline, they are well positioned for continued market growth across the U.S.,” said Reinke. “I’m thrilled to join the board.”

The startup has been beefing up its executive quiver, most recently hiring Apple veteran and author Ken Kocienda as a principal software engineer at Postmates X, the team building the food delivery company’s semi-autonomous sidewalk rover, Serve.

Kocienda, author of “Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s  Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs,” spent 15 years at Apple focused on human interface design, collaborating with engineers to develop the first iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.


TechCrunch

Google and PayPal have been strategic partners for some time. The companies in 2017 announced that PayPal would become a payment method in Android Pay, the service that later rebranded as Google Pay. Last year, users who added PayPal as a payment method on Google Pay could then pay for services like Gmail, YouTube, Google Play and Google Store purchases via a PayPal option in Google Pay. Now, a similar integration is making its way to online merchants who accept Google Pay on their website or mobile app.

Explains Google, hundreds of millions of customers already have payment methods saved to their Google Account — including, in some cases, PayPal, thanks to the 2018 integration.

With this expanded integration, merchants can opt to enable PayPal as a payment method in their own Google Pay integration — something that’s easily done if Google Pay has already been implemented on their site. All that’s required is only a small code change to the list of allowed payment methods (see below).

At that point forward, any online shopper who wants to check out using Google Pay will have the option of selecting PayPal to make the purchase.

The benefit of this integration for consumers is that they won’t have to sign in to PayPal when they use it through Google Pay, which cuts down the number of steps to take at checkout. That, in turn, can increase conversions. They’ll also have access to PayPal’s Purchase Protection and Return Shipping benefits.

For online merchants who are also PayPal merchants, when a customer selects PayPal through Google Pay, the merchant receives the money in their PayPal Business Account within minutes.

PayPal’s embrace of its one-time competitors like Apple and Google actually began several years ago, and is still gaining ground as the technology platforms better integrate its service.

The company began teaming up with rivals like Visa, MastercardAppleGoogleSamsung and Walmart to help it achieve better traction both at point-of-sale in retail stores and within the popular mobile wallets offered by mobile OS platform makers Apple, Google and Samsung. Today, PayPal lives alongside other payment cards — like credit and debit cards — inside these mobile wallets.

For merchants that want to offer a variety of checkout methods, they can add support for the digital wallet platforms themselves, and PayPal simply comes along for the ride.

The PayPal option for Google Pay works in all 24 countries where customers can link a PayPal account to Google Pay.


TechCrunch

After a Wall Street Journal investigation concluded that there are millions of fake business listings on Google Maps, the company has issued a response detailing the measures it takes to combat the problem.

According to estimates from online advertising experts surveyed by the WSJ, there are “roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day,” with hundreds of thousands more fake listings appearing every month. Many are placed by businesses that specialized creating fake listings for clients that want to boost their information above competitors in search results.

According to a search expert interviewed by the WSJ, a 2017 academic study paid for by Google that found only 0.5% of local searches researchers examined were fake was skewed by limited data.

In the company’s response, Google Maps product director Ethan Russell wrote that of the more than 200 million listings added to Google Maps over the years, only a “small percentage” are fake. He said that last year Google took down more than 3 million fake business profiles, including more than 90% that were removed before users could see them. Google’s systems identified 85% of the listings removed, while 250,000 were reported by users. The company also disabled 150,000 user accounts found to be abusive, a 50% increase from 2017.

Russell wrote that the company is “continually working on new and better ways to fight these scams using a variety of ever-evolving manual and automated systems,” but can’t share more details about them because otherwise scammers might find a way to get around them.

The WSJ report comes as another Google-owned service, YouTube, is under scrutiny for how it fights abuse at scale. YouTube released its first anti-abuse report last year, but problematic content, including hate speech, continues to be a major problem and the platform’s critics say it haphazardly enforces its own policies.

Along with Apple, Amazon and Facebook, Google’s parent company Alphabet is currently facing antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, and its search business is expected to go under scrutiny.


TechCrunch


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