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    Google cracks down on predatory loan apps / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 6 April - 13:21

A young woman is using her smartphone

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Google is cracking down on predatory loan apps by cutting off their access to “sensitive” data including debtors’ contacts, photos, and location, after growing criticism that unscrupulous lenders are tapping the contents of borrowers’ smartphones for harassment and blackmail.

The tech company said on Wednesday it would update policies for financial services apps listed on the Google Play Store at the end of May so that “apps aiming to provide or facilitate personal loans may not access user contacts or photos.”

Details provided to app developers for Google’s Android mobile system also show that lending apps will, for the first time, be restricted from requesting access to users’ precise location, phone numbers, and videos. The new policy covers apps offering personal, payday, and peer-to-peer loans, but not mortgages, car loans, or credit cards.

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    Google Bard gets better at homework with improved math and logic capabilities / ArsTechnica · Friday, 31 March - 21:47 · 1 minute

A large Google logo is displayed amidst foliage.

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Google Bard is getting a little smarter today with the addition of math and logic capabilities. Google employee Jack Krawczyk announced the change on Twitter, saying, "Now Bard will better understand and respond to your prompts for multi-step word and math problems, with coding coming soon."

Logic questions were a big flaw when Bard arrived tens of days ago, and some answers made Bard seem particularly dumb to early testers. In one example from last week, Bard repeatedly asserted that one plus two equaled four . Today, Google's state-of-the-art AI chatbot models can now correctly say that the answer is three. So there has been at least some change. It can also correctly list the months in a year instead of making up names like "Maruary."

Bard still gets tripped up by really basic logic questions, though. HowToGeek's Chris Hoffman posed the question to Bard on day one, "What's heavier, five pounds of feathers or a one pound dumbbell?" Google Bard responded with the ridiculous claim that "There's no such thing as 5 pounds of feathers." In the replies, ChatGPT didn't do any better, saying that five pounds of feathers and a one pound dumbbells "weigh the same amount, which is five pounds."

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    Google Drive does a surprise rollout of file limits, locking out some users / ArsTechnica · Friday, 31 March - 18:21 · 1 minute

The Google Workspace icons.

Enlarge / The Google Workspace icons. (credit: Google)

"Please delete 2 million files to continue using your Google Drive account." That was the message that Reddit user ra13 woke up to one day. Google apparently decided to put a hard limit on the number of files you're allowed to have on one Google Drive account. Google rolled out this file limit without warning anyone it would happen. Users over the limit found themselves suddenly locked out of new file uploads, and it was up to them to figure out what was going wrong.

Did we mention this all started in February? A post on the Google Drive API issue tracker shows some users have been seeing this error for almost two months now. The original message said: "The limit for the number of items, whether trashed or not, created by this account has been exceeded." And sometime in March, it was updated to say, "Error 403: This account has exceeded the creation limit of 5 million items. To create more items, move items to the trash and delete them forever." Since there is nothing anywhere that informs users Google Drive has a file limit, users originally thought this was a bug and asked Google to quickly fix it. It has been two months now, though, and Google has not issued a public response. Some users say they have gotten Google Support to privately confirm the limit is intended, and a pop-up message is starting to show up in the Drive UI for some users.

It might be understandable to limit a data hog abusing a free account, but that's not what's happening here. Google is selling this storage to users, via both the Google Workspace business accounts and the consumer-grade Google One storage plans. Google One tops out at 30TB of storage, which costs an incredible $150 a month to use. Google Workspace's formal plans cap out at 5TB, but an "Enterprise" plan promises "As much storage as you need." From what we can tell in the various comments on reddit and the issue tracker, both consumer and business account types are subject to this hidden 5 million file limit.

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    Yes, Virginia, there is AI joy in seeing fake Will Smith ravenously eat spaghetti / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 30 March - 21:02

Stills from an AI-generated video of Will Smith eating spaghetti.

Enlarge / Stills from an AI-generated video of Will Smith eating spaghetti that has been heating up the Internet. (credit: chaindrop / Reddit )

Amid this past week's controversies in AI over regulation , fears of world-ending doom , and job disruption , the clouds have briefly parted. For a brief and shining moment, we can enjoy an absolutely ridiculous AI-generated video of Will Smith eating spaghetti that is now lighting up our lives with its terrible glory.

On Monday, a Reddit user named "chaindrop" shared the AI-generated video on the r/StableDiffusion subreddit. It quickly spread to other forms of social media and inspired mixed ruminations in the press. For example, Vice said the video will "haunt you for the rest of your life," while the AV Club called it the "natural end point for AI development."

We're somewhere in between. The 20-second silent video consists of 10 independently generated two-second segments stitched together. Each one shows different angles of a simulated Will Smith (at one point, even two Will Smiths) ravenously gobbling up spaghetti. It's entirely computer-generated, thanks to AI.

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    Judge finds Google destroyed evidence and repeatedly gave false info to court / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 29 March - 19:46

A piece of paper being destroyed in a paper shredder machine.

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A federal judge yesterday ruled that Google intentionally destroyed evidence and must be sanctioned, rejecting the company's argument that it didn't need to automatically preserve internal chats involving employees subject to a legal hold.

"After substantial briefing by both sides, and an evidentiary hearing that featured witness testimony and other evidence, the Court concludes that sanctions are warranted," US District Judge James Donato wrote . Later in the ruling, he wrote that evidence shows that "Google intended to subvert the discovery process, and that Chat evidence was 'lost with the intent to prevent its use in litigation' and 'with the intent to deprive another party of the information's use in the litigation.'"

He said that chats produced by Google last month in response to a court order "provided additional evidence of highly spotty practices in response to the litigation hold notices." For example, Donato quoted one newly produced chat in which "an employee said he or she was 'on legal hold' but that they preferred to keep chat history off."

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    Google and ADT have a new security system with lots of subscription fees / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 29 March - 17:41 · 1 minute

Google and ADT's security package: Google screens and cameras and ADT's software, sensors, and hub.

Enlarge / Google and ADT's security package: Google screens and cameras and ADT's software, sensors, and hub. (credit: ADT)

Google's plans for a security system are starting to take shape. Google invested $450 million in ADT in 2020, buying a 6.6 percent stake in the security monitoring company. Two months later Google killed its in-house security system , the Nest Secure, which had a monitoring deal with ADT rival Brinks. The two companies promised to build "the next generation of smart home security solutions," and that's apparently here now as the " ADT Self Setup smart home security system ."

Since the Nest Secure is dead, the brains of the system is the ADT Smart Home Hub. This is a 4.1×4.1×5.9-inch box with a keypad on top and a few other buttons for arming and disarming the security system. It's a sizable unit that's basically the size of a smart speaker, thanks to needing to fit an integrated 24-hour battery backup and a speaker grille on the front for the alarm siren, which ADT says hits 85 dB at 10 feet. Instead of a more common smart home protocol like Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Google's Thread, or Matter, ADT's devices run over "DECT/ULE," an old-school wireless home security standard. I don't think that acronym means anything anymore, but officially it stands for "Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications/Ultra Low Energy" (it has roots in cordless phone technology ). The hub still has Z-Wave, but that's only for automation of third-party products. It also has Bluetooth for setup, and assuming this is the same hub used for ADT's old "Blue" security system, it connects to the Internet over Wi-Fi with a cellular backup.

ADT also has various security widgets you can place around the house. It's not very handy to have the control keypad on top of the hub, away from the door, so there's also a remote keypad that presumably you can wall mount next to the door and use as you come and go. ADT is also handling the door and window sensors, motion sensors, flood and temperature sensors, a car-style key fob, and surprisingly, the smoke detector. Nest famously has some extremely expensive smoke detectors, but ADT's press release calls out every compatible Google product by name, and the Nest Protect smoke detector is not listed.

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    Google is killing most of Fitbit’s social features today / ArsTechnica · Monday, 27 March - 18:57 · 1 minute

Fitbit's now-dead Challenges feature.

Enlarge / Fitbit's now-dead Challenges feature. (credit: Sherwin Fong )

Today's the day for Google's biggest change yet to Fitbit: It's shutting down some more features. As Google announced in February , the popular fitness gamification features, Fitbit "Challenges" and "Adventures," are being shut down today. Google is also removing the "Open Group" social networking feature.

Getting motivated to work out is tough for some people, so Fitbit's software included a few ways to gamify fitness to keep people interested. Challenges were introduced in 2014 as a way to share and compare your step counts with friends, hopefully motivating both of you to get more exercise. The feature came with badges that could be earned for specific tasks and trophies for winning a battle. Adventures were announced in 2017 as location-specific challenges that highlighted local places that were good for exercise and hiking, like national parks and landmarks. You could tackle these areas solo at your own pace or participate in multiplayer "Adventure Races" where you could track your hiking speed or progress against other Fitbit users. This seems like something that would only get better with Google Maps integration. Oh, well.

Adventures, Challenges, and all player-earned trophies and badges are going away today. The Fitbit community on Reddit has been furious over the feature removals, with the most popular post of the past year being a call to cancel your Fitbit Premium subscription over the changes. On Twitter, Fitbit tried celebrating the company's birthday yesterday, but nearly all the replies were about the feature shutdown and what other services people should switch to. Several users have confirmed today that the features are dead.

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    Google defends auto-deletion of chats after US alleged it destroyed evidence / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 21 March - 18:03

A lanyard with the Google logo

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Google defended its use of "history-off chats" for many internal communications, denying the US government's allegation that it intentionally destroyed evidence needed in an antitrust case. The history-off setting causes messages to be automatically deleted within 24 hours.

The US government and 21 states last month asked a court to sanction Google for allegedly using the auto-delete function on chats to destroy evidence and accused Google of falsely telling the government that it suspended its auto-deletion practices on chats subject to a legal hold. Google opposed the motion for sanctions on Friday in a filing in US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Google said it uses a "tiered approach" for preserving chats. "When there is litigation, Google instructs employees on legal hold not to use messaging apps like Google Chat to discuss the subjects at issue in the litigation and, if they must, to switch their settings to 'history on' for chats regarding the subjects at issue in the litigation, so that any such messages are preserved," the Google filing said.

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