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      Gmail’s AI-powered spam detection is its biggest security upgrade in years / ArsTechnica · Monday, 4 December - 19:04 · 1 minute

    Illustration of a stack of enveloped labeled as

    Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | pagadesign)

    The latest post on the Google Security blog details a new upgrade to Gmail's spam filters that Google is calling "one of the largest defense upgrades in recent years." The upgrade comes in the form of a new text classification system called RETVec (Resilient & Efficient Text Vectorizer). Google says this can help understand "adversarial text manipulations"—these are emails full of special characters, emojis, typos, and other junk characters that previously were legible by humans but not easily understandable by machines. Previously, spam emails full of special characters made it through Gmail's defenses easily.

    If you want an example of what "adversarial text manipulation" looks like, the below message is something from my spam folder. My personal Gmail experience with these emails is that they used to be a major problem during the 1st half of the year, with emails like this regularly landing in my inbox. It does seem like this RETVec tech upgrade really works, though, because emails like this haven't been a problem at all for me in the last few months.

    The reason emails like this have been so difficult to classify is that, while any spam filter could probably swat down an email that says "Congratulations! A balance of $1000 is available for your jackpot account," that's not what this email actually says. A big portion of the letters here are " homoglyphs "—by diving into the endless depths of the Unicode standard, you can find obscure characters that look like they're part of the normal Latin alphabet but actually aren't.

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      Chrome’s next weapon in the War on Ad Blockers: Slower extension updates / ArsTechnica · Friday, 1 December - 23:30 · 1 minute

    The logo for the board game Monopoly, complete with Uncle Pennybags, has been transformed to say Google.

    Enlarge / Let's see, you landed on my "Google Ads" space, and with three houses... that will be $1,400. (credit: Ron Amadeo / Hasbro)

    Google's war on ad blockers is just gearing up, with YouTube doing its best to detect and block ad blockers and Chrome aiming to roll out the ad block-limiting Manifest V3 extension platform in June 2024. A new article from Engadget detailing the "arms race" over ad blocking brings up an interesting point regarding the power that YouTube and Chrome have in this battle: a dramatic update advantage over the ad blockers.

    In addition to hamstringing Chrome's extension platform with no real user-centric justifications, Manifest V3 will also put roadblocks up before extension updates , which will delay an extension developer's ability to quickly respond to changes. YouTube can instantly switch up its ad delivery system, but once Manifest V3 becomes mandatory, that won't be true for extension developers. If ad blocking is a cat-and-mouse game of updates and counter-updates, then Google will force the mouse to slow down.

    Chrome's "Manifest V3" makes dramatic changes to the Chrome extension platform. The current platform, Manifest V2, has been around for over ten years and works just fine, but it's also quite powerful and allows extensions to have full filtering control over the traffic your web browser sees. That's great for protecting privacy, speeding up the web, and blocking ads, but it also means you can download a browser from the world's biggest ad company and use it to block ads—and that was only going to last for so long.

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      Google researchers report critical zero-days in Chrome and all Apple OSes / ArsTechnica · Friday, 1 December - 00:38

    The phrase Zero Day can be spotted on a monochrome computer screen clogged with ones and zeros.

    Enlarge (credit: Getty Images )

    Researchers in Google's Threat Analysis Group have been as busy as ever, with discoveries that have led to the disclosure of three high-severity zero-day vulnerabilities under active exploitation in Apple OSes and the Chrome browser in the span of 48 hours.

    Apple on Thursday said it was releasing security updates fixing two vulnerabilities present in iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. Both of them reside in WebKit, the engine that drives Safari and a wide range of other apps, including Apple Mail, the App Store, and all browsers running on iPhones and iPads. While the update applies to all supported versions of Apple OSes, Thursday’s disclosure suggested in-the-wild attacks exploiting the vulnerabilities targeted earlier versions of iOS.

    “Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been exploited against versions of iOS before iOS 16.7.1,” Apple officials wrote of both vulnerabilities, which are tracked as CVE-2023-42916 and CVE-2023-42917.

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      The Great Google Account Purge starts tomorrow for inactive users / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 30 November - 18:59 · 1 minute

    The Great Google Account Purge starts tomorrow for inactive users

    Enlarge (credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images )

    Hello fellow procrastinators. This is your last-minute warning that you have until the end of the day to log in to any inactive Google accounts before they start getting deleted on December 1. Google is going to wipe any accounts that have been "inactive" for two years, allowing the company to free up storage space, delete unused personal data, and continue the ongoing journey of intense cost cutting it has been on for the past year.

    The plan to do this was announced in May , and Google says inactive accounts should get "multiple notifications over the months leading up to deletion, to both the account email address and the recovery email (if one has been provided)," so hopefully this isn't a surprise to anyone. The company says it will "take a phased approach" to deleting accounts, starting with "accounts that were created and never used again," so even if you're reading this on December 1, there's probably still time to log in to an old account and save it.

    As for the caveats around "inactivity," Google says this will only apply to personal accounts that don't have any subscriptions running, so Google Workspace and Google One users have nothing to fear. The company says you'll count as "active" if you "sign-in at least once every 2 years," which is pretty easy to do. Confusingly it also lists certain activities you can perform that will count as "activity," but those seem rather moot, since you would already need to be logged in to do them. The "Sign in with Google" OAuth platform on other websites also counts as account activity, and so does being signed in on an Android phone.

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      ChatGPT is one year old. Here’s how it changed the world. / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 30 November - 17:01 · 1 minute

    A toy tin robot blowing out a birthday candle.

    Enlarge / An artist's interpretation of what ChatGPT might look like if embodied in the form of a robot toy blowing out a birthday candle. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

    One year ago today, on November 30, 2022, OpenAI released ChatGPT . It's uncommon for a single tech product to create as much global impact as ChatGPT in just one year.

    Imagine a computer that can talk to you. Nothing new, right? Those have been around since the 1960s . But ChatGPT, the application that first bought large language models (LLMs) to a wide audience, felt different. It could compose poetry, seemingly understand the context of your questions and your conversation, and help you solve problems. Within a few months, it became the fastest-growing consumer application of all time. And it created a frenzy.

    During these 365 days, ChatGPT has broadened the public perception of AI, captured imaginations, attracted critics , and stoked existential angst. It emboldened and reoriented Microsoft, made Google dance , spurred fears of AGI taking over the world, captivated world leaders , prompted attempts at government regulation , helped add words to dictionaries , inspired conferences and copycats , led to a crisis for educators, hyper-charged automated defamation , embarrassed lawyers by hallucinating, prompted lawsuits over training data, and much more.

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      Google to pay Canada’s “link tax,” drops threat of removing news from search / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 29 November - 21:47

    Canada's national flag

    Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Manuel Augusto Moreno)

    Google has agreed to pay Canadian news businesses $100 million a year to comply with the country's Online News Act, despite previously saying it would remove Canadian news links from search rather than make the required payments.

    Google and government officials agreed to a deal that lets Google negotiate with a single news collective and reduce its overall financial obligation. Facebook owner Meta is meanwhile holding firm in its opposition to payments.

    "Google will contribute $100 million in financial support annually, indexed to inflation, for a wide range of news businesses across the country, including independent news businesses and those from Indigenous and official-language minority communities," Minister of Canadian Heritage Pascale St-Onge said in a statement today.

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      Google caught placing big-brand ads on hardcore porn sites, report says / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 29 November - 20:29

    Google caught placing big-brand ads on hardcore porn sites, report says

    Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto / Contributor | NurPhoto )

    The appearance of any big brand's ads on websites that the brand has specifically blocked is one of a brand's biggest nightmares. That could include specifically blacklisted sites—like Breitbart—or any category of generally controversial site, like sites in countries sanctioned by the government, sites featuring hardcore pornography, or sites containing pirated content.

    According to an Adalytics report , the Google Search Partner Network (SPN) has allegedly been putting brands at risk of all of these undesirable placements without advertisers fully realizing the dangers. Adalytics researchers reported finding Google search ads for top brands and government agencies displaying on hundreds of undesirable websites.

    Among those impacted were big brands—like Amazon, Apple, BMW, Home Depot, Lego, Meta, Microsoft, Paramount+, Samsung, and Uber—and top government entities including the US Treasury and the European Commission. Ads from nonprofits like the American Cancer Society and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, as well as major media outlets like The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal were also found on illegal or adult sites.

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      Web browser suspended because it can browse the web is back on Google Play / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 29 November - 19:31

    A large Google logo at a trade fair.

    Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Alexander Koerner)

    Google Play has reversed its latest ban on a web browser that keeps getting targeted by vague Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices. Downloader, an Android TV app that combines a browser with a file manager, was restored to Google Play last night.

    Downloader, made by app developer Elias Saba, was suspended on Sunday after a DMCA notice submitted by copyright-enforcement firm MarkScan on behalf of Warner Bros. Discovery. It was the second time in six months that Downloader was suspended based on a complaint that the app's web browser is capable of loading websites.

    The first suspension in May lasted three weeks, but Google reversed the latest one much more quickly. As we wrote on Monday , the MarkScan DMCA notice didn't even list any copyrighted works that Downloader supposedly infringed upon.

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      Google’s DeepMind finds 2.2M crystal structures in materials science win / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 29 November - 18:42

    Lab picture

    Enlarge / The researchers identified novel materials by using machine learning to first generate candidate structures and then gauge their likely stability. (credit: Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab)

    Google DeepMind researchers have discovered 2.2 million crystal structures that open potential progress in fields from renewable energy to advanced computation, and show the power of artificial intelligence to discover novel materials.

    The trove of theoretically stable but experimentally unrealized combinations identified using an AI tool known as GNoME is more than 45 times larger than the number of such substances unearthed in the history of science, according to a paper published in Nature on Wednesday.

    The researchers plan to make 381,000 of the most promising structures available to fellow scientists to make and test their viability in fields from solar cells to superconductors. The venture underscores how harnessing AI can shortcut years of experimental graft—and potentially deliver improved products and processes.

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