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Serious Warning Issued For Millions Of Google Gmail Users – Forbes

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07/04 Update below. This post was originally published on July 2

While Google has dropped some Chrome bombshells in recent weeks, Gmail users have had a tougher time. And it just got a lot worse. 

MORE FROM FORBESGoogle’s New Tab Groups Reinvigorate Chrome Browser

Picked up by the always-excellent Android Police, Gmail appears to be suffering from a widespread problem with its email filters which is causing potentially dangerous, exploitative and NSFW messages to be sent directly to users’ inboxes. Furthermore, while Google has recently recognized Gmail problems “affecting a significant subset of users” it now lists the service as fully operational, when one look at Reddit or Twitter makes it clear this is far from the case. 

“Why did the gmail spam filters break?!” – source

“Did gmail’s spam filter and category function just completely shut down for anyone else? Everything’s now going straight to the primary inbox.” – source

“Are @gmail’s spam filters broken? I’ve had a sudden influx of some crazy #NSFW spam in my inbox! What’s going on #Gmail?” – source

“It is a strangely comforting thing that I can just search for “gmail” and immediately Twitter provides me with evidence that yes, others are getting weirdly hit with spam right now” – source

07/04 Update: Google has responded to my inquiry and acknowledged the problem, surprisingly pointing out that the spam flaw was actually part of a bigger issue which caused Gmail emails to be delayed, both when sent and received. The consequence of this was “some messages were delayed enough that they resulted in delivery without all spam checks completing.” Most importantly, Google states that “During this time, scans to filter malware and the most egregious spam and harmful content remained fully operational.” Google says the issue has now been resolved. That said, it is worth noting that some users are still reporting spam problems in Gmail (1,2,3,4,5,6,7 etc) so you should remain cautious, both when opening unfamiliar new email and going through older messages that may have arrived during the main outage.

For the tech savvy, a flurry of spam hitting your inbox is something which can be navigated. But everyday users could be caught out by some of the more sophisticated malware and exploitation strategies these emails can contain. After all, there’s a reason Gmail (usually) works so hard to keep these messages from your inbox. 

I have contacted Google about this and will update the post when I know more.  

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The COVID Alert app has been downloaded nearly 2 million times – MobileSyrup

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The COVID Alert app has reached 1.9 million downloads since launching in Ontario on July 31st, a government spokesperson confirmed to CBC.

It’s expected that “the overwhelming majority of these downloads have come from Ontario,” added the spokesperson.

For context, the app hit 1.1 million downloads on August 3rd. As the CBC notes, 1.9 million downloads works out to about five percent of Canada’s overall population, although it’s unclear how many have come from provinces in which the app has not yet officially launched.

Available for free on later-model Android and iOS phones, the COVID Alert app uses Bluetooth to exchange random codes with people to see if a code you’ve received matches one from someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The app will ask for permission to share your random codes from the last 14 days with a central server.

It’s worth noting that the CBC story also addresses consumer concerns that the COVID Alert app collects location data, despite Health Canada assuring that it does not. Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has also said even he will use the app, noting that it has “very significant privacy protections.”

Nonetheless, 52 percent of Canadians say they don’t believe the app doesn’t geolocate users, according to a recent survey. Further, 39 percent of respondents said they don’t think the app will work in regards to curbing the spread of the virus.

Given all of that, experts told CBC that the government could build trust among people that the app is working by publishing some of the data that comes out of its everyday usage. For example, these experts pointed to how officials in Switzerland regularly publish active user and download counts related to that country’s COVID app. Meanwhile, the German government has revealed how many people who have tested positive have shared codes in their respective app.

For now, the Canadian government is “considering how to track — and potentially make available — data related to the app once other provinces and territories adopt it,” reports the CBC.

To learn more about the COVID Alert app, click here.

Source: CBC

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Fortnite for Android has also been kicked off the Google Play Store – The Verge

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Following its removal from the Apple App Store, Fortnite has also been kicked off of the Google Play Store for Android. Earlier today, Epic Games snuck in an update for both the iPhone and Android versions of the game that allowed users to pay Epic directly for in-app purchases instead of using the officially sanctioned system for both platforms.

What followed was a wild ride: Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store, then Epic sued Apple, and finally there was an in-game video parodying Apple’s own 1984 commercial, positioning Apple itself as the monopolist.

Now, Google is in the conversation. As with Apple, Google requires that games use the Google Play system for in-app purchases. Although the Play Store’s rules are somewhat more lax than Apple’s when it comes to in-app purchases, Google does draw the line at games. It’s quite clear-cut: “Developers offering products within a game downloaded on Google Play or providing access to game content must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment.” Google’s system takes a 30 percent cut, just as Apple’s does.

Epic’s update earlier today ran afoul of that rule, and while Google took longer to make a decision to ban Fortnite over it than Apple, both companies reached the same conclusion.

Google’s statement:

The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.

A Google spokesperson emphasized to The Verge that Android is an open ecosystem that allows multiple stores and that Google Play’s policies need to apply equally to all developers. It has no problem with those other stores existing nor with Epic distributing its game on them, the spokesperson said.

You can still install Fortnite on Android, however. Epic itself points visitors to its website, where they can either download Fortnite through the Epic Games app or via the Samsung Galaxy Store on Samsung devices. This is different from iPhone and iPad, where it’s now impossible to install the game if you hadn’t already done so.

Epic has a history of tussling with Google over this Play Store rule. In August 2018, Epic pulled Fortnite from the Google Play Store and began distributing it directly. That is only possible because Android allows installs from third-party sources, though it does make that process seem a bit dangerous because of the security warnings that appear when you do.

Eighteen months later, Epic capitulated and put Fortnite back into the Google Play Store, though not without some very angry rhetoric about it. Here’s Epic’s statement from April 2020:

Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store.

An app as popular as Fortnite being installed via other means — specifically other stores — has the potential to lessen the centrality of the Google Play Store on Android — and maybe increase fragmentation. There are already competing stores — Samsung is pushing its own store heavily on its Android devices, for example. But in general, the Google Play Store has been the go-to software source for most people.

Epic is already actively encouraging users to also use the version that comes from Samsung’s store, telling users that they can get the discount that started this whole mess if they do: “You’ll find that V-Bucks and real-money offers are now discounted by up to 20% through the Epic Games app at epicgames.com and the Samsung Galaxy Store.”

If Epic can get users in the habit of using other stores, that could mean users will start to want to use other stores for other app installs. If you’ve used any recent Samsung Galaxy phone, you have seen it offer the option to handle the installs for some major apps. It could mean that Google may be able skirt a monopoly issue with its decision, it would argue that there is real competition for app stores on Android.

For just one other gaming-related example, look to Microsoft. Its upcoming Game Pass Ultimate streaming service (you know it as xCloud) will be available both on Google Play and on Samsung’s Galaxy Store. If you install it via Google Play, you won’t be able to purchase DLC content for Xbox games because of that 30 percent cut. If you happen to install it via Samsung’s store, however, you are able to make in-app purchases. Here’s Microsoft’s statement on the issue:

Our vision is to bring a complete, full-featured experience with in-app purchase capabilities to app stores. However, we are complying with all store policies and do not offer in-app purchases in some stores at this time. To access complete, in-app purchase capabilities, Samsung customers can download the Xbox Game Pass app from the Galaxy Store; SK Telecom customers can also get a complete experience through ONE Store.

(Meanwhile, Microsoft’s game streaming service isn’t allowed on the iPhone at all — and Microsoft isn’t happy about that, either.)

Given Epic’s outsized response to Apple’s ban — the lawsuit and the 1984 ad — it’s a sure bet that the company will have a response to Google as well. We’ll obviously let you know what that is when it happens.

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Canada's COVID Alert app is a case of tech-driven bad policy design – The Conversation Canada

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The July 31 release of Canada’s COVID Alert app was greeted with almost universal praise. Privacy experts applauded its strong privacy protections, echoing the official app website’s extensive detailing of how “your privacy is protected,” including a link to an entire other page that explains “how COVID Alert protects your privacy,” which in turn links to Health Canada’s privacy assessment of the app.

The focus on privacy was so overwhelming that you could be forgiven for thinking the app’s entire purpose was to protect people’s privacy rather than to save lives.

Despite this near-universal praise, when you focus on the actual purpose of the app, rather than on its elegant design, red flags start popping up everywhere.

The design and rollout of the app all suggest that considerations of the app’s medical effectiveness have been secondary to its technical design.

[embedded content]
A CBC News report on the announcement of the new Government of Canada COVID Alert app.

The website contains no information about how effective the app might be in reducing COVID-19 transmission. It does say that “COVID Alert is just one part of the public health effort to limit the spread of COVID-19,” but provides no details about what that means.

A poorly designed policy

More troubling, the app was released without anyone having created a framework for evaluating its success. Instead, Health Canada is currently deciding how to evaluate it, meaning it was released without anyone having a clear idea about what they wanted it to do, and now anything it does can be treated as a success.

The Logic, meanwhile, reports that Liberal Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray says that the government doesn’t have “a particular threshold below which it considers the app to be ineffective.”

If COVID Alert had been presented as a regular government mitigation policy, it would have been given a much rougher ride. Consider:

Rather than targeting the groups most vulnerable to COVID transmission, it focuses on those least likely to spread the disease, namely higher-income Canadians who can afford expensive smartphones and data plans. Meanwhile, it’s low-income communities that are most at risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The program will follow best practices in its setup (privacy), but it was designed without setting any criteria for judging its success or failure in helping to flatten the curve, and without embedding it in an appropriate regulatory framework to ensure that apps like COVID Alert aren’t misused by businesses. And the government is spending $10 million to advertise it.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports that “the effectiveness of digital proximity tracking to assist contact tracing remains unknown,” with many variables affecting its potential utility, none of which have been publicly accounted for by the government.

Would you fund an unproven policy that likely wouldn’t reach the people most at risk of getting the disease, and with no way to know if it is working?

Focusing on the tool, not the problem

Instead, COVID Alert’s presentation and reception benefited from what tech critic Evgeny Morozov calls technological solutionism. Technological solutionism describes the all too prevalent tendency to assume that technology can solve all our problems.

When we make this leap, as the government and all too many others did here, we begin to focus on the technology’s design — on how effectively it protects privacy — rather than its effect on the problem it was supposedly designed to address.

Instead of starting from the more open question, “What is the best way to fight the pandemic?” technological solutionism asks the leading question, “How can we use apps to do this?”

Technological solutionism is a terrible way to set policy. It leads policy-makers to ignore other, potentially more effective alternatives. It downplays problems caused by the app’s design. In this case, the fact that people most at risk likely won’t be able to access the tool is treated as a minor bug, rather than as a policy-impairing flaw: if it can’t actually reach the people spreading the disease, it’s practically useless.

Technology is policy

Make no mistake: apps like COVID Alert are government programs, not neutral tools. They deliver services and benefits in ways that can create winners and losers. Their creation involved the allocation of scarce resources and the choice of policy pathways that necessarily involved discarding or delaying other options.

In this case, it shifts yet more responsibility onto individuals to battle the pandemic, rather than onto a dedicated bureaucracy. Rather than, say, closing potential COVID-19 hot spots like bars and providing income support to owners and workers, it relies on an incomplete technological fix to deal with failures to socially distance.

Because they are government programs, apps and technology generally should not be exempt from well-established policy-evaluation frameworks. All the privacy guarantees in the world are meaningless if the app doesn’t actually help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.




Read more:
Privacy, perceptions and effectiveness: the challenges of developing coronavirus contact-tracing apps


As digital technologies become increasingly pervasive and private-sector tech firms attempt to insinuate themselves ever deeper into government policy-making (as Apple and Google, the progenitors of this app, are trying to do here), it’s essential that governments avoid technological solutionism.

Otherwise, they will end up outsourcing basic policy-making responsibilities to private tech companies, just as was narrowly avoided when Sidewalk Labs abandoned Waterfront Toronto’s Quayside project in May.

And all of us need to stop thinking about social problems in terms of how tech can help address them. Because when all you have is an app, everything looks like data.

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