Google Maps Dark Mode and More Useful Android Features Are Rolling Out Today

Illustration for article titled Google Maps Dark Mode and More Useful Android Features Are Rolling Out Today

Image: Google

While we wait for Android 12 to officially go live later this year, Google has a bunch of tweaks and updates coming to Android this spring.

Following the 2019 update to Chrome, Google is now bringing Password Checkup to Android to help alert you about potential leaks or data breaches that may have exposed your existing passwords to hackers. Password Checkup will be rolling out to devices with Android 9 and above, and will automatically check passwords already saved in Android along with any new ones. If Google detects that your password has been exposed, you’ll get an alert strongly suggesting you change it.

Gif: Google

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Password Checkup is important, but let’s get down to the good stuff: Google Maps is finally getting the long-awaited official dark mode. And in Google Messages on Android 7 and above, Google is adding the ability to send scheduled messages, similar to Gmail’s scheduled email feature. All you have to do is write a message as normal, and then hold the send button, which makes a new menu appear allowing you to set an exact time for when your text will go out.

Even the Google Assistant is getting a small upgrade, with the ability to make calls, set timers and alarms, and play music on your phone using voice commands. This means your Android phone can now kind of double as a smart speaker, and helps expand the role of the Google Assistant as something that simply answers questions with these additional automation features.

Finally, an official dark mode for Google Maps.

Finally, an official dark mode for Google Maps.
Image: Google

Android Auto is also getting a refresh. Google added new car-inspired backgrounds and voice-activated games like Jeopardy to help those long road trips go by a little faster. And to help make things like contacts easier to access, Google is also adding shortcuts to Android Auto, and cars with widescreen displays get a new split-screen mode so you can see Google Maps and your media controls at the same time.

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Finally, for folks who are blind or have low vision, Google is also releasing a new version of its Talkback app featuring a redesigned menu, more intuitive gesture recognition, improved reading controls, and more.

Here’s what the new scheduled sending options will look like in Google Messages.

Here’s what the new scheduled sending options will look like in Google Messages.
Image: Google

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Google’s new Android software updates will start rolling out today, with Talkback version 9.1 available now in the Google Play store and the update to Android Auto expected to be available “in the coming days.”

Report: Epic Games Is Behind North Dakota App Store Bill

Illustration for article titled Report: Epic Games Is Behind North Dakota App Store Bill

Screenshot: Epic Games (Other)

Epic Games lobbyists drafted legislation that will be heard in North Dakota this week, attempting to bar app stores owned by the likes of Apple and Google from taking a cut of app sales, according to a report over the weekend by The New York Times.

Senate Bill 2333, introduced to the North Dakota Senate last week, seeks to prevent big digital storefronts like Apple’s App Store and Google Play from forcing developers to distribute apps exclusively through their storefronts, or exclusively use their payment systems. It also seeks to prevent the companies behind these storefronts from punishing developers who choose other distribution or payment methods. Epic is currently involved in a legal battle about this issue, taking both Apple and Google to court after both storefronts banned Fortnite when Epic introduced its own payment method last August in protest against the App Store’s 30% cut of sales. The Times writes that debate on the North Dakota bill began on Monday and will be voted on this week.

The Times reports that North Dakota State Senator Kyle Davison was “given the draft legislation by Lacee Bjork Anderson, a lobbyist with Odney Public Affairs in Bismarck. Ms. Anderson said in an interview that she had been hired by Epic Games, the maker of the popular game Fortnite.” Anderson said, “she was also being paid by the Coalition for App Fairness,” a nonprofit that includes Epic Games, alongside other companies such as Spotify, and that seeks “fair treatment by these app stores and the platform owners who operate them.”

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Epic hired its first lobbyists in late January, drawing on people from both sides of the political aisle. While it might look self-serving for Epic to be behind the legislation, the US government has been looking into big tech monopolies for a while. The Times reports that several states are exploring bills similar to North Dakota’s, or other measures that limit these companies’ power. While the bill, if it passes, would only apply to businesses operating in North Dakota, and only those that bring in over $10 million in revenue, it could change how Apple and its ilk do business. The Times writes that Apple has been pushing back against the legislation, and “Apple’s chief privacy engineer, Erik Neuenschwander, testified that the bill ‘threatens to destroy iPhone as you know it.’”

People with whom The Times spoke are uncertain if the bill will pass.

Even if you don’t want to hand it to Epic—and the company is certainly making it hard to—the issues the Fortnite case raises go beyond whether you can play a cartoon battle royale on your phone. (If you’ve lost track: no, you still can’t.) The case, currently set to go to trial in May, could benefit smaller developers and be a blow to Apple’s dominance over mobile apps if it goes in Epic’s favor. The North Dakota legislation might be another tool in Epic’s toolkit, and yet another example of the company turning its desire to line its pockets into a moral crusade. But either way, it’s about more than just Fortnite.

This App Uses Your Phone’s Camera to Automatically Count Up a Pile of Objects

Illustration for article titled This App Uses Your Phones Camera to Automatically Count Up a Pile of Objects

Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already mastered the skill of counting. But just because something is easy doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable, so the makers of a documenting-scanning app for smartphones has added a new AI-powered feature that can automatically count up similar objects in a photo for you. This is truly a gift for anyone cursed with counting inventory.

The iScanner app (which shows up as “PDF Scanner App – Scan Documents with iScanner” in the Google Play Store and “Scanner App: PDF Document Scan” in Apple’s App Store) is yet another example of cleverly leveraging an always-connected camera to do more than just intelligently make photos look prettier. The app’s actually designed to turn a smartphone’s camera into a document scanner by automating the process of color-correcting and straightening documents snapped at an angle as well as converting a page’s content to editable text using optical character recognition.

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Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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There’s no shortage of these types of apps in either app store, but where iScanner now differentiates itself is a new scanning mode called Count that can intelligently do exactly that based on what it sees in an image.

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Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

The process isn’t completely automated through AI, however. Once a photo of a group of objects is snapped you then need to zoom in and highlight an individual object so the app knows what it’s specifically supposed to be counting.

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Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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With enough light and contrast in an image, the automated counting is good, but probably a few software updates from being great. It tends to miss objects that aren’t a close visual match to the one you highlighted, but you can also manually add and subtract missed objects or misidentified objects by just tapping the screen. It’s not necessarily faster than counting 24 small bolts by hand, but for larger quantities it can genuinely speed up an otherwise arduous process.

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Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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The app gloriously failed the Raymond Babbitt test, however. Even after highlighting a secluded toothpick from a larger pile, iScanner failed to find any visual matches in the pile, ending its career as a potential casino card counter before it even starts. But given how quickly machine learning is evolving, it won’t take long for apps like this to become impressively capable at this skill. I can’t say I’ve ever had the need to count how many toothpicks I’ve spilled, but I’ve definitely got a desk covered in memory cards I’d love to quickly take stock of.

Leaked Android 12 Screenshots Show Some iOS-Like Changes Coming

Illustration for article titled Leaked Android 12 Screenshots Show Some iOS-Like Changes Coming

Screenshot: Google (Other)

While Google typically waits until much later in the spring to officially show off new updates and features, some leaked screenshots may have just given us an early look at changes coming to Android 12.

The leaked screenshots posted by XDA Developers are said to be part of an early draft sent out to developers meant to document and help explain changes coming in the next version of Android. Usually, these drafts contain preview source code and screenshots showing off new features, and while XDA wasn’t able to confirm their authenticity, many of these new features do seem to jive with early expectations for Android 12.

The most obvious change depicted in this screenshots is a new look for Android’s Quick Settings and Notification shade, which in these screenshots features a light beige background (which most likely changes dynamically depending on your background) and more room between icons, bumping the total number of displayed quick settings from six down to four.

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Illustration for article titled Leaked Android 12 Screenshots Show Some iOS-Like Changes Coming

Screenshot: Google (Other)

But more importantly, if you look in the top right corner, it appears Google has added new privacy indicators designed to more clearly highlight when an app is using your phone’s microphone or camera. Additionally, by tapping on the indicator icon, users will be able to see each individual app that is currently using your phone’s hardware, so there’s no confusion about what software may be compromising your privacy. Apple added similar indicators in iOS 14.

Digital privacy is slated to be a major focus in Android 12, and in addition to these new privacy indicators, the leaked screenshots indicate that Google is overhauling Android Privacy settings menu to include toggles that make it even easier to completely disable individual hardware components like your phone’s mic, cameras, GPS, and other sensors.

Illustration for article titled Leaked Android 12 Screenshots Show Some iOS-Like Changes Coming

Screenshot: Google (Other)

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And following Apple’s introduction of widgets in iOS 14, it appears that Google is adding a new Conversations widget in Android 12 that will make it easier to keep tabs on things like texts, calls, and more via a simple box on your home screen. It’s possible that the Conversation widget might end up being a mandatory feature in Android 12, as it would help tie in to Google’s People Shortcuts, which should make it faster and easier to share content with others.

At this point, Android is a very mature OS, so while you shouldn’t expect any major overhauls, it’s nice to see Google focus on things like privacy and sharing, which have become increasingly more important topics over the last few years.

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Typically, Google I/O is the big public launch for the next major Android beta version. Google canceled last year’s event due to the pandemic, so it remains unclear what the company has in store for later this spring.

Barcode-Scanning App for Android Pushed Malware Onto Millions of Phones

Illustration for article titled Barcode-Scanning App for Android Pushed Malware Onto Millions of Phones

Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi (Getty Images)

A popular app has been removed from Google Play after it was discovered to have delivered trojanized malware onto millions of users’ phones via an update.

Until recently, Barcode Scanner was a straightforward application that provided users with a basic QR code reader and barcode generator, useful for things like making purchases and redeeming discounts. The app, which has been around since at least 2017, is owned by developer Lavabird Ldt., and claims to have over 10 million downloads, the Wayback Machine shows.

However, a rash of malicious activity was recently traced back to the app. Users began noticing something weird going on with their phones: their default browsers kept getting hijacked and redirected to random advertisements, seemingly out of nowhere. For a number of people, it wasn’t clear what was causing the disruptions—as many hadn’t recently downloaded any apps. After enough peeved victims wrote about their experiences on a web forum, one user ultimately pointed the finger at Barcode.

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Researchers with Malwarebytes have verified the scanner is the culprit, releasing a new report that shows it delivered the ad-producing malware onto users’ phones, probably via a December update. The update spoiled the previously benign app—taking it from “an innocent scanner to full on malware,” researchers write.

Illustration for article titled Barcode-Scanning App for Android Pushed Malware Onto Millions of Phones

Screenshot: Lucas Ropek: Wayback Machine/Google Play

Researchers distinguish Barcode’s ad-pushing malware from basic ad SDKs—programs used by publishers to launch in-app advertising for monetization purposes—claiming that “this was not the case” with Barcode Scanner. Whoever injected the malicious code used heavy obfuscation to hide the fact that it was there, researchers say, adding that the app appears to have been intentionally transformed from a normal app into a malicious one via the update. They write:

It is frightening that with one update an app can turn malicious while going under the radar of Google Play Protect. It is baffling to me that an app developer with a popular app would turn it into malware. Was this the scheme all along, to have an app lie dormant, waiting to strike after it reaches popularity? I guess we will never know.

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While Google has yanked Barcode Scanner from its app store, it is not gone from affected devices. Users of the app will still have to manually uninstall it from their phones.

Barcode Scanner’s owner, Lavabird Ltd., was incorporated in 2020 and is registered at an address in London, according to available online records. The company’s director, Dmytro Kizema, resides in Ukraine.

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Gizmodo has reached out to Lavabird and will update if we hear back.

Google Deletes 100,000 Negative Reviews of Robinhood App From Angry Users

Illustration for article titled Google Deletes 100,000 Negative Reviews of Robinhood App From Angry Users

Photo: Patrick Sison (AP)

Google removed at least 100,000 negative reviews of the stock trading app Robinhood from the Google Play app store after angry users sent a flood of critical reviews that caused the app’s rating to plummet on Thursday. The app’s rating went from roughly four stars out of five on Wednesday to just one star on Thursday. Robinhood users were understandably upset after the company halted purchases of GameStop’s stock and other stocks promoted by Reddit’s WallStreetBets community.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the tech giant has deleted the reviews and defended the move overnight, telling Gizmodo over email that it has rules against “coordinated or inorganic reviews.” Gizmodo asked how negative reviews could be deemed “inorganic” when people seem reasonably upset about Robinhood’s actions in recent days. Google stopped responding to Gizmodo’s emails after that inquiry.

Robinhood’s rating on the Google Play app store has rebounded to over four stars since Google deleted the negative reviews. The app also has a 4.7 rating on Apple’s app store, though it’s not clear what kind of moderation Apple has done of its reviews for Robinhood this week.

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There are still questions about what actually led Robinhood to halt purchases of stocks picked by Reddit’s WallStreetBets on Thursday—stocks that include not just GameStop but Nokia, Blackberry, and AMC Theaters, among others. An early theory was that hedge funds which had shorted the stocks had leaned on Robinhood to halt trading, but an alternate theory emerged that Robinhood simply didn’t have the cash flow to continue processing so many stock purchases.

The latter theory seems to have been bolstered by a new report early Friday from the New York Times claiming Robinhood has raised roughly $1 billion from existing investors like Sequoia Capital and Ribbit Capital. Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev denied the company was having liquidity problems on CNBC yesterday, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t anticipating liquidity problems in the very near future.

Robinhood users angry with the company’s decision to halt purchases of GameStop filed a class action lawsuit on Thursday, a move that would seem to give credence to the idea that a negative app rating on Google Play isn’t necessarily “inorganic.”

It’s been a turbulent week on the stock market, as activist retail investors on Reddit have shown the entire system to be a scam in favor of the wealthy. But no one knows where that will leave U.S. financial markets in the coming days and weeks.

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Most Americans know in their heart of hearts that the game is rigged. But this week’s actions by activist investors on Reddit have really made the rules plain for the entire world to see. The wealthy will not tolerate average people making money while they suffer.

The question is how far hedge fund managers and other wealthy people are willing to take this to defend their class interests. If history is any guide, the answer is “pretty damn far.”

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YouTube, Gmail, and Everything Else Google, Is Down Right Now [Update: Everything Should Be Back]

Illustration for article titled YouTube, Gmail, and Everything Else Google, Is Down Right Now [Update: Everything Should Be Back]

Illustration: YouTube.com

It’s not just you. YouTube, Gmail, and just about every conceivable Google-based service, from Google Docs to Google Play Movies to Google Calendar, is down right now across several parts of the globe, including the U.S., UK, Japan, India, and Australia, among a host of other countries.

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Other services that appear to be impacted by the outage are Google Classroom, Google Home, and Nest, which is also owned by Google. Down Detector also reports that Discord has been having trouble since at least 7:04 a.m. ET. as well.

“We are aware that many of you are having issues accessing YouTube right now – our team is aware and looking into it. We’ll update you here as soon as we have more news,” Team YouTube said in a tweet Monday morning.

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We’d love to email Google for comment about this outage, but Gizmodo’s email also uses Google. Time to fire up that old Hotmail account from 1998.

Google search appears to be functioning, at least from the home page, though there were earlier reports that even search wasn’t working.

Google’s own Workspace Status Dashboard shows virtually everything glowing red, including Google Maps, Google Analytics, and Google Voice.

Curiously, YouTube appears to be working in Incognito mode on the Google Chrome browser, which is signed out of any accounts by default, though it’s not immediately clear why.

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The Google Home outage seems to be leaving some people quite literally in the dark, like former Gizmodo editor-in-chief Joe Brown, who can’t turn on the lights in his toddler’s room.

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Other users report the Nest outage is leaving them without the ability to turn on the heat.

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Update, 7:50 a.m. ET: Anecdotally, we can say that Gizmodo staffers in Australia and Canada both have access to Gmail and YouTube again. We’ve reached out to Google and are still waiting to hear back about the cause of the outage and what parts of the globe might still be experiencing trouble.

Update, 11:44 a.m. ET: Google sent Gizmodo the following statement:

Today, at 3.47AM PT Google experienced an authentication system outage for approximately 45 minutes due to an internal storage quota issue. Services requiring users to log in experienced high error rates during this period. The authentication system issue was resolved at 4:32AM PT. All services are now restored. We apologise to everyone affected, and we will conduct a thorough follow up review to ensure this problem cannot recur in the future.

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