Google shuts down its Cloud Print service after 10-year Beta

Google revealed plans to shut down Cloud Print, a cloud-based printing solution, at the end of 2020 permanently.

The company launched Cloud Print back in 2010 as a solution to print from any Internet connected device to compatible printers. The main benefit of the solution was that users did not have to install printer drivers on their client devices and that devices did not need to be in the same local network as the printer. The solution enabled printing on devices without official support from the printer’s manufacturer or drivers for that particular device.

On Windows users could install the Google Cloud Printer application to add cloud printing functionality to the operating system.

One of the downsides of Cloud Print was that documents had to be transferred to Google. Google stated that it kept a copy of the document only for as long as needed to complete the print job.

google shuts down cloud print

A support page on the Google website informs users about the upcoming termination of Cloud Print. According to the information on the page, Cloud Print will continue to function until December 31, 2020. Google will shut down the service on January 1, 2021 and that means that “devices across all operating systems will no longer be able to print using Google Cloud Print”.

Google lists a number of options on the support page, aimed specifically at Chrome OS administrators and users. The company recommends native printing which it says has improved significantly. Among the options are printing over USB or a local network through Common Unix Printing System, or Enterprise and Education specific native printing options.

Affected users may be able to use Google Cloud Print alternatives such as Free Mobility Print for Android.

Closing Words

It is not uncommon for Google to shut down products and the sheer reach of the company means that shutdowns affect a large number of customers. Google users affected by shutdowns may be more cautious when it comes to using new Google products (such as Stadia).  The decision to shut down Google Print will make things more complicated for some.

Now You: Have you used Cloud Print? What is your take on the shutdown?

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Google Password audits all your passwords to reveal weak, reused or compromised passwords

Google Password, an online service that stores passwords of user accounts, may now audit all stored passwords to reveal weak, reused or compromised passwords to the account owner.

The company announced the new feature on October 2, 2019 on the official Safety & Security blog alongside other privacy improvements to various Google-owned services and products.

Passwords get synchronized between Chrome installations using the online password manager if the user signs-in to Google Chrome and enables sync functionality in the browser.

password checkup

The new password auditing functionality is already available. Here is how you start an audit of your saved passwords using the Google Password manager:

  1. Load in your browser of choice. If you are not signed-in to a Google account you are asked to do so. The page that opens is the Security management page of the account.
  2. Scroll down on the page until you get to the “signing in to other sites” section at the bottom of the page. Select the “Password Manager” option there.
  3. The page that opens lists all saved passwords and a “password checkup” option at the top. Select the “check passwords” link underneath it.
  4. The next page reveals what the tool does (checks the security of stored passwords). Activate the “check passwords” button on the page.
  5. You are asked to enter the account password again. Click on Next once you have done so.
  6. Google analyzes the passwords and groups passwords into compromised, reused and weak lists on the results page.

password check compromised weak

Green indicates that no issue has been found, other colors indicate issues that need your attention. The screenshot above shows that two weak passwords were identified by Google.

A click on the down arrow next to the entry displays the accounts and an option to change the password for each of the accounts. You may click on the menu icon next to an entry to display options to view the password, update the saved password, or delete it.

The change password links opens the linked URL; you have to figure out how to change the password on the site manually at that point.

Google may not recognize that the password changed if you don’t use Chrome; you need to use the manual update password option in that case to get it to update.

Chrome password management improvements

Google published a Password Checkup extension for the company’s Chrome browser in February 2019 designed to inform users about password related issues.

The tool checks passwords when they are used against a database of leaked (and thus potentially compromised) passwords. Users are informed if passwords that they use are found in the database and encouraged to change these.

In August 2019, Google announced that it would integrate the password checker directly in the Chrome web browser.

Closing Words

Google is not the only browser maker that is improving password management and security capabilities. Mozilla launched Firefox Monitor in 2018 as a way to receive alerts about breaches and has plans to update the built-in password manager as well.

Options to check passwords and email addresses against leak databases are also available independently.

Now You: how do you manage passwords and keep an eye on them?

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Disable auto-invites to combat Google Calendar Spam

Google Calendar spam is not a new phenomenon; it has plagued Google Calendar users for years and spam seems to come and go in waves. Recently, users started to report an increase in Google Calendar spam. Spam comes in many forms but the two main categories fall into advertising and outright malicious messages.

Google Calendar customers who did not receive spam invites up until now may wonder how that invite got accepted in first place; it is easy to explain: Google Calendar has a feature that automatically adds invitations to Calendar.

All an attacker needs to do is send you an invite using the right format and et voila, the invite becomes visible in Google Calendar.

What makes this particularly problematic, besides the fact that this feature is opt-out and not opt-in, is that the mobile Google Calendar application does not even have the option to disable this.

Here is how you disable auto-invites in Google Calendar

google calendar disable auto invites

  1. Open the Google Calendar application in a browser on a desktop PC. If you try to open the Calendar website on a mobile device you may be redirected to the Calendar application automatically.
  2. Open the Settings menu when the website has loaded and select Settings from the context menu (you need to sign-in to your Google account).
  3. Select Event Settings from the menu on the left or scroll down to the Event settings section on the page.
  4. The setting “Automatically add invitations” needs to be adjusted. It is set to Yes by default which means that invitations are accepted automatically; this is the source of the spam that you receive on Google Calendar.
  5. Switch the value of the setting to “No, only show invitations to which I have responded”.

google calendar disable show declined events

If you still receive spam after making that change, follow the instructions below:

  1. Open the Google Calendar settings again on the desktop.
  2. Scroll down to the “View options” section or click on View Options in the sidebar to jump to the section on activation.
  3. Uncheck the “show declined events” option; this hides declined events in Calendar automatically.
  4. Scroll down to Events from Gmail.
  5. Disable “Automatically add events from Gmail to my Calendar”.

Note that you may need to disable the “show declined events” on the mobile Calendar application as well if you still see those there and use it.

Disabling automatic invites could make things a little less comfortable for Google customers who share calendars with others and used to use the auto-invite system in the past.

Now You: Do you use Google Calendar? Did you receive spam as of lately? (via Caschy)

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Not everyone likes the new Google Images preview format

More and more users of Google Images, the image search engine operated by Google, are switched over to a new display format and design.

Google Images is a popular search engine to find photos and other imagery. The company changed Google Images significantly several times in recent time. It removed the View Image button in 2018 and revealed in 2019 that it would introduce what it called shoppable ads to the image search service.

Chrome and Firefox users could install View Image extensions to bring back the functionality or switch to a search engine like Startpage that still featured the functionality.

While it is almost certain that browser extensions or scripts will become available to restore the old Google Images layout, none seem to be available at the time of writing.

The core change moves the preview of the selected image search result from a centered preview area to the right side.

google images right side preview

The image preview size remains the size for the majority of images and it is possible to browse other images returned as results while the preview window is open. Users may also notice that the preview area is fixed which means that less “jumping” takes place when new results are selected from the list of search results.

One point of criticism is that the new layout limits the size of the preview. While that is not a problem for small images, it is one for larger images, e.g. 1080p images or 4K photos. The preview area has a fixed size and while it changes based on the size of the browser window, it is not possible to change the search results to preview area ratio on Google Images.

Related images displayed underneath the preview are larger than before, but fewer are displayed next to each other on the screen.

Closing Words

I don’t use Google Images anymore as I prefer the image search of the Startpage search engine and Bing search engine. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Bing’s preview feature as it displays the selected image in an overlay. I do like Bing’s video search functionality better than that of YouTube, but that is another story entirely.

Now You: what is your take on the new Google Images preview layout?

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Any Google Photos media (photos, videos) you share becomes public

Google Photos is a popular photo hosting service and application that millions of people use on a daily basis. Part of its popularity comes from the fact that the service is deeply integrated into most Android devices.

Google Photos supports management features including options to view photos, create albums, and share photos or albums with others.

Sharing works fluently; if you use the web version, all you have to do is pick one or multiple photos or albums, and hit the share button to get started.

You can create links to the selection, share the selection with select Google contacts, or on Facebook or Twitter.

share google photos public

Tech savvy Internet users may well be aware that the selected photos need to be publicly available if the “create link” sharing option is selected. They too, might not know however, that this is also the case if you share photos with Google contacts.

In fact, regardless of which share option you select, all photos and video files that you share are publicly accessible the moment you execute the command.

You can try it out yourself by opening this URL. I shared an image with Ghacks’ author Mike, but you will notice that you can view it just fine.

Google confirms this on a support page but does not highlight the fact in the share interface where it would be more appropriate.

Google uses obfuscation of the address as the only defense against unauthorized access. The structure of the URL makes it unlikely that anyone may guess the URL to access photos unless a flaw in the algorithm is found to improve predictions.

Obfuscation may prevent brute force attempts but third-parties may get hold of links to shared media on Google Photos through other means such as network monitoring, accidental sharing, or unencrypted email.

Anyone with access to the link may view the shared media, even if they are not signed in to a Google Account.

Robert Wiblin published his findings on Medium noting that Google Photos does not reveal the fact to the customer. There is also no information that Google customers may look at to determine how often and by whom the shared photos were viewed.

To make matters worse, the service offers no information on how shared media can be disabled so that others may not access it anymore. Google Photos users need to access the sharing menu,, hover over the album, click on the menu that appears, and select “delete album” to delete the album or hunt down the option to stop sharing the link in the album options.

Google Photos uses a different system than Google Drive even though the interfaces look very similar. When you share a file using Google Drive, only selected recipients may access it initially unless the user explicitly changes the visibility.

Closing Words

There is nothing wrong with sharing media using Google Photos provided that you know that these images and videos will only be protected by the URL. Google should make this clear right there in the share menu and maybe consider integrating the Google Drive share functionality to make it possible to share photos and videos with individuals and groups without making them public.

Google users who don’t want shared media to become publicly accessible may want to consider using Google Drive instead for the sharing, or use third-party services like Microsoft’s OneDrive which support password protections and expiration dates.

Now You: What is your take on this?

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Google is recording and listening to customer voice interactions

Devices like Google Home, Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa have risen in popularity in recent years. Their main purpose is to make life easier for people, by answering questions or controlling certain functionality such as music playback.

The devices are powered by activation phrases. Google customers need to say “Okay Google” to activate the device and communicate with it. A customer could ask for the local weather for the day or about traffic, and the device would provide the answer to that if the question is understood accurately.

Opponents of these devices have privacy concerns, some claim that people put spying devices into their homes and workplaces when they set up these smart voice powered devices.

google voice audio activity

A recent report by Belgian TV station VRT NWS confirms some of these concerns, at least to a degree.  According to the report, anything that is said while the devices are activat is recorded and stored by the company. Even worse from a privacy point of view, some employees listen to some of the conversations to train the algorithm.

VRT NWS reporters spoke to one of Google’s subcontractors who showed the reporters the system. According to the report, Google has thousands of people worldwide listening to audio excerpts; in Flanders and Holland alone about a dozen people.

The subcontractor revealed that the system is used to train the algorithm so that it better understands the “subtle differences and characteristics of the Dutch language”, and that the same is true for other listening operations and languages in other regions.

Speech recognition creates a transcript of recordings automatically and one of the main tasks of employees working on this is to listen to the conversations and make sure that the transcript is accurate.

Google attempts to anonymous the data before it is made available to employees but automated anonymization is never 100% accurate. While Google removes names of users and other identifying information, it is not changing the recording itself. Users who reveal personal and private information when they speak to the device have that recorded. The employees see the transcript and listen to the conversation, and that may lead to the uncovering of identities.

The team of reporters listened to more than a thousand excerpts including more than 150 that were recorded even though the activation word was not given clearly. Devices are programmed with a certain level of tolerance to make sure that activation words are recognized even if the phrase is not pronounced clearly. Downside to this is that conversations may be recorded even if the participants never wanted to communicate with the smart device.

A Google statement about the incident confirms that the company is reviewing “around 0.2% of all recordings”.

Closing Words

How many smart voice activation device owners know that what they say is recorded by the company that produces these devices? How many know that “real” people may listen to their conversations, and would that change how they interact with these devices or even make them stop using them at all?

Now You: do you own or use Smart voice activated devices?

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Important Changes coming to Google Photos and Google Drive

Google revealed on June 12, 2019 that it plans to “simplify the experience across Drive and Photos” by disabling the automatic synchronization of photos and videos between Google Drive and Google Photos.

Photos and videos that users take using Google Photos are automatically synced to Google Drive currently, a useful option for Google customers who like to push media to their desktop devices using Google Drive. Similarly, new photos and videos added to Google Drive will show up in the Photos application as well.

Starting July 10, automatic syncing will be disabled. The change has no effect on existing photos on either platform but it has an effect on new media and the locations you may access your media.

Photos or videos that users take using Google Photos won’t be pushed to Google Drive anymore automatically, and media that Google customers add to Google Drive won’t show up in the Photos application anymore.

Google plans to add an option to the online service that gives customers the option to select photos and videos from Google Drive that they would like to add to the Photos application. Google customers may use it to push some media files to the Photos application.

Backup and Sync applications for PC and Mac can be used to upload media files to both services in high and original quality. High quality uploads from the desktop don’t count against the available storage quota, original quality uploads will count against the quota but only once if uploaded to both services.

Media that is copied between Google Drive and Google Photos in original quality counts towards the storage quota; if media is saved in both services, it counts twice against the storage limit.

Confusion and side-effects

google drive photos sync disabled

Google stated that it wants to make things easier for its customers. While it can certainly be confusing if photos are stored in multiple places automatically and synced between services, it is clear that the decision to remove the automatic synchronization without options to enable the feature manually impacts other customers.

One side-effect of the change is that the automated option to sync photos from a mobile device to Google Drive and from there to a desktop system is not available anymore.

Is there still an option to sync photos from Android devices to desktop PCs directly without using third-party applications? Third-party sync clients like Microsoft’s OneDrive or Dropbox support the syncing of photos with accounts and thus also the syncing to desktop PCs these clients run on.

It is still possible to download photos from to the local device, but that is a manual process and not automated. Another manual option that users have is to connect the mobile device to the desktop system directly to transfer media; some operating systems support automated transfers of media when mobile devices are connected.

It is getting more difficult to transfer media from mobile devices to desktop systems when Google products and services are used. A positive side-effect of this, at least for Google, is that customers may spend more time on the Photos website especially so if they don’t use other sync clients or connect their devices directly.

Google released the new Photos application with unlimited storage back in 2015 and customers could push media from Google Drive to Photos to free up space.

Now you: Why is Google making the change? What is your take on it?

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How to delete your Google Web and App Activity automatically

Google customers may use a new setting to have their web and application activity deleted automatically. The new feature complements the existing options to pause the recording of web and app activity and manual deletion of activity of a Google account.

Google revealed in the beginning of May 2019 that it was about to roll out a new privacy feature that would give customers options to have their activity deleted automatically.

The company gives customers control over the recording of some activity on the My Activity management page. Google customers find options on the page to manage YouTube, Web & App, Voice & Audio, Location, and Device activity and information.

All of these can be paused to disable the recording of activity; existing data may be deleted manually at any time.

Web & App Activity is the first control to get a new feature that automates the deletion of data. The new option may be of interest to Google customers who have not paused the recording of the activity data mostly.

Web & App Activity data is recorded when Google customers use services such as Maps, Google Search, or Google Play.  Google notes that it uses the data to create personalized experiences.

Your Web & App Activity includes the things you do on Google services, like Maps, Search, and Play. It can also include things you do on sites, apps, and devices that use Google services. The activity you keep is used to give you more personalized experiences, like faster searches and more helpful app and content recommendations.

Tip: Google released a privacy checkup option in 2016 to audit privacy settings.

How to delete Google Web & Activity Data automatically

google web app activity delete automatically

You may set up the automatic deletion of data of your Google activity even if you have paused Web & App Activity.

Here is how you configure the automatic deletion of Web & Activity Data on Google’s My Activity management page:

  1. Visit the Web & App Activity page on the Google My Activity website. Note that you need to be signed in to a Google Account; if you are not, you are asked to sign in.
  2. Locate the new “choose to delete automatically” button under Web & App Activity near the top and activate it.
  3. Select one of the available data retention periods. Google offers two currently: 3 or 18 months.
  4. Select Next.
  5. Google displays a confirmation on the next page and data that will be deleted (if any) based on the new data retention setting.
  6. Select Confirm to finalize the process and enable the new data retention policy or cancel to exit without saving and deleting.

delete google data

google activity setting delete

Google confirms the deletion of the data when you hit the confirm button. The button on the main Web & App Activity page changes to “choose how long to keep” from “choose to delete automatically” when you set up automatic deletion of activity data.

Google will delete activity data when it crosses the selected retention threshold.

Closing Words

Automatic deletion of data is a step in the right direction. I’d like to see an option to set a custom time period, e.g. 1 month or 1 year, as it would improve the option further. Privacy conscious users may want to disable the recording of activity or, preferred, avoid using Google services while signed-in to an account. The latter may not be possible all the time though depending on the activity on the Web.

Now You: What is your take on the new option?

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Google is about to change the account access permission workflow

Google plans to roll out a change soon that it says improves the privacy and security of Google customers when web applications request access to a user’s account.

Web applications may request access to Google account data, for example when the app needs to interact with data such as calendars, documents, files, or emails of a Google user account.

Up until now, Google customers see a single screen that lists all requested permissions (after selecting an account if multiple are linked to that particular user).

Each permission is listed on the same page and a small (i) icon next to each permission provides additional information when selected.

google old permission requests

In the near future, applications will have to separate permission requests so that each is displayed on its own screen in the process.

Going forward, consumers will get more fine-grained control over what account data they choose to share with each app. Instead of seeing all requested permissions in a single screen, apps will have to show you each requested permission, one at a time, within its own dialog box.

So, instead of requiring a customer to hit “allow” just once to accept all permission requests, Google customers get individual screens for each requested permission that they need to accept individually.

One consequence of that is that the process takes longer if an application requests more than one permission.

Google will prompt the customer to allow or deny access to each requested permission individually. Permission prompts will state the requested permissions, e.g. save, edit, share, and permanently delete, and the data or product, e.g. Google Calendar or Google Drive, the permissions apply to.

new google permission prompts

One core difference, apart from the splitting of permissions, is that the prompt reveals more about the requested access type right away. Current prompts just state “manage your calendars” or “view and manage the files in your Google Drive” but lack additional details. Some users may find the current permission requests unclear and the new prompts change that.

Google displays all requested permissions and the customer’s response (deny or allow) on a final screen. The “finish signing in” screen features another option to cancel the entire process but also a sign in button to give the application the requested permissions.

Closing Words

It remains to be seen if the splitting of permission requests improves user awareness and choice, or if it results in another “allow, allow, allow” kind of behavior similar to next, next, next of Windows program installation dialogs.

Now You: What is your take on the change?

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Google's blocking new Microsoft Edge from accessing new design

Another accidental oops by Google that affects a competing web browser in a negative way; this time, users of the new Microsoft Edge browser are affected and the Google site that kicks Microsoft’s browser this time is YouTube.

Microsoft Edge users may still access YouTube but they only get the old design at the time. Some may not mind, as the old design offers better performance than the new. Others may object to the blocking of the new layout on YouTube as it works perfectly fine in Microsoft’s browser.

If you check out in Microsoft Edge, you get a “your browser is not supported” message. That message is followed by the obligatory “get Google Chrome” instead message. Since there is no explanation as to why Edge is not supported while the classic Edge and other browsers are supported, some may switch to Google Chrome if the browser is not installed already.

google youtube not supported

Microsoft Edge users will notice that live chat is not working as well in the client at the time. YouTube displays a notification that the browser needs to be updated because it appears to be an older version.

There is no newer version, however.

live chat nono edge

The new Microsoft Edge browser is not available as a stable version at the time of writing and things may not work correctly in preview versions.

If a web browser supports features required to display a website on the other hand, that website should not go out of its way to block it from content or features.

If you change the user agent in the new Microsoft Edge, you will notice that you get access to the new YouTube design all of a sudden.

browser works

Live chat still does not work when you change the user agent though.

Closing Words

Microsoft has been anti-competitive in the past and some hold this against the company even today. My stance is that any form of anti-competitive behavior, especially from a position of power — regardless if done on purpose, neglect, or accident — is something that companies should be reprimanded for.

YouTube blocking Edge from functionality is not the first Google property that put a spoke in the new Microsoft Edge’s wheel. Google Docs displayed an “unsupported browser” message to Edge users as well on any document page on the site.

Firefox was on the receiving end for a very long time and a former Mozilla executive accused Google recently of using a sustained pattern of “oops” and “delay” that hurt the browser immensely.

One interesting takeaway from this is that Google is still in a position to hurt competing browsers (be it actively or accidentally) even if these browsers use the same engine as Google Chrome.

Now You: What is your take on this development? Anything that can be done about it? (via Deskmodder)

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