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Main article: Gmail

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Metacert’ Cryptonite can catch phishing links in your email

23:00 | 13 November

Metacert, founded by Paul Walsh, originally began as a way to watch chat rooms for fake Ethereum scams. Walsh, who was an early experimenter in cryptocurrencies, grew frustrated when he saw hackers dumping fake links into chat rooms, resulting in users regularly losing cash to scammers.

Now Walsh has expanded his software to email. A new product built for email will show little green or red shields next to links, confirming that a link is what it appears to be. A fake link would appear red while a real PayPal link, say, would appear green. The plugin works with Apple’s Mail app on the iPhone and is called Cryptonite.

“The system utilizes the MetaCert Protocol infrastructure/registry,” said Walsh. “It contains 10 billion classified URLs. This is at the core of all of MetaCert’s products and services. It’s a single API that’s used to protect over 1 million crypto people on Telegram via a security bot and it’s the same API that powers the integration that turned off phishing for the crypto world in 2017. Even when links are shortened? MetaCert unfurls them until it finds the real destination site, and then checks the Protocol to see if it’s verified, unknown or classified as phishing. It does all this in less that 300ms.”

Walsh is also working on a system to scan for Fake News in the wild using a similar technology to his anti-phishing solution. The company is raising currently and is working on a utility token.

Walsh sees his first customers as enterprise and expects IT shops to implement the software to show employees which links are allowed, i.e. company or partner links, and which ones are bad.

“It’s likely we will approach this top down and bottom up, which is unusual for enterprise security solutions. But ours is an enterprise service that anyone can install on their phone in less than a minute,” he said. “SMEs isn’t typically a target market for email security companies but we believe we can address this massive market with a solution that’s not scary to setup and expensive to support. More research is required though, to see if our hypothesis is right.”

“With MetaCert’s security, training is reduced to a single sentence ‘if it doesn’t have a green shield, assume it’s not safe,” said Walsh.



Gmail’s iOS app gets a unified inbox

22:14 | 30 October

Gmail users on iOS are getting a notable upgrade today: a unified inbox. While Android users have had the option to see multiple inboxes in a single view, iOS users – until now – have had to switch accounts by tapping between them in the app’s navigation.

Many people today have more than one email account, often using one for work, another for personal, and one to give out more publicly – their “junk” inbox, so to speak. Some have multiple inboxes for multiple jobs or job roles. And some access a shared inbox along with others on a work team.

But moving among accounts has required a bit of tapping around, if you used Gmail on iOS.

With today’s iOS update, there’s instead the option to use the new “All Inboxes” view from the left-hand side drawer. This will show all your emails in a single list, Google says.

The option works with both G Suite and non-G Suite accounts, including third-party IMAP accounts, the company notes.

Though a unified inbox is a seemingly minor feature, it’s the sort of thing that has driven many Gmail iOS users to third-party apps, since Gmail itself was lacking. That may now change.

The feature is rolling out to Gmail and G Suite users over the next 15 days.



Google launches compose actions to streamline access to SaaS apps in GMail

19:03 | 18 October

Lately, Google has been all about shaving time off your everyday activities when sending emails. First they came out with smart responses that let you choose among several (sometimes) logical responses to the email. Next was type ahead, which guesses what you might want to type with remarkable accuracy. Today the company announced the general availability of compose actions, another way to save you a little time.

These connectors, which are part of the company’s G Suite business offering, link to your favorite SaaS applications like Box, Dropbox, Egnyte and Atlassian Jira and let you work on these service in the context of the email. Software companies have been stressing ways to keep you in the flow of your work without switching focus and that’s precisely what compose actions have been designed to do.

“Compose actions make it easy for you to add attachments, reference records, or liven up your messages with content from your favorite third-party apps right as you draft your message in Gmail,” Aakash Sahney, Google’s product manager for GMail and Chat wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

You start by connecting your service of choice in G Suite using the GMail Add-on tool. Google created GMail Add-ons to make it simpler to integrate these third-party tools into the GMail workflow. Once you authorize the tool, it will now appear as an option in your compose window, giving you direct access to the content without leaving GMail. G Suite admins can create a list of authorized apps if they wish to limit the integrations to sanctioned services.

If you want to incorporate a file or folder from Box, Dropbox or Egnyte, authorize the app and then you can click the compose action that appears in the email compose window to access the service and pull in a file.

Gif: Google

With the Atlassian integration, you can insert a project file directly in the email.

Gif: Google

This may not seem like much, but it’s all in the service of reducing keystrokes and actions that tend to add up in terms of time spent over the course of a day. Instead of opening your content provider’s service, navigating or searching to the content, copying it and then pasting into the email, you can simply click the compose action and access the service directly from GMail.

Compose actions were first announced at the Google Cloud Next conference in July. They are available for G Suite subscribers starting today.



Here’s how Google is revamping Gmail and Android security

21:28 | 8 October

Eager to change the conversation from their years-long exposure of user data via Google+ to the bright, shining future the company is providing, Google has announced some changes to the way permissions are approved for Android apps. The new process will be slower, more deliberate, and hopefully secure.

The changes are part of “Project Strobe,” a “root-and-branch review of third-party developer access to Google account and Android device data and our philosophy around apps’ data access.” Essentially they decided it was time to update the complex and likely not entirely cohesive set of rules and practices around those third-party developers and API access.

One of those roots (or perhaps branches) was the bug discovered inside Google+, which theoretically (the company can’t tell if it was abused or not) exposed non-public profile data to apps that should have received only a user’s public profile. This, combined with the fact that Google+ never really justified its own existence in the first place, led to the service essentially being shut down. “The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement,” Google admitted. “90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

But the team doing the review has plenty of other suggestions to improve the process of informed consent to sharing data with third parties.

The first change is the most user-facing. When an application wants to access your Google account data — say your Gmail, Calendar, and Drive contents for a third-party productivity app — you’ll have to approve each one of those separately. You’ll also have the opportunity to deny access to one or more of those requests, so if you never plan on using the Drive functionality, you can just nix it and the app will never get that permission.

These permissions can also be delayed and gated behind the actions that require them. For instance, if this theoretical app wanted to give you the opportunity to take a picture to add to an email, it wouldn’t have to ask up front when you download it. Instead, when you tap the option to attach a picture, it would ask permission to access the camera then and there. Google went into a little more detail on this in a post on its developer blog.

Notably there is only the option to “deny” or “allow,” but no “deny this time” or “allow this time,” which I find to be useful when you’re not totally on board with the permission in question. You can always revert the setting manually but it’s nice to have the option to say “okay, just this once, strange app.”

The changes will start rolling out this month, so don’t be surprised if things look a little different next time you download a game or update an app.

The second and third changes have to do with limiting what data from your Gmail and messaging can be accessed by apps, and what apps can be granted access in the first place.

Specifically, Google is restricting access to these sensitive data troves to apps “directly enhancing email functionality” for Gmail and your default calling and messaging apps for call logs and SMS data.

There are some edge cases where this might be annoying to power users; some have more than one messaging app that falls back to SMS or integrates SMS replies, and this might require those apps to take a new approach. And apps that want access to these things may have trouble convincing Google’s review authorities that they qualify.

Developers will also need to review and agree to a new set of rules governing what Gmail data can be used, how they can use it, and the measures they must have in place to protect it. For example, apps are not allowed to “transfer or sell the data for other purposes such as targeting ads, market research, email campaign tracking, and other unrelated purposes.” That probably puts a few business models out of the running.

Apps looking to handle Gmail data will also have to submit a report detailing “application penetration testing, external network penetration testing, account deletion verification, reviews of incident response plans, vulnerability disclosure programs, and information security policies.” No fly-by-night operations permitted, clearly.

There will also be additional scrutiny on what permissions developers ask for to make sure it matches up with what their app requires. If you ask for Contacts access but don’t actually use it for anything, you’ll be asked to remove that, since it only increases risk.

These various new requirements will go into effect next year, with application review (a multi-week process) starting on January 9; tardy developers will see their apps stop working at the end of March if they don’t comply.

The relatively short timeline here suggests that some apps may in fact shut down temporarily or permanently due to the rigors of the review process. Don’t be surprised if early next year you get an update saying service may be interrupted due to Google review policies or the like.

These changes are just the first handful issuing from the recommendations of Project Strobe; we can expect more to appear over the next few months, though perhaps not such striking ones. To say Gmail and Android apps are widely used is something of an understatement, so it’s understandable that they would be focused on first, but there are many other policies and services the company will no doubt find reason to improve.



Security experts say Chrome 69’s ‘forced login’ feature violates user privacy

16:45 | 24 September

A new feature in the latest version of Google Chrome that logs users into the browser when they sign in to a Google site has come under heavy criticism.

Until recently, it was the user’s choice to log-in to the browser. Now, any time that you sign in to a Google site in Chrome 69 — like Google Search, Gmail or YouTube — Chrome will also log you in, too.

But the change has left users unclear why the “feature” was pushed on them in the first place. Many security folks have already panned the move as unwanted behavior, arguing it violates their privacy. Some users had good reasons not to want to be logged into Chrome, but now Chrome seems to takes that decision away from the user.

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins, rebuked the move in a blog post over the weekend, arguing that the new “forced login” feature blurs the once-strong barrier between “never logged in” and “signed in” — and erodes user trust.

“Where Facebook will routinely change privacy settings and apologize later, Google has upheld clear privacy policies that it doesn’t routinely change,” said Green. “Sure, when it collects, it collects gobs of data, but in the cases where Google explicitly makes user security and privacy promises — it tends to keep them.”

“This seems to be changing,” he said.

Google staff defended the change on Twitter, said there was little to worry about — that the change was designed to only alert the user

, and that the browser wouldn’t sync their bookmarks, browsing history and passwords across devices without permission.

Tying my browsing history to an identity *implicitly* has privacy implications, even if I somehow avoid the option that uploads this data to Google.

— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green)

Green conceded that although Google is not syncing data from the beginning, the user interface makes it difficult to know if browser data is shared with Google once a user is logged in. The “dark pattern” of the browser’s logged-in user interface now makes it possible to trick

by mistake. Once your data is shared, there’s little a user can do to pull back. Without giving his explicit consent to have his data synced in future, he said Google could later decide, as it did with the “forced login” feature, to switch on the browser sync feature without telling anyone.

“Just because you’re violating my privacy doesn’t make it OK to add a massive new violation,” he said.

The Chrome guys get a lot right. This isn’t one of them. https://t.co/H1LoY9llho

— Ryan Naraine (@ryanaraine)

Sadly I noticed I’m logged in to Chrome on my work account. Moving over to Firefox this morning. I agree about the “dark pattern” on the Sync “button”. https://t.co/jO7k1KrktP

— John Graham-Cumming (@jgrahamc)

Trust is a fickle thing. Chrome isn’t just seen as secure and trustworthy, but many see it as neutral, Green said — a free and open source tool, rather than an extension of Google other core businesses. By breaking down that “sacred wall” between the two has users rattled — and some wanting to switch from Chrome altogether.

What may have been a helpful feature on paper to stop users from accidentally using someone else’s account on a shared computer has blown up in Google’s faces — and not because of the decision, but because users weren’t given a choice.



Say goodbye to Inbox by Gmail

21:35 | 12 September

With the launch of the new Gmail, the writing was on the wall, but today Google made it official: Inbox by Gmail, the company’s experimental email client for Gmail, will shut down at the end of March 2019.

Google says it’s making this change to put its focus “solely on Gmail.” While that makes sense, it’s a shame to see Inbox sail into the setting sun, given that it pioneered many of the features that have now become part of the new Gmail.

I would have loved to see Google continue to experiment with Inbox instead. That, after all, was one of the reasons the company started the Inbox project to begin with. It’s hard to try radical experiments with a service that has a billion users, after all. Today, however, Google now seems to be willing to try new things right in Gmail, too. Smart Compose, for example, made its debut in the new Gmail (and many pundits correctly read that as a sign that Inbox was on the chopping block).

While the new Gmail now has most of Inbox’s features, one that is sorely missing is trip bundles. This useful feature, which automatically groups all of your flight, hotel, event and car reservations into a single bundle, is one of Inbox’s best features. Our understanding is that Google plans to bring this to Gmail early next year — hopefully well before Inbox shuts down.

So there you have it. Inbox for Gmail will shut down in six months, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google resurrected the idea in a few years to try some other email experiments. Until then, here is Google’s guide to moving from Inbox to Gmail.



Google rebuked by Senate Intelligence Committee for not sending Page or Pichai to testify

17:10 | 5 September

Alphabet’s decision to decline to send its CEO Larry Page to today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing — to answer questions about what social media platforms are doing to thwart foreign influence operations intended to sow political division in the U.S. — has earned it a stinging rebuke from the committee’s vice chair, Sen. Mark Warner.

“I’m deeply disappointed that Google – one of the most influential digital platforms in the world – chose not to send its own top corporate leadership to engage this committee,” said Warner in his opening remarks, after praising Facebook and Twitter for agreeing to send their COO and CEO respectively.

Alphabet offered its SVP of global affairs and chief legal officer, Kent Walker, to testify in front of lawmakers but declined to send CEO Page or Google CEO Sundar Pichai .

Committee chairman, Richard Burr, was slightly less stinging in his opening remarks but also professed himself “disappointed that Google decided against sending the right senior level executive”.

“If the answer is regulation let’s have an honest dialogue about what that looks like. If the key is more resources or legislation that facilitates information sharing and government co-operation let’s get it out there,” he concluded. “If it’s national security policies that punish the kind of information and influence operations that we’re talking about this morning to the point that they aren’t even considered in foreign capitals then let’s acknowledge that. But whatever the answer is we’ve got to do this collaboratively and we’ve got to do this now. That’s our responsibility to the American people.”

Warner said committee members have “difficult questions about structural vulnerabilities on a number of Google’s platforms that we will need answered“, calling out a number of Google products by name and identifying abuse associated with those services.

From Google Search, which continues to have problems surfacing absurd conspiracies….To YouTube, where Russian-backed disinformation agents promoted hundreds of divisive videos….To Gmail, where state-sponsored operatives attempt countless hacking attempts, Google has an immense responsibility in this space.  Given its size and influence, I would have thought the leadership at Google would want to demonstrate how seriously it takes these challenges and to lead this important public discussion.”

We’ve reached out to Google for a response.

Warner concluded his opening remarks with some policy suggestions for regulating social media platforms, saying he wanted to get the companies’ constructive thoughts on issues such as whether platforms should identify bots to their users; whether there’s a public interest in ensuring more anonymized data is available to researchers and academics to help identify potential problems and misuse; why terms of service are “so difficult to find and nearly impossible to read; why US lawmakers shouldn’t adopt ideas such as data portability, data minimization, or first party consent — which are already baked into EU privacy law — and what further accountability there should be related to platforms’ “flawed advertising model”.



Yahoo still scans your emails for ads — even if its rivals won’t

23:01 | 28 August

You’re not the only one reading your emails.

A deep dive in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday dug out new details on a massive email scanning operation by Oath, the Verizon-owned subsidiary that’s the combined business of AOL and Yahoo. The email scanning program analyzes over 200 million AOL and Yahoo inboxes for data that can be sold to advertisers. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon by way of Oath.)

The logic goes that by learning about its users, the internet giant can hone its ad targeting effort to display the most relevant ads.

But where other major email providers have bailed from email scanning amid privacy scandals and security issues, Oath remains the outlier.

Google ended its ad-targeting email scanning operation across its consumer Gmail service last year — a decision lauded after facing criticism for years over the practice — though the company still uses machine learning to help you reply to emails. Meanwhile, Microsoft told TechCrunch in a statement that it does “not use email content for ad targeting in any way, anywhere in Microsoft.” And Apple has never scanned its customers’ inboxes for advertising, though its privacy policy says it can access your data for law enforcement purposes or for more vague reasons like “issues of public importance.”

So it’s basically just Oath, then.

Scanning the inboxes of its hundreds of millions of email users is a gutsy move for the year-old internet giant, which prior to its rebranding was responsible for two data breaches at Yahoo exposing over thee billion users’ data and a separate breach at AOL in 2014. Yahoo reportedly built a secret customer email scanning tool at the behest of the US intelligence community, which led to the departure of former Yahoo infosec chief Alex Stamos, who until recently was Facebook’s chief security officer.

Although the email scanning program isn’t new — announced earlier this year — it does go deeper than Gmail’s scanning ever did.

“Yahoo mined users’ emails in part to discover products they bought through receipts from e-commerce companies such as Amazon.com,” said the WSJ. “In 2015, Amazon stopped including full itemized receipts in the emails it sends customers, partly because the company didn’t want Yahoo and others gathering that data for their own use.”

Although some content is excluded from the scanning — such as health and medical information — it remains to be seen how (or even if) Oath can exclude other kinds of sensitive data from its customers’ inboxes, like bank transfers and stock receipts.

Yahoo Mail’s privacy policy says email accounts are subject to “manual review,” which allows certain Oath employees access to inboxes.

TechCrunch asked Oath and its parent Verizon about what assurances they could provide that confidential emails and information won’t be collected or used in any way. We also asked how consent was obtained from users in Europe, where data protection rules under the newly-implemented GDPR regulations are stricter.

Neither Verizon or Oath responded by our deadline.

It should go without saying, email isn’t the most sensitive or secure communications medium, and inboxes should never be assumed to be private — not least from law enforcement and the companies themselves.

Deleting your account might be overkill, especially if you don’t want anyone to hijack your email address once it’s recycled. But if there’s ever been a time to find a better inbox, now might be it.



Google’s G Suite apps and Calendar are getting Gmail’s side panels

20:32 | 22 August

One of the best features of the new Gmail is its quick-access side panel with easy access to Google Calendar, Tasks, Keep and your Gmail extensions. Now, Google is bringing this same functionality to Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drawings, too.

In Google Calendar, you’ll be able to quickly access Keep and Tasks, while in the rest of the G Suite apps, you’ll get easy access to Calendar, Keep and Tasks.

In Gmail, the side panel also brings up access to various G Suite extensions that you may have installed from the marketplace. It doesn’t look like that’s possible in Docs and Calendar right now, though it’s probably only a matter of time before there will be compatible extensions for those products, too. By then, we’ll likely see a ‘works with Google Calendar’ section and support for other G Suite apps in the marketplace, too.

I’m already seeing this in my personal Google Calendar, but not in Google Docs, so this looks to be a slow rollout. The official word is that paying G Suite subscribers on the rapid release schedule should get access now, with those on the slower release schedule getting access in two weeks.



Gmail’s undo send feature hits Android

17:16 | 21 August

Four months after arriving on desktop, Gmail’s potentially job/relationship/self-respect-saving self-destruction feature is finally available on Android. The new feature, which was spotted by Android Police, arrived as part of the version 8.2 update.

It works similarly to its desktop counterpart. When you send a message, a small progress bar pops up at the bottom of the screen, with the word “Undo” on the right side.

From there, you’ve got approximately seven seconds to reconsider your life choices through a cinematic-style montage of increasingly horrific butterfly effects that will unfold over the coming months and weeks until you’re left dead in by the side of the road in a pit of jagged glass and self-loathing.

All of that because of one stupid email. You’re better than that, friend.

Go with Plan B by clicking Undo, and it will bring you back to the body of said email as a draft. The future is bright and wide open. See, was that so hard? I’m not saying you shouldn’t send any emails, ever. That’s just silly. I’m just saying choose your words a bit more careful next time is all. I’m looking out for you here. 

The feature is live now, though it appears to only work with emails sent from Gmail addresses within the app.


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