Google’s video chat app comes to iPads and Android tablets

Google’s video chat app, Duo, has finally made its way to tablets. With its latest update, the app is able to work on both iPads and Android tablets. (It had previously been confined to just phones.) It’s a nice addition, especially since people tend to video chat at home where tablets are around and a larger screen is appreciated.

It’s been two years since the launch of Duo, and not much has changed for Google on the video chat front. Getting a call started is still a disjointed and confusing experience. It’s getting better: Duo is preinstalled and integrated into the dialer app on some Android phones, but it’s far from being as seamless as FaceTime. The app still often feels like it was grafted on, rather than being a core function that’s truly built in.

This is a useful update. But until starting a Duo call is as easy as starting a regular phone call, people are going to keep to turning to another app they have installed that their friends are already using, be it Skype, Facebook Messenger, or something else. Or you can do what I did just the other weekend: pull out an old iPad and charge it up to use FaceTime since, somehow, that was still simpler.

Google is bringing the redesigned Gmail’s nifty side panel to other G Suite apps

The newly redesigned Gmail has a lot of smart tricks, but none offer quite as significant a boost to productivity as the side panel. The feature lets you quickly pop open a sidebar of Google apps like Tasks and Calendar, so you can then edit your to-do list or add a meeting to your schedule without having to leave your inbox.

It’s so popular with Gmail users, it seems, that Google is expanding it. The company says it’s introducing that side panel feature to other G Suite Apps, so you’ll now be able to access Google Calendar, Keep, and Tasks from within Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings. You’ll also be access Keep and Tasks from within Calendar.

Image: Google

If you don’t like the side panel or feel it makes a Google app too cluttered, which is a valid argument for the redesigned Gmail, you can also minimize it to keep it out of the way. The features should be arriving from those on Google’s “rapid release” schedule and more broadly for all G Suite users over the course of the next two weeks.

Datally now lets you set aside data for emergency situations

Google has given its data-saving app Datally an emergency bank mode that lets you set aside data for later use. Datally has also added a bedtime mode that switches off apps’ data usage at night to prevent them from wasting data.

The new emergency bank feature blocks other apps from using data after you’ve reached your allotted amount for the day. It will also warn you when you’re running low on data. Google suggests you could use the feature to save enough data for an urgent message or to find a ride home.

To set up the emergency bank and bedtime features, simply input how much data you need to save up and what time you go to sleep and wake up.

Datally was first launched on Android last November as a way for people in developing countries to manage their limited data. But the app can also work for anyone who doesn’t have unlimited data and needs to be more strict with how much they use streaming music and videos.

Back in June, Google added new features like setting limits on how much data you can use in a day and highlighting the unused apps on your phone. The new features announced yesterday seem to build on the same ideas of setting quotas and keeping pesky data-sucking apps in check.

Google is developing an experimental podcast app called Shortwave

An experimental unit within Google has been quietly developing a new app for discovering and playing podcasts. Called Shortwave, the new app was revealed by a trademark filing embedded below, which describes it as “allow[ing] users to search, access, and play digital audio files, and to share links to audio files.”

Nothing in the trademark filing specifies the kind of audio being accessed, but a Google representative said the focus of the app was on spoken word content. There is little public information about the app, although Google has played with smart captioning, translation, and other AI-assisted features in previous podcast products.

Google’s trademark filing for Shortwave.

Reached by The Verge, a Google spokesperson emphasized the app was being developed within the company’s Area 120 incubator, and is unrelated to any existing Google products. “One of the many projects that we’re working on within Area 120 is Shortwave, which helps users discover and consume spoken-word audio in new ways,” the spokesperson said. “Like other projects within Area 120, it’s a very early experiment so there aren’t many details to share right now.”

Google launched its current Android podcasts app in June, nearly a month before the trademark was filed, including cross-device syncing and a deep integration with Google Assistant. It’s unclear how Shortwave would differ from that app, although it’s likely the two were developed in isolation.

Google rolls back Android Messages to old design and removes dark mode

On Thursday, it looked as though Google was starting to roll out a redesigned version of its vital Android Messages app. The update featured some visual changes like getting rid of the blue bar at the top and switching over to the company’s Google Sans font. It also included a dark mode as an alternative to the default, so-much-white look.

But late last night, as Reddit users were quick to notice, Google reverted to the old Android Messages design — even for those who had already installed the most recent update. If you had the new Messages yesterday, open it up today and you’ll see that it’s gone. Yes, Google has the server-side ability to change the look of Messages on a dime.

Some users had complained about losing the option to assign custom colors to chat bubbles for their different contacts, but it’s rather unlikely that Google would reverse course over that bit of feedback alone. Perhaps dark mode was causing some issues, or there was another bug the company discovered, or the revamped Messages started appearing before Google actually intended.

Oh well. It looked good. Hopefully it returns soon.

WhatsApp backups will stop counting toward your Google Drive storage

Good news for the more than 1 billion WhatsApp users out there: starting this November, you won’t need to sacrifice valuable Google Drive storage space to back up your messages.

Until now, any WhatsApp data that was backed up onto Google’s Drive counted toward the space you had available in the cloud. But the Facebook-owned company cut a deal with Google to make those backups completely free, even while staying inside your personal account. It’s a handy way to keep tabs on all of your messages if you lose or break a phone that you use for messaging on the regular.

WhatsApp is a little different from other texting apps that store messages on their servers: it requires users to back up their messages to another company’s cloud service to sync chats between phones. Apple users have their messages stored in iCloud, while Android users have always used Google Drive.

It’s important to note, though, that any WhatsApp backups that haven’t been updated for more than a year will be wiped out with the November update. The company recommends connecting your phone to Wi-Fi when doing any backups, as “backup files can vary in size and consume mobile data, causing additional charges.”

WhatsApp users can still set up their account to automatically back up any chats to the cloud or your device’s local storage, or they can do it manually by going into the app’s “settings” tab.

Google updated its site to admit it still tracks you even if you turn off Location History

Google has updated the help page for its Location History feature to acknowledge the fact that the company still tracks users through use of its services like Google Maps, weather updates, and browser searches, according to a report from the Associated Press.

As noted by the AP, the help page for the Location History setting has been updated to clarify that “This setting does not affect other location services on your device,” and that “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”

AP had previously reported that Google was still tracking users who had disabled the Location History feature earlier this week, noting that while the company had originally claimed that “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,” in reality all that was happening was that Google was no longer adding user’s locations and movements to its Timeline feature — but that the company was still tracking users through other means. Nothing has changed, except for the updated language on the help page that now more accurately reflects what’s happening.

But while the Location History toggle won’t actually stop Google from tracking you, users can turn that off by disabling the “Web and App Activity” option (which is enabled by default). Turn it off, and Google won’t be able to store and track your Maps data and browser searches for location anymore.

Google still tracks you through the web if you turn off Location History

You may have assumed that turning off Google’s Location History option meant that Google is no longer tracking your movements. But the reality is that Google can continue to collect location data and even track you on a minute-by-minute basis, remembering your home address, and other places you’ve visited throughout the day, the Associated Press reports.

AP found that Google continues to track you through services like Google Maps, weather updates, and browser searches — any app activity can be used to track you. By turning off Location History, you’re only stopping Google from adding your movements to its Timeline feature, which visually logs where you’ve been.

But there is a way to get Google to actually stop tracking you: by digging through settings to turn off “Web and App Activity.”

If you toggle off “Web and App Activity,” which is enabled by default, Google will no longer be able to store a snapshot of where you’ve been from Maps data and browser searches that pinpoint your exact GPS coordinates.

As long as the Web and App Activity setting is enabled, Google will store your time-stamped location data. You can manually delete this data by heading into and clicking on specific geo-stamped entries. You can also delete batches of entries sorted by date or web service.

Google’s stance is that Location History’s purpose and functionality is clearly spelled out to users. A Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge, “Location History is a Google product that is entirely opt in, and users have the controls to edit, delete, or turn it off at any time. As the story notes, we make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions.”

Still, it’s likely not clear to most users how these options work, or that something called “Web and App Activity” would control Google’s collection of location data. In the past, tech companies have gotten in trouble with federal authorities for confusing privacy practices. The FTC has investigated and fined several other tech giants, like Facebook, Uber, and Vizio, for misleading data practices in the past.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of Google tracking your location regardless of whether you have location services turned on. Last November, Quartz reported that Android phones still collect your location data from nearby cell towers and send it to Google, even if you toggle off location services and take out your SIM card. Google later said it would remove the data-collecting feature by December of last year. This time, it’s a little different because instead of it being cell towers that are the culprit, it’s web services. But if anyone pays close enough attention to the fine print of permissions agreements, they can catch what tech companies are doing.

Google Voice updated with new icon, contacts tab, and improved do not disturb

Google is starting to pay attention to Google Voice again after making the calling service part of its business-focused product suite earlier this summer. So far, that hasn’t meant much. But yesterday, the app received an update on iOS that brought with it a new icon, a small reorganization, and a helpful new do not disturb feature.

The first two changes are minor but nice. The old icon hadn’t been updated in a while and looked a little stiff and robotic, whereas the new one is basically a twist on the Hangouts icon. And while, inside, the app hasn’t changed much, Google has added a contacts tab to the bottom, which makes a lot of sense for an app you use to call and message people.

Left: new icon. Right: old icon.

Then there’s the update to do not disturb, which comes as part of Google Voice’s integration with G Suite. Now, if you’ve set up your working hours in Google Calendar, you’ll be able to set G Suite to automatically activate do not disturb during the hours you’re not at work. Google Voice already has several options for ignoring calls, including having calls go straight to voicemail, but you have to go into the app’s settings and activate or deactivate it every time you want to make a change.

The update is only available on iOS right now. 9to5Google spotted that some people are starting to see the update on Android, but it isn’t widely available just yet.

A strange phone number crept into Indian contact lists, and no one knew why

Smartphone users in India were demanding answers after people on Twitter posted screenshots of their phones’ contact lists with a strange number included in it. Users claimed that they didn’t add the contact to their devices, and for much of Friday, no one company or person could explain how it got there in the first place.

The contact, 1-800-300-1947, is an old toll-free number for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), and it’s been showing up in contacts lists originating from Android devices. The same number has showed up on iPhones as well, but only if its owner imported those contacts from an Android device before.

UIDAI was created by the Indian government in 2009 to produce 12-digit unique identification numbers for residents and run the database in which the information is held. The numbers work similarly to Social Security numbers in the States: they’re used to make it more difficult for people to stew up fake identities and to help easily identify people.

The government body denied that it had anything to do with forcing the number onto devices. In a statement, UIDAI said it “has reiterated that it has not asked or advised anyone including any telecom service providers or mobile manufacturers or Android to include [the contact] in the default list of public service numbers.”

Security experts and regular users took Android, service providers, and the Indian government up to task and demanded answers online. Others performed their own tests and experiments to pinpoint how the number was placed on their devices without their previous knowledge or formal permission. Some claimed that Google was to blame after tests showed that the number only populated on Android devices that are “Made in India.” Others believed the number was pushed by their service providers, like Vodaphone, which denied responsibility to Indian Express earlier today.

It wasn’t until Friday afternoon, a day after people began noticing the strange number, that Google admitted to putting it on devices. In a statement to the Economic Times, a spokesperson for Google said, “Our internal review has revealed that in 2014, the then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard of the Android release given to OEMs for use in India and has remained there since.”

“We are sorry for any concern that this might have caused, and would like to assure everyone that this is not a situation of an unauthorized access of their Android devices,” the Google spokesperson added.

Update August 3rd, 3:35PM ET: Google has identified Android’s setup process as the reason this number is making it into contacts lists; this story has been updated to include the company’s statement.