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Tech News

Nest smart displays to get Google Duplex support, Guest Mode upgrade

Google Assistant has always revolved around voice interactions but Google was able to give it a face in the form of smart displays. Now falling under the Nest smart home brand, Google has provided some visual feedback to augment Google Assistant’s capabilities in your house. Not all smart Assistant features are available yet on those smart displays, however, and one upcoming addition will make booking tables at restaurants a breeze. At least when Google Duplex does finally arrive on the Nest Hub Max and its kin.

Google Duplex is one of those astounding yet also frightening demonstrations of Google’s AI prowess. It takes Google Assistant’s helpfulness to a whole new level by calling restaurants and services and making reservations for you. The more impressive aspect of Duplex is how it is able to carry a conversation with a (presumably) human receptionist as if it were human itself.

Duplex has so far been available not only in limited markets and businesses but also only on phones. That makes sense considering most people still make calls using their phones. These days, however, smart speakers and smart displays also stand in for phones when at home and soon the latter will also be able to make reservations for you. You can either tell Google Assistant directly to make a reservation or tap on the “book a table” suggestion chip when viewing the details of a supported establishment.

Google Duplex on Nest smart displays is still marked as “Coming Soon” but one new feature that is already available enhances the Guest Mode experience. Assistant can now speak in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean to make guests feel welcome at your home. And you don’t also have to worry since Guest Mode won’t store their interactions or reveal personal results to others.

This is just one part of Google’s push for new entertainment features across its platforms. At the top of that list is, of course, Stadia’s upcoming arrival on Chromecast with Google TV, which heralds Stadia’s to Android TV which it probably should have since day one.

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Security

Chromebook bug could reveal location history from Guest mode

A little-known behavior in Chrome OS could reveal a user’s movements through Wi-Fi logs. Leveraging Chrome OS’s Guest mode feature, the attack would require physical access to the device, but it can be executed without knowing the user’s password or having login access.

The bug was flagged to The Verge by the Committee on Liberatory Information Technology, a tech collective that includes several former Googlers.

“We are looking into this issue,” said a Google spokesperson. “In the meantime, device owners can turn off guest mode and disable the creation of new users.” Instructions for turning off Guest browsing are available here.

The bug stems from the way Chromebooks treat their Wi-Fi logs, which show when and how a computer connects to the broader internet. The logs can be confusing for nontechnical users, but they can be deciphered to reveal which Wi-Fi networks were in range of the computer. Combined with other available data, that could reveal the owner’s movements over the period of time covered by the logs — potentially as long as seven days.

Because Chrome OS keeps those logs in unprotected memory, they can be accessed without a password. Simply opening a Chromebook in Guest mode and navigating to a standardized address will bring up the logs in local storage. That will show all logs for the computer, even ones generated outside of Guest mode.

Electronic Frontier Foundation researcher Andrés Arrieta confirmed the attack and said it was of particular concern for targeted and marginalized communities. While the bug wouldn’t be useful to conventional cybercriminals, it’s a potentially devastating privacy issue for those worried about surveillance from family members or co-workers.

“It’s worrisome because anyone with quick physical access to the device could potentially get in as guest and quickly take some logs, and out details of location,” said Arrieta. “Security teams should try to better understand the potential repercussions of those bugs for all their users and include that in their assessment and prioritization of bugs.”

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