It’s not just you: Google added annoying icons to search on desktop
Google says the goal is to make clearer where links will lead
Google added tiny favicon icons to its search results this week for some reason, creating more clutter in what used to be a clean interface, and seemingly without actually improving the results or the user experience. The company says it’s part of a plan to make clearer where information is coming from, but how?
To give you an idea of how minimal the change is, here’s what it looked like when Google made the same tweak last year to the browsing experience on phones:
In my Chrome desktop browser, it feels like an aggravating, unnecessary change that doesn’t actually help the user determine how good, bad, or reputable an actual search result might be. Yes, ads are still clearly marked with the word “ad,” which is a good thing. But do I need to see YIPs logo when I search for “Yips Africa” to know they’re trying to sell me something?
The company tweeted that the change to desktop results were rolling out this week, “helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results & decide what to explore.” But though the logos have been visible in search results on Google’s mobile browser since last year, Google’s statement doesn’t address how successful or irrelevant the favicons might have been for mobile users.
When Google first launched, its sparse, almost blank search page and minimalist results were an extremely welcome change, compared to the detritus on other search home pages at the time (which persists on sites like Yahoo). Adding favicons makes Google’s search results look a little cartoonish, and if we think Facebook users who can’t determine a reputable news source from their racist uncle’s favorite blog are going to be assisted by tiny pictures on Google, well, we’re likely to be disappointed.
Google does often make changes to search that actually do improve user experience or results, though. In the past few months, Google changed its search algorithm so it doesn’t see a search query as a “bag of words,” improved its results to prioritize reputable news sources, and even added augmented reality results to searches.
If you’re intrigued by the new logos in your search results, Google provided instructions on how to change or add a favicon in search results for those who don’t know. Lifehacker also provided instructions on how to apply filters to undo the favicon nonsense and revert back to how the search results used to look. You can decide which how-to is the more useful.
Microsoft says Skype audio is now reviewed in ‘secure facilities’ after a worrying report
A former contractor says there was little security to protect recordings of customers’ calls
Microsoft says Skype calls are now transcribed in “secure facilities in a small number of countries,” following a new report in The Guardian about the company’s use of contractors in China to listen to some calls to make sure the company’s transcription software is working properly. The company confirmed to The Verge that China is not currently one of the countries where transcription takes place.
A former contractor who lived in Beijing told The Guardian that he transcribed Skype calls with little cybersecurity protection from potential state interference. The unidentified former contractor told The Guardian that he reviewed thousands of audio recordings from Skype and Cortana on his personal laptop from his home in Beijing over a two-year period.
Workers who were part of the review process accessed the recordings via a web app in a Chrome browser over the internet in China. There was little vetting of employees and no security measures in place to protect the audio recordings from state or criminal interference, according to The Guardian.
The contractor told The Guardian he heard “all kinds of unusual conversations” while performing the transcription. “It sounds a bit crazy now, after educating myself on computer security, that they gave me the URL, a username and password sent over email.”
A Microsoft spokesperson told The Verge in an email that “If there is questionable behavior or possible violation by one of our suppliers, we investigate and take action.” The audio “snippets” that contractors get to review are ten seconds long or shorter, according to the spokesperson, “and no one reviewing these snippets would have access to longer conversations.”
“We’ve always disclosed this to customers and operate to the highest privacy standards set out in laws like Europe’s GDPR,” the spokesperson added.
Microsoft says it reviewed its processes and communications with customers over the summer. “As a result, we’ve updated our privacy statement to be even more clear about this work, and since then we’ve significantly enhanced the process including by moving these reviews to secure facilities in a small number of countries,” the company said in its statement to The Verge. “We will continue to take steps to give customers greater transparency and control over how we manage their data.”
Microsoft did not elaborate on what these “steps” entailed.
Microsoft is not the only company to face blowback for how it’s handled audio recordings of customers. The practices of data annotation, where humans help AI learn by interpreting audio and other information, have come under intense scrutiny as people weigh the convenience of having on-demand answers from virtual assistants with the discomfort of relinquishing chunks of their private lives often to people they didn’t know were listening.
An April report from Bloomberg highlighted how Amazon used full-time employees and contractors to “listen” to customers’ conversations with Alexa. The report found the company wasn’t clear about how long such recordings are stored, or whether employees or even third parties have accessed or would be able to access the information for nefarious purposes. And both Apple and Google reportedly suspended their programs that used humans to review audio recordings of their Siri and Assistant virtual assistant programs.
Here’s how to prevent audio assistants from retaining audio recordings.
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