Google Maps stops obscuring Russian military bases in satellite images

Until now, Google would not show you this Russian airbase in this much detail.

Enlarge / Until now, Google would not show you this Russian airbase in this much detail.

On Monday, the Internet got a much better look at military facilities across Russia. Google Maps stopped obscuring the sensitive locations due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of its neighbor Ukraine. The Ukrainian Armed Forces announced the end of Google’s censorship of Russia’s bases on Twitter.

Thanks to former US President Donald Trump, we know that the 0.5 m per pixel resolution available on Google Maps’ satellite view is a far cry from the images available to the US government. But it will be invaluable to the growing mass of open source intelligence analysts. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in late February, the OSINT community on Twitter has been cataloging Russian losses by geolocating images of destroyed tanks, fighting vehicles, aircraft, and cruise missile attacks.

Twitter users have already identified some interesting sights. Images taken of a Russian airbase at Lipetsk show partially disassembled MiG-31s (or perhaps MiG-25s). Another shows several Sukhoi fighter jets painted in patriotic colors, at least one of which is also missing its wings.

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#google-maps, #open-source-intelligence, #osint, #policy, #russia, #russian-invasion-of-ukraine

Google Maps brings traffic-light and stop-sign icons to navigation

Look at all those details! Maps will show traffic lights, stop signs, and building outlines in navigation mode.

Look at all those details! Maps will show traffic lights, stop signs, and building outlines in navigation mode. (credit: Google)

It might be hard to believe, but there are still some incredibly useful features that can be added to Google Maps. The latest addition brings traffic-light and stop-sign icons to navigation mode.

Traffic lights have appeared in Google Maps in some areas since 2020. Not everyone had access to them, though, and they never seemed to show up while navigating. Now, lights and stop signs will appear on everyone’s routes while navigating. That should give users a better feel for how their trip will go and when they should turn. Google says many more normal map details will soon be visible in the navigation view, including building outlines and areas of interest.

While a ton of details pop up on the regular map, navigation mode previously stripped out most of them, and the spaces between roads have usually been blank. For cities with a high level of Google Maps details, you’ll also start to see the specific shape and width of a road, including medians and islands.

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#google, #google-maps, #tech

Google’s next US antitrust issue: Google Maps

The logo for the board game Monopoly, complete with Uncle Pennybags, has been transformed to say Google.

Enlarge / Let’s see, you landed on my “Google Ads” space, and with three houses… that will be $1,400. (credit: Ron Amadeo / Hasbro)

Google’s latest antitrust headache is coming from the US government, which is starting to take issue with how Google bundles Google Maps and restricts developers from using competing services. Nothing’s official yet, but Reuters’ sources say the US Justice Department “breathed new life into an investigation of Google Maps to determine if bundling the service together with other Google software illegally stifles competition.”

The DOJ investigation is concerned with two Google Maps strategies. The first is surprisingly all about Android Automotive—note that this is not Android Auto, the phone app. Android Automotive (fully spelled out) is a full operating system manufacturers can ship on their cars. We covered it on the Polestar 2 last year. Like on phones, Google bundles its apps on Android Automotive. Google Maps is a killer app in a car, but if manufacturers want Google Maps, Google requires them to take the Play Store, the Google Assistant, YouTube Music, and any other car apps the company makes. The Justice Department is concerned that this requirement stifles competition.

What’s surprising about this move by the DOJ is that the US never made Google do anything about app bundling on phones, which is a much larger market. Android Automotive is a very new, very limited OS, available on only around 10 vehicles, like the Polestar 2, other Volvo vehicles like the XC40 Recharge, the GMC Hummer EV, and soon 2023 Ford vehicles. Android, meanwhile, is on about 2.5 billion phones worldwide. The US has gone after Google for limiting app store competition on Android, paying to be the default search engine on most platforms, promoting its own services in search, and anticompetitive behavior in the advertising market. But Google is still free to bundle its apps on phones.

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#google, #google-android, #google-maps, #tech

Italian Mafia Fugitive Caught In Spain Thanks to Google Maps

Investigators had tracked the man to a town in Spain, and an image found online confirmed that the police were on the right track.

#computers-and-the-internet, #fugitives, #google-street-view, #google-maps, #italy, #organized-crime, #spain

Documents Reveal Flaws in Pentagon Dismissals of Civilian Casualty Claims in Iraq and Syria

A Times investigation found inconsistent approaches to assessing claims of civilians killed by coalition forces — including failures to conduct simple internet searches.

#amaq-news-agency, #arabic-language, #civilian-casualties, #classified-information-and-state-secrets, #defense-department, #freedom-of-information-act, #google-maps, #iraq, #islamic-state-in-iraq-and-syria-isis, #mosul-iraq, #new-york-times, #raqqa-syria, #syria, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #war-and-armed-conflicts, #your-feed-visual-investigations

Snow Closed the Highways. GPS Mapped a Harrowing Detour in the Sierra Nevada.

Public safety officials warned that alternate routes offered by apps like Google Maps and Waze don’t always take into account hazards to drivers.

#automobile-safety-features-and-defects, #automobiles, #california, #computers-and-the-internet, #geography, #global-positioning-system, #google-inc, #google-maps, #maps, #mobile-applications, #navigation, #nevada, #plumas-county-calif, #reno-nev, #roads-and-traffic, #sierra-nevada-region-us, #snow-and-snowstorms, #transportation-department-calif, #truckee-calif, #washoe-county-nev, #waze-mobile

Google Maps tracks global warming with new “Fire” layer, tree canopy tool

Google Maps is getting a few new features to help people better understand our burning planet. The first is a new “fire” layer in the main map view, which will let you view the exact boundaries of a wildfire just as easily as you can look up the current traffic patterns. Google has done fire information before as part of the “crisis response” website, but with climate change making “Fire Season” a yearly occurrence in dry areas like Australia and the Western US, wildfires will now be a top-level Maps feature.

Google says the new fire level will bring “all of Google’s wildfire information together” in an easy interface. In the US, it will also pull in data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), and the company says it wants to expand fire detail with other government agencies, starting with Australia in “the coming months.” Wildfire boundaries should be updated on an hourly basis, and Google says you’ll be able to tap on a fire to see information from local governments, like “emergency websites, phone numbers for help and information, and evacuation details. When available, you can also see important details about the fire, such as its containment, how many acres have burned, and when all this information was last reported.”

The fire layout is rolling out to Android this week, with iOS and desktop coming in October.

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#climate-change, #google-maps, #tech

The Maps That Steer Us Wrong

Misleading maps are leading us astray.

#apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #federal-communications-commission, #geography, #google-maps, #maps, #rosenworcel-jessica, #wireless-communications

Google says geofence warrants make up one-quarter of all US demands

For the first time, Google has published the number of geofence warrants it’s historically received from U.S. authorities, providing a rare glimpse into how frequently these controversial warrants are issued.

The figures, published Thursday, reveal that Google has received thousands of geofence warrants each quarter since 2018, and at times accounted for about one-quarter of all U.S. warrants that Google receives. The data shows that the vast majority of geofence warrants are obtained by local and state authorities, with federal law enforcement accounting for just 4% of all geofence warrants served on the technology giant.

According to the data, Google received 982 geofence warrants in 2018, 8,396 in 2019, and 11,554 in 2020. But the figures only provide a small glimpse into the volume of warrants received, and did not break down how often it pushes back on overly broad requests. A spokesperson for Google would not comment on the record.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which led efforts by dozens of civil rights groups to lobby for the release of these numbers, commended Google for releasing the numbers.

“Geofence warrants are unconstitutionally broad and invasive, and we look forward to the day they are outlawed completely.” said Cahn.

Geofence warrants are also known as “reverse-location” warrants, since they seek to identify people of interest who were in the near-vicinity at the time a crime was committed. Police do this by asking a court to order Google, which stores vast amounts of location data to drive its advertising business, to turn over details of who was in a geographic area, such as a radius of a few hundred feet at a certain point in time, to help identify potential suspects.

Google has long shied away from providing these figures, in part because geofence warrants are largely thought to be unique to Google. Law enforcement has long known that Google stores vast troves of location data on its users in a database called Sensorvault, first revealed by The New York Times in 2019.

Sensorvault is said to have the detailed location data on “at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide,” collected from users’ phones when they use an Android device with location data switched on, or Google services like Google Maps and Google Photo, and even Google search results. In 2018, the Associated Press reported that Google could still collect users’ locations even when their location history is “paused.”

But critics have argued that geofence warrants are unconstitutional because the authorities compel Google to turn over data on everyone else who was in the same geographic area.

Worse, these warrants have been known to ensnare entirely innocent people.

TechCrunch reported earlier this year that Minneapolis police used a geofence warrant to identify individuals accused of sparking violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year. One person on the ground who was filming and documenting the protests had his location data requested by police for being close to the violence. NBC News reported last year how one Gainesville, Fla. resident whose information was given by Google to police investigating a burglary, but was able to prove his innocence thanks to an app on his phone that tracked his fitness activity.

Although the courts have yet to deliberate widely on the legality of geofence warrants, some states are drafting laws to push back against geofence warrants. New York lawmakers proposed a bill last year that would ban geofence warrants in the state, amid fears that police could use these warrants to target protesters — as what happened in Minneapolis.

Cahn, who helped introduce the New York bill last year, said the newly released data will “help spur lawmakers to outlaw the technology.”

“Let’s be clear, the number of geofence warrants should be zero,” he said.

#android, #articles, #computing, #databases, #florida, #george-floyd, #google, #google-maps, #law-enforcement, #minneapolis, #new-york, #privacy, #security, #spokesperson, #technology, #the-new-york-times, #united-states, #warrant

Bird is the latest operator to integrate its e-scooters and e-bikes with Google Maps

Micromobility company Bird has officially joined the ranks of e-scooter and e-bike operators that are integrated with Google Maps, which now surfaces nearby vehicles for users in the U.S.

Bird’s announcement comes just a day after Spin also announced its integration with Google Maps and just a few weeks after Lime, which has been integrated with Google Maps since 2019, announced an integration with transit planning app Moovit.

Bird already works with mobility-as-a-service platforms including Skipr, Tranzer and soon Whim in Antwerp and throughout Belgium. The company has also recently partnered with major national rail companies SNCF in France and Trenitalia in Italy. It plans to expand its Google Maps integration with Bird’s partner cities outside of the U.S. in the future, according to a spokesperson for the company. These sorts of integrations are par for the course as micromobility companies seek to become further entwined with the broader transportation ecosystem.

“As demand for sustainable transportation increases, Bird is committed to meeting this need while simultaneously reducing street traffic in already congested cities and towns,” said Bird CEO and founder Travis VanderZanden, in a statement. “Through our integration with Google Maps, we are making it easier for individuals to embrace new modes of eco-friendly travel and to ultimately eliminate our collective reliance on congestion inducing, gas-powered cars – especially in urban settings across the globe where a majority of trips are under five miles.”

As with Lime and Spin, Bird’s vehicles will show up as an option under the bike toggle of the Google Maps app. The app will show information such as estimated travel time, cost and environmental impact. Bird did not respond in time for publication to a request for information on whether estimated battery range would also be available, which is displayed with Lime and Spin’s vehicles on the app.

Users who choose to take a trip with Bird will have to click on the “unlock” button displayed on the bottom of the Google Maps screen, which will direct them to the Bird app, available on iOS and Android, to unlock and pay for a vehicle.

Bird’s news about its integration with Google Maps comes on the same day that the operator, along with Veo and Lime, launch New York City’s first e-scooter pilot in the Bronx. The timing of this launch alone would make this integration beneficial for Bird, but the scooter company potentially stands to gain even more in NYC. Last month, Google Maps began trialling a feature in the big apple to show users which train cars were the busiest in order to help riders social distance better. Now, those users can ostensibly choose to seek out a Bird or Lime vehicle via the app rather than cram into a packed subway car.

#bird, #ebikes, #google-maps, #lime, #shared-escooters, #spin, #transportation

This Conversation Changed the Way I Interact With Technology

What should we be asking about the technologies that shape our lives?

#audio-neutral-informative, #computers-and-the-internet, #google-maps, #sacasas-lm, #science-and-technology, #social-media

Google Maps on iOS adds live location sharing in iMessage, home screen widget, dark mode

Google Maps announced today three feature updates to its iOS app. With live location sharing in the iMessage app, a traffic widget for the home screen and dark mode, Google Maps is positioning itself as a stronger competitor against iOS’ native Apple Maps.

Live location sharing was already possible in Google Maps — by tapping on the blue dot that shows where you are, you can share with select friends your ETA to your destination, and even how much battery life your phone has. But the Google Maps iMessage widget makes it easier to share your location without navigating away from your conversation. By default, Google Maps will share your location for one hour, but it’s possible to extend to up to three days — if you want to stop sharing, tap the “stop” button on the thumbnail.

Image Credits: Google Maps

Google Maps’ existing iMessage widget allows users to send GPS coordinates of their location in iMessage — but if you’re trying to meet up with friends, this wouldn’t be as useful as sharing a live location. Apple Maps already has a similar feature built into iMessage, so Google is taking a leaf out of Apple’s book to try to beat them on their own app. For a long time, Google Maps was widely considered to be the superior navigation app, but in 2018, Apple completely rebuilt Maps from the ground up, making it more competitive. Plus, as iOS 15 rolls out, Apple Maps will add AR functionality, better public transit features, more detailed maps and other improvements.

Google Maps added Waze-like traffic and incident report features to its app in 2019, which made it more appealing for driving commuters — the app says that one of its “most powerful features is the ability to see live traffic conditions in an area.” Now, users with the latest Google Maps app will be able to add a traffic widget to their home screen, which can quickly share what traffic is like in their area. The widget also allows users to set frequent destinations, like home, work or the gas station, and navigate to those places with just a tap. Though the app already has dark mode on Android, this feature will also roll out to iOS users in the coming weeks.

As Google Maps and Apple Maps compete to become the best navigation app, an unlikely competitor comes in Snapchat, which has created a more social experience on its Snap Map. Last week, Snapchat added the My Places feature to the Snap Map, which helps users find new spots to visit based on the activity of other users in their area. The ephemeral messaging app also announced at the end of July that during Q2 of 2021, the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Still, as of last year, Google Maps had over 1 billion worldwide users.

#android, #apple, #apps, #computing, #eta, #gas-station, #google, #google-maps, #gps, #imessage, #ios-15, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #snap, #snapchat, #software, #waze

Snapchat adds My Places feature to Snap Map, recommending spots to visit

As more people are venturing out into the world this summer (safely, we hope!), Snapchat wants to make it easier for people to find restaurants, stores, parks, and other interesting spots in their neighborhood. Today, Snapchat is starting to roll out the My Places feature on its Snap Map, which connects users with over 30 million businesses. Users can log their favorite spots, send them to friends, and find recommendations.

My Places has three main tabs: Visited, Favorites, and Popular. Visited lists places you’ve checked into on Snapchat, and Favorites saves, well, your favorites. But the Popular tab is particularly interesting, since it marks the first time that Snapchat is using an algorithm to provide personalized recommendations to help people engage with the world around them. The algorithm considers where you are, what you’ve tagged or favorited already, and where your friends and other Snapchatters have visited.

This further differentiates the social-forward Snap Map from more established resources like Google Maps and Apple Maps, which you can’t really use to find out what restaurants your friends like. Sure, Snapchat can’t give you directions to that trendy sushi bar, but it’s not meant to, just like how Google Maps isn’t meant to show you what bar all your friends went to without you last night.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Snapchat shared survey results indicating that its users are more likely on average to engage in “post-pandemic” activities (is that a good thing?), and added that 44% of Snapchatters turn to the Snap Map to find places around them that they’re interested in.

With over 250 million monthly active users on Snap Map, the company announced an update in May called Layers, which lets partner companies add data directly to their own map. So far, Snapchat has collaborated with Ticketmaster and The Infatuation, a restaurant recommendation website — these partnerships help users see where they can find live entertainment, or what great restaurants are hidden in plain sight. Snapchat plans to further integrate Layers into Snap Map and My Places later this year.

Last week, Snap announced that during Q2 this year, it grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Year over year, the app grew 23%.

#apps, #computing, #google, #google-maps, #instant-messaging, #mobile-applications, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #technology

Google Maps massively expands its mass transit crowd-reporting service

Crowded trains and buses have never been exactly popular—they're even less so, midpandemic. Google Maps' new upgrades may help its users dodge the crowds more effectively.

Enlarge / Crowded trains and buses have never been exactly popular—they’re even less so, midpandemic. Google Maps’ new upgrades may help its users dodge the crowds more effectively. (credit: Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Today, Google announced a major expansion of its ability to warn users of crowded mass transit ahead of time. The feature originally launched in June 2019 and covered roughly 200 cities globally, using user-reported data similar to Waze to discover and predict overcrowded trains and buses. Google is expanding that 200-city initial rollout to (eventually) over 10,000 transit agencies in 100 countries, according to today’s announcement.

Unsurprisingly, Google Maps’ mass transit predictions don’t just rely on direct user-reported data. They utilize AI models trained on that data.

“We apply world-class anonymization technology and differential privacy techniques to Location History Data to make sure your data remains private and secure,” the announcement declares—although we must point out that attempts to anonymize location data frequently fail.

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#google, #google-maps, #mass-transit, #tech, #waze

Google debuts a new website and set of resources for Americans experiencing food insecurity

Google today is launching a new suite of resources for people struggling with food insecurity across the U.S. The project includes the launch of a new website, “Find Food Support,” that connects people to food support resources, including hotlines, SNAP information, and a Google Maps locator tool that points people to their local food banks, food pantries and school meal program pickup locations, among other things.

In an announcement, Google explains how the Covid-19 pandemic fueled a worsening food crisis in the U.S., which led to some 45 million people — or 1 in 7 Americans — experiencing food insecurity at some point during 2020. That figure was up 30% over 2019, the company noted. And of those 45 million people, 15 million were children.

While the pandemic’s impacts are starting subside as businesses are reopening and in-person activities are resuming, many children will still go hungry during the summer months when school lunch programs become unavailable.

To help address this need and others related to food insecurity, Google’s new website available at g.co/findfoodsupport offers a combination of food support resources, YouTube videos about the problem of food insecurity in the U.S., and a Google Maps locator tool that will direct people to their nearby food bank or other food support locations.

Google says it worked with organizations including No Kid Hungry, FoodFinder, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to capture 90,000 places offering free food support across the 50 U.S. states. Using the online tool, website visitors can type in their location to see school meal program pickup sites, food banks and food pantries in their area.

Image Credits: Google

The tool will display the location’s address, phone number and other details — like which days it’s open or business hours.

Although you can find this information in Google Maps directly, it can be more difficult if you don’t know the right keywords to use. For example, a search “food support” returned a combination of charities, food banks and public services alongside businesses with matching keywords, like “Food Lion” and “Lowe’s Foods.” A search for “food assistance” was more complete, but also returned unrelated results, like the “US Food & Drug Administration.” The online tool’s search results will be more precise and accurate.

The new website also highlights other food support information, including SNAP benefit information; support for specific groups, like seniors, children, and families; state-by-state benefit guidelines; and food support hotlines. For those not facing food support issues, it offers information on how to donate money, time or food to those in need.

The site additionally features a handful of YouTube videos published by organizations across the country who are working to address food insecurity issues in their own communities. The videos aim to destigmatize food insecurity by showing how all types of people use food support — including military families, children, and seniors. Google says 1 in 9 active-duty military families experience food insecurity, as do 1 in 6 children, 1 in 3 college students, and over 5 million seniors, for example.

The new site is the result of an effort by Google’s “Food for Good,” headed by Emily Ma. Food for Good originally began as an early stage moonshot project (from Alphabet’s X, formerly Google[x]) known as Project Delta, which focused on creating a smarter food system. The team wanted to find ways to keep food waste out of landfills by better directing food to those who need it most. In December 2020, Ma announced Project Delta would be moving to Google to scale up its work. The core team then joined Google as “Food for Good,” while the food traceability team remained at X to work on broader issues.

Google says it will continue to add more food support locations to the food locator tool going forward, beyond the 90,000 it offers today.

#charity, #food, #food-for-good, #food-waste, #google, #google-maps, #hunger, #united-states

Apple Maps upgrade brings more detailed maps, transit features, AR view and more

Among many updates coming to iOS 15, Apple Maps will receive a number of upgrades that will bring more detailed maps, improvements for transit riders, AR experiences and other changes to the platform. The improvements build on the new map Apple begin rolling out two years ago, which had focused on offering richer details, and — in response to user feedback and complaints — more accurate navigation.

Since then, Apple Maps has steadily improved.

The new map experience has since launched in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Canada and will now make its way to Spain and Portugal, starting today. I will then arrive in Italy and Australia later this year, Apple announced during its keynote address during its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday.

maps driving

Image Credits: Apple

In addition, Apple said iOS 15 Maps will include new details for commercial districts, marinas, buildings, and more. Plus, Apple has added things like elevation, new road colors and labels, as well as hundreds of custom designed landmarks — for example, for places like the Golden Gate Bridge.

Apple also built a new nighttime mode for Maps with a “moonlit glow,” it said.

 

For drivers, Apple added new road details to the map, so it can help drivers as they move throughout a city to better see and understand important things like turn lanes, medians, bus and taxi lanes, and other things. The changes are competitive with some of the updates Google has been making as of late to its own Google Maps platform, which brought street-level details in select cities. These allowed people — including those navigating on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike, or on a scooter, for example — to better see things like sidewalks and intersections.

Apple is now catching up, saying it, too, will show features like crosswalks and bike lanes.

It will also render things like overlapping complex interchanges in 3D space, making it easier to see upcoming traffic conditions or what lane to take. These features will come to CarPlay later in the year.

Image Credits: Apple

For transit riders, meanwhile, Maps has made improvements to help users find nearby stations.

Users can now pin their favorite lines to the top, and even keep track on their Apple Watch so they don’t have to pull out their phone. The updated Maps app will automatically follow your transit route and notify you when it’s time to disembark, making the app more competitive to third-party apps often favored by transit takers, like Citymapper, for instance.

maps train stop

Image Credits: Apple

When you exit your station, you can also now hold up your iPhone to scan the buildings in the area and Maps will generate an accurate position, offering direction in augmented reality. This is similar to the Live View AR directions Google announced last year.

This feature is launching in select cities in 2021 with more to come in the year ahead, Apple said.

Image Credits: Apple

 

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-maps, #apps, #australia, #canada, #computing, #google, #google-maps-platform, #google-maps, #ios, #iphone, #ireland, #italy, #itunes, #operating-systems, #portugal, #software, #spain, #transit, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wwdc-2021

Google hires former SiriusXM CPO/CTO to lead its Maps team

Almost exactly a year ago, Google announced a couple of leadership changes that saw Prabhakar Raghavan, who joined the company back in 2012, take over the lead of Search, Assistant and Maps. Now, sources familiar with the hiring tell us, the company has hired Christopher Phillips, who was previously the chief product and technology officer at SiriusXM, to lead its geo team, which is responsible for products like Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Maps Platform, the company’s enterprise business around these products. Google has confirmed his hire but declined to share any additional information. Phillips will officially join the company later this month.

Christopher Phillips

Image Credits: Christopher Phillips/LinkedIn

Phillips came to SiriusXM after the company acquired music service Pandora last year. Before the acquisition, he spent six years as Pandora’s CPO and head of Technology, a role he took after leading product and design for Amazon Music from 2012 to 2014 and executive roles at Workspeed and Intuit before that.

In his new role at Google, Phillips will lead both product and engineering for the Geo team and report directly to Raghavan, who will continue to oversee Search, Assistant, Geo, Commerce and Ads. Before last year’s leadership shuffle, Jen Fitzpatrick essentially played a similar role for the Geo team.

According to Search Engine Land, Dane Glasgow and Liz Reid became the leads for the Geo team after her departure. Glasgow has since departed Google and is now at Facebook, while Reid recently took on a new role to lead Google’s search experiences. That obviously left a bit of a vacuum, which Phillips will now fill.

While Phillips doesn’t have any direct experience in building geo products, he does bring with him extensive experience in managing product-oriented engineering teams. His hiring also comes at an interesting time for Google Maps, which only recently announced a number of major updates and which is becoming an increasingly important part of Google’s product portfolio.

 

 

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #assistant, #christopher-phillips, #computing, #facebook, #google, #google-maps, #intuit, #pandora, #personnel, #prabhakar-raghavan, #sirius-xm, #software, #tc, #world-wide-web, #xm-satellite-radio

Snap brings partner-centric Layers to its social map used by 250 million people

Snap wants users to get a more personal view of the world around them.

While products like Google Maps and Apple Maps have long-relied on data partners to juice the quality of their contextual insights, Snap is hoping it can give users a more hands-on approach to mixing and matching third-party tie-ins to its Snap Map product, allowing users to build a view of their geographic surroundings that tailored to their interests.

The new product — announced today at the company’s Snap Partner Summit — is called Layers and it allows users to add data from some of Snap’s chosen developer partners directly to their map so they can see the world in a very particular view.

“Layers are how the Map evolves from a singular product to a platform,” Snap’s Bryant Detwiller tells TechCrunch. “Ultimately, we just want our map to be more useful.”

Snap Map has aimed to be a fundamentally social product, designed around people and friends rather than cars and directions, Layers will theoretically allow its users some customization in deciding what points-of-interest they want their map to be structured around.

The company says that Snap Map has some 250 million monthly active users.

Ticketmaster integration via Snap

Like Snap’s approach with its Wechat-like Minis and Games, it’s starting things off pretty slowly when it comes to partnerships. It has two out of the gate — a partnership with Ticketmaster and restaurant review site The Infatuation.

With the Ticketmaster Layer, users will be able to sort through shows at nearby concert venues and can get transferred from the Layer directly to a new Ticketmaster Mini to buy tickets inside the Snapchat app. With The Infatuation, users can scan the map for editorialized recommendations for nearby restaurants with lists and reviews from the site. More of these partnerships on the way, though it doesn’t sound like Snap is planning to open the floodgates to developers anytime soon.

#google-maps, #instant-messaging, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #ticketmaster, #vertical-video, #wechat

Google Maps to add more detailed maps, crowd indicators, better routing and more

Google has announced a series of updates soon coming to Google Maps, as part of the company’s larger goal of delivering over 100 A.I.-powered improvements to the platform by year-end. Among the new improvements, detailed during Google I/O’s developer conference this week, are new routing updates, Live View enhancements, an expansion of detailed street maps, a new “area busyness” feature, and a more personalized Maps experience.

The new routing updates will involve the use of machine learning and navigation information to help reduce “hard-braking moments” — meaning, those times when traffic suddenly slows, and you have to slam on your brakes.

Today, when you get your directions in Maps, Google calculates multiple route options based on a variety of factors, like how many lanes a road has or how direct the route is. With the update, it will add one more: which routes are least likely to cause a “hard-braking moment.” Google will recommend the route that has the least likelihood of those sorts of moments, if the ETA is the same or the difference is minimal between another route. The company says it expects this change could potentially eliminate 100 million hard-breaking events in routes driven with Google Maps every year.

Live View, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature launched in 2019, will soon become available directly from the map interface so you can instantly explore the neighborhood and view details about nearby shops and restaurants, including how busy they are, recent reviews and photos. It will also be updated to include street signs for complex intersections, and will tell you where you are in relation to places like your hotel, so you can make your way back more easily, when in unfamiliar territory.

Image Credits: Google

Google will also expand the more detailed maps it first rolled out to last year to New York, San Francisco, and London. These maps offer more granularity, including both natural features and street info like the location of sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian islands, for example. The information can be particularly useful for those who navigate a city by foot, scooter, bike, or in a wheelchair.

By the end of 2021, these detailed maps will be available in 50 more cities, including  Berlin, São Paulo, Seattle, and Singapore.

Image Credits: Google

Another new feature expands on the “busyness” information Google already provided for businesses, based on anonymized location data collected by Maps users. During the pandemic, that feature became a useful way to avoid crowds at local stores and other businesses, for health and safety. Now, Google Maps will display “busyness” info for parts of town or neighborhoods, to help you either avoid (or perhaps locate) crowded areas — like a street festival, farmers’ market, or nightlife spot, among other things.

Image Credits: Google

Finally, Google Maps will begin customizing its interface to the individual in new ways.

For starters, it may show relevant information based on the time of day where you are.

For instance, when you open the map at 8 AM on a weekday, you may see coffee shops more prominently highlighted, but at night, you may see dinner spots. If you’ve traveled out of town, Google Maps may instead show you landmarks and tourists attractions. And if you want to see more of the same, you can tap on any place to see similar places nearby.

Image Credits: Google

 

Google says these features will roll out globally across iOS and Android in the coming months, but did not provide an exact timeframe for each specific feature. The more detailed maps will arrive by year-end, however.

#apps, #ar, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #cities, #crowds, #google, #google-maps, #machine-learning, #maps, #navigation, #streets, #tc

Google hit with $123M antitrust fine in Italy over Android Auto

Google has been fined just over €100 million (~$123M) by Italy’s antitrust watchdog for abuse of a dominant market position.

The case relates to Android Auto, a modified version of Google’s mobile OS intended for in-car use, and specifically to how Google restricted access to the platform to an electric car charging app, called JuicePass, made by energy company Enel X Italia.

Android Auto lets motorists directly access a selection of relevant apps (like maps and music streaming services) via a dash-mounted screen. But Enel X Italia’s JuicePass app was not one of the third party apps Google granted access to.

The app is accessible via the smartphone version of the Android platform — but of course a driver shouldn’t be reaching for their phone when at the wheel. So barring access through Android Auto puts a significant blocker on relevant usage.

Google’s market restriction of JuicePass has drawn the attention — and now the ire — of Italy’s competition watchdog.

The AGCM said today that Google has violated Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — and has ordered it to make the JuicePass available via the platform.

It also says Google must to provide the same interoperability with Android Auto to other third party app developers.

The authority points out that the Google Maps app, which offers some basic services for electric vehicle charging (such as finding and getting directions to charging points), is available via Android Auto — and could, in future, incorporate directly competitive features like payments.

“According to the Authority’s findings, Google did not allow Enel X Italia to develop a version of its JuicePass app compatible with Android Auto, a specific Android feature that allows apps to be used while the user is driving in compliance with safety, as well as distraction reduction, requirements,” the AGCM writes in a press release announcing the sanction [translated to English using Google Translate]. “JuicePass enables a wide range of services for recharging electric vehicles, ranging from finding a charging station to managing the charging session and reserving a place at the station; this latter function guarantees the actual availability of the infrastructure once the user reaches it.

“By refusing Enel X Italia interoperability with Android Auto, Google has unfairly limited the possibilities for end users to avail themselves of the Enel X Italia app when driving and recharging an electric vehicle. Google has consequently favored its own Google Maps app, which runs on Android Auto and enables functional services for electric vehicle charging, currently limited to finding and getting directions to reach charging points, but which in the future could include other functionalities such as reservation and payment.”

Google denies any wrongdoing and says it disagrees with the order. But it did not confirm whether or not it intends to appeal.

The tech giant claims the restrictions it places on apps’ access to Android Auto are necessary to ensure drivers are not distracted. It also told us that it has been opening up the platform to more apps over time — with “thousands” now compatible.

It added that its intention is to keep expanding availability.

Google did not comment on why Enel X Italia’s app for recharging electric vehicles was not among the “thousands” it has already granted access to, however.

Per the AGCM, Enel X Italia’s app has been excluded from Android Auto for more than two years.

Here’s Google’s statement:

“The number one priority for Android Auto is to ensure apps can be used safely while driving. That’s why we have strict guidelines on the types of apps which are currently supported and these are based on driver-distraction tests and regulatory and industry standards. Thousands of applications are already compatible with Android Auto, and our goal is to allow even more developers to make their apps available over time. For example, we have introduced templates for navigation, charging, and parking apps, open for any developer to use. We disagree with the Authority’s decision and we will review our options.”

Google has a dominant position in the market via the Android smartphone platform, with a marketshare in Italy of around three-quarters according to the competition watchdog.

Under European Union law, a finding of market dominance in one market puts a responsibility on a company not to restrict competition in any other markets where it operates — and the EU already found Google to be a dominant company in general Internet search in every market in the European Economic Area back in 2017.

The AGCM said it’s concerned about the impact of Google’s restrictions on app access to Android Auto on the growth of the electric mobility market.

“If it were to continue, [it] could permanently jeopardise Enel X Italia’s chances of building a solid user base at a time of significant growth in sales of electric vehicles,” it wrote, adding that Google’s action in excluding the JuicePass app meant it did not appear in the list of applications used by users — thereby reducing consumer choice and creating a barrier to innovation.

The authority suggests Google’s conduct could influence the development of electric mobility during a crucial phase — as recharging infrastructures for electric cars are being built out and can help fuel growth and demand for recharging services.

“Consequently, possible negative effects could occur to the diffusion of electric vehicles, to the use of ‘clean’ energy and to the transition towards a more environmentally sustainable mobility,” it warned, linking anti-competitive behavior to negative consequences for the environment.

The AGCM added that it will monitor Google’s compliance with its order to ensure it effectively and correctly implements the obligations to provide third party app developers with access to Android Auto.

The authority’s action could be a taster of what’s coming down the pipe for gatekeeper players like Google in Europe under the incoming Digital Markets Act (DMA).

The flagship legislative proposal is intended to supplement ex post competition law enforcement with ex ante rules on how dominant platforms which intermediate others’ market access can behave — including by imposing up front requirements that they support interoperability.

The idea with the DMA is to supplement the slow and painstaking work needed to bring competition investigations to fruition with proactive measures slapped on tech giants to prevent certain types of known market abuse in the first place. Although the regulation is likely years out from being adopted and applied across the EU.

In the meanwhile competition probes of big tech continue.

Italy’s AGCM opened one into Google’s ad display business last October, for example.

Google has already faced a number of EU antitrust decision in recent years — including a $5BN penalty over how it operates Android. Although search rivals continue to complain that the remedy Google devised for that 2018 decision still does not sum to fair competition.

#android, #android-auto, #antitrust, #automotive, #competition, #electric-car, #enel, #europe, #european-union, #google, #google-maps, #italy, #operating-systems, #policy, #tc

Google begins surfacing vaccine centers, hospital beds, oxygen info in India

Google, which reaches more than half a billion people in India, is turning its services into tools to help the world’s second largest internet market fight the pandemic.

Google said on Monday it has rolled out a range of updates to its Search, Maps, YouTube, and Google Pay services in India to display and boost authoritative and credible information about the coronavirus to help people in the South Asian nation find vaccination centers and other resources to navigate the crisis.

Google Search, which has been offering updates on the virus for more than a year, now also displays information panels with vaccine registration details in India and highlights the official Indian government website for the vaccine at the top.

Search and Maps that have been showing 2,500 testing centers in India now similarly also show locations of over 23,000 vaccination centers across the country in English and eight Indian languages. The company said it is working with India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to source this information.

Google, which identifies India as its biggest market by users, said it is also testing a Q&A function in Google Maps in India to enable people to ask about and share local information on the availability of beds and medical oxygen in select locations in the country.

The new features rollout comes as India reports over 350,000 infections and over 3,500 fatalities everyday. The nation’s healthcare infrastructure is struggling to serve patients, having largely run out of beds and medical supplies. On May 1, India opened vaccination to those aged between 18 to 45, leaving people in scrambles as they struggled to register on the government website and secure the appointment for a vaccination dose.

In recent weeks, scores of firms, startups, entrepreneurs and investors have stepped up to fill this gap. And Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp have become the real-time helpline as people exchange leads with one another.

Google said it is also using its various channels to help extend the reach of health information campaigns in India. This “includes the ‘Get the Facts’ around vaccines campaign, to encourage people to focus on authoritative information and content for vaccines. We’re also surfacing important safety messages through promotions on the Google homepage, Doodles and reminders within our apps and services,” it wrote in a blog post.

On YouTube, Google has curated a set of playlists with videos that offer authoritative information about the vaccine, the spread of the virus, and facts from experts. The company said it has also rolled out a COVID Aid campaign on Google Pay to enable users to donate to non-profit organizations such as GiveIndia, Charities Aid Foundation, Goonj, Save the Children, Seeds, UNICEF India (National NGOs) and United Way.

The company said a similar campaign to support several other foundations has raised over $4.6 million.

“As India battles this devastating wave, we’ll keep doing all we can to support the selfless individuals and committed organizations on the front lines of the response. There’s a long way to go—but standing together in solidarity, working together with determination, we can and will turn the tide,” read a blog post signed by Covid Response team at Google India.

#apps, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid, #facebook, #google, #google-pay, #google-maps, #india, #youtube

Google says Google Earth is getting its biggest update since 2017

Google Earth now features a timelapse mode that brings together 24 million satellite photos from the last 37 years. And… that’s it. Google says it’s the biggest update to Google Earth — a product you’ve likely forgotten even existed — since its redesign in 2017.

To be fair, Google Earth hasn’t gotten any major new features updates since then. So by default, I guess this qualifies as the biggest update to Earth in a while. It’s worth noting, though, that Google Earth timelapses launched a few years already, but on a dedicated site and only in 2D. Now it’s in 3D. Exciting stuff — for five minutes (or really depressing, if you look at the Earth’s glaciers and rain forests).

#google, #google-search, #google-earth, #google-maps, #tc

Google promises better 3D maps

Google is announcing a handful of major updates to Google Maps today that range from bringing its Live View AR directions indoors to adding weather data to its maps, but the most tantalizing news — which in typical Google fashion doesn’t have an ETA just yet — is that Google plans to bring a vastly improved 3D layer to Google maps.

Using photogrammetry, the same technology that also allows Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to render large swaths of the world in detail, Google is also building a model of the world for its Maps service.

“We’re going to continue to improve that technology that helps us fuse together the billions of aerials, StreetView and satellite images that we have to really help us move from that flat 2D map to a more accurate 3D model than we’ve ever had. And be able to do that more quickly. And to bring more detail to it than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Dane Glasgow, Google’s VP for Geo Product Experience, said in a press event ahead of today’s announcement. He noted that this 3D layer will allow the company to visualize all its data in new and interesting ways.

Image Credits: Google

How exactly this will play out in reality remains to be seen, but Glasgow showed off a new 3D route preview, for example, with all of the typically mapping data overlayed on top of the 3D map.

Glasgow also noted that this technology will allow Google to parse out small features like stoplights and building addresses, which in turn will result in better directions.

“We also think that the 3D imagery will allow us to visualize a lot of new information and data overlaid on top, you know, everything from helpful information like traffic or accidents, transit delays, crowdedness — there’s lots of potential here to bring new information,” he explained.

Image Credits: Google

As for the more immediate future, Google announced a handful of new features today that are all going to roll out in the coming months. Indoor Live View is the flashiest of these. Google’s existing AR Live View walking directions currently only work outdoors, but thanks to some advances in its technology to recognize where exactly you are (even without a good GPS signal), the company is now able to bring this indoors. This feature is already live in some malls in the U.S. in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, but in the coming months, it’ll come to select airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich as well (just in time for vaccines to arrive and travel to — maybe — rebound). Because Google is able to locate you by comparing the images around you to its database, it can also tell what floor you are on and hence guide you to your gate at the Zurich airport, for example (though in my experience, there are few places with better signage than airports…).

Also new are layers for weather data (but not weather radar) and air quality in Google Maps. The weather layer will be available globally on Android and iOS in the coming months, with the air quality layer only launching for Australia, India and the U.S. at first.

Image Credits: Google

Talking about air quality, Google Maps will also get a new eco-friendly routing option that lets you pick the driving route that produces the least CO2 (coming to Android and iOS later this year), and it will finally feature support for low emission zones, a feature of many a European City. Low emission zones on Google Maps will launch in June in Germany, France, Spain and the UK on Android and iOS. More countries will follow later.

And to bring this all together, Google will update its directions interface to show you all of the possible modes of transportations and routing options, prioritized based on your own preferences, as well as based on what’s popular in the city you are in (think he subway in NYC or bike-sharing in Portland).

Also new are more integrated options for curbside grocery pickups in partnership with Instacart and Albertsons, if that’s your thing.

And there you have it. As is so often the case with Google’s announcement, the most exciting new features the company showed off don’t have an ETA and may never launch, but until then you can hold yourself over by getting your weather forecasts on Google Maps.

#albertsons, #android, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #chicago, #computing, #eta, #france, #germany, #google, #google-search, #google-maps, #gps, #india, #instacart, #los-angeles, #maps, #newark, #operating-systems, #portland, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #seattle, #software, #spain, #tokyo, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zurich

Google Maps introduces a way for users to add and edit roads (again)

Google plans to introduce a new feature to Google Maps that will allow users to draw missing roads directly in the map, ostensibly improving the service’s coverage in some areas where Google’s data sources are not comprehensive.

The feature will only be available on the desktop web version of Google Maps, not on mobile phone apps. And it will—at least at first—be offered in 80 countries. Google says it will “vet” these suggested map changes before publishing them for other users to see.

Here’s how it works, according to Google:

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#android, #google, #google-maps, #tech

Google unveils $25 million in grants aimed at empowering women and girls

Google announced a range of programs as well as grants worth $25 million on Monday to fund works of nonprofits and social enterprises that are committed to empower women and girls.

The effort, unveiled on Internet Women’s Day, is aimed at addressing systemic barriers so that women get access to economic equality, opportunity to build financial independence and pursue entrepreneurism, said Google chief executive Sundar Pichai at a virtual event.

“Whatever these teams need, we are going to be alongside them and help carry out their vision,” said Jacquelline Fuller, President of Google.org, at the event. The company said it will accept applications from teams worldwide until April 9.

Fuller also announced that Google.org is going to invest an additional $1 million to help underserved women in India. Even as India is the world’s second largest internet market, women make up a small percentage of online users in the country.

Five years ago, Google launched a program called Internet Saathi to bring internet literacy to women in rural parts of India. The company said the program, for which it collaborated with Indian conglomerate Tata, significantly helped improve women’s participation on Indian internet.

Four of 10 internet users in rural India are now women, said Google, up from one in 10 in 2015. The company, citing its own research, said Internet Saathi program benefited more than 30 million women in India — and that it’s now concluding the program to focus on other efforts to continue this mission.

“This program created a cascading effect,” said Sanjay Gupta, the head of Google India, at the event.

But simply getting online “isn’t progress enough,” said Sapna Chadha, Senior Marketing Director for Google in India and Southeast Asia. “Women in India have traditionally been held back from economic participation.”

The company has partnered with Nasscom Foundation, the social arm of influential Indian trade group, to bring digital and financial literacy to 100,000 women farmers in India, and is creating a program called “Women Will” to enable and support 1 million women entrepreneurs.

As part of Women Will program, Chadha unveiled a repository website that she said will feature tutorials, business ideas and other opportunities in English and Hindi languages.

Google is also working on rolling out a new feature on Google Pay app that will allow entrepreneurs to showcase their business pages within the payments app at no charge, said Chadha. And women entrepreneurs can now choose to highlight that their business is led by a woman or women across Google Search and Google Maps listings, Chadha said.

“I call upon you to come together to build a future we can all be proud of — a future where no daughter of ours is shackled by the burdens of her gender,” said Smriti Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development, Government of India, at the event.

#google, #google-pay, #google-search, #google-maps, #google-org, #social

Google Maps users can now pay for parking or their transit fare right from the app

Drivers throughout the United States will now have the option to pay for street parking right from Google Maps as part of an expanded partnership with transportation software companies Passport and Parkmobile. Google also announced it was extending this contactless payment feature to public transit users.

Google Maps’ pay for parking feature will expand first via Android to more than 400 U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C. The feature will be available through the iOS version of the Google Maps app soon, the company said. The transit feature will include more than 80 transit agencies globally.

The parking feature, which integrates with Passport’s operating system, launched in Austin last year. The two companies indicated, at the time, that the feature would eventually roll out in other U.S. cities. While the expansion was expected, it’s still a boon for the North Carolina-based startup, which is now integrated in one of the most widely used navigation apps. The same goes for Parkmobile, which is also embedded in Google Maps.

The aim, according to Google Maps product manager Vishal Dutta and Google Pay’s Fausto Araujo, is to help drivers users pay for parking without having to touch a meter — a compelling feature in this era of COVID-19.

When navigating with Google Maps on iOS and Android, drivers in certain cities in the U.S. will see an option to pay for parking with Google Pay as they approach their destination. This means a user has to set up a Google Pay account, which is linked to a credit or debit card. From there, drivers add their meter number, the amount of time they wish to pay for, and complete the payment via Google Pay. Parkers can also add time to their meter from their Google Pay app without returning to their vehicle.

#automotive, #google, #google-maps, #passport, #tc, #transportation

India lifts restrictions on mapping and surveying to help local firms

India said on Monday local firms will no longer need license or other permission to collect, generate, store and share geospatial data of the country, bringing sweeping changes to its earlier stance that it admitted hindered innovation.

Until now, New Delhi required Indian firms to seek licenses and additional approvals to create and publish topographical data. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today’s “deregulation” step will help the country become more self-reliant and reach its $5 trillion GDP goal.

“The regulations that apply to geospatial data and maps henceforth stand radically liberalised. The Department of Science and Technology is announcing sweeping changes to India’s mapping policy, specifically for Indian companies. What is readily available globally does not need to be restricted in India and therefore geospatial data that used to be restricted will now be freely available in India,” New Delhi said in a statement.

In its guidelines, New Delhi said local firms will be permitted access to “ground truthing/verification” that includes access to Indian ground stations and augmentation services for real-time positioning. Indian firms will also be provided access to terrestrial mobile mapping survey, street view survey and surveying in Indian territorial waters.

New Delhi said in the guidelines that only Indian firms shall be permitted access to the aforementioned surveys. Google has previously made unsuccessful attempts to launch its Street View service in India. A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company was reviewing the guidelines and had no immediate comment to offer.

“Foreign companies and foreign owned or controlled Indian companies can license from Indian Entities digital Maps/Geospatial Data of spatial accuracy/value finer than the threshold value only for the purpose of serving their customers in India. Access to such Maps/Geospatial Data shall only be made available through APIs that do not allow Maps/Geospatial Data to pass through Licensee Company or its servers. Re-use or resale of such map data by licensees shall be prohibited,” the guidelines added.

Devdatta Tengshe, who works in the GIS space, told TechCrunch that the government’s move today was significant for the local ecosystem including citizens as previous restrictions had created an uncertainty on what precisely was permitted.

“Today’s announcement makes it explicitly clear that Indian entities can perform any location data collection and we can collect data on our own,” he said. “Additionally, the location data from agencies like municipality will be made available to Indian entities.”

Flipkart-backed 25-year-old firm MapMyIndia said today’s move by the government is “historic” as it opens up maps and the geospatial sector and ushers the self-reliance era in “strategic areas of maps to empower all 1.3 billion Indians and give unprecedented opportunities and growth for Indian companies.”

Modi said: “The reforms will unlock tremendous opportunities for our country’s start-ups, private sector, public sector and research institutions to drive innovations and build scalable solutions. India’s farmers will also be benefited by leveraging the potential of geo-spatial & remote sensing data. Democratizing data will enable the rise of new technologies & platforms that will drive efficiencies in agriculture and allied sectors. These reforms demonstrate our commitment to improving ease of doing business in India by deregulation.”

#asia, #flipkart, #google, #google-maps, #government, #india, #mapmyindia

Google expands languages push in India to serve non-English speakers

There are over 600 million internet users in India, but only a fraction of this population is fluent in English. Most online services and much of the content on the web currently, however, are available exclusively in English.

This language barrier continues to contribute to a digital divide in the world’s second largest internet market that has limited hundreds of millions of users’ rendition of the world wide web to a select few websites and services.

So it comes as no surprise that American tech giants, which are counting on emerging markets such as India to continue their growth. are increasingly attempting to make the web and their services accessible to more people.

Google, which has so far led this effort, on Thursday announced a range of changes it is rolling out across some of its services to make them speak more local languages and unveiled a whole new approach it’s taking to translate languages.

Additionally, Google said it plans to invest in machine learning and AI efforts at Google’s research center in India and make its AI models accessible to everyone across the ecosystem. The company — which counts India as its biggest market by users, and this year committed to invest more than $10 billion in the country over the coming years — also plans to partner with local startups that are serving users in local languages, and “drastically” improve the experience of Google products and services for Indian language users.

Product changes

Users will now be able to see search results to their queries in Tamil, Telugu, Bangla, and Marathi, in addition to English and Hindi that are currently available. The addition comes four years after Google added the Hindi tab to the search page in India. The company said the volume of search queries in Hindi grew more than 10 times after the introduction of this tab. If someone prefers to see their query in Tamil, for instance, now they will be able to set Tamil tab next to English and quickly toggle between the two.

Getting search results in a local language is helpful, but often people want to make their queries in those languages as well. Google says it has found that typing in non-English language is another challenge users face today. “As a result, many users search in English even if they really would prefer to see results in a local language they understand,” the company said.

To address this challenge, Search will start to show relevant content in supported Indian languages where appropriate even if the local language query is typed in English. The feature, which the company plans to roll out over the next month, supports five Indian languages: Hindi, Bangla, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu.

Google is also making it easier for users to quickly change the preferred language in which they see results in an app without altering the device’s language settings. The feature, which is currently available in Discover and Google Assistant, will now roll out in Maps. Similarly, Google Lens’s Homework feature, which allows users to take a picture of a math or science problem and then delivers its answer, now supports Hindi language.

MuRIL

Google executives also detailed a new language AI model, which they are calling Multilingual Representations for Indian Languages (MuRIL), that delivers more efficiency and accuracy in handling transliteration, spelling variations and mixed languages. MuRIL provides support for transliterated text such as when writing Hindi using Roman script, which was something missing from previous models of its kind, said Partha Talukdar, Research Scientist at Google Research India, at a virtual event Thursday.

The company said it trained the new model with articles on Wikipedia and texts from a dataset called Common Crawl. It also trained it on transliterated text from, among other sources, Wikipedia (fed through Google’s existing neural machine translation models). The result is that MuRIL handles Indian languages better than previous, more general language models and can contend with letters and words that have been transliterated — that is, Google is using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or script.

Additionally, the new model allows Google to “transfer knowledge and training from one language to another,” said Talukdar, who noted that the previous model Google relied on proved unscalable. MuRIL significantly outperforms the earlier model — by 10% on native text and 27% on transliterated text. MuRIL, which was developed by executives in India, is open source.

MuRIL supports 16 Indian languages and English.

One of the many tasks MuRIL is good at, is determining the sentiment of the sentence. For example, “Achha hua account bandh nahi hua” would previously be interpreted as having a negative meaning, but MuRIL correctly identifies this as a positive statement. Or take the ability to classify a person versus a place: ‘Shirdi ke sai baba’ would previously be interpreted as a place, which is wrong, but MuRIL correctly interprets it as a person.

More to follow…

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #google, #google-maps, #india

AWS launches Amazon Location, a new mapping service for developers

AWS today announced the preview of Amazon Location, a new service for developers who want to add location-based features to their web-based and mobile applications.

Based on mapping data from Esri and HERE Technologies, the service provides all of the basic mapping and point-of-interest data you would expect from a mapping service, including built-in tracking and geofencing features. It does not offer a routing feature, though.

“We want to make it easier and more cost-effective for you to add maps, location awareness, and other location-based features to your web and mobile applications,” AWS’s Jeff Barr writes in today’s announcement. “Until now, doing this has been somewhat complex and expensive, and also tied you to the business and programming models of a single provider.”

Image Credits: Amazon

At its core, Amazon Location provides the ability to create maps, based on the data and styles available from its partners (with more partners in the works) and access to their points of interest. Those are obviously the two core features for any mapping service. On top of this, Location also offers built-in support for trackers, so that apps can receive location updates from devices and plot them on a map. This feature can also be linked to Amazon Location’s geofencing tool so apps can send alerts when a device (or the dog that wears it) leaves a particular area.

It may not be as fully-featured as the Google Maps Platform, for example, but AWS promises that Location will be more affordable, with a variety of pricing plans (and a free three-month trial) that start at $0.04 for retrieving 1,000 map tiles. As with all things AWS, the pricing gets more complicated from there but seems quite reasonable overall.

While you can’t directly compare AWS’s tile-based pricing with Google’s plans, it’s worth noting that after you go beyond Google Map Platform’s $200 of free usage per month, static maps cost $2 per 1,000 requests.

After a number of pricing changes, Google’s mapping services lost a lot of goodwill from developers. AWS may be able to capitalize on this with this new platform, especially if it continues to build out its feature set to fill in some of the current gaps in the service.

 

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #aws, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #developer, #esri, #google, #google-maps, #information, #jeff-barr, #software, #tc

Android’s winter update adds new features to Gboard, Maps, Books, Nearby Share and more

Google announced this morning Android phones will receive an update this winter that will bring some half-dozen new features to devices, including improvements to apps like Gboard, Google Play Books, Voice Access, Google Maps, Android Auto, and Nearby Share. The release is the latest in a series of update bundles that now allow Android devices to receive new features outside of the usual annual update cycle.

The bundles may not deliver Android’s latest flagship features, but they offer steady improvements on a more frequent basis.

One of the more fun bits in the winter update will include a change to “Emoji Kitchen,” the feature in the Gboard keyboard app that lets users combine their favorite emoji to create new ones that can be shared as customized stickers. To date, users have remixed emoji over 3 billion times since the feature launched earlier this year, Google says. Now, the option is being expanded. Instead of offering hundreds of design combinations, it will offer over 14,000. You’ll also be able to tap two emoji to see suggested combinations or double tap on one emoji to see other suggestions.

Image Credits: Google

This updated feature had been live in the Gboard beta app, but will now roll out to Android 6.0 and above devices in the weeks ahead.

Another update will expand audiobook availability on Google Play Books. Now, Google will auto-generate narrations for books that don’t offer an audio version. The company says it worked with publishers in the U.S. and U.K. to add these auto-narrated books to Google Play Books. The feature is in beta but will roll out to all publishers in early 2021.

An accessibility feature that lets people use and navigate their phone with voice commands, Voice Access, will also be improved. The feature will soon leverage machine learning to understand interface labels on devices. This will allow users to refer to things like the “back” and “more” buttons, and many others by name when they are speaking.

The new version of Voice Access, now in beta, will be available to all devices worldwide running Android 6.0 or higher.

An update for Google Maps will add a new feature to one of people’s most-used apps.

In a new (perhaps Waze-inspired) “Go Tab,” users will be able to more quickly navigate to frequently visited places — like a school or grocery store, for example — with a tap. The app will allow users to see directions, live traffic trends, disruptions on the route, and gives an accurate ETA, without having to type in the actual address. Favorite places — or in the case of public transit users, specific routes — can be pinned in the Go Tab for easy access. Transit users will be able to see things like accurate departure and arrival times, alerts from the local transit agency, and an up-to-date ETA.

Image Credits: Google

One potentially helpful use case for this new feature would be to pin both a transit route and driving route to the same destination, then compare their respective ETAs to pick the faster option.

This feature is coming to both Google Maps on Android as well as iOS in the weeks ahead.

Android Auto will expand to more countries over the next few months. Google initially said it would reach 36 countries, but then updated the announcement language as the timing of the rollout was pushed back. The company now isn’t saying how many countries will gain access in the months to follow or which ones, so you’ll need stay tuned for news on that front.

Image Credits: Google

The final change is to Nearby Share, the proximity-based sharing feature that lets users share things like links, files, photos and and more even when they don’t have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection available. The feature, which is largely designed with emerging markets in mind, will now allow users to share apps from Google Play with people around them, too.

To do so, you’ll access a new “Share Apps” menu in “Manage Apps & Games” in the Google Play app. This feature will roll out in the weeks ahead.

Some of these features will begin rolling out today, so you may receive them earlier than a timeframe of several “weeks,” but the progress of each update will vary.

#android, #apps, #emoji, #gboard, #google, #google-play, #google-play-books, #google-maps, #mobile, #smartphones

Google now lets anyone contribute to Street View using AR and an app

An update to Google’s Street View app on Android will now let anyone contribute their photos to help enhance Google Maps, the company announced this morning. Using a “connected photos” tool in the new version of the Street View app, users are able to record a series of images as they move down the street or a path. The feature requires an ARCore-compatible Android device, and for the time being, will only support image capture and upload in select geographic regions.

ARCore is Google’s platform for building augmented reality experiences. It works by allowing the phone to sense its environment, including the size and location of all types of surfaces, the position of the phone in relation to the world around it, and the lighting conditions of the environment. This is supported on a variety of Android devices running Android 7.0 (Nougat) or higher.

Meanwhile, Google’s Street View app has been around for half a decade. Initially, it was designed to allow users to share their own panoramic photos to improve the Google Maps experience. But as phones have evolved, so has the app.

The updated version of the Street View app allows users to capture images using ARCore — the same AR technology Google users for its own Live View orientation experiences in Maps, which helps phones “see” various landmarks to help users get their bearings.

After the images are published in the Street View app, Google will then automatically rotate, position and create a series of connected photos using those images, and put them in the correct place on Google Maps so others can see them.

It will also use the same privacy controls on these contributed photos as are offered on its own Street View images (the ones it captured by driving the Street View car around). This include blurring people’s faces and license plates, and allowing users to report imagery and other content for review, if needed.

Image Credits: Google

The new system of connected photos won’t be as polished as Google’s own Street View images, but it does make the ability to publish to Street View more accessible. Now, the image capturing process no longer requires a 360-degree camera or other equipment mounted to a top of car, for example. And that means users who live in more remote regions will be able to contribute to Street View, without needing anything more than a supported Android phone and internet connection.

Google says it will still default to showing its own Street View imagery when it’s available, which will be indicated with a solid blue line. But in the case where there’s no Street View option, the contributed connected photos will appear in the Street View layer as a dotted blue line instead.

Image Credits: Google

The company will also use the data in the photos to update Google Maps with the names and addresses of businesses that aren’t already in the system, including their posted hours, if that’s visible on a store sign, for instance.

During early tests, users captured photo using this technology in Nigeria, Japan and Brazil.

Today, Google says it’s officially launching the connected photos feature in beta in the Street View app. During this public beta period, users will be able to try the feature in Toronto, Canada, New York, NY and Austin, TX, along with Nigeria, Indonesia and Costa Rica. More regions will be supported in the future as the test progresses, Google says.

#android, #android-apps, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #google, #google-street-view, #google-maps, #maps, #street-view

Google Maps takes on Facebook with launch of its own news feed

People are getting frustrated that Stories are everywhere now, but Google Maps is keeping it old school. Instead of adding tiny circles to the top of the app’s screen, Google Maps is introducing its own news feed. Technically, Google calls its new feature the “Community Feed,” as it includes posts from a local area. However, it’s organized as any other news feed would be — a vertically scrollable feed with posts you can “Like” by tapping on a little thumbs up icon.

The feed, which is found with the Explore tab of the Google Maps app, is designed to make it easier to find the most recent news, updates, and recommendations from trusted local sources. This includes posts business owners create using Google My Business to alert customers to new deals, menu updates, and other offers. At launch, Google says the focus will be on highlighting posts from food and drink businesses.

For years, businesses have been able to make these sorts of posts using Google’s tools. But previously, users would have to specifically tap to follow the business’s profile in order to receive their updates.

Now, these same sort of posts will be surfaced to even those Google Maps users who didn’t take the additional step of following a particular business. This increased exposure has impacted the posts’ views, Google says. In early tests of Community Feed ahead of its public launch, Google found that businesses’ posts saw more than double the number of views than before the feed existed.

Image Credits: Google

In addition to posts from businesses, the new Community Feed will feature content posted by Google users you follow as well as recent reviews from Google’s Local Guides — the volunteer program where users share their knowledge about local places in order to earn perks, such as profile badges, early access to Google features, and more. Select publishers will participate in the Community Feed, too, including The Infatuation and other news sources from Google News, when relevant.

Much of the information found in the Community Feed was available elsewhere in Google Maps before today’s launch.

For example, the Google Maps’ Updates tab offered a similar feed that included businesses’ posts along with news, recommendations, stories, and other features designed to encourage discovery. Meanwhile, the Explore tab grouped businesses into thematic groupings (e.g. outdoor dining venues, cocktail bars, etc.) at the top of the screen, then allowed users to browse other lists and view area photos.

With the update, those groups of businesses by category will still sit at the top of the screen, but the rest of the tab is dedicated to the scrollable feed. This gives the tab a more distinct feel than it had before. It could even position Google to venture into video posts in the future, given the current popularity of TikTok-style  short-form video feeds that have now cloned by Instagram and Snapchat.

Image Credits: Google

Today, it’s a more standard feed, however. As you scroll down, you can tap “Like” on those posts you find interesting to help better inform your future recommendations. You can also tap “Follow” on businesses you want to hear more from, which will send their alerts to your Updates tab, as well. Thankfully, there aren’t comments.

Google hopes the change will encourage users to visit the app more often in order to find out what’s happening in their area — whether that’s a new post from a business or a review from another user detailing some fun local activity, like a day trip or new hiking spot, for example.

The feature can be used when traveling or researching other areas, too, as the “Community Feed” you see is designated not based on where you live or your current location, but rather where you’re looking on the map.

The feed is the latest in what’s been a series of updates designed to make Google Maps more of a Facebook rival. Over the past few years, Google Maps has added features that allowed users to follow businesses, much like Facebook does, as well as message those businesses directly in the app, similar to Messenger. Businesses, meanwhile, have been able to set up their own profile in Google Maps, where they could add a logo, cover photo, and pick short name — also a lot like Facebook Pages offer today.

With the launch of a news feed-style feature, Google’s attempt to copy Facebook is even more obvious.

Google says the feature is rolling out globally on Google Maps for iOS and Android.

 

 

#android, #android-apps, #apps, #business, #businesses, #food, #google, #google-my-business, #google-maps, #ios-apps, #maps, #merchants, #news-feed

Google updates Maps with more COVID info and finally launches its Assistant driving mode

Google today announced an update to Google Maps that includes a number of new COVID-related features, as well as the ability to see the live status of your takeout or delivery orders, as well as the launch of the long-expected new Assistant driving mode.

In addition, the company shared a few new stats around Google Maps today. The company says that it makes 50 million updates to Maps each day now, for example, though that includes user-generated content like user reviews, photos and ratings. The company also now features “popular times” information for 20 million places around the globe.

Image Credits: Google Maps

As far as COVID is concerned, there are two announcements here. First, Google is updating the COVID layer in Google Maps on Android and iOS with some new information, including the number of all-time detected cases in an area and links to COVID resources from local governments. Second, Google Maps can now tell you, in real time, how busy a given transit line is so you can avoid packed trains or busses, for example. That’s based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users and will feel familiar if you are aware of how Google Maps can already show you how busy a given store or restaurant currently is.

Image Credits: Google Maps

Semi-related — delivery services are booming during the pandemic, after all (even as they continue to struggle to make a profit) — Google Maps on mobile will now be able to show you the live delivery status of your takeout and delivery orders in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil and India. To do so, you have to book your order from Google Maps on Android or iOS.

For Google Maps users who don’t have an Android Auto-compatible car, the new Google Assistant driving mode in Maps has long been something to look forward to. The company first talked about this set of new features at its I/O developers conference in May 2019, but as is so often the case, features announced at I/O take a while to get to market. Originally, this was supposed to launch last summer.

Image Credits: Google Maps

The idea here is to allow drivers to get alerts about incoming calls, have the Assistant read out text messages and control your music right inside of Google Maps. Using the Assistant ideally reduces driver distractions. For now, this new mode is only coming to Android users in the U.S., though, and the number of features it supports remains limited. Google promises to support more features over time, but it’s not clear which features it plans to add to this mode.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #australia, #brazil, #canada, #computing, #covid-19, #driver, #germany, #google, #google-maps, #india, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #united-states

Google Maps launches a new developer solution for on-demand ride and delivery companies

The Google Maps Platform, the developer side of Google Maps, is launching a new service for on-demand rides and delivery companies today that ties together some of the platform’s existing capabilities with new features for finding nearby drivers and sharing trip and order progress information with customers.

This isn’t Google Maps Platform’s first foray into this business. Back in 2018, the company launched a solution for in-app navigation for ridesharing companies, for example. At the time, the team didn’t really focus on delivery solutions, though, but that’s obviously one of the few booming markets right now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Building on 15 years of experience mapping the world, the On-demand Rides & Deliveries solution helps businesses improve operations as well as transform the driver and customer journey from booking to arrival or delivery–all with predictable pricing per completed trip,” Google senior product manager Eli Danziger writes in today’s announcement.”

At the core of the service is the Google Maps routing service, which developers can tweak for deliveries by bike or motorcycle, for example, and to find optimized routes with the shortest or fastest path. The team notes that this so-called ‘Routes Preferred’ feature also enables arrival time predictions for time-sensitive deliveries and pricing estimates.

The other new feature of this platform is to enable developers to quickly build an experience that helps users find nearby drivers. Imaginatively called ‘Nearby Drivers,’ the idea here is about as straightforward as you can imagine and allows developers to find the closest driver with a single API call. They can also add custom rankings, based on their specific needs, to ensure the right driver is matched to the right route.

Unsurprisingly, the platform also features support for in-app navigation, and that’s tied in closely with the rest of the feature set.

Developers can also easily integrate Google’s real-time trip and order progress capabilities to “keep customers informed from pickup to drop-off or delivery, with a real-time view of a driver’s current position, route, and ETA.”

All of this is pretty much what any user would expect from a modern ride-sharing or delivery app, so for the most part, that’s table stakes. The technology behind it is not, though, and a lot of delivery companies have set up large tech operations to build out exactly these features. They aren’t likely to switch to Google’s platform, but the platform may give smaller players a chance to operate more efficiently or enter new markets without the added expense of having to build this tech stack from the ground up — or cobble it together from multiple vendors.

 

#cloud, #developer, #developers, #google, #google-maps-platform, #google-maps

Duplex, Google’s conversational A.I, has updated 3M+ business listings since pandemic

Google today offered an update on the status of Duplex, its A.I. technology that uses natural conversations to get things done — like making restaurant reservations, booking appointments, or updating a Google Business listing, for example. When the pandemic began, Google expanded its use of Duplex for business updates to eight countries, and has since made over 3 million updates to business listings — including pharmacies, restaurants and grocery stores.

These updates have been seen over 20 billion times across Maps and Search, the company says.

The A.I. technology, first introduced at the Google I/O developer conference in 2018, is able to place calls to businesses and interact with the people who answer the phone. In the case of reservations or appointment setting, it can request dates and times, respond to questions, and even make sounds to make the A.I. seem more like a person. For instance, it can insert subtle vocal breaks, like “mm-hm” and “um,” into its conversations.

Since launching, Duplex in Google Assistant has completed over a million bookings, Google announced today.

The company also noted it began to use Duplex to automatically update business information on Google Maps and Search in the U.S. last year, saving business owners from having to manually update details like store hours, or whether they offer takeout, among other things.

Last year, Google also brought Duplex to the web in the U.S., to help users book things like movie tickets and rental cars. Today, Google says it will begin piloting the same experience with other things, like shopping and ordering food for a faster checkout experience.

Just a few weeks ago, Google also introduced another Duplex-powered feature, “Hold for Me,” which lets you use Google Assistant to wait on hold on your phone call, then alert you when someone joins the line.

Thanks to advances in neural speech recognition and synthesis, and in Google’s own new language understanding models, the company says today that 99% of Duplex calls are entirely automated.

The Duplex update was one of several announcements Google made today at its Search On 2020 event, where it introduced a number of search improvements, including the ability to search for songs by humming, better guess at misspellings, point users to the correct part of a page to answer their question, tag key moments in videos, and more.

#a-i, #artificial-intelligence, #duplex, #google, #google-assistant, #google-search, #google-maps, #google-voice, #speech-recognition, #tc