Google puts an end to Chrome extension installs from third-party sites

Google today announced a major change to its Chrome Web Store policy that aims to shield users from websites that try to fool them into installing their Chrome extensions. Until now, developers who publish their apps in the Web Store could also initiate app and extension installs from their own websites. Too often, though, developers combined these so-called “inline installs” with deceptive information on their sites to get users to install them. Unsurprisingly, that’s not quite the experience Google had in mind when it enabled this feature back in 2011, so now it’s shutting it down.

Starting today, inline installation will be unavailable to all newly published extensions. Developers who use the standard method for calling for an install from their site will see that their users will get redirected to the Chrome Web Store to complete the installation.

Come September 12, 2018, all inline installs of existing extensions will be shut down and users will be redirected to the store, too. Come December and the launch of Chrome 71, the API that currently allows for this way of installing extensions will go away.

“As we’ve attempted to address this problem over the past few years, we’ve learned that the information displayed alongside extensions in the Chrome Web Store plays a critical role in ensuring that users can make informed decisions about whether to install an extension,” James Wagner, the product manager for the extensions platform, writes in today’s update. “When installed through the Chrome Web Store, extensions are significantly less likely to be uninstalled or cause user complaints, compared to extensions installed through inline installation.”

As Wagner notes, inline installations have been an issue for a long time. Back in 2015, for example, sites that tried to deceive users into installing extensions by getting them to click on fake ads or error messages were the main issue.

Amazon launches a ‘lite’ Android web browser app in India

Amazon has quietly launched an Android web browser app for emerging markets, where access to mobile data and high-speed connectivity is more limited. The browser has the rather generic name of: “Internet: fast, lite and private” on Google Play, and promises to be “lighter than the competition.”

The app first appeared on the Play Store in March, and has fewer than 1,000 downloads, according to data from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower.

It’s only available to users in India for the time being, and is supported on devices running Android 5.0 or higher.

Like most “lite” apps, the new browser is a small download — it’s less than 2 MB in size. That’s much smaller than other browsers, including Chrome (21MB), Edge (54.5MB), Firefox (19.9MB) and Opera (14.7MB), according to an analysis by appFigures.

The browser’s Google Play description also notes that it’s “private,” as it doesn’t ask for extra permissions or collect private data like other browsers do. This seems to indicate that it’s meant to be something of a competitor to other private mobile browsers, like Firefox, which blocks website trackers.

The browser additionally supports Private tabs, so you can browse without saving visits to your history, plus other features like tab previews, an automatic full-screen mode and integrated news reader of sorts.

In fact, the news reading experience is another telling indication that the browser is only meant for Indian users. The app’s description notes the browser homepage is designed to keep you up-to-date with news, cricket and entertainment from top sources. Yep, cricket — the most popular sport in India.

And finally, the “feedback” email on Google Play points to Amazon India, which indicates it was built by that team.

In addition to the new browser, Amazon also offers a Kindle Lite app in India.

The company is not alone in building lightweight mobile apps for emerging markets.

Facebook also offers “lite” versions of its apps, like Facebook Lite and Messenger Lite, to reach users with limited connectivity and access to data. Google has also rolled out a suite of lightweight mobile apps under the “Go” branding. Some of these, like Gmail Go, only come pre-installed on select devices. Others, meanwhile, are available through Google Play for anyone to download, like YouTube Go, Files Go, Google Go, Google Maps and Google Assistant Go.

It is interesting, however, that Amazon didn’t adopt a similar strategy by offering a “lite” version of its existing Silk browser, but has instead built something new.

And if its goal is to offer an alternative to Silk on the Fire tablets it sells in India, it’s odd that the browser isn’t yet available in the Amazon Appstore in India.

Amazon has not yet returned a request for comment about the new app.

Google is banning all cryptomining extensions from its Chrome Web Store

Google today announced that it will ban from its Chrome Web Store any and all browser extensions that mine crypto.

Mining cryptocurrencies in the browser isn’t the most efficient way for individuals to get rich, but if you are a developer and you get thousands of machines to mine for you, that equation changes in your favor. For the longest time, Google’s Chrome Web Store allowed for single-purpose mining extensions. That is, developers could publish extensions in the store that clearly stated their purpose and that had no other purpose than to mine.

As it turns out, 90 percent of extensions that mine crypto don’t comply with those rules. The lure of cheap Monero is simply too great for some developers, so they try to smuggle their mining scripts into what look like legitimate extensions. Some of those get detected and removed outright and some actually make it into the store and have to be removed. Google is obviously not happy with that, as it’s not a great user experience. Those extensions tend to use a good amount of processing power, after all.

So starting today, Google won’t allow into the Chrome Web Store any extension that mines cryptocurrencies, and starting in late June, all of the existing extensions will be removed. It’s worth noting that Google will still allow for blockchain-related extensions that don’t mine.

“The extensions platform provides powerful capabilities that have enabled our developer community to build a vibrant catalog of extensions that help users get the most out of Chrome,” writes James Wagner, Google’s product manager for its extensions platform. “Unfortunately, these same capabilities have attracted malicious software developers who attempt to abuse the platform at the expense of users. This policy is another step forward in ensuring that Chrome users can enjoy the benefits of extensions without exposing themselves to hidden risks.”

Google’s Song Maker experiment makes making songs easy

 Google has added a new instrument to its Chrome Music Lab: Song Maker. As the name implies, Song Maker is all about making songs. It’s essentially an easy to use sequencer that lets you draw melodies in the browser (though it doesn’t feature some of the automation in the Music Lab’s Melody Maker tool). It’s no FL Studio, but it’s fun and you get to choose between… Read More