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Google Assistant gets an incognito-like guest mode

Google is launching a few new privacy features today that include a refreshed Safety Center that’s now live in the U.S. and coming soon globally, as well as more prominent alerts when the company expects that your account has been tampered with.

The most interesting new feature, however, is a new Guest mode for the Google Assistant on Google-branded devices. Not to be confused with giving guests access to your Google Chromecast, for example, this new Guest mode is more akin to the incognito mode in your browser. With Guest mode on, which you invoke by saying “Hey Google, turn on guest mode,” the Assistant won’t offer personalized responses and your interactions won’t be saved to your account. It’ll stay on until you turn it off.

Typically, the Google Assistant saves all of your interactions to your account.  You can delete those manually or have Google automatically delete them after 3, 18 or 36 months. You can also prevent it from saving any audio recordings at all.

This new feature will roll out to smart speakers and displays in the coming weeks.

Talking about deleting your data, Google today also announced that you will soon be able to edit your Location History data in the Google Maps Timeline.

Also new: when you now search for “Is my Google Account secure” or use a similar query, Google will start displaying your security and privacy settings for you. That’s actually a useful step forward, given that we’ve reached a point where those settings are often hard to find.

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Google Maps gets improved Live View AR directions

Google today announced a few updates to Live View, the augmented reality walking directions in its Google Maps app that officially launched last year. Live View uses your phone’s camera and GPS to tell you exactly where to go, making it a nice addition to the standard map-centric directions in similar applications.

The new features Google is introducing today include the ability to invoke Live View from the transit tab in Google Maps when you’re on a journey that includes multiple modes of transportation. Until now, the only way to see Live View was when you were asking for pure walking directions.

Image Credits: Google

If you’re like me and perpetually disoriented after you exit a subway station in a new city (remember 2019, when we could still travel?), this is a godsend. And I admit that I often forget Live View exists. Adding it to multimodel directions may just get me to try it out more often since it is now more clearly highlighted in the app.

Google Maps can now also identify landmarks around you to give you better guidance and a clearer idea of where you are in a city. Think the Empire State Building in New York, for example.

Image Credits: Google

These new landmarks will be coming to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Dubai, Florence, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo and Vienna, with more to follow.

If you’re a regular Live View user, you’ll know that the actual pin locations in this mode can sometimes be off. In hilly areas, the pin can often be hovering high above your destination, for example. Now, Google promises to fix this by using a combination of machine learning and better topographical maps to place the pin exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Also new is the ability to use Live View in combination with Google Maps’ location sharing feature. So when a friend shares their location with you, you can now see exactly where they are in Live View, too, and get directions to meet them.

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Google Maps rolls out end-to-end directions for bikeshare users

Google Maps is making it easier for bikeshare users to navigate their city with an update to Maps now rolling out across 10 major markets. Already, Google Maps could point users to bikesharing locations and it has long since offered cycling directions between any two points. The new update, however, will combine both walking and biking directions in order to provide end-to-end navigation between docked bikeshare locations.

That is, Google Maps will first provide detailed walking directions to your nearest bikeshare location before providing turn-by-turn directions to the bikeshare closest to your destination. It then offers the final leg of the trip between the bikeshare drop-off and your destination as walking directions.

Before, users planning to use a bikeshare would have to create three separate trips — one to the first bikeshare to pick up a bike, the second to the bikeshare drop-off point and then walking directions to their final destination. Now, you can plan this outing as one single trip in Google Maps in the supported markets.

In addition to the new end-to-end navigation, Google Maps in some cities will also display links that allow you to open the relevant bikeshare mobile app in order to book and unlock the bike.

The feature is rolling out over the weeks ahead in 10 cities, in partnership with transportation information company Ito World and supported bikeshare partners. These include the following markets:

  • Chicago, U.S. (Divvy/Lyft)
  • New York City, U.S. (Citi Bike/Lyft)
  • San Francisco Bay Area, U.S. (Bay Wheels/Lyft)
  • Washington, DC, U.S. (Capital Bikeshare/Lyft)
  • London, England (Santander Cycles/TfL)
  • Mexico City, Mexico (Ecobici)
  • Montreal, Canada (BIXI/Lyft)
  • Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
  • São Paulo, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
  • Taipei and New Taipei City, Taiwan (YouBike)

Google says it’s actively working to add more partners to bring the functionality to more cities in the months ahead.

The launch of the new feature again one-ups Apple Maps, which recently announced it was catching up with Google Maps by adding a dedicated cycling option within Apple Maps that will optimize routes for cyclists. Apple’s new biking directions can even show if a route includes challenging hills or there’s a bike repair shop nearby, if desired.

Ito World also noted in March it had partnered with Apple to integrate bikeshare data into Apple Maps, allowing iPhone owners to find bikeshare locations across 179 cities.

But Google continues to offer more detailed bikeshare information in its Google Maps product, having over the years launched features like dockless bike and scooter integration with Lime in more than 100 cities and real-time docked bikeshare information in select cities to show availability of bikes for rent.

Offering better biking directions has become even more of a competitive product in recent months for mapping providers, due to the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on travel and transportation. Some commuters, for example, have shifted to using bikes for their trips instead of relying on public transportation, like buses and subways. Google notes this impact has also been reflected in growing worldwide search interest for phrases like “bike repair shop near me,” which hit an all-time high in July — more than double what it was last year.

The updated bikeshare navigation is rolling out in the coming weeks, says Google.

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Google Maps updated with COVID-19 info and related transit alerts

Google Maps is today introducing a series of new features to better inform travelers and commuters about how their trip may be impacted by COVID-19 — including travel restrictions, COVID-19 checkpoints or even just the crowdedness of public transport. It’s also adding features that will help those traveling to COVID-19 testing centers better understand the eligibility and facility guidelines.

In several countries, Google says it will now display transit alerts from local agencies that will help users prepare for any government mandates that impact your ability to use public transit. For example, if services are closed or if you’re required to wear a mask, the alerts would include this information.

These are launching now in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom and the U.S., where Google has information from local transit agencies available, with more countries coming soon.

Google Maps will also now show if a trip’s navigation includes a COVID-19 checkpoint or restriction along your route, like when you’re crossing an international border. This is first launching with Canada, Mexico and the U.S., and will display an alert on the directions screen if your route is impacted. Google didn’t indicate any plans to expand this to more countries.

Similarly, alerts will appear when you plan a trip to a medical facility or COVID-19 testing center.

These alerts will be based on data Google receives from authoritative agencies, including local, state and federal governments or from the center’s websites. Here, the idea is to make sure that people heading to a center are aware of the guidelines so they’re not turned away upon arrival. For instance, if the center won’t see you without an appointment, that would be noted.

These alerts roll out first for medical facilities in Indonesia, Israel, the Philippines, South Korea and the U.S., and testing center alerts will be available in the U.S. Google says it’s working to bring these to other markets and expand its work with agencies.

The updated Google Maps app will also expand access to the “crowdedness predictions” feature first introduced last year. This data is fueled by tens of millions of contributions from Google Maps users who ride public transit. Google crunched the numbers to make predictions about how crowded a particular bus or train line may be at a given time of day. It’s now making it easier for users to contribute their own observations.

In the updated app, when you tap through to see Transit directions when looking up a route, you can scroll down to see crowdedness predictions and add your own input, like “very crowded” or “not too crowded,” or other measures.

You’ll also now see the times when a transit station is historically more or less crowded or you can choose to look at live data by searching for a station in Google Maps or by tapping a station displayed on the map. This feature, which displays the departure board and busyness data, will roll out over the next few weeks.

This is powered by aggregated and anonymized data from users who have opted in to Google Location History. The company notes this setting is switched off by default and Google only displays the data when it has enough input to meet privacy thresholds.

Unrelated to COVID-19, Google Maps will also now roll out new transit insights like temperature, accessibility and onboard security, as well as designated women’s sections in regions where available. These additions were first announced in February, but are now globally available. They also include more granular accessibility information for wheelchair users, like where there are wheelchair accessible doors, seating, stop buttons and more, Google says.

The expanded set of features will be live on both iOS and Android, in the markets where they’re available.

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Google highlights accessible locations with new Maps feature

Google has announced a new, welcome and no doubt long-asked-for feature to its Maps app: wheelchair accessibility info. Businesses and points of interest featuring accessible entrances, bathrooms and other features will now be prominently marked as such.

Millions, of course, require such accommodations as ramps or automatic doors, from people with limited mobility to people with strollers or other conveyances. Google has been collecting information on locations’ accessibility for a couple years, and this new setting puts it front and center.

The company showed off the feature in a blog post for Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To turn it on, users can go to the “Settings” section of the Maps app, then “Accessibility settings,” then toggle on “Accessible places.”

This will cause any locations searched for or tapped on to display a small wheelchair icon if they have accessible facilities. Drilling down into the details where you find the address and hours will show exactly what’s available. Unfortunately it doesn’t indicate the location of those resources (helpful if someone is trying to figure out where to get dropped off, for instance), but knowing there’s an accessible entrance or restroom at all is a start.

The information isn’t automatically created or sourced from blueprints or anything — like so much on Google, it comes from you, the user. Any registered user can note the presence of accessible facilities the way they’d note things like in-store pickup or quick service. Just go to “About” in a location’s description and hit the “Describe this place” button at the bottom.

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Apple opens access to mobility data, offering insight into how COVID-19 is changing cities

Apple is providing a data set derived from aggregated, anonymized information taken from users of its Maps navigational app, the company announced today. The data is collected as a set of “Mobility Trends Reports,” which are updated daily and provide a look at the change in the number of routing requests made within the Maps app, which is the default routing app on iPhones, for three modes of transportation, including driving, walking and transit.

Apple is quick to note that this information isn’t tied to any individuals, as Maps does not associate any mobility data with a user’s Apple ID, nor does it maintain any history of where people have been. In fact, Apple notes that all data collected by maps, including search terms and specific routing, is only ever tied to random rotating identifying numbers that are reset on a rolling basis. This anonymized, aggregated data is collected only to provide a city, country or region-level view, representing the change over time in the number of pedestrians, drivers and transit-takers in an area based on the number of times they open the app and ask for directions.

As far as signals go for measuring the decrease in outdoor activity in a given city, this is a pretty good one, considering Apple’s install base and the fact that most users probably don’t bother installing or using a third-party app like Google Maps for their daily commuting or transportation needs.

The data is available to all directly from Apple’s website, and can be downloaded in a broadly compatible CSV format. You also can use the web-based version to search a particular location and see the overall trend for that area.

For an individual, this is more or less a curiosity, but the release of this info could be very useful for municipal, state and federal policy makers looking to study the impact of COVID-19, as well as the effect of strategies put in place to mitigate its spread, including social distancing, shelter-in-place and quarantining measures.

Apple has also announced that it’s working with Google on a new system-level, anonymized contact tracing system that both companies will first release as APIs for use by developers before making them native built-in features that are supplemented by public health agency applications and guidance. Apple seems particularly eager to do what it can to assist with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, while still striving to ensure that these measures respect the privacy of their individual users. That’s a hard balance to strike in terms of taking effective action at a population level, but Apple’s reach is a powerful potential advantage to any tools it provides.

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Google unveils Maps, Search and YouTube features in India to help people combat coronavirus

Google has launched a website dedicated to coronavirus updates in India and tweaked its search engine and YouTube to prominently display authoritative information and locally relevant details about the pandemic from the nation’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the company said on Monday.

Additionally, Google is also showing more than 1,500 food and night shelters in about three dozen cities in India on Google Maps and Search to guide people in need, it said. Millions of migrant workers in India recently started to head to their home towns as their work disappeared after New Delhi ordered a 21-day lockdown across the nation last month to fight the spread of the infectious disease.

People can also find these locations by asking Google Assistant about “food shelters,” for instance, in English and Hindi. Assistant is available to users on smartphones, KaiOS-powered feature phones and through a Vodafone-Idea phone line. (The company said it is working on supporting additional Indian languages.)

The Mountain View-headquartered giant, which counts India among one of its key overseas markets, said it has published COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to help health officials in the country in their decision-making. The reports capture how traffic and movement across public places such as parks, transit stations and grocery stores have changed in the country in recent weeks.

On Maps, Google has also introduced Nearby Spot on Maps to help people in the nation find local stores that are providing essential items such as groceries.

YouTube and Search are showing consolidated information including the top news stories, links to MoHFW resources, as well as access to authoritative content on symptoms, prevention, treatments and more, Google said. YouTube has additionally also launched a ‘Coronavirus News Shelf’, feature atop the homepage that provides the latest news from authoritative media outlets regarding the outbreak.

In recent weeks, Google’s Pay service, as well as Walmart’s PhonePe and Paytm, introduced simplified ways to donate to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fund to fight the coronavirus. Google said people have used its payments service to donate north of $13 million to date.

More to follow…

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Mit Daten aus Kartendienst – Google-Analyse soll im Kampf gegen Corona helfen

Der Internetriese Google will den Kampf gegen das Coronavirus mit Daten aus seinem Kartendienst Maps unterstützen.Dazu startet das Unternehmen sogenannte „Community Mobility Reports“, die Auskunft über die Entwicklung von Menschenmengen geben. Aus speziell aufbereiteten Daten von Google Maps lasse sich ablesen, wie sich die Besuche etwa in Geschäften …

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