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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 finally brings group calling to the Nest Hub Max

Video chat has long been one of the chief selling points of smart screens like the Amazon Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub Max (the regular Hub is still lacking a camera, mind). But until today, the latter only offered users the option for one-on-one calls. That’s all well and good for the most part, but as so many of us have found ourselves cut off from our friends and families, group chat has become something of a lifeline.

That’s meant big business for conferencing apps like Zoom. Once almost exclusively the domain of business meetings, these sorts of services have become increasingly popular for casual chats. Google has, no doubt, spotted potential, and today announced that it’s finally bringing group chats to the Hub Max through Duo.

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The new feature allows for chats of up to 32 and utilizes the smart screen’s auto-framing capabilities (similar to those found in Facebook’s competing displays) to keep the subject in the picture. It also will be arriving on a number of third-party Google-ready smart screens, including those by LG, JBL and Lenovo. The feature requires the user to create a group on Duo through a connected mobile app. Once that’s done, it can be triggered via voice.

There’s a more professionally focused element to this as well. These companies have long explored the potential of smart screens in the workplace, but now that home is the office for so many, it makes sense to offer business meetings on these products. Those enrolled in the G Suite with Google Assistant beta program will be able to join business meetings through Google Meet.

That feature is rolling out in coming weeks.

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After a spate of device hacks, Google beefs up Nest security protections

Google has added its line of Nest smart home devices to its Advanced Protection Program, a security offering that adds stronger account protections for high-risk users like politicians and journalists.

The program, launched in 2017, allows anyone who signs up access to a range of additional account security features, like limiting third-party access to account data, anti-malware protections, and allowing the use of physical security keys to help thwart some of the most advanced cyberattacks.

Google said that adding Nest to the program was a “top request” from users.

Smart home devices are increasingly a target for hackers largely because many internet-connected devices lack basic security protections and are easy to hack, prompting an effort by states and governments to help device makers improve their security. A successful hack can allow hackers to snoop in on smart home cameras, or ensnare the device into a massive collection of vulnerable devices — a botnet — that can be used to knock websites offline with large amounts of junk traffic.

Although Nest devices are more secure than most, its users are not immune from hackers.

Earlier this year Google began requiring that Nest users must enable two-factor authentication after a spate of reported automated attacks targeting Nest cameras. Google said its systems had not been breached, but warned that hackers were using passwords stolen in other breaches to target Nest users.

Other devices makers, like Amazon-owned Ring, were also targeted by hackers using reused passwords.

While two-factor authentication virtually eliminates these kinds of so-called credential stuffing attacks, Google said its new security improvements will add “yet another layer of protection” to users’ Nest devices.

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