Three ways Google just might make the Internet safer

Google finally admits that users don't like giving a weather app access to their contacts, and more from Google I/O

Published: May 29, 2015 05:00 PM

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Three announcements by Google during Google I/O—its developers conference—hint at safer days to come for Internet users.

Google unveiled a better way to deal with app permissions that could safeguard privacy; enhanced fraud protection with the new Android Pay mobile-payment app; and a version of Android that could bring a consistent security standard to the Internet of Things, the growing universe of connected-home devices.

App permissions

When Google releases its next version of Android—called M for now—it will include a new way to deal with app permissions. Instead of forcing users to agree to all permissions before they can download an app, Android will ask at the moment a feature needs a permission to run. So, for example, if you want to use a camera for a photography app, you'll be asked if the app can access your location. Say no, and that particular feature will be turned off. You'll also be able to look up, by type, the permissions used in all your apps.

Wondering which apps want access to your contacts? They'll all be listed in one place. Dealing with permissions in this way gives users a lot more control over their privacy and the kind of information they're willing to share.

Android Pay

Google Wallet never quite took off as a mobile-payment app. Now, it looks like Google is taking a cue—and a name—from Apple, which has its own payment app called Apple Pay. Google's Android Pay should help with damage control when there's a security breach. Instead of revealing your credit-card number when you make a payment, it will create a virtual account number used just once. You can choose to use Google's Android Pay app, or you can download an app from a bank that's participating in the program. Finally, with Android M, you'll be able to use a fingerprint to authorize payment.

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Brillo is a scrubbed-down version (get it?) of the Android operating system. It's designed to provide a standardized experience across all Internet of Things devices, such as door locks, smoke alarms, thermostats, and washing machines. In fact, Google partnered with Nest, which manufactures a thermostat and other connected-home devices, to develop Brillo. It will work over a new communications interface called Weave, which Google is still developing.

One big advantage: Users will see the same interface no matter what devices they're connecting. But the Internet of Things is notoriously insecure. Brillo should help solve that problem by building security into the operating system from the ground up and holding all manufacturers of Brillo-based devices to the same standard.

—Donna Tapellini

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