The feature is now available on Chrome’s developer version: Chrome Canary.
Sometimes the best advances are the simplest. Google Chrome is testing a feature to make it easier than ever to mute audio from websites. The new feature is available in Google Chrome Canary, a version of Chrome aimed at developers and early adopters.
Google Chrome team member François Beaufort shared the news Friday in a post on Google Plus. He wrote that his team is testing a setting to mute/unmute a website with the Page Info bubble — the area just to the left of the web address field.
“This will give you more control about which website is allowed to throw sound at you automatically,” wrote Beaufort.
Muting website audio is nothing new; in fact you can currently do it in Chrome just by right-clicking on the the tab of the website. The new setting being tested seems to make your choice more permanent.
There’s no denying that Google Home and Amazon Echo (or the less-expensive Echo Dot, if you’re not using it for music) have changed the way we interact with our homes. Turning on the lights has never been easier, nor has it been simpler to field the latest traffic report or order delivery for dinner. The future is here, and we’re reveling in it!
But the proliferation of these devices around our homes leaves room for error. Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers must always listen for us to utter their magic “wake” words—OK Google or Alexa respectively—in order to perform their tasks. If you don’t configure them properly, you might see random purchases show up at your door.
It happened in San Diego when a little girl asked Alexa to deliver her a “dollhouse and some cookies.” She knew the right words to say, and in a few days’ time, she had her goodies. (If you want to have some fun, watch this news clip near your Alexa-powered device and watch it light up.)
If you’re worried about family members, roommates, or pranksters making unwanted purchases on your account, you can either disable this feature altogether, or set up your Google Home or Amazon Echo so that it buys things only after you’ve specifically authorized the purchase. Here’s how.
Google Home isn’t tied to one of the world’s largest online retailers, so you might think there’s less of a risk of unintended purchases. But it does provide voice-payment capabilities for Google Express, which allows you to purchase products from participating retailers such as Costco, Target, and Toys ‘R Us.
The payments setting is disabled by default in the Google Home app. If you’d enabled it previously and have since changed your mind, it’s easy to turn off. Just log into the Home app on your Android or iOS device, tap the hamburger menu, and choose “More settings.” Tap “Payments” on the next screen. Delete everything you see there. It’s the easiest way to ensure no one in your household can run rampant with your payment information on file. Alternatively, you can simply tick the “Pay through your Assistant” option so that it’s off and unselected.
How to enable purchases on Google Home
If you want to start—or restart—making payments with voice commands, open the Google Home app, tap the menu button, and then tap on Payments. Here you can set up a delivery address and a primary payment method. Google will automatically pull in any payment data previously associated with your account (and prompt you to update any expired or out-of-date cards). The app will ll also ask if you want to grant access to any Google Home devices you have set up in your home.
Once you’ve set that up, you can order things through Google Home by saying phrases such as “OK Google, order paper towels.” Google Home will list options for relevant items and their accompanying prices. Then, you can accept the order to place it officially.
You can even ask, “OK Google, how do I shop?” for a helpful walkthrough of the process. For other services, such as Domino’s pizza delivery, the payment information is set up separately through that company’s Easy Order, which fires up the oven right after you place your order. (This works with the Echo as well.)
Disabling purchasing on the Amazon Echo, Dot, Tap, and Show
Amazon’s smart speakers are quickly becoming smart-home workhorses, but they could also be considered Trojan horses aimed at capturing more and more of your shopping dollars.Here’s how to disable—and then re-enable—purchasing power with an Amazon Echo, Dot, Tap, or Show.
If you’ve previously enabled payments any of your Amazon Echos and want to now disable it, just launch the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet. If you have more than one device in the Echo family, you’ll need scroll past all of them—and past the blue “Set up a new device” button—until you reach the “Voice Purchasing” button. Click on the radio button to disable this feature. You’re done.
How to enable purchases via the Amazon Echo
Under Settings, scroll down to “Voice Purchasing.” Tap to enable “Purchase by voice.” It’s a good idea to set up a confirmation code at this point. It willl ensure no one can order things without your permission unless they know the code. Below that, you can select to manage your 1-Click payment settings, which selects which of your bank cards to use when the purchasing happens.
When you’re ready to buy something, you can ask Alexa to order anything from Amazon—physical as well as digital goods. If you’re listening to a song, for example, you can ask Amazon to purchase the MP3 with your payment information on file. Or if you’re in need of toilet paper, you can ask Alexa to send it over with two-day shipping.
If you’re stuck, or maybe a little shy, ask Alexa how to shop and it’ll walk you through what it can do.
When in doubt, mute it
If all else fails and your neighboring dwellers are still managing to make errant purchases, you can either unplug the device or mute it. The latter is particularly effective if you have children coming over who find it amusing to summon virtual assistants.
Then again, who doesn’t? It’s why we use our voices to buy things, after all, simply because we can.
Florence reports on all the latest Android and smart home gear for PCWorld, Greenbot and TechHive. Follow her on Twitter at @ohthatflo.
APPLE AND GOOGLE are cracking down on obnoxious online ads. And they just might change the way the web works in the process.
Last week Google confirmed that Chrome—the most widely used web browser in the world—will block all ads on sites that include particularly egregious ads, including those that autoplay videos, hog too much of the screen, or make you wait to see the content you just clicked on.
Apple meanwhile announced yesterday that Safari will soon stop websites from automatically playing audio or video without your permission. The company’s next browser update will even give users the option to load pages in “Reader” mode by default, which will strip not only ads but many other layout elements. The next version will also step up features to block third parties from tracking what you do online.
But the two companies’ plans don’t just mean a cleaner web experience. They represent a shift in the way web browsers work. Instead of passively downloading and running whatever code and content a website delivers, these browsers will take an active role shaping your web experience. That means publishers will have to rethink not just their ads but their assumptions about what readers do and don’t see when they visit their pages.
For years, browsers have simply served as portals to the web, not tools for shaping the web itself. They take the code they’re given and obediently render a page as instructed. Sure, browsers have long blocked pop-up ads and warned users who tried to visit potentially malicious websites. But beyond letting you change the font size, browsers don’t typically let you do much to change the content of a page.
“Browsers have always been about standards and making sure that all browsers show the same content,” says Firefox vice president of product Nick Nguyen. “It’s been a neutral view of the web.”
The problem is that this complacency has led to a crappier web. Publishers plaster their sites with ads that automatically play video and audio without your permission. Advertisers collect data about the pages you visit. And criminals sometimes use bad ads to deliver malware.
Many people have taken the matter into their own hands by installing plugins to block ads or trackers. About 26 percent of internet users have ad blockers on their computers, according to a survey conducted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Some 10 percent have ad blockers on their phones.
Now browser-makers are starting to build these types of features right into their products. Firefox added tracker-blocking to its private browser mode in 2015, and Opera added an optional ad-blocking feature last year. Meanwhile, newer companies like Brave and Cliqz have launched privacy-centric browsers of their own.
Now, thanks to Apple and Google, this trend is going mainstream. About 54 percent of all web surfers used Chrome last month, according to StatCounter, and about 14 percent used Safari. In other words, nearly all browsers will at the very least let users curb the worst ads on the sites they visit. And websites will have to adjust.
The Business of Blocking
It might seem weird for Google, one of the world’s largest advertising companies, to build an ad-blocking tool right into one of its core products. But the search giant may be engaging in a bit of online judo. Google only plans to block ads on pages that feature types of ads identified by an ad-industry trade group as the most annoying. Google may be hoping that stripping out the worst ads will eliminate the impetus to download much stronger third-party ad blockers that also block its own ads and tracking.
Apple, which doesn’t depend on advertising revenue, is taking a more radical approach. In addition to blocking cookies that could be used to track people across sites, the company will also give users the choice to display only the main content of a page, throwing out not just ads but extras like lists of “related stories” and other enticements to stay on a particular site. The page’s prescribed fonts and color scheme get thrown out as well.
Safari has offered the reader view as an option since 2010, but traditionally you’ve had to load a page before you can turn the option on. Letting people turn it on by default means they could visit pages and never see the original versions. That’s a big change that goes well beyond ad-blocking. It means that a page’s code could soon act more as a set of suggestions for how browsers should present its content, not a blueprint to be followed as closely as possible.
That doesn’t just change the way companies have to think about ads. It changes the relationship between reader and publisher—and between publishers and browser makers. For example, Brave—the privacy-centric browsing company founded by Firefox creator Brendan Eich—hopes to essentially invert the advertising business model by having the browser, not the webpage, serve up ads, then share the revenue with publishers. That’s just one new model that this new paradigm makes possible, whether publishers like it or not.