Android’s AirDrop competitor demonstrated in new hands-on video

A new hands-on video from XDA Developers has given us our best look yet at Android’s upcoming AirDrop-style sharing feature called Nearby Sharing. The video of the unannounced feature shows a number of photos and a video file being sent between a Pixel 2 XL and a Pixel 4, although XDA notes that the feature has also been seen working on a OnePlus device.

Despite how useful AirDrop is, so far, Android has struggled to find much success with its own alternative. Its NFC-based take on the feature was discontinued in Android 10, and although Google’s Files app includes similar functionality, it’s not quite the same as having it baked it at the OS level. There have been reports that Google is working on an AirDrop competitor for Android for a little while, but this is the first time we’ve had the chance to see it in action.

In the video, Nearby Sharing is shown built right into Android’s quick settings menu. It doesn’t seem to be in a finished state just yet — the video shows it failing at least once when trying to send a video file — but once the transfer starts, it’s a fairly quick transfer over Wi-Fi. The feature says that it’s designed to work best when the two devices are within one foot of each other, but there are also options to restrict your device’s visibility if you don’t want strangers to be able to send you files using the feature.

Google isn’t the only player in the Android ecosystem that’s thought to be working on an AirDrop competitor. Just this morning XDA-Developers reported that Samsung has a file-sharing standard of its own called Quick Share, and last year, a trio of China’s biggest smartphone manufacturers — Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo — announced that they were working on their own protocol.

The advantage Nearby Sharing has is that it should eventually be available on phones from every Android manufacturer, rather than being limited to just a small group of them, or even just one in the case of Samsung. There’s no word on when the feature might be officially released (or even announced), but given it’s already in a working state, it can’t be too far away.

Beats’ new Solo Pro wireless noise-canceling headphones are $50 off

The Beats Solo Pro are $50 off at Best Buy, taking the price down to $249.99. This matches the lowest price we’ve seen yet. And to our knowledge, this is only the second time they’ve been discounted. If you haven’t read our review, these are the best Beats headphones yet, according to The Verge’s Chris Welch, with a noise cancellation effect and sound quality that are inarguably great.

Those gifted with large noggins, be warned: you might find that these on-ear headphones clamp down too hard on your ears. Another warning, this time for people with heads of all sizes, is that these charge via Apple’s Lightning connector, not USB-C. Best Buy’s deal includes several colors, and you have through Monday, January 27th, to take advantage of this price drop.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verg

Google’s Pixel 3A and Pixel 4 are cheaper than usual right now. The discounts ($50 and $100, respectively) are decent, but the real reason to consider buying one now is for the free gift card that you’ll get with purchase. Here’s the full list of offers happening now:

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Google Nest Mini smart speakers usually cost $49.99 (you can commonly find them for less), but Daily Steals is offering Verge readers a special deal for a limited time on a two-pack of new Nest Mini speakers. After you’ve added them to your cart, enter the code VERGENEST at checkout to get two for $56.99.

I reviewed this model when it released in late 2019, and I found that it’s a worthy successor to the Home Mini in terms of improved sound quality and touch controls. (They light up to make it easier to see the capacitive buttons.) It can also hang on the wall out of the box, which is a novel feature you won’t find in other affordable smart speakers — that is, unless you buy additional accessories to make it possible.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Logitech’s G903 wireless ambidextrous gaming mouse is steeply discounted at Best Buy. Usually $149.99, you can get it for $59.99 right now. Unlike most both-handed gaming mice on the market, the G903 has side buttons on each side of the mouse. It’s also compatible with Logitech’s PowerPlay wireless charging mouse pad.

YouTube moderators are being forced to sign a statement acknowledging the job can give them PTSD

Content moderators for YouTube are being ordered to sign a document acknowledging that performing the job can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to interviews with employees and documents obtained by The Verge. Accenture, which operates a moderation site for YouTube in Austin, Texas, distributed the document to workers on December 20th — four days after The Verge published an investigation into PTSD among workers at the facility.

“I understand the content I will be reviewing may be disturbing,” reads the document, which is titled “Acknowledgement” and was distributed to employees using DocuSign. “It is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I will take full advantage of the weCare program and seek additional mental health services if needed. I will tell my supervisor/or my HR People Adviser if I believe that the work is negatively affecting my mental health.”

The PTSD statement comes at the end of the two-page acknowledgment form, and it is surrounded by a thick black border to signify its importance. It may be the most explicit acknowledgment yet from a content moderation company that the job now being done by tens of thousands of people around the world can come with severe mental health consequences.

“The wellbeing of our people is a top priority,” an Accenture spokeswoman said in an email. “We regularly update the information we give our people to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the work they do — and of the industry-leading wellness program and comprehensive support services we provide.”

Accenture said it shares information about potentially disturbing content with all of the content moderators it employs, including those who work on its contracts with Facebook and Twitter. But it would not answer questions about whether it specifically informs Facebook and Twitter moderators that they are at risk for PTSD. The Verge has previously interviewed Facebook moderators working for Accenture competitor Cognizant in Phoenix, Arizona, and Tampa, Florida, who have been diagnosed with PTSD after viewing violent and disturbing content.

In a statement, Facebook said it did not review or approve forms like the one Accenture sent. A Twitter spokeswoman said that both full-time and contract Twitter employees receive information when they join the company that acknowledges they might have to view sensitive material as part of their jobs. It is not clear whether contract workers for Facebook or Twitter have been asked to sign the PTSD acknowledgment form. (If you’re a contract worker for either company and have been asked to sign one, please email casey@theverge.com.)

The PTSD form describes various support services available to moderators who are suffering, including a “wellness coach,” a hotline, and the human resources department. (“The wellness coach is not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose or treat mental health disorders,” the document adds.)

It also seeks to make employees responsible for monitoring changes in their mental health and orders them to disclose negative changes to their supervisor or HR representative. It instructs employees to seek outside help if necessary as well. “I understand how important it is to monitor my own mental health, particularly since my psychological symptoms are primarily only apparent to me,” the document reads. “If I believe I may need any type of healthcare services beyond those provided by [Accenture], or if I am advised by a counselor to do so, I will seek them.”

The document adds that “no job is worth sacrificing my mental or emotional health” and that “this job is not for everyone” — language that suggests employees who experience mental health struggles as a result of their work do not belong at Accenture. It does not state that Accenture will make reasonable accommodations to employees who become disabled on the job, as required by federal law. Labor attorneys told The Verge that this language could be construed to suggest that employees may be terminated for becoming disabled, which would be illegal.

“I’m acknowledging that if I disclose my mental health to you, you may be able to fire me. That isn’t allowed,” said Alreen Haeggquist, an employee rights attorney based in California.

Accenture says signing the document is voluntary. But two current employees told The Verge that they were threatened with being fired if they refused to sign. The document itself also says that following its instructions is required: “Strict adherence to all the requirements in this document is mandatory,” it reads. “Failure to meet the requirements would amount to serious misconduct and for Accenture employees may warrant disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

Employment law experts contacted by The Verge said Accenture’s requirement that employees tell their supervisor about negative changes to their mental health could be viewed as an illegal requirement to disclose a disability or medical condition to an employer.

“I would think it’s illegal to force an employee to disclose any sort of disability to you,” Haeggquist said.

Accenture said employees are not being asked to disclose disabilities or medical conditions, and it framed the document as a general disclosure that it has been providing new employees for years. But it would not say why the PTSD disclosure was distributed mere days after The Verge’s investigation.

Accenture refused to disclose when it became aware that its workers were getting PTSD from exposure to YouTube content, how many workers have been affected so far, or whether it intended to use employees’ signatures as a legal defense against the current and future class action lawsuits it faces.

Google also would not answer questions about the prevalence of PTSD among its workforce of moderators. Instead, it issued this statement:

Moderators do vital and necessary work to keep digital platforms safer for everyone. We choose the companies we partner with carefully and require them to provide comprehensive resources to support moderators’ wellbeing and mental health.

Google would not comment on its vendor’s explicit warning to YouTube moderators that the job is harmful to workers’ mental health.

The Verge’s investigation last month into Accenture’s Austin site described hundreds of low-paid immigrants toiling in what the company calls its violent extremism queue, removing videos flagged for extreme violence and terrorist content. Working for $18.50 an hour, or about $37,000 a year, employees said they struggled to afford rent and were dealing with severe mental health struggles. The moment they quit Accenture or get fired, they lose access to all mental health services. One former moderator for Google said she was still experiencing symptoms of PTSD two years after leaving.

It’s unclear how common it is for content moderators to get PSTD. From my own interviews with more than 100 moderators over the past year, it appears to be a significant number. And many other employees develop long-lasting mental health symptoms that stop short of full-blown PTSD, including depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Accenture’s PTSD disclosure comes as class action lawsuits are gathering steam around the world targeting tech platforms and their vendors. Facebook alone currently faces lawsuits that are seeking class action status in California and in Ireland.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), employers are required to provide a workplace that is free of hazards that can cause serious harm or death. The act was designed to acknowledge that most employees cannot avoid unsafe conditions that are created by their employers, said Hugh Baran, a staff attorney with the nonprofit National Employment Law Project.

Baran, who reviewed the document for The Verge, said it read as “reverse psychology” — getting workers to blame themselves for any mental health struggles they have as a result of working in content moderation.

“It seems like these companies are unwilling to do the work that’s required by OSHA and reimagine these jobs to fit the idea that workers have to be safe,” Baran said. “Instead they’re trying to shift the blame onto workers and make them think that there’s something wrong in their own behavior that is making them get injured.”

Baran said forcing workers to sign PTSD acknowledgments could make them less likely to sue in the event that they become disabled. But companies like Accenture would still be liable for harm caused on the job, he said. “Under most understandings of OSHA, it doesn’t matter what you make people sign,” Baran said. “You can’t [eliminate] your burden to provide your employees with safe working conditions.”

Meanwhile, employees I spoke with expressed shock that only recently — after they had been doing the job for more than a year — did Accenture acknowledge that the work could scar them deeply and perhaps permanently.

“If I knew from the beginning how this job would impact our mental health, I would never have taken it,” one said.

Save on the Google Pixel 3A and Pixel 4, and get a free gift card with purchase

Google’s most recent phones, the Pixel 3A and Pixel 4, are discounted and include a free (generous) gift card with purchase at a few retailers. Neither amounts to the lowest price that we’ve seen, but still, it’s another chance to get in on the savings if you missed out on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Starting with Google’s more affordable phone, the Pixel 3A (shown above), a $50 discount brings it down to $349.99. You’ll also get a $100 Best Buy gift card with your order at checkout. This offer also applies to the larger Pixel 3A XL with 64GB of storage that usually sells for $479.99 (now $429.99).

B&H Photo is offering the same deal, knocking $50 off of the Pixel 3A and including a $100 B&H Photo gift card with purchase. However, you won’t find the same deal available for the Pixel 3A XL there.

If you have your mind set on Google’s 2019 flagship phone, the Pixel 4, you can save there, too. Best Buy has knocked $100 off the prices of the black-colored 64GB Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL (now costing $699.99 and $799.99, respectively). What’s appealing about this deal is that each phone includes a huge $200 Best Buy gift card with purchase.

To get these savings on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, make sure to select “Activate Later” under the price listed on Best Buy’s product page.

Now, you can use generative placeholder images for your web project

Generative Placeholders is a new tool that lets you embed autogenerated placeholder art into a website that changes with every page refresh. It only requires a brief bit of embedded code. The key word here is “placeholder,” which suggests that the tool’s creator, Stefan Bohacek, sees it as the visual equivalent of a Lorem Ipsum text generator (or the far superior Hipster Ipsum), designed to fill a prototype website with something while it’s under construction.

The code works by specifying how tall and wide a placeholder image should be, and it also lets you tweak the style and color of each image. There are eight different styles available, ranging from geometric layouts of circles or triangles to designs that are inspired by existing works of art like Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover (embedded below) or the abstract art of Piet Mondrian (above). You can also tweak other settings, such as color palette and pattern density.

(Note: Refresh the page to see the image regenerate.)

Before you set about filling your own site with autogenerated images, you should know that the copyright rules surrounding machine-generated works are still emerging. When it comes to music, US law is struggling to deal with art that’s not created by humans, and there are arguments that copyright can belong to either the human that created the AI, the AI itself, or even the public domain. For what it’s worth, Generative Placeholders is provided under the MIT License, which generally only places limited restrictions on how you can use the software.

You can check out how to implement the images on the project’s webpage.

Update January 24th, 11:11AM ET: Updated to include generative placeholder image.

Apple Arcade’s latest game is a more family-friendly Fortnite called Butter Royale

Apple Arcade has so far been a great repository for polished, offbeat indie games that are best explored when you have some quiet time and perhaps no internet connection.

The latest entry into the iOS subscription game service is different. It’s a flashy multiplayer battle royale shooter, kind of like Fortnite — except it’s more kid-friendly, with a food fight theme instead of guns and bullets and a top-down design that gives it the look and feel of classic dungeon crawlers. It’s called Butter Royale, and it’s available today for all Apple Arcade subscribers.

But isn’t Fortnite already kid-friendly? you might ask. Well, sort of. You still shoot people with guns that are modeled after real-life firearms. Butter Royale is taking a more direct, no-gun approach to its game design that’s similar in many ways to Nintendo’s Splatoon, and its creators are even building that into the loose game lore of the shooter.

“Set in the near future, after a global ban on weapons, contestants engage in food fights on Butter Island to satisfy their hunger for competitive action. Contestants use ‘Nutritionally Operated Machines’ (NOMs) to launch food at one another during five minute matches, while trying to escape floods of butter to get to safe zones,” reads the game description. Some of the weapons have amazing and absurd names like the Mayonator3000, Breadzooka, and Sniparmesan.

The developer, a Singapore studio called Mighty Bear Games that grew out of Candy Crush maker King’s local Singaporean office, wants to be clear that it’s making an inclusive, nonviolent game that kids of all ages can enjoy.

“We designed Butter Royale to push the envelope on fun and inclusivity. We want everyone in the family to love it and see themselves represented in the game, from young children to grandparents,” CEO Simon Davis said in a statement. “It is also important to us that Butter Royale is a nonviolent shooter, so younger players can safely join in. The food-fight theme was perfect for that.”

Butter Royale features an offline mode where you play against AI. But in its online version, 32 players compete either as a solo participant or in squads of four in five-minute matches where they try to take down opponents, stockpile resources, and outrun the encroaching butter storm. Players can choose from up to 52 characters to play as that span “diverse backgrounds, age, and genders.” Like all Apple Arcade titles, there are zero microtransactions.

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The transforming Xbox 360 D-pad is proof that bad buttons can get better

In today’s digital age, it sometimes feels like hardware has taken a back seat to the software that drives our devices. Button of the Month will look at what some of those buttons and switches are like on devices old and new to appreciate how we interact with them on a physical, tactile level.

The Xbox 360 controller is considered to be one of the best video game controllers ever made — except for one thing: the D-pad. It’s conversely one of the worst directional inputs ever put on a controller.

Microsoft knew it had to fix things, and in 2010 — a full five years after it launched the Xbox 360 — it tried to do so in a singularly impressive fashion with the Xbox 360 Limited Edition controller, which featured a transforming D-pad. With a quick twist, the new controller could switch between the (terrible) eight-way rocker that the original model shipped with and a variant mode that raised up the plus-shaped part of the D-pad for more distinct buttons to push.

It was a creative attempt to fix what was broken, even if it wasn’t entirely successful. An IGN review from the time notes that the base rocker mechanism for the buttons remained largely the same in terms of design and overall resistance, making it more of a surface change.

That said, as someone who played an irresponsible amount of Xbox 360 games over the years with both controllers, I do prefer the transforming D-pad. By making the four-way plus buttons more usable in any respect — even if just to make it easier to blindly switch between the distinct directions through the raised plus component — you’ve already made a big stride over the original rocker.

More importantly, it’s the creative compromise that the transforming D-pad represents that makes it fascinating. Instead of just switching the design entirely, Microsoft recognized that there were likely players and developers who had grown used to the eight-way rocker. And rather than leaving them with nothing, it tried to appease the groups that liked the rocker and the groups that hated it. It’s a recognition that not all players like to play the same way, an ethos that Microsoft would later establish even further with the completely customizable Xbox One Elite controller.

Like many things related to video game controllers, the heritage of the Xbox 360 controller (and its bad D-pad) is one of gradual growth. It starts with the original Xbox controller, affectionately called “the Duke” due to its uncomfortably large size. Microsoft fixed that with the Xbox Controller S, which offered a more reasonably sized model. That controller would serve as the basis for the Xbox 360 controller, albeit with more changes, like secondary trigger buttons and the Xbox guide button in the center (one of its best innovations).

It wouldn’t be until the Xbox One controller that Microsoft would have a good D-Pad, and it would take another two years for the Xbox One Elite Controller to offer a proper modular D-pad system that allowed players to switch between an eight-way pad and a four-pad plus without sacrificing quality on either option.

Of course, controllers constantly change: the Xbox Series X is around the corner, and Microsoft is already showing off a new controller that features yet another D-pad design. Even if it turns out to be worse than the current model, the Xbox 360’s transforming D-pad is emblematic of the fact that things eventually get better.

DirecTV is moving one of its satellites to a safer orbit over fears of explosion

DirecTV fears that one of its satellites in orbit might blow up soon, and it’s gearing up to move it to safety. Due to a problem with the satellite’s batteries, the satellite might burst apart at the end of February. If it did explode while in its current orbit, there’s a chance it could damage active satellites nearby, which is why the company would like to get it out of the way.

The satellite on the verge of bursting is Spaceway-1, a vehicle built by Boeing launched in 2005, as first reported by Space News. Spaceway-1 has been orbiting along a path known as geostationary orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. There, satellites match the orbit of the planet and appear to hover over the same patch of sky at all times. For most of its life, the satellite provided high-definition television coverage. But it has recently been used as a backup, so it hasn’t been providing any coverage for customers.

Apparently, something happened to the Spaceway-1 satellite in December that caused “irreversible” thermal damage to the vehicle’s internal batteries, according to a filing DirecTV sent to the Federal Communications Commission. Because of this damage, Boeing decided that the batteries could burst when they’re in use. DirecTV has been avoiding using the batteries by relying solely on Spaceway-1’s solar panels to gather power. But soon, the satellite will enter eclipse operations — when it is within Earth’s shadow — and the batteries will have to be used.

“Use of the batteries during eclipse is unavoidable and there is no ability to isolate damaged battery cells,” DirecTV wrote in its FCC filing. “The risk of a catastrophic battery failure makes it urgent that Spaceway-1 be fully de-orbited and decommissioned prior to the February 25th start of eclipse season.”

With eclipse season looming, DirecTV turned to the FCC to get permission to move the Spaceway-1 satellite earlier than planned. When it’s time for satellites in the geostationary belt to be retired, they’re moved to a higher orbit known as a graveyard orbit. Satellites in this area, 300 kilometers higher than geostationary orbit, are far enough removed that they are usually no longer a liability to active satellites. But in the case of Spaceway-1, making that move is complicated. Typically, satellites are supposed to get rid of all their propellant before they move to the graveyard orbit. But because of the explosion risk, DirecTV doesn’t have time to empty Spaceway-1’s tank entirely. The company noted in its filing that it could only remove a “nominal portion” of the 73 kilograms of propellant within the satellite and requested a waiver of the rule.

Ultimately, the FCC granted DirecTV this authority on January 19th. The company is also looking at other ways to minimize how much propellant is on board Spaceway-1 before it’s moved, according to the FCC.

In the meantime, none of DirecTV’s customers need to worry about this potentially explosive satellite. “This satellite is a backup and we do not anticipate any impacts on consumer service as we retire it,” AT&T, the parent company of DirecTV, said in a statement. “We are replacing it with another satellite in our fleet.”

London police to deploy facial recognition cameras across the city

Live facial recognition cameras will be deployed across London, with the city’s Metropolitan Police announcing today that the technology has moved past the trial stage and is ready to be permanently integrated into everyday policing.

The cameras will be placed in locations popular with shoppers and tourists, like Stratford’s Westfield shopping center and the West End, reports BBC News. Each camera will scan for faces contained in “bespoke” watch lists, which the Met says will predominantly contain individuals “wanted for serious and violent offences.”

When the camera flags an individual, police officers will approach and ask them to verify their identity. If they’re on the watch list, they’ll be arrested. “This is a system which simply gives police officers a ‘prompt’, suggesting ‘that person over there may be the person you’re looking for,’” said the Metropolitan police in a press release.

Operational use of the cameras will only last for five or six hours at a time, says BBC News, but the Met makes clear that the use of this technology is to be the new normal in London.

Facial Recognition Technology

Previous trials of facial recognition technology in London have been signposted to the public.
Photo by Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

“As a modern police force, I believe that we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London,” said the Met’s assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave said in a press statement. “Every day, our police officers are briefed about suspects they should look out for; [facial recognition] improves the effectiveness of this tactic.”

The use of facial recognition by law enforcement in the UK has previously been limited to small trials and public events like concerts and football matches. Such deployments have been widely criticized, with data from one trial indicating that the 81 percent of “matches” suggested by the facial recognition system were incorrect.

Despite this, the Met calls the technology “tried and tested,” and says the algorithms it uses from biometric firm NEC identify 70 percent of wanted suspects and only generate false alerts for one in every 1,000 cases.

Privacy advocates described the deployment of the technology as an attack on civil liberties. The use of facial recognition around the world has been criticized by many tech experts and privacy advocates, who note such systems are often racially biased and are misused by the police. Even some big tech companies like Google now back a moratorium on the technology.

“This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the UK,” Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, told The Daily Mail. “This is a breath-taking assault on our rights and we will challenge it, including by urgently considering next steps in our ongoing legal claim against the Met and the Home Secretary. This move instantly stains the new Government’s human rights record and we urge an immediate reconsideration.”

How much longer will we trust Google’s search results?

Happy Friday to you! I have been reflecting a bit on the controversy du jour: Google’s redesigned search results. Google is trying to foreground sourcing and URLs, but in the process it made its results look more like ads, or vice versa. Bottom line: Google’s ads just look like search results now.

I’m thinking about it because I have to admit that I don’t personally hate the new favicon -plus-URL structure. But I think that might be because I am not a normal consumer of web content. I’ve been on the web since the late ‘90s and I parse information out of URLs kind of without thinking about it. (In fact, the relative decline of valuable information getting encoded into the URL is a thing that makes me sad.)

I admit that I am not a normal user. I set up custom Chrome searches and export them to my other browsers. I know what SERP means and the term kind of slips out in regular conversation sometimes. I have opinions about AMP and its URL and caching structure. I’m a weirdo.

As that weirdo, Google’s design makes perfect sense and it’s possible it might do the same for regular folk. The new layout for search result is ugly at first glance — but then Google was always ugly until relatively recently. I very quickly learned to unconsciously take in the information from the top favicon and URL-esque info without it really distracting me.

…Which is basically the problem. Google’s using that same design language to identify its ads instead of much more obvious, visually distinct methods. It’s consistent, I guess, but it also feels deceptive.

Recode’s Peter Kafka recently interviewed Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti, and Peretti said something really insightful: what if Google’s ads really aren’t that good? What if Google is just taking credit for clicks on ads just because people would have been searching for that stuff anyway? I’ve been thinking about it all day: what if Google ads actually aren’t that effective and the only reason they make so much is billions of people use Google?

The pressure to make them more effective would be fairly strong, then, wouldn’t it? And it would get increasingly hard to resist that pressure over time.

I am old enough to remember using the search engines before Google. I didn’t know how bad their search technology was compared to what was to come, but I did have to bounce between several of them to find what I wanted. Knowing what was a good search for WebCrawler and what was good for Yahoo was one of my Power User Of The Internet skills.

So when Google hit, I didn’t realize how powerful and good the PageRank technology was right away. What I noticed right away is that I could trust the search results to be “organic” instead of paid and that there were no dark patterns tricking me into clicking on an ad.

One of the reasons Google won search in the first place with old people like me was that in addition to its superior technology, it drew a harder line against allowing paid advertisements into its search results than its competitors.

With other search engines, there was the problem of “paid inclusion,” which is the rare business practice that does exactly what the phrase means. You never really knew if what you were seeing was the result of a web-crawling bot or a business deal.

This new ad layout doesn’t cross that line, but it’s definitely problematic and it definitely reduces my trust in Google’s results. It’s not so much paid inclusion as paid occlusion.

Today, I still trust Google to not allow business dealings to affect the rankings of its organic results, but how much does that matter if most people can’t visually tell the difference at first glance? And how much does that matter when certain sections of Google, like hotels and flights, do use paid inclusion? And how much does that matter when business dealings very likely do affect the outcome of what you get when you use the next generation of search, the Google Assistant?

And most of all: if Google is willing to visually muddle ads, how long until its users lose trust in the algorithm itself? With this change, Google is becoming what it once sought to overcome: AltaVista.


More from The Verge

I trained with Tonal, the ‘Peloton for weightlifting’

Excellent review from Natt Garun.

Tonal is unique in this field for its focus on weight training instead of cardio. Think of the machine like a slimmer, low-profile Bowflex that mounts flush against the wall rather than taking up an entire corner of your room. With arms that can be adjusted and folded away, it’s also a bit less likely to end up as an expensive coat rack.

Apple Watch gym partnerships give you perks for working out

Google I/O 2020 will kick off on May 12th

Every year Google does a little online game or coding challenge and every year it’s solved really quickly. This year Google leaned into that and it seems to have worked.

It’s a little too early for me to guess what we can expect at I/O this year. Google itself often doesn’t decide until the last minute. Given everything that’s happened in the past year, though, I’l say this: if the entire keynote was just a frank discussion of Google’s privacy policies and how it intends to be more transparent about what data is has on us and how we can control it, I wouldn’t complain.

How to FBI-proof your encrypted iPhone backups

Barbara Krasnoff had to do way more legwork to get the full, accurate story here than you might think just by reading this. I do think Apple could do a much better job simplifying the settings for people who don’t want Apple to have the keys for their backups. But I also think writing a similar guide for Android would be similarly complicated.

Samsung’s T7 Touch puts a speedier SSD in a smaller, more secure case

Comcast plans price hikes for cable customers as it looks ahead to streaming Peacock launch

Price hikes? Check. Reduced investment in building out broadband infrastructure? Check. Data caps? Check. Exempting your own streaming video service from data caps? Check. Huge cable company shamelessly exploiting the fact that net neutrality is dead and doing the very thing that net neutrality opponents promised wouldn’t happen, assuming that either nobody would notice or at the very least nobody would connect the dots between this and the lack of regulation that allowed it? Check check and check again. (Disclosure: NBCU is an investor in The Verge’s parent company, Vox Media.)

Everything you need to know about the new coronavirus in China

Samsung’s next foldable may have an ‘ultra thin’ glass display

If this turns out to be true, it’s a huge deal. And it will be a huge problem for Motorola, whose Razr will only have been on the market for five days when Samsung announces the Z Flip on the 11th.

Maybe it’s just because it’s a new form factor, but I’m getting more and more excited about folding phones. For years we’ve watched phones get bigger and less pocketable and for whatever reason (the reason is probably that they don’t sell well), nobody is making high-quality small phones anymore.

Foldables aren’t exactly that, but they’re at least heading in the right direction. I will gladly take a little more thickness on the Z axis (maybe THAT is why it’s called the Z Flip!) if it means having a big-screen phone that doesn’t stick out of my pocket.

Sonos CEO apologizes for confusion, says legacy products will work ‘as long as possible’

It’s notable that nothing actually changed here policy-wise: Sonos is still going to try to support these speakers, it is still admitting it won’t be able to provide software updates, and it will still try to figure out a way to cordon these legacy products off so they don’t hold newer products back in people’s home.

Okay, one very important thing has changed: Sonos admitted it really screwed up the communication around these changes. It’s been a mess since the recycling mode first came to light. You can’t unring a bell, but it’s at least good to admit you screwed up in the first place.