On Tuesday, Google announced what appears, at least at first, to be a fairly monumental change to its Chrome browser: Over the next two years, it plans to “phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome.” Third-party cookies are little pieces of code used by advertisers to track what you do online so they can serve you targeted ads on sites you visit based on where you’ve previously visited.
So, for example, if you browse Pottery Barn’s website, and start seeing ads everywhere for the coffee table you were looking at, it’s usually because of third-party cookies. In reality, while most of us would say it’s kind of creepy, targeted ads are effective. At the same time, they’re also a very real invasion of your privacy–which is a problem. In fact, those privacy concerns are why browsers like Brave and Safari have already ended support for this type of tracking.
Back in August, I wrote about Google’s new “Privacy Sandbox,” which the company said was a way to introduce privacy protections for users online while still allowing digital advertisers to serve up targeted ads. The problem, at the time, was that Google said that it couldn’t eliminate support for third-party cookies because it would have a detrimental effect on the web at large.
Now it seems that’s changing, and there are huge implications for users as well as advertisers. Google’s blog post announcing the change puts it this way:
We are confident that with continued iteration and feedback, privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete.
So, let’s look at the good news and the bad news. If you’re a user, there’s mostly good news, because ending third-party cookies is generally good for privacy. The caveat here is that it’s not yet entirely clear how Google plans to have it both ways. Meaning, it’s not clear how Google thinks it can provide a privacy-protected browsing experience that also provides targeted ads.
There’s also the fact that some less ethical advertisers will no doubt resort to other types of more nefarious tracking, like browser and device fingerprinting. Those technologies create a profile of you based on information sent by your browser about your device, the operating system, your location, and other unique identifiers. Safari has introduced protection against that, and it will be interesting if Google takes a similar approach with Chrome.
This leads us to more good news, this time for Google. Google has arguably the most to gain from this change, because its advertising model doesn’t depend on the same type of tracking technology. In effect, by eliminating third-party cookies, Google is edging out any of its digital advertising competitors. Since Chrome is the most popular browser in the world, all of your web traffic is already going through Chrome. It doesn’t need cookies for that.
If you’re a digital advertiser, on the other hand, this could be very bad news. That’s especially true if you’re a smaller business or startup, since both tend to rely more heavily on digital advertising. Larger brands are able to better absorb changes like this, but if you’re bootstrapping a new company and count on PPC advertising to reach your customers, this is going to hurt.
That said, while I’m generally sympathetic to the overall challenge facing entrepreneurs in this regard, I still have to lean in the direction that it’s a good thing whenever tech companies start respecting our privacy. In fact, the headline of my column back in August was that “Google Could Make the Internet Respect Your Privacy.” At the time, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t.
This week, thousands of visitors will swarm Google’s home city of Mountain View, California, for the company’s annual I/O developers’ conference. The event serves as a state of the union of sorts for Google, allowing it to parade out new products, share milestones for existing ones, and lay out its vision for the future as techies and press from all over the world tune in.
“This year, you’ll hear a lot about how we’re building a helpful Google for everyone,” the company wrote in a press teaser ahead of the show, which starts Tuesday (the bold emphasis is the company’s).
But while Google hopes to wow audiences with presentations on artificial intelligence and accessibility, that rosy messaging may fall flat in light of the company’s recent controversies.
In the past year, Google has faced an unprecedented level of criticism from experts and its own employees on issues like censorship, workplace misconduct, and AI ethics. One consistent theme of the various accusations has been how Google has not, in fact, been helpful for everyone. Google’s timeline since its 2018 conference is studded with complaints of exclusionary behavior.
More recently, employees and outsiders called out Google for including Kay Coles James, the president of a conservative think tank, on a new advanced technology advisory council, citing her anti-LGBTQ views. Google eventually disbanded the so-called AI ethics board, saying in a statement that it had “become clear that in the current environment, [the council] can’t function as we wanted,” but didn’t address protestors’ arguments about underrepresented groups, like LGBTQ people, being especially at-risk for unintended consequences for AI.
For Google to hang its conference on the theme of being helpful for everyone without acknowledging its slew of exclusion-based issues may make the company’s intended theme seem hollow or ironic.
This wouldn’t be the first time Google has undermined its own messaging: Last year it sabotaged its recurring I/O mantra about developing “responsible AI” by launching a product that imitated humans but didn’t self-identify as a robot, which raised major ethical red flags.
Gartner research director Werner Goertz, who plans to attend the conference, doubts that any of the many product managers and executives who get up on the main stage will directly address Google’s litany of recent controversies. Viewers will hear details about a cheaper Pixel smartphone and the next edition of Android, but no atonement.
“Remember, I/O is a developers’ conference,” he says. “Google will focus on addressing the technical details, and I don’t think these other topics will really distract from that message.”
Perhaps they should.
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When you’re working in a word processor, every second you save matters. And while Google Docs may seem simple on the surface, it’s practically overflowing with out-of-sight options that can help you get more done with less effort.
The best part? They’re all already there and just waiting to be embraced. All you have to do is find them–and then remember to put them to use. Here’s a head start.
(Note that the items listed below are mostly specific to Docs’s version for desktop web browsers. Unless otherwise noted, they don’t apply to the mobile apps.)
Edit like a pro
1. The next time you need to move text within a document, skip the cutting and pasting and shift text the faster way: Just highlight the paragraph you want to reposition and then click and drag it with your mouse–or, in an even more efficient twist, place your cursor anywhere inside the paragraph, hold down Alt and Shift together, and then use your arrow keys to move it wherever you want.
2. Need your text to be a little larger or smaller? Docs has a pair of super-handy shortcuts that’ll change font size on the fly: Hold down Ctrl (or Cmd) and Shift and then press the period key to bump the font size up by one point or the comma key to bump it down.
3. With just a few quick clicks, Docs can copy the formatting from one area of text and apply it to another. The trick lies within that paint roller icon in the upper-left corner of the Docs toolbar (directly to the right of the print icon). Place your cursor on the text that has the formatting you want, click the paint roller, and then click the paragraph where you want the formatting to be applied. The font, size, style, and color should all show up instantly.
If you want to apply the formatting to more than one area of text, double-click the paint roller at the start of the process. That’ll force it to remain active through numerous applications.You can get to any Google Docs function in no time by using the program’s menu search command.
4. Save yourself the trouble of digging through Docs’s menus to find what you need and instead use the Alt-/ shortcut to search all available functions in no time. Say you want to convert some text into title case, for instance. Rather than digging around in the Format menu, you can simply highlight the text in question, hit Alt and then /, type “ti”–and then, when “Title Case” appears as the top option, hit Enter to apply it.
5. Docs can automatically organize your documents to make them easier to get around: Open up the View menu and select “Show document outline”–or just hit Ctrl-Alt-H (or Cmd-Alt-H)–and the app will create a complete outline in the left area of the screen, with every line of header text representing a section. You can then click on any of those sections to jump directly to that part of the document. (This one is also available in the Docs mobile apps; just look for the “Document outline” option in the apps’ main menu.)
6. Give your fingers a break and let Docs turn your spoken words into text: As long as your computer has a microphone, all you have to do is open the Tools menu and select “Voice typing”–or hit Ctrl-Shift-S (or Cmd-Shift-S)–and then speak away. Docs will use Google’s standard voice-to-text system to figure out what you’re saying (mostly, anyway) and put it on the page.
7. Docs’s voice-to-text function also lets you speak commands for common forms of punctuation and paragraph formatting. You can say things like “period,” “comma,” and “question mark” or give instructions like “new line” or “new paragraph.” If you want to take a break, say “stop listening” and then say “resume” when you’re ready to continue.
8. In addition to taking down text, Docs’s voice typing mode allows you to perform advanced edits via spoken command. The system supports a huge range of functions–selecting specific words, phrases, or paragraphs; applying different types of formatting to text; cutting, copying, and pasting; and even scrolling through a document or jumping to specific parts of the page. You can find a full list of available commands here.
9. Docs’s dictation feature is good for more than just regular writing and editing: Anytime you have some audio that needs to be turned into text–from a recorded interview, a podcast, or whatever the case may be–find a quiet room for your computer, fire up Docs’s voice typing mode, and let the audio play. Docs will provide a full transcription of your recorded audio, no specialty services or fees required. Docs’s Explore function brings a world of research right into your word processor.
10. Docs makes it possible to do all of your research without ever leaving your word processor–both on the desktop and from your mobile device. Open up Docs’s Explore tool by looking in the Explore menu (or pressing Ctrl-Alt-Shift-I or Cmd-Alt-Shift-I) on the desktop site or by finding the “Explore” option in the mobile apps’ main menu (while you’re actually editing a document). Docs will bring up a series of web results, images, and related documents from your own past work. You can perform new searches right within that window as well–and when you find something you’d like to include in your current document, you can add it and even attach a footnote citation with a single click or tap.
11. Attention, Google Photos users: Docs makes it easy as can be to add images from your Photos collection directly into your documents. Click the Insert menu and select “Image” to find the option. You can also add an image from your Google Drive storage, by URL, or by searching the web from that same area.
12. Docs has its own tool to let you crop or edit images: Just click on an image within your document, then click the Format menu and select “Image.” There, you’ll find the command for cropping as well as a broader “Image Options” selection that contains functions for recoloring and adjusting the image’s transparency, brightness, and contrast.
13. Not confident about a word’s meaning? Hit Ctrl-Shift-Y (or Cmd-Shift-Y) while your cursor’s on the word. Docs will dig up a definition for you and show it to you on the right side of the screen.
14. If you use Google Keep as a note-taker, you can access your notes while working on a document and even insert an entire note into your current page. Look for the “Keep notepad” option within the Tools menu to pull up the Keep sidebar. Once it’s there, you can view and edit your notes–and if you want to dump a note’s contents in your document, hover over the note and then click the three-dot menu icon that appears.
Collaborate and share
15. Don’t let a language barrier keep you from communicating. Docs has a native system that can translate entire documents into other languages: Click the Tools menu, then select “Translate document.” You’ll then be able to select the language you want and provide a new name for your translated file. Fácil, ¿no?
16. You’d never know it, but Google Docs allows you to tag other users to get their attention while collaborating. Just start writing a comment–by clicking the circular icon that appears when you hover over the right side of a document on the desktop or by tapping the plus icon and then selecting “Comment” in the mobile app–and then type @ or + followed by the first few letters of a person’s name. Docs will start offering options from your Google Contacts list. And if you want to add someone who isn’t in your contacts list, just use an email address instead of a name.
If the person you select already has access to the document, they’ll receive an email notifying them of the mention. If they don’t, Docs will prompt you to share the document with them before proceeding.
17. You can also email any message you want to collaborators, along with an attachment of a document, directly from Docs. Look for the “Email collaborators” option in the File menu to get started. (Your message will come from the primary email address associated with your Google account.)
18. Maybe you want to send a copy of your document to someone via email without adding them as a collaborator–to provide the file to a client, for instance, or share it with someone outside of your organization for review. Docs can do that: Just open up the File menu and select “Email as attachment.” You’ll be able to select from a variety of formats or even opt to include the text within the email body.
19. Docs can turn any document into a live, functioning web page that you can then share or embed as you wish. See the “Publish on the web” option within the File menu to explore the possibility.
20. If you want to point people to a specific section of your document, use Docs’s bookmarking feature to create a direct link to any area of the text. Place your cursor where you want the link to reside, then open the Insert menu and select “Bookmark.” A pop-up will appear with the link, though you’ll still need to be sure to share the document appropriately (either with the people you want to be able to view it or publicly, if you want everyone to be able to access it) before it’ll work for anyone other than you.
21. Want to send someone a link to a PDF version of your document? Copy the full URL in your browser’s address bar while you’re editing the document, then change the “/edit” at the very end to “/export?format=pdf” (without the quotation marks). As long as people to whom you’re sending have access to the document, they’ll get a PDF of your work as soon as they open the link.
22. You can use a similar trick to turn your document into a template for other people’s ongoing use: Once again, copy the full URL in your browser’s address bar while you’re editing the document—but this time, change the “/edit” at the end to “/copy” (again, without the quotation marks). Send that link to anyone with whom you’ve shared the file, and when they open it, they’ll be prompted to make a copy in their own Docs storage and then work on it from there.
Expand your word processing horizons
23. Google Docs can give you a helping hand with design by way of its built-in template gallery: Open up the gallery to browse through the available options–ranging from résumés to project proposals and even some advanced business and legal document formats–and then select any item to open it in Docs and use it as a starting point
24. Start a new document from anywhere within your browser by adding docs.google.com/create as a bookmark and then placing it in your bookmarks bar–or creating a custom keyboard shortcut that’ll pull the link up on demand.
25. Don’t limit yourself to Docs’s list of default fonts. You can add dozens of fonts into your word processing setup–and once they’re added, they’ll always be available in the regular font dropdown menu. All you have to do is open that dropdown menu and look for the “More fonts” option at the top. Click it and browse or search Google’s web font archive to find the style that meets your needs–then write away with the right look for every project you tackle.