Google Chrome 94 arrives with controversial Idle Detection API

midian182

Posts: 7,158   +64
Staff member
What just happened? Chrome 94 has arrived for Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows, bringing several new features to the world's most popular browser, but not all of them are being warmly received. The new Idle Detection API that detects user inactivity has raised privacy concerns from some big tech companies.

In the latest version of Chrome—the first to use the new four-week release cycle instead of the old six-week schedule—Google has introduced the Idle Detection API. It works by notifying web applications when users are idle, recognized by a lack of keyboard or mouse use, activation of a screensaver, locking of the screen, or moving to a different screen.

Designed for multi-user applications such as chat apps and online games, the Idle Detection API is enabled by default in Chrome 94. "Applications which facilitate collaboration require more global signals about whether the user is idle than are provided by existing mechanisms that only consider a user's interaction with the application's own tab," states the release notes.

Mozilla is one company that isn't a fan of the feature, calling it an "opportunity for surveillance capitalism."

"As it is currently specified, I consider the Idle Detection API too tempting of an opportunity for surveillance capitalism motivated websites to invade an aspect of the user's physical privacy, keep longterm records of physical user behaviors, discerning daily rhythms (e.g. lunchtime), and using that for proactive psychological manipulation (e.g. hunger, emotion, choice). In addition, such coarse patterns could be used by websites to surreptiously max-out local compute resources for proof-of-work computations, wasting electricity (cost to user, increasing carbon footprint) without the user's consent or perhaps even awareness," wrote Mozilla web standards lead Tantek Çelik, on GitHub.

"Thus I propose labeling this API harmful, and encourage further incubation, perhaps reconsidering simpler, less-invasive alternative approaches to solve the motivating use-cases."

Apple also has reservations. Ryosuke Niwa, a software engineer in the company's WebKit Architecture team (Safari uses WebKit) said, "Our concerns are not limited to fingerprinting. There is an obvious privacy concern that this API lets a website observe whether a person is near the device or not. This could be used, for example, to start mining bitcoins when the user is not around or start deploying security exploits, etc."

Elsewhere in Chrome 94, Google is continuing its embracing of HTTPS with HTTPS-First Mode, a feature that was originally planned for Chrome 92. This ensures all page loads are automatically upgraded from HTTP to HTTPS when possible. If it isn't, a full-screen warning will appear before the older HTTP standard is loaded.

There's also a new WebGPU API that should improve in-browser games by utilizing modern graphics capabilities, specifically Direct3D 12, Metal, and Vulkan; a sharing menu on desktop, which is currently behind a Chrome flag, filled with sharing shortcuts; the ability for Android tablets to host desktop websites; and several other bug fixes and changes.

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Theinsanegamer

Posts: 2,722   +4,257
"Mozilla is one company that isn't a fan of the feature, calling it an "opportunity for surveillance capitalism.""

Do they think adding "capitalism" onto something makes it sound scarier? Surveillance sounds terrible, "surveillance capitalism" sounds like something reddit came up with. Just call it a violation of privacy and move forward.
Save yourself the trouble and switch to Firefox instead, before it's too late and they go out of business and then you truly have no other option.
Firefox has fallen so far behind the times and is too preoccupied with poltiical virtue signalling and removing features to listen to their own users.
 

trieste1s

Posts: 47   +69
TechSpot Elite
Firefox has fallen so far behind the times and is too preoccupied with poltiical virtue signalling and removing features to listen to their own users.
???

I use Chrome on a work laptop, and am relieved to go back to Firefox on my desktop computer every day. The speed of my desktop, plus a mid-tier graphics card powering Webrender, masks Firefox's slower speed. I'm not missing anything yet.

You're mixing the toxic SJW public-facing culture with the quality of the tech in the backend.
 

Xex360

Posts: 158   +224
Save yourself the trouble and switch to Firefox instead, before it's too late and they go out of business and then you truly have no other option.
I used to be a Firefox user then I fell victim to the stupid way sync account works. I don't touch this junk anymore, years of bookmarks gone because of the obtuse who got the stupid idea to delete everything when you reset your password even if you have access to the email.
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 2,722   +4,257
???

I use Chrome on a work laptop, and am relieved to go back to Firefox on my desktop computer every day. The speed of my desktop, plus a mid-tier graphics card powering Webrender, masks Firefox's slower speed. I'm not missing anything yet.

You're mixing the toxic SJW public-facing culture with the quality of the tech in the backend.
As of june 2020, firefox was still limited to 4 total treads during operation, whereas chrome opens a new thread for each tab. Thsi means if you have a large number of tabs open and one of them does something dumb, it can lock up much of firefox. This has and continues to be a major issue that has plagued firefox for YEARS, and they have yet to allow a larger number of threads to handle the increasingly compled modern web.

Dont forget how they neutered add ons, themes, and depreciated XUL with no replacement, and their excuse was "well only 20% of our userbase uses add ons" while claiming to listen to their userbase.

You cannot hose the toxic outer public SJW base without it leaking into your internals, and that is exactly what happened. For the last decade Mozilla has been riding their high horse, dictating to their users what they actually want, firing a president who wanted to change direction because of his political views, and the end result has been utter decimation of firefox's userbase. In the last 12 years, firefox has lost over half a billion users, over 75% of their peak userbase, and has lost 50 million in the last 2 years despite the ever increasing number of users on the web. If their public toxicity outwardly is somehow not a factor in their management (LOL) then it would indicate their technical side is utterly lost and incompetent to have stalled out THIS LONG.

If you'd like to read more in depth about firefox's issues and their developer's poor responses: https://news.itsfoss.com/firefox-continuous-decline/
 
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Dimitriid

Posts: 1,118   +2,123
I used to be a Firefox user then I fell victim to the stupid way sync account works. I don't touch this junk anymore, years of bookmarks gone because of the obtuse who got the stupid idea to delete everything when you reset your password even if you have access to the email.
I can recognize it is clunky but it's kinda why I don't particularly trust it and do keep some bookmark backups as regular html files everywhere.
 

eforce

Posts: 456   +577
If you like Chrome use Brave, if you like Firefox use Waterfox, that way you avoid the bs of the parent companies.
 

BobHome

Posts: 114   +49
So if I'm on a long video conference call and do not use the keyboard or mouse/trackpad or touch screen, will this kick in?
It does not mention surveilling the camera or microphone. And if it does....
 

Mr Majestyk

Posts: 869   +766
Save yourself the trouble and switch to Firefox instead, before it's too late and they go out of business and then you truly have no other option.

I hate Chrome as a browser always and always will. I support Firefox because it's not Google or M$. The only reason I have Chrome on one of PC's is to chromecast Plex. My new PC in another room does not have Chrome. We have Edge anyway if we want Chrome experience.
 

Xex360

Posts: 158   +224
I can recognize it is clunky but it's kinda why I don't particularly trust it and do keep some bookmark backups as regular html files everywhere.
I used to do that, but the whole point of a sync account is to stop doing that.
Another issue, this is not clunky but a decision or more accurately an obtuse one.
 

Revolution 11

Posts: 71   +77
If you like Chrome use Brave, if you like Firefox use Waterfox, that way you avoid the bs of the parent companies.
Is Waterfox better than Pale Moon, especially in performance? I switched to that a few years ago and am generally happy but Brave is catching my attention recently.
 

Gastec

Posts: 144   +68
While we're at it, why are my download and upload speeds not even reaching 500 Mbps (mostly at 400 Mbps) in Mozilla Firefox, even if I now have a 1000 Mbps connection? One year ago I had 600 Mbps and the download/upload speeds were a bit more than 300 Mbps in Firefox. It doesn't happen in Google Chrome or in the desktop Speedtest app. Nobody, as in NOBODY, has ever been able or willing to answer this question in over half a decade.
 
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captaincranky

Posts: 17,385   +6,130
Mozilla is one company that isn't a fan of the feature, calling it an "opportunity for surveillance capitalism."
But isn't that the whole point of Google Chrome's existence anyway, "surveillance capitalism"?

Realistically, with idle sensing, hasn't Google taken over the role of Santa Claus? (Who now requires a credit card account, so you can buy your own damned presents).

Sing with me boyz and gurlz, "They see you when you're sleeping, they know when you're awake", "They know what you've been eyeing up,.so use Google for Google's sake"
 
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Feng Lengshun

Posts: 6   +3
I myself recently switched away from Firefox. There's just been too many backwards decisions on the mobile app, and I find that I don't care as much for the features and extensions I use on the PC version.

In the end, I am currently using ungoogled-chromium on PC (the only noticeable drawback so far is inability to view YouTube Chat), and testing between Bromite, Brave, and Kiwi on mobile (leaning towards Bromite - already tested out ungoogled-chromium and from the looks of it, Bromite adopts a lot of their patches).

The idle detection API is pretty alarming, but I'm pretty sure the devs at ungoogled-chromium will remove it anyways. While I have had pretty good experience with Brave, their past ****ups as a company makes me wary of using them over community-made solutions, even if both are open-source (a requirement for me - hence no Vivaldi, Edge, or Opera).
 

krisstarr

Posts: 16   +11
How long before an app is made that is a workaround that surfs different websites either randomly or from a list? Seriously a nonissue.
 

Markoni35

Posts: 1,290   +518
As if there weren't quite enough reasons not to use Chrome. And now there's one more.

As someone said above, the whole purpose of Google "free" apps, like Chrome, is spying on everyone. Google is the biggest spying operation on the planet Earth (and probably wider).

They don't make software if it doesn't violate user's privacy and send data to them. Alphabet apps are wet dream of the worst regimes that every existed, such as Albanian Communism, or Indonesian government during Suharto.

And today such apps are "recommended software". LOL.