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Google now offers ‘web’ search — and an AI opt-out button

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Google now offers ‘web’ search — and an AI opt-out button

This is not a joke: Google will now let you perform a “web” search. It’s rolling out “web” searches now, and in my early tests on desktop, it’s looking like it could be an incredibly popular change to Google’s search engine.

The optional setting filters out almost all the other blocks of content that Google crams into a search results page, leaving you with links and text — and Google confirms to The Verge that it will block the company’s new AI Overviews as well.

This is the new Web button. You know, for all your Web searches.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

“Isn’t every search a web search? What is Google Search if not the web?” you might rightfully ask.

But independent websites like HouseFresh and Retro Dodo have pointed out how their businesses have gotten “buried deep beneath sponsored posts, Quora advice from 2016, best-of lists from big media sites, and no less than 64 Google Shopping product listings,” in the words of HouseFresh managing editor Gisele Navarro.

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Now, with one click, a bunch of those blockers seemingly disappear.

Search for “best home arcade cabinets,” one of Retro Dodo’s bread-and-butter queries, and it’s no longer buried — it appears on page 1. (Drag our image slider to see the difference.)

With and without the “web” filter.

HouseFresh still doesn’t get page 1 billing for “best budget air purifiers” — but it’s higher up, and you’re no longer assaulted by an eye-popping number of Google Shopping results as you scroll:

Normal search on the left, “web” search on the right.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
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If you search for Wyze cameras, you’ll now get a hint about their lax security practices on page 2 instead of page 3:

Again, normal on the left, “web” on the right.
Screenshots by Sean Hollister / The Verge

I’m not sure it’s an improvement for every search, partly because Google’s modules can be useful, and partly because the company isn’t giving up on self-promotion just because you press the “web” button. Here, you can see Google still gives itself top billing for “Google AR glasses” either way, and its “Top stories” box is arguably a helpful addition:

I suppose it’s convenient for Google to have zero references to the failed Google Glass on page one, though?
Screenshots by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Which of these results helps you better learn about the Maui wildfires? I’m genuinely not sure:

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Regular “all” search definitely skews more recent.
Screenshots by Sean Hollister / The Verge

And when you ask Google who wrote The Lord of the Rings, is there any reason you wouldn’t want Google’s full knowledge graph at your disposal?

Image slider: drag left to see “Web” results, drag right for original.

Admittedly, it’s an answer that Google isn’t likely to get wrong.

As far as I can tell, the order of Google’s search results seem to be the same regardless of whether you pick “web” or “all.” It doesn’t block links to YouTube videos or Reddit posts or SEO factories… and I still saw (smaller!) sponsored ads from Amazon and Verkada and Wyze push down my search results:

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Product searches still fundamentally favor a company to the point that bad news about them gets buried.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

“Web” is just a filter that removes Google’s knowledge panels and featured snippets and Shopping modules — and Google’s new AI Overviews as well, Google spokesperson Ned Adriance confirms to The Verge. “AI Overviews are a feature in Search, just like a knowledge panel or a featured snippet, so they will not appear when someone uses the web filter for a search.”

It doesn’t magically fix some of the issues facing Google’s search engine. But it is a giant opt-out button for people who’ve been aggravated by some of the company’s seemingly self-serving moves, and a way to preserve the spirit of the 10 blue links even as Google’s AI efforts try to leave them behind.

Danny Sullivan, Google’s Public Liaison for Search, says he’s been asking for something like this for years:

As a next step, I’d like to see Google promote the button to make it more visible. Right now, the company warns that it may not always appear in the primary carousel on desktop at all — you may need to click “More” first and then select “Web.”

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Here’s hoping this all works well on mobile, too; I’m not seeing it on my phone yet.

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A jury hands Bungie a landmark victory in a Destiny 2 cheating lawsuit

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A jury hands Bungie a landmark victory in a Destiny 2 cheating lawsuit

Yesterday’s jury decision awarded Bungie (PDF) a tidy sum of $63,210. Bungie counsel James Barker said in a statement emailed to The Verge that the company is “committed to our players and will continue to protect them against cheats, including taking this and future cases all the way to trial.”

In 2021, Bungie sued AimJunkies and four defendants (here’s a PDF of the complaint), alleging, among other things, that they hacked Destiny 2 to copy the code used to make cheats. Some of Bungie’s complaints — like that AimJunkies violated a DMCA provision forbidding circumvention of copyright protection tech — went to arbitration and saw Bungie winning $4 million. AimJunkies appealed after the judge confirmed that award. That appeal is still in process, as Polygon wrote this week.

Phoenix Digital founder David Schaefer will move to dismiss the jury’s verdict and appeal it if necessary, according to Totilo. However that shakes out, the verdict is significant, given that cheating lawsuits tend to conclude in other ways, like settlements. (For example, a judge shut down a Grand Theft Auto cheat distributor in 2018 following a Take-Two Interactive lawsuit, or when Bungie settled another cheating lawsuit in 2022 for $13.5 million.)

The win may only mean pocket change for Bungie, and it won’t likely put an end to online cheating, but it does put a jury on record about the legality of creating such cheats. That makes this more significant than the pocket-change-for-Bungie $63,000 award lets on.

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Don’t fall for this email scam that almost cost an elderly woman $25K

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Don’t fall for this email scam that almost cost an elderly woman $25K

Unfortunately, phishing scams seem to be the new normal. 

Most recently, an elderly woman in the tri-state area almost got scammed for $25,000. 

According to Patch.com, what began as an average phishing scam turned even more sinister when the scammer turned up at this elderly victim’s house to retrieve money physically.

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Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson has a warning about an email scam. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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Geek Squad scammer caught in elaborate phishing scheme

While this Geek Squad scam isn’t new, this scammer took it to new lows and got caught in the process. In this particular scam, scammers send their victims phishing emails pretending to send them a large invoice for their Geek Squad subscription. The email recipients usually panic at the large charge and call the customer service telephone number listed in the scam email and invoice. 

The scammer then pretends to be the customer service representative helping to cancel or refund the charge. They’ll usually use that moment as an opportunity to confirm bank account information with the victim to steal their money later. Even if you simply click on their links or download the invoice from the email, there is a potential risk that viruses or malware have been downloaded onto your device. 

woman on phone

A woman on her cellphone and laptop. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: THE ‘UNSUBSCRIBE’ EMAIL SCAM IS TARGETING AMERICANS

Elderly victim foils scammer’s elaborate plot

The elderly victim gave her bank account number and remote access to her computer. The scam, however, doesn’t just stop there. The scammer went a step further and proceeded to convince this elderly woman that they had accidentally refunded a fake $25,000 into her bank account by mistake and that he needed her to withdraw $20,000 in cash initially for him to pick up with arrangements to pick up the remaining $5,000 the following day. This is when the elderly woman called her local authorities. Thankfully, the authorities set up surveillance and apprehended the scammer when he came to collect the $20,000. 

Perhaps the elderly victim lucked out that this scammer had an extra level of greed: combining multiple scams into one. 

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stressed woman on phone

A woman stressed out while on a phone call. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: 7 EFFECTIVE WAYS TO MAKE YOUR LIFE MORE SECURE AND PRIVATE ONLINE

How do you prevent this scam from happening to you?

Know your subscriptions: The better you know what active subscriptions you currently pay for, the less likely you are to realize such emails are fake. 

Organize your invoices: If you’re still receiving emails or physical invoices, keep track of when they usually arrive. Invoices, for better or worse, come regularly and on a consistent schedule. If something shows up in an unusual form (an email instead of a letter in the mail per usual) or at a particular time, you are more likely to stop yourself from falling for this type of scam.

Go to the official website for contact information. If the scammers happen to pick a company that you do subscribe to, it can be even easier to fall for this type of scam. But before clicking any links, downloading any invoices or calling the number listed, you can google the company’s official website and use the contact information there. If the company did indeed send you a bill, they should be able to help you with the refund or confirm whether you were sent legitimate communications.

Watch for language and tone of voice: Most legitimate companies go out of their way to specially train their employees to provide their customers with excellent service. They are trained not to lose their temper, so if you happen to be on a call with a scammer, they often don’t use professional language or have a professional demeanor. If you push back on providing certain information, a real customer service agent wouldn’t make any threats or demands. Providing Social Security numbers or bank account information is usually frowned upon for security reasons by legitimate companies. Legitimate companies typically have other ways to validate your identity and account information. You can always hang up the phone if you get overwhelmed on a call! After all, an honest company doesn’t disappear after one disconnection. 

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Setup payments electronically: If you have your subscriptions paid electronically on a regular basis, you’ll know that you shouldn’t be receiving an additional invoice for a subscription service. Additionally, if you are paying with a credit card, you can try to use a specific card for all your subscriptions so you know where and when to expect the charges. You’ll also know that certain bank information shouldn’t be relevant to paying an invoice if you get one of these phishing emails. For instance, why is the scammer asking for bank account information when you charge your subscriptions on a credit card, etc.?

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scam illustration

Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson shares his caution about an email scam. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

SCAMMERS ARE USING FAKE NEWS, MALICIOUS LINKS TO TARGET YOU IN AN EMOTIONAL FACEBOOK PHISHING TRAP

What to do next if you’ve been scammed?

These scammers could have obtained your email address through various methods, from email harvesting to purchasing it from the dark web; below are some active steps you can take to protect yourself if you feel you have been scammed:

1. Change passwords: For any accounts that might have been accessed or mentioned to or by the scammer, you should log in from a secure, virus- and malware-free device and change your password immediately. It is best to create unique and complex passwords, including letters, symbols and numbers, for each separate online account. If you need help generating and storing complex passwords, consider using a password manager.

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2. Keep an eye on all your accounts and credit consistently: Contact the financial institution and explain the situation for all accounts impacted by the potential scammer. They can help you freeze or lock your account, so these scammers have little or no access to your money. Contact the three main credit bureaus to freeze your credit. This will prevent anyone, including hackers, from wreaking havoc on your credit. Make sure to report any errors on your credit reports with the credit agencies. Remember that you are allowed a free annual credit report. If there are too many accounts for you to keep track of regularly, a credit monitoring service can help by constantly monitoring and alerting you of any account changes or problems.

3. Setup alerts for financial accounts: Most financial institutions offer financial alerts or restrictions for all transactions for checking accounts and cards. Do use them so you can be notified of any fraudulent transactions immediately. The faster you can report these charges to your financial institution, the more likely you can stop the scammers in their tracks.

4. Enable two-factor authentication for any account impacted by the phishing scam: This would include your financial accounts and email address. If you have this additional layer of security on, the hacker or scammer would have to send a code to another device or account to gain access, even with your password. 

5. Get Identity Theft Protection: While getting an identity theft service seems overkill, many identity theft protection services can help you when your accounts get compromised. They continually monitor the dark web and your financial accounts to see if any crucial personal information like your email addresses or bank account information is compromised or up for sale on the dark web. Getting those alerts immediately allows you to act faster and take the above-mentioned steps. If you have already given out your information to a potential scammer, you should follow these steps to ensure that your identity hasn’t been stolen. See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

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6. Use strong antivirus software: If you have antivirus software installed on the device where the scam email was received and any links clicked or attachments downloaded, run a scan on that device to identify suspicious software, delete it, and restart your device. Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

7. Call the local authorities: While you hope never to encounter a scammer like the elderly woman who was victimized, if you feel unsafe and uncertain about how scammers will use your information, definitely reach out to local authorities. 

DON’T CLICK THAT LINK! HOW TO SPOT AND PREVENT PHISHING ATTACKS IN YOUR INBOX

Kurt’s key takeaways

While there is little you can do about your digital information swimming around the internet, there are active steps you can take to protect yourself from these types of phishing scams. In the worst-case scenario, there are also ways to prevent further compromise if you fall victim.

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Have you been a victim of a phishing scam? How did you find out it was a scam? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact

For more of my tech tips and security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to Cyberguy.com/Newsletter

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Copyright 2024 CyberGuy.com. All rights reserved.

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I hated Animal Well until I beat the game

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I hated Animal Well until I beat the game

About midway through Animal Well, I felt I had been lied to. I read all the glowing reviews of the game and heard the breathless praise heaped upon it on social media. But my expectations did not match my reality… until I beat the game. Now, I’m well on my way to 100 percent completion for a game I was seriously considering abandoning.

Spoilers for Animal Well are below.

Though I loved Animal Well’s novel take on traditional movement abilities — the tools it provides possess multiple clever uses — platforming itself often felt demoralizing. Initially, Animal Well’s platforming felt like it had difficulty spikes that were both too great and too frequent. I could often see where I had to go and how to get there (and I often looked up video guides to confirm I was doing it right with the right tools) but actually executing was more laborious than fun and engaging.

Though I loved Animal Well’s novel take on traditional movement abilities, platforming itself often felt demoralizing

I’ve always felt that the difficulty of a task in a platformer should be commensurate with its importance: the hardest moments should be reserved for secrets and optional goals, while everything involved in completing the game should be more attainable. That way, I am still in control of my experience and, critically, still having an experience. If reaching a secret is harder than I’d like, then I can opt out to continue on to beat the game one completion percentage point lower. But if simply getting from point A to point B is too dang hard, opting out means opting out of the game entirely. Animal Well’s platforming convinced me I’d run into an obstacle so frustratingly difficult that I’d quit and never come back.

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On a lark, I decided to see what would happen if I pressed a big red skull button in a room full of crows, and yup, they pecked me to death.
Image: Big Mode / Shared Memory

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Somehow, I persisted long enough to collect all four animal flames to complete the game’s first “ending,” figuring I’d stop there. But then, right before the final encounter, I found a room littered with skulls containing an upgrade to the bubble wand item. Remember this, it’ll be important in a moment.

The bubble wand creates little bubble platforms you can jump on, but you can only blow one at a time. The upgraded bubble wand allows you to blow multiple bubbles that, with the right technique, let you bypass a lot of the game’s obstacles.

Remember the skulls? I figured out that all the skulls in that room, piled high enough for me to reach the wand, represented the number of times I died. With that realization came the shock that even though I wasn’t initially vibing with the game, it was always vibing with me. The bubble wand upgrade is unreachable unless you’ve accumulated enough skulls to build a platform up to it. The only way I got what finally made this game click for me was because of all the frustration it put me through in the first place.

When I figured that out, I started laughing maniacally, tears in my eyes, thinking, “Oh, you cheeky bastards!” I immediately went right back to the start of the game to go egg hunting, something I already decided I wasn’t going to do. But I was locked in now. I understood. I’m stuck in the (animal) well now, and I’m never coming out.

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