Google has unveiled its ambitious new plans for a sprawling, modern Googleplex. The new facility, being developed by architect Bjarke Ingels, features a series of glass, canopies the size of city blocks, new biking and walking paths and an emphasis on green space. Renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick is also involved in the project. Google hopes to complete the first stage of development by 2020, but the company will first have to win approval from Mountain View’s city council amid growing concern over Google’s control over the development of the community.
VLC lets you play all sorts of different media
A popular video-playing app is finally back in the App Store.
VLC, the cross-platform multimedia player that plays a variety of different file types, is once again available on iOS devices after being pulled from the App Store around the time iOS 8 released in September. The app makes it easy to play format types that aren’t easily compatible with Apple devices.
In addition to the iOS version, VLC updates are rolling out for Android, Windows Phone and desktop, CNET reports. The Android version will support Android TV, while the desktop version will automatically rotate vertical videos for easier viewing. An upcoming update plans to add Chromecast support.
Blogger users can keep posting nude photos
Google is backing down from its new porn policy four days after announcing a plan to block sexually explicit images from its blogging service.
The company said on its Blogger help forum Friday that it will keep its old policies in place and instead work harder to crack down on commercial porn using the previous rules.
“We’ve had a ton of feedback, in particular about the introduction of a retroactive change (some people have had accounts for 10+ years), but also about the negative impact on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities,” wrote Jessica Pelegio, a Google social product support manager.
Under the new rules, Blogger users would have been banned from posting graphic nudity except in specific circumstances deemed appropriate by Google. Old blogs with sexual imagery would have retroactively been made private.
Mobile-friendly sites will do better in search results next month
Google is once again tweaking its search algorithm with a new change that should have some benefits for users.
The company announced in a Thursday blog post that it will rank mobile-optimized sites higher in search results starting April 21. Sites that work well on a smartphone will get a “significant” boost over other sites, the company says.
The change should ensure that people conducting Google searches on their phone typically arrive on easily-readable sites rather than messy desktop-based layouts that are hard to navigate on a small screen. Google offers a form where developers can input a URL to see whether it is mobile-friendly or not.
In addition to the algorithm change, Google said starting Thursday it will begin surfacing content hidden within apps more prominently in search results. If a developer has enabled App Indexing, Google’s search bots can crawl the contents of an app just like a Web page. Information from the app can show up along with regular search results on Google.
It makes sense that Google would want to incentivize App Indexing. The search giant doesn’t have the stranglehold on information queries on phones as it does on the desktop because people often boot up more narrowly-focused apps (Amazon for shopping, Yelp for food) instead of using Google to trawl the entire World Wide Web. More indexing means more valuable information that Google can present to users and serve ads against.
New service will have classic kids shows but fewer current hits
Nickelodeon is the next big television brand to throw its hat in the streaming ring.
The Viacom-owned kids’ network on Wednesday announced a new online service called Noggin, which will stream old episodes of shows such as Blue’s Clues and Little Bear for $5.99 per month. The service, available for iOS devices March 5, will also feature older shows such as Allegra’s Window and Gullah Gullah Island, as well as music videos and educational content.
Missing from the service are more recent mega-hits like Dora The Explorer. Nick says the content available on Noggin will remain “separate and distinct” from what you can watch on TV.
For what’s being offered, the price tag may be a bit high. Sesame Street now has a streaming service that costs $3.99 per month, and much of the legacy Nickelodeon content is available to Amazon Prime subscribers–along with a boatload of other features–for $99 per year, or $8.25 per month. However, Nick said it may offer Noggin to cable subscribers free of charge in the future.
The search giant is investing $350 million in a fund to cover home solar panel installations
Google is investing $300 million in a fund designed to help people install solar panels on their houses.
The fund is being created by SolarCity, a fast-growing solar energy startup that boasts SpaceX CEO Elon Musk as its chairman. SolarCity has attracted $750 million overall for the fund, which will finance solar panel installations for homeowners in 15 states. Homeowners who install the panels will then pay SolarCity for the electricity they generate.
SolarCity claims its customers “usually” pay less for electricity than people who use traditional fossil fuels — and it says its energy is cleaner, too.
“It’s good for the environment, good for families and also makes good business sense,” Sidd Mundra, Renewable Energy Principal at Google, said in a statement.
The investment is Google’s largest in renewable energy projects.
Google Play Music users will now be able to store up to 50,000 of their own songs for free
Google is expanding the size of its celestial jukebox.
The company announced Wednesday that users will now be able to store up to 50,000 of their own songs for free using Google Play Music, up from the previous limit of 20,000 songs. The songs, which can be uploaded directly from a user’s iTunes collection or other local music folders, can be played on iOS devices, Android devices and the web.
This service shouldn’t be confused with Google Play Music All Access, Google’s Spotify competitor that lets users stream more than 30 million songs from the cloud for $10 per month. However, the two services can work in tandem, so a user can mix songs from the All Access library with tracks they’ve uploaded directly from their own files.
Up to $50,000 in individual rewards
Google is making its annual contest to find vulnerabilities in Chrome a year-round affair.
The security contest known as “Pwnium” previously awarded cash prizes to developers once a year who found bugs in the Chrome browser or the Chrome operating system. Now the company is offering “infinity million” dollars on an ongoing basis to people that identify bugs (the company clarifies in a blog post that the contest can be modified at any time).
Individuals can be awarded between $500 and $50,000 for each bug they discover.
Google says the change in structure is an effort to prevent “bug hoarding,” in which coders would wait to disclose vulnerabilities until they could claim a reward once a year. “By allowing security researchers to submit bugs all year-round, collisions are significantly less likely and security researchers aren’t duplicating their efforts on the same bugs,” Google wrote in its blog post.
The new rules for Pwnium go into effect Wednesday.
But some locals worry that the search giant is taking over their town
Google is planning to unveil plans for a sprawling new headquarters this week, according to The New York Times, but some residents of the company’s hometown of Mountain View, Calif. aren’t happy about it.
The new Googleplex would include “canopylike buildings,” the Times reports, as well as bike and pedestrian paths. However, a new facility to accommodate Google’s ever-growing workforce (nearly 54,000 at the end of 2014) could place even more strain on the overcrowded Mountain View. Traffic gridlock is now common and housing prices have increased thanks to the influx of well-paid tech workers.
Mountain View’s city council appears split on how much leeway to allow Google as it builds out. Some see Google’s expansion as an opportunity to turn Mountain View into a world-class city, while others worry that if more Google residents begin living in Mountain View itself rather than San Francisco, they’ll be able to to create a strong enough voting block to effectively control the local government.
The full proposal for Google’s headquarters is expected to be submited Friday, according to the Times.
But fines and jail time still await tax frauds
Here’s something the IRS probably doesn’t want you to know: Our entire tax code mostly works on the honor system. The much-feared agency only audited 0.86% of individual tax returns in 2014, the lowest percentage since 2004, Bloomberg reports. Among households with incomes greater than $1 million, 7.5% were audited.
The auditing rate is falling because the IRS is bleeding employees. By 2014, the number of revenue agents had declined 16% from its 2010 peak, to 11,629. It’s a trend that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen called “deeply disturbing” in a Tuesday speech.
At its peak efficiency, the IRS was auditing about 1.11% of individual returns back in 2011. Even if those figures seem small, getting caught committing tax fraud can result in heavy fines or jail time—which seems to be enough to keep most citizens honest.