Google ups Chromebook privacy with new camera and mic switch


The new systemwide privacy controls cut off the rest of the computer’s access to the hardware, which, for all intents and purposes, is a software replacement to the physical camera and mic kill switch one can find on various PC laptops.

But instead of adding hardware switches that cut power to the camera, like on Framework’s Chromebook or even a simple plastic sliding gate that obscures the lens, Chromebook manufacturers can simplify the laptop design and use the built-in ChromeOS solution instead. Of course, there’s nothing more secure than a full-on severance of power to the camera and mic — and for visual confirmation, one can always adhere a plastic sliding gate.

The ChromeOS camera and mic toggles are coming in an unspecified future software update “later this year,” according to Google. Once the update does arrive, Chromebook users will get access to a new section called Privacy Controls, which will be found under Settings > Security and Privacy.

New Privacy Controls panel in ChromeOS.
Image: Google

Google is also expanding enterprise and business-oriented security features that include new identity and data control features that help IT departments manage user logins and help keep sensitive information from inadvertently traveling around and outside organizations. It includes the ability to block users from sharing sensitive files to places they shouldn’t, print only to where they should print, suppress copy and paste abilities to keep text from dropping into the wrong place, and more.

Google’s working with popular third-party enterprise management and security companies like Palo Alto Networks, ClowdStrike, Microsoft, and more to give IT departments the ability to better integrate Chromebooks within their environments. For instance, organizations using CrowdStrike XDR integration for threat monitoring can now use Google’s XDR connector framework to link up Chromebooks to the Falcon platform. Google also has connectors for organizations that use Chronicle and Cortex for access event reporting, as well as Azure AD and Netskope for Identity management.

ChromeOS has largely been designed around mobile device management, and these new tools could help make Chromebooks a more attractive enterprise option. It’s also important timing for Google: IT departments are likely now thinking about hardware upgrades following the covid computer purchase rush. While Chromebooks would be a cheap option to consider, they’ve also been found to have short lifespans and are hard to repair, according to the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

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