Chrome OS 70 Debuts AV1 & Deeper Extension Controls

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Chrome OS 70 recently started rolling out, bringing a few useful changes such as the addition of an AV1 decoder for x86 devices and user-side controls for extension site access. The former of those is chiefly going to apply to Intel-based Chromebook, Chromebox, and Chromebase gadgets and the codec itself is still very new. So, although it does improve compression efficiency in the supported audio/video by as much as 30-percent, it isn't widespread and support is limited to decoding without encoding capabilities. Bearing that in mind, the addition of user-side controls will almost certainly be more useful to a wider array of users since it allows better control over the permissions given to a given extension. For example, a user can now choose to let extensions have a given permission or permissions across every site or limit it to specific sites. They can also now separately enable autofill options for addresses and payment methods and a search field has been added to the text-to-speech settings page in accessibility settings with this update.

Background: Since Chrome itself began to be updated more than a week ago, the changes aren't necessarily surprising. However, while the changes included above are those that are more specific to Chrome OS, there are at least a few others that users on Chromebooks will notice when the update to version 70 arrives. For starters,  Public Key Credentials have been added to the Credential Management API across Chrome. That allows web apps, sites, and services to incorporate new two-factor authentication methods like hardware encryption keys, fingerprint scanning, and other biometric authentication methods. What's more, the update removes inline installations completely, whereas previous updates primarily limited those instead. For clarity, those were the extension installation methods that allowed third-party Chrome extensions from the Web Store to be installed directly from a given website instead of requiring users to access the Web Store directly. The API and functions associated with that have now been entirely removed from Chrome.

Additionally, some Chrome extensions will now require additional review depending on the scope of their permissions and 'obfuscated code' will no longer be allowed at all in extensions. As highlighted by those secondary changes, Google's overarching goal here seems to be to make Chrome and Chrome OS even more secure than it previously was while also increasing user privacy with respect to third-party devs.

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Impact: Google has increasingly faced scrutiny for its handling of user data and concerns have also surfaced with regard to security in Chrome. So these changes should have a net-positive effect on public perception since they give more control back to users, although they don't necessarily address the issue of Google collecting data for itself from signed-in users. With that said, even Google's own extensions are subject to the new user controls, so there does appear to be real progress there for users who are concerned about the practice. Meanwhile, although not widely used just yet, AV1 codec offers plenty of benefits since it will help sites such as YouTube and others that center around video and audio content have a smaller footprint.