What's in the latest Chrome update?

Chrome 69 for Windows, macOS and Linux offers the first major UI changes in two years, with an emphasis on top-of-window elements, such as the browser's tabs, and a minimalist overall look.

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Google on Jan. 24 released Chrome 64 for Windows, macOS and Linux, boosting the browser's defenses against the microprocessor flaws that blitzed through the news earlier this month.

The upgrade also beefed up Chrome's pop-up blocker, put a stop to hucksters hijacking the browsing session by automatically steering to an unwanted website, and implemented a promised option to let users mute auto-playing audio on a site-by-site basis. And Google's security team patched 53 new vulnerabilities in the browser.

Chrome updates in the background, so most users can simply relaunch the browser to get the latest version. To manually manage an update, select "About Google Chrome" from the Help menu under the vertical ellipsis at the upper right. The ensuing page either shows the browser has been updated or displays the download-upgrade process before presenting a "Relaunch" button. Those new to Chrome can download it from this Google site.

The Mountain View, Calif. company updates Chrome every six to seven weeks; the last time it upgraded the browser, to version 63, was Dec. 5, or seven weeks ago.

Earlier this month, Google promised to bolster defenses against the Spectre vulnerabilities its Project Zero team had uncovered in most modern processors. The firm followed through with Chrome 64, which boasts a refresh of Google's V8 JavaScript engine. Tweaks to V8 have been added to make it much tougher for hackers to pull off a successful Spectre attack.

Other browser makers beat Google to the punch on Spectre, but the difference appeared to be moot: Active attacks leveraging the vulnerabilities have not appeared, or if they have, been detected.

Chrome 64 included patches for more than four dozen other, more run-of-the-mill vulnerabilities, with Google paying out at least $22,000 in bounties to the researchers who reported the bugs. Google listed some of those bugs here.

Google also continued its war on unwanted and intrusive content by improving Chrome 64's built-in pop-up blocker so that it can handle more kinds of abuses. Devious behavior - including disguising links to third-party websites as an audio/video play control, or as a close-window button - will be spotted by Chrome 64, which will then refuse to open the new tab or window that the criminals had pre-programmed.

Likewise, Chrome 64 sniffs out hidden-to-the-human-eye page elements that auto-open a tab or create a new browser window, then drag the unsuspecting user to a rogue destination. "Usually one of them is an ad or something that you didn't want," Pete LePage, a Google developer advocate, asserted in a post to a company blog. "Starting in Chrome 64, these types of navigations will be blocked, and Chrome will show some native UI [user interface] to the user - allowing them to follow the redirect if they want."

A more noticeable change to Chrome was the adoption of a long-promised option that lets users manually mute auto-play audio on a site-by-site basis.

In September 2017, Google announced that starting with December's Chrome 63, users would be able to select a site-specific muting option from the Page Info bubble (called up by clicking on the "i" within a circle at the far left of the URL in the address bar). Changing the option to "Always block on this site" from "Allow" would silence all auto-play audio on that domain.

google chrome 64 Google

Chrome 64 users can select a site-specific muting option to silence all auto-play audio on that domain.

Google missed the Chrome 63 timeline but managed to bake it into Chrome 64 instead.

However, a more draconian auto-play policy has yet to be put into place. Last year, Google announced that Chrome 64 would not allow any auto-play content unless it muzzled the audio. Some exceptions were to apply: If the user clicked or tapped (desktop Chrome or mobile Chrome, respectively), "somewhere on the site during the browsing session," the audio would still play.

The new keep-it-down-over-there mandate did not go live with Chrome 64, as expected. Instead, Google pushed off the rule's introduction to the middle of April, when Chrome 66 is scheduled to show up.

Google's next browser upgrade, Chrome 65, should reach users the week of March 4-10, according to its release calendar.

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