Weekly output: Google hearings (x2), Microsoft wants facial-recognition rules, Google Maps and Lime scooters, U2F security keys, U.S. newspapers vs. the GDPR

My calendar for the coming week looks strange: There isn’t a single work appointment on it. I plan to celebrate that by not shaving tomorrow.

12/10/2018: Congress will grill Google’s CEO this week — here’s what to expect, Yahoo Finance

The House Judiciary Committee–in particular, certain of its Republican members–obliged me by living up so completely to this preview of Google chief executive Sundar Pichai’s Tuesday appearance there.

12/10/2018: Microsoft is asking the government to regulate the company’s facial recognition tech, Yahoo Finance

Microsoft president Brad Smith came to the Brookings Institution last week to make an unusual plea: Please regulate us before we get dragged into a race to the bottom with ethically-unbounded vendors of facial-recognition technology.

12/13/2018: Google Maps will now help you find Lime scooters, Yahoo Finance

I got an advance on this news from one of Lime’s publicists; by itself, this new feature isn’t a huge development, but covering it allowed me to discuss broader failings in both Google and Apple’s navigation software.

12/13/2018: On privacy, Google CEO’s congressional hearing comes up short, The Parallax

I wrote about several security and privacy questions that should have been asked during Pichai’s grilling but never came up. The single worst omission: Not a single representative even mentioned the name of a non-Google search engine.

12/14/2018: Primer: How to lock your online accounts with a security key, The Parallax

I’ve had the idea of an explainer about “U2F” security keys on my to-do list for a while. In the time it took for me to sell the piece, Microsoft and Apple finally began moving to support this particularly secure two-step verification option.

12/16/2018: Post-Dispatch, Tribune haven’t caught up with EU rules, Gateway Journalism Review

My former Washington Post colleague Jackie Spinner wrote about how the sites of some U.S. newspapers continue to block European readers instead of complying with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. She gave me a chance to critique this self-defeating practice–I’d earlier griped about it in a Facebook comments thread with her–and I was happy to give her few quotes.

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LastPass shows how to do two-step verification wrong

I finally signed up for LastPass Premium after years of using the free version of that password-management service. And I’m starting to regret that expense even though $2 a month should amount to a rounding error.

Instead of that minimal outlay, I’m irked by LastPass’s implementation of the feature I had in mind when typing in credit-card digits: support for Yubikey U2F security keys as a form of two-step verification.

Two-step verification, if any reminder is needed, secures your accounts by confirming any unusual login with a one-time code. The easy but brittle way to get a two-step code is to have a service text one to you, which works great unless somebody hijacks your phone number with a SIM swap. Using an app like Google Authenticator takes your wireless carrier’s security out of the equation but requires regenerating these codes each time you reset or switch phones.

Using a security key–Yubikey being one brand, “U2F” an older standard, “WebAuthn” a newer and broader standard–allows two-step verification independent of both your wireless carrier and your current phone.

Paying for LastPass Premium allowed me to use that. But what I didn’t realize upfront is that LastPass treats this as an A-or-B choice: If you don’t have your Yubikey handy, you can’t click or type a button to enter a Google Authenticator code instead as you can with a Google account.

A LastPass tech-support notice doesn’t quite capture the broken state of this user experience:

If multiple Authentication methods are used, only one will activate per login attempt. If you disable one, then another will activate on the next log in attempt. Because only one activates at a time, you cannot have multiple prompts during the same log in.

The reality you see if you happened to leave your Yubikey at home or just have your phone closer at hand: an “I’ve lost my YubiKey device” link you’re supposed to click to remove that security option from your account.

This absolutist approach to two-step verification is not helpful. But it’s also something I should have looked up myself before throwing $24 at this service.