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Google Tone lets you share links through your speakers

Barry Collins
20 May 2015
Dell XPS L502X speakers
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New Chrome extension lets you broadcast a link to a nearby friend using your PC's speakers

The people with too much time on their hands at Google have come up with a novel method of sharing links with friends. Dubbed Google Tone, the Chrome add-on shares the link by playing audio tones through your computer's speakers, which can be heard and translated into a URL by nearby laptops. 

Apparently written in an afternoon by two Google engineers, the Tone add-on aims to make it as easy to share links with neighbours as it is to share links with people around the world using Twitter, Facebook and other services. "Tone grew out of the idea that while digital communication methods like email and chat have made it infinitely easier, cheaper, and faster to share things with people across the globe, they've actually made it more complicated to share things with the people standing right next to you," writes the Google research pair, Alex Kauffmann and Boris Smus. "Tone aims to make sharing digital things with nearby people as easy as talking to them."

The service requires both sender and recipient to have the Tone extension installed in Google Chrome.  Once installed, the sender merely has to click on the megaphone icon in the top right corner of the browser to broadcast the link, which sounds like the love child of R2-D2 and a mobile phone dialler. Any computers also running the tone extension within electronic earshot will be sent a notification saying that the sender wants to share a link with them, along with a preview of the URL. The link doesn't open until the user clicks to confirm, which will help prevent recipients falling victim to Tone phishing attacks. 

In our brief tests, Tone worked fine when sending links from a Windows laptop to a MacBook, but not vice versa, even though we cranked the volume on the Mac up to 11. Google admits Tone's not 100% reliable. "The orientation of laptops relative to each other, the acoustic characteristics of the space, the particular speaker volume and mic sensitivity, and even where you're standing will all affect Tone's reliability," the engineeers warn. "Not every nearby machine will always receive every broadcast, just like not everyone will always hear every word someone says. But resending is painless and debugging generally just requires raising the volume." Generally, but not always, it seems. 

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