Category Archives: Privacy

My current privacy array

I’m fairly sure I’m at the right asymptote of ‘willingness to go through headaches and try new things in order to thwart people’s data gathering just because.’ The tools for this are in a state of constant change, so this might be a time for an update.

My basic browser is Firefox 16.0.2, not because I want to be on that version, but because I was forced by sunsetting to upgrade from a previous version. FF has heavy memory leaks, and has become clunky, but a) it has the most add-ins, b) I hated Safari, c) there is no way I’m going to let Chrome have its way with me, and d) these days, if you use Internet Explorer to do anything but download a real browser, your friends will stage an intervention. “Jonathan, we’ve all come here because we care about you. Your use of IE has affected my life negatively in the following ways…” For all FF’s flaws, it has the most dynamic privacy tool authoring community, and that’s what matters most to me.

It begins with Adblock Plus, which hides just about all the advertising, everywhere. There is a certain irony in all the efforts I exert in order to ruin Facebook’s data mining, when I don’t in fact see their consequent advertising. ABP is low maintenance. It has the added benefit of allowing me spot removal of any image I happen to find offensive and just don’t need to see again.

NoScript is a very helpful package that doesn’t let JavaScripts run unless I say so. It probably also accounts for most of the headaches and tweaks I go through, because it goes by site, and some pages have scripts from fourteen different sources (some of which you only learn of after unblocking this other one). Which one is the one needed in order to do what I came to the page to do? At times I have to turn it off temporarily, but I usually just enable scripts one at a time for the session.

FlashBlock is easier than NoScript because it shows a ‘play’ button on the screen where the Flash content is. Usually it’s a video. Do videos automatically play when you go to a page? Not for me, they don’t, and that’s how I want it.

TACO is wonderful, because it does the best job on cookies. For example, I can accept Facebook cookies on Facebook and on the one game that I play, while blocking them everywhere else. I have to do that one page at a time, but once you do it for the pages you visit most, it’s less necessary every day. That also lets me blow away Google’s ubiquitous cookie-mongering. There is no reason either of those sites needs to set a cookie on my browser just because I visited, say, CNN. That visit, and what I did there, is neither Google’s nor Facebook’s business. While TACO also blocks most web trackers, it doesn’t do it as well as…

Ghostery. In addition to cookies, many sites use beacons/web trackers to keep tabs on what you do. Ghostery blocks nearly all of them by default. If it finds one unblocked, you can choose to add it to the list. Very easy to use, and very satisfying.

GoogleSharing partly convinces Google that I’m somewhere else. Currently, Google News thinks I’m in Austin, TX. Once in a while, I believe when GS resets to a new ‘location,’ my GN shows up in a foreign edition and I have to change it. Although if it’s a language I understand, sometimes I’ll do a bit of reading first. GS says that it anonymizes my search results in some way; sounds good to me.

TrackMeNot spams Google with spurious searches on mundane things. The effect of this is to bury my actual Google searches in a sea of irrelevant crap. Slight downside is that sometimes it gets a little zealous, and Google makes me do Captcha in order to search, announcing that it has detected a lot of traffic from my IP address. This is rare.

WebOfTrust assigns reliability/safety icons to links, especially in Google searches. This mainly keeps one from blundering into sites that attempt to emplace spyware or viruses on your machine. Foolproof it’s not; helpful it is. Part of the problem is that the color of the icon could mean anything from ‘naughty pictures’ to ‘unsafe due to spyware,’ and you have to hover the mouse in order to find out. Part of the problem is that the safety rating of a page comes mainly from user input, so it’s possible that a given page was given adverse ratings simply because a bunch of people wanted to hurt the page’s owner. Use it with some discernment, and it’s helpful.

What are the downsides?

The biggest one is the need to selectively enable JavaScripts until a page works. I admit that sometimes I just punt and use another, unshielded browser. Since I don’t go from place to place with other browsers much, the dossier they compile from them is a tiny fraction of my web surfing. It’s also pretty much impossible to know which script unlocked what I wanted, unless I do it one at a time, which is often more futzing that I desire.

Second biggest is needing to go into TACO each time I go to a new page and block/delete all its cookies. You’d be amazed how many sites stick you with Firefox or Google cookies; WordPress and Yahoo are also frequent offenders.

Third would be the inability to save Google search settings because I won’t take Google cookies on their search page. At times, the non-evil folks at Google break Google search for people who do this–I’m convinced it’s to teach us a lesson.

Fourth would be that you have to use Firefox, which isn’t a very efficient or robust browser compared to others. For games, I use Sleipnir, Opera and/or Maxthon. Sleipnir and Maxthon are very robust. Opera is lousy, but it’s good to have some backup without resorting to IE. Maxthon’s update nags are very annoying; haven’t found out how to get them out of the system tray. At least I can ignore Opera and FF’s update nags.

Anyway, if you want to try browsing my way, there are all the links. Enjoy.

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Ways to mess with Facebook ‘Timeline’

Word is out that Faceplant will soon say to us: “If you thought this new life dossier was going to remain optional, think again.”

Okay.  I can’t prevent it.  I could deactivate my Faceplant account, I suppose, but I would rather keep hosing them.  I never see their ads, so I cost them money, and I get use and enjoyment out of it.  I am freeloading, and delighted to do so.  (If you see their ads, know that it’s by choice.  Want to stop? If using Firefox, go Googling ‘block Facebook ads’ and you’ll find many ways.)

So how can we screw up Facebook Timeline?

My theory is that every time we give them context, it helps them create a timeline.  For example, Faceplant recently nagged me about my Ireland photo album:  “Were these pictures taken in Ireland?” Why answer? I just ignored the question.  Thus, refusing to tag locations is one way.  Refusing to post that you are at a given location is another.  (Why do you need to advise the world that you are with Joe at Yo-Yo’s Fro-Yo Palace anyway? Who cares? Who has time to care?)  We are also told that we will have some sort of ‘cover photo’, probably a total temple to our egos.  My thinking is to use a blank white space.  Why do I need a big bright splash screen of some sort? The way you mess with data collation and analysis is to provide false data, or otherwise do what they don’t expect.  So, I’m probably going to start adding false dates and locations to photos.

Lying doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  We are taught from earliest youth not to do it, though most of us eventually learn that there are times and places to lie.  However, if you want to damage data, you don’t delete it–it may be recoverable.  If you want to damage data, lie.  Lie without conscience.  It is powerfully difficult to design a reliable system that can detect lying.

So, I’m going to take a long look at what Faceplant imposes upon me.  And then I’m going to start concocting some whoppers.  I’m not going to tell it my job history.  If I ever go out to apply for work, I’ll deactivate my Faceplant account for a while.

First whopper:  I just searched for the word ‘blossom’ and came up with an eternal list of blossom-related items to ‘like’.  I ‘liked’ most of them.  How’s that for trashing the data?

Why don’t I just migrate to G+? Oh, that’s an easy one.  I’m not swapping one info-hydra for another.  Any time a company says it’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” be ready for a steady flow of evil.  At this point, Microsoft is actually about fourth on my Evil list, Information Tech subcategory.

Don’t I feel some guilt for freeloading on the USS Zuckerborg, then doing my all to cause headaches even while benefiting from it? Zero, nada, none.  Said vessel is using me more than I use it, which is why its founder is rich.  I don’t see an application of the laws and principles of hospitality here.  I see a company that has established a situation where it is moral and ethical to use them as I please provided I harm no other users.  That includes depriving it of profit, advocating non-cooperation, mocking, providing fictitious data, and otherwise creating headaches.  Petty? Sure.  So is voting, though, by that logic.

Here is an okay article that briefs you on the new feature.  If you come up with any other good ways to thwart the goal of a full life dossier, please share!

Edit, 9/1/12: if you use Firefox, and you just want to not see Timeline–yours or anyone’s–I suggest the add-in SocialReviver. Of course, you should still screw with Timeline any way you can manage. It’s still there, even if this spares you having to see it.