Guide to finding and erasing your online data doppelganger

The New York Times rounds up direct links to several services surveillance opt-out screens, including some I'd never thought to look for (Amazon), as well as instructions for installing tracking blockers and no-script extensions that will limit the data trail you exhaust behind yourself as you traverse the net. Read the rest

"Big Browser is watching"

Coming after improvements to Firefox and continued unease at Google's life-pervading insight, this image is outperforming the ███████ ████ Virality Control Group today (via).

It got me thinking about all the promises that were made. Here's the earliest article in Google News to contain "Big browser" in its headline, published by Time Magazine on Nov. 18, 1994.

World Wide Web die-hard surfers -- many of whom tend to be privacy-rights absolutists -- have been horrified to learn that the software that guides them through the Internet could pose huge Orwellian problems. Over the last week or so, a growing number of heads-up E-mail dispatches have warned that some "browsers," including free and commercial copycats of the popular Mosaic program, quietly supply the Internet E-mail addresses of Net site visitors. These lists, critics argue, could soon be sold to the highest bidder --or even to government snoopers. "You'll go into a bulletin board that has an ad, and in a little bit of time, the manufacturer can start sending you junk mail," David Farber, a University of Pennsylvania computer science professor, told TIME Daily. The next step, Farber and others theorize, is a credit-card-like record of what you've bought over the Net and which political discussion groups you've perused. Web programmers, who never intended such consequences, are now talking about creating either "privacy buttons" or warning labels.

The concerns isolated:

• Browsers secretly collect and share personal data. • Aggregated data could be sold or shared to marketers and the government. Read the rest

Algorithms try to channel us into repeating our lives

Molly Sauter (previously) describes in gorgeous, evocative terms how the algorithms in our life try to funnel us into acting the way we always have, or, failing that, like everyone else does. Read the rest

EU fines Google €2.42B for anti-competitive behaviour

The EU had been expected to fine Google a little over €1B for its anti-competitive practice of promoting its own shopping service over competitors' in search results: today's €2.42B comes as a surprise, as does the ongoing fine if it fails to change its behavior within 90 days -- up to €10.6m a day, or 5% of parent company Alphabet's total daily earnings. Read the rest

Netflix app will no longer run on rooted Android devices

Netflix has become one of the main forces for DRM in the world, a driver behind the W3C's dangerous, web-scale DRM project, and now they've announced that their app will no longer run on rooted/bootloader unlocked Android devices, because these devices can run code that overrides Google Widevine DRM (Widevine doesn't work well under the best of circumstances, and it harbored unpatched, showstopper bugs since its very inception). Read the rest

Google order its secretive "raters'" hours cut, so now they're going public

Google often boasts about the 10,000 skilled raters who test its results, reporting weird kinks in the ranking algorithms and classifiers that the company uses for everything from search results to ad placement to automated photo recognition. Read the rest

Google asked a website for its data, then just took it anyway

CelebrityNetWorth.com was a popular, data-driven website whose 12 staffers led serious efforts to research public figures and give a credible estimate of their fortunes. Google liked the look of this, so it made site founder Brian Warner a proposition: let Google include the Big Number as a featured "snippet" atop relevant search results, in return for the snippet linking to the website.

Warner, though, knew that the link offer was worthless and said no. Mysteriously, Google started "answering" questions about celebrities' net worth anyway, only occasionally disclosing the source; he seeded his database with a few fake celebrities to prove Google was using CelebrityNetWorth.com's data. The result was just as he predicted when he said no: his site's lost most of its traffic, even as Google depends on it to provide accurate answers.

Google’s push into direct answers has wide-reaching consequences for more than just small business owners who depend on search traffic. The email Google sent Warner in 2014 gives some insight into how Google selects reputable sources. Google wouldn’t answer questions about this, but based on the emails, the vetting was pretty thin; Google seemed more interested in whether the data was machine-readable than whether it was accurate. And the bar for featured snippets — the answers culled algorithmically from the web — is even lower, since it appears that any site good enough to rank in search results is good enough to serve as the source for Google’s canonical answers. That’s how you get erroneous answers that claim Barack Obama is organizing a coup, or that the Earth is flat, or that women are evil...

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Google tries to define a valid family. Predictable awfulness ensues.

Ten years ago, a group of engineers and media executives sat down to decide what was, and was not, a real family. The results were predictably terrible. Read the rest

Google: Chrome will no longer trust Symantec certificates, 30% of the web will need to switch Certificate Authorities

In 2012, Google rolled out Certificate Transparency, a clever system to spot corrupt "Certificate Authorities," the entities who hand out the cryptographic certificates that secure the web. If Certificate Authorities fail to do their jobs, they put the entire electronic realm in danger -- bad certificates could allow anything from eavesdropping on financial transactions to spoofing industrial control systems into accepting malicious software updates. Read the rest

Google Home: a $129 speaker that plays advertisements when you ask it for a "daily briefing"

Owners of Google Home smart-speakers got a surprise today when their personal assistants finished the "daily briefing" (a rundown of weather, calendar reminders an traffic info) with a plug for Disney's new Beauty and the Beast movie: ""By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and The Beast opens today," followed by a long spiel for the movie. Read the rest

Crashed UFO in Colombia actually belongs to Google

Farmers in Colombia's Tolima provence were freaked out by a UFO that crashed in a field on Sunday. "It was smoking and a strange liquid was leaking it," said one resident.

Police eventually identified the wreckage as an Internet balloon from X, Alphabet (Google)'s R&D company. X's Project Loon is "designed to extend Internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas worldwide."

"We all thought it was a UFO or the remains of a space craft," locals were quoted as saying in El Tiempo newspaper.

(BBC)

Read the rest

If Google wins its trade secrets suit against Uber, it could tank Uber

Google is suing Uber, alleging that the company recruited a former Google exec who had secretly offered to give them access to trade-secrets from Google's self-driving car project. Read the rest

Wikileaks offers tech giants access to sourcecode for CIA Vault 7 exploits

Wikileaks' seismic Vault 7 release didn't follow the usual Wikileaks procedure: perhaps in response to earlier criticism, the organization redacted many of the files prior to their release, cutting names of CIA operatives and the sourcecode for the cyber-weapons the CIA had developed, which exploit widely used mobile devices, embedded systems, and operating systems. Read the rest

The internet promised open markets, delivered rigged ones, then fake ones, then outright monopolies

Markets don't solve all our problems, but they sometimes produce remarkably efficient systems for producing and distributing goods, and the internet traded on that promise with marketplaces like Ebay (anyone can sell, anyone can buy); Google (anyone can publish, anyone can read), and Amazon (one marketplace where all goods are transparently priced and ranked). Read the rest

Google's aborted Ara phone was supposed to launch with an aquarium module full of wriggling tardigrades

Back in 2014, Google announced Project Ara, a click-in/click-out modular concept-phone that you could customize by adding or removing modules as you saw fit. Read the rest

A Gmail plugin to do "emotional labor"

Install the Emotional Labor extension and it will automatically add social niceties to your outbound mail -- phrases like "Hey, Lovely! I've been thinking of you." (via 4 Short Links) Read the rest

Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and other tech firms donated cash and services to Trump inauguration

Technology companies including Amazon, Google and Microsoft donated considerable amounts of both cash and technical services for the ceremonies and events around the inauguration and swearing in of President Donald Trump, according to reports making the internet rounds on Tuesday night.

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