In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay Adblocking: How About Nah?, published last week on EFF's Deeplinks; it's the latest installment in my series about "adversarial interoperability," and the role it has historically played in keeping tech open and competitive, and how that role is changing now that yesterday's scrappy startups have become today's bloated incumbents, determined to prevent anyone from disrupting them they way they disrupted tech in their early days.
At the height of the pop-up wars, it seemed like there was no end in sight: the future of the Web would be one where humans adapted to pop-ups, then pop-ups found new, obnoxious ways to command humans' attention, which would wane, until pop-ups got even more obnoxious.
But that's not how it happened. Instead, browser vendors (beginning with Opera) started to ship on-by-default pop-up blockers. What's more, users—who hated pop-up ads—started to choose browsers that blocked pop-ups, marginalizing holdouts like Microsoft's Internet Explorer, until they, too, added pop-up blockers.
Chances are, those blockers are in your browser today. But here's a funny thing: if you turn them off, you won't see a million pop-up ads that have been lurking unseen for all these years.
Because once pop-up ads became invisible by default to an ever-larger swathe of Internet users, advertisers stopped demanding that publishers serve pop-up ads. The point of pop-ups was to get people's attention, but something that is never seen in the first place can't possibly do that.
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A year ago, Benjamin "Mako" Hill gave a groundbreaking lecture explaining how Big Tech companies had managed to monopolize all the benefits of free software licenses, using a combination of dirty tricks to ensure that the tools that were nominally owned by no one and licensed under free and open terms nevertheless remained under their control, so that the contributions that software developers made to "open" projects ended up benefiting big companies without big companies having to return the favor.
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Web site operators who want to spy on their users can add a "ping" directly to hyperlinks in their pages; these "ping" URLs are invisibly, silently by the browser when the user clicks the associated link, allowing third parties to be notified about your clicking activities.
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Edge isn't doing so well: Chrome still rules the web roost, and Firefox is resurgent. But Microsoft can do something about that.
Companies like Google or Microsoft have used their market position in the past to push their own products. Google pushes Chrome on all of its properties when users use different browsers to connect to them, and Microsoft too displayed notifications on the Windows 10 platform to users who used other browsers that Edge was more secure or power friendly.
The intercepting of installers on Windows is a new low, however. A user who initiates the installation of a browser does so on purpose.
The popup explicitly describes itself as a warning—as if intercepting malware. 2018's Microsoft, same as 1998's Microsoft.
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The "replay sessions" captured by surveillance-oriented "analytics" companies like Fullstory allow their customers -- "Walgreens, Zocdoc, Shopify, CareerBuilder, SeatGeek, Wix.com, Digital Ocean, DonorsChoose.org, and more" -- to watch everything you do when you're on their webpages -- every move of the mouse, every keystroke (even keystrokes you delete before submitting), and more, all attached to your real name, stored indefinitely, and shared widely with many, many "partners."
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Safari has blocked third-party cookies (used to track your behavior across multiple websites) since 2010, but the ad-tech industry has fired back with a bunch of covert tracking tools that watch you even if you've adopted privacy countermeasures; the latest version of Safari goes one better, deploying machine-learning to selectively block even more tracking technologies, while still preserving useful third-party cookies that help you stay logged in and do useful work across different sites. Read the rest
Mozilla has extended and improved its Firefox Focus browser, heretofore an Ios product, bringing it to Android, with auto-blocking of trackers and ads and making it easy to erase your browser history. Read the rest
Troy Hunt, proprietor of the essential Have I Been Pwned (previously) sets out the hard lessons learned through years of cataloging the human costs of breaches from companies that overcollected their customers' data; undersecured it; and then failed to warn their customers that they were at risk. Read the rest
The World Wide Web Consortium has been co-opted into standardizing a DRM scheme for letting entertainment companies control your browser; what's more, they've rejected even basic safeguards for competition, changing the browser landscape in a way that threatens the kind of disruptive innovation that gave us the Mozilla project and the Firefox browser. Read the rest
Microsoft has (kind of) acquired Netscape, buying many of its key patents and assets from erstwhile owner AOL. Early Netscape employee JWZ calls it "brand necrophilia" and adds, "I assume that this means that ValueClick will now be suing Microsoft over the cookie patent instead of AOL, if that's still going on. There are no winners here." AOL says the sale was made at a loss, for the tax-break.
Microsoft will acquire all the patents surrounding the Netscape browser, while AOL will still own the actual brand. That extends to the Netscape business, which was once an ISP, as well as the URL for the brand.
Netscape was one of the factors behind Microsoft’s entry into the wide world of the internet, prompting them to license Mosaic source code and turn it into Internet Explorer. Fitting, then, that everything has come full circle, and Microsoft has purchased patents behind IE’s raison d’être.
Microsoft quietly buys Netscape browser technology - SlashGear
(Image: My Old Navigator, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from oimax's photostream)
MS to buy AOL patents for $1.1bn - Boing Boing Read the rest