Posts tagged ‘privacy’


YouTube tracks you even when you’ve signed out and blocked their cookies

03.12.2018

Of course YouTube lies. Say you’ve paused your search and watch history on YouTube. And you block all youtube.com cookies. YouTube won’t track you, right? You’ve made it quite clear you don’t want a record of what you’ve done, so YouTube shouldn’t keep one.
   Wrong.
   As with Big Tech, what you expect given what you’ve told them, and what they actually do, are two different things.
   There’s just enough ambiguity in Google’s terms and conditions for YouTube to get away with this.
   It’s exactly like Facebook, which says you can opt out of certain categories of advertising (e.g. alcohol), then serve you advertising for exactly those categories you object to.
   It’s exactly like Google, which in 2009 said you could opt out of ad customization, then it began tracking you again within 24 hours of that opt-out.
   This is part of the same deal, and since US authorities are generally too gutless to go after Big Tech, they’ll keep doing this.
   Say you watched, as I did, a video on a toy collector restoring a model.
   You don’t expect any tracking given all the settings you made earlier on.
   YouTube ignores all that and has a way of determining who you are, even without cookies. Google has a series of cookies that it plants, and it can probably get you through those. Or it’s recognizing your IP address.
   I may block a lot of Google cookies but even I don’t block them all, since one of the schools I’m involved with is heavily into Google’s tools.
   After writing this I may download another browser just for their stuff and block all google.com cookies. It’s not as though Google News, the last of their services I used, is particularly useful any more, after they got rid of the customized news home pages.
   When I watched a completely unrelated video, there was a link on the side to one of the same YouTube user’s videos.

   You then have to clear your watch and search history, even though you don’t have a YouTube account, block all YouTube cookies, and you aren’t signed in to Google in any way.


   You might say that the paused history only works when you’re signed in, and that’s a fair call. But I don’t expect a user who isn’t signed in to be snooped on more than someone who is. Maybe I’m just weird that way, and the default position for Big Tech is to track everyone unless you tell them otherwise (again, their T&Cs probably allow them to get away with this).
   Consequently, YouTube says we have a ‘signed-out YouTube search history’ and a ‘signed-out YouTube watch history’ on each device.
   While I know you can use a private- or incognito-mode tab, you should be asking yourself: why on earth should I, given how I expect their website to work?
   It’s only after clearing all of that that you get a truer list of recommended videos.
   As I have said before, I really still don’t get why people want to keep using these unethical firms’ services. If Google disappeared overnight, it’d take us a week to find replacements.

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Posted in internet, TV | 4 Comments »


Meizu’s made it harder to switch OSes and root the M6 Note—at least I managed the latter

01.12.2018


Above: If phones were sentient beings, it probably is a bit mean to have the old phone take a photo of its successor.

After a drop to the ground (and by that I mean the hard floor at the local Pak ’n’ Save) produced lines on the screen of my old Meizu M2 Note, I decided to upgrade to the M6 Note. The familiarity of the Flyme interface was one big reason, though it’s only now, after 12 hours of fiddling, that I’m only slightly happy with how it all went.
   The experience was quite unlike the previous purchase, which went incredibly smoothly. The trouble seems to stem from Meizu offering a New Zealand-specific version of the M6 Note, model M721L.
   Why didn’t I buy it from a Chinese vendor like last time (when there were no New Zealand retailers)? It seems that all the Ebay vendors were selling global editions of the phone, too, so for the sake of a few dollars, I wanted the support of a local vendor. If there wasn’t much difference between a global phone and a Kiwi one, should it matter? After all, this phone is on Flyme 6·1·4·1G (G for global), and according to one page on the Meizu forums, all I needed to do was download a Chinese Flyme OS patch and it should upgrade and change accordingly.
   Problem no. 1: it doesn’t work. It might have worked for one user, but every patch I tried (and they take nearly two hours to download from Meizu’s website) ended with a ‘Firmware corrupt’ (if you were lucky to even get an error message) despite the ZIP files all verifying correctly.
   Resigned with the fact I could not turn the M6 Note into a Chinese one, I had to root it to remove the Google bollocks.
   Problem no. 2: Meizu has taken away the easy access to rooting the phone. This method does not work, either, at least not this model. After about six hours, I stumbled on the solution: you can follow the above method but switch your phone to Easy Mode first.
   Once rooted, I began removing anything Google, for reasons followers of this blog know well.
   After downloading the familiar apps, I did encounter some issues. First, the Chinese app store and the global one have different software. Weibo is an international version, for instance. The default music and video apps are much crappier for export, missing the Chinese content (which sometimes included international TV series), and going straight to the local directories.
   We do live in an age where the Chinese versions of software can be better than the western ones. Indeed, it was during my experimenting with my previous Meizu phone that I discovered that Chinese designers were creating more visually pleasing and user-friendly apps than their occidental counterparts, at least among the programs I needed.
   While there’s obviously a jump up in terms of speed (I bought the 64 Gbyte version) images seem to render duller on the screen.
   Then there were the usual problems of photo and music directories from the transferred SD card not appearing in order, which isn’t uncommon.
   While I’ve yet to give the phone the acid test (daily use, taking photos and videos), I haven’t really been wowed by the experience of setting up. It was far easier in 2016, with better results. It’s going to be a useful phone, and I thank Charlotte at PB Technologies Wellington for her advice, but if I had the time, I would have waited till a friend went to China and asked them to bring a Google-free one back.

PS., December 4: Solution to getting the Chinese version of Weibo: since my old phone wasn’t completely dead (and will remain in service as long as the screen holds up), I went to its App Store, which is Chinese, got the URL for Weibo there (through sharing it), visited it on a browser on my new phone, and installed from there.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A more honest computing glossary

26.10.2018

Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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Posted in culture, humour, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Google censors at every level—it’s just what they do

11.10.2018

As my final post on Google Plus, I posted the Murdoch Press article on how the company exposed user data between 2015 and 2018, choosing not to disclose it publicly for fear of regulatory scrutiny and damage to its reputation.
   How interesting to note that it has now been removed twice by the powers that be at Google. I have just posted it a third time.
   I wasn’t willing to put even the first time down to a bug. Google censors, and we know it censors.
   It’s particularly bad timing for a company, so fearful of its reputation being harmed, that reports of its willingness to appease Beijing through censorship are emerging in the same week. (Here’s another.)
   Breitbart has got in on the action, too, citing another leaked briefing, contradicting Google’s public statements that it is neutral. You can read the full briefing, entitled The Good Censor, at this Dropbox link provided by Breitbart.
   This isn’t a case of left versus right here—anyone who follows this blog knows that. Breitbart may be warning us about the latest censorship policy, but on the other side, Alternet has been hit, too. It strikes me that the US’s so-called “opponents” actually have many aligned interests, and their common enemy seems to be forces that attempt to suppress independent voices and individual thinking. We know of Google’s love of corporate media and big business, biasing results in favour of them and against independent media, regardless of merit.
   Part of me laments the demise of Google Plus since I’ve recorded many of Google’s misdeeds there over the years—the removal of ‘Don’t be evil’, refusing to come clean on its gender discrimination, the lack of monitoring of YouTube videos, shutting down critics in the US, and the abuse of monopoly powers, among others. That’s just a tiny handful of links between 2015 and 2018—covering the same period user data were compromised.
   One would have to have blinkers on not to see the pattern that has been forming for over a decade, much of which has been documented here.

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Posted in business, China, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Google exposed private user data between 2015 and 2018

09.10.2018

Big Tech isn’t afraid of the law, but it is afraid of bad press that could affect its stock price. The Murdoch Press has, refreshingly, stayed on Google’s case, revealing that there had been another exposure of user data, allowing developers access to private information between 2015 and March 2018.
   The company sent a memo warning executives not to disclose this, fearing ‘regulatory interest’.
   The access was available via Google Plus, which the company says it will permanently close.
   In 2011 I predicted Plus would be a flop, while tech journalists salivated at the prospect, calling it, among other things, a Facebook killer. A few years later, you couldn’t find much support among the tech press, but no one admitting they were wrong.
   I had warned regularly on this blog of privacy holes that I had found on Google, with inexplicable mystery parties among my Circles or on Google Buzz, as well as strange entries in my Google account. I’ve talked often about what I discovered with Google’s ad preferences (something it got away with for up to two years), but I’ve also found YouTube and search history settings turned on without my consent. Murdochs had revealed Google hacked Iphones, which led to a lawsuit. To learn that Google has had a privacy problem, one that it let slip for three years, does not surprise me one bit.

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Posted in internet, media, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


De-Googling is more mainstream now

30.09.2018


No, this isn’t my idea: Reed Allman used a version of this in his Medium post about de-Googling.

Looks like I’m not the only one writing about de-Googling, even if this piece in Medium is many years after I wrote about my efforts in 2009–10. (Here’s an even earlier one.)
   It does mean that others are becoming warier of Google’s privacy intrusions, if it’s now a mainstream issue. Reed Allman’s piece is very good, and it was interesting to see that it took him 36 days and upward of US$1,500 to get free of Google’s clutches. I’m sure it can be done for less with some judicious use of certain services. It’s far better having it all in one place (unlike my documenting nearly a decade ago), and his guide is bang up to date.
   I will recommend Zoho ahead of others as a Gmail alternative, only because of personal experience and Zoho’s excellent customer service. I haven’t used Zoho’s office programs but I assume they are the equal of Google Docs et al.
   He does conclude that he didn’t feel others were convinced about following suit, which is sometimes how I feel when these warnings fall on deaf ears. (And you’ve already heard me go on about other Big Tech players elsewhere.)

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


More lies: Instagram’s separate (and now possibly secret) set of ad preferences

02.09.2018

This post was originally going to be about Facebook lying. It still is, just not in the way originally conceived.
   Those who follow this blog know that, on Instagram, I get alcohol advertising. Alcohol is one of the categories you can restrict on Facebook. Instagram claims that it relies on your Facebook ad preferences to control what advertising you see. That is a lie, and it’s still a lie even as of today (with an ad for Johnnie Walker in my feed). I turned off alcohol advertising in Facebook ages ago, and it’s made no difference to what I see on Instagram.
   What it doesn’t tell you is that Instagram keeps its own set of advertising interests, which can be found at www.instagram.com/accounts/access_tool/ads_interests, but it’s only accessible on the web version, which no one ever really checks out. When I last checked on August 18, you could still see a snippet of these interests, and they are completely different to those that I have on Facebook (where I go in to delete my interests regularly, something which, I might add, I should actually not have to do since I opted out of interest-based advertising on Facebook, which means that Facebook should have no need to collect preferences, but I digress). You cannot edit your Instagram ad preferences. They are, like the Facebook ones, completely laughable and bear no resemblance to my real interests. Advertisers: caveat venditor.

   As of now, Instagram no longer lists ad interests for me, though those alcohol ads still show up.

   So, Instagram lies about Facebook ad preferences affecting your Instagram advertising, because they don’t.
   And as late as August 18, because Instagram kept its own set of preferences, it was lying about its reliance on Facebook ad preferences.
   And today, Instagram might still be lying because while it doesn’t show your preferences on Instagram any more, Facebook ad preferences still have no effect on Instagram advertising. As far as I can tell, even though the Instagram ad preference page is blank, it still relies on a separate set of preferences that is now secret and, as before, not editable.
   But we are talking Big Tech in Silicon Valley. Google lies, Facebook lies. You just have to remember that this is par for the course and there is no need to believe anything they say. Even in a year when Facebook is under fire, they continue to give ammo to its critics. This makes me very happy now that there is a body—the EU—that has the cohones to issue fines, something that its own country’s authorities are either too weak or too corrupt to do.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


In line with what I discovered in 2011: Google tracks your location even after opting out

16.08.2018

The Associated Press had an exclusive this week: Google does not obey your opt-out preferences.
   I could have told you that in 2011. Oh wait, I did. And I pointed out other instances where Google ignored your request to pause your history, continuing to track you either through its main site or its properties such as YouTube.
   This latest story related to Google tracking people’s movements on their Android phones.
   The AP found that Google lies: what it claims Location History does on its website is not what it actually does.
   In 2011, I proved that Google lied about its Ads Preferences Manager (no, it doesn’t use apostrophes): it said one thing on its website and did another. In 2014 and 2015 I showed Google lied about what it would do with your search histories.
   Instagram does that these days with its advertising preferences, saying you can control them via Facebook when, in fact, it stores another set altogether which you have no control over. If I get time I’ll post my proof. It makes you wonder if the same dishonest programmers are running things, or whether it’s part of Big Tech’s culture to lie.
   This is nothing new: they all lie, especially about unwanted surveillance, and have been doing so for a long time. It’s just that mainstream media are finally waking up to it.

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Posted in internet, media, technology, USA | No Comments »


The porn blackmail scam—ignore it if you receive it

24.07.2018

I’m not saying I can’t be conned—because by my own admission, I have been—but sometimes when you’re very sure of your position, scammers’ lies don’t work.
   Here’s a fascinating one that came in today, a lot more aggressive than the usual request for helping someone move millions of dollars of bullion out of the country. I can imagine people getting sucked in to this, because I have a friend who really was filmed without his knowledge and then (unsuccessfully) blackmailed. I’m posting it in case others have received something similar.

From: Klemens Munger
To: [Redacted]
Subject: jack.yan – [redacted]
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2018 04:27:08 +0000

I am well aware [redacted] one of your passphrase. Lets get straight to the purpose. You may not know me and you’re probably thinking why you are getting this e mail? No one has paid me to investigate you. In fact, I setup a software on the X videos (pornography) website and guess what, you visited this website to have fun (you know what I mean). When you were watching video clips, your web browser initiated functioning as a Remote Desktop having a keylogger which gave me access to your display screen and also web camera. after that, my software program gathered every one of your contacts from your Messenger, FB, and email . And then I created a double-screen video. 1st part displays the video you were viewing (you’ve got a good taste haha . . .), and second part displays the view of your webcam, and its u. You have got a pair of choices. Lets analyze these solutions in details: Very first choice is to dismiss this e-mail. In such a case, I will send out your actual video to all of your contacts and visualize regarding the awkwardness that you receive. Keep in mind if you are in an affair, exactly how it will affect? Other alternative will be to pay me $7000. Let us describe it as a donation. In such a case, I most certainly will right away remove your video. You will keep daily life like this never happened and you will not hear back again from me. You’ll make the payment by Bitcoin (if you don’t know this, search for “how to buy bitcoin” in Google search engine). BTC Address to send to: 1AarwsrgvhQ5CNuhWGMjmv34yPQTXWEaxh [case SENSITIVE, copy and paste it] Should you are wondering about going to the cop, surely, this message cannot be traced back to me. I have covered my moves. I am not trying to ask you for a huge amount, I would like to be paid for. I have a unique pixel within this e-mail, and at this moment I know that you have read this email message. You have one day in order to make the payment. If I don’t get the BitCoins, I will certainly send your video recording to all of your contacts including close relatives, coworkers, etc. Nonetheless, if I receive the payment, I will erase the video immediately. If you want proof, reply with Yea and I will send out your video to your 13 contacts. It is a non-negotiable offer, that being said please don’t waste my personal time & yours by replying to this message.

   There’s plenty of evidence this is automated.
   Think carefully: if he knows this much about you, then why isn’t he addressing you by name?
   And I haven’t used that particular password for nearly 20 years, so there’s a chance he came across this through the hacking of a defunct website. I also seldom use the same password for different websites (there are a handful of exceptions).
   It’s also helpful that I haven’t ever committed a sex act in front of my computer, but I have a feeling that others might think this was a real threat given how many people visit porn sites daily.
   If this was genuine, as it was for a friend of mine, it would come with a screen shot of the video that he claims to have (and that was a two-part image as he claims, so it’s based on scams that have taken place).
   I won’t go into depth on why else I know this is bogus, although most of you who follow me regularly will be able to spot the scammer’s pretty obvious mistakes.
   And do you really think I only have 13 contacts? (Why is the number usually so low with these scams?)
   Finally, out of curiosity, since I take my privacy seriously, I checked to see if there was a tracking pixel. There wasn’t, at least not in the software I use.
   It’s a good idea to turn your images off when it comes to webmail (as they are on Zoho for me) in case future ones come with one. My email client filtered this as junk, as it surely is.

After I wrote the above post, I came across this page, where the scam is discussed. They only wanted $360–$600 a few months ago. The price has gone up, which suggests that it has worked. It appears that the defunct-password technique only surfaced this month.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology | 2 Comments »


If you thought Facebook wasn’t creepy enough

01.07.2018

How much creepier can Facebook get? How about a patent filing where signals hidden in TV broadcasts will activate the mic on your phone, the recording sent to Facebook?
   Facebook claims that it might want this patent, but it will never use this technology.
   A bit like how Facebook claims it wouldn’t kick drag kings and queens off its service, or how Facebook claims that you can set your advertising preferences, or how Facebook claims that you can turn off ad preference tracking, or how Facebook claims your computer has malware. Wake up, people, Facebook claims means Facebook lies. Cambridge Analytica has nothing on Facebook.

Oh, if you’re blind, then Facebook are arseholes, too. (Hat tip to Holly Jahangiri.)

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | No Comments »