Internet Archive

European cloud project draws backlash from US tech giants

Germany and France are introducing a government-backed project to develop European cloud infrastructure in an effort to help local providers compete with U.S. technology giants, which dominate the global cloud market. Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. criticized the initiative announced this week, called Gaia-X, saying the project will restrict data services along national borders. The reach of Amazon, Microsoft and other U.S. giants worries European politicians and corporate executives. Companies in Germany and France, the continent’s economic powerhouses, and in other European Union countries are concerned about depending on technology providers that must comply with the U.S. Cloud Act, WSJ Pro Cybersecurity reported in October. The 2018 law requires American firms to provide law enforcement with customers’ personal data on request, even when the servers containing the information are abroad. The European Union should’ve invested in efforts like this years ago, but rather late then never. And of course, it’s entirely unsurprising that US cloud providers are unhappy about this move, but that really shouldn’t be of any European legislator’s concern.

Twitter to ban all political ads from its platform

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, about Twitter, on Twitter: We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought. This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address. Both candidate ads and issue ads will be banned, although ads to encourage people to register to vote will still be allowed. This is clearly a case of Twitter simply not wanting to be part of the problem during the 2020 election cycle in the US, and it’s an easy goal to score for Dorsey after Facebook said earlier last week that it has no issues with allowing lying ads or nazi publishers on its platform.

Twitter “silenced” dissenting voices during anti-government protests in Egypt

Twitter suspended dozens of accounts critical of the Egyptian president without cause during rare anti-government demonstrations last month, according to new research. Wael Eskandar, an Egyptian researcher specializing in digital rights, found that Twitter had suspended accounts that tweeted words in Arabic like “whore” and “ass-kisser.” Is it really any surprise that Twitter is siding with violent, totalitarian regimes? I mean, this is the same company that refuses to ban nazis and white supremacists because that would overlap with Republican politicians.

DuckDuckGo Search improvements: past year date filter, dark theme refinements, and more

While we’ve been busily improving our privacy protection ducklings — like DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser (for iOS/Android) and DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials (for Firefox/Chrome) — we haven’t been neglecting our first born — DuckDuckGo Private Search! In fact, quite the opposite — we’ve made several improvements recently that we’re excited to share with you. They should make your searching not only more effective, but also a more pleasant experience, and still of course with our same strict commitment to privacy: no personal information is associated with your searches, such that you have no search history and therefore no search profiling or ads following you around based on your searches. Some solid improvements all around, but nothing earth-shattering.

Flash is responsible for the internet’s most creative era

These days, our web browsers—whether on mobile or desktop—are highly functional and can do all sorts of things that we could only dream of a decade prior. But despite that, one could argue that the web has actually gotten less creative over time, not more. This interpretation of events is a key underpinning of Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990-Today (Taschen, $50), a new visual-heavy book from author Rob Ford and editor Julius Wiedemann that does something that hasn’t been done on the broader internet in quite a long time: It praises the use of Flash as a creative tool, rather than a bloated malware vessel, and laments the ways that visual convention, technical shifts, and walled gardens have started to rein in much of this unvarnished creativity. This is a realm where small agencies supporting big brands, creative experimenters with nothing to lose, and teenage hobbyists could stand out simply by being willing to try something risky. It was a canvas with a built-in distribution model. What wasn’t to like, besides a whole host of malware? I don’t think you can argue that the the Flash era yielded more creativity than, say, the whole of YouTube, but if you restrict the internet to just actual websites, there may be something to be said for this. I remember so many cool and amazing – at the time – Flash projects that you’d stumble across back when Flash was a normal, accepted thing, and those things have gone away, replaced not by cool HTML5 equivalents – as was promised – but by bland samey-samey websites, with far less creativity. I surely don’t mourn the loss of Flash, but it also wasn’t all bad.

Amazon changed search algorithm in ways that boost its own products

Amazon.com has adjusted its product-search system to more prominently feature listings that are more profitable for the company, said people who worked on the project—a move, contested internally, that could favor Amazon’s own brands. Late last year, these people said, Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company. Might I also point out that Amazon is cutting the healthcare benefits of Whole Foods temporary workers while Jeff Bezos earns about 1300 dollar per second? Ethics aren’t exactly high on tech companies’ agendas.

There is no evil like reCAPTCHA

Like many things that starts out as a mere annoyance, though eventually growing into somewhat of an affliction. One particularly dark and insidious thing has more than reared its ugly head in recent years, and now far more accurately described as an epidemic disease. I’m talking about the filth that is reCAPTCHA. Yes that seemingly harmless question of “Are you a human?” Truly I wish all this called for were sarcastic puns of ‘The Matrix’ variety but the matter is far more serious. I hate reCAPTCHA with a deep-rooted passion. It’s insidious, annoying, probably doesn’t work, and all you’re doing is helping Google by playing the role of a dumb bot. It’s dreadfully dystopian.

Adblocking: how about nah?

One driving force behind the adoption of EME was the ever-tighter integration between major browser vendors like Google, video distributors, and advertising networks. This created a lopsided power-dynamic that ultimately ended up in the standardization of a means of undoing the configurable Web—where the user is king. EME is the first crack in the wall that protected browsers from those who would thwart adversarial operability and take “how about nah?” off the table, leaving us with the kind of take-it-or-leave-it Web that the marketing industry has been striving for since the first pop-up ad.

Use plaintext email

There are two main types of emails on the internet: plaintext and HTML. The former is strongly preferred, but often isn’t set up by default. We’ll get you set up right. HTML emails are mainly used for marketing – that is, emails you probably don’t want to see in the first place. The few advantages they offer for end-users, such as links, inline images, and bold or italic text, aren’t worth the trade-off. I am 100% in the camp of plain text email, but sadly, very few other people – or organisations – are. Some emails become entirely unreadable when displayed as plain text, which is a pain to deal with.

Behind Twitter’s plan to get people to stop yelling at one another

Over several days this spring, BuzzFeed News met with Twitter’s leadership and watched as twttr’s team worked on its first big push: helping people better understand what’s being said in often chaotic conversations. The team thinks that if people took more time to read entire conversations, that would help improve their comprehension of them. Maybe they wouldn’t jump to react. Maybe they’d consider their tone. Maybe they’d quit yelling all the time. Or maybe, not even thousands of deeply studied, highly tested product tweaks will be enough to fix the deep-seated issues with a culture more than 13 years in the making. I don’t think hippy ideals such as described will fix Twitter – or online discourse in general. There are bad actors actively stirring up trouble and pitting us against each other, and no amount of UI changes or whatever is going to fix that.

Facebook co-founder: it’s time to break up Facebook

The last time I saw Mark Zuckerberg was in the summer of 2017, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. We met at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., office and drove to his house, in a quiet, leafy neighborhood. We spent an hour or two together while his toddler daughter cruised around. We talked politics mostly, a little about Facebook, a bit about our families. When the shadows grew long, I had to head out. I hugged his wife, Priscilla, and said goodbye to Mark. Since then, Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive. The company’s mistakes — the sloppy privacy practices that dropped tens of millions of users’ data into a political consulting firm’s lap; the slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news; and the unbounded drive to capture ever more of our time and attention — dominate the headlines. It’s been 15 years since I co-founded Facebook at Harvard, and I haven’t worked at the company in a decade. But I feel a sense of anger and responsibility. This New York Times articles, written by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is an absolute must-read. Facebook – along with Apple, Google, and possibly Amazon and Microsoft – must be broken up to reduce their immense power. Hughes quotes John Sherman, who said in the late 19th century on the floor of US Congress, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life.If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.” He was right then, and he’s still right now.

The future of undersea internet cables: are big tech companies forming a cartel?

Think of the undersea cable network as the new economic trade routes and the commodity in transit as data — arguably the most important commodity of the Information Age. Amazon, Microsoft and Google own close to 65% market share in cloud data storage. This makes them major exporters and importers of data. Imagine them forming an oligopoly to own the routes used to transfer any data. Of course, end consumers would benefit from reduced prices that are passed on by the content providers, who now enjoy large economies of scale from owning cables. But smaller companies looking to compete will be at a disadvantage. They, or anyone else looking to use these cables, could be charged a higher price for bandwidth. This is no different from an oil cartel in some aspects. A worse, but less likely, privacy related concern is if Facebook decides to use all data passing through their cable to ‘improve their services’, regardless of who owns the data. There’s a sea change underway in under-sea cables, and it seems to mostly pass by unnoticed, but it could have major consequences for the future of the internet.

Google has quietly added DuckDuckGo as a search engine option for Chrome users in 60 markets

The greatest beneficiary of the update appears to be pro-privacy Google rival, DuckDuckGo, which is now being offered as an option in more than 60 markets, per the GitHub instance. Previously DDG was not offered as an option at all. Good. DDG is a great search engine and has been my default search engine for a while now. I suggest everyone attempt the same – we need more competition, especially since DDG is far more privacy oriented than Google can ever be.

Graying out

For many years I’ve interacted with my fellow humans, I think perhaps more than any other way, via the medium of Internet chat. But in my chat window, they’re fading, one by one. This problem is technical and personal and I felt it ought not to go unrecognized. What a bittersweet story. Definitely worth a read.

WhatsApp temporarily bans accounts using third-party clients

From a support article by WhatsApp, one of the – if not the – most popular messaging app in the world: If you received an in-app message stating your account is “Temporarily banned” this means that you’re likely using an unsupported version of WhatsApp instead of the official WhatsApp app. If this is the case, you must download the official app to continue using WhatsApp. Unsupported apps, such as WhatsApp Plus and GB WhatsApp, are altered versions of WhatsApp. These unofficial apps are developed by third parties and violate our Terms of Service. WhatsApp doesn’t support these third-party apps because we can’t validate their security practices. With how important messaging platforms like WhatsApp are in many countries – including my own – they’ve basically become an intrinsic part of the fabric of society, and as such, I really feel like we need to do something about the kind of behaviour as highlighted in this support article. Do we really want to leave a core aspect of our communications up to Facebook, of all companies? I’m not sure what we can do about this, exactly. Suggesting alternatives like Signal is pointless, since that’s like suggesting all your friends and family learn a specific language just to communicate with you. Government intervention should definitely be an option, but I have no idea in what shape or form. Whatever happens, though, I see little difference between concerns about Huawei’s networking equipment and Facebook’s WhatsApp. If you’re concerned about one, you should be just as concerned about the other.

How the internet travels across oceans

The internet consists of tiny bits of code that move around the world, traveling along wires as thin as a strand of hair strung across the ocean floor. The data zips from New York to Sydney, from Hong Kong to London, in the time it takes you to read this word. Nearly 750,000 miles of cable already connect the continents to support our insatiable demand for communication and entertainment. Companies have typically pooled their resources to collaborate on undersea cable projects, like a freeway for them all to share. But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America. Not the most in-depth article, but still a fun read.

Why I chose Brave as my Chrome browser replacement

Readers of this august website may recall that a year ago, I lauded Firefox and its progress toward becoming a genuine alternative to Google’s dominant Chrome browser. As much as I liked where Firefox was going, however, I couldn’t stick with it over the long term. It wasn’t compatible with everything the way Chrome was, its extensions were different, and, for my way of using a browser, it was slower and less responsive. So I returned to Chrome after a few weeks of Firefox, but the urge to decouple my browsing habits from Google remained. This year, I’m pretty sure I’ve found the ideal Chrome alternative in the Brave browser. If your reasons for sticking with Chrome have been (a) extensions, (b) compatibility, (c) syncing across devices, or (d, unlikely) speed, Brave checks all of those boxes. What’s more, it’s just one of a growing number of really good options that aren’t made by Google. I first used Edge for a while on my desktop and laptop while using Chrome on my phone, but recently I’ve switched everything over to Firefox, and it’s been a delight.

Google takes its first steps toward killing the URL

In September, members of Google’s Chrome security team put forth a radical proposal: kill off URLs as we know them. The researchers aren’t actually advocating a change to the web’s underlying infrastructure. They do, though, want to rework how browsers convey what website you’re looking at, so that you don’t have to contend with increasingly long and unintelligible URLs—and the fraud that has sprung up around them. In a talk at the Bay Area Enigma security conference on Tuesday, Chrome usable security lead Emily Stark is wading into the controversy, detailing Google’s first steps toward more robust website identity. I don’t know if Google’s proposed steps are any good, but I do like it that at least some people are not afraid to challenge the status quo. Things can always be better, and holding on to the past because “it’s always been that way” is a terrible argument.

Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, plans to integrate the social network’s messaging services — WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger — asserting his control over the company’s sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandal. The services will continue to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, said four people involved in the effort. That will bring together three of the world’s largest messaging networks, which between them have more than 2.6 billion users, allowing people to communicate across the platforms for the first time. Before WhatsApp was owned by Facebook, I was quite glad my – and many other countries – had pretty much standardised on using WhatsApp as the nation’s messaging platform, instead of relying on platforms based on platform lock-in, such as iMessage. These days, however, with WhatsApp being owned by Facebook and the company clearly looking at ways to profit off even end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms, I’m quite furstrated by the fact that I have nowhere else to go. Trying to get literally all your friends and family to move to another platform is like stubbornly trying to get your friends to speak Swahili to you by trying to speak nothing but Swahili to them. It’s rude and will just make people not want to talk to you. All I can hope for is an organic change in how we communicate with one another, or some EU intervention to wrestle control over vital messaging platforms from corporations. I’m not holding my breath for either.