Internet Archive

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.

DuckDuckGo switches to Apple Maps for search results

We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy. As one of the first global companies using Apple MapKit JS, we can now offer users improved address searches, additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and continually updated maps already in use on billions of Apple devices worldwide. With this updated integration, Apple Maps are now available both embedded within our private search results for relevant queries, as well as available from the “Maps” tab on any search result page. I’m sure Apple users in San Francisco will be very happy with this news. For me, this means there’s no way I’ll be using DuckDuckGo’s location search and other mapping functions – Apple Maps is entirely unusable in The Netherlands, with severely outdated and faulty maps that are outright dangerous. I understand the privacy angle, but I feel like are better, more accurate options than Apple Maps. The world is larger than Silicon Valley.

Google denies altering YouTube code to break Microsoft Edge

A former Microsoft intern has revealed details of a YouTube incident that has convinced some Edge browser engineers that Google added code to purposely break compatibility. In a post on Hacker News, Joshua Bakita, a former software engineering intern at Microsoft, lays out details and claims about an incident earlier this year. Microsoft has since announced the company is moving from the EdgeHTML rendering engine to the open source Chromium project for its Edge browser.

Google disputes Bakita's claims, and says the YouTube blank div was merely a bug that was fixed after it was reported. "YouTube does not add code designed to defeat optimizations in other browsers, and works quickly to fix bugs when they're discovered," says a YouTube spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. "We regularly engage with other browser vendors through standards bodies, the Web Platform Tests project, the open-source Chromium project and more to improve browser interoperability."

While we're unlikely to ever know the real story behind this particular incident, I don't doubt for a second that Google would do something like this.

UTF-7: a ghost from the time before UTF-8

On Halloween this year I learned two scary things. The first is that a young toddler can go trick-or-treating in your apartment building and acquire a huge amount of candy. When they are this young they have no interest in the candy itself, so you are left having to eat it all yourself.

The second scary thing is that in the heart of the ubiquitous IMAP protocol lingers a ghost of the time before UTF-8. Its name is Modified UTF-7.

How Facebook’s leaders fought through crisis

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook's critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.

Revealing, but unsurprising recount of how Facebook went on the attack to ward off the numerous criticisms of the company. It doesn't susprise me one bit that Facebook isn't just a terrible company on the outside, but also on the inside.

The next version of HTTP won’t be using TCP

The next version of HTTP, as agreed upon by the Internet Engineering Taskforce, is going to make some big changes.

In its continued efforts to make Web networking faster, Google has been working on an experimental network protocol named QUIC: "Quick UDP Internet Connections." QUIC abandons TCP, instead using its sibling protocol UDP (User Datagram Protocol). UDP is the "opposite" of TCP; it's unreliable (data that is sent from one end may never be received by the other end, and the other end has no way of knowing that something has gone missing), and it is unordered (data sent later can overtake data sent earlier, arriving jumbled up). UDP is, however, very simple, and new protocols are often built on top of UDP.

QUIC reinstates the reliability and ordering that TCP has but without introducing the same number of round trips and latency. For example, if a client is reconnecting to a server, the client can send important encryption data with the very first packet, enabling the server to resurrect the old connection, using the same encryption as previously negotiated, without requiring any additional round trips.

I am ashamed to admit that I actually know remarkably little of how the core technologies underpinning the internet and the world wide web actually work. It's apparently so well-designed and suited for its task that few of us ever really have to stop and think about how it all works - but when you do, it kind of feels like magic how all of our computers, smartphones, and other connected devices just talk to each other and every little packet of data gets sent to exactly the right place.

Improving DuckDuckGo

At DuckDuckGo, we do not collect or share any personal information. That's our privacy policy in a nutshell. For example, we do not store IP addresses, and we do not create unique cookies. As such, we do not even have the ability to create search histories or search sessions for any individual - privacy by design.

At the same time, we need a way to reliably improve our products for our users in an anonymous way. There are a few methods we've developed to achieve this.

Spoiler alert: it doesn't involve collecting user data.

Facebook exodus: 44% of young Americans deleted the app

Pew surveyed more than 3,400 U.S. Facebook users in May and June, and found that a whopping 44 percent of those ages 18 to 29 say they've deleted the app from their phone in the last year. Some of them may have reinstalled it later.

Overall, 26 percent of survey respondents say they deleted the app, while 42 percent have "taken a break" for several weeks or more, and 54 percent have adjusted their privacy settings.

Facebook is terrible in every possible way. The product in and of itself is bad - terrible website and applications - and what it does to people is also bad, worse even. Garbage chain mail-like posts, obviously fake news and stories, massive echo chamber, targeting for election manipulation, and god knows what else.

I don't have the application anymore, the bookmark is gone from my browser, and I'm planning on deleting my account as well. Facebook is garbage, and nobody should use it.

Vivaldi 2.0 review: browsers do not have to be so bland

Roughly a year and a half later, Vivaldi has recently hit the 2.0 milestone. You can download the latest version from the Vivaldi site or install it through the app store or package manager of your OS. And at first blush, perhaps the most shocking thing about this release is that it's merely 2.0. This release is a throwback to an earlier time when version numbers had meaning, and a major number increment meant that something major had happened.

While the version number here does mean something, it's also perhaps a tad misleading. Under the hood, Vivaldi tracks Chromium updates, and, like Chrome and Firefox, it issues minor updates every six weeks or so. That means some of the features I'll be discussing as part of 2.0 actually trickled in over time, rather than arriving all together in one monolithic release. It also means that under the hood Vivaldi 2.0 uses Chromium 69.

Vivaldi is a great browser, and I'm glad such a power-user oriented browser - from the founder of Opera, unsurprisingly - still exists. I use it as my main browser every now and then just to see its state of development, and I'll be sure to give 2.0 another go for a few weeks.

Pro-privacy DDG hits 30M daily searches, up 50% in a year

Some nice momentum for privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo which has just announced it's hit 30 million daily searches a year after reaching 20M - a year-on-year increase of 50%.

Hitting the first 10M daily searches took the search engine a full seven years, and then it was another two to get to 20M. So as growth curves go it must have required patience and a little faith in the run up.

I switched from Google to DDG as well, and only use the !g command whenever I feel DDG isn't giving me the search result I'm looking for. These days, virtually every browser supports DDG as well, making it possible to search using the address bar and similar functionality like that. I don't really miss Google Search in my day-to-day use.

And as a multilingual person and translator, DDG has one feature that has made my life a lot easier. Sometimes I need to search in English, and sometimes I need to search in Dutch. Years and years ago, you could go to Google.nl for Dutch search results, and Google.com for English results. At some point in the recent past, Google decided to remove this functionality, forcing users into one language and making it incredibly cumbersome to search in other languages.

DDG, on the other hand, has this incredibly handy little toggle atop the search results that allows me to instantly switch between Dutch and English results, without even having to change the search query. Clicking on the downward triangle next to it allows me to pick other languages as well. This handy little feature is an absolute lifesaver, and I can't imagine using online search functionality without it.