Internet Archive

Cloudflare dumps reCAPTCHA as Google intends to charge for its use

Internet web infrastructure company Cloudflare announced plans to drop support for Google’s reCAPTCHA service and move to a new bot detection provider named hCaptcha. Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince said the move was motivated by Google’s future plans to charge for the use of the reCAPTCHA service, which would have “added millions of dollars in annual costs” for his company, costs that Cloudflare would have undoubtedly had to unload on its customers. Makes sense, and any less dependence on Google – especially when it comes to services like this, which people barely notice but do play a role in data collection.

Pi-hole 5.0 released

This is something that users have been asking for for a long time, and we are proud to be finally able to offer this awesome feature. Groups can be created and block lists, blacklist, and whitelist can be applied to groups. Blocklists, blacklist and whitelist can all be individually enabled/disabled. Pi-hole blocks ads on your entire network – you install it on your own hardware and point your router’s DNS settings to it. I’ve been putting off setting up Pi-hole on my home network out of sheer laziness, but with how easy it is I really have no excuse.

ICANN votes down controversial .org sale proposal

Adi Robertson at The Verge: The organization that oversees internet domain names has rejected a proposal to transfer management of the .org top-level domain from a nonprofit to a private equity group. ICANN said it wouldn’t approve the sale of .org operator Public Interest Registry because it would create “unacceptable uncertainty” for the domain, citing concerns about debt and the intentions of the for-profit firm Ethos Capital. Good news.

DuckDuckGo is good enough for regular use

DuckDuckGo’s premise is simple. They do not collect or share personal information. They log searches, but they promise that these logs are not linked to personally identifiable information. Their search engine results seemingly come from Bing, but they claim to have their own crawler and hundreds of other sources on top of that. They do customize the results a little: geo-searches like bars near my location give me results from my home city of New York. But search results aren’t personalized. I’ve always wondered how good the results would be. DuckDuckGo is my default, main search engine on all my computers and devices. Every now and then I do use the g command to tell DDG to do a Google search, but overall, I’m incredibly satisfied with how DDG performs.

Starlink is a big deal

Today, I watched a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket leave Cape Canaveral and deliver 60 small Starlink satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) on the Starlink L3 mission. For those not with us last week, SpaceX has a subsidiary, known as Starlink, which is presently endeavoring to blanket the majority of the inhabited latitudes of Earth with orbiting satellites to provide wireless internet access and private-line communications services. This is a Big Deal, the consequences of which I will explain momentarily. But first, some background. Out of all of Elon Musk’s crazy projects, this is the only one that interests me. This project can have huge consequences.

The internet’s name regulator says it’s ‘uncomfortable’ with the .org deal

Remember when the organization in charge of .org domain names traditionally used by non-profits decided to sell itself to a for-profit company? It surprised everyone because up to that point, there was little indication that the Internet Society (ISOC) was shopping the Public Interest Registry (PIR) for sale. Among those surprised, it appears, was ICANN, the organization that oversees the internet’s top-level domains, which now says it is “uncomfortable” with the lack of transparency around the deal and wants ISOC to pump the brakes. “ICANN’s role is to ensure that the .org top-level domain remains secure, reliable, and stable under the proposed acquisition of Public Interest Registry (PIR) by Ethos Capital,” Göran Marby, ICANN President and CEO, said in a statement to The Verge. “We also urge transparency, which is why we sent the 9 December correspondence to PIR and the Internet Society (ISOC).” This whole saga is a stark reminder that the internet and world wide web are mostly under corporate control, in a thick and complicated web of government agencies and private interests.

The Nintendo Switch Switch

Yesterday I had the idea that it would be cool if I turned a Nintendo Switch (will be referred to as NX to avoid confusion as NX is the code name for the Nintendo Switch) console into an actual network switch. I thought about it a bit and realized that it would be doable in hardware at least, since the NX docking station has USB-A ports. Dubious usefulness, indisputable awesomeness.

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.