Privacy Quote

We all need places where we can go to explore without the judgmental eyes of other people being cast upon us, only in a realm where we’re not being watched can we really test the limits of who we want to be. It’s really in the private realm where dissent, creativity and personal exploration lie.
–Glenn Greenwald


Finally, A Social Network…

…that I can get behind.

Finally, there is a new kid on the block. And while the deck may be stacked against it, I hope it succeeds. Taking on tech behemoths such as Google and Facebook can be no easy task for a scrappy young start-up. But this service has an ace or two up its sleeve: Privacy and User Control. Imagine that, two things that both Facebook and Google Plus sorely lack.

I am speaking of MeWe by the company Sgrouples. MeWe doesn’t bill itself as a social network but as a private communications network.

Compare MeWe’s 815 word privacy policy written in common English to Facebook’s 5443 word jumble of legalese. If you have ever read a privacy policy, then you know that the shorter the better. It takes very few words to say that your data is protected, but many many words to explain how your data will be exploited.

The site has the full backing of Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the W3C.

“The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information. The power to abuse the open Internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies. MeWe
gives the power of the Internet back to the people with a platform built for collaboration and privacy.”  Sir Tim Berners-Lee
To me this seems like a much needed service. So even though I don’t know anyone who uses the service yet, I went ahead and signed up for an account with the hope that it succeeds.
Check out the press release announcing the service. You can find me on MeWe at:
What do you think, is there room for one more social network?

Getting Serious About Dumping Google

For some time I have been concerned about what Google was learning about me and how quickly they are willing to turn said data over to governmental officials.  Being an Android fan really gives Google an insider look into my personal life.  With the release of Google Now I also went ahead and enabled search and location history.

Some time (months) ago I made a list of all of the google services that I used.  Then I listed alternatives and the reasons that I prefer the google services.  The plan at the time was to dump some services and attempt to cut google’s appetite for my personal information.  At the time I dumped Google Plus and switched back to Firefox from Chrome…the rest seemed insurmountable.  Reader, Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Voice, Maps, News, Sites, Picasa…not to mention search and the Play Store all seemed best of class.  Sure they are collecting all my personal data…but damn it is convenient.  And the integration with Android seemed unbeatable.

Recently I redoubled my efforts; focusing on mail, calendar, and contacts.  Much research led me to GMX, a European service.  I transferred years of mail (using IMAP and Thunderbird), imported my contacts and calendar; but was unable to make it mesh with Android.  GMX was too broken, contacts would not sync and the mobile login was broken.  Back to the drawing board after several wasted hours.

I seriously gave hotmail a thought…but Microsoft has crippled its service to protect its Outlook brand (no IMAP, lack of Android support for Calendar, etc…).

Finally I settled on Zoho.  It had a few things going for it that other services lacked: a complete package of mail, calendar, contacts, and more; it used active sync to mesh with Android (push mail!); the web interface is slick and ajaxy.  Once again I fired up IMAP in Thunderbird and transferred my email, exported calendar and and contacts from Google.  Zoho seemed to work flawlessly.  I set up active sync on my phone and tablet, removed gmail, and now had contacts, calendar, and mail that synced with the web.  And just like that, I am off of 3 google services.

Of course I can not just walk away from gmail.  I’ve been using it for years, it is my login ID at numerous sites, and I have business cards with that address.  So even though I have switched to Zoho, gmail will remain part of my life for some time to come.  I set up a forwarder in gmail to send all mail to Zoho, so no more logging in to gmail.

Feeling like I was on a role, I forged ahead to see what other google services I could replace.  I’ve been using Google Reader as an RSS reader for many years, still it was quite simple to switch to Feedly.  Feedly has a nice Android app and a simple web interface, it pulled in my feeds quite easily.

Nokia recently released Here Maps for Android.  There is minimal integration between the web version and the mobile version, but it has the major features that I need (except turn by turn navigation on Android).  I went ahead and switched but retain the right to switch back should it prove inadequate at some point.

I put a fair effort into replacing Google News but have so far been unsuccessful.  Nothing else comes close.

I dumped Google Now, no replacement required.  It seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

So here is where I am at now: I had previously dumped Google Plus, replaced Drive with Dropbox, and replaced
Chrome with Firefox.  In this round I replaced Gmail Calendar and Contacts with Zoho, partially replaced search with Duckduckgo, replaced Reader with Feedly, replaced Maps with Here, and dumped Now.  I would still like to replace News and Picasa if I can find good alternatives; and I will continue to use Voice, Music, and Sites for the foreseeable future.  Plus I deleted all the history (web and location) that Google was collecting.

Not a bad start.

None of this is meant to unfairly malign Google.  They are certainly no worse than any other giant tech company and better than most.  However, just as in politics, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

I am open to suggestions on a good replacement for Google News.

Duck Duck Go is a new and interesting search engine.  It has its own bot, but it also relies on Bing for much of its search results.  Often it provides the answer to a search via integration with Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha or another service.

There are keyboard shortcuts, search modifiers, etc… on their goodies page.

Let’s see if WordPress will let us embed a search box:

Nope, use the link above.

What’s the deal with facebook?

Some time ago I checked out facebook. Lots of folks that I know use it. The problem was that I, normally a pretty tech savvy person, couldn’t quickly tell what was being shared with who. If I am posting private info and it isn’t clear who gets access to it, then how do I know what is safe to publish? Facebook’s privacy settings seem purposely confusing and vague, not a company that I want to let own my personal data. Also, where is the export for my data? How do I take MY data and leave facebook? Nope, sorry, no can do. Facebook is a walled garden much like the now dead and dying AOL (one can only hope that facebook meets the same fate.)
So I took the time to wade through the settings and find a spot where I could delete my account, delete my data, remove myself from their database. Done. That should have been the end of it.

But it wasn’t.

Months later I used a different email address to set up a “throwaway” account. An account that I created in the name of John Smith. It wasn’t meant for sharing, I intended to give it none of my personal data. I simply created it to make commenting on blogs and such that allow facebook connect for posting. I simply used it to log into blogs and sites that allowed it so that I could avoid registering for every site on which I wished to leave a comment.

That worked fine for a month or two.

Then I accidentally used my personal email account to login to facebook from a third party site. Bam, I am redirected…to…my old facebook account. The one that facebook had assured me had been deleted. All that personal info that was “deleted” was back. There was no wait, it was instantaneous. The data was never gone, they didn’t even bother moving it to an archive server.

And there lies the problem with facebook. They are amassing a huge assortment of personal data and they are not being clear about what is done with it, who has access to it, how long it will be retained, or who they will give/sell it too. Can you name another site that needs 4 pages of settings related to the privacy of your data? This is purposeful obfuscation in the hopes of getting the user to share more than he/she means to.

The main argument in favor of facebook is that it is simple and easy (look how happy gramma is interacting with little Jennie.) It is all fine and good until little Jennie gets stalked  due to the info that gramma shared with her “friends”.

This morning I finally waded through Facebook’s settings to “delete” my account again.  I see that they have now replaced the word delete with deactivate.  Pisses me off but at least it is honest…there is no way to delete your account.  Facebook owns your data, you can’t take it with you, you can’t delete it, you don’t own it.  Facebook is making bank and they are not bringing anything to the table.  The users generate the content and facebook rakes in the dough…great work, if you can get it.

In the week or two that my account was (re)activated I recieved 5 “friend” requests.  Two from people I know and three from apparently hot young women who wanted to get together with me.  Want to know a sure way judge a neighborhood?  Look at the people you run into on the “street”.  If you run into low lifes around every corner, you might want to look for a better place to hang out.

The criticism so far hasn’t even touched on Facebook’s model of existence, which I think is also fatally flawed.  Facebooks whole premise is to get you together with people you know, or once knew, or might have known, or who share common friends, or what the fuck ever silly nonsense they can use to get you to create content for their shitty service.

Nobody stops to ask if I care what people I knew 20 years are up to today, let alone if I want status updates from them.  I would much rather network on line with strangers who share common interests than with people I used to know.

I came close to grabbing a screenshot of my wall before deactivating my account.  It would have illustrated my point exactly, it is not conversation that happens on Facebook.  Instead it is pompous, arrogant, show-boating with a heavy dash of egomania.  I refrained from publishing a screenshot because I don’t want to embarrass the dumb asses who post such drivel.

I had hoped to write a better post, but this has been a draft for over a week and I didn’t want it sitting around for three weeks while I am out of town.  Perhaps a future post will delve deeper into facebooks model.

What do they [search engines] know about you? | 08/20/2006 | What do they know about you?
What do they know about you?

A couple of days ago the San Jose Mercury News ran an article on search engines and privacy. This was in response to the release orf search data by AOL. The Mercury News studied the privacy policies of the big 4 search engines (AOL, Yahoo, Google, and MSN), then went on to conduct interviews of representatives of the companies. Their conclusions are that you have no privacy. The policies are summed up in a pdf chart here.

Basically, they use tracking cookies, IP addresses, and user log-ins to amass their data pile. They do not give the user access to the data they collect, they do not allow the user to correct bad information, they will not admit to who they have shared your data with. Basically they collect and analyze your data, and you should just trust them. While this was not my primary reason for dumping google services, my actions were quite prescient. You can read the responses from the big four here.

The Mercury News (which is a great newspaper, the best in the Bay area, bounds better than the SF Chronicle) also links to a CommonWealth Club talk on digital privacy.

After reading (and listening to) this, it would seem that it would be time to reinvestigate Tor. I had this setup on Windows, it was fairly easy. I wonder if I can make it work in SUSE?

Perhaps we are at the end of privacy, perhaps privacy is a quaint old fashioned idea. If this is the case, if we are in fact entering the transperant society, then we must demand transperancy from those at the top, both government and business leaders must be held accountable.

I will leave this with a link to the EFF’s short guide to Keeping Your Search Data Private.