Privacy Resources for the New Year

Here are some useful resources to help you protect your privacy in the new year and beyond.

First, try the browser tracking test at http://vpntest.spotflux.com/ to find out which corporations can track your online activities. If you score less than 100%, check out http://areweprivateyet.com, operated by privacy company Evidon, to find out which browser tools can best protect your privacy. Also, my posts here tagged “Privacy” have more information that could be of help.

Best wishes to all my readers for a happy and prosperous new year!

Norway to Allow Private Spying on Internet Users

In Norway,  a new law will allow a plethora of private organizations to spy on Internet users, supposedly in the name of reducing piracy. Several media organizations, such as the MPAA, as well as an individual musician and even a pro-piracy group have registered to participate in this massive invasion of personal privacy.

These groups claim that they will use the data to argue for mandatory blocking of alleged pirate sites, but one also says that it reserves the right to sue individual users in the future. One huge problem is that illegal file sharers can spoof IP addresses, potentially leading to false accusations against innocent persons.

In Norway, unlike the USA, ISP’s are held responsible for illegal material on the Internet, causing a chilling effect with self-censorship of  borderline content. Among other things, hate speech and even blasphemy are illegal there: http://hannemyr.com/en/censorship01.php

 

Comment Policies: Sacrificing Privacy for Civility?

NBC News reports on the growing trend of websites, especially newspapers, of trying to promote online civility by prohibiting anonymous or unregistered comments. Notably, YouTube now requires a real-name Google+ account to post a comment, although so far, the comments I have observed there have been just as inane as before the change. More cynically, some of us believe that websites are also using real-name comment policies to mine more data and further erode consumer privacy.

(I was surprised that the article didn’t mention the problem with spam or scam comments, long the bane of blogs and Facebook pages. Automated anti-spam tools used by this blog have already blocked around 100 spam posts, while similar tools deployed at forums I administer have blocked over 100,000 spam registrations over just a few months.)

The article points out that as our digital and offline lives have become ever more intertwined, our anonymity continues to diminish. For my part, I do not usually comment on pages that require me to sign in with Facebook or real-life information, because I don’t feel that sacrificing my anonymity is a fair trade-off for making casual observations about current events. However, younger people who came of age in the era of ubiquitous connectivity might feel differently. I invite my readers  to share their opinions in the comment section here — real name optional, of course 🙂

Chrome Extension Bypasses UK Internet Filters

An article at consumer-rights website DSL Reports says that a simple extension for the Chrome (and presumably Chromium) browser can bypass the UK’s new mandatory ISP-level adult Internet content filters. The developer says that the extension, which uses a web proxy, is safe, legal, and private.

I have not tested the extension, so I cannot vouch for it, but I would love to hear from any UK members who have used it.

Adult Magazine Pioneer Al Goldstein Dies at 77

This week, Al Goldstein, a trailblazing producer of American adult magazines, died at age 77. In the 1960’s, Goldstein created Screw magazine in response to publications like Playboy, which he considered too soft-core . Screw, which featured explicit reviews of New York-area erotic entertainment along with biting editorials about church and state, unsurprisingly attracted the attention of prosecutors, who filed numerous charges against Goldstein during the 1970’s.

Although Goldstein suffered many personal and financial setbacks in his later years, his hard-fought legal victories helped to establish the contours of First Amendment law in the US and contributed to the precedents that ultimately led to the great win for the Internet in Reno vs. ACLU. All of us who enjoy adult content online owe something to those early publishers, like Al Goldstein, who fought against persecution and censorship.

NBC News article

Weekend Quick Links

Adult content is now blocked by default for all new UK BT customers. Ninety percent of UK households will be subject to a mandatory filter regimen by the end of January 2014.

According to market research and privacy firm Ghostery, 1/4 of all web searches are for porn, and 15% of all websites are devoted to adult content.

Ars Technica: “How Gmail’s image tweak is a boon to marketers, stalkers, and debt collectors.”

Google’s Subtle War on Porn

A recent discussion at the Xbiz adult webmaster forum focused attention on Google’s support for “law-and-order” authoritarian organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Google has a history of being censorious towards adult content. For example, this article in Web Pro News last year documented a subtle search-preferences change meant to reduce the visibility of adult search results, initially only in the US but expanded to other countries as well. In essence, Google’s “safe search” filter cannot be completely turned off, in contrast to Bing and Yahoo.

Further, earlier this year Google commenced a purge of blogs carrying “pornographic” ads on its Blogger platform. It was estimated that Blogger had about 100 million blogs, with about 10% of those containing adult content:

“The company declined to explain the reasons for the move, or to say how many blogs – or what proportion of Blogger sites – would be affected.”

I closed my Blogger account a couple of years ago after becoming uncomfortable with Google’s extensive tracking of online user behavior. I now try strenuously to avoid using Google services as much as possible.

For those who also find Google’s conduct and political actions disconcerting and who wish to limit that company’s tracking of their browsing, this Firefox add-on blocks Google Analytics from tracking users. Microsoft offers a similar Tracking Protection List for Internet Explorer. The Ghostery add-on for Firefox and the Opera and (ironically) Chrome/Chromium browsers blocks most Google tracking as well as other pervasive corporate tracking mechanisms.

Bing search, along with Bing Maps and Translate, provide viable alternatives to Google’s search products. Dailymotion is a less-censored alternative to Google’s YouTube service for webmasters who wish to post sample material online.

Sky Starts Blocking Some Websites for UK Customers

According to comments at the Xbiz adult webmaster forum, Sky Internet customers in the UK have been contacting help desks to report that they have been blocked from reaching adult payment processing sites, but not other adult sites. It would seem that Sky has blocked some access for existing customers by default, breaking sites and creating the confusion I predicted in my earlier post here. The filters, which use Symantec’s website categorizations, block far more than just sexually explicit content and were supposed to be enabled by default only for new customers.

If the real objective is to “protect children” online, blocking payment processors seems like a petty and inefficient way to do so, since free and sample-type adult content would still be allowed. I would like to hear from any Sky customers regarding whether or not they have had any problems reaching this site.