Site News is now surveillance & tracker free

Inspired by Cory Doctorow I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to make this WordPress blog surveillance and tracker free. Internet privacy is something I’ve always cared about, I’m not really sure why it never occurred to me to bring my blog in line.

Here are the steps that I took:

  1. Disabled Cloudflare:
    Cloudflare has a good reputation and I trust that they’re taking the right steps to protect users’ privacy. But after refreshing the backend of the site with the help of SpinupWP I no longer feel like I need Cloudflare’s caching services.
    [my DNS is still hosted with CF, however I am bypassing them for this CNAME]
  2. Disabled Jetpack:
    Jetpack has become a bloated beast of a plugin suite. I noodled around with the settings for about 3 minutes to try to figure out how to disable the tracking – I couldn’t so I just decided to nuke the whole thing.
  3. Disabled Google Fonts
    It almost certainly tracks your IP and possibly other information. So I’ve disabled it. System fonts only.
  4. Installed Embed Privacy Plugin:
    I’ve installed Embed Privacy to block all spotify, youtube, twitter, etc external embeds on page load. Users have to explicitly click the content to see it.
  5. Disabled Comments:
    Not really a privacy reason to disable these per se, I just haven’t really found much comment engagement since approximately as long as Twitter has existed.

The main side effect of these changes seems to be a blazing fast site! Sure I’ll miss out on some stats but I’ve long stopped caring about those.

Culture Random

Services Should Help Us Remember

With the beginning of a new year decade everybody is posting retrospectives on anything and everything. For the most part, these retrospectives have to be complied manually by compiling data from different sources. I’d argue that our lives would be more interesting if more services give us easier ways to reflect on the content we’ve posted over the decades.

In fact, services could probably get away with collecting more sensitive data if they surfaced it for us in interesting ways. For instance (despite my better judgement) I’ve had Google’s location tracking fully enabled for the past 3 years. The Google Maps timeline generates this map of everywhere I’ve been that is just totally fascinating to me. I can’t bring myself to turn if off.

Everywhere I’ve been in the past 3 years according to Google. It’s actually missing some data and I’ve never been near Detroit. So that’s somewhat comforting in a way.

An Experiment

This week, I started an experiment where I will be logging every single interesting link I come across online in a public twitter feed.

It would be cool to see what happened if browsers tried to include a feature like this using your local browser history. (I’m getting deja vu, was there a web 2.0 era browser that did something like this?)

WordPress Historical Posts

A few years back I created a WordPress plugin that surfaces old posts in dashboard and sidebar widgets (you can see it in the footer of my blog if you scroll down). IMHO any blogger with more than a couple of years of content could benefit from this plugin. I love seeing what I posted a decade ago. Occasionally it spawns new or update post ideas.

The plugin is called Historian, you can download it from the plugin repository.

Other Services

I know the photo services have started adding “on this day” and “then and now” features to their main products. I personally enjoy those quite a bit. Seeing my kids grow up is an acceptable of inherently anti-piracy facial recognition.

I mentioned Google Maps Timelines as another acceptable reasons to leak private data. But I actually think Google could do more with this data, especially on Android. It would be cool to automatically see all the times I’ve been at my current location and any photos or related data that I’ve logged there. Google Health could have workout data (and analysis) automatically available when I’m at the gym. Stuff like that.

Are there other services that have interesting retrospective features?

Would you be more open to giving up private data if services gave you interesting or useful data and analysis based on you private data?

Random Tips & How To's

How To Use Your iPhone to Stalk Yourself

It looks like the privacy hippies were finally right about something, your mobile phone really is a pocket sized tracking device.

Turns out that as of iOS 4.0, iPhones have been tracking your physical movements and logging it along with the phone’s backups.

A small team of researchers have discovered these logs in iTune’s backup files, they’ve released a handy little app that collects all the data from your user folder and plots it on a map. and further information available here.

Here is the visualization of everywhere I’ve been since Sept 28, 2010:

You can see lots of activity in and around Winnipeg (including trips up to the Gimli and Victoria Beach), a flight to Toronto and subsequent travel around southern Ontario and a road trip to Minneapolis. It’s fascinating.

I’m not sure if this is a terrifying privacy hole or a neat little hidden feature. I’m leaning towards neat feature, since the data is stored locally on your computer and can be encrypted automatically by iTunes.

At this point in time a method for disabling the “feature” does not exist. I expect Apple will be responding in short order.

Canadian Tech News

Canadian Tech News: October 19th – Why US Apps Hate Canada, Toddler Photos, Windows Phone 7, dot-ca

It’s been over a week since the last Canadian tech news roundup, so I’ll jump right into it:

Michael Giest: Why are U.S. net services slow to migrate north
There are countless examples of web services that take years to get here and even more that never make it. Michael Giest has an interesting column in The Star discussing why he believes US web services take so long to migrate north of the border. He says 1) “Canada’s geographical advantage is lost in the online world”, 2) “[bandwidth] caps, which are far more restrictive than comparable caps in the U.S” and 3) “a third factor appears to be licencing requirements.” His first point is something I haven’t considered in the past – he’s saying that the internet levels the playing field putting the Canadian market on an equal footing with other larger markets. While I agree in theory, this fact doesn’t explain why many of these US services (Netflix for example) expand to Canada before other larger markets. On his second point, I almost completely disagree. Bandwidth caps seem to be an Eastern Canada issue, as far as I’m aware most of the Central and Western Canadian ISPs do not have restrictive bandwidth caps. I’ll try to do a follow-up post comparing current bandwidth caps of the major Canadian ISPs. On top of that, I don’t believe bandwidth caps something the average consumer actively considers when making decisions about signing up for online services – assuming they’re even aware of the concept to begin with.

84% of Canadian Toddlers have pictures online
Another one of these FUD-inducing surveys from an anti-virus vendor; AVG released the findings a survey of mothers regarding their behaviour regarding posting photos of their children online. As a parent I can’t see this as anything more than a lame publicity attempt, there’s nothing specific to be worried about online. That said, I do find the stats themselves to be quite interesting. 84% of Canadian children have photos online, 3% higher that the average in countries surveyed and a full 8% higher than the USA. 7% of babies and toddlers have email addresses created for them, 5% have social network profiles – I’d actually kind of expected that to be the reverse. 25% of babies have sonogram photos posted online before they were born – this actually seems a little low to me. Canadian mothers were also least concerned about the data they share.

Windows Phone 7 Phones coming to Telus, Bell, Rogers
Windows Phone 7 is coming to Canada at same time as the US, as far as I can tell. At this rate Rogers will have Windows Phone 7 before Android 2.1 *sigh*.
Phone breakdown as follows:

These phones most certainly look like viable competitors to iPhone and Android. I for one welcome the competition.

New .ca registry goes live

In domain name news: the Canadian Internet Registration Authority has rolled out a “…redesigned and streamlined domain name registration system.” As far as I can tell, the main feature here is an API and the ability for registrars to auto-renew domains through this API. Congrats, I guess.

BTW, people who like Canadian Tech News: also like the Canadian Tech Roundup podcast. Look for a new episode later this week.

Canadian Tech News

Canadian Tech News, September 22nd – Netflix, Pandora, Hippie Cars, Government Transparency

Netflix Finally Available!
Netflix opened the doors to it’s dot-ca today, offering unlimited streaming service at $7.99 – $1 or $2 less than early rumour suggested. I’ve personally been looking forward to this ever since our household signed up for cable TV again. After poking around a bit today, I’ve found that the selection seems quite limited and random. Hopefully this will improve once Netflix has a larger user-base to offer to rights holder. I am happy that the service does not seem to be influenced by CanCon legislation. Which is to say, there does not seem to be a higher concentration of (obviously) Canadian Content, like there was when iTunes started offering video a few years ago.

I wonder what happens when you log in to Netflix in the US with a Canadian account and vice versa.

Pandora abandons Canadian expansion plans
Tim Westergren – CEO of music streaming service Pandora – slammed Canadian performance rights agencies today, citing high royalty rates as the main reason we won’t be seeing Pandora in Canada any time soon. Starting next year Re:sound wants to increase the royalty rates it charges to websites streaming to mobile devices – up to 45% of the site’s revenue or $0.075/song. In Westergren’s words “over 20 times what radio delivered over AM/FM pays.” Unbelievable!

Calgary firm launches the hippiest car ever
As if electric cars weren’t a hard enough sell for the average consumer already, Calgary’s Motive industries have come up with a way to make them seem even more ludicrous. Hemp-based bodies. The jokes write themselves.

Canadian Governments Respect Internet Privacy
Google has released their latest government requests transparency report – a colleciton of stats about how much private data various governments asking about, or demanding removal of. I was pleasantly surprised to find Canada at the very bottom of the list, making fewer than 10 removal requests