TWIT 828: Space Space Space Space

Beep boop - this is a robot. A new show has been posted to TWiT…

What are your thoughts about today’s show? We’d love to hear from you!

A couple of points to the podcast (so far).

The laws on monopolies and platform exploitation: I can’t remember who said it, but it was that “companies are grounded to be sold”. If you aren’t building a company with a plan for future growth and providing the best product available, you shouldn’t be starting the business.

Starting a business to “make a product that is good enough that we will be bought out” is the wrong way to go about it.

Likewise, the trend of “our business only makes a loss, but if we can keep going long enough, we might work out a way to make money…” is also wrong. If you have a plan that says that you need to invest x years in R&D, before you have a viable product, but it will earn money through this method, fine. You need to invest in the product and get it right, before it can go to market. But to make a product with the attitude of, “hey, we’ve no idea how it will ever make money, we’ll just keep throwing pasta at the wall in the hope that it will one day stick,” is a very poor attitude to business and I certainly wouldn’t want to invest in such a clueless leadership team.

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Second thing was people hating big tech, because the owners are rich and successful.

No, I don’t hate big tech per se. But I am appalled at their overreach and their sucking up data left-right-and-centre, in the hope that it will be useful. Like advertising, I’m fine with seeing adverts, I’m fine with the advertising company profiling the site I am visiting and tailoring adverts to the pages I am viewing at the site. But there is no way in hell, I’m going to let them follow me all over the web.

I block something like 2 million know tracking sites and advertising sites that track me across the web.

If they stop tracking me and just show me adverts, based on the page I am currently viewing, I’ll unblock them.

The cooking choice dialogs? I love them. I go through them and turn off all the tracking on every site I visit - even if 90% of it is probably already blocked at the DNS level.

Heise’s c’t magazine just ran a test of the top browsers on the desktop (Brave, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Vivaldi) and how well they block tracking and help with privacy. Only Brave managed a clean sweep - most (Brave, Edge, Firefox and Safari) could block 3rd party cookies and the worst excesses or fingerprinting, but only Brave actually provides fingerprint randomisation.

I ran some of the tests they used with Safari on my iPad. In my network, it got a nearly clean bill of health. It blocked all tracking, but there was only partial fingerprinting exemption.

(In German, possibly paywalled)

Using the EFF trackign analysis tool:

With Brave, at home, 100% covered.
Safari on iPad, at home, good protection, only partial fingerprinting obfuscation.

At work brave is still 100%.
Safari on my iPhone using a mobile signal is still strong, but also only partial fingerprinting obfuscation.

Vivaldi was one of the worst offenders, surprisingly, sending a lot of information to Google, for example. Chrome and Safari do as well, in standard trim, because suggestions when typing in a url or search term are sent character for character to the search engine.

The results were: Brave was the only one to block thoroughly, Firefox was close behind, better in some areas, but no fingerprinting randomisation. If you are an Apple user, Safari is fine and doesn’t make any big mistakes, but you should deactivate the search suggestions, if you want privacy).

Chrome was surprisingly in the middle field. It doesn’t let third party trackers have much freedom, but it does communicate with the mothership more than necessary, but less than the testers had expected.

Edge does a reasonable job on tracking protection, then blows it on the new tab page…

Vivaldi’s initial start page has a lot of tracking and the default setting it tracking protection deactivated. It gossips too much with Google and advertisers, but the tracking protection improved over time during the tests (they spent several months testing all browsers).

Opera is full of advertising add-ons and is very happy to talk to third parties.

That really shocked me. I was expecting Vivaldi to be up there with Brave and Firefox, not limping along towards the end of the field, likewise, I was expecting Opera to be better than Chrome…

The take-away is, if you value privacy, then you need to use Brave, Firefox or Safari.

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Re mailing lists.

Over here (Europe), buying emails addresses from a list broker is illegal and will get you banned from your mail provider (E.g. Mailchimp). In the EU, you have to have proof of double-opt-in for each address (registered email address on the site and then clicked on a confirm link in an email) or a signature on a piece of paper that says they agree to be on the mailing list.

If you just start automatically adding customers to your mailing list, for example, or buy email addresses in bulk, you open yourself up to prosecution and large fines, if any of those addresses are in the EU.

Although I’ve worked at companies, where the CEO didn’t want to hear about the law, he just got marketing to stuff the whole CRM database into the mailing list and the first newsletter included the line that “this is our first newsletter, we thought you might be interested. If you aren’t, please click here to unsubscribe.”

That is illegal, because it is opt-out.

Edit: I think advertisers will just have to realign their expectations with the reality that they have been far too intrusive and will have to settle for a better balance of privacy and metrics. They can’t just assume that they can have all the data they can possibly think about collecting. They will have to have some form of social contract, to which they keep. Otherwise I can see it going back to the pre-Internet days for them.

Edit 2: @Leo, it isn’t that people want stuff for free and aren’t willing to see adverts - there are some like that. But a lot of people are just sick of being tracked everywhere. I’ll sit through the adverts to help support TWiT, for example (although I am also a Club Twit member, so I pay anyway). What I will not accept is being tracked by a third party in order to watch those adverts. There has to be a better way.

Let them profile the site I’m visiting and post ads based on the site and its contents, not based on me. But I’m repeating myself.

I’ve yet to see personalised advertising that works. All I get are adverts for products I’ve already bought (bought a fridge? Here are a dozen other fridges that might interest you! Yeah, I only have 1 kitchen, but, thanks) or I would never consider buying in the first place (about 99.9% of the guff that Twitter pushes at me - I generally mute them). That was before I started blocking trackers, the tracking brings me no benefit, so I don’t see, if they aren’t using the tracking information, or the information doesn’t help select useful adverts, why they should have that information in the first place!

Edit 3: Regarding right to repair, in Europe m France has already passed a law requiring products to be repairable and the EU is looking to take it on as well,

I was at a Meeting in 2019 at Amazone, a mnufacturer of agricultural equipment and I was talking to one of their senior managers about John Deere and their policy to repairs, and his reaction was, why the heck would they do something like that to alienate their customers?

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Stopped using Google for search 3 years ago and never noticed any difference in results. Used Bing for quite awhile but have since changed to Duck Duck Go.

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With regard to the code from TBL, I don’t think that it has been edited to put the comments in recently, they are too old fashioned. That is the sort of commenting that I was brought up to write.

His comments are still terse, compared to what I am used to. But I was taught, spec first, test plan before code begin, header comments, describing function before writing the code and inline comments before complicated sections of code.

That way, you have a description of what the code should be doing, and if it does something different, then at least you know what it should be doing, so you know how to correct it.

That is still how I write code today.

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I think the bigger problem with ads is that they are just EVERYWHERE.

People don’t mind ads, they mind that everywhere you go, online and offline, increasingly, every surface is plastered with ads, every second of TV and movies has some kind of blatant ad placement. It’s just overwhelming and it’s just become complete noise.

And FWIW, I use Bing as well. I do use Google products some because it’s so hard to get away from, but I try not to as much as I can because Google has been kind of increasingly evil for the last ten years or so. Microsoft makes most of its money selling software and services, Google makes most of its money selling your data (sorry, monopolizing the ad tech market by selling access to a rediculously granular version of your data).

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I use the Canvas Defender add-on that allows you to manually or within an interval change your fingerprint. I was always wary about Brave because of some of their publicized mis-steps. I also wonder where they get their funding from, but perhaps that could be said about Firefox too.

Yes, the test was for the base browser, in standard trim and with all tracking and privacy features enabled. They did not look at additional add-ons. This was purely, how much of a blabber mouth is each browser?

The point was brought up that where would we have been during the pandemic had it not been for Big Tech. I don’t know why we couldn’t have had the innovation we have now without monopolistic abuses by the platforms. In fact, maybe we could have had something better from increased competition.

Sure there would still be concerns over privacy, data security, and the like, but just Imagine if there were more star companies like Zoom that provided a useful and productive app that was much better than the alternatives from the Big Tech companies.

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Re: contact tracing apps, it would’ve been interesting to hear if there is information about how well they’ve worked globally. I’ve got the UK implementation installed on my phone, and have done since it was available, and it sounds like there are a couple of differences from what was being described:

  • The algorithm for determining a hit isn’t just “did you see another phone” (which seemed to be implied by the discussion), so you’re very unlikely to get a notification just because you passed by someone who tested positive in a shop. It takes into account both length of exposure and also estimated distance: Risk-scoring algorithm and technical information – NHS COVID-19 app support - NHS.UK . Automated exposure notifications aren’t legally binding, but I think it’s pretty easy to order a PCR test when you get one and results should hopefully be pretty quick.
  • The UK’s app also integrates a process for checking in to venues. Some businesses (e.g. restaurants and pubs) have to have a QR code up that can be scanned by the NHS COVID-19 app, and it’s mandatory for people visiting those businesses to either scan the QR code with their app (which is the most private option, as this stays on the device and isn’t reported anywhere), or give their contact details for manual contact tracing. You can then get a notification if someone in the venue tested positive in the time it thinks you were there, but this is purely informational.

This isn’t to say it’s necessarily actually all that great a system, but it feels like it has more going for it than was suggested by the discussion of the US apps. (I’ve never had an exposure notification, but then I’ve been incredibly careful, so this doesn’t surprise me.)

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Similar in Germany, which isn’t surprising, given RKI open sourced the German code and it was taken up by the British, after the original UK app was thrown out because of privacy problems.

It has worked well here. I’ve had 2 low risk warnings - near someone who tested positive, but not for long enough to worry about.

It is also used to check in and for the digital vaccine pass.

Additionally, there is one version of the app for every state over here.