Getting past barriers

Hola - a great Chrome or Firefox browser extension for accessing  web sites that would otherwise be blocked based on your IP number. A WebSearchGuide reader sent me this tip. Hola makes it possible to access from outside the United States and view anonymously (ie privately) the search results complete with in-depth articles – a feature still not rolled out to the rest of the world. Canadians will also appreciate that it  makes it possible to receive music played from US-based services.

From the FAQ:

Hola’s goal is to make the Internet faster and fully accessible to everyone. Install Hola on your PC, phone or tablet to make your Internet faster, more open and more anonymous. Hola lets you have unlimited access to information that is otherwise not available in your geography while protecting your online privacy. It also lets you stream videos faster than ever before. Hola is a collaborative Internet — it works by sharing the idle resources of its users for the benefit of all.

Worth taking some time to try out.

How private are health queries?

Very alarming report on how much data is “vacuumed” up about us from our searches. This article summarizes research by Tim Libert, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, on what happens with health queries.

Looking up Symptoms Online? These Companies are Tracking You, by Brian Merchant, Motherboard (Feb 23)

Here’s what’s happening in a bit greater detail: Let’s say you make a search for “herpes.” Plugging that query into a search engine will return a list of results. Chances are, whatever site you choose to click on next will send information not just to the server of the intended site—say, the Centers for Disease Control, which maintains the top search result from Google—but to companies that own the elements installed on the page

Enough to get us to change to a privacy-minded search engine such as DuckDuckGo.

Getting away from ads

Google tools are easy to use and very effective, but collect a lot of information about us. How much should we reveal about ourselves? This article has alternatives: DuckDuckGo for search, Firefox rather than Chrome for browsing, Zoho docs instead of Google docs, and Fastmail instead of Gmail – if you have to use a webmail service.

How to ditch Google for more privacy and fewer ads, Derek Walter, PCWorld (Sept 9)

If you’ve decided that keeping all your eggs in one online basket is unwise, there are viable alternatives. Some are arguably not as full-featured as what Google has. But using your email without ads or knowing that performing a web search won’t result in a ton of related advertisements may be enough to encourage you to go on a Google-free diet.

Google starts to remove results

The European Union court decision to require Google to remove results about people requesting “to be forgotten” has resulted in a near deluge of requests – 50,000 of them. Google has begun reviewing them and removing those that are “objectionable” according to the ruling.

Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’ takedowns a ‘challenge to press freedom’
, Juergen Baetz, AP via Globe and Mail (Jul 3)

At least three British media, including the Guardian newspaper and public broadcaster BBC, said they have been notified by Google that links to some of their articles were removed from search results in Europe.

Facebook Users Outraged

Facebook has been manipulating news in feeds to selected users in the interest of research, the essence of which was to study whether people are emotionally affected by what they read. The study was done by a Facebook employee and two researchers at Cornell University. People are outraged but they will forget the privacy infringement, as they always do, and there will be another round in a few months.

Even the Editor of Facebook’s Mood Study Thought It Was Creepy, Adrienne Lafrance, Atlantic (Jun 28)

“The study found that by manipulating the News Feeds displayed to 689,003 Facebook users users, it could affect the content which those users posted to Facebook. More negative News Feeds led to more negative status messages, as more positive News Feeds led to positive statuses.”

Not really a stunning finding, and surely not worth the trouble.

Information privacy commissioners in Canada and the United Kingdom will examine whether the study violated  privacy laws.

Canada’s privacy watchdog to press Facebook on ‘emotional’ study, David Bradshaw, Globe and Mail (Jul 2)

What Google Knows

Find out with a few clicks from this article what Google “knows” about you. Some of the things will be wrong, some you told Google in your profile, and some bits you’d prefer to be unknown.

How Much Does Google Really Know About You?, by Matt Smith, Make Use Of (Jun 17)

There is your Google web history, the Dashboard – showing everything you use, Google Ad Settings – where there are sure to be some errors. Add to this what Google knows about you though Google+, Gmail, and Google Drive.

Taken as a whole, the information Google collects about users is shockingly complete. The company can mine your emails and Drive documents, track your browsing history, track the videos you watch on YouTube, obtain your WiFi passwords and much more.

Right to be forgotten

Last May, the European Union Court of Justice ruled that a person could require that Google remove information about that person from search results –  they have the “right to be forgotten”.

Google will indicate in search results that “right to be forgotten” has been applied. More information about this and related stories in Yes, Google Will Disclose “Right To Be Forgotten” Removals by Barry Schwartz (June 9)

This applies only in the Google search engines for Europe – not to and the United States. Right To Be Forgotten Won’t Happen On (June 10)

Access Your Info works for an Internet in Canada where online privacy will be protected. They educate and advocate. On June 17 it announced a method for finding out what your Internet and Telecome Provider knows about you. Open Media helps you in submitting to your company a request that can’t be refused. See Access MyInfo

Full story at New Access My Info tool empowers Canadians to learn what information their telecom collects about them, and shares with third parties, including government entities

Do Not Track – Don’t waste your time

Yahoo announced that it will ignore “do not track” signals from browsers – meaning the incognito setting that IE, Firefox, Chrome allowed. Yahoo says that there is no “single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry.”  Yahoo recommends that people using Yahoo use Yahoo’s own privacy tools.

Has anyone said balderdash to this? Are we to believe that Yahoo is sincere in respecting privacy so as not to bombard us with targeted ads?

Yahoo’s posting was — Yahoo’s Default = A Personalized Experience (Apr 30)

Ars Technica analyzed – Yahoo is the latest company ignoring Web users’ requests for privacy by Jon Brodkin (May 1)

“‘Do Not Track’ has largely been a failure.”



Browser protection

Here are 6 extensions to use with Firefox for hiding your identity and protecting you from bad things – and 5 of them work for Chrome also.

Use These 6 Extensions To Improve Privacy & Security On Firefox, Mihir Patkar, Make Use Of (April 2)

Adblock Plus is on the list because it will also block “worms, trojans and other types of malware.” Just a matter of subscribing to Malware Domains.

Disconnect Search is mentioned – search Google but without being tracked or recorded.