We can make a stab at reducing the information we give away in our web browsing

Private - Keep Out!When my computer support clients ask me which internet browser I prefer I say “Firefox“. The main reason is that there is a wide range of “add-ons” to tweak how it works. In particular, I am interested in add-ons that tend to help with online privacy. When someone then asks “what are the add-ons that you use”, I can’t remember. Hence, this blog post.

I can’t be certain how effective these add-ons are, or be certain that there aren’t better alternatives out there. It’s also quite possible that there’s an overlap between some of these add-ons. Be that as it may, this is the list of privacy and security add-ons that currently live in my own Firefox browser:

Adblock Plus v2.6.7

Adblock Plus removes online advertising so that you usually see blank space where the ads used to appear. There are some websites that won’t allow you to visit their site unless you disable this add-on. No doubt this is because they generate income from people clicking on the ads that this add-on hides.

Better Privacy v1.68

There is a type of cookie that is not normally deleted by the normal actions of “deleting cookies”. These are known as “Flash Cookies” or “LSOs” – Locally Stored Objects. This add-on deals with these insidious interlopers into your system. By the way, another reason I prefer Firefox as a browser is that it gives me the option to automatically delete all “normal” cookies and browsing history every time I close the program (see illustration of Firefox Privacy settings below).

Blur (formerly “DoNotTrackMe”) v4.5.1334

Protects passwords, payments and privacy online.

Flagfox v5.0.6

Displays a country flag in the address bar depicting the location of the current website’s server. It also provides a multitude of tools such as site safety checks, whois, translation, similar sites, validation, URL shortening,

The main use of this add-on is that it displays (in the address bar) a small flag of the country in which the current website resides. This can act as a warning when a website’s address is somewhere other than you might expect it to be. This is just one of those little indicators that help you build up some sort of a picture as to whether you think you can trust the site. If you think a website isn’t what it purports to be then it could be trying to exploit you – eg by trying to get malware onto your computer. A website calling itself “www.english-cheeses.co.uk” might seem a bit suspicious if you see that it is based in Russia!

Huffington Post Trackers

Ghostery found these trackers on the home page of Huffington Post and blocked them all.

Ghostery v5.4.3

Blocks tracking technology on websites. It can display all the tracking technology found on a web page and display a list of it so you can get some idea of just how much tracking technology websites use. I have sometimes seen up to 30 different tracking technologies being used on a single web page. See the illustration for Ghostery’s findings of the tracking technology on the home page of the UK version of Huffington Post. Note that the line through each item acts as confirmation that Ghostery has blocked that item from sucking data from my visit.

TrackMeNot v0.8.16

This is designed to foil search engines’ attempts to build a profile of your web surfing habits. I like the way this one works. Instead of disabling anything, TrackMeNot does just the opposite: it sends random requests to the search engine so that your real surfing habits are hidden amongst all the bogus searches generated by the add-on. This is quite invisible, of course. You don’t see your browser searching for seemingly random websites!

Firefox Privacy Settings

Firefox Privacy Settings

Online privacy is also helped, of course, if you configure Firefox options to help protect your privacy and security (see illustration).

You might ask why I don’t use “Private Browsing Mode”. The answer to that is simple – it is of no use at all in stopping websites from sucking information from your visit. Private Browsing mode is there purely to remove the evidence on your own computer of your browsing history. It does nothing whatever to protect your privacy and security online. Click this link for more information on Firefox Private Browsing.

You might also ask why I’m only covering add-ons for Firefox. There are two simple reasons – (a) it’s the browser I use (partly because there are so many add-ons available) and (b) it would take the rest of my Saturday to check whether these add-ons are available for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, etc. However, if you’d like to know more about any of these add-ons, just click on the link contained in the name for each add-on in the listing above. It won’t be difficult to track down whether any particular add-on is available for your own favourite browser.

Tired of seeing the “cookie policy” over and over again?

If, like me, you delete and block cookies wherever and whenever possible, you may have found that there is a downside to this – you have to keep telling websites that you have understood their cookie policy. Sometimes it is possible to ignore the “cookie policy” message and just carry on reading the page, but it seems to me that a lot of websites have recently started to display these warnings in such a way that they get in the way of other items on the page.

Now, the irony is that they only show this message every time you go to the site because you have deleted the cookie they placed on your computer that tells them you know about their cookies and don’t want to see the notice every time you log in! If you are happy to have cookies and never delete them then you don’t see the message on second and subsequent visits to that site because the cookie (that stays on your computer) tells them you’ve already acknowledged their cookie policy.

Chrome Settings ButtonSo, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to delete most cookies but keep cookies that (apparently, at least) do nothing more than record your acceptance of a websites cookie policy? In other words, we need to be able to over-ride our normal deletion of the cookies.

Let’s look at the Chrome Browser:

Deleting all cookies when closing the browser is achieved as follows:

  • Click on the Chrome Settings “menu” button at the top righthand corner of the Chrome browser.
  • Left-click on the “Settings” option.
  • Scroll down to the link that says “Show advanced settings” and click on it.
  • Click on the “Content settings” button.
  • Click on the circle next to the second option (“keep local data only until you quit your browser”).
  • Put a tick in the box next to “Block third party cookies and site data”.
  • Remember to click on the “Finished” button at the bottom of the screen.
Chrome Settings Dialog Box

Tick the second and fourth options to delete cookies

What you have now done is instruct Chrome to delete all cookies when you close the browser. This improves your privacy but it means – as explained above – that every time you visit a website for the first time in a session it will show you the “cookie policy” (if it has one).

So, in order to stop the “cookie policy” from displaying, we need to over-ride the blanket deletion of cookies that we set above:

  • Instead of clicking on the “Finished” button after ticking the option that says “Block third party cookies and site data”, click instead on the button that says “Manage exceptions”.
  • Click in the rectangle with the greyed text that refers to sample.co.uk and type in the name of the website whose cookies you wish to keep.
  • Add as many of these as you wish and then click on the “Finished” button.
CCleaner Chrome Options

Leaving this ticked would delete the cookies you chose to keep in the browser settings

The first time that you visit the sites whose cookies you are now keeping, you may see the “cookie policy” window once.You shouldn’t see it again. Note that if you use “cleaning” programs such as CCleaner and tick the option that removes cookies, then this will over-ride the exceptions that you set in the browser. You can either accept the fact that you’ll see the cookie policy one more time when you next visit the site, or you can de-select the option in CCleaner that deletes cookies (since you are taking care of cookie deletion in your browser settings).

Other browsers have similar capabilities for handling cookies.

Note also that you can be more sophisticated in choosing which cookies are to be treated as exceptions. In the example above, you may think we are using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut as we are choosing to keep ALL of the cookies placed by a particular website just in order to keep the cookie that relates to the display of the cookie policy. Click on this link if you’d like to learn more about this in Chrome.

I’m having serious doubts about whether it’s a good idea to keep a LinkedIn account

Linked-In LogoRegular readers will know that I’m no great fan of social networking sites. I think they are devious, manipulative, insecure, and can not be trusted with a tenth of the personal data that people entrust to them.

Nevertheless, for about five years I have had an account at LinkedIn. I thought that as long as I only give them the minimum amount of information (about my professional self) then it should be ok. To be honest, the real reason for joining was to increase my credibility as a self-employed person advertising via his website. If I have “x” number of connections on LinkedIn then at least “x” people are saying that they know I exist and that they are not ashamed to be associated with me (at least as far as LinkedIn is concerned).

But a number of things have started happening that I don’t like. These include;

LinkedIn - you may know

This person has suddenly appeared at the top of the list of “people you may know” in my LinkedIn account – just days after I started an email exchange with her.

People showing up on LinkedIn as being “people I may know” that LinkedIn could not possibly have deduced from my current connections. Indeed, LinkedIn don’t suggest they are first, second, or third degree “connections”. I have always scrupulously denied LinkedIn access to my contact lists. And yet, the only thing that a lot of these “people I may know” have in common is that they are, in fact, in my address book. If LinkedIn has obtained my contacts legally then I can only think that they must have bought another service – of which I am a member, and to which I have inadvertently revealed my address book. In any event, I don’t like it. Online services taking over other services and then pooling information about their users is one of the most insidious mis-uses of data online that I can think of.

More and more emails being received from people I don’t know, asking me to “connect with them” on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not supposed to be like some stupid social networking sites where the aim is to get as many “followers” or “friends” as you can – irrespective of whether you actually know them. It’s supposed to be about business networking. There’s going to be no point in it at all if you can’t trust that the relationships are genuine.

There has been a lot of press about LinkedIn being hacked and about LinkedIn allegedly misusing information gleaned from users’ email accounts. If you suspect that people in your address book have been receiving invitations to join LinkedIn – apparently instigated by you – then do have a look at this link:

LinkedIn customers say Company hacked their email address books

And these pages don’t exactly inspire trust, either:

Your leaked LinkedIn password is now hanging in an art gallery
LinkedIn hack
LinkedIn passwords hacked

A Leaky BucketPerhaps It was one of these episodes that gave rise to a client phoning me last week with the news that her Gmail account had been hacked and her contacts were receiving some very strange email messages that were supposed to have come from her. She said that she had just been exploring LinkedIn (where she has an account) and that this hacking happened just afterwards. I realise that there is no proven connection with LinkedIn, but that doesn’t stop my uneasy feeling about them.

Luckily, the hackers used her Gmail account to send all these strange messages, but they didn’t change her password. The only reason I could think of for this was that they’d got access to so many accounts that they were content with a “one-time use” of her account. We were very, very, lucky. I have tried to recover Gmail accounts from Google before (see this blog on Gmail Passwords) and it can be very difficult. When trying to prove ownership of your hacked account, Google will ask some impossible questions – such as “on what date did you open the account”!

Anyway, in this instance we were able to access the account and change the Gmail password. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you not to use the same password several times (or similar ones such as mydog1, mydog2, mydog99 etc), as any human being that has hacked one site containing your email address and a password may well try the same combination (or similar ones) on other sites – see this blog on re-using passwords.

Add all these things together and I’m now teetering on the edge of closing my LinkedIn account. Certainly, I changed my own LinkedIn password as soon as possible after the above incident. I would advise you to do the same.

Originally set for April 2014, the launch of a plan to suck all our private medical data into one central NHS database has been put back six months

NHS-LogoSee NHS database launch plans delayed.

In common with many, many people and organisations, I am not convinced that access to the data will be restricted to bona fide “researchers”, and I am not convinced that the data will be “anonymised” such that I can never be identified.

Furthermore, I am not convinced that the leaflets have been sent out informing us of this new development and telling us how we can opt out. Note, by the way, that the default position is that we are opted in until we take action to opt out. If you do nothing about it then the data that you thought was private between your GP and yourself will be sucked into cyberspace and made available to “researchers”. I have not yet met a single person who has received the leaflet that the NHS claim has been sent to every household in the country. Maybe the information on the leaflet is roughly the same as on this NHS Choices web page on sharing your medical information.

Why don’t I believe that my data will remain anonymous? Two main reasons:

1) The combination of specific items in my medical record could be linked together with other specific items known about me (such as records of purchasing specific drugs/medications from a particular source) so that the possessor of the second set of data items would know the details of my medical record. This is a very real possibility: it’s known as a “jigsaw attack”. The data that the NHS is collecting will be made available to “researchers” including private companies. I think it’s safe to assume that we can take “researchers” to include the global pharmaceutical companies and, possibly, insurance companies.

2) Unless I’m being really dim about this, the “anonymising” of my medical history before it gets uploaded to the NHS database can not possibly be foolproof. The idea is that certain unique pieces of information (such as date of birth, NHS medical number, gender) are used to link together the known details about a specific person’s medical history and this history is then uploaded with a newly generated code instead of the identifiable information (date of birth etc). This is supposed to make the uploaded data “anonymous”. But – and it’s a big “but” – if they are going to maintain an ongoing history of that person then they need to update the information. To do this, they need to know – now and forever – how to link the identifiable pieces of information with the “anonymous” code. That ability to link the person with the “anonymous” data must always exist. If it exists, then it can be exploited and abused.

Filed-RecordsThe idea of creating a huge database of the medical history of the entire nation is great when kept in the abstract. Over time it will yield no end of data that will be incredibly useful for healthcare planning, research on disease development and prevalence, monitoring of health outcomes, and goodness knows what else besides. The problem is that I have no confidence in the NHS being able to keep my data secure. This is further undermined by the way they are going about introducing this :

  • Requiring us to opt out instead of opting in
  • Failing to inform us properly of the plans
  • Failing to inform us properly of the way to opt out

.. and I haven’t even mentioned the NHS record in the past for losing or mishandling our data. This is from The Daily Telegraph:

…NHS statistics, revealed over the weekend, showed that health services were losing or breaching the safety of 2,000 patient records every day. More than 2 million serious data breaches by the NHS have been logged since the start of 2011, the figures reveal, with records dumped in landfill sites, left in shops and even sold on eBay.

NHS-Choices-LogoAm I going to trust these people to take all of the private information about me that has been recorded by my GP, and put it in a central database available to “researchers” (including pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and hackers, of course)? No way, Pedro. I am not.

As soon as I had written the above, I hied off to my GP surgery to ask them how I can opt out. The nice lady there gave me a copy of a letter attached to a very simple form, that recorded my instruction not to have my data included in the database. I filled it in and gave it back to her. I don’t know who wrote the letter attached to the form, but it states the case so well that I have scanned and uploaded it. You can download it here – NHS-database-Opt-Out

All of this makes me feel very small and almost – but not quite – powerless. Who knows: maybe they will cave in completely and abandon the idea before we reach the postponed start date. The Daily Telegraph (not one of my usual haunts in cyberspace) seems to have got their teeth well into this story. If you are of a mind to investigate further, try this item, in which they summarise the risks v benefits of the NHS patient database.

Just for the record, I am not an NHS basher. I think it’s a wonderful service that we should be proud of, and I am very grateful that it is there for me and for everyone else. I just don’t trust the NHS – or anyone else – to be able to safeguard my medical data if it goes into one huge database floating around in cyberspace and available to private organisations with a financial interest, and all the other cyber rogues who wouldn’t be able to resist a goldmine when they see one.

Oh, and here’s a parting thought: would the American NSA be interested in its contents? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Are our expectations regarding online privacy changing?

I may be wrong about this, but in the last few weeks I seem to have noticed a weary acceptance from many of my clients that online privacy is now known to be a myth, so “why bother trying to keep private information private?”

Large eye through a magnifying glassThis often crops up when I am installing, upgrading, or registering something online on behalf of one of my computer support clients. When it comes to the impertinent questions asked on web forms, I get vaguely embarrassed. I don’t want to ask the client for the information and I don’t want them to give it up to cyberspace. In the past, the client would often ask things such as “what do they want it for?” or “do I have to complete it?”. This has never been universal, of course. There are lots of people whose attitude has always been “I’ve got nothing to hide, so why shouldn’t I give them the information?”

Nevertheless, I do have a feeling that things are changing from two directions:

  • The client now seems to be more likely to say something along the lines of “Why not give it to them. We now know we’re being spied on by our own and other governments, so why try and keep information private now”. And even if they are not overtly aware of it, I think most people have some vague idea that behemoths like Google are pooling together the data they have on us from several sources and using it for ever more sophisticated marketing purposes. It feels as if we’re losing the battle to keep private information private, so why bother trying?
  • The organisations seeking the data seem to be getting cheekier in what they ask. It’s now becoming common for information such as “date of birth” to be compulsory when filling in forms. Why? What possible justification is there for this? It may be very useful for the marketing departments of these organisations to know exactly what “market segments” to place us in, but that’s just for THEIR benefit. It’s not for the user’s benefit. Unless there’s some obvious reason (such as relevance for medical or insurance reasons), I really don’t see why they should be so presumptuous as to INSIST that this information be provided. As I’ve said before, in these situations I just lie.

I was gobsmacked by the sting in the tail of an offer by Dropbox that I came across recently. Regular readers will know that I am a great fan of Dropbox. I have it on all my computers and devices. It means that a huge percentage of my most important data is always available to me wherever I am and whatever computers and devices I happen to have with me. And being just a tad nerdy (?!), I have been happy to go along with Dropbox’s clever marketing strategy whereby they give extra free online storage space for introducing new users (use this link, for example, to gain extra free space when joining Dropbox. If you do, I will also get some more free space.) and for taking part in other promotions. That’s fine. The nerd in me is quite chuffed that my free 2gb Dropbox account has now swelled to 13.8gb.

So, I followed the link when I recently discovered that if I installed an email program called Mailbox on my iPad and then “joined” it to my Dropbox account, I could instantly earn another gigabyte of free online storage. I just couldn’t believe my eyes, though, when I saw the terms and conditions attached to this offer (see figure 1).

Mailbox Permissions Dialog Box

Figure 1. Give Mailbox (owned by Dropbox) access to all my Dropbox data? I think not.

Are they really saying what it seems they are saying? Are they really asking me to give them access to all of the data in my Dropbox account? All the private, business, medical, professional, and random data that is in my supposedly safe, secure account? I’m staggered at the thought of the implications of giving all this personal information away. I’m staggered at the cheek of Dropbox in asking me to do it. I’m yet more staggered at the thought that they wouldn’t have put this cunning plan together unless they thought that at least some of their users would go along with it.

I think I probably need some kind of reality check, because I’m about as staggered as it’s possible to be while still capable of standing. Is it just me? In the article in which I first learned about this wheeze, there was mention of the condition of opening up one’s data, but no expression of surprise, disapproval or anything else.

By the way, I should just add that I know that all of the above behaviour only applies to computer users over the age of forty. Anyone younger than that seems only too happy to spew all their private and personal stuff out online. That will no doubt end, eventually, when it finally sinks in that this is a very bad idea. It will be too late for an entire generation but, hopefully, the following generation will have learned that something said on Facebook at 12 years old may rule them out from a job interview ten years later.

Or have Dropbox got it right? Are we all – young and old – just going to give up on our privacy?

Not me. I can live without another gigabyte of online storage.

Why is our media getting upset by the NSA and not by our own Snoopers Charter?

The recent storm over data privacy – The Guardian 06/06/13 – has not been caused by the US government accessing private data (it does) but by the fact that it has been receiving wholesale, comprehensive data of Verizon customers, sanctioned by a court order that is not specific to suspected wrongdoers. The customers whose privacy has been breached are US customers. Wholesale access to private data is probably illegal in the US just as it is here.

Verizon Logo

Verizon appear to be complying with a secret Court Order demanding that data on all users be continually handed over to the NSA

So why the massive interest over here? Because this has fuelled speculation that the large, global, companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, have also routinely made all their data available to the US Government. If that is the case then UK citizens are, of course, caught up in this illegal data gathering. All of these companies have denied that they have given access to their servers (computers) to the US government, but they acknowledge that they hand over data in accordance with court orders. See this CNet article of 12/06/13.

The twist that this was then given in the UK media is the speculation that the UK Government (in the form of GCHQ) has been the beneficiary of information about UK citizens that may have been illegally obtained by the US government in this way.

It appears that all the pundits and commentators and politicians are wringing their hands and saying how dreadful it is that the US government may be accessing all this data indiscriminately (instead of requesting specific data relating to specific circumstances relevant to national security, terrorism and so on). And yet, in the very same week, we now find that ex Home Secretaries and other political grandees of all stripes and vintages appear to be banding together to back the “Snoopers Charter” here in the UK whereby internet providers will be legally obliged to keep historic records of all our internet activities so that retrospective trawls of all our private data will be possible by our own government. See The Guardian, 13/06/2013.

St Stephen's Tower - not Big Ben!

Will Labour now support the Tories in revivifying the Snoopers Charter?

So, why should we in the UK be condemning the US government for doing what we are not condemning our own government for contemplating? OK, so the US government is probably acting illegally whereas our own government is planning to give themselves permission first. But that doesn’t make any real difference. The result is still the same: both governments are giving themselves permission one way or another to snoop on ALL of us – every single one of us – who uses the internet or (in the case of Verizon) telephone services.

By the way, time and time again in the last couple of weeks I have heard politicians and commentators refer to the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft as “internet providers”. They are not internet providers. It gives me a queasy feeling to hear the most politically powerful people make such fundamental errors. Have they any grasp at all of what they are talking about?

“Internet providers” are the companies responsible for providing the service that gives us access to the internet – eg British Telecom, Talk Talk, PlusNet, Zen. All of the data that makes up our online activity passes through these providers’ servers (computers). It is this data that our government is seeking to make the internet providers keep and store (at their own expense) so that our government can retrospectively spy on us. This is the essence of the Data Communications Bill (commonly known as the Snoopers Charter).

In contrast to internet providers, Google, Facebook, et al are providers of specific programs and services. As a necessary part of providing those services they collect, and sometimes store, the data that we give them. They do this legally and in accordance with the EULA (End User Licence Agreement) that we all fail to read when we sign up to a new online service. It is this sort of data that governments both here and in the US can request by a legal process in specific circumstances, but which the US government is now suspected of gobbling up indiscriminately.

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg – opposes the Snoopers Charter

In the long run, the outcome is the same in that the government can cause data to be stored and made available for analysis by the authorities at any time in the future. OK, this week they may be looking for ramifications to the murder in Woolwich a few weeks ago, but who is to say that next month or year they may not start searching for, say, protestors against Boris Island (assuming that Boris will continue his crusade when he becomes PM), or trades unionists, or people with ginger hair, or anyone else that the government of the day deems to be “a threat”.

If you agree with this increased surveillance by the state, then that is your right. On the other hand, if you are worried about the recent revelations in the US then you should also be worried about the Snoopers Charter. My own opinion is that giving a hostage to fortune by blurting it all out on Facebook or Twitter is just a tiny part of the trouble that we are, literally, storing up for the future if the Snoopers Charter becomes law.

I was recently setting up a new computer for a client, and kept seeing Google ads relating to a particular theme

There was nothing wrong with the theme, but it did relate to something highly personal, and I wondered if the client realised that this gave an indication of something that had clearly been on her mind recently. I do realise – and appreciate – that my computer clients place trust in me with respect to the parts of their data that I can’t help seeing, but there must be many things that we treat as belonging very much to our private sphere that are now “leaking out” into a more public space. Even within the confines of her own home, this client may have preferred other members of her family, for instance, not to know what had been on her mind recently.

As time goes on, this sort “leaking” or “bleeding” of our private pre-occupations into wider domains is likely to increase, thanks to computers and the internet. I know I’ve banged on about this kind of thing before, but this incident set me to thinking about how all this tracking and information-gathering may change us as humans and society as a whole.

Paris Brown

Paris Brown – lost her job before it had started, thanks to things said on Twitter years earlier.

I hear that there is now software available that analyses the language used on Facebook pages and comes to conclusions about likely personality traits of the page’s owner based upon the actual words they have used. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of a good story! Assuming it’s true though, (or soon will be), how do people working in HR feel about using such tools for candidate selection? How do the people analysed feel? I don’t know. I do know that I wouldn’t like it happening to me. Are potential job seekers being more circumspect on Facebook since the highly publicised case of the Youth Commissioner losing her job before she’d even started because of some rash statements a lot earlier on her Facebook page? I do know that there are people earning a living by “cleaning up people’s online reputation”, but I suspect that the average computer user is still way behind in appreciating just how much information they are giving away and how this is being used.

George Orwell

George Orwell

Modern internet browsers come with a setting called “Do Not Track”. It is hoped that the writers of the software that tracks our movements around cyberspace will honour our expressed preference not to be tracked, but it’s too early to say how many will be honourable in this way. In the meantime, tracking software can follow us around cyberpace and build its own pictures of who we are, what we care about, what motivates us into action, and so on.

George Orwell predicted our being watched by technology, of course, in his novel 1984. The motivation he ascribed was political control. The way things are going, we will achieve the same results but the motivation will be money and we will have sleep-walked into it because we want a free internet. Once collected, the data can then be used by others who can claim legitimacy to see it. For example, the police can already access our recent travel history if we use an Oystercard.

The Hardy Tree

The Hardy Tree

Thomas Hardy was mindful, while writing the Wessex Novels, that he was recording a way of life that was soon to be ended by the advent of the railways. The communities about which he wrote would soon no longer be self-contained: they would be joined to everyone and everywhere else by the railway. I dare say he had a lot of time to ponder the implications of the coming railway as he worked as a surveyor before becoming a full-time writer and was responsible for overseeing the proper re-location of bodies in St Pancras Churchyard to make way for the coming railway. On a side-note, many of the gravestones were temporarily re-located around a tree and have been left there for so long that the tree has grown into them. This is now known as the Hardy Tree. The church and churchyard are also noteworthy for other reasons.

Is the internet doing exactly the same thing as the railways but on a global scale and at a much deeper level? Will it change the way we see ourselves and behave as individual humans? I don’t know. Personally, I shudder at the thought of the loss of privacy and independence that all of this portends, but, on the other hand, I’m sure that we are all creatures of our own time and grow up embracing the realities of the world that we see at the time. Even if it does change us as humans, we’ll probably just accept change as it happens, and crusty old antedeluvians like me will continue to tut and say “where will it all end”. “you wouldn’t get me in one of those” and “it’ll end in tears”.

PS: for an irony of publishing in the digital age, see this link on how Amazon disappeared 1984 from countless Kindles

Passwords (again), silly Twits, and more…

Test Your Passwords

Click here for a link to a Microsoft page that tests the strength of your passwords. Yes, I know I’ve given a link to a site like this before. I don’t apologise because I’ve seen how much upset can be caused by a malicious person guessing a client’s password. See this blog on the subject of stolen Gmail passwords, for instance. Even if you don’t change any existing passwords, please use strong ones in the future. In the meantime, find out how good that one password (that you use for everything!) actually is – or not.

A Plug for Low Cost Names

The LCN (Low Cost Names) logoIf you find yourself wanting to register a web domain, then I definitely recommend doing it with LCN. I’ve been using them for years and never had a problem, but hadn’t realised before just how good an example they set in communication and online support. This week I needed to register a domain for some testing I was doing. I needed to speak with someone and was very pleased to find that they prominently publish their telephone number on their website. Not only that, it is a normal, non-premium, UK landline number. Even better, the normally-elusive technical support people were available from option number one on their automated telephone menu system. Then they told me how many were in the queue before me. Then, within a minute or so, they answered me with a knowledgeable, UK-based adviser. That’s the way to do it!

Who Said You Could Share My Data?

Twitter and Linked In Logos merged together

Is it just a coincidence how snugly the Twitter and Linked In logos merge together?

I was rather miffed last week to receive an email from Twitter suggesting people that I might like to “follow”. Apart from the fact that I’m perfectly capable of deciding for myself whether my life is so empty that I want to fill it by “following” anybody (it isn’t and I don’t), I was annoyed by the unsolicited intrusion into my inbox and by the fact that two out of the three suggestions were people who had figured in my Linked In connections (one of whom I had deleted). I hadn’t realised before that Twitter and Linked In were connected and I certainly hadn’t knowingly given them permission to share information with each other. When I looked at the privacy policy of Twitter I learned:

Links: Twitter may keep track of how you interact with links across our Services, including our email notifications, third-party services, and client applications, by redirecting clicks or through other means. We do this to help improve our Services……

Well, I for one do not consider sharing data this way and then sending me unsolicited emails to be “improving…. services”. Instead, it just reminds me of some of my worst nightmares of these large organisations sharing more and more data amongst themselves, and then coming to computer-generated conclusions about who I am and what I want.

And still on the subject of Twitter…

Screen grab from Don't Blame FacebookDid you see the Channel 4 programme last week called “Don’t Blame Facebook”? It told tales of how injudicious tweeting and posting on social network sites can cause unforeseen problems. It’s amazing just how shortsighted and, frankly, stupid people can be in giving away too much information on these sites. Nevertheless, even I had to feel sorry for the the couple who were refused entry into the USA and sent back home without having their holiday just because of the paranoia of the spooks who monitor everything that is shared on Twitter. Apparently, the male half of the couple had tweeted that he intended to “..destroy the US” while on holiday. He just meant he was going to have some fun, and maybe a drink or two. Nevertheless, they were stopped by the US border guards on their way in, spent a while in jail, and then returned to the UK.

At the time of writing, you can still watch the programme “Don’t Blame Facebook” by clicking here.

The latest version of Chrome allows you to request that websites do not track which other sites you have visited

Homburg and binocularsIn my blog post of 12/08/12 – “What is “Do Not Track“”, I wrote that Chrome does not support “Do Not Track”. Well. they have now included it in the latest version of the browser. This is version 23.

To find out whether you have the latest version of Chrome:

  • Click on the “settings” button. It looks like this:
    Chrome Settings Button

    Chrome Settings Button

  • Click on the “About Google Chrome” option on the menu that pops up:
    Chrome Settings Menu

    Chrome Settings Menu

    Continue reading »
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Computer Support in London
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