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Author Topic: Maintaining online privacy, security and anonymity.  (Read 8596 times)

IainB

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Maintaining online privacy, security and anonymity.
« on: September 04, 2011, 11:53:37 PM »
Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster:
I have been interested in maintaining my web privacy for years, wishing to defend myself from the continuing and increasing assault on that privacy, from the advertisers and the Google and other ad-click giants.
So, yesterday out of interest, I downloaded the Ghostery add-on that works in:
  • Firefox
  • Safari
  • Chrome/Chromium
  • Opera
  • IE
(I am using it in Firefox and Chromium.)

I was so impressed with the initial results after installing it that I posted a review and gave it a 5-star vote:
Quote
Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster - Rated 5 out of 5 stars.
Great add-on! Since 1997 I had used JunkBuster to keep the junk out of my browsing and minimise bandwidth utilisation. It worked very well, up until the time when the JunkBuster project was abandoned. I later moved to Ad-Block Plus, then added NoScript, but they were never quite enough, and I have long missed having the fine degree of control over my web browsing that JunkBuster was able to provide me with.
However, with the addition of Ghostery, I think I have nearly got back to the degree of control I had in 1997 - 15 years ago.
Sadly, that is *NOT* a measure of progress.   :-(

You can see a summary of the Ghostery functionality on the website and the the settings tab for the add-on.
I am requesting that the developers consider adding some of the JunkBuster-like functionality to Ghostery.

JunkBuster: If anyone reading this is wondering why JB might be such a good comparison, it was because JB enabled you to generally reduce/stop the annoying useless content "noise" appearing on web pages in your browser and to selectively tell the web server to NOT send various items that would otherwise consume bandwidth (thus reducing bandwidth consumption).

It did this by using regex expressions and proxy technology to (for example):
  • Selectively block annoying or unwanted or bandwidth-consuming images, ad banners, advertisements. (So you could always see the ads you wanted to see.) This saved annoyance and bandwidth.   :Thmbsup:
  • Selectively block annoying or unwanted or privacy-infringing URLS or domains.   :Thmbsup:
  • Selectively block cookies.    :Thmbsup:
  • Accept cookies and quarantine them all in a "cookie jar", then periodically swap filled cookie-jars with other people, by posting them to a public forum set up for that purpose. (Thus defeating the purpose of cookies altogether.)   ;)
  • Send out other people's cookies from their imported cookie jar.   ;)
  • Generate "wafers" (dummy cookies) and send them out to sites that requested a cookie.   ;)
  • Insert false information about your brower or set a message - e.g., "Do not track me" into the http header - e.g., my http header declared that I was using an obsolete Apple Mac with the obsolete Mosaic browser.   ;)
  • ...and so on.

For interest, you can get a copy of the last known version of JunkBuster (executable and code released under GPU GP Licence - runs on Linux and as a DOS-based proxy for Windows), together with complete FAQ files, from here: JunkBuster 2.0.2 - ijb20.zip
Apparently, the JunkBuster client proxy did not play well with the changing SSL technology, and development petered out. The developers suggested you tried out Guideon (now defunct), then Ad-Block and/or NoScript (I forget which, but I have them both anyway).

The JunkBuster.com website now says:
Quote
Sorry, the Junkbusters.com web site is no longer maintained.
Related information may be found at the following sites:
    The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) - http://www.epic.org/
    Privacy International - http://www.privacy.org/
    Privacy Rights Clearinghouse - http://www.privacyrights.org/
« Last Edit: August 19, 2015, 05:32:40 PM by IainB, Reason: Changed title of the OP thread to better reflect the general context and content. »

iphigenie

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2011, 03:11:56 AM »
i used ghostery as a warning tool about tracking, havent noticed the blocking options...

IainB

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2011, 05:12:52 AM »
@iphigenie: Yes, when you look on its options page, you realise that its blocking functionality and resource are quite extensive. They seem to work too, so far.

IainB

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2011, 09:13:09 PM »
This blocker seems to be working quite well, with no hiccoughs so far.    :Thmbsup:
Just noticed that on this DC page Ghostery senses and blocks:
  • AddtoAny
  • Google Analytics

(Does that cause any problem or create an issue for DC forum site management, I wonder?)

xtabber

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2012, 10:57:42 PM »
I've started using Ghostery in the browser I use for most ordinary browsing (Opera) and have set it to block all tracking elements.  The results have exceeded my expectations.  It has pretty much stopped any advertising from following me across multiple sites, such as political ads on news sites and ads for competitors I have recently visited on shopping sites.

Since you can selectively enable or disable any individual tracking elements, I have considered unblocking Google Analytics to allow sites like Donation Coder to keep count of unique visitors. I'm just not sure I trust Google enough to do so yet.


iphigenie

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2012, 02:21:14 AM »
On Opera I noticed the occasional unwanted blockage on redirects, usually links from newsletters. Disabling ghostery makes the link work. That's a side effect of Ghostery plugging in Opera's content filters

Iain - you can allow things through for specific sites, either because it is needed or because you want to let that particular site have stats

Stoic Joker

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2012, 06:54:05 AM »
Hm...
Quote from: Ghostery FAQ
Q. Will Ghostery affect my browser performance?

A. Ghostery initiates a scan and decision for several types of page elements, and in some cases, this scan may represent a slight increase in page load times. However, if users choose to block page scripts, our lab research suggests that pages load faster on average.

Can anyone confirm, deny, or comment on this??


[edit] Damn that's a zippy install!

IainB

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2012, 07:01:07 AM »
...you can allow things through for specific sites, either because it is needed or because you want to let that particular site have stats
Thanks for that tip. I had left everything "ON" in Ghostery. Must spend some time fiddling with site-specifics now. ArsTechnica would like that, I think.

iphigenie

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2012, 03:34:25 AM »
Hm...
Quote from: Ghostery FAQ
Q. Will Ghostery affect my browser performance?
A. Ghostery initiates a scan and decision for several types of page elements, and in some cases, this scan may represent a slight increase in page load times. However, if users choose to block page scripts, our lab research suggests that pages load faster on average.
Can anyone confirm, deny, or comment on this??
[edit] Damn that's a zippy install!

I never noticed much difference in Opera - and i love installing extensions which do not require restarting the browser (hear that, firefox???)
I didnt notice any difference in the other browsers either but they are back up browsers so I would not necessarily have a feel enough to notice

iphigenie

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2012, 03:43:55 AM »
On Opera I noticed the occasional unwanted blockage on redirects, usually links from newsletters. Disabling ghostery makes the link work. That's a side effect of Ghostery plugging in Opera's content filters

Clarifying this one as it took me a while to figure out - mostly because it is rare and therefore first happened quite a while after I installed Ghostery.

- clicking on a link in an email newsletter, the page opens in Opera
- you see a message from Opera's content blocker telling you that the content has been blocked, with the usual hint as to how to open the settings and check the rules
- if you look into the blocker rules, you don't find anything that matches the URL in question (in my case it was obvious since I had no rules set up)

it seems that due to the way ghostery hooks up in the content blocking service (which is the right thing to do) means that sometimes ghostery trigger a block of a page that is a redirect to a further page.

Because ghostery is meant to happen on the bug elements loaded in a page it doesnt show any additional information (since you don't see these blocked elements) and just lets the normal Opera mechanism operate.

So when it triggers on a full page that is a redirect from one of these tracking/analytics email (because the whole page is a bug, in a way) you have no indication ghostery was involved.

It happens very rarely and it might puzzle others and now they might find this thread (also posted that on Opera's forums back in November)

iphigenie

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2012, 03:52:26 AM »
...you can allow things through for specific sites, either because it is needed or because you want to let that particular site have stats
Thanks for that tip. I had left everything "ON" in Ghostery. Must spend some time fiddling with site-specifics now. ArsTechnica would like that, I think.

On Opera Ghostery operates via the normal content blocking mechanism, so what is available is simply the right click standard option "exempt this site from blocking".

On Firefox there is an option called "whitelist domain"

On chrome you either go in the full settings and add URLs in the text box at the bottom, or, when on a site, click on "edit blocking options" and click the "dont block"  option

In each case ghostery uses the built-in blocking mechanism and enhances it to only apply on in page elements and use its additional rules, but it lets the normal mechanism do the blocking

I suspect it is a performance choice to only allow blocking/unblocking of a bug everywhere, or a site for every bug.

wraith808

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2015, 08:27:37 PM »
So, I've been using Ghostery for a while, and now I think that might change.

I noticed something called Ghostery Privacy Notice, and wondered what it was.. then started investigating.  I didn't like what I found.

Lifehacker summarizes it better than I can.

http://lifehacker.co...-data-to-a-514417864

So I've started trying Disconnect.  They seem more upfront... so I'm going to trial it for a while.  But figured I'd post the information, at least.

And I'm feeling pretty good about it after this sensational uninstall page:

https://apps.ghostery.com/en/uninstall

IainB

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Re: Quick Review: Ghostery - Best blocker I've used since JunkBuster
« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2015, 04:03:57 AM »
@wraith808: Very interesting. Thanks for the info. A bit disappointing too, though I am none too surprised, being skeptical of the motivation of anyone involved in any aspect of advertising after having spent some years working on computational analysis of market research problems, population surveillance problems, and modelling of "target audience participation demographics" down to the ultimate level of granularity - i.e., a single identifiable person. This has the potential to reach into every corner of our lives. The Nazi fascists arguably set the standard by example - tattooing a number onto the forearm of every Jew in the death camps was a brilliant bureaucratic idea for indelible audience identification - one that supposedly "freedom-loving" Western democracies seem Hell-bent on trying to imitate nowadays, through the implementation of the medium of a National ID card, or subcutaneous RFID tag, DNA registering, or facial recognition, or something.
"Ah, but that's justified in the "War Against Terror™" one might hear someone say. Well, yes, so it might seem, but then what about all those other "wars" that are often used as arguments to substantiate the loss of freedoms, liberty, or franchise in some way - "The War Against Drugs", "The War Against Poverty", "The War Against Malaria", "The War Against Climate Change™" - to name but a few?

If one feels that we seem to have been encouraged to forget/overlook these post-modern lessons of fascism from Nazi Socialism and Russian Communism from the Second World War, then it's probably because we have - it's all going "down the memory hole" as George Orwell put it (in the book "1984"). For example, the EU's so-called "right to be forgotten" is a relatively modern innovation of Orwell's "memory hole" (erasing/rewriting history in the Ministry of Truth), but now actually manifested as a legally enforceable law. You can see where that's heading. So much for freedom/liberty.

With the possible exception of JunkBuster, I suspect that most of the efforts - e.g., Ghostery - to make browsing more private have the potential to be used in a similar sort of "reverse-engineering" manner to improve the advertising delivery protocols/methods, and that's exactly how they will be used, even if they weren't designed for that in the first place. It's a kinda evolutionary process that is happening to market advertising targetting and delivery methods, and there's arguably nothing you can do about it. It is remorseless, driven by a cancer in the currently supreme form of tacitly acceptable fascism called corporate/capitalist fascism, the most virulent form of which seems to have been homegrown and husbanded in America. It's American-made, like Bud Light.
For example: SOPA? TPP anyone? "G8 Free-market negotiations"? Ah, the taste of freedom! Yeah, right. Look at all those people ROFL.

So, you've "...started trying Disconnect.  They seem more upfront... so I'm going to trial it for a while....".
Well, good for you. Let us know how that works out for you.
Arguably it won't make a blind bit of difference what you do, but one never knows...
...and where you say you're "...feeling pretty good about it after this (Ghostery) sensational uninstall page..." I have to agree. It's a moronic but classically fascist way to intimidate people through the use of propaganda. I reckon they should've also worked in the classic "It's for the greater good of our children and their children" too. I mean, it's not like it would've made it any more stupid than it already was, so why not go the whole hog?   :tellme:

IainB

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Re: Maintaining online privacy, security and anonymity.
« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2015, 05:04:45 PM »
Quite coincidentally, I saw this in my bazqux fee-reader this morning. Looks like a pretty accurate analysis of some of the main problems/issues: Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web - The New York Times
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
Quote
AUG. 19, 2015
Photo Credit Stuart Goldenberg
Farhad Manjoo

The great philosopher Homer Simpson once memorably described alcohol as “the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” Internet advertising is a bit like that — the funder of and terrible nuisance baked into everything you do online.

Advertising sustains pretty much all the content you enjoy on the web, not least this very newspaper and its handsome, charming technology columnist; as I’ve argued before, many of the world’s most useful technologies may never have come about without online advertising. But at the same time, ads and the vast, hidden, data-sucking machinery that they depend on to track and profile you are routinely the most terrible thing about the Internet.

Now, more and more web users are escaping the daily bombardment of online advertising by installing an ad blocker. This simple, free software lets you roam the web without encountering any ads that shunt themselves between you and the content you want to read or watch. With an ad blocker, your web browser will generally run faster, you’ll waste less bandwidth downloading ads, and you’ll suffer fewer annoyances when navigating the Internet. You’ll wonder why everyone else in the world doesn’t turn to the dark side.

Photo
Quote
“They’ll start telling all their friends about this amazing app that saves your battery, saves your data and speeds up the web, and it’s likely to go viral," said Sean Blanchfield, the chief executive of PageFair. "A lot of people are going to get accustomed to having an ad-free mobile experience.” Credit Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Well, everyone may be catching on. Ad blocking has been around for years, but adoption is now rising steeply, at a pace that some in the ad industry say could prove catastrophic for the economic structure underlying the web. That has spurred a debate about the ethic of ad blocking. Some publishers and advertisers say ad blocking violates the implicit contract that girds the Internet — the idea that in return for free content, we all tolerate a constant barrage of ads.

But in the long run, there could be a hidden benefit to blocking ads for advertisers and publishers: Ad blockers could end up saving the ad industry from its worst excesses. If blocking becomes widespread, the ad industry will be pushed to produce ads that are simpler, less invasive, and are far more transparent about the way they’re handling our data — or risk getting blocked forever if they fail.

“It’s clear to us that the ads ecosystem is broken,” said Ben Williams, a spokesman for Eyeo, the German company that makes Adblock Plus, the most popular ad-blocking software. “What we need is a sea change in the industry to get to a place where we have a good amount of better ads out there, ads that users accept.”

The industry may not have much time to wait. In a report last week, Adobe and PageFair, an Irish start-up that tracks ad-blocking, estimated that blockers will cost publishers nearly $22 billion in revenue this year. Nearly 200 million people worldwide regularly block ads, the report said, and the number is growing fast, increasing 41 percent globally in the last year.

Today ad-blocking is mostly restricted to desktop web browsers. But iOS 9, Apple’s latest mobile operating system, will include support for ad blockers when it becomes available in the fall. Several ad-blocking firms are already creating apps for the new OS; when it’s out, you’ll simply download an ad blocker and no longer have to see ads on the iPhone’s version of Safari and possibly in other apps that open web links.

“What’s likely to happen is that of the 200 million people who use ad blocking now, let’s say half of them have iPhones — they’re all going to install one of these things,” said Sean Blanchfield, the chief executive of PageFair. “Then they’ll start telling all their friends about this amazing app that saves your battery, saves your data and speeds up the web, and it’s likely to go viral. A lot of people are going to get accustomed to having an ad-free mobile experience.”

It’s important to note that PageFair has skin in this game, and some have accused the company of self-interested alarmism.

PageFair also sells technology that allows web publishers to determine if users are running blocking software — and then serves them ads anyway, going around the blockers. PageFair’s software, which Mr. Blanchfield said is currently being tested with a number of large websites, circumvents ad blocking by using “low-level networking” technology that he declined to detail in order to stay ahead of ad companies.

Showing ads to people who have downloaded ad blockers sounds a little spammy. But in a twist, it may also lead to better ads. Here’s how: PageFair’s canny strategy to mitigate users’ outrage is that it will only show ads that aren’t “intrusive,” Mr. Blanchfield said. That means the ads won’t feature animations, they won’t block content, and they won’t load “trackers” that monitor and report back to some unknown server what you do on a web page.

By requiring companies to run ads that are simple and transparent, Mr. Blanchfield said PageFair would return sanity to the ad business. “We as an industry have lost the trust of our users, who are right — there are a lot of very bad ads out there,” he said. “We have one shot as an industry to get this right.”

PageFair is just one of the firms trying to create an ecosystem that produces better ads. After wrestling with the implications of their software, the founders of AdBlock Plus created an initiative called “Acceptable Ads,” which sets out a standard for ads that the software will let users see despite having ad-blocking turned on. These ads are also low-fi — they can’t be animated or cover up a page’s content. (Eyeo charges some large companies a fee to show these ads; Google, for instance, pays Eyeo to have its search ads show up for Adblock Plus users.)

Then there’s Ghostery, which makes a plug-in that lets users find and block online tracking tools — the code in a page that sends data about your surfing habits to marketers. According to the company, the number of such trackers has exploded in recent years because marketing software used to analyze consumer behavior has become much easier to use. Ghostery reported 22 trackers on a page for Slate, 18 on one for Business Insider, 22 at The Wall Street Journal, and 26 for the New York Times.

Not only do these trackers represent efforts to profile you, but they also waste time — when you see a web page stuck loading, you can usually blame one of these trackers. Ghostery aims to fix that. For a fee, the company reports to site owners which trackers are slowing down pages — which in turn may improve how ads are served. It will also soon unveil a “Ghostery score” that will show users which sites to trust based on the trackers that sites are loading up.

The pattern here is ironic: PageFair, AdBlock Plus and Ghostery, which all depend to some extent on consumers’ interest in blocking ads, are also all pushing innovative efforts to create better ads.

Even some in the ad industry acknowledge this dynamic. Scott Cunningham, the general manager of the technology lab for the Internet Advertising Bureau, the trade group that comes up with online advertising standards, said his group had already begun to respond to users who are downloading the software; most recently, he said, the bureau has been working to create clearer guidelines for the trackers’ coded web pages.

“As we’ve watched the incidence rate of ad blocking, we’ve said, ‘O.K., it’s time for us to put the clamps onto some of the areas we haven’t addressed yet,’ ” Mr. Cunningham said.

That suggests another practical utility of ad blocking — it appears to be an effective form of protest. For better ads tomorrow, block ads today.

Correction: August 19, 2015
An earlier version of this column misstated part of the name of an online advertising trade group. It is the Interactive Advertising Bureau, not Internet Advertising Bureau.
_________________
Email: farhad.manjoo@nytimes.com; Twitter: @fmanjoo
« Last Edit: August 19, 2015, 05:54:03 PM by IainB, Reason: Changed heading in line with revised OP heading. »

mwb1100

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Re: Maintaining online privacy, security and anonymity.
« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2015, 06:01:59 PM »
I use two different adblockers:

  - at home I use AdGuard, which I got on some lifetime license deal (similar to the one that seems to run perpetually on stacksocial now). No complaints.

  - at work I can't install AdGuard, so I replace the hosts file with one from mvps.org.   This works amazing well for such a simple solution.  It does have the slight drawback that occasionally web pages will have a few somewhat ugly "red 'X'" boxes for content that can't be found, but who cares?  Also, once every couple of months I click on a link that doesn't work because it was an affiliate link that got blocked by the hosts file.  That can be mildly annoying, but I usually decide that i can live without going to wherever the link was going to take me or I figure out a way to get there without the affiliate link via google.

IainB

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Re: Maintaining online privacy, security and anonymity.
« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2015, 07:44:29 PM »
@mwb1100: Many thanks for the tips.   :Thmbsup:
That mvps.org looks very interesting. It also gave me an idea for making greater use of the 127.0.0.1 proxy... Time to experiment, methinks.