Tag Archives: Google

Privacy Tools: How to Safely Browse the Web


In the course of writing her book, Dragnet Nation, ProPublica reporter Julia Angwin tried various strategies to protect her privacy. In this blog post, she distills the lessons from her privacy experiments into useful tips for readers.

by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

One of the easiest and simplest things you can do to protect your privacy is to be a smarter Web browser.

This is surprisingly difficult because most popular Web browsing software is set up to allow users to be tracked by default. The reason is simple economics — you don’t pay for Web browsing software, so the companies that make it have to find other ways to make money.

The most egregious example of this conflict came in 2008 when Microsoft’s advertising executives helped quash a plan by the engineers to build better privacy protections into the Internet Explorer 8 Web browser. Microsoft has since added additional protections — but they are not turned on by default. The situation is no better at Google, whose Chrome Web browser has “buried and discouraged” the “Do Not Track” button, and is pioneering the use of new tracking technology that cannot be blocked. And it’s worth noting that the other big Web browser maker, Mozilla Corp., receives 85 percent of its revenues (PDF) from its agreement to make Google the default search engine on Firefox.

Even worse, many of the tools that Web browsers offer to protect privacy are not effective. Tracking companies have refused to honor the “Do Not Track” button. And Google Chrome’s “Incognito” mode and Internet Explorer’s “InPrivate Browsing” mode won’t protect you from being tracked. Those settings simply prevent other people who use your Web browser after you to see where you’ve been online.

And so, in order to prevent the most common types of tracking, I ended up loading up my Web browser — Mozilla’s Firefox — with a bunch of extra software. It sounds like a lot of work, but most of this software can be installed in a few minutes. Here’s what I used:

  • I installed “HTTPS Everywhere,” created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project. This tool forces your Web browser to use encrypted Internet connections to any website that will allow it. This prevents hackers — and the United States National Security Agency — from eavesdropping on your Internet connections.
  • I also installed Disconnect, a program created by former Google engineer Brian Kennish, which blocks advertisers and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, from tracking which websites you visit.
  • And finally I set my default search engine to be DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t store any of the information that is automatically transmitted by your computer — the IP address and other digital footprints — so DuckDuckGo has no way to link your search queries to you. That means DuckDuckGo won’t auto-complete your search queries based on your previous searches or based on your physical location, as Google does. So you’ll have to be a little smarter about your searches, and remember to bookmark the pages that you visit often, to save time.

After browsing with my ungainly setup for nearly a year, I found a Web browser that had all the features I wanted built in — called WhiteHat Aviator. It has built-in HTTPS Everywhere, it doesn’t retain or sell your online activity, and it uses Disconnect to block trackers from advertisers and social media companies. Its default search engine is DuckDuckGo.

It’s built by a computer security firm called WhiteHat Security, but it hasn’t been audited by any computer security experts yet, as far as I can tell. So use it at your own risk (and currently you can only use it on the Mac OSX operating system). But I’ve been using it for a few months, and after some bugginess in the beginning, I’ve started to enjoy the unusual feeling of having privacy as a default setting.

Re-published by F&O under Creative Commons licence  

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F&O reports on the Google/Authors Guild war

Google won a skirmish today in the exhausting copyright war between the company and the United States’ Authors Guild, over Google’s project to digitally scan the world’s books. The guild maintains that Google Books violates the copyright of authors – and it’s been suing Google since 2005.

Today Judge Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favour of Google, saying the project has public benefits, constitutes fair use, and public access to digitized books is good for authors because it facilitates their book sales . read Goliath 1 — Creators, 0 in F&O’s Ex Libris section.



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Goliath, 1 — Creators, 0

By Deborah Jones
Published November 14, 2013  

Google won a skirmish today in the exhausting copyright war between the company and the United States’ Authors Guild, over its Google Books project to digitally scan the world’s books. The guild maintains that Google is violating copyright – and in 2005 it  launched a suit against the company.

Judge Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favour of Google, on the grounds the project has public benefits, constitutes fair use, and public access to digitized books is actually good for authors because it facilitates their book sales. The ruling is here.

The guild said in a statement it will appeal the decision. “We disagree with and are disappointed” by it, said executive director Paul Aiken. “This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright …  Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of fair use defense.”
Supporters of Google’s book-scanning project, from an advocate for people with disabilities to a web site exploring the disruption of media, cheered. “The announcement of this ruling is a joyful occasion for all blind Americans because it paves the way for full and equal access by the blind and others with print disabilities to the knowledge contained in millions of books,” stated the National Federation of the Blind. “It’s nice to see someone supporting the idea that there is a public benefit to the widespread availability of content,” wrote Mathew Ingram on Gigaom.
But the crowd loudly clamouring “information wants to be free” might consider that this epic dispute is no battle of equals:
  • While the guild includes wealthy creators of blockbusters, such as author Scott Turow, most of its members qualify for inclusion if they eke out a mere $5,000 U.S. in income over an 18-month period.
  • Google, in just its last quarter ending September 30, reported revenues of $14.89 billion.

Google states that its mission “is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It also says, in a 10-point statement about its philosophy, “You can make money without doing evil.”

The Authors Guild claims to be America’s “leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression.”
Useful, organized and accessible information is terrific. So is making money “without doing evil.” But as all creators know, free expression is only “free” so long as there’s a way of funding it. It’s very nice to be able to claim a moral high ground by providing books for people who are blind at no charge. It would also be nice if someone — anyone, please — would provide a sustainable model for creating books, to ensure they’ll continue to be written in the future.
Excerpts of Chen’s decision:

“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences,while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers,librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers.Indeed, all society benefits.”

“Even assuming plaintiffs have demonstrated a prima facie case of copyright infringement,Google’s actions constitute fair use here as well. Google provides the libraries with the technological means to make digital copies of books that they already own. The purpose of the library copies is to advance the libraries’ lawful uses of the digitized books consistent with the copyright law. The libraries then use these digital copies in transformative ways.They create their own full-text searchable indices of books,maintain copies for purposes of preservation, and make copies available to print-disabled individuals, expanding access for them in unprecedented ways. Google’s actions in providing the libraries with the ability to engage in activities that advance the arts and sciences constitute fair use.”

Copyright © 2013 Deborah Jones

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