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Technology and Internet

Improving your online privacy

Following this PRISM thing that’s going on for several weeks now, Internet privacy become a hot topic with extensive discussions and vast amounts of content being written about it (a good thing from my perspective).

In this post I will try to sum some tips to improve your privacy and safety while surfing the web. The majority of this suggestions are also available in other websites, as they are the result from my searches about this subject and in some cases they might not be the best ones (if you can point some improvements in the comment area, i would appreciate).

Before starting i just want to make clear that this isn’t aimed to make you invisible on the web (is it possible?) or to protect you from all threats since that is huge task and involves a great deal of technical knowledge (a good start would be here).

Browser

First of all, if we are talking about navigating through the Internet, the first step must be the web browser, because almost every tip that i will write on the following lines depends on it and is the application in which we spend the majority of our time.

My choice goes to Firefox, because it’s not strongly tied to any company that makes most of their profit based on the ability of tracking you and it’s open-source software (although only a small percentage of the users ever looked at its source code).

The other major reason is related with the posture of the non-profit organization that developed Firefox, and their public stand defending the open web and its freedoms.

Add-ons

  • Ghosthery: This add-on lets you visualize every advertiser and tracker that is embeded on a webpage and enables you to block the unwanted codes.
  • HTTPS Everywhere: When possible this plug-in makes the browser use a secure connection.
  • Adblock Plus: Advertisements finance a big number of Internet sites, paying for the people that work on them, but sometimes they are used in an abusive form. This add-on blocks them and all of their tracking codes.
  • Collusion: Lets you visualize the vast network of entities that collected information about you during the time you were on-line.

Preferences / Options

On the “privacy” tab of your browser’s options/preferences, there are some features you can turn on that will help you keep the house clean. First you can start by selecting the “Tell site that i do not want to be tracked” option, i doubt it will be respected but it doesn’t take more than 1 min. The other features are the ones that could improve your privacy a bit, such as “Always use private browsing mode”. If you don’t want to bother with this, you can always set less restricting options such as when to clear cookies (my recommendation is “when the browser is closed”).

Profiles and Accounts

Disable / Remove accounts of services that you do not use anymore and old content. If it is not needed anymore there is no excuse to keep it online or to maintain open accounts in those web companies.

Search Engine

Like is stated in a video that i shared sometime ago, your search queries can be recorded, analyzed and combined with other data to build a profile about your habits and to give you the results they (or their servers) think you want, with the possibility of keeping important information away from you. To escape this bubble, one solution would be to use one search engine that would give you generic results and my suggestion is to use DuckDuckGo. Its results are fairly good and has some interesting features like !Bangs and instant answers.

Behavior

Sure, these things improve your ability to avoid being tracked, make you able to connect you a list of websites in a secure way and don’t record your searches linking them to your profile, but this is a small drop in a big ocean, since a great deal of the privacy protection depends on the user behavior and his choices while surfing the web. Some good pratices would be not to use your real name when it isn’t necessary, choose well your webservices provider giving attention to their privacy policy and their reputation (examples: webmail, file storage, instant messaging, etc.). and finally, the no-brainer, be careful about what you publicly write or share online.

Note: If you want to go deeper, you can find a set of more holistic recommendations here.

Categories
Technology and Internet

Tracking and bubbles everywhere

Categories
Old Posts

Feito

Generally when I have to develop a website or web application, I use technologies and frameworks that I am used to work with and I have more than basic knowledge about them, in most of the cases it turn out to be django and in some of them I also use node.js. With these two i can always achieve what I want without to much effort (with some exceptions).

Some time ago I was asked to participate in a project that involved Ruby on Rails, a technology that I didn’t have too much knowledge and never had done anything with it, besides attending few workshops and talks about it (where I’ve just got a general idea how it worked). So it was time to give it a try and the fastest way to learn basics is to build something from the ground up with it and understand how stuff works along the way, and that’s what I’ve done at the time.

So the first step was to find something or some idea that I wanted to work on and that would involve all the common techniques and stuff that you generally have to master when you start developing webapps.

Here is what I’ve come up with:

An inverted daily “To Do” list. So basically instead of making a list of what you have to do, you at the end of the day write what you have done and rank it with the amount of effort it took to do it. The system then store it, and shows to you in a pretty graph of your performance along some period of time. For a motivational boost at the end of each week it sends you an email with all tasks that you accomplished and the total amount of effort points.

Basically it’s an app to monitor your daily performance and could serve as a motivational tool to help those who struggle in getting things done.

I know its a basic app and I didn’t implement too many features, but it served its main purpose, at the time, of understanding the basics of ruby on rails.

Yesterday I made it available on-line to anyone who wants to try it. For those who end up using it for some days/weeks I would appreciate some feedback, reporting of any errors you find or even suggestions of new features that would improve the app.

So you can find it at: feito.ovalerio.net (Update: after 5 years, the server was turned off)

Categories
Old Posts

Bombermine

Have you ever played “bomberman”? Yesterday I found that some guys made the classic even better. Just go to bombermine.com and you will be able to play the game in a huge scenario against hundreds of other people in a massive multi-player game.
But the best part is that you won’t need to install anything because it’s played in the browser. Believe-me it’s fun, give it a try and hope you don’t get caught by one of my bombs.

Note: This note has nothing to do with the subject, i thought one of the comments in the game discussion makes a good point about this kind of games and the all the buzz around html5. So here is the extract that i wanted to share:

Web Apps set us back 20 years in pretty much every respect except ease of deployment (1992 – people are impressed that Wolfenstein 3D gets 60FPS on a 100MHz Pentium; 2012 – people are impressed that Wolfenstein 3D (in Javascript!!!!111omg) gets 15FPS without sound on an 8-core 3GHz box).

by Shish2k

Source: HN

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Old Posts

Almost 9 zeros

Take a picture, add some pre-made effects and share. Now just wait for people to leave comments on your “work”. These were the steps that i made till i reach this photo:

instagram

The biggest tech news in the last few days was around this simple process and the application that is behind it. It’s called “Instagram” and Facebook just paid more than 900 million dollars for it (more than The New York Times current market value, according to some websites).

I already knew the service but never had tried because it was only available for the iphone. Recently with the launch of the android version and all the buzz around the deal with facebook, i decided to try the app and see if it worth all that noise around it.

The greatest weakness that i see on the service is that it doesn’t have a web interface, so basically all the network only functions within the mobile app, which is very limiting. People are comparing this application with Youtube, saying it is the same thing for photos, but Youtube works everywhere (almost all platforms) and Instagram doesn’t.

Besides that and in a overall view, the app is addicting, has a nice design and you learn fast despite the icons and menus aren’t obvious at first (on the android version). I found myself watching photos and more photos that i didn’t even care about, and that is a good sign.

In conclusion, i am from the opinion that it was a nice move from facebook to buy Instagram but it was very (very) overvalued, since there are lots of other great ways to share photos on the web.

Time will tell if it was well spent money or not.

Categories
Old Posts

Developers and facebook

While doing my daily news reading I stumbled on an article at the blog “GigaOm” discussing whether or not programmers like facebook to interact with each other and to discuss work. In the middle of it I followed a link that lead me to the place where the original discussion about this topic was taking place, and guess what?

Almost all of them (>95%) prefer other tools or websites to this kind of stuff. I found it very strange since lots of discussions about technology are taking place at Goolgle+ and other similar platforms.

This poll doesn’t prove my theory that people are losing or wasting lots of the great features and possibilities that the web has to offer, when they restrict their Internet usage to one “social network” or tool. But still is interesting to know that developers prefer other places to meet, work and discuss.