Tag Archives: add-on

DoNotTrackPlus Gives The Boot To Nosy Internet Trackers

imageSeveral weeks back, I received an invitation from CNET to join a dating website designed especially for those that are 50 years old – or more. OK, it wasn’t exactly an invitation  – it was, in fact, an ad inserted into one of my subscribed  CNET newsletters.

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So what – no big deal you may be thinking. But from my perspective, it is a big deal – here’s why.

In the years that I’ve been Internet connected – 18 years or more – I’ve never referred to, or listed, my actual age (other than to make the point, from time to time, that I’ve been at the computing game for a very long time). Nor, have I ever referred to my marital status (other than in a humorous way in re-commenting on a reader’s initial comment – perhaps).

As it turns out – I am over 50, and I am a bachelor. So, in reality, CNET targeted me precisely. The question is – how did CNET know to target me so effectively and efficiently?

A partial answer is – CNET spies. The fact that CNET spies on site visitors is hardly news. Nor is it news, that the majority of commercial websites engage in spying on site visitors.

SPYING – such a loaded word. Instead of “spying”, let me use a series of descriptors handily thrown around by those engaged in spying on my privacy.

Predictive analytics, customer profiling, customer segmentation, predictive modeling, lifestyle clustering……. all done for my own benefit, of course (according to the intruders). There, now I feel better about being profiled, segmented, and clustered. Not!

I’m certainly not a Luddite and, I understand the cost/benefit associated with using the Internet. But, the rules (such as they were) have changed dramatically in the last year or two. The Data Miner is now on the scene, and gobbling up personal information at a prodigious rate.

Webopedia definition – The two most common forms of data miners are data mining programs that an organization uses to analyze its own data to look for significant patterns, and spyware programs that are uploaded to a user’s computer to monitor the user’s activity and send the data back to the organization, typically so that the organization can send the user targeted advertising.

In a real sense then, it isn’t so much that CNET is aware that I’m 50 plus, or that I’m single that is at issue – since CNET could not/did not develop the specific information I referred to earlier. Instead, this information was undoubtedly culled by any one, or more, of the data miners that have infected the Internet and, using “predictive modeling” rolled out a “best guess” that I’m in my fifties and single.

And that makes me feel not only “profiled, segmented, and clustered” but, as if I’ve been “diced and sliced”. I have, in essence, become a product. A product, I’m afraid, that’s closing in on its “best before date”.    Smile

A product that LiveIntent, working on behalf of CNET, targeted based on (according to the company’s site), gender, age, geo, browser, and time of day. I should point out, that according to LiveIntent’s promotional material, the foregoing “is just the tip of the iceberg”. Of that, I have no doubt.

The other side of the coin is – and there is another side of the coin – Internet users (by and large), have been trained to accept a tradeoff in order to get access to “free” information and services. In return – they buy into the condition that each commercial site they visit has the right to spy and build a profile on their browsing habits – the type of sites they visit and revisit, time spent on sites, their shopping and spending habits, their political views, their marital status (it appears), and much more. Some tradeoff!

In the long term, the personal information gathered will be sold, bartered and traded (to bypass the disclaimer – “we will not sell your information”), so that it can be used in multiple ways that generate profit. And, that’s the upside. If there’s one thing the Internet has taught us, it’s – if information can be abused – it will be abused.

If you’re like me, and you staunchly oppose the collection of your personal information, then you’re likely aware of any number of Browser tools which claim to shutout nosy data miners. In fact, I’ve reviewed many of these tools here.

One free tool which I haven’t reviewed until now (although, I wish I had earlier) is DoNotTrackPlus – a free Browser add-on from Abine (the online privacy company).

In the several weeks I’ve been running with DoNotTrackPlus, I’ve found that this add-on lives up to it’s reputation for excellence.

The following screen captures emphasize just how pervasive online tracking has become. And, more importantly, how DoNotTrackPlus puts the boots to these invasive parasitic data miners.

A selected result, from earlier today, while reading my local newspaper online.

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Cumulative results since installing this add-on. You’ll note, the rather staggering tracking company total.

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Abine’s Internet privacy view:

There is a huge difference between sharing personal information and having it taken. That’s why we’ve created Internet tools and services for those who want a say in how and when their information is used. And since we think exercising your right to online privacy should be easy, our solutions allow regular people just like you to regain and maintain control over their personal information – while continuing to enjoy all the wonderful things the web has to offer.

If you find yourself agreeing with this concept – and, you want a say in how and when your privileged information is used – take DoNotTrackPlus for a test drive. I suspect that you’ll be reluctant, in future, to surf the Internet without DoNotTrackPlus in place.

Fast facts:

Free tool that puts you back in control of your information.

Stops more than 600 trackers.

When you visit a website DoNotTrackPlus blocks tracking technologies from:

· Seeing and collecting your web activity such as what sites you visit and what you view.

· Putting cookies on your machine that would continue to store information about your Internet browsing.

· Displaying ads with tracking capability, including the annoying ads that seem to follow you everywhere you go.

Compatible with Mac or PC for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

Automatically updates to catch new trackers.

Download at the developer’s site: Abine

Click on the graphic below to view a video of DoNotTrackPlus in action.

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Additional information is available on the company’s FAQ site.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Online Privacy, Safari

Lookeen – An Outlook Search Add-on That’s FAST!

https://bizchange.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/overloaded-man.jpg?iact=hc&vpx=794&vpy=103&dur=2755&hovh=223&hovw=226&tx=79&ty=136&sig=104081718647520250308&ei=_Y3HT5z1Eef30gGv65itDw&page=14&tbnh=160&tbnw=162&start=450&ndsp=35&ved=1t:429,r:31,s:450,i:149Currently, there’s a BlackBerry commercial running here in Canada in which a young woman declares that she gets over 1,000 emails a day. I have to admit, that the 1,000+ emails that she purportedly receives daily, led me to do a little figuring. Truth in advertising and all that.

Assuming that each email takes one minute to read, that translates into 16+ hours devoted to just reading emails. Perhaps it takes less time than that but, even cutting the read time in half would result in a full 8 hour day devoted to just reading emails.

Riding this train of thought, led me to consider just how this young woman managed (assuming that what she claims is true), to handle the time constraints imposed by this massive volume of correspondence – assuming, that at least some of these emails would require an after the fact action plan.

How would she, for example, search for and find, relevant emails, attachments, appointments, tasks, notes and contacts in a rather extensive  email achieve? And, do so quickly and efficiently – no small task.

Coincidentally, at roughly the same time that I was putting myself through mental contortions in an attempt to break down the 1,000+ email claim, I was offered an opportunity to take Lookeen, an email search solution designed to integrate seamlessly into Microsoft Outlook, for a test ride.

Fast facts:

  • Massive increase of E-Mail search speed
  • Finds e-Mails, attachments, appointments, tasks, notes and contacts
  • Supports Exchange Server, Public Folder and external PST-archives
  • Integrated Desktop Search: Search in local and Network Files
  • For enterprises: Central Indexing reduces Server and Network Traffic
  • Over 500.000 installations worldwide
  • Installation in a few clicks

Following an easy installation, the application launches into a brief tutorial as illustrated in the following self-explanatory screen captures.

Step one.

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Step two.

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Step three.

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Step four.

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Step five.

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As shown in the following screen capture, you’ll note that Lookeen adds a simple, yet helpful, search box to Outlook.

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Did I mention FAST?

In the following quick search, the application pulled up 697 related items in three tenths of a second.

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In a more focused search, the application pulled up 79 related items in two tenths of a second.

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In this brief overview, I’ve barely touched on the functionality of this super little Outlook add-on. You can also expect the following:

Lookeen will search everywhere in your Outlook data.

Have every email at your fingertips – no matter how much data you have!

The integrated real-time-indexing enables you to search your local emails (PST), Exchange Server, Public Folder, your complete desktop, and even network files, all while Lookeen is indexing your files.

Lookeen will find every mail – even in the largest of archives.

Execute parallel searches for e-mails, attachments, appointments, tasks, notes and contacts.

Integrated Desktop search enables you to search in documents and PDFs.

Install and manage Lookeen in your enterprise with group policies (Lookeen Business Edition) and use the Lookeen Shared Index feature to reduce server traffic (Lookeen Enterprise Edition).

You can download Lookeen and try it for free for 14 days.

Download at: Lookeen.

As for the young woman’s claim of 1,000 emails a day? Yeah, sure.   Smile

A big “Thank You” to regular reader Lee Garber for taking the time to point me towards this application. Thanks Lee.

7 Comments

Filed under downloads, Email, Integrated Solutions, Software Trial Versions, Utilities

Collusion – Internet Trackers Are All In It Together

imageLook – every business organization has the right to generate income and make a profit – and, in the real world, most organizations generate that income and make that profit aboveboard, and in clear view. But, that’s not necessarily the process on the Internet. In far too many cases, companies generate revenue by staying far below a user’s horizon – in an underhanded and sneaky fashion.

The tool of choice – a tool, which by its very nature is sneaky and underhanded, is the appropriately named Tracking Cookie. A tool, which not only tracks a user’s footprints across the Web but, the data generated is then used to analyze the user’s online behavior.

It’s this behavior analysis (analyzing links I click on, the content I view, searches I make ….) where I draw the line. I find it disturbing that I have little or no say, in the manner in which I’m tracked as I surf the Internet. And, equally as important – how that information is used.

It’s fair to say, that many users do not object to being tracked. I wonder though, that if these same unconcerned users were aware of just how insidious and overwhelming tracking has become – if, they’d continue to be unconcerned.

Should an unconcerned user run the recently released Collusion Firefox add-0n – an add-on which graphs in real-time the “following behavior” of tracking cookies, they might feel less confident that their “I don’t care” perspective is the correct one.

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs, in describing Collusion at the recent Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference pointed out, that Collusion “allows you to see all the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web. It will show, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers.”

Kovacs went on to say that “Collusion will allow us to pull back the curtain and provide users with more information about the growing role of third parties, how data drives most Web experiences, and ultimately how little control we have over that experience and our loss of data.”

I’ve been tinkering with Collusion for the past several days, and I must admit to a new level of unease with this “behind the scenes” look at the nature of tracking now been practiced.

Here’s a screen shot of a spider-web of interaction between companies and trackers, from a short hop around the Internet which I made this morning.

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I think you’ll agree, that the connection between and amongst trackers and tracking companies, might be more insidious than you had previously considered.

The graphic below (captured from the Collusion site),  briefly explains the  connections illustrated.

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The Collusion add-on is available for download at Mozilla.

Back to the previous graphic for a moment – you’ll notice that you can export the graph. Should you do so, you’ll end up with data which will look something like the following. What you see is a very small portion of the exported data from today’s test.

javascript”],”news.com”:[2855341,”image/png”]},”visited”:false},”adtechus.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1070986,”application/x-javascript”],”cnet.com”:[2853754,”application/x-javascript”],”thestar.com”:[5351704,”application/x-javascript”]},”visited”:false},”adnxs.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1071838,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”],”baselinemag.com”:[2084558,null],”cnet.com”:[2853938,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”,”image/gif”],”thestar.com”:[5352178,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”,”application/x-shockwave-flash”]},”visited”:false},”techrepublic.com”:{“referrers”:{“twitter.com”:[1077104,”text/html;charset=utf-8″]},”visited”:true},”stumbleupon.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1073845,”text/html;charset=utf-8″],”pcmag.com”:[1466423,”text/html;charset=utf-8″],”webopedia.com

And yes, there are a truckload of free tools which, to some extent, can impact and reduce the effectiveness of tracking – but, the downside in running with these tools is often a less than enjoyable Internet experience.

18 Comments

Filed under downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Opinion, Privacy

Flash Cookies – Spyware By Any Other Name

imageI first wrote on the issue of Flash cookies back in September 2009, and since then, I’ve watched as these obnoxious web trackers and privacy invaders multiply like a virus. Based on the number of questions I continue to get on the Flash cookie issue, it’s apparent – confusion reigns when it comes to this underhanded privacy threat.

One of the better forum comments I’ve seen referencing Flash cookies:

“I think many people may not realize how serious it is. In many ways, I see it as the virtual equivalent of dumpster diving or taping together a shredded document. It is deliberately ignoring a data owners deletion of data by an entity that has no business doing so.”

This practice of  web sites dropping Flash cookies onto your computer, which occurs without your knowledge or permission, is akin to hacking – according to some in the security community. Frankly, I agree.

Continuing developments in tracking technologies, and a complete disregard for fundamental privacy rights, should be a major topic of conversation in the security community – until such time as the issue has been resolved in favor of consumers.

In the meantime, we’re on our own. It’s up to us, as individual consumers, to take the appropriate steps to safeguard our privacy (as best we can), while interacting with the Internet.

Here’s what we’re up against – and, this is just one small example.

From Disinformation.com

McDonald’s, CBS, Mazda, Microsoft Sued For Tracking Internet Users’ Histories

In a complaint filed Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Sonal Bose alleges that McDonald’s and the other companies “acted in concert with Interclick,” to mine users’ Web surfing history for marketing purposes. “Defendants circumvented the privacy and security controls of consumers who, like plaintiff, had configured their browsers to prevent third-party advertisers from monitoring their online activities,” Bose alleges.

The lawsuit alleges that the companies violated the federal computer fraud law, wiretap law and other statutes. She is seeking class-action status. This lawsuit comes several weeks after Bose sued Interclick for allegedly using history-sniffing technology and Flash cookies to track her online activity.

History-sniffing technology exploits a vulnerability in browsers to discover the Web sites users previously visited. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego recently brought the technique to light when they published a paper explaining the technique and naming 46 Web sites where history-sniffing technology was being deployed. In at least some cases, ad company Interclick reportedly used the technology without the publishers’ knowledge.

Bose also says in her complaint that she believes that the defendants used Flash cookies for tracking purposes. Flash cookies are stored in a different place in the browser than HTTP cookies, and therefore, require additional effort to delete.

Flash cookie quick facts:

They never expire

Can store up to 100 KB of information compared to a text cookie’s 4 KB.

Internet browsers are not aware of those cookies.

LSO’s usually cannot be removed by browsers.

Using Flash they can access and store highly specific personal and technical information (system, user name, files,…).

Can send the stored information to the appropriate server, without user’s permission.

Flash applications do not need to be visible.

There is no easy way to tell which flash-cookie sites are tracking you.

Shared folders allow cross-browser tracking – LSO’s work in every flash-enabled application

No user-friendly way to manage LSO’s, in fact it’s incredible cumbersome.

Many domains and tracking companies make extensive use of flash-cookies.

If you value your privacy, then without a doubt you need to control these highly invasive objects, and if you are a Firefox user there is a solution – BetterPrivacy – a free Firefox add-on.

From the BetterPrivacy page:

“Better Privacy serves to protect against not delectable, long-term cookies, a new generation of ‘Super-Cookie’, which silently conquered the internet.

This new cookie generation offers unlimited user tracking to industry and market research. Concerning privacy Flash- and DOM Storage objects are most critical.

This add-on was made to make users aware of those hidden, never expiring objects and to offer an easy way to get rid of them – since browsers are unable to do that for you”.

In the following screen capture (click to expand to original), you’ll notice BetterPrivacy has deleted a cumulative total of 6188 Super Cookies.

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The Options and Help tab (shown in the following screen shot), will allow you to choose specific deletion methods. You should consider selecting “Disable Ping Tracking”, which will prohibit sites from following you as you surf the Net.

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Download at: Mozilla

For a more detailed breakdown on flash cookies, and the danger they represent to personal privacy, checkout The Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Google Chrome users can take advantage of the Click&Clean Extension (works with Firefox as well).

The following screen capture of Click&Clean’s Options menu, illustrates the application’s ability to deal with Flash cookies.

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Fast facts:

Delete your browsing history
Clear records from your download history
Remove cookies and Empty cache
Delete temporary files
Remove Flash Local Shared Objects (LSO)
Delete private data when Firefox closes
Automatically close all windows/tabs
Clean up your hard drives and Free up more disk space – including secure file deletion
Launch external applications, like CCleaner, Wise Disk Cleaner etc. on Windows – or Janitor, BleachBit, etc. on Linux

Download the Firefox version at: Mozilla

Download the Chrome version at: The Chrome Web store

You can read a full review of this application – Clean Up With Click&Clean Firefox and Chrome Extension, on this site.

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19 Comments

Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome Add-ons, downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Flash Cookies, Freeware, Privacy, Windows Tips and Tools

Catch Your Online Grammar, Spelling, and Style Mistakes, With After The Deadline

imageChurning out two blog posts every day is hard on the eyes – not to mention the back, the wrists – well you get the point. As a consequence – I sometimes find myself looking (with crossed eyes) at words running into words, gross misspellings (easy to correct), or improper word usage (sometimes, not so easy to correct). Your versus you’re, and its versus it’s, for example, can be particularly difficult to pick up when used incorrectly.

Here’s a good example of this – recently pointed out by a reader.

Comment:

“You’re friends won’t – other than to deny that they watch it – or, perhaps to decry it’s prevalence” You’re means You are – so “you are friends won’t” doesn’t make sense, use “Your friends” instead.

“It’s” always means “It is” – so “decry it is presence” doesn’t make sense; use “decry its presence” instead.

Not a big deal, you might be thinking. Maybe not – but as often as not, common errors, particularly punctuation errors, can change the meaning of what you meant to say. I’m sure you’ve seen this example – Let’s eat, Mother. versus – Let’s eat Mother.

I write all my blog articles in open source LibreOffice (with grammar checker turned on), and then copy the articles to Windows Live Writer prior to posting into WordPress.

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Despite an active grammar checker, proofreading, as time consuming as it can often be, is unavoidable. Still, I’ve learned that proofreading is no guarantee that the odd mistake will not slip through.

There is a partial solution (no technology is perfect), that can help you (and me), avoid the most common grammar mistakes, spelling errors (including contextual spelling errors), and style mistakes, in online interactions – including blog postings, emails (mistakes here can be deadly), Facebook, Twitter, etc.

After the Deadline – developed by the people behind WordPress – is an open source (free), language checker for the Web which is available as:

An add-on for Firefox.

An extension for Google Chrome.

A plugin for Windows Live Writer.

A plugin for self-hosted WordPress blogs.

An extension for OpenOffice.org Writer (still in Beta).

Following installation of After the Deadline on my system as a Firefox add-on, I found it to be reasonably accurate – but not perfect (more on this later). Nevertheless, I’ll keep it on my system – at least in the short term (for the second time).

Installation, in my case, was the usual automatic Firefox add-on install, followed by an easy Options set up as the following screen capture indicates.

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The following screen shots (click to expand) show spelling errors (an unrecognized word), and style recommendations – in a previous post.

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The type of recommendation shown in the screen shot directly above (change “terminate” to “end”, or “stop”), is the primary reason I deleted this add-on previously.

Consistently, higher level words were marked down as “complex expressions”. It may be popular to assume that “dumbing down” is in vogue, but not from where I’m sitting.

Fast facts:

Checks Spelling – Spell checker looks at context and uses artificial intelligence to make recommendations.

Detects Misused Words – Most spell checkers assume any word in their dictionary is correct regardless of context. This means all misused word errors go unnoticed.

Checks Style – Style checker has thousands of rules and uses context to choose the best suggestions.

Checks Grammar – The grammar checker in After the Deadline protects you from common writing errors. After the Deadline uses statistics to automatically find exceptions to its grammar rules, making it one of the smartest grammar checkers around.

Explains Errors – The misused word detector, grammar checker, and style checker explain the mistakes and suggestions to you. Click an error and choose the “Explain …” option.

Download at: After the Deadline

After the Deadline checks English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish text.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome Add-ons, downloads, Email, FaceBook, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google Chrome, Interconnectivity, Software, Twitter, Windows Tips and Tools, WordPress, Writing

Who’s Tracking Your Internet Browsing? – Find Out With Ghostery

imagePicture this – you’re at your favorite grocery store and you can’t help but notice – no matter which aisle you’re in, you’re actions are being observed surreptitiously by a herd of people.

Each one carries a clipboard, in order to keep track of everything you throw into your grocery cart. On top of that, every grocery product you look at is noted and written down. Sound a little farfetched?

Alright, then try this – you’re cruising on CNET’s (download.com) Windows home page, and your every action is being observed – every action you take, every motion you make,  is noted and written down. Sound a little farfetched?

While the first scenario is just my imagination in overdrive, the second  certainly isn’t.

If you had Ghostery, the Firefox and Chrome add-on (which is designed to protect your privacy, by identifying who’s tracking your browsing) installed, you’d have access to the following information.

Screen shot of the trackers on CNET’s Windows home page.

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Screen shot of the CBS Interactive individual links.

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I’m not focusing on CNET particularly – you can expect to encounter this type of tracking on virtually every Web site you visit. This intrusive behavior is common, and should be expected.

It shouldn’t be common, but with little resistance being offered by the “sheeple”,  and a failure by regulatory authorities to enact appropriate consumer protection laws, we can expect privacy intrusions , like this, to accelerate. How sad is that?

If you object to this type of intrusion into your privacy, then consider installing Ghostery, and give these intrusive jerks the heave-ho. It may not be a perfect solution but, it’s a step in the right direction.

Fast facts:

DETECT – Ghostery sees the “invisible” web, detecting trackers, web bugs, pixels, and beacons placed on web pages by Facebook, Google Analytics, and over 400 other ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers – all companies interested in your activity.

LEARN – After showing you who operates behind the scenes, Ghostery also gives you the opportunity to learn more about each company it identifies, including links to their privacy policy and opt-out options.

CONTROL – Ghostery allows you to block scripts from companies that you don’t trust, delete local shared objects, and even block images and iframes.

Download for Firefox at: Mozilla.

Download for Chrome at:Google.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Browsers, Chrome, downloads, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Privacy, Software, Windows Tips and Tools