Ben Tasker's Blog

FLoC disabled on my sites

Cookies have been viewed as the enemy for quite some time, with the result that 3rd party cookies are (quite rightly) being treated with high levels of suspicion.

Unfortunately, the focus being on cookies rather than the tracking/profiling that they enable has left an opening for the unscrupulous to offer a cookie-less alternative.

Enter Google, who a while back announced they were building something called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) into Chrome. The basic underlying idea of FLoC is that it assigns the browser a cohort ID - grouping it in with other browsers who have a similar browsing history.

The browser's history never leaves the browser, with the cohort ID being calculated locally (updating once per week, based on the previous week's browsing), websites can then query the browser for it's cohort ID (by calling document.interestCohort()) and serve appropriate ads based on the ID returned.

However, deeper inspection has shown that rather than solving privacy issues, FLoC simply presents new ones - in fact there's an obvious vector in the paragraph above - your cohort ID is the same across all sites you visit...

Plus, although I say new, some of these issues were highlighted in 2019 and remain unaddressed.

Read more ...

Removing Ads from my Sites

(It occurs to me that publishing this on 1 Apr isn't the best move - rest assured this is genuine)

I've long felt uncomfortable with the privacy trade-offs of having advertising on my sites.

Shortly before GDPR came into effect, I wrote a post detailing how I was, once again, revisiting the decision of having ads on my site.

The decision then, as before, was that the ads were a necessary evil as the revenue they generate contributes something to the running costs of this site, helping keep over a decade's worth of work online.

Today, however, I'm changing that decision and removing Google's Adsense from all of my sites

Read more ...

Launching the "House Stuff" blog category

Not the most exciting news I'm sure, but I'm adding a "House stuff" blog category to my site.

I've been feeling a bit... meh... of late, partly because I've not had opportunity to write anything here in a while. Part of the reason for that is that I've been focused on various home improvements/tweaks, not all of which fit well into more tech related sections (though there is some overlap).

The aim of this category is to give me a cathartic outlet, even if I'm just reinsulating or building a door.

 

Automating Our Heating

A little while ago, I wrote some musings on Home Automation and made reference to our heating setup.

As it's had a bit of time (and some poor weather) to run and be improved upon, I thought it might be helpful/interesting to lay out a bit more detail on the setup I'm now using.

We got a NEST thermostat during an unexpected boiler replacement, unfortunately it's smart features didn't live up to expectations, trying to overcome that led me down the path that I'll describe in this post.

Requirements

My intention was that the eventual system should meet a few basic requirements

  • Certain rooms should be able to call for heat when needed (not supported by the NEST product line as they don't currently have radiator heads)
  • Boiler/Heating usage should be minimised where comfortably possible
  • Decisions should be auditable - ok, the heating came on, but why?

 

Read more ...

So Long WhatsApp

For years, I refused to install WhatsApp messenger because I had customer contact details and other information on my phone.

Eventually, I made a concerted effort to clear all that out, with the side effect that I could then install WhatsApp, based in part on their promise that personal data - names, addresses, internet searches or location data - would not be collected, much less used.

When WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook, it was inevitable that that promise was going to get broken. Something all the more apparent when one of the WA founders left Facebook as a result of a disagreement about privacy.

So disappointing as it is, the recent news really was quite inevitable.

WhatsApp have pushed a notification of a change in their terms and conditions - the new changes allow them to share data with Facebook, including (but not limited to)

  • User's phone numbers
  • User's contact lists (see below)
  • Profile information
  • Status information
  • "Diagnostic data"  - what phone model you're using, what networks you're on etc
  • Location data
  • "User content"
  • Details of purchases made with businesses using WhatsApp, including Financial Information
  • "Usage data"

These changes will come into effect from 8 Feb 2021 - if you disagree with the changes, then the only recourse is to delete your account before then (which probably isn't GDPR compliant, but Facebook tend not to worry about that).

 

Read more ...