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10Dec/09Off

Lesser of two evils

TechOps Guy: Nate

Thanks to The Register for another interesting thing to write about.This time it's about a Mozilla guy, who apparently was the one who wrote Firefox (I still miss Phoenix, it was really a light browser, unlike Firefox today) suggesting people should switch their search engines from Google to Bing because Bing has a better privacy policy.

So which is the lesser of the two evils? Microsoft or Google? For me at least for the moment it is Google, but with each passing day my distrust of them grows. I have never signed up for their services, I have never accepted their cookies, and while I do use their search engine it's unlikely the searches I do provide much value to their advertisers. I used to use alltheweb.com as my search engine, I resisted Google for as long as I could. The thing that drove me away from alltheweb at the time was when they introduced banner ads. I even told them as much and they thanked me for the feedback and said they would take it under consideration for future improvements or something along those lines. I notice now they do not have banner ads.. I'm not against advertising myself,(I do not and never have used ad blocking browser plugins) but am against collection of data on me for that purpose. I don't bother trying to opt out of such systems, because I don't trust the opt out in the first place, would much rather take the time to block the data collection on my end(wherever possible). I'm sure I won't get them all, but I'll get most.

Anyways on the topic of privacy on the net. I'm probably one of the few that take it fairly seriously. That is I rarely sign up for any offers, I do create unique email addresses for each organization I have a relationship with(which as of last count is roughly 230 unique email addresses each with an associated inbox). I host my own email,  DNS, and web services on a server I physically own at a local co-location facility that I pay for.  I have hosted my own email+web+DNS for more than ten years now. This blog is not hosted there because it wasn't setup by me, and there isn't much private information here anyways.

On to web browsing. I have had my web browser prompt me for each and every web cookie that comes in for at least the last five years now(I do love that feature that saves the preferences for the site). Checking the sqlite database in Firefox reveals

  • Reject cookies outright from 2,099 web sites
  • Accept cookies from 216 web sites
  • Accept cookies from 470 web sites for "session" only

I read recently that Flash cookies are becoming a more common means of tracking users as well, because they are more difficult to detect/delete. In fact I had no idea that there was such a thing as cookies in Flash until I read the article. (Thanks again to The Reg). I have been using the Prefbar Firefox plugin for years now(since Phoenix days I believe), that provides a couple of handy things for Flash, one is to enable/disable the plugin on demand, the other is to immediately kill all flash objects in the page. It works pretty well. I usually keep Flash off unless I specifically need it, not for privacy reasons but more so for performance and stability reasons(and most Flash advertisements are very annoying). I know there are more advanced plugins that deal with Flash and advertisements in general, I'm just too lazy to try them. I've used the same basic plugins for several years and haven't really tried anything new.

I am becoming more convinced as time goes on that Google is nothing more than a front for the NSA/CIA or some other 3 letter organization that you've never heard of in order to try to get you to willingly give them all of your information, whether it is email, IM, DNS,  or voice mail, phone calls, pictures, hell I can't think of all of the services they offer since I don't use them. I see comments on slashdot and am shocked to see people say things like they'd rather Google have their private data than their ISP. Me I'm the opposite. I'd rather have my ISP have my data, there's a lot less chance they'll have any interest in it, and even less of a chance they'll be able to effectively use it against me than the data mining masterminds at Google.

I have (to put it mildly as anyone who knows me will attest) have a deep rooted mistrust for Microsoft as well, it has bonded with my DNA at this point, that is somewhat of a different post though.

I'm not quite to the point where I tunnel my internet traffic over a VPN to my co-located server but who knows, perhaps in a few years that's what I will have to resort to. My DNS traffic is tunneled to my co-located server today, mainly because I host my own internal DNS and the master zones live on the other end of the connection so I rely on it for my internal + external DNS.

So, lesser of two evils, Microsoft or Google, tough choice indeed, perhaps the one or two readers of this blog can contribute links to other search engines, hopefully less obvious ones that might be worth while to use.

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