This blog post is a follow-up to It’s Time to Ditch Gmail. It began as a review of Fastmail, and my experience of moving to it from Gmail, but I quickly found myself going on a tangent. Since privacy was the main driver in my decision to move to Fastmail, and using a custom domain is one of the ways that I protect my privacy, I figured it was important enough to warrant its own post.
One of the factors that made it easier to move away from Gmail is my use of a custom domain for most of my mail. Before moving to Fastmail, this domain was tied to a GSuite account which forwarded everything to my standard Gmail account. This made switching in anger much easier, as I had fewer accounts to log in to and update my email address, and those that were still pointing directly at Gmail tended to be older low-value accounts that I no longer use anyway.
In this article though, I want to take a detour to explain why I use a custom domain, and how it can aid your privacy. Continue reading
I haven’t written much about privacy on this blog, despite often behaving, by some people’s standards, like a paranoid schizophrenic where my data is concerned. Until fairly recently I used to run a rooted phone with XPrivacy installed, which is about as private as you can get without ditching smartphones altogether. These days I’ve gone back to a stock un-rooted phone, partly because Android permissions have improved (although you do have to be careful with apps targeting older APIs), and partly because rooting is more risk and burden to me as a user. Also, some apps actively attempt to block rooted devices for quite legitimate (if, I would argue, misguided) reasons.
Anyway, I could go on for hours about Android privacy, but the subject of this post is Gmail. We all know that Google mines your personal data for targeted advertising purposes. But when giving data to companies, there’s a balance between functionality that is useful to you, and commercialising your data for purposes that, often, are not in your best interest.
While Gmail was once an innovative service, I’d argue that the scales have long been tipped in favour of commercialisation, and that today the data cost of Gmail outweighs its value as a service. Continue reading
Update – Since this was posted, Max Allan and Damion Yates have investigated further and found that BT are intercepting DNS queries and replying with doctored DNS results, which I didn’t notice when originally researching this article. The title is therefore not entirely accurate, and BT are most probably doing this without any special treatment from Google, but the point that Google is facilitating this (by performing http redirects) stands. Please keep this in mind as you read :)
As I’m currently in temporary accommodation I have found myself without a permanent internet connection. 3G service in the area is pretty spotty, so I bit the bullet and ended up purchasing a single month BT Wifi pass, effectively piggy-backing a neighbours connection. I’m guessing they see very little of the £39 I paid.
It is well-known that BT has filtering in place, supposedly for the protection of children, as required by the UK government. I don’t agree with this policy, but accept that many do.
However when it starts to affect privacy, I feel that BT’s meddling of my internet connection has gone too far.
Case in point, when using Google on BT Wifi I happened to notice a new message on the side:
SSL search is off
This network has turned off SSL search, so you cannot see personalised results.
The security features of SSL search are not available. Content filtering may be in place.
Learn More | Dismiss
After digging into it, I’ve found that statement to be demonstrably false. In actual fact what it should say is; “We have disabled SSL search on behalf of your network provider.”
To which I say, thank you for giving me another reason to use duckduckgo.
Google updated its Play Store policy recently, and the changes appear to be designed to reign in spam on its app store. One of the policies reads “Product descriptions should not be misleading or loaded with keywords in an attempt to manipulate ranking or relevancy in the Store’s search results.”
Amusingly, the description for Google’s own Maps app contains a block of text which would do just that:
In a moment of weakness I went and signed up to a 24-month contract on O2 a month ago, with the main attraction being the “free” Nexus S that was part of the deal. I did the math, and assuming my current rate of £15 per month spent on pre pay would continue, it worked out cheaper than buying the phone outright by a significant margin. Even after the post-xmas price drop.
My previous device is a Nokia N900, with the result that my standards for usability are rather low, but my standards for functionality are extremely high. There really is nothing the N900 can’t do with enough knowledge, but compared to the Nexus S it is slow and unwieldy for even the most basic functions such as email and calendaring.
As per usual, in this review I make no attempt to provide a complete or even unbiased review. These are my impressions, nothing more, and the review will be of most interest to you if you’re currently an open-source friendly N900 user in their 20s living in London. Yeah, it’s basically the comparison that I would have wanted to read before I switched.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is such a murky topic, I almost cringe when I hear the term. It can be used to describe legitimate techniques such as organising your website into a structure that is easy for Google to index and renaming pages to describe their contents, but also dubious methods such as paying for links from other websites and blog spam.
Flickr uses an interesting technique. Googled for “photo sharing” lately? Flickr ranks number one, above the king of search results – Wikipedia.
How did they do it? Well here’s some html code that was generated by Flickr and posted to my blog when I clicked the “Share This” link:
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/al40/4241715457/” title=”photo sharing”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4045/4241715457_b72168688f_m.jpg” alt=”” style=”border:solid 2px #000000;” /></a>
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/al40/4241715457/”>Foxdown 13</a>
Originally uploaded by <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/people/al40/”>Al404</a>
The interesting part – note the value of “title” inside the name tag. What possible reason, other than SEO, could Flickr have to make the title of every single shared photo titled “photo sharing”? Every time you use share a Flickr photo this way, you’re providing a link to Flickr and boosting their name against that term. While this is certainly not as dubious as other SEO techniques, it’s also not in the spirit of the title tag or the value Google is placing on it.
Unsurprisingly, a Yahoo search also shows Flickr as number one, but Bing clearly ranks pages a different way – Flickr doesn’t appear in the first page when searching for the phrase.