Sunday, June 22, 2008

Awesomebar or Breach of Trust?

I just made the transition from Firefox 2 to Firefox 3 and my initial reaction was, well, underwhelmed. On further use though I realized that there is a horrid privacy issue that has existed for some time. It was the Awesomebar that brought this to light, which should be renamed by the way to the annoying bar. Anything that absorbs that much of my screen real estate and is that intrusive should have an easy way to turn it off.

That is not the privacy concern though. What really caught my attention was the fact that I have had Firefox set to not remember a thing. No history, flush the cache, cookies ... everything when I close the browser. If I want to revisit a site at a later date I bookmark it. Now with the advent of the Awesomebar I discovered that when I started typing in a URL that even though my history tab is empty that the Awesomebar was still pulling up the sites I had visited even though I had explicitly told it not to. What was more shocking was that I was seeing websites show up in there that I had visited prior to installing Firefox 3.

What in the world? There is a reason I dont want my browser to cache this stuff. I do not want anyone who walks up to my computer to be able to take a look at where I have been or what I have been researching. For one thing when I am at work I'm not really supposed to be going to sites like LXer or Groklaw, well, actually I can go there, I'm just not supposed to spend as much time as I do there. Or say I run across an interesting bit of news that sends me off on a knowledge hunt about the how or what of something. I realize that any of the IT folks who monitor network traffic could figure it out really quick, that's not my point though. My browser should NOT be caching this information against my express wishes.

Anyone, and I mean anyone with a little knowledge can walk up to your system and pull your history regardless of what you have told the browser to flush or not retain. This is not just breach of privacy, it's a breach of trust. I find it ethically questionable and morally reprehensible. So thanks to the Awesomebar for bringing this to my attention however my reaction after I sat down and thought about it for a few minutes was to start inventing a few new vulgar words to direct at the Firefox team.

Make no mistakes, this is not another undocumented "feature". This is a breach of public trust. Your browser is tracking EXACTLY what you have told it not to track or retain. I love using Firefox, but this revelation has set me to taking a serious look at other broswers for personal use, as should anyone who is concerned with personal privacy.

This is my call to Firefox. Fix it, and fix it now.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Fun and games.

While it's been awhile since I posted anything, the time has hardly been wasted. As with all things learning is a never ending cycle. That is pretty much what has been going on over the last few weeks, finding problems and then beating my head against them until I win.

The start of the process was when I decided that the OLPC XO I had picked up needed to do something useful, because to be honest, as it comes to you, it is a really interesting looking lime green brick. Just my opinion of it. Until I had started the process of doing something with it, the most useful thing I had done with it is get onto IRC via irssi. Curiously enough I did that via SSH'ing into the XO and then hitting IRC, that keyboard is too tiny for nearly any adult who doesnt have dwarfism.

After running through several iterations of Debian and Ubuntu I finally settled on one that works acceptably. So my XO is now attached to the back of my printer/scanner. It works as a cups/samba print server, a scanner controller via a vnc connection to the rest of the computers on the network using kooka, and a webserver for the network. The scanner drops it's images straight into the webserver to make retrieval easy for everyone on the network. If your curious the version that finally landed on my XO is a customized Ubuntu.

Of course part of this whole project required me to completely redesign my network. Which was fine. My old linksys router wouldn't handle static IP's. So I picked up another D-Link configured it to handle static IP's via it handing them out via DHCP. Since everything was static now it meant I could go in and set up the hosts file on all the computers, which was as easy as always, right up until I sat down to do my wifes Vista laptop. After a little research, it wasn't all that difficult, the real trick was finding it and editing it using proper permissions.

I also decided to try out a distro I hadn't ever used before, Arch Linux. I found it to be very not newbie friendly, but for anyone with some experience under their belt it was very straight forward to set up. Being touted as light weight, I have to say I have done smaller Debian installs. It weighed in without any X or other niceties at around 650-700 meg, still all things considered not bad. Since I was trying things different I decided to revisit e17 (enlightenment) for my GUI on that install. Setting it up was easy and I have to say I like it enough to keep playing with it.

Overall Arch doesn't offer the natural fine grained control over my system that I get using Gentoo/Sabayon. Speed wise it feels very snappy and responsive though and very complete. There will definitely be more playing with it to find the rest of it's weak points and strong points. From the start though, if your not a total noob and you want more control over your system and what is on it than most other distro's offer, Arch seems a really nice solution.

Good Computing