While the US government is giving ISPs free rein to track their customers’ Internet usage for purposes of serving personalized advertisements, some Internet users are determined to fill their browsing history with junk so ISPs can’t discover their real browsing habits.

Scripts and browser extensions might be able to fill your Web history with random searches and site visits. But will this actually fool an ISP that scans your Web traffic and shares it with advertising networks?

This might not be the best solution, as the article explains, but it “just feels good.”

Source: After vote to kill privacy rules, users try to “pollute” their Web history | Ars Technica

Bumpr 1.1.6 review: Quickly open web links with the browser of your choice

Plenty of people use their Macs with just one web browser and a single email client. But many people use different web browsers to be able to easily access multiple accounts, such as Gmail or other services, for work or for personal use. Designers need to test websites on multiple browsers. And some people use different browsers for specific uses; you may have one browser for everyday web use, and another for secure browsing.

With macOS, you can set a default web browser (you do this in macOS’s system preferences under General) or email client (do this in Mail’s preferences), and these settings determine which apps open when you click links. But when you want to open a link in another app, you generally have to copy that link, switch to the other app, then paste it. This works for URLs, but if you click a link to email someone, it won’t work at all.

Bumpr ($8 through April 15, then $15; App Store link), from Scott Ostler and designer Khoi Vinh, helps you deal with these multiple apps.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

I Pay for News; Why Do I Still See Intrusive Ads?

I subscribe to a number of news publications on the web. I get some of my news from The New York Times, I read news and current events from The New Yorker, and there are a few smaller websites I subscribe to.

So why do I still see intrusive ads on these sites? And even more perplexing; why do some sites, like The New Yorker, ask me to subscribe, even though I’m a subscriber and I’m signed into my account?

Here’s an example of The New Yorker today:

New yorker

Above the fold is a massive Google ad, nearly as big as the featured article at the top of the page. I’ve blurred it, so as not to give that company a free ad on my site, but it’s something about building websites. Not the kind of ad I’d expect to see on The New Yorker, but, hey, that’s Google ads for you. Making the best websites look skeevy.

More perplexing is the ad for a New Yorker subscription at the top left; they know I’m signed in, it’s just stupid to display this ad.

Further down on the page – not included in this screenshot – was a big ad for Condé Nast magazines (the New Yorker is part of that group), but, as I was writing this article, it changed to an Amazon ad showing me products I have recently looked at. And it keeps changing, cycling through a number of ads.

The New York Times is only marginally better. A big banner ad for a luxury brand at the top of the page, plus two smaller ads for the same brand. And if I click through to an article, there’s a massive ad for a slipper (and I’ve seen this ad a hundred times), and several Amazon ads as I scroll down the page. But it gets worse, because those slipper ads are animated. These are the worst type of ads, the ones that distract you and make it harder to read the news you have paid for.

New york times

So, even though I pay to read the news, I still have to use an ad blocker. These companies are somewhat stupid, by subjecting readers to exactly the same intrusive ads if they subscribe as if they don’t. (Of course, you only get a limited number of free articles per month if you don’t subscribe.) They don’t make the reading experience as good as it could be, and they make me not want to use their iOS apps, because I can’t block ads if I’m not using a browser.

By the way, I could count on the fingers of two hands the number of times I have intentionally clicked on a web ad on a publication like this. They are rarely relevant to me.

We need good journalism, and I’m more than happy to pay for it; after all, I’m a journalist myself. But we also need to be treated like the paying subscribers we are, and not have crappy ads getting in our way and distracting us (and tracking us across the web). I had thought these media companies had learned something, but apparently they haven’t.

A Huge, Huge Deal – Talking Points Memo

It all comes down to a simple point. You may not like Gawker. They’ve published stories I would have been ashamed to publish. But if the extremely wealthy, under a veil secrecy, can destroy publications they want to silence, that’s a far bigger threat to freedom of the press than most of the things we commonly worry about on that front. If this is the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich, few publications will have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely.


Source: A Huge, Huge Deal

Opera Browser Includes Free Unlimited VPN

Opera has just released a new developer version of their web browser with a big new feature: a free, unlimited VPN.

Until now, most VPN services and proxy servers have been limited and based on a paid subscription. With a free, unlimited, native VPN that just works out-of-the-box and doesn’t require any subscription, Opera wants to make VPNs available to everyone.

To activate this VPN, choose Opera > Preferences, click Privacy and Security, and then check Enable VPN.

Opera vpn

Note that this VPN only affects your web browsing in this version of Opera, it does not protect any other apps.

Read more about Opera’s free VPN here, and download the developer build of Opera here.

Update: There are some questions about the security of data transferred using this VPN. See this article by Graham Cluley for more info.

Flipboard Serves Potentially Malicious Ads

I have used the free Flipboard for several years to read the news on my iPhone and iPad. Yesterday, I came across a malicious ad in the Flipboard app.


You may have seen these ads on websites with your browser, if you don’t use an ad blocker. They try to get you to visit sites that may try to download malware, or just try to scam you. Note that there’s no Cancel button; you have to force-quit the app to get away from it. Many people don’t know that, so they tap OK – since they don’t see any other choice – and wind up on questionable sites.

I tweeted to Flipboard’s Twitter account, and they replied:

Flipboard tweet

This “questionable source” was one that was in Flipboard’s own Movies category, not some random site that I selected. I use several of Flipboard’s categories, which are probably created by algorithms, because they give me a decent overview of the news.

The Flipboard app should be blocking pop-ups, like every web browser can do. This was the first time I’d seen this type of ad in Flipboard, so either something has changed in the app, or advertisers have figured out a way to get through any blocking they may have.

But it happened again this morning. I saw this when I tapped an article; nothing of the actual article even displayed, just the pop-up:


This is another type of common ad that pop-up blockers can eliminate.

I don’t trust the Flipboard app any more. You should be very careful if you continue to use it; I’m going to find another way to read the news on my iOS devices.

Update: It was pointed out to me that this article is currently the lead in Flipboard’s Apple News topic. One has to appreciate the irony…


How to Use Your Web Browser’s Fraudulent Site Protection Feature

Malware comes in many types, and it threatens you in many ways. In the early days of computers, the main worry was that you’d get infected by viruses that hid on floppy disks. That medium is no longer a threat, and most malware now is downloaded from the internet or attached to email messages. You can usually tell from the email you get whether an attachment is suspicious; lately, a lot of phishing email contain subjects such as “Invoice” or “Photo,” in the hopes that you might absent-mindedly double-click on a file. But some well-crafted emails may fool you.

Even if you are careful to not open files you receive with emails, and don’t download files from unreliable websites, there are still risks. Drive-by downloads can infect you unwittingly when you visit a website; the code on a page causes a file to be downloaded, and, in some cases, depending on your settings, that file may be launched automatically.

Other malicious websites may attempt to take advantage of vulnerabilities in software such as your web browser, or in the plug-ins it uses. One of the most attacked pieces of software is Adobe’s Flash Player. This plug-in is regularly updated as vulnerabilities seem to spring up like mushrooms after a thunderstorm.

Because of this, web browsers have adopted “fraudulent site protection,” which relies on a constantly-updated database of URLs that lead to malware.

Read the rest of the article on the Mac Security Blog.

Save Safari Web Pages to PDFs on iOS with Dropbox App

Dropbox pdfDropbox has just updated its iOS app, and the latest version includes a useful new addition:

“Save to Dropbox” App Extension now saves PDF versions of websites from Safari (iOS 8 & 9 only) — to enable, you can tap the share icon in Safari and toggle the extension from the “More” section

To set this up, open a web page in Safari. Tap the Share button, and then scroll along the bottom row until you see More…

Tap More… and scroll down until you see Save to Dropbox. Toggle this to turn it on.

When you see a web page you want to save as a PDF, tap the Share button, and then tap Save to Dropbox. You’ll be asked to enter your passcode or Touch ID, if you’ve turned that on in the Dropbox app, then you’ll be able to choose a name for the file, and a location in your Dropbox folder. Dropbox then generates the PDF and saves it.

As you can see to the right, the PDFs that Dropbox creates create page breaks, and may even cut images. But it’s a good way to get a full graphic of a web page, without having to switch to another app.

The Many Ways I Avoid Ads

There has been a lot of righteous indignation since iOS 9 was released, and ad blockers have been allowed to integrate with the Safari web browser. Many of the people who complain – such as this person who equates blocking ads with robbing an Apple Store – are forgetting that they, too, probably block a lot of ads.

Note that the Fortune page I link to above is, on the desktop, 13.2 MB, and took me 1.5 minutes to load with my 4 Mb connection. It contains a number of animated ads, caused Safari to beachball, and made it impossible to even scroll for more than one minute. And I don’t have Flash installed, so there’s one ad that I don’t see, which is replaced by a sleazy “Your System Status” box telling me that I need to update my Flash Player.

Rob apple store

With ad blockers on, the page is 6.6 MB, and takes me 16.95 seconds to load. Ghostery reports that the page has 19 trackers.

(For a similar ironic problem, head over to Khoi Vinh’s website, where he recorded video of him trying to load a New York Times article about ad blocking. He was unable to do so easily, because of an ad on the site.)

If you visit my website, you know that I do offer ads. I am currently advertising for a new Take Control book (up on top), and for my own books (in the sidebar), as well as for my iTunes forum and my podcast. These ads are as discreet as possible: they don’t flash, move, or otherwise animate, and their layout is sober and minimalist. And I have a couple of Amazon ads at the bottoms of pages, where they aren’t too disturbing, to earn some affiliate income (I wish Amazon had smaller ads that would fit better on my site…). I also run other ads at times, but I am very careful which ads I accept, and I refuse to use any animated ads, or ads that slow down page loads. I have turned down countless offers to run “sponsored articles” and text link ads. *

So I’m not against ads overall; if they fit with a site, and aren’t just scattershot, or bottom-feeding Google ads, then I don’t mind seeing them. I’d rather not block ads like this to help websites pay for the content they provide. But the Fortune web page is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong about ads.

In any case, I made a list of the many ways I block ads in my life. If you think that blocking ads on websites is wrong, tell me how many of the following actions you take to avoid ads.

  • I turn off the volume when TV commercials are on
  • I go to the bathroom when TV commercials are on
  • I skip through commercials when watching recorded TV
  • I throw away junk mail without looking at it
  • I throw away inserts with magazines I subscribe to without looking at them
  • I throw away ad sections of newspapers when I buy them
  • I turn the pages of magazines and newspapers too quickly to assimilate ads
  • I don’t look at ads on the sides of busses
  • I ignore billboards with ads when driving
  • I avoid televised sports, because there are too many ads
  • I hang up on robo-calls
  • I avoid buying clothes with logos when possible
  • I ignore the ads on the back of supermarket receipts
  • I delete spam emails
  • I use a pop-up blocker with my web browsers
  • I use a tracker blocker (Ghostery) with my web browsers
  • I use an ad blocker with my web browsers
  • I use Safari’s Reader view to be able to read pages that are too cluttered

I remember when a one-hour TV show in the US was 52 minutes long; it left eight minutes for ads and station identification. Now, a one-hour show has 42 minutes of content, which means that 25% of the hour is commercials. Viewers adapted to this by recording shows and skipping ads, and the same is happening on the web.

I would happily embrace a micro-payment solution that would allow me to pay a few cents when I read an article on the web. But the current model of inundating readers with ads, and making web pages hard to read, is simply wrong. Don’t blame readers for not wanting to put up with these problems.

  • I’ve been thinking about the best way to monetize this website, and I’ve hesitated because so many ad options would harm the experience my readers have on this site. I get about 250-400K page views per month, and I could probably make a lot of money with Google Ads. But I don’t want to. For now, I earn money from occasional self-served ads (that is, ads that I place as images with links, but with no other code), sponsorships, and affiliate income. If you want to sponsor this website, get in touch.

Marco Arment Pulls His Ad-Blocker Peace from the iOS App Store

I wrote yesterday about how to use ad blockers in iOS 9, and I explained my feeling about the question of whether one should block ads or not. It’s not a question with an easy answer.

Marco Arment, who’s Peace ad-blocker shot to the top of the charts, today decided to pull the app from the App Store. In a blog post, Marco says:

Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.

This is a delicate situation. We’re being inundated by very bad and intrusive ads, yet we still want to support website whose content we read. It’s going to take a real shake-up for this to be settled, and ad-blockers on mobile devices will probably lead to new ways of monetizing websites.