Google Backs Off on Unwise URL Hiding Scheme, but Only Temporarily

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In previous posts, including “Here’s How to Disable Google Chrome’s Confusing New URL Hiding Scheme” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/09/07/heres-how-to-disable-google-chromes-confusing-new-url-hiding-scheme), I’ve noted the serious security and other problems related to Google Chrome’s new policy of hiding parts of site URLs.

Google has now — sort of, temporarily — backed off on these changes.

In a post over on the Chromium blog, at:

https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=883038

they note that URL subdomain hiding (Google uses the term “elide” — how often do you see that one?) is being rolled back in Chrome M69, but the post also says that they plan to begin hiding — I mean “eliding” — www again in M70, but not “m” (no doubt because they realized what a potential mess that made over on Tumblr). They also say that they’ll initiate a discussion with standards bodies about this to reserve “www or m” as hidden subdomains.

The comments on that Chromium post appear to be virtually universally opposed to Google’s hiding any elements of URLs. At the very least, it’s obvious that Google should not begin such URL modifications again until after such a time (if ever) that standards bodies have acted in these regards, and I would argue that these bodies should not do so in the manner that Google is now pushing.

The www and m subdomains have been integral parts of the user experience on the Web for decades. Tampering with them now (especially www) makes no sense, and (along with the other action that Google took at the same time — hiding the crucial http:// and https:// prefixes that are key signals regarding communications security) just puts users in an even more vulnerable position, as I discussed in “Chrome Is Hiding URL Details — and It’s Confusing People Already!” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/07/10/chrome-is-hiding-url-details-and-its-confusing-people-already).

We can certainly have a vibrant discussion regarding additional signals that could help users to detect phishing and other URL-related attacks, but any and all changes to URL displays (including involving http, https, m, www, and so on) should only take place if and after there is broad community agreement that such changes are actually user positive.

Google should completely cease all of these URL changes, permanently, unless such criteria are met.

–Lauren–

Verizon’s 5G Home Broadband Has a Rough Start

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A few days ago, Verizon Wireless announced with great fanfare that people in their initial handful of supported cities (including here in L.A.) could use a locator site as of this morning to check for availability of the new Verizon Wireless 5G Home Broadband service, which supposedly touts some impressive specs. Actually, we should call it “5G” with the quotes made obvious, since it’s not really a standardized 5G yet, but let that pass for now.

The locator site has been present at least since that announcement but said that you couldn’t actually check addresses until something like 5 AM PDT this morning. So this morning I decided to check my address. I didn’t expect it to be covered — I heard rumors that Verizon’s initial coverage of L.A. would be very small, perhaps centered on downtown L.A., and I’m literally in the other end of the city in the distant reaches of the San Fernando Valley.

The site apparently did enable its address checking functionality this morning. Well, in theory, anyway.

The page has an annoying overlay curtain effect when you touch it (that was there several days ago as well) but as of right now the “Check availability” link immediately punches you through to another page saying that service is not available at your address — before you’ve even entered a physical address.  Are they trying to guess your approximate location based on your IP address? Naw, that would never work — too prone to error, and think of all the people using mobile devices who all appear to be coming from carrier gateways.

Hmm. There is a “change address” link — and you can actually enter your address at that one. Oops, still says not available at your address. But, wait a second. Whether you enter your address directly or not, there’s a note under that unavailability announcement:

Server is temporarily down, couldn’t able to process the request currently.

Wow, this is starting to feel like a phishing site with a backend coded by someone who clearly wasn’t a native English speaker.

And checking again just now, the site is still in this condition.

Not an auspicious beginning.

–Lauren–

EU Preliminarily Passes Horrific Articles 11 & 13 — Here’s How to Fight Back!

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By a vote of 438 to 226, the massively confused and lobbyists-owned EU Parliament has preliminary passed horrific Article 11 and Article 13, aimed at turning ordinary users into the slaves of government-based Internet censorship and abuse.

The war isn’t over, however. These articles now enter a period of negotiation with EU member states, and then are subject to final votes next year, probably in the spring.

So now’s the time for the rest of the world to show Europe some special “tough love” — to help them understand what their Internet island universe will look like if these terrible articles are ever actually implemented.

Article 11 is an incredibly poorly defined “link tax” aimed at news aggregators. If Article 11 is implemented, the reaction by most aggregators who have jurisdictional exposure to the EU (e.g., EU-based points of presence) will not be to pay the link taxes, but rather will be to completely cease indexing those EU sites.

Between now and the final votes next year, news aggregation sites should consider temporarily ceasing to index those EU sites for various periods of time at various intervals, to give those sites a taste of what happens to their traffic when such indexing stops, and what their future would look like under Article 11.

Then we have Article 13’s massive, doomed-to-disaster content filtering scheme, which would be continually inundated with false matches and fake claims (there are absolutely no penalties under Article 13 for submitting bogus claims). While giant firms like Google and Facebook would have the resources to implement Article 13’s mandates, virtually nobody else could. And even the incredibly expensive filtering systems built by these largest firms have significant false positive error rates, frequently block permitted content, and cost vast sums to maintain.

A likely response to Article 13 by many affected firms would be to geoblock EU users from those company’s systems.  That process can begin now on a “demonstration” basis. The IP address ranges for EU countries can be easily determined in an automated manner, and servers programmed to present an explanatory “Sorry about that, Chief — You’re in the EU!” message to EU users instead of the usual services. As with the Article 11 protest procedure noted above, these Article 13 IP blocks would be implemented at various intervals for various durations, between now and the final votes next year.

The genuinely sad part about all this is that none of it should be necessary. Article 11 and 13 mandates will never work as their proponents hope, and if deployed will actually do massive damage not only to EU (and other) users at large, but to the very constituencies that have lobbied for passage of these articles!

And that’s a lose-lose situation in any language.

–Lauren–

“The EU’s (Internet) Island” (To the tune of “Gilligan’s Island”)

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UPDATE (September 12, 2018): EU Preliminarily Passes Horrific Articles 11 & 13 — Here’s How to Fight Back!

– – –

In honor of the EU’s horrific “Article 11” and “Article 13” — In the hope that they don’t pass, and that these lyrics don’t come to pass as reality.

– – –

“The EU’s (Internet) Island”
(To the tune of “Gilligan’s Island”)
Lauren Weinstein – 11 September 2018

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip.
When the EU tried to wreck the Net,
And just sunk their own sad ship.
Their ideas were a link tax few would pay,
And content censorship tools.
So the EU voted to proceed,
With a plan made by fools,
A plan made by fools!

(Lightning and Thunder!)

It didn’t work out like they hoped,
The world cut the EU off.
Fake claims filled the content filters fast,
And EU users were lost,
The EU users were lost!

Now the EU’s been chopped from the Net,
Like a lonely desert isle.
With Luxembourg,
And Brussels too,
And Frankfurt,
And yes Strasbourg!
The Hague as well,
And the rest,
Are here on the EU’s Isle!

<End>

YouTube’s Memory Miracle

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The key reason why you’ll find me “from time to time” expressing criticism of various YouTube policies, is simply because I love the platform so very much. If it vanished tomorrow, there’d be a gap in my life that would be very difficult to repair.

So let’s put aside for the moment issues of hate speech and dangerous dares and YouTube’s Content ID, and revel for a bit in an example of YouTube’s Memory Miracle.

A few minutes ago, a seemingly unrelated Google query pulled up an odd search result that I suddenly recognized, a YouTube video labeled “By Rocket to the Moon.” YES, the name of a children’s record I played nearly into groove death in my youth. It’s in my old collection of vinyl here for sure somewhere, but I haven’t actually seen or heard it in several decades at least:

By Rocket to the Moonhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9acg_P23oHY

Little bits and pieces of the dialogue and songs I’ve recalled over the years, in particular a line I’ve quoted not infrequently: “Captain, captain, stop the rocket. I left my wallet in another suit, it isn’t in my pocket!” As it turns out, I learned today that I’ve been quoting it slightly wrong, I’ve been saying “in my other suit” — but hell, close enough for jazz!

And speaking of jazz, I also realized today (it would have meant nothing to me as a child) that the jazzy music on this record was composed by the brilliant Raymond Scott and performed by none other than the wonderful Raymond Scott Quintette. You likely don’t recognize the names. But if you ever watched classic Warner Brothers cartoons, you will almost certainly recognize one of the group’s most famous performances, of Scott’s “Powerhouse” (widely used in those cartoons for various chase and machine-related sequences):

Powerhouse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfDqR4fqIWE

I’m obviously not a neurobiologist, but I’ve long suspected that what we assume to be memory “loss” over time with age is actually not usually a loss of the memories themselves, but rather a gradual loss or corruption of the “indexes” to those memories. Once you get a foothold into old buried memories through a new signal, they’ll often flow back instantly and with incredible accuracy. They were there all along!

And that’s why I speak of YouTube’s memory miracle. Old songs, old TV shows, even old classic commercials. You thought you forgot them eons ago, but play them again on YouTube even after gaps of decades, and full access to those memories is almost instantly restored.

In the case of this old record, I had just played a few seconds from YouTube today when the entire production came flowing back — dialogue, song lyrics, all of it. I was able to sing along as the words “popped in” for me a few seconds ahead of what I was hearing. (This leads to another speculation of mine relating to the serial nature of memories, but we’ll leave that discussion for a future post.)

YouTube had in a few seconds recreated — or at least uncovered and surfaced — the lost index that restored access to an entire cluster of detailed memories.

OK, so it’s not really a miracle. But it’s still wonderful.

Thanks YouTube!

–Lauren–