Google APIs Suck

Friday, January 4, 2013 

Off-Site scripts are annoying and privacy invasive. They are a vector for malware, waste your computer’s resources, and generally add limited capability.  They’re a shortcut for developers but rarely add real value that can’t be replaced by locally-hosted, open-source scripts and always compromise your privacy (or the privacy of your site’s visitors).

To explain – I use noscript (as everyone should) with Firefox (it doesn’t work with Chrome: I might consider trusting Google’s browser for some mainstream websites when it does, but I don’t really like that Chrome logs every keystroke back to Google and I’m not sure why anyone would tolerate that).  NoScript enables me to give per-site permission to execute scripts.

The best sites don’t need any scripts to give me the information I need.  It is OK if the whizzy experience is degraded somewhat for security’s sake, as long as that is my choice. Offsite scripting can add useful functionality, but the visitor should be able to opt out.

Most sites use offsite scripting for privacy invasion – generally they have made a deal with some heinous data aggregator who’s business model is to compile dossiers of every petty interest and quirk you might personally have and sell them to whoever can make money off them: advertisers, insurance companies, potential employers, national governments, anyone who can pay.  In return for letting them scrounge your data off the site, they give the site operator some slick graphs (and who doesn’t love slick graphs). But you lose.  Or you block google analytics with noscript.  This was easy – block offsite scripts if you’re not using private browsing or switch to private browsing (and Chrome’s private browsing mode is probably fine) and enjoy the fully scripted experience.

But I’ve noticed recently a lot of sites are borrowing basic functionality from Google APIs.  Simple things, for which there are plenty of open source scripts to use like uploading images – this basic functionality is being sold to them in an easy to integrate form in exchange for your personal information: in effect, you’re paying for their code with your privacy. And you either have to temporarily allow Google APIs to execute scripts in your browser and suck up your personal information or you can’t use the site.

If you manage a website, remove as many calls as you can, including removing calls back to wordpress and fonts.  These are all data collection mechanisms that seem to make it easy in exchange for aggregating data on users.  I recommend three browser plugins to significantly improve privacy and reduce data collection.  They break some sites, but those sites are so privacy violating that you shouldn’t be visiting them anyway.

LocalCDN

Local CDN redirects CDN calls to locally cached copies, which improves performance and protects privacy.  CDNs make good money off your private data without your consent and the features they provide are easily replaced with local delivery.  This seems to have zero impact on browsing experience.

For firefox, you might try Decentraleyes.

Privacy Badger

EFF’s privacy badger is great.  It can be your only ad blocker if you, say, support ad-monetized content but just don’t want to be tracked.  EFF’s goal isn’t so much to end advertising but to give the user a tool to reject the more privacy invasive elements of such advertising or other mechanisms of tracking.  The “learning” mode is disabled by default because using it is, itself, trackable.

uBlock Origin

The ur-privacy plugin, uBlock Origin is by default fairly agressive in blocking and so not only protects privacy, but blocks scripts that slow your computer down, waste your costly energy doing free work for advertisers, and speeds up browsing.  It does, however, break some pages including things like logins and redirects, so become familiar with the mechanisms for selectively disabling blocking of scripts or sites that are important.

Posted at 07:34:36 GMT-0700

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