Internet Privacy: Do You Google?

This article is going to be seen as “political” by some, and as such will be controversial. So, if you, dear reader, do not like reading “political” articles, move on along, there is nothing to see here. But if you are a person who can peer past the veil of “politics” to the heart of a matter, you may want to keep reading.

First off, I am a USA National with a long form, hard copy birth certificate to prove it if needed. I believe strongly in personal freedom, personal privacy, personal responsibility, and small, limited government. Very much like the founders of my country (1,2,3). I have been dismayed at the growth of government in my country and the resulting erosion of personal freedom and personal privacy for a long time now. I could not care less which “political party” is in power as long as they share the ideals of the founders of the USA, and thus my ideals.

Sadly, or tragically, or disgustingly, or perhaps happily, depending on one’s perspective, neither of the two major parties here share the ideals of the founders of this nation. They have proven so over and over by continuing to grow the power and reach of government after each election cycle is completed. The slide toward despotism and tyranny in a country always begins with the growth of government and the erosion of personal freedom. An honest look at history will prove that.

What does this have to do with Internet privacy and Google? If you use Google for anything, the US government, and likely other governments, can potentially see what you are doing. Google has servers all over the world and keeps records of your activity. Google can therefore be coerced to give those records to a government agency. Further, Google does not encrypt your connection by default with HTTPS, so snooper programs used by government agencies, such as the US NSA, can watch what you do without need to go to Google. This does not just affect Google users, it also affects users of Yahoo!, Bing and any other on-line service that keeps records of activity and/or does not encrypt connections by default.

The recent revelations that the US government has massive data gathering programs to obtain data on Internet and phone users is no surprise to those of us who suspected this all along. But it has been a big, unpleasant surprise to many folk who do not usually think about these issues. Inevitably we have seen the tired argument raised, “I don’t care! I have nothing to hide! Only people who want to hide criminal activity would be concerned about this!” Yes, the exclamation points must be used. From a freedom and privacy perspective this argument is egregiously incorrect. Allow me to quote a wise man, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin 1775.

Some others have addressed this argument as well:

Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’
By Daniel J. Solove
The Chronicle Review – May 15, 2011

Plenty to Hide
By Jay Stanley
lifehacker – June 14, 2012

Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance
By Moxie Marlinspike – June 13, 2013

If you are concerned about your privacy on-line what can you do about protecting your privacy from snooping? Here are some means to assist you with that.

Use HTTPS for as much of your browsing on-line as possible. This encrypts the traffic between you and the host to which your browser is connecting. That makes real-time monitoring of the data on your connection impossible by any currently known means of monitoring network data.

Limit your searches to search engines that do not track you and do not store information about your searches. Two of these are run by the same group. and both protect your privacy by first using HTTPS encrypted connections and second by not storing any information about your searches. By using encryption you are protected from in-line scanning of your searches. By not having information stored about your searches you are protected from government coercion of your search provider to reveal your search data. Even better for USA users, the servers for these services are in The Netherlands. This means it would require the US government to rely on treaties and negotiations with the host country before it could even approach the owners of the servers.

Caveat: occasionally these search engines return a message about being overloaded and request you wait for a few minutes and try again. While this may be annoying and frustrating, it surely is a small price to pay for your privacy.

When practical, use a proxy to view web sites. Both of the search engines mentioned above provide a relatively secure proxy feature. A proxy sends its own IP address to a web host and acts as a bridge between your browser and the host system. This helps mitigate your exposure when using sites for which you have searched. Certain features of content rich web sites will not work through a proxy and require a direct connection. So, you have to decide whether or not to continue using such sites. For example, if your browser uses Java for connection to any content, no amount of proxy routing can hide you at that point.

What about e-mail privacy? Once again, avoid the major players like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, et al. It may be worth a few dollars to secure your e-mail by using a paid, privacy e-mail service located in a country other than your own. This web search may offer you some ideas: secure private e-mail.

Ultimately we all need to decide what the term “privacy” entails and how much privacy means to us. For me, my “stuff” is mine and no one has a right to know about my “stuff” unless I choose to share it. If this means I have a little less “safety” from terrorists, so be it. I am not willing to compromise my freedoms for some amorphous amount of perceived safety.

Linux and Unix Uptime vs Microsoft on Netcraft

After reading this article be sure to see my follow-up comment about it.

Could it be that Microsoft, Microsoft shills and/or Microsoft fanboys are “gaming” the uptime table at Netcraft? Unless I am misunderstanding something, frankly, I think they are. I was going to show a friend of mine the uptime table at Netcraft to display the ability of Unix and Unix-like operating systems to be stable and reliable. Yet I get there and I see this:

Netcraft Microsoft Bullcrap

For several years I have watched and used the uptime statistics at Netcraft and for the majority of that time the top ranked systems have been Unix, usually BSD and company, and Linux. I have not been to Netcraft to see the statistics in several months. So I was slightly irritated to go there today and see that either Microsoft, Microsoft shills, Microsoft fanboys or a combination of all the above have obviously skewed the chart. How do I know this? This bit of information off that same page near the bottom tells it all:

How to Game the Statistics

Just get enough dedicated people to request sites over and over that run your favored system and you too can have your own favorable Netcraft uptime chart. I think Netcraft needs to rethink how they generate the longest uptimes chart. It is obviously being abused by people who favor Microsoft to falsely show Microsoft operating systems dominate the uptime statistics. Anyone in the IT industry with half a clue, ethics and a sense of honesty knows and admits Microsoft could not dominate on uptimes. There are too many patches that require a reboot of a Microsoft server for that to be true.

Apparently some Microsoft administrators do not patch their systems. I sure would not want my web site hosted on their unpatched Microsoft servers. Of course, these could be server farms where systems do get patched behind a load balancer, but then we are still talking about false statistics. No small business I know that has a Microsoft server in it can keep that server running for over 1,000 days without a reboot. Not if they want to keep it secure with up to date patches. But I do know of small businesses with Unix servers that easily go for more than a year without a reboot if there is no power outage that outlasts their backup power system(s).

What do we in the Unix and Linux community do about this? Maybe write Netcraft and suggest they change how they handle generating that chart. Otherwise I suggest we do … nothing. We should not start our own gaming war to change the statistics. Why? Wallowing in the crap filled mud with pigs only gets one dirty, and the pigs like it. So, just do as I am doing and state the facts to your friends, acquaintances and business associates. But do not use Netcraft to back the facts up at this point.

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Digg Removes Shout, What Now? Here is What.

Now that has nerfed the shout feature I have been pondering how to deal with losing the ability to send and receive shouts from my mutual friends on I will not ever use Facebook and I am not fond of Twitter, so those are out for me. Here is what I have decided I can do to follow the people who I have befriended because I like what they post to You can do this too.

First, prune your friend list. I know some people added hundreds to their friend lists in hopes of getting a large group of mutual friends to which to shout. Since shout is gone, having hundreds in one’s friends list is now irrelevant. I have been very picky about adding friends and only have a few friends on All of these are a “mutual friend”, they added me first in most cases, except for one or two, then I added them after I saw what they post coincides with my interests. While I have “fans” I don’t just add people as a friend simply because they added me. I have to see that the person who added me to their friend list actually posts stuff I want to read.

Now that your friend list has been pruned down to those you really care to follow you can click on Friends’ Activity to see what your list of friends have done recently:

Then to follow what your smaller, more streamlined list of friends post click on the submissions link under the word Filter:

Now, even though they cannot shout to you you can follow what your friends post to Further, if you have mutual friends left after everyone else prunes their friends list they can do the same to follow what you post to To see what your friends have “Dugg” just click the diggs link in the same dialog:

One can do the same for following friends comments, and so on. One other item I just noticed while looking things over at for this article tonight is the RSS feed on the Friends’ Activity lists (see the right end of this graphic):

The feed changes based on the filter. So just save the feed for submissions and paste it in your favorite RSS feed reader to get updates about what your friends post. Do the same for comments and so on. This way you do not have to just stay on to follow what your friends are doing and can open in your feed reader when you see some activity you want to follow.

These features have been part of ever since I became a member but have probably been underutilized by most folk in favor of shouts. I know I have rarely used them. Now that shout is out we can all use these features to get back to sharing with our existing friends. I will still only add new friends as I find people with mutual interests. I also may end up migrating away from since they nerfed shouts. But I am willing to try the Friends’ Activity tab and filtering first.

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Edit Tue May 26 23:22:34 CDT 2009: Add information about RSS feed.

Linux 46% Market Share, Windows 43.5% Market Share

After a study of operating system usage of thousands of people I have discovered that Linux has a 46% market share. Linux now surpasses Windows which is shown to have a 43.5% market share. Overall GNU/Linux distributions have taken the lead from Microsoft based on this study. Honest.

Okay, in reality I looked at my Advanced Web Statistics (awstats) web log today and saw this:

Linux has 46% market share!
Linux has 46% market share!

What I am demonstrating is that anyone can take the statistics that favors their desired outcome and use those to “prove” something. That is the great thing about statistics, one can make them “prove” pretty much what one wants. I was thinking about this after I read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols article How Many Linux Users Are There (Really)? at today. Any honest person admits there is really no way to get a hard figure for the number of Linux users, meaning the kernel, nor the number of GNU/Linux desktop users, meaning distributions.

Companies like Microsoft can get relatively solid figures from their sales departments. Microsoft can put up the numbers to “prove” they have large sales figures and “market share”. Microsoft can buy the “analysts” that do the “studies” that “prove” Microsoft’s dominance. Of course they leave off the number of systems purchased with the Microsoft tax applied that get wiped and reinstalled with a GNU/Linux distribution. Why? More than likely even Microsoft, with its’ billions, cannot get hard figures about that. I doubt Microsoft would reveal those figures even should Microsoft have them.

Then there are sites like my own SOHO office. Who counts us? We have four custom built systems here that were built in-house from components. Three of them run Mandriva Linux and one, the server, runs FreeBSD Unix. We have one second hand Compaq laptop that also has Mandriva installed. None of the operating systems were purchased. Therefore there are no sales figures for the operating systems. Only two of the systems are used actively on the WWW. How exactly are these systems going to be counted in a “market share study”? The answer is, they are not going to be counted. Nor are hundreds of other sites just like mine. One can see, based on these simple facts, that no “study” to get a “market share” figure for Linux can ever be close to accurate.

To finish up I will leave you with this. In my office GNU/Linux has an 80% market share and FreeBSD has a 20% market share. That is all that really counts for me. It is all that really counts for anyone that has found GNU/Linux, learned its usefulness and uses it every day.

NOTICE: All comments are approved by a moderator before they show here. Please only post comments once, they will show once they are approved. It may take up to a few hours for comments to be approved depending on the time of day based on UTC -0600.

Edit Thu Feb 19 01:03:40 UTC 2009: Fix a typographical error.

Edit Thu Feb 19 20:30:05 UTC 2009: Fix a typographical error.

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hit counter code download Says “Not You” to Linux Users?

While getting a new PC ready to ship today I ran into a popup message at when trying to use our Ship Manager account to make and print labels:

FedEx Ship Manager - No Linux

Looks to me like yet another large corporate site checking for the operating system under the browser. As if that matters at all if they would only develop to accepted, non-proprietary standards.

I also ran into some problems trying to create and print two shipping labels for drop-off shipment at our local FedEx International Shipping Center. I tried for a very long time to get around the problem using Firefox, Opera and even IE 6 running under WINE. I just could not get my shipment to be accepted to print labels. Finally I gave in and called the help number for FedEx Ship Manager customers and got a nice young fellow that told me what to do to get around the problem. (The problem is that today is a holiday for FedEx Ground and our account is set for pickup. Even though I changed the shipment to drop-off the browser cache was defeating the change. Closing the browser, starting over then changing the date FIRST to tomorrow “solved” the problem. I could have saved a few hours of frustration if the site developers would handle that better.)

In the course of our conversation I mentioned the pop-up message to the fellow and told him I was running Firefox on Linux and that the popup should not appear for that. He agreed with me and stated that they should recognize Linux. I said I should write a web log article about it and tell folks to contact FedEx asking for Linux to be recognized. So, I ask you folks to contact FedEx and ask that they fix their site to ignore the operating system or to recognize Linux.

In the USA one can e-mail FedEx using the e-mail forms on their USA Customer Support page. Or one may call them using 1.800.463.3339 in the USA. Outside the USA go to the FedEx International Home Page, choose your country then click the Customer Service URL for your country to find the contact information.

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Guess What? Fox News is Responsive to the Linux Community.

The Linux community spoke and listened. I received a polite message late today from Mr. Dave Denis the Director, Product Development at Fox News. Mr. Denis stated that Fox News is now aware of the problem with their Video page and is working with Maven Networks to get it fixed. Mr. Denis also stated that most of the Fox News developers use Ubuntu. I only wish they had bought the systems preloaded from my company (one can dream, can one not?). I have asked for permission to include the body of his message in this article but have not yet heard back from Mr. Denis. It is after working hours in New York at this time so I expect I will hear from him tomorrow. Should I get permission to include the body of his message I will update this article and add that.

Of course almost as soon as I posted this I received a reply from Mr. Denis:

Hi Gene – not a problem. … If you want to talk a bit further
tomorrow I’m free in the morning. In the meantime, I believe DOES work in Linux


David Denis
Director, Product Development
FOX News Digital
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

So, here is Mr. Denis original message:

This message is for Gene – hi Gene, I read your blog entry re: and Linux. I just wanted to reach out and let you
know we’re trying to fix the issue at this very moment. We’re
working with our video vendor, Maven Networks to diagnose the
problem. Most of our developers actually run Ubuntu so we’re
definitely focused on correcting it. Thanks,

What I get reading this message from Mr. Denis is that Fox News employees do care about Fox News Online users and are responsive to problems on their web site when they are made aware of them. Although I have not yet spoken with Mr. Denis directly I imagine there will be a rewrite or replacement of the code that does the various tests.

Further the fact that he states “Most of our developers actually run Ubuntu …” shows me that Linux is more main-stream than many would claim. I am quite pleased to read that a major news organization like Fox News is a Linux user. While it is not likely that the Fox News reporters and news desks are using Ubuntu or any other distribution of Linux we all know that the adoption of Linux in server closets and development labs is a foot in the door to corporate desktops. Once on the corporate desktop it is only a matter of time before more people take the penguin home.

I suspect right now Linux is much more prevalent on corporate and home desktops world wide than can ever be shown with “market share” numbers. Since most market share numbers come from product sales and the great majority of Linux distributions are “free” these market share studies will never be accurate in regard to Linux. Any web based market share study using web logs would also be skewed since many Linux users keep their Firefox browsers running with User Agent Switcher on reporting to be a browser from a Microsoft based system. Konqueror and Opera both have the same type of function. Just witness the many comments on and elsewhere that suggest using a fake user agent to fix problems like the one shown recently when viewing the Fox News Video page.

I will follow up in this article with further information regarding Fox News Video and their fix to the Video page so be sure to get the RSS feed for our web log comments if you want to keep up.

Update Tue Apr 29 13:52:21 UTC 2008 I just received this e-mail from Mr. Denis:

Turns out this line was causing the problem:
mp.setParameter(‘checkSystemId’, ‘systemRequirementsHTML’);

in this code block:

<script type="text/javascript"><!--
           function doLoad() {
                     var mp = new MavenPlayer('videolandingpage');
                     mp.setParameter('backgroundColor', '#ffffff');
           function doContextMenu() {
                      return maven.PlayerObjectUtil.doContextMenu();
// --></script>

Developers are working to push the change live shortly.


So, we should be able to see the Fox News Video page without faking the user agent later today. Do not forget to clear your browser cache or force a page reload if you are checking this page.

Update Wed Apr 30 16:07:45 UTC 2008:

I am happy to report that as of this morning Fox News Video and Fox Business Video in Linux are working natively. No User Agent Switcher needed. Thank you Mr. Dave Denis and the Fox News development team. Anyone who does web development can appreciate the effort you took to get this working. To those of you following these articles who wrote to ask for this please take a moment to write a thank you note to the Fox News development team. Write and put Attention: Web Development Team – Thank You in the subject line.

Edit Fri Sep 11 14:53:35 CDT 2009: update our shopping URL.

Does Hate Linux Users?

(See this follow up article: Guess What? Fox News is Responsive to the Linux Community.)

This will be a short web log post. Try to view the Video page at from a Linux system using any browser and see what happens.

I see these results. The first is Firefox on Linux the second is Opera on Linux.

Fox News Video in Firefox on LinuxFox News Video in Opera on Linux

Up until recently there was no problem viewing video content on Fox News Video web pages. Apparently some Microsoft and Apple Only types have taken over the video content pages for Fox News. I for one would appreciate it if these large organizations would stop trying to pretend that Microsoft and Apple are the only games in town.

Please alert each person you know in the Linux community to take action and send polite messages or make polite phone calls about this. We are likely to get more results being polite than trying to rip off their heads and puke down their bleeding necks. Here is how to contact them:

  • Phone calls in the USA: 1-888-369-4762
  • E-mail from anywhere:

I have already sent my e-mail:

Date: 04/25/08 11:52 pm

Dear Fox News Online,

I am seriously disappointed that you choose to deny me access to your video
content because I only use Linux operating systems. Please change to a video
format that will work across all operating systems and most web browsers.
There are proper ways to do this and you were doing it well in the past. But
you choose to do otherwise. I appreciate your working to make it where all in
the Linux community will once again be able to view your video content. Thank
you for fixing it as I am sure you will.

Oh yes, I have a web log article about it. I have included this message there:

Micro$oft - Convicted Monopolist, restrictive licenses, limited choice
GNU/Linux - No monopoly possible, Open Source, FREE, lots of choices
Use GNU/Linux - (I like Mandriva) - Linux preloaded computers

Edit Sat Apr 26 06:21:12 UTC 2008: It appears I am not the only one to notice this and I am a bit late to the game: Fox News Videos at MozillaZine Forums

Google Sucks! (And Google Can Be Wrong)

I really loathe the fact that Google has decided to be Net Nanny for all of us. Go ahead and try this even if you dislike Google as much as I do. Go to the Google main page and type in, including the quotes, “” and click their [I’m Feeling Lucky] button. Did you see something similar to the following page?
Google Sucks 000
If you did not see a similar page and went straight to one of our Blog pages then you may ignore the rest of this post if you wish. However, even if you did not see something similar then take a minute to read this article at PC World“Is Google Falsely Flagging Harmless Sites?”. Then take another minute or two and read “What To Do When Google Tells People Your Website Is Dangerous?” at and come back to read the rest of this article, I’ll wait…

Glad you’re back. Now read this message I sent today (the day of this article).

From: ERACC Webmaster (ERA Computers & Consulting)
Subject: Review our web log
Date: 04/15/08 12:11 pm


Google has automatically flagged our web log as "dangerous" and it has been
flagged since January of 2008 when we had a bot attack that inserted some
popup messages for online gambling in our WordPress web log. While I agree
that online gambling is evil I strongly disagree that those actually made
*our* site "dangerous". Following the URLs to the gambling sites might have
been "dangerous" for those with a gambling addiction.

Since Google apparently flags sites automatically and our web log was clean
and updated with a new WordPress within a few days I have been awaiting the
automated removal of that warning and it has not happened. Apparently I was
working with a false premise that automated warnings *should* be quickly
removed by automated follow-up checks. After all, Google is still indexing
our blog.

While researching this I found references to other sites also abused by Google
and found this e-mail address to use for arbitration. Review the site and
have Google take that warning off.


I understand this takes up to 10 business days. I would of course prefer to
have the warning removed "yesterday" but I can continue to be patient. Thank
you for your time.

ERACC Webmaster

I am actually skeptical that this will work but am willing to wait and see as, apparently, my only alternative is to sign up for Google’s Webmaster’s Tools and supposedly use something in that to get our site reviewed. I think I will sign up for a Google “service” the day Sol goes supernova or somewhere near the end of time … or under duress to have our web log cleared, can you say extortion? I knew you could.

I have said before I seriously dislike Google for personal and political reasons and refuse to use Google “services” for the most part. Some, not all, of my reasons follow. I felt dismayed but took a “wait and see” attitude when Google took over the USENET archive formerly at Then I decided to be angered when Google put a web face on the archive and started their own web “forums” which include USENET. Why get angry? Because this allowed pretty much any troller with a cause to have the ability to post near anonymously to USENET thus breaking traditional filters. Yes, one can filter out posts from “Google Groups” but unfortunately that is a broad shotgun filter that also gets many legitimate posts to USENET. I was further turned off when Google started using their search engine for “in your face” advertising revenue by putting “sponsored” results at the top of a search. I understand the desire to profit off of one’s labor and would have no problem with the advertising that shows up to the side in a Google search. But ranking paid advertising at the top of a search is too much in my face for my taste. In my mind all the above are unforgivable sins. I know there are others that have similar views to mine shown here. My more esoteric personal and political reasons for disliking Google I will keep to myself.

This little fiasco with Google disrespecting our web log is just a bit more sewage in the septic tank of Google that helps solidify my resolve to use Google searches only under protest (as of now I prefer AltaVista although I loathe their copying of Google’s “sponsored” results at the top of a search). As for signing up for a Google service … yeah, right.