Archive for May, 2012

Follow-up on privacy

May 18, 2012

There is still a lot of buzz around privacy on the internet, although the focus seems to be shifting to cybersecurity these days (I’ll have a post on this shortly). Here is a quick follow-up highlighting some of my earlier points about the market’s ability to provide privacy features (as opposed to central regulation by the federal government).

Many of these efforts seem quite recent (except search engine DuckDuckGo). I suspect they spawned in response the recent buzz on online privacy. They may subside if privacy indeed turns out to be an important consumer preference. But the fact that those privacy-sensitive search engines have been advertising consumer-friendly privacy policies for years without garnering a large user base seems to indicate that consumers had different priorities.


Two search engines heavily advertise their privacy features. DuckDuckGo offers a very clear privacy policy (not logging IP, user agent, and not using any cookies by default). It’s been online since 1998. Ixquick also offers some strong privacy claims and backs some of them with independent audits and certifications.

The privacy-at-a-glance project offers standardized icons and ratings to summarize a service’s privacy policy. 

MobileScope is a tool to find potential privacy-revealing flows in mobile apps. I don’t think this tool is meant for end-users, but it certainly would make it easier for a hacker to inspect an app and write a review. PiOS is another automated tool that can identify possible privacy breaches from iPhone apps, by inspecting the binaries of the application. TRUSTe offers a mobile SDK to implement user tracking and opt-out, and SiteTruth offers a browser plugin to tag ads with rating icons. Finally, Clueful reports what data different apps use and share (although it appears limited to free apps at the moment).

These efforts highlight how privacy features can emerge from a competitive marketplace: contractual agreements (improving privacy policies, standardized claims), third-party auditing (specialized firm and tools), and reputation (ratings and reviews). I wouldn’t be surprised if the app stores incorporated some additional privacy-related features in the near future as well.

Update: some alternatives which offer privacy-oriented offers.


Gravity Defying Cat – The Slow Mo Guys

May 4, 2012

Two geeks pointing a super-hi-speed camera at everything imaginable. Lloyd the cat also features in this video.

Penn & Teller : ‘Shadows’

May 1, 2012

A beautiful illusion which is now at the center of a copyright and patent complaint.

Is Price Gouging Immoral? Should It Be Illegal?

May 1, 2012

While high prices are undesirable and visible, the effects of trying to control prices down by law are worse. This analysis highlights those unseen effects and illustrates why well-intentioned policies often have negative and unintended consequences, ultimately hurting those in the most need.