All posts tagged ‘Browsers’

File Under: privacy, Web Basics

Twitter Improves Privacy Options, Now Supports ‘Do Not Track’

Twitter has jumped on the “Do Not Track” privacy bandwagon.

The company recently confirmed that it supports the Do Not Track header, a user privacy tool originally created by Mozilla that is in the process of becoming a web standard. That means if you visit Twitter in any web browser that supports the Do Not Track header, you can opt out of the cookies Twitter uses to gather personal information, as well as any cookies set by third-party advertisers.

Behavioral tracking, as such practices are often called, is a common on the web. Advertisers use cookies to track your clicks, watching which sites you visit, what you buy and even, in the case of mobile browsers, where you go. Often the sites tracking you are not just the sites you’ve actually visited, but third-party sites running ads on those pages.

And it’s not just advertisers tracking your movements, social networks like Facebook and Twitter also follow you around the web. You may not realize it, but Twitter has been tracking your every move for some time. The company doesn’t make a secret of it either. In a blog post announcing Twitter’s new “tailored suggestions system” Twitters Othman Laraki writes, “we receive visit information when sites have integrated Twitter buttons or widgets.”

To be clear, not only is Twitter able to set cookies any time you visit its own domain, whenever you visit a website (like this one) with a “Tweet This” or similar button Twitter can see you there as well. This practice is hardly unique to Twitter; Facebook, Google+ and others are doing the same thing.

Most of the time the information gathered is used to create a better experience for users. In the case of Twitter’s new “tailored suggestions” feature the information is used to build a profile of what you like and then Twitter makes suggestions based on that profile. You can read about exactly what Twitter does with your info and how long it keeps it in the company’s privacy policy.

The problem with such tracking is that it’s necessary for features we want, like smart, targeted suggestions — new users to follow, music you’ll likely enjoy, books you might want to read and so on — but it can also be used for decidedly less friendly purposes. As awareness of the downsides to such tracking become more well known a growing number of people are opting out of the tracking. The Mozilla Privacy blog reports that “current adoption rates of Do Not Track are 8.6 percent for desktop users of Firefox and 19 percent for Firefox Mobile users.”

To take advantage of Twitter’s new Do Not Track feature you’ll need to be using a web browser that supports the header. Currently that means Firefox, Opera 12+, Internet Explorer 9+ or Safari 5.1+. Chrome has pledged to add support for Do Not Track, but doesn’t just yet. For more information on protecting your online privacy, including tools like Ghostery, which go even further, blocking all tracking cookies, see our earlier post, Secure Your Browser: Add-Ons to Stop Web Tracking.

File Under: Browsers

Internet Explorer Market Share Surges, as IE 9 Wins Hearts and Minds

By Peter Bright, Ars Technica

The browser wars are back on in earnest. For the second time in three months, Internet Explorer made large gains, picking up almost 1 point of market share. Chrome, Firefox and Safari all lost out, as Internet Explorer 9 won over new users.

Internet Explorer gained 0.99 points for a 53.88 percent market share, taking it to a six-month high. Firefox is down 0.37 points to 20.55 percent. This is the lowest share the browser has been at since October 2008. Chrome is down a third of a point to 18.57 percent, Safari is down 0.17 points to 5.07 percent, and Opera also fell, dropping 0.09 points to 1.62 percent.

This is a strong performance from Microsoft, though it may come as a surprise to many. In mid-March, Web analytics firm StatCounter announced that Chrome had overtaken Internet Explorer for the first time ever: On Sunday, Mar. 18, for one day only, Chrome was the number-one browser. This seems at odds with Internet Explorer’s growth and Chrome’s decline.

StatCounter, however, is recording something slightly different from Net Marketshare, the numbers we use for our monthly look at the browser war. StatCounter measures raw unadulterated pageviews. It doesn’t attempt to make any corrections for pre-rendering (Chrome will render pages ahead of time if it thinks that the user will look at them, boosting its number of pageviews), it doesn’t attempt to count unique visitors, and it doesn’t attempt to use geographical weighting to account for uneven visitor demographics. (Some sites are more popular in the United States than China, for example, so their browser usage will tend to be more representative of American users than Chinese ones.)

StatCounter’s numbers are still interesting as a measure of web usage, but Net Marketshare’s numbers, which do try to account for things like the geographical variation, are a better measure of browser market share — that is, the number of people using each browser.

A look at the version breakdowns for each browser reveals how Microsoft has made these gains.

Internet Explorer 9 has picked up 2.6 points of share in the last month. This is its strongest month since its release. Internet Explorer 8 fell by almost the same amount, dropping by 2.19 points. Internet Explorer 7 dropped a fraction, down 0.09 points, and Internet Explorer 6 picked up 0.66 points.

The numbers suggest that Internet Explorer 8 users are switching to Internet Explorer 9 in relatively large numbers, particularly on Windows 7: 34.5 percent of Windows 7 users are using Internet Explorer 9.

Microsoft has been vigorously promoting Internet Explorer 9, most recently with a campaign that encourages nerds to give Internet Explorer a second chance; the latest part in a broader campaign to educate users and explain to them that Internet Explorer 9 really isn’t the same as the much-hated Internet Explorer 6.

On top of that, the company is continuing to use automatic updates to move Internet Explorer 7 and 8 users onto the latest version.

Together, these factors seem to be driving upgrades to the current browser version, and users are actually sticking with it rather than switching to other options.

Chrome’s update story is the same as ever. Its automatic update process is reliable, consistent, and effective, keeping the large majority of Chrome users on the latest and greatest version of the browser.

Firefox continues to have a large number of users on version 3.6 and below. The final update for 3.6, version 3.6.28, was released on Mar. 13. Unless there’s a security emergency, there will not be a 3.6.29: Support for 3.6 ends on Apr. 24. Firefox users wanting a browser with long-term support but without six-weekly major updates will have to switch to Firefox Extended Support Release 10.0.4. Everyone else should switch to the current main branch, which on Apr. 24 will be Firefox 12.

Mozilla plans to make Firefox 3.6 offer an update to version 12 once the end of its supported lifecycle has been reached. This means that Firefox 3.6 users should start to decline. However, as with the die-hard group of Firefox 3.5-and-below users that still exists, it’s unlikely that they will all opt to do so.

Automatic, silent updates are still being developed for Firefox. The latest 32-bit nightly builds (version 14) include automatic updates that do not show any UAC prompts on Windows. They’re not yet silent updates, though this too is planned. Until these things are finished, the browser will struggle to have transitions as smooth as Chrome’s.

In mobile, iOS users continue to outnumber Android users, with the surprising implication that Android users don’t actually use the web very much on their smartphones.

At Ars, however, Chrome and Android are dominant.

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

File Under: Browsers, Web Basics

Bad Browser, No Donut

The Monkey is back from an extended vacation spent surveying the state of the internet around the world. I’m happy to report that things are, well, things are good, but far from perfect. Having spent the last eight weeks with unreliable, often very slow, internet connections we’d like to tell you about something we now consider evil — rapid release cycles for web browsers.

Why? What’s wrong with getting the latest and greatest out to users as fast as possible? When it comes to security, nothing. When it comes to so-called features there are two annoying things about the release cycle that both Google and Mozilla have adopted for the Chrome and Firefox web browsers.

First and foremost the web browser has turned into a version of Windows XP — constant updates continually sap your bandwidth. In Chrome’s case that means surreptitiously downloading new versions in the background. For most that’s no big deal, but when you’re on a tiny island in Indonesia, and have waited hours for the clouds to clear so the line of sight wifi link to the larger island works, it’s annoying to have your limited bandwidth choked further by an updating browser. You might even curse the local internet some more before you realize, oh, it’s just my browser choking my internet connection so it can update itself. Isn’t that helpful. I mean why would I want to access the web when I have this awesome web browser to play with?

So I ditched Chrome and moved on to Firefox. Firefox is slightly better behaved, at least asking if I wanted to download the latest update. But Mozilla plans to do away with that in future updates. And frankly they might as well, it gets annoying to have dialog boxes flying open every time you start up your web browser.

For most people the bandwidth concerns might not be a big deal, but I can assure you that outside the bandwidth-rich countries most of us call home, bandwidth constraints remain a very real problem. There’s nothing quite so annoying as waiting for your web browser to update so you can load a website, which is really the only reason you have a web browser.

The second major annoyance about the constant update model is that — particularly in the case of Firefox — it means constantly breaking add-ons. What’s doubly galling about this problem is that often the add-ons work just fine, they just haven’t updated the version string to match the latest Firefox release. The user is left with a choice — don’t update, don’t get whatever security fixes might accompany the flavor of the month UI redesign; or, update, but be left with a browser that can no longer do the things it did moments before (thanks to now disabled add-ons).

Imagine trying to build a house and your hammer decided to re-invent itself every couple of weeks, sometimes disabling your screw driver in the process and other times adding a pair of pliers you don’t need. That’s pretty much where web browsers are at today.

I was somewhat heartened to find, on my return to the States, that I’m not the only one to have grown thoroughly disenchanted with the new “let’s update every day” approach of browser makers.

Software development veteran Dave Winer calls Firefox’s new approach a form of corporate suicide, and neatly sums up what a web browser used to be, should be:

Browsers should be like the lens in my glasses. If you’re thinking about it, your attention is in the wrong place. You use a browser to look through, at other things.

Can I get an amen? Web browsers have, as Winer points out elsewhere in his post, approached where text editors were 10 years ago, namely, feature complete. Done. Nothing more to add.

What’s interesting on the web these days is not the browser, but the web. The browser is just a window into the web. It’s already feature complete — you can see the web. The browser doesn’t need new features, it needs to be faster and support new standards. What most of us want to do is look through the window at the web and interact with people inside the web. Unless you’re really into productivity porn you probably don’t care about yet another way to order and sort your tabs.

With decent HTML5 and CSS 3 support available in all the latest releases from the major browser makers, the browser is, at least for now, done. Will browser makers one day create some feature that blows us all away? Perhaps, but in the mean time could you please stop screwing with our window, we just want to see the web.

For the curious, I must report that somewhere in my travels I became a huge fan of Opera. Opera doesn’t want to update every time I open it, it has all the features I use regularly and, perhaps more importantly, Opera Turbo really does vastly improve browsing on a slow connection.

[No donut image by kabelphoto/Flickr/CC]

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File Under: Browsers

Chrome 10 ‘Obliterates’ Your Browsing History

Version 10 of Google’s Chrome web browser has entered the dev channel, available to those who enjoy living on the edge. This release features an update to the V8 engine that powers Chrome’s speedy JavaScript, a more refined preferences dialog and print and save options for any PDF files you view in Chrome.

If you’re already subscribed to the dev release channel you should be automatically updated. If you’d like to take the dev channel for a spin, Google has instructions on how to switch Chrome channels.

Of course the dev channel releases often have bugs and Chrome 10 is no exception. Commenters on the Google Chrome blog report that Google Sync no longer works with this release. If that happens to you, you might try disabling any startup flags you might have been using with previous releases, which reportedly solves the problem.

Along with the update to the JavaScript engine, this release features a number of bug fixes (particularly on the Mac platform) and some welcome refinements to the new tabbed preferences dialog. In addition to a better looking UI, the new settings page now has a search box to quickly find the preference setting you’re looking for.

Chrome 10 also features an updated message for the “clear browsing data” option on the preferences page. Instead of just deleting your browsing history and other items, you can now “obliterate the following items from the beginning of time.” We doubt that bit of linguistic whimsy will make it all the way to the stable release of Chrome 10, but it’s certainly more entertaining than the old “clear browsing data” message.

Provided Google sticks with its six week update schedule, Chrome 10 should arrive as a stable release in April 2011.

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File Under: Browsers, Multimedia, Security

Adobe Working on an Easier Way to Delete ‘Flash Cookies’

When it comes to erasing your tracks on the web, nothing is more pernicious and difficult to delete than the Flash-based cookie. Technically known as “local shared objects,” Flash cookies don’t go away when you clear your browser-based cookies. Instead they hang around, potentially collecting data without your knowledge or consent.

To delete Flash cookies you have to navigate through the Flash Player settings dialog. Unfortunately most users don’t know how to do that and Adobe has, until now, put very little effort into simplifying the process (it has at least made Flash respect the “private browsing” mode in modern browsers).

Now Adobe is finally taking some steps toward simplifying the process of deleting Flash cookies. The company has announced it is working on a new API that will allow your browser to delete Flash cookies along with the rest of your cookies. For now only Mozilla and Google are working on the API with Adobe, but presumably Adobe is talking to Microsoft and Apple as well.

While there’s no shipping code at this point, if the API were to make it into Firefox and Chrome it would give users an easy-to-find menu for quickly clearly Flash cookies. Adobe’s blog post says users can expect to see the changes “in the first half of the year.”

The move would no doubt by a small boon to privacy, but as Ars Technica points out, Flash cookies aren’t the only source of hard-to-defeat, persistant online tracking. For instance, the dreaded “evercookie” stores data in no less than 13 places and is nearly impossible for the average user to delete.

Still, for those annoyed at the complexities of deleting Flash cookies, things may soon, thankfully, get a bit simpler.

Miniature Food photo by Stéphanie Kilgast/Flickr/CC

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