Give a Little Bit

Every person on the planet who uses information technology owes debts of gratitude to literally hundreds of people they will never know, or meet — those people who contribute their personal energies and efforts to the creation of free software and technologies that benefit us all, while asking nothing in return.

It is a labor of love, passion and obsession for these creators. And their greatest reward is seeing that their labors are useful and appreciated.

Some are nearly silent and invisible, working away for years on things we take for granted, with no recognition, and often intentionally so. Others, more loud and boisterous, who can draw and rally and prod.

Every large and small profit-seeking organization that uses or develops information technology exploits the work and and passions of these people, be it Google, Apple or Microsoft, some network switch vendor, a small website developer, SaaS provider, or even a writer making a blog post.

It’s the year’s end, yet again. Please consider donating some of your cash, if you have it to spare, to these people who do so much for us, and whose numbers we will never really know. For all they have done for you, and all they have empowered you to accomplish yourself.

It’s hard to single out people to give rewards to, in such a democratic sea, when viewed from above. But some organizations exists who blanket much good work.

Here is a small list that I give to. All are tax deductible non-profits.

Free Software Foundation, Inc. is the “original”. There is no way to estimate the value of what this organization and people have done, and the impact of what their ideas and efforts have had. And they continue to be a very important guiding light — some would say the ethical center — of free and open. This, in addition to providing key technical foundations.

Software in the Public Interest, Inc. is another venerable organization that gathers funding for many free and open software projects, including Debian (to which I owe so much), PostgreSQL, LibreOffice, Arch Linux, even such stuff as FFmpeg… 🙂

The Mozilla Foundation has been instrumental in helping push web development in free and open ways, as well as technically good ones, and they are in many ways the last bastion of any privacy hope we may have in browsers. Not to mention a great email client for home and business, Thunderbird.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn’t do much directly developing software and technologies, but they are critical to helping us keep good government and legal standards in place to allow  freedom and innovation to thrive.

Personally, I feel so incredibly happy that these organizations exist, and that people made the effort and took the risks to create them, and that I can help propel them along in my own small way.

EFF’s Web Browser Tracking Tester – My Results

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced an update to Panopticlick 2.0 — a web-based utility that analyzes your web browser’s current capabilities, settings and behavior as it is visible to outside people, to help you understand how your privacy is maintained.

It’s an interesting question, the issue of privacy, when considering the accessibility and use of so many “free” services. The fact is, our privacy is the currency we often trade in money’s stead.

This growing realization is prompting many people to find ways to start protecting their privacy. This is a challenge, despite whatever means they discover, particularly considering the largest marketing company around, Google, also provides people with the most widely-used web browser, Chrome.

Running Panopticlick 2.0 from the Chrome web browser yielded the following result for me:

Chrome Web Tracking

It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. I don’t, however, use Google’s Chrome browser, except when I have no choice, which Google makes sure is often enough. For example, you can’t edit your photos stored on Google unless you use Chrome. You can’t use hangouts unless you use Chrome. Or use Google Voice. And if you’re using Linux, in order to use Chrome, you must give Google root access to your computer by installing Chrome as a system repository.

So I use Firefox for nearly everything that isn’t a Google service, as a sort of compromise. I actually find Firefox is a much better experience for me, too, regardless of ethical considerations. I also use the EFF’s Privacy Badger plugin, which helps thwart tracking. The result of the same test run above with Firefox, using Privacy Badger is the following:

Web Tracking with Privacy Badger

I honestly don’t mind ads on sites, as long as they are not obtrusive or intrusive — or malicious. And Google provides some of the least obtrusive ads out there. However, they also provide some of the most intrusive, in that they know the most about you.

I use Google’s Ads on my site here. Despite getting around 100 or so visits per day, I haven’t made any money from them yet. Not one cent. Yet I’m giving Google the information that you’ve come here to read this. Unless, of course, you’re using something like Privacy Badger to block the ads, like I am. 😉 I don’t know how much you could really block using an add-on, if you’re using Google’s Chrome browser though.

As an interesting aside, I ran this test on Microsoft’s Edge web browser. It surprised me! They actually have some partial protection for people going on. Well done Microsoft!

Web Tracking Microsoft Edge

The funny thing is, if you click on “Install Privacy Badger” in Microsoft Edge, you get taken to the Google Chrome store to install a Chrome plugin. The EFF really needs to fix that.