broken telephone and the hammer which smashed it

Tracking Cookies, Analytics, and the GDPR. Or “How I learned to stop worrying and FUCK the European Union”

General Data Protection Regulation

Wikipedia: The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.

The General Data Protection Regulation, often referred to as the GDPR for short, is a European Union law taking effect in 2018. This law was crafted to address the problem of corporations exploiting the data they gather from consumers using their internet products, which has gotten completely out of hand.

Enter: The Problems

GDPR was rushed. This is most blatantly evident in the huge number of obvious per-use-cases where it simply does not apply. There’s a whole lot of exemptions made to allow for conflicts with other laws. They wanted to punish Facebook, and they did not take the time required to craft a thoughtful solution that will survive long term. I will try to address some of the more damaging issues introduced by this regulation.

WHOIS: A necessary public tool for the Internet to function

The first casualty in this story is the WHOIS service. When you register a domain name you are leasing a public resource from a limited pool of similar resources. For this reason it is absolutely necessary to ensure that every domain name registered is a real person, who is using their domain for real legitimate purposes. In cases where they are not, the domain is released back into the public pool so that someone more deserving can utilize it.

WHOIS not only provides a means of contacting the owner or maintainer for a particular domain, it also provides an important tool for diagnosing security problems such as being attacked from specific networks. It is necessary to use WHOIS to contact the appropriate administrator handling security on those networks.

Because of the terrible way in which GDPR has been executed, there has been a rushed effort to “fix” WHOIS to be compliant with GDPR. But WHOIS doesn’t need fixing, it works exactly the way it’s supposed to already. The problem is ignorance among the users, period.

Analytics, a god given right.

Another huge problem area is website analytics. GDPR places restrictions on the kinds of data that can be gathered using tracking and reporting software. But this is insanity, you can’t restrict what methods I use to monitor and police the activity of those accessing MY networks. I am 100% within my rights to scan and record 100% of your requests against my server, all of your page-viewing habits, and anything else I can think of. It’s my toy, and you’re touching it. You damn well better believe I’m recording your fingerprints and there is nothing anyone can do about that. When you are visiting my website you are not entitled to privacy. (I do respect your privacy, you just aren’t entitled to it). One nation cannot change this with some bullshit law, it’s a fundamental concept of property ownership, it’s older than the EU and more important.

The EU is Disintegrating. Why do their laws matter?

This is a contentious item to be sure but no less important. With the removal of Greece and then the United Kingdom, it is reasonable to assume that the European Union is already dead. It is too soon to assume that they will recover from the loss of two significant member nations. We don’t have a lot of historical precedent, but typically when a “union” starts losing members it is no longer a union. Why should the global marketplace conform to the laws of a failed nation? What gives the EU more authority on this subject than say, a collection of Third World nations? Nothing. It’s favoritism from “Western” nations. That’d be fine, if the EU weren’t crumbling, but all of the indications are that it is. Maybe we shouldn’t be betting on the losers.

So what’s the right answer?

FUCK man, how the hell should I know? The internet was not invented with privacy in mind. Encryption was an after-thought. Here’s a suggestion, why don’t we spend the next 5 to 10 years brainstorming and crafting an INTELLIGENT and BUG-FREE privacy protection treaty? The Internet is a global environment, and laws which regulate behavior on the Internet should only be those which all of us living on this planet can agree upon. This is really common sense that any properly educated adult could only conclude.

Why are you down on privacy rights?

I’m not. You probably realize if you’ve spent time on my blog I’m a die-hard privacy advocate. I also hate poorly crafted regulations, which is what the GDPR is. I wish they would have spent more time on it. I wish they would have consulted with more qualified experts. Maybe if they’d crafted the law on github and allowed the public to submit issues, the result would have been better. Heck all laws should be written this way.

Some Tips

There is a classic saying well known amongst grey-bearded hackers: “If you don’t want it known, don’t use the phone”. You should firstly assume that whatever you’re doing on the Internet, someone is watching it. If you want to protect your data you should encrypt it, and secure your computer against unauthorized spying. Visit ssd.eff.org for a lot of excellent tutorials on how to achieve this.

This Post is a Work In Progress

The consequences and fallout of the GDPR are still unfolding. I will be updating this post as I find more things to complain about which would surely have been caught if they’d spent a bit more time on the bill.

US Flag - Distress

Google’s “NoCaptcha ReCaptcha” product is slave labor.

Google are Crooks.

Google has been in trouble over their ReCaptcha product in the past, and they are bound to face the fire again. Their “NoCaptcha” service advertises itself as being user friendly, by presenting users’ with a single check box they click to pass the test. However it very rarely works like this, especially if you use any sort of adblocker or privacy protecting addons in your web browser. Most of the time it presents the user with a photograph, or a series of photographs, in a 16 square grid. It then asks the users to click on each square which matches a specific description.

If you don’t answer the captcha to Google’s satisfaction, the challenge becomes more annoying. For example after clicking a square you might have to wait for that square to reload. The time it takes that square to reload is adjusted by Google, based on how much they “trust” you. So while some users might only have to click 3 squares, others might have to click 6, and wait for as many as 10 seconds for other squares to reload. And then when you perform the tasks they demand and you click ‘verify’, it will often start the entire process over again, for no explicable reason as you answered everything correctly.

What is really going on?

What is actually going on here? Is the system broken? No. What is happening is Google has a massive database of images, billions and billions of images, and they are using the unpaid labor of millions of computer users to add digital tags to those images. “This Image contains a Car” or “This Image contains a Mountain” and so on. The entire system is automated. On it’s rosy surface it would appear as if the labor of those users is being used to improve the captcha system, but that’s not what it’s for. It exists to force millions of users to do the work that Google is required by law to pay people to perform.

This is slavery.

This is slavery. We haven’t tolerated slavery in this nation in nearly 300 years, but Google thinks they can get away with anything they want because they think the world depends on them. It doesn’t. We don’t need their stupid search engine, there are a number of 100% equally useful search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo, in fact some have found those engines provide better results for their searches. We don’t need their free E-mail service, as there are countless providers of that same type of service, none of whom use it to spy on their users the way Google has done for years. The truth is Google does not provide ANY valuable services to the world, and they are raping the information market in new and disgusting ways to make a quick profit.

Stop Google.

It’s time we put a stop to it. A class action lawsuit should be raised against Google again for their “NoCaptcha ReCaptcha” service, and the FTC needs to step in and force them to stop.