Google launches another war at web

I was going to put an exclamation mark after the title but I realized there’s no need as I don’t get surprised by hearing Google is doing something bad to the web. As Google does, they’re launching another attack on free Internet, this time by “Web Environment Integrity”.

Put in simple words, Google is giving developers an API through which they can approve certain browser configurations while forbidding others from accessing a service or a page. This means, assuming one implements it, one can prevent you from accessing their web page or using a service because you used Firefox instead of their choice of web browser.

The intro explains that the goal is to make sure the browser hasn’t been modified or tampered with in any unapproved ways. Given that Google is behind this, unapproved ways surely means whatever hurts Google’s tracking and data-harvesting.

See how you can read this post using your favorite web browser or RSS reader? That’ll no longer be the case if this WEI thingy is put in work. Do you use tracker-blockers on your browser for safe and painless browsing? With WEI they can force you to use the browser the way they want and it can force you not to block ads.

Imagine being forced to use an specific browser of their choice (not yours but theirs) and being tracked not by cookies only but by the browser itself (just like how Google Chrome does) and worse than that, imagine you’re blocked from accessing a web site because you tried to block trackers using an extension.

Well of course they claim that’s not the goal but what’s stopping them? Google has a long history of abusing users and collecting personal information to sell or use for advertisers. Google is not a hero when it comes to keeping promises and they’re not trusted with people’s data.

In the “non-goals” section of the project, it says they don’t want to “interfere with browser functionality, including plugins and extensions.” That’s a promise to not killing ad-blockers, even though the project mentions better advertising support as some of its goals.

It’s dangerous. Google will do anything to collect more and more information from users and to fight those who resist it. It’s dangerous to privacy, security, freedom, and integrity of open web. It will cause a lot of problems for people which are far more bigger than whether we see or not see advertisements.

Think about political activists who are forced to browse web using Chrome instead of Tor and their data is collected by someone who sells them to tyrannical governments. Imagine a human rights campaign organizer being forced to give away personal data and the whole campaign being compromised because of it. The Internet and web were never completely safe but imagine the last traces of privacy being wiped for the profit of a company and some CEOs.

It’s against everything that we stand for but most importantly it’s against our freedom. It’s targeting our freedom of choice, freedom of computing, freedom for information, freedom for Internet and people using it, and freedom of us against tyranny. We should fight against it. It’ll destroy what’s left of our free web and Internet.

Move people to free software

Meta (formerly Facebook) has recently published a social networking app to compete with Twitter. It’s named Threads. Threads allows users to create text-based posts with up to 500 characters, share photos, and upload videos up to five minutes long. It looks similar to Twitter, with an interface that gives users the option to like, comment, repost, and share threads.

Users can choose to log in with their Instagram usernames or create a new account. Threads does not currently support ActivityPub, but there are plans to integrate the protocol later down the line.

The plan to support ActivityPub is good news. However, the app is proprietary and it will be privacy-violating. The app is not available in the Europe due to the EU’s strict privacy regulations. That’s how dangerous it is for people’s privacy. (Update: I came to realization that them supporting ActivityPub is not actually good news!)

But privacy issues aside, Meta is a huge proprietor. The news about supporting ActivityPub, which is the protocol behind the fediverse (most notably Mastodon), should not misguide us about the nonfree app. We should move people to free software and open networks. The solution to Twitter, and the opportunity we now have, is to guide people to use free programs and networks such those that build Mastodon.

People should be in control of their computing and that’ll be possible only by using free software. Using social networks such as Mastodon which are built upon the idea of openness and freedom will encourage people to learn more about the issues we’re worried about and will enhance the ability of activists in our movement to promote freedom more and more and help more people understand what we stand for.

We should help our developers and activists to teach more people about freedom now that we have the opportunity to move people from proprietary software to freedom.

Community versus Corporation

If you still haven’t heard about it, Reddit community and moderators are protesting because of the social network’s new policy and price change that threatens third-party and individual developers.

Reddit’s my favorite social network. Well it’s flawed and I don’t use it for many reasons such as privacy concerns, centralization, corporate control, etc. but the idea behind it and the communities and people who are active on it make it one of the greatest social networks of all time.

As much as I like Reddit, I believe the corporation behind it makes it fundamentally impossible to build a real community-powered and people-driven network. Reddit’s benefits and decisions over their policies are based and focused on development of the corporation and financial factors while the communities focus on their interests such as building relationships with one another and producing and sharing better material with each other.

To protest the recent API prices Reddit has set many moderators have made their subreddits private. In the first few hours of the protest it made huge inconveniences for the social network. Reddit was reported down partially and many people had trouble accessing it.

Some moderators participating in the protest received messages from the company saying to reopen their subreddits or be removed from their positions. Many large subreddits have reopened out of fear that their mod teams will be forcibly replaced. However, many continued the protest in another ways, most notably being focused on John Oliver and posting only about him. That is hilarious and surprisingly clever.

Reddit tries to be community-driven. Meaning that you don’t follow people there but you follow or join subreddits (or communities) of your interest. Then you can see the people (who have the same interest of yours) posting in those communities. The idea is amazing but the interference of the company in how communities are working and how the communities who build the network (Reddit social) and make it possible are acting make it impossible for the network to be truly a community.

A corporation taking advantage of people’s desire to be active in their favorite communities, that’s what Reddit is currently. I would offer a decentralized free software alternative for Reddit, called Lemmy, but I know that may not suite many people and it certainly won’t be a good answer to all the work that has been done over the years by the amazing communities of Reddit, but that may be a good start.

We need free and open passwordless login

It’s been a while since Google introduced its passkey login system which users won’t need to set and remember passwords in order to log in to their accounts. Now, Google is giving its users option to switch to passkey-only login for their accounts.

It simply works like this on your mobile phone (which needs biometrics implemented): type your username, pick a passkey, scan your finger/face. I’m not gonna lie, this is absolutely awesome. It’s a wonderful feature which makes logging in and signing up pretty easy and not a pain in the ass.

However, being forced to use biometrics to be able to use this feature is not what many people such as myself would like. I would like to be able to set a pattern to log in or type a pin or password on my mobile phone. I don’t like to share or store my biometric data (such as fingerprints and/or face scan) with my mobile phone no matter how safe or privacy-promising they are.

Also, this system is built using proprietary software. The passkey is a certificate that gets stored on your device. Your device shares a signature (not the certificate) with the service you’re signing into to prove you have access to the certificate. But they’re issuing you the cert through their proprietary software.

1Password’s passkey page also has a video saying that passkeys weren’t open enough. The video says, “Today’s solutions don’t deliver on that promise of openness and interoperability. If you create a password on your iPhone or Android device today, it’s pretty much trapped. It’s not easy to share, move it to another platform or sync with your preferred password manager. We can do better. And that’s why we’re excited to show you what the future could look like, if passwordless technology were more open.”

The whole passkey system is not something new though. The system works the way many public/private key systems, such as GPG/PGP, work. And our community, which is free and open, can build something like that. I would really like it if I could sign up on services giving them my public PGP key and when I want to sign in, I just sign a random message given to me to prove my identity.

Wouldn’t that be amazing? What I have in mind is simple. When I face a registration form, instead of setting a password or email address, i would like to paste my PGP public key in the form. Then system saves or remembers the public key and whenever I want to sign in, it generates a random message for me to sign. Then I sign the message using the private key which I have (and only me has access to it) and the system checks if the message is signed by the correct key and if it checks out, it logs me in.

Now I know it may sound kind of hard to do or more frustrating than simply typing your password or clicking on your password manager button for it to insert it for you but wouldn’t that be a good signing and logging system to use? Isn’t that more private than what we already have? And it can be synced with whatever device we have or want. We just need to sync our secret keys using infinite libre tools we already have.

And the amazing part is that it can be built using free software only. No proprietary program is needed to implement this and even password managers can implement and use it and it won’t be limited to any kind of operating system or computer.

What I’m proposing may not be perfect or even easy for many users but I’m sure it can be improved and it’ll work way better for everyone and it won’t be limited to big tech to decide who and how people can use it. If you have any idea or suggestion about this please inform me or, better, publish a blog or a social network post and send me the link so we can discuss it.

And if there’s a legal thing behind using ideas or anything, I have not read or heard a similar idea so if you though or have wrote about this before I did, I’m sorry. If you want to build a system based on my idea, you won’t need any permission so just go ahead. Although I would be happy if you inform me so I know somebody is working on something like this.

Free software, free society, in practice

It’s been hard times for Internet and my people. Internet situation is getting worse every day and people are facing more shutdowns and censorship. These shutdowns are not even reported because the regime is switching its form of censorship from a blacklist type to a whitelist type.

It means that every site and service is blocked by default unless it’s whitelisted. This way the regime can still claim the internet is working while also denying access and preventing people from using a service.

However, people are still resisting this. Using free (libre) tools and services, many are helping others to gain access to free Internet. I now see people providing VPNs to each other. These VPNs are created using open protocols and free (libre) programs. Young and unexperienced people are now trying to learn more about how networks work and they are teaching each other about these so more and more people can access free Internet.

I see people brag about how they’re using open source software and they are very happy about beauty of it. The same people who were denied access to services because of sanctions or even censorship now are building their own tools.

I try to teach them about the philosophy of free software and the movement behind it and how they are basically advocating for the same principals I fight for and I see the pride in their eyes.

I, now, am seeing the motto of our movement. I now see “free software, free society” in practice and I see it by my own eyes how free software, its philosophy, and programs built under free licenses are actually working and taken in action to help people fight for their rights and freedom and let me tell you something, I’ve never been more proud of myself and every single person in this community.

This is our work in practice. This is what we’ve been telling people all these years in action. This is thousands (if not million) of people actually using and advocating for free software in order to fight tyranny and in order to achieve an live in a free society. Every time we advocated for software freedom,, every time we refused to use a proprietary software, every single one of our actions have been resulting and leading us to this.

It’s such a beautiful time for our movement and you probably didn’t know about this. This may be happening, and I believe it’s happening, every day somewhere and we don’t notice it but we should be very proud. I know it’s there, I know it’s happening, and I am proud. You should be too.

I’m NOT changing my license!

I was reading Zen Habits and it made me thinking about changing my blog’s license to public domain and I was going to do it. But I thought about it and I thought about it hard and I realized then I might change the license of any code or program I wrote to public domain as well, and it felt wrong.

I’m a free software person. I care about software freedom and that’s why I advocate for GNU GPL family of licenses. GNU GPL license makes sure that you have freedom to do anything with your copy but you have to keep it free. If I truly advocate for freedom, I think I wouldn’t want my piece of software to become proprietary. And I thought the same argument goes for other forms of published work.

I want people to be able to do whatever they want with my published works, and I sometimes don’t even care if they give me credit, but the difference my Creative Commons license makes is that it requires people to keep the work under the same license. They can do whatever they want, even profit from it financially, but they don’t have the right to limit other people from freedoms they were given to.

The GNU GPL family of licenses do the same. If you publish your code or program under the GPL, the users will be entitled to the four essential freedoms but they won’t be able to make the software proprietary. If you license your work under BSDs or Expat, you’ll give the user right to prevent other people from benefiting of the same rights you gave the user.

I care about freedom. Free culture is as important to me as free software but also as much as I advocate for copyleft in software, I advocate for it in other forms of publications. I believe the right to freedom in any matter should not be put in hands of someone else thus someone should not be able to restrict other people from the freedoms they are are benefiting from.

If I was given the freedom to walk in a beach, I shouldn’t be able to build walls and restrict others from enjoying the beach. I was given the freedom to speak, then I shouldn’t be able to restrict other people from speaking. That’s how copyleft works. You’re enjoying your freedoms thus you can’t limit others. You can share what you have if you want only if you spread the freedom you were given.

The purpose of AI

About a year ago when we talked about artificial intelligence and machine learning, what we meant was a machine getting used to some routines or somehow understanding an algorithm and order of matters happening so it can respond in a certain way. That may sound complicated but in comparison to what we are experience right now, it’s quite simple.

What we have right now is marvelous and very much advanced. Of course it will improve day to day and maybe another year from now what we currently have may seem even stupid but we got to compare it to what we had before to see how much progress we made.

However, the real purpose of AI and the path we’re going is not exactly what I believe we had in mind when we first started working on it. We built artificial intelligence to make our lives easier so we can be able to focus on what truly matters to us as human race. I believe when we started the machines and when we first started to replace part of the labor and work with automatons what we had in mind was to finally replace humans with machines not in what we enjoyed doing but in what we believed is exploiting our essence.

Today, with all the improved codes and computers running AI, we are forgetting what we had in mind when we first started. We are now experimenting with artificial intelligence that writes essays and articles for us. We are experimenting to hand over what we were pleased to do to a robot. Writing an article had a purpose of sharing ideas and teaching people of a point of view. Now we are training robots to prove points for us, like if we’re in a war.

We are not all internet trolls who are fighting and trying to win an argument at all costs. We are people of reason and intellectual who have good will and intentions in our souls and bodies, so we don’t need a robot to write an article on our behalf and prove, in any way, that our point is valid. What is the point of that article if it prevents us from thinking?

We are now experimenting robots and so-called intelligence that is creating art for us. Art used to be an escape for us humans. It was a form of creation that made us feel needed, made us feel empowered, it gives us a way to invent a new reality for ourselves in which everything’s placed according our will and ideas. And the satisfaction was not from the result or what others would see, it was from the work we put in it and every detail that we thought about and cared deeply with passion to create a thing with our bare hands.

Now there’s a robot that will learn from what others have created and you just tell it to create a portrait of unicorn with purple scary eyes and it will give it to you in few seconds. Where is the fun? Where is the satisfaction? Who is the real artist here? Is it you? Is it the robot? Is it the creator of the robot? Or is it the actual creators of portraits that the machine learnt from them?

Machines supposed to write our emails and clean our houses and run our factories and bring us food so we can focus on art and philosophy and everything else we enjoyed. We are going to the wrong end on the wrong road. We weren’t supposed to create machines that mass produce art so we can focus on labor, it was quite opposite.

I believe it is wrong and it should be prohibited. We all have seen movies like Matrix that machines finally enslave the human race and forced us to do the labor but what we’re doing now is to do it voluntarily. We were frightened that machines some day can think for themselves and purge us all or force us to give up on what we truly loved and now we are happily training them to do what we love and replace us where we love to be and force us to where we always hated.

This article could be produced with an AI. I just needed to write a question that “how modern AI will act like Matrix and replace us from creators of art and put us to labor instead?” and it would most probably write the same arguments. It’s nice because then I could argue that even the machines know it but happily machines don’t think.

They don’t think so they should not be put in a position to decide for an important matter. Happily, we’re not there yet but we have started to put them in an important place to think instead of us and replace us in where I consider one of the most important aspects of humanity which is art.

Instead of developing intelligence to create art, we should use this intelligence to better our farming and food producing and solve human crises like hunger, education reform, environmental issues, and freedom-related matters.

I believe that is the true purpose of AI and that is what we need to do.

Aim for freedom tech

While people are still publishing their end-of-the-year lists and new year resolutions, and while people are still debating about whether social networks should provide a safe space or a complete free speech environment, many people around the world are struggling to connect to internet.

The situation in Iran is terrible right now. Internet is heavily censored and people are facing shutdowns on a daily basis. Almost all popular messengers, including WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal are blocked and there are reports of instances of federated messengers, such as XMPP and Matrix, being blocked as well.

Almost all popular social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and many instances of Mastodon are blocked and people can’t use them freely. Even if they can use them, their posts may be used as evidence of criminal activity, labeled as “action against national security” or “combat against God” or even “insulting the supreme leader.”

The free VPNs and anti-censorship tools are blocked as well, ironically. No popular VPN is working as intended and people rely on paid domestic VPN providers which on many cases are very dangerous. They either give away users’ data to authorities or are designed as spyware. This leaves people vulnerable to a lot of harm simply for trying to connect to free internet and get free flow of information.

The goal of every developer focused (or even not focused) on human rights should be providing and developing tech that can help people access free internet and information. Anti-censorship tools and new tech that can send and receive data.

One example of this effort is the awesome project of Toosheh. They are a satellite filecasting technology deployed in Iran and the Middle East that use common satellite equipment to deliver digital content without relying on access to the Internet. I have no idea how many people receive information and needed stuff from this project but this is a very useful and helping project.

In recent days, I’ve heard WhatsApp is deploying a feature that lets people connect to the messenger using proxies. This probably is the same effort done by Telegram and Signal. Many people in Iran are using MTProto proxies to be able to connect to Telegram and communicate with each other. Telegram is the second (if not first) most used messenger in Iran. Similar proxy feature was added to Signal but I doubt that many people use it. WhatsApp providing proxies will be very much appreciated by the public as many people rely on WhatsApp to communicate with each other.

As much as I advocate for free (libre) technology and software, in this situation, connecting people is far more important to not only me but everybody who is concerned with the situation we are facing in the country.

If you’re a software/hardware person or a techie, you surely can help developing tools to help people not only in Iran, but every other place or people needing tools to access basic available daily stuff such as a social network or a communication tool or even reading an article and getting information. You can contact your friends discussing the needs and required tools to get started. The simplest act can be running Snowflake extensions and help people connecting to free internet using Tor.

As I said, this is not just a matter of Iran. There are many reports of internet shutdowns or heavy censorship in India, China, countries of Middle East, Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, and many others. So, please, if you can do something about it, many people will appreciate your efforts.