Tag Archives: internet

Goodbye Google, Hello DuckDuckGo!

Nothing is forever. I’ve recently made a change I want to share. We all use search engines, mostly without much thought. We type something in, look through the results, and click on a promising link or three. Most of us have been using the same search engine for years, and it’s probably Google. We’re used to it, and it seems to do a pretty good job. Why change? Sometimes change is good.

Goodbye Google

No, I haven’t stopped using the internet, nor quit using search engines — I’ve just realized that Google is no longer the Good Thing and Good Netizen that it once was. I’m not sure if their motto is still “Don’t be evil” but if it is they need to change it to better reflect reality.

Learning that they will now be keeping a permanent and uniquely identifiable  record of all activities (linked across all Google properties, too)  took me aback. Not just what I search for, but which results I actually click on. I’m not comfortable with them amassing all that data, and not comfortable with the thought of what could happen to it. Even if they claim that it is only for their own use, who knows what might change down the road and who they might sell it to. Furthermore, if I should ever become a target of law enforcement or government, I doubt Google would hesitate for even a second before turning my records over to authorities.

Same Search, Different Results

Even if you don’t think you have anything to hide (and I’ll even spare you the “slippery slope” speech just this once), there’s another problem with Google and how it uses the data it collects about you.  If you and I were to simultaneously type the same search string into Google, we’d both get the same results, ranked in the same order, wouldn’t we? One might think so, but one would be wrong. Google tailors the results to the individual user, based on history of his or her prior searches and click-throughs. Creepy, huh? You aren’t getting the best results, but rather the results Google thinks you’d want.

Hello DuckDuckGo!

Time to find a new search engine. Yahoo? They’re OK as an email provider and news aggregator, but I wouldn’t trust them with search. Bing? Even if I could stop wincing at the the name long enough to actually use it, why bother – it’s been proven to be repackaged Google results, despite their denials. Then I found this:

Enter DuckDuckGo – a search engine that doesn’t track me and doesn’t filter my search results.  It’s actually pretty cool, too. Not just a front-end that adds a layer of privacy, but a real search engine with some pretty cool features. And if you like to get involved, you can even join the community or work on development.

Call Me Google Free

I’ve successfully managed to deGoogle my browser, removing all references to Google from its various nooks and crannies, and adding DDG where appropriate and useful. While I don’t expect many of you will jump off the Google bandwagon just on my say-so, I really think you should at the very least read this and this to get an idea of what Google really does, and then make your own decision.

Comments Are Open

What do you think? Are search engine tracking and the “filter bubble” real problems? Or do you think I’m just being paranoid? After reading the facts, do you think you’ll change your search habits?

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Caution: Email BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) Not Always Blind

I’m Back!

I enjoyed a nice couple weeks in Quartzsite – a week of fun at Quartzfest followed by another week of peace and quiet on the desert to recover. Now it’s time to get back to blogging. Some of you are probably eagerly awaiting the next installment of Exploring RV Living. That will be coming soon, but today’s topic is very important and can’t wait.

Blind Carbon Copy

Many of us use BCC, or Blind Carbon Copy, when we send email. The BCC field is where we can add recipients that those in the TO and CC fields will not see. There are a few reasons it is commonly used. When sending an email to a large list of unrelated recipients, BCC protects the privacy of your list members, shields them from possible spam sources, and avoids cluttering up each recipient’s header with unnecessary addresses. It might be used to send an archive copy of a message to another email address you control. It is also used to send a surreptitious copy of a private email to a third party.

How BCC Works

When you compose and send an email, only one physical message is created and sent out from your computer, no matter how many recipients are listed in the TO, CC and even BCC fields. It is the job of the email server to parse the headers and send the individual copies to each listed recipient. The TO and CC fields should remain intact on each copy that is sent, so all recipients see the contents of those two fields. The BCC field should be stripped, so that no recipient sees the list of who gets a “blind” copy.

When BCC Fails

The process is not perfect. While it is rare, it is possible for the BCC field and its complete contents to be revealed to the parties which they were intended to be hidden from.  Unfortunately, there is not a strict protocol for handling BCC. Most sending servers will ether strip the BCC field completely, or will include it only in the copy to each BCC recipients, and then only containing that recipient’s address. Most receiving servers will provide additional filtering of the BCC field and strip or edit as necessary before delivering the message to the recipient’s mailbox.

Occasionally, however, header parsing fails and the BCC field appears. I recently experienced this. It involved mail sent FROM escapees.com, and recipients with yahoo.com, gmail.com, and mindspring.com addresses were able to see the complete BCC field. In fact, this was more than a freak error. Once discovered, a friend and I tried it repeatedly, with the same results each time.

This would suggest a bug or misconfiguration in the server at escapees.com — as the sending server, it should be primarily responsible for ensuring privacy of the BCC addressees. It also shows us that several popular email providers are happy to pass that field on to its clients unfiltered.

What You Can Do

BCC works as intended most of the time. If you are using it for cosmetic purposes to avoid header clutter or for sending yourself an archival copy, I wouldn’t worry about it.  In the instance of a failure, it’s doubtful it would cause anything more than mild embarrassment.

On the other hand, if you are using it to send surreptitious third-party copies, or in instances where one recipient seeing another’s email address would create a real security risk, then you are better off composing and sending individual copies to each person.

What About You?

Have you ever experienced BCC failure? Tell us what happened in the comments. What steps do you take to ensure the privacy of your email and its recipients?

Exploring RV Living – Staying Connected

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

As humans, most of us are social creatures by nature. We also need to stay on top of business communications, both personal and professional. While it remains a challenge to live a location-independent lifestyle, recent advances in technology have made it much less so, at least when it comes to communication.

Trip Down Memory Lane

Thirty years ago, mobile phones were an expensive toy for those who could afford it, or couldn’t afford to be without, and the internet was just getting its start. Twenty years ago, mobile phones were starting to be almost affordable for average people, and the internet was becoming popular with 56k dialup modems. Mobile internet was possible, but excruciatingly slow and prohibitively expensive.  Ten years ago, WiFi became popular, and cell-based mobile internet was just beginning to become faster and more affordable. Today, almost everybody has a cellphone, and wireless internet, while still slower and more expensive than wired, is affordable and tolerably fast.

Cutting The Cord

My cellphone is my only phone, and it was my only phone even when I lived in a regular house. It just made sense to me. For about the same price as a wired phone, which only works in my house, I can have a wireless phone, which works in my house as well as almost everywhere else. To me it was a no-brainer.  When I was ready to move from house to RV, the telephone was a non-issue, since I’d already made the transition to wireless.

Internet Options

There are a number of options for internet access. If internet isn’t a part of your daily routine, or you expect to only stay where there is WiFi available or nearby, then that’s a great option, and inexpensive or even free. Some people go with satellite. It gives decent speeds, and will work anywhere you have a view of the southern sky.  It is also expensive, both for the hardware and the monthly service. Setup and aiming of the dish can be finicky, but systems are made that automatically track the birds, even while in motion — for a price. Some people use cell-based internet by tethering their phone to their computer, or they use a dedicated device.

What I Use

For me, cellular was the best balance between cost and usability.  I have a cellular modem and router that gives me ethernet and WiFi connectivity whenever I’m within range of a cellphone tower. I have an outdoor high gain antenna and an amplifier to stretch that range and make sure I have the fastest connection possible (speed is directly related to signal strength). Speeds can range from slow-as-dialup in rural areas, to a respectable, if not blazing, one or two megabits per second.

Hello Radio!

The cellular system does a good enough job with phone and internet, but sometimes it goes down, and there are also plenty of places with poor or no coverage. That’s when amateur radio becomes more than a hobby. It becomes my only communication link. HF (shortwave) bands offer the ability to communicate with stations all over the country and even around the world. It offers true point-to-point communication that doesn’t rely on cellphone towers nor other infrastructure. One of the earliest uses of radio was to maintain contact with ships at sea, and it still serves that function today. There are also groups of RVing hams who keep in touch daily not only to keep track of friends’ travels, but also as a means of checking welfare and relaying messages when necessary. Formal message handling isn’t as common as it once was, but it is indispensable as a means of getting an important message to or from a traveler who is out of range of other communication methods. Ham radio also gives me the security of knowing if there was ever an emergency, be it on the road or at a remote campsite, I would be able to summon help. Amateur radio can even be used to send and receive email.

Neither Rain Nor Snow…

What about the mail? Even with email and the internet, and despite the decline in use of postal mail, there’s still a need for snail mail. But how? There are a number of options. If you tend to stay mostly in one general area, or frequently return to a particular town, you could get a post office box. While the US Postal Service offers the best rates, a third-party mailbox store offers the ability to receive packages from any carrier as well as an actual street address.

Follow Me

If you expect to be roaming far and wide, with no plans to regularly return to any “home” location, you’ll need your mail forwarded. You could get a trusted friend or family member to do it for you. This probably offers the best flexibility. They would be able to recognize potentially important mail and alert you to its presence. They could recognize and discard junk mail. If they follow your travels and know your habits, they’d be better equipped to anticipate your needs than a stranger at a commercial establishment.

There are a number of mail forwarding businesses that can do this for you. They will receive and save your mail for you, and, on your request, will send it on to the address of your choice — often General Delivery in the town you are staying in. These companies specialize in mail forwarding and offer many services (sometimes at an extra charge). You can call them and ask them to tell you what mail you have waiting, or look for a particular piece you may be waiting for. Some will even open and read you your mail to you at your request.

Mail-To-Email

There is a variation on the mail forwarding service. These services open all of your mail, scan it, and email you the scanned images. You can then instruct them, on a piece by piece basis, to shred, save, or forward the original.  There are varying options you can specify as to default actions for different types of mail, and pricing varies with features offered and options selected. This is a good plan for someone who has good internet or email access, wants the ability to read their mail as quickly as possible, and isn’t bothered by the thought that somebody else is opening and handling their mail.

Reduction Strategies

Along with forwarding, you’ll want to practice mail reduction, too, to save on the cost and frequency of re-mailing.  In fact, everyone should seek to reduce their paper mail to the absolute minimum as that will help reduce your ecological footprint. Cancel any catalogs and junk mail that you can. Even if you like reading catalogs, you can do that online. If you subscribe to any magazines, see if they are available on the web (sometimes as a PDF-like electronic version that attempts to mimic the print edition). Check with creditors and service providers to see if they offer electronic billing (online or email) — most do. You can even take that to the next step and do electronic bill pay to save yourself a stamp, a check, and a trip to the post office. You can even have predictable recurring bills paid automatically so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them.

As you can see, even though the government and many businesses would prefer you to have a fixed address so they know how to find you, it isn’t too hard to meet all your communication needs while maintaining freedom from location.

Your Turn!

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experience in the comments.