Categories
Website whinging

The joys of recaptcha return

I’ve managed to avoid websites that use Google’s daft recaptcha thing until recently. But now PayPal wants it even though I log in and enter the SMS’d 2FA code. Despite clearing all cookies and probably-illegally stored crud it simply will not work on my Mac.

The daft thing is PayPal works fine on my iPhone – well, ok that’s the app version not the website. But I keep cookies disabled on the phone and run a cookie cruncher on the Mac. Even with that turned off recaptcha simply does not work on the Mac and it seems I’m the only one with an issue. Google hates me… but then, I rarely need to interact with it, given I use DuckDuckGo for searches and I have transferred almost all email that used to come to my Gmail account to a more reliable host.

Categories
Data protection Privacy

Proof of existence

In the march to get rid of paper records and have everything online it is becoming increasingly difficult to prove one’s details when signing up to, or dealing with a process still based on old school mechanisms such as requiring bank statements and proof of address. This, plus the fact that in becoming ever more online the World is requiring people to own and know how to use a mobile phone while having little, if any regard to the affordability of such an item. Cursory throw-away lines such as pointing people without online access at home to their public library is becoming increasingly moot with library closures and, not least with Covid19.

Examples of the complexities one may face are rife but here are two real-world examples, carefully crafted so as to not give any names away.

Person A works for organisation B and is changing roles within B. B needs two proofs of ID and two of address from A for the new role. However, A only has one proof of address, a bank statement. B states that a second bank account will do. A can open a bank account with another bank (C) online. C only needs a single proof of ID and a single proof of address, and A’s existing bank statement will suffice for the latter. Therefore, C has a lesser requirement for proof of ID and address than B and will provide a second proof of address to A to send to B. While one may argue that C has too low a burden of proof or that B has one too high one cannot get round the fact that B already has all the information It needs as it is A’s employer.

Another example. A needs government department B to change some details about property C. B will not accept the evidence available to A but government department D does hold valid details about C. B tells A to purchase these from D. Why? Both B and D are government departments. In this case A simply dropped the issue given they had informed B of an error in the records held by B regardless of whether or not B would do anything about it.

In both the above cases the organisation in question (B in each case) has access, directly or otherwise to the information that they require from A. In the first example via existing employment records, and in the second by simply requesting it from another department.

Now, in each case, if A had an official government-scheme ID card, as was proposed and shot to bits several years ago in the UK, B would not require any further information because all such information would be tied into the ID card provided to A. A hypothesis therefore exists that the establishment, governmental, quasi-governmental and commercial, are collectively making processes so hard for all the ‘A’s in the country that a future proposal for all citizens to be issued with ID cards will succeed by the mere fact that people are so fed up with having to find more exotic ways of proving their existence that they will not vote against it.

That cannot be right.

Categories
Cookies and tracking Privacy

Yup, more cookie observations

I have mentioned before that I have all cookies blocked on the phone. It’s a bit of a faff sometimes, I mean if I really need to access a site that requires a login or similar I need to re-enable cookies, do whatever I needed to do, then block cookies again, but it’s no big deal really.

And it is interesting to see what websites do not even need cookies to function, as well as which websites are so badly constructed that they do not even render anything with cookies blocked. Oh yes, and those websites that throw up a cookie banner but which still work once you are past that, of course with no actual cookies having been set.

As an example, I just visited a well known petition website to add my name. It showed the usual cookie warnings which I ignored and managed to sign the petition with no issues at all. I have an email confirmation so it worked just fine.

This brings me back to my question, should any website need to set any cookies before you enter a part that actually requires them to be set? I still say no.

Categories
Cookies and tracking Data protection Website whinging

Crumbling cookies

With the fines and threats imposed by France on Google and Facebook it was interesting to note that both Facebook and, possibly unrelated eBay had logged me out overnight and I had a new-looking consent form presented by Facebook in the browser and eBay in the app. The Facebook app has not changed and I am still logged in.

So I had a look at Google again, specifically google.co.uk. The cookie-wall – I’m calling it that because you need to agree to get past it – looks the same as the last time. Google sets two cookies on entry, one (NID) which my cookie crunching app defines as a tracker, and another called CONSENT with a 2038 expiry date. After a short while it sets another called SNID. More success on the iPhone where I keep cookies blocked. here, as before the cookie-wall appears and then vanishes.

My take on this is to question why Goole is setting these three cookies before I have consented to anything and, if they suggest that their product will not work without then why does it work without? To my simple mind nothing should set any cookies until I agree, and even then the only cookie that should be set if I do not agree is one indicating this so it knows next time. Of course, strictly necessary cookies are excepted, but I would argue that no such cookie is needed until I explicitly request a service for which they are required. This would, or at least surely should never happen on a websites entry page, with the exception of sites that require a login before one can access, and even there surely there will be a not-logged-in page where no cookies are required until one logs in.

Categories
Privacy Security Website whinging

Failed circular verification

So, you need access to a Google doc but when you log in Google senses that the PC has not been used before and is suspicious. It needs verification.

Ok, first off, this is not me. I have access to Google etc. And verification is a great idea. But there is a hole and as yet we’ve not found the bottom.

Verification is all very well provide you can actually do what is required. But what where your verification is your works telephone and you did not enter a mobile number, nor do you want to tell Google your mobile number anyway?

Google has ‘other ways’ to verify you. Following this path it sends you a code to an email address. The only email address in use was the works one. The code came but this is not enough. Google still wants to send a text to a phone – it still wants that mobile number you don’t want to put in. This ends up being circular, with another code being emailed and, once again another request for a mobile.

In the end it was quicker to ask the document owner to simply email it rather than trying to reach the bottom of the hole being dug by Google.

Categories
Cookies and tracking Website whinging

Google, sort-of positive

I know I whinge about Google from time to time but they do give me 15Gb of storage, of which I use a tiny amount and only for Gmail (which is also free of course). Having just received an email about account charges for dormant accounts or those using too much space I thought I would check, and managed to free up an extra 20Mb or so meaning I am using about 300Mb now for Gmail, much of which is me being too lazy to delete emails or pull attachments off onto local storage.

Yes, it does of course mean all those emails are sitting in Google somewhere and can be searched, but these days be honest, if you really don’t want The World to see something don’t put it on the Internet in the first place. Speaking as a privacy advocate and, indeed as a privacy researcher (Ph.D. in Internet privacy, 2017) you do need to take some responsibility for your own privacy. Encrypt important emails and let them scan all the remaining dross, ‘them’ here being all the nameless agencies around the globe rather than Google who, at the end of the day need to make money somehow in order to give us 15Gb of storage for free.

I’ve been in this game for a long time now and I remember Google when it was new. They made such a difference to web searches – anyone remember AltaVista? I ran Google Search Appliances for a number of years too which dramatically improved searches for our corporate websites.

But I will not stop whinging about the whole let’s track everyone across everywhere and see what they are looking for so we can tailor adverts to them… sorry.

Categories
Cookies and tracking

Another Google cookie change

I keep all cookies blocked on the phone unless I actually need to visit a site that uses them for a purpose that I decide is required, e.g. a login function. Even then, after I have finished and while still on whatever website it was I block cookies again and delete all web content (the iPhone option, YMMV).

Not long ago things changed at Google making it impossible to access unless cookies were enabled. I reported this at https://jmh.one/index.php/2020/10/30/google-learns/. Now this seems to have been reversed and once again I find I can visit Google and the cookie warning / acceptance box appears and then vanishes. For a while now I’ve been using Duckduckgo for web searches but the Google cookie-wall-box did prevent me accessing YouTube for a while. So it’s rather handy that the cookie-wall-box has somehow changed back to performing it’s useful vanishing trick.

Of course, this may all be unrelated to Google, or perhaps I am hitting a different node now and there are configuration differences, who knows. But it’s a useful feature/bug nonetheless.

Categories
Website whinging

Website crashes

Once again we see a company spiralling into nonexistence along with the associated sales on their website and the associated flooring of said website by people wanting to buy.

Surely it’s time that website designers actually sorted things like this out? Time and again companies and governments throw up websites which are backend heavy to the extent that once over a certain threshold the backend cannot cope and sulks off into the 500 corner.

While I can accept this – professionally speaking (or as was before I retired anyway!) – a small website crashing under unexpected load, I cannot accept that a website that is actually designed to provide a user experience under load is put together in a way that it falls over. This is the 21st Century and this stuff is not rocket science. It’s not a DDoS attack, it’s actual people wanting to access a website! Governments are not excepted from this criticism – we’ve seen what our own lot manages to do recently. And surely the crashes caused by everyone and their dog jumping at online shopping sites due to COVID should be fresh in the memory of every web designer?

Now, ok, getting real for a tad – yes there is bound to be a limit of what cash can buy where web hosting is concerned and budgeting for ‘what if’ situations can be hard. But look at some of the cloud based services where you can simply let it run wild and pay for the extra horsepower second by second as needed. Give the unpredictability I can almost – I stress almost – accept a queuing system, but what really gets me is that someone implements a queueing system which itself overloads and errors! Good grief…

Categories
Cookies and tracking Website whinging

Cookie madness

Just came across a website that takes the biscuit (or cookie in this case). It first threw up a box asking if it can set cookies with two options, agree or refuse. I refused. It then indicated it was deleting the cookies it had clearly set before asking, and diverted me to a Google page which, of course sets even more cookies, and throws up a typical Google-esque box demanding I agree or go into some extended q&a session. Ugh. Why do people still get this stuff so wrong?

Categories
Cookies and tracking Website whinging

Cookie bar confusion

I had reason to visit an information website today and caught sight of the cookie bar, helpfully placed at the bottom of the screen. One mark there for not having the usual almost-a-full-page cookie warning box. But it raises some interesting questions.

Consider the cookie bar:

Ok. Teasing that statement out logically, if one does nothing at all then one would surely not expect any cookies to be set. Well, six are, two of which are Google cookies and considered to be trackers. This is poor. If one clicks anywhere or clicks the Accept button then yes, cookies are set. Personally I do not agree with the ‘clicking into the content’ part and it raises a further question. If one is to determine what types of cookie to accept then it is necessary to click on the ‘cookie settings’ or the ‘cookie policy’. These are part of the same website and are thus part of the content. So, does clicking on either of these – a necessary function before one accepts cookies – constitute ‘clicking into the content’?

The cookie policy itself lists several Google cookies as strictly necessary. Personally, I would disagree with that as I am sure others would agree.

Cookies, other than those which are genuinely necessary for the website to function, are only supposed to be set with informed consent. This means the user needs to understand what the cookies are doing and then give a positive indication that they accept that cookies will be set. Most websites now give choices as to what classes of cookie can be set and this is useful. But many, many websites still set unnecessary cookies before the user even gives consent. To my mind, the only cookie that should be set regardless is the one that records ones cookie choices. I would consider that to be strictly necessary given what it does. Tracking cookies are never necessary for a site to function, and classes of cookie that are strictly necessary really ought to be limited to those for which a website cannot function without – for example, shopping carts, and even then the shopping cart does not need to be in place when one first visits a website. If a site has been designed which cannot function without cookies and has no cart (or similar) functionality at that stage then I would strongly suggest the designer has got it badly wrong.