WordPress Theme Developer to Use Code to Start Tracking All Sites Running Its Themes. Yikes!

Woothemes tracking

Almost two years ago, I wrote about the positive experience that I’d had with WooThemes when switching over to the current WordPress theme that powers 40Tech. I implemented several custom changes to the theme we use here, and the WooThemes folks were very helpful as I worked things out. Lately, though, the WooThemes team has taken a step that has given me pause. Specifically, WooThemes is integrating tracking into all of their themes – new or old – so that they can get a better idea of how their customers are using their themes.

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Hotspot Shield VPN Officially on iOS — Secure Browsing, Bandwidth Compression, Access Blocked Sites/Services

Hotspot Shield Now Officially on iOS -- Say Hello to HTTPS, Bandwidth Compression, Out-of-US Netflix, Pandora | 40Tech

When we first told you about Hotspot Shield, it was to use the free Virtual Private Network to bypass blocked media, as well as increase your browsing security. Over a year later, we posted a tutorial on how to use the VPN to watch US Netflix outside of United States, using your iOS devices. Unfortunately, the Hotspot Shield sign up process for iOS was broken soonafter, and their customer service team didn’t have a lot to say about it. Now we know why: Anchorfree, the creators of Hotspot Shield have released an iPhone app that makes all of the steps go away, and even solves a few of the problems.

The new Hotspot Shield app will have you up and running with a couple of touches, installing two VPN configurations on your iPhone or iPad. The second one is for manual use — you turn it on when you need it, and leave it off when you don’t. The default configuration, though, is Always On, which handily accomplishes two things: it allows you to automatically have the VPN’s data compression and additional security in place whether you are on WiFi or mobile broadband, and it also fixes potential annoyances by automatically re-establishing the VPN’s connection when it drops (which is still a regular occurrence).

In testing, I found that the VPN is more stable on iOS than it was previously, and that using it was practically painless. I also discovered, very quickly, that the free-ness of Hotspot Shield — at least for mobile — is a thing of the past. In comparison to other VPNs, though, especially services that are as effective, the price is still more than worthwhile. You can use the VPN free for a week, after that, it’ll cost you $0.99/month or $9.99/year. You can also use a purchase code the app provides you to activate up to five personal devices that are connected to the same iTunes account. If the incredibly attractive price is to much for you, and you already have an old Hotspot Shield VPN installed on your iOS device, it should still work, at least for now — mine does, anyway.

Hotspot Shield VPN for iOS, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch | 40TechHotspot Shield VPN App for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch | 40TechHotspot Shield VPN App for iOS | 40Tech

Some other fun features of the app are the abilities to track your bandwidth savings and to control your compression level. You can turn it off completely for WiFi, or turn it up to maximum to save bandwidth on images and the like. This will downgrade image quality, of course, but how much is your data worth to you?

All in all, I recommend it to pretty much everyone on iOS with even a passing interest in security (or in using Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, etc., outside of the US). You can never be too careful with your data, and HotSpot Shield does a decent job of protecting you. According to ReadWriteWeb, it was even used during the revolutions of the Arab Spring to allow “users to skirt detection of officials that may have been monitoring mobile internet activity.” Handy, that…

If you do decide to use Hotspot Shield for iOS, do keep a couple of things in mind:

  1. The terms of service are very explicit about the VPN being for personal use only. Don’t use it for business or they may cut you off.
  2. Using a VPN to access a US-only service outside of the US may be considered breach of that service’s terms of use. You may want to double-check that before going ahead to make sure you don’t have any issues — especially if you pay for said service.

What do you think of Hotspot Shield for iOS? Do you plan to use it to increase your browsing security? Let us know in the comments!

Is Facebook Tracking Every Web Page That You Visit . . . Even After You Log Out of Facebook?

Facebook cookies

9/28/2011 UPDATE: Facebook has responded to the complaints . . . sort of. For an in depth explanation of Facebook’s response, check out Nik Cubrilovic’s blog post.

Facebook has some explaining to do, if the findings of one blogger are true. Nik Cubrilovic, an entrepreneur and developer, recently analyzed Facebook’s tracking cookies, and found some surprising behavior. Specifically, even if you log out of your Facebook account, “Facebook still knows and can track every page you visit.” Before you get too upset, though, read on.

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Dropbox Updates Terms (again) to Calm Intellectual Property Fears

Dropbox Updates Terms (again) to Calm Intellectual Property Fears | 40Tech

Dropbox has been upsetting some of its users, recently, with changes to its terms of service that caused concern and outrage regarding privacy of files uploaded to the service. Sure, outrage is easy to come by on the internet, especially with changes to heavily used cloud services, but there were some valid arguments to be made — and people didn’t hesitate to make them. First, there was that whole thing about decrytpting users’ encrypted files and handing them over to authorities when asked. Questions of users’ legal and moral behaviours notwithstanding, the simple fact that Dropbox claimed the right to decrypt what was encrypted was enough to shake up many people.

Most recently, however, Dropbox did something that should have been considered a good thing: they updated their terms to plain language that made them easier to understand. Unfortunately that blew up in their face, as some of the wording gave Dropbox the right to use your files pretty much however they want, intellectual property notwithstanding. The latest update to the Dropbox terms of service is aimed at quelling those fears.

Last week’s Dropbox update in terms stated the following:

you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service.

This was followed by:

This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services.

That last sentence was meant to apply the new Dropbox usage rights to your files to the smooth running of the service, but the phrasing was too vague to make users feel secure that Dropbox wouldn’t and couldn’t abuse their intellectual property rights. For those that think it should be obvious, bear in mind that loopholes have a tendency to turn the legal system on its ear, and that there have been other services — mostly for photos — making news recently because they were specifically saying that they did own your content if you used their service.

In any case, in yesterday’s update, Dropbox has posted a revision to that contested clause that was accompanied by a blog post stating that they have “always believed your stuff is yours and yours alone,” and that they intend to quell users’ fears that Dropbox will own rights to their content. Here’s the new phrasing:

…By using our Services you provide us with information, files, and folders that you submit to Dropbox (together, “your stuff”). You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don’t claim any ownership to any of it. These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below.

We may need your permission to do things you ask us to do with your stuff, for example, hosting your files, or sharing them at your direction. This includes product features visible to you, for example, image thumbnails or document previews. It also includes design choices we make to technically administer our Services, for example, how we redundantly backup data to keep it safe. You give us the permissions we need to do those things solely to provide the Services. This permission also extends to trusted third parties we work with to provide the Services, for example Amazon, which provides our storage space (again, only to provide the Services).

To be clear, aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won’t share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to. How we collect and use your information generally is also explained in our Privacy Policy

This is definitely an improvement, as it clears up the intellectual property concerns. Of course, the original outrage over how Dropbox can monitor, decrypt, and share your files is still out there, but judging by the terms of service of Amazon’s Cloud Drive and others, including Facebook, Google, Apple, Skype, and Twitter, this sort of thing is fast becoming the norm for cloud services, especially those that offer storage – in the end, we users may have no choice but to assume the position, take it, and like it if we want to use these types of services.

What do you think?

The No.1 Reason I Won’t Be Using Amazon Cloud Drive

The No.1 Reason I Won't Be Using Amazon Cloud Drive | 40Tech

Amazon recently launched its Cloud Drive service offering users 5 GB of free online storage, with very competitive plans that essentially amount to yearly subscriptions of $1/GB, going up as high as 1000 GB. When combined with the Amazon Cloud Player (US-only), which allows you stream your music files from any computer or Android device, and doesn’t count Amazon MP3 purchases against your subscription limit, the Amazon Cloud Drive seems like one hell of a deal! The Amazon servers are some of the best out there, and unlike services like Microsoft’s SkyDrive, there are no limitations as to what can be uploaded as long as you own the files and their contents, don’t violate any laws by storing them, and agree not to upload anything that could be potentially dangerous.

All very reasonable and expected, no? Be a law-abiding and conscientious citizen, use the service responsibly, and you’re golden, right? Right — unless you enjoy the possibility of your privacy being infringed upon at the whim of a large corporation.

My problem with the Amazon Cloud Drive service, no matter how good it might be, all boils down to a single clause in their terms of service — which I hope that everyone who signed up for the service (or any service) read thoroughly. In section 5.2 of the Terms of Use, Amazon clearly states the following:

5.2.Our Right to Access Your Files. You give us the right to access, retain, use and disclose your account information and Your Files: to provide you with technical support and address technical issues; to investigate compliance with the terms of this Agreement, enforce the terms of this Agreement and protect the Service and its users from fraud or security threats; or as we determine is necessary to provide the Service or comply with applicable law.

Giving a corporation and its designated appointees the right to access, keep, use, and share both my account information and my personal and business files is something that I’m simply not comfortable with. I understand the concept of limited access to files for the purposes of technical support, and I even get holding them on the order of a court of law or government body, but the use of the phrase “as we determine is necessary to provide the Service” is playing a bit too fast and loose for me. I have no idea what they might determine is necessary — it’s completely arbitrary. I am reasonably certain that, if there were victims of some sort of foul play resulting from that phrase, a court of law would be able to find in favour of those victims, but who wants to be a victim, even potentially? Don’t we have enough problems with digital privacy already?

The Amazon Cloud Drive is promising, but for a service that is fending off criticisms from the music industry by touting itself as a personal hard drive, they certainly don’t provide the end-user with anything even close to resembling the right to privacy that is inherent in a true personal hard drive. I hope that users read and thoroughly understand the fine print before they decide to upload their lives to this service!

What do you think of the Amazon Cloud Drive and its terms of use?