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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
We once pondered whether Google was the devil. One of the issues that we raised was one of privacy. If you’re worried that Google is tracking your searches by cookie ID or by IP address, you have some options to thwart Google. One of those options is Scroogle.
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.
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).
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.