Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Firefox’s redesign

My work calendar for this coming week has a strange event: meeting another person, in-person, to get lunch. It also has me spending all of Tuesday (Virginians, y’all do know we have a primary election then, right?) working once again as an election officer.

6/1/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (6-1-21), Mark Vena

My major contribution to this week’s edition of the podcast hosted by Vena, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, was unpacking Google’s move to start charging for Google Photos storage after you hit the 15 GB cap on your account’s storage. I am okay with the idea of charging for storage, but I do think Google could provide more useful tools for people looking to keep their picture archives under that limit. We (meaning my analyst friend as well as fellow tech scribes John Quain and Stewart Wolpin) also talked about the ongoing ransomware epidemic, Roku’s fight with Google, and the Apple WWDC event that kicks off Monday; in addition to the audio of our banter at the above link, you can watch a video version on YouTube.

Firefox story as seen in Firefox, with the browser's privacy report card for Fast Company's site displayed6/4/2021: Firefox still wants to be the ‘Anti-Chrome.’ Can it beat Edge, too?, Fast Company

The release of a fairly major update to Mozilla Firefox’s desktop interface gave me an opportunity to look at how this browser compares to the competition–by which I really mean Microsoft Edge, the other major privacy-optimized browser that you can run in Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. I still find Firefox a better product on privacy grounds; for example, Firefox displays a more comprehensive privacy report card for sites, as seen in the screengrab here, and uses end-to-end encryption to synchronize your search and browsing history between computers while Edge does not. But Microsoft is putting serious effort into the browser that already represents a bigger competitive threat to Google’s Chrome. And it can bring exponentially more resources that Mozilla to closing any feature gaps.

Here’s how much Facebook was tracking me around the rest of the Web

Facebook finally fulfilled one of Mark Zuckerberg’s campaign promises this week–a promise dating back to May of 2018.

That’s when Facebook’s CEO said the company would roll out a “Clear History” feature that would let its users erase Facebook records of their activity at other sites and apps as gathered by the social network’s Like and Share buttons and other plug-ins.

(If it took you a long time to realize the extent of that tracking, I can’t blame you. Instead, I can blame me: The post I did for the Washington Post when my old shop integrated a batch of Facebook components to its site didn’t spell out this risk.)

Twenty months after Zuck’s announcement, this feature, renamed “Off Facebook Activity”, finally arrived for U.S. users on Tuesday. I promptly set aside that day’s tasks to check it out firsthand.

The good news, such as it was: Only 74 apps and sites had been providing Facebook info about my activity there. And most of them (disclosure: including such current and past clients as USA Today, Fast Company, The Points Guy and the Columbia Journalism Review) had only coughed up isolated data points.

The bad news: The Yelp, Eventbrite, AnyDo, and Duolingo apps had all coughed up more than 20 records of my interactions there, as had the sites of Home Depot and Safeway owner Albertson’s.

To judge from the responses I got from readers of my Facebook when I asked them how many sites and apps showed up in their own Off-Facebook Activity listings, I’m practically living a cloistered life. Most comments cited three-digit numbers, two close to four digits: 232, 356, 395, 862, and 974. One thing most of these users seemed to have in common: using Google’s Chrome as a default browser instead of Apple’s Safari or Mozilla Firefox, both of which automatically block tracking by social networks on other pages. The former is the default on my desktop, while the latter has that place on my laptop.

I’ve now cleared my history and turned off future Off-Facebook Activity–at the possible cost of no longer having WordPress.com publish new posts automatically to my Facebook page. I can probably live with that.