We’ve looked a lot at privacy from the Big Brother standpoint: how the National Security Agency or corporate giants like Google track us online — say for political reasons or to make money from ads.

But there’s another kind of privacy concern that is a lot more intimate. You could call it Little Brother. Though it’s really more like husbands and wives, lovers and exes who secretly watch their partner — from a distance. They are cyberstalking — using digital tools that are a lot cheaper than hiring a private detective.

NPR investigated these tools, also known as spyware, and spoke with domestic violence counselors and survivors around the country. We found that cyberstalking is now a standard part of domestic abuse in the U.S.

Smartphones Are Used To Stalk, Control Domestic Abuse Victims

Photo credit: Aarti Shahani/NPR.

A Few Words on Adblock from Someone Who Actually Works in Advertising

So Twitter is blowing up this morning because AdBlock (no relation to Adblock Plus) is running a crowd funding campaign to raise money to run ads supporting Adblock. It’s gotten pretty heated on both sides, and frankly, it’s about time we got down to brass tacks about how website ads that nobody actually looks at or engages with plays into a larger problem about the uselessness of the majority of advertising in the modern era. 

A couple years ago MarketingWeek came out with a study that about three quarters of CEOs say marketers lack any sort of credibility and can’t prove a return on investment for their work - too obsessed with “social media” and “brand values” to have any relevant perspective to their work, they have become the leeches upon society. From worthless web banners to “viral” staged advertising stunts filled with nothing but paid actors, advertising has a number of completely idiotic modern practices with zero value to anyone, unless you value “social media metrics” or someone simply seeing an advertisement as a justification of ridiculously bloated marketing budgets.

Internet advertisers have arisen from the growth of this monster - getting people to shove banner ads filled with crap they don’t know about all over their webzones in the hopes of sustaining themselves off of the revenue. It wasn’t long before they become massively intrusive and at time outright malicious - from phishing attacks to malware to spyware to viruses - all sorts of hazardous things that could affect a computer. When users had these malicious advertisements screw with their computer, they’d complain to the webmaster, who would have to complain to their advertising provider, who may or may not take the ad down, and if they did, it’d take a great deal of time.

So the situation that so many “content providers” are trying to thrive off of is a wild west of marketers who can’t provide a real return on investment to shareholders and would rather leech off of budgets shoving bullshit into honest users’ faces who simply wanted to check out a funny webcomic or read a game review. In the infinite void of noise on the Internet, web advertising is the biggest culprit of the bunch - providing zero real benefit to anyone, ignored unanimously, and pretending that visibility equals sales, whilst providing a risk for “content providers” and honest web surfers. 

It wasn’t long before Adblock arose, giving users an option to opt-out of this forced, completely dishonest, and at times harmful revenue model. Now you could surf the web and provide an extra layer of protection to your computer - why wouldn’t you want that? Sure, maybe your favorite websites would lose your three cents or whatever from not viewing a shitty ad, but it was worth the extra layer of protection. You can “whitelist” your favorite websites, but that’s no guarantee their advertising provider won’t push through a malicious advertisement. Or a bigoted, misogynist web ad, which everyone has a human right to opt out of.

As this become popular, a great deal of “content providers” started complaining - two staff members of Giant Bomb dot com on a stream of mostly paid subscribers referred to those who use adblock as “pirates” - which a great deal of them were using. Adblock users have been referred to as a number of things, like “thieves,” “hurtful,” “entitled,” trying to shame people who were fed up having a damaging onslaught of noise forced onto their computer without their consent. 

Here’s the problem with all the attempts to shame someone for using Adblock - you as an owner of a computer have an innate right to protect your shit by any means necessary. You have zero obligation to risk viruses and other malicious content on computer, regardless of some pretentious “content creator’s” “revenue stream,” and fuck them if they try to make you feel guilty for it. A large part of web ads are malicious, misogynist, full of malware/ransomware, and are a risk to your computer - the sooner the people behind websites stop playing the victim, clutching pearls and calling everyone on the Internet thieves, and abandon this revenue model, the better off we’ll all be.

Because right now, it’s an intellectually dishonest shitshow with nothing but insults and ill will, which is going to lead to what? Government subsidized Let’s Plays? Obama standing tall on a podium, demanding ad blockers to tear down this wall? We’re already calling people who use Adblock “content pirates,” which I guess means that borrowing a friend’s newspaper is piracy, we’re all downloading cars, inviting one too many friends over for a wrestling pay per view is piracy, skipping forward 15 seconds on a ad-supported podcast is piracy, reading Breaking Bad spoilers is piracy - the list goes on forever of how “content creators” should be guaranteed a revenue from the public.

Then you have the complaint of “you’re cheating content producers out of their money” by protecting your computer from malicious software. Well what if that “content” sucks? What if I don’t think you should get corporate welfare from nefarious advertisers for screaming “rape” over and over whilst playing a bad horror game about Slenderman? What kind of bizarre fucking anarcho-capitalist state did we wake up in where being a “content provider” should guarantee you make money? 

That’s rather grossly manipulative entitlement speaking, more so than anything else. You hear so many people like games critics tell the unwashed masses to vote with their wallet, but when it comes to their own spaces? Whenever it comes down to a corporation versus their userbase, they’ll be the first in line to damn the user. Never advertising providers, who refuse to properly vet the ads that go up on websites. 

Revenue requires risk, and when it comes to things as petty as videogame articles on the Internet and bad Youtube Let’s Plays, the invisible hand of the free market isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Adblock rose to popularity due to people growing fed up with risking their computer being infected by malicious advertisements, and the Internet’s going to have to learn to adapt - whether that be by ensuring ads aren’t filled with hot garbage, or finding a new revenue model, whether that be in subscriptions or something else, hopefully of value. 

As of right now? Shit’s pretty fucked, everyone knows this - advertisements are a horrible business model that’s being propped up by the incumbent, but apparently it’s the web surfer’s responsibility to prop them up otherwise you’re a no-good stinkin’ web content pirate. And if you play nice and get malware? Well that’s the price of supporting my poorly made retro reviews of old, bad horror movies where I profit off of riffing on someone else’s intellectual property without their permission! Give me my money!

On top of ads, a number of sites are also running scripts in the background to gather information on you and show you a bunch of ads, without telling you. If anyone’s entitled and being a “pirate,” it’s website providers dictating how you can interact with the web without your consent or knowledge, collecting data on you and forcing malicious software on you without your knowledge or agreement for their personal profit. 

So more power to Adblock and NoScript - the closer we get to forcing the Internet to accepting a more honest approach to how it treats it’s surfers. Everyone has a right to interact with the Internet on their own terms, regardless of the cost to “content creators” and lecherous advertisers trying to prop up a dying market of web advertising. Many will fail, many will innovate, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a better Internet in a decade’s time. 

Design is Law is an independently run joint. If you enjoy my writing, please consider throwing a couple bucks in the tip jar.

Stop annoying tech-savvy friends with helpless dumbassery and learn to give your computer a “bullshit enema.”

5 Common Misconceptions That Destroy Computers

#4. “My Computer Is Slow. It Has to Be a Virus!”

If I’ve fixed 500 computers in my life, I can count on one hand how many of them had an actual “virus.” The rest were all malware, an overload of spyware, or a Trojan horse, all of which are much easier to remove.

[T]here are some [free “fix my computer” programs] that not only are safe to download, but are really must-haves: Spybot and Malwarebytes. Download, follow the instructions, and they’ll give your computer a much-needed bullshit enema. 

“But I’m computer illiterate. What if I mess someth-”

Just run the goddamn fucking programs! It cannot be easier than how I’ve just made it for you. It’s time to stop annoying your children or grandchildren and start learning this shit for yourself.

Read More

The latest report, this time via Der Spiegel and based on internal NSA documents, reveals that the NSA, in conjunction with the CIA and FBI, has begun intercepting laptops purchased online in order to install (quite literal) spyware and even hardware on the machines. The NSA terms this “interdiction.” Agents divert shipments to secret warehouses, carefully open the packages, install the software and/or hardware, and send them on their way.

Building one’s own desktop never looked so attractive.


Of note/concern: Early this morning, we spotted a Tumblr user who was unknowingly having spyware injected onto their reblogs. We could tell this because of code added at the bottom of their pages. No word of how widespread this is, but doing a search shows that multiple Tumblrs are affected by the code injection. Suffice it to say: Be careful what you reblog.

EDIT: Some advice on how to avoid the hijack.

After a Breakup: Your Tech Safety Checklist

Technology can be pretty awesome in a lot of ways. With a smartphone or a laptop and an internet connection, you can chat, message, share pictures or videos, and stay connected with anyone, anywhere in the world. But we all know that technology can also cause problems, especially for people in abusive relationships. 

We’ve talked a lot about digital abuse while in a relationship, but if your relationship has ended, your safety is still important. Follow this tech safety checklist to create a few protective barriers for yourself after a breakup: 

  • Change your passwords

If you shared your online passwords with your ex (or even if you didn’t), it’s a good idea to change them post-breakup. If your ex was abusive in any way, or if your relationship was unhealthy, there’s a chance that they might try to log in to your accounts and continue the abuse. 

  • Block/remove phone numbers

It could be a good idea to block or remove your ex’s number from your phone. That way you won’t be tempted to answer when you see their name pop up on your cell. If you don’t feel comfortable deleting or blocking an abusive ex’s number, consider changing their name in your phone to something that will remind you why it might not be healthy for you to talk to them – like, “I Deserve Respect!”

  • Update your privacy settings

Double check your privacy settings on your social media accounts, and decide if you want to opt for more privacy. For example, you might update your settings so that your ex and their friends only see certain information that you share, or maybe you’ll choose to block your ex completely. 

  • Turn off check-ins

For a little while, at least, you might consider turning off check-ins when you go out, especially if you’re concerned about your ex knowing where you are. 

  • Ask friends not to tag you 

If you don’t feel comfortable with your ex knowing your whereabouts after you break up, ask your friends not to tag you in pictures or check-ins. 

  • Check for spyware

Did your ex keep tabs on you, or check up on you constantly during your relationship? If so, it could be a good idea to check your phone and computer for spyware. Some abusive partners (or ex-partners) use spyware to monitor their victims, and it can be difficult to detect. Check out NNEDV’s Spyware and Safety info, or this article about detecting spyware on a cell phone. 

Remember, whether you’re in a relationship or you’ve just broken up with your partner, you have a right to safety and privacy. If you need to talk to someone about your situation, or if you have questions about unhealthy relationship behaviors, you can talk with a loveisrespect advocate! We’re here 24/7!

Smile, you’re on my stolen laptop’s candid camera
The pictures are innocuous: They show a man sitting in bed, sleeping on the couch and driving a car. But the photos were taken remotely by a spyware program installed on a laptop that was stolen from a Californian home.

Joshua Kaufman was able to use the pictures and the spyware to track down the man in possession of his stolen computer. Now he’s got his laptop back and police have arrested a 27-yearold taxi driver.

After police classified the theft as a low priority, Mr. Kaufman posted the pictures on a Tumblr This Guy Has My MacBook.

The internet went crazy today when somebody figured out that uTorrent was bundling a piece of crapware called EpicScale that uses your computer to mine for Bitcoins, and according to many reports, was silently installed. The even bigger problem is that it doesn’t uninstall clean, so we’re going to show you how to do that today.


Stuxnet Virus