Thank you for your continuous support and love. As we are rolling out the Panta Rhei upgrade, I want to take a moment to talk about privacy issues, and what we are doing and planning on doing on that front. Since it’s quite a boring topic, I’ll try to make it fun (and short)! 😸
Let's get down to business.
- Removal of third-party tracking technologies entirely (yes, no Google Analytics or anything that resembles that).
- Removal of some hidden global third-party cookies: things like Cloudflare.
- Switching to no-cookie settings if it’s possible: such as the no-cookie embedding mode of YouTube video. HOWEVER, that will still serve cookies. I am inclined to soon switch to self-hosting all videos (already started on some!). Again, disable third-party cookies in your browser and trust me you won’t miss out on anything.
- “In-sourcing”: instead of resorting to third-party help, which inevitably adds to dependencies and, more importantly, makes things more unpredictable, we are moving more things in-house to be more compliant with our own policies that prioritize privacy and security.
What about data
The main purpose of this article is to explain to you how we handle the data collected from you during your time with us, through the website or the extension. We’ll review that by feature —
Main site (heymoffas.com the Brahms χ terminal)
- Your login (so that next time you don’t have to go through Robbie’s orientation again)
And that’s it, as of now. Ha! I must be really sadistic or something (to myself). Wait, what about web analytics?
Here’s the thing. Of course, we track click and search traffic, but it’s not pinned back to you. It’s going to be analyzed as from some anonymous user based on session ID, which will later be replaced by Robbie ID as Robbie develops further.
What about dear Robbie?
Robbie records your activity and stores that information LOCALLY in your browser storage (you can see them if you go inspect the storage section in your browser). Every time you get a Robbie, he’s working for you. It does take a while to get used to the idea that something is working on the user side, but by design Robbie is your little soldier and he takes that for granted!
If you have an account with us and adopt a Robbie, that association is registered with us. At the moment, we are not syncing your local data with server due to purely technical reasons. Yes, it, in fact, is really easy to implement, but I don’t want to do the easy way and depart from my own privacy protocols. A special encryption scheme will have to be used because eventually all your data should be stored in a decentralized way. I discussed this hold-up in my nauseating blog post about Lova if anyone is interested.
Community site (heymoffas.com/community and others*)
Community site was originally built on UNA. Although I have every intention to completely rebuild it to match the main site logic and visuals, I find it low on my to-do list. Basically, we just have to stick with it for a little longer. On a side note, UNA is a reliable framework. If anyone wants to start a small community site for their own group, I highly recommend it. You can host it yourself if you are on a budget. That saves lots of money.
Community site follows industry standards, minus the tracking part. If you make a post, it’s on our server. If you reply to a comment, it’s on our server. I am actually crazy enough to think that also can be changed (and should be), but that implementation will wait on better technologies (for us, it’s Lova, which was discussed in that blog post I mentioned earlier). To be fair, it’s not like it cannot be done already, but the performance is going to be a nightmare.
One thing I feel obligated to bring attention to is the end-to-end encryption for chat, which is the only module that E2EE is suitable for. I am working on it and will report back once it’s ready. In the meantime, if you really want to have a secure chat, do not use our chat app for that. Use anything built on Signal. You can download one at: https://signal.org/download/. Our chat app is there for things like a quick discussion on which dress to buy.
For more details, you can always go to the two policy statements we mentioned above.
The final part of the Universe that we are going to look at is the Extension. Basically, the extension is Lova. So, again, if anyone is interested in knowing more about her, or at least who she’s named after, you can go take a peek at this post.
The extension packs lots of features already. There’s only one more major feature, Cartwheel, to be added. A little preview: does it bother you that nowadays you cannot even read anything without subscribing to an entire publication? I fully support the protection of intellectual property, but people should have good access to knowledge and information. Monetizing intellectual property to that level is simply discriminatory. The people in a less fortunate financial situation ends up knowing less, which arguably keeps them from improving their life through knowledge. Cartwheel is going to be an attempt at the problem, but we also have to respect the laws and do it the right way, the ethical way.
Let’s look at the existing features. In general, if a feature requires social connections (e.g., Cartpool with a friend, hollers, Vibin’), the data will be sent back to the server via API. Again, that can be different when Lova takes the next big step. Other standalone features, such as bookmarks (saving to favorites), are stored locally. Their data can be erased easily from the browser or using the extension sign-out button. We do not track your online activity and have not started any deeper-level processing. Once Robbie gets a better learning algorithm (powered by GEN), we will likely start doing that. In such case, users will be notified and so will Google. It’s worth mentioning that extensions are quite secure applications as the extension codes are exposed and anyone can get access to the codes.
Without security, there will be no privacy to start with. We screen IPs to detect malicious/unauthorized visits. If you have any concern, you may use a proxy or get a VPN to protect yourself.
Do I think someone is going to read this? No, but it is my duty to explain it. When we put something together for anyone to interact with, we have an obligation to offer our explanation on how it works and why we think it is the best we can do to make it work. We can be inferior or dumb, but we shall never be dishonest. Transparency is important and should be the only goal of the tech community to strive for.
One last personal recommendation — yes, get a VPN if you could afford one and ALWAYS look for the tiny DO NOT SELL MY PERSONAL DATA links in the footer.
Edit 4/11/22: added notes on cybersecurity