Tag Archives: privacy

This translation tool not only produces the best results, but also protects privacy

2019-04-26

deepl online translator screen shot
Writers, readers, travelers, and anyone who wants to understand a document or a piece of text written in foreign language can access an online tool that produces a rough translation for tens of languages. The go-to tool for many people is Google Translator, but there is a new service that produces better results, and understands the importance of privacy, too: it is called DeepL.

Deepl doesn’t come completely out of thin air, but its developers have a long history with Linguee that has been a widely used online translator for years. Now, the modern DeepL Translator applies neural machine and artificial intelligence technologies to produce translations. And it seems to be working.

DeepL conducted a blind test of translations for 100 foreign language sentences. The sentences were translated by DeepL Translator, Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and Facebook. Professional translators assessed the machine translations, but they didn’t know which system had produced which results. The translators preferred results by DeepL over others by a factor of 3:1.

Another test method is known as BLEU. It is a set of predefined tests that must be translated. DeepL was the best machine translator in this test as well.

TechCrunch reports that DeepL has built a massive database of over a billion translations and queries. All that data is raw material for algorithms that conclude what is the most natural expression for a translation. In order to train the AI and neural network algorithms, the company is also extracting snippets from public web pages.

All this requires plenty of computing power and storage space. DeepL says they have the 23rd most powerful supercomputer in the world, located in cool Iceland.

The privacy perspective when using free online translators
for documents with sensitive information

A writer may need to research for sensitive information, but she also wants to translate the document to her native language to ensure she can understand it correctly. A traveler may want to read what exactly is said in the medical records that were printed at a beach resort hospital after checkup. Not everyone wants to hand over this type of information about themselves to Google when translating documents.

This is where businesses operating in the European Union have an advantage. The renowned GDPR law that concerns EU countries requires businesses to behave when they get private information in their hands. For instance, businesses are prohibited from collecting personal data without reason. If private information has to be collected – for one reason or another – user’s consent must be asked.

DeepL goes a little further with privacy in its DeepL Pro subscription service. The service guarantees it never stores the texts the Pro subscribers translate.
cartoon: pc yelling bad language to woman

Automatic translators on the internet

In addition to DeepL, other automatic translators are available on the web for free. My experience with all of them is that knowing the basics of the foreign language you are dealing with really helps in understanding the rough translations and reduce the probability of misunderstandings.

Bing (Microsoft) Translator
Collins Dictionary
Google Translate

Ebook reading, travel, and other mobile apps may be leaking private data to Facebook

2019-03-25

Writers, ebook lovers, travelers, and anyone who is using downloaded applications on their mobile phones or tablets are silently leaking their personal data to Facebook. A research organization has published a study that shows how apps, including popular travel applications like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Yelp and Skyscanner continuously transmitted users’ private data to Facebook.

An earlier study indicated that 42.55% of free apps on the Google Play Store sent private data to Facebook without having users’ permission to do so. A recent study published in December 2018 discovered that at least 61% of tested mobile apps automatically transmitted personal data to Facebook the very moment the app is opened. The apps transmit a set of data to Facebook in every case: whether the user has a Facebook account or not, or whether the user is logged into Facebook or not.

Privacy International, a non-profit organisation based in London, conducted the research that discovered how extensive the leaking of private data from mobile apps is. The study focused only on Android apps downloaded from the Google Play Store, and their silent background connection to Facebook.
Kayak app screen capture
Privacy International tested many types of apps, trying to find out if they connected to Facebook servers. For instance, all tested travel applications – Tripadvisor, Yelp, Kayak, and Skyscanner (as reported by Skift) – sent data to Facebook. In addition, Kayak and Skyscanner also sent user’s Google ad id to Facebook. This, however, is not the only nasty problem travel booking apps have: they are also seriously troubled by fake reviews and misleading travel product information.

Four months after the Privacy International research paper was published, some apps were re-tested. Cnet reported that Yelp, Duolingo, Indeed, and a few religious apps were still sharing user data without having a permission to do so. Music library Spotify, and travel apps Skyscanner and Kayak don’t automatically connect with Facebook anymore.

Mobile apps send plenty of data to Facebook in the background

The report concludes that the largest set of data was leaked by the Kayak app. User’s private information that Kayak provided to Facebook included:

When the search was done
Name of the app
Google advertising id
Departure city, airport, and date
Arrival city, airport, and date
Number of tickets, including number of children
Class of tickets (economy, business or first class)

Facebook hasn’t told exactly what it does with the data it receives from the apps. The peculiar thing with this discovery is that the apps send user data to Facebook. It doesn’t matter if the user has a Facebook account, the data is always transmitted to the social media giant.

Nonetheless, Facebook explained how the data is collected. The company provides application developers with programming tools – a Software Development Kit (SDK) – that they can use, for instance, for identifying the user, for getting statistics, and for displaying ads in the app. Once a programmer includes the Facebook provided identification in the app, it starts sending data to the social media service databases.

The major observations of the Facebook data leak study

Observation 1: at least 61 percent of apps tested automatically transferred data to Facebook. This concerns all users – with and without Facebook account, or whether they are logged into Facebook or not.

Observation 2: Many apps send the user’s unique Google ad id to Facebook as well. It is an ad targeting id that is unique to the user. Using this id and data from apps, the user can be identified.

Observation 3: Some apps continuously send Facebook data that is detailed and often sensitive. Travel booking app Kayak was a prime example of this activity (as listed above).

Observation 4: For a normal mobile app user, it is practically impossible to prevent apps from sending data to Facebook. The research report proposes a high-tech solution that involves installing a firewall on the phone that can prevent traffic to specified addresses (using a firewall app such as AFWall+ or NetGuard). Changing Facebook’s privacy settings did not prevent tracking.

Tips for preventing apps from leaking private data to Facebook

tripadvisor app on phone, screen shot

The safest option is not to install an app at all, especially if an alternative exists.
Once an app has been downloaded, and the app is opened on the mobile device, there is practically nothing a user can do to prevent it from leaking data. Installing and configuring a firewall is something an ordinary people won’t do.
In some cases, accessing a social media or another service in a browser can be a safer alternative than an app. The research team tested the Opera browser, and discovered it doesn’t send data to Facebook. Dropbox is application that keeps your data away from Facebook’s databases as well.

Change to a phone that is running on secure operating system
The research argues that Google is even bigger private data collector than Facebook. To stop Google and Facebook getting your personal data, finding a phone that doesn’t run on Android is an option. Apple iPhone is the major brand that also claims they care about customers’ privacy. Even Apple can’t completely prevent independent apps from sending data to other parties.
The best choice is to change to an open source software that has been reviewed by experts. One of them is /e/ (eelo) operating system, but at the moment, it requires an experienced techie to install it on a phone.

GDPR will affect rogue practices
The European Union online privacy regulation known as GDPR has been in effect since May 2018. The first court cases that define how it is applied have been started. Regarding GDPR, Facebook argues it is the application developer’s responsibility to manage it follows the GDPR rules. GDPR is intended to protect people from businesses that are collecting their data without permission, so the laws will have an impact on these malpractices sooner or later.

The best tools that can replace Google services for privacy-minded people

2018-12-26

I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely annoying when I’m researching, say, New Zealand for an article or a book, and suddenly I’m bombarded with ads of hotels in the destination. Privacy is an important factor why many colleagues have given up Google products, whereas frequent travelers have fed up with Google’s inability to manage travel access to its services. In this article, you will find the best privacy-tested alternatives to Google services.
Google services symbols
Google’s (as well as Facebook’s and many other big internet companies) business model depends on sucking users’ private and non-private data, using it for ad targeting, and selling it to other companies. This is why Google will collect your data even if you specify in product settings that you don’t want to be tracked. So, the safest choice is to switch to another product.

The best user-recommended products to replace Google’s online services

No More Google web site has collected a long list of alternative products that can replace Google products. The alternative products and services are recommended by internet users who have realized they must manage their privacy themselves (and not leave it to big internet companies). Here are a few of the popular choices:

  • Google Search – DuckDuckGo is the most liked privacy-enabled search engine.
  • Gmail – Protonmail is the most recommended email system.
  • Google Chrome – Firefox is the most recommended alternative product to the Google web browser.
  • Google Maps – Openstreetmap
  • YouTube – Vimeo
  • Google Drive – Dropbox
  • Google Docs – Notion
  • Google Analytics – Matomo
  • Hangouts – Telegram
  • Blogger – WordPress
  • Google+ – the social media service is closing in April 2019.

 

In addition to DuckDuckGo search engine, Qwant and StartPage are good alternatives as well. For browsers, Opera and Vivaldi are good choices, too.
Qwant search engine home page

Replacing Google hardware with privacy-friendly products

Google is also marketing hardware products, such as smartphones and home gadgets. That’s not all, because operating system software is closely related to hardware. Operating systems are built in to hardware products. That’s why it makes sense to pay attention to the operating systems as well, because companies like Samsung, LG, Nokia, Huawei and others use a Google operating system in their phones and tablets.

Here are a few alternative products to Google hardware products and operating systems:

  • Android – the most viable alternatives at the moment are Purism Librem 5 smartphone (built on open source Linux) and open source project /e/ that has released a beta operating system for smartphones.
  • Chrome OS – any desktop Linux, like Ubuntu, Manjaro or Mint is an alternative to the Google operating system (although Linux desktops have not been designed exactly for the same purpose).
  • Google Pixel smartphones – We may have to wait until Purism gets its Liberm 5 phone to the shops, or the /e/ foundation manages to convince a hardware manufacturer to factory-install the /e/ software, so that we can buy a phone that doesn’t leak data to Google.
  • Pixel Slate tablet/laptop – a sleek laptop running on Linux is an alternative to the Google tablet/laptop.
  • Google Assistant – voice assistants require computing power that is usually provided by big server computers in data centers. Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana all work in the same manner, so it is a choice of brand you trust the most.
  • Home Hub – Google home automation products communicate with this tablet-like device. It knows everything that is going on in the system. If it is connected to the internet, privacy and security risks are inevitable. The best alternative is the brand you trust the most.
  • Nest – all gadgets that control and monitor home lights, alarm system, heating and other functions, and are connected to the internet have security and privacy risks.

Purism Libr smartphone
Purism Librem 5.

Ebook news digest: the unbreakable rule in writing, YouTube stars as authors, learning about privacy

2016-09-29

Ebook news digest September 29, 2016

woman leaning on pile of books
The One Unbreakable Rule in Business Writing (Harvard Business Review)

You’ll have to read the article to find the answer, because the reason we wanted to feature this story is that it presents three valuable questions that every nonfiction author must be able to answer. If you are planning to write a nonfiction book, can you answer these simple questions: Why are you writing this? What audience do you want to reach? Why will they care? If you can, and you are planning a book on travel, culture, history, technology or business, we publish books in these genres.

Top Tips From 5 Digital Nomads (Fox News)

Realistic tips from nomads who seem to have experience and knowledge of what they are talking about. Nomad life is for people who know what they are doing and have the willpower and skills to do it.

The age of self: the strange story of how YouTubers saved publishing (New Statesman)

The generation that grew up watching YouTube regards it perfectly normal and even exciting to to follow someone else play videogames on YouTube. That’s only one popular video genre, others are, for instance makeup tips, pranks or fashion talk. Some book publishers have leveraged the brand power of the most popular YouTube stars and produced books that, at least, have names of YouTubers under the titles. Some publishing experts believe YouTube will save books, but we must wonder: if the brand value of YouTube stars is so great, why haven’t Hollywood or music industry endorsed them?

We Asked Our Favorite Travel Photographers How To Take Better Pictures On The Road (Uproxx)

This article gives plenty of valuable tips for travel photographers and writers who take photos for their own books. First, you should master the mechanics and basic techniques for framing images, since most of these tips are inspirational and travel- or people-related.

Why I am publishing all my private emails, messages and phone calls to the internet in real time (The Telegraph)

A journalist worried about the disappearance of privay is conducting a fascinating experiment. First, he gave away his password to all online services to anyone who wanted them (there is still someone using his original Twitter account). Then, he tried to stay anonymous by using encryption technologies, pre-paid phones and avoiding revealing his location. Both methods had serious shortcomings to his personal and professional life, so he tried yet another approach: he publishes everything he does to the Internet.