Editor’s Comments

By William LaMartin, Editor, Tampa PC Users Group
lamartin@tampabay.rr.com


Gasparilla has come and gone in Tampa. That is the reason for the pirate image above. He really should have adorned the January newsletter since Gasparilla was on January 28 this year. But that is only because the powers-that-be didn’t want to have a conflict with some other important event like the Super Bowl. So we had Gasparilla in Tampa on the last Saturday of January instead of the first Saturday of February.

Since I live a block off the parade route, I sort of have to stick around to make sure my home is not part of the invasion. And it is also a good time to take a few photos with the digital camera. Gasparilla, however, is one of those things to which I can find no computer angle. I suppose I could upload my photos of the event to the Internet. But by that standard, anything that you can photograph or write about and then upload to a web site would become computer-related. So let’s drop the pirate discussion and move on to some computer-related items.

Google is certainly computer-related and much in the news lately, the current topic being the federal government’s request for search information from Google. Even though the request does not ask what IP addresses originated the searches in question, all of this has gotten people to worrying that at some time in the future, such information may be requested.

This may be an eye-opener to most of us in the US, but to people in places like China, it is an old story. There you can get into serious trouble for writing about certain forbidden topics; possibly you can get into trouble for just searching the Internet for these things. Recently, at the Chinese government’s request, Google removed from the Chinese version of its site the ability to return meaningful links to certain search phrases. In other words, if you search (in Chinese or in English) for Tiananmen Square in the Chinese version, Google.cn, you will get very few links as compared with the version of Google we use, Google.com. I can’t read or write Chinese, but I can view photos in Chinese, so I put in the query tiananmen square in English into both the Google.com site and the Google.cn site with the second search option selected (the image search). Very different photos were produced by the two sites. I will leave it to you to guess which search produced the photos of police battling students or the famous photo of one lone individual standing in front of a tank.

So how do English-speaking Chinese do a Google search at Google.com so as to see “all” the results? Well, they don’t do it by typing http://www.google.com into their browser, since no Chinese Internet provider is going to allow them to get to that site. What they need to do is point their browser to one of the many proxy server sites on the Internet (and necessarily ever changing since once they are known, they can be blocked). The point of these proxy server sites is to serve as “pass-throughs” for web page requests so as to mask the true destination of your browsing.

You can find sites on the World Wide Web that will do this for you, or you can download software that does this. Of course, without recommendations, you don’t know the safety of such sites; they may be nothing but conduits of spyware. For example the site http://proxify.com/ is a proxy site that promises anonymous surfing without having to download any software. However, I am uncomfortable with it since it does have links at the top for casinos (and how to cheat casinos) and such. Perhaps someone can do some research on this topic and write a full article for the newsletter.

What I did some time back before all the current fuss about Google erupted was to make my own special sort of pseudo proxy server setup for doing Google searches. I did it as a programming exercise, but now it looks as if it might be useful. I created a web service that, when provided with a phrase, would return the html code to the Google search results for that phrase. I then put this service at one of the web sites I have. Next, I wrote a Windows desktop program that would pass such search phrases to this web service and then take the returned html code and place it in a web browser control inside the program so that I could view it. I had to add some code to allow for looking at additional links in addition to those on the first page, etc. What this did was make it look to Google as if the search request was coming from the IP address of wherever the web service was installed—not from my local computer where the Windows program was running.

Of course, to make this of any real use in hiding my Google searching from inquiring eyes, I would need two more things: allow a lot of people to use this program so that I would be just one among many and—very importantly—delete or don’t let the web server keep a log of activity. This second item is probably only truly possible if either you do your own web hosting or your web host deletes the server logs after downloading each hosted site’s part of the log to the individual site. Otherwise, if Google released the IP address of the requestor for a particular search to anyone with a court order, the people with the court order could then go to the hosting company who owned the IP address Google gave them. They, in turn, would say at the time and date that you are interested in, only one individual who was using the IP address of such-and-such accessed the page in question. Then onto whatever Internet Service provider to which that IP address belonged to find out which of their users had the IP address at that time. And I would be nabbed—for searching for something that the government was interested in knowing about.

So given all that, I believe that if I were truly interested in being anonymous on the Internet, I should use one of the proxy services set up to do just that. But not so fast. What if many of these proxy services are really actually controlled by those people who want to find out where I am surfing? Sort of like one of those police sting operations set up to purchase stolen goods and then eventually arrest all their customers. Think about it. The more you think about it, the more complicated it gets.

On a different sort of Google topic, recall that in the previous newsletter I mentioned that two times I had gotten spyware put on my computer by simply clicking on links provided by a Google search. Of course, being a reasonable person, I did not hold Google responsible in that it had cataloged a web page that contained my search text but also contained some code that provided me with an additional hour of work removing spyware from my computer. Now, many lawyers do not appear to be reasonable people in the way you and I may think of the word reasonable (recall your former lawyer president: “It depends on what you mean by the word is”). So I suppose it is only a matter of time before Google gets sued for not providing a safe computing experience. It certainly didn’t provide me one.

To try to keep that from happening again, I download FireFox and now use it for all my Google searches since possibly (I do not know this for a fact) it is not prone to the same sort of spyware attack. I still use Internet Explorer for much of my browsing, though.

Amazon.Com has apparently slipped your mind. Almost no one is using the link at http://www.tpcug.org to do their Amazon purchases—and depriving us of that 5% commission that costs you nothing. Possibly I am wrong: It has not slipped your mind. You are not ordering anything from Amazon, only buying used stuff on eBay. But be warned. Tiffany is suing eBay for promoting fraud. Tiffany ordered 200 supposedly Tiffany items from eBay vendors—three-fourths of them were fake. u