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posted by chromas on Saturday August 11 2018, @12:59PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the ██████████ dept.

A browser extension that acted as an anti-censorship tool for 185,000 people has been kicked out of the Chrome store by Google. The open source Ahoy! tool facilitated access to more than 1,700 blocked sites but is now under threat. Despite several requests, Google has provided no reason for its decision.

Last December, TF reported on SitesBloqueados (Blocked Sites) a web portal run by Revolução dos Bytes (Bytes' Revolution), a group of anti-censorship activists in Portugal.

Internet censorship is common in the country, with more than 1,700 sites banned from regular Internet access for reasons ranging from copyright to gambling. The process does not require intervention from the courts so Revolução dos Bytes decided to keep an eye on things with its Ahoy! Chrome and Firefox extension.

"Ahoy! basically bypasses any traffic to a blocked site through our own proxies, allowing the users to navigate in a free, uncensored internet," team member Henrique Mouta previously told TF.

Not only is Ahoy! able to unblock sites, it can also detect newly blocked domains and feed information back, so that its unblocking abilities are always up to date.

Things had been going well. After servicing 100,000 users last December, Ahoy! grew to almost 185,000 users this year. However, progress and indeed the project itself is now under threat after arbitrary action by Google.

"Google decided to remove us from Chrome's Web Store without any justification", Henrique informs TF.

"We always make sure our code is high quality, secure and 100% free (as in beer and as in freedom). All the source code is open source. And we're pretty sure we never broke any of the Google's marketplace rules."


Original Submission

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"Senior Google Scientist" Resigns over Chinese Search Engine Censorship Project 50 comments

Senior Google Scientist Resigns Over "Forfeiture of Our Values" in China

A senior Google research scientist has quit the company in protest over its plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

Jack Poulson worked for Google's research and machine intelligence department, where he was focused on improving the accuracy of the company's search systems. In early August, Poulson raised concerns with his managers at Google after The Intercept revealed that the internet giant was secretly developing a Chinese search app for Android devices. The search system, code-named Dragonfly, was designed to remove content that China's authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

After entering into discussions with his bosses, Poulson decided in mid-August that he could no longer work for Google. He tendered his resignation and his last day at the company was August 31.

He told The Intercept in an interview that he believes he is one of about five of the company's employees to resign over Dragonfly. He felt it was his "ethical responsibility to resign in protest of the forfeiture of our public human rights commitments," he said.

Poulson, who was previously an assistant professor at Stanford University's department of mathematics, said he believed that the China plan had violated Google's artificial intelligence principles, which state that the company will not design or deploy technologies "whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights."

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by MostCynical on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:05PM (13 children)

    by MostCynical (2589) on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:05PM (#720291) Journal

    we're pretty sure we never broke any of the Google's marketplace rules.

    Except the unwritten one about not upsetting any governments Google wants to keep happy (ie, all the ones that run countries in which Google makes money)

    --
    "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
    • (Score: 2) by BsAtHome on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:24PM (4 children)

      by BsAtHome (889) on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:24PM (#720293)

      Indeed they are "making powerful 'customers' happy".

      It also shows that corporate control of (enabling) the flow of information is very fragile. Maybe it is time to start a new grassroots movement.

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by c0lo on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:49PM (3 children)

        by c0lo (156) on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:49PM (#720299) Journal

        Maybe it is time to start a new grassroots movement.

        Remind me, please, when was the last time we started one?

        --
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @02:05PM (2 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @02:05PM (#720304)

          No government is behind the popularity of misspelling of their as there or theyre and vice versa. This was a totally organic movement.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @02:21PM (1 child)

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @02:21PM (#720305)

            Thier, though...

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 12 2018, @01:03PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 12 2018, @01:03PM (#720535)

              Wierd spelling.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:52PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @01:52PM (#720300)

      Doesn't look unwritten to me:

      Illegal Activities:
              Keep it legal. Don't engage in unlawful activities in your Product, such as the sale of prescription drugs without a prescription.

      https://developer.chrome.com/webstore/program_policies [chrome.com]

      Last I checked, circumventing government censorship was unlawful.

      • (Score: 3, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:21PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:21PM (#720313)

        I agree. This is why Google was working with the Chinese to block access to websites mentioning human rights, democracy, freedom of religion, and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
        And I agree with the GP poster as well. Corporate whores in bed with sometimes bad govts for money.

        • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 12 2018, @05:46AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 12 2018, @05:46AM (#720484)

          You evil evil person Tiananmen Square never happened the stories about tanks people dying is all false you will turn yourself in now for reconditioning

      • (Score: 2) by Arik on Sunday August 12 2018, @12:55AM

        by Arik (4543) on Sunday August 12 2018, @12:55AM (#720390) Journal
        "Last I checked, circumventing government censorship was unlawful."

        The word you were looking for is 'illegal.' And it isn't even that, at least not always. Depends on the specific jurisdiction and the specific law. Sometimes they only mandate that providers block you, without actually prohibiting you from getting there if you can find a way.

        Don't know the specific law here, but the burden of proof should be on them to prove it's illegal not the other way around.

        Anyway, this is one of many reasons to just say no to 'app stores' - and everything resembling them.
        --
        If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
    • (Score: 2, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @04:43PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @04:43PM (#720324)

      As part of my work, I had to use the play store yesterday. Holy fuck, what rules? 50 apps with the same name as something you need, with different levels of functionality and ads, apps that sideload some bullshitcoin app etc. People do banking on that platform?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by PinkyGigglebrain on Saturday August 11 2018, @02:45PM (4 children)

    by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Saturday August 11 2018, @02:45PM (#720309)

    Does the extension work with other browsers like Firefox and its derivatives (Ice Weasel, Pale Moon, Seamonkey, etc.)?

    If yes then Chrome losses some market share, and not just those who use the plugin.

    If no then Revolução dos Bytes needs to get coding so it does.

    --
    "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
    • (Score: 2) by tibman on Saturday August 11 2018, @06:19PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Saturday August 11 2018, @06:19PM (#720338)

      Firefox is more likely to permit the extension too. They have been big into privacy rights and countering censorship.

      --
      SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Magic Oddball on Saturday August 11 2018, @10:29PM (1 child)

      by Magic Oddball (3847) on Saturday August 11 2018, @10:29PM (#720370) Journal

      I know it's likely considered nitpicking, but Firefox is a descendant of SeaMonkey, not the other way around.

      • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Sunday August 12 2018, @04:14AM

        by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Sunday August 12 2018, @04:14AM (#720453) Journal

        Really?

        Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that neither is descended directly from the other, but they share some code due to some aspects of common ancestry. My understanding is that Firefox was an independent project split off in Mozilla to provide a stand-alone browser, rather than the (bloated, for that time) Mozilla Suite. Firefox was released in 2004, though it had been in development for some time.

        Mozilla ceased development on the suite, so a community took up developing the integrated suite, which became Seamonkey in 2005.

        They both came out of Mozilla originally, and in some sense I guess since Firefox derived some browser code from previous Mozilla stuff (including the suite), and since Seamonkey developed out of the suite, maybe one could say Firefox is partly descended from Seamonkey's predecessor. But since Firefox was a deliberate departure from that model designed to run faster and optimized to be independent, is it really a "descendant"?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 13 2018, @05:06AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 13 2018, @05:06AM (#720845)

      Does the extension work with other browsers like Firefox

      Yes, https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/ahoy/ [mozilla.org]

      Fuck google.

  • (Score: 2, Disagree) by The Shire on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:25PM (2 children)

    by The Shire (5824) on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:25PM (#720315)

    Did you look at the list of sites they are "uncensoring" ? It reads like a who's who of piracy, porn, gambling, and criminal activity. I didn't review all 2,000 sites, but scrolling through that list I didn't see anything that looked remotely like a site that would embarrass a government.

    This appears to fall directly under the rule that no addon engage in breaking the law, and this "anti-censorship" addon seems to be directed more at facilitating crime than exposing "the truth".

    • (Score: 5, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:39PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:39PM (#720316)

      It reads like a who's who of piracy, porn, gambling, and criminal activity.

      Oooh ... do they have a newsletter?

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by aiwarrior on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:51PM

      by aiwarrior (1812) on Saturday August 11 2018, @03:51PM (#720319) Journal

      As a Portuguese, I would say that in general we have a pretty strong laws against libel (in a negative way), so it does surprise me that the list is "harmless".
      On the other hand we consider ourselves a "country of soft manners" so it may be just that the laws exist but nobody cares unless it is egregious (in our hymn egregios is actually a good thing:D).
      More surprised I am about some Portuguese civil society organization tracking this kind of things, it is extremely unusual. I bet that they are connected to piracy ;). There was a website called wareztuga[https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wareztuga] that had such a good quality that almost everybody in Portugal used it. Of course it was illegal but literally 1 in 10 from 10 to 40 year old people had an account, and nobody did anything for years. It was disbanded by the site's administrators themselves (see the soft manners?) when Netflix arrived to Portugal.

      The translation from the powers that be were: Access to culture is important and, illegal access to it is tolerable. As the platforms for broad access did not exist in Portugal nobody ran against them. As Netflix arrived, with quite a fair price and good catalog (better than the one in Poland which does not have Futurama), likely the powers-that-be contacted the site administrators and gave them the chance to go on their own foot. And as the culture goes, so they did (bons costumes/soft manners).

  • (Score: 0, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @08:08PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @08:08PM (#720344)

    Not only is Ahoy! able to unblock sites, it can also detect newly blocked domains and feed information back, so that its unblocking abilities are always up to date.

    Let's start with this obvious one. Is this fucking ELI5? Reads like a marketing blurb, how about some technical details? What information does it feed back, can the provider build a complete browsing history from the data? That would be a valid reason to ban the app for privacy reasons. How does it "detect" newly blocked domains? Are we to assume it leverages neural network-based AI on top of block-chain technology to provide synergetic effects to professional users?

    Things had been going well. After servicing 100,000 users last December, Ahoy! grew to almost 185,000 users this year. However, progress and indeed the project itself is now under threat after arbitrary action by Google.

    Oh, those meanies. They're stomping the sand castle we built in their sandbox! Whaaa!

    If people want or need the app, they can probably still download and install it from the provider's website. But even though it's not mentioned anywhere, the statement that a stagnation of growth is putting the project in danger suggests this a commercial undertaking, with the provider relying on the Chrome store for free advertising.

    "We always make sure our code is high quality, secure and 100% free (as in beer and as in freedom). All the source code is open source. And we're pretty sure we never broke any of the Google's marketplace rules."

    Commercial but "free as in beer" open source tool for censorship evasion? Something's wrong with this picture. There's not much left to monetize, we can all guess what's making them money: user data.

    So maybe their code is not what's at issue. How about their TOS and privacy policy? I'm too lazy really to find out, the whole thing just reeks of some greedy startup that built their lame business in someone else's walled garden, fully aware what the risks are - and now whines that their faulty business model is failing. Tough shit.

    Pro tip: just use Tor or pay for a decent VPN. "Ahoy!" is adding nothing of value, good riddance.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @09:06PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @09:06PM (#720360)

      Pro tip: just use Tor or pay for a decent VPN. "Ahoy!" is adding nothing of value

      Unless you live in a country where VPNs, Tor, et al, are illegal or blocked ... then there is some value here. YMMV

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @09:37PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11 2018, @09:37PM (#720364)

        If you intend to browse websites that are declared illegal in your country, you likely do not care that the tools enabling such are too :)

        Using Tor is by far the safest option. If you mustn't be seen using Tor or it is blocked, just disguise its traffic as Skype calls [schneier.com].

        If Tor is not blocked but just illegal, you could also use Tails [boum.org] on a laptop with spoofed MAC addresses (on by default) from a public Wifi network, like a café (pr0 tip: pay in cash). This is your option for strong anonymity, good luck to the government trying to trace it back to you. If the area is public enough that people might glimpse your screen, you could activate Tails' built-in camouflage to disguise it as Windows. The casual observer (and common agent of the law) won't be able to tell you are using a Linux distribution designed for circumventing their shitty suppressive nanny state.

  • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Tuesday August 14 2018, @04:19AM

    by darkfeline (1030) on Tuesday August 14 2018, @04:19AM (#721235) Homepage

    It's probably the AI deciding that their extension was malicious, low quality, a copycat, .

    It's one of those thing you take for granted. Sure, the app store has shit in it, but you would not believe how bad it would be without automated vetting. Random apps whose names are just iterations of top keywords. Millions of ripoffs of Candy Crush or whatever is the game du jour. Apps with 50% screen space devoted to ads. And so on.

    Yes, AI makes mistakes. Humans make mistakes too, generally far more often.

    And what do you know, the article includes an update:

    Update2: Google responded to the people behind Ahoy! informing them that the extension was removed for not having an appropriate privacy policy. That will now be remedied and Ahoy! will be resubmitted to Google.

    Lots of FUD about nothing. Automated system identified a problem, people start screaming bloody murder.

    --
    Join the SDF Public Access UNIX System today!
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