Categories
Security

Websites are constantly tracking you, but Firefox has a fix

Mozilla Firefox has just expanded its range of features made to protect user privacy, this time attempting to tackle the issue of websites tracking you around the web. Whether we like it or not, the sad reality is that many web giants add trackers to URLs, which then allow them to monitor your online activity.

Added in Firefox 102, the new Query Parameter Stripping should address that problem in a substantial way — although we’re still far away from a complete fix.

The new privacy feature will not be enabled by default, but once you do enable it, it will begin stripping tracking parameters from URLs. Many companies add their own query parameters to outbound links listed on their websites. Adding the query parameter enables the company, be it Facebook (Meta), HubSpot, Marketo, or Olytics, to track clicks and subsequently, your web activity.

As an example, Facebook adds its own tracking to outbound links with a “fbclid” query, while Vero uses “vero_id=.” This often results in a long link, made much longer only for the purpose of tracking your web activity. Firefox will strip the links of all the nonsense and leave you with the raw URL that you actually want to visit. This will certainly remove a whole lot of trackers, but Brave still has the upper hand here, blocking even more than Firefox does.

Enabling the feature will allow Mozilla Firefox to remove the following tracking parameters from your links:

  • Facebook: fbclid=, mc_eid=
  • Vero: vero_id=
  • Drip: __s=
  • Olytics: oly_enc_id=, oly_anon_id=
  • HybSpot: _hsenc=
  • Marketo: mkt_tok=

How to enable Query Parameter Stripping in Firefox

The new feature is part of Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection, similar to the recently introduced Total Cookie Protection. In order to enable it, go into your Firefox Settings, click on Privacy & Security, and then toggle the Enhanced Tracking Protection to Strict.

Browsing in private mode, the feature will be disabled even if you enabled it otherwise. In order to activate it in private mode, type about:config in the Firefox address bar, then search for strip, and then toggle the privacy.query_stripping.enabled.pbmode setting to true.

If you’ve activated the feature and want to give it a spin, BleepingComputer prepared a test page that contains links to various websites with the query parameters added at the end. Once you’ve enabled Query Parameter Stripping, Firefox should automatically remove the trackers, sending you off to example.com with no extra additions. BleepingComputer also notes that browsing with this feature enabled might cause some issues, so if you’re running into problems, you’ll have to disable it until Firefox finds a fix.

Mozilla Firefox image.
Mozilla Firefox’s new feature will ensure that users are not susceptible to tracking from websites. Mozilla

Firefox seems to be trying to niche down and maximize browser security and user privacy, which is something similar to the Brave browser. After once being one of the browsers responsible for dethroning Internet Explorer in the early 2000s, Firefox has slowly slipped into near-obscurity as Google Chrome started to dominate. According to Statcounter, Google Chrome holds the largest market share with 64.95% as of May 2022, followed by Safari with 19.01%, and Microsoft Edge with 3.99%. Firefox trails behind in fourth place with just 3.26%.

While Firefox’s glory days might be long gone, the browser still stands strong and presents an agreeable alternative for users who value browsing privacy. It might not top the charts, but it’s still among the best browsers available right now.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
AI

Intellimize raises $30M to optimize websites with AI

Where does your enterprise stand on the AI adoption curve? Take our AI survey to find out.


Intellimize, a startup aiming to help marketers drive conversions by personalizing websites, today announced that it raised $30 million in series B funding led by Cobalt Capital, with participation from Addition, Amplify Partners, Homebrew, and Precursor Ventures. CEO Guy Yalif says that the proceeds, which bring the company’s total raised to over $50 million, will be put toward expanding Intellimize’s engineering and customer-facing teams.

Personalization is increasingly key to boosting business revenue. Seventy-four percent of customers feel frustrated when website content isn’t personalized, one recent survey found. According to McKinsey, enterprises that have successfully embraced personalization have found proven ways to drive 5% to 15% increases in revenue and 10% to 30% increases in marketing-spend efficiency, predominantly by deploying triggered recommendations and communications.

Yalif is the former head of vertical marketing at Twitter and held executive positions at Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group, and Yahoo. He launched Intellimize with Brian Webb and Jin Lim in 2016. At Yahoo, Yalif worked with both Yahoo VP of engineering — Lim — and Webb, who was an architect on Yahoo’s personalized content recommendation team.

“[Over the past year,] we’ve been busy helping marketers create high converting websites by combining their ideas with our machine learning,” Yalif told VentureBeat via email. “We’ve become especially popular with business-to-business brands along with ecommerce. For example, we helped Snowflake generate 49% more leads with their website, while Sumo Logic accelerated decades of traditional testing and optimized across more than 1 billion versions of their site.”

AI-driven personalization

Intellimize leverages AI to generate webpages for visitors in real time. It enables customers to optimize for one or multiple goals simultaneously and tap third-party machine learning services for further customization, Yalif says, making adjustments in response to user behaviors.

“One-size-fits-all websites are the biggest squandered opportunity in all of marketing for all industries … Intelligent website optimization is essential tech to the modern marketing stack, and our investors share this sentiment,” he added.

Marketers begin by creating experiences for prospects. Intellimize’s AI then runs combinations of experiences and learns what converts, drawing on data including location, device type, time of day, day of the week, and traffic source. Finally, as a part of the last step, the platform delivers the best-performing experience to customers.

Intellimize

With Intellimize, San Mateo, California-based Looker says it drove five times return on investment by nudging prospective customers to content, demo requests, and other web forms.

“Our goal is to help more marketers deliver more revenue, more customers, and more leads to sales,” Yalif continued. “We will help more conversion-obsessed marketers dynamically adjust their websites to each unique visitor’s changing behavior over time.”

The AI-driven personalization market has grown substantially in recent years. In June 2019, Amazon launched Personalize, a service that supports the development of websites, mobile apps, and content management and email marketing systems that suggest products and provide tailored search results. More recently, Google added AI-powered app personalization to app development platform Firebase. And on the startup side, Evolv Technologies, Optimizely (which was acquired by Episerver last year), and others have raised millions of dollars to automate A/B web testing with AI algorithms.

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Categories
Tech News

Chrome will no longer try to hide the full address of websites

As the maker of the world’s most-used web browser, Google has both a moral and maybe even legal obligation to protect the privacy and security of its users. Not all of its efforts have been welcomed without scrutiny, however, as shown by the Privacy Sandbox and FLoC, short for Federated Learning of Cohorts. Even before that, however, Google has been trying to fight off phishing scams by modifying what uses see on Chrome’s address bar. It turns out that strategy wasn’t as effective as it presumed and Google is now backtracking on the position it defended strongly last year.

Many phishing scams rely on people’s tendency not to double-check things, be it numbers that are calling them or the address that websites have. The latter can be even trickier when some phishing sites try to use URLs or addresses that look or sound so close to the original, use extra-long strings of text to deter inspection, or use other tricks to hide their true source. Google’s prosed solution was to hide those URLs altogether and only show the real domain name of the web page.

Last year, Google started an experiment where it would hide all but the domain name of a site in the hopes that it would help users more easily distinguish “google.com” from “gooogle.com”. It is a far tamer option compared to an even older proposal where Chrome would not even show URLs but only search terms. That, of course, presumed everyone uses address bars for directly searching on Google or other web engines.

Now Google is apparently now ending this “simplified domain experiment”, which means it will no longer land on end-users’ Chrome browsers. It simply said that the strategy didn’t move relevant security metrics, which is probably another way of saying it wasn’t actually effective in combating spoofing sites. There is probably an even bigger risk that people won’t give the simplified URL a second look because it actually looked more legit by looking simpler.

Beyond doubts about the effectiveness of the solution, however, Google also got criticized for favoring its own apps and services with this strategy. In particular, it would have hidden Google’s AMP pages from plain sight, driving more traffic to Google’s servers rather than the actual source of those sites.

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Categories
Computing

The Best GIF-Maker Apps and Websites for 2020

Peppering a conversion with GIFs can make things more fun and help you express your feelings. GIFs are also great for making online content like blog posts more appealing! But searching for the right GIF can be time-consuming, and there isn’t always a GIF that expresses what you want to say.

Making your own GIFs is fun and opens up alternative possibilities. It’s also now nearly effortless to do thanks to these different GIF-maker apps and websites.

Websites and desktop software

Let’s look at the extremely clean and useful GIFs.com, a site that makes creating GIFs incredibly easy to do. To get started, paste the URL for the video you’d like to use as the basis for your GIF. The site currently supports YouTube, Instagram, and Vine — or rather, Vine archive (R.I.P.) — and users can also upload their own video files.

Once you’ve picked out your source material, you’ll come to a simple editor. Select the frames you’d like to convert into a GIF using the timeline below the video. Then, add a caption, stickers, and a few effects, if desired. There are also experimental features like Ping Pong and other effects to play with.

Once you’re done tweaking things, you’re ready to share your GIF with the world. You can use the provided URL or download the GIF for re-uploading to another site.

GIFS.com

Giphy has long been the default search engine for GIFs since its library is nearly endless. Giphy’s own GIF Maker lets you simultaneously create and share your creations, and it’s straightforward to use. Just pick your source material from YouTube, Vimeo, or Giphy Links, and you can select any portion of the video to turn into a GIF. You can also add captions.

The process doesn’t take long, and the resulting GIFs instantly upload to Giphy. From there, you can share them, download them directly, or tweak them using a variety of tools. You can turn a collection of still images into a GIF, for instance, or edit any of the existing GIFs on the website. This is a powerful tool for any GIF fan and one worth checking out.

Giphy

BestGIFapps03

The two aforementioned tools are great if you want to use existing material to create a GIF, but what if you intend to create original content? And then i was like… is just what you’re looking for. This simple website turns your computer’s webcam into a machine for creating GIFs, and it couldn’t be easier to use. Just head to the site, click “I want to make a GIF, “ and enable your webcam.

Then pick which of your recorded frames you want to keep, and you’re ready to share your GIF. You can then copy the provided URL or download the GIF for your own use. Enjoy!

And then i was like …

screentogif main app menu screenshot
screenshot

With Screen to GIF, you can select a portion of your screen and record anything that happens in that specific area — or at least that’s the idea. The software functions as a simple Windows application — one that makes GIF creation simple. Start the program, and you’ll have a few options.

The first option, Recorder, lets us pick a region of the screen to record. The second, Webcam, lets you record GIFs using your computer’s camera. Board lets you record yourself drawing, and Editor lets you edit existing GIFs.

To get started, click Recorder. You’ll see a frame window, which you can resize to select your desired portion of the screen.

Fit this over a video you’d like to turn into a GIF or into a region of the screen you’d like to record. Then, when you’re ready, hit the Record button. Hit stop when you’ve got what you want, and you’ll head to the editing screen.

From here, you can delete sections of your recording and do things like add captions. A ribbon-based interface means fans of Microsoft Office will feel right at home.

Screen to GIF

BestGIFapps05

If you want an even simpler way to record a portion of your screen, RecordIT is what you’re looking for. This simple application lives in the tray or menu bar and allows you to record with just a couple of clicks.

Once installed, open the app, click RecordIT icon in your system tray, and pick a screen region to record. Then hit the Record button that appears. When the recording concludes, click the resulting notification to see the result online. From here, you can download it for future use. There is a Share button on the site, but it doesn’t appear to work. It’s best to just hit the red and black GIF button in the lower right corner of your GIF. This will open a new tab that features your GIF, right-click on the GIF image and choose Save Image As… to save your new GIF to your desktop. You may need to choose All Files or GIF under Save As Type in the Save As screen, which pops up.

There’s also an option for a Pro Version on Mac and the ability to integrate with an app if developers are interested in the functionality.

Mac Windows

Ezgif.com

These websites are great for uploading URLs or capturing your own cam footage/screenshots, but what if you already have a folder of images you want to turn into a GIF? Ezgif.com is specifically designed to help those people. You can load up to 2,000 image files (max size 100MB in total) to the online creator and turn them into the GIF of your dreams. The tool allows you to adjust the animation speed and frame order, resizing, optimizing and setting a delay timer, etc. The site has a great FAQ if you’re having trouble, too. It’s the best web-based GIF maker for previously saved image files.

Ezgif.com

Mobile apps

GIF Toaster is ideal if you’ve got an existing collection of photos or a video you’d like to make into a GIF. This free app helps you transform existing content on your phone into easily shared GIFs in just a couple of taps. It can also crop images as needed. Note that with this and other apps, you will need to make sure that the app can access the photos on your phone.

iOS

GIF Me is a straightforward GIF maker app. This application lets you quickly record a GIF and share it with anyone. You can edit a few of your pictures together to make a cool slideshow or open videos in your camera roll to make them into GIFs.

The app lets you adjust your GIFs’ speed, add some filters, and edit your images with texts or stickers, among other features. Results can be shared easily, making this a great all-around tool for creating GIFs on your phone. Available for both iOS and Android.

iOS Android

Video to GIF – GIF Maker

If you’re an avid smartphone user who loves to use video, this app is a must-see. Made specifically for iOS, it converts local and iCloud videos into GIFs. It can also work with videos you’ve just shot and with YouTube.

This app does more than turn videos into GIFs. You can use it to turn photos into GIFs by adding animated text. The app even lets you share your GIFs to Facebook and Instagram directly.

iOS

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Security

The Best Websites to Find out If You’ve Been Hacked

Hackers and malware are constantly changing. There’s always a new data breach, and sadly, a sucker is born every minute. Sure, cybersecurity professionals combat these threats every day, but is that enough to keep our private information safe?

Not all hacks are transparent, and antimalware doesn’t help us sleep better at night. If a hacker is sniffing around, you need to know. Check out these websites to find out if you’re under attack.

Have I Been Pwned is one of the oldest, most popular, and best sites in the game. It works hard to track down breaches, verify them as legitimate, and present the data to keep you informed.

The site greets you with a basic search bar and a list of the latest and most significant breaches. Just type in your email address and the site will search the breached data and showcase any red flags. You can also search for more sensitive breaches, but only after verifying your email address.

The site provides an option to deep link straight to a particular account, so you can instantly bring up results for one specific email address — great for repeated searches. If you sign up for email alerts, you’ll be notified as soon as your email address is found in a new breach, allowing you to change your password immediately.

Have I Been Pwned is a simple tool that still allows for some customization as needed. Moreover, it’s evident that site runner Troy Hunt genuinely cares about this sort of white hat work, as well as educating users on the dangers of data breaches.

You can read more about Troy Hunt and his thoughts on the business.

BreachAlarm is an alternative to Have I Been Pwned, giving you another place to check for breaches. Along with its free email-checking service, it also has paid-for notification and protective services.

The $30-per-year subscription is probably more than you need, but if you are looking for a service more oriented toward small businesses or large families, you may prefer BreachAlarm and its highly organized approach to data breaches. There’s also no law against checking multiple hack verification sites just to make sure.

DeHashed works similarly to other options on this list, but where they focus on email addresses, DeHashed does more. Want to see if your name appears in hacked lists? You can. The site presents a search bar with options to search for your username, IP address, name, address, phone number, and more.

This tool isn’t as easy to use as some of the others. Some search results will be censored unless you purchase one of three subscriptions. Pricing ranges from $5.49 for a single week to $180 for a 12-month subscription. These paid plans include real-time asset monitoring, multiple asset monitoring, unlimited asset searches, and 24/7 customer support.

Sucuri Security Scanner

Security Scanner takes a different approach: It allows you to check an entire site for any sign of bugs, blacklisting, security vulnerabilities, and the presence of hackers. It’s an ideal tool for bloggers and online businesses and should be used alongside other sites that check data for emails and usernames.

Sucuri offers a broader suite of security and malware removal services than most, with fees that reach hundreds per year for the professional options. There’s also an option for a WordPress plugin and a Chrome extension for more consistent monitoring.

How do these websites work?

data breaches - information is beautiful

Hack search sites typically work by aggregating data from other sources commonly used to seek hacked data and share it with others. These secondary sources — Pastebin, individual leakers, dark web forums — can be nefarious, which makes it very easy for enterprising hackers to access passwords and login info from data breaches and try them out.

Hack search sites, however, use such data tricks as a force for good, allowing you to peek into the same data breach info and see if your info is there. If it is, you can then change your login data to protect yourself from future trouble.

Unfortunately, there are “security sites” that ironically just want to collect your email and login info for future fraud attempts. Others try tools and features that aren’t well-understood and end up creating even more serious data breaches before abruptly collapsing.

You can read what happened to the once-popular Pwnedlist if you need an example.

Editors’ Choice




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