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11.12.19

Privacy-Centric Services and Even Drupal/Acquia Defect to the Camp of Mass Surveillance

Posted in Deception, Search at 5:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Defective by defection (or when good things suddenly become bad)

Defective traffic light

Summary: In search of money [pun intended] companies and services that are supposed to respect their customers and users turn out to be doing the opposite; this merits research and public discussions

SINCE we started covering the issue of privacy online we’ve received a number of pointers that led to further articles (this page has our most recent search-related posts in Techrights) and hours ago we discussed in our IRC channel Swisscows — a site we hadn’t heard of before (the IRC logs will be published tomorrow). Swisscows appears to have been discussed among privacy-conscious people and we meanwhile study a number of services that were sold (ownership changed) to potentially privacy-violating hands that engage in large-scale surveillance; that’s their business model.

“What does the new owner of Acquia plan for Drupal itself?”Yesterday we also saw this alarming page about the latest Acquia pivot towards surveillance capitalism — the second such move that we saw in recent months. The first move predates Acquia being sold and it’s disturbing because this is the company behind Drupal, which powers many millions of sites and thus impacts what code/extensions they run. I spoke to the founder of Drupal about this. Whether he controls Acquia or not is a matter of debate, but following the passage of ownership (about a month ago, Vista Equity Partners took over the whole thing!) he’s likely just some salaried employee there. If Drupal’s ‘parent’ company has gone rogue, then people deserve to know about it. This company also provides services such as hosting to a lot of companies, including Red Hat (e.g. OpenSource.com). Will it spy on visitors and pass on the data? After the buyout it’s in hands that will likely pursue nothing but ‘monetisation’; it’s the surveillance business. “Acquia Lift,” the text said yesterday, “a key component of the solution and the only personalization tool optimized for Drupal, is now available as a no-code application to help marketers easily optimize customer experiences, the company said.”

This isn’t the first such move and it worries me more to see them going even further in this direction. What does the new owner of Acquia plan for Drupal itself? Myself and others who are vocal privacy proponents confronted Drupal’s founder over it, but it clearly didn’t end there. The company that they’re liaising with writes blog posts such as “How to Legally Spy on Your Website Visitors” and its “Privacy [sic] Policy” looks a lot like that of System1 'apps'.

And speaking of System1, the deeper we look, the more intrigued we become. It’s a massive company, but it is not well known. It probably prefers it that way.

We’ve meanwhile also asked (twice even): Does anyone know how much System1 owns of Startpage? Maybe all of it. Startpage won’t say! They’re totally hiding it!

“Why is it that spying companies pick up everything that’s left without harm and why is it that sales of this kind are allowed?”“Note that Startpage has refused to answer ownership questions and has not been completely transparent in some answers,” a reader told us. “Plus, its somewhat hidden blog post about the sale/investment was rather cagey and could lead people to believe System1 only bought a smidgen of Startpage via the Startpage Holding company. (Because new holding company directors took office in December 2018 who are associated with System1, it’s more likely System1 bought it out completely or bought a majority.) This does not necessarily mean Startpage/System1 is spying on people.”

“Do I trust new owner/investor System1 to champion privacy? No. Not at all. All you have to do is look at the products System1 pimps as privacy and security products. They talk a good game, but the privacy policies tell the story. Plus, System1 is one of the largest pay-per-click companies in the world. Would you trust a pay-per-click behavioral advertising company with your personal information? Hell no! Not without ongoing oversight.”

Why is it that spying companies pick up everything that’s left without harm and why is it that sales of this kind are allowed? Will money/greed corrupt everything?

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