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Google Boots Open-Source Anti-Censorship Tool "Ahoy" from Chrome Store (torrentfreak.com)
303 points by davidgerard 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments



The thing that is interesting about Google support is that, from what I can tell, it's primarily provided on a public forum instead of providing any mechanism to contact someone directly. Users of the forums can try to solve an issue, or, they can vote on issues they find important. If an issue gets enough votes, then, someone from Google will jump in and provide what is generaly described as pretty amazing help.

It almost sounds like a reasonable system. Except of course that Hacker News is that public forum. And, it sounds like if you can't get enough votes here, you're unlikely to get your problem solved.

It will be interesting to see if HN as a Google support forum works in this case.


Comically, they do have their own public support forum that works similarly except someone from google jumps in and says something useless and closes the thread.

I’m sure they’d love to close HN threads where they consider the issue resolved as “closed, won’t fix” and find any further discussion not useful.


That's the chief reason why I've stopped following links to Google support forum issues. I honestly don't think I've ever seen a single one that was ever given sufficient attention or a reasonable answer, and the vast majority are simply ignored. It comes off as a big FU from Google to pretend to provide support. They clearly don't give a care, and would actually have a better image if they didn't pretend to support anything.

And product owners wonder why their seasoned developers hesitate to have anything to do with Google. Hopefully one day Google's prestige with the tech-illiterate will dry up and the fact that they're simply THE GOOGLE stops working for them. But I wouldn't count on it.


Not that this is an excuse, but one reason Google's support doesn't drive people away is that it's not like the competition is doing any better: Microsoft and Apple also both have infamously useless support forums. Seeing "technet.microsoft.com" in the search results for a Windows problem is practically a guarantee that "you won't find the answer here", and Apple's forums are just full of pages of people pleading for, and not getting, an official response.


> it's not like the competition is doing any better: Microsoft and Apple also both have infamously useless support forums

But Microsoft has actual support. People you can call. Product-teams you can reach if your issue is of a technical nature.

They’re fantastic.

Google has none of those things.


If you spend enough on cloud services they do.


I realize your comment was probably tongue in cheek; but to give a deadpan answer/personal plug; My team (Azure Notebooks) utilizes github as a primary issue-reporting mechanism, and we publish our primary help email-list, both of which are triaged by Actual Devs, and the vast majority of our communication is via non-paying users.

We're admittedly a smaller fish in this ocean, and large projects will have a harder time getting 1:1 touch (Naturally, and I can't fault them for having to be more proactive about protecting their time, and google may have tried to do a similar "Tradeoff calculation"), but I want to assure that at least from where I stand, we really try as a general statement to make ourselves accessible and accountable to our users.

(Typical disclaimer, don't speak for the company, etc, etc)


They support their paid products. But does paying for GCP or GSuite get you an engineer who can solve your problem with e.g. Google News ranking, or AMP page rendering?


Microsoft is bad, but they're by far the best of the three. There's usually some (MVP? MCP?) trying to make a name for themselves that jumps in and attempts to answer questions. Sometimes they actually work.

I've never resolved an issue based on information in a Google or Apple forum. I get the impression they're put out there as tar babies for people to vent their frustrations on until they brick their devices and give up.


Microsoft actually responded to my tweet asking if one of their service was down in Australia. I got the issue resolved within 30 minutes on twitter.


But I'd still prefer no response than an official response which is bullshit. And the lip service they pay to feedback is nauseating. You're not really listening to feedback. So many people despise Youtube layout changes and they insist they're listening to us... which... they're not. At all. That's just one example.


> So many people despise Youtube layout changes

IIRC about 20% of users profess their undying hatred for every layout change on every software product ever; and yet this fact does not impact churn at all.

Thus, no matter how good the support is in general for a product, people complaining about layout changes will always be ignored. There are only disadvantages to listening to them (such as, if you keep the old layout around, requiring redundant front-end updates for new back-end features) and no advantages.


OK, I suppose that's fair.


Support is where customers can get answers or really at-least a response from the company.

General populace is not Google's "customers" (in traditional senses - they're not the source of income stream) and it shows in how Google has setup their customer support structure.


That's not entirely true. You're forgetting that Twitter also plays a big role sometimes, for people with enough followers ;-)


The two latest articles from last week on HN about how Google is prepping to fully endorse China's censorship were posing these questions in the two most upvoted comments :

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17685248 "Why is it unethical to launch a censored search product in China?"

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17703524 "What's the slippery slope here?"

Well, you have your answer today.

The unethical slippery slope is this one: when you start accepting censorship where do you stop?

Since this "ahoy" plug-in is making China's censorship inefficient, the logical step is to ban it to respect China's will to censor. But you have to ban it from everybody right? Otherwise, some people in China could access it with a VPN or a proxy.

So here we are.

In order to get a "attaboy" from China, Google starts censoring tools globally on their Chrome Store.

With great power comes great responsibility would say Ben Parker. So yes, IMHO even companies should have some kind of "morality", some redline they should/would not cross. Google used to have one not so long ago "Don't be evil", but that's ancient history.


> Since this "ahoy" plug-in is making China's censorship inefficient, the logical step is to ban it to respect China's will to censor.

It allows access to sites banned in Portugal.


I didn't know Portugal was big on censorship. What kinds of sites are blocked?


FYI, the original TF article has been updated with:

================================

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.

================================


We don't "have an answer." We can speculate that they're related. If someone gets an answer out of them or it leaks, we will have an answer. Until then it's a mystery.

(And even then, are you sure you should believe the answer?)


Well, we do not have a "definitive" answer yet, but still. The plugin-in is open source and does not violate any of the Chrome Store TOS. No one at Google gave them any explanation for the ban nor answering any of their emails nor those from TorrentFreaks.

https://torrentfreak.com/google-boots-open-source-anti-censo...


Mystery is a detective murder story where the perp is known from the start but only revealed at the last page.

This is at best a non-mystery.


Repo of banned plugin https://github.com/revolucaodosbytes/ahoy-chrome

How to install plugins in Chrome without going through app store https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-install-chrome-extensions...


I realize Chrome is different from Android, but there was a story about Fortnite bypassing the Android store recently and allowing users to download the APK directly. Couldn't someone develop an alternative app store?


There already are alternative app stores. Quite a few actually. F-Droid, Amazon has one, and lots of sites where you can just download APKs.


There are multiple app stores. There is even an F-droid app store. None of them are pre-installed and userbase is really low.


« Whatever problem Google has with the Chrome version of Ahoy!, the same cannot be said of its Firefox variant. The extension is living happily on that platform and no ToS breach has been advised. »

IIRC, Mozilla is also a lot more open about why they took stuff down.


> Mozilla is also a lot more open

You could just end the sentence there. Google is notoriously opaque, whereas openness (is that a word?) is one of Mozilla's core values [1].

[1] https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/about/manifesto/


They also did this for adnauseum.io.

Use firefox! They do not seem to have this conflict of interest problem.


Also, the new Firefox is just better. I left Firefox years ago as my primary browser for chrome, always occasionally using Firefox for testing and some browsing. They finally one me back. Especially since I can sync my browsers including Firefox on Android which allows me to use ublock origin.


Interesting to see the lack of "it's their platform, make your own browser and app store if you don't like it" justifications here.


Another reason to checkout firefox.


It's really interesting to see this story presented this way and nobody here seems to have even bothered to try to find another perspective.

So, let's see the other side, i guess:

"We have nearly 1500 blocked sites in Portugal, where ~80% are piracy sites, 19ish% are gambling sites, and Uber (I know, right?). The full list is available at our site https://sitesbloqueados.pt/ and we are able to compile this list with info gathered by our fellow users, automatically."

from

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/7swz4r/iama_developer...

(IE the developer themselves)

Yeah, a tool that's used for avoiding blocks on piracy and gambling, i'm shocked to find it was taken down!

Regardless of whether you agree, i think it's not uncommon or non-standard, and probably not (unlike some here seem to think) related to chinese censorship or other fun conspiracy theories.


The irony of your stats is that what's on the blocked list is out of the extension developers' hands. The government decides what gets blocked and so is fully in control of the % of sites that are easy targets or hard to defend. If they really want to block a handful of political sites, the lesson here is make sure to include a bunch of other sites so that any attempts at unblocking are hard to defend. Finally, it seems part of the problem here is that the blocking orders come from something of a regulatory agency, without any due process or appeal possibility (except maybe after the fact). The existence of such a tool puts a lot of power in the hands of unaccountable government officials apparently in coordination with private industry.

> It's really interesting to see this story presented this way and nobody here seems to have even bothered to try to find another perspective.

It's really interesting to see people serve as the unpaid PR department of huge corporations who have paid someone to make this unilateral decision, but don't allow any of the tens of thousands of employees to offer an explanation.

The decision to pull the extension was made by someone (there's no algorithm to take the blame here). And a decision was made to ignore the thousands of users asking for an explanation. So, yeah, I don't really understand standing up and defending that company.

Wonder if a Googler could use their 20% gig to offer real support to real users. Probably a fireable offense.


I'd just like to correct one common misconception. It is not the government blocking sites, literally any company can just complain via email and the site is banned. No government oversight, no court order. Just being an important company.

To give you an example, one of the popular websites that was banned just showed photographs of the covers of the daily newspapers. This is 100% legal but some media group complained and that's about it.


From your comment it looks like it has everything to do with censorship: Google decided to help the government of Portugal with censorship by removing a popular censorship-circumvention extension.


Wouldn't it be amazing if they block Google next? Sorry, you can't access Google without that one browser plugin that Google blocked.


In effect it's not exactly anti-information-prohibition (or pro-communication), but more in the line of anti-regulation. Which is a bit broader than simply anti-censorship.

That said, very likely the authors of the extension mainly target censorship, and consider anything else also becoming available as a nice side effect. (Or simply an acceptable trade off. Like the really dark porn and illegal business stuff with Tor.)


An excuse for censorship doesn't mean it's not censorship.


No, it not being anything like the definition of censorship means it's not censorship.

None of the materials involved are banned or removed. They are simply only available legally, and not illegally. There isn't even any particular hardship in accessing them.

That's not censorship by any normal definition of censorship.

It would be if the materials themselves were no longer available.


What's the legal way to access the information on Uber's website?

Before you respond, I should say that Portugal has a law explicitly legitimating and regulating ride-sharing services, including Uber.


By that definition, China doesn't censor their Internet because tech savvy people can create tunnels to bypass the filters.


"Another perspective" apparently means describing the censorship in specific terms, in an attempt to distract from it being censorship?

Google either needs to regrow a spine, or deprecate the attractive nuisance that is a centralized app repository.


You seem to view anything that removes anything as censorship, which is pretty pure nonsense. It's only in your interestingly rewritten definitions of censorship that this is censorship.

IE censorship is defined by the OED as: "The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security."

This is exactly none of those things. No book, film, news, etc is being prohibited. At all. The only thing being prohibited are illegal downloads of them. The book, film, news, etc it links to are still available legally!

webster is similar.

It would be censorship if the material those links went to was banned. But it isn't. The only ban is on accessing them without paying.

(Banning Gambling is also not censorship)

I'm also pointing out it's an incredibly clear webstore TOS violation. Like, the TOS literally prohibits this, and has forever.

So saying "we have no idea what happened" is instead a distraction.

I'm not sure what spine you expect them to regrow.

You also seem to not distinguish at all between government censorship (which this is not) and private actor censorship (which this is by your definition of censorship, but not by just about any dictionary).

So i'm not sure it's worth trying to have a meaningful discussion here.


Abstract "censorship" always has a concrete and more purposeful justification. And that justification is always aligned with the rules of the time, or said censorship could not have happened. So it's not particularly enlightening to follow the logic of that justification!

This obviously only could have occurred because it made sense in Google land. So yes, no meaningful discussion can happen with someone who insists on that paradigm, just like no meaningful discussion can occur with Google itself - it followed its rules, and therefore acted correctly.

Back to the big picture (and putting aside whether Portugal's block list is itself censorship). Here we've got a Free app which advocates breaking the law - essentially political speech analogous to a poster advocating ways of dodging the draft. And it has been made significantly harder to obtain, due to the deliberate choice of a powerful organization. Yes this does certainly sound like censorship to me!

Not that there's much legal remedy, or seemingly even a public-relations-based one any more. So really it's that for those of us who believe in the Internet (ie unfettered end to end communications), but perhaps have been giving Google a MITM-pass due to technological constraints, this is just another example for why we need to collectively wise up and get the fuck away from Google.


Google is the biggest copyright violator on the planet, it is a bit hypocritical of them to block some open source tool to achieve the same.


Is there an equivalent to f-droid but for chrome instead of android ?


Not that I know of, but since Chrome supports loading extensions from a local directory it shouldn't be too hard to make an app store based on github (and other source code repositories).

Using Firefox seems easier though. It also helps to prevent a future where a handful of global platforms have a veto on what software we are allowed to use.


Well, every manifest.json contains the line

  "update_url": "https://clients2.google.com/service/update2/crx",
which I think is present so that enterprise-distributed internal extensions can point at an internal update system.

This being said, Chrome won't install .crx files from anywhere nowadays, only the official store. I'm not sure if this can be overridden - the way I think it works is that Chrome can be told to install extensions via group policy or some other admin-centric mechanism, and that once the extensions are installed this is when update_url comes into play.


You can always load unpacked extensions in developer mode, but maybe it's not such a good idea to promote this option as a mass distribution mechanism for regular users.


> handful of global platforms have a veto on what software we are allowed to use.

Wouldn't Mozilla count in one of those global platforms? I'm not sure what this "handful" includes and why it doesn't include Mozilla. It is by many metrics the 2nd most used browser.


Mozilla has nowhere near the scale of Google. Google could, if they wanted, functionally kill a website or business by blocking their site, removing them from maps, disabling their Gmail addresses, and kicking them off Google Docs, and even in the unlikely event of massive public backlash (realistically only possible if the story goes viral), they have the resources and userbase to easily weather the storm - it is infeasible for most people to abandon Google's services, even should they be so inclined, and there is no other real way to impact their decision-making.

Meanwhile, Mozilla has a single browser with a minority of the userbase. Negative user feedback is much more important, as Firefox is much more easily replaced (no Google login or linked services), and they have nowhere near the scope of potential impact that Google does, let alone resources to back it up.


And don't forget that Mozilla is also a non-profit organization that doesn't have quite the same goals as Google/alphabet, the for profit mega Corp.


Mozilla should be counted, but we need as many players in the space as we can find.

They also seem do have more transparent interests and incentives—they don’t run an ad network (and i don’t begrudge them the google royalties in the least).


Mozilla is not one of the dominant players and Mozilla has a different agenda.

So they bring a bit of diversity to the table that makes us less dependent on one specific type of vested interests.


Just use Firefox. I switched back about 3 months ago and haven't looked back. That upgrade to the rust rendering engine made a world of difference.


No, but it's technically possible to package and publish extensions in OS package repositories for chromium and firefox.


Don't be evil.


Ha! They just set about redefining "evil" as "that stuff that other people do." "Don't be evil" went out the window a long time ago. I can't imagine any new revenue seeking business model being rejected by a social media giant because it "has a whiff of evil." If there is any doubt left that power corrupts idealists, the big social media companies should be exhibit 1.

I will admit I find some ironic humor in the recent youtube/twitter/google/facebook love-affair with censorship; it's the thought that these nerds created a global platform and discovered -- shock and horror -- that this world full of people really don't like each other very much and have the audacity to express that view from time to time. Rather than accept that basic truth, they set about trying to change it.

The corollary is an old saying about business models that goes like this : if any part of your model requires the user to change a behavior, you will fail.

Still waiting for that other shoe to drop.


I prefer projects that strive for "can't be evil".



Missing a comma I think: "Don't, be evil."


Maybe Google is trying to get back into China and wants to show Winnie the Pooh that they are willing to play ball on the whole censorship thing.


unless Google is willing to censor worldwide on request of China, this does not seem plausible?


I think so -- Apple didn't remove VPN apps worldwide, only in China (someone correct me if I'm wrong).


Why not? Other American companies have censored themselves in order to please communist China.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/25/business/taiwan-american-...


I thought airline companies always listed cities and not nations? Where does an airplane "from the USA to Russia" take off and land?

Ailine companies are not the core backbone of the digital information society. Google currently plays a significant part of that backbone.


I thought airline companies always listed cities and not nations?

Nope. Otherwise how would you know if you're booking a flight to Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Idaho?

Airline companies are not the core backbone of the digital information society.

You are correct. Airlines are the backbone of the global economy. Airlines are far more important than the internet. That's why cities build airports for free, and internet companies have to pay for their infrastructure.


I was not assessing relative importance, I was assessing relative power, jurisdiction and authority regarding the flow of information. If we want to know of which things Brussels (the city) is a capital, we look it up on Wikipedia, not on an airlines website. We might discover it is the capital of the Brussels Capital Region, of Belgium as a nation and de facto a capital of the EU institutions...


There is a certain irony in that.


Not really, google has committed itself to censorship (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17730842 for example) so it's completely expected that they would do things like this, and therefore it's the opposite of ironic.

Tools for evading censorship are one of the most important things to censor (in order to make sure the rest of the censorship is effective).


[flagged]


You joke, but I suspect this is part of the changes Google is being forced to make into order to launch the censored China versions.

There are more publicly visible examples [0] of how China pressures Hollywood to make changes to movies in order to release films in China. Even changes to films not released (eg, Change A in order to release B).

I don’t see why they wouldn’t make similar demands to Google, but there’s no way for me to confirm or deny this. Technically it’s pretty hard for Google to prove they don’t censor stuff because of China unless they go fully open data, open source. And they can’t do that.

There are few tech companies that can be trusted. I hope Apache doesn’t break down.

[0] https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/05/18/407619652/...


It may have sounded like I was joking, but I wasn't.


It didn't.


I have no idea why you're being voted down.

When the western nations got more assertive about regulating the internet then they give ideological justification for more authoritarian governments wanting to do the same. And so the corporations will stop resisting in order to do business with the more authoritarian governments.

No judgement. It's a very difficult situation for all involved which include the governements worried about their citizens information being all in the US, western nations worried about disinformation, and corporations that just want to do business.


I have no idea why you're being voted down.

Tangent: is it recency bias or some other unstated bias I may be unaware of, that there appears to be an increase in completely reasonable, and in-no-way inflammatory comments being downvoted for no ascertainable reason going on in the last few weeks?


I haven't really noticed an increase, but I've definitely noticed this happening at least over the past year or so. I get the feeling that many people up/down vote based on whether they agree with the comment, rather than whether it's substantive or not. I find myself wanting to do this when I see comments that offend my sensibilities, so I understand the desire. I wish people would stop doing it tho. I think it stifles discussion because most people eventually stop talking.


Continuing the tangent: I've often wondered if having a separate voting system for "agree/disagree" and "correct/incorrect" would help

/thinking out loud


Like "I believe this, but I know it is false?" ?


I frequently see comments where I'm not sure how to vote. Examples:

A) The statements/arguments/facts in your comment are incorrect, but your conclusion is correct based on $something_else.

I don't want to vote up because if someone is factually wrong, or making their argument based on faulty logic, it can dilute a legitimate discussion. But can't deny that I have an emotional desire to vote it up.

B) The statements/arguments/facts in your comment are correct, but your conclusion is incorrect based on $something_else.

I don't want to vote up because someone can have and understand all the facts, but still be wrong. But I also want to encourage a healthy discourse with accurate facts.

C) Although I disagree with your overall conclusion, I think your argument is still worth considering.

I want to vote up, but also down

D) You are technically right, but you are being an asshole.

I want to encourage civil behavior, but if their argument has merit, I don't want to downvote.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: A simple up/down vote is a leaky abstraction. I'm not sure that adding more voting options is a good idea, but I'm also not convinced that a single up/down is good enough.

This also depends on the voting/commenting guidelines of the site you are on, obviously.


Then the problem is that a post is treated atomically, so yes a monolithic up/down vote is certainly a leaky abstraction.

I hereby declare your comment "productive, in despair, scatterbrained yet True with a capital T despite me not believing in true things" upvoted! :)


Or "agree/disagree" and "well argued and on topic/irrelevant or badly argued"


Downvotes for disageement has been an accepted practice since the beginning of HN


I've noticed it over the past 6 - 12 months.

I very rarely downvote a comment. I sometimes upvote two comments that disagree with each other because I feel both of them offered interesting evidence or insight.

OTOH, I often upvote comments because they are polite, reasonable and I agree with them. So, in that sense, my use of voting is asymmetric.

Sometimes I think I should downvote more often just to use voting consistently. But, it seems extremely negative to do that to someone.

Someone had an opinion and they expressed it. It can just sit there. Why should I try to suppress it? Maybe other people should be able to see it and react to it?


"I have no idea why you're being voted down."

Because it is simply a completely bare dig at the company with nothing useful added?

What is it contributing to the discussion?

908087 4 months ago [flagged]

If my post is an inaccurate or unfair portryal of what Google is doing, Daniel, then perhaps you and your co-workers who have been downvoting (and I assume flagging) me can enlighten me as to what Google's actual goal is here?


You don't know who has been downvoting or flagging, and making insinuations about this is explicitly against the HN guidelines. Trotting out someone's given name in that confrontational way is also a cheap bit of incivility. If you continue to break the site guidelines, we will eventually ban you, so please https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow the rules from now on, regardless of how you feel about Google, China, or any other topic.


So, let's look at this, for example. You've made a lot of assumptions in this set of two sentences with simply nothing to back them up. That's not helpful or kind, and contributes precisely nothing but noise.


I think what he's really doing is downvoting you and being snarky toward you because you're a Google employee. Maybe what he's doing is immature, but a growing number of people feel that Google is bad for society and that aiding and abetting it is immoral. I know personally I wouldn't work for the Google of today.


I wouldn't either (though not for any of the reasons anyone on this thread have brought up, which are, um, stupid) but we are all required to be civil on this site. Accusing someone of brigading for their employer is uncivil. Also, in this case, stupid.


Government regulation is fine when it’s purpose is to secure liberty, which is the founding premise of the US government.

I’m far more worried (now) about the censorship of YouTube, etc.


Oh man now I definitely plan to install this extension.




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