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Chrome 90 goes HTTPS by default while Firefox injects substitute scripts to foil tracking tech • The Register

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When version 90 of Google’s Chrome browser arrives in mid-April, initial website visits will default to a secure HTTPS connection in the event the user has failed to specify a preferred URI scheme.

Lack of security is currently the norm in Chrome. As Google Chrome software engineers Shweta Panditrao and Mustafa Emre Acer explain in a blog post, when a user types “www.example.com” into Chrome’s omnibox, without either an “http://” or “https:// prefix,” Chrome chooses “http://.” The same is true in other browsers like Brave, Edge, Mozilla, and Safari.

This made sense in the past when most websites had not implemented support for HTTPS. It was only in 2018 that the majority of websites redirected traffic to HTTPS. But these days, most of the web pages loaded rely on secure transport (ranging from about 98 per cent on Chrome to about 77 per cent on Linux). And among the top 100 websites, 97 of them currently default to HTTPS.

incognito

Google fails to neutralize lawsuit that complains Chrome’s incognito mode isn’t very private at all

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Previously, only websites that declared they should be loaded securely with an entry on an HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) preload list – supported in multiple browsers – got HTTPS automatically.

Chrome 90 will make HTTPS the default for first time website visits where no transport has been declared. Beyond the security and privacy benefits, say Panditrao and Acer, this will improve performance since the delay incurred by redirection from an http:// endpoint to an https:// endpoint will no longer happen.

A few exceptions will persist, however. IP addresses, single label domains (eg contoso without TLD like .com), and reserved hostnames like localhost/ will still default to http://.

Private like a fox

In other browser-related news, Mozilla Firefox 87 debuted on Tuesday with a privacy feature called SmartBlock.

Borrowing from techniques used by privacy-focused extensions NoScript and uBlock Origin (eg “stub scripts“), SmartBlock provides a way to block tracking scripts while attempting to minimize performance-affecting delays or errors that can arise from meddling with webpage code.

“SmartBlock does this by providing local stand-ins for blocked third-party tracking scripts,” explains Thomas Wisniewski, web compatibility engineer at Mozilla, in a blog post.

“These stand-in scripts behave just enough like the original ones to make sure that the website works properly. They allow broken sites relying on the original scripts to load with their functionality intact.”

Firefox SmartBlock can replace trackers found on the extensive Disconnect Tracking Protection List, which just for the US numbers well over a thousand.

Firefox 87 also incorporates another privacy enhancement: It will limit the information contained in the referrer (misspelled but implemented as “Referer“) header string by setting its default Referrer-Policy to “strict-origin-when-cross-origin.”

What this means is that when a Firefox user follows a link like “https://www.example.com/path?query” – where “path” and “query” represent more meaningful or sensitive information – the HTTP Referer Header that gets sent to the visited website will indicate that the visitor has arrived from “https://www.example.com” and the extra path and query data will be dropped. ®

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NUIG to spend €5m on research to help address global issues

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Several key research areas have been identified by NUI Galway to work towards for 2026.

NUI Galway’s recently launched research and innovation strategy includes a €5m investment on support for its multi-disciplinary research teams as they grapple with several global issues.

The strategy, which lays out plans for the university’s next five years of research, focuses on six areas: antimicrobial resistance, decarbonisation, democracy and its future, food security, human-centred data and ocean and coastal health.

“As a public university, we have a special responsibility to direct our research toward the most pressing questions and the most difficult issues,” said to Prof Jim Livesey, VP for research and innovation at NUI Galway.

“As we look into the future, we face uncertainty about the number and nature of challenges we will face, but we know that we will rely on our research capacity as we work together to overcome them,” Livesey added.

The plan focuses on creating the conditions to intensify the quality, scale and scope of research in the university into the future. This includes identifying areas with genuine potential to achieve international recognition for NUI Galway. It also aims to continue to cultivate a supportive and diverse environment within its research community.

NUI Galway has research collaborations with 3,267 international institutions in 114 different countries. The university also has five research institutes on its Galway city campus, including the Data Science Institute, the Whitaker Institute for social change and innovation and the Ryan Institute for marine research.

Its research centres in the medtech area include Science Foundation Ireland’s Cúram and the Corrib Research Centre for Advanced Imaging and Core Lab.

The university will also continue to involve the public with its research and innovation plans through various education and outreach initiatives. It is leading the Public Patient Involvement Ignite network, which it claims, will “bring the public into the heart of research initiatives”.

Another key area identified in the strategy report is the development of partnerships with industry stakeholders. NUI Galway has spun out many successful companies in recent years, including medtechs such as AuriGen Medical, Atrian, Vetex Medical and Neurent.

According to MedTech Europe, Ireland has the highest number of medtech employees per capita in Europe along with Switzerland.

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France hails victory as Facebook agrees to pay newspapers for content | France

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France has hailed a victory in its long-running quest for fairer action from tech companies after Facebook reached an agreement with a group of national and regional newspapers to pay for content shared by its users.

Facebook on Thursday announced a licensing agreement with the APIG alliance of French national and regional newspapers, which includes Le Parisien and Ouest-France as well as smaller titles. It said this meant “people on Facebook will be able to continue uploading and sharing news stories freely amongst their communities, whilst also ensuring that the copyright of our publishing partners is protected”.

France had been battling for two years to protect the publishing rights and revenue of its press and news agencies against what it termed the domination of powerful tech companies that share news content or show news stories in web searches.

In 2019 France became the first EU country to enact a directive on the publishing rights of media companies and news agencies, called “neighbouring rights”, which required large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content. But it has taken long negotiations to reach agreements on paying publishers for content.

No detail was given of the exact amount agreed by Facebook and the APIG.

Pierre Louette, the head of the media group Les Echos-Le Parisien, led the alliance of newspapers who negotiated as a group with Facebook. He said the agreement was “the result of an outspoken and fruitful dialogue between publishers and a leading digital platform”. He said the terms agreed would allow Facebook to implement French law “while generating significant funding” for news publishers, notably the smallest ones.

Other newspapers, such as the national daily Le Monde, have negotiated their own deals in recent months. News agencies have also negotiated separately.

After the 2019 French directive to protect publishers’ rights, a copyright spat raged for more than a year in which French media groups sought to find common ground with international tech firms. Google initially refused to comply, saying media groups already benefited by receiving millions of visits to their websites. News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions complained about not receiving a cut of the millions made from ads displayed alongside news stories, particularly on Google.

But this year Google announced it had reached a draft agreement with the APIG to pay publishers for a selection of content shown in its searches.

Facebook said that besides paying for French content, it would also launch a French news service, Facebook News, in January – a follow-up to similar services in the US and UK – to “give people a dedicated space to access content from trusted and reputable news sources”.

Facebook reached deals with most of Australia’s largest media companies earlier this year. Nine Entertainment, which includes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, said in its annual report that it was expecting “strong growth in the short-term” from its deals with Facebook and Google.

British newspapers including the Guardian signed up last year to a programme in which Facebook pays to license articles that appear on a dedicated news section on the social media site. Separately, in July Guardian Australia struck a deal with Facebook to license news content.

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Flight Simulator says Windows 11 has been downloaded on Xbox • The Register

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Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, designed to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, will not fly until the first half of next year at the earliest, as the manufacturing giant continues to tackle an issue with the spacecraft’s valves.

Things have not gone smoothly for Boeing. Its Starliner program has suffered numerous setbacks and delays. Just in August, a second unmanned test flight was scrapped after 13 of 24 valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system jammed. In a briefing this week, Michelle Parker, chief engineer of space and launch at Boeing, shed more light on the errant components.

Boeing believes the valves malfunctioned due to weather issues, we were told. Florida, home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where the Starliner is being assembled and tested, is known for hot, humid summers. Parker explained that the chemicals from the spacecraft’s oxidizer reacted with water condensation inside the valves to form nitric acid. The acidity corroded the valves, causing them to stick.

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