WRAL Goes to the Dark Side

I’m a fan, or was, of WRAL news. I’m especially fond of their meteorological team headed up by Greg Fishel, and I often access the weather using the Firefox browser on my iPhone.

Over the past week, however, when I visit the Weather page I get the following pop-up:

WRAL Support Us Pop-Up

What struck me as odd about the pop-up is that I don’t use ad-blockers. I realize that WRAL has to make money and that they do this by serving advertisements, and I’m okay with it. So why was their website telling me I had an ad-blocker installed?

I decided to follow the link to “disable” my ad-blocker, and came across this section:

WRAL Privacy Blocker Pop-Up

Oh, so what is causing the problem has nothing to do with advertisements. WRAL is upset that I don’t want them to be able to follow my browsing habits once I leave their site.

That is not acceptable.

No reputable website should demand that they get to infringe on your right to privacy by tracking your online habits. Online tracking is pretty sophisticated but Firefox includes ways to block that by default. Apparently the software being used by WRAL requires that this feature be disabled before you can visit their site, which points to even more nefarious problems.

WRAL Admiral Logo

Apparently this software is being provided by a company called Admiral. Looking at their website, I’m certain someone at WRAL got a call and was told that they were “losing money” because they weren’t forcing their users to disable ad-blocking and privacy measures. Without thinking too much about it, they went ahead and installed the software.

Which is a pretty crappy move for a news organization. They should have at least spent some time investigating the impact of what they were installing.

When I use Firefox on my desktop, I use a plug-in call “NoScript” that lets me control what software is executed on my browser. I wish I could say I was surprised when I saw all of the third-party software running on WRAL.com.

WRAL Third Party Javascript

Now there is no way that WRAL is aware of where all the data they are collecting on their visitors is going. They have no idea who gets access to your personal, private browsing data along with whatever else is being collected, but someone convinced them that this was a good thing in terms of revenue.

This whole experience has soured me on WRAL as a reliable site for news, so I’ve switched to CBS 17. At the moment I do not get a demand to turn of privacy controls when visiting their website. But I will miss Greg Fishel and the team.

Perhaps I should report this to “Five On Your Side“?

Setting Up a Credit Freeze

This is a bit of a Public Service Announcement, but if you live in North Carolina (and perhaps other States) you have a free way to set up a “credit freeze”. This will prevent anyone from requesting your credit history which is key to opening a new account. This can help prevent identity theft.

According to the website of the North Carolina Department of Justice, this was made possible in 2005. Simply visit a web page which will direct you to the websites of the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies.

I decided to do this and, with the exception of Experian which apparently still lives in the stone age, it was easy.

The first site I went to was for Equifax. This was the easiest of all of them. I simply answered some questions and the freeze was enacted. They gave me a 10 digit number that I’ll need to remove the freeze, but there was no need to set up an account or anything.

Then I went to Experian. This was a big fail. After filling out the form I was presented with the following:

Seriously? I have to copy down all of my sensitive information, including a copy of a government-issued ID, and mail it to you? Doesn’t anyone there even think that those of us with identify theft issues might have a problem with this?

This happened for both me and my spouse, so my guess is that Experian really isn’t set up to do this online, and it makes me wonder about what other technology they don’t understand.

TransUnion was the final site, and they require an account, which was a little more work, but within a few minutes (after going through the process to reset my password), they had accepted a credit freeze.

So, I feel a little better. Not sure what I’m going to do about Experian, since the last thing I want to do is comply with their instructions, but at least two of the reports are blocked and I doubt someone would issue credit on just one.

While I know this works in North Carolina, it probably works for other states. If you aren’t planning on using credit soon (to buy a car or house, for example) you might want to consider doing this. It looks like it only takes 24 hours to release the hold (well, with the exception of Experian) so it shouldn’t cause any issues and might prevent some big ones.

Posted in PSA