Weeknote 36 2023

Hello again! All the tremendous amount of work to move the Windsor Law’s Library back into its renovated space is over. My term of Acting Law Librarian has been renewed for another year. Today marks the end of our first week of classes.

With the move behind me, I’m hoping to resume a regular weeknotes practice. While many weeknotes take the form of a personal diary, I think I would like to continue my personal practice of using it more as a linklog.

And with that, here are some things that I would like to share with you:

§1 Chrome users are being opted into sharing their browser history

The good news is that “Google next year aims to drop support for third-party cookies, which store browser data that ad companies use for tracking and analytics – to the frequent detriment of user privacy.” The bad news is :

The US mega-corp has developed a variety of replacement technologies, such as the Topics API that will allow ad targeting to continue without cookie-based tracking and – it’s claimed – no privacy consequences.

Topics essentially works like this: rather than using cookies to track people around the web and figure out their interests from the sites they visit and the apps they use, websites can ask Chrome directly, via its Topics JavaScript API, what sort of things the user is interested in, and then display ads based on that. Chrome picks these topics of interest from studying the user’s browser history.

Google Chrome pushes ahead with targeted ads based on your browser history, The Register, Thomas Claburn, Wed 6 Sep 2023

§2 Here in your car, you no longer “only receive”

Gary Newman sang, “Here in my car, I feel safest of all.”

Do you think he would feel the same after reading this privacy report from Mozilla? It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy:

Some not-so-fun facts about these rankings:

Tesla is only the second product we have ever reviewed to receive all of our privacy “dings.” (The first was an AI chatbot we reviewed earlier this year.) What set them apart was earning the “untrustworthy AI” ding. The brand’s AI-powered autopilot was reportedly involved in 17 deaths and 736 crashes and is currently the subject of multiple government investigations.

Nissan earned its second-to-last spot for collecting some of the creepiest categories of data we have ever seen. It’s worth reading the review in full, but you should know it includes your “sexual activity.” Not to be out done, Kia also mentions they can collect information about your “sex life” in their privacy policy. Oh, and six car companies say they can collect your “genetic information” or “genetic characteristics.” Yes, reading car privacy policies is a scary endeavor.

§3 “I start with a single HTML tag and end with the downfall of civilization”

I think the hyperbole of this blog post I Blame the W3C’s HTML Standard for Ordered Lists by Siderea doesn’t serve the message well, because I think what is being shared doesn’t need exaggeration to make its point.

This is because the ordinal numbers of list items in an ordered list are content not presentation.

The W3C spent literal decades dying on the hill that the ordinal numbers of the items in an ordered list are not content, only presentation….

There is one particular type of document in which the correct handling of the ordinal numbers of lists is paramount. A document type in which the ordinal numbers of the lists cannot be arbitrarily assigned by computer, dynamically, and in which the ordinal numbers of the lists are some of the most important content in the document.

I’m referring of course to law.

HTML, famously, was developed to represent scientific research papers, particularly physics papers. It should come as no surprise that it imagines documents to have things like headings and titles, but fails to imagine documents to have things like numbered clauses, the ordinal numbers of which were assigned by, for example, an act of the Congress of the United States of America.

Of course this is not specific to any one body of law – pretty much all law is structured as nested ordered lists where the ordinal numbers are assigned by government body.

It is just as true for every state in the Union, every country, every province, every municipality, every geopolitical subdivision in the world.

Why is this such a big deal?

But the fact that HTML’s Ordered Lists are but misnamed dynamic auto-numbered lists is only one problem with them; there’s another problem following from the insane decision to consider the ordinal item numbers of Ordered Lists “presentation” instead of “content”.

In the browser, copy and paste does not work on what HTML relegates to “presentation”.

You can only copy and paste the content of a webpage.

So one of the functional consequences of HTML treating the ordinal numbers of ordered lists as presentation not content is that the user can’t cut and paste them from the browser window.

When a user tries to copy and paste from an ordered list in an HTML page, the ordinal numbers assigned by the OL tag are not included – the numbers are left behind. What the user winds up pasting into the target document is the copied list items – without their numbers!

It seems self-evidently wild to me that any characters in a text document, such as an HTML document, would ever be considered “presentation”, and not content, since they’re, you know, characters in a text document signifying information. It is a massive violation of user expectations. But that is exactly what the W3C did with Ordered Lists.

And this, dear reader, is why so much of law is bound up in pdf documents.

Does this hinder Access to Justice? Siderea believes so:

HTML did science well and law poorly. Today, we have a vibrant and fierce movement to liberate scientific research from paywalled journals, but nobody much cares how much access the public has to the documents that literally rule their lives.

I don’t think that’s coincidence.

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