A Boring Dystopia: Mouse Movers

““The pandemic has proved to be a catalyst to saying no to the ‘9-to-5’ schedule. The tables have turned in favor of the Worker,” Rodriguez told me. “They are in power today. They value work flexibility. They are ambitious. They value work-life balance and are not afraid of saying no to employers who don’t share those values. The Mouse Mover is a new tool in that shift—and we stand with the Knowledge Worker.” 

-Samantha Cole, “Workers Are Using ‘Mouse Movers’ So They Can Use the Bathroom in Peace.” Vice. December 8, 2021

Just to recap: the claim being made here is that being able to buy a mouse mover, which is a device that moves your mouse to simulate computer use, is a tool of worker empowerment. Maybe in a dystopia any resistance to digital Taylorism is empowerment. Needing a “mouse mover” isn’t empowerment. It’s a sign of your alienation.

Get a different job, if you can. If you can’t, don’t pretend to yourself that using tools like this are empowering. They aren’t. It’s a symptom you should seek some kind of real empowerment, such as the ability to decide to use the toilet whenever you want without someone wondering why you aren’t working. Or, to engage in true utopian thinking, find work where you have control over how and why you spend your time because making those kinds of decisions are valuable in the environment you work rather than merely being present to respond at a moment’s notice to your boss.

Why is Plaintext Better than HTML for Email?

“In short, HTML emails are a security nightmare, are mostly used for advertising to you and tracking you, are less accessible for many users, and don’t offer anything especially great for it.”


He buried the lede. I went ahead and put it at the top. For more detail, read the below. Another in my ongoing series advocating for plain text: A Text Only World, OpenBSD & the Command Line, The Plain Person’s Guide to Plain Text Social Sciences, The Plain Text Accounting Program, etc.

Why is plaintext better than HTML?

HTML emails are mainly used for marketing – that is, emails you probably don’t want to see in the first place. The few advantages they offer for end-users, such as links, inline images, and bold or italic text, aren’t worth the trade-off.

HTML as a vector for phishing

HTML emails allow you to make links which hide the URL behind some user-friendly text. However, this is an extremely common vector for phishing attacks, where a malicious sender makes a misleading link which takes you to a different website than you expect. Often these websites are modeled after the login page of a service you use, and will trick you into entering your account password. In plaintext emails, the URL is always visible, and you can more easily make an informed choice to click it.

Privacy invasion and tracking

Virtually all HTML emails sent by marketers include identifiers in links and inline images which are designed to extract information about you and send it back to the sender. Examine the URLs closely – the strange numbers and letters are unique to you and used to identify you. This information is used to hack your brain, attempting to find advertisements which are more likely to influence your buying habits. HTML emails are good for marketers and bad for you.

Mail client vulnerabilities

HTML is an extremely large and complicated set of specifications designed without emails in mind. It’s designed for browsing the world wide web, on which a huge variety of documents, applications, and more are available. Implementing even a reasonable subset of these standards represents hundreds of thousands of hours of work, or even millions. A large subset (perhaps the majority) of these features are not desirable for emails, and if included can be leveraged to leak information about you, your contacts, your calendar, other emails in your inbox, and so on. However, because of the herculean effort necessary to implement an HTML renderer, no one has built one specialized for emails which is guaranteed to be safe. Instead, general purpose web browsers, with many of their features disabled, are employed in most email clients. This is the number one source of vulnerabilities in email clients which result in information disclosure and even the execution of arbitrary malicious code.

This is a list of 421 remote code execution vulnerabilities in Thunderbird. If you’re bored, try finding one that doesn’t exploit web tech.

HTML emails are less accessible

Browsing the web is a big challenge for users who require a screenreader or other assistive tools to use their computer. The same problems apply to email, only more so – making an accessible HTML email is even more difficult than making an accessible website due to the limitations imposed on HTML emails by most mail clients (which they have no choice but to impose – for the security reasons stated above). Plain text emails are a breeze in comparison for screenreaders to recite, especially for users with specialized email clients designed for this purpose. How do you speak bold text aloud? How about your inline image?

Some clients can’t display HTML emails at all

Some email clients don’t support HTML emails at all. Many email clients are designed to run in text-only environments, like a terminal emulator, where they’re useful to people who spend a lot of time working in these environments. In a text-only interface it’s not possible to render an HTML email, and instead the reader will just see a mess of raw HTML text. A lot of people simply send HTML emails directly to spam for this reason.

Rich text isn’t that great, anyway

Rich text features desirable for end users include things like inline images, bold or italicized text, and so on. However, the tradeoff isn’t worth it. Images can simply be attached to your email, and you can employ things like *asterisks*, /slashes/, _underscores_, or UPPERCASE for emphasis. You can still communicate your point effectively without bringing along all of the bad things HTML emails come with.


Privacy is For Finding Out Who We Are When We Are Not Performing Ourselves

“Privacy is essential to human agency and dignity. Denying someone privacy—even when it’s as seemingly small as a parent who won’t let their kid close the door—has a corrosive effect, eroding trust as well as our sense of interiority. When we scale up the individual to a body politic, it is the private sphere that’s crucial for our capacity for democracy and self-determination. As individuals, we need privacy to figure out who we are when we’re no longer performing the self. As a collective, we have to be able to distinguish who we are as individuals hidden from the norms and pressures of the group in order to reason clearly about how we want to shape the group. Elections have secret ballots for a reason.

If we do care about privacy as a collective value, then it cannot be an individual burden. Right now, privacy is essentially a luxury good. If you can afford not to use coupons, you don’t have to let retailers track your shopping habits with loyalty points. If you’re technically savvy, you don’t have to let Gmail see all your emails. Not only does that make access to privacy incredibly inequitable, it also affects our collective understanding of what is a ‘normal’ amount of privacy.”

-Jenny, “left alone, together.” phirephoenix.com. May 3, 2021.


“Increasingly powerful surveillance tools have shifted the power dynamics between people and institutions. To address this new dynamic, we’ve been creating a toolkit, in collaboration with the ACLU of Washington, that demystifies surveillance technologies in Seattle in the historical context of structural inequities in the United States.”


Behind the One-Way Mirror: A Deep Dive Into the Technology of Corporate Surveillance

“…This paper will focus on corporate “third-party” tracking: the collection of personal information by companies that users don’t intend to interact with. It will shed light on the technical methods and business practices behind third-party tracking…

The first step is to break the one-way mirror. We need to shed light on the tangled network of trackers that lurk in the shadows behind the glass. In the sunlight, these systems of commercial surveillance are exposed for what they are: Orwellian, but not omniscient; entrenched, but not inevitable. Once we, the users, understand what we’re up against, we can fight back.”

-Bennett Cyphers, “Behind the One-Way Mirror: A Deep Dive Into the Technology of Corporate Surveillance.” Electronic Frontier Foundation. December 2, 2019.

Still Spying on Dissent

“Throughout its history, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has used its expansive powers to investigate, monitor, and surveil First Amendment-protected activity. As early as 1924, public concern about the FBI’s violation of First Amendment rights and other civil liberties spurred official attempts to check the FBI’s power. This report covers FBI surveillance of political activity over roughly the past decade. We find that the FBI has repeatedly monitored civil society groups, including racial justice movements, Occupy Wall Street, environmentalists, Palestinian solidarity activists, Abolish ICE protesters, and Cuba and Iran normalization proponents…

…Read the report to understand how pervasive and persistent FBI surveillance is, then take action!”

—Chip Gibbons, “Still Spying on Dissent: The Enduring Problem of FBI First Amendment Abuse.” RightsAndDissent.org. October 2019.

The Fashion Line Designed to Trick Surveillance Cameras | The Guardian

“But to an automatic license plate reader (ALPR) system, the shirt is a collection of license plates, and they will get added to the license plate reader’s database just like any others it sees. The intention is to make deploying that sort of surveillance less effective, more expensive, and harder to use without human oversight, in order to slow down the transition to what Rose calls ‘visual personally identifying data collection’.

‘It’s a highly invasive mass surveillance system that invades every part of our lives, collecting thousands of plates a minute. But if it’s able to be fooled by fabric, then maybe we shouldn’t have a system that hangs
things of great importance on it,’ she said.”

—Alex Hern, “The fashion line designed to trick surveillance cameras.” The Guardian. August 14, 2019.

Assistant Account Executive at Public Relations Agency Uses Talkwalker.com

“Talkwalker’s state-of-the-art social media analytics platform uses AI-powered technology to monitor and analyze online conversations in real-time across social networks, news websites, blogs and forums in 187 languages.”

  • Two views with two likes.
  • Talkwalk.com’s artificial intelligence decides a conversation might be happening or could potentially happen that would be critical of plastic production and quickly publishes it to the dashboard on their portal.
  • *Bing* A desktop notification sounds.
  • Bored assistant account executive at a public relations agency looks up. Yet another desktop notification about that damn The Intercept article? She decides it’s time to stop scrolling through Slack, Facebook and complaining about the cost of Matouk towels to her friend in Messenger (so expensive, even on Amazon!) and decides to finally look into what all the fuss was about in case their client, a ginormous chemical company producing plastic, decides to call and ask the account director what she is doing to minimize the damage from that small time publication The Intercept. Time to get some intel! Take me away, Talkwalker.com.
  • Clicks on a promising link. See a few quotes and a link to The Intercept article. Thinks to herself, “What is this shit?”
  • Decides to go back to shopping on Amazon, her home page and accidentally hits the refresh button instead.
  • Woohoo, four views! Another exciting day here at cafebedouin.org, the veritable tip of the tongue of the “global conversation.”
  • Meanwhile, Big Plastic has dumped another few tons of plastic in the ocean, and I’m going to have a McDonald’s fish filet and wait for the microplastic to reduce the sperm counts of men to the point that every birth will require artificial fertilization. Nothing to see here folks! The problem of plastic and patriarchy is solving itself! Try the Matouk Factory Store!


Virtually all internet users tend to be Google search engine users, by default. The main strategy for Google is to try to hold on to the users it has by implementing better security and privacy protection measures. This is something definitely on their agenda, but the issue still remains that user data is tracked. Therefore, Google is leaking some users who are leaving its boat in order to climb aboard that of Duckduckgo.

-Miriam Cihodariu, “Duckduckgo vs Google: A Security Comparison and How to Maximize Your Privacy.” Heimdal Security. May 16, 2019.

I left the Google boat two years ago. I have been consistently using Duckduckgo.com for a couple of years. It’s not as good as Google, but it is adequate for most searches you need to do. I typically only need to use Google if I am looking for answers to a difficult question, it requires Google maps functionality (such as looking for restaurants meeting certain criteria near a specific location), or I am looking for recent news on a specific topic. Duckduckgo.com has the ability to limit to news items, but the number of sources they have compared to Google is limited.

In short, Duckduckgo is a decent Google replacement, if you are willing to exchange a little functionality for a little more privacy. I think it is a worth doing.