PSA: Google may penalise you for using Auto-Backup

tl;dr: if you upload a large number of photos Google may stop you uploading new photos to Google Plus. I’m not sure how long the penalty stays in place or if it is lifted at all.

A few weeks ago I decided to use the desktop Auto Backup tool to make a copy of my photo archive on G+. I have over 155,000 photos but I have a relatively slow upload speed of about 50KB/s so I knew it would take a while.

The upload was working fine, Google Awesome started doing it’s #Awesome job making animated GIFs and enhancing photos. Old photos I hadn’t seen in years popped up in stories and animations and I shared some of them too. It all came to a crashing halt last weekend. My photo archive on G+ stands at just over 100,000 images.

First of all the auto backup app stopped working. It did this a few times but by restarting the upload worked again. Not so this time. Then I noticed photos from my phone weren’t being backed up to G+.

I then tried uploading a photo from my photoblog four days ago but that failed too!

Here’s what happens if I try to upload a photo and share it on Google Plus:

Google Plus upload failed

Here’s what it looks like when I try to upload files to the photo uploader:

Google Plus: photo upload server rejected

I did find this post by Brian Rose from 2011 which appears to be the only place a Google employee has discussed these limits. Unfortunately it’s not clear if this is a temporary cool down or permanent ban on uploading.

Hi everyone, thanks for your kindly emails. :-) The original issue reported here should have been resolved in July 2011, but our team has created additional confusion because Picasa uses a generic “Server rejected” error message rather than a more specific error code. There are limits to both filesizes per video (up to 1 GB) and to the number of bytes you upload to your Google account in a certain timeframe. I can’t provide exact details about those limits because they help us address abuse, but the more recent reports I see in this thread look more like what is reported at https://groups.google.com/a/googleproductforums.com/d/topic/picasa/5OVjFio8k54/discussion

That’s also a long thread, so to summarize:
If you’re trying to transfer a large quantity of photos (totaling well over 1 GB) in a short amount of time, you may see our Error 17 or Server rejected errors.
Photos that are uploaded to Picasa Web are saved on your Google account, they do not need to be re-uploaded to Google+. A photo you upload to Picasa Web will be accessible from Google+, and vice versa.
This isn’t related to the amount of free space you have in your storage quota, it’s about the number of bytes you’re pushing to your Google account in a certain timeframe. Deleting photos to free up space shouldn’t have any positive effect.
We’re constantly monitoring how many people hit these server errors and making tweaks to improve the experience for people who regularly share many photos or videos. Since this thread no longer addresses the original issue reported, I’ll lock this discussion to new replies but you can continue discussing this on the thread I linked to above at https://groups.google.com/a/googleproductforums.com/d/topic/picasa/5OVjFio8k54/discussion, thanks.

I found out I can upload files to Google Drive and share them from there but that’s hardly a suitable alternative.

So, why doesn’t the Auto Backup desktop app warn us that this might happen? I’m not the only one to hit this. Comments on this post suggests it might be a temporary ban of 14-30 days but I suspect that’s only a guess.

install-auto-backup

Meanwhile, Google is still trying to get me to use Auto Backup!

Browser Overload

Too Many Tabs

I should probably close some browser tabs. I’ve tried various tab extensions, using Pocket, or even copying URLs into a text file but still I leave the same tabs open for days on end until Chrome crashes and I forget to recover them and, BOOM, they’re gone and I don’t care.

Rinse and repeat.

Happy 25th birthday WWW!

Google Reader Alternatives

Google Reader, an online app that allowed you to read and be notified of updates to blogs like this, will close on July 1st. It’s unlikely that anyone reading this isn’t aware of that but just in case. Export your data now!

google-reader

There are a number of alternatives to Google Reader, each one has it’s own quirks and advantages. Gamma Goblin has listed a few on his blog but I’ll recommend my favourite one, Feedly.

After the frankly stale and unmaintained user interface in Google Reader the UI in Feedly takes some getting used to. At first I hated it but in the last few months they’ve improved it. I could try and describe how they’ve changed it but I’m just a user of the service. I notice when things go wrong but when they work right I don’t notice. However, I was reminded by Joseph Scott that Feedly doesn’t have an export option so make sure you backup your data out of Google Reader or you won’t be able to try other services quite as easily as you can now.

Feedly is moving at a great pace. Make sure you follow their blog (in Feedly, or the WordPress app as it’s on WordPress.com!) for further updates.

Also make sure you subscribe to this blog if you haven’t done so already!

Extra Adverts showing in Chrome?

For the last few weeks I’ve noticed unusual floating adverts from superfish.com on amazon.co.uk, focalprice.com and other shopping sites but I couldn’t figure out what was causing it. Turns out I’m not the only one to notice them.

superfish floating advert

It was an extension I had installed in Google Chrome. I went through each of the extensions I have installed, checking the options for each. Some didn’t have any options page and only one mentioned adverts at all but it wasn’t the Superfish one. With those checked I disabled each extension one by one, reloading Amazon until the advert went away.

I found it. “Flash Video Downloader” version 2.3.5 (id: ggkfikfcbnpfoicfjammigpnakpogebh) was responsible for the adverts. Authors of software want to be paid but this was very underhand. The extension has no options page and doesn’t mention adding Superfish adverts on the extensions page. It’s also a reminder of how much trust we put into the authors of software with access to our personal and private data. Since finding this I found the CNET download page and reviews for the extension. The latest reviews warn of the added malware:

Pros
Flash Video Downloader used to be an easy & safe product to download flash-based videos embedded into various websites.

Cons
They’ve secretly slipped Adware/Malware into their product (Superfish “Featured Shopper”). Flash Video Downloader obviously tracks your browsing history (that’s how it know’s when there’s a flash video available to download)… who knows where your browsing data is going now that they’ve got AdWare/Malware involved.

Also, Flash Video Downloader recently removed support to download YouTube videos. (I suspect Google/YouTube probably forced that change for copyright purposes.)

Summary
With Adware/Malware added to the product and YouTube support removed removed, I suspect most users will no longer find this product helpful or safe to use.

The extension isn’t on the Chrome Web Store. The last time I went searching I couldn’t find a decent one on there but maybe that has changed since. I don’t want to pirate Youtube videos. Sometimes I just want to watch a gameplay video offline!

Who gets your data after death?

I have to admit that filling in the inactive account settings for my Google account gave me the shivers. There’s not much that would stop me logging into my Google account for more than 3 months. It would have to be one of the following:

  • Trekking through a rainforest pursued by secret agents monitoring all radio communications.
  • Lost on a desert island with only 80′s computer equipment to keep me amused.
  • In a coma after a botched attack by terrorists who are hell bent on killing open source developers.
  • Dead.

None of the above are very appealing options but at least one is as inevitable as, err, taxes, so it must be faced.

I added a trusted contact and was then presented with a popup asking for a subject and email body. Writing that was unsettling but I hope more services do something similar. I’ve heard too many horror stories about Facebook accounts that have been frozen on the death of an account holder.

You can choose what data is or isn’t shared with a contact. Included is Latitude, which has tracked my whereabouts for the last 2 years and will continue to do so. It makes me wonder how my descendants will cope with the deluge of information. It may very well end up as an anonymous zip file on someone’s computer I guess.

The list won’t be frozen in time either. Do I add my siblings? What about my son when he’s older? What age? I should set a calendar reminder for his 18th birthday. I’ll have to warn those trusted contacts because Google sends an email and a text message when the account goes inactive. Like a letter from the grave.

Chrome 23 and Flash missing sound for you too?

The latest version of Google’s Chrome browser in Windows reintroduced an old bug where Flash videos were missing all sound. It doesn’t happen to everyone but if you set your speaker configuration to Stereo you should hear sound again.

Click on the Windows Start button > Control Panel > Sound > select the speaker/playback device and click the Configure button > in the Speaker Setup dialog that appears, if you have multiple audio channels listed, please test the Stereo configuration, and let us know what happens.

I already had it set to stereo using the on-board Realtek sound chip in my PC but going through the motions of setting it to stereo and restarting the browser seems to have worked.

There’s a lengthy thread here, there’s a bug open about the issue and it has been fixed. The next stable release will include the fix. Yay!

Hide the annoying IRC bits in Xchat

I’m a big fan of Xchat (Windows version), an IRC client I’ve used for over a decade in Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. Here’s some tricks that you might find useful if you use IRC:

Hide the join/part/quit messages. If your IRC channel is busy you’ll know how annoying these are. The xkcd wiki has instructions for other IRC clients.

All channels: /set irc_conf_mode on
One channel: Right click on a channel, “Settings->Hide join/part messages” (src)

Hide the “UserX is known as UserY” messages. Users have scripts or use ZNC that will rename themselves when they go away or disconnect from the proxy. On a busy channel this can generate a huge amount of text.

Settings > advanced > text events

highlight “change nick”
in text box below, highlight that text and delete
press enter
click “ok” (src)

Many more tips here of course but I think the first tip above is the most useful, at least for me!

Chrome bug: it forgets browsing sessions!

I just reported my first Chrome bug but it looks like it’s been known for quite some time, unfortunately.


When Chrome is configured to open the home page on startup it forgets any recently opened tabs if you don’t open those pages before you close the browser again. I’m fairly certain it used to do the right thing before and remember those pages but I’m not sure when that behaviour changed.

Unfortunately Firefox does the same thing. Go to History->Restore Previous Session and it will restore the home page in the same circumstances. I’m almost certain that browser did the right thing in a previous release.

If one were pedantic, the previous session was the single homepage tab and not the dozen tabs I had open before my browser was closed but it’s not what I expect. I’ll close my browser down when I’m doing something intensive but then click on a link in Tweetdeck, laugh at a rage comic and close the browser again before I realise my mistake.

The other thing Chrome has changed is when you have multiple windows open. It only shows the recently closed tabs for one of those windows. Open the home page again and you’ll see the “recently closed” link again where you can open tabs from other windows. You can also press ctrl-shift-t to restore closed windows.

If you hadn’t closed many pages before you shut your browser down you can also use the History page to open previously closed pages selectively. Unfortunately that won’t help if you had pages open for days that you just meant to read when you had time but never found the time. I find myself shoving pages into Read It Later just so I can get back to them at my leisure.

I’ve tried a few Chrome extensions that promised to save my browsing sessions but none worked in the way I’ve described. Does such an extension exist?

Wikipedia is down is it?

Today is the day kids have to read books to do their homework. But seriously, SOPA and PIPA, bills being considered by the U.S. Congress could have far reaching implications for anyone who puts content online. It’s really going to hurt the U.S. economy and by extension any country that exports into that country. If you live outside the U.S. many of the websites you use every day will be affected by this law, and if a non U.S. website is blocked then they could lose significant website traffic and suffer financially.

Broadsheet.ie (who have gone black along with other well known websites) quoted this Boing Boing post which you can’t see either because it’s gone black today:

Boing Boing could never co-exist with a SOPA world: we could not ever link to another website unless we were sure that no links to anything that infringes copyright appeared on that site. So in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we’d have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits.

In related news, EMI Ireland threatened to sue the Irish Government for not doing enough to stop copyright violations. Legislation is due this month but I haven’t heard anything in the news since. One wonders how they’ll deal with this ruling by the Court of Justice (thanks ILUG):

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered a landmark case for protecting free speech in the fight against online piracy. In a decision issued today on the Scarlet Extended SA v SABAM case, the Court stated that web filtering systems used to prevent illegal downloading on peer-to-peer networks was incompatible with fundamental human rights.

For more on this read Will Ireland block the internet to save CDs? The likely answer is “Yes”. (Thanks Talideon!)

Here’s a great examination of SOPA and PIPA by Reddit sysadmin Jason Harvey. It’s lengthy but here are a few snippets:

Facilitation of criminal violations

The potential for abuse in this language is painfully obvious. “Facilitation” can often be argued as simply teaching or demonstrating how to do something. Under this definition, a site could be targeted for something as simple as describing how to rip a Blu-Ray. This language also makes it clear that the legislation is not solely targeting sites “dedicated to theft”.

If the Attorney General served reddit with an order to remove links to a domain, we would be required to scrub every post and comment on the site containing the domain and censor the links out, even if the specific link contained no infringing content. We would also need to implement a system to automatically censor the domain from any future posts or comments. This places a measurable burden upon the site’s technical infrastructure. It also damages one of the most important tenets of reddit, and the internet as a whole – free and open discussion about whatever the fuck you want.

Why this doesn’t actually stop piracy

This legislation is aimed at requiring private U.S. entities to enforce restrictions against foreign sites but does nothing against the infringement itself. All of the enforcement actions can and will be worked around by sites focused on copyright infringement. U.S. citizens will still be able to use foreign DNS servers, new advertising and payment networks will pop up overseas, and “infringing sites” will still be linked to by other foreign sites and search engines. In fact, tools used to circumvent these forms of internet restrictions are being funded by the U.S. State department to offer citizens under “repressive regimes” uncensored access to the internet. When the dust settles, piracy will still exist, and the internet in the U.S. will have entered the realm of federal regulation and censorship.

See also sopastrike.com, Google’s Take Action page, Reddit.com and the Reddit SOPA FAQ.