W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-tag@w3.org > February 2015

Re: Considering the pressure to turn HTTPS into a three-party protocol

From: Eric Mill <eric@konklone.com>
Date: Sun, 15 Feb 2015 23:17:31 -0500
Message-ID: <CANBOYLXDucVbHeDTdF2HH335COMLVv2dEDg0vBLk1RuNArEbEQ@mail.gmail.com>
To: www-tag@w3.org
(First ever post to the list! And most msgs aren't in my inbox cache.
Sorry for misformatting.)

> I don't mean to be snarky, but merely to highlight that this is a problem
> regardless of whether you're talking CA certificates, split browsers,
> extensions, browser helpers, performance tuners, registry cleaners, ram
> doublers, free games, desktop buddies, or any number of the hundreds of other
> things people will download and run on their machines.

Of those, only CA certificates and extensions are the things that
browsers let users download and install _into_ the browser. (Not sure
what "browser helpers" are.)

Chrome and Firefox have defined security and permission models around
extensions. They're treated a bit like smartphone apps. They can wield
power, and browsers attempt to define, constrain, or otherwise take
some measure of responsibility for that power. It's still not a great
situation, but it's not the total wild west.

Installing a third-party root certificate gives that third party wild
powers over the user's browsing experience from then onwards, and
through indirect means could affect subsequent downloads and
installations of others' software. It's not physical access, but in
today's world it's basically like putting on an Oculus Rift running
unknown code and unknown apps.

> I would strongly disagree that this is, by any means, some "undocumented
> feature of the Web platform".

In the all-HTTPS web we're trying to get to, how the trust store is
managed is a feature of the Web platform.

There are so very many undocumented features of the Web platform, and
there's a strong correlation between how undocumented they are and how
exploitative they become.

When you visit a "modern web application", and your browser spiders
out to a dozen or two third party services and passes all kinds of
information about your visit. Understanding what just happened to you
requires immense technical expertise, or reading still-pretty-dense
research[1], and isn't indicated in browser chrome in any way.

(It's also amazing that OCSP revocation checks have never, to my
knowledge, been made visible even in developer tools. I've made
websites for 17 years now, and I learned that some browsers ping OCSP
endpoints 1 year ago.)

The general population has _no idea_ that when they buy a piece of
clothing on Amazon that they've now provided information on their age
and demographic to a website 20 clicks from then. Is it any wonder
that Do Not Track has so little traction? Most people don't know what
it's protecting, weren't aware there was a problem, and don't know DNT
exists anyway.

Third party tracking has remained a debate between different classes
of elites, fighting over what the masses should be able to see and

For third party content control to go the same route would be an even
more dangerous outcome.

> Because this is a question of how the Web is presented to and understood by
> end users, and the W3C firmly owns that, not the IETF. Clearly you don't like
> it as a venue, but it's what we've got. Though if the WHATWG has an opinion,
> I'd be happy to chat.

100% agree. This isn't a protocol issue. It's a user education problem
and an application-layer responsibility, and one whose importance
we've all decided to ratchet way the hell up by pushing the web
towards HTTPS for everything.

[1] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/01/healthcare.gov-sends-personal-data
Received on Monday, 16 February 2015 04:18:41 UTC

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