Opera, Redirection, Security, and You

I like Opera. Opera 9 is a great piece of software that demonstrates high levels of innovation and understanding for the audience… but there is one thing in Opera that can at once be seen as the beginning of a new form of innovation, or the beginning of a new type of battle for online rights and privacy.

A browser runs on the end-users’ computers obviously, and it may be argued that end users have the right to choose how they want to be able to view web pages, what they see, how they see it, and where they go from there. To that end, Opera (like several other cool browsers) offers an “Author Mode” and “User Mode” CSS display styles: basically a place where users can locally overwrite CSS selectors defined on the website in question. That is, after all, what the web is all about, isn’t it? Information at the fingertips, in an internationally recognized format that can be twisted at will to make things show up the way the user wants them to.

But it’s one thing to give the end-user peace of mind, and quite another to twist and turn the web into something the website owners don’t want it to be. Imagine if you will a browser that is capable of breaking web standards – (no, we’re not talking about IE6) a browser that purposely ignores server redirects, and refuses headers from websites.

But this raises quite a few questions. When a reader visits a site, who’s right is it to decide where the reader should go? In most cases the obvious and honest answer is that it’s the readers’ choice. If they want to visit pages in one order or the other, it’s up to them.

But imagine a browser where when filling out a form that only enables the next button after you fill out some info is automatically enabled because the browser decided that users should choose? What if when you visited a directory and the web server attempted to gently redirect you away from sensitive data, your browser decided it would rather continue on?

Sure, all of these can be fixed (and should be as a matter of fact) server-side. Scripts can be implemented, data checks installed, and encryption used. But it’s an interesting question nevertheless. When you visit a site, whose right is it to be in control of what you see and what you don’t? On one end, the data is there, it’s not hidden nor is it encrypted, just filtered. On the other end is a web host that doesn’t have too much to hide, but would like some semblance of privacy, an expectation that a polite redirect request will be followed.

The web is an interesting place that raises quite a lot of questions, many moral, many technical, and all controversial and none too easy to unanimously decide on. As the web only increases and depth and breadth, these questions will only become more eminent, and answering them will become a necessity, and addressing them will only get harder.

Which brings us back back to where we started: Opera 9 and its redirection policies. With Opera, the first step has been taken and the gears have been put into motion. It’s not exactly lack of redirection, but it’s just as bad. In Opera, the first time you visit a page and are redirected, (for example, http://www.neosmart.net/ redirects to http://neosmart.net/ with a 301) Opera follows the redirect request.

However, the next time you visit the original page, Opera will grab the content from the redirection, but it will not actually redirect the browser itself (i.e. the address bar still displays the original text). In the example given the results are obvious: traffic rankings for sites that employ this sort of redirection will be affected. At the moment, your private data remains private, but in the future, who can tell?

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