Fri 2020-06-26 15:54

Dangerously naive statement of the day:

Gopher is faster than the rest of the Internet, because opening Gopher pages doesn't entail downloading megabytes of Javascipt. And, no SSL handshaking occurs. The lack of SSL in gopherspace is not a problem, because no one is spying on you in gopherspace the way they are on the rest of the Internet. [emphasis mine]


No. Just... No.

This is a perfect example of how the rose-colored glasses of retro-tech fetishism can blind one to the realities and challenges of the modern age. Of course gopherspace is spied upon. All Internet traffic is spied upon. That is why HTTPS was invented. If you use the Gopher protocol to read Internet content then, due to the inherent limitations of the protocol, what you read is with certainty not private. It's all clear text, easily captured (and/or changed) by any device in the path between your computer and the Gopher server on which you are accessing the content.

I understand the appeal of having information available in the fast, accessible form of plain text. But in 2020, we can't just dismiss very real security and privacy concerns by saying "no problem, nobody's watching anyway." What I choose to read or view on the Internet should be nobody's business but my own. Further, I should be able to determine with certainty the source of the information I'm accessing, and that the information is being received in its original, unaltered form.

The problems with the modern Web are not inherent to the HTTP and HTTPS protocols. This website is served over HTTPS. It has no tracking code, no cookies, and uses very limited Javascript. This site remains usable even in a text-based web browser. Because I choose to code this site in such a manner. The problems with the modern Web are not technical, they are people problems that can be solved if web designers and programmers would only choose not to use the antisocial elements that make the modern Web so terrible.

There are projects like Gemini that seek to modernize Gopher. I applaud the authors for not dismissing the objective shortcomings of Gopher and instead actually trying to fix them. However, I do tend to think they are barking up the wrong tree. They are trying to solve the problems of feature abuse with a supply-side solution: restricting the available capabilities such that features which might possibly be abused are simply not available. Setting aside that this approach generally doesn't work (see: Prohibition, the War on Drugs, etc.), it also overlooks the history of why HTTP overtook Gopher in the first place - because it was the more flexible, extensible protocol.

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