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Welcome to Mobile Tech Tracker. Our mission is to help technically-minded people to become better versions of themselves and to help ordinary people to use modern smart technologies to their own advantage.


How to avoid downloading Facebook Messenger

Until fairly recently, it was possible to use Facebook on mobile devices through browser without having to download any apps. User was able to do pretty much everything he or she could do on the desktop version of the website.

However, recently, Facebook began insisting on downloading its Messenger app to use the messages. First, it would show the user a reminder to download the app when he or she navigates to the messages. However, the user still had a choice to dismiss the reminder and proceed to the messages. However, as of yesterday, I have discovered that I could not read my messages via browser at all. I was not able to dismiss the reminder and I was kept being redirected to the Play store to download the app.

Although the app is easy to use, there are many legitimate reasons why somebody wouldn't want it. It takes up storage space and uses up your data, while the website only uses the data while you are looking at it. Also, the app requires many fairly intrusive permissions, such as access to your media and contacts. Although I personally trust that Facebook would not use these data for malicious purposes, many people wouldn't be so comfortable with it. Last but not least, I, as many people out there, don't like being forced to take something I don't want.

Luckily, it is very easy to avoid downloading the app and carrying on using Facebook through the browser. Both Chrome and Safari browsers allow you to open any site in desktop mode. On Chrome, "request desktop site" is available when you click on 3 dots in the top-right corner. On Safari, the option is available when you tap and hold the refresh button. At the time of writing, selecting this option will still allow you to access the mobile version of Facebook. As long as there is a letter "m" in the URL (i.e. m.facebook.com), the page will look exactly the same as before. The only difference is that you can now access your messages with no hassle.

When you request a webpage in desktop mode, your browser send a request that looks the same as what would have been sent if the request was made from a desktop; therefore the server that hosts the website believes that it communicates with a desktop computer and sends the corresponding content back. However, in this specific case, the webpage would not look like a desktop page, because its modified URL gives access to a version of the website that has been specifically styled for the mobile devices, regardless of whether the request is made from a desktop or not.

And there is not much Facebook could do to close this loophole. In the worst case scenario, they can force redirection from its mobile website to its full-size desktop one, the reverse of what they are currently doing for the desktop site on the mobile devices by default. This will introduce some inconvenience, as the user would have to zoom around the pages. However, with touch screen interface, it wouldn't be to difficult to get used to it.

This hack also works for any other websites that are forcefully offering you to download yet another app. However, there don't seem to be too many other websites that are as forceful as Facebook. Most of the websites have a relatively polite offer of an app, which can be very easily dismissed.


Access unlimited content on subscription websites without subscription

There are many websites out there that allow you to read a limited number of articles or view a limited number of videos before you have to register and pay for subscription. The good news is, that in most of such cases, you can get over this limit without much effort at all.

Although there are some websites out there that handle the demo content properly, most of the websites rely purely on cookies to find out how many articles or videos you have already viewed. Therefore, clearing your browser's cookies resets the counter to zero and allows you to do it all over again.

People behind such websites are probably aware of this loophole. However, as only relatively few people know about this little hack and, of those who do, many aren't prepared to do it on the ground of ethical believes, the owners of the websites probably don't consider this to be a problem worth investing into. Also many of such websites have more streams of revenue than subscription fees. For example, many display adverts on their pages. Therefore, implementing simple solutions, such as requiring everyone to register before they can view anything at all, would probably cut their revenue.


Block the ads on video sites that force you to disable AdBlock

Many people these days are aware of AdBlock, a browser plugin that hides most of the adverts on the websites. As well as being effective at hiding embedded ads on the pages, the plugin also stops video ads from showing. At the time of writing, it works perfectly well on Youtube.

However, there are many video websites out there that took notice of this and have dedicated whole teams of software developers to prevent users from using any ad blocking plugins. Unfortunately, these are usually the websites with the highest density of the most annoying adverts per video, such as on-demand catch-up TV channels. When AdBlock is on, instead of a video, a user would see a full-screen instruction to disable the plugin.

Fortunately, there is a work-around even for this. This is, however, a loophole that may be closed by software engineers quite easily, so it is not guaranteed to work on every video website out there. Normally, the script to check whether your browser has ad blocking plugin enabled only runs at the beginning of the video when the first advert is shown. Therefore, the solution would be to disable the AdBlocker, let the first advert to finish playing and then re-enable the plugin. You can now enjoy the rest of the vide without any ads.


Viewing content that is not available in your country

Different countries have different laws and, because of this, there are some content that is available in some countries, but not the others. For example, Russia has recently banned pretty much half of the web content. However, even in democratic Western countries, sometimes things get banned for very obscure reasons.

However, the web allows you to pretend that you are not located in the country that you are actually located in. In this article, we have already covered 3 ways of doing so: VPN's, proxies and Tor browser. Tor browser is probably not the best solution if all you want is just to watch a Youtube video that your friend from across the world has shared on Facebook, as it is relatively slow and it doesn't provide a guarantee which country your final request will be sent from. It well may be another country where this video is banned. Proxies and VPN's grant you control over which country you are pretending to be from. An example of proxies can be found on this page, however clicking on any of the links is solely your responsibility, as we don't guarantee that none of them are malicious.



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Posted on 10 Jun 2016

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troll123 29 Jun 2016

Great stuff! I really didn't want to be forced to download yet another app and this info has really helped me. Shame on you, Facebook!

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