cp.jpgEvery time I copy something to the clipboard from SF Gate, it automatically inserts a bunch of extra text, including the URL. Totally annoying! How do I stop it from doing that?

You’re in good company; even digital anthropologist Ariel Waldman is irked by the Gate’s copy/paste add-ons. “Hey @sfgate,” she recently tweeted, “it’s really annoying 2 append “read more: [link]” 2 text that I copy/paste from your site. Please honor how c/p works elsewhere.” In an email to the Appeal, she added that this practice is “lame, to say the least, and makes people want not to share their stuff at all.”

So, we’ve established that it’s annoying. But what’s going on, exactly? According to Appeal staffer Jackson West, this is a case of simple cross-site scripting. While West believes the Gate’s scripting looks more or less harmless, he says it would be a cinch to hijack, either by someone who works for the Gate or externally by a hacker. “If the Twitter kids can be so compromised,” West wrote to me in an email, “I’d hate to think what a half-assed script kiddie could do to the Gate.”

But, West says, there’s no need to run an anti-virus check every time you visit the Gate. While cross-scripting can “theoretically be exploited in all sorts of questionable ways — sort of like the Internet,” it’s in use all over the place. Browsers like Flock and Firefox do similar things, and even sites like Whitehouse.gov use scripting to track data (although they use Flash tracking, which West says is even “creepier”).

“Ultimately,” he writes, “[the SF Gate’s scripting] is mostly pointless — if you find pop-up ads annoying, you’ll probably find this annoying, but there’s no overt security or usability issue. It’s just the Chronicle’s lame attempt* to make sure it’s credited as the source of whatever. And, to their credit, it’s not as lame as, say, the AP’s idiotic practice of actively issuing DMCA takedown requests and lawsuits. It is, like anything dyed-in-the-wool San Franciscan, passive aggressive.”

If you want to protect yourself from this type of tracking, West recommends disabling Javascript from your browser.

*It’s worth noting that this is West’s speculation — we emailed SFGate in July to ask them about the thinking behind this practice, and never received a response.

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