Why I Block Data Gathering

I can’t decide if what I’m about to write is me being a total hypocrite or the blinding flash of light that comes with insight.

Digital Ghostery

(Photo credit: ToadLickr)

I’ll let you folks be the judge.  Confession:  I block data gathering as I surf.  I use not one but TWO very good, very effective browser extensions to do so:  Disconnect and Ghostery.  Why two?  I’m not sure – maybe I’m just a belt and suspenders kind of guy.  I white list Google Analytics since I use them every day for myself and for my clients and not to do so just doesn’t feel right.  Damn near everything else is blocked.  Do I do this because I am afraid the government or some large internet company is going to find out I like golf and wine and rock music?  Not a bit.  Let me give you my thinking.

I have a very curious mind.  I want to know stuff.  Moreover, I like to find stuff.  The problem with where the internet has evolved is that much of the data being gathered is by marketers of all sorts as well as for content personalization.  For example – are you signed into your browser?  Is Google allowed to track your search history?  If so, the results I see when I look something up won’t match the results you get when you do the same search.  Why?  Because Google uses your search history and what you clicked on in those searches to guide the results they present to you in the interest of making those search engine result pages more useful.  I understand how many people might find this useful. I don’t.

You are probably aware thousands of companies are gathering information about your activity on the web.  They sell this data, usually without your permission.  Then again, so do credit card companies, car dealers, and others.  That’s not my issue.  It’s the damn algorithms.  How is one to discover new stuff if everything one sees is the result of an algorithm having decided what to serve me based on my viewing and purchasing habits?  I want to hear opinions which conflict with my own and find products that are unlike those I’ve bought before.  When I search, I want to be surprised with what I find, not reminded of the roads I’ve traveled before.

No business points today other than this:  while we may serve our customers’ interests by feeding them a diet of things they’ve proven to like, it’s in their interests as well as ours to get them to try new things.  Part of what I feel is less optimal in this world is that many of us don’t listen to the things we don’t like because it challenges our world view or our sense of security.  Listening isn’t liking but a closed mind isn’t smart.  I block data to keep mine open – to prevent anyone -or any algorithm – from deciding how I see the world.  You?

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