Tag Archives: Internet privacy

Today We Say I Told You So

I was at a startup event last evening and of course, the topic of Facebook‘s data problem came up. I’m sure you’ve heard something about it but what you’ve heard might not be accurate since many of the reports I’ve watched on TV are pretty off the mark. Since I’ve written a lot of not nice things

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about Facebook here on the screed, let me add my two cents here. I also want to taunt you, politely, by reminding you that not of this should be a surprise. I won’t retell the story of what’s been going on but you can read it here if you’re not familiar.

First, the inaccuracies. This wasn’t a data breach nor a data hack. It isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. The whole point of Facebook’s business is to collect a lot of data from and about its users and sell that data along with ads to marketers. They’re not alone in this. If you use Google, they pretty much know what Facebook knows and a lot more. Like Louis in Casablanca, you might profess to be shocked by this but you knew about it all along, didn’t you? After all, you agreed to let it happen when you clicked through the app install or joined the service some other way. You didn’t realize that using a Facebook or Google sign in on other sites meant they could track you? Hmm…

What’s inaccurate is that many reports say Facebook was collecting voice calls and texts from Android phones. First, it’s not the actual calls or texts, it’s the metadata – who you called or texted. Second, that was a feature of some versions of Android that allowed that to happen and Facebook just scarfed up was available and THEN, only because YOU said ok when you installed Messenger. Please don’t be mad at them for doing what they said they were going to do and don’t be shocked the data is in your file.

I downloaded my Facebook data, Other than seeing a few photos I don’t ever recall uploading to the service (which makes me wonder if they’re just grabbing stuff off my camera roll), I wasn’t surprised. No metadata from my phone because I never granted the permission for them to have it. No weird ad stuff because I go through my Facebook settings fairly regularly to clean out things I don’t want them to store. You should too. In fact, you should do that with ALL your digital stuff – check your Google activity, your ad profile, etc. Go through every app on your phone and check the permissions you’ve granted. Why would a game need access to your camera? Why does a barcode scanner need your location? You can probably revoke the permissions individually and if it breaks something in the app, turn it back on. Better safe than sorry. You want Facebook to know less? Delete the app and only use it from a desktop.

Now the “nyah nyah” part. I wrote a post in 2010 about Facebook and their privacy practices (or lack thereof). I wrote another one in 2012 about how Facebook might go the path of AOL or MySpace. I wrote then:

Like AOL long ago, there are some other underlying factors that might portend bad things.

  • Just 13 percent say they trust Facebook completely or a lot to keep their personal information private.

  • A large majority (59 percent) say they have little or no faith in the company to protect their privacy.

I think what’s happened over the last 10 days has me convinced that I was right then. Facebook are no angels but you shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. Unless and until each of us takes control over our privacy, which means understanding that data is currency and you wouldn’t just throw your currency around, this will happen over and over again. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Where Are We Going?

I like smart people and I really like when smart people get together and have a think about things which interest me.

Internet!

(Photo credit: LarsZi)

That happened recently as the folks at the Pew Research Center, and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center set up an online survey to look at the future of the Internet, the Web, and other digital activities. This is the first of eight reports based on a canvassing of hundreds of experts about the future of such things as privacy, cybersecurity, the “Internet of things,” and net neutrality. In this case they asked experts to make their own predictions about the state of digital life by the year 2025.  It’s an interesting document, an overview of which you can read here and which is available in its entirety at this link.

This is a summary of what they found:

To a notable extent, the experts agree on the technology change that lies ahead, even as they disagree about its ramifications. Most believe there will be:

  • A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through  the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things.
  • Augmented reality” enhancements to the real-world input that people perceive through the use of portable/wearable/implantable technologies.
  • Disruption of business models established in the 20th century (most notably impacting  finance, entertainment, publishers of all sorts, and education).
  • Tagging, databasing, and intelligent analytical mapping of the physical and social realms.

As one expert summed it up rather elegantly, information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.  But is that a good thing?

I consider myself pretty “wired.”  To the extent I’m not using a technology or am blocking data access, it’s by choice.  I’m not entirely comfortable with the value proposition – my data/personal information/behavioral habits in exchange for whatever it is you’re selling.  Of course I know that proposition is just an extension of the media value proposition – my attention in exchange for entertainment.  But if you’ve read anything about the data collection business (never mind what governments are doing!) you know that there is way too much room for abuse and error, both of which will have a negative impact that negates any value received in my mind.

I recognize I might be of a generation that doesn’t “get it.”  Or maybe we do, since “1984″ was required reading long before the year 1984.  While one of the slogans of the Party is “Ignorance Is Strength” I don’t believe that for a second.  It’s all a matter of what knowledge – data – is owned by whom.  And that, dear readers, is something to ponder.  Will you?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Taking “No” For An Answer

Suppose your car dealer put a device in every vehicle they sold that would allow the dealer to know where you’ve been.

English: This is a icon for Firefox Web Browser.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe they’d bury something deep in the owner’s manual that explained what it was and how to turn it off, but how many people really read the car’s manual cover to cover? Of course, such things do exist – the OnStar service tracks you, as does the smart phone you have in the vehicle much of the time. The “creepy” factor is off the chart but unless you’re a criminal it’s not something we think about a lot. It doesn’t really affect you (at least not until you’re in an accident and the “black box” data from the vehicle is used to raise your insurance rates!).  I don’t think, however, you’d be very happy, especially not if you don’t have OnStar or keep your phone on to prevent the tracking.

I bring this up because the digital ad industry is in a panic over the announcement by Mozilla the other day.  They announced that new versions of the Firefox browser would block third-party cookies, those little bits of code ad networks use to build profiles of your web surfing.  The Safari browser has done this for a while, and as I wrote a year ago, researchers found out that the ad guys were going to great lengths to get around the blocking.  There were other nefarious things going on as well.   Some folks used “history-sniffing” to figure out which sites users visited in order to compile marketing profiles of them. Ad networks and other companies that use the technology are able to determine which sites users have previously visited.

Now many observers are speculating how the trackers will get around the privacy measures being implemented.  The Chrome browser allows you to turn off the tracking although it’s not a default setting, and there have been add-ons available for all browsers that did it for a long time.  Maybe it’s time to reiterate the point.

People don’t like you to follow them around unless you’ve been invited.  Not on the street.  Not in their car.  Not on the web.

That’s about as plain and common-sense as I can state it.  I don’t think many of you would disagree.  Yes, I completely understand the content/value equation – you’re giving me free content and in return I’m giving you access to a little data about me so you can sell ads.   Why not make that blatantly obvious to every user?  Maybe when I get to a site an overlay should say “Welcome!  You have cookies turned off so we’re guessing you don’t want us to track you.  Fair enough.  Click here to pay us $1 or click here to enable cookies and access the site for free.”  It’s now MY choice.

As one article said:

It doesn’t mean that circumventing settings in order to track people is a good idea. If nothing else, it violates users’ assumptions about how their data is being collected and used. When they discover the truth — as they inevitably will — some proportion will be more inclined than ever to support restrictions on companies.

In other words, place nice, be transparent, and treat your customers like adults.  Take “no” for an answer and move on.  Otherwise, some legal authority will move you on.  Is that really so hard?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Reality checks, What's Going On

Me No Want Cookie

Let’s begin this week with something that caught my eye at the tail end of last week.  It was an announcement in Media Post with the headline [x+1] Finds Way Around Third-Party Cookie Rejection.  For those of you unfamiliar with the nuances of cookies, a third-party cookie is a little tracking file placed by a site other than the one you’re visiting.  In other words, if you come to Keith Ritter Media to figure out how to hire me and my site places a cookie from a site where I’m hosting an image, thereby enabling that site to track your web browser, I’ve placed a third-party cookie.

The announcement is important for two reasons – first, many ad networks use third-party cookies to track users across sites (my site’s cookie is useless to any other site) for targeting purposes; second, because some browsers default to disallowing third-party cookies and lots of other users have set their browsers to do the same.  Kind of makes one wonder about the announcement – here’s why. Continue reading

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints