Tag Archives: Privacy

The Real DNT Question

The good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation released their own definition of “do not track” the other day.  You might wonder why there needs to be more than one definition of such an easy to understand concept.  After all, what could be more clear than “do not track?”  As it turns out, marketers and others seem to misunderstand the term, at least then they are wearing their business hats.  They’re also hiding behind those hats in order not to address the real issue.

Here is where the EFF is coming from:

We think using the Web—including viewing online advertisements—shouldn’t come at the cost of privacy.  Whether their business is analytics, advertising, or social networking, companies dealing with data must be persuaded to respect a universal opt-out from tracking and collecting personal data without consent.

Pretty clear, I think.  You can read the policy they’re promoting here.  DNT Means Do Not Collect…And Do Not Retain…Except Where Required…Necessary to Complete a Transaction… Or With the Clear Consent of the User.  That seems very clear and yet even though this discussion has been going on for years, there is still no effective implementation.  As MediaPost said:

One reason why do-not-track never gained broad support is that the ad industry and privacy advocates couldn’t agree on how the signals should be interpreted. Some privacy advocates argued that people who say they don’t want to be “tracked” don’t want any information about their Web-surfing history compiled. But ad industry representatives said they were willing to stop serving targeted ads to people who turned on do-not-track, but wanted to continue to be able to collect data for purposes like market research and product development.

In other words, we’ll tell you what you mean.  Opting-out is never as good in my mind as opting in.  While advertisers and publishers aren’t exactly holding people against their will in their ad universe, they are forcing users to ask to leave as opposed to inviting them in.  Opting out has been made hard on purpose.  But we’re avoiding the real issue.  We are very focused on finding a good and technologically persistent way to respect users’ privacy and to opt them out.  What we really ought to be focused on is how can we  keep users engaged and opted in while maintaining their trust in how we’re using their information.

How do you see it?


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An Extra Serving Of Data

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. While you were cooking or trying to fight the traffic and weather to get to Aunt Sally’s, Twitter was busy deciding to help themselves to your data. I kid you not. This was how they put it:

twitter fail image

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in. If you’re not interested in a tailored experience you can adjust your preferences at any time (read below). Additionally, if you have previously opted out of interest-based ads by turning on “Limit Ad Tracking” on your iOS device or by adjusting your Android device settings to “Opt out of interest-based ads,” we will not collect your apps unless you adjust your device settings.

Generally, Twitter has been pretty good about explaining how they invade your privacy.  When you think about it you probably realize that Twitter analyzes your tweets, retweets, location, and the people you follow to figure out which “Promoted Tweets” (a.k.a. ads) to show you.  Hopefully you know that all those little “tweet this” buttons around the web gather information about you as well.  OK, maybe it’s not exactly personally identifiable information, but I think we all know it’s not critically important for ad targeting to have your name.  Knowing that you are you (a unique identifier) across devices and services means someone knows a hell of a lot more about you than you might want them to know.  Adding one more bit of data – your name – is not difficult.

For example.  Do you want Twitter knowing you installed a dating app?  Do you want them serving ads on your timeline based on the dating app?  How about ads on your phone or computer outside of the Twitter environment?  It’s coming.  Just as Facebook, which gathers the same data (oh, you didn’t know?) is getting to the same place.

To Twitter’s credit, the page I linked above explains how to opt out of this data theft.  But why not make it opt-in?  I realize that a personalized web and mobile ad experience can be better for some folks and delivers much better results for the marketer, but someone needs to take a step back before they help themselves to another serving of my personal data.  It makes me sad and uncomfortable that we’re still having this discussion.  You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

We’re Feeling Insecure

The Pew folks are at it again. They just released a study called “Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era” and it’s a doozy. Let’s not bury the lede:

Perhaps most striking is Americans’ lack of confidence that they have control over their personal information. That pervasive concern applies to everyday communications channels and to the collectors of their information—both in the government and in corporations.

Big Brother indeed, although Orwell probably didn’t think about it in terms of corporations doing much of the surveillance.  The study makes clear that consumers are skeptical about some of the benefits of personal data sharing, but are willing to make tradeoffs in certain circumstances when their sharing of information provides access to free services. 55% “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement: “I am willing to share some information about myself with companies in order to use online services for free.” And we know they’re watching:

Across the board, there is a universal lack of confidence among adults in the security of everyday communications channels—particularly when it comes to the use of online tools. Across six different methods of mediated communication, there is not one mode through which a majority of the American public feels “very secure” when sharing private information with another trusted person or organization.

Sad, isn’t it?  More importantly, there seems to be a growing sentiment among consumers to dial back the amount of information they’re making available.  I’ve written before about ad and cookie blocking.  How can the legitimate interests some businesses have for this information – to me that means to make the consumer’s experience better – be served while protecting the consumer’s privacy?  Clearly all of us engaged in data-gathering need to begin to act more responsibly or risk being cut off from the source.  As the report says:

At the same time that Americans express these broad sensitivities toward various kinds of information, they are actively engaged in negotiating the benefits and risks of sharing this data in their daily interactions with friends, family, co-workers, businesses and government.

This is a wake up call.  Are you answering?

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Your Freezer Is A Rat

Let’s go to the land of creepy this morning.  A couple of things have come out over the last month which transported me there and I thought I’d invite you along for the ride.

Refridgerator with character

(Photo credit: magnetbox)

The first is a study from the folks at IDC Retail Insights and the second comes from TRUSTe.  Both deal with a topic we’ve discussed here in the screed from time to time: data and privacy.

How would you feel about your freezer ratting you out to your doctor about your nightly three scoops of ice cream?  It’s a possibility, you know.  As the “Internet Of Things” becomes a reality, the same smart appliance that lets you know the ice cream is nearly empty and which adds it to your digital shopping list can also report in the frequency and rate of the product’s depletion.  To whom?  Your doctor, your insurance company, or to anyone else that buys the data.  That makes me uncomfortable (not that I eat ice cream any more) and apparently I’m not alone:

When researchers told the survey respondents that their Web-enabled devices could collect data, the vast majority — 87% — said they were concerned about the type of personal information gathered. Almost the same proportion — 85% — said they would want to know more about data collection before using “smart” devices… Just 14% were comfortable sharing such information with ad companies, while only 19% felt okay about allowing market researchers to access the data.

That’s from the Media Post report on the TRUSTe study.  I believe that many companies entering this space are of the “ask for forgiveness” mindset instead of the “get their permission.”  That’s unfortunate and might lead to some nasty backlash, as the IDC study found:

According to the survey results, and contrary to popular belief, only a minority of consumers are openly disposed to the “give to get” exchange of private information for guidance dependent on a retailer having access to such information – 14% are privacy spenders and 15% are open guidance seekers… Shoppers split about equally into two groups, those who choose privacy over relevancy and those who prefer relevancy over privacy, 53% to 47%. But by nearly a two-to-one margin, 62% to 38%, more consumers believe that they do not have enough control over their privacy in the hands of the retailers they shop.

So while the advantages of the technology, both for consumers and for businesses, are evolving, I’m of the opinion that a strong statement about privacy needs to come from the folks who are pulling together these collection devices.  We’ve seen the FTC cite Google, Facebook, and others for gathering data without permission and consumers are even more attuned to the practice now than they were years ago.  Why not get better data in the open instead of asking our appliances to rat us out without our permission?  Thoughts?

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Wising Up

Social media has been a fact of many people’s lives for at least 5 years now.  For many on the younger end of the age spectrum it’s been more like 10 years.  Social channels have gone from being something one did with a generally small circle of real life friends to being a central communications tool in many users’ lives.  We’ve morphed from “what ever happened to…” into way too much information about people who are only marginally important to us.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

One group of people who have learned to use social media exceptionally well in hiring are prospective employers and recruiters.  Unfortunately, what they often find does way more harm than good.  What’s funny and cute to your frat bothers can seem juvenile to anyone looking for a candidate they can groom for the next few years.

Maybe they’re wising up, however.  According to a new survey from FindLaw.com, the legal information website, more than a quarter of young social media users think that something they posted could come back to haunt them.

The survey found that 29 percent of users of Facebook and other social media between the ages of 18 and 34 have posted a photo, comment or other personal information that they fear could someday either cause a prospective employer to turn them down for a job, or a current employer to fire them if they were to see it. The survey covered Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and other popular social media.

A form of “day-after remorse” seems to be evident. Close to the same percentage of young social media users – 21 percent – say that they have removed or taken down a photo or other social media posting because they feared it could lead to repercussions with an employer.

Users are taking other precautions as well. The same survey found that 82 percent of young social media users say that they pay at least some attention to their privacy settings. Only six percent said that they pay no attention and only use the default settings when using social media.

We all know what can happen when businesses and brands aren’t careful about what they post.  Your personal brand needs to be handled the same way.  Assume everything you post will be seen (in the worst possible light, by the way) by prospective employers as well as your current boss.  Learn about your privacy settings and change them.   If you’d be embarrassed for your mom to see something, it probably doesn’t belong in a place where she can find it.

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

Reaping What You Sow

A heavy topic for midweek, kids, but today it’s karma or, in less religious terms, what goes around comes around (such a child of the 60’s, I know).  What has me on this topic are a couple of things that came out during the last week and I want to bring them to your attention.  Both have some strong implications to anyone who uses the web (and obviously, since you’re reading this, you’re included).  In a sense, there’s a third thing – the whole PRISM program from the NSA – but since we don’t do politics, and that program can’t really be discussed without politics entering the discussion, I’m going to table it.  I will say, however, that if you’re angry about it now, where were you a dozen years ago when it all began?

That’s sort of the point I want to make about the other two topics.  The first are the “shadow” profiles Facebook has been gathering.  It came out that a bug on Facebook exposed user data for 6 million folks.  Moreover, the data it exposed proved that Facebook has been putting together profiles of everyone, even people not on Facebook, and the information contained in those dossiers has not been offered up to Facebook – they just found it.  The company that exposed it – Packet Storm – asked:

would Facebook ever commit to automatically discarding information of individuals that do not have a known Facebook account? Possibly age it out X days if they don’t respond to an invite due to a friend uploading their information without their knowledge?

Their response was essentially that they think of contacts imported by a user as the user’s data and they are allowed to do with it what they want. To clarify, it’s not your data, it’s your friends. We went on to ask them if Facebook would commit to having a privacy setting that dictates Facebook will automatically delete any and all data uploaded about me via third parties (“friends”) if it’s not in scope with what I’ve shared on my profile (and by proxy, is out-of-band from my privacy settings)?

We were basically met with the same reasoning as above and in their wording they actually went as far as claiming that it would be a freedom of speech violation.

Let’s repeat that:  it’s not your data.  The solution proposed?  Governmental intervention.  Frankly, I prefer the solution contained in the other topic of the day – the Cookie Clearinghouse being developed by the folks at Stanford.  I encourage you to click through here to see how it works.  It won’t solve the “bad actor” situation that we see in the Facebook example but since it’s designed  to enable browser developers to block third-party cookies — such as those set by ad networks — without also inadvertently blocking cookies from companies that have relationships with consumers, it’s a start.  The ad networks and others are not happy about any blocking and are doing their damnedest to stop it, but I think it’s pretty obvious that privacy is(finally) front and center for even casual users.

Sorry for the length today but the point is simple:  we reap what we sow.  If we’re bad actors when it comes to invading people’s privacy, the odds are that some legislated solution will arrive on your doorstep and it won’t be as simple as just doing the right thing you should have done in the first place.  Witness COPPA and CanSpam, brought about because the bad stuff came back around to haunt not only the perpetrators, but the legitimate companies that tried to behave as if it were their own data and their family’s data being taken.

Are you aware of this?  What do you think?

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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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