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Privacy Machiavellis 206

Posted by kdawson
from the prince-of-a-company dept.
Chris Jay Hoofnagle has a piece up at SFGate.com on what he calls the "privacy Machiavellis," which are exemplified by Google and Facebook. (The article is adapted from a longer treatment published last year, called "Beyond Google and Evil.") Hoofnagle heads the privacy foundation set up with money collected from settlements of privacy lawsuits against Facebook. From SFGate: "... you have no way to ask Google to stop this tracking. Instead, you can merely opt out of the targeted advertising — the product recommendations. Exercising your privacy options creates a worst-case-scenario outcome: If you opt out, you are still tracked, but you do not receive the putative benefit of targeted ads. An illusory opt-out system is just one of the increasingly sophisticated sleights of hand in the privacy world. Consider Facebook's privacy options. ... Facebook can proudly proclaim that it offers ... more than 100 [choices]. Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices, individuals are likely to choose poorly, or not at all. Facebook benefits because poor choices or paralysis leads consumers to reveal more personal information. In any case, the fault is the consumer's, because, after all, they were given a choice. Reader Kilrah_il sends word that Google has just released a tool that could alleviate some of the above worries: it stops tracking by Google Analytics for users of IE7+, Firefox 3.5+, and Chrome 4+. Perhaps Hoofnagle will comment on it here or elsewhere.
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Privacy Machiavellis

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  • by homer_s (799572) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:49PM (#32341208)
    An illusory opt-out system ... Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices,

    Of course, you can exercise the one opt-out system that works - don't use their services. Nobody is holding a gun to your head. It is like buying a car, but not wanting to pay the price. The price of working with Google and Facebook is not dollars, but your data.

    Google's price/benefit is right for me, so I use it. Facebook's is not, so I don't.
    • by postbigbang (761081) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:54PM (#32341292)

      Nicely stated.

      Yet civilians still need protection from things they don't understand. We do have a choice. We can and do opt out. But even black-belt geeks that desire privacy have a hard time figuring this stuff out. It's like the 32 page credit card agreement conundrum. Simple protection of the innocent demands safety for them. We're supposed to be the 'good guys'. Good guys help protect those that can't protect themselves, not leave them to the wolves. There is evil in such trickery.

      • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:57PM (#32341324) Homepage

        > We can and do opt out. But even black-belt geeks that desire privacy have a
        > hard time figuring this stuff out.

        Why is it so hard to figure out that if you can't figure it out you shouldn't agree to it?

        • by Miros (734652) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:00PM (#32341370)
          That makes sense in an opt-in framework, but not in an opt-out framework.
          • You have a good point, but Facebook is opt-in, really. You don't have to use them. Google on the other hand is by default opt-out, since the site you go to may use it, and noscript and ghoster-type things aren't default controls yet.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by blair1q (305137)

              It's not opt-in for those who were using it before the system was changed to collect their information without giving them the option to opt-out.

              Facebook is a bunch of unthinking script-kiddies who implement feature requests without considering how the new feature affects anyone other than the requester.

              I suspect this has cost Zuckerberg about $2 or $3 billion in marketable value for his website. He'll wipe the snot away and claim he doesn't care, but if losing $3 billion doesn't make him shit his pants, h

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by nextekcarl (1402899)

                It's not opt-in for those who were using it before the system was changed to collect their information without giving them the option to opt-out.

                Okay, you got me there. When I managed a self storage location we could tell who the lawyers were. They were the only ones (well, high 90's%) who read the contracts we had people sign. That might seem odd, considering it was only 1 page of relatively fine print (it wasn't like signing a mortgage or anything) but most people assume that they wouldn't understand it even if they did read it. Many people fear (rightly IMHO) that legalese too often has specific meanings that you have to be a lawyer to actually u

                • by blair1q (305137)

                  What he was going to do with the additional data was also worth a lot more before he pissed off his users by selling their privacy without permission.

                  If he'd done it right, that's another couple $billion on top.

                  Again, if this stuff doesn't make him crap his pants, he never knew what he was doing in the first place, and will be easy to rape in a business deal.

        • Why is it so hard to figure out that if you can't figure it out you shouldn't agree to it?

          The same could be said of software EULAS, mobile phone contracts, or half a dozen other things...

          • > The same could be said of software EULAS, mobile phone contracts, or half a
            > dozen other things...

            Yes. So what is your answer?

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:44PM (#32342590)

          To the people who mod this insightful. Go fuck yourself.

          Are you saying that because I'm not a lawyer...because I was *only* reading at a 12th grade level at age 8...that I should:

              - not be able to purchase a car?
              - not be able to buy internet service?
              - never own a home?
              - have to spend days researching my new apartment complex to see which terms of the lease count, and which are merely unenforceable?
              - not even be able to *use* the average operating system, save a BSD licensed one? I'm sorry--The GPL contains terms of the art that require a subtle and nuanced understanding to even start to comprehend. Don't get me started on windows licensing agreements...
              - not be able to own phone service
              - not be able to participate meaningfully in social life because many services are only available with a credit card or bank account, each coming with their own 10-20 pages of small print which make liberal use of terms of the art.

          No. That's a load of shit. In point of fact, 99% of the world probably outright *IGNORES* the legalese that occurs in day to day life. And if there was any justice--juries and judges would throw it out for exactly that reason. The reasonable, ethical, responsible expectation is the doctrine of first sale and nothing more. No loss of rights, no restrictions on what you can do with it, how or when.

          And the same goes for marketers. Privacy information is provided in a complicated, convoluted manner to hide the plain and simple fact that their agreements amount to "once you give us the data, we can do what we damned well please with it, as long as it isn't illegal (and if the law changes, we will do it)"

          Participating in society in a routine and typical basis should require no more legal comprehension than is typical. And if that means that I "have to understand" my cellphone agreement--it should be nullified and unenforceable.

          The ridiculous attitude that "You don't have to do X, so I can ask for anything I damned well please for it, collude with others to ask for it, and no, you aren't free to compete because I have a revolving door patent agreement updated every year, but never filed--and I enjoy my monopoly agreements on service with local governments" needs to be set on fire and shot at a social level.

          Not . It's not over till it's burned alive.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            - not even be able to *use* the average operating system, save a BSD licensed one? I'm sorry--The GPL contains terms of the art that require a subtle and nuanced understanding to even start to comprehend. Don't get me started on windows licensing agreements...

            You don't have to agree to the GPL just to use the software, only if you want to distribute it.

      • But then you tend to end up with the opposite problem: the nanny state. While I agree we can't go back to an Wild West society, we are pretty far to the opposite extreme now: Paralysis because there's so much regulation over everything. From patent minefields to government 'oversight' (that often doesn't work anyway, I'm looking at you Enron, AIG, and now BP) I'm not sure it's actually worth it anymore.

        • You're talking extremes instead of dimensions. Life is complicated, without a doubt. Diligence and tenacity are required, because we're really inventive. That inventiveness is the natural byproduct of curiosity. Consider that the Nobel prize is the guilt-gift of the man that invented dynamite.

          Almost every day, new and sometimes onerous/insidious ways of manipulating information are conjured up. Some are really cool, and others are the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that privacy invasion has become. I'd err on the

        • Exactly. We're in a nanny state, paralyzed with regulations. We need to get rid of useless regulations that help nobody and I know just the place to start.

          Offshore oil rigs.

          • Well, the regulations sure didn't help much, did they? LOL

            That's my point. Regulations don't seem to work against the big guys (due to corruption, enforcement difficulty, etc) and they keep the smaller guys from being able to even get started.

            I'm definitely not one for saying we need to get rid of all regulation, but this idea that the government can possible protect us from everything just doesn't work. Even without considering the downsides (1984 scenarios for example) the simple fact is it can't succeed

      • by dubbreak (623656)

        Yet civilians still need protection from things they don't understand.

        So we should protect ICP from magnets [youtube.com]?

    • by Miros (734652)
      It's not always that transparent. If you consider the network advertising initiative for example, you can quickly see a large number of advertising networks that track behavioral patterns based simply on embedded advertisements on pages that don't necessarily carry any obvious information about what types of behavioral tracking the user is being subjected to. Furthermore, you can't easily tell if a site employs these features before actually going to it. Sure, you can opt-out [networkadvertising.org] but that just sets a cookie.
    • by dcollins (135727) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:14PM (#32341566) Homepage

      "Of course, you can exercise the one opt-out system that works - don't use their services. Nobody is holding a gun to your head. It is like buying a car, but not wanting to pay the price. The price of working with Google and Facebook is not dollars, but your data... Google's price/benefit is right for me, so I use it. Facebook's is not, so I don't."

      So, basically a free-market argument. However, the free market only works based on an assumption of full information on behalf of all parties. So inasmuch as companies such as these withhold information, or obscure what they're doing, or drown the client in a deluge of fine print, many people will be kept ignorant of the true cost (whether in dollars or data or anything else).

      This is enormously similar to how credit-card companies, EULA writers, shady mortgage lenders, etc., all operate. When free-market assumptions break down, the only remaining solution is organized political action.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hsmith (818216)
        Free market works great without all the information as well, it is not a requirement for participation or for even the free market to work well - you simply don't do business with them if you don't have all the information or aren't comfortable with the transaction. *THAT* is the free market solution.

        There is no need to create "political" action in the case of EULAs, Google, etc - you simply don't use their service - seeing as they "play games" with their terms as you describe it as.
        • by Miros (734652)
          There is no "Lemons" problem for online privacy and websites. Why do you suppose that is? Is it that most consumers just don't value their online privacy?
    • by ceejayoz (567949)

      Of course, you can exercise the one opt-out system that works - don't use their services.

      So... how am I going to find out if a site uses Google Analytics without going to it and checking the source?

      • > So... how am I going to find out if a site uses Google Analytics without
        > going to it and checking the source?

        Why would you need to when you have told NoScript to block Google?

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:46PM (#32342000) Homepage
      If you aren't on Facebook you can't keep track of friends putting up junk involving you. It is possible on Facebook to tag or make comments about people who are not members. Thus for example, say a friend takes a picture of a few people drunk and you are one of the people in the picture. The next day, if they put the picture up and tag people in it, you can untag yourself and drop them a note. If you aren't on Facebook, they could include your name and you won't know. This risk is especially severe for people around college age. And there are enough people around that one can't simply trust all of them not to be inconsiderate idiots. Thus, as long as lots of people are on Facebook, one has a direct incentive to stay there.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        This isn't a problem with facebook. This is a problem with digital cameras. If you don't want incriminating pictures of yourself on the internet don't do incriminating things, at least not in front of people with cameras whom you don't trust.
        • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
          You don't always know when someone happens to have a camera and you don't realize it. The problem is that even if one wouldn't mind having a picture of one in that situation, the easy access of Facebook makes the situation much worse, especially when people who would be moral enough not to blackmail (i.e. most humans) are still inconsiderate enough to not realize that you don't want the picture of you up on their bloody public profile. It is thus easier to have fun and have the Facebook profile than have le
    • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:55PM (#32342706)

      Of course, you can exercise the one opt-out system that works - don't use their services.

      Then you might as well not use most of the web. Do you know how many websites embed the google-analytics code? Hundreds of thousands of them. Basically any website that can't afford to role their own or contract out for a paid service will use google-analytics for user-traffic tracking.

      So your answer is completely unfeasible in the real world.

      • > Do you know how many websites embed the google-analytics code?

        I don't care. NoScript blocks Google Analytics for me.

        > So your answer is completely unfeasible in the real world.

        Works in the one I live in.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          So your answer is completely unfeasible in the real world.

          Works in the one I live in.

          Dude, why did you even respond? Your "works for me" has nothing to do with the "do not use their services" doctrine.
          You are still using the services, you are just trying to block part of it that you don't like.

          The thing about noscript, it doesn't block everything. Not even close. Nor does adblock or ghostery. Adblock blocks ads, not trackers. I wish someone would maintain a list of trackers for adblock, but AFAIK nobody does. I routinely see trackers (1x1 images, invisible gifs, embedded frames, etc)

  • Noscript (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:51PM (#32341240)

    Noscript stopped Google Analytics a long time ago!

  • Hoofnagle heads the privacy foundation set up with money collected from settlements of privacy lawsuits against Facebook.

    Hoofnagle is clearly objective /sarcasm ... not that Facebook isn't evil, or that Google isn't building up one of the biggest data collections humankind will ever encounter ... but he is employed by a company that pays it's bills because of suing Facebook.

  • Facebook can proudly proclaim that it offers ... more than 100 [choices]. Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices, individuals are likely to choose poorly, or not at all.

    First it's not enough privacy options. Now it's too many privacy options. Tomorrow when they get the unspoken mythical number correct, we'll bitch about the default settings. Then someone will come on Slashdot and say that his Linux servers were rooted and we'll say that it's because all the idiots of the world use out of the box settings and don't change the default passwords. Granted, your average facebooker shouldn't have to have the wherewithal to set up a Linux server but I think this Google/Facebo

    • Instead of Privacy Machiavellis, we should have Privacy Goldilocks instead.

      "This privacy options set is too big! This privacy options set is too small! This privacy options set is juuuuust right!"

    • by Spad (470073)

      Facebook's problem is that its "lots of options" are spread over about 5 different sections of your profile in various sub-categories and with a wide variety of titles ranging from obvious to cryptic - choice is no good if you can't figure out what you're choosing from.

      • Facebook's problem is that its "lots of options" are spread over about 5 different sections of your profile in various sub-categories and with a wide variety of titles ranging from obvious to cryptic - choice is no good if you can't figure out what you're choosing from.

        Alright well, I actually have a Facebook account and I've actually set the privacy settings. They promise to make it simpler (how, I'll never know) but the way it currently works is that you have a menu of six categories [facebook.com]. They are:

        • Personal Information and Posts
          Control who can see your photos and videos, and who can post to your wall
        • Contact Information
          Control who can contact you on Facebook and see your contact information and email
        • Friends, Tags and Connections
          Control whether your friends, tags and connections display on your profile
        • Search
          Control who can see your search result on Facebook and in search engines
        • Applications and Websites
          Control what information is available to Facebook-enhanced applications and websites
        • Block List
          Control who can interact with you on Facebook

        Now, if you click on any of them it breaks each of those down into sub categories. This is all explained fairly well, by the way [facebook.com]. And on each of these sub categories they have drop downs to let you see who sees that sub category of items on your Facebook page:

        • Everyone
        • Friends of Friends
        • Only Friends
        • Customize

        Pretty straight f

        • by Culture20 (968837)
          So simple, but so few people know that if you set "connections" to "friends only", they're still Public.
    • First it's not enough privacy options. Now it's too many privacy options.

      I don't remember any substantial number of complaints about Facebook not having enough privacy options. I do remember complaints about them repeatedly changing settings related to privacy to expose more information more widely without advance notice and the opportunity to opt-out (or, better, the option to opt-in to the change) of the change in defaults for existing users.

      Adding more settings after the fact does nothing to address the

    • by citylivin (1250770) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:26PM (#32342990)

      "Tomorrow when they get the unspoken mythical number correct"

      How obtuse you are. I have tried to trick out my girlfriends facebook privacy settings, but it seems there is always another page somewhere that you have to hunt for. Also, there is no quick and easy way to opt out of everything. You have to go to every app, every website that has a facebook tie in, every picture gallery, etc and change them ALL manually to opt out of "sharing my information with anyone who asks" mode.

      Its complete bullshit. sure, you can go into your filesystem ACLs and hand edit every file to have the correct permissions. No one does this however, and thats why you can apply permissions/acls RECURSIVELY from parent. What I would want for her is a big button that opts out of EVERYTHING. Add to that a nice concise privacy page. Note how i said PAGE, not pageS spread across the entirety on the site. Then I would say, add as many fiddily little options as you want. So long as the giant opt out button still works for them all, and when they add new features, they don't opt you in automatically, as is currently the case.

      I have always hated facebook, but I didnt know the true hate till i went to ehow.com - or any number of a growing pool of "facebook connect" sites, and saw a picture of my girlfriend on there with the option to leave a comment about the site.
      What the fucking fuck! i still havent been able to turn that "feature" off yet, because i cant find the damn option! Aparently, if you have logged onto facebook (that day?), you are automatically "connected" to a host of other sites. So now i have to go to facebook and make sure my gf is logged out, every time i use the computer.

      Perhaps you could think of it as akin to a program which has zillions of undocumented commands. Amazingly powerful and yet completely useless at the same time. Sure some people have cracked the correct syntax to get facebook to perform the stop-auto-tie-in-to-all-garbage-sites option, but why the fuck should it be so hard?

      There is only one answer and one alone - deliberate obscurification and mis direction. It is the same answer as to why everything is opt OUT instead of opt IN on facebook. They rely on people being too lazy, confused and stupid to care.

      So stop apologizing for what is at best bad UI design, and at worst willful obscurification that leads too (surprise!), expanded profits for facebook.

  • Sounds familiar... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nematode (197503) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:56PM (#32341314)
    An illusory opt-out system . . . Therein lies the trick; by offering too many choices, individuals are likely to choose poorly, or not at all.

    So....is Facebook a better metaphor for capitalism or democracy?
  • Behind the curve (Score:3, Insightful)

    by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:04PM (#32341424) Journal

    Google has just released a tool that could alleviate some of the above worries: it stops tracking by Google Analytics

    Sounds great, I've always wanted a way to block that "google-analytics" I keep seeing on my NoScript blocked list.

    I can't complain much though- there's an important difference between going to a third party (NoScript) to block Google, and Google offering a solution themselves.

    • > I can't complain much though- there's an important difference between going
      > to a third party (NoScript) to block Google, and Google offering a solution
      > themselves.

      Yes. You can rely on NoScript.

  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:08PM (#32341492) Homepage Journal

    The term "machiavellian" is a cruel and unjust slander.

    Niccolò Machiavelli [wikipedia.org] was a profoundly moral man, well acquainted with -- and appalled by -- the amoral power politics of his age. When he wrote that a Prince should prefer to be feared, rather than loved, Machiavelli was not advancing a personal ideal: he was simply reporting how Princes actually behave in the real world.

    • by bsDaemon (87307)

      The Prince is great satire. The problem with Machiavelli, however, is that he was somewhat less subtle with his intentions than Johnathan Swift was in 'A Modest Proposal'. No one thinks that Swift was true advocating cannibalism and murder as a 'solution' to the Irish question, yet Machiavelli seems to have accidentally become more closely tied to the concepts of Fascism than Mussolini or Giovanni Gentile (the co-author of The Doctrine of Fascism which laid out the principles of the Italian variety). Poo

      • Some consider The Prince a political satire [wikipedia.org], although Wikipedia calls it a "political treatise"; my own feeling is that it is a serious study of power politics. Even as a satire, it's a very subtle satire when compared with Swift's Modest Proposal.

        Speaking of satirical modest proposals, Joe Haldeman wrote a nice little short story in a somewhat Swiftian vein: To Howard Hughes: a Modest Proposal. I'll spare you the spoilers, other than to say it's a tongue-in-cheek solution to the threat of nuclear war.

        • by bsDaemon (87307)

          Good satire often lampoons its target by making the argument it's against, and taking it ad absurdum, in order to do show how stupid it is. So, it needs to be based in fact to succeed, otherwise its not really satire, just jack-assery. The Prince can therefor serve the other roll.

          But, if we really want to talk about subtle -- did you know the scene in Gulliver where he pisses on the fire in the Lilliputian castle is a treatment of the War of Spanish Succession? At least, that's what the annotations in t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      Let this be a lesson to all those who fear the opinion of history: don't write a book advocating a position that is not yours if you don't want to be remembered for holding that position.
  • Better Solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shadowhawk (30195) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:16PM (#32341594)
    Use the NoScript add-on and mark google-analytics.com as Untrusted. Simple and done. Also works for any other tracking system that uses JavaScript.
    • by al0ha (1262684)
      Not quite a complete solution, NoScript in itself is incapable of blocking sites you desire blocked 100% of the time.

      You also need the RequestPolicy add-on. Give it a try on /. and you will see what I mean.
  • host blocking (Score:5, Informative)

    by ya really (1257084) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:22PM (#32341676)

    I've been adding the following to my desktop computer host files for over a year to block google's tracking:

    127.0.0.1 partner.googleadservices.com
    127.0.0.1 google-analytics.com
    127.0.0.1 ssl.google-analytics.com
    127.0.0.1 googleadservices.com
    127.0.0.1 googlesyndication.com
    127.0.0.1 pagead2.googlesyndication.com
    127.0.0.1 www.google-analytics.com
    127.0.0.1 video-stats.video.google.com
    127.0.0.1 wintricksbanner.googlepages.com
    127.0.0.1 www-google-analytics.l.google.com

    I trust that solution more than I do google's opt-out bs. If you want to get fancy, you can direct a lightweight web server like lighttpd to 404 the adservers to load your pages a bit faster (instead of letting them time out) and to keep logs of what adservers are trying to load.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ross Finlayson (17913)

      Don't just stop at Google. Add the following to your hosts (e.g., /etc/hosts) file to stymie all sorts of mysterious 3rd-party tracking and advertising services:

      127.0.0.1 207.net
      127.0.0.1 2o7.net
      127.0.0.1 247realmedia.com
      127.0.0.1 33across.com
      127.0.0.1 3dstats.com
      127.0.0.1 abmr.net
      127.0.0.1 adbrite.com
      127.0.0.1 adbuyer.com
      127.0.0.1 ads.addesktop.com
      127.0.0.1 addthis.com
      127.0.0.1 adn.fusionads.net
      127.0.0.1 adnxs.com
      127.0.0.1 adparlor.com
      127.0.0.1 adrevolver.com
      127.0.0.1 media.adrevolver.com
      127.0.0.1 adsonar

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Ross Finlayson (17913)

        Here's more:
        127.0.0.1 hitbox.com
        127.0.0.1 imiclk.com
        127.0.0.1 imrworldwide.com
        127.0.0.1 optimize.indieclick.com
        127.0.0.1 insightexpressai.com
        127.0.0.1 invitemedia.com
        127.0.0.1 i.ixnp.com
        127.0.0.1 kona.kontera.com
        127.0.0.1 media6degrees.com
        127.0.0.1 mediaplex.com
        127.0.0.1 a.netmng.com
        127.0.0.1 overture.com
        127.0.0.1 pointroll.com
        127.0.0.1 pubmatic.com
        127.0.0.1 questionmarket.com
        127.0.0.1 quantserv.com
        127.0.0.1 edge.quantserv.com
        127.0.0.1 pixel.quantserv.com
        127.0.0.1 revsci.net
        127.0.0.1 tap-cdn.rubiconproject.

  • I don't care if the advertisers think it's a benefit. It doesn't benefit me, so why shouldn't I "opt out" of it? To help their system better target others? Sorry, how well their advertising reaches their intended markets isn't my problem, and I feel no obligation to help.

    • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:46PM (#32342002)

      I don't care if the advertisers think it's a benefit. It doesn't benefit me

      If it'd FUD scare tactics, or lifestyle promotion trash, sure. If its informational, thats a whole nother matter.

      I'm in the market for a vacuum cleaner. I'm pretty hot to get a Dyson at this time. The commercials suck. Mostly I want high suction and I am so thru with buying bags and filters.

      I wouldn't mind some "targeted ads" on this topic.

      Given the enormous amount of advertising money spent to reach people whom don't give a $#*!, you'd think amazon or something would set up a service where companies pay me money to examine their marketing crud, paid to me at time of sale on amazon. I'd sit there and watch an "electrolux" or whatever commercial for $1. And they'd probably pay me $1 since I'm hot to buy a vacuum cleaner, and amazon would only clear the money to me if I actually bought someones vacuum cleaner (not necessarily theirs). Essentially a reverse ebay auction, where the companies bid on me to get me to watch their ads, and I prove I'm serious by purchasing "someones" product.

      • by Mandrel (765308)

        A system like you suggest is already operating: just browse the websites of vacuum makers.

        However both these sites and advertising provide far from objective information. Wouldn't you rather read some well-researched editorial, and use a question-based recommendation system?

        Yes you may say, but how should we compensate these helpers? At the moment it's mainly via ads that many block because of the original problem with non-objective information. The affiliate link alternative turns helpers into salespe

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          consumer reports has its information online for subscribers. subscription is a small monthly fee.

          there are similar services for specialty interests, for example Cooks Illustrated has a simply amazing amount of in-depth and pretty objective information about utensils and food available again for a small monthly fee. for example, they found that real vanilla extract isn't any better in baked goods, than the 20 times cheaper synthetic vanillin (it is however a lot better in custards and ice cream and that sort

          • by Mandrel (765308)

            consumer reports has its information online for subscribers. subscription is a small monthly fee.

            there are similar services for specialty interests, for example Cooks Illustrated has a simply amazing amount of in-depth and pretty objective information about utensils and food available again for a small monthly fee. for example, they found that real vanilla extract isn't any better in baked goods, than the 20 times cheaper synthetic vanillin (it is however a lot better in custards and ice cream and that sort of thing).

            the only question is doing it for "free". for most general consumer items, amazon works. for specialist items, I'd be surprised if there wasn't a periodical with web access, like Cooks Illustrated.

            Because they only use it occasionally, it's hard to get people to subscribe to product review information. A publication like Consumer Reports is most attractive because it looks at commonly-bought products, but conversely is not a total solution because, as you say, it only covers a small fraction of products.

            It's also hard to get people to pay upfront for individual sources of information when they can't be confident that it's going to help them.

            The Amazon situation has several problems:

            It's too m

  • only works if youre actively seeking to consume. before freaking out over the various ads that might come across facebook or google ask yourself

    do i need to buy?

    what does it do?

    how well does it do it?

    google and facebook may "know" your personal preferences and interests, but in the end only you know whether you will buy something or not, and if you choose not to buy then the collected data amounts to wasted time.

    another fact to take into consideration is the prevalence of noscript, which may prev
  • there is a fake me out there, with a fake name, a fake birthday, a fake home address, a fake mother's maiden name, a fake birth city, fake likes and dislikes, etc. every time i am asked for this info online, i consistently and continually use the fake alter ego

    this is the future of privacy: aliases

    • by Kittenman (971447) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:31PM (#32343046)
      But .... isn't this like saying that the "Iliad" wasn't written by Homer, but another Greek of the same name?

      If the fake-you does the stuff you do and you get targeted for it, then the fake-you is you. You just appear to be someone differently named on the internet.

    • I tried that. The more you are fake, the less it is of any use. A fake Facebook account with only fake data, is nor going to work with your friends there, and is removing the point of having that profile in the first place.

      Oh, and why use it anyway? There is an “outside” that is great. There is a phone and an instant messenger (with OTR). Etc.

    • by Eil (82413)

      Rusty Shackleford, is that you?

  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:32PM (#32343054) Homepage Journal

    Supplying useful web services to a large number of people costs real money; it's not free. And there are no successful companies or corporations that give these services away for free - they get paid for them, and they're paid very well.

    So when you see a great new free web service you need to stop and think - it's not free, someone is paying for it and that someone is almost always the users. If you don't see the price tag then you don't want to play their game. In most cases, this benevolent company giving you a free service is building up user profiles that they sell to marketing companies. If you're big like Facebook or Google, you've got millions of those profiles and they're very detailed and also very valuable. But nobody ever thinks about this when they happily give up all kinds of personal info as they register for their free account.

    Google is pretty transparent about this stuff: they use the profile data to serve targeted ads and advertisers pay them a premium price for those ads. This wouldn't work without the information about you that Google has amassed but it's the source of all of their financial might. Who do you think pays Facebook's bills? That's right, and that's why their privacy options don't include any that would prevent them - and their "affiliates" - from collecting your personal data.

    That personal information is valuable and it's yours - and you give it away. Those corporations thank you for your generosity! Here's a tip for further study: view the mandatory privacy policy at any major web site; they'll tell you (sort of) what kind of data they collect - then promise to keep it safe and only give it to the government upon request and to their affiliates and/or third parties that supply some kind of service to the company. So what is an affiliate? Could one of them be the marketing clearinghouse that buys your personal profile? Could one be an Indian call center that will resell the data to anyone with the price? Could one of them be the guy with the CC skimmer? You'll never know; you'll just look at the privacy policy and say "that's cool" and click OK.

    You may have noticed that when ad blocking software is discussed it's the small websites that whine and cry about the loss of revenue. The big corporate sites only report what the small sites say because it serves to preserve the legend. Banner adds are small beans - but live and verified profiles are big money.

    • > This wouldn't work without the information about you...

      Well, no. It works fine without any information about me at all. Your information suffices.

      > You'll never know; you'll just look at the privacy policy and say "that's
      > cool" and click OK.

      Speak for yourself.

  • ...you have no way to ask Google to stop this tracking.

    Ask? Real men (and women) don’t ask. We announce.
    We don’t beg if someone could please stop raping us. We. don’t. let. him!

    If you put yourself in the beggar position, you have already lost right from the beginning.

  • Opt-out of Analytics using AdBlock was the topic of a Slashdot comment saying "(I work at Google, hence posting as AC.)", which I posted on Reddit, asking if it was really necessary: http://www.reddit.com/r/google/comments/bl2jn/i_work_at_google_hence_posting_as_ac_was_posting/ [reddit.com] http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/bk093/i_work_at_google_hence_posting_as_ac_really/ [reddit.com]
  • by j0nb0y (107699) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `003yobnoj'> on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @10:30PM (#32344276) Homepage

    For the past several years Facebook and Google have been consistently criticized for their poor records on privacy. Yet, these sites are still two of the most popular sites on the Internet. Why is that? Are people not aware of the privacy concerns? Or do they just not care?

    I think they don't care. I think they know that they're are giving up a measure of their privacy. They think that the services and convenience that they get in return are worth it.

    Want to change things? You can criticize Google and Facebook all you want. As long as people are willing to give up privacy to use their services, G and FB aren't going to change. If you want to change things, there are several options. None of them are easy.

    1. Convince people that their privacy is worth enough that they shouldn't give it up to use FB/Google.
    2. Offer equivalent services with better privacy protection.
    3. Convince the government to regulate FB/Google, forcing them to offer better privacy protections.

    As a small government conservative, #3 deeply offends me. If people don't value their privacy, then it takes a high level of arrogance to use the machines of government to force private companies to protect privacy anyway.

    I don't think people are stupid. They can make rational decisions about their own privacy. They've made those decisions, and that's why Google and Facebook are so popular. Don't like what the people decided? Try to change their minds. But don't use the government to shove something down their throats that they clearly do not want.

The number of arguments is unimportant unless some of them are correct. -- Ralph Hartley

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