Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Privacy Google

Privacy Machiavellis 206

Chris Jay Hoofnagle has a piece up at 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.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Privacy Machiavellis

Comments Filter:
  • Noscript (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @03:51PM (#32341240)

    Noscript stopped Google Analytics a long time ago!

  • by handy_vandal ( 606174 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:08PM (#32341492) Homepage Journal

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

    Niccolò Machiavelli [] 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.

  • host blocking (Score:5, Informative)

    by ya really ( 1257084 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:22PM (#32341676)

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

    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.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @04:46PM (#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.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:55PM (#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.

  • by handy_vandal ( 606174 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:23PM (#32342954) Homepage Journal

    Maybe so.

    He paid a high price for his legacy: when he fell from favor, he was tortured and then spent years imprisoned in a dungeon.

  • Re:Privacy paranoia (Score:3, Informative)

    by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:01PM (#32343296)

    I have no fear of my privacy being violated by Google because I don't see any reason why someone should be particularly interested about me. In Google's eyes I'm just a statistic. My personal data is no more important to anyone than the data about millions of other consumers.

    If your information has no value - why is it being stored?

    I'm safe in the numbers, just like I'm anonymous when walking down a busy street. everyone can see me, but nobody cares.

    At one point, storage was expensive so one had to be somewhat selective in what information is kept; the vast majority was discarded. But we are now getting to a point that storage is so cheap that the threshold of value for any given piece of information is likely low enough to warrent saving anything that can be collected. But collecting information is only part of it. At one point, massive amounts of information would pose it's own problem - how to process it. There was safety in numbers - numerical anonymity. However, we are also at a point where processing power is so cheap that we can effectively chew through massive amounts of information and pull out interesting information that was either recorded or gleaned from patterns in what was recorded. In fact, in many cases, the more information you have to work with, the better. You may not be very interesting to anyone right now. But that doesn't mean you'll never be interesting to anyone ever. At that point, your recorded history will rise above the level of background noise and present itself as part of a valuable service.

    You believe you are anonymous as you walk down the crowded street. But that is simply because most of us lack the resources to make use of what you're presenting to the public. A trained professional can determine various things based on your appearance. An informed individual can identify you by your face. A well-placed observer can track your behavior and piece together additional information on those patterns. Your anonymous persona slowly unravels and we have the beginnings of a movie script.

    Of course, the physical world is (currently) hard to work with in this context. Yet it is often given this sort of treatment. Look up the US military's concept of Essential Elements of Friendly Information (and bask in the Cold War aura). Meanwhile, the digital world we interact with is created on information systems designed to do these very things with the data that we present to it.

  • Re:host blocking (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ross Finlayson ( 17913 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:10PM (#32343386) Homepage

    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:

  • Re:host blocking (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ross Finlayson ( 17913 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @07:11PM (#32343396) Homepage

    Here's more:

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @02:19AM (#32345586) Journal

    - 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.

"I have more information in one place than anybody in the world." -- Jerry Pournelle, an absurd notion, apparently about the BIX BBS