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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.
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Privacy Machiavellis

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  • 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.

  • Better Solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shadowhawk ( 30195 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @05:16PM (#32341594)
    Use the NoScript add-on and mark as Untrusted. Simple and done. Also works for any other tracking system that uses JavaScript.
  • 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 blair1q ( 305137 ) on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @06:45PM (#32342592) Journal

    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, he's got a lot more to lose.

  • by j0nb0y ( 107699 ) <> 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.

  • Re:Better Solution (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 25, 2010 @10:36PM (#32344322)

    Unless of course you are being tracked by your browsers fingerprint. Which can contain all sorts of information, like your screen res, os, fonts installed, browser version, addons installed, etc. This information can often be enough to fingerprint individuals regardless of javascript or cookie settings.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson