Marriage of Convenience

How many of you use Facebook? Google? I must confess, despite the dire warnings regarding data retention, I still use Google. I have never used Facebook and am unlikely to do so in the future. Not just because of the cavalier attitude the company has towards the personal privacy of its users, but because I find the concept facile and, frankly, about as useful as a sequined satin space suit.

It seems, however, there is a groundswell of others who are alarmed at the routine data gathering that this company (and Google) engages in. I think, though, for those of us who have been taking notice, this is nothing new. All of these organisations survive by gathering information and selling adverts as a consequence. So, when you do that search, Google will target you with adverts based on that search and it is that targeting that they sell to the advertisers. Facebook is doing the same. The advertisers see this as a rich seam to be mined and who can blame them?

Well, maybe, cobber, maybe. I’ve not seen an Internet advert for ages. Indeed, I really cannot recall when I last saw one. So, even though Google may well be selling my search data, it isn’t doing anyone any good, because Adblock means that I will never see the results.

Enter the regulators as our virtual marriage guidance counsellors.

This should be interesting…

Last week the EU commissioner for citizenship voiced her concern about how net firms were sharing data and talked up EU plans to overhaul data laws.

Why does the term “unintended consequences” spring unbidden to my mind at this point? There are means that the user can call upon to protect online privacy should they so wish. And, while I deplore the tendency to snoop on the part of these companies, I also feel that the cure will be worse than the disease. Not least when there are very simple solutions to targeted advertising. And, let’s be fair, there are some people who like to receive such ads. I know, it beats me too, but it takes all sorts.

And in the US, the Federal Trade Commission published its views on Facebook’s changes to privacy settings in 2009 and concluded that it had engaged in “unfair and deceptive” practices.

Well, yeah… So now tell us something we didn’t already know. This has been common knowledge for some time now and still people sign up for it. they must do so in the full knowledge of what has been in the public domain for some years now. And Facebook does have privacy settings that the user can invoke. This, along with Adblock will sort out any intrusive advertising.

It suggests that 2012 could see a change in the balance of power between net firms and citizens, with citizens, for once, holding the upper hand.

This of course will be a good thing, providing they mean “citizen” and not “government”.

The relationship between advertisers, the public and net firms is a tricky one, says Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs at the Internet Advertising Bureau.

“Data drives the advertising model but it needs to be balanced with privacy,” he said.

“Advertising funds the web services that we use so there has to be a trade-off. Consumers may not be aware of how Facebook and Google make their money but they are very happy to use the service and would not want to pay for it,” he said.

And there is the crux. We want the service, but don’t want to pay for it. Yet it has to be paid for somehow. So this balancing act ensues. Indeed, I have heard of advertisers accusing those who block adverts of stealing content. There was one such person who accused those of us who time-shift our television viewing so that we can skip the ads of doing the same thing. However, that is just silliness. Advertisers pay the producer of the content to place its advertisements. It does not place an onus on the viewer to actually look at the advert. Indeed, I have no problem with adverts being used to fund services. I have no qualms about blocking them, either. The exchange has taken place and money changed hands as a consequence. There is nothing that the advertisers pitch at me that I would want to buy and I have no contract with them, so not looking at them shortcuts the relationship as far as I am concerned. And, yes, I am aware that here is a strange double standard going on here.

But privacy campaigners remain suspicious of who targeted advertising is actually helping. Canadian privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has this week added her voice to the debate, claiming that it needs to be made far easier for people to opt out of receiving such ads.

But it is. Just Google Adblock….

18 comments for “Marriage of Convenience

  1. December 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Don’t suppose there’s an Adblock equivalent for Mac? It only works in Firefox.

    • December 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Dunno. Have a look on their site. I’m using it with Chrome, so they do it for different browsers.

      • December 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm

        No, I meant a non-Adblock, *equivalent* widget. Adblock does not do Mac.

          • December 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm

            Excellent! Thanks a lot. I’m a new Mac-ist and still finding my way around Macworld.

        • December 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm

          Prodicus, I’m assuming you’re using Safari? If so then look into Click To Flash. It’s a Safari extension for 5.1 or a plugin for 5.0. Good little bit of freeware that I’ve been using for a couple of years or so. It’s basically just a Flash blocker that turns any Flash, whether it’s a video or one of the billion bloody Flash adverts that infest the web, into a neutral grey rectangle with ‘Flash’ written in the centre. Click the rectangle and you get the Flash, don’t and you won’t. Easy. And you can whitelist sites you trust so it won’t automatically block it, say, here or YouTube or the news sites you look at most. If you’re using Safari 5.1 the Click To Flash extension also offers you the option to play videos in HTML5 instead. Not a true ad blocker, but as so many ads seem to be done in Flash it catches heaps of them anyway.

          • December 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm

            Many thanks – hadn’t heard of it. I have downloaded it… šŸ˜€

  2. Mudplugger
    December 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    One tactic I use is to go out of my way NEVER to purchase anything which featured in an unwanted advert. For example, I will never buy a Brennan CD device because it’s advertising is currently intrusive. Same goes for junk mail, cold-calling etc.

    If everyone did that, it would reverse the advertisers’ formula – the more they advertise, the less they would sell (and the more their competitors would sell). That could have some interesting consequences – advertisers could even start promoting their competitors’ goods and services to redress the balance !

    True, someone somewhere has to pay for ‘content’, but that’s not my problem. I detest instrusive advertising and express my view by deliberately not trading with them. Try it.

    • December 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      I tend to do the same.

  3. December 14, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Worth having a look at Google’s Privacy Center: and the associated privacy tools which can prove surprisingly handy.

  4. December 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I must confess, despite the dire warnings regarding data retention, I still use Google. I have never used Facebook and am unlikely to do so in the future.

    Don’t do FB but have a page. Do do Google. Thinking twice.

  5. December 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    I don’t do Facebook and neither do I Twitter. I avoid Google as much as possible (hence no Chrome) but have no problem with any advertising that gets past pop-up blockers which are themselves no longer a problem, maybe they have given up. Indeed it is ‘in-programme’ advertising that gives me access to Channel 4s Youtube documentary channel and Hill Street Blues archive.

    I am still in the habit of clicking on potentially interesting ad links (Jordanian Tourism perhaps) that might fund a page that I like but it still mystifies me why the University of Manitoba still keeps cropping up whenever I turn my mind to pornography.

    • December 15, 2011 at 3:13 am

      One thing in Chrome’s favour is that Google made it open source so others have customised it and made versions that don’t have the privacy concerns. Just downloaded one last week to have a play with. It’s by Comodo (the AV/firewall people) and appropriately enough it’s called Dragon. Haven’t played with it yet as there’s no Mac version and I haven’t been in Windows since I downloaded it, but worth a look for other people who like Chrome but not Google.

  6. Voice of Reason
    December 15, 2011 at 2:06 am

    I use Google, and have a facebook account, where I post ideas, interesting links, etc. I am cautious about what I post on the latter. On the other hand, I was able to make contact with several friends that I haven’t seen in 30 years.

  7. Andrew Duffin
    December 15, 2011 at 10:26 am

    “…it needs to be made far easier for people to opt out…”

    What she means, of course, is that it needs to be made necessary for her to poke her big nose further into everybody else’s business, so as to maintain the various gravy trains she depends on.

  8. Rossa
    December 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Just downloaded Adblock so thanks for that LR. Been plagued by ads following me around on the ‘net. Usually from some site I have visited to look at clothes and other items. I’ve never bought anything by clicking on one of these ads.

    And there was a report recently on the tricks used by advertisers that included increasing the price if you look at an item several times. Didn’t say how many times. The idea being that you must be interested in it so will pay more.

    When I was looking for a new fridge I noticed the price had increased on a couple of sites I’d visited when I went back to check details and compare prices. I checked more often than normal because we have limited space and I had to make sure it would fit under a wall cupboard. Won’t be doing that again and ironically it turned out to be cheaper in store when I went to measure it as there was a one off sale day.

    • December 15, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      That’s a new one on me. But then as I’ve never clicked on them, I wouldn’t have noticed. When I want something, I search for it directly and go to the relevant retailers.

      The last time I bought a fridge I had exactly the same requirement as you. I went to the local high street and found exactly what I was looking for at a decent price.

  9. ivan
    December 16, 2011 at 10:25 am

    There are two add-ons that I always put on any computer that has Firefox – Adblock-plus and NoScript. With those two you can regain your sanity and cut most of the google tracking – block google analytics, twitter and so on.

    As for facebook, I have an account there for one reason only – a friend insists on using it to post pictures of problems they are having with a barn conversion instead of sending them to me by e-mail. Other than that I never use it.

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