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Ghostery

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Daily News

Within a couple of minutes after reading these paragraphs, I had installed and configured Ghostery to block cookies from over 500 advertising-related tracking sites.

The recent iPhone location-logging controversy caused quite a stir in the media. But as I noted on Twitter a couple weeks back, many of the people upset that their phone keeps track of nearby GPS towers and WiFi access points are oblivious to the fact that their Web-browsing habits are being tracked—often with far more detail—every time they go online.

For example, pretty much any blog or news site you visit (yes, including Macworld.com) uses scripts and tiny (or invisible) images—often called bugs—to track your online behavior and, usually, provide that information to ad networks and other Web-usage trackers. Whereas prior to iOS 4.3.3, someone with access to your iPhone’s backup could get a general idea of where you’ve been, chances are numerous companies have detailed profiles that include the kinds of sites you visit, which topics you find interesting, and possibly even specific items you’ve purchased.

Ghostery’s notification panel Some will say this is just part of using the Web. But if, like me, you’d rather not make it so easy for companies to build a profile of your ‘net activity—or if you’d at least like to be able to know when that activity is being tracked—check out Ghostery, a Safari extension (also available for Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer). With Ghostery installed, whenever you visit a Web page that uses such tricks to track, you’ll briefly see a box listing all the services that are tracking your visit to that page.

 

(click here to continue reading Evidon/The Better Advertising Project, Inc. Ghostery 1.0.0 for Safari Web Browser Review | Macworld.)

I allowed Google Analytics, and SiteMeter, because I don’t mind letting webmasters knowing I visited their site, but why should DoubleClick get my data? Or worse, why should a company like Right Media or Facebook be able to profit off of me? I realize that if every browser blocked advertising cookies, some websites might vanish, or switch to a pay-to-view model, but I don’t care. Would my life really be less enjoyable if I couldn’t visit ESPN to check NBA scores? Or read about the latest vapid pop-culture meme at the Huffington Post?

So if you use Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, or if you are stuck using Internet Explorer, you should go ahead and install Ghostery. Simple, and useful. You don’t even have to automatically block cookies, you can just decide as you encounter them, or allow them from certain websites if you wish

Written by Seth Anderson

May 5th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with , ,

Death to The Bullshit Web

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Weaving Your Spells
Weaving Your Spells…

Nick Heer writes about a topic near and dear to our brains, albeit from the web developer side: why do websites load so slowly? And why is our personal data being sold without our informed consent?

The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.

But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.

Take that CNN article, for example. Here’s what it contained when I loaded it:

Eleven web fonts, totalling 414 KB

Four stylesheets, totalling 315 KB

Twenty frames

Twenty-nine XML HTTP requests, totalling about 500 KB

Approximately one hundred scripts, totalling several megabytes — though it’s hard to pin down the number and actual size because some of the scripts are “beacons” that load after the page is technically finished downloading.

The vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page, and I’m including advertising. Many of the scripts that were loaded are purely for surveillance purposes: self-hosted analytics, of which there are several examples; various third-party analytics firms like Salesforce, Chartbeat, and Optimizely; and social network sharing widgets. They churn through CPU cycles and cause my six-year-old computer to cry out in pain and fury. I’m not asking much of it; I have opened a text-based document on the web.

An actual solution recognizes that this bullshit is inexcusable. It is making the web a cumulatively awful place to be. Behind closed doors, those in the advertising and marketing industry can be pretty lucid about how much they also hate surveillance scripts and how awful they find these methods, while simultaneously encouraging their use. Meanwhile, users are increasingly taking matters into their own hands — the use of ad blockers is rising across the board, many of which also block tracking scripts and other disrespectful behaviours. Users are making that choice.

They shouldn’t have to. Better choices should be made by web developers to not ship this bullshit in the first place. We wouldn’t tolerate such intrusive behaviour more generally; why are we expected to find it acceptable on the web?

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Death to the bullshit web.

(click here to continue reading The Bullshit Web — Pixel Envy.)

All that “surveillance” stuff and related files are an abomination, and pleases no-one. I’ve heard anecdotal reports that even marketing savvy companies don’t frequently use all the data that is collected on their behalf. So who wants it? Unclear to me. I guess the third party data collection industry is happy to vacuum up this data because they can subsequently re-sell our information to the highest bidder, but that’s not a good enough reason to continue making web pages cumbersome.

And as I’ve blabbed about repeatedly, I swear by the script-blocking capabilities of Ghostery, but that is a half-measure, and doesn’t apply to the web-surfing of the vast majority of the populace.

You should read Mr. Heer’s entire post, it is worthy of your time…

 

Un Deletable Cookies  Safari
Un-Deletable Cookies – Safari

Written by Seth Anderson

August 2nd, 2018 at 8:39 am

Vermont passes first law to crack down on data brokers

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Data Dump
Data Dump

TechCrunch reports:

While Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are hogging the spotlight, data brokers that collect your information from hundreds of sources and sell it wholesale are laughing all the way to the bank. But they’re not laughing in Vermont, where a first-of-its-kind law hems in these dangerous data mongers and gives the state’s citizens much-needed protections.

Data brokers in Vermont will now have to register as such with the state; they must take standard security measures and notify authorities of security breaches (no, they weren’t before); and using their data for criminal purposes like fraud is now its own actionable offense.

If you’re not familiar with data brokers, well, that’s the idea. These companies don’t really have a consumer-facing side, instead opting to collect information on people from as many sources as possible, buying and selling it amongst themselves like the commodity it has become.

This data exists in a regulatory near-vacuum. As long as they step carefully, data brokers can maintain what amounts to a shadow profile on consumers. I talked with director of the World Privacy Forum, Pam Dixon, about this practice.

“If you use an actual credit score, it’s regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” she told me. “But if you take a thousand points like shopping habits, zip code, housing status, you can create a new credit score; you can use that and it’s not discrimination.”

And while medical data like blood tests are protected from snooping, it’s not against the law for a company to make an educated guess your condition from the medicine you pay for at the local pharmacy. Now you’re on a secret list of “inferred” diabetics, and that data gets sold to, for example, Facebook, which combines it with its own metrics and allows advertisers to target it.

(click here to continue reading Vermont passes first law to crack down on data brokers | TechCrunch.)

Exactly why I wish the US would implement its own version of the GDPR that we’ve discussed. Corporations that mine our digital data, and sell it, and resell it, without oversight, or without giving “a taste” to the consumer are corporations that need to be regulated and watched by a consumer protection agency of some kind. Not every consumer is savvy enough to obfuscate their tracks, and honestly, even somewhat savvy consumers are no doubt caught up in these nameless corporations’ databases. Corporations like EquifaxQuotient and Catalina Marketing and a few thousand others don’t really need to use browser cookies anymore, they also use the unique ID of your devices, they track your IP numbers down to your block group, and can track you at home, at office, via phone, via credit card, via geolocation and via other means. I find it Orwellian and creepy.

My sincere wish is that Vermont continues on this path of regulation of the wild, wild web of data brokers, and that other states and the entire country follows suit.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 28th, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Advertising,Business,government

Tagged with , ,

U.S. Websites Go Dark in Europe as GDPR Data Rules Kick In

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Keystone Chicago Tribune
Keystone – Chicago Tribune

Speaking of the GDPR, the WSJ reports:

Europe’s new privacy law took effect Friday, causing major U.S. news websites to suspend access across the region as data-protection regulators prepare to brandish their new enforcement powers.

Tronc Inc., publisher of the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News and other U.S. newspapers [Chicago Tribune], was among those that blocked readers in the European Union from accessing sites, as they scrambled to comply with the sweeping regulation.

“We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market,” the company said in notices it displayed when users attempted to access its news sites from the EU on Friday morning.

Others U.S. regional newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises Inc., as well as bookmarking app Instapaper, owned by Pinterest. Inc., were also blocking access in the EU.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation foresees steep fines for companies that don’t comply with the new rules, aimed at giving Europe-based users more control over the data companies hold on them.

(click here to continue reading U.S. Websites Go Dark in Europe as GDPR Data Rules Kick In – WSJ.)

Tronc and many other digital news organizations are among the worst offenders of collecting information on consumers. Using this article at the WSJ as an example, Ghostery reports 24 different cookies/trackers being served to a reader, from Facebook, Google, DoubleClick, and so on. I’m a subscriber, and WSJ still allows companies like Bombora to shovel my information into their corporate maws.

Going to a random Chicago Tribune article, say for instance “Let’s hear it for Memorial Day weekend at the beach. Oh, but the litter …”, and Tronc is serving me, a subscriber, 18 cookies/trackers from various entities, like Amazon, Google, and a plethora I’ve never heard of. My print newspaper doesn’t track me like this.

So, I’m not surprised that many news organizations are not in compliance with the new GDPR regulations, I’m only saddened that the US doesn’t have a similar protection for consumers. Savvier consumers can install anti-tracking services, like Ghostery, but what about everyone else?

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2018 at 9:16 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

Tagged with ,

Facebook Data Dump

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Hell Facebook Ad
Hell – Facebook Ad.

So I took the time to download my entire Facebook data file, unzip the files and peruse it. If you want to do the same, go here https://www.facebook.com/settings

or for instance, read the instructions Abby Ohlheiser wrote in the WaPo:

In the Facebook settings for your account — right below the link to deactivate it — there’s an option to download a copy of all your Facebook data. The file can be a creepy wake-up call: All those years of  browsing the News Feed, and sharing selfies, engagements and birthday wishes on Facebook have taught the company quite a lot about you. You, the user, are part of the reason that Facebook has become so good at targeting ads. You’re giving them everything they need to do it.

Here’s a link that will take you right to the settings page, if you’re logged in to your account. One there, click on the link to download your archive, and follow the prompts

(click here to continue reading Here’s how to download all your data from Facebook. It might be a wake-up call. – The Washington Post.)

I was curious what exactly Facebook knows, especially since I’ve always been somewhat cautious about what I post there. At least I thought I was careful. Turns out Facebook has a huge list of people from my address book, most of which are not actual friends on Facebook or several deceased people. I guess one time Facebook copied my phonebook? A lot of the data is old, and not up to date, but there it is anyway.

Then there is the Facebook advertising selects (listed below because it is a big freaking list)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

March 28th, 2018 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Advertising

Tagged with ,

Talking Points Memo and Intelligent Tracking Prevention

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Prevent Cross-Site Tracking

I’ve been fascinated by the discussion about Apple’s new anti-3rd party cookie moves, especially in Mac OS X High Sierra and in iOS 11. The digital advertising companies are freaking out of course, but I don’t have much sympathy for their position.

 

The biggest advertising organizations say Apple will “sabotage” the current economic model of the internet with plans to integrate cookie-blocking technology into the new version of Safari.

 

Six trade groups—the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s and two others—say they’re “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plans to release a version of the internet browser that overrides and replaces user cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards. The feature, which is called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by putting in place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Every Major Advertising Group Is Blasting Apple for Blocking Cookies in the Safari Browser – Adweek.)

Apple Coffee Thermos

Apple answered:

Apple responded to that criticism this afternoon by fully explaining what they are doing for the consumer and standing up for themselves.

“Apple believes that people have a right to privacy – Safari was the first browser to block third party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy,” Apple said in a statement provided to The Loop.

“Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally,” the company said.

 

(click here to continue reading Apple responds to ad group’s criticism of Safari cookie blocking.)

Apple Logos

Josh Marshall, the publisher of the long-time political blog, Talking Points Memo, has some thoughts about Intelligent Tracking Prevention, and thinks, in general, it will be good for sites like his. 

Here’s where it gets especially interesting to any publisher. We rely on tracking in as much as tracking is now pervasive on the ads running on basically every website, including TPM. But really tracking has been a disaster for publishers, especially premium publishers.

Here’s why.

I’ll use TPM as an example. But it’s only for the purposes of illustration. The same applies to countless other publications, particularly quality publications as opposed to content farms. TPM has an affluent, highly educated, generally progressive audience. They also tend to be political influencers. Our readers also have a strong brand affinity with TPM. Our core audience visits day after day. All of those attributes make our audience very desirable for many advertisers. So great, even though we’re small, advertisers want access to that kind of audience. So we can command good rates.

Tracking has shifted that equation dramatically. (And again, TPM is just here as illustration. This is an industry-wide phenomenon.) Let’s say we take the whole core TPM audience, this set number of people. They have these attributes I mentioned above. Tracking now allows the ad tech industry to follow those people around the web and advertise to them where they choose. So an advertiser can identify “TPM Readers” and then advertise to them at other sites that aren’t TPM. Or they can find a group that has the attributes that I describe above and track them around the web regardless of which site they’re on. You don’t have any reason to care about that. But we care about it a lot because it basically takes from us any market power we have. Tracking means almost all publishers are being disintermediated in this way. This is one big reason the platforms and the data vendors are scarfing up all the new revenue.

So in many ways, disruptions in tracking are good for publishers. Actually basically in all ways it’s good. In this way, we have a vaguely common interest with Apple since we see our business future as tied to paid services, memberships, etc. Apple does too. In practice, the little players have the least ability and resources to protect themselves during periods of market chaos. But in theory at least, if Apple’s self-interest led it to disrupt the cookie architecture and wreak havoc in Google’s business model, that would likely be good for publishers.

(click here to continue reading What’s Apple Up To? – Talking Points Memo.)

A visit to TPM.com this morning brought up sixteen 3rd-party cookies as reported by Ghostery. Cookies from Amazon, Google, Facebook, as well as sites I’d never heard of, like Adsnative, Krux Digital, RevContent and others. /shrug…

Written by Seth Anderson

October 22nd, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Advertising,Apple,Business

Tagged with ,

Checking In On Wired’s Ad-Blocking Experiment

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Speaking of privacy and technology, Wired Magazine’s Mark McClusky boasted to Ad Age that everything is going great with their ad blocker gambit.

Ad Blockers - Wired
Ad Blockers – Wired

In early February, Condé Nast’s Wired took a stand against the rise of ad-blocking technology, which was being used on more than 20% of visits to the magazine’s website. It gave ad-blocking Wired readers two options: whitelist Wired.com, allowing ads to be served as intended, or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of the site. “We know that you come to our site primarily to read our content,” Wired said in a note to readers at the time, “but it’s important to be clear that advertising is how we keep WIRED going: paying the writers, editors, designers, engineers, and all the other staff that works so hard to create the stories you read and watch here.”

Nearly three months in, Wired Head of Product and Business Development Mark McClusky pronounced himself pleased with the early returns.

“Overall, it’s going great,” he told Ad Age. “We’ve exceeded sort of our hopes and expectations in terms of the performance.” “The uptake in whitelisting has exceeded our expectation, the subscriptions have gone better than we projected, the abandon rate has been lower than we projected,” he said.

(click here to continue reading Checking In On Wired’s Ad-Blocking Experiment | Media – AdAge.)

Here’s the thing: in general, I support magazines and news organizations desire to stay solvent, in fact going as far as to give subscription dollars to several of them including even for a long time, to Wired Magazine. But the print edition of Wired was somewhere around $12 a year – by their new model, they want to charge me $52 a year to read their content. 

OVER THE PAST several years, there’s been a significant increase in the number of people using ad-blocking software in their web browser. We have certainly seen a growth in those numbers here at WIRED, where we do all we can to write vital stories for an audience that’s passionate about the ongoing adventure of our rapidly changing world.

On an average day, more than 20 percent of the traffic to WIRED.com comes from a reader who is blocking our ads. We know that you come to our site primarily to read our content, but it’s important to be clear that advertising is how we keep WIRED going: paying the writers, editors, designers, engineers, and all the other staff that works so hard to create the stories you read and watch here.

We know that there are many reasons for running an ad blocker, from simply wanting a faster, cleaner browsing experience to concerns about security and tracking software. We want to offer you a way to support us while also addressing those concerns.

Therefore, we have restricted access to articles on WIRED.com if you are using an ad blocker.

(click here to continue reading How WIRED Is Going to Handle Ad Blocking | WIRED.)

I happily use Ghostery, which is not strictly an ad blocker, but rather an enhanced cookie blocker. I just went to random Wired.com article, (http://www.wired.com/2016/05/adblock-plus-now-wants-pay-browse-internet/) and these are the trackers that Wired wants to serve me in lieu of my $52 payment:

  • Adobe Audience Manager
  • Adobe TagManager
  • Amazon Associates
  • ChartBeat
  • Disqus
  • Google Adsense
  • Google AdServices
  • Optimizely
  • Parse.ly
  • Pinterest
  • Polar Mobile
  • Rubicon
  • ScoreCard Research 
  • Yieldbot

plus one I keep turned on because I like fonts and appreciate web designers who use specific fonts: 

Typekit by Adobe

In other words, Wired wants me to agree to sell my data to these corporations in exchange for reading an article about Adblock Plus. I don’t know each of these entities, but I’m guessing most don’t only report to Wired – they sell the data they’ve accumulated to multiple parties. And they don’t give me any slice of the revenue.

Hmm, on balance, I’ll keep my $52, and I’ll stop clicking through to Wired articles. Sounds fair.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 3rd, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Tech Tuesday – Part One – Selling Your Own Data

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This sucky blog’s editor has assigned Tuesday’s topic as technology. Like all good topics, that’s a bit vague, there are lots of threads that can be collected here. 

Don't Worry - Keep Shopping
Don’t Worry – Keep Shopping…

We’ve discussed the weird state of consumer data many times, where companies such as Acxiom and thousands of others collect every scrap of information about us they possibly can, by whatever method, and then sell it to marketers. Our data, our habits, our propensities, but their profits. Seems like a bum deal, for consumers. 

So when I read the headline on this Fast Company article, I got interested. The headline and sub-head reads:

This Startup Lets Users “Sell” Their Own Shopping Data
InfoScout’s apps sell their users’ shopping data to marketers—and give those users a cut.

but that is not quite truthful. Or at least, InfoScout isn’t selling shopping data in a manner I was hoping. No, they mean that if you willingly give InfoScout information about your shopping trips by photographing/scanning your receipts, they’ll drop a few pennies in your cup now and again. If you are lucky.

San Francisco-based InfoScout offers a set of smartphone apps that lets users snap pictures of shopping receipts in exchange for incentives like credit card-style reward points and sweepstakes entries. The company digitizes the receipts with a mix of optical character recognition and crowdsourced help from services such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

Then it bundles that purchase information into reports it offers to companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, letting them see how consumer preferences evolve over time and how discounts and promotions affect sales.

“Our ability to provide these insights back to the brands in near real time, literally within days, is something they’ve never had before,” claims CEO Jared Schrieber, who cofounded InfoScout in 2011.

Schrieber says that while brands can get some data from programs like supermarket reward card programs, those usually only track customer activity at one particular retail company.

“We’re not trying to change what people buy,” Schrieber says. “We’re just trying to observe it.”

The company says it has collected data on more than 100 million shopping trips and is processing about 300,000 receipts per day. Users can of course choose not to scan receipts that include purchases they find embarrassing, but Schrieber says many just upload every receipt, so the apps gather quite a bit of data about sensitive purchases, such as condoms and feminine hygiene products. Ultimately, what type of purchase information users feel is worth trading for a few cents or a sweepstakes entry is up to them.

Users can participate anonymously or receive additional rewards for linking the app to their Facebook profiles, answering demographic questions, or taking occasional surveys.

(click here to continue reading This Startup Lets Users “Sell” Their Own Shopping Data | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.)

We have no hours. We are always closed
We have no hours. We are always closed…

InfoScout is not even alone in using this model. I recently saw a presentation that included mention of Ibotta– a smartphone app where consumers photograph their receipt and theoretically get future coupons. Or rebates, whatever.

1. Download the App Download the Ibotta app, available on iOS and Android. The app is required to submit a receipt.

2. Unlock Rebates Before you go shopping, unlock cash rewards on great products by completing simple tasks.

3. Go Shopping Buy the products you’ve unlocked at any supported store.

4. Verify Your Purchases Scan your product barcodes, then submit a photo of your receipt.

(click here to continue reading How it Works – Ibotta.com.)

If you jump through the hoops in precisely the correct way, you may get a few pennies. According to some internet complainers, Ibotta mostly uses the small print to avoid paying out.

Complaints like:

I read about IBOTTA on Facebook and decided to try it out. Downloading the app was easy and the instructions were straight forward. Two days ago I wend grocery shopping and decided to use the app for rebates on bread, milk and eggs – all of which were on my shopping list and I was shopping at a listed store. When I returned home I scanned the items as requested by the app and took a picture of the receipt. All items were accepted. Today I received an email stating that my account had been deactivated because of fraud. From what I understand I am being deactivated for taking a picture of the same receipt. Well, duh..I bought the items at the same time, so they would be on the same receipt. No where in the instructions does it say that you have to have a separate receipt for each item purchased. Plus you are going to spend more time sorting out your groceries and paying for each item separately – not worth the money they say they will pay you.

(click here to continue reading Ibotta App Reviews – Legit or Scam?.)

or like:

I downloaded the app and it isn’t terribly hard to figure out. Verified the items and got the approval for receipt. All fine. Now when it comes to actually getting paid, all that happens is a notice on the site saying “working on the site”. Seems everything works that makes them money but nothing works where they pay money.

I am guessing they are out of cash and so just stick this sign up to avoid the real issue.

(click here to continue reading Ibotta App Reviews – Legit or Scam?.)

and many, many more. 

I suppose you’ll have to decide for yourself, is willingly giving corporations intimate shopping data about you and your family worth a few pennies? Your data is much more valuable to them – building smartphone apps and Point-of-Sale and coupon redemption infrastructure is not cheap. A corporation wouldn’t invest millions unless it was worth it to their bottom line.

Not This Store
Not This Store

I’m still waiting for one of the companies that Ghostery tracks to start offering me a real cut of the sale of my data, I’d whitelist their tracking cookie, and they would pay me a percentage every month. Ha! Zero is a percent…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 3rd, 2016 at 9:11 am

Publishers Weigh Ways to Fight Ad Blocking

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ATM$ Inside
ATM$ Inside…

Adblocking software is a default installation for any browser on any computer I set up, usually using Ghostery. I am frequently amazed at the sheer amount of tracking code a typical publisher uses. Dozens and dozens of third party cookies, sometimes even more.

Browsing the web without ads is actually kind of nice. No popups stealing your screen. No autoplaying video ads making the page load as slowly as if it were being dialed up through America Online circa 1999. And millions of people seem to agree. They’ve installed extensions to their web browsers that delete the ads from most, if not all, of of the sites they visit. One popular ad blocker, AdBlock Plus, claims that it’s been installed on people’s browsers more than 400 million times and that it counts “close to 50 to 60 million active users,” said Ben Williams, communications and operations director at Eyeo, the company that makes AdBlock Plus.

Ad blocking isn’t a new issue. People have been installing these extensions for years. But those people were considered a fringe group. But that group is getting closer to the mainstream as kids who grew up browsing the web on their parents’ computers are getting their own laptops that they can customize all the way.

And advertisers’ target audience du jour — millennials — appear to be more likely to use ad blockers than any other age group. Of the survey respondents who were between the ages of 18 and 29 years old, 41% said they use ad blockers. As further evidence ad blocking isn’t abating, Mr. Williams said AdBlock Plus has averaged 2.3 million downloads a week since 2013.

(click here to continue reading Publishers Weigh Ways to Fight Ad Blocking | Media – Advertising Age.)

Nelson Muntz Furniture
Nelson Muntz Furniture

If the trend continues, the ad-supported model of web publishing will die soon. I’m not sure what will replace it – a subscription model I guess – but web publishers did themselves no favors by making ads increasingly more obnoxious. Autoplay videos are evil, and I cannot wait until Apple allows ad blocking software on iPhones and iPads.

Ad blocking extensions have been possible on Safari for Mac for a long time, but plugin architecture for Safari on iOS is much more limited. With iOS 9, Apple has added a special case of extension for ad blockers. Apps can now include ‘content blocker’ extensions that define resources (like images and scripts) for Safari to not load. For the first time, this architecture makes ad blockers a real possibility for iOS developers to make and iOS customers to install and use.

The inclusion of such a feature at this time is interesting. Apple is also pushing its own news solution in iOS 9 with the News app, which will include ads but not be affected by the content blocking extensions as they only apply to Safari. There is also clearly the potential for Safari ad blockers to hurt Google, which seems to be a common trend with Apple’s announcements recently…

(click here to continue reading iOS 9 lets app developers make ad blockers for Safari | 9to5Mac.)

Blocking ad tracking is also parenthetically about user privacy, and Apple is more likely to increase capabilities for its customers to opt out of the massive marketing databases of contemporary corporations like Acxiom, with the exception of inclusion in Apple’s own massive database of course. Apple is not a benevolent grandmother, but at least they are being more open about their marketing and data collection practices than some of their technology company peers.

Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, who was onstage to present new “proactive” artificial intelligence features of the next iPhone operating system, paused before one of the slides to make the company’s devotion to privacy clear.

Yes, he said, the new software will try to anticipate your information needs, based on things like your calendar and location — something that its rival, Google, already does. But, Federighi added, “we do it in a way that does not compromise your privacy. We don’t mine your email, your photos, or your contacts in the cloud to learn things about you. We honestly just don’t wanna know.”

He continued: “All of this is done on [the] device, and it stays on [the] device, under your control.” And Apple says that if it does have to perform a lookup [online] on your behalf, it’s anonymous, it’s not associated with your Apple ID, and it’s not shared with third parties.

In case you missed that point, Federighi immediately repeated: “You are in control.”

(click here to continue reading Walt Mossberg: Apple’s Latest Product Is Privacy | Re/code.)

Waste Your Time and Money
Waste Your Time and Money

We are talking significant revenue at stake already:

“Consumers want a faster web, significantly less tracking by unknown third parties and clean, well-lit media experiences. [Apple’s mobile ad-blocking plan] just accelerates it, and opens up a significant share of the marketplace,” said Jason Kint, CEO of online publisher trade group Digital Content Next. That significant share would significantly cut into publishers’ revenues. Take the biggest digital ad seller — Google — as a proxy. PageFair has estimated that Google, which made $59.1 billion from advertising in 2014, lost $6.6 billion that year because of ad blocking. As Vice’s chief digital officer Mike Germano said at an industry conference in New York earlier this month, “I love my audience, but fuck you, ad blockers — 20% of my revenue is gone.”

How to Get Your Business To Show Up On Google
How to Get Your Business To Show Up On Google

Written by Seth Anderson

June 19th, 2015 at 8:23 am

Posted in Advertising,Apple,Business

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Google Experimenting With Removing Google Ads for a Fee

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Cougle, Google's neighbor
Cougle, Google’s neighbor in the West Loop.

Almost sounds a little back-alley-ish: “hey, I’ve been deluging you with these ads for decades, but for a small fee, I’ll remove them, in certain circumstances…”

On Thursday, Google started experimenting with a new way to let users contribute to web sites in exchange for removing – or at least reducing – the number of ads. The service, called Contributor by Google, has users give between $1 and $3 a month to sites like The Onion and Mashable.

Once they pay, the ads that normally show will be replaced with a banner that says “Thank you for being a contributor.”

For Contributor, Google is only working with 10 sites, and it will take a small cut of the contributions. The sites may not be completely ad free: Google only has the power to remove ads it has served, so it should probably be described as a way to see “fewer ads” rather than no ads.

(click here to continue reading Google Experimenting With Removing Ads for a Fee – NYTimes.com.)

The only way I could see this working would be for low-traffic websites with a loyal leadership – it seems Google shares a slice of that fee with the publisher. I notice Google doesn’t disclose what the percentages actually are, it could be a 90-10 split for all we know, with Google retaining $2.70 of a $3 contribution. I doubt I’d ever use Contributor By Google, but you never know. Is the occasional visit to Urban Dictionary or The Onion worth $36 a year? Meh. Especially since I use Ghostery to block most ads in the first place, so the savings would be negligible, plus Google would be able to accumulate more data about me for their data mills.

Sophism Becomes You
Sophism Becomes You

I used to have Google Ads displayed over there on the right column, and when this blog sucked less and got more daily traffic, the ads paid me a few hundred dollars a year. That was quite a while ago though, certainly before Twitter and other social media soaked up my bandwidth, and the tumbleweeds started accumulating here. In fact, I removed the Google Ads several years ago, probably when Google started frequently being a bully and a thief.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 21st, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Advertising,Business

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California Urges Websites to Disclose Online Tracking

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 Tired Of Keeping Track

Tired Of Keeping Track

Kudos to Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, let us stipulate that this becomes a national trend, and soon…

Every major Internet browser has a feature that lets you tell a website that you don’t want it to collect personal information about you when you visit.

And virtually every website ignores those requests. Tracking your online activities — and using that data to tailor marketing pitches — is central to how Internet companies make money.

Now California’s attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, wants every site to tell you — in clear language — if and how it is respecting your privacy preferences. The guidelines, which will be published on Wednesday, are intended to help companies comply with a new state privacy law that went into effect on Jan. 1. That law requires sites to prominently disclose all their privacy practices, including how they respond to “do not track” requests.

“This guide is a tool for businesses to create clear and transparent privacy policies that reflect the state’s privacy laws and allow consumers to make informed decisions,” Ms. Harris said in a statement.

(click here to continue reading California Urges Websites to Disclose Online Tracking – NYTimes.com.)

Eye see u Willis
Eye see u Willis

Though this is a voluntary rule, and there are lots of lobbyists chewing on Congress-critters ears to block this practice from expanding, the publics’ opinion is very clear, so maybe by the time the aliens land, or the oceans reach the Midwest, we’ll have action:

The California guidelines for the Jan. 1 privacy law are voluntary. Other efforts to establish more binding privacy protections — either through federal or state laws or through industry self-regulation — have failed to win enough support to pass.

In an attempt to nudge the process along, two of the leading web browsers, Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, began giving users the option of sending a signal that tells all websites they visit that they don’t want to be tracked. Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome later added similar options.

But despite pledges by the advertising and technology industries to find a way to honor such requests — and endless discussions at an industry standards group, the World Wide Web Consortium, that was supposed to come up with a common set of rules — little progress has been made. This month, a White House advisory group again called for limits on tracking.

Do Not Track
Do Not Track 

Today, virtually no site respects “do not track” requests coming from web browsers. The only major company that honors the signals is Twitter.

Yahoo, which was one of the first companies to respect “do not track” signals, announced last month that it would no longer do so. Part of the company’s turnaround strategy depends on personalizing its services and advertising, which requires — you guessed it — tracking you across the web.

For what it’s worth, I still use Ghostery, despite it breaking functionality of some websites like Crain’s Chicago, or Nordstroms…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 21st, 2014 at 8:23 am

Internet groups whine about new online privacy rules for children

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 Miniature Office Globe

Oh, cry me a river. I’d love to have the same options available for myself! Kids luckily have some protection from being subsumed by the data collection industry, but not much. Adults – not even a token bit of assistance.

Internet groups complained Monday that new Federal Trade Commission regulations to protect children’s privacy online are financially burdensome to start-up companies.

Under regulations that went into effect July 1, websites catering to children will no longer be able to collect a range of identifying information without obtaining verifiable parental consent.

The child protection regulations will now hold the owners of sites and apps frequented by children responsible for third-party services — such as plug-ins or ads — that collect personal information from visitors who say they’re younger than 13. The third-party services will be held liable only if the FTC can prove they knowingly collected personal information from children.

Kid-friendly websites that want to use such ads to provide free content to kids, or that want to collect personal information for interactive content, now have to either get parental consent or forgo the content altogether, as some tech experts worry they’ll do.

“The biggest challenge here is that the commission defines personal information in a way that is so incredibly broad,” said Lydia Parnes, the former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and now a privacy lawyer, at a gathering of data experts and representatives of Internet companies in Washington.

 

(click here to continue reading Internet groups decry cost of new online privacy rules for children – latimes.com.)

Embarrass
Embarrass

 Have you ever tried to opt out of Acxiom’s database, for instance? Good luck. And they are just one firm out of thousands that Ghostery knows about. Unless you are paying attention to that industry, you’ve never heard of most of them, have no business relationship with them, nor consent to your information being bought and sold. Tough luck, unless you are under 13…

Written by Seth Anderson

July 11th, 2013 at 11:54 am

Posted in Advertising,Business

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Google Tracked iPhones, Bypassing Apple Browser Privacy Settings

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Ride Smarter
Ride Smarter

Don’t Be Evil is a thing of the past, the new Google is brash in its insistence that consumers are the product. You are their product, to be sold to advertisers. What you want is not important, only your demographic information is, since that is the commodity that makes Google wealthy.

Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers—tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked.

The companies used special computer code that tricks Apple’s Safari Web-browsing software into letting them monitor many users. Safari, the most widely used browser on mobile devices, is designed to block such tracking by default.

Google disabled its code after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ’s Jennifer Valentino-DeVries has details of Google and other advertising companies that were bypassing privacy levels set by users of Apple’s Safari browser on their iPhones. Photos: Getty Images

The Google code was spotted by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer and independently confirmed by a technical adviser to the Journal, Ashkan Soltani.

In Google’s case, the findings appeared to contradict some of Google’s own instructions to Safari users on how to avoid tracking. Until recently, one Google site told Safari users they could rely on Safari’s privacy settings to prevent tracking by Google. Google removed that language from the site Tuesday night.

…Google’s privacy practices are under intense scrutiny. Last year, as part of a far-reaching legal settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission the company pledged not to “misrepresent” its privacy practices to consumers. The fine for violating the agreement is $16,000 per violation, per day. The FTC declined to comment on the findings.

(click here to continue reading Google Tracked iPhones, Bypassing Apple Browser Privacy Settings – WSJ.com.)

Utterly embarrassing for Google, and right when the Congress is poised to look at Google’s privacy practices.

For the record, I use Google constantly, have had a Gmail account since it was first offered, use Google Analytics on this site, even have Google ads (if you haven’t blocked them like I have)

The EFF Foundation blogs:

Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal published evidence that Google has been circumventing the privacy settings of Safari and iPhone users, tracking them on non-Google sites despite Apple’s default settings, which were intended to prevent such tracking.

This tracking, discovered by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer, was a technical side-effect—probably an unintended side-effect—of a system that Google built to pass social personalization information (like, “your friend Suzy +1’ed this ad about candy”) from the google.com domain to the doubleclick.net domain. Further technical explanation can be found below.

Coming on the heels of Google’s controversial decision to tear down the privacy-protective walls between some of its other services, this is bad news for the company. It’s time for Google to acknowledge that it can do a better job of respecting the privacy of Web users. One way that Google can prove itself as a good actor in the online privacy debate is by providing meaningful ways for users to limit what data Google collects about them. Specifically, it’s time that Google’s third-party web servers start respecting Do Not Track requests, and time for Google to offer a built-in Do Not Track option.

Meanwhile, users who want to be safe against web tracking can’t rely on Safari’s well-intentioned but circumventable protections. Until Do Not Track is more widely respected, users who wish to defend themselves against online tracking should use AdBlock Plus for Firefox or Chrome, or Tracking Protection Lists for Internet Explorer.1 AdBlock needs to be used with EasyPrivacy and EasyList in order to offer maximal protection.

(click here to continue reading Google Circumvents Safari Privacy Protections – This is Why We Need Do Not Track | Electronic Frontier Foundation.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 17th, 2012 at 9:48 am

Who Buys All Those Google Ads

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Google Chrome Mac Screen shot 2009-12-08 at 3.29.24 PM
Google Chrome Mac

Damn, that’s a lot of web advertising. Especially given the ubiquity of adblockers, and so forth

Google cleared $37.9 billion in 2011 revenue, which equates to more than $3 billion a month, mostly from those little text ads next to your search results that neither you or anybody you know will admit to ever clicking on.

Insurance and finance buys for Google Adsense words accounted for $4.2 billion of that total — more than 10 percent — according to Larry Kim, the founder of Wordstream, a company that sells software to analyze text ad campaigns and commissioned the infographic above. The most expensive search term in that niche was “Self employed health insurance” — not surprising in the aftermath of the recession and the Affordable Care Act, which will eventually require nearly everyone to have health care insurance (unless the Supreme Court nullifies the law later this year).

That phrase cost $43.39 per click, nearly $10 more than the next most expensive term, “cheap car insurance”. (That’s not too surprising given that the long-term worth of a new insurance client might be worth losing money on them the first year.)

Retailers were a somewhat distant second, but still accounted for a hefty $2.8 billion in ad buys, and were led by e-commerce behemoth Amazon. Inexplicably, the top-priced search term in this niche was for “zumba dance DVD.” Or, perhaps the explanation is all those self-employed people looking to lower the cost of those health insurance policies they’ll need by finally getting started on a high-impact cardio routine.

(click here to continue reading Who Buys All Those Google Ads? An Infographic Breakdown | Epicenter | Wired.com, and see the infographic Wired created)

and compiled thus:

“I compiled these revenue estimates by using our own trillion-keyword database and the Google Keyword Tool to determine the top 10 million most popular search queries in 2011, as well as their average cost-per-click prices as paid by advertisers,” Kim told Wired. “I used WordStream PPC technologies to categorize the huge keyword list by industry, such as “Finance & Insurance,” then applied a model that weighed the relative percentages of each industry’s revenue (keyword volume * average cost per click) to Google’s 2011 revenues, excluding non-advertising revenues.
“The top five advertisers in each industry and their estimated spend was obtained by using data from SpyFu.com, then applying the same categorization analysis.”

Written by Seth Anderson

January 23rd, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Advertising,Business

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California SB-761 a Do Not Track law

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C is not always for Cookie

Speaking of online privacy, there wouldn’t be a need for anti-cookie extensions like Ghostery if bills like California’s SB-761 become the law of the land:

California is a step closer to getting the first Do Not Track legislation in the U.S., aimed at protecting Internet users from invasive advertising. The proposed Senate bill, SB-761, passed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote late Tuesday, but it still has a long way to go before having a chance of being signed into law. It now moves on to the Appropriations Committee, and must also pass the Senate and State Assembly before landing on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Still, it’s the first time such a bill has made it out of committee, and that’s a big deal, according to John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “This is the first time that a ‘do not track’ bill has actually had a hearing and been debated and then voted forward in the legislative process,” he said.

The bill would give California consumers a simple way of opting out of data collection systems that keep track of their online activities. “It puts up a no trespassing sign on our device,” Simpson said.

Opponents of the bill, including Google, the Direct Marketing Association, and the wireless industry group CTIA, say it puts an unnecessary burden on online commerce.

(click here to continue reading California’s Do Not Track law takes a step forward | Web | Macworld.)

Unfortunately, advertising behemoths like Google and the DMA already have gazillions of lobbyist dollars earmarked to defeat this bill.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 5th, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Advertising,government

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