Saturday, January 29, 2011

Week 4: Changes in the Way We Think

Without a doubt the internet has altered the way I read and think. After reading, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" I realized that so many of the traits of heavy internet users matched me. I tend to have multiple programs running and always find a way to distract myself. I believe Apple is only making things worse in terms of potential distractions. Amazon released the first Kindle a few years ago, it was a great device because of its shortcomings. With a gray-scale screen, limited internet functionality, and high price tag, many saw the Kindle as an underpowered/overpriced device. The Kindle actually prevents the distractions that the iPad thrives on, multitasking applications. These so called "Apps", are just an excuse to practice poor concentration and focus.
"Let me see here, I'll just open this iBook app and read some of this book. Why not put on some Pandora tunes in the background (exits to home-screen). Wait what's this, I have four new messages in Facebook!"

The added functionality of internet connected apps to the eBook reader has invited in a large new user-base, the multitasking ADD-oriented type of people. But wait, not so fast, Apple has a track record of great usability and simplicity. Not so long ago Apple despised companies like Sony that loved to overload devices with too many functions. It's like those all-in-one flashlight, TV, siren, and radio devices that people actually bought. The device wasn't very good at any of the functions, but just the thought of being able to go from spotlighting a deer to watching TV on one device made some people drool.

Since most of us are heading in the direction of that ADD-oriented mindset, we will need to use drugs like Modafil to keep us alert through all this so called "multitasking" chaos. Nicholas Carr said it best:

"The Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Third Blog Post: Open Response

Now that you've gotten the hang of how blogging works, it's your turn to take a little more control. So, this week, in reading about how (and if) the web is changing the way we think, your task is to come up with a response on your own. You can choose any aspect of the topic and readings for the week, and craft a thoughtful response - or discuss questions that these readings raised in your mind.

Due Wednesday, February 2nd, with comments to be posted by Sunday, Feb. 6th.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sites such as Facebook and targeted ads are overstepping our privacy boundaries

I'm not totally opposed to targeted advertising. I believe this is the way we can get to the things we are searching for, not to mention this is how get to use search engines for free as well. Yet, during a recent online search the targeted advertisements went a bit further...showing up on other websites I was visiting. This prompted me to think "how far can this targeted advertizing, or the internet for that matter, go."

First, we must consider what we define as private...just as we did last week with the former post assignment. As a privacy issue I don't think it is an invasion because this is how they work, and we must accept these terms when we decide to use these sites, which happen to be free. The ads just show up on our Facebook or Google page, for example. If they were to somehow get to my email and I'm receiving such ads...then, I would totatlly consider it an invasion of privacy. This is
the official status quo.

Yet, we really don't know how far these targeted ads get, or if there are other ways that our online history and information is being accessed by these companies (or some John Doe).
As I stated above, I was searching for a knee brace online and found a great site that seemed to have the perfect match for me. Since I'm a very conscious buyer, I left it at that and thought I'd make a decision later when I have looked at more sites. On two different websites, the same knee brace I had looked at showed up through targeted ads. I thought "what a coincidence" (since I'm used to the ads on websites-that's how many of these authors make a buck) but I quickly regained mental clarity and thoughtthis is going a bit further! Why would it show up at a
different website unrelated to the knee brace search?!

This is the point that got me far can they go? I enter my name and a lot of private information on different sites, yet I'm not sure how far these targeted ads go, so now I'm thinking how can they easily get to this type of information. Moreover, I am becoming more conscious of "who else" is able to trace my history in the same way and for what purpose. For instance, Facebook is always asking me to link my page to my email so they can "retrieve my contacts." Now, I consider that a privacy invasion. I don't want FB in my email...I really don't know how far they can get beyond my email.

In brief, as a privacy issue targeted ads had been staying within their limits but I see this trend changing with more and more eyes on my online history. This is concerning given that there could be a host of other people doing the same...we don't know for what purpose. Moreover, online networking sites are becoming more intrusive of our information, and I feel that my privacy can be threatened if this trend progresses.

P.S. Here's a link to someone's comment about FB's invasion of
privacy with its new design.

A Question of Trust

Even though I’ve been a daily internet user since 1995, these readings actually shocked me. What was most shocking is that I had no idea how much technology had advanced to allow tracking and targeting to evolve to its current level. The next thing I found shocking is that is seems that very few people actually know how extensive the tracking actually is.

It seems to me that on a very basic level when I visit a site there is an unspoken level of trust. I’m not there to do bad things to them, and they aren’t going to take advantage of me. Now I feel that trust is somewhat betrayed. To me it would be like taking out a loan, trusting the person who is explaining the loan details, signing all the contracts, then getting home and realizing that the loan is going to cost me thousands of dollars more because I didn’t read the fine print.

Legally what just happened is OK, I signed a contract, shame on me if I didn’t understand the Terms of Service, so to speak, of the contract. But is it morally justifiable what the loan officer did? I’d have to argue that it wasn’t morally justifiable to hide behind his Terms alone and not explain them fully before I made a decision.

I see this as a corollary to what is going on now. is a perfect example; I used them all the time, up until I read this week’s assignment. What they are doing is certainly not illegal, and I’m sure somewhere on their site they do list in some way that my interaction on their site is being recorded somehow, but is it a moral way to do business. Hiding behind the fine print of a Terms of Service agreement is a cowardly act, the first paragraph should be in plain English describing briefly and accurately what is being done to me or my computer when I log into their site.

Unfortunately, for us as users, it’s only going to get worse as technology advances. A recent personal example came to light the other day is a set up my shiny new iPhone. I plugged it in, signed in, and then was asked if I agreed to the Terms of Service, which happened to be 34 pages long. 34 pages for a $50 dollar phone, if you bought a $50,000 car from me and I pulled out a 34 page contract, you’d laugh and walk out, no way wound you sign a 34 page contract that without a lawyer looking at it.

Are the companies being legal and playing within the rules that our politicians set forth to keep them in check? Yes they are. But is it morally right? I think not.

Online Advertising

Most online companies track customer’s activities to create very specialized advertising.  I agree with this procedure. It is the company’s service users are participating in, so they have the right to track statistics within their own service.  The gathered statistics are never personal data that could potentially harm a user because there are laws against this.  Therefore, it is not an invasion of privacy because the user is supplying the activity data.  If a user doesn’t want to participate, they should be able to opt out.

Some people could perceive this to being a type of “Big Brother” surveillance. However, it’s worth it.  In my opinion I like personalized ads because it is relevant to my interests.  If the ad is not personalized to a customer, they won’t be interested in what it says.  Therefore, the ad will not generate income and the service will cease to exist.  I find internet services very productive and efficient.  If a company must generate revenue from online advertising, then so be it.  However, companies should find unique ways in approaching online advertising because most ads are still ineffective or just plain annoying.


Go Ahead and Track Me

I definitely think its fair game for a company to supply you with free services. I mean, they have to get their income from somewhere; we all got to eat (lol). It is not an invasion of privacy if a company doesn’t tie your name to it. As long as they don’t get a hold of my credit card or SSN, we will be all right. This goes along with our previous blogpost about privacy and secret-ness. Nothing is private on the net and it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are being tracked in this manner either. All that information is fair game and useful for companies advertising wise sales, and potentially helping you find services you need a lot easier and many time with discounts.

The stats and information these companies collect are probably some of the most valuable information out there for businesses. We are exposed to so much on the web and we have so much at our disposal, so if a company doing its due diligence to create statistics and market research, then they should be able to make money from it. Ultimately it benefits everyone, the consumer, the vendors, large corporations and the average Joe.

Just to consider another perspective though, perhaps there should be a tradeoff. People should have a choice of being tracked. For example, if you select yes, (sort of similar to email lists for various retailers where you can opt in or out of special offers and etc), then there should be an incentive. If for example, a website charges for subscription or something, then maybe it can be free or a cheaper rate in exchange of being tracked, but the whole concept is basically the person or consumer should have a choice in being tracked.

It is kind of like television, you get to watch for free, but within the programming there are advertisements. And although the advertisers don’t see or track your viewing preferences, they air specific commercials on certain channels, also considering the program and timing. The advertising on channels is what the channel owner makes money off of.

"They" can track me all they want, and if any crucial illegal harm is brought up on me, then IT IS ON – legal action baby! Until then, let us all benefit one way or another, whether it be advertisers tracking me and giving me deals or tracking to see how to monitor websites better.

Big Brother: No Big Deal

Click. Click... Click. That's the sound of your mouse taking you from page to page. *Silence.* That's the sound, or lack thereof, of companies loading tracking information onto your computer. According to the Wall Street Journal article The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets, "the nation's 50 top websites on average installed 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computers of visitors, usually with no warning." The purpose behind this tracking technology? Advertising. These "beacons" track the websites you visit so that companies can target their advertisements directly at you, the consumer. Some see this as an invasion of privacy, Big Brother at it again. I say bring it on.

That companies use this technology to provide tailor made advertisements to individual users is a wonderful business strategy for them, and a time saving convenience to us. In that same WSJ article, the author states, "The new technologies are transforming the Internet economy. Advertisers once primarily bought ads on specific Web pages—a car ad on a car site. Now, advertisers are paying a premium to follow people around the Internet, wherever they go, with highly specific marketing messages." This is perfect for a consumer. Lets say I'm someone researching information on a new sport I'm interested in taking up, snowboarding. I Google "snowboarding" and instantly I have dozens of websites with information on snowboarding: how-to's and sizing charts from and, videos from Youtube, etc. Now that I know everything I need to know about getting started, it's time to start shopping. I soon realize I don't need to look far, because websites I'm visiting now suddenly have ads that take me to different online snowboard stores. How convenient!

Clearly, this is a dramatization of how it really works, but the premise is the same. The information we search for in the digital age is fair game to advertisers, and I have no issues with that fact as long as the intent is not malicious. This statement in the blog prompt, "the internet services you use for "free" are largely financed through advertising, and that you probably prefer ads that are most relevant to you" is dead on. If you want to look up the definition of a word, you either have to take the time to go to the store and buy a dictionary, or you could go online and look it up. For this information to be free, websites that provide the definition must make their money through online advertising. In my opinion, companies collecting my data is a fair trade for the information that I want for free, here and now.

Marketing Information Acquisition

Commenting on advertising and marketing on the Internet is tricky. On one hand, people don't like having information gathered about them, even if it's anonymous. Having tracking cookies and other files placed on your computer without your knowledge to gather information about you seems to be something that should be illegal. But it's nothing that hasn't been going on since the beginning of business.

Every time you purchase something from a physical store it gets noted. It gets put into some kind of database and when it comes time to acquire new inventory somebody goes over that database and looks to see what buying trends have been going on. What brands of potato chips were most popular this month? What other items did people who bought chips buy? That's just generic purchasing. When you use something like a store card that gives discounts they can get specific information about your buying habits.

This is a good thing.

If a store didn't stock its inventory according to the people in the community it wouldn't sell nearly as much as it could and would probably have to close. The people in the community would have to travel farther away to get the items they want, even if the store is operating. If the people in your community only like apples but the stores around you didn't carry apples everyone would suffer.

The Internet is more wild and untamed when it comes to information gathering than it should be. I don't think that such information gathering needs to be stopped, but it does need to be regulated a lot more than it is. People should be informed about when their information is being gather, even if they can't do anything to stop it. Unfortunately technology evolves faster than we do and any legislation that regulates online information gathering is going to have to be top notch, which means a long wait.

Facebook and Tracking Advertising: Is This an Issue?

Everyday millions of people use the Internet to check e-mails, Facebook accounts and much more. Many of the ads that appear on the pages that we go to seem to relate to interest that we have previously searched and many of them seem to be relevant to our interests. Lots of times Facebook ads will appear on a person’s wall because of certain statements or pages that person has previously “liked”. Is it wrong for companies to track this sort of information?

Although some may disagree that this type of advertising is wrong, I believe that it is fair game as long as these companies do not get too much of your personal information. These companies are tracking our information so that they can make money off our (the public) interests. They can get feedback from us by certain messages or comments we leave to them so they can help improve their businesses and give what the people demand. I think that it is a good thing because it helps businesses keep up to date with the ever changing world around them.

As a matter of fact, many companies actually use these social websites such as Facebook to promote their businesses. They can track how many people search their business, or related topics and how many people view their profile. I think it is actually a good idea because it gives these companies a relative idea of how much demand is in need for their service. They can then base their pricing and other business information off these statistics.
I don’t think that it is an “invasion of privacy”, but more as a means of marketing. Many companies will see what the public is interested in and expand their ideas that will benefit us. It also helps us find things we are interested in, and information about those subjects easier to find because they have already linked ads to our pages that relate to it. We have a choice to what we put on the Internet, and if it is meant to be private, many people will not put it on.

This link is a Wall Street Journal article on Facebook and online privacy. It talks about the use of companies and their ways of getting our information and how they are using it with advertising and in other ways. It also relates to the assigned readings and helps support and may even challenge some of the topics and questions that were asked throughout the text.

In conclusion, I do not agree with the statement that it is an invasion of privacy. It does not seem like it is becoming a “Big Brother” type of situation. These companies are not using your information against you, but only to help benefit you, but there is a fine line between invasion of privacy and tracking your information.

Does tracking advertising oppose threat to personal information or identity theft? Is there any way to help prevent these things from happening, while still receiving the benefits from their tracking? How do we know that this type of advertising will not turn into "Big Brother" in the future?

Websites: Watching You Like a Hawk
Websites are keeping a close eye on what you use them for nowadays. Many of the clicks you make are recorded and logged. This information is then used to (among other things) supply you with more directed advertising. Instead of supplying the 22 year old male college student with advertisements for Fisher-Price toys, they might get advertisements about new razors or video games. In theory, this method of directed advertising is supposed to both improve the success rate of the ads, as well as improve the experience of the user, benefiting both parties; the website gains more ad revenue, and the customer is supplied ads that are relevant to his or her interests. However, is collecting this information about our clicks morally acceptable?

I say yes. Many times, the information is not even tied to your name. Websites also need to produce a profit in order to be maintained and operated, and they are simply maximizing their profits. Now, I am all about privacy, but in its most basic form, I see nothing wrong with this directed advertising that is driven by tracking the clicks of your mouse.

I do, on the other hand, have a problem with websites that use some of this information for other purposes. Try going to and searching for yourself. This website is classified as a "social network aggregator" website. After a quick sampling of this website, and since I am a computer science major, I wanted to learn more. I learned that by using deep web crawling technology, as well as offline sources, Spokeo is able to collect information about anybody from a near endless number of sources. I was shocked to see some of the information that was present on this website. Many people I searched on Spokeo had a record; this included information about their marital status, their salary, their place of residence, their phone number, and a LOT more if you were willing to pay some cold hard cash for it.

While Spokeo does have an option to remove yourself from their database, I learned that it has historically not worked as intended. Often times people will be temporarily removed, only to be added again the next time the deep web crawlers operate. Other times these requests for removal end up getting ignored or "lost" by Spokeo. However, if you were somehow able to never be added to Spokeo... you wouldn't have to worry about being removed!

What is very interesting to me is identifying what variables cause a person to "have a record" on Spokeo, and how to fly under the radar. I was one of the few ghosts on the website; as far as they were concerned, I do not exist. I am not even a member of my own family! When compared to people that are on the list, however, I made some interesting observations about our differences: I do not own any property, I do not have a home phone number (only cell phone), I have never applied for my own credit card, and I never use my full name on the internet for Twitter, Blogging, Forums, etc. How many of these factors make a difference? I'm not sure. Maybe it's impossible to fly under Spokeo's radar forever, but for now, I'm in the clear.... Are you?

Directed Advertising: Yes Please!
Automated Cyber Stalking: No Thank You.

Online advertising: is it dangerous?

The idea of catering advertising to specific groups or demographics has been around forever. If you buy a car magazine, chances are the ads in it are going to involve cars. If you flip on the Food Network, you’re going to find yourself knee deep in commercials for food (I think the Food Network only exists to make me hungry.) Print media has applied this concept, TV has done so to, so it is only logical that the internet be the next frontier of effective advertising.

Advertising does become trickier on the Internet, because it is much easier to ignore. A way to combat this is to apply the above concept, to f base ads on an individual level. TV and print media lacks this specificity, because it cannot target specific individuals, only groups. For the advertisers to do this they must track your activity. Personally, ads on the Internet being garnered to my tastes does not seem too terrible, so in that sense it doesn’t matter to me. The big issue that most people have here is the privacy.

If you look at it as someone’s harvesting our information for his or her own gain, then it does seem pretty bad. I think this is a very simplistic view though, because the information being tracked (search history, “likes,” etc.) is not harmful, and it can’t even be spun in a harmful way. If you “liked” a certain website, for example, you aren’t really doing it for you, you are doing it to show other people that you are interested in that website, in this way you are willingly providing the net with information. Is it that bad that someone used a piece of information that you willingly put on the net in the first place? I think not.

The fear here is mostly coming from a slippery slope mentality: “If companies are tracking my internet activity, what else are they tracking? What else can they track and get away with if this behavior continues?” Despite the element of paranoia in this thinking, it still is a valid, to an extent. Although this advertising strategy is benign for now, there is some potential for someone to use tracking in a more malicious way.

Targeted Advertising

I experienced consumer tracking today.  I looked up typography for my web design class, and an ad for the book I'm using in web design popped up.

I spend a lot of time online.  Ads aren’t a new thing to me.  I’ve gotten so used to them that I sort of ignore them.  For this reason, I don’t see a problem in targeted advertising.  As consumers, we like specific things.  It only makes things easier for us when ads direct us to what we want.  I really think the information that we insert into searches and the things we like are fair game.  If ads are the way to go to make money online, then what other options do they really have?  Another thing to mention is the keyword here is “free.”

“ executives say the trade-off is fair for their users, who get free access to its dictionary and thesaurus service.
"Whether it's one or 10 cookies, it doesn't have any impact on the customer experience, and we disclose we do it," says spokesman Nicholas Graham. "So what's the beef?"”

-The Web’s New Gold Mine (Julia Angwin)

We get free services, and the information collected doesn’t include our name and location.  Everything is rounded up in a code.  I think people should consider also that we put our information up for free on websites.  If we have public profiles, anyone can read our tweets.  All you have to do is search a particular word.  These companies do the same thing.  If we “like” things on Facebook, millions of other people will like the same thing.  Any random person can also see this without knowing us personally.

I was shocked by Healthline’s selectiveness though.  I certainly consider anything health-related to be sensitive.  That’s why we have confidential medical records.  I also wonder how effective the enforcement is of the below quote especially when most companies don’t even realize they have trackers on their site.

“Healthline says it doesn't let advertisers track users around the Internet who have viewed sensitive topics such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders and impotence. The company does let advertisers track people with bipolar disorder, overactive bladder and anxiety, according to its marketing materials.

-The Web’s New Gold Mine (Julia Angwin)

Overall, I don’t find it wrong to have online activity used in this way.  We have enough control to actually remove ourselves from these trackers.  In regards to the article “Facebook friend turns into Big Brother”, those teens had control over adding the friend request from a strange girl who happened to be a cop.  Things change, and I have to agree with Officer Al Iverson who said, “Law enforcement has to evolve with technology.”

Who Is Watching You?

"Tracking technology is getting smarter and more intrusive. Monitoring used to be limited mainly to 'cookie' files that record websites people visit. But the Journal found new tools that scan in real time what people are doing on a Web page, then instantly assess location, income, shopping interests and even medical conditions."
- Julia Angwin, "The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets"

Online tracking is not a recent development. However, the extent to which it is used and the amount and types of information being tracked is continuously increasing. In her article, Angwin describes how some large sites did not know that they were installing tracking files on every site user's computer. To think that some of the most widely used sites in the US are not fully knowledgeable of this tracking that comes from their sites is downright scary.

It is not only disturbing to think of the amount of tracking that exists, but also to think that all kinds of information can be tracked and provided for use by advertisers. Personal information, including medical and financial information, can be targeted. Angwin points out that "so much consumer data is now up for sale, and there are no legal limits on how that data can be used". Without specific legal limits on what information can and cannot be used, it seems that any information is fair game.

I still stand by what I wrote in my blog last week - if you do not want to share something with the world, then you need to be aware of your privacy settings and take control of your privacy. In "Facebook friend turns into Big Brother", a college student is fined for drinking underage - which is shown in pictures he is tagged in on Facebook. While this situation is unfortunate for the student, I'm sure that he probably learned the lesson that if you are tagged in a public photo on Facebook doing illegal activities, you will face consequences.

However, I am concerned that websites that provide personal information - such as Spokeo, can be damaging and seem unlawful. I think that the government needs to set specific legal limits as to which information can be made public and that information that is too personal or sensitive to be provided to the world. Until this happens, the best way to protect your privacy is to take extra steps and become informed. The following website provides 12 Ways to Protect Your Privacy.

Should 'Pervasiveness' be Illegal?

Should the government make the practice of these companies illegal? That is the question being asked by so many people right now. Currently, according to US Law, these acts are legal. Each of this weeks articles touches this point in some manner or another.

The concern growing in the US is the improper uses of the technology. Whether they are illegal or not, some uses are just wrong. The deceit of law enforcement in the Facebook article was incredible; law enforcement is abusing social networking. I have never committed any crimes, nor broken the law (short of speeding) but I still feel it is an abuse of privacy.

On the other hand, I support advertising. Working for a company that has a nack for metrics and large data sets in the energy market, I understand the demands on companies to improve. Honestly, I appreciate the new marketing tactics. I would rather see ads that are targeted toward me, it actually makes things interesting and relevant like many of the schemes in the Gold Mine Article. [To all the ad-bots reading this, I am 21-15 Male interested in Computers and Electronics]. Besides the ad content presented to me, I really appreciate free services and the opportunity to have them. It is well worth the information gathered.

The results… Should info gathering be illegal? No. Should there be protections for those that object to their information going out and people who abuse it? Absolutely Yes.

Tracking and Privacy: A double-edged sword?

I can see definite advantages and disadvantages to companies tracking my likes and dislikes via search engines, social media sites, etc.

On the one hand, keeping track of different criteria certainly helps with customizing advertising to my liking. By keeping active tabs on the kinds of things I search for or view, they can better adjust their marketing to suit me personally. I know when streaming video, I'd certainly prefer watching an ad for LittleBigPlanet 2 or Inception over something I don't care about in the slightest like cat food or baby wipes.

On the other hand, the idea of a corporation basically having full access to all my previous searches is incredibly unnerving. Not to mention that if companies like Google are keeping track of searches made, who's to say that these searches will be kept under lock and key, and not sold to other I still remember recently when Facebook app Farmville was found to be leaking personal details entered by its users to other 3rd-party companies. Even further back, AOL inadvertently leaked the history of searches its users made back in 2006, and some particularly embarrassing things were tied to certain individuals. I've looked up things related to some very personal issues before, and I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with sharing this kind of faceless corporations, let alone unrelated entities or the general public.

While I can certainly see the business advantages to keeping tabs on your customers' tendencies, I gotta say I'd be much more comfortable sitting through one or two ads for bran cereal than I would be giving away every detail of my life to advertising companies.

Why do we "LIKE" things?

Most of us log into Facebook every day. Sometimes once or twice, others 5 times a day. Some of us check it regularly if we have the application on our Blackberry or Droid phones. The advertisements that appear on an individuals Facebook relate to that person's interests. These advertisements show up because of previous things that the user has "liked". I think that this information is fair game to the advertisers. If we choose to "LIKE" something, then that information is part of your Facebook profile. Depending on the privacy settings that are set on your Facebook, people who aren't even your friend's can see your "LIKES". If you wouldnt want anyone knowing your interests, then why would you click "LIKE" in the first place?
When I think about how many Facebook users there are, it's kind of crazy to think that advertisers monitor each user to put their ads on the sidebar of their Facebook. I wouldn't go to the extent that it is an invasion of privacy, even though I can see why other people may feel differently. For an advertiser, just seeing a few of your "LIKES", they can base your interests and branch off of those to. For example, if you are really interested in the Detroit Tigers, you may have "LIKED" that Facebook page. Advertisers now may put advertisements on your sidebar that link to the Detroit Tigers, along with other professional athletic teams in Detroit. They might also advertise other sports, or more information on Major League Baseball.
This is the Facebook Marketing Toolbox. This gives advertisers 100 tips and tools to reach Facebook users. After reading through this, I can see why all the advertisements on my sidebar are things that interest me.
Overall, I don't think advertisers are invading our privacy. It goes back to what I posted in my previous blog. If we choose to put things out there, we need to accept the consequences.

Week 2: Corporate Exploitation of Privacy

Every business needs to generate some form of revenue to stay afloat, but the methods of generating that revenue are what many of us dislike about the business of online advertising. The area in which it is OK for corporations to mine for a users data is gray at best. Personally, I have no problem with Google searching my emails for relevant keywords that can be matched to ads. As long as the ads don't interfere with the sites usability, it is fine with me.

This quote is from Google's Gmail Privacy Page:

"Google does not and will never rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission. No email content or other personally identifiable information will be provided to advertisers. We provide advertisers only aggregated non-personal information such as the number of times one of their ads was clicked."

Google is still pushing the limits of privacy, figuring out what the public is comfortable with sharing and what is taboo. Until the public pushes back, they will keep mining deeper into our lives for whatever trivial data is seen as gold to advertisers. Google may be playing Big Brother through their methods, but at least the company has been fairly transparent about their practices.

Tracking for Advertising

You "like" something on Facebook and it influences the ads you see on the side of the site. I see nothing wrong with using this tracking to advertise things that are more likely to be what you're interested in. Seeing as Facebook and many others are sites that have no fees for us to use, I don't believe there is a problem with them using simple advertising techniques to draw more attention to a product. The ads are based on things that you are interested in and are influenced by the decisions you make on the web.

If you don't like the way people see you or what you are doing on the web then maybe it isn't a place where you belong. The internet is a large place and once you post or say one thing then it is out there somewhere for people to see. The simple thing is if you don't want others to know stuff about you then its as easy as not putting it out there for others to know.

I can understand that some are unhappy with the way you are tracked but on free sites I don't have a problem with it. On sites that you may have to pay for though it's a whole different story. Those place should give you more privacy and choices based on what you want.

I don't feel that these companies are becoming too much of a "big brother" because everything they do is based on your interest and your personal information isn't involved or is it being taken and shared with others without your consent.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Demand choice, exercise restraint

Most of you have seen an online advertisement that seemed eerily appropriate. Maybe it was a discreet little Google text ad in your Gmail inbox selling you something you mentioned in a recent email, or perhaps an obnoxious pop-up ad reminding you to buy tickets for your favorite band. While it might have seemed scary once ("the internet KNOWS?"), it's commonplace now. Consider this trip, though: maybe you'll be in one of those ads soon. Facebook is rolling out a "Sponsored Stories" feature, which will turn your Likes and feed activity into sidebar ads for all of your friends to see. If businesses honing in on you with laser-like intensity as though you're some kind of human cash machine wasn't irritating enough, consider what it'll be like to become the advertisement. After all, who do we trust more to recommend the best products than our friends and family? Facebook's new form of advertising using your words might seem a bit extreme, but I fear it won't be in the future. And what's to stop advertisers from going further, distorting your words and sugaring things up even further? I hardly need to mention Facebook's track record of publicizing our information, and doing so in a more...shall we say, controlled manner isn't inconceivable.

Advertising has always been an art of psychological manipulation, of exposing the ad-viewer's deepest insecurities and wants, and of finding ways of creating new wants. In the age of targeted advertising, this is more personal than ever. The problem with this is how it not only detects our behavior, but also changes it. Cate Reid reported that she was more self-conscious about her weight when she started seeing more weight loss ads. Ads can get into our heads and feed off of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, even without knowing our name and addressing us directly, and targeted advertising is even better at that. Imagine a future like the one in The Minority Report, where ad screens can scan our face and personalize an ad to us on the spot. For some, this is potentially harmful, and an invasion of privacy. Others might find this kind of advertising useful. Privacy is a subjective issue, and that's why choice is the most important element involved. Don't get me wrong - I'm not anti-advertising. Lots of things I use are free because of it, and I know advertising will never go away. What I'm against is the inability to retain one's data and privacy in the name of corporations making more money. Further down the line, that information can easily be seized by the government, and who knows to what end it could be used for? I'm not personally worried about an advertiser knowing my favorite movies, but who knows when that kind of information could become politically sensitive? As this hilariously insightful video points out, things are becoming so connected that we're running out of time to correct our course.

Choice, then, is key. Sites should let their users know what's on the table, and tell them loud and clear what data is up for grabs, especially by third parties. Certain organizations right now are trying to make it possible to opt out of all behavioral advertising, but this only works for compliant trackers. Let's put pressure on advertisers to comply with these standards so we can completely opt out. We can control organizations like this, but we can't control everyone without violating free speech. Sites like Report Your Ex give release to some senselessly hateful discourse, but shutting everyone up isn't a better alternative. Thankfully, libel laws exist and our current legal system does offer some choice in those situations. Incidents like that are smaller and more localized, and don't bother me nearly as much as large corporations who handle my information for money.

Of course, we're also responsible for what kinds of information we put on the internet, just as we are in life. Information is power, and the economy of information will always be a harsh one. For instance, it's probably not smart to post pictures of yourself doing something illegal on Facebook (as officer Iverson says in that last link, law enforcement does have to keep up with technology). Legally, though, most of our information that's out there on the internet is fair game. Ethically? Nobody can say for sure, but I know what I want to keep to myself. To that end, I know what kinds of companies I don't want to be handing my information to. If we all make selective choices, hopefully companies that toss around our information for a quick buck will be yesterday's news. Let's challenge companies like Google, who only stand to gain from abusing our information, to put forward a more concerted effort toward giving users choice and control over their data. On that note, we can also make an effort to be smart about what information we put out there. You probably don't need to declare your undying love of Starbucks on the internet; moreover, be careful about what you search for. As Andrew Grove of Intel once said, "Only the paranoid survive." Tools like Tor are hugely powerful for staying private. I just installed the Keep My Opt-Outs extension for Chrome, which keeps compliant advertisers from using my data. You don't have to go overboard, either; I never browse behind a proxy, I use Google regularly, and have accounts on various websites, and I don't even show up on Spokeo. Use your real name carefully. And you certainly wouldn't go to and post your home address, now would you?

You Have Removed This Ad. Why Didn't You Like It?

  I hate feeling like I'm being watched, but on the internet, you can't really help that. Like some of my classmates have mentioned, this "tracking" has been happening since before the internet was around. All you had to do was look at a sales summary to see what items were most popular, and then TADA, more ads for that product geared towards those who buy it.
  Because my name isn't directly linked to my preferences, I'm okay with it. If these agencies were actually in my house with a clipboard, writing down my every move, then I might be a little offended. But honestly, they're just doing me a favor at this point. I don't want to be on Facebook and see ads for male pattern baldness or plumbing equipment - I want to see things I'm interested in, that might show me a website I might also become a fan of.
  I do have one ad tracking success story that comes to mind.... I'm a huge fan of U of M, and my weakness as a female is shoes. One day an ad popped up on Facebook for a website called Simple Shoes and they were offering U of M printed shoes! And on sale! I scored a great limited time deal (9.99, free shipping) on a pair of shoes that are normally $50!
  As far as these companies and ad agencies becoming big brother, I don't think that's the case. They're simply trying to stay in business by catering to their most loyal (and likely) customers. And the websites they advertise on are genius for letting them do it, because it keeps Facebook free for me, and I hardly notice the ads anymore anyway!

Who's Tracking Me? You are? Whaaaaaaat!

When reading how companies track Internet users' online activity, I think it strikes an eerie feeling into a lot of people's minds, including my own, especially when people believe that deleting their search history can wipe out any track or trace of what they have browsed and searched for. As an avid Internet user, I do feel that this practice is unnecessary because I would rather my activity to be kept private.

According to the article by Julia Angwin, "The information that companies gather is anonymous, in the sense that Internet users are identified by a number assigned to their computer, not by a specific person's name." I feel that, unless the FBI was watching my every move for criminal reasons, I'd feel that this was an unethical way for other companies to make some profit.

In another sense, I wouldn't completely call it an invasion of privacy, but more of a Peeping Tom-like tactic where the Internet user is exposed and can be seen from a distance even though the watcher has not violated their "jurisdiction." Angwin says that, "Lotame, for instance, says it doesn't know the name of users, only their behavior and attributes, identified by code number. People who don't want to be tracked can remove themselves from Lotame's system."

In other words, these companies are not trespassing but merely watching you through an "open window." It does make me feel a little safer because companies like Lotame are unable to discover a person's name, but anytime someone is being watched and doesn't know it, a strange feeling of creepiness begins to settle on the surface.

Angwin adds that tracking isn't new, but the technology is growing so powerful and ubiquitous that even some of America's biggest sites say they were unaware, until informed by the Journal, that they were installing intrusive files on visitors' computers. I disagree with this sentiment because I feel that companies always attempt to cover up the fact they like to spy on users. The files don't get put on visitor's computers out of nowhere, so that must mean there is a cyberhacker of some sort in these companies who secretly creates these decoders and such.

As for the Big Brother effect, I'd only want websites that I visit daily to track any activity of mines, like ESPN, but I'd only want them to track my responses on articles, videos, or any other form of media they offer. I wouldn't want them keeping personal records of who I "might be" or what I "might like" but to merely get a feel of my taste in sports. That's one way I'd appreciate a website for looking out for me. For example, if I posted a comment on saying that ESPN needs to include videos with better resolution, then I would be ok if they tracked or reviewed my comment and made the neccessary adjustments for the betterment of the site.

All in all, I guess it just depends.

Corporate Tracking

“Who are you? Who, who, who who? I really wanna know!”
I think that this week’s topic of Corporate Tracking and Privacy Practices can best be summed up by the immortal words of arguably one of the best English rock bands of all time: The Who.  (How many of you are CSI fans? Come on…you know who you are…)
As Julia Angwin noted in her article The New Goldmine, spying on consumers is, “one of the fastest growing businesses on the internet.”  I don’t doubt it.  Even before the internet, brick and mortar stores have been tracking consumer spending for years, and continue to do so.   It is only logical to assume that, with the advent of the internet, businesses would continue this practice in cyberspace.  After all, most businesses make money through advertising; this is not a novel concept.  It only makes sense that ad agencies would devise ingenious ways to track consumer habits online so they can determine the target markets for their clients.  For example, I think it would be a giant waste of time and revenue if Tampax, Inc.  were to spend their money on placing ads for tampons on  Most likely, the majority of those consumers logging on to check the football scores of their favorite team, are not those who would be interested in seeing ads for tampons next to Mark Sanchez’s head. 
Chris Hoofnagle noted that “search engines gain revenue from online advertising.”  After all, Google is a company just like Nike or Target, yet the product that they provide is not tangible.   Even so, they still need to generate money to pay their employees who are responsible for creating the algorithms, logarithms and other –ithms that allow us to enter “pizza” in the search bar and come up with literally thousands of hits.  As to whether or not I agree with it…I can’t decisively say that I do agree with the practice, but I’m not so sure that I would consider it an invasion of privacy either.  This is largely because the information remains “anonymous” to those who see it so there is really no way to access vital personal information.  Hoofnagle also raised the question “are IP addresses identifiable?”  I think that if they were “identifiable” and businesses could pull up exact names, addresses, age, social security numbers etc. of consumers, then I would probably agree that tracking consumer habits would be an invasion of privacy.   He also mentions that “companies sometime conceive of “privacy” very differently than consumers.”  This illustrates the subjective nature of the concept of privacy that I addressed in my first blog post. 

Invasion of Privacy

Who are you? What are you doing? How much money do you make? Where do you live? Are these things you are comfortable telling a stranger? I'm not. The increase in tracking or should I say, stalking on the internet makes me uneasy. People should have a right to not be followed. It seems like they keep increasing the amount of information they gather. First it was just the websites you visit. Now they know your age, where you live, and what your income is. Where will it end? I understand that free internet sites like and youtube need to make money from advertising, but I don't want them to make money by selling my information or putting tracking cookies on my computer. I was especially surprised to learn that, a website that I use often, installs 159 tracking cookies.

While I was looking up some additional information on this topic I came across an article by ABC news.
Security cameras are used on city streets in London and facial recognition software is used in stores and airports. It just seems like it's becoming too much. The next thing you know you'll be expected to hand over a dna sample when you're stopped for a traffic violation.
I don't use the internet for anything I am ashamed of, but I like my privacy and I am not a fan of anything that threatens it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tracking and Privacy. Go for it

The way I view the internet is like the Wild Wild West. There are some laws here and there but no real set of laws. With the college kids in Wisconsin, they were punished because they broke the law with beers in their hand. But how do we know those beers were not photoshopped on their hands. Of course this is really a extreme but is there a define law about arresting someone off a picture?

“Privacy is important” talk effectively operates on several consumer biases, and Google is smart to employ it. As Machiavelli noted in the sixteenth century, “… men in general judge rather by the eye than by the hand, for every one can see but few can touch. Every one sees what you seem, but few know what you are … .” [8] Machiavelli’s advice to political leaders applies fully in this context because consumers cannot know about any given company’s privacy practices.

With the statement above, we do not know what the company is doing nor do not see high government officials facebook pages and private information out there. As cliche as this sounds, with information comes power. The more they know, the more companies can entice you with their ads and products and what is your new favorite movie at the moment.

The only part I do not agree with is why certain sites care about race? It further increases the stereotypes. I understand the whole premise of income or a target audience for a certain product but race should not matter what you do on the internet.

I have no problem with them tracking me. I have Nothing to hide and therefore whatever information they obtain is valid. I admit I am going thru some bad money problems now and any company that looks me up can see that but I have gain a lot with the internet like the ability to take this class and meet new people and expand my horizons as a human being. The small trade off is they are tracking you. We have GPS's in our cell phones. We are constantly being watch whether we notice it or not. I rather not think about it and know that I can set my privacy to a certain degree. That is the only thing I can do.

Privacy Invasion

I am a woman trying on lingerie while you watch me decide. I am a man renting a pornographic movie while you record my choice. I am a teenage boy who decides against buying condoms because I know you are watching...waiting to record my choice.
An invasion of privacy is simply that, an invasion of privacy. The web and it's advertisers should not have free rein in recording your online activity. There should be an opt-in option. (Not an automatic enrollment with an opt-out option, as Google tried when launching Buzz.)
If invasion of privacy is allowed for advertisement purposes online, how long will it be before it is allowed offline? How long before advertisers are allowed to watch and record you try on clothing to help further their sales? Is it ok as long as they don't show your face?
In my opinion, the laws on privacy need to be tightened down a bit. I do not choose to have you record my every move whether it be online or off. If you would like to sell me something you will have to be a little more creative than spying...

Web Tracking

From a marketing stand point, it is a great way to learn more about what

People want and making what they want more available as well as more affordable.

So yes I do agree with it, as long as they are not using any of my personal information or making

Personal information available to the different companies. I believe it is an invasion of privacy when they put beacons, cookies, flash cookies within there software or sites, without your knowledge. That is

The same as having a peeping tom, or a stalker watching your every move.

All sites and software that can be downloaded to your computer should identify to the consumer regarding any type of web bug that is being used like: beacons, flash cookie or cookies.

As BlueKai says its own website gives consumers as easy way to see what it monitors about them, all companies should have this option available. All companies should check there sites and software to make and know what tracking files are being used on there sites.

I don't believe these companies are becoming a Big Brother as of this point, but if laws are not put into place they will become a Big Brother type.

If you are doing something wrong or illegal, and don't want to get caught then don't advertise it on the internet for anyone in the world to see. Law enforcement is trying to involve to today's society, were there are many new crimes being committed due to the internet that need to be stopped

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's definitely not anonymous

I don't think that targeted advertising is a bad thing at all, however, the freedom that different companies and websites have in regards to tracking and redistributing peoples' information is.

Targeted advertising, as I have said, is not bad at all. While I'm not one who pays attention to advertisements on websites and even uses addons to block advertisements and banner ads, I would much rather have things relevant to my interests being sold to me instead of heart medication, snake oil, and Hoverround wheelchairs. On some radio stations I listen to, the political talk shows have advertisements obviously targeted at the elderly or middle aged and I hate listening to them with a passion. They're completely irrelevant to anything I'm concerned with and usually aren't particularly entertaining or witty.

In terms of users' information being tracked, I would say it is fine if it were being used and attributed to others anonymously, however, as seen with (or rather spookeo), somewhere, someone is not taking our data anonymously.This would be fine again since we probably consent to this in one form or another, but to have it available publicly to search and privately to purchase for whatever purpose doesn't sit well with me.

Is Online Advertising Becoming a "Big Brother?"

This week, I read a lot about how companies track an individual's activity online. This includes sites that you go to, what links you click on, what advertisement's you click on while on another site, and your different interests. I honestly believe that this is a very GOOD advertising strategy for companies because it allows them to target their specific target audience and to advertise what that individual's "likes" are. I am not really sure if I believe it is an invasion of privacy because you aren't actually displaying your personal information to a website. However, you are hinting what your interests are, but you must also think about how broad or how big the range of interests could be for clicking on a particular advertisement.

Let me explain my reasoning and thoughts about the range of interests when clicking on an advertisement. Personally, I had this happen to me after clicking on a specific advertisement and entering in certain products in the search engine on a website. I work at General Nutrition Center (GNC.) Sometimes, I need to go to our main website to check out certain products such as prices, promotions, or supplement facts. Whenever I go to, I type in certain products that I am interested in or looking for the price of a certain product. Then, whenever I go to a site that GNC has advertising for, it shows up those EXACT products that I have searched for before on their website. It allows me to go through the different products on the advertisement to look at the prices and possible sales for those products that I have showed interest in before. I think this is a good, solid advertisement because it allows a consumer to gain information on a product before actually entering the main website. It shows that the company isn't exactly just forcing you to enter their site and it allows a consumer to somewhat "open up" to a company.

I actually do believe this information is fair game. This relates back to my first blog post on whatever you put on or enter in the internet, it is up to YOURSELF to not display this information on the internet. A great example of this came in Week three's reading regarding "Facebook Friend turns into Big Brother." KJ Lang talks about how it is up to you to display information about yourself especially regarding illegal actions such as under-age drinking. Adam Bauer accepted a random person's friend request on Facebook, which led to him being called into the police station and being ticketed for under-age drinking. I thought the response of Bauer was really interesting when Bauer said, "I just can't believe it. I feel like I'm in a science fiction movie, like they are always watching. When does it end?" Personally Adam, I don't think it will ever end. When I first read the book 1984 by George Orwell, I was shocked and amused at the same time. I never really thought this of our government, but then it made me think about different situations in my life where it felt like I was being watched. I do really believe that the government is always watching some way or another. Whether it is by the internet, cameras, or by personal identities. However, I think if they are watching, it mostly happens on the internet due to the excessive advancements in technology. Lang also writes in the article that, "Social networking sites are among many new tools law enforcement has adopted to find underage drinkers." I know this is true because it seems like way too many people under the age of 21 are displaying information including photos that they drink alcohol illegally.

After I read the article from the Wall Street Journal written by Julia Angwin regarding how personal information is tracked, it was no surprise to me that it comes from a tiny file hidden inside the computer software. Just this little file reveals all personal and somewhat "private" information about the owner of the computer that could include one person, or even a whole family. Lotame Solutions Inc is a New York company that uses sophisticated software called a "beacon" to capture what people are typing on a website. This allows a company to see people's interests and this also has to do with what I wrote earlier regarding company advertisements. "We can segment it all the way down to one person," says Eric Porres, Lotame's chief marketing officer. This reminds me of how companies track down a person's information through the internet on whether or not to hire them or not. Companies try to find out personal information on a person such as their daily habits, which might include binge drinking or using drugs. I really do believe that if somebody REALLY wants to find out information about a certain person, that they can with great research and determination.

After all the reading for this week's blog post, it gave me a better understanding of how our personal information is displayed through online sites such as and I believe that I will continue to learn A LOT more about issues in cyberspace including "how" and "why" our information is being exposed to outsiders on the internet.