Advertising Isn’t What It Used To Be

In the beginning, there was a big of advertising.  I think that most of us who are connected to the web remember back to when you’d see these little unobtrusive adverts appearing as you worked the web.

They took up a little real estate on your screen but, in your heart of hearts, you knew that having them there was the right thing to do.  After all, someone or something has to pay the bills.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

But then things changed.  Advertisers started shoving flashing and spinning things our way to attract our attention.  Or, even worse, instead of trying to stand out, spent the time to make advertising look like just another piece of information on the page.  Never mind the fact that we became serious about our privacy and tracking on the web – malware detecting programs were letting us know who and/or what was tracking our browsing habits.  Advertising companies were becoming more sophisticated, serving up advertisements depending upon what it was that we’re doing in our browser.  That’s kind of a scary thing.

In fact, the annoying habits became even more annoying and opened a market for a new product – advertising blocking extensions.  I think I downloaded my first version of Ad Block for Firefox a few years ago and was immediately impressed.  My lethargic web connection improved dramatically.  I never really realized how much some advertising was taking.  I suppose that, with a faster internet provider, it might not be noticed.  But, with a slow connection, speeds improved dramatically.  If you’re paying for data on your smartphone, that data also includes the advertising that’s coming through.  I was hooked and have used it with every browser since.

One of the news stories that I had read recently talked about how Google was removing ad blocking programs from the Google Play store.  It was too bad.  Google’s advertisements weren’t all that intrusive.  But, this was one of those things on my “to do list” – spend some time investigating this.

Fortunately, Stephen Downes did the leg work.  In today’s oldaily, Stephen commented on the story “New Adblock Plus Doesn’t Need No Stinking Google Play Store.”  Bottom line is this – if you want to continue to use Adblock Plus on your Android, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.  I hope this is not a trend that spreads.

Thanks, Stephen, for bringing this article to our attention.

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How Much Paranoia…

…should a person have when configuring a web browser?

I had a good back and forth with @pbeens about this today.  A fresh installation of any web browser comes with certain settings.  With a good browser, you can add extensions to do various things to try to maintain your privacy.  But how much is too much?

I tried to reach a website today – it was a school website and one of the pages just refused to load with my decked out Google Chrome browser.  I fired up Mozilla Firefox and was able to see the desired page with no problem.  So, it was noodle scratching time.  I went through the process of disabling extensions until I got it to work.

So, I started to think.  Just how far do I need to go to try and keep my privacy and stop the web from tracking where I go.  (Although, I’ll admit, it’s pretty boring since I tend to hit educational and news sites).

I took a look through my extension to Google Chrome and have the following installed.

AdBlock Plus – Used to block advertisements that are pushed my way.  It’s not that I’m adverse to advertising; it’s just that with a slow internet connection, this does help to speed up the browsing process.

Collusion for Chrome – I’m big into visualizations and Collusion illustrates the webbing and connections that are happening as you browse.  I find it fascinating.

Do Not Track Me – Plain and simple, it’s designed to stop web sites from tracking where I go.

Ghostery – Blocks and displays a popup to let you know when there’s an element on a web page trying to track you.

KB SSL Enforcer – Forces the website that you’re visiting to use https:// for browser encryption when it’s possible.  (This was the extension that had caused my “problem” earlier.

That’s about it.  I should also point out that I use

WOT – This displays a crowd sourced traffic light on links to give you a sense as to whether clicking on them will take you to a safe sight or one that those working the web have concerns about.

So, I’ll end with the question that I started with.  Is this too much paranoia?  I think there can be a danger when you have too many extensions doing too many similar things.  What do you think?  Any recommendations for what can be removed or replaced with something better?

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Thinking About Privacy

I think that the quality of a keynote address, at least for me, is the ability for it to make me think.  Driving home from ECOO, I’m still mulling around Nora Young’s talk about Big Data.  You can watch it, or rewatch it here.

She gave lots of great suggestions about the types of data we share:

Now, I like to think that I’m as cautious as the next guy.  I have Ghostery, AdBlock Plus, and Do Not Track Plus installed on all of my computer.  I have geolocating turned off when I send Twitter messages.  I’m well hidden, right?

I wrote myself one of her quotes which I think is verbatem.  “We leave digital trails behind us”.

In part of her discussion she talked about the geolocation abilities of cellphones.  Both GPS enabled and nonGPS enabled.  Heck, anyone who has ever watched Law and Order knows that this is how serious criminals or missing persons are tracked – by their cell phone location.  As I type this, I have my perfectly hidden computer in front of me but my cell phone beside it.  I have another Nora quote – “Data sets coming together to generate more data than either one”.  So, if you wanted to find me, find out when I’m on my computer and then zero in via my cell phone.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve had the extensions to my browser.  Before that, as I was learning, I was wide open.  And, if it’s not from that information, certainly I’m somewhat identifiable by my IP address.  Or, try finding me old school – in the phonebook!

So, just what is privacy and to what extent can you control your privacy?  Or, can you even control it at all?  Is the best that you can do some sort of damage control and just minimize what you’re sharing / broadcasting?  How about students?  Do they have a sense of this?  How paranoid about this things should the average citizen be?

If you’re concerned, I would highly recommend watching and listening to her keynote.  I really found it food for thought.