Internet

Don't Be Evil, Revisited

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Google and AOL cheerfully encouraged people worried about their privacy in the age of targeted ads to turn to technological solutions at an event today, and talked about ways they are trying to make it easier for users to block their ads. They were, of course, fending off government regulation.

The Network Advertising Initiative already offers a cookie that lets users opt out of ads from the biggest players, but cookies aren't 100 percent protection, they can expire or be erased.

Google chief privacy officer Jane Horvath predicted that in the future, there may be a technological solution "that will have a cookie or something that will allow this (opt-out preference) to be a constant," adding, "that would be a very promising direction to go."

Other much worse, likely less effective ideas include a federal Do Not Track database, similar to the Do Not Call list. And this:

A broad coalition of consumer and privacy advocates last fall called on the Federal Trade Commission to establish such a registry. The concept is this: Any advertising entity that sets a "persistent" cookie on a user's machine would be required to give the FTC the domain names of servers used to place it. Consumers would then be able to import that list of domain names and block them from tracking their Internet surfing behavior.

Polonetsky said that while he supports the concept, "I think the way to do it isn't a government place where your browser goes and gets stuff."

This sounds like a little bit of the old "Don't Be Evil" to me: Working to make it easier for people opt out is pretty sportsman-like. Personally, even if I could permanently opt out, I'm not sure I would. At least for now, eerily well-targeted ads, like the "Barack and Roll t-shirts" the scroll bar at the top of my email is currently offering, still amuse me. For more ads like these, and fewer for penis pills, I'll happily accept Google's electronic nose sniffing in my email.

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  1. For more ads like these, and fewer for penis pills, I’ll happily accept Google’s electronic nose sniffing in my email.

    Screw that.

    When Reason started running those hideous flashing ads at the top of the web page, I installed the Firefox Ad Block extension.

    Bad advertising and horrible, distracting ad design drive me up the wall. So it was a choice of blocking that crap, or opting out of reading Hit and Run.

  2. Any advertising entity that sets a “persistent” cookie on a user’s machine would be required to give the FTC the domain names of servers used to place it.

    And they plan to enforce this how, exactly?

  3. The solution to technology is more technology. At least, in this instance it is.

  4. Where is the government program to protect me from the predatory selling by carpet humping guy but insures the informative useful ads of pillow girl?

  5. The solution to technology is more technology. At least, in this instance it is.

    Si!

    Block them on the user end and keep the stupid feds out of it.

  6. Any advertising entity that sets a “persistent” cookie on a user’s machine would be required to give the FTC the domain names of servers used to place it.

    I don’t understand what is meant by persistent cookie. If a browser allows a file (that’s what a cookie is) to be stored and marked as hidden and/or read-only, that’s the browser’s fault. It can still be deleted. There must be some magical power to the persistent cookie that I am unaware of.

  7. I have a feeling Google is being nice about ads seeing as they have every fucking thing you ever wrote in gmail ever, and who knows how much they store regarding your Google searches?

    Google has great products but they are going to do something fucked up eventually with all that data, mark my words.

  8. OK, so the gov would permit me to can the ads and will make the bignet companies comply. So how do I keep the feds with their magic lanterns, keyloggers, data stream / packet sniffers, permanent search term storage and email storage schemes out of my damn life?????

  9. Personally, even if I could permanently opt out, I’m not sure I would. At least for now, eerily well-targeted ads, like the “Barack and Roll t-shirts” the scroll bar at the top of my email is currently offering, still amuse me. For more ads like these, and fewer for penis pills, I’ll happily accept Google’s electronic nose sniffing in my email.

    I agree. What technology like Google’s does is allow for niche businesses to find their target consumers much more efficiently, which means more niche businesses. Personally, I’d rather see an ad for a homebrew store at the top of my email provider than another stupid “Win a free iPod!” banner.

  10. Episiarch,

    They store searches linked to a cookie/user for 18 months and then scrub the uder info after that.

    Google is doing this because they’re getting hammered by privacy advocated. They were sued for trespassing doing their StreetView. Plus, they got a lot of grief for having their cookies expire in 2038, now they expire after “only” 2 years (and auto-renew).

    This is largely window-dressing by them to keep the media on their side. Looks like it’s working, they sold KMW.

  11. Also, they store the web activity of their toolbar installers.

  12. Targeted ads, especially of the google search style tend to produce the best results.

    It’s all about the incentives. If you search for “penis pills”, you may get a million different pages generated by the magic algorithm. The only incentive for the machine to give you relevant results is what the algorithm says.

    But with the targeted ads, someone knows that people who search for “penis pills” want something very particular…either to buy or get information on penis pills. They know this because they research and experiment with the search engine to get the most clicks. The algorithm can’t do this as effectively as someone putting up real money. The paid search results can be a lot better than the generated results precisely because there is a cost associated with getting you to click.

    I’ll be leaving my paid-search results on. Because they help me do better searches.

  13. The concept is this: Any advertising entity that sets a “persistent” cookie on a user’s machine would be required to give the FTC the domain names of servers used to place it. Consumers would then be able to import that list of domain names and block them from tracking their Internet surfing behavior.

    Well, any U.S. company/server. Once again, it’s a World Wide Web. OTOH,

    Internet Explorer–>Tools–>Internet Options–>Privacy–>No cookies. Done.

    Other browsers have similar settings.

  14. “Hot persistant cookie”

    She looks like a an escapee from a Club Med concentration camp.

  15. Other much worse, likely less effective ideas include a federal Do Not Track database, similar to the Do Not Call list.

    Ooh! Oooh! Pick me!!! I have an idear! If we create this so-called Do Not Track database, does that mean that the federal government won’t track me? Won’t listen to my calls? Read my email? Track my spending? Demand to know from where and what sources my income is derived? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm? No?

    How about this? How about the government spend a little less time worrying about how much William Sonoma tracks my waffle iron purchases, and spends just a teensy bit more time worrying about how they’re taking an eraser to entire sections of the constitution.

    Bastards.

  16. I block the really annoying ad web sites by putting their URL in the hosts file located at C:\\WINDOWS\\SYSTEM32\\DRIVERS\\etc\\hosts on my computer.

  17. But Media Geek, how will you ever be alerted that you are (SWEAR TO GOD) the 999,999 visitor to Hit and Run (click here).

    Waitingfordataads@reason.com Regards, TWC

  18. For more ads like these, and fewer for penis pills, I’ll happily accept Google’s electronic nose sniffing in my email.

    I don’t get any of that stuff. No spam either. I suppose Google is snooping in my email since I use gmail, but I dl it to my computer without any annoying targeted advertising.

  19. With Firefox there is a very easy way to ensure your browsing habits aren’t tracked: Under privacy in the settings, choose “Accept Cookies until I close Firefox”. Presto! Everytime you close your browser, any cookies that might be used to track your browsing are deleted. If there are some cookies you want to permit then you can add them to the exceptions list.

    Combined with Adblock Plus, I barely ever see an advert.

    I do like the GMail targeted ads though. Many of my emails are about science related topics so I get lots of crackpots advertising their hilarious “theories of everything” (eg thefinaltheory.com).

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