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Targeted ads and your privacy

A large portion of my time at work managing Information Technology is spent handling security and availability of data. The number of compliance controls has sharply risen in recent years as a direct result of the publicity of data breaches and high profile data theft. Quite frankly, security and availability compliance is a bit chaotic right now with new job creation, changing standards, new standards, and individual company risk assessments.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal from Christopher Mims about targeted ads left me thinking about the availability of my personal data spread across servers and data stores all over the internet. We all know about internet browser cookies leaving trails of our activity as we use the internet for research, shopping, reading, and entertainment. Mims discusses the rise of Amazon’s ad business and how it offers distinct data points that may differ from other internet giants like Google and Facebook. All this data sharing is governed by privacy policies, terms of use, and partner affiliates. But I still find it creepy when products I have researched appear on other sites I visit as recommended buys. As I mentioned my job makes me prove how I don’t share customer data. But retail and social media businesses are monetizing my data by selling it.

I performed a simple test this morning to how browser privacy settings affected my experience with some internet sites. For all these tests I used the Google Chrome Browser. Other browsers have similar features.

Note: There are so many variations for privacy settings across sites that this can quickly become a complex subject. Businesses rely on cookies in your browser but also have the ability to track your history on their site in their databases which is governed by their privacy rules. My simple test was to see how I might increase some of my privacy by adjusting a couple of settings on a browser.

Test One – Eat all the cookies

Setup:

  1. Select the three vertical dots in the upper right corner and then select “settings” or go to chrome://settings/ in the browser address bar.
  2. From the settings bar scroll to the bottom and select advanced
  3. Under Privacy and Security select content settings
  4. Next select cookies
  5. Turn on the setting to keep local data only until you quit your browser
  6. Close and reopen the browser
  7. Go to Amazon, eBay, and Facebook

Results:

This setting allows the sites visited to set their tracking and information cookies. But each time the browser is closed all of the cookies are removed.  Automatically clearing cookies means it is necessary to log into the websites each time the site is revisited. Clearing cache files causes websites to load more slowly after a browser restart. Are the performance downsides worth the small increase in privacy?

I checked sites Amazon, eBay, and Facebook and targeted ads were not there across different browser sessions. But I did have to reauthenticate.

Test Two – Eat some cookies

Setup:

  1. Select the three vertical dots in the upper right corner and then select “settings” or go to chrome://settings/ in the browser address bar.
  2. From the settings bar scroll to the bottom and select advanced
  3. Under Privacy and Security select content settings
  4. Next select cookies
  5. Turn off the setting to keep local data only until you quit your browser (revert Test One)
  6. In the section Clear on Exit add sites that may serve targeted ads. I chose
    • [*.]Facebook.com
    • [*.]Amazon.com
    • [*.]eBay.com
  7. Close and reopen the browser
  8. Go to www.google.com
    • Search “new tires”
    • Search “printer toner HP”
    • Search “Keurig k cups”
  9. Go to Facebook browse and look for ads
  10. Go to Amazon browse and look for ads
  11. Go to eBay browse and look for ads

Results:

I didn’t find any in-line ads for tires, toner or coffee initially. I noted that I had not clicked on any search results; I just searched and viewed results. I went back and researched on Keurig k cups. Then I clicked on a result from Amazon. When I did this, the recommended buys from Amazon completely filled with k cups.  I closed the browser and the recommended buys changed back to something I had purchased in the past. But the site still showed items I had recently browsed.  Since I cleared cookies I had to re-authenticate for my account.

eBay only filled a section with recently viewed items which gave me the impression they were only seeing activities performed on their site. Since I cleared cookies I had to re-authenticate for my account.

Facebook had no advertising in-line but did serve ads on the right-side of the page under the title “recommended for you nearby”. The ads I saw didn’t match tires, printer toner, or coffee. Since I cleared cookies I had to re-authenticate for my account. Advertisers buy targeted ads based on specific interests. I guess my timing wasn’t right for my three tests.

A few more settings of interest:

Facebook:

In addition to the web browser, Facebook is also tracking your account activity and selling that data to advertisers. Turn off some of the Facebook targeted advertising by doing this:

  1. From your Facebook profile, click on the small upside-down triangle in the upper-right side.
  2. Select Settings
  3. Select Ads from the left-hand side of the page
  4. Facebook selects Yes as the default option. Change the permissions to No.

Google:

  1. Go to page https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols
  2. There are various sections for activity tracking by Google (search, devices, YouTube, location, etc.) Read each section and designate if you want Google keeping that information.

My thoughts:

Unless I go off the grid or completely stop using the internet, it’s not possible to stop all monitoring of my activities by my internet provider, merchants, search engines, etc. Playing with the browser settings may limit some of the trails I leave and give me a sense of a little more privacy. The settings can certainly reduce the size of my electronic footprint but not eliminate it. As I mentioned before, it’s up to the individual to weigh the trade-offs of privacy with usage on the site.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Surlan Soosay via creative commons.

Where does meaningful dialogue start?

A couple of weeks ago Mark Zuckerberg announced he is changing the mission of Facebook. He wants to move beyond connecting people and more towards connecting groups of people in community. I commend Zuckerberg for establishing a written mission statement that aims to be something more than growing big and making lots of money. Although I do wonder what the shareholders of Facebook think about the new mission. After reading his statement, the question is in my head was, can an online forum bring community together in meaningful dialogue that promotes better understanding of opposing viewpoints?

Creating a place for a public forum is easy. Changing behavior of individuals to have an effective forum, not so much. I thought of two recent examples:

  1. NPR.org, a large well known media outlet for local, national, and world news discontinued public comments in 2016. Why? They described it very eloquently as “the c comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users.” I personally read comments prior to their decision and I can affirm they are correct. The comments section was intended for readers to pass along further insights or even ask questions about the topic of the article. Unfortunately, the public comments section was mostly a shouting match and full of hateful words. It wasn’t even close to meaningful dialogue.
  2. During the past presidential election, political posts on Facebook were common. The dialogue became so charged that in the days leading up to and after the election there was quite a bit of ‘unfriending’ happening as people looked to silence and rid their daily feeds of political bickering.  I’ll admit it; I muted quite a few people during the presidential process.

Online community groups and interest pages are not new. Just look at twitter hashtags, Google+ Collections and Communities, or even online blogs. Getting people to engage in an online interest community is an easy connection to make. Members participate because they share a common interest. They share a common viewpoints or interest.

But beneficial discussion with true debate and openness around opposing viewpoints has become problematic in our society. This isn’t a technology problem. It’s a heart problem. For Facebook, or any online community, to create meaningful dialogue around opposing viewpoints to succeed, people must first choose to behave with common courtesy and respect towards one another. Here are some courtesies: Listen first, smile often, apologize, speak in a conversational tone, and share. Sounds alot like love your neighbor. We would all do well to start on this foundation.

Onward and upward!

 

 

The role of social media

My news reader brought me an interesting post from Mike Elgan at ComputerWorld this week; Why Google+ is the place for passions. I identify with Elgan’s commentary because that’s how I use Google+ today as well. My circles include Digital Marketing, Georgia Tech, Technology, and Ubuntu. Communities and old-fashion search are other ways to filter content. So is it a place for passions? Absolutely. While I have friends that I converse with at times on Google+, it’s mostly a destination for me to absorb content related to interests. Sometimes I think of it as a visual and interactive RSS reader.

What drives our social media usage?

Some people I know have completely avoided social media sites. They don’t use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Other people I know use multiple sites. As with anything in life, we make decisions about where we’ll spend our time. It’s getting tougher to decide, because the digital age has multiplied all of the sources that compete for our attention each day. For me, it’s all I can do to keep up with work and family obligations during the work week. My social and digital media usage is increasingly becoming a weekend activity. (Thank goodness the little Roku box gives me a digital outlet during mid-week exercises!)

What drives our usage of social media sites is content and interaction. The various platforms deliver content and interaction capabilities differently. Look at the social media sites in 2014. They’ve evolved to communities that appeal to specific audiences. Our interactions on sites like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn might include common set of people. But even if it does, the content of the messages and our degree of interaction are different on each platform.

Why does social media matter?

Take the role of social media in our culture and compare it against Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are elements that fit in each of the three top tiers: love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. I translate that to mean that social media can make a difference in our lives and those we communicate with. For example, our participation in social media can help us get through tough times, provide for others in need, contribute to causes, receive instruction for problem solving, share a joke, engage in debate, and learn new skills. Sure, you could argue that some social media use is superficial. That’s true of all our interactions in life whether through electronic media or not. The bottom-line is that social media is interwoven in elements of human motivation and needs.

Oh, by the way. If you haven’t looked at Google+, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. Golden retrievers and disruptive technologies are a few of things that interest me.

(Image credit – http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/4453/Twitter-In-Real-Life-The-Follow-Back-cartoon.aspx)

What I did for a close shave

I fell for a Facebook advertisement.

If you are a man, you’ve probably seen the ad on Facebook for the Dollar Shave Club. I finally gave in to the temptation tonight and I’ve ordered a supply of the 4X option. I never thought I would let Facebook influence a purchase, but it happened. The allure of the product was too strong and the investment risk is minimal. I’m hoping for the best.DollarShaveClub

Let’s do the numbers.

For starters I typically get over one month from the same blade with my current marketing hyped multi-blade cartridge. I do this by keeping the blade dry between uses. After a shave, I make sure to dry the blade by shaking-out excess water and using a towel. Then I store the blade pressed against a silica moisture packet. If you haven’t tried this then I encourage you do so. It’s the secret the blade marketers don’t want you to know.

With my existing blades, I can buy 8 cartridges for $26. If I get 4 weeks (conservative with my drying method) from each cartridge then that is 32 weeks for $26.

For the 4X option in the Dollar Shave Club I will receive 4 cartridges per month for $6. So for 32 weeks (8 months) my investment is $48. That’s almost 2x the cost as just buying a cartridge locally. However, I’ll have 32 cartridges in that span of time. If I cancel the monthly subscription after 8 months. I should have 24 remaining cartridges in supply which is enough to last me another 2 years!

Thinking of it another way my cost per cartridge (also my cost per month) with my existing method is $3.25. With the Dollar Shave Club my cost per cartridge after 8 months is $1.50.

Of course this assumes the product works.

I bet the blades will be fine. I still can’t believe I fell for a Facebook ad. But I’ll do anything for a close shave. Or maybe I just like squeezing another buck in my favor. Kudos on the product marketing by Dollar Shave Club team.

If you want to check out their options and start your own trial then follow this link.

 

Update July 13 – 

I looked more closely at the Dollar Shave Club site today and noticed they have options to lessen the frequency of delivery as well as an option to pause delivery. This is a great feature for customers like me who may want to extend the life of a cartridge beyond a week.

Finding social rhythms

We have limits on the number of digital profiles we can keep active.
I have six digital profiles that I use regularly for various purposes. Here’s the list in no order of significance: Blog site, RSS reader, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. My activity on each varies from week-to-week based on a variety of factors including my schedule and purpose of communication. I’m not closed minded to changing in the future. But at this point in time those are the areas that comprise my digital life.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect six digital areas are far more than most people try to maintain. I’m not active on Pinterest or Instagram or (insert your favorite site not listed here). It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy learning and exploring, but my capacity to participate is limited by my other choices.

Our digital participation is subject to change.
I think we all gravitate towards the spaces that give us the most value. By that I mean, a place where we connect with people and information. This is a place that we can consume information that provides knowledge and benefit to us, but it’s also a place that allows us to contribute information back to the space.

We may create profiles and try them for a time before abandoning the profile for something else. Twitter is a good example. I see abandoned profiles all the time. Many have created a Twitter account to see what it’s all about but have never contributed any information on their own. LinkedIn is another good example. One could argue it’s a professional expectation now to have a LinkedIn profile. But most people don’t use LinkedIn for professional activity such as networking, knowledge share, or research until they are actively pursuing a job.

We develop social rhythms based on the platform and content.
Maybe you don’t think of it that way. But we are all creatures of habit. I know I try to find a rhythm for producing and consuming digital content. It’s a challenge and requires dedication each day. As I see it though, my digital lifestyle is about learning, thinking, and growing. Even though contributing content isn’t directly related to my compensation at work, keeping an expertise and knowledge molds my thinking and knowledge for work activities.

Here’s some examples from my routine:
* My RSS feed is like my newspaper. It contains profiles of information sources that I want to read regular updates. Some of them are media outlets while others are blogs from individual thought leaders.

* LinkedIn is a always-on professional networking forum. I can keep track of my professional connections changing jobs, adding skills, or sharing pieces of information.

* Google+ is like combination of a RSS reader and discussion forum. I’ve created circles based on topics and when I view the stream from an individual topic it’s like reading a RSS feed. I’m finding that Google+ is more rich with discussion about topics than a typical blog or media publication. Much of the value of Google+ comes in reading and participating in the comments after each post.

* My blog is a my thought sandbox. I use the blog to record my thoughts, practice writing, and experiment with digital publication.

Platforms may come and go. But our basic need to communicate doesn’t change.
Regardless of what digital platform(s) we use or how we use them, we are driven by a need to communicate. “Social media” is just a term to wrap around social creatures. Maybe the current platform we use is discontinued in the future. But we’ll find another one to use because of our basic need to communicate ideas with one another. How much or how little we contribute is based on our rhythm for consumption.

I’m always searching for ways to stay in rhythm or to develop a more complete set of habits in my life. Let me know what works for you.