Category Archives: privacy

I don’t need those ads anymore… I already bought that!

This will be short rant.

While I was reading the New York Times I was served an ad for tires for my car from Town Fair Tire.

I was served this ad because well over a week ago I was searching for tires and in particular BF Goldrich dealers… because my BF Goodrich Traction TA radials died a premature life and my warranty said I needed a dealer to inspect them before I could get compensated.

The problem is that I bought the replacement a week ago.

There are two things I am absolutely certain of:

  1. I am not the first person to comment on this stupid behavior of the system.
  2. It is mostly impossible for web based ad servers to automatically know what I bought.  This isn’t strictly a technical problem.  I’m sure that it would be technically possible to create an opt-in service such that consumers would give their permission for the credit card company to push transaction data to web advertisers.  The only problem is the people part: who in their right mind would tell an advertising firm what they are buying?

I’m quite sure that this has been proposed, but why can’t ads have a “I bought that already” button so that more relevant ads would be served up?  I’m just asking…


Posted by on February 12, 2012 in advertising, business model, privacy, technology


Context, personal relationships, id, ego, and Facebook

Today I read the New York Time article “Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know” by Pamela Paul. It talks about the profound sense of loss of privacy, for both source of information as well as the informed.

There is something about Facebook’s business model that troubles me. It seems to monetize the human need to share. It works at the level of the id, a place where motivations are chaotic and ill-formed. How many stories have you heard just this week about people using guns in relationship to a Facebook event? (Here’s two, if you missed them: “Father Shoots Daughter’s Laptop Over “Disrespectful” Facebook Post” and “Facebook ‘Defriending’ Led to Double Murder, Say Police”)

It seems to me that the being “open and transparent” that Facebook supports, and the deep emotional sharing that occurs sometimes thoughtlessly on Facebook, seems to exploit people at their weakest: when they are operating more out of their id, their heart. Moreover, it appears (based on the two previously mentioned articles), that Facebook content is sometimes consumed it that same frame of mind.

Zuckerberg has said in his letter on the eve of the IPO that “Personal relationships are the fundamental unit of our society. Relationships are how we discover new ideas, understand our world and ultimately derive long-term happiness” and “By helping people form these connections, we hope to rewire the way people spread and consume information.” He closes with lip-service to past criticisms of Facebook “We also believe that giving people control over what they share is a fundamental principle of this rewiring.”  It is interesting to point out that the issue of control is mentioned only once in the entire letter.

In the real physical world of personal relationships, sharing is framed with some context. This context is lacking in Facebook. That is what makes the control issue so problematic: how does one represent the context so that a person operating more from the id can move to operating more from the ego and make rational decisions?  And, moreover, what is Facebook’s business motivation to prevent people from sharing? None that I can see.

“Good fences make good neighbors” is about social order being built on boundaries.  Facebook is about removing those boundaries.  Is this a good thing? I’m not so sure.

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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Facebook, humanity, privacy, relationships


Google can’t afford to sell people’s personal data

You can’t believe the number of people that have asked me about what I think about Google’s new privacy policy.  I’m sure this might not attract a lot of fans, but here’s my take:

  • Plenty of other media sites already integrate tracking of people’s experiences across their offerings on the web.  Google goes out of its way to actual say they are going to do this… and they get criticized.
  • I know of plenty of commercial and educational sites that use Google Apps as the foundation for their business.  I personally know a well regarded security expert at one of the world’s largest medical supply companies that conducted a security and privacy review of Google Apps.  The fact this company now uses Google Apps is a testimony in itself.
  • If a company shares personal data inside the company (say, for example, Verizon sharing people’s wireless and FIOS usage inside of itself) is it really a breach of privacy?  When Verizon does this, they call it bundling and its customers save money.  When Google does this, it is called evil.

I hear now that members of Congress want to call Google before it again because of this issue. I’m not sure this is the best use of their time with lots of other important issues before it… and I’ll leave it at that.

More than anything, I think this fear is about the fact the Google is very big.  I can’t remember which of the talkshows I recently heard this on, but the observation that was made was that right now, Americans fear anything that is big: big government or big business. We fear that which we do not understand.

My fourth and most important bullet is this:

  • Google has reiterated (though some seem not to hear it) that it still isn’t going to sell  personal data.  And do you know why they won’t sell personal data? Because if they were caught selling personal data, it would destroy their entire business model. Not selling personal data is good business for Google. Let’s be real clear about this: if Google were selling people’s personal data, no one would use Google.  If no one used Google, there would be no way it could sell advertising.  Google is making plenty of money without selling people’s personal data.  The bottom line is simple: Google can’t afford to sell people’s personal data.

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