20 December 2018

The skeptical introvert

Like most people, I'm concerned about protecting privacy.  Just as happens in politics, those who hope to profit from invading privacy seek to undermine our morale and paralyze us by convincing us that it's already a lost cause.  I recently read this essay, which is a good example of the "they've already won so you might as well give up" school of defeatism-mongering.

It asserts that Google already knows a terrifying amount of personal information about me, and that there's nothing I can do about it.  I'm highly skeptical on both counts.  According to the essay, Google's "citizen profile" on me includes (among other things) the following:

Every ad you've ever seen or clicked on

How would it know that?  Every ad I've ever seen?  Given how ad-clogged most of the net is these days, I must have seen millions of them.  What would even be the use of knowing such a thing?

Every e-mail you've ever sent

How would it have access to that information?  I have several e-mail accounts for different purposes, and only one (which I rarely use) is a Gmail account.  Does Google somehow have access to e-mails on live.com?

Every image you've ever saved

How?  How is that possible?  I tend to grab any image I see anywhere that looks at all interesting, and I've got tens of thousands of them saved by now.  Saving an image doesn't involve using Google-anything -- you just right-click and choose "save".  And Google somehow knows about every single time I've done that and what the image was?

The main reason I'm skeptical about all this is that supposedly the main reason Google does this is to allow it to target ads to the interests of an individual, and I see no sign that this is being done in my case.  Any system that actually did have access to all my e-mails, every image I've ever saved, every website I visit, etc. would have a vast amount of information about my interests and would be able to target ads accordingly.  Yet I see no sign at all of such targeting in the cacophony of ads that assault me all over the net.  They seem pretty much random.

I can see that it would work if you use Google as a search engine.  For example, I'm considering moving in a few months, and a couple of days ago, when I was on a computer not my own, I used Google to do a bit of research on apartments.  Ever since then, on that computer, I've been bombarded with ads related to apartment-hunting.  But on my own computer, where I don't use Google for searches, I've done the same kind of research and have not seen any ads related to the subject.

Similarly, the linked essay puts a lot of emphasis on monitoring people via their cell phones.  I do have a cell phone, but it's mostly just for emergencies (if I have a car breakdown, for example), and most of the time I don't even have it switched on.  I never use it to connect to the internet, and I don't think it even can do that.  So I don't see how anyone could use it to collect much information about me.

I've heard that Windows 10 collects information on users' browsing (and is generally a terrible system anyway), so I just keep on getting my old Windows 7 computer fixed whenever something goes wrong with it, instead of buying a new one.

I do use Google's Blogger platform for this blog.  It's what I started with, I'm used to it, it's easy and simple to use, and in over twelve years I've never seen any sign that it's gathering information about me.  The sole condition for using it is that I have to keep that "I power Blogger" button in the sidebar.  I don't mind bending my ad-free blog policy to that trivial extent.

Using a search engine other than Google, or the other precautions I've taken for privacy's sake, certainly don't qualify as extreme measures.  They're not even moderately difficult.  I'm considering getting a VPN, but even without one, I've seen no real evidence that anyone can see my internet activity to any useful degree.  Certainly not insofar as I see any sign of anyone using such information to try to sell me things.

If preserving privacy is as easy as using a different search engine and not constantly staring at some hand-held gadget while being oblivious to your surroundings, then it is far from time to give up.


Blogger Ami said...

I don't have an I Power Blogger button. Am I supposed to? I guess now Google will be angry and I'll be in trouble?

"They" do have a lot of information about us. I think that's the real currency they deal in. But every ad, every everything? May be just a little paranoid.

The phone thing. I don't have a smart phone despite just about everyone trying to get me to buy one. Mine is for texting or for 'hi Honey I'm stopping at Freddy's on the way home, is there anything I can pick up for you?"

20 December, 2018 05:56  
Blogger jono said...

I have been trying to use Windows 10 for about 6 months and am still not crazy about it. I looked into a VPN and an engineer friend who works for an aerospace company said they have to use their own where she works. Security is a big concern for them. If Google went rogue it could probably blackmail the world into submission. I try not to use it, but it has infiltrated so many things that it is difficult to maintain any semblance of privacy.
Try Tunnel Bear if you are interested in a VPN. It is simple, inexpensive, and seems to work.

20 December, 2018 07:09  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

I use Gmail, Google search, and Google's Blogger platform. The only time I notice ads specifically targeted at me is when ads for events in the Edmonton area pop up when I'm on a website in, say, lower Mongolia. Clearly those come from tracking my home computer location.

My general policy is to ignore all ads, all the time, wherever I see or hear them. I trained myself to do this decades ago in order to resist consumer culture.

Is Google tracking my every move on the internet? Fine with me. Fuck paranoia. I'm not going to live my life that way.

20 December, 2018 08:02  
Anonymous NickM said...

I'm a self-employed IT tech. Win 10 is OK as long as you whip it into shape.

Have you read "Funes the Memorious" by Jorge Luis Borges? If not, I highly advise it.

I'd say more but if you don't know Borges it'd be a spoiler!

20 December, 2018 09:13  
Blogger Professor Chaos said...

If anyone at Google is searching through my private data they'll die of boredom.

20 December, 2018 15:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ami: Well, that's the way I read it when I started this blog. In twelve-plus years maybe the rules have changed.

I don't know how good their tracking is, but it does seem to depend on people being "plugged in" to a greater extent than is really necessary.

Jono: I appreciate the VPN recommendation. It's something I definitely want to get eventually.

Debra: I try to ignore ads too. They do sometimes make them damned intrusive, though.

Oh, well, I guess Google will have a hard time tracking you when you're on the way to Mars.

Nick: Unfortunately I doubt I'd know how to "whip it into shape" in the sense of getting it to stop reporting data about me.

I've heard of "Funes the Memorious". Never read it, though.

Professor: Unfortunately it's all done by non-sapient algorithms. They certainly can't afford the staff to personally track the data of hundreds of millions of people manually.

20 December, 2018 17:05  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Certainly interesting read ... tell you the truth, I don't know what they find, watch and save or whatever. But it is a big concern for many, I have myself wrote about it. I don't even actually take time to try to hide or try to use different search engines intentionally, I'll use whatever is available, don't really care much. I have used others computers and even their phones looking up places to eat, or items, directions, internet or whatever ... I can't recall if they sent any ads to my home PC behind it, because I get so much ads thrown at me, I don't even pay much atencion to them, and basically trash it all. Even my mailbox at home, my PO Box, my door, my gate, (everything but my ass{:-) is saturated with ads, trash that too. I can't imagine storing everything on a person or everyone, I mean, I pick up images for my blog and stuff. I know if I want to talk about, lets say, sensitive things that may be controversial, I sure as Hell don't do it online, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh {:-) I just expect that there is a chance alwayz whenever you do anything online, that it can be targeted. I don't even pay bills or anything with account numbers or whatever online, even though I know friends and familia do. If one of those algorithms is watching me now ... I'll make it easy for them ... I'm grabbing my cock and balls right now, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh {:-) But I don't know what to say, except, use caution I guess ... I wouldn't worry about it though too much, there's alot of folks to keep track of.

21 December, 2018 08:45  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Hey man ... tell you something funny since I mentioned cock and balls. Check it out ... for a few years, there was these signs around Dallas (big commercial signs too), for a place called Central Bank of Texas ... but these signs had big bold letters that said "CBT", I sware guy .. I would be driving down the street or freeway and bust out laughing, thinking of what that means in the adult sex terms ... "Cock and Ball Torture", you know, like them dominatrixes do to their male slaves or whatever, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh {:-) I would point it out to folks driving with me too, they would bust out laughing. I was wondering how long they would leave them big signs up though, after a couple years, they got rid of all them .... heh, heh, heh, heh, heh LOL {:-) I wonder if folks would call them asking for a dominatrix session or whatever {:-)

21 December, 2018 09:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

everything but my ass{:-)

Don't give them ideas. We don't want them working on how to stuff that with ads.

CBT does suggest some intriguing possible ads for the Central Bank of Texas. I'm reminded of how the Tea Party "movement" used to talk about "teabagging" before Rachel Maddow rubbed their noses in what that actually meant.

21 December, 2018 16:49  

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