Why? Because Google will now be tracking the behavior of individual users via their "interest-based advertisements" in order to better target them with ads. Apparently, this is among the suite of technologies they gained access to by purchasing DoubleClick.
So I've researched the matter further. According to this faq item there is no way for a publisher to opt out of this "service". While you might be able to opt out of displaying ads resulting from such collected data, there is no way to opt out of actually helping to collect the data aside from quitting the adwords program entirely. (Well Google, it looks like you'll be cutting me a check for that $13 after all now, doesn't it?)
So, severing that business relationship takes a load off of my mind. Nonetheless, there is still the matter of us consumers. How may we protect ourselves against such behavioral targeting?
Checking Google's FAQ, they recommend that you opt out of their spying with a cookie. Isn't that a clever idea? Use a cookie to ask not to get cookies?
Even this irony is not lost on Google. They know that users like to be able to clear out their cookies, and might find it counter-productive to clear out their anti-cookie cookie. So Google has developed a Firefox plugin to maintain their special cookie, even if you delete all the rest of your cookies.
Of course, this unprecedented insult to the dignity of internet users worldwide begs many questions:
- Is their plugin secure, or will it mine my computer from an even more tender vantage point?
- Would it be reasonable to trust Google to maintain this plugin indefinitely? What if it stops working — even by design. How would we even know?
- Will you be forced to use a browser their plugin is compatible with before you can be protected from their snooping?
- What if Google can use this one opt-out cookie to perform all of their tracking needs? All it has to be is an identifier keyed against the database in their servers, after all.
- Should we trust the remedy of our oppression to our very oppressor?
- Should a user's privacy and dignity be stripped away by default, and only protected voluntarily if we ask nicely enough and jump through some hoops?
I encourage my readers to tip Google's opt-out cup back into their laps. There must be one or many better ways for a user to protect their online privacy. I would like my readers to be able to read what I am saying without fear of being spied upon for example, since Blogger is hosted by Google.. but also because most free blogging platforms presently feature Google or DoubleClick advertisements.
So I will list the counter-options that I am aware of which users can use to defend themselves. I don't have much just now, but I encourage you to post comments (or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) with better suggestions or clarifications, and I will update this article accordingly.
- Firefox plugin Ad blocker, blocks most well-known advertising networks, including Google and DoubleClick, and also blocks the dreaded Google Analytics website tracking script.
- Browser-agnostic proxy-filter Privoxy, you can run this from Windows or Unix based machines. Instruct your browser to use this proxy, and on non-SSL based connections it will actively scrub ad code, scripts, image bugs, and annoyances from web pages.. it also scrubs your outbound HTTP headers for popular personally-trackable data. Unfortunately, from it's vantage point as a proxy it cannot aid with SSL-based connections.
- Come on guys, help me fill out this list!
So it comes down to us, we must arm ourselves in order to enjoy a relatively non-obtrusive stay on the interwebs. I have never used Ad Block before. I have a firefox bookmarklet that manually squashes visually annoying ads, but aside from that I have not been bothered and I have clicked on advertisements which I have found interesting. That was back when the web was stateless. Now however, it appears as though I'll have to take the step of saying goodbye to advertisements, and tell Google, and every other web-ad provider to take their revenue streams and shove them.
I am sorry, I truly am.. but when you exploit your position in the industry to grind the little guy like so much wheat, I simply cannot defend or support you any more. I will continue to bilk free services from you, Yar Har Fiddle Dee Dee, but I will actively do what I can to protect my privacy. I will junk your advertisements and I will encourage others to do so. I will take, and take pains not to give back. If this attitude is burdensome to you Google, then you ought to change your policies and apologize to your public.. bind yourself procedurally to be kept honest.. or else we will abide until the day that someone who can accomplish that will replace you.