1 EAGLETON NOTES: Nothing is Secret

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Monday, 26 May 2014

Nothing is Secret

Warning:  This post contains indelicate language (but only in the first and last paragraphs).

When I came to live on Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland four decades ago those of us who came from outside the area to work that year realised quickly that life here had a different quality to that to which all of us had been accustomed.  David (of David and Molly fame) turned to me one day shortly after our arrival and said "You know, Graham, people here know that you have farted before you have eaten the beans."

Things are no longer quite the same: amongst other things there has been a significant population change with outward migration of many Island people and an inward migration of people coming here to retire from England.

However the principle of our every move being known has far from lessened.

If you use Amazon, then, every time you look at it, the pages you visit are logged and you will soon receive an email making suggestions for things you might like to consider buying or, perhaps, tempting you with a price reduction in the thing that you were looking at.  Amazon are by no means alone.  Lands End has altered its marketing strategy in a number of ways but targeting you when you look at their site is one of them.  There are many companies now doing this.

Have you noticed, for example, that when you visit some websites with adverts that the adverts are tailored to you personally?  I suppose because I live in two places and move around a lot it is much more obvious.  British websites that I visit when I'm in NZ will have adverts tailored to my NZ life and even to Napier.

The obvious thing if one is concerned about one's privacy would be to disable cookies on the computer.  It is amazing, though, how many websites will not work if you disable cookies.  I discovered this when I tried to log in to British Airways one day. Their website said that I could not access it because I had cookies disabled.  I think I am writing saying that some banks do the same.

Today, however, even I was surprised when I realised that one of the posts on Facebook was from FlyBe telling me the cost of the flight I had looked at a few days ago and suggesting that if I went back to their website then I might get a better offer (leastways I think that was the temptation being offered):


For those of us with a computer and who use the internet and who also have a cellphone (and particularly a smartphone with GPS) our every move is logged, our every thought is logged, our every want is logged and there is no escape.  Now my neighbours may have precious little idea about what I'm doing but Google, Yahoo and just about everyone else knows that I have metaphorically farted before I have eaten the virtual beans.  And they know about you too!!

32 comments:

  1. I get Amazon suggestions of books I've already read, and even books I've written, so they don't know everything! But I don't like this Big Brother thing, and I don't know what a cookie is.

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    1. I dont suppose, Frances, than any of us actually like the Big Brother thing but it's here and we are landed with it. I'd point you in the direction of cookie information but I suspect that you don't really want to know and, to be honest, I don't blame you.

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  2. It's deja vue all over again! 1984 is here! Big Brother lives! xoxox

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    1. DeeDee you are right. 1984 has arrived!

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  3. Adverts. On the Internet. Really? I can't remember the last time I saw an advert as I have Adblock Plus installed in Firefox.

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    1. Mark I should have added that although I have AdblockPlus on my browsers it doesn't remove sponsored ads on Facebook for example.

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    2. You might find you can add another list to adblock to do so if you want. I know that it removes the sponsored tweets on twitter, but as I don't use facebook I can't test to be certain

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    3. I should have said, Mark, that the sponsored ads don't really impinge on the Facebook experience too much but they do make one realise just how much one's life is monitored which it would be even if one removed those ads!

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    4. The other browser plugin you might want to look at is Ghostery. Rather than just removing the adds like Adblock does, Ghostery stops the tracking scripts loading as well, so even if you do see ads they should be less personal.

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    5. The funny thing is Mark that I don't really mind if I'm tracked. At one time I might have objected on principle and I can well see that on a shared computer there might be problems or if one were looking at sites that one perhaps shouldn't look at but none of that applies in my case.

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    6. It's not the tracking I object to as such, but more the fact that it isn't optional, as no one ever provides a way to opt out. Couple that with the way that some companies have pushed over the line into essentially hacking in order to stop you opting out (by deleting cookies etc.) and I just don't trust the tracking code or what some of the companies might do with the collected data.

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    7. Mark I do go along with that. I din't know they can stop you switching off cookies. One of the problems I encountered was with BA. You can't log into their site if you switch off cookies and I think the Bank of Scotland is the same. Facebook's latest decision to try and listen to your microphone for 'background music etc' is a step far too far. If it goes ahead they will have a record not only of everything you write in a message but everything you say as well.

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  4. Yes, I have noticed. On the few webshop sites where I'm actually an online customer it does not bother me all that much, as long as it is (or appears to be!) "between them and me" that they keep track of my previous purchases (and even searches). On Facebook however, I do sometimes get the Big Brother feeling when ads turn up for other websites that I just recently visited - even showing the very items I was looking at. I sometimes feel they kind of miss the target with those ads though... Because if I've already looked it up, there's a good chance I've also already bought it (thinking especially some stores which sell online but also have physical stores in my town - which means I just check the website to see if they have what I want in stock, and then I go there and buy it!)

    I think some browsers (or maybe all) also have options for private surfing which is supposed to leave no traces. But I never remember to use it!

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    1. When booking airline tickets I used to use two or three computers (different IP addresses) and then they couldn't play silly-buggers with me and adjust the fares upwards if I delayed the purchase by an hour or so. That was (perhaps is) one of the favourite tricks.

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    2. If all three computers were on the same broadband then that wouldn't work, as the only IP address the server would see would be that of the router, which rules it out as an option for most people. What is probably happening is that they are seeing different IDs from the tracking cookies on the three different computers and not looking at the IP address at all.

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    3. Thanks for that bit of information Mark. I lives and I learns.

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  5. I notice this too. I was very annoyed recently when I had to download some rather tame Victorian porn on my kindle (for research purposes - genuinely) and since then I have been bothered by amazon recommendations for more Victorian porn, most of it dressed up with modern covers incidentally so it looks far more exciting. So long as nobody uses my computer for buying stuff on Amazon I suppose the ladies in frilly corsets will be replaced by other things in the end. I mean, the last thing I got was a gym ball. ..... The mind boggles... :)

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    1. Jenny people often laugh at the number of email addresses that I have (a 'personal' one for friends and family and many others for every sort of activity on line e.g. banking, buying, and travelling. I get virtually no junk or spam on any except the travel one. I started this separation years ago when I was told by someone in the travel industry that many travel websites and companies sold their email lists. Experience would suggest this is correct. Google and Apple Mail filter almost everything out anyway (but it has periodically to be checked for a too enthusiastic approach) but when it gets too irritating I simply ditch the offending account and create a new one.

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  6. Many people are completely unaware that we are traced and monitored much of the time. Yes, I bought a car recently , but the year I spent looking for a car brought all kinds of suggestions to my computer screen. I have also posted on this topic.

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    1. I think you are right Red: few people realise the extent.

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  7. This is one of the topics we were taught about at the course I am taking in order to become a certified data protection officer. Yes, there are ways to avoid this, but they are all just "workarounds" and rather uncomfortable for the user. Most people choose the easy way out - they simply bear with the adverts, and even make them more successful by actually "falling" for them, surfing to a suggested site and buying a suggested product. Can't blame them, but can't blame others who do not want to be followed around the net, either.
    Adblock is a good way of stopping adverts, as Mark has pointed out.

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    1. And, Meike, you have to be just a little bit more knowledgeable than many people are in using a computer. I have AdblockPlus on all my browsers but it doesn't block sponsored ads on, for example, Facebook (which, today, is showing me all the things I looked at in M&S yesterday).

      What made me aware of adverts was that I just set up browsers on a new computer and noticed the difference before I installed AdblockPlus.

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  8. A story linked to this "Big Brother" world - I heard that a teenage girl had become pregnant. Secretly on the family computer she checked out private abortion clinics. When her father came to use the computer he noticed ads cropping up connected with these private abortion clinics. He put two and two together and questioned his daughter. She admitted her dilemma and then the parents were able to support her. However, I can visualise more troublesome scenarios ignited by this tailored advertising - especially where computers are shared.

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    1. I'm sure that won't be the only incident like that YP.

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  9. I know what you mean....it's so annoying for me not to be able to surf the web incognito anymore. If I log on to Amazon, Ebay, Sears, where ever, they immediately want to price my items in Barbados dollars and ship them to Barbados....none of which I have ever used when ordering.....as I said, it's quite annoying.
    I love your malicious saying... folks know that you have farted before you have eaten the beans....
    My Mum used to say about our once upon a time neighbours "they won't let you poop (fart) in peace."

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    1. Yes, Virginia, I had the same problem being in New Zealand half the year.

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    2. Which problem? The farting one or the online one?

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    3. The online one Virginia: with all the wide open spaces in NZ the former wasn't a problem at all (even my car didn't had a lid most of the time).

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  10. Ah... Big Brother is on to us. But then, he has been for a very long time! Great read, Graham.

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    1. Thanks Liz. Yes there's no escape really.

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