Disconnect co-founder: 'People will pay for tools to protect privacy'
October 18, 2011 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Facebook Disconnect co-founder: 'People will pay for tools to protect privacy'
posted by nam3d (58 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
No they won't. They don't even use the free tools available to protect privacy.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:01 AM on October 18, 2011 [20 favorites]


Also for Firefox and Safari.
posted by nam3d at 9:03 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"We’re in the beginnings of the pay for privacy era" There is something so illogical about this concept....

Let me lay out the steps:

1. Privacy
2. Log-in to facebook/google/favorite porn site
3. No privacy
4. Pay for plug-in
5. Privacy

Folks, there's a much simpler solution to this.
posted by HuronBob at 9:05 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ghostery is useful too
posted by elpapacito at 9:06 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've just written a related fpp which I'll post here instead :

Europe vs. Facebook's Max Schrems has filed several complaints about Facebook's data collection practices, including the like button tracking. His efforts have revealed how facebook considers your data to be their trade secrets. Max has filed another complaint about Facebook's construction of shadow profiles for non-users.

Facebook obtains shadow profile data by encourage users to hand personal data of other users and non-users to Facebook through synchronizing mobile phones, importing personal data from e-mail providers, importing personal information from instant messaging services, and obviously facebook invites.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:09 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


The problem with logging in/logging out every time is that it takes time and effort. What i do is keep myself logged out of FB in firefox, where I do most of my browsing, then use chrome any time I want to use FB
posted by delmoi at 9:10 AM on October 18, 2011


There is no amount of software you can put on your own computer to prevent Facebook from harvesting your info from your friends, relatives and coworkers.

Maybe we should make privacy a right.
posted by DU at 9:10 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's gotten so I don't trust privacy tools not to divert and track my data.

However, having just wrestled Safari 5.1 back into full flashblocking/adblocking glory (the update broke the previous versions of my plugins) I must say it was shocking to see all that advertising crap for a day and such a damn relief to have it gone once again.

I sometimes think if all of us made a concerted effort to turn off advertising -- from direct mail to TV commercials to web ads -- it might have as much of an effect as closing our bank accounts.
posted by spitbull at 9:11 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


We speak of Facebook "harvesting" information as a way of dodging the question of who planted it.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:12 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't log in to FB or Google from my main browser anymore and I don't check my mail from my main browser either. I log in using a separate browser just to go in and out and get the dirty work done, and I've wired my web mail to a desktop client.

And who logs in to porn sites anyways?
posted by furtive at 9:13 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


We speak of Facebook "harvesting" information as a way of dodging the question of who planted it.

If FB gets a class list from user A and then phone numbers to go with some names from user B and then location info from user C and creates a "shadow profile" of you, it seems like blaming the victim no longer solves the problem.
posted by DU at 9:18 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


'People will pay for tools to protect privacy'

Information wants to be free.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:18 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


man i sure am glad that all the pgp internet fedoras are here to berate every casual internet user for not welding their metaphorical pants shut before going outside
posted by beefetish at 9:18 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


You may prevent facebook's like button tracking using this AdBlock+ filter :

||facebook.*$domain=~facebook.com|~127.0.0.1
||fbcdn.*$domain=~fbcdn.com|~facebook.com|~127.0.0.1
posted by jeffburdges at 9:18 AM on October 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


There is no amount of software you can put on your own computer to prevent Facebook from harvesting your info from your friends, relatives and coworkers.

It's actually worse than that. Bear with my metaphor here, but: back during the cold war, when the soviets were a Thing, the U.S. built this class of submarines called "Seawolf" to deal with the threat of Soviet Typhoon and Akula class subs. They were big and expensive, but the other thing they were, anecdotes say, was really, really quiet. Quiet in a way that very nearly obsoleted the best sonar gear available; to detect a Seawolf-class sub, the story goes, you actually need to tools good enough to listen for a hole in the ocean where the background noise should be, but isn't.

The thing is, when it comes to social networks, those hole-in-the-ocean inference tools are quite powerful and very well established. It's possible to build a reliable statistical model of you without your explicit participation, just from the information you and your surrounding social networks happen to leak out, and that model will be quite accurate, particularly if you can build that graph across several apparently unrelated services.

So in a sense, it doesn't matter if you "want privacy" or not. In a practical sense, you can't participate in modern networked society and still have airtight privacy. That option is available two only two classes of people, really - those who can delegate everything, and those who have nothing, the ultrarich or completely poor. Everyone else is better off just picking which companies you'd rather assist with building a model of yourself, in a way that hopefully benefits you. Or, alternatively, just not caring about it.
posted by mhoye at 9:24 AM on October 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


I've gotten so despondent about the lack of privacy on the internet, that I've seriously contemplated seeing how deep of a false identity I could create.

And if I could have it so that Google, Amazon, Facebook, and all the others would consider it a totally separate and unique entity from me.

The only thing that has held me back is laziness and the fact that I wouldn't really have any way of testing if I'd been successful. But the idea of seeing if I could compartmentalize my life enough to make sure that one part never ever touched another has an appeal from an intellectual exercise point of view.
posted by quin at 9:25 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


elpapcito is right. Ghostery is a phenomenal tool. I don't browse without it any more.
posted by davemee at 9:35 AM on October 18, 2011


Actually, creating multiple false personas (hello, Sybil post!) could be a better privacy tool if enough people did it. You'd have to set it up as a game so that people would create dozens in an afternoon and really trash the usefulness of the DBs.

I'm envisioning something like an ARG combined with Farmville combined with the Sims. You have a stable of personas and every once in a while you have one do a search on Google or buy stuff on Amazon1 or post an update on Facebook. You get points by having spam (e- or physical) show up at their addresses, getting your persona investigated by the FBI, etc.

1Yes, actually purchase stuff. Otherwise Amazon doesn't care about you. The way to do THAT is to set up a companion site where people can submit real orders they want but don't want associated with them (I foresee sex toys, but that's not all). Your personas can then browse that list and choose things that fit their personalities to make a believable Amazon signature.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on October 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm a big fan of Ghostery. Also HTTPS Everywhere. I'm starting to use Disconnect.me on Firefox too, although I think Ghostery covers most of the same functionality?
posted by gen at 9:45 AM on October 18, 2011


nam3d: "Also for Firefox and Safari."

Does this do anything that Priv3 does not?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:59 AM on October 18, 2011


Actually, creating multiple false personas (hello, Sybil post!) could be a better privacy tool if enough people did it.

I am convinced that there is opportunity to make money selling a service that will, for a fee, introduce noise into your amazon, facebook, netflix, &c. accounts in order to muddy the profile that they are assembling on you.

Of course, they (netflix, facebook, &c) will close the API to such services. It'll become an arms race. Multiple false personas might be a way around this, I don't know.
posted by gauche at 10:08 AM on October 18, 2011


"We’re in the beginnings of the pay for privacy era"

The internet's (hopefully growing) open source community and its devotion to finding tools to protect privacy and open exchange of public information--for free--remains one of the few things I'm solidly optimistic about and why I find this statement absurd on its face.

He may as well have said people are willing to pay for pop up blockers. Sure they are. Or they can get them for free, because free ones, you know, exist. I mean the second or third question is how he tap dances around the idea that incognito mode is a thing that exists on a free browser.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:18 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am convinced that there is opportunity to make money selling a service that will, for a fee, introduce noise into your amazon, facebook, netflix, &c. accounts in order to muddy the profile that they are assembling on you.

I imagine this already exists in that there is SOMETHING that porn sites, spammers, etc. use to quickly create and fill dummy accounts on Facebook, OKCupid, etc. I also imagine using similar technology for yourself would probably just flag you as one of said bots or spammers.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If we have to pay for privacy, can we do it anonymously?

[crickets....]
posted by gimonca at 10:24 AM on October 18, 2011


I am convinced that there is opportunity to make money selling a service that will, for a fee, introduce noise into your amazon, facebook, netflix, &c. accounts in order to muddy the profile that they are assembling on you.

I'm thinking that corporations hiring people to flood the net with phony positive reviews are just the first step. The next step is to flood the internet with obviously unfair phony negative reviews and crackpot expose stories falsely accusing companies of bad things.

You'd call the company providing this service Crying Wolf. If Amazon could flood the net with a bunch of obviously false stories about workers being mistreated, by the time someone tried to publish the expose on warehouse conditions in Pennsylvania, hardly anyone would pay attention.
posted by straight at 10:39 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You'd call the company providing this service Crying Wolf.

You'll have to imagine my favoriting this comment, because I don't want to draw attention to it.
posted by DU at 10:53 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is creepy: Take This Lollipop
posted by azarbayejani at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If FB gets a class list from user A and then phone numbers to go with some names from user B and then location info from user C and creates a "shadow profile" of you, it seems like blaming the victim no longer solves the problem.

As I understand it you're upset that Facebook can infer things about people who don't use Facebook from people who do?

What do you think of actuaries?
posted by LogicalDash at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I understand it you're upset that Facebook can infer things about people who don't use Facebook from people who do?

What do you think of actuaries?


That comparison doesn't make sense. Actuaries infer things about classes of people, statistically. He doesn't like that Facebook can get specific pieces of data about actual individuals. An actuary can't tell you that you will get cancer at a specific age, but (according to this argument) Facebook can get your phone number entirely without your approval.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:40 AM on October 18, 2011


I finally left FB a couple of weeks ago and haven't looked back. Just got so tired of every new update requiring yet another round of "now which privacy settings do I need to reconfigure", etc.

I had been careful not to include most of my personal info (where I went to high school, college, where I worked, etc.). But I realized that this could be intuited by my friends list. When I finally decided to leave FB, I downloaded an archive of my account. Then I changed my name to an alias and left that up for about a week. I figured that way, when I deleted my account, it would have my alias name as the last name associated with the account, rather than my real one.

I finally deleted the account (which is different from deactivating, mind you). It's been a couple of weeks now, so according to the policy, the account should be gone. Now, if I want to stay in touch with someone, they or I actually have to do something proactive to maintain the relationship, not drift along with the faux intimacy that "liking" someone's status update suggests. Don't miss it a bit.
posted by darkstar at 12:07 PM on October 18, 2011


I'm learning a lot about Facebook these days - in many ways its become a viral trend driving people online where they wouldn't have earlier given their background or life circumstances. I was discussing the issue of privacy in this context with my local colleague and he just laughed out loud. There's a whole new user base for whom these issues are virtually meaningless. I wonder now how this will play out and what it all means.
posted by infini at 12:39 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is creepy: Take This Lollipop

What did it do?

I've gotten so despondent about the lack of privacy on the internet, that I've seriously contemplated seeing how deep of a false identity I could create.

And if I could have it so that Google, Amazon, Facebook, and all the others would consider it a totally separate and unique entity from me.


Uh, what? Doesn't everyone do this already. I have 4-5 online personas, complete with consistent (made up) data for each across all the major online platforms.

I literally contain multitudes.

I am convinced that there is opportunity to make money selling a service that will, for a fee, introduce noise into your amazon, facebook, netflix, &c. accounts in order to muddy the profile that they are assembling on you.

Why on Earth would I pay money just to get poorly targeted advertising?

I'm learning a lot about Facebook these days - in many ways its become a viral trend driving people online where they wouldn't have earlier given their background or life circumstances.

... just like Geocities and Tripod.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:47 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am convinced that there is opportunity to make money selling a service that will, for a fee, introduce noise into your amazon, facebook, netflix, &c. accounts in order to muddy the profile that they are assembling on you.

Honestly, what is the value here? By preventing advertisers from assembling your data, what are you gaining?

Wouldn't it be much better not to buy stuff?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:49 PM on October 18, 2011


I worked with Brian at Google, like and respect him quite a bit. He's an intense and opinionated guy. My impression (not verified) is he quit Google in part to be able to write tools to disrupt their user tracking. Facebook Disconnect is getting a lot of press right now, but the broader Disconnect is a very aggressive privacy tool for preventing tracking cookies of various sorts. If it were widely adopted it would make a lot of Internet advertising (particularly Google's) significantly more difficult.

I'm not convinced that targeted ads are bad. If you're going to see ads anyway, wouldn't you rather they were relevant?

There's this terrible disconnect between what people say about privacy and what they actually do. People say they want privacy and no tracking. But they consistently avoid doing even simple, non-intrusive things to protect their privacy. I don't mean going to extremes like running NoScript, blocking cookies, logging out all the time. I mean basic stuff like not providing your zip code, phone number, etc to every dumbass website that asks. Or looking at Google's fantastic privacy dashboard to understand and control what The Big G knows about them.
posted by Nelson at 1:13 PM on October 18, 2011


mrgrimm: "Uh, what? Doesn't everyone do this already."

No. In fact, very few people do it.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:33 PM on October 18, 2011


Honestly, what is the value here? By preventing advertisers from assembling your data, what are you gaining?

Well, here's how I see it: I get a certain amount of value out of remaining in facebook-touch with friends I don't see anymore. I think of facebook as an address book that updates itself.* That has positive value to me.

At the same time, I'm also somewhat worried about the increasingly precise picture of me that facebook is able to build. Even if I didn't specify where I went to college and grad school, you could certainly figure it out based on my friends list.

So, if you had a service that introduced some noise into that friends list by making me friends with a randomly selected subset of profiles, some of them false, that could -- here I'm guessing -- make the precise picture a little more fuzzy. This service could, if it worked, reduce my concerns about privacy while preserving the usefulness of facebook to me.

There are of course kinks to work out about this, even if it is sound in theory, and I'm not sure it is. Not least of these is that I'm sure facebook would close the API to such a service pretty quickly.

*I also think of it, apparently, as a place to get into really shrill, intense, unresolved arguments about politics.
posted by gauche at 1:34 PM on October 18, 2011


... just like Geocities and Tripod.
posted by mrgrimm


I mused upon that in my earlier comment but now I'm wondering if the analogy may not in fact be closer to AOL - I believe today we're hearing that Facebook is the world's third largest nation with 800 million subscribers (I bet though they still count all of us who deleted out later )
posted by infini at 1:41 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


As I understand it you're upset that Facebook can infer things about people who don't use Facebook from people who do?

What do you think of actuaries?


Actuaries don't infer things about people, they infer things about groups and populations. Unless they've changed the rules of the game since I learned about it, actuaries do not keep files with particular people's names on them and track everything they do (that they learn about).
posted by DU at 2:08 PM on October 18, 2011


So, if you had a service that introduced some noise into that friends list by making me friends with a randomly selected subset of profiles, some of them false, that could -- here I'm guessing -- make the precise picture a little more fuzzy. This service could, if it worked, reduce my concerns about privacy while preserving the usefulness of facebook to me.

I implied this before, but it bears rephrasing: what you are essentially suggesting is that Facebook would be more "useful" by making it easier for porn spammers and scam artists (many of whom, you know, are very interested in abusing your privacy and personal data far more than Facebook ever will be) to remain undetected. I think "it may not be sound in theory" is a bit of an understatement.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:09 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unless they've changed the rules of the game since I learned about it, actuaries do not keep files with particular people's names on them and track everything they do (that they learn about).

Ha, okay, I thought you were concerned about the way Facebook uses the data it gets. When it "sells" you, it does so by asking an advertiser what demographic it wants, and showing its ad to that sort of person all over Facebook. That seems to be what people mean when they say that Facebook sells your information to advertisers, and it's a separate issue from, eg., turning that information over to the government on request.

As it stands, you are apparently concerned by the fact that Facebook has this data. Social networks actually cannot function without collecting personal identifying information; they could certainly do a better job at protecting information than Facebook does, but at that point you're actually worried about their privacy and security policies, not the fact that they mine data.

Data-mining is a feature of Facebook that its users benefit from. It's where they get the "people you may know" from. It's why the search feature works. Preach the downside of that service if you like, but it is certainly not obvious that it's bad that Facebook has that data.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:32 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


wait a minute nelson running NoScript is going to extremes now? oh my god the pgp fedora is on top of my head
posted by beefetish at 2:33 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Be sure that Fedora is lined with tin-foil. Running NoScript by default these days is crazy.
posted by Nelson at 2:37 PM on October 18, 2011


(It's true that actuaries aren't concerned about individuals, but the data they work from could be used to identify you if they felt like it.)
posted by LogicalDash at 2:38 PM on October 18, 2011


By preventing advertisers from assembling your data, what are you gaining?

The primary monetizable use of the data is to sell advertizing. That is not the only use. There's lots of stuff you can do with this data, once you have access to it. It's not a question of do I mind being targeted for ads (though for the record, I do mind). It's a question of, do I want any person with whom I have no bond of trust or loyalty to have a complete record of everyplace I've ever been, everything I've ever bought, who my friends and family are, eveything I've ever said or snarked or desired? No.

Remember back in 2008 when Verizon had to fire some people for looking up Obama's personal call records? Phone companies, marketing companies, facebook --- all of these have thousands of employees. Some of them, are, I'm sure, nutbars. What is protecting me from being exploited by them is that I am not very rich and not very interesting. And that's all. I find that discomforting.
posted by Diablevert at 2:48 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


care to explain why nelson? i am slow to change internet e-habits and also kind of irritated at the whole "GOD why don't people just DO WHAT IS LOGICAL with their INTERNET PRIVACY" since relatively few people can manage to stay on that shit.
posted by beefetish at 2:56 PM on October 18, 2011


The advertising is of limited worry to me. I abhor advertising, and almost never see any with how my major browser is set up. I have Adblock set up tight enough that I cannot visit facebook with my main browser without getting completely blank page. So in a way, they can collect and profile all they want for their ads, since these ads are never going to reach me anyway. I'm also not worried about them sending me slices of dead tree as advertising, since I lie a lot about my address on facebook et al. A lot of sites think I live in the zip code I picked from the name of a '90s sitcom. Yes, Beverly Hills.

What worries me is the ability for them and others to say "do me a list of all white male European self-employed 46 middle aged men". Not to go all Godwin on them, but there are more examples where the ability of large organizations to create lists of certain people led to bad things, without having yellow stars involved.

What really worries me is that all this data gathering enables the modern day Cardinal De Richelieu:

"If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

Lots of companies are using Facebook and similar sites to "check on potential employees" - with more coming.

And I do NOT want to give them six lines.

Oh, wait, how many lines is this posting now? Crap...
posted by DreamerFi at 2:58 PM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Take This Lollipop (via)
posted by jeffburdges at 3:36 PM on October 18, 2011


Maybe we should make privacy a right.

It *is* a right. Look at article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks


The US Government is a signatory. It's just that the US Government (and more than a few other governments) fail to protect that right.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:50 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ugh. I mean, "The US Government is a signatory".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:54 PM on October 18, 2011


Data-mining is a feature of Facebook that its users benefit from.

Where do I even start?

1) Facebook has and uses both aggregate and personal information.
2) Targeted ads do not "benefit" the target.
3) I'm not a Facebook user. That's the whole point of the complain about "shadow profiles". Therefore, any purported benefit to users is not available to me.
posted by DU at 4:33 PM on October 18, 2011


Oops, missed 1.5) Targeted ads are not the only possible use for collecting comprehensive personal dossiers.
posted by DU at 4:37 PM on October 18, 2011


DreamerFi: "A lot of sites think I live in the zip code I picked from the name of a '90s sitcom. Yes, Beverly Hills."

Admittedly, it's pretty funny in retrospect, but Beverly Hills, 90210 is pretty clearly not a sitcom.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:53 PM on October 18, 2011


Targeted ads do not "benefit" the target.

Certainly a highly debatable point. I like to buy things, and I don't always know when something I might want to buy has come out (a new book, video game, whatever). Ads are a way of finding this out. Rather than seeing an ad for a book I don't want, I'd rather see an ad for a book I might want.

(Example: Amazon suggested products are basically targeted ads, and the other day it was like "hey the new Discworld book is out" which caused me to buy said book. Targeted and useful for both of us -- they got money, I got a new book to read).
posted by wildcrdj at 6:14 PM on October 18, 2011


I like to buy things, and I don't always know when something I might want to buy has come out

So how about making the default "don't track" and let people like you opt-in? Odds are we'd both be happier with that situation than we are now.
posted by DreamerFi at 10:56 PM on October 18, 2011


Reading an article in the Economist yesterday has me reconsidering Twitter now. Some snippets,

Yet growth in this market could be held back—by privacy concerns. Most people think that tweets are only up to 140 characters long. But those who sip from Twitter’s fire hose can get much more information, including a sender’s location, the biography on his profile page and how many people have subscribed to his messages (see blog post on the map of a tweet). Most of this information is freely available on Twitter’s website. But if users realise how their data are used, they may clam up.


This visualization of the information available from a single tweet makes me consider the inherent tension between wanting to participate in a conversational stream that's global vs. wondering when one snarky joke or comment might be misinterpreted by some automated algorithm.

And from this interview of the founder of the data firm, one wonders when all of this will actually imply its really 1984,

Who's been using your service whilst in beta?
We did some stuff with the Guardian where they were buying all the data around the riots, which they loved because they only had to buy a week's data, they didn't have to sign up a big contract to get all that data from us. Hopefully, that will mean we'll have a lot of journalists who will come on and just say: "I know this is going on, I just want to track this data, I want to analyse it in a certain sort of way". And we'll have partners who'll have built on top of the platform who then have different ways of visualising that data.


Wired.co.uk: What inspired the idea behind DataSift?
Nick Halstead: The realisation that businesses were paying us way more money buying the data behind TweetMeme than we were making from advertising.


So its not all about advertising woo hoo etc is it?
posted by infini at 11:28 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been using disconnect for about a day now on Firefox, but I've gotten no alerts from it.

Maybe it isn't working or maybe google/facebook aren't interested in me.
posted by Winnemac at 12:25 PM on October 19, 2011


DU, "shadow profiles" can be made from any large store of personal information. That complaint would apply to any social network. If your position is that nobody should use social networks, just come out and say it, man.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:21 PM on October 19, 2011


Heh, yeah, I'll repeat myself on the concern about "shadow profiles" (from one of the 3-4 various threads on Facebook privacy that are still open, fwiw.)

You think I opted-in to being tracked by Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:03 AM on October 20, 2011


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