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The Internet is a surveillance state
March 16, 2013 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to a world where Google knows exactly what sort of porn you all like, and more about your interests than your spouse does.
posted by T.D. Strange (70 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yup.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:49 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just think it would be interesting if they would share that with me, so we could do some fine tuning.
posted by Samizdata at 8:50 PM on March 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


Working at a sleazy-as-fuck 24 hour porn store when I was 18 year old pretty much permanently cured me of all desire to look at pictures and videos of naked people getting it on. What else you got, Google?
posted by item at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The saddest part is that we have ended up here without any sort of a fight. Apple's "walled garden"; Google killing RSS and CalDAV; Facebook - well, Facebook - it's all happened because it made life "better" for most people.

Now every time Netflix drops out and buffers, I wonder if it is Time Warner subtly encouraging me to try out their offerings instead. And love him or hate him, Stallman's Right to Read from 1997 (1997! that's like, last century) is looking more prescient by the day.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:53 PM on March 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Duh. Welcome to ten years ago, dude.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:57 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh. I thought everyone was getting ads for goat watersports sites.
posted by benzenedream at 8:57 PM on March 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


What else you got, Google?

Dead bodies, animal cruelty.... for starters.
posted by Mezentian at 8:57 PM on March 16, 2013


Of course, all this tracking is being done for a worthwhile purpose: To custom tailor the ads we block.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:00 PM on March 16, 2013 [35 favorites]


I don't watch porn and I'm not married. What does Google know about me?
posted by DoubleLune at 9:00 PM on March 16, 2013


I don't watch porn and I'm not married. What does Google know about me?

YOU ARE A ROBOT!

(or you're blind and just listen to it.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:05 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Google can use its knowledge of what kind of things I like to for instance, show me targeted ads for RSS readers.
posted by aubilenon at 9:06 PM on March 16, 2013 [27 favorites]


Yes, of course. It's so easy to track people, that it would almost be insane not to do it.

Of course there wasn't a fight about it. Most people don't know or simply don't care. Why should they? It most cases it won't matter.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:07 PM on March 16, 2013


heheh, not me suckers. I opted out.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 9:08 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well then I wish Google would tell me what kind of porn I like, since I sure have a difficult time searching for it.
posted by picklenickle at 9:14 PM on March 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sys Rq: "Of course, all this tracking is being done for a worthwhile purpose: To custom tailor the ads we block."

What ARE these ads you speak of?
posted by Samizdata at 9:15 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, please. When Google turns up one single example of dwarf gay bear porn, I'll be impressed. In the meantime, if the great Google gestalt knows that I'd be curious to see some dwarf gay bear porn, they're not letting on.

Tumblr, on the other hand, seems oddly attuned to what I like, though fuckyeah1930scivilianconservationcorpsgayporn.tumblr.com still isn't showing up.
posted by sonascope at 9:15 PM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


DoubleLune: "I don't watch porn and I'm not married. What does Google know about me?"

ZOMBIE! KILL IT FAST BEFORE IT BITES SOMEONE! BLUE IS THE WEBSITE, NOT AN ACCEPTABLE SKIN COLOR!
posted by Samizdata at 9:18 PM on March 16, 2013


Duh. Welcome to ten years ago, dude.

Yes. It's on CNN.
posted by Gotanda at 9:19 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reddit undoubtedly does similar tracking and, really, isn't it an open secret that tge NSA is profiling essentially all internet data?o
posted by five fresh fish at 9:41 PM on March 16, 2013


Perhaps the free market can unintentionally kill this situation- through a collapse of the value of online ads. Seriously, how can mere advertisement sustain so many free web sites? Surely online advertising is a bubble unto itself. If online ads were suddenly no longer a stable revenue stream, these major corporations would be forced to find other ways to make money, perhaps less invasive towards user privacy.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2013


Interesting how much Google is the current bugbear du jour. The article's not particularly about Google (anymore than it's about Facebook or just "the internet" in general), and yet everyone's in a Google tizzy, so that gets to be the focus of this discussion. You could erase Google tomorrow and the situation described in the article wouldn't change in any material way.
posted by yoink at 9:46 PM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


After the recent fiasco surrounding Google Reader's announced shutdown I no longer fear Google's knowledge. Did you see the bit where a Google Product Lead went on G+ and asked people what they were doing with Reader? After buying Adwords for many years I reall shouldn't be suprised. If they have this secret info on people they are pretty shitty at packaging it up to advertisers. The reality is that Adwords doesn't need to be that sophisticated. Only a small sliver of keywords are monetizable. Most advertisers want to focus bidding on a narrow set of transactional keywords and measuring click throughs.
posted by humanfont at 9:56 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Google is amassing the largest pool of data in human history. It goes beyond ads. With its data, Google is poised to make monumental discoveries in human psychology. MBTI personality types are interesting and all, but Google could, if it wanted to, come up with much better descriptions. With enough data, and they're getting it with Android devices too, they'll be able to predict human behaviour better than anyone else on earth.
posted by smorange at 10:12 PM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


With its data, Google is poised to make monumental discoveries in human psychology. MBTI personality types are interesting and all, but Google could, if it wanted to, come up with much better descriptions. With enough data, and they're getting it with Android devices too, they'll be able to predict human behaviour better than anyone else on earth.

Predictions != understanding
posted by downing street memo at 10:17 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


MBTI personality types are interesting and all, but Google could, if it wanted to, come up with much better descriptions.

I don"t man to be a jerk but much better descriptions already exist since the MBTI is not psychometrically sound.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:22 PM on March 16, 2013


My pet theory is that the ridiculous amounts of money the NSA, CIA, and whoever else are spending on collecting and storing information is supporting something of a second internet bubble. Browse through the Crunchbase profiles of some of these companies sometime, they're suspiciously similar, recent, and crammed full of meaningless jargon that just says "we collect information on website users to sell ad space." I'm with Apocryphon, I can't fathom how online ad clicks can sustain hundreds of boutique companies that all do the same thing.
posted by pleurodirous at 10:25 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Obama also knows what kind of porn you like (http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/28/16726913-obama-campaign-gives-database-of-millions-of-supporters-to-new-advocacy-group?lite) and, as soon as the Republicans catch up on the techonology, so too will Karl Rove. If that's not chilling, I don't know what is.
posted by Skwirl at 10:54 PM on March 16, 2013


Typing 'porn' into Google does not return anything remotely close to the porn I like, which is surprising as my tastes run fairly mainstream and tend toward softcore. In fact, searching Google with the term 'porn' (images, SafeSearch off) returns very little actual porn.
posted by Ardiril at 10:56 PM on March 16, 2013


Yeah! Google has no idea what kind of porn I like. They only know what kind of porn I watch.
posted by aubilenon at 11:06 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Google is amassing the largest pool of data in human history... With its data, Google is poised to make monumental discoveries in human psychology.

I think social media sites closed to Google crawlers, like Facebook, would like to have a word with you.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:21 AM on March 17, 2013


/installs Ghostery for Chrome
/visits metafilter.com

ChartBeat
Google Analytics


There's a good ghost.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:46 AM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously, how can mere advertisement sustain so many free web sites?

Seriously, how can mere advertisement sustain so many expensive TV shows?
posted by straight at 1:58 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


more about your interests than your spouse does

Yeah, that's a really low bar to set.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:24 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In fact, searching Google with the term 'porn' (images, SafeSearch off) returns very little actual porn.

Google has been recently tuning their results to that end. So now Bing is the place for aficionados.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:28 AM on March 17, 2013


/installs Ghostery for Chrome
/visits metafilter.com

ChartBeat
Google Analytics

There's a good ghost.


Note: Blocking may interfere with webpages in unexpected ways. If you experience issues with videos, logins, comment forms, etc., pause blocking by clicking on the Ghostery icon, or whitelist the affected page.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:28 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Google is amassing the largest pool of data in human history.

Yes! Although, specifically, Google is amassing the largest pool of data about the actions of relatively bored middle-to-upper class western civilisation humans who are spending their time using a computer. This is not a complete dataset of human activity. It might seem like it is a complete dataset of humans if you spend a lot of time online, though.

With enough data, and they're getting it with Android devices too, they'll be able to predict human behaviour better than anyone else on earth.

No. What Google will have - as any government can tell you - will be an incredibly large, unwieldy dataset. The person in charge of this is currently hawking spy-goggles with internet access, whilst their organisation kills popular info-browsing services. Institutional malaise isn't going to suddenly let you see the godhead.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:32 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting how much Google is the current bugbear du jour.
I thought that was odd, too, especially considering that the article was written by Bruce Schneier, who knows his shit. It's not Google who knows your fetishes, it's Comcast, AT&T, and the other big ISPs.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:40 AM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's actually both.
posted by mhoye at 5:14 AM on March 17, 2013


Seriously, how can mere advertisement sustain so many expensive TV shows?

TV shows are also sustained by consumers paying cable fees, satellite provider fees, and now things like Netflix membership and Hulu Plus membership.

For the former two sources of revenue that to me is one of the amazing things about the twentieth century - that (in the U.S. at least) consumers were effectively trained to pay enormous monthly fees to watch television commercials that take up easily half the broadcast time on some channels.

As CheeseDigestsAll points out, these television providers also know your tastes in porn if you consume porn through them. And if any of them provide your internet access they probably also know everything that Google knows about your web browsing habits.
posted by XMLicious at 5:41 AM on March 17, 2013


Dear Internet Hidden Controllers:

You suck at what you're doing. I would absolutely be ecstatic if in your tracking and snooping and re-selling, you'd actually cotton to what I like. I think it's actually kind of cool you do this - I'm an ardent narcissist and it tickles me no end that my buying habits would be important to anyone. Maybe you can make a reality show out of me?

Seriously now - I'm not joking. When I log on to the internet, I don't have the chirpy, sassy Internet Siri saying, "Good morning, LT! While you were sleeping, I found you some more comfortable pillows and comfy flannels. Also - turns out Guerlain and Balmain have new releases and I found you tickets to London for under 200.00. Also - that Pup O' Noodles you saw at the SPCA still needs a forever home!

But no. I'm still in relative obscurity and surviving on Metafilter favorites and Chock Full O' Nuts coffee from a giant tin.

Maybe I could audition for someone?

Sincerely,
LT
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:04 AM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are we sure it's just to custom tailor ads?
posted by destro at 7:39 AM on March 17, 2013


@obiwanwasabi

Awesome. Didn't know about Ghostery. In the past few days I've ditched Chrome to distance myself from Google's clutches, installed OptimizeGoogle on Firefox (which allows you to further block Google from getting their claws in you), enabled DoNotTrack on Firefox, opted out of as many tracking sites as I can, and now this.

I'm feeling better.
posted by OHSnap at 8:00 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


TrackMeNot is fairly nifty too. Instead of trying to block search information, it attempts to fuzz your profile by constantly sending randomized searches to AOL, Google, Bing, and such. It also keeps updating those search strings to boot. And it does so almost completely transparently to you (there's a little bit in the status bar that tells you what it is searching and where).
posted by Samizdata at 8:58 AM on March 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


As I recently said somewhere else, every time there's a scare article about how much can be predicted from browsing habits, search habits, Facebook likes, etc., I just look at my Amazon recommendations and have a good laugh.
posted by Foosnark at 9:54 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


"and where the government accesses it at will without a warrant."

Maybe not for much longer: Federal Judge Finds National Security Letters Unconstitutional, Bans Them
posted by homunculus at 10:30 AM on March 17, 2013


TV shows are also sustained by consumers paying cable fees, satellite provider fees, and now things like Netflix membership and Hulu Plus membership.

Um, Australia and the UK had free to air commercial television channels for a very long time that do not rely on any of the things you just mentioned. Not saying that in our brave new world of broadcasting they are not losing out to cable/satellite providers, but for many years they did okay.
posted by Megami at 10:32 AM on March 17, 2013


The thing about headlines like this is that they imply there is a Google that acts as an individual or as an intelligence. There is no Google. There is a company called Google and their various departments' algorithms track your browsing tendencies when using their services or linked pages to target you with advertisements, but there's nobody at Google who knows what porn you like. And Google itself doesn't know anything. It just harvests.
posted by Faithless327 at 11:38 AM on March 17, 2013


The best part of the CNN article:

If the director of the CIA can't maintain his privacy on the Internet, we've got no hope.

I am not sure what he is hoping for, but it's been a long time since I was told to never put anything into an e-mail that I would be embarrasseed to see quoted on the front page of the newspaper. We are in public and being recorded and it may not be obvious when your metafilter username is Raptor_Rupert but we are not masked superheroes any longer. Yeah it was great fun when I thought I was like Batman and my real life peeps were ignorant but that was a long time ago.
posted by bukvich at 11:47 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Um, Australia and the UK had free to air commercial television channels for a very long time that do not rely on any of the things you just mentioned.

So you're saying that in the U.K. and Australia there are "expensive TV shows" on cable and satellite television which are "sustained by mere advertisement" the way the long tail of revenue-generating web sites are and not by things like the U.K.'s television license fee? (Because if you're not talking about a case where the programming is produced entirely using advertising revenue you're kind of pulling a bait-and-switch there and not really addressing the same point I am.)
posted by XMLicious at 12:36 PM on March 17, 2013


I find it frustrating and sad that Bruce has declared "without any sort of a fight" when so many people are actively working, even actively fighting, some might say to keep the internet free, open and safe to use.
posted by ioerror at 12:44 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that's just it, though, ioerror. For every one of us here at MeFi that has a clue what's going on, there are hundreds who happily surf away with no notion of what these companies are doing, nor what could become of the data their surfing patterns are generating.

We are in the minority, I fear. And it's not that the majority just don't care, it's that they just don't know.

Case in point - with the help of Ghostery, I determined that CBS News wanted to put something like 16 tracking cookies on my computer. The average user doesn't know this - hell, I didn't know it until today.
posted by OHSnap at 1:58 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because if you're not talking about a case where the programming is produced entirely using advertising revenue you're kind of pulling a bait-and-switch there and not really addressing the same point I am.

Does it have to be cable or satellite? What about terrestrial broadcasters (which is how, historically, almost all Australian TV is broadcast)? I've never paid for cable or satellite, and there's no license fee in Aus (and IIRC the license fee in the UK goes to the BBC. There are other channels producing content).
posted by pompomtom at 3:32 PM on March 17, 2013


TV shows are also sustained by consumers paying cable fees

My point was that for decades, there was an enormous television industry sustained almost entirely on advertising revenue. It's not hard to believe that Google and other internet services could survive for a long time on advertising revenue.
posted by straight at 4:34 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I use IE for porn, as I prefer it dangerous and unprotected. However, I also use IE's inPrivate browsing, so my google searches return high numbers of bareback people wearing paper bags over their heads.
posted by Sparx at 4:44 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


interesting. except
1 confusion is a firefox addon. Possibly it's other things as well, but it's not 'a tool' in some exclusive sense! (oh, journalists) There are heaps of firefox addons to counteract all that if you care
2 if the FBI are after you, avoiding the internet isn't going to make much difference. And if you're going to do the kind of thing that gets the FBI after you, it's best to be realistic with yourself about the consequences first. I've actually thought about this a lot (i'm unemployed, that's why i have too much time on my hands) and if you read about political persecution in foreign countries a lot (unemployed) then you notice again and again, it's not the big celebrity or most popular blogger non-conformists you get it, it's the small fry, the people who went to one protest, who disappear and nobody fights for. So if you're going to take that kind of risk, it's important to be big and obvious and popular, perhaps... safety is in the support of other people, not in some magical tools or secrets.
posted by maiamaia at 5:00 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I block cookies, clear the storage cache, and reset Safari regularly, ie. every day or two. I use Fluid to create separate browser instances for those sites where I need to accept cookies (like MeFi and Github).

And even then, I pretty much accept that my DSL IP address is being logged and is very likely associated to my real life ID.

There is no anonymity.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 PM on March 17, 2013


bukvich: "The best part of the CNN article:

If the director of the CIA can't maintain his privacy on the Internet, we've got no hope.

I am not sure what he is hoping for, but it's been a long time since I was told to never put anything into an e-mail that I would be embarrasseed to see quoted on the front page of the newspaper. We are in public and being recorded and it may not be obvious when your metafilter username is Raptor_Rupert but we are not masked superheroes any longer. Yeah it was great fun when I thought I was like Batman and my real life peeps were ignorant but that was a long time ago.
"

Problem with that is people like me. I tend to use the same ID most everywhere (or a simple variant if it is taken.)

I like my chosen nick better than I like my real first name, and identify with it. But, I like the people I like to be able to find me, whether it is Steam, or Twitter, or MeFi or whatever. (despite the fact I discovered thanks to L4D MeFi sessions no one can seem to pronounce it.)

I do though try to take my emailing seriously.
posted by Samizdata at 6:04 AM on March 18, 2013


five fresh fish: "FWIW, I block cookies, clear the storage cache, and reset Safari regularly, ie. every day or two. I use Fluid to create separate browser instances for those sites where I need to accept cookies (like MeFi and Github).

And even then, I pretty much accept that my DSL IP address is being logged and is very likely associated to my real life ID.

There is no anonymity.
"

Especially not with IPv6. No more dynamic address/enterprise NAT. All of us get our happy little internet homes.

(Yup, stuck on v6 right now.)
posted by Samizdata at 6:06 AM on March 18, 2013


straight: My point was that for decades, there was an enormous television industry sustained almost entirely on advertising revenue. It's not hard to believe that Google and other internet services could survive for a long time on advertising revenue.

pompomtom: Does it have to be cable or satellite? What about terrestrial broadcasters (which is how, historically, almost all Australian TV is broadcast)? I've never paid for cable or satellite, and there's no license fee in Aus (and IIRC the license fee in the UK goes to the BBC. There are other channels producing content).

Cable and satellite are what I had mentioned and Megami was speaking as though she was disproving my statement. But it's even sort of doubly divergent to start talking about whether or not the channels/broadcasters are sustained entirely by advertising if they're mostly rebroadcasting television programming that would only have been produced with additional sources of revenue.

Straight's point about some portion of broadcast television being historically sustained by advertising alone is notable but before that there was also a much larger live theatre industry, for example. I'm just saying that in an environment where there's any sort of competition it's not going to be the "expensive TV shows" that are sustained entirely by advertising, it's going to be the equivalents of the small community theatres that sell advertising space on their playbills (though I suppose even in that case there's support in terms of volunteers giving their time and charitable donations too.)

But tracing the whole thing back to Apocryphon's original comment, this is all kind of moot to his or her original point because advertising isn't by far the primary reason or means to track your activity on the internet... that information by itself has value. Google's tracking of people's activity here on MeFi, for example, is in exchange for them giving away the free Google Analytics tracking service and software, not because MeFi is displaying any Google-sourced advertising. Or for another one, without any laws to prevent it and without encryption being more widely used, your ISP is probably going to be able to gather even more information about your online activities than even Google can if they take an organized approach to it.
posted by XMLicious at 8:26 AM on March 18, 2013


Why are ISPs interested in usage activities- is it to determine what drives network traffic and to make sure no copyright infringement or piracy is being committed?
posted by Apocryphon at 9:36 AM on March 18, 2013


advertising isn't by far the primary reason or means to track your activity on the internet... that information by itself has value.

What do you have in mind here? How do you make money with that information other than using it to try to sell people stuff?
posted by straight at 10:32 AM on March 18, 2013


Why are ISPs interested in usage activities- is it to determine what drives network traffic and to make sure no copyright infringement or piracy is being committed?

I suppose they might do that, if mandated to by law in some jurisdictions; or they might analyze it for their own provisioning and network management purposes; or they might try to inject their own advertising into the pages you're viewing; if you're in China or somewhere else with censorship or blacklisting it could come about as a consequence of implementing that.

But basically, they have to monitor various aspects of their network traffic anyways to keep everything running smoothly and for security and various other reasons, so it's more a matter of why not do it if there isn't any law prohibiting it. Data storage costs are probably the dominant cost of collecting it and storage costs just keep going down and down and down.

> that information by itself has value.

What do you have in mind here? How do you make money with that information other than using it to try to sell people stuff?

I'm not saying that what everyone would do with that value is try to get money for it; but for example in the case of Google Analytics or Facebook Analytics web sites are essentially trading browsing metrics in exchange for those services: you give them all the data about your web traffic and allow them to run javascript on all of your visitors' browsers and in exchange they store and process the data and provide a control panel to you and an API to slice and dice it for your own purposes and examine it all.

Also, the ways such data can be used to try to sell things are more expansive than just showing advertising at the same time it's collected; see how credit rating agencies trade in such information (which is a matter of risk management, really, only instrumentally related to selling things) or how large retailers use it.
posted by XMLicious at 12:26 PM on March 18, 2013


See also counter-surveillance-clothing.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:04 AM on March 24, 2013


Schneier has now got his article up on his bog with his readers' comments.
posted by bukvich at 12:28 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apple's iMessage encryption trips up feds' surveillance: Internal document from the Drug Enforcement Administration complains that messages sent with Apple's encrypted chat service are "impossible to intercept," even with a warrant.
posted by homunculus at 2:08 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Note that "impossible" in that context means "all we can do is record the encrypted version of the traffic and hope that computing speeds will increase by enough in a few years for us to crack it if we need to then" which is entirely possible.
posted by XMLicious at 6:38 PM on April 4, 2013


Google defies FBI, asks federal judge to challenge ‘national security letters’
posted by homunculus at 3:34 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


DEA Accused Of Leaking Misleading Info Falsely Implying That It Can't Read Apple iMessages
posted by homunculus at 5:04 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the subject of ISPs monitoring your web activity closely enough to inject their own advertising:

How a banner ad for H&R Block appeared on apple.com—without Apple’s OK
Someone, somewhere is injecting banner ads into webpages on the sly
posted by XMLicious at 2:42 AM on April 8, 2013


Today, we save the Internet (again): fix the CFAA!
posted by homunculus at 11:43 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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