A breath of fresh air

Your social network is owned by advertisers.

Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.

You are not a product.

Ello Manifesto

Oh, gnome!

Last month Ikea UK began an advertising campaign, “Say No To Gnomes”, which features a family updating the look of their garden with new Ikea outdoor products, only to find upset gnomes launching a revenge attack:

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received nearly 50 complaints that the ad was offensive, unsuitable for children, frightening, violent and encouraged emulation and anti-social behaviour. (See UK anger over violent Ikea gnomes ads.)

After reading about the complaints I watched the ad… and laughed all the way through (and loved the music). Is it me, or are people becoming too sensitive (or too politically correct)? At least the ASA used common sense and didn’t take any action on the complaints. An internet search finds the campaign mentioned in numerous blogs and articles. None of those I read found the ad offensive, and some people expressed disbelief at the criticism.


Ugly behaviour

I’ve read a couple of reports that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10 will be set to “do not track” by default. Historically, the default do not track setting in most browsers has been “off” – meaning that websites that check for the setting were free to set tracking cookies. Websites and marketing partners like to track our browsing activity so that they can deliver targeted advertising. They claim that tracking is done anonymously without violating privacy, but some people argue that it’s easy to make the connection between a person’s IP address or mobile device and the real person.

SBS reports that privacy advocates have been pleased with Microsoft’s decision to allow the user to turn tracking on if he or she wants to. “We believe consumers should have more control over how data about their online behavior is tracked, shared, and used,” Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch said in announcing the move.

Some website owners and advertisers, however, are up in arms and have declared that they will ignore the setting and track users’ browsing anyway. The statements they’ve made in response to Microsoft’s initiative are disingenuous, to say the least. According to the SBS article, ‘The Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of the largest US media and marketing associations, told its members they can ignore or override the default settings in Microsoft or other browsers. “The trade associations that lead the DAA do not believe that Microsoft’s IE10 browser settings are an appropriate standard for providing consumer choice,” said the alliance, which includes the Better Business Bureau. “Machine-driven do not track does not represent user choice; it represents browser-manufacturer choice.”’

Yahoo! agreed, saying it will not recognise the default do not track setting. A Yahoo! blog post said Microsoft had acted “unilaterally” and that “this degrades the experience for the majority of users and makes it hard to deliver on our value proposition to them.”

Pardon? Where is user choice when the default setting is “track”? How does turning tracking off degrade the user experience? The “value proposition” involved has no benefit to the user. These people didn’t complain when the choice to be tracked was taken away from the user by default. They didn’t argue then that it was “browser-manufacturer choice”. I think they realise they are on slippery ground here. They must fear that if the default setting is “off” then no one will ever turn it on… and they’ll lose their revenue streams.

US House of Representatives members Edward Markey and Joe Barton, who head the House privacy caucus, expressed disappointment over the actions by advertisers and Yahoo!, saying they highlight the need for better privacy laws. “If consumers want to be tracked online, they should have to opt-in, not the other way around,” the two lawmakers said in a statement.

The SBS article goes on to say that some analysts argue that wiping out all online tracking would undermine the economic model of the Internet. Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) analyst Daniel Castro said most consumers do not object to online tracking if they understand that ads support the websites they visit. “You can’t say you don’t want targeted advertising but you do want free access to websites,” Castro said. “People like free content and they are willing to make some tradeoffs.”

Hmmm, how does he know that? I guess they might do market research, but in all the years I’ve been online no website has ever asked me if I want advertising to offset the cost of providing free content. My experience is that sites shove their ads down your throat whether you like it or not. Some are so bad that the advertising almost drowns out the content.

I’ve never been able to understand the advertising-supported model. I made a conscious decision to not have advertising in any form on any of my websites, with one exception – this site’s host offers a discount in return for a text link, “Linux Web Hosting by Arvixe” on each page. My reasoning was that it’s a small piece of text, and it relates directly to this site. (I did feel the need to add “Disclaimer: this link earns me a 10% discount on hosting costs!”) My belief is that if you’re going to offer free content it should really be be free. If you can’t afford to offer it for free you should charge for it. Of course, that would tend to drive visitors away, and no doubt that’s why they go for the advertising.

Others complain that turning off tracking threatens the internet “economic model”. Richard Frankel, president of the ad technology firm Rocket Fuel, said that even though “everyone claims to hate online advertising” there would be very little content on the Internet without it. Frankel said that imposing tracking restrictions would cut revenues and thereby “would stifle investigative reporting, dissuade open discussion and commentary, and muffle free speech.”

Rubbish, Mr Frankel. The Internet survived quite nicely before some people got greedy and decided they could make money out of it. As for stifling investigative reporting and muffling free speech… what a load of codswallop! I’d actually call it self-serving rhetoric.

There are plenty of sites that provide their content free of advertising. Advertisers waste their time trying to pitch to many Internet users, anyway, because a lot of us block advertising in our browsers. I have an excellent program that blocks all ads, so I don’t even see them, let alone click on them.

The hypocrisy of the statements by website owners and advertisers above is stunning. They would have more credibility if they had protested that the choice was taken away from users when the default do not track setting was “off”. If they carry out their threat to ignore do not track, then they deserve our contempt.

Twisted logic

Another story from the USA. I’m sure that nation is schizophrenic! Collectively, US citizens have contributed so much to the world… but they also seem to be full of contradictions.

SBS reports that “A Republican congressional candidate once known as ‘Joe the plumber’ is in hot water after implying in a campaign video that German gun controls contributed to deaths during the Holocaust.”

Samuel Wurzelbacher, who became known as Joe the Plumber during the 2008 Presidential campaign when he questioned Barack Obama at an event, is running as a Republican in Ohio for the House of Representatives. In the video he loads a shotgun and fires at pieces of fruit placed on wooden posts:

In his commentary he lists several instances of genocide, in each case stating that the victims, “unable to defend themselves, were exterminated.” He finishes by saying: “I love America.”

Not surprisingly there were protests. Joe later claimed on Twitter that he didn’t say that gun control caused genocide.

Well, he didn’t actually say that… but what else is the viewer to conclude? Loading and shooting a shotgun while giving a running commentary about historical genocides in which people were “unable to defend themselves”, together with the throwaway “I love America” as he holds his gun at the end, doesn’t leave much room for any other interpretation.

As with most other arguments from the gun lobby, this bizarre video is based on twisted logic. Americans just love to talk about their right to bear arms, and even Christian friends (who I might have expected to have a more balanced view) have defended to me their possession of weapons. Don’t they understand that they have a higher rate of murder using firearms than most other places in the world, and that the number of weapons in the community might just have something to do with that? A friend once told me that his father keeps a gun in case he needs to defend his home and family. When I commented that I’ve never felt the need to defend my home or family – simply because there’s never been a threat, which I’m sure is the case for the vast majority of families in Australia – his response was, “That must be nice.” I just don’t understand that argument. If they didn’t have so many guns there wouldn’t be so many shootings. Simple.

To get back to Joe the Plumber… how exactly does he think the people who were killed during the genocides he mentions were going to defend themselves? Pistols, or even shotguns, would have provided practically no defence against the Nazis, for example. Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium and France all buckled under the might of the Blitzkrieg, and it took more than five years and concerted efforts from east and west to claw back that ground and subdue Hitler. If whole nations – who were able to defend themselves – couldn’t stand against that force, how were individual pockets of Juden (and even smaller other groups, such as homosexuals and disabled people) to do so? Yes, six million Jewish people were killed, but that figure represents people gathered from all over Europe; it’s not as if the whole six million were in one place where they could have taken a stand. In fact, those who did resist were brutally punished.

I love Australia, imperfect as it is, but I don’t need to resort to cheap shots (if you’ll pardon the pun) to try to make a point. In my opinion Joe is defending the indefensible, and causing offence.