Into the Valley of the Shadow of Google

03/16/2012 § Leave a comment

Unless you hang under a rock you’ve no doubt noticed the higher volume of chatter regarding privacy, and Google. The deal you make with Google is in return for more relavant hits that line up with your search terms Google promises to track your use of the web and any personal information it can glean from it including your spending habits, lifestyle, anything about you it deems marketable.

Although consciousnessly aware of this faustian bargain I implicately have made with the search giant, I’ve gone ahead and used Google to find the information I needed. It was (and probably still is) the best way to find anything on the net. I’m starting to be more and more aware of the eyes over my shoulder however and as a consequence I’ve started using duckduckgo more and more.

One of the things that has changed in the world of marketing with the tech age has been an dramatic access to a new wealth of tools for analyzing user habits. These unabtrusive technolgies have really put the advertiser in the driver’s seat without putting an actual physical poll taker anywhere near the subject. I put Google first and formost on top of this cable of marketing spys however; it still stands behind its philosphy although I think there’s a real perception problem out among the unwashed masses. I feel for a company like Google in some ways, its difficult to do something well without getting back some measure of the effect your methods are having your target. I will not however exchange understanding for acceptance. There are alternative methods for gathering the data a marketer needs to understand and improve the process. No, I’m not going to research and list the alternatives, I’m not a marketer, and I don’t do that kind of work. I just know they exist.

With Google and its war chest its plainly obvious that if you want to be a successful online marketer it would pay to create the tools Google wants. If you’re like me and not interested in participating in helping the cabal swap your own personal information with each other like a used car though, there are some things you can do to make life much more difficult for them.

Be sure to install the tools listed here (scroll to the bottom of the page.) Most have plugins for the more popular browsers.

I particularly like Ghostery, its highly effective agianst javascripts and can block the entire domain they are served from. For main domain hosted scripts you’ll need to rely on NoScript. Ghostery also provides links on the domains it blocks that lead to information in the outfit whose script its blocking. Here’s some of the more egregious offenders by domain:

  • scorecardresearch.com – Full Circle Studies is a market research company that studies Internet trends and behavior. They work in conjunction with distributors and content providers to develop an anonymous, census-level analysis of Internet usage. Using data gleaned from its content provider partnerships Full Circle Studies constructs a census type view of visits to that website, which it uses to develop an understanding of broader Internet usage patterns.
  • effectivemeasure.net – Effective Measure is a web analytics company that provides data about visitors to a website. Their patent-pending Digital Helix technology addresses cookie deletion issues and unique visitor audience calculations. This allows advertisers and publishers to define and measure audience numbers accurately without duplication, and track data points over a specific time period.
  • pro-market.net – Datonics (formerly Almondnet) is an aggregator and distributor proprietary behavioral purchase intent, life-stage and demographic data. Datonics’ provides custom keyword-based segments to facilitate the delivery ads to online consumers.
  • media6degrees.com – Media6Degrees is a socially targeted advertising company. Powered by social media, they customize audience segments for advertisers, through social graph data gathered across social media platforms. Media6Degrees provides marketers with ad targeted delivery inside and outside of social media sites.
  • bkrtx.com – BlueKai operates an auction based, online data exchange. Unlike ad networks, BlueKai does not sell ads or impressions but provides on-demand data to networks, ad exchanges, agencies, creative optimizers, demand and sell-side platforms. Marketers and networks utilize BlueKai’s aggregate shopping and research data to improve ad targeting, while publishers can earn revenue as intent data providers. BlueKai partners with data solution companies including datalogix, TARGUSinfo, Experian, Bizo, Nielsen, Acxiom, and Polk to aggregate a large source of high performance intent data.
  • exelator.com – eXelate Media provides a marketplace for publishers to sell their anonymous data to advertisers for ad targeting. Aggregate data is sold to advertisers through its exchange and affiliate partnerships with ad networks and publishers.
  • cpxintereactive.com – CPX Interactive is a global marketing company. They provide advertisers and publishers reach, content and premium networks. They ensure advertiser success while monetizing 100 percent of publisher premium to remnant inventory. (What does that even MEAN???)

All of these services are delivered by external javascripts which connect and deliver usage metrics to the domains they originate from. With what I consider to be minor variances they all swap your personal information around like merchants at an oasis bazaar. While I was pondering how Ghostery worked I thought how nice it would be to simply put a list of domains I didn’t feel like snooping around my browsing in something that would block them. Well, that’s easily accompilished. Linux has a host of firewalls, I think ipchains is installed by default on many distros. But for this task a firewall configuration is a little bit overkill. I was thinking of something a little less overbearing to give me control of the domains that get connected with the requests I send out to search engines. So while looking at my systems tools I noticed MintNanny. Although not to be confused with Net Nanny, which is similar but a pay service, MintNanny can be used to peform the exact function I was looking for. And its fantastically easy to use. I’ve configured it to block this list of domains.

I probably sound like I’m wearing a tinfoil hat. But as an exercise fire up wireshark some time and take a look at the information flowing between you and google, or any other web service. The sheer amount of chatter is astounding. So if this growing concern is eating at you, one option is to simply stop them in their tracks.

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