Posts tagged ‘surveillance’


The next lot to be removed: Disqus

08.07.2022


 
Years ago, we removed the Facebook widgets from Lucire’s pages. Last year, there were Instagram’s and Twitter’s turns, after each of those platforms locked us out (though later we regained access, and in Twitter’s case we issued a veiled threat to their lawyers). Last night, it was Disqus’s turn as we removed the commenting gadget from the Lucire site.

Obviously, not having Disqus’s trackers was a big plus, and speeding up page-load times, but there were two other major considerations: readers seldom comment these days (fashion is less divisive than politics), and, we have no idea where the money for all the Disqus advertising is.

I seem to recall that we were nearing their US$100 payment threshold, and I had in mind that once we hit it, I’d take the ads off. They were pretty ugly anyway.

Logging in yesterday, I was surprised to see Disqus claimed we had earned a little over US$3 now, while there is no record of any payment to us in the last year. Disqus also has nowhere on its site detailing payments made. Nor has it any feedback forms for non-subscribers (though you could argue that we have “paid” them in terms of the space their ads took up on the Lucire website all these years). I posted a question on their forum—the best I could do there. Seventeen hours later, no answers.

Right after that, we removed the Disqus gadget on all of Lucire’s static (HTML) pages, and switched off the Disqus plug-in on the WordPress (news) part of the site for posts going forward. No pay, no stay. I also removed the default comment boxes for the last 100 stories, though I might still change my mind and reinstitute them. If I do, they’ll be native ones, not anything to do with a plug-in that slows things down.

All those years, adding plug-ins that were once far more innocent; as each one became part of the surveillance economy, the detriments began to outweigh the benefits. What’s interesting to me is, other than the Facebook widget, their removal came after they prompted us with something dodgy, not because we suddenly had concerns about their tracking. Till I started investigating, I didn’t even realize how bad the problem was, though with hindsight of course I should have known, given how I’ve banged on about Facebook and Google. Part of me thought wishfully about Twitter, and as for our Instagram gadget, it was being run through another service (which might have been worse since it meant another company knowing stuff), and back when Instagram was a thing, I thought our readers would enjoy it.

I’m not consistent as Autocade’s Disqus forms are still up (at least on desktop), but they don’t have the dreaded Disqus ads, and readers actually comment there. But I will have a look for a good alternative—and I won’t be touching any of those Disqus settings as I don’t wish for the ugly ads to be introduced.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, technology | No Comments »


Pirate sites, content mills and splogs exist because of Google

25.06.2022

In chatting to Alexandra Wolfe on Mastodon about the previous post, I had to draw a sombre conclusion. If it weren’t for Google, there’d be no incentive to do content mills or splogs.

I replied: ‘People really are that stupid, and itʼs all thanks to Google. Google doesn’t care about ad fraud, and anyone can be a Google publisher. So scammers set up fake sites, they have a script trawling Google News for stories, and they have another script that rewrites the stories, replacing words with synonyms. Google then pays them [for the ads they have on their sites]. Every now and then they get someone like me who tries to look after our crew.’

Google is the biggest ad tech operator out there. And over the years, I’ve seen them include splogs in Google News, which once was reserved only for legitimate news websites. And when we were hacked in 2013, the injected code looked to me like Google Adsense code. You could just see this develop in the 2000s with Blogger, and it’s only worsened.

Have a read of this piece, which quotes extensively from Bob Hoffman, and tell me that Google doesn’t know this is happening.

Google is part of the problem but as long as they keep getting rich off it, what motive do they have to change?

Speaking of ad fraud, Bob Hoffman’s last couple of newsletters mentions the Association of National Advertisers, who reported that ad fraud would cost advertisers $120 milliard this year. Conveniently enough for the industry, the ANA’s newsletter has since disappeared.
 
I still haven’t got into programmatic or header bidding or all the new buzzwords in online advertising, because I don’t understand them. And as it’s so murky, and there’s already so much fraud out there, why join in? Better buying simple ads directly with websites the old-fashioned way, since (again from Hoffman, in the link above):

Buying directly from quality publishers increases the productivity of display advertising by at least seven times and perhaps as much as 27 times compared to buying through a programmatic exchange.

Everyone wins.

And:

Ad tech drives money to the worst online publishers. Ad tech’s value proposition is this: we will find you the highest quality eyeballs at the cheapest possible locations. Ad tech can do this because your web browser and mobile platform are vulnerable to a problem called ‘data leakage’ where your activity on a trusted site is revealed to other companies … If you’re a quality online publisher, ad tech is stealing money from you by following your valuable audience to the crappiest website they can be found on, and serving them ads there instead of on your site.

In other words, Google et al have an incentive to give ads to sploggers, who are getting rich off the backs of legitimate, quality publishers. And as to the intermediaries, I give you Bob Hoffman again, here.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


The newer the Instagram, the buggier; and why no one should use Google Drive

24.11.2019

I’ve discovered that the newer the Instagram, the buggier it is. We’ve already seen that it can’t cope with video if you use Android 7 (a great way to reduce video bandwidth), and, earlier this year, filters do not work.
   I downgraded to version 59 till, last week, Instagram began deleting direct messages as its way to force me to upgrade. Neither versions 119 or 120 are stable, and are about as reliable as one of Boris Johnson’s marriages, although they have fixed the filter problem.


   Neither version has an alignment grid to aid you to adjust an image so it’s square, even though Instagram’s own documentation says it remains present. Presently, only Tyler Henry and other psychics can see the grid:


   Holly Jahangiri tells me that she has a stable Instagram on Android 9, and another good friend informs me that Instagram still gives him an editing grid on IOS, which reminds me of the débâcle of Boo.com many years ago: it only worked with the latest gear, at HQ, but never worked with older browsers, and certainly never transmitted in a timely fashion on the broadband of the early 2000s (and to heck with anyone unfortunate enough to still be on dial-up).
   I will keep downgrading till the grid is back for us non-clairvoyants, as it’s a feature I use, though I imagine I could run the risk of getting to one with a grid but inoperable filters. I doubt, however, that the video frame rate on Android 7 has been fixed, and since my earlier phone no longer charges (well, it does, but I have to drive to Johnsonville to the repair shop to do it), I’ve saved up oodles of video content.
   I also can’t tag locations in the new Instagrams. I can try, but the window showing me the locations doesn’t like keyboards. If you can’t enter the first word quickly enough, then you’re stuck in a situation where you have to keep tapping to get your keyboard back.
   It’s pretty unacceptable that a year-old phone is already incompatible with an app, but I guess you have to remember that no self-respecting geek working for Big Tech would have old gear.
   Speaking of Big Tech, I can’t work out why people still use Google Drive. I wasted 80 minutes last night trying to download around two gigabytes of images for work. All Google Drive does is say it’s ‘Zipping 1 file’, and after it’s ZIPped, that is all it does. There’s no prompt to download, no prompt to sign in, no automatic download, nada. You can click (if you catch it in time) the message that it’s ready (which I did on the third attempt), but that does nothing.

   I imagine this is Google’s way of saving on bandwidth and it is utterly successful for them as nothing is ever transmitted.
   The ZIPping process took probably 15–20 minutes a go.
   A comparable service like Wetransfer or Smash just, well, transfers, in less than the time Google Drive takes to archive a bunch of files.
   I also notice that Google Drive frequently only sends me a single image when the sender intends to send a whole bunch. There’s no age discrimination here: both an older friend and colleague and a young interviewee both had this happen in October when trying to send to me. It is, I suspect, all to do with an interface that hasn’t been tested, or is buggy.
   Basically: Google Drive does not work for either the sender or the recipient.
   This morning a friend and colleague tried to send me more files using this godawful service, and this time, Google Drive at least gave me a sign-on prompt. Even though I was already signed on. Not that that does anything: you never, ever log in. However, for once, the files he tried to send me actually did come down in the background.

   I should note that for these Google Drive exercises, I use a fresh browser (Opera) with no plug-ins or blocked cookies: this is the browser I use where I allow tracking and all the invasiveness Google likes to do to people. Now that it has begun grabbing Americans’ medical records in 21 states without patient consent in something called ‘Project Nightingale’ (thank you, Murdoch Press, for consistently having the guts to report on Google), we’re in a new era of intrusiveness. (I’m waiting for the time when most Americans won’t care that Google, a monopoly, has their medical records, after the initial outcry. No one seems to care about the surveillance US Big Tech does on us, which puts the KGB and Stasi to shame.)
   Looking at Google’s own help forums, it doesn’t matter what browser you use: even Chrome doesn’t work with Drive downloads in some cases.

   The lesson is: stop using Google Drive for file transfers, as Smash does a better job.
   Or, better yet, stop using Google. Get a Google-free phone, maybe even one from Huawei.

Meanwhile, I see WordPress’s Jetpack plug-in did this to my blog today without any intervention from me. I imagine it did an automatic update, which it was not set to do.

   There’s untested software all over the place, ignoring your settings because it thinks it knows better. News flash, folks, your programs don’t know better.
   A great way for one tech company to get rid of criticisms of another tech company for a few hours, I guess, harming its ranking in the process. Google itself has done it before.
   Farewell, Jetpack. Other than the stats and the phone-friendly skin, I never needed you. I’m sure there are alternatives that don’t wipe out my entire blog.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


In line with what I discovered in 2011: Google tracks your location even after opting out

16.08.2018

The Associated Press had an exclusive this week: Google does not obey your opt-out preferences.
   I could have told you that in 2011. Oh wait, I did. And I pointed out other instances where Google ignored your request to pause your history, continuing to track you either through its main site or its properties such as YouTube.
   This latest story related to Google tracking people’s movements on their Android phones.
   The AP found that Google lies: what it claims Location History does on its website is not what it actually does.
   In 2011, I proved that Google lied about its Ads Preferences Manager (no, it doesn’t use apostrophes): it said one thing on its website and did another. In 2014 and 2015 I showed Google lied about what it would do with your search histories.
   Instagram does that these days with its advertising preferences, saying you can control them via Facebook when, in fact, it stores another set altogether which you have no control over. If I get time I’ll post my proof. It makes you wonder if the same dishonest programmers are running things, or whether it’s part of Big Tech’s culture to lie.
   This is nothing new: they all lie, especially about unwanted surveillance, and have been doing so for a long time. It’s just that mainstream media are finally waking up to it.

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Posted in internet, media, technology, USA | No Comments »