Tag Archives: Data Miners

DoNotTrackPlus Gives The Boot To Nosy Internet Trackers

imageSeveral weeks back, I received an invitation from CNET to join a dating website designed especially for those that are 50 years old – or more. OK, it wasn’t exactly an invitation  – it was, in fact, an ad inserted into one of my subscribed  CNET newsletters.

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So what – no big deal you may be thinking. But from my perspective, it is a big deal – here’s why.

In the years that I’ve been Internet connected – 18 years or more – I’ve never referred to, or listed, my actual age (other than to make the point, from time to time, that I’ve been at the computing game for a very long time). Nor, have I ever referred to my marital status (other than in a humorous way in re-commenting on a reader’s initial comment – perhaps).

As it turns out – I am over 50, and I am a bachelor. So, in reality, CNET targeted me precisely. The question is – how did CNET know to target me so effectively and efficiently?

A partial answer is – CNET spies. The fact that CNET spies on site visitors is hardly news. Nor is it news, that the majority of commercial websites engage in spying on site visitors.

SPYING – such a loaded word. Instead of “spying”, let me use a series of descriptors handily thrown around by those engaged in spying on my privacy.

Predictive analytics, customer profiling, customer segmentation, predictive modeling, lifestyle clustering……. all done for my own benefit, of course (according to the intruders). There, now I feel better about being profiled, segmented, and clustered. Not!

I’m certainly not a Luddite and, I understand the cost/benefit associated with using the Internet. But, the rules (such as they were) have changed dramatically in the last year or two. The Data Miner is now on the scene, and gobbling up personal information at a prodigious rate.

Webopedia definition – The two most common forms of data miners are data mining programs that an organization uses to analyze its own data to look for significant patterns, and spyware programs that are uploaded to a user’s computer to monitor the user’s activity and send the data back to the organization, typically so that the organization can send the user targeted advertising.

In a real sense then, it isn’t so much that CNET is aware that I’m 50 plus, or that I’m single that is at issue – since CNET could not/did not develop the specific information I referred to earlier. Instead, this information was undoubtedly culled by any one, or more, of the data miners that have infected the Internet and, using “predictive modeling” rolled out a “best guess” that I’m in my fifties and single.

And that makes me feel not only “profiled, segmented, and clustered” but, as if I’ve been “diced and sliced”. I have, in essence, become a product. A product, I’m afraid, that’s closing in on its “best before date”.    Smile

A product that LiveIntent, working on behalf of CNET, targeted based on (according to the company’s site), gender, age, geo, browser, and time of day. I should point out, that according to LiveIntent’s promotional material, the foregoing “is just the tip of the iceberg”. Of that, I have no doubt.

The other side of the coin is – and there is another side of the coin – Internet users (by and large), have been trained to accept a tradeoff in order to get access to “free” information and services. In return – they buy into the condition that each commercial site they visit has the right to spy and build a profile on their browsing habits – the type of sites they visit and revisit, time spent on sites, their shopping and spending habits, their political views, their marital status (it appears), and much more. Some tradeoff!

In the long term, the personal information gathered will be sold, bartered and traded (to bypass the disclaimer – “we will not sell your information”), so that it can be used in multiple ways that generate profit. And, that’s the upside. If there’s one thing the Internet has taught us, it’s – if information can be abused – it will be abused.

If you’re like me, and you staunchly oppose the collection of your personal information, then you’re likely aware of any number of Browser tools which claim to shutout nosy data miners. In fact, I’ve reviewed many of these tools here.

One free tool which I haven’t reviewed until now (although, I wish I had earlier) is DoNotTrackPlus – a free Browser add-on from Abine (the online privacy company).

In the several weeks I’ve been running with DoNotTrackPlus, I’ve found that this add-on lives up to it’s reputation for excellence.

The following screen captures emphasize just how pervasive online tracking has become. And, more importantly, how DoNotTrackPlus puts the boots to these invasive parasitic data miners.

A selected result, from earlier today, while reading my local newspaper online.

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Cumulative results since installing this add-on. You’ll note, the rather staggering tracking company total.

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Abine’s Internet privacy view:

There is a huge difference between sharing personal information and having it taken. That’s why we’ve created Internet tools and services for those who want a say in how and when their information is used. And since we think exercising your right to online privacy should be easy, our solutions allow regular people just like you to regain and maintain control over their personal information – while continuing to enjoy all the wonderful things the web has to offer.

If you find yourself agreeing with this concept – and, you want a say in how and when your privileged information is used – take DoNotTrackPlus for a test drive. I suspect that you’ll be reluctant, in future, to surf the Internet without DoNotTrackPlus in place.

Fast facts:

Free tool that puts you back in control of your information.

Stops more than 600 trackers.

When you visit a website DoNotTrackPlus blocks tracking technologies from:

· Seeing and collecting your web activity such as what sites you visit and what you view.

· Putting cookies on your machine that would continue to store information about your Internet browsing.

· Displaying ads with tracking capability, including the annoying ads that seem to follow you everywhere you go.

Compatible with Mac or PC for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

Automatically updates to catch new trackers.

Download at the developer’s site: Abine

Click on the graphic below to view a video of DoNotTrackPlus in action.

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Additional information is available on the company’s FAQ site.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Online Privacy, Safari

Free Breadcrumbs Beta – Slaps Down Data Miners

imageIt’s illusionary to believe that information and services on the Internet are free – there’s a strict tradeoff involved. Here’s the deal:

You get access to “free” information and services, and in return – you buy into the condition that each site you visit has the right to spy on you, and build a profile on your browsing habits – the type of sites you visit and revisit, time spent on sites, your shopping and spending habits, your political views, your marital status, and much more.

For example, when I read my local newspaper, ten behavior trackers come into play. The personal data mined by these trackers will be analyzed, on the fly, with the objective being to target me with highly specific advertising – based on my current and previous Internet behavior.

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That’s the immediate outcome. But long term, the personal information gathered will be sold, bartered and traded (to bypass the disclaimer – “we will not sell your information”), so that it can be used in multiple ways that generate profit.

And, that’s the upside. If there’s one thing the Internet has taught us, it’s – if information can be abused – it will be abused.

Companies that defend this intrusion into my privacy love to throw around a ton of sexy words – predictive analytics, customer profiling, customer segmentation, predictive modeling, lifestyle clustering – that they’ve managed to infuse into an activity that is ethically questionable. Painted allusions, all.

Time Magazine’s Joel Stein’s recent article – Data Mining: How Companies Now Know Everything About You is an eye opener, and definitely worth a read.

A couple of outtakes:

“Three hours after I gave my name and e-mail address to Michael Fertik, the CEO of Reputation.com, he called me back and read my Social Security number to me. “We had it a couple of hours ago,” he said. “I was just too busy to call.”

“Right after I e-mailed a friend in Texas that I might be coming to town, a suggestion for a restaurant in Houston popped up as a one-line all-text ad above my Gmail inbox.”

There are limited methods that can be employed to protect privacy on the Internet – some more effective than others. I recently came across a beta application that may well be a “better” solution. Breadcrumbs Privacy Software is based on one guiding principal – disseminating disinformation.

According to the developer – “Breadcrumbs bogus Identity feature automatically creates a Bogus Identity for you, thus preventing trackers from analyzing your real browsing information, leaving them with useless data.”

I’m in the process of testing Breadcrumbs so this review is very preliminary but, it’s worth bringing to your attention, nevertheless.

Installation is simple and the application settings are limited, but effective. Click on the graphic to expand to original.

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The dashboard will give you the opportunity to “watch the watchers” and block selectively. Click on the graphic to expand to original.

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The most interesting feature of Breadcrumbs is the promise that it will build a “‘bogus identity” which will mislead watchers. After running the application for several days, I have yet to see any evidence of this bogus identity.

The developer spoke to this issue in a follow up email –

“In order for the feature to work it first needs to “learn the user” then it will synthesize what bogus data should be added in order to mask your real data and identity (so give it a few more hours/days). All of the learning process is encrypted and is done on the client-side, hence no one can see or use it but the software (and in the future you).”

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Fast facts:

Create your bogus identity – Breadcrumbs bogus Identity feature automatically creates a Bogus Identity for you, thus preventing trackers from analyzing your real browsing information, leaving them with useless data.

The Do Not Track Me stamp – Once enabled, the Do Not Track Me stamp identifies you as a Breadcrumbs Protected User. It tells trackers that you do not wish to be tracked, and also lets them know that they will be fooled by your Bogus Identity in case they decide to track you anyway.

Watchers Analytics – Breadcrumbs Watchers Analytics feature enables you to see who is watching you online. It’s an easy way to block ads and prevent trackers from tracking you across the Internet.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista and 7. (32-bit versions only) Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 or above. (Breadcrumbs installer will alert you in case .NET Framework installation is needed)

Supported Web Browsers: Internet Explorer 7 or above. (including IE9). Firefox 3.6 or above. (including FF4). Google Chrome.

Download at: Developer’s site (Breadcrumb Solutions)

Breadcrumbs Usage and Demo: Video 2:26

I often hear from people who feel that since the information being mined is anonymous, no real invasion of privacy is taking place. While that may have been the case previously, that’s not the case currently.

Consider readingPrivacy: reidentification a growing risk.

I think this application is heading in the right direction. If Data Miners won’t play by the rules, or continue to be ethically challenge, then we need to consider the benefits of providing them we information that is essentially worthless. This application may offer a solution in that direction.

Note: The developer has advised me, that a new beta version with bug fixes and some improvements, will be released in the next few weeks.

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Filed under Anonymous Surfing, Beta Software, downloads, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Privacy, Software, Surveillance, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools