Social media, cyber privacy and blog comments

investigation

Over the last year or so I have disabled the comments feature on my blogs due to my perception that generally comments do not add very much additional value to the original post and the extra work it requires to weed out spam and junk comments.

During this same time there has been increasing alarm across the internet regarding the snooping into user’s ‘digital fingerprints’, both by governments (particularly the United States NSA and affiliates) and by commercial interests who are targeting advertising and ‘user experience’ at us based on our previous browsing histories. I particularly notice the targeted advertising in the different advertising that I encounter at work compared to what I see at home because I use different browsers, operating systems and visit different websites in these two contexts.

Of concern to me is the use of social media profiles to track whatever websites I visit and the goal of those companies to ‘monetize’ me as a user. As the axiom goes: “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”. I actually have hardly any money so these companies possibly pay more out in efforts to monetize me than I ever spend, but that’s beside the point. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but if I want to buy something I prefer to seek out information about my target purchase myself then take time to consider my options before choosing what or whether to buy.

Web advertisers have a very different take. They go to extraordinary lengths to steer internet users towards handing over their credit card details, having no qualms about manipulating us to that end. You may protest that often all they really want is for you to tweet a link or like something on facebook or give your email address. Unfortunately, while each of those actions may seem trivial, they give the tracking companies ever increasing leverage to present information in front of your eyes specifically tailored to cause you to click and browse ever closer to some looming button enticing you to ‘buy now and all your problems will be solved’.

I hate advertising. If something is truly good and does what it is designed to do well that product will become well known even without advertising. When I am seeking information or inspiration I’m happy to dig for it. Maybe that makes me weird.

So, given my own irritation at governments for using electronic communication tools to snoop on innocent citizens and huge companies for attempting to assign each of us a digital profile, I have chosen to kill off my Twitter and Facebook accounts. This does mean sacrificing potential avenues to notify people of any new blog posts I write and whatever stupid cat videos I’ve seen. More importantly, it cuts off any chance of interacting with the few who read my blog.

Therefore, I am activating the comments on this website for new posts. This is my digital soapbox, it may evolve into a stand-in for social media services with the advantage that I have complete control of what is posted and published. Feel free to comment, just keep it nice and family friendly (all comments are moderated).

On a related note, which you may or may not care about, I do not use any tracking codes or affiliate links (or, heaven forbid, advertising!) on this blog. What that means in plain english is that there are no hidden bits of computer code such as scripts or cookies that tell me, or anyone else, that you have visited the site. To my thinking these are yet another small betrayal of trust by webmasters in an attempt to gather information on whether each click on the site is from a new visitor or someone who has been here before, how long you spend on each page before moving on, the type of web browser and various other nuggets of data.

In truth, I can get some of that data directly from the server software powering the site; the server has to know where in the world you are in order to send the page information to your browser. It has to know what browser is being used so it can send that information coded in the appropriate manner for the browser to interpret. The server also knows what you click on so it can feed the linked page to your browser. That is more statistics than I care about frankly, and I hardly ever bother to look at it, so have no need to install Google analytics or any other tracking code. The same consideration to your right to privacy is why there are no social media ‘share’ buttons here. If you want to share a post just copy and paste the page address – easy!

A Few Relevant Links:

Migrating

I first began blogging in November 2009, which is also when I joined Facebook. Since then I’ve written many blog posts, status updates and tweets. At least half a dozen domain names have been registered by me with great ideas of stuff I’d like to publish but time and motivation have failed to follow through.

As my own interests, goals and motivation for online writing has morphed over these four years and as social media has evolved into a gigantic advertising machine, it seems time to transition from a niche blog with a strong focus on a single (major) aspect of my life to a more general personal blog that can serve as my online hub.

To some this may be viewed as a backwards step – there are millions of largely un-read personal blogs out there so why add to the mass? My defence: “Facebook made me do it!”

You see, I hate advertising. It really pisses me off, especially when it is intrusive and poorly done, as is most online advertising. Over the last 12 months the big social media sites have been steadily increasing the proportion of advertisements being inserted into timelines. So have the ‘news’ websites, using trivial entertainment to attract pageviews to generate advertising revenue. Finally I am grumpy enough to make a move.

My personal view is that the ‘free-but-supported-by-advertising’ model deserves to die a miserable death. I realise I am in the minority but feel strongly enough about this to not only reduce my use of Facebook and Twitter but also to pay for website hosting on the Squarespace platform in preference to using WordPress.com in order to stop supporting an advertising based business model.