Your Privacy And The Free Internet

facebook-logoThis started as a comment on Facebook. I was asked about the new Facebook messenger. It’s been installed twice on my phone, uninstalled once, probably coming out again. Too invasive. Tentacles… Too… Tight…

We live in amazing times. The power of the world is at our fingertips. You have access to more information from more sources than any human before you. And the price of admission is cheap.

Google has never sent you a bill. Facebook doesn’t charge. Neither do Twitter, Instagram or Reddit.

All these companies and many more make their living selling access to you. The ads you see online are usually targeted. The better they define you, the more they charge.

If you aren’t paying, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. That is more true today than ever.

All these companies store vast tidbits of your life, connecting things you might not see as important. Using Boolean algebra (and other techniques too dweeby for me) data mining companies find markers that link similar persons. No piece is too small. Everything is evaluated. The details of your life have been graded and sorted. You have been objectified.

Google and others know your real friends, your passwords, the pet names spouses call each other, what you buy and where, even your taste in porn. Their computers have no trouble identifying my face in photos.

We all spend the day dropping breadcrumbs.

The power of these systems is you’re never an individual to them–but is that good for you? Don’t you see yourself as individual? We are already pushed into cubbyholes without a say in the process.

What do you or don’t you get in life because their incorrect classification is within an anticipated margin of error! A job? Better loan rate? Who knows?

Data miners live with little regulation. Their power is too strong to not politely police. At the very least we should be able to check what they know about us, the inferences drawn and to whom our data’s been sold.

Right now we’re entitled to nothing.

My Go To Websites

There are a half dozen websites I visit every day–often multiple times a day.

Huffington-Post-Logo1Huffington Post– My go-to news source. I’m not proud to say that.

HuffPo represents so much that’s wrong with journalism. There are click bait headlines and lots of stories based on other people’s reporting (it’s gotten better with time). Often HuffPo’s treatment of a story instigates me to go elsewhere for details.

The far left column is opinion from bloggers and celebs. I never click there.

The center column is curated&#185 news. Pretty decent lineup. Huffington now has pretty good writing, plus wire service and affiliate access.

The right column is tabloid. There is at least one salacious link to some young hottie “rocking her bikini.” I click those every time. Mission accomplished, Arianna.

Huffington Post has attempted to create an online video channel with live broadcasts through the day. I’ve gone and been quickly bored. Now the main site reuses clips of the broadcasts always attached to buzzfeedish teases.

When I click a HuffPo link and its one of their in-house videos I click away and feel duped! It really ticks me off.

Editorially, HuffPo is left-of-center.

reddit-logoReddit— A sparse website, Reddit isn’t much more than page-after-page of links. Its power is in customization. Reddit is individually configured. My Reddit favors geeky stories connected to my interests.

Reddit uses a system of voting to promote or ditch stories. It seems effective. I’ve seen comments saying the system gets gamed. Not to me.

The front page is constantly turning over. I like that.

ycombinator-logoHacker News— Compared to Hacker News, Reddit looks like Tiger Beat!

This is a current Hacker News headline:

“TurboFan” – Experimental new optimizing compiler for Google’s V8 JS engine (

Hacker News is owned by Y Combinator.

Y Combinator provides seed funding for startups. Seed funding is the earliest stage of venture funding. It pays your expenses while you’re getting started.

There are many people much nerdier than I on this site. Lots of talk of startups and failures.

MediaiteMediaite— This is from Dan Abrams.

From TV green rooms to the corridors of the senate to the latest hashtag revolt, is a trusted source on the intersection of politics and media across the political spectrum.

There’s plenty from CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CNBC and the others to give Mediaite fresh fodder, though there’s not as much updating on the weekend.

Every night Mediaite produces its own copy of Jon Stewart’s first block bit. I see it nearly three hours before I legitimately see Stewart! Why does Comedy Central allow that?

header-12-4-11-01ROMENESKO— This is Jim Romenesko’s blog. A newsie from St. Paul he’s been gossipping journalism for 15 years. It’s inside baseball for sure, but always entertaining and often illuminating.

Most of Romenesko’s daily news comes in the morning. This is another site that gets very quiet on weekends.

Times change. My most read sites today are different from just a few years ago. Gone (to me) are Slashdot, Digg, Drudge and a few others. Awful Announcing, Mashable and Boy Genius Report are on the rise.

I’d like to know your favorites, but please, ONLY ONE PER COMMENT. The automated spam detection software goes after multiple links in comments. Too many and your comment will never see the light of day. Sorry.

&#185 – When did ‘curated’ actually become a word? It works here, but this is a word I never heard until four or five years ago.

It Will Be Cold. The World Will Not End.


Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post

Drudge and Huffington have the same lead. This can’t be good. In breathless prose they build the tension. “Coldest Game in History?” asks Drudge. The cold air will “SMASH RECORDS,” yells HuffPo.

It’s 2014. We have advanced warning. We have central heat. The vast majority of us have appropriate clothes. And, we have shelter for those who need it.

The cold in the Eastern half of the country will be a pain. Few will find it fun. But, with a little preparation, even the folks at Lambeau Field will make it through none the worse.

Respect the cold. You’ll be fine.


Flame Out At

Digg was hurting. Its employees were hurting. The bad news didn’t end there. Yesterday a bombshell exploded. In earlier time it would have immediately made the front page of Digg itself!

If you’re outside the techie world this might be a story you haven’t heard yet, but it’s huge. It concerns Digg a site that allows users to submit links to stories. How the rest of the community values those links decides whether they receive more or less prominence on Digg’s front and succeeding pages.

A front page hit on Digg (as had previously been the case with could bring a website to its knees under a tsunami of traffic!

Digg was great for finding hidden gems and then giving them wide play. It was one of my first stops every morning then revisited as the day went on.

Digg grew with such ferocity Business Week featured a front page article on the site and its founder Kevin Rose. They claimed Rose’s stake in Digg was worth $60,000,000. Not bad for a site started 18 months earlier with an idea and a few hundred dollars.

As with most websites Digg has evolved over time. The Business Week article came around version 3.0. Recently Digg has gone to version 4.0 and that’s when the wheels began to fall off the bus!

Along with a new look came a new lineup of stories on the front page. Major websites were getting more prominence pushing the smaller more eclectic sites Digg was known for spotlighting aside. Stories were getting play that would have never been dug by diggers before. Rumors began to fly Digg’s traffic was rapidly dying as users became disaffected.

Yesterday Digg slashed its staff. Here’s how Information Week reported it.

Digg gave pink slips to 25 of its 67 employees, reducing its workforce to 42 people, said former Amazon executive Matt Williams, who joined Digg as CEO about six weeks ago, in a letter to staff.

“We must significantly cut our expenses to achieve profitability in 2011. We’ve considered all of the possible options for reduction, from salaries to fixed costs,” he said. “It’s been an incredibly tough decision. I wish it weren’t necessary. However, I know it’s the right choice for Digg’s future success as a business.”

Digg was hurting. Its employees were hurting. The bad news didn’t end there. Yesterday a bombshell exploded. It was a story that in earlier times would have immediately made the front page of Digg itself!

Did Digg game its own system to benefit publisher partners?

The source was a blog which laid out in meticulous detail how Digg first allowed large sites to submit their own links (instead of waiting for them to be submitted by users) then created automated dummy users to “dig” the stories onto the front page. The implication was money was changing hands to buy exposure on Digg.

The tech community is incensed and Digg which held an exalted place in that community is now reviled. Some are predicting the site will be unable to weather this storm of bad publicity. I have never seen opinion change this radically this quickly.

It’s rumored Kevin Rose turned down numerous earlier offers to sell Digg for eight figure amounts. Oops.

What’s Huffington Doing To Journalism?

Since Huffington added virtually nothing to this story their original headline/link should have gone directly to the Sun-Times. Instead they “linkjacked.”

I visit Huffington Post on a regular basis, but I am more-and-more convinced the site is bad for journalism. The bigger it gets the worse it is. Though some of HuffPo’s content is their own much is not. In essence Huffington acts like a neighbor running his house off your electric meter. Whatever they get is at the expense of their host!

First an Internet fact of life. Because of the power of Google and other search engines a site’s importance (measured by page rank and other factors) is like money in the bank. Google drives traffic (even on this little blog). If Huffington and I post the same content word-for-word search engines are much more likely to point to Huffington because it is a more linked to and cited source.

In some cases that’s good, but Huffington’s online reputation is often built on using/taking content from those they compete with.

A case in point is a headline from Huffington yesterday, “After Meeting With Execs, Union Leaders Still Opposed to Wal-Mart.” I have strong opinions on Wal-Mart. I am a union member. I clicked the link.

Huffington’s content consisted of one sentence (a quote I think) and a link to the company that paid employees to actually report the story, the Chicago Sun-Times. Huffington’s entry is loaded with keywords to enhance this story in the eyes of search engines. They’re listed following “Read More:.”

Since Huffington added virtually nothing to this story their original headline/link should have gone directly to the Sun-Times. Instead they “linkjacked.” Huffington gets one more page view and, in some cases, probably satisfies the reader’s curiosity with their single sentence therefore cutting the Sun-Times out entirely.

Is this illegal? Probably not. Is this unethical? I don’t know, but it is very troubling because it’s possible Huffington and others like it will suck the Sun-Times of this world dry without replacing their reporting.

Other sites are similar, but I think Huffington’s model is a step beyond… a step worse than Google News or even Drudge.