The Big Think

April 27, 2012


Filed under: Computing,Disclosure,Macintosh,Technology — jasony @ 12:13 pm

Living in Public: What Happens When You Throw Privacy Out the Window

Wherein a writer turns off all privacy filters online for 3 weeks and then analyzes what happens. The result? Well, the targeted ads are kind of nice when you’re shopping (they save you a Google search or two), but in the end, the writer goes back to the private life. Erin and I run Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and DNT+ on all our machines, and I take the extra step of only allowing Javascripts to execute on my laptop on an as-needed basis by using NoScript (extra security for banking, for instance). NoScript is a slightly less convenient way to surf in that it probably adds 30 seconds to my surfing every day, but I feel that the security and privacy is worth it. As for the others, they’re 100% transparent and actually speed up my surfing quite a big because they keep all those ads from even downloading… thus saving more bandwidth for what I actually requested in the first place.

I got into a (polite) disagreement on FB a few weeks ago about security and privacy versus the unspoken agreement that we all have to allow ourselves to be tracked as part of the social contract we make in exchange for a mostly free internet. I’m not convinced of this position at all— if you broadcast a tv or radio signal for free there’s nothing – no legal or moral argument– that prevents me from just listening to the content. That’s why God and Sony created a MUTE button after all. The person I was talking to about this didn’t see the connection but the fact that she does marketing for a living and thus depends on mailing lists and selective targeting to make their job more effective somewhat diminishes the argument in my mind.

Regardless, whenever I get on a completely unprotected (i.e. un adblocked, un-Do-Not-Tracked) machine I’m always appalled at all the flashy movement that’s taking place on the edges of the screen. Is this what everyone else puts up with every day? Seriously? It’s incredibly distracting and borderline anxiety-producing to have virtual sidewalk-hawkers constantly throwing stuff in your face trying to get you to punch the monkey or chase the mute button. Our surfing experience at home is fast, anonymous, quiet, and very non-distracting.

Do yourself a favor and give AdBlockPlus, Ghostery, and/or DoNotTrack+ a test drive for a week (and if you’re more technically minded, you can also try NoScript for blocking auto-running Javascript). You can install them all even, though I’d try them a few at a time just to make sure they play nice together (they do on all our machines). I’ve been running them all for well over a year (ABP goes back about five years) and seldom have any compatibility issues.

I think you’ll be amazed at how much better a “quiet” internet can be.


  1. Browsing with ABP is painful. It’s like trying to read with someone yelling in your ear.

    Comment by greg — April 27, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  2. correction: with -> without

    Comment by greg — April 27, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

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