Monday, March 26, 2012

A reply to Tom Henderson

The following is a response to a discussion started in a comment thread on On The Media's website, under a segment that aired this week called "Divorcing Google," featuring an interview by Bob Garfield of someone named Tom Henderson.

It probably won't make much sense without first listening to the segment and reading the earlier comments. I posted it here only because both its length and the number of links included would have run afoul of OTM's comment policy.


@Tom Henderson: Whenever someone in an online forum retorts by telling me to "do the homework," I take it as a clear sign that he's made up his mind about something, has been looking exclusively for data to support his hypothesis, and has concluded that the only reason others don't agree with him is they aren't doing their "research" with the same set of confirmation biases.

I did read your article, by the way. Sorry, but I don't think it adds anything to the impression that you created in this interview. I'll acknowledge that you do at least mention a few other ways you are being tracked (e.g., Disqus, Angry Birds, your cell phone, and telcos in general), but generally, the article only adds to my sense that you've made up your mind that Google=TheOneTrueEvil, while ignoring the myriad other ways private companies and governments are doing the same exact things you're so worried about from one particular company.

Here's an example of your inconsistency. From paragraph three of your article:

My primary motivation is that I don't believe Google's privacy protection claims. But you should know I cannot know the truth of its claims; I simply don't trust them. I was raised to be skeptical.

Compare that to what you said in your comment on this page: you place your trust in Facebook and Linkedin because, you claim, you've read their EULAs. I ask, why should you trust them? Why aren't you equally skeptical of them, if that's how you were raised? And tell me: do you go back and read the EULAs every time they're changed? (e.g., e.g., e.g.)

As to "read[ing] the organization's legal history," Google Duck Duck Go three words: facebook + sued + privacy. 'Nuff said.

You're entitled to your concerns about privacy, and you're even entitled to have irrational feelings about one company compared to others. But you're wrong to suggest that Facebook, Linkedin, and many other outfits aren't just as thirsty for every personalized nugget they can vacuum up and aren't just as eager to tie all of those nuggets together. One obvious illustration: consider the effort Google has put forth trying to get in on social networking.

Furthermore, your use of Ghostery ought to have clued you in about how extensively you're being tracked across the web, in many cases by companies whose names are, I'd wager, unfamiliar to the overwhelming majority of OTM listeners.

For example, anyone who looked your article on ITworld encountered enough trackers on that one page to overflow Ghostery; a similar add-on, Do Not Track Plus, puts the tracker count at nineteen.

Another? Anyone reading the comments on the "Divorcing Google" show page on OTM encounters seven trackers, according to both Ghostery and DNT+.

One more? Visitors to your own site,, are being tracked by three or four entities, depending on who's counting. Including, hilariously, Google+ and Google Analytics.

You're also sorely mistaken if you think the gathering of information about you, your behavior, and your tastes ends when you get off the Internet. Think about what sort of profile could be stitched together from tracking your credit card purchases, for example. Or have a look at Charles Duhigg's 16 February 2012 article in the NYT, "How Companies Learn Your Secrets."

Two other points: I think your credibility is undermined by claiming titles such as "managing director" and "principal researcher" at your company, given that ExtremeLabs, Inc. appears to have one (1) other employee. Or appears to have had, if we want to be proper about our verb tenses. I'm also a little dubious about the "Inc." If the Indiana Secretary of State is to be believed, "This business entity is not eligible to receive a Certificate of Existence or Authorization," and has not been since 2004.

Finally, I had to laugh, in light of your huffing about privacy, when I came across "Dodging responsibilities: Why public email needs police," by Tom Henderson. Quite the 180 there. (Or maybe you're laboring under the misapprehension that privacy lines should or should not be crossed according solely to your own assessments of the activities in question. But let's hope not.)

If you were being presented as just some guy who posts on a blog called "Rantopolis," I wouldn't have objected to you or this OTM segment. But you're being presented, by yourself and by OTM, as some sort of expert on privacy issues, and as far as I can tell, you're not. It is therefore irresponsible, if not downright dishonest, of you to strike the pose that you do, and it was irresponsible of OTM to fall for it.

1 comment:

Tom Henderson said...

'm sooooo glad you've done the homework. Yet you're no more enlightened than you were before.

Happy to see you've found my dispute with the Indiana Secretary of State office. Would you talk to them for me, please? I'm not one for shoveling up dirt on you, so don't worry.

You believe me to be hysterical regarding Google, but I'm of the opposite stance, actually, and quite pragmatic if orthodox in my choice to dump Google. I don't trust Facebook, Linked-in, etc. I'm well aware of the fact that ITWorld has so many scripts on its page that it's a wonder you can get away alive. I disabled the scripts on my own site; I'd forgotten they were there. You can surf safely there if you'd like now. I'm frankly aghast at how Ghostery has turned up so many trackers. I wonder if Ghostery isn't ratting out my browser history, but I haven't had time to check as of yet.

The Google-Free life has been fun. There's still an account for me there, but I've not used it in a while, except to say goodbye to friends and circles of friends. Getting rid of Android has been tougher. It's a work in progress. I've been using a G1 phone to pilot how to successfully rid myself of Android, but I'm tempted just to go to an Ubuntu phone once its infrastructure is finished. I saw a Mozilla phone in early stages, too. Might work.

As for the rest of who I am, I am indeed the managing director, and the principal researcher, and sometimes the only employee of ExtremeLabs, Inc. Yes, I'm also the president, the title that the IRS wants. On good days, there are several of us, but today, it's just me. Does that bother you somehow? Did you expect me to be a gargantuan corporation in an office building with big glass windows? I try hard to keep my phone private, so as not to be interrupted by PR people. My address is largely secret so as to avoid people breaking in.

But these factoids are probably irrelevant to you. The homework was to understand the EULAs and what they represent. I can control Facebook to an extent. They might breach that control, but I'm unalarmed by this; I believe that Google's control over those users that access Google's resources is huge-- larger than that of Facebook. On Linked-in, all the information of mine is public knowledge and it's used as a business network for my purposes, not that my use is any of your business, just as I care not one whit what you use applications for-- it's your business.

Has your need for comeuppance been assuaged? Will you need some more? Seems that politicly we're largely aligned by the description of other protagonisms you list on your blog.