Updating Again Soon

I realized it’s been two years since I updated this blog, but with the recent events regarding data, privacy, and social media, I feel it’s important to dust this place off and start writing again. Stickied to the top of Robots Nobots is a post I wrote four years ago about the dangers of Social Logins and how your information, along with all your friends, is being bought and sold simply by clicking a small, convenient button. Seems it’s gotten worse since then with the explosion of Apps asking for “permissions” before you get to use them.

These topics are relevant. They will always be relevant. To anyone who happens upon this blog, I hope you enjoy my content.

Buzzword: Clickbait

What is clickbait? It’s a term used to describe sensationalist headlines used specifically for generating traffic. The “bait” part of this Internet portmanteau comes from “bait and switch”: you are promised one thing but given something else after you’ve paid. While on the surface it may seem harmless, the reason clickbait exists is to generate traffic and revenue. More traffic means more ads may be loaded, which in turn generates money for the host site. You might’ve seen something like this all over Facebook:

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Rather than a simple explanation of what the video is about in the title, it instead uses a hyperbolic statement. Most of these videos are uploaded to Youtube, but take a look at the URL; rather than a direct link, the host site, Distractify, embeds the video link so that it can use its own titling scheme. The actual name of the video is “Natural Pools – Natural Pool selfbuild”. So why do this? Why jump through so many hoops just to get you to visit their site to load ads most people will probably never see or click on? Think back to my earlier post on our insidious little friend, the tracking cookie. Each time your computer loads an ad or website, tracking cookies are used to gather information about you and your activity; this data can include geographical locations, other sites you’ve visited, your email address, and if you choose to log in via your social networks, ANY AND ALL DATA YOU’VE CHOSEN TO LIST AS PUBLIC ON YOUR PROFILES.

So how many tracking cookies can you expect to see from your average site? Usually 1-3, which is the case with popular social sites like Reddit and Youtube. How many are on clickbait sites like Distractify? According to a handy add-on called Ghostery, there are 12 tracking cookies on that page alone. TWELVE!

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Three of them are overtly advertising, four are social widgets, and the remaining five are analytics trackers – cookies used to study your behavior online. They will gather information that affects what ads are shown to you, what videos are suggested to you at a later date, the types of emails you receive, all with the main purpose of manipulating your behavior. If you think Facebook’s recent psychological “study” was offensive and wrong, trackers and advertisers have been doing it for years, and right under our noses! Here are some browser add-ons that will make your life a lot simpler. If you have any to add, please share:

Adblock Plus: Prevents ads and trackers from loading when you visit a website. Also blocks ads on Youtube so you can enjoy the video without being interrupted. Note: these are indiscriminate, so if you want to support your favorite broadcaster, you’ll have to manually turn it off for them to get ad revenues.

Ghostery: Tracks the trackers attempting to load on a website, blocks them, and gives you a description of what they do and who they are. Highly recommended. Updates frequently.

Lightbeam (Formerly Collusion): Shows you the third party trackers connected to any site you’ve allowed cookies to be installed. Wonderful tool.

The End of Google Reader

google-reader-issuesMany of you may have already heard the news: Google Reader is shutting down due to a decline in users. Some of you might even be asking: “what is Google Reader, and why should I care?” Technically you don’t have to care if you’ve never used it, but it’s been an invaluable tool for me in my hunt for bigger and better jobs. Essentially it’s a tool built into your Google account that allows you to consolidate all your job search terms into one convenient reader that continually updates in real time. Job search sites like Indeed.com, Mediabistro, and Craigslist have included very convenient RSS Feed buttons in order to aid you in this endeavor. Simply type in your search, however broad or specific, and click the RSS link to add it to your reader. Once you have a bunch of feeds, you can create a folder labeled “Job Search” and drag all your feeds into it, then presto! You have job listings from all your favorite job sites in one convenient page! Simple, convenient, fantastic. But since not enough people are utilizing this tool, Google will be dismantling it and focusing their efforts elsewhere.

ReaderLuckily Google isn’t cutting us off cold turkey. You can still find the Reader under “More” though for a few days last week it was absent from the menu. The announcement was made on March 13th 2013, and the shut-down transitional period will happen over the next 3 months. During this time you can save your RSS feeds and use them in other readers that are still available.

While this may be a good move in a business sense, Google Reader’s demise might spell trouble for its current users. For many small publishers  like MG Siegler, it has been the lifeblood (or flower) of his traffic. He explains that Reader’s design may have been the reason for its failing: “The key element of Reader, of course, is that it allows readers to consume content without visiting a site if they choose to.” There may be a much larger user base than reported in Google’s metrics, but due to the overly convenient nature of its design, those metrics just could not be measured.

But don’t despair, RSS fans, because where one good feature shuts down, another will quickly fill the void. The top contender appears to be Feedly, who has now monetized this portion of the RSS world in the mobile app sector. Maybe Google Reader will come back one day. It’s hard to imagine that such a large and innovative company wouldn’t be able to make something this awesome work!