Opt Out of Interest-Based Ads on Google

I wrote about keeping your privacy while using Google products a while ago. The post covered ways to reduce your data footprint with Google. To stress the importance of interest-based ads for Google I’m going to write in more detail about the collected data.

On Google’s ads opt out page there are some areas of information of what Google is actually storing about you:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Languages
  • Interests

The last one – interests – looks unconspicuous but has the most detailed data about you. This is the reason Google scans your email and uses other means of getting information about you. While nobody knows how detailed the stored interests profiles are it’s probably the most information-rich collection of data about you after Facebook’s data trove.

It’s save to assume that this collected will never be deleted. Storage is cheap and is getting cheaper every day. Especially for huge companies like Google.

Opt out of Ads on Google and Google ads across the web to have peace of mind. You won’t miss anything.

Disable Your Google Account History to Keep Your Privacy

If you are interested in keeping your privacy and use Google products it’s a good idea to disable your Google account history. To view your history you have to be logged-in.

On the account history page you are able to view and disable several histories Google is automatically keeping. These histories allow Google to tailor their ad displays to better suit your interests. As a result you get more relevant ads displayed while surfing the web.

While this sounds not bad these histories are actually a track record of your behavior. If you value your privacy it’s recommended to minimize any tracking. All of this data is shared within Google i.e. your search behavior is linked to your YouTube behavior. Here are some direct links for viewing your histories. All of them are also on your Google account history.

Google Search History

All your searches you did while using Google’s search engine are displayed here. This can easily add up to a lot of information because people are googling a lot.

Google Location History

This is your location history which shows all physical locations you have been at while using location-enabled Google products like Google Now, Goggle Maps or other Google sites which use the location of your web browser.

YouTube Search History

YouTube’s search history doesn’t have much user-value because the watch history is much more useful. So disabling won’t hurt much.

YouTube Watch History

While YouTube’s watch history has some value to find this particular video from last week which you want to show to somebody but don’t remember the name you might want to disable this if you are privacy-sensitive.

Settings for Interest-Based Ads

This is the core of Google’s ad display technology. If you don’t want Google to know about your interests and habits to create a huge personal profile about you it’s time to turn it off. You don’t have any control about future applications of this data and might not like the consequences.

Google+ Shared Endorsements

Shared endorsements mean Google is going to display your name next to some products you used or liked in the past to endorse them. You don’t have any control of the value proposition the ads are making and might not agree with them.

I recommend to first delete all histories and then disable all of them, especially location and interest-based ads. You don’t lose much value and all products work perfectly without these.

But Google Still Stores this Information

Disabling histories in your Google account will not prevent Google from gathering and storing this information and using it for internal purposes. It also does not change the fact that any information gathered and stored by Google could be sought by law enforcement.

With histories enabled, Google will keep these records indefinitely; with it disabled, they will be partially anonymized after 18 months.

All of this can change for the worse if Google changes it’s privacy policy again.

WordPress Featured Image Plugins

WordPress has a cool feature: featured images. These images are displayed differently to common in-article images. Most of the time they appear before the article itself.

They are also used for thumbnails in recent posts lists, archives, next and previous post or the common blog home page. They enrich articles immensely and make people more likely to click on the link to read the it.

Here are some plugins which make the use of featured images even better:

Featured Image Reminder

If you want to use a featured image for every post you write then this plugin will help you not to forget setting one. No updating the article after publishing because you forgot it. Quite handy.

Featured Image Caption

If you use images you didn’t create yourself most likely another person holds the copyright. To be a good person you should display this copyright notice somewhere in the article. For normal images you could use a caption next to the image. For featured images you normally cannot do this but have e.g. a copyright notice at the end of the article.

This plugin enables captions next to the featured image.

Auto Featured Image from Title

Some people use generic images as featured images and would like to have the title on top of the image and use the featured image as a background.

If your theme doesn’t allow this this plugin will create a new image and stamp the title onto it automatically.

RSS with Images

Featured images are not displayed in RSS feeds because it’s not part of the content of the post. This plugin allows you to have your featured images in your feed. This is also handy if you use your RSS feed for automatically creating your email newsletter.

On Quitting Google, WhatsApp, BuzzFeed, HuffPost

I stopped using a couple of very popular services for a variety of reasons, mainly ethical ones, because I want to be in charge of my own digital life.

Quitting Google

I quit Google because the collection of data is getting too pervasive. I have no issues with publishing information about myself or storing sensitive data in the cloud, but I like to know what is stored and being able to delete it. And Google doesn’t let me know or delete it. So I don’t use Gmail or Google search anymore. Instead it’s FastMail and DuckDuckGo.

I never used Google+ in the first place.

Quitting WhatsApp

WhatsApp had too many security and privacy issues and also technical problems. At first I was unsure if I should really delete my account. Then being bought by Facebook didn’t make me feel better about the whole thing. So I deleted all my data and my account even though 38% of Germans have an account which is huge.

Quitting Huffington Post

I never used the Huffington Post and the likes in the first place. They just scrape content from the Internet and republish it as fast and as much as possible but under their own name. More content is better for getting lots of people via search engines or because of the greater exposure on social media.  Also most of the articles they publish don’t add any value to the original article they are using as the source.

Quitting BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed and the likes are even worse. They use the same tactics like HuffPost but in a more deceiving way. All headlines are click-bait like “[Famous person] got into trouble. You won’t believe what happened.” Which means you have to click on the link because you a) are interested in the person but don’t know what happened and b) it sounds mysterious and pushes your buttons. Which means you are tricked into it. Better headlines would be “[Famous person] got into trouble for unpaid parking tickets.” Then you can decide if it’s worth to spend your time reading the article.

I never used these sites which use these means of getting readers (or more appropriately eyeballs to display ads to).

The Takeaway

You can shape the world out there if you decide what kind of services you want to consume and pay for.

  • Don’t use services which employ business ethics which you don’t agree with.
  • Vote with your money. “If you don’t pay for the product you are the product.
  • Don’t click on links if you don’t know what linked article is all about.
  • Don’t click on links for headlines which end with a question mark. The question mark just means you can freely speculate as much as you like.

At least keep your private accounts on services which value your privacy. You can change jobs but not your life.

Update 2014-08-25

Facebook started fighting click-baiting today

On Quitting Twitter

A friend of mine (@moeffju) quit Twitter recently. I think this is not unreasonable if you think about how Twitter wants to change itself to monetize better. Because every move they make is making Twitter worse for most of the heavier users. I’m sympathetic to his move although his reasons where different.

But I also noticed that in international technology circles many people use their Twitter username as the only digitally means of identification or connection.

I’ve been to the European Ruby Camp (eurucamp) three weeks ago. Most attendees predominently referred to themselves either on their name tag or on the eurucamp website using their Twitter nick.

Some “hip” websites having their focus on user communication like messaging or some form of feed also only use the Twitter username (I cannot remember the sites off the top of my head).

I also used a couple of iOS apps–which are not Twitter apps–where usernames starting with an @ are automatically linked to Twitter.

Am I Also Quitting Twitter?

So my feeling of leaving Twitter is like I’m going to isolate myself. Because the most compelling reason of using Twitter is that you can follow people and/or communicating  with them directly without asking for email addresses or friendship requests first. A very loose and open network of people.

It’s also easy to find “followers”. Not the Twitter vanity number, but people who want to support your cause and/or work with you on some projects.

As long as I don’t find another way of getting the same from another service I most likely won’t leave.

Mailbox Mac OS X Beta

The Mailbox iOS app everybody loves gets a OS X companion app. It’s still in beta and you need beta invites. Beta invites for Mailbox are very cool betacoins.

Mailbox Mac OS X Betacoin

You are supposed to drop your personal coin into the beta can. While being dropped into it makes a metal sound like a coin dropping in a can. Quite cool!

Mailbox Mac OS X Beta Can

The app itself is like the original iOS app quite minimal. It’s exactly what you would expect if you liked the iOS app in the first place. Swipe gestures work the same and have the same functionality. No surprises here.

Mailbox Mac OS X Beta App Window

Both are still limited to Google or iCloud email accounts. More alternatives are supposed to come in the future.

I have some betacoins left so if you like to get an invite comment below and use the email address you want me to send the betacoin to.

iCloud Email Address

I have a couple of Apple accounts. Some are quite old (mac.com, me.com), some are new (icloud.com). I’d like to merge all these addresses to one account. Unfortunately this is not possible.

Everything on this page is also applicable to old mac.com or me.com email addresses.

Merging an iCloud Email Adress

You cannot merge an iCloud email address without deleting the Apple account, because this email address is your Apple ID for this account.

Even after deleting the Apple account you cannot re-use this email address, because it was already taken.

Deleting an iCloud Email Address

You cannot delete an iCloud email address without deleting the Apple account, because this email address is your Apple ID for this account.

There may be very old accounts (mac.com or me.com), where your Apple ID is your self-chosen username. Then you might have a chance. But if you change the username you have to use an iCloud email address.

Changing an iCloud Email Address

You cannot change an iCloud email address without deleting the Apple account, because this email address is your Apple ID for this account.

Essentially this means you have to create a new account and transfer all data.

Changing an iCloud Email Alias

You can delete and recreate an iCloud email alias but you have to use the same account. Between deletion and recreation there is a 7 day delay.

Moving an iCloud Email Alias to a Different Account

Email aliases are forever tied to the account that created them. It cannot later be used to create a new iCloud account or transferred to another account.

You should know before doing any of this that each device can only create three iCloud accounts, after which you can only re-use one of the previously created accounts or create a new on another iOS device or Mac (Mac OS X Lion or higher).

Moving iCloud Data to a New Account

If you want to change accounts you have to move your iCloud data. There are many ways to do this and many places where the data is stored and accessed. So be careful to save everything before you delete your old account.

Of Mice and Men: My first BarCamp

The first BarCamp I attended was in February 2008: BarCamp Hannover.

I wasn’t sure if I should go. I had doubts. It’s about a two hours drive by car from Hamburg. How would it be? Why should I spend “lots” of money to listen to some Internet stuff? The BarCamp itself is for free, but is it worth the money? Shouldn’t I better spend my time and money to get to somewhere else? Like going on vacation.

In the end it was one of the best decisions of my life. I learned many new things. Not only Internet stuff, but also something about me, uncertainty, prejudices, and comfort zones. Mine to be exact.

I can’t remember the content of the talks. Only the unconventional talks I can remember: Internet in China and head hunting. Although I haven’t been to both. An important part of attending a BarCamps is being open to new and interesting topics. And that doesn’t mean just internet technology or internet culture but completely different stuff.

I remember the participants very well. I still meet a lot of them five years later regularly at BarCamps and similar events. And I don’t want to miss this. And as one of those people Stefan called for writing about the first BarCamp people attended.

The experience that interested attendees don’t need an organizing middleman and that there’s no need for an “official” body to get permission from to create something awesome is one of the most important insights for me.

So: #barcamps #ftw

Internet Speed Test for Mobile, DSL or Cable: Speedtest.net

Eine einfache aber sehr effektive Möglichkeit, die Geschwindigkeit der eigenen Internet-Verbindung zu testen, ist Speedtest.net.

Alle Geschwindigkeitstests sind gratis. Es empfiehlt sich, als Test-Server einen Server in der Nähe auszuwählen, da zu diesem mit hoher Wahrscheinlichkeit die Geschwindigkeit am höchsten sein wird.

Getestet werden kann mit allem, was einen Browser mit Flash-Unterstützung hat. Für den mobilen Benchmark gibt es Gratis-Test-Apps für iPhone und Android.

Ein Geschwindigkeitstest mit Speedtest.net überträgt bis zu 55 MB an Daten, je nachdem wie schnell die Verbindung ist. Leute mit geringem vertraglichen (mobilen) Inklusiv-Datenvolumen der Flatrate sollten genau überlegen, wann und wie oft sie den Test ausführen.

In meinen Test mit verschiedenen Benchmark-Anbietern war Speedtest immer sehr genau bei gleichzeitig sehr anwenderfreundlicher Bedienung, zumal es mobile Apps gibt. Als Maßstab diente der Test der Initiative Netzqualität der Bundesnetzagentur.

JavaScript Blocklists for Removing Ads or Notifications

JavaScript blocklists block intrusive JavaScript from sites which display ads like double underlined keywords showing popups or display a notification of some sort to lure you into reading more articles to generate more page views. Those notifications slide in from the lower right.

If you use those lists the website will continue working and look the same minus the intrusive behavior.

I use plugins for Chrome Chrome JavaScript blacklist by Jiayong Ou and Safari Safari JSBlacklist by Drew Thaler to add those blocklists to my browser. This is my blocklist:

tynt.com 
intellitxt.com 
vibrantmedia.com 
snap.com 
kontera.com 
AdGardener.com 
apture.com 
wibiya.com 
doubleclick.net 
getconnected.southwestwi-fi.com 
d1.openx.org 
meebo.com 
addthis.com 
serving-sys.com 
po.st 
cdn.taboolasyndication.com 
exitjunction.com 
plista.com

Just copy and paste this list into the text field of the respective plugin and you are all set.

If you have some block-worthy scripts to share please drop me an email.