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Is Google Assisting the NSA in Developing Psychological Profiles of Web Users?

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It apparently isn’t enough for Google to keep tabs on every conceivable activity you engage in on the Internet (ostensibly) to sell you out to its NSA paymasters plus extract and monetize every possible bit of your information enhance your experience on the Internet.

Google sure looks like it wants to profile you psychologically. By accident, I wound up on a Google search page and got this (click to enlarge):

Screen shot 2013-11-08 at 1.53.44 AM

This isn’t terribly subtle. Maybe that little person with the notepad is meant to serve as full disclosure to those unfamiliar with Rorschach tests.

Now I’m sure some people will try to reassure us that this is all good fun, just another way for Google to make its search page more entertaining. And while it’s extremely unlikely that this little Google experiment, um, spoof, is at the NSA’s behest, given that pretty much everything Google gets winds up in the hands of the NSA, you can bet any respondents to this little quiz will find their answers captured along with everything else the surveillance state hoovers up.

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69 comments

  1. Brad

    Ummm…

    Believe what you will, but this is the google doodle for Nov. 8th, the birth date of Hermann Rorschach.

    1. archer

      1. No Google doodle today, so Google does not have them every day

      2. I don’t go there much, but I don’t recall one providing a link to solicit an answer to a question.

      1. Lambert Strether

        I Google a lot, and I certainly don’t remember a Doodle asking a question. Even if they aren’t mapping IP address to a detailed psychological profile, they’re certainly able to map IP address to willingness to comply, useful in itself.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Don’t try the misleading use of tech pedantry to scare readers. Javascripts are bog standard:

      http://search.slashdot.org/story/12/05/26/0310246/google-now-searches-javascript.

      Googlebots search every site. If you block Google bots, you don’t appear in Google searches. We had that happening by mistake and readers were very unhappy with that because they couldn’t locate posts. The reality is if you don’t appear in Google searches, you pretty much don’t exist on the Web. That aspect of technology (NC being indexed) has nothing (directly) to do with user surveillance (indirectly it does because it’s a way of Google maintaining its near monopoly, which it then uses to dictate the business models of people who seek to interact on the Web).

      If you had bothered to click on the link we provided, you’d see how pervasive Google tracking is. It’s in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browsers (but are as expert as you pretend to be, you know that already). See:

      Firefox. What? How can Google track you when you’re using a competing browser maintained by a non-profit organization? It can do so because before Firefox takes you to your destination, it first checks to see whether that website is on Google’s blacklist, an ever-changing list of about 600,000 websites that Google’s bots have identified – sometimes mistakenly – as dangerous. No government agency or industry association ever gave Google the authority to maintain such a list, but it exists, and Firefox uses it. Thus, Google is alerted when you visit websites through Firefox. Even more disturbing is the fact that Mozilla, the organization that maintains Firefox, receives 85 percent of its $163 million in annual income from… that’s right, Google. In return, Firefox makes Google its default search engine.

      Safari. In 2012, Google was fined $22.5 million by the Federal Trade Commission for illegally tracking users of Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Macintosh computers by essentially hacking Apple’s Safari browser. The big fine solved the problem, right? Not at all, because Safari, like Firefox and other browsers, uses Google’s blacklist to check the safety of websites.

      http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/05/10/15-ways-google-monitors-you?page=2

      So don’t imply we’re atypical. Edward Snowden said:

      …. the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyzes them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government, or someone that they suspect of terrorism, they are collecting YOUR communications to do so.

      But even with that level of surveillance, there is a difference between having your actions and communications recorded, versus being encouraged to disclose further information in the form of a widely-used psychological diagnostic.

      I doubt Google can use this in isolation, but then again, given all they collect about people, any info they have on you isn’t used in isolation, it’s used to develop a bigger picture of you for advertising and potentially other purposes. I thought this was a good opportunity to try to sensitize people about giving away even more than they have to, and if it takes a scary headline, so be it. How many psychological profiles and questionaries have you taken on the Web? They are hugely popular and a way to give TPTB even more information than you need to. The headline was alarmist, but most people have become resigned to NSA surveillance. There’s a big difference between letting them know what it’s hard to keep them from knowing and giving even more to them of your own volition.

      1. John Jones

        Is there anything that can stand up against
        what google is doing and put a stop to this?

        Or is this another thing the little people just has to live with? What can be done?

        1. Banger

          It’s over–Google wants to be part of the new world government and will be.

          Having said that it is possible to develop an alternate internet as it is possible to set up an alternate state, alternate corporations and so on–but few people other than some of the young on the anarchist left seem willing to try.

          1. indio007

            you can also use duck-duck go as a search engine.
            https://duckduckgo.com/about

            There are many ways to make your internet use more private.
            I store my files at https://mega.co.nz/
            50 GB free cloud storage. It uses 2048 bit encryption that is not browser based.

            The files are hidden even from the Mega.

            Also route data through Japan, where it happens to be illegal to keep logs of who connected to what for more the 24 hours.

            That all being said, Snowden claimed the NSA has 10K unique exploits. Also Intel can inject microcode directly to you CPU and no one will have ANY clue what it does.

            Throw in a key stroke logger with the aforementioned methods and all the precautions in the world don’t matter.

            Not that they need a keystroke logger when the have laser keystroke readers that operate through the walls of your home.

            According to NSA’s own whitepapers, the only secure computer is unplugged and behind a locked door.

        2. Banger

          It’s over–Google wants to be part of the new world government and will be and, in part, already is. It could be worse–somebody has to rule the world.

          Having said that it is possible to develop an alternate internet as it is possible to set up an alternate state, alternate corporations and so on–but few people other than some of the young on the anarchist left seem willing to try.

          1. Bruno Marr

            Great link! I downloaded and installed the Tor Browser in minutes. No hiccups. I’m now a Tor internet browser.

            This is exactly what is needed (along with defunding the NSA), a easily installed, transportable tool to create REAL privacy. Thanks, Leung.

          2. NorthCountry

            I was interested in using the Tor browser/network, too, until NSA hacked a Tor server and stole the data. Then I learned that the Tor method (“onion routing”) was developed by the Naval Research Laboratory. This is not a solution to our problem.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        To continue the line of thought above, the other approach that some readers use is to deliberately make a hash of their online profile, as in liking and visiting sites that have no appeal to them or contradict their interests.

        1. leung

          That strategy seems doomed to failure. If you are hitting “like” at all, you are playing their game when you don’t need to be.

      3. leung

        It’s still not clear why you are using Google Analytics and Google Ads on your site. Those aren’t necessary for Google bots to index your site.

        As you say There’s a big difference between letting them know what it’s hard to keep them from knowing and giving even more to them of your own volition.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Did you manage not to notice we have advertising? No ads, no site.

          We use Google Analytics ourself to measure various measures and site performance for our own purposes as a managerial tool. Both our tech people and our ad service are adamant that we use it. And it certainly does not do anything to further impair reader security.

          As for “Google Ads”, our ad service puts in remnant ads, and Google the bottom of the hierarchy of the ads they serve as remnant ads. I suspect only people like me who click on the site a ton get them.

      4. Leung

        Also for Firefox, you can turn off the reporting to Google by disabling those “features” in Edit > Preferences > Security, and in the search bar. I recommend DuckDuckGo as a search engine.

        1. Bruno Marr

          Wow. Keep the tips and tricks coming, guy. If Congress won’t reign in the NSA the “hackers” will.

        2. TheCatSaid

          On Firefox, Tools ==> Options ==>Security

          Do you mean I should untick “Block reported attack sites” and “Block reported web forgeries”?

          It seems the strategy is to make you afraid of “bad websites” thus google has a way to scoop up everything you do. . . It’s a balancing act.

          And on the “Exceptions” box on the above tab, it lists about 8 sites that I have allowed to install add-ons (including google.com, mozilla, and others). I just ticked disallow all, so we’ll see what that does. . .

          1. just me

            I’ve got firefox and told it not to remember passwords, but how do you get it to not remember other stuff you fill in on forms? That always creeps me out.

        3. Fíréan

          To stop “Script”, or accept as per users requirements, the Firefox browser has an add-on called “NoScript”. Though a little more time consuming (seconds) than just entering a website, once understood the add-on can be easily used, sources of script within a website page is given and a good explanation is given of th ebenefits to stop third party script, which may link your computer to any number of other unknown parties.
          ( unfortunately for advertisers i do not see their content on this website).
          Please excuse me if this information is already given within this thread, i have not read all contributions before writing this reply.

        4. Fíréan

          To stop “Script”, or accept as per users requirements, the Firefox browser has an add-on called “NoScript”. Though a little more time consuming (seconds) than just entering a website, once understood the add-on can be easily used, sources of script within a website page is given and a good explanation is given of th ebenefits to stop third party script, which may link your computer to any number of other unknown parties.
          ( unfortunately for advertisers i do not see their content on this website).
          Please excuse me if this information is already given within this thread, i have not read all contributions before writing this reply, and thought i had already clicked submit button)

      5. Brooklin Bridge

        I find Yves’ comment above as or more informative than the post. Not to say I don’t agree with most anything that keeps us aware. Virtually all activity on the Net or for that matter on any modern electronic device results in information being collected and stored for use by groups such as Google that specialize in information as well as by both Federal and local authorities should they take an interest for any reason. This includes something as prosaic as your HVAC system if it is hooked up to the utility supplier via the net (typically with a small cost reduction). It’s very difficult to wrap one’s mind around all the possible places and ways information is gathered about you and used, particularly because we are so unused to the idea of spying or being spied on or even simply being “monitored” 24/7.

        The other component most of us are not in a position to be aware of is the sophistication of modern software and the mind boggling (including mind bogglingly intrusive) things it can do. Yet at the same time, as has been pointed out in previous articles on this subject, it is often the errors (such as mistakes in identity) this sophisticated software is prone to that cause the most damage, particularly because it is of such a secretive nature that reliable QA testing is difficult or impossible and alternate less reliable tests, or none at all, are relied on out of necessity.

        Note that historically, the people who wrote this stuff and particularly the systems that support it, were rarely aware of the different ways and degrees of intrusion and control they were enabling. What they did had a real cool factor to it, like climbing a mountain because it’s there. However, I think that has been shifting of late and both the specific tasks and the people working at them have become more obviously for the sole purpose of control situations and/or gathering information so private in nature that it takes a real stretch to imagine it is fair game.

        An excellent example coming to a theatre near everyone is self driving automobiles. Guess who is at the forefront of that technology? (it starts with a big G). One of the things they don’t tell you is that those cars can be remotely controlled. Obviously, they also collect and store all information about where you have gone, how long you have been there, and so on. But, of course, they will be ABSOLUTELY necessary to our continued ability to use cars and trucks due to highway congestion, just as it is absolutely necessary to cut Social Security and Medicare in order to save them.

        Another rather insidious example is heat and moisture sensitive keyboards and input devices (such as finger input). Places like Google and Microsoft are really going to town in studying ways to monitor people’s emotional state and productivity based on the information gleaned from the tips of your fingers. Hard to say who thought of it first, some agency like the NSA for obvious reasons or Microsoft who originally got interested in it as part of a workplace efficiency suite.

        Technology is the big pied piper’s flute and so many people are falling all over themselves to dance to the tune. It’s hard to say where all this is going. Will we end up like North Korea? Will the system gum itself up and lead to systemic change for the better? In the meantime, the ability and potential is there for a really nasty ride.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Another up and coming technology that is paying big intrusive dividends is RFID or Radio Frequency Identity and the increasingly tiny and increasingly cheap passive and active chips it uses (passive means it reflects its presence only, active means it broadcasts it’s presence as well as itinerary and other data). These things can be incredibly useful, but as they reach small enough sizes with powerful enough ranges they can also be used for incredibly nefarious and secret and intrusive purposes.

          Is anyone aware of whether US passports now have rfid chips by default?

            1. Brooklin Bridge

              Active RFID requires power. Unless going through a check point can be used to recharge them, I don’t see them being active. The period between passport renewals is too long.

              I could easily be wrong however; that’s the scary part of technology these days that makes being a paranoid whack-job, as Anon y’mouse puts it :-), a perfectly normal state of mental health – not disorder.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            “By default” implies you can opt out. You can’t.

            I renewed my passport before the RFIDs were implemented. Slashdot then had some readers exchanging ideas for how to deactivate them. The one I recall is hitting your passport really hard with a hammer (obviously all over). Some people argued that was preferable to other options because it would look like the result of an accident. Plus I forget the other way, the idea of hammering the hell out of your passport seemed absurd yet potentially cathartic.

            1. Brooklin Bridge

              I like the hammer idea. When they first came up with passport chips, I believe they used small geographical areas for test runs meaning that the “default”, at that time, was to not put the chip in.

              Note also how seamlessly they can use software and hardware when they want to (I’ve been using the term, priority). Yet more proof that the sign-up part of the ACA was simply not on Obama’s radar as a priority, nor his administration, nor TPTB. He had done his work selling out the Democratic Party and the people who elected him, why would he bother himself with the mundane task of making sure the plebs could apply for it? Failure can be handled by people’s tax dollars being used for propaganda and the meme that Government bungles everything is always useful. If Obama did have any vestigial concerns about his “signature legislation” and/or the sign-up process to it, he assumed a little too much – that a totally corrupt system of procurement could produce a somewhat complex, though standard, business software application.

  2. john

    Sometimes a Google doodle is just a Google doodle, Yves. Although, in this case, it’s interesting to hear how you interpret this one.

    1. 12312399

      i’m assuming that this post is tongue-in-cheek?

      —as IIRC Rorshach tests are bunk?

      now if Google found gave your brain a secret MRI scan via webcams, then I’d be screaming bloody murder.

    2. John Mc

      Let’s not be naive. The surveillance society has been years in the making. One company headquarterd in Arkansas, has made their objective to categorize consumers into 80 profile templates(http://acxiom.com/). Face reality, we live in an Orwellian period where the owners have infinitely more information about us,then we do about them. This expanse has been and will continue to be exploited for profit.

    1. Banger

      Depends on your definition of “good” doesn’t it? Here’s the reality check: people are naturally animals who want to connect with life and other people–they are not fearful, stressed out creatures who isolate themselves and pursue their self-interest. What we see in society is an ethic that is as perverse as the hell on earth Skinnerians psychologist visited on lab rats (I had a friend who was a student of Skinner and he achieved some fame for proving that lab rats would become aggressive if subject to pain etc.).

      People in American society are stressed out and in pain. 47% of adults are in chronic pain in the USA according to a study a couple of years ago. We need drugs just to stay sane–how long can that last? The Beatles sand “all you need is love” and that’s as true now as it was then–love is, in the end, that feeling of connection and with that people are fundamentally good with all kinds of kinks of course. It wil take generations of love and healing to move us to real smiles most of the time.

      1. peace

        Thanks Banger.

        Smile and question, be an optimistic skeptic, a social conversationalist, a hopeful realist.

        Related animal studies indicate crowded living conditions also increase stress.

  3. kimsarah

    By now, everyone should assume that everything they post is fair game for NSA. Possible exceptions being those using encryptions.
    But hopefully somebody with an honest conscience is doing the same thing to gather every detail on the politicians and banksters and the rest of the evil-doers.

    1. Banger

      Probably Google is keeping data on NSA and the whole bunch. They are now big players in the political game.

  4. Jacques Rorshaques

    I read that researchers were testing Rorschach blots as a new form of ‘captcha’, the Turing tests applied to detect bots in online forms. Apparently the bots are learning to read scrambled images of text. This is probably google trying to establish a baseline for ink blot interpretation. It would be cool to also use them to do psych profiles on the entire internet.

  5. Bart Fargo

    Pseudoscientific as it is, a proper Rorschach test includes observations of much more than just the subject’s free association of what is seen in the blot (and there is a standardized sequence of blots, not random computer generated ones). Of course people’s responses to the Doodle will be hoovered up by the NSA along with everything else, but they will be of hardly any use for psychological profiling of any individual. I guess the responses of thousands of people to a blot might be useful somehow for research purposes.

    1. borkman

      But Google also has tons of information about people already, in particular, what terms you are searching on and what sites you visit. Oh, and that also includes the responses on those pervasive personality profile sites (for dating and other purposes). Why wouldn’t this be used in combination with other data to construct a profile (of general types of people, for marketing, or more creepily specific of someone who came under scrutiny)? Marketing experts make big bucks on really dubious stuff like this.

      That all sounds like junk science, but economics is junk science and widely used and accepted, so why should this be any different?

      1. borkman

        Also I see this is apparently a “doodle” for Rorschach’s birthday:

        http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/11/08/google_doodles_rorschcach_tests_in_honor_of_the_psychoanalyst_hermann_rorschach.html

        But I’m not relieved. Problem is this stuff still gets collected, and Google encouraged specific responses (see that they wanted you to click on the link and respond, not just seem the image).

        It’s too much like the casuallness of people putting photos on Facebook. All that stuff seemed harmeless before the days of biometric IDs (thank God they really aren’t good at that yet, as the Boston Marathon manhunt showed, but it isn’t for want of trying).

      2. Bart Fargo

        They can try and use it, but the point is that visitors’ uncontrolled responses to a series of randomly computer generated inkblots is virtually useless data from a psychological perspective. Maybe if they used standard Rorschach blots that have been studied for decades the data would be meaningful, but in this case it’s not just junk science, it’s also junk data. And as you pointed out, considering they already track so much data useful to them and others (search/browsing history, online purchases, advertising clicks etc.) this Doodle is hardly worrying about. They get even less useful information from it than when the Doodle is a little interactive browser game, so you’re not giving up any more information about yourself than you are forced to otherwise.

  6. Adriannzinha

    A bit incoherent but my general thought here is that what’s happening with data collection, tracking, and profiling is just the tip of the iceberg.

    The obvious answer is “hey! we’ll sell you stuff” and most american sheeple take that as perfectly normal. Those wanting privacy or expressing reservations are frequently ridiculed or belittled “What are you trying to hide?”….

    Going well past that I can’t help but think the information will ultimately be used against you. It becomes a sort of permanent public record of everything you’ve said, seen, bought, advocated for, protested, or shared.

    There will be a tipping point eventually where it goes from merely you being a product for advertisers to pitch their junk to making you a suspect for anything and everything.

    I’m not advocating we stop communicating with each other, but even posts and yes, comments like this one are part of that record.

    If the state or TPTB want to build a case against you, they’d have no shortage of material. Then again, hey, it’s all classified and you can’t know what you are being charged with – just be careful of the pigeon sized drones with lasers coming to execute you. Sounds like Ridley Scott but it sure strikes me as part of a rapidly dyspotic future we have coming.

    1. peace

      Yes, dystopias exist; particularly in warzones. But resistance and dissent persist as well.
      Smith, Hayek, Keynes, and Marx all “ackowledge” the “necessary” crises inherent in capitalist economic systems. These crises include popular dissent, resistance and non-compliance.

      Argentina, Brazil agree on cyber-defense alliance against US espionage

      Brazil plans to go offline from US-centric internet

      Powerful Nations and Companies Fight Back Against NSA Spying

  7. Banger

    I’m pretty convinced that Google wants to be the organization that will integrate and rule the world. There is a power vacuum in the world that is being filled by the corporate sector. Clearly, some part of the corporate sector needs to be the brains that can direct and integrate the emergent global system. It can’t be the finance sector–they have permanent tunnel vision since they are so focused on short-term gains and criminality (thus, increasingly, other corporate players don’t trust them) that they don’t have the type of minds in their orgs to play at the highest levels. Walmart had a chance to play a role in this global power game if Sam Walton were still alive but his heirs have fallen prey to a stunning level of greed that will, eventually, do them in.

    In the World Domination contest. Google has a leg up–its business in information and turning ordinary data into metadata++ is perfect for the role. It has been funding technological research, hosting top-flight scholars and, as an organization has the “vision thing.”

    It is more likely that Google will take over the NSA than the other way around if Google saw the NSA as a competitor for being the global hegemon. NSA is, obviously, vulnerable to all kinds of attacks because it uses the contractor system and there is no theoretical reason why the contractors can’t seize NSA information as Snowden has and, I believe, others have perhaps even Google.

    1. Chauncey Gardiner

      Thanks for your observations, Banger, both here and above. Part of the network organization?… likely. But “THE organization”… I think not. Global competitors (Mister Softie-Bing; BIDU, Infosys, transformative emerging); powers of the state in the areas of taxation and selective law enforcement (anti-trust, etc.); network of corporate media (publicizing Sergei’s activities was just a shot across the bow?); and the nature of the broader network itself reduce the likelihood of such concentration being achieved IMO – that is assuming it is actually being sought.

      But wedge issues in the “Public-Private Partnership” realm are invariably interesting; and the comment stream is itself kind of a Rorschach test.

  8. Ché Pasa

    It is more likely that Google will take over the NSA

    More likely it’s already happened. Google and its friends…

    For all the freakout over NSA surveillance during the media summer shark and missing white boy season, it was striking to see the “corporate partners” of the surveillance state get a free pass, even get defended as benign.

    Right. Sure. Nonsense.

  9. Gerry

    Anyone catch the Nation article mentioning how the originator of the Occupy Wall St. website was hired by Google?

    http://www.thenation.com/article/176142/breaking-occupy?page=0,1

    >“They basically bought my soul,” she says. But Tunney doesn’t seem to mind. “Google is the one company I don’t hate. I think Google is actually doing things that are making the world a better place.”

    >With Google, 28-year-old Tunney has a hand in building the groundwork for the future Internet. Her main task involves a system for managing the vast array of top-level domains Google has bought. As the creator and administrator of Occupy Wall Street’s most public-facing website, OccupyWallSt.org—known by insiders as “Storg”—she’s the one who put the slogan “The only solution is WorldRevolution” on the main page. But Google lets her be part of a revolution that’s not so far off. She can only hope it will come before the now publicly traded company succumbs entirely to the whims of Wall Street—or, for that matter, the National Security Agency.<

  10. anon y'mouse

    as the poster above said, rorshach is almost useless. not being a psychoanalyst, I had assumed that they used them mainly to get you talking.

    and that is the point of this google thing, to get you talking.

    I say we go around liking everything, and filling out every form in triplicate with the wrong answers.

    just be totally random. fill their nets with sea slime. the problem is, this tactic is rather like herd immunity of vaccinations—it only works if everyone is doing it. if only a few paranoid whackjobs (myself) on the internet is doing it, you stand out just as much as if you basically handed over your deepest thoughts about your ‘maathuh’.

  11. Mcmike

    As the internet enters the fourth stage of simulacra – transitioning from open information source and tool of freedom to a controlled cattle pen for commercial exploitation and state surveillance – those of us who pay closer attention to these things are going to have to live with it.

    Our options are to opt out wherever possible, to disrupt it wherever practical, and start working on its replacement if personally feasible.

    What we can expect: there will be a long period of decay in the internet in terms of the vanguard of users and utilizations, as users expect less and less of it, and resign themselves to its heavily scripted and mediated presence, it will become simply a commodity that is marginally useful for certain purposes. There will be a period of stagnation, as incumbent players slow down innovation and competition and disruptive technologies. There will be a period of dissatisfaction, as a slowly growing chorus of voices realizes that the internet has become a predatory parasite. These will be the dark ages.

    And people will start working on opting out and creating alternatives.

    It is happening with local economies and local food, it is happening to a lesser extent with the health care system and the banking system, and it will happen with the internet.

    The capitalists and authoritarians will (have already) strangle the golden goose – which is as inevitable as the scorpion and the frog. Although the beast will lumber on for as long as a generation or more, the tipping point has in fact already being reached. We can actually trace it to Snowden, but he is of course merely the most noticeable data point at an apex that runs across a long line of lesser tipping points.

    1. Mcmike

      More on “what it will be like”, think of:

      - The US auto industry just before the Japs started kicking butt

      - Computers (Microsoft) circa 1996.

      - Television just before HBO started creating original content.

      - Movies before CGI took off.

      - Banking: now

      - Food choices: circa 2005.

      - Cable TV, circa 2001.

  12. McMike

    Re Atlantic piece (Followed by Google):

    What is not discussed is how powerfully these internet ads reflect on their host web sites. I am not sure that the web site hosts themselves have entirely thought this through.

    It is indeed modestly creepy to have a shoe ad follow me around the internet. But when I go to a site (say; Newsmax for an extreme example), I cannot help but notice that most of their “fixed” ads target pathetic creeps, which powerfully reflects on the host site’s brand (while ironically not necessarily so much on the advertiser). I begin to wonder right away: what kind of loser hangs out here? HuffPost, for its part, makes it perfectly clear to anyone passing by that its viewers are overwhelmingly responsive to salacious medical stories and half-naked celebrities.

    So, the site’s content not only reinforces the visitors’ self-identification (a web phenomenon already well-discussed), but the ads powerfully reinforce this too. However, this can become a problem if the ads instead work at cross-purposes to the site’s branding.

    This is the opposite of the old-school advertising world, where I do not necessarily hold it against my favorite TV show that they ran ads for a product I don’t care for (coordinated boycott campaigns notwithstanding). Very-late-night TV may come the closest, with its narrower demographic, yet it does not bother me that my fellow insomniacs and graveyard-shift viewers all appear to be bankrupt and in need of pharmaceutical intervention. (Although I do recall with some amusement that the Nation magazine of the mid-1990′s used to run spanking club ads among its five or six back-page classifieds).

    Furthermore, in addition to conveying branding messages, the ads often antagonize the visitor, which heavily impacts the experience – this is not a football game where I can choose to do a quick channel surf or go get a beer from the fridge. When an annoying pop-up chases me around the page and forces me to play whack-a-mole; or when an ad hides its close button; or when a flash ad hijacks the entire page and offers me no exit or locks out my back button; I blame the host site for this involuntary game of Frogger. When I accidently open an ad while trying to in fact close it, or if the site hangs up while trying to load an ad, I close out of that entire session, and may never return to that web site if it happens too often.

    The fact is, unlike print or TV, we hold the web sites responsible for their ads; we conflate the site’s brand with the message of the advertisers; and the conduct and content of the ads reflects not on the advertisers, but on the web site hosts themselves. If we find the advertising too offensive or too onerous, we blame the site. The closest print comparable may be a fashion magazine, wherein the ads are essentially part of the content; in recognition of this, the ads and content are closely coordinated.

    Inasmuch as many web sites have no knowledge or control of what ads go on their site, this might be a feature they wish to pay closer attention to.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Great observations. They certainly capture my sentiments exactly when I visit Web Sites and notice particular types of ads or particularly offensive/aggressive attention getting methods. Disarming the “Back” button so you are stuck on their site is the worst and I will never knowingly revisit such a site. That strategy cost at least one auto-dealership the purchase of a car that I’m fairly sure I would have made otherwise.
      There are now so many companies whose products I won’t buy, that I can’t remember them all. As if sensing my dilemma, however, they keep reminding me constantly with more of their nasty, in-your-face ads.

      You make another excellent point below in your next comment about the calcification of the internet. This is one place indeed where greed spreads its cancerous effects with amazing speed. Innovation on the net is dying a horrible death and Google is at the forefront of that phenomenon.

  13. The Black Swan

    Just take a look at Google integrating YouTube into Google+. It should have been the other way around, allow Google+ users an enhanced YouTube experience. Instead they are trying to force the entire YouTube world onto their social media website. I’m sure it just makes them crazy that people on YouTube can be anonymous and make it harder for them to include your viewing habits with their profile of you. Based on what I’ve seen on YouTube, people are very very unhappy with the changes and very angry with Google. Hopefully this is the first major overreach by Google and leads to a diminution of their control over the internet.

    1. McMike

      It may well be the overreach moment by Google, but it will not lead to a return to the Youtube days of yore. You can never go back. Once an open/community asset has been monetized, going back to wide-open, free-wheeling (and free) past is not an option for a variety of reasons of investment economics and corporate psychology.

      It just means we will end up with a Youtube that doesn’t work like it used to and is not loved like it used to be, yet still lumbers on in mediocrity until its effective monoopoly can be broken by something/someone else.

      We are, I’m afraid, in a calcyifing stage of entrenchment on some of these habits and standards – I mean, look at Apple. Maybe the web will surpirse us with another wave of disruptive innovation that unleashes a torrent of previously untapped enthusiasm and uses. But I suspect the rate of innovation is about to slow to a comparative crawl for a while.

      The thing that interests me is what tipping point kills the cloud. The NSA will not be enough. Google might someday, perhaps, experience a massive data loss. Or maybe decide to close the gate and make everyone pay to access thier own data (which they are already doing by degrees). But a black swan type event at Google’s servers might snap everyone into understanding how deeply they have made themselves dependent on a single fallible company.

  14. freedomny

    Well I just downloaded some tracking software on my computer and was completely blown away. Every time I go on a site I can see who is tracking me and block them. Really not sure how effective this is but it did open my eyes. NC’s site got the most tracking…:)

    I am taking that as a good thing…..meaning that this site is considered important.

    Peace.

  15. Heatblizzard

    Back in the early 90s on NOVA Dad actually saw a tour of a factory in Japan that is a mile long and wide as a city block that is ran entirely by robots with only a few people as security guards.

    Inside the factory there is actually traffic lanes for the robots to follow and there are robots that fix other robots that need repair.

    That is the short version anyways.

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