August 22, 2010

Tracking Cookie Opt-Out (Behavioral Advertising)

I blog about tech stuff only very rarely, but this is something I really want to share. If you’re at all concerned about online privacy, you will want to know about the Network Advertising Initiative’s “Behavioral Advertising Opt Out Tool.” Go to it, and it will show you which advertising networks have installed tracking cookies on your computer. You can check the boxes and click through at the bottom to instruct all of those networks to opt you out of their spying, which they are legally obligated to do. Now, it is also possible to block specific sites from setting cookies on your computer using complicated settings in your browser, but this tool is easier, and lets you opt out of networks that have not found you yet.

To say something general, I would say that it is a good thing that so far we have been able to get national policies set up that allow us to opt out of privacy-compromising systems, and we have to keep doing that, but our right to opt out is meaningless unless we are actually able to figure out how to do the opting-out process, and then go and do it.

Personally, I find it hard to take seriously the claim of some that they “want to see more relevant advertising served up on [their] browsers [or wherever else].” Advertisers never know us as well as they think they do, and when they do hit close to home, it’s just spooky. I am not comfortable when the opaque networked computer that is everywhere with the soft synthetic voice knows what I had for breakfast. There is too much of a potential for power without accountability when we lose our privacy in that way.

There are other useful tech tools for privacy that readers might tell us about in the comments. This is one I like because it is so quick and easy and doesn’t require me to go through ten proxy servers, etc. Some readers may also be able to provide information about the limitations of this tool.

(Be sure to read the comments below if this interests you – Commenters have some important things to add here.)

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August 9, 2010

The Onion: Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text

From The Onion

Unable to rest their eyes on a colorful photograph or boldface heading that could be easily skimmed and forgotten about, Americans collectively recoiled Monday when confronted with a solid block of uninterrupted text. …

Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text

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July 12, 2010

New Book: Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age

Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age

Authors: Michael Bugeja and Daniela Dimitrova
Price: $18.00
Published: Summer 2010
ISBN: 978-1-936117-14-7
Printed on acid-free paper

A decade ago, most research was done in the library rather than through its Web site, and scholars, editors, graduate directors and librarians were meticulous about the integrity of footnotes. They knew that citation was the backbone of research, from agronomy to zoology in the sciences and from art history to Zen studies in the humanities. The footnote upheld standards because it allowed others to test hypotheses or replicate experiments. In sum, the footnote safeguarded scientific method and peer review upon which academe is based, from papers by first-year and transfer students to books by postdoc and professor.

Since 2003, authors Michael Bugeja and Daniela Dimitrova (Iowa State University of Science and Technology) have been at the forefront of research on the erosion of online footnotes and its implication for scholarship. Their research has been showcased in The Chronicle of Higher Education and a number of academic journals, including The Serials Librarian, portal: Libraries and the Academy, New Media and Society and Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, among others. Their book documents the vanishing act in flagship communication journals and provides readers with methods to mitigate the effect.

Michael Bugeja is director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University where he also serves on the board of the Institute of Science and Society. He is the author of 20 books, including the acclaimed Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age (Oxford Univ. Press, 2005) and Living Ethics across media platforms, and writes for several magazines, including The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. His comments about ethics appear in Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, Quill, Editor & Publisher and other publications.

Dr. Dimitrova’s research focuses on Information and Communication Technologies, Internet Diffusion, and Political Communication (ICTs). Her dissertation examined Internet adoption in the post-communist countries and proposed a multidimensional framework to predict Internet diffusion globally. Another interest is online news coverage of conflict (wars and terrorist attacks).

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July 9, 2010

Jaron Lanier against digital collectivism

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July 8, 2010

Facebook Intellectual Freedom Issue (Political Repression)

Just a quick link without comment to an IF issue that I think deserves the ALA establishment’s attention. Rowland Keshena of the Speed of Dreams blog has posted an item about Facebook’s recent actions shutting down Left-oriented groups and freezing their group administrators’ accounts: “Cataloging Political Repression on Facebook.” Some of the groups that have been shut down will not be very sympathetic to some people (e.g., most recently, a group devoted to freeing a FARC political prisoner), but even the liberal IF establishment says IF is about “protecting the speech we hate.” (And I think many Library Juice readers might be sympathetic to a number of the facebook groups that have been shut down recently.) Thanks to Jim Madigan for posting this link to the PLG discussion list.

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June 9, 2010

New book: A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement’s Adaptation into Cyberspace

A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement’s Adaptation into Cyberspace

Author: Adam Klein
Price: $25.00
Published: June 2010
ISBN: 978-1-936117-07-9

A Space for Hate speaks to the media and information topic of hate speech in cyberspace, but more specifically, how its inscribers have adapted their movement into the social networking and information-providing contexts of the modern online community. While many books in recent years have addressed the notable ways that popular internet culture and cyber trends such as blogging have democratized the community of information seekers and providers, little research to date has addressed the darker element that has emerged from that same democratic sphere. That is, the huge resurgence and successful transformation of hate groups across cyberspace, and in particular, those that promote white supremacist ideas and causes. In 2009, hate speech and white power movement organizations in the United States are on the rise once again, fueled by new issues but with familiar themes. Among them, the nomination of the first African-American president of the United States, a national economic crisis that has triggered ethnic scapegoating, and an immigration debate centered largely on illegal Hispanic immigrants. These are just some of the emerging social issues by which today’s hate groups have framed familiar messages of blame, anger, fear, resistance, uprising and action.

The author’s interest in this book project evolved from examining the powerful effects of what many media scholars commonly deem the “hypodermic needle” of mass communication – propaganda. Being the grandson of two Auschwitz survivors who documented their stories through oral and written tradition, his research in the modern day forms of hateful propaganda emanates from a desire to pursue the unanswered question of how the fever of racist sentiment can sweep over a civilized society as it has done so brutally in the past. A Space for Hate focuses on the white power movement, in particular, by using hate-based websites as a concrete and measurable field for examining racial and ethnically targeting messages in the age of information and technology. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more widespread today than within the unguarded walls of cyberspace. The increasingly acceptable domain of racist and anti-Semitic expression within such commonplace websites as Wikipedia, an “information” tool, and YouTube, the younger web community’s digital hub, initially suggested the need to further research the way that cyberspace was allowing blatant hate speech to once again flourish within mainstream popular culture. That investigation led to an investigation of white power movement websites where the new face of hate, in fact, does not resemble the book burning rallies of the neo-Nazi banner but rather the popular forums, media convergence centers, and information tools of social networking websites.

A Space for Hate speaks to the interests of readers of media and information studies material by focusing on three central spheres of hate speech in cyberspace: the legal/ethical concern, the cultural context, and the information aspect, each of which leads into the main body of the study of a series of hate group websites. First, any work on hate speech must begin by addressing the ‘free speech versus hate speech’ debate that has always surrounded the issue of hateful rhetoric in the media, and is further currently being tested on new ground in the World Wide Web. Tied into the legal debate of hate speech on the web are the ethical issues of the internet space itself such as its unregulated content, decentralized and unaccountable domain, and limitless exposure to younger audiences. Second, and perhaps most relevant to this topic is the cultural youth element of cyberspace, specifically those popular trends that have allowed hate-groups to adapt and flourish often under the camouflage of a “user-friendly” social network community. Finally the book investigates exactly how these hate groups are entering into the mainstream media culture by playing on traditional formats which convey their movements as tools of information – educational, political, spiritual, and even scientific in nature.

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May 7, 2010

Motives in the conception of the “user” in user-centered service design

The big theme in the current era of librarianship is to be user-centered. Being user centered is the key to maintaining relevance, changing with the times, and erasing the barriers to access that turn many people off to libraries. In the background of the idea of user-centeredness are two parallel but very different theories: critical pedagogy and market-based democracy. The theory that underlies a call to user-centeredness is often obscure or not worked out fully. The difference between the two theoretical foundations concerns, among other things, conceptions of the user and of the user’s surrounding structures – what is to be taken as a given.

There are a number of different theoretical problems underlying the idea of user-centeredness, but I want to make note of an idea concerning just one of them, and that is the way assumptions about who the user is serve to determine the conclusions about what will work best in “user-centered design.”

Take the new “next generation catalogs,” for example. They are designed to work better for “the user,” and librarians who find it more difficult to do the things we are used to doing in a catalog are told to keep in mind that the catalog is serving our users better than the old one. These catalogs have discovery tools built into them that enable undergraduate students to find resources on their topics without having to mess with subject headings or reason from a known lead to a title or an author. What reference librarians are good at is less relevant in the environment of the next-generation catalog, because it has the smarts to make it easy for students to “find stuff” on their own.

The success of these catalogs in “finding stuff” for users can only be measured against an idea of what the users are looking for and what kind of research they are doing. The research that supports these new catalogs tends to assume a user base of millennial undergrads, rather than non-traditional students, faculty members, grad students, or librarian intermediaries. This research tends to gloss over rather than justify the choice to focus on a subset of users in creating a more “user-centered” service design. Therefore, it seems that the definition of a user profile that gets applied in a “user centered” redesign can be a way of achieving goals of the designers that aren’t necessarily related to serving users better. In this case, one outcome of the “next gen” catalogs is to increasingly bypass the mediation of a librarian. This means that the market for a next gen catalog is shifting from the librarian to the undergraduate student, which is as a group is going to be less critical and “more available” in terms of the effectiveness of branding, advertising, alternative business models, etc. If vendors’ products are going to be built increasingly on open standards, as promised, then librarians and other researchers should be able to hack together new tools that will allow us to do the kinds of power searching we have always done in OPAC’s; however, it is important to keep in mind how we are being cut out of the loop in the name of “user centered” design.

I think most librarians can count a number of occasions when vendors or administrators have told them about changes that are based on “what users want” where the idea presented to us of “what users want” is contrary to our own experience with students. When we offer our own insights about users they tend to be discounted as moldy preconceptions rather than authoritative information about the users at our own institutions. I think there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical, critical, and inquisitive about the way the user is defined and characterized in “user centered” solutions that we don’t create ourselves.

This is a new idea for me that I plan to write about at length later. If you find it interesting and want to help, please comment with useful citations or concepts. Thanks!

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March 31, 2010

The Power of Google is Power

I just bought a Motorola Droid, which is Verizon’s Android-based smart phone, Android being Google’s OS for mobile devices. Its integration with Google gives me a lot of “power” to integrate my online tools with my mobile device, which is very satisfying. I experience it as empowering, and my attention is focused on learning what it can do and then on using it. My attention is not focused on Google itself and what its growing ubiquity may mean.

I am paranoid by nature, but I don’t have a vision of what Google’s growing power is going to mean decades from now. I know, however, that power corrupts. So I think I should be more scared than I am about the fact that:

  • Google records my search data
  • Google data-mines my email
  • Google tracks my visits to sites that use Google Analytics
  • Google is buying more and more websites and services and integrating the data it collects on them
  • Google maintains a database of my contacts
  • My Droid has a GPS that tells Google my location (I have the option to share it or not share it with friends – thanks for the privacy feature)
  • The usability and power of Google’s services compel me to share more and more of my own information with them – calendar, finance, shopping, documents, email
  • Google is exploring a service to manage our health records; I think it’s already available in beta
  • I can see my house on Google, from the street and from the sky
  • Google is becoming hungrier for financial returns. Its ad service is becoming more profitable, but if they can think of more ways of making money from their data, they will.

As I said, I don’t have a vision of the shape that all of this power will take. But it unquestionably adds up to power. Technologically, there is an economy to data integration that lends itself to Google growing larger and making competition more difficult. It is not like a dot com that can disappear when the fickle public notices a different one, because its strength lies in its huge database of user information. It is not so easy to migrate away from Google at this point.

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March 16, 2010

Audio interview with Slow Reading author John Miedema

Poet Dave Bonta has an podcast interview series on his Via Negativa blog. His latest interview is with John Miedema, author of Slow Reading. It’s a good listen.

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February 7, 2010

Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget

Jaron Lanier has a new book, You Are Not a Gadget (NY Times review), which I have to add to my reading list and bump up a few notches. There is an excerpt from it in the February issue of Harper’s: “The Serfdom of Crowds.” He’s writing along the lines of some of what I have been blogging about here, but from the perspective of an early tech industry insider. Also, he is an amazingly writerly writer for someone with his background…

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September 21, 2009

A.Word.A.Day this week

Anu Garg’s “A Word A Day” newsletter is the greatest thing in the world right now for (English) word lovers. He sends out an email each weekday that is all about a word. Each week his words are linked by some theme or characteristic. This week he is honoring Banned Books Weed with words about censorship and book banning, starting with “comstockery.”

Good stuff.

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September 8, 2009

Privacy smoke-and-mirrors

Something to notice when Facebook, Myspace, and other social networking sites address concerns about privacy is the way they focus on users’ ability to control other users’ access to their information, but neglect to mention their own use of that information. When they enable users to set up different levels of access to parts of profiles and sets of photos for different groups of friends, categories of users, and the like, this is supposed to mean that they are progressive in terms of privacy issues, and that we should view them as our friends and see them as concerned about our interest in privacy.

It reminds me of something I overheard when I was temping at a software company in the Silicon Valley during library school. I was in the marketing department of a major software company that had just started adding a web services component to their main product. One of their tasks as marketing people was to make their customers feel secure about the privacy of their data (financial data). The inside joke was, “Oh, don’t worry! We will keep your private data safe; we won’t share it with anyone!” The joke being that they had a lot of uses for it themselves, but didn’t exactly want to highlight it. They laughed about this.

So if Facebook eventually allows users to set up concentric circles of friends with different privacy settings for each circle, remember that Facebook (meaning Facebook employees and perhaps key investors) is everyone’s most intimate confidante, and is open about “monetizing” user’s information, but not about how they go about doing it. (We don’t get to know any of its secrets – it’s not a reciprocal “friendship.”)

I would say that it’s worth pointing out this smoke-and-mirrors game whenever there is new PR from social networking companies about their privacy features….

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May 12, 2009

A Seismic Shift in Epistemology

John Buschman sent a link out this morning to this article by Chris Dede in the current EDUCAUSE Review, “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology. The article examines the deep changes in the meaning of knowledge in the academy and elsewhere that are being effected by new technologies, with a focus on Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 applications. It’s a brief article, but I think Dede does a good job of clarifying what is going on, and manages to be more critical than EDUCAUSE authors are normally able to be (although he is not a knee-jerk “classicalist”).

Dede notes that at present, “the response of most educators is to ignore or dismiss this epistemological clash.” I think that’s somewhat true, but it’s partly because educators have so little time these days to reflect on the way that they teach and the way their curricula are structured (an important part of the problem). I like seeing things like this and I hope to see more thinking along these lines – further development of insights and clarification of problems and opportunities.

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May 10, 2009

Goodreads

For Goodreads users there is now a Goodreads Group for Library Juice Press and Litwin Books. If someone out there would be interested in helping make the group lively, let me know and we can cooperate.

Cheers….

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May 7, 2009

ASK video

A co-worker of mine shared this video with me, done by somebody she knows at the library at Indiana University. I think it is great, creates such a sunny feeling about their library’s services, and gets the important things across. I am going to talk my co-worker into copying Carrie Donovan so that we can have a video like this for our library. That’s a pretty great smile though, wouldn’t be easy for most people to do.

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