Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Just giving it away

Somebody is telling secrets, and I don't know who.

A few days ago I was chatting with someone on OKCupid and the topic of the movie Willow came up.  You know, the fantasy story about a little person on a quest to fight the evil queen, with Val Kilmer as Madmartigan, the greatest swordsman in the world?

That isn't a particular interesting thing.  Just chatting about an old movie, whatever.

The interesting part is that the next day Facebook slapped some Willow stuff on my page, trying to leverage it to get me to click on things.  I am pretty sure Willow has never appeared there before, and the timing is more than a little suspicious.  I know Facebook targets ads, as it has certainly decided that I want to see fitness oriented ads lately, but since I upload my recent exercise related posts to Facebook that is no mystery.

But how did Facebook find out that I like Willow?

I came up with three possibilities.  One is that gmail is selling me out.  I get emails from OKCupid to let me know about messages, and they contain snippets of conversation.  The name of a character from Willow was there, so it is possible that gmail noticed the character name, linked it to Willow, and sold that information to Facebook.

The second possibility is that Chrome monitors all my text inputs into the internet and sold that information directly to Facebook.

Lastly, OKCupid itself could be selling my information to Facebook.  That seems less likely though as OKC doesn't have my real contact information the way Google does so they would have to guess - or perhaps they could just match up my email address and give Facebook information that way.

It isn't as though this bothers me.  I would happily just tell all these companies that I like Willow.  All the better for them to give me more entertaining advertisements!  Also since I post all kinds of far more personal stuff on my blog this is hardly an issue.

But it does make you think, and should certainly worry anyone who wants privacy on the web.  You don't have it.  Companies shuttle your information back and forth in a desperate attempt to find more efficient ways to get your attention and dip into your wallet.  There is no way around that without just flat out refusing to use things like Facebook completely.  For me this is a cost well worth paying since after all I use these services for free and you don't get something for nothing.  If they couldn't find some sneaky way to monetize free online tools I would either have to pay hard cash or do without, and I don't particularly want to do either.

Obviously this sort of stuff is evil, in a way.  But it is useful evil, to me at least.  I just wish everyone understood exactly how it worked before they signed themselves up for it.


  1. Based on my experience I would say gmail is the guilty party. I am impervious to any ads anywhere. BB

  2. I might be wrong, but I think the culprit is facebook. Assuming you use the same browser to chat on OKCupid as you do to log onto facebook I'm pretty sure tracking cookies can scoop that kind of information (i.e., everything you do).