Tune out, turn off, drop in.
I cut off my cable service about two years ago, and I don't have access to non-pay broadcast television. At first, I had a little anxiety about disconnecting myself from the hive, but in all honesty, other than having to wait a day to stream the latest episode of "The Walking Dead," it hasn't made that much of a difference in my life.
One thing I did notice, was how much more peaceful video content became without exposure to advertisements. One thing about streaming TV shows, you realize how much shorter they are than when peppered with ads. Many hour-long TV shows are 1/3 advertisements. I still catch a few ads here and there on HULU and at the free streaming site, Crackle, though it's usually the same few ads over and over and they are fewer and farther between and of much shorter duration. But what cutting back my exposure to broadcast advertising has done is made me even more acutely aware of all the other myriad sources of advertising to which my family and I are being exposed.
It's been years since I've listened to the radio. I never could stand all the advertisements mixed with music so I use a web service (Spotify) to stream whatever I want without ads.
But turning off the TV and radio have not, unfortunately, made me immune to the bombardment of advertising and propaganda.
Since I'm one of those freaks of society who never learned how to drive, I take a bus, which are often covered with ads on the outside, and strips of ads over the windows on the inside. There are advertisements at the bus stations and transit centers and on the backseats of cabs, these days, the ads in cabs are broadcast on little screens. There are advertisements plastered in toilet stalls in bars and restaurants, and video screens in elevators with advertisements. As you travel along the roadways you cannot avoid the ads on billboards and the sides of buildings.
The print media, too, lately seems like almost nothing but advertisements. Have you picked up a fashion magazine lately? It's hard to tell where the ads leave off and the content begin. Newspapers, news magazines, National Geographic, Popular Science, Harper's, The New Yorker – all crammed full of ads to varying degree.
But probably the worst and most insidious advertising is on the internet. Because of the technology of cookies, browsing history, and other “smart” programs that track what sites you visit, what products you look at, what you “like” and even what you post in your Facebook status updates, are all used to expose users to ads targeted expressly to them. Even on dailykos.com, the advertisement at the top of the page is something I've looked at on, for example, Overstock.com.
When I log on to Facebook, there are ads related to things about which I've posted. Because of my status updates and profile, not to mention the cookies, Facebook knows I live in Seattle, that I'm a mom, that I'm a renter, that I think I'm overweight, and that I smoke. Since I looked at Rent.com recently, I see advertisements about apartments or for real estate seminars being held in Seattle. Because I've written about quitting smoking my page shows ads about teeth whitening products. And since I write about getting old and chubby, I see ads that will help melt belly fat. I belong to one or two groups devoted to Flamenco, so I see ads for the latest Gipsy Kings record, and dance performances coming up in Seattle. One time my status update contained “goat cheese” and I kid you not, soon after an ad for goat cheese and other gourmet products shows up in my stream. The ads used to only appear off to the side of one's feed, but now they are also interspersed throughout users' feeds as though they were friends' posts.
Just like VNRs (video news releases, broadcast segments paid for by corporations or government to look like news segments during a news hour, these advertisements are designed to look like your friends' posts so that you'll pay attention rather than scroll past them.
The internet has overtaken the TV as the number one delivery method of advertising and propaganda and offers a much more fertile ground for ways to intimately track and specifically target certain users.
"There are people on the internet who monitor everything I do on the web, every site I visit, and use that information to deliver targeted advertising."
Not long ago, I went to Overstock.com to look at some starburst wall mirrors because I was thinking of getting one to hang over my fireplace. To this day, when I log on to dailykos.com from my PC, there on the sidebar is an Overstock.com ad featuring a starburst wall mirror, and similar products of that sort.
The first time I remember seeing this happen, that an ad on dailykos featured something I had just looked at, I thought it was an amazing coincidence. Until it kept happening, then I realized, duh, of course, there are people on the internet who monitor everything I do on the web, every site I visit, and use that information to deliver "targeted advertising." It sounds paranoid but in fact, it's as commonplace as ... well, logging on to Overstock.com.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a three-part series on web-user tracking, New Cookie Technologies: Harder to See and Remove, Widely Used to Track You
that I recommend reading.
From Part 1:Imagine that, cookies that "respawn" making them almost impossible to delete!
"What's more, the Berkeley researchers found that Flash cookies are often used to deliberately circumvent users' HTTP cookie policies. That is, a site may intentionally store the same information redundantly in both HTTP cookie and Flash cookie forms. When a user deletes the HTTP cookie, the site may "respawn" it from the copy that was stored as a Flash cookie! It seems clear that site operators know many users don't want to be tracked with cookies, but have found a way of circumventing those users' privacy preferences.
These privacy-invasive marketing practices need greater scrutiny. We need more research to reveal whether the other kinds of cookies McKinley described are also being used to track users, as Soltani and his collaborators showed that Flash cookies are. It's entirely possible that Flash cookies will turn out to be just the tip of the next-generation user tracking iceberg."
Part 2 offers a few ways for users to protect themselves against the "super-cookies."
What can I do to protect myself?Some people may not be very alarmed, it's just advertising keeping pace with technology, and maybe even some people like having their personalized road to the internet decorated with billboards for only those ads and services they are interested in.
2. Disable Flash Cookies and all the other kinds of "super cookies". You can test for thesehere.
4. Use the Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out plugin. This will automatically opt you out of any 3rd party trackers who have an opt out somewhere that requires you to accept a cookie. Be aware that not all 3rd parties will offer opt outs, or that some of them may interpret "opt out" to mean "do not show me targeted ads", rather than "do not track my behavior online".
5. As always, it doesn't hurt to use Tor via TorButton to hide your IP address and other browser characteristics when you want maximal browser privacy.
Unfortunately, many of the steps above are quite difficult to follow, and we're fearful that the vast majority of Internet users will continue to be tracked by dozens of companies — companies they've never heard of, companies they have no relationship with, companies they would never choose to trust with their most private thoughts and reading habits.
"Unfortunately, many of the steps above are quite difficult to follow, and we're fearful that the vast majority of Internet users will continue to be tracked by dozens of companies — companies they've never heard of, companies they have no relationship with, companies they would never choose to trust with their most private thoughts and reading habits."
If there are companies out there that track users' web use for advertising purposes, then you damn well know that someone is also tracking users' other pursuits. There is no doubt in my mind that my trips to CounterPunch.Org, OccupySeattle.org, ElectricIntifada.net, CommonDreams.org, etc. are recorded and stored in a database and therefore, it would not be difficult for someone with access to that information to ascertain my political leanings.
They -- and by "they," I mean those who track and record internet users' activities -- know who is hungry and ordering from GrubHub, they know who's horny and cruising the Craigslist personals, the know who's looking for a romantic partner and making dating profiles, they know who is unemployed or who's not happy at their job and combing the job sites, they know who wants to take a vacation in Mexico and looking at hotel rates on Price.com. In short, they know or can surmise everything about you.