Geoffrey Fowler of The Washington Post reviews Hey Email:

To be sure, AI lets Gmail and Outlook do some nifty things, such as offering suggestions on how to write emails. But there’s no way to opt out of their data mining. “The assistive experiences people have come to expect and rely on in email are only made possible through the use of AI and machine learning models,” Lynn Ayres, the general manager of Outlook, said in an email.


Privacy: Major News Sites Collect Data Too

Timothy Libert, a computer science faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, writing in The New York Times:

The press has performed admirably in reporting on privacy violations by the National Security Agency and major internet companies. But news sites often expose users to the same surveillance programs and data-collection companies they criticize. Even articles that explained how the N.S.A. was using Google cookies to “pinpoint targets for hacking” often included the exact same cookies revealed by Edward Snowden. Likewise, articles about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica often include Facebook tracking code, allowing Facebook to keep tabs on what people read.

Libert points out that surveillance on news sites can reveal some very personal information like political leanings and health interests.

We all need to protect ourselves even when visiting “trusted” sources.

Fortunately, Libert’s site reports no trackers.

Targeted Advertising: What to do?

Dr. Nathalie Maréchal, a senior research fellow at Ranking Digital Rights, wrote in 2018 on Motherboard:

Online tracking is ubiquitous, Tim Libert, of Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, told me in an email. “Across the top one million websites you will be tracked on 91 percent of sites. I’ve been doing these types of scans for years and the results are always the same: you can’t browse the web without being tracked, period. Companies track you when you visit medical websites, pornography websites, websites for lawyers, websites for politicians, newspaper websites, and the same goes for apps. There are very few things that people don’t seek out or share using a computer and nearly all of that is tracked, all the time, by the billion dollar giants you see in the news as well as hundreds of companies you’ve never heard of.”

Libert adds that techniques to limit tracking are “like taking aspirin to cure your cancer, it may make you feel a little better for a few hours but you’re still dealing with cancer. The only way to root out the cancer of targeted advertising is regulation.”

I read articles like this all the time and I accept that significant tracking is just about everywhere online. The big question is what if anything to do about it:

  • Some don’t worry about privacy saying they have nothing to hide. I don’t find that a satisfying response. Some things ought to be private.

  • Others, seek to have no digital presence. That’s a lot of effort and, in any event, who wants to be the man in the tin foil hat? The modern internet offers many benefits.

  • In the middle, are people like journalism professor and podcast personality Jeff Jarvis who argue that although Facebook and its ilk have their faults journalists ought “to work with Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, et al because they are running the internet of the day; they are the gateways to the public we serve; and they need our help to do the right thing.”

It’s time to get past describing the challenge and get on with building a better internet.

Privacy Resources

These are privacy sites I have found to be useful sources of information:

That One Privacy Site: The site has excellent VPN reviews. The site also has valuable information about email providers.

Privacy Tools: Provides knowledge and tools to protect your privacy against mass surveillance.

The Complete Privacy and Security Podcast is a weekly podcast that helps listeners to maintain their privacy in the digital age.

Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University: The Center brings “together the sharpest, most thoughtful people from around the globe to tackle the biggest challenges presented by the Internet.”

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