January 31, 2012

How to prevent Google from tracking you

Much has been made of Google's new privacy policy, which takes effect March 1. If you're concerned about Google misusing your personal information or sharing too much of it with advertisers and others, there are plenty of ways to thwart Web trackers.
But what exactly are you thwarting? You don't become anonymous when you block tracking cookies, Web beacons, and the other identifiers as you browse. Your ISP and the sites you visit still know a lot about you, courtesy of the identifying information served up automatically by your browser.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers thePanopticlick service that rates the anonymity of your browser. The test shows you the identifiable information provided by your browser and generates a numerical rating that indicates how easy it would be to identify you based solely on your browser's fingerprint.
According the the entropy theory explained by Peter Eckersley on the EFF's DeepLinks blog, 33 bits of entropy are sufficient to identify a person. According to Eckersley, knowing a person's birth date and month (not year) and ZIP code gives you 32 bits of entropy. Also knowing the person's gender (50/50, so one bit of entropy) gets you to the identifiable threshold of 33 bits.
When I ran Panopticlick's test on a Mac Mini, it reported 20.89 bits of identifiable information, which according to the entropy formula would be insufficient to identify me. But maybe I want the sites I frequent to know a little bit about me. As I explained in a post from last October, personal information is the currency of the Web.
Results of Panopticlick browser-anonyity scan
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Panopticlick scanner generates a numerical rating of your browser's anonymity.
(Credit: Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly)
In some ways, Google's explanation of personalized ads is more informative than the company's privacy policy. Of course it's in Google's best interest to keep you in the personalized-ads fold, but the company does its best to present personalization as a boon to users. It certainly does help pay for the "free" services we've come to rely on.
Use Google's own tools to opt out of ad networks
Prominent in the Google privacy policy are links to services that let you view and manage the information you share with Google. Some of this personal data you volunteer, and some of it is collected by Google as you search, browse, and use other services.
To view everything (almost) Google knows about you, open the Google Dashboard. Here you can access all the services associated with your Google account: Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, Picasa, Blogger, AdSense, and every other Google property. The dashboard also lets you manage your contacts, calendar, Google Groups, Web history, Google Voice account, and other services.
Google Dashboard service listings
Get information about all the Google services associated with your account in one place via the Google Dashboard.
(Credit: Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly)
More importantly, you can view and edit the personal information stored by each Google service, or delete the service altogether. To see which other services have access to the account's information, click "Websites authorized to access the account" at the top of the Dashboard. To block an authorized service from accessing the account, click Revoke Access next to the service name.
Sites authorized to access your Google account
View the services that access information in your Google account via a link on the Google Dashboard.
(Credit: Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly)
The Google Ads Preferences Manager lets you block specific advertisers or opt out of all targeted advertising. Click the "Ads on the Web" link in the left column and then choose "Add or edit" under "Your categories and demographics" to select the categories of ads you want to be served or to opt out of personalized ads.
Google Ad Preferences Manager categories and opt-out options
Google's Ad Preferences Manager lets you choose the categories of ads you see or opt out of personalized ads entirely.
(Credit: Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly)
Another option is to use Google's Keep My Opt-Outs extension for Chrome. Google also participates in the Network Advertising Initiative's opt-out program. Select some or all of the dozens of online advertisers from the NAI program and then click Submit to place a cookie in your browser instructing the ad networks not to serve personalized ads.
Free add-on for Firefox and Google Chrome targets tracking cookies
Several free browser extensions help you identify and block the companies that are tracking you on the Web. For example, Ghostery (available in versions for Firefox and Chrome) adds an icon to your browser toolbar showing the number of trackers on the current page. Click the icon to see a list of the trackers and view options for blocking or white-listing specific ones.
The free Disconnect extension (also available for Facebook and Chrome) takes a more direct approach to wiping your Web tracks. Disconnect blocks tracking by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and Digg. It also has an option for depersonalizing searches.
Disconnect tracker-blocking pop-up window in Google Chrome
The free Disconnect extension for Google Chrome and Firefox blocks tracking by Google and other popular Web services.
(Credit: screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly)
As with Ghostery, Disconnect places an icon in the browser toolbar that shows the number of elements it has blocked on the current page. Click the icon to open a window showing the number of trackers blocked for each service. To unblock tracking for one of the services, click its entry. (Note that I tested Disconnect only with Google; also, blocking of international Google domains is not yet available, according to Disconnect's developers.)
When I tested Disconnect, I had to sign in to Gmail, Google Docs, and other Google services every time I returned to or refreshed one of those pages, which is understandable considering that blocking the cookie prevents Google from keeping you signed in. Otherwise I was able to use Google services without a problem, including search, viewing and sending Gmail, and accessing, creating, uploading, and downloading Google Docs files.
While people are rightly concerned about who is watching and recording their Web activities, at least Google makes it possible to use the company's services without being too forthcoming with your personal information. ISPs and other Web services do as much tracking as Google--or more--but garner far fewer headlines. For a detailed look at the state of privacy in the digital world, read about the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Surveillance Self-Defense project.
After all, the true threat to privacy is from the trackers we don't know about, and who aren't household names.

Chart of the Week: Top 1 Percent Paid 38 Percent of Federal Income Taxes

President Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday to outline his idea of fairness. To put it simply, that means redistributing wealth by raising taxes on the most successful Americans.
“If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes,” Obama declared. He added: “Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”
Heritage’s Curtis Dubay challenged Obama’s characterization of the so-called “Buffett Rule.” Dubay said it was a fallacy.
“The President can claim success on this one even before he ends his speech tonight because the Buffett Rule is already soundly in place,” Dubay wrote in response to Obama’s speech. “According to the CBO, the top 1% of income earners pay 30 percent of their income in all federal taxes.”
This week’s chart reveals the top 10 percent of income earners paid 70 percent of all federal income taxes in 2008, while the bottom 50 percent paid only 3 percent. Remarkably, 49 percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax at all.

George Soros: There’s not much difference between Obama and Romney


Via RCP. Alternate headline: “George Soros cuts the greatest Gingrich attack ad of all time.” Newt, in fact, mentioned Soros’s comments here three times in his interview with ABC this morning; no doubt the footage below is coming soon to a Winning Our Future spot near you. Is Soros on the level, though, or is he playing a little Pelosi/Vizzini mind game? He knows he’s a right-wing boogeyman whose comments on the race will be exploited for advantage. Presumably he also knows that Mitt’s a greater threat to Obama in swing states than Gingrich is. Here’s a quick, simple way to give Romney the kiss of death. Then again, how many Republican voters actually know who Soros is and why they’re supposed to fear/loathe him? Committed grassroots activists do, but they’re already in the Gingrich or Santorum camps precisely because they agree with Soros’s point.
Ah well. Bookmark this now in case Mitt’s the nominee, as it’ll be fun to return to it in six months when the left’s convinced itself that Romney is some sort of cross between Gordon Gekko and Hitler. Oh, and be sure to watch to the end or else you’ll miss him lamenting Obama’s refusal to nationalize the banks after the financial crisis. Good ol’ George.

George Soros

A man with a US dollar bill taped over his mouth joins members of trade unions join "Occupy Wall Street" protesters during a march to Foley Square on October 5, 2011 in New York. The demonstrators are protesting bank bailouts, foreclosures and high unemployment from their encampment in the financial district of New York City. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

More Money, More Problems: How Occupy Wall Street Is Really Funded [UPDATED]

UPDATE: This story was revised October 18 with new information including an updated number for the total amount of funds raised by the protest. It was originally posted on October 14 and ran in The New York Observer print edition Wednesday, October 19.

“George Soros money is behind this!” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners two weeks ago, feeding speculation that the “99 percent” agenda espoused by the Occupy Wall Street protesters has filthy-rich backers—a claim picked up by Reuters and heatedly debated in the media. Soros money? If only. Around the time Reuters was walking back its headline, “Who’s Behind the Wall Street Protests,” later revised to “Soros: Not a Funder,” protesters were voting on whether to spend $3,000 on brooms and trash cans to clean up the occupied plaza in order to avoid eviction by the city.

Back in July, when local activists hammered out the logistics of the Occupy Wall Street protest, they were planning for little more than an urban camping trip. Committees were established to handle security, medication and sanitation. Nourishment was a major concern. Fundraising was an afterthought.

Still, onlookers are rightfully eager to follow the money. Politics have been so dominated by financing for so long that a major movement without major backers seems unthinkable. Last week, Republicans announced a new Super PAC determined, according to The New York Times, to “raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to defend the party’s majority next year”; meanwhile, President Barack Obama raised more than $42 million for his re-election campaign over the last three months.

Donations are flowing into Occupy Wall Street as well, though on a much smaller scale; as of Tuesday the protest’s general fund has raised approximately $294,000, according to members of the finance committee on Tuesday (although the committee is still refining its balance sheet in advance of giving it to a CPA). That’s enough to keep the demonstrators well-fed and livestreaming, but it’s not Soros-level treasure. READ MORE
reuters before

Reuters and George Soros: Before and After

Update 7:24pm: Reuters has reverted the post back to its original story (Who's behind the Wall Street protests?), and added a different URL to host the updated one (Soros: not a funder of Wall Street protests). So it looks like they're running both pieces with no indication that the other one exists. Reuters Social Media Editor Anthony DeRosa said on Twitter that there was a "note added at bottom with link to original story, which should have been done in the first place" but we don't see it at this URL. Or the other one. Got it? Yeah, we're confused, too.

Reuters caused a bit of a stir today when they published a story connecting George Soros to Occupy Wall Street. This did not go over well, because the connection was tenuous at best, and at its worst, patently questionable.

So: Reuters changed the story. Not "corrected," or "published a rebuttal to the original reporting," but "changed the story."

These are both at the same URL, with no correction or note appended at the bottom.


Reuters and the Occupy Wall Street ‘Connection’ to George Soros: The Reviews Are In!

Newswire service Reuters published a piece today looking to follow the money and the foundation of Occupy Wall Street. The not-at-all-subtle headline by (Reuters' New York and Northeastern Bureau Chief) Mark Egan and correspondent Michelle Nichols' report: "Who's behind the Wall St. protests?" Their answer is even better: liberal billionaire George Soros. How'd they get there? READ MORE

Soros is Thrown a Lawsuit While Pawlenty Throws in the Towel

The riots in London seem finally to have subsided, but strange things are afoot stateside this week, so much so that we’re starting to wonder if Mercury, which went retrograde Aug. 3, is currently doing to the entire planet what it once did so publicly to Jeremy Piven. (Also, when does the statute of limitations READ MORE

George Soros Is Probably Not Issuing Grants Via Email Spam

Despite appearances to the contrary, billionaire philanthropist George Soros is probably not issuing grants via email spam originating from a U.K. Microsoft Live email account. A colleague at The Observer this morning received two emails purporting to grant a $900,000 George Soros Empowerment Award to the recipient. The humorous text of the email follows:

Soros Money Flows to New York Senate Democrats

Liberal billionaire George Soros and members of his family have contributed a little more than $1 million into state campaign coffers since 2000, with nearly all of it going to help Democrats in the State Senate.Already this year, George, his son Robert, Robert’s wife, Melissa, and another son, Jonathan, contributed $199,500. George, Robert and READ MORE

George Soros to Host John Hall Fundraiser

John Hall, a freshman Democratic congressmember from the Hudson Valley, is having a fund-raiser at the home of Democratic super-donor George Soros on December 17, and Representative Charlie Rangel will be in attendance.Tickets start at $500.The invite notes that Hall is a Democrat facing a tough re-election, and:
“won election by the closest READ MORE

Spine or Scat? Marty Peretz Gets Down

One great thing about blogging is it reveals a writer's true nature, flaws and all. (Like my flakiness; I try and ground myself but there it is; I think in Kabbala they would say I am too much in my chochma). The latest evidence of this is Marty Peretz's pro-Israel blog, the Spine. Peretz is READ MORE

A Lobby for the Rest of Us

Further proof that anyone who said Walt and Mearsheimer were extremists had their head up their— Today's Ha'aretz reports the formation of a lobbying group to counter AIPAC's hawkish position in the U.S. George Soros is involved. So is IPF, M.J. Rosenberg's Washington sock. What great news; it's about time. The world is changing! READ MORE

Fuel for Soros Theorists

Greg Sargent, in his new side-gig at TPM Cafe, reports that gazillionaire George Soros will be hosting a Hamptons fund-raiser in August for the DNC. His analysis: "You may recall that Soros pledged to raise $75 million to defeat George Bush in 2004, a vow which inspired much muttering on the right about Soros's READ MORE

Hillary’s Party

Two Hillary items not to miss: The Washington Posts's disclosure yesterday of the fact that Harold Ickes is setting up what amounts to a parallel Democratic Party to the one run by Howard Dean (whom they obviously don't trust), using George Soros's money for one of those fancy voter databses that some credit with READ MORE

The Power Geezers

The great editor Clay Felker, who invented so much of what drives this newspaper and so many magazines in New York City, liked to refer to New York as the “City of Ambition,” a phrase created by his friend Tom Wolfe. What is the City of Ambition? Exactly what you’re thinking: the astonishing combination ofREAD MORE

Scandal! Greed! Conniving! Gluttony! Gallo In $2.4 M. Flip. Plus: Gail Gregg Sells Studio; Soros Gets $5 M. in Village

Brown Bunny auteur and downtown fixture Vincent Gallo may take risks with film critics (Roger Ebert lambasted the movie as "The worst film in the history of the [Cannes] festival"; Mr. Gallo retorted with unkind remarks about morbid obesity), but he certainly counts his chips in the high-stakes Manhattan real-estate poker game.
After already swapping a READ MORE

Conservatives Shocked By the Power of Money

Whenever Republican leaders complain about the power of money in politics, the source of their concern is always the same: Somewhere, a Democrat of means has just written a substantial check. To Republicans who regard their financial advantage as a partisan birthright, such leveling gestures seem terribly unfair-as unsporting as a liberal who fights back.

Is the Big Bang Just a Big Hoax? David Berlinski Challenges Everyone

Everyone assumes David Berlinski must have a hidden agenda. Everyone-well, not everyone, but a number of the evolutionists and cosmologists he's outraged with his iconoclastic critiques of conventional wisdom in their fields-assumes that, lurking somewhere behind Mr. Berlinski's stinging attacks on the mathematical foundations of the grand theories of the origins of man and the READ MORE