Monday, November 04, 2013

Being Cyber-Stalked is Damned Annoying

Cyber-stalking is becoming an inescapable part of life for pretty much anybody who uses an electronic device these days from a smart phone to a computer surfing the internet.

Case in point.  I was looking for a new desk chair.  That drew me online to explore options and check reviews.  It didn't take long to narrow the field to three and, from there, I surfed around to get a handle on prices.

The chair I most liked I found available for a good $200 less than anywhere else at  I contacted the company and, yes, they had the chair available for the stated price - in black only (naturally) - but I would have to pay $170 to ship it to me up here on the island.

Then I called the manufacturer's authorized dealer in Nanaimo.  Yes I could have it for $200 more than the online seller and I could also have it in any colour I wanted and, because they were an authorized dealer, it came with the manufacturer's vaunted lifetime warranty.  But what mattered most to me was that I was spending my money here on the island through a local retailer employing local people... and I knew where to go and who to contact if problems occurred later.  Done, done, and done. 

Madison seating, however, wasn't done with me.  Now every third or fourth web page I open displays an ad for Madison Seating.  I'm sure there would be some other ad for some other company's wares there in any case but it's creepy nonetheless to see this vendor so regularly.  It conveys the realization that there's a commercial service, in the employ of Madison, that's being paid to keep the company's ads in my face.  It's targeted, cyber-stalking of what is probably the most obvious form. 

As Kevin Drum noted on Mother Jones the other day:

...if Target can analyze your shopping habits to figure out if you're pregnant—and it can—another company might figure out that you're in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and then start badgering you to buy worthless insurance policies. Multiply that by a thousand and "targeted advertising" doesn't seem quite so benign anymore.

As a society of latter-day sheeple now hopelessly inured to cyber-handling of all varieties, it's hard to imagine our increasingly corporatist governments intervening until enough harm has been caused to shake us out of our stupor of indifference.

For now I'll keep my eye on Madison Seating just as they're keeping a cyber-eye on me and my wanderings.   How long will they be with me?  Stay tuned.

Bear in mind that this is not just an American-based problem.  Major Canadian telecoms, including Bell, are commercially data-mining their customers.  It's a form of "You play ball with us  and we'll stick the bat up your ass" relationship.   Your cable TV provider, your internet service provider, and your landline and cell phone provider is also your cyber-predator - and it's all on your own dime!


Dana said...

I see no ads anywhere.

Lorne said...

I just installed Ad Block Pus, a Chrome extension. Seems to be working like a charm.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for the tip, Dana & Lorne. Does it only work with Chrome? I've been running into indigestion from Chrome + Blogger.

Dana said...

Opera, Firefox and IE. Android too if you're mobile. Unless you actually like the ads of course. There's always that possibility in this whacked out world.

Purple library guy said...

Yeah, originally it was just Firefox, it's been around since Firefox was the only browser with add-ons. Very popular piece of software.

At home I also run something called NoScript, but it may be more trouble than it's worth. Basically, the thing does what it says--stops all web page scripts from running, unless you say they can. Problem is, there are a LOT of pages that don't do half of what they should unless you allow a bunch of stuff. But it remembers what you allow, so pages I regularly go to are fine, I've got them set to allow what's needed and shut down most of the spyware.
In particular I've managed to continue disallowing various Google scripts, which as near as I can make out are there to figure out what ads I look at, what I'm shopping for, what searches I'm doing and match them to me so they can tweak my future searches and tailor what ads I see (except I don't see them anyway 'cause of Adblock+, but whatever). It's a vaguely nice feeling, and it's been a bit of an education in just how many little scriptlets and pieces pulled from all kinds of companies are activated on the average commercial website. But it's still a pain when I go to a web page I haven't been on before and have to fiddle around figuring out which scripts I need to allow (maybe temporarily) for the damn thing to work.