Weekly output: Trump’s Twitter blocking, Facebook ad transparency, Facebook’s $5 billion fine

If you’ve been meaning to ask me “say, when are you ever going to update the Wirecutter guide to smartphone wireless service?”–that is what took up a good share of this week. So if you want to spring an intensely involved question about wireless rate plans, I’m now much better positioned than usual to answer it.

7/9/2019: Court rules Trump can’t block Twitter followers, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on to explain a federal appeals court ruling that President Trump can’t block people from following his Twitter account. I think the court was right to rule that by using this Twitter account to announce government decisions, Trump turned it into a government outlet… but my bigger issue with Trump’s Twitter presence remains its ignorant, hateful and bigoted content.

7/13/2019: How you can see which companies found you on Facebook, USA Today

I wrote this post in about an hour Thursday at a privacy conference hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That event fortuitously featured an executive from one of the data brokers revealed to me by Facebook’s new ad-transparency feature (as seen in the screengrab at right), and this LiveRamp executive’s talk gave me a couple of good quotes with which to end the column.

7/13/2019: Facebook faces $5 billion fine, Al Jazeera

I returned to AJ to provide some context on the widely-reported move by the Federal Trade Commission to fine Facebook $5 billion for its failings in the Cambridge Analytica data heist. My main points: That’s a huge amount of money compared to past FTC actions, but it’s nothing to Facebook, so we’ll have to see what conditions and restrictions the FTC imposes with that penalty.

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Bookmarks for a Web privacy tune-up

I talked at length about privacy when I spoke this morning at the Washington Apple Pi user group’s general meeting–but I realized halfway through that I was keeping too much documentation to myself. As in, I hadn’t remembered to put together a set of links for the privacy settings I discussed.

That’s where this post comes in.

Ad preferences: If you don’t want giant Web platforms to target you with ads based on your browsing history–or if you want to correct some inaccurate targeting–these settings will let you do that.

  • At Amazon, selecting “Do Not Personalize Ads from Amazon for this Internet Browser” will stop the retailer from retargeting you across the Web with reminders of things you searched for. But you’ll have to remember to adjust this in every browser in which you shop at Amazon.
  • Facebook provides more control, allowing you to set “Ads based on data from partners” and “Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere” to “Not allowed.” You can also see what interests Facebook thinks you have and check which advertisers and businesses have targeted you on the social network with their own uploaded contact lists.
  • At Google, you can see what interests the Web giant has discerned in you and opt out of its ad personalization; taking that step will reward you with the image of the sleeping robot shown above.

Tracking protection: If you use Apple’s Safari, you’re already protected from ad networks’ attempts to follow you around the Web to build a model of your interests. New installs of Mozilla Firefox include a comparable level of default tracking protection, as I wrote at USA Today two weeks ago, but you may need to change these settings yourself. Select “Content Blocking” from the menu, click “Custom” and set it to block trackers “Only in Private Windows” and block only cookies identified as “Third-party trackers.”

You may also want to install the Facebook Container extension to shut down Facebook’s attempts to track you on other sites, although I’m not totally clear on what this adds over the newest tracking protection.

Limit Google’s memory: While Google’s ability to remind you of where you’ve been can be useful, that doesn’t mean it should have unrestricted access to that information. Fortunately, you can now set Google to automatically erase your Web and app activity after three or 18 months. You can also take advantage of the lesser-known of option of setting a sync passphrase for your copies of Google Chrome that will encrypt your browsing history, leaving Google unable to use that data in building a profile of your interests.

Weekly output: online-privacy tips, Meltdown and Spectre bug fixes, CES

LAS VEGAS–My 21st CES in a row hasn’t even officially started, and I already feel tired. (That probably has something to do with getting up at 6 a.m. for an 8:20 flight out of Dulles.) I’m here through Thursday night to see where the electronics industry is headed. If you’re here too, you can heckle me when I help emcee the Last Gadget Standing competition Thursday.

USA Today privacy-tips post1/3/2018: Limit how Facebook, Google and Amazon use your private info, USA Today

You’ve seen me offer some of these privacy principles in other stories before, but this time around I could put all of them in one post.

1/4/2018: How Big Tech has left you in the dark about massive CPU flaws, Yahoo Finance

Not long after this got posted, Apple finally put up a simple, coherent explanation of the Meltdown and Spectre CPU bugs and what iOS and macOS users should do about them. If only I could take any credit for forcing their hand like that… but no, I can’t.

1/7/2018: What to expect at CES 2018, the biggest gadget show of the year, Yahoo Finance

One thing that’s never changed over the last two decades of my attending CES: seeing companies offer new reasons why I should think my current TV is inadequate.