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All Things Digital – Frontrunner or Weasel Text

Privacy on the Internet is starting to get some mainstream traction as more and more folks are getting a clue, the collection and sale of browsing information is becoming big business, and arguably the premier business publication the Wall Street Journal posted an incredibly detailed series.The ouroboros elegance of this business publication opening the trenchcoat of online business is stunning.

All Things Digital is technology website owned by the Wall Street Journal.  In an interesting turn of events like “eating their own dogfood” which is geek speak for practicing what you preach, your first time to All Things Digital, or if you clear all your cookies will bring you to the front page with a yellow banner.

Here is a screenshot of a page from All Things Digital for Oct. 1, 2010. Note the yellow banner entitled “A note about tracking cookies”

“Some of the advertisers and Web analytics firms used on this site may place “tracking cookies” on your computer. We are telling you about them right upfront, and we want you to know how to get rid of these tracking cookies if you like. Read more »”


That they are telling us upfront is a fib since they have been online a number of years and this is the first I have seen it. This is ‘advancing to the rear’ and or  a PR Stunt to make you like getting your privacy violated. Put it away right now as we follow the Read more link.


Here is the text of their explanation:

Tracking cookies are small text files that can tell such companies what you are doing online, even though they usually don’t record your name or other personably identifiable information. These cookies are used by these companies to try and match ads to a user’s interests. They are used all over the Web, but in most cases, their presence is only disclosed deep inside privacy policies.

We want you to know how to get rid of these tracking cookies if you like. Here are links to pages where you can opt out of the cookies set by our ad-placement contractor and our analytics contractor:

* http://www.doubleclick.com/privacy/index.aspx
* http://www.omniture.com/privacy/2o7

We’d prefer a totally opt-in system, but, as far as we know, the ad industry doesn’t have a practical one as of now.

If you want to clean out all tracking cookies from all your Web sites, here are links where you can download three programs that can clean out tracking cookies:

* http://www.lavasoftusa.com/products/ad-aware_se_personal.php
* http://www.spybot.info/en/download/index.html
* http://www.webroot.com/consumer/products/spysweeper/

You can also change the preferences or settings in your Web browser to control cookies. In some cases, you can choose to accept cookies from the primary site, but block them from third parties. In others, you can block cookies from specific advertisers, or clear out all cookies.

Not all cookies are tracking cookies. Like most other Web sites, ours may place cookies on your computer, in addition to any placed by advertisers. But ours aren’t “tracking cookies.” They merely do things like save your registration information, if you choose to register. They do not tell us what you do or where you go online.

Frontrunner or Weasel Text?

Frontrunner. They are being upfront and providing an explanation.
Weasel Text. You only see it once. This is the same crap that commercial websites do to you when you register and by default you accept Terms and Conditions by registering. The T&C is where you agree to be tracked, screwed, blued, tatooed, and have any information about you packaged and sold to the highest bidder or anyone with a checkbook. But that is a different rant.

Frontrunner. They do tell you how to get rid of certain cookies, of their ad-placement contractor and analytics contractor, but do not discuss web beacons, or Flash Cookies which are a whole ‘nother story.

Weasel Text. They go on to say this:

“We’d prefer a totally opt-in system, but, as far as we know, the ad industry doesn’t have a practical one as of now.”


My question is “Why the fuck is it the ad industry’s job to come up with a solution to a problem they themselves  support by using these companies?” 

Practical? WTF? You mean easy. You mean letting the same abrogation of responsibility continue.

They don’t tell you about Ad Blockers so you don’t have to see the ads in the first place, but make you jump through hoops to visit their site without being collected, collated, and sold off. Although these are good steps to regain your privacy, they neglect to tell you about the performance penalty that is imposes on your  computer. Your browser is slower as these programs have to run before you see any of the ‘content’.

All Things Digital gets an ‘atta boy’ for stepping up with this information, but gets an ‘aw shit’ for not making the note a permanent part of their site.


Just about every commercial website has a privacy policy. Usually buried at the bottom or in an inconvenient location, telling you that they are really the good guys and it is those nasty but necessary “Third Party’s” and or “Partners” that are tracking you.

The reality is that no website requires cookies. Counting visits and page views are recorded in the logfiles of every site on the web. However counting this way gives you raw numbers only without identifying individual users or computers. Which is a good thing if you value your privacy. It is a bad thing if you are relying on advertisers to support you.

Advertising supported publication is a dead end. Just ask the Newspaper Industry. It is alive on the web because nobody has thought of a better way to support sites. Paywalls don’t work. Advertisers and Tracking companies are using the value proposition of tracking you to present ‘relevant’ ads. They sell this shit to sites in a Faustian bargain of taking over the chore of counting and ad sales in exchange for tracking information which in most cases is not shared with the sites and is packaged and sold to anybody with a checkbook. This is why there is always a disclaimer about  ”those nasty but necessary “Third Party’s” and or “Partners”‘.

This ‘get out of responsibility’  should make you stop and think for a moment about any site’s veracity, ethical or moral compass in the information they present. If they are so quick to give up control of their site, and make your visit a target to sell you shit, what if any faith of trust should you have in the information they present?


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