Blackspot

Can We Unclick Google?

A challenge to activists of the twenty-first century: how can we effectively fight back against Google's violation of our online privacy?

In a blog post earlier this week, I proposed an activist solution to Google's announcement that they would expand their tracking of users. In a post entitled unClick Google, I suggested that we undermine Google's business model, and their justification for creating behavioral profiles of the websites we frequent, by using a Firefox plugin to automatically click on all the Google AdSense ads. In so doing, I released a storm of debate over the possibility of forcing Google to adopt a pro-privacy corporate policy.

Google is a massive data warehouse that most internet users share personal information with, knowingly or not, every time they open a web browser. As many readers pointed out, even Adbusters utilizes Google's services on our website. Since 2007 we have relied on Google Analytics to analyze our website traffic. And by doing so we have shared our website statistics with Google.

The primary critique we heard of the idea I put forward was that Google's AdSense system has accomplished a "democratization of advertisers" by bringing many small shop owners into the business of placing online ads. Therefore, our plan to click on ads without viewing them, struck many people as harmful to the very people we want to help -- small, local businesses.

For others, the solution to rampant online advertising and Google tracking lies in a technological, not activist, praxis. They proposed that we use Firefox and install Adblock Plus which removes advertisements or NoScript which block trackers. Others pointed towards the ability to "opt-out" of Google's behavioral profiling by installing a piece of Google software in their browser. Or maybe we should all use alternatives to Google like Scroogle and Clusty.

The most important question that this tussle with Google raises is whether a fight against Google is even possible. Or is Google too big, too intertwined in the fabric of the internet, to be critiqued and forced to bow to our collective protest?

Clearly we are in a new era of activism and there are not any proven tactical answers. But one thing is clear: Google may be the culturejammer's toughest adversary yet.

Weigh in below and let's work together to build a strategy to jam Google and reclaim our online privacy.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters Magazine and an independent activist. He is writing a book on the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com

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95 comments on the article “Can We Unclick Google?”

Displaying 1 - 10 of 95

Page 1 of 10

10 for heart, 1...

I applaud activism and honestly think we should allow our actions to be guided more by principles and less by greed. YOU SAY Google does not have the right to gather personal data about you. WRONG: legally, they have that right. You are on their site, you follow their rules. The real moral issue here is how they should use that data. The central tenet is that it should not be abused. Most objective observers would agree that up until now, google have not abused user data, but have actually fought the courts to preserve it from government. Here you might ask: why would they do that? Because it is central to their business… if people go on Google and fear that their data is going to be used against them, they wouldn’t use google, and googles business is gone. In other words, your privacy is just as strong as Google’s desire to stay in business. Your main problem is the following: even if you and your Adbusting friends stop using Google it probably will not make a difference, as something tells me you are not great online shoppers. In other words, you need to "grow you user base", so to speak. For this to happen, you need a strong factual argument. In my opinion, laymen can easily be forgiven for thinking that you are just paranoid, as you have no facts or documented abuses to strengthen your case. So, here is my suggestion to you… Follow Google closely and report ACTUAL abuses of privacy and not those that exist only inside your own head. Be factual, be thorough, be objective and you might get heard. Make sure that Googles implicit promise to it’s users to not abuse their data is kept. This way you use Google’s reliance on “capitalism” as a tool to keep it honest. I realize this is less sexy than your current endevours - it actually requires work, diligence and let’s face it, it does not exactly light up the weed-fog in the room. But I hope you’ll learn the following lesson: there is no such thing as a free lunch (unless of course, it is sponsored by advertising). Your heart is in the right place. Now it’s time for you to apply that in the real world. Welcome, and best of luck…

10 for heart, 1...

I applaud activism and honestly think we should allow our actions to be guided more by principles and less by greed. YOU SAY Google does not have the right to gather personal data about you. WRONG: legally, they have that right. You are on their site, you follow their rules. The real moral issue here is how they should use that data. The central tenet is that it should not be abused. Most objective observers would agree that up until now, google have not abused user data, but have actually fought the courts to preserve it from government. Here you might ask: why would they do that? Because it is central to their business… if people go on Google and fear that their data is going to be used against them, they wouldn’t use google, and googles business is gone. In other words, your privacy is just as strong as Google’s desire to stay in business. Your main problem is the following: even if you and your Adbusting friends stop using Google it probably will not make a difference, as something tells me you are not great online shoppers. In other words, you need to "grow you user base", so to speak. For this to happen, you need a strong factual argument. In my opinion, laymen can easily be forgiven for thinking that you are just paranoid, as you have no facts or documented abuses to strengthen your case. So, here is my suggestion to you… Follow Google closely and report ACTUAL abuses of privacy and not those that exist only inside your own head. Be factual, be thorough, be objective and you might get heard. Make sure that Googles implicit promise to it’s users to not abuse their data is kept. This way you use Google’s reliance on “capitalism” as a tool to keep it honest. I realize this is less sexy than your current endevours - it actually requires work, diligence and let’s face it, it does not exactly light up the weed-fog in the room. But I hope you’ll learn the following lesson: there is no such thing as a free lunch (unless of course, it is sponsored by advertising). Your heart is in the right place. Now it’s time for you to apply that in the real world. Welcome, and best of luck…

Joey PR

Agreed. I'm not really too concerned about Google. I just use the internet at college most of the time. I use Goodsearch, because then you can give to charity while searching the Web.

Joey PR

Agreed. I'm not really too concerned about Google. I just use the internet at college most of the time. I use Goodsearch, because then you can give to charity while searching the Web.

jlaw6402

It's hard, really hard in fact. We have included Google as part of our daily lives. I can't imagine a day without google. I also use their analytics, adsense, email, Google Maps, the list goes on and on. Google has made my life a lot simpler and easier. It's a cult! But in honesty, they do make lives easier for a lot of people but they are violating privacy rights in a way; however, we are letting them. There is not an easy way to fight Google's supremacy. The best thing you can do is slowly cut yourself off from them. I probably would need to start with GMail, then Google Maps. I have no idea what I will do without google maps, ever since I have had google maps on my phone, I do not even look up directions anymore beforehand. And without analytics? Oh gosh, I have no idea what I will use. I used analytics since day 1, I guess there are alternatives but it's nice to have everything all in one place.

jlaw6402

It's hard, really hard in fact. We have included Google as part of our daily lives. I can't imagine a day without google. I also use their analytics, adsense, email, Google Maps, the list goes on and on. Google has made my life a lot simpler and easier. It's a cult! But in honesty, they do make lives easier for a lot of people but they are violating privacy rights in a way; however, we are letting them. There is not an easy way to fight Google's supremacy. The best thing you can do is slowly cut yourself off from them. I probably would need to start with GMail, then Google Maps. I have no idea what I will do without google maps, ever since I have had google maps on my phone, I do not even look up directions anymore beforehand. And without analytics? Oh gosh, I have no idea what I will use. I used analytics since day 1, I guess there are alternatives but it's nice to have everything all in one place.

Anonymous

You could start at Adbusters by cleaning house. Throw out Analytics, write an offical site privacy policy, and unconditionally apologize to readers for disclosing information to Google over the past two years. By using Analytics, you have shared the IP address of every single Adbusters reader over the past two years to Google. Adbusters unacknowledged use of Google (prior to today) is unacceptable. Next there are a couple of tasks: fighting Google and other corporations, and providing a reasonable alternative. One would need to do both: fight the dominant corporations that violate privacy, and show users non-commercial solutions. The current popular alternatives (Yahoo, Live search) do not really improve the situation. These corporate entities cannot be entrusted with our privacy. Creating empowering technologies on the internet that aren't controlled by corporate entities is difficult for many reasons, both technical and non-technical. Essentially these will boil down into three factors: (a) legal, (b) technical scalability, and (c) social: (a) If we wish to provide alternatives, we need laws that encourage net neutrality and discourage censorship. (b) We need new technologies that extend current technologies is a fashion that encourages decentralization while stressing scalability. Tor, scroogle, Freenet, and you-name-it are all nice ideas but they don't fscking scale. (c) As Adbusters knows, the presense of the media and advertising in a social context is part of the reason we're here now. Any alternative will have to be a socially acceptable solution, for the billion-plus users of the internet. With respect to fighting technology providers without a working non-corporate solution: this is an inane task. But go ahead and try, if you wish. If you actually beat Google (by the way they'll always be evil as long as they're a multi-billion dollar corporation), the next Goliath will step up to the plate and screw you over. Until there's a free and scalable alternative for Google and their services, fighting them through campaigns such as suggested earlier is really nothing more than "sticking it to the man".... Whether "sticking it to the man" is a worthy cause is left up to the morality of the reader.

Anonymous

You could start at Adbusters by cleaning house. Throw out Analytics, write an offical site privacy policy, and unconditionally apologize to readers for disclosing information to Google over the past two years. By using Analytics, you have shared the IP address of every single Adbusters reader over the past two years to Google. Adbusters unacknowledged use of Google (prior to today) is unacceptable. Next there are a couple of tasks: fighting Google and other corporations, and providing a reasonable alternative. One would need to do both: fight the dominant corporations that violate privacy, and show users non-commercial solutions. The current popular alternatives (Yahoo, Live search) do not really improve the situation. These corporate entities cannot be entrusted with our privacy. Creating empowering technologies on the internet that aren't controlled by corporate entities is difficult for many reasons, both technical and non-technical. Essentially these will boil down into three factors: (a) legal, (b) technical scalability, and (c) social: (a) If we wish to provide alternatives, we need laws that encourage net neutrality and discourage censorship. (b) We need new technologies that extend current technologies is a fashion that encourages decentralization while stressing scalability. Tor, scroogle, Freenet, and you-name-it are all nice ideas but they don't fscking scale. (c) As Adbusters knows, the presense of the media and advertising in a social context is part of the reason we're here now. Any alternative will have to be a socially acceptable solution, for the billion-plus users of the internet. With respect to fighting technology providers without a working non-corporate solution: this is an inane task. But go ahead and try, if you wish. If you actually beat Google (by the way they'll always be evil as long as they're a multi-billion dollar corporation), the next Goliath will step up to the plate and screw you over. Until there's a free and scalable alternative for Google and their services, fighting them through campaigns such as suggested earlier is really nothing more than "sticking it to the man".... Whether "sticking it to the man" is a worthy cause is left up to the morality of the reader.

Anonymous

This could be a nice revenue stream for spammers with bonnets(maybe they already do this), in particular for them to click out on the outgoing links for websites that they control. To be honest though, I think it would be pretty sweet if spammers and Google had a war, since both sides contain a fair share of smart people.

Anonymous

This could be a nice revenue stream for spammers with bonnets(maybe they already do this), in particular for them to click out on the outgoing links for websites that they control. To be honest though, I think it would be pretty sweet if spammers and Google had a war, since both sides contain a fair share of smart people.

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