Apology

I got an email from Al Fasoldt yesterday that was in response to this piece I wrote last year. He wanted to know what I was thinking when I wrote it, and basically called me on it. I remembered being harsh when I wrote it, but since it was last July I didn’t remember any real details (it was on the software Hotbar, and Web tracking in general), I went back and re-read what I wrote.

Wow.

I wasn’t just harsh and sarcastic, I was downright nasty. Looking back on it now, it was pretty uncalled for, and I honestly don’t know why I was so rude. So, I emailed an apology to Fasoldt, and I’m doing the same publicly (since I lambasted him here in public): I apologize for being so nasty and writing that entry up the way I did.

3 thoughts on “Apology”

  1. Hey Jon,
    I’ve read your post and the guy’s article and I think I understand where you were coming from. I don’t think you were being nasty, but I think you were only misunderstanding a couple of the key points — in that light I think you were venting frustration that was righteous.

    The key misunderstood points were that you apparently confused the data collection operation of the search bar with similar operations of a web server.

    Since a web server is not local it needs your IP and browser info to be broadcast to it. Since it is serving you pages, it needs to know what pages you want. And finally since all of the pages you are asking for belong to it, it is reasonable for the server to collate all of this data and provide reports to it’s owners.

    The hotbar search bar is local, so in the course of operation it is not nessessary for it to report what pages you are visiting, what your ip address is, etc to some unrelated third party. Since it is reporting on pages that do not belong to hotbar, it is not nessessarily reasonable for it to collate all of the information gathered from every web page you visit and every form you fill out (which could include financial forms on your banking website) for it’s own unrelated marketing goals.

    Also you compared hotbar to google, and the hot-bar to the google-bar. The google bar does have the ability to talk to it’s central server about every web page you visit, but only to be able to report to you the page ranks of said pages, and only if you turn on features google dissertates about in their privacy policy that are accompanied by detailed warning messages about the amount of your trust this places in Google’s hands. All of this fuss is fully voluntary too. Finally, the people who acqiesce to Google handling this data largely understand and depend upon Google’s promise that the data will not be used in an identifying way about them, and that marketing will not be tailored to them as a result. ("Marketing" usually meaning "getting into people’s spam lists" of course)

    Finally you mentioned that hotbar’s antics shouldn’t be the cause of much concern because Google has the ability to track every search you make, record which search terms you’ve used, and record which pages you’ve clicked through too — which probably covers a large percentage of what you are browsing on the internet. However, people in the know tend to trust Google with such information, and believe that Google will not disclose what search terms they use or pages they click through to to third parties on an individual basis. As soon as Google did that, using google would equal receiving spam and people would flee google. Most canny people don’t just trust any search engine, espescially since most malware nowadays is disseminated through the guise of "search engines" and search bars, such as the infamous CoolWWWSearch.

    So now that I’ve made my points, I’d also like to apologize if they were a bit heavy: I was addressing what you said last year, much of which you may no longer agree with. But if hotbar were only a webpage and not a search bar, then all of your points would be valid, and any article such as Al’s would have been FUD. So I think aside from that one misunderstanding, you weren’t really "nasty" or unconscionable.

    To read more about how I feel about malware, check the relevant entry in my blog, I believe one of the only such dissertations in the world: though I can’t say why 🙂

    – – Jesse

  2. In previous post, "Most canny people don’t just trust any search engine, " should have read "any OTHER search engine" or maybe "any UNKNOWN search engine". I forgot the adjective :]

  3. All good points, entirely correct, and very thoughtful–I appreciate the point of view.

    Although, I still *do* think I was overly nasty in the way I wrote that entry; it’s easy to be sarcastic and snarky in much less offensive ways that are still fun to read 🙂 I’m not necessarily retreating from the position I took when I wrote it–that singling out *one* application that captures and stores usage logs as malware (I’m also not saying Hotbar *isn’t* malware, either) when Web servers do the exact same thing (which many people are unaware of) is very FUDish–but I do regret, looking back now, that I was so harsh on Fasoldt.

    Personally, I take a rather c’est la vie, laissez-faire stance when it comes to issues such as Web tracking and spyware: I just take it for granted that *everything* we do online is being tracked somewhere, be it via regular Web server logs, third-party cookies, toolbars, search engines, whatever, so what really bothers me about malware is not the potential tracking or privacy risks as much as when it starts to become annoying–popup windows, degraded system performance, etc. In this view, Hotbar’s tracking simply sounds about as dangerous a third-party cookie that shows up on websites (via banner ads or whatever).

    As to Google, well, unless I reverse engineer the Google Toolbar, I can only take their word for it that it *only* tracks what pages I visit for PageRank reporting purposes 🙂 Hey, I love Google, but not because I think they’re tracking me any *less* than anyone else–quite the opposite, in fact. (In fact, Google Toolbar is much more devious because by including a popup blocker that lets you indicate what sites to allow popups on, you’re giving Google much more useful information about what kind of annoyances you will tolerate.) My point here, I guess, is people shouldn’t trust Google any more than any other site out there–especially since Google’s becoming a public company.

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