WSJ on nuking privacy for profit

The Wall Street Journal took a look at the trackers (cookies, beacons, etc…) used by advertisers to track activity and connect various bits of data (what movies you like, what websites you go to, what music you buy, etc…)

They claim that the data they store is anonymous.

The information that companies gather is anonymous, in the sense that Internet users are identified by a number assigned to their computer, not by a specific person’s name. Lotame, for instance, says it doesn’t know the name of users such as Ms. Hayes-Beaty—only their behavior and attributes, identified by code number. People who don’t want to be tracked can remove themselves from Lotame’s system.

You can opt out, assuming you know how to find out who’s tracking you, and what their opt-out process is…

But, if they track enough data, from enough various sources, anonymous becomes “anonymous”. See, for instance, browser fingerprinting as described Ars Technica:

Taken together, these bits of data produce a unique “fingerprint” that works even in the absence of cookies or other traditional Web tracking tools. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, concerned about the issue, has just wrapped up its own study (PDF) on browser fingerprinting, and it finds that even the privacy conscious have made themselves simple to track.

and this

Even the attempt to go stealthy could paradoxically make one more unique, and thus easier to track. According to the EFF paper, “many kinds of measures designed to make a device harder to fingerprint are themselves distinctive unless a lot of other people also take them.”

so, my attempts to extract myself from the tracking networks makes me more trackable. awesome.

Back to the WSJ article. It talks about the various companies that collect tracking data, and the global marketplace they’ve created to sell that data at auction:

Information about people’s moment-to-moment thoughts and actions, as revealed by their online activity, can change hands quickly. Within seconds of visiting or, information detailing a Web surfer’s activity there is likely to be auctioned on the data exchange run by BlueKai, the Seattle startup.

Each day, BlueKai sells 50 million pieces of information like this about specific individuals’ browsing habits, for as little as a tenth of a cent apiece. The auctions can happen instantly, as a website is visited.

WTF? Again, back to the identification-through-triangulation angle. The various data collection companies each track different bits about you, on various portions of the internet. And then make that data available (for a fee) to anyone who wants it. Who can then use it to enrich their own tracking data about you, and essentially unanonymize that data once they’ve gathered enough.

Notes: Vaughan & Garrison: Creating cognitive presence in a blended faculty development community

Vaughan, N. & Garrison, D.R. (2005). Creating cognitive presence in a blended faculty development community. The Internet and Higher Education. 8(1). pp 1-12.

This study compares face-to-face and online discussions in a professional development course on blended learning. Specifically looking at the three forms of presence as defined as part of the community of inquiry model (but with an emphasis on how participants move through the 4 phases of the inquiry process (triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution) as part of their cognitive presence)

Social presence creates a sense of belonging that supports meaningful inquiry. Social presence provides the context that makes possible critical discourse and reflection.

DN: Would various platforms that may offer different tools to represent social presence effect the critical discourse? Same question for teaching presence and cognitive presence…

on cognitive presence and blended learning:

Rovai (2002)1 has shown a significant link between a sense of community and cognitive presence in that community can facilitate quality learning outcomes. However, this is not a simple and invariant relationship. In a study of informal professional development forums, Kanuka and Anderson (1998)2 found high interaction (i.e., social presence) but only a low level of cognitive exchange. Garrison and Cleveland-Innes (unpublished manuscript)3 also found that interaction by itself does not necessarily create cognitive presence. They also suggest that asynchronous online learning has considerable potential to create cognitive presence.


Data were collected and transcribed from the transcripts of the online discussion forums, audio recordings of the face-to-face sessions, and a post-study interview with each participant. Online and face-to-face transcripts were coded for cognitive presence. The coding protocol from Garrison et al. (2000)4 community of inquiry model was used.

on analysis:

The unit of analysis was a single message for the online discussion transcripts and a single participant response for the oral transcripts. Two trained graduate students completed the coding for cognitive presence and inter-rater reliability of the coding process was assessed.


In a community of inquiry, it is essential that critical discourse be encouraged. Considering the reflective nature of online communication, there is a real opportunity to facilitate reflective critique. Because of the reflective potential, Meyer (2003)5 found that the threaded online discussion comments were “often more thoughtful, more reasoned, and drew evidence from other sources” than those made within the face-to-face sessions (p. 61).


The results of this research raise many questions about blended learning designs in support of a community of inquiry. However, it can be concluded from the results reported here that blended learning was successful in supporting a faculty development community of inquiry. A worthy topic for further research would be to focus on high level learning processes and outcomes using blended learning designs.

  1. Rovai, A. P. (2002). Building a sense of community at a distance. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1). Retrieved on July 21, 2004, from []
  2. Kanuka, H., & Anderson, T. (1998). Online social interchange, discord, and knowledge construction. Journal of Distance Education, 13(1), 57-75. []
  3. Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M. (unpublished manuscript). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. has this been published since 2005? []
  4. Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical thinking in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. Internet and Higher Education, 11(2), 1-14. Retrieved July 21, 2004, from []
  5. Meyer, K. A. (2003). Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higher-order thinking. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3), 55-65. []

Googlethink – displaced agency through the cloud

Software programmers are taking the displacement of personal agency to a new level. Relentlessly focused on making their programs more “user friendly,” they’re scripting the intimate processes of intellectual inquiry and even social attachment. We follow their scripts when we click on one of Google’s keyword suggestions, and we follow them when we select from a list of categories to describe ourselves and our relationships on Facebook. These choices are convenient, but they’re not our own. They’re generalizations masquerading as personalizations.

I’m not sure RMS could have predicted this, but the pattern is basically why he is/was so emphatic about free software and being able to run the whole stack yourself.

More tinfoil-hat thinking, but we already know that Google uses your location and other data to refine search queries in real time as you type them – what else is being done by these algorithms? This makes for a pretty powerful, realtime, citizen monitoring platform.

As well, the selection biases coded into the algorithms shape what we can and can’t see, and therefore, what we can and can’t think. This is a far more powerful form of (potential?) censorship than outright banning sites, in that it’s invisible, and we have no idea what’s going on behind the curtain.

from Googlethink – Magazine – The Atlantic