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Why You Should Do Fake Searches

I am fairly resigned to the fact that data is collected about me every time I use the internet, make a purchase, or walk down the street.  Even if we are resigned, we should still talk about this topic and understand the choices we’re making as we trade off privacy for convenience.

I loved a repeat Note to Self episode this summer (that I missed the first time around) featuring the author of Data and Goliath, Bruce Schneier.  If you missed it, too, you should set aside 19 minutes today to listen.

Even though he claims that no one reads the Terms of Service (uh, I read the Terms of Service), I really liked some of Schneier’s ideas; namely, that we should all do fake searches from time to time which will become part of the data files information firms are keeping on individuals.  So these firms will know what you do like, but they also will be confused because in between real searches for real items or articles, there will be fake searches for items you don’t want or ideas you don’t support.

After the episode, I went and Googled shoes that I not only didn’t want but would never wear.  Sure enough, Facebook started showing me ads for those shoes as well as others like it.  I laughed and laughed, feeling like Vizzini in The Princess Bride, though if I take a step back and truly consider the situation, Facebook is probably more akin to the man in the mask, which means… checkmate.

But still, it is interesting to think that we can control how much the firm really knows.  That we have some power in this equation.  Yes, possibly more trouble than its worth, but I’ll still throw a fake search in from time to time.  Now excuse me, I need to go look up hair care products for blondes.

Does it bother you to think about how much information is collected about you on a yearly basis, or do you not really care if someone has assembled a list of facts about you?


1 Raven { 09.14.16 at 8:07 am }

I try not to care because this is the world we live in….but sometimes I long for the days when people had real privacy. Its not like I’m doing something illegal – I just want to research the best humifier without being assaulted with ads on every website about said humidifier for the next 6 weeks. Like right now … The bottom of this page has an ad for a clothing shop I frequently order from online…but it’s not a common shop so it’s not likely just chance. I think it just comes down to our right for privacy and how frustrating it can be to see that gone over such trivial things as a humidifier or clothing.

2 Mel { 09.14.16 at 8:25 am }

Exactly, Raven. I feel the same way. It’s like an annoying, over-eager salesperson following me around the shop, chanting “are you going to buy it are you going to buy it?” It actually makes me less likely to buy something. It’s almost like being bombarded with the image before I can click purchase makes me sick of the item before I’ve gotten it.

3 katherinea12 { 09.14.16 at 8:53 am }

On a good day, I’m usually inclined more towards rolling my eyes at some of the ads that are obviously coming out of my search history. On a bad day, however, it’s more of an issue. When I had my first miscarriage, I had been really careful not to subscribe to any “this week in your pregnancy!” type emails or sign up for coupons at baby/maternity shops, etc. I did, however, do a few searches. Huge mistake, because for a couple months after I miscarried, I was *still* seeing ads for maternity wear and baby stuff. In the grand scheme of things, it was a minor issue, but it had a tendency to pop up and sort of needle me in a time where I really didn’t need the reminder. I dislike the feeling that everything I do online is being stored somewhere and someone’s trying to sell me something as a result (and, I suppose, that’s less worrisome than other possible applications of data mining). I’ll have to try what you’ve suggested and throw in a fake search here and there – even if the firm is the man in the mask, at least it makes me feel clever.

4 Sharon { 09.14.16 at 9:53 am }

I already do this unintentionally: I often have to Google topics for work that have absolutely no relevance to me personally. It’s been funny to notice how these searches impact the ads I see when I’m online.

5 Arnebya { 09.14.16 at 12:35 pm }

When I Google something, then start to see ads for it, it lessens my interest in it (unless I’ve already bought/dealt with it). I don’t like having so much of my information intertwined. Link this to this to this. No, thank you. I don’t want to log into the bank’s site with FB. I don’t want that level of connection between all of my accounts. I don’t even like when the computer autofills sites I’ve visited previously. Am weird.

6 Jenn P { 09.14.16 at 12:46 pm }

It turns my stomach knowing all of this data is collected about me. I do minimal online shopping but I sell for amazon so when I look up items I am selling I bet that throws them for a loop! At least it is funny to see ads for things I am the one selling. It sure would be nice if there were any policies in place to protect the consumers… (the ad at the bottom of my screen is for claritin, don’t know why.)

7 a { 09.14.16 at 5:03 pm }

My husband, daughter, and I all use the same Google account for the Play store and YouTube, so I find it hilarious that my daughter watches Mental Floss videos and I have 8000 relaxation/meditation music recommendations (my husband’s) and my husband listens to my daughter’s playlist. Who knows what the internet makes of all that.

8 Jess { 09.15.16 at 8:27 pm }

Ha! I’ll have to listen to the 19 minutes later, but the takeaway is so interesting. Fake searches… I accept that this is the world we live in, but it still creeps me out to no end that I can search for something and have my Facebook immediately change ads. Once I posted about my car having brake issues, and immediately all my ads were auto repair shops. I think I need to search for some weird stuff, because I feel like I search for a wide variety of things anyway for school, but it would be fun to make up an alternate persona and search as her for a while. 🙂

9 Mom PharmD { 09.16.16 at 9:32 pm }

I took your advice and now somehow I’m getting 1/3 ads for dating sites, wedding dresses, and baby supplies with a fairly large number of alcohol ads mixed in (I don’t drink)… Not sure how the advertising algorithms came up with that combo but it keeps me laughing.

10 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.17.16 at 9:58 am }

It does bother me.

Now I’m going to go search for tuxedos and decide which branch of the military I might join.

11 loribeth { 09.20.16 at 6:44 pm }

It does, when I really stop to think about it. Dh & I just saw “Snowden” over the weekend, which REALLY makes you think about it. And want to put a post-it note or piece of masking tape over your webcam. :p

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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