Weed Thought

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is tracking web users a no-no?

I saw an interesting question today from IEEE.org:
Is Tracking Web Users a No-No?
Several countries are considering new policies to give individuals more control over the information that Web sites collect and share about them. In November, the European Union announced plans for updating its privacy regulations to give consumers more control over online tracking. And in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission proposed a "Do Not Track" mechanism to prevent Web sites from sharing details about a person's online activities. Critics of tracking are concerned that companies can record which sites users visit online, often without their knowledge. Others say tracking is necessary because it helps keep Web sites cost-free; advertisers pay for the information gathered about users' browsing or purchases so that they can place targeted ads.
To answer the question in short, I support laws regulating what is tracked and how that data is used, but I don't support another user mechanism that requires the user to activate or deactivate it to control tracking. A website is relatively inexpensive to operate and the world would go on just fine if we had a 'Do Not Track' mechanism or if we lost the ability to do advertising on-line. Perhaps it would help alleviate the issue of IPv4 address space {grin}. However, supporting another mechanism makes developers' jobs harder, is unenforceable and won't stop tracking. Mandating another user mechanism would be a snake oil solution - a placebo to ease consumers' minds, possibly resulting in more harm than good.

On-line tracking has been a massive part of business for many of the companies I've done development for over the last few years. Most consumers aren't aware of how tracking works or how extensive it is, if they are aware they are being tracked at all. I'm loathe to fill out a website form anymore, because I'm aware that the information I put in will most likely be sold and used for marketing purposes. I don't want companies pestering me - when I need something, I'm happy to go find it.

There are some forms of so-called 'Do-Not-Track' mechanisms already. Many browsers have private browsing modes, and people are free to clear their cookies, cache, history, and other data off their own computers. This can affect tracking, but is dependent upon the user. They have to know what they are doing and what happens to data they submit to sites. It also doesn't affect what is stored on the servers the user visits.

It is worth differentiating between different types of data and where it's stored. There's personal data, historical data, statistical data...and correlations between much of it becomes identifiable.

A website owner should be free to track information about accesses to his own website - referrer, hit counts, unique visitors, browser type (for compatibility). The owner can do what he wants with that information. That leaves in place the ability to do pay-per-click and keep ad revenue without compromising privacy or being invasive. A client however, should be able to submit personal information with confidence it won't be given or resold to any other entity. A form should be required to state clearly what will happen with the information submitted. More detailed tracking, such as browser history beyond referrer, ip address and other detailed information about the client should not be allowed to leave the website that creates that data. Any data outside of a user's account should age out of existence in a reasonable amount of time (say, 1 week). Inside an account, it would be nice if the user could clear (most of or sections of) their tracks or set their track-length and opt-in to data sharing with sites they choose. I'd like to see the practice of reselling leads go away.

For example, I like that I can go to Amazon.com and see items or songs related to other ones I've been viewing. However, I don't want to start getting emails from another company just because I happened to view their product on Amazon. My Amazon history should be confidential to Amazon. In a similar fashion, I shouldn't be getting advertisements from Google based on a different website I visited last week. So, there should be limits on what's allowed to be done with data about me and how far it's allowed to propagate from where it was generated.

Lastly, enforceability has to be considered. Laws provide a working set of guidelines for how an honest company will do business, and hopefully a way for the public to deal with violations of that law. However, only the honest companies will abide by laws. Governments do not always abide by laws. Criminals do not abide by laws. In other words, people will still be tracked by the ones they are trying to avoid, regardless of law. Ultimately, user privacy comes down to the user. People have to understand there is no data anywhere that they are not responsible for having provided at some point in time - if not explicitly, then just by existing. You cannot walk through mud without leaving your track. Just as a footprint is a requirement of stepping in the dirt due to physics, leaving your IP address at a website is a requirement of the protocol needed to communicate with that website. Because we live in the physical world, we leave our mark. The on-line world operates the same way.

Companies do what works. They research which methods earn them the most, and invest in those. If you don't like a targeted on-line ad, don't click on it. If you want the product but don't like the ad, purchase it through a different method - direct on their site, in a store, or call them. But as long as people respond in ways that make tracking profitable, it will continue to happen. If you don't like being tracked, there are legitimate ways to be anonymous. It's much simpler to choose where to leave your tracks and what tracks you want to leave, then to pay more taxes and expect the legal system to vainly attempt to clean up as we wantonly romp around the planet.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wheat and the Tares

Today the field I write about is the mind.
The wheat represents good knowledge - the stuff we learn in classes, from God's Word, from those we trust, love, and admire, etc..
The tares are of course the antithesis of the wheat.
A couple nights ago I found out that someone had sown a tare in the mind of a friend. In the course of ordinary conversation about the weather we've been having, a statement was made about how thunder is caused by the clouds bumping into each other. I could not believe what I heard! I had to scoop up my chin, pull extremely hard on my ears to retract my eyeballs back into their sockets, and shake the water off my pants from where I fell over into a puddle.
That statement was right up there with the sky being blue from sunlight reflecting off the ocean. I thought everyone knew that thunder was caused by a sudden downpour nearby - all that rain hitting the ground at once can get loud! :) No, really, I'm kidding. Please don't believe that either. :)
While I tried not to laugh and embarrass my friend totally, I have to admit that was one very large tare that had been sown in the mind of this person. While the Bible parable has the servants leave the tares and separate them when the harvest time comes, I instead chose to go ahead and enlighten my friend.
Make sure you are responsible for sowing wheat in the minds of those who look up to you. You'd be surprised to know how long a tare seed can grow. :)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dormant weeds

Blah, blah, blah blah.
Blah, blah, blah blah.
Blah, blah, blah blah.

Ugh.

Blah..ugh.
Blahugh.
Blaug.
Blog.

So that's how they named these things....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Weeds to Roses

Don't you sometimes wish you could be something more? Dream of accomplishing something, being famous...just so you aren't only a wisp of mist in the passage of time. Even to be just a blip on the radar of the world for a moment seems better than to never amount to something. But who are we really trying to impress?
If our goal is to meet some worldy objective, we can not flourish in God's garden. We would be a weed - a plant in the wrong place. God has the wonderful and unique ability to transplant us - He can turn a weed into a rose.
Last night at Wednesday Bible study we studied a great couple, Abraham and Sarah. Some of the things we discussed were the tremendous failings of these two people. Yet they are marked down as wonderful examples to follow. They provide a wonderful example of how God can use us in spite of our failings and weaknesses.
God's guiding of us makes me think of playing with an insect. Ever tried to get an insect to walk along a blade of grass, or from hand to hand so it won't crawl up your sleeve? It'll get off the path you want it to walk, and you just have to patiently coax it back where you want it. We frequently get off the path God wants us to walk, we fail in following His will, and He just brings us back.
We fail, God succeeds. We are weak, He is strong. We are the sheep, He is our Shepherd. Out of the ashes, God brings a complete and precious work. We may stumble into the fires of our sins, and yet God works all things together for good to them that love Him, to bring out of that fire a more purified gold. What God has started He will finish -- in spite of us. He still chooses to use us! What a wonderful savior is Jesus our Lord!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My Favorite Weed

Had to return to weeds. Sorry, it was bugging the 'Monk' side of me.
I've got one weed that is growing very fast. It seems to always be in bloom. Yes, OK, you got me. It's my daughter. She's such a gem. She's just turned three and I've gotten to witness
some stuff that's just neato. Usually my wife gets the honor of seeing all the funny stuff, first times, etc.. A few nights ago during dinner we had some cantaloupe pieces that we were holding onto as a treat if she finished the apparently less desireable dinner. There were six pieces left, and while trying to endure the wait for her to finish her dinner, I ate one. She knew there were six, and she made the statement that now there were only five pieces left! So I pretended to eat each of the other pieces over the next few minutes and sat amazed as she correctly subtracted the pieces I 'ate' from the total that remained! Cool. I may be biased, but I'm sure most would agree she's a smart cookie to be doing this at 3. So we practiced subtraction (and addition as I returned the uneaten pieces) and she did very well as we introduced her to the concepts of minus and plus.
Two nights ago she made sandwiches for the first time - very nearly by herself. I was hungry and asked if she'd like to make me a peanut butter & honey sandwich. Her eyes lit up and she said, "Sure!" -- and off she went and started collecting what she needed. Of course I had to help her get some stuff like bread off the top shelf of the fridge, but once she was all set up she smeared PB on about 1/4 of one slice of bread, a puddle of honey on the other, slapped 'em together and pre-masticulated the sandwich with a (plastic) knife in her attempt to cut it into 4 pieces for me, like we do for her. It was soooo cute. We made three sandwiches together and shared them all.
Really, although she grows like a weed, she isn't one at all. She's a wonderful flower in our garden, a plant in the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Immune to thermodynamics!

Sadly, this is going to be my first weedless entry.
Yesterday I missed out on a great opportunity to witness to our daughter's doctor.
While he was giving her the annual exam, he commented that the backs of her arms were rough, and told us it was called hyper keratosis, specifically keratosis pilaris. He always gives us interesting tidbits of info, and in this case he explained that keratin is a substance our skin produces as waterproofing. He pointed out that you can't have keratosis on the palms or soles, our skin doesn't produce keratin there because it is slippery and we wouldn't be able to grip things when we were wet. He attributed this feature of the human body as something mother nature has given us. Really, we can chalk another fascinating piece of info up as something else God in His infinite wisdom designed into our bodies.
Hang on for the train ride of thought!
The detail and perfection with which God created us made me think of the love He has for us. If any one of us invests great time and attention to detail into something we do, we take great pride in it. We love the work that we do that demonstrates our capabilities.
Not only that, but consider that Genesis says God created us in His image! Every normal parent loves their children tremendously. Not only from all that we do to form them into the adults they will become, but because a piece of us is in them. They are in the image of their parents - their looks, actions, character and peculiarities are direct products of the parents.
Mother nature could never achieve something as complex as the human body. What about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics? If everything left to itself tends to degenerate, how can mother nature produce anything useful at all? (In preparatory reading for this blog I learned that what I was taught about thermodynamics is considered outdated now since it lent itself too well to creationists, and rather than degenerate it is explained as a balancing of potential. This blog isn't intended to argue these points....)
Oh how deep the love of God! That He would create us in His image, invest His wisdom in the details of our composition, give us freedom of choice, pay the price for the wrong choices we make, and offer us an eternity with Him! How can we not love Him back? With all that God is, all that He does...it may seem like a funny question. Yet when I examine myself, I find my love for God is shallow, pathetic, weak, and unworthy - and still He loves me.
One of the weakest links in Christianity these days is our witness to others. We are convinced that it is too scary to share our faith, even in a place as free as this country. Sure, our ability to share our beliefs is slipping away - but we aren't doing anything about it! And we aren't doubling our efforts to share the gospel while we still can. If we really love God, wouldn't we share Him with others? We tell our friends about our favorites restaurants, computer games, latest fashion or craze, news, sports,...the list goes on endlessly. And we only like those things. But we won't share our faith.
It is so great to know that no matter how the second law of thermodynamics affects our lives, nature, or even our walk with God it will never affect His love for us.

*The End*

P.S. For those who are totally lost...
Entropy can be explained as balance. ie. The entropy of our lives was disrupted when our child was born.
The laws of thermodynamics, among other things, state that when things are left to themselves, they tend towards maximum entropy (or balance). This is achieved by an equalization of potential - something with more energy loses that energy to something with less. ie. A cup of coffee that is hot and is left in a cooler room will dissipate that energy to the room.
Since this is a balancing of energy, it usually is perceived as a degeneration of items with higher potential. It's more like leveling of uneven terrain. Since anything worth noticing can be perceived as something of higher potential, it will eventually lose that potential.
Evolution flies in the face of these laws, since anything that develops would also undevelop as potential is equalized.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Self-healing Grass

We have this...stuff...in our yard. They call it self-healing grass. As we rent, you can imagine the multitude of previous renters that have each felt bad about the pathetic yard at our house, the patchy grass, the overgrown bushes that don't look like they have thorns but secretly bear two-inch spikes. Each new renter, hacking at the plants that have become weeds, ripping out the ones that have converted to long-dead twiggotry...and invariably planting a new variety of grass to fill in the patches caused by the combination of 110 degree summers and an exhausted sprinkler system. One year, someone got sick of the constant drudgery and had the FANTASTIC idea to plant self-healing grass and hoped it would never be an issue again. HA HA ha ha. Boy did they soooo have the last laugh.
For those of you who haven't had the joy of using this ingenious little plant...it's a NUISANCE!! Don't ever, every buy it. For those of you who have had the pleasure, 'nuff said. You know of what I speak. It doesn't have an inkling where the grass is supposed to end and the flowerbed or driveway begins. It's aim is to conquer all. It grows like a thin, very low-lying vine, and every few inches places roots - the pulling of which is comparible to removing nails from wood with your fingertips. It grows everywhere. (I'm not trying to complain. I've added my own new variety of bushy fat-bladed green grass that is nice and thick and NOT self-healing. It almost seems to drown out the half of the yard that is clover. )
Without action, we too tend to grow in any direction we please. If left to ourselves, we can grow well outside the boundaries that God has planned for us. There are several resources available to us as Christians to help us mind our boundaries, such as these examples:

* The Word of God is a wonderful, absolute marker of bounds we should live our lives inside.

* Time spent talking with and hearing from God is an essential element of our direction.

* The local church provides excellent opportunities of growth that are within God's will.

* Not only does God lead us through the preacher and his preaching, it is a place to establish friendships that will support us and help us grow more like Christ.

When we disregard our boundaries we put down roots every so often in places that we shouldn't, and the effort that we should be spending filling the holes in God's garden where we are needed is wasted outside His will. When the Gardener comes and finds us He redirects us, as it were. Most of the time it hurts! The more set we become, the more roots we place, the more it hurts when He tears up the parts of our lives that are out of His will.

James 1:13-17 says, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."

Wow! How can we know if the hardships that come to us are an attack by Satan, chastisement from God, or His leading us to go elsewhere?

We need to look at where we are growing and planting our roots. Are we minding the boundaries so clearly set before us or are we snaking tendrils of interest into the world around us? If we're out-of-bounds, we've brought the hardship on ourselves! These verses clearly indicate that sin is something we do fine all by ourselves. The pain we feel comes as a result of where we are - both as a natural consequence and from God's chastisement if we are His child.

If we examine ourselves and find that we are still in the yard where we should be and are minding our boundary markers, it may be that Satan is seeking to drive us out of God's will. However, I don't believe that God would allow hardship in our lives to cause us to transplant to another area of the yard. Trials come from God if we are outside His will and from Satan if we are in God's will. If we are growing on the edge of the yard trying to keep a foot in both worlds, it may be possible to feel hardship from both sides, and we'd need to plant ourselves squarely in God's will.

The last verse though is a reminder of what we read in many other places of the Bible - God IS good. If we are in His will and it's time to move, He will make the way open - not by inducing pain to drive us one way or the other, but by showing His goodness in the way we should go. You could say He would fertilize the ground where we should be.

May we be like self-healing grass that grows and spreads out as fully as possible within the boundaries of God's will.