John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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January 4th, 2013 by john andrews

2013 is The Year of the Proxy

If we learned anything from 2012, it’s that Google is in control, and apparently the FTC agrees. Google can do what it wants, and has the cash to fund the lobbyists to get formal “approvals” that hedge liability. But Google isn’t the biggest threat.

Google is a fairly low risk threat compared to many of the far more aggressive, more desperate players that will “pile on” as Google advances these new cultural standards of privacy and ethical corporate behavior cloaked as “protecting the user experience”. For every inch Google secures for itself, scammy-er players will take a mile. There are too many of these aggressors to count, but you know many of them already: Verizon, cable companies, Bell South, etc etc. Everyone who has access to your info or control over your access to information and technology, will cash in as possible.

The legal stuff is in place already, and the consumer protections gutted. Your activity data and personal information is the currency of the decade, and everyone is trading it, usually without your consent (and often without your knowledge). Sometimes I get the sense that Facebook is a distraction. “Oh my, look at how Facebook is violating your privacy”.. meanwhile your credit card activity is being sold, your driver license is being resold, your Netflix viewing preferences are being sold, your medical data is being “shared” with the MIB, and your DNA can be collected and analyzed from the public airspace without your consent nor involvement.

Entrepreneurs have attached high def cameras to cars that drive around all data solely to collect license plate activity data, because they know someone will pay for that some day. Drive around all day? For no reason, except to film the public streets and digitally record the presence of specific cars, via license plates designed for easy image recognition? Yes. Compared to information about you, gas, drivers, cars, and insurance are cheap!

And as companies continue to lock the IP as “identifier” for your residence, MAC addresses and OS hashes as identifiers of your devices, secretly raid your contacts list whenever you do anything that grants permission to apps, and require “real names” and “recognizable photos” for social media accounts, the proxy will rise in value.

I predict that 2013 will be the Year of the Proxy.

The value of a proxy.. the “substitute” that will stand in and represent you (instead of you being there, yourself) will rise tremendously in 2013. Identity proxies, communication (routing) proxies. Environment (OS, browser, device) proxies. And as that value rises, the technology to proxy will become more sophisticated. As proxy technology becomes more accessible, those players trading on our data will invest to defeat them. Coalitions will be formed, and more organized trading institutionalized. Many of you will get jobs working FOR those seeking to own us and defeat the proxies.

Expect the traditional resistance to our increasing resistance to being tracked and herded. “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you…” has already started. In the SEO world, the “ridicule” stage in the form of “conspiracy theory” claims started 15 years ago or more. When Google went public, it declared SEO as a major threat to the Google business model. Obviously I recall much of that “history of SEO”, but I suspect everyone with SEO “common sense” by today’s standards recognizes Google is not what Google said it was years ago. The same is true for the other players… and each of us must decide how we will participate in their world going forward. For many of us, the proxy will continue to serve, and we will need stronger and more sophisticated proxy technology in order to survive.

Keep in mind “proxy” includes social media avatars, trade names, aliases, secondary accounts, actual proxy servers for communications routing, abstracted interfaces, IP rotators, cookie managers, lawyers, corporations, and numerous other “everyday tools of business” that cost money and are not generally available to “normal” everyday citizens (the same ones that are told “if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of???”).

Beware those who tell you you have no privacy, and should “get over it”, and those who suggest that “maybe you shouldn’t be doing” whatever you are hiding behind a proxy.

By the way, the threat of making the proxy “illegal” is very real, and some efforts are already known (in some cases, it is already legally defined as arguably “fraud”). Personally, I expect the public to be just barely smart enough to prevent that from really happening in the near future, although I don’t expect us to avoid a period of the “I can’t believe they actually passed that law” reality here in the US.

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September 4th, 2009 by john andrews

Google Owns Your Internets

For years I’ve pointed out that Google consistently acts to disintermediate web publishers. For years I’ve noted how Google, while saying that we are all friends, reliably “improves” Google’s services in ways which force webmasters to eliminate their own interest in the dissemination of what they publish. The “nickels from Google” may add up to tens of thousands of dollars for some publishers, when you aggregate all those hard-earned page views and ad clicks, but the profits are not sufficient to support publishing. They support Google, and they support aggressive innovators (right now). Google has us all in the cross hairs. We are the future profit sources for Google.

One tactic of any PR machine is to engage the enemy in conversation. Debate even. It keeps everyone busy. There is so much to talk about… microformats being one huge current trend supported by Google, which serves to quite effectively disintermediate publishers. “Please wrap your content into neat little tags, so we can easily parse it” asks Google. The nickels will come soon enough.. rewards for compliance. And the scammers innovators will go “all in” on the new opportunities, and we’ll see pictures on DailyBooth of big fat smiles with big fat Google checks, and pictures of Yachts named “Google Me” and Maserati’s and Bentley’s and bling bling bling buy my program and learn how you, too can profit from Google!

If I start debating these things, I’ll be distracted. I won’t be able to also see the forest… to see the impending damage on the horizon. Everyone is amazed at Google’s progress. Meanwhile, the real issues of economic stability and industry infrastructure are secondary to the awe with which technology (led by Google) decimates our work environments. Google’s amazing. Our modern civilization is only hundreds of years old, but in that past if any “company” had ever worked to wipe out industries and destroy people’s livelihoods, they would have faced mobs with pitchforks. People would have been scared, politicians motivated, and war machines activated. Of course they probably would have been overrun and decimated by a beast as powerful as Google, but they would not have been blind to their fate as we seem to be today.

It’s easy to write an article about how amazing or how ominous Google is. It’s hard to figure out just how bad this will get for all of us non-Googlers (i.e. people who don’t work for Google). Of course Google (the machine) would love us to keep busy like that.

Everytime someone from Google speaks, we need to listen carefully. Eric Schmidt’s latest comments reported by TechCrunch include this little gem. He was asked to look 10 years out, and what the future Google looks like. He answers that Google will determine the best, most authoritative site for a given question, read it, and summarize it back to the Google user as “the answer”:

“So I don’t know how to characterize the next 10 years except to say that we’ll get to the point – the long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer, which is exactly the right answer over time…what I’d like to do is to get to the point where we could read his site [the definitive authority on a particular searched query] and then summarize what it says, and answer the question”

I cut out some because the answers were reported almost verbatum, with roundabout thoughts and an example in the middle. Read it for yourself if you like.

Eric Schmidt, the guy who thinks Wikipedia is the greatest gift to mankind ever created by man, has web publishers (and domain owners) in his cross hairs. If Google succeeds, no one needs a domain name and no one needs to create a brand. They just need to submit to Google, and then, perhaps if Google has not completely satisfied the users with “the answer”, provide a way to be contacted or a server IP for a web site for further reading (perhaps through the Google Profile conduit).

Eric Schmidt is a technologist, and geeks (relatively speaking) are poorly schooled in political and social aspects of reality. But is he really clueless? He’s CEO of one of the world’s most powerful companies. . I can’t believe he’s dumb enough to not think through the eventual outcome of his aggressive behavior… that he hasn’t considered that this is not a technological world, but a world of people. That people need to get along and compromise, and that we have been lucky enough to evolve a fragile economy based on our human interactions (not computer transactions) with less than the possible amount of war waging. Some call that “civilization”.

Civilization requires a ton of work, and most of that work is “talking”. History shows us that failure of communications, refusal to talk,  failure of educataion with respect to tolerance and cultural differences, and strong arm approaches that devalue human interaction and force a will upon others, lead to unreasonable behavior (terrorism, war, disobedience, etc). Does Eric Schmidt think the world is ready for one global economy and culture? Does he think the masses are so educated and appreciative of knowledge that they will choose one great website for answers at a cost of say food for their families or stable employment?

Ten years out is 2019. Many of you will be “mid career” by then. Between now and then, are you prepared for a Google that collects, analyzes, and summarizes what you publish, using your work to serve 80% of the world’s Internet users without your involvement? Think about it. Just how much are you giving away by allowing Google to own the Internet?

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August 13th, 2009 by john andrews

Palm on Pal Pre Privacy: We’re Just as Slimy as the Rest of our Industry

It seems Palm has decided that they are OK with being slimy about undisclosed privacy and user tracking. Give a chance to comment on the recent expose about detailed user tracking buried inside the Palm Pre, they tell us (paraphrasing) “everybody does it” and “we’re happy our users trust us”.

MobileCrunch re-highlighted this news from a CNET article, but goes easy on Palm, while exposing how they track users location, what applications they have been using, what applications they have installed on the Pre (including those not authorized by Palm), and other personal data unique to the user’s Palm Pre. If you read the article literally, it is almost as if they had been threatened by Palm and were treading lightly.. exposing but being careful to not openly suggest the Palm Pre was a privacy-invading abuse of consumers.

The Economist wrote about cell phone tracking, and location-based services do indeed need to report back location in order to deliver maps, directions, etc. But they don’t need to report back all that other personal data that Palm is collecting from Palm Pre users.  According to the MobileCrunch article:

When it comes to location tracking and device activity, you must alert the user and specifically request permission. If you don’t, you are spying, plain and simple. Regardless of what Palm is doing with this data, the user needs to be completely aware that it is being sent.

Palm seems to disagree. See this excerpt from Palm response (emphasis added):

Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a customer’s information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience. For instance, when location based services are used, we collect their information to give them relevant local results in Google Maps. We appreciate the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to violate that trust.

They have no intention to violate your trust! How re-assuring, no? How about if a vendor asked you for your social security number and mother’s maiden name, and assured you they had no intention of violating your trust?

I have a follow up question for Palm. One day, when a Junior Marketing Executive at Palm gets a brilliant idea to exploit some of that juicy data, will Palm notify me of their new intent to violate my trust? I know they don’t have to, that’s the whole point.

Believe it or not, they’ve got that covered in the Privacy Policy as well. The default is that they can do whatever they want under that elastic justification “to enhance your device experience“. The lawyers make it sound less abusive by adding “For changes that are materially less restrictive or protective of your personal information than the privacy policy in place at the time of collection, we will seek your consent before implementing any such change.” Hard to imagine a case where they make an open, elastic data use agreement more restrictive, if that is even possible.

Scrutinize the Palm Pre Privacy Policy here, but be careful because Palm lawyers are just as clever as the rest of the lawyers in this industry: “We reserve the right to change our privacy policy. Please check our website periodically for changes…

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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Recent Posts: ★ SEO Industry Growth, Widespread Failure, and SEO Industry Challenge ★ Do you want to WIN, or just “Be the Winner”? ★ 503: GONE ★ Cloud Storage ★ Identity Poetry for Marketers ★ PR is where the Money Is ★ Google is an Addict ★ When there are no Jobs ★ Google Stifles Innovation, starts Strangling Itself ★ Flying the SEO Helicopter ★ Penguin 2.0 Forewarning Propaganda? ★ Dedicated Class “C” IP addresses for SEO ★ New Domain Extensions (gTLDs) Could Change Everything ★ Kapost Review ★ Aaron Von Frankenstein ★ 2013 is The Year of the Proxy ★ Preparing for the Google Apocalypse ★ Rank #1 in Google for Your Name (for a fee) ★ Pseudo-Random Thoughts on Search ★ Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or a Blog ★ The BlueGlass Conference Opportunity ★ Google Execs Take a Break from Marissa Mayer, Lend Her to Yahoo! ★ Google SEO Guidelines ★ Reasons your Post-Penguin Link Building Sucks ★ Painful Example of Google’s Capricious Do Not Care Attitude 

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