Platforms, Privacy and Making Google Work for You

I’m participating in a week-long  ProBlogger Challenge, hosted by Darren Rowse. Assignment no. 2  was to answer a question frequently posed by readers.  For instance, if you write about photography, what question about photography do you get asked? This was a stumper. Most of my readers don’t ask questions, probably because my blog is a mishmash of topics. Then, DUH. The question most asked? What is your blog about?  Down through old posts I went, and, to my amazement, discovered a thread:

Thinking about writing a book?

Forget publishing the old fashioned way. Writers, especially late bloomers, improve their chances of being picked up by a publisher if they already have an audience who loves them and will buy their books. Technical term for this pre-packaged audience: a “platform.” 

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If I’d read this before starting blogging, I’d probably have a platform by now. Source: Writers’ Digest

In 2010, I set out to build a platform. I started one blog, then another, then another, joined Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumbler. This dive into social media gained me new friends and sympathizers, but not exactly a platform. It has, however, been educational.

For one thing, I learned that with so many of us writing for free, it’s gotten more difficult to make money writing.

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Maybe more important, it dawned on me (and on most of us) that:

Anyone who spends time online is an Internet ant. We bring datafood to a moon-sized ant queen, aka Internet information systems. Writers, who spend a lot of time researching and composing online, are particularly valuable contributors. 

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Every site we visit is tracked. Every click is counted. Our keywords are logged and linked and graphed by algorithms so complex they are beyond the understanding of ordinary folks like me.

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Our information is linked to gargantuan databases. In return, we get access to rivers of instant connection to websites, libraries, communications almost anywhere in the world.

The algorithms also: 

  • filter what we read
  • send pop-up ads to our pages
  • direct information to the federal government, which tries to figure out if we are terrorists
  • sell or leak our phone numbers and e-mails to advertisers
  • sometimes direct our information into the hands of hackers who try to steal money, collect our tax refunds, our identity, or worse.

Unless you’re a tech expert who can hide activities and create private ways to glean online information, the options are (1) to be Internet ants, or (2) shut everything down and go back to living the way I grew up, with three channels on T.V. and a dial-up landline. 

That’s the tradeoff. Internet access in exchange for our personal information.

If we choose to go online, there are things we need to know:

  1. Do our electronic screens offer the truth or what we want to hear?
  2. How do we manage the inevitable technical difficulties that arise when we’re dependent on machines we don’t really understand? 
  3. How do we put our two cents into the world in a way that’s most useful? 
  4. How do we protect ourselves from online evil-doers?
  5. How do we connect with others like us, who aren’t necessarily aiming to be the next Sergei Brin, but just want to know something, or offer information? 

If you’re plagued by questions like these, welcome! Even if you’re not, welcome!

My aim is to answer these questions, as well as write about what seems important and feature others who offer tips on writing, editing and how to balance our service to the Internet with commensurate rewards.

And maybe build a platform along the way.

I’m open to questions and suggestions for research topics. Fire away!

 

9 comments

  • I wonder, in what sense is the information collected about me ‘personal’? Aren’t I just a unique behavioural pattern to the data harvester, rather than anything more? I’m very careful about what personal information I leak onto the internet, and (naively?) imagine – I could well be wrong, so please let me know – that unless a critical mass of such personal information is gathered, then no one can steal my identity, or pass off as myself for fraudulent gain. I block all personalised ads by setting cookies here: http://www.youronlinechoices.com/ and here: http://www.aboutads.info/choices/ Does that make me useless to the data harvesters?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent research questions. I will need to look into this more, but you’re probably pretty safe. Examples I was thinking of: online banking is a potential problem. Google’s “knowledge graph” matches and links content, not just clicks, and who knows what Google allows the NSA to access. This week, as I visit other participants in this blog challenge, I have to sign into each blog with my e-mail and website, and each sign-in is a potential leak to advertisers. In the U.S., all you need (although they are working on this) to file a tax return is a name, Social Security Number and birthdate. People often give those out to non-secure sources like online doctor appointment sites and job applications.

      Thanks for the links, by the way!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, it’s not looking too bad then, as I don’t do any online banking. I don’t have a Google account either, and dislike them for the reasons you point to. Mind you, I’m in thrall to Microsoft, and I’m sure they’re equally as invasive. I could go to Duck Duck Go, I suppose, but it’s not something that worries me quite frankly. In any case, I use Windows 10 and MS Live Mail, so they know my every move. Over here we have an outfit called GCHQ which monitors emails in the style of the NSA, so I sometimes mess around with friends dropping key words in just to be mischievous – no knocks on the door yet, but I daresay my card is marked. If they ever do come calling, they’ll be so disappointed to find out I’m the most clean-living retiree in the Northern Hemisphere.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Me too, all though right now we’re babysitting traveling friends’ pot plants in the back yard. Legal locally but a federal crime. I use Duck, Duck Go, by the way.

          Liked by 1 person

  • A great post! And I do enjoy Darren Rowse. I first came across his book, ProBlogger, about 7 years ago when I considered joining the blogging community. It has been an incredible experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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