Saturday, December 16, 2017

Would you like underwear with that lesson?

Yes, Google, Facebook, and others have connected the dots between your work accounts, your personal accounts, and the accounts of your significant others. Recent events unfolded to reinforce that notion last week while using my laptop during a second grade interactive whiteboard faculty CPT.

During the session, while tapping the board and more or less randomly clicking links to demonstrate interactive mode, I landed on the weather channel's home page. There, in a giant banner add, was a graphic for underwear of the brand recently purchased by my significant other. Of course, the add drew snickers, incited crowd ridicule, and a encouraged general guffaw fueled disruption. Once things settled down, one teacher thoughtfully asked, "How can I prevent an advertisement like that from displaying on my screen?"

The simple answer is to use an add blocker. Add blockers are available for most browsers, including Chrome. A quick view of the Chrome Web Store shows at least a few available.
Add Blocker Extensions
One Chrome add blocker which is particularly effective and easy to use is u-block origin. Its five star user rating matches its ease of use and efficacy. U-block origin works wonderfully. It is not, though, without concern. Simply installing the extension requires users to accept to fairly hefty permissions. U-block can Read and change all the data on web sites you visit and Change your privacy related settings. So, one must have a good amount of faith that u-block's publishers don't collect that data or intentionally change privacy settings (both now or in the future) for their gain and your loss.

Would I use u-block for my school account? Probably. It is favorably viewed by the using public. U-block's code is publicly hosted on github, meaning its source code is largely available for review. U-block has, as of this writing, 68 contributors; if there was a problem with data theft or other nefarious activity, such issues would likely be discovered, disclosed, and used to discredit u-block.

Would I use u-block for a personal account through which I conduct online banking or other sensitive material? Not yet. Stay tuned, though, that could change. If it does, I'll provide an update.

Finally, much of what we take for granted as being free on the internet is really not free. Advertisements support much of what we enjoy, what we use, and what we increasingly rely on. Advertising revenue pays the light bills, keeps big server farms cool, and buys more hard drives so you can upload more videos and photos of your holiday gatherings, vacations, and cats. Many sites will force you to reconcile that reality with a plea to your moral sensibilities as they ask you to stop running the ad blocker - which publishers can detect and which they will try to circumvent. Spy versus spy, version 2017...

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