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Stands' stand on privacy

Stands’ Stand on Privacy

May 17, 2015

Privacy is something only people who have something to hide care about.
Even Mark Zuckerberg said:

Privacy is no longer a “social norm”.

What do you think?

We at Stands believe privacy is a basic right of every citizen of the web.
Users are being overly charged for their use of websites and online services; they pay with their privacy and attention. They are the most purchased product online.

Here we’ll share our knowledge and thoughts on privacy online; we’ll describe why privacy matters, “good” and “bad” forms of online tracking and how we do it at Stands.

Why Privacy Matters

What would you do if someone would watch you every time you browse the web? Most likely you’d either stop browsing or you’d use this cool wearable.
We are not aware of it, and it's not someone actually sitting next to us, but there are many companies literally tracking your every move online.

There’s an amazing talk on TED by Glenn Wald explaining why privacy matters.

There are two main points to this talk, the first is that people’s common responses to online privacy, like “only bad people worry about privacy” or “I don’t worry about my privacy, I have nothing to hide, I do nothing wrong”, are basically flawed. We all have things we’d like to keep private and aren’t “bad”, like a medical condition for example.

The second is that when people know they are monitored they act different, they express themselves differently and they express different opinions.
Think of how you would dance to your favorite song at home if you knew you are recorded, or how would you vote if it wasn’t private.

Online tracking is a two edged sword, on the one hand it provides us with great things like customized content, relevant search results and generally a more customized browsing experience.
On the other hand, that same data can be used in undesirable ways, like affecting your risk score for health insurance because you recently purchased nicotine gums or higher priced plane tickets because you bought a high priced perfume.

Crudely speaking - you can divide online tracking into two groups, described below.

“Good” Tracking

Sites and apps track users’ actions and engagement so they can improve users experience, for example - tracking what you read will allow a site to suggest you more articles on similar topics.

Search engines track users’ search queries and their interaction with the search results so they can improve them, suggest similar search queries or show search trends.
This is extremely useful and powerful.
Although this type of tracking could have been done anonymously, in most cases it’s not.

#####“Bad” Tracking
There are hundreds of companies, like Google’s DoubleClick and IBM’s Bluekai, dedicated to collect as much data as possible on users which they later sell.

They collect your data by paying sites for it, by collecting it when you see an ad, they are buying it from other companies and more.
They follow many of your activities; you read about football and they assume you are a male, you read a finance article and they assume you are in a certain demographic, they track the products you are interested in or have purchased, the personal data you signed up with to various websites (ever wondered why you are suddenly swamped with spam?), what was the search terms that led you to the site and many more.

These companies are all over the web and they track you across sites and time.
The vast knowledge they collect is used to build a profile on you and your online activity.
There are a few companies that allow you to see the profile they built on you like Google and Bluekai.
However - this is false transparency, they don’t show you the complete picture.
They don’t show you the data they have on you that led to that profile, why? because you are less likely to care about them knowing you are a woman in your 20’s then you are about them knowing you visit sites that target that demographic.

Targeted advertising can be seen as a good thing; users get relevant ads and advertisers reach the most relevant audience with the right message.
The problem is the sensitive data this companies have and the options for misuse of it, even unintentionally.

Many people think that by clearing their cookies and browsing history they have deleted their history and all form of identification data, however there are technologies that allow companies to identify you even after doing that:

  • Evercookies - storing the user’s identifier in many different storage mechanisms (Flash Cookies, ETags, cached images, etc.) and if one of them was deleted it restores the information from the other mechanisms, you can read more here.
  • Fingerprinting - the use of a combination of many different data points to create a unique identifier that represents you, for example the combination of your IP, operating system, plugins, fonts and more. You can read more about it here.
  • Supercookies - Verizon, and previously also AT&T, is adding a unique identifier that traces back to you on every request leaving any of your devices, allowing both advertisers, site owners and hackers the ability to track you across all of your devices, even if you were able to overcome evercookies and fingerprinting.
    You can opt out of Verizon supercookies here.
    AT&T dropped their use of supercookies.

Tracking is all over the place and very hard to shake out of, so what can users do to regain their basic right for privacy? Read how we do it at Stands and see how you can enjoy the best of all worlds.

How we do it at Stands

We at Stands are working on the solution that will create the web environment we all deserve. Users will gain back their privacy and the value they deserve, and the free web will continue to be sponsored by ads and optimized by data.

We prevent the “bad” forms of tracking; we block online tracking companies from running on the sites you visit, we periodically delete their cookies and we are constantly working on improving our privacy protection to prevent all forms of online tracking.

We allow the “good” forms of tracking, like Google Analytics which allows site owners to get statistics on their site like the amount of visitors, how much time they spend on the site, where do they come from and more.

When the Stands Browser App serves an ad it also sends that information back to our servers so we can count and split the ad revenue between the site and the cause you support. We only log and store basic and non-identifiable information like the website and the charity you support. We do not log your IP address or any other identifiable information.
Neither we nor a court order can retrieve your browsing history.
Stands as a Browser App is inherently open source, we invite you to check out the code and learn what we do.

We value targeted advertising and we want to sustain that, for the users who accept it.
Not only is it good for users and advertisers - with Stands it also benefits the charities, advertisers are willing to pay more for targeting data which will drive more donations to the charities we all support.
However, we envision a better, more transparent and more secure way of doing that.
Today, tracking companies store your activity and run algorithms to build your profile, with Stands your browsing activity never leaves your computer.
Every time an ad will be served, Stands will create an alias that represents you and is completely disconnected from your identity and history. That alias will be sent over an encrypted protocol to allow advertisers to target the right audience.
And of course, you will be able to see your entire profile, edit it, erase it or completely opt out of any type of targeting.

We believe this approach is a Win-Win for everyone.
Users gain back their privacy and the browsing experience they deserve, they finally have a voice and a technology to Take a Stand, they are no longer a product but a respected and powerful part of the online eco-system.
Publishers and Advertisers now have a fair and respectful relationship with the users, finally there is an alternative for the user’s complete opt out of advertising using ad blockers.
Advertisers gain an audience that understands the value of advertising, opts in to be part of it and sees the advertiser in a better light on the one hand and can impact the corporation on the other.

What do you think?
What is your stand on privacy online?
Drop us a line at hello@standsapp.org