Deleting Google search history, blocking ads & starting fresh

As from 1 March 2012, it will be easier than ever for online advertisers to target web users, thanks to Google. Apart from debates about privacy, the simple fact is that the majority of Internet users are not experienced webmasters who know how to control and customise their privacy options.

For those rare occasions when we don't just want to buy random crap off the Internet (sarcasm), it becomes really irritating and intrusive to be constantly bombarded by adverts. I spent a couple of hours going through all my Google accounts and finding information from my teenaged years and experimental student days. Any “likes” or “interests” that you may have added somewhere in the webesphere could soon be used to load the cannons of consumerism and bombard you.

If you use Google, you may want to read this is a good article to read (published at The Age dot com) if you haven't a clue what this is all about. But what follows are a few useful places to start if you wish to start blocking ads and begin cleaning out some of your data and baggage before Google gets a firmer hold on it.

Clearing your Google Search History:

(the info below also appears on The Age dot com):

  • Go to the Google History page and sign in.
  • Click “Remove All Web History” then “Okay” to confirm.
  • Your Google Search History should be turned on by default. You can always click "Resume" if you decide to turn this feature back on.

For more control over your various Google accounts that you may or may not have, try these:

  • Google Dashboard: Here you can control the data associated with your Google Account.
  • Ads Preferences Manager: Here you can make changes to the ads you see, including blocking specific advertisers or opting-out of seeing personalised ads completely.
  • Eject button: If you decide you want to opt out altogether, Google provides a one stop shop to opt out of everything and take your "data dandruff" with you completely.

Blocking Ads in Firefox and Chrome

For blocking ads, there is also a useful plugin for Firefox and Chrome called Adblock Plus, which does as the name suggests: blocks ads.

Blocking AdsA final website I came across almost by accident is the Network Advertising Initiative. An article on here called Opt Out of Behavioral Advertising gives a status on which advertising groups you have received cookies from over the years. There is a really useful "Opt-out from all" option here, which lets you remove most (if not all) of these.

And before any of you haters start bashing out comments, understand that this is not about "having something to hide"; it's a much more complicated issue around privacy, freedom of information, and how we are treated as Internet users.

Peace out.

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MEETYOURFRIENDS: The real deal or complete scam?

IT can be forcefully argued that Facebook has set the benchmark for new and emerging social networking sites. In fact, morsels of the Facebook phenomenon can be seen in several non- social networking websites too – usually ones that allow users to provide status updates, add ‘friends’, comment willy-nilly and “like” certain things by giving them a digital thumbs up.

It almost seems that the online giant that Facebook has become could never be rivaled or surpassed by any other social networking site - no matter how enticing they appear; but there are still some that try.

MeetYourFriends dot com is one of the latest social networking websites to reach our screens and feels confident that it will “bury their rivals within days.” With a healthy initial investment and the aim of tapping into an apparent emerging market of 30 and 40-somethings, time will only tell if MeetYourFriends will succeed or fail.

MeetYourFriends

"MeetYourFriends.com is a back-to-basics social network that brings together new friends from across the globe. With simple sign-up and fast search, the website offers instant friendship using Direct Messages and Live Chat. Based on secure and powerful web technology, the social community brings the world to your front door for chat, fun, and friendship" - www.meetyourfriends.com

For those who wish to raise virtual cattle and throw sheep at their peers, MeetYourFriends will not satisfy. According to a popular MeetYourFriends press release published on Techcrunch, the site is a back-to-basics social networking site that will appeal to fans of The Beatles and sliced bread.

MeetYourFriends developer, Neil Bryant, explains that the service aims to target users who simply want to engage in casual chat. “We wanted to bring some fresh new ideas into the social networking sphere, and with a unique combination of email and live chat we think we may have just achieved that,” says Neil.

There have already been over a hundred comments from Internet users regarding MeetYourFriends - most of which were not favourable of the endeavour. There is a general feeling of “do we really need yet another social networking website that does the same things as Facebook?” as well as shared feelings that the entire venture is a scam.

One intrigued commenter tested the waters by signing up on MeetYourFriends only to find that he had to pay in order to chat to existing, high-profiled users. It was discovered that the ‘social networking’ service had a dating component to it whereby users had to pay if they wished to converse with the more exotic-looking users already on MeetYourFriends. He also found that many of the “models” on MeetYourFriends were Ukrainian and that he was unable to unsubscribe from the service.

A word of warning

Firstly, anything new in the social networking world needs to be different; different and easy to use. If legit, MeetYourFriends may win favour on the simplicity front, but I do not imagine it will become anything to write home or Facebook about.

It is also always important to consider the motives behind new social networking websites – especially ones that have invested so much into their creation. According the aforementioned press release, MeetYourFriends will not change its privacy policy or allow advertising once it’s settled on its laurels.

“We think Facebook is nervous, adds Neil. Global domination awaits.” Most will find that very hard to believe. As always, be cautious when handing over any personal information online; and if you dare enter, beware of being spammed by adware and spyware and the occasional Thai bride.

Some social networking humour: I leave you with the advert for Friend Face from that timeless episode of The IT crowd:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Pebihz0FJA&p=5AEFE7082D6AD523&playnext=1&index=24[/youtube]

Related: The Future of Social Networking

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SOCIAL MEDIA: And how it is transforming business in South Africa

Fuseware is a Cape Town based social media research company that is currently creating a free social media research survey about the business case for social media in South Africa. They are asking the top influencers in the media and marketing industry for their views regarding this and aggregating all the information into a 100% free Fuseware report.

I was asked to participate in the Fuseware survey but wanted to open it to everyone to participate and offer further suggestions. The six most poignant questions follow with my own responses, but please feel free to contribute and get your chance to be heard! I will pass all comments on to the researcher that contacted me.

1. Fuseware: How is social media changing the business landscape, specifically for South Africa?

In the media industry, social media is the next phase of journalism. Media industries that do not adopt and embrace social media and networking into their production cycles will surely wither and die in the future. Situations where news rooms fight social media to get "the scoop" will never win by virtual of the speed and spread that is offered by services such as Twitter, Blogs and even Facebook. Media organisations need to learn how to use social media themselves in unique ways if they wish to remain a viable source of information.

2. Fuseware: What is the most difficult challenge of social media use in business in South Africa?

I would argue that the biggest challenge for businesses in SA is finding unique ways to make effective use of social media without harassing and bomb-barding social networkers with corporate spam. Simply posting links to any business website on every social media platform, for example, is not effective use of social media and will only irritate people and possibly taint the name of that business or brand.

3. Fuseware: What is your ultimate example of business success in social media?

News websites that have developed social media extensions for their product are proving to be very successful in SA. News24, The Dispatch and The Times are three examples of businesses that have made effective use of social media by offering something of interest and value that was not possible with their print products. Interactivity, commenting platforms, reader feedback, creating web-presence and the use of multimedia are all effective forms of optimising such a business.

4. Fuseware: Which companies in South Africa do you think are doing social media the right way?

The three news corps. mentioned: News24, The Times and The Dispatch. Also gaming and IT websites are showing huge growth in SA - e.g. Take2, and of course the blogging community and more specifically blog aggregators - i.e. Afrigator and MyScoop are making great and effective use of social media in SA. These will continue to grow for a good while yet.

5. Fuseware: How can businesses in SA measure the effectiveness of their social media campaigns?

It depends on the campaign really. Following trends would be a good start, but most social media campaigns can be measured by number of followers / subscribers and the growth of these. Keeping track of website statistics and engaging with their audience(s) is also of utmost importance.

6. Fuseware: How do you envision the usage of social media in SA in 2-3 years?

The internet today is defined as "web 2.0" - i.e. the "social web". The proliferation of social media websites and services will continue to grow in the next few years and more businesses are likely to adopt social networking into their business models. It's almost becoming a case of "do-or-die" meaning that if businesses do not create a web-presence within the next 2-3 years while their competitors do, they will risk losing a huge number of customers / clients / readers.

  • If you would like any of your own input sent to the Fuseware team before they put together their social media report, please add it as a comment below.

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WEB SURVEY: MWEB’s Friendship 2.0 survey revealed social networking as the new way to "talk over the garden fence"

On average, adult social networkers in South Africa are in their 30's, employed full-time, and describe themselves as sociable and outgoing. This is according to findings in new research commissioned by MWEB.

The Friendship 2.0 survey was conducted towards the end of last year among local web users aged 16 years and older, busting the myth that social networking in South Africa is only done by youngsters. It demonstrates how social networking has gone mainstream.

Social Networking in South Africa (image www.athgo.org)

Social Networking in South Africa (image: www.athgo.org)

Social Networking in South Africa Survey: Findings

Facebook remains the dominant social networking platform with a massive 82% using the service. Behind Facebook comes YouTube (32%), then MXit (29%) and Twitter 28%. The majority of people are using these services to communicate real life activities such as sharing personal news, gossiping and making arrangements to meet socially.

Social networking is changing the format of personal networks dramatically. Many people are now making friends and meeting potential partners online. The impact of social networking is also expanding personal networks with the average user claiming to have around 158 friends they regularly interact with.

“Social networks have really become the garden fence of the 21st century, and are used for very much the same purposes as community meeting places. We are at the end of the early adoption phase, which was dominated by young people, and social networking is now a mainstream activity enjoyed and used by all age groups, particularly those in their thirties.” - Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect

Social Networking Survey: Users in South Africa

The survey revealed that the average age of Facebook users in South Africa is 33; MySpace is 32; Twitter and YouTube come in at 31; and the youngest in the survey is MXit with an average age of 27. These findings dispel perceptions that social networking is for teenagers only.

Social Networking in South Africa Survey: Multiple Presences

Many online South Africans are also taking up multiple presences using a combination of Facebook, Twitter and MXit accounts. To facilitate integration between these multiple platforms, these users link their various accounts to each other enabling visitors to their Facebook pages to view their Twitter updates and click through to their MySpace profile.

On certain social platforms it’s more a matter of viewing than doing. For example, 75% of MySpace users are only ‘viewers’, moving from one profile to the next. Similarly, 72% of Twitter users are ‘lurkers’, reading what others post. This may be because Twitter is still relatively ‘new’ and users do not have the option of accepting people who would like to follow them. Users could also be more concerned about what their followers may think of their comments.

Facebook and LinkedIn are the most balanced, with 60% of their users classed as “viewers”, who just view other people’s pages, and 40% actively posting their own information regularly.

Social Networking in South Africa Survey: Facebook Chat

The addition of Facebook’s chat facility/instant messenger tool has seen 56% of South African Facebook users ‘chatting’ to their friends on the site. “When we looked at who they are chatting to, friends and family were tops. Clients, partners and suppliers were the lowest, possibly because most Facebook users prefer not to befriend people they deal with professionally.”

Social Networking in South Africa Survey: Internet Connectivity

The way South African’s are accessing the Internet revealed that ADSL is the connection of choice. “Some 48% of the participants are connecting via ADSL, followed very closely by 3G/HSDPA at 42%, and 35% via their cell phones using 3G,” added Holgate.

Social Networking in South Africa Survey: Online Personality types

The survey results categorised respondents into five different online personality types. These personality types, vary from those who are reluctant to use the Internet and do not have an understanding of what can be done online, through to users who are comfortable using the Internet and indulge in potentially “edgy” behaviour, such as using a pseudonym online or using the Internet to find out what a past partner is doing.

Additional & Interesting Findings Include:

  • The research revealed that 74% of South Africans going online do so specifically to visit social networking platforms.
  • 16% of Facebook users in the survey are on Facebook all day, an additional 58% visit the site once a day or more. This means 74% are accessing Facebook at least once a day.
  • The computer desktop remains the most popular way to access Facebook (55%), but 35% are using a combination of their cellphone and computer.
  • 62% of Facebook users are updating their status, and 61% are uploading videos or photographs, and searching for someone on the site.
  • 16% of participants are using social platforms to promote their business.
  • 94% of the participants are using the Internet to access their email followed by 81% using the Internet for work related activities.
  • Social networking (74%) rated six on the list of online activities after reading the news (76%), searching for information (76%) and online banking (75%).
  • 50% of Facebook users classified themselves as English, 58% are male and 25% have parents on the social platforms.
  • 25% of the survey participants have met more friends online than they have in real life.
  • 24% have gone on a face-to-face date with someone they have met online.
  • 36% have used a pseudonym online.
  • 36% have used the Internet to find out what a past partner is doing.
  • 37% believe they spend too much time online and need to cut back.
  • 49% feel vulnerable to abuse by sharing their personal details online.
  • And 21% have experienced a breach of their privacy on the Internet.

TNS Research Surveys conducted the social networking survey with a selection of participants of varying demographics to identify which social networking platforms are popular among South Africans and to probe what they are doing on the various sites. 401 people from TNS Research Surveys’ online panel were interviewed. All respondents in the survey were aged 16 years or older and the data is representative of the South African online population in terms of age, race and gender. The data was weighted to bring age/race/gender into line with AMPS figures.

For more information about this social networking survey, indicative profiles of the five online personality types identified during this survey, and to see how you compare to the average South African using social networking platforms, visit: http://www.mweb.co.za/services/friendship/

- issued on behalf of MWEB

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GREEN DAM: Latest Internet screening program takes its duties to farcical extremes - but China is adopting it

Green Dam uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

BEIJING — What do Johnny Depp, Garfield, Paris Hilton and roast pork have in common? In China, the answer is that a new government-mandated Internet filter rates some pictures of all four of them as bad for your moral health.

Beijing has ordered all personal computers sold in China since the beginning of July to be preinstalled with the Green Dam software, which it says is designed to block pornographic and violent images, and which critics fear will be used to extend censorship in the country.

But a trial of the programme, which is available online for free download at www.skycn.com/soft/46657.html, suggested its filters may be of limited use to worried parents.

When the software is installed, and an image scanner activated, it blocks even harmless images of a film poster for cartoon cat Garfield, dishes of flesh-coloured cooked pork and, on one search engine, a close-up of Johnny Depp’s face.

With the image filter off, while searches with words like "nude" are blocked, a hunt for adult websites throws up links to soft- and hardcore pornography sites, including one with a video of full penetrative sex on its front page.

Green Dam has not detailed how it scans images for obscene content, but computer experts have said it likely uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

Programme settings allow users to choose how tightly they want images scanned. When too much skin is detected, Green Dam closes all Internet browsers with no warning, sometimes flashing up a notice that the viewer is looking at “harmful” content.

But the interpretation of obscene is apparently generous enough to include the orange hue of Garfield’s fur and, on the highest security settings, prevent viewers clicking through to any illustrated story on one English news site.

The software also allows users to choose what they want to filter for, and besides adult websites and violence, categories include “gay” and “illegal activities”.

Another setting allows Green Dam to take regular snapshots of a user’s screen and store them for up to two weeks — ostensibly so parents can monitor computer use by minors.

But it could also potentially leave security officials a track of computer use by a suspected dissident, or be a gift to fraudsters who are on the hunt for online bank details and private information.

Western governments and trade groups have asked China to reconsi­der implementing Green Dam software based on concerns ranging from cyber-security and performance of the software to Internet freedoms.

— Sapa-AP

Related post: Porn to be a teen

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