Opposite Day With Advertising Company Google [CL73]

Posted on Tuesday, Sep 12, 2023 | Series: Chaos Lever
Your privacy sandbox is neither private nor a sandbox. Discuss.


[00:00:00.650] Ned: I have determined that I’m incapable of not doing anything. I think most ironic, because you’re also.

[00:00:09.810] Chris: Incapable of doing things well.

[00:00:12.280] Ned: Doing them well, that’s for certain. As is evidenced by this podcast, my choice of streaming platforms. Life fill in the blank. It blanks. It’s multiple. It’s more of an ad libs kind of situation.

[00:00:29.390] Chris: I think it’s just blanks all the way down.

[00:00:33.290] Ned: Isn’t that the greatest mad lib? No.

[00:00:37.580] Chris: One empty page.

[00:00:40.670] Ned: I wonder if I could convince my kids.

[00:00:44.750] Chris: It doesn’t even have areas to put words into it. Just at the bottom, it says the end, period.

[00:00:49.640] Ned: It’s a DIY mad lib. How could you say no? Very easily.

[00:00:56.430] Chris: You could say no madlibsbynihilism.com.

[00:01:04.130] Ned: No. I think a nihilistic mad libs would just be the absence of a page. You don’t even get paper.

[00:01:10.230] Chris: Nice.

[00:01:13.270] Ned: Oh, dear. Well, that was certainly a thing that we talked about. Should we talk about more things? Sure. All right. Hello, alleged human, and welcome to the Chaos Lever podcast. My name is Ned, and I’m definitely not a robot. I am composed of mostly water and organic matter. Silicon is organic, right? Trust me, it totally is. And lithium, also organic. I was raised on a sustainable, fair trade collective farm. 100% organic and totally vegan. Human blood doesn’t count, right? With me is Chris, who’s also here.

[00:01:56.470] Chris: So, yeah, that’s actually a good question. Do the Vegans rep dracula.

[00:02:03.030] Ned: Yeah, I am honestly not sure, because the whole proposition is to prevent suffering. But if someone tells you to drink their blood, then is that blood vegan?

[00:02:16.330] Chris: If a Dracula only eats a vegan, does that Dracula then through the transitive property of vegan, him or herself.

[00:02:26.670] Ned: At least in part.

[00:02:27.700] Chris: Think about it. Think about it.

[00:02:30.180] Ned: I think I’ve dedicated more thought to this than many other decisions today. Oh, my goodness, what a complicated thought process. I know that you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy and probably its subsequent, increasingly misnamed trilogy books, and there was the one portion of when they go to the restaurant at the end of the Universe, and there was a cow that had been bred specifically to want to be eaten. And it walks over to the table, introduces itself, lets them pick out what part of the cow they want to eat, and then goes back to the kitchen to humanely kill itself. Douglas Adams was a brilliant, brilliant man. And I think we’re all I was.

[00:03:16.700] Chris: Going to say, did you have any follow up to that? Or you just wanted us all to remember the cow?

[00:03:21.230] Ned: I think we should all remember a.

[00:03:23.410] Chris: Really good cheeseburger for lunch, and you can’t stop thinking about it.

[00:03:26.520] Ned: I actually had, like I won’t say it’s the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had, but it’s like one of the best tasting cheeseburgers I’ve ever had. That was the post race food at the Athletes Pavilion or whatever. Yesterday they had a food truck and it was serving veggie burgers and cheeseburgers and fries. It was so good.

[00:03:50.650] Chris: Yeah, that’s sort of an unfair.

[00:03:54.730] Ned: Because.

[00:03:55.130] Chris: What you’re not telling people is that this was a five and a half hour effort.

[00:03:59.710] Ned: Yeah, well, it might have something to do with it.

[00:04:03.550] Chris: At that point, I think you actually could have eaten a handful of silicon and been satiated.

[00:04:10.430] Ned: It certainly would have put something in my stomach, which was all I really wanted at that moment. And I got it. Something that was not a gel, because I’d had seven or eight of those and everything was just in turmoil. Like, why do you not give me actual food? So it was nice to bite into something that had oomph to it. Some substance, as it were.

[00:04:39.370] Chris: A solid yes.

[00:04:41.690] Ned: Now, today, everything hurts and I want to die. Let’s talk about Google. So, I may have written this in a bit of a fugue state, so we’ll see how much sense it makes as we go through it. Please stop me and interrupt freely, as I know you will.

[00:05:01.330] Chris: So far, I see commas, I see paragraph breaks. I think you did great. I think you did great.

[00:05:07.320] Ned: I did awesome, advertising company.

[00:05:10.210] Chris: I didn’t say awesome.

[00:05:11.480] Ned: Hey, I heard it. The audience heard it. Everybody heard it. I don’t care what you say, advertising company. Google poops in your sandbox. I poop in your sandbox.

[00:05:26.570] Chris: That’s not a saying.

[00:05:30.810] Ned: It’s been a little while since we really harped on the whole advertising company Google thing, and that’s probably because you and I have been busy watching Elon absolutely destroy what little good was left in Twitter. Not that there was much to begin with, observing Microsoft stomp the yard of infosec rakes so hard, sideshow Bob would be impressed. And, of course, complaining about kids these days and their AI web three NFT drones or something that they bought with crypto. Yes, but believe it or not, google is still a gigantic company worth $1.72 trillion. That was their market cap yesterday. And the vast majority of their revenue and most of their profit comes from selling ads. Hence the moniker advertising company Google. Now, I’ll admit that that is exhausting to type and say every time, so I’m just going to shorten it to Google with the understanding that advertising company that’s implied savvy.

[00:06:38.590] Chris: I’ll accept it. Excellent this time.

[00:06:43.570] Ned: Now, what has Google gotten up to recently? They created a privacy sandbox in Chrome. And doesn’t that sound nice? Yeah. I mean, for starters, it’s a sandbox. Who doesn’t love sandboxes?

[00:07:00.710] Chris: The health department.

[00:07:02.400] Ned: I have fond memories of playing in my childhood sandbox, as one does, surrounded by metallic Tonka trucks constantly threatening tinnitus or tetanus, maybe both. The gentle scent of cat urine from the collection of strays that my mother insisted on cultivating. It’s really good times, Chris. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel the grit stuck in my teeth. After Johnny, the neighborhood bully, asked me if I like sandwiches, and I did not get the joke. Well, thanks for the trauma reminder there, Google. Thanks a lot.

[00:07:40.930] Chris: You were strengthening your immune system.

[00:07:47.190] Ned: So say we all. But privacy? We like privacy. At least. We the collective. We all say we do. Honestly, if there’s yeah, honestly, if there is one area where our actions do not align with our statements, it’s security, with privacy being a close second. Still, though, privacy, it sounds nice. I like privacy in hotel rooms where I can silently weep about Johnny’s torments and my eventual psychotic break that left him with a slight limp throughout all of fourth grade.

[00:08:28.130] Chris: Yes.

[00:08:30.210] Ned: So privacy, we like that. And since Google as a whole is aware of the totality of human experience and media, perhaps they are also familiar with Canadian singer Alanis Morissette and her top ten diddy Ironic. While some things in the song are not necessarily ironic, alanis does understand well, all of them. No, there’s some irony in there. People are too harsh.

[00:08:58.170] Chris: And I would breakdown of that song that I heard from a college English professor said that that song has nothing ironic in it. It is merely a series of bummers.

[00:09:11.150] Ned: Agree to disagree, but I would say that Alas at least does understand that ironic is when the actual meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. Thank you, ethan Hawke. And calling the new feature in Chrome a privacy sandbox is pretty fucking ironic, don’t you think?

[00:09:31.030] Chris: That’s what this was about?

[00:09:32.730] Ned: Yeah, give me a minute. I was getting there. Told you. Fugue state. So why do I say it’s ironic? Well, we’ll get there. But first I need to hearken back to a previous episode where we talked about cookies on the Internet. And no, that isn’t a TV on the Radio tribute band. Cookies are an. You can just roll your eyes as much as you want. Cookies, Internet cookies, browser, cookies, even, are an adorable name for something that started out as a necessity and quickly became a scourge upon the privacy landscape of the early Internet. I think we brought this up in the previous episode, but for those who didn’t listen or their attention wandered, let’s say a cookie is simply a file generated by a website and stored on your local file system in a folder ostensibly managed by your browser. The cookie is meant to help a website remember you and the shenanigans that you’ve gotten up to. Each time you send a web request to a website, the server or servers responding have no recollection of your previous requests. Web servers are the proverbial goldfish, constantly amazed by the little plastic castle. Apologies to Annie DeFranco for that.

[00:10:59.890] Ned: Man, I’ll tell you, I’m killing it with the music references. Sure, cookies are included in the request so that the server can remember who they are. And like Mufasa did for Simba, they will be able to serve their noble purpose of showing you the latest antique spoon collections based on your previous browsing history. That’s a callback to the previous episode, in case you didn’t know.

[00:11:29.550] Chris: Oh, I knew. I’ve totally been listening.

[00:11:32.350] Ned: So now we’re like almost 15 minutes in and I have yet to come to a point. Cookies can be issued by the website you’re talking to, but modern web pages, they actually include like a ton of stuff in them served up by domains that have nothing to do with your my antique spoon obsession. Seriously, go to any website to look up a recipe or just do a Google search for a recipe, click on one of those pages and see how many things pop up that have nothing to do with the recipe or the website hosting. Um, it’s absurd. Actually, I think those might be the.

[00:12:12.440] Chris: Worst what, recipe pages?

[00:12:15.510] Ned: Yes.

[00:12:17.930] Chris: Not least because you’re downloading like three megabytes worth of data and really all you need is 15 lines of text.

[00:12:25.070] Ned: Precisely. Some of them now have a jump to recipe button, so you can skip all of the keyword loaded text that they put in there where they tell you a story that you don’t care about and honestly, they made up. But even if you skip to the recipe, you’ll be presented with at least one ad that immediately starts streaming video at you, along with a few banner ads and maybe one on the side too, all of which obscure the actual recipe. And then you’ll get a pop up that asks you if you want to sign up for the newsletter, which just further blocks the recipe. It’s great. I love it.

[00:13:03.050] Chris: All I really needed to know was 375 or 450.

[00:13:08.110] Ned: Split the difference.

[00:13:10.590] Chris: 500. That’ll also cook it faster.

[00:13:13.510] Ned: Yes, and faster is what we aim for. So all those ads, all those additional things that pop up, those come from other domains and they’re looking to track you and your activities as you browse across the World Wide Web. And they do this with what are called third party cookies. I e. Cookies that are issued by a site other than the one that you’re visiting. What happened to second party cookies? I’m going to be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, it’s kind of like second world. It’s all first world or third world, and I don’t anyway. So if you are going to go to the Avid Spooncollectorsanonymous.com org website and they have, say, some Amazon ads on the right to help offset their server hosting costs, then those Amazon ads might drop a little cookie from DoubleClick net on your browser to track where you go after you leave APSC. Probably headed to the other anonymous spoon collectors website, which is under A Odly. Enough. Now that’s bad. We don’t like being tracked by Amazon. We’re not packages most of the time. So it’s become the cause of the day for browsers like Safari and Firefox to just block third party cookies outright.

[00:14:41.540] Ned: Don’t even let them aboard. That’s kind of their policy. You can enable them if you really want to, but you have to go into the privacy settings and opt into it. Now, despite cries from ad brokers that blocking third party cookies would break the internet, I personally have seen very little issue using Firefox for the last X number of years where X is a value that we don’t really need to define. Okay. And I know you use Firefox as well, and some other browsers. Any major issues there, Chris?

[00:15:16.550] Chris: No, they can all at this point, almost all of them, if they don’t do it automatically, certainly have the option of blocking third party cookies and the ones that don’t have some type of an extension that you can install.

[00:15:31.450] Ned: Indeed, because you know what you don’t.

[00:15:33.150] Chris: Need in your life?

[00:15:34.810] Ned: More double click net.

[00:15:38.090] Chris: Yeah.

[00:15:38.560] Ned: The other downside to third party cookies is they’re often a way for malware to find its way onto your browser and computer as well.

[00:15:45.950] Chris: Right. Which is also bad.

[00:15:47.900] Ned: Yes. So despite being a security issue and a privacy issue, sadly, browsers that block them by default, like Firefox and Safari, don’t own the browser market or even represent a plurality. That would be Google’s Chrome browser with a staggering 61.2% all on its own. Plus another 5.1% from Edge, which uses the Chrome engine to render and will probably do whatever Google says. And what has the old GOOG been saying? Well, they also don’t like third party cookies. For serious y’all, they are bad and need to be replaced. Note that they say replaced and not removed. So they allow third party cookies by default, though there is an option inside of Chrome to block them. And they’ve come up with an initial proposal for a system called Flock, which stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. Unlike third party cookies that they’re going to try to phase out with this system, those third party cookies need to create individual profiles for users set up in their own third party tracking systems. It’s up to DoubleClick net or whatever to create a tracking system and keep track of you and build up a profile which then they will sell to other brokers.

[00:17:16.090] Ned: Wouldn’t it be nice if Google did all the hard work for them? Yes, I guess they thought it would. So Flock builds up a local profile of your interests and places you into a cohort of similar individuals and makes the cohort data available to advertisers when they ask via API. Google does says that the local profile is anonymized and not shared directly with advertisers, which enhances privacy. And if I keep using these air quotes, I’m going to end up in the fucking stratosphere, so I’m going to stop doing that.

[00:17:55.130] Chris: Yeah, it sounds more like a Flock of bullshit to me.

[00:18:00.250] Ned: Classic 80s band we all know and love. The advice is solid, run far away. So Flock is a way for Google to track you even more closely and sell the generated profile to advertisers who are not known for their scruples when it comes to making Ruples. Yes, I enjoyed that. So when Google announced Flock, basically everyone except Microsoft came out against it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote a blog post called Flock is a Terrible Idea. Mozilla made it very clear they weren’t going to implement it in Firefox. And an engineer at Apple said that they would not implement it in Safari either. Basically everyone that’s not Google hates Flock except Microsoft, who kind of hemmed and hawed with an inscrutable press statement that said nothing in at least 250 words. So, you know, like, standard Microsoft, unfortunately. You know what’s great about being the clear market leader with barely any competition? You want to guess?

[00:19:09.470] Chris: You just do whatever the hell you want.

[00:19:12.690] Ned: Yeah.

[00:19:13.540] Chris: Everybody just has to kind of deal with pretty much.

[00:19:19.570] Ned: Hmm. Sounds like a case for OOH. Isn’t there a trial starting soon? Something about anyway, so, yeah, Google basically did that. Now they changed the name of Flock to topics API. I mean, technically they said that Flock was dead, but there’s dead like Betty White and then there’s dead like any Marvel superhero. You just kind of know they’re going to be back.

[00:19:48.970] Chris: Dude.

[00:19:50.180] Ned: Too soon.

[00:19:51.930] Chris: Too soon.

[00:19:53.020] Ned: I’m sorry. Well, there’ll never be another Betty White, and I feel confident saying that. So the Topics API, it ditches the idea of the cohort, which I don’t think is an improvement. Instead, it assigns topics to users that will be exposed to advertisers. Users should, in theory, be able to control which topics they’re flagged for, and users will be able to opt out, notably not opt in to the Topics API. You get opted in without being asked. The full list of topics is publicly available and curated by human beings. Allegedly. There’s a bunch of other implementation details that I don’t really feel like getting into because they’re not important. And also, I got tired. But Google’s core premise is that they have to replace tracking cookies with something. And since ads are the fuel that Google runs on, they have to keep drilling for oil. Maybe this is fracking instead of offshore drilling, but it kind of still sucks. And so now we have rolling out to users of Chrome. If you get the big, flashy new upgrade, you will get the privacy feature. You probably have received a pop up about turning on the Add privacy feature.

[00:21:15.290] Ned: First of all, pick. No thanks if you haven’t. Everything about the wording of the pop up is misleading and wrong. Well, the ad part is right. Everything else, though, the register said it best. Quote all of Google’s documentation about this feature feels like it was written on opposite day. Now, what about those nasty third party tracking cookies? Turning on the privacy sandbox doesn’t block them. So now you’re getting double the tracking. Thanks Google for the price of one. They’re double dipping, as it were. Now, allegedly, Google is going to start blocking third party cookies by default in mid 2024. You know, once this privacy sandbox thing has been crammed down enough throats that Google’s bottom line won’t take a significant hit. After all, the spice must flow. It’s a natural metaphor with all the sand.

[00:22:17.370] Chris: At least it wasn’t another obscure 90s music reference.

[00:22:21.090] Ned: At least one of those was from the 2000s. Maybe not on purpose. No, that was definitely a mistake I’m firmly planted in the 90s. Simpler time, Chris. Not a better time, but simpler. So what can you do about all this bullshit? Well, for starters, stop using Chrome. That bears repeating. Stop using chrome. There are some Chrome variants that will not include this feature, which I will defer to Chris on. Which ones are the best? Chris?

[00:22:58.410] Chris: Well, yeah. So it’s important to remember that Chrome is an actual branded product by Google. Chromium is the project that supports and builds the web rendering engine that makes web pages happen. So Chrome is obviously the most popular user of Chromium. There are many others that you can choose from. The two that come off the top of my head, the first one is a little bit controversial because it has an association with what’s the word I’m looking for? France Questionably implemented crypto mining and also advertising in Brave. Now, Brave in and of itself is not problematic. If you set it up the way that you want it to be, it will not even do any of the things that it can do. So that part is completely controllable by the user. However, I don’t think that they were all that transparent about that type of thing. And a lot of people just sort of think, oh, this is a crypto scam. It isn’t.

[00:24:05.950] Ned: It kind of felt like one.

[00:24:07.230] Chris: But if you don’t want to deal with all of that nonsense, then the correct answer is Vivaldi.

[00:24:14.670] Ned: That’s still around.

[00:24:16.530] Chris: Oh, yeah.

[00:24:17.680] Ned: I remember that from many years ago. I hadn’t realized that they kept up. I thought maybe they disappeared into the ether. But no.

[00:24:29.190] Chris: The latest player in the Chromium extension world is a company called Arc and Arc, and they made their name on Mac and only very recently released a product for Windows. So it’s still early days for that one. I put it out there with a little hesitancy because I’m not sure how well it’s going to work on Windows just now. But it’s a company that’s got aspirations, and it’s worth keeping an eye on.

[00:24:58.110] Ned: All right, solid advice if you’d like to go with an established browser that I use all the time. Firefox is great on Windows and Android. And honestly, Safari is good enough in the Apple ecosystem. In fact, Safari is the one that poses the greatest existential threat to Chrome’s dominance. If you look over the last five years, safari is the only browser that has seen any significant growth, likely due to the prevalence of Apple devices right.

[00:25:29.370] Chris: And the way that everything is connected together. But also, Apple has an interesting approach to user privacy, and that is they will keep your information as private as they can from everyone. Except for Apple.

[00:25:43.480] Ned: Except for Know hey, a lot of.

[00:25:48.210] Chris: People are completely content with that arrangement.

[00:25:52.210] Ned: I understand. I have my own foibles with Apple and their devices, but I respect the privacy game for sure. Unfortunately, some people don’t have a choice. So if you have to use Chrome, first of all, if you got the update, you want to turn off the privacy sandbox, go to Settings, Privacy and Security, add privacy, and disable each of the three features. Yes, it’s that buried that deep, and you have to disable all three because why would it be easy? Now, while you’re in the settings, go to Site Settings, Cookies, and Site Data and make sure that you have block third party cookies turned on. That’ll get you some of the way. There’s plenty of other privacy enhancing extensions out there that I certainly enjoy. Let’s see, what are some good ones? Chris, do you have any recommendations on extensions or plugins or whatever the hell Chrome calls them these days?

[00:26:56.630] Chris: Well, hey, to be fair, firefox has played the game of let’s call these things twelve different things over the past five years as well.

[00:27:02.940] Ned: You’re not wrong.

[00:27:05.750] Chris: But the gold medal standard is you block Origin at its lowest level. It is an ad blocker, but it does block tracking. It blocks malware, and you can add different lists to block other things. There’s a ton of people out there that curate their own, but the ones that are baked into Ublock Origin are more than enough for 99% of use cases. There’s also a fun one that I like called Cookie Remover. And that is fun because what you do I mean, it does what it says on the tin. You let it run for a little while, then go back to your favorite website and click the button and just see what happens. And you’ll see absurd things like 127 cookies removed, and you’re just like, Why?

[00:27:55.050] Ned: Gives you an idea of how prevalent cookies truly are in the browser ecosystem.

[00:28:01.210] Chris: Exactly.

[00:28:02.190] Ned: It’s almost disheartening.

[00:28:04.810] Chris: There are other ones if you get more and more extreme, but there’s ones like Privacy Badger, for example, is really good at blocking even more things. And then the problem with that is if you get to a certain level of blocking, especially if you have multiple tools blocking, they can work at cross purposes and actually make websites not work.

[00:28:25.650] Ned: Yes, there is a certain point at which you’ve broken the website, because while third party cookies are almost never necessary, some cookies are necessary for sites to work at. All right how it is.

[00:28:39.510] Chris: So, yeah, I would say just run with ublock origin. And if you find that you need more introduce it very slowly.

[00:28:46.410] Ned: Yes. And seriously, stop using chrome. Hey, thanks for listening or something. I guess you found it worthwhile enough if you made it all the way to the end. So congratulations to you, friend. You accomplished something today. Now you can organize your official antique spoon collection by Material and Year of Smelting again. You’ve earned it. You can find more about the show by visiting our LinkedIn page. Just search chaoslever or go to our website, chaoslever Cow, where you can find show notes, blog posts and general Tom Foolery. We’ll be back next week to see what fresh hell is upon us. Tata for now.

[00:29:26.130] Chris: Are we also including the Shenanigans along with the Tom Foolery? Or is that a separate site?

[00:29:31.730] Ned: I don’t know. I’ll have to check and see what’s in my baileywick.

[00:29:35.450] Chris: Maybe that can be for Patreon.

Show Notes

Opposite Day With Advertising Company Google

Episode: 73 Published: 9/12/2023

Advertising Company Google Poops In Your Sandbox

It’s been a while since we really harped on the whole Advertising Company Google thing, and that’s because we’ve been busy watching Elon absolutely destroy what little good was in Twitter to begin with, observing Microsoft stomp the yard of infosec rakes so hard Sideshow Bob would be impressed, and of course complaining about kids these days and their AI web3 NFT drones. Or something.

But believe it or not, Google is still a gigantic company worth $1.72T, and the vast majority of their revenue and most of their profit comes from selling ads. Hence the moniker Advertising Company Google. Now that’s exhausting to type and say every time, so I’m just going to shorten it to Google, with the understanding that advertising company is implied. Savvy? Excellent.

Intro and outro music by James Bellavance copyright 2022


Chris Hayner

Chris Hayner (He/Him)

Our story starts with a young Chris growing up in the agrarian community of Central New Jersey. Son of an eccentric sheep herder, Chris’ early life was that of toil and misery. When he wasn’t pressing cheese for his father’s failing upscale Fromage emporium, he languished on a meager diet of Dinty Moore and boiled socks. His teenage years introduced new wrinkles in an already beleaguered existence with the arrival of an Atari 2600. While at first it seemed a blessed distraction from milking ornery sheep, Chris fell victim to an obsession with achieving the perfect Pitfall game. Hours spent in the grips of Indiana Jones-esque adventure warped poor Chris’ mind and brought him to the maw of madness. It was at that moment he met our hero, Ned Bellavance, who shepherded him along a path of freedom out of his feverish, vine-filled hellscape. To this day Chris is haunted by visions of alligator jaws snapping shut, but with the help of Ned, he freed himself from the confines of Atari obsession to become a somewhat productive member of society. You can find Chris at coin operated laundromats, lecturing ironing boards for being itinerant. And as the cohost on the Chaos Lever podcast.

Ned Bellavance

Ned Bellavance (He/Him)

Ned is an industry veteran with piercing blue eyes, an indomitable spirit, and the thick hair of someone half his age. He is the founder and sole employee of the ludicrously successful Ned in the Cloud LLC, which has rocked the tech world with its meteoric rise in power and prestige. You can find Ned and his company at the most lavish and exclusive tech events, or at least in theory you could, since you wouldn’t actually be allowed into such hallowed circles. When Ned isn’t sailing on his 500 ft. yacht with Sir Richard Branson or volunteering at a local youth steeplechase charity, you can find him doing charity work of another kind, cohosting the Chaos Lever podcast with Chris Hayner. Really, he’s doing Chris a huge favor by even showing up. You should feel grateful Chris. Oaths of fealty, acts of contrition, and tokens of appreciation may be sent via carrier pigeon to his palatial estate on the Isle of Man.