The Privacy Project

The New York Times lately ran a piece on their investigation called The Privacy Project. The introduction reads:

Companies and governments are gaining new powers to follow people across the internet and around the world, and even to peer into their genomes. The benefits of such advances have been apparent for years; the costs – in anonymity, even autonomy – are now becoming clearer. The boundaries of privacy are in dispute, and its future is in doubt. Citizens, politicians and business leaders are asking if societies are making the wisest tradeoffs. The Times is embarking on this monthslong project to explore the technology and where it’s taking us, and to convene debate about how it can best help realize human potential.

It’s thorough work, with plenty of informative and useful articles and reports, on how your data is collected in the first place down to the marketplaces and companies where your data is traded and used. Kudos to the investigators and authors.

But there’s a twist. The web pages presenting all these articles and reports use dozens of trackers. There’s this note:

Like other media companies, The Times collects data on its visitors when they read stories like this one. For more detail please see our privacy policy and our publisher’s description of The Times’s practices and continued steps to increase transparency and protections.

I admit that the NY Times privacy policy is relatively well written and understandable. Which makes it easier to be aware of the vast amount of data they collect about you. How the NY Times uses your data for their own purposes even makes some sense. The creepy part comes sneaking in via the personalised ads, and the related third party trackers:

We gather data and work with third parties to show you personalized ads. This data comes from ad tracking technologies (e.g., cookies), the information you provide (e.g., your email address), data collected as you use Times Services (e.g., your reading history), data from advertisers or advertising vendors (e.g., demographic data) and anything inferred from any of this information. We only use or share this information in a manner that does not reveal your identity.

The last sentence made me laugh, considering that the NY Times’ own reporting had demonstrated how easy it is to “re-personalise” data, ie. map “anonymous” data sets to real people.

Now, I am aware that the reporters and authors of the Privacy Project are not the ones defining and controlling the NY Times’ ad selling and data monetising strategy. And as said, their work is solid and revealing.

But it’s also revealing, and disturbing, that the NY Times seems to have to rely on the very shady income streams that they are critisising. The old school publications – ie. the ones that do actual, in-depth journalistic work, with reporters in the field all over the globe, double-source their facts and claims, and all that – struggle to keep their operations financially viable in the current Internet culture where everything seems have to be free. At least apparently so, as we all pay anyway. See the NY Times’ reporting.