Nov 8, 2010

Fairfax’s hypocritical web ‘spying devices’ beat-up

"Politicians are letting foreign-owned companies covertly gather information about voters" screamed Fairfax today. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

“Politicians are letting foreign-owned companies covertly gather information about voters” screeched the  Nicky Phillips “EXCLUSIVE” in Fairfaxland today. “The websites of Barry O’Farrell, Kristina Keneally, Tony Abbott and the Greens plant spying devices on visitors’ computers, which can track them as they browse the internet.”

Pot. Kettle. Black.

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35 thoughts on “Fairfax’s hypocritical web ‘spying devices’ beat-up

  1. splurkles

    imagine her horror when she discovers the thing called “facebook”

  2. Cameron Manning

    Watch out, they may sick Annabel Crabb onto you..

  3. amy c

    No Stilgherrian, I wasn’t going to, because I like to be able to comment on Crikey stories in general without doing so in my capacity as a Herald journo. But thanks for outing me. It’s not as if it was a secret who I was, since I made that comment within minutes of commenting directly to you on twitter.

    I don’t imagine readers will search every previous story. But I do imagine a journalist – for whom the whole point of their article is that something wasn’t disclosed – might do a quick google search to see what else has been written.

    And furthermore, I don’t think Nicky’s article was actively criticising politicians as you make out. It was critical, but it was also just about raising the issue and letting people know it was happening, which, while it may be widely known in internet-nerd land (and I use the term with affection) is not actually widely known among most people.

    But I also think it is certainly legitimate for a journalist in a company that collects cookies to highlight the fact that political parties (or government agencies) collect them. There are potentially serious privacy concerns there (for example, what if centrelink were to use cookies to follow me online if I’m receiving payments from them etc etc)

  4. Elan

    “No Stilgherrian, I wasn’t going to, because I like to be able to comment on Crikey stories in general without doing so in my capacity as a Herald journo.”

    Righty ho ducky! That clarifies that.

    (Oooooo you meany, meany thing, Stillers!)

  5. Meski

    @Amy: unfortunately, the perceptions of readers when you get outed by someone else, rather than admitting it up front, outweigh the benefits of commenting privately. The story still sounds like a beat-up, but that may be because I’m fairly aware of how cookies work.

  6. amy c

    @ Meski, yes it is a shame. What a pitty I need to be attacked instead of the substance of my argument!

  7. Stilgherrian

    @Amy C: I’d contend that the number of people following this discussion on both Twitter and in the Crikey comment stream would be vanishingly small. And while I reckon it’s perfectly fine and proper for you to comment as yourself and not with an official Fairfax hat — none of us are the puppets of our employers, or shouldn’t be — I also reckon that your employment by Fairfax is a relevant fact to disclose when joining this particular discussion.

    My view is that it’d be more ethical to use a pseudonym and disclose the relationship than to use half your real name and not disclose.

    That said, if “Amy C” is a persistent identifier that you use when commenting at Crikey and elsewhere, it’d be reasonable to continue using it.

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about the intent of the story. From where I sit, it looks like the story was intended to invoke fear.

    I reckon if the story’s aim was to inform then it would have explained more accurately what utility politicians get from using an analytics firm — discovering the location, age, gender and other demographics of the website visitors and correlating that to the pages they read — and explained how easy it is to disable third-party cookies or install privacy-protection software. It might also have refrained from loaded language like “spying devices” and just called them “tracking cookies” which is, after all, the name of the things.

  8. Stilgherrian

    Further to my statement:

    Log into your Google Gmail account and your personal data can be correlated with everything collected from networks using DoubleClick’s advertising.

    A Google spokesperson writes:

    When a user visits websites that display ads provided by Google’s AdSense program, or watches a video on YouTube, Google stores a random, unique number in the user’s browser (the DoubleClick cookie) to remember the browser’s visits. Only these visits — and not searches on Google or Google account information — are associated with the DoubleClick cookie.

  9. Infoholic


    Nicky Phillips chose to use hyperbolic rhetoric (e.g. “spy devices” and “tracking device, owned by Yahoo! and dated to expire in 2037”) in a story that was aimed at the non “internet-nerd”. She chose to only mention web-sites of key politicians and political parties. She conveniently forgot to mention (even though she, according to your previous comment, knows all about cookies) that these third party cookies are created by almost every commercial web site on the planet (even the SMH site). Given that Ms. Philips and the SMH editors are smart people, this can only mean one thing. Ms Phillips wrote and the SMH editors published a story that strictly followed standard beat-up creation guidelines.

    Just accept your colleague wrote a poor story and your employer published it.

  10. GlenTurner1

    AdBlockPro, NoScript, BugMeNot, Firefox’s setting “Accept cookies, keep until I close Firefox” and disabling Flash’s Local Storage Objects. You know you should.

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