Oversharing and paranoia

Oversharing is an inherent part of social media. Just ask anyone who’s made the mistake of clicking a Socialcam link on Facebook.

But oversharing takes different forms, and the most potentially dangerous type is one many people don’t even realize exists: the copious logging of your online activities by the social networking sites you’re logged into. Thanks to their “deep integration” with other websites, you may be “sharing” your browsing habits with Facebook, Twitter and Google even when you’re not on their sites.

Have you ever been on a site and noticed a little corner of the site looks like it’s been invaded by Facebook? That sickly blue, the font, the little profile pictures of your friends who’ve liked or commented on the page you’re currently viewing?

How did that get there? It’s because the site is integrating with Facebook, and through the magic of cookies, Facebook’s servers can tell that it’s you looking at the page and deliver content customized to your profile. Maybe you like that, but I find it a little creepy. Twitter and Google do it too, even if it’s not as obvious.

Google may be the most insidious, with so many of its tools now consolidated under a single login. If you use Gmail, and you keep your account logged in, every Google search you do is logged. Ostensibly this is to help deliver “personalized” results. More crassly, it is used to put “targeted” ads in front of your eyeballs. But that data is being collected, and regardless of what Google says their privacy policy is now, the data is there, and could stay there for a long time. Someday Google might change their policies or sell that data or the government might subpoena it or just come in and take it.

What’s worse, Google Analytics is everywhere. Heck, even paranoid old me uses it. Google says Analytics isn’t tied in with your Google account, and maybe it’s not… yet. But why assume it will always be that way?

Fortunately, there’s something very simple you can do to combat all of this data collection. It’s the online equivalent of a tinfoil hat, except it actually works. Log out. And just to be safe, clear your cookies.

I’m trying something out right now that takes all of this even a step further. It all hinges on the fact that in all three of these cases — Facebook, Twitter and Gmail — the web interface is probably the least usable, least satisfying way to experience these services. I’ve never really been a user of Gmail’s web interface; I’ve always preferred using the Mac’s built in Mail application. But now I’m also strictly using the Twitter app on my Mac. (I already use Tweetbot on my iPhone.) And I have made the decision not to use Facebook on my computer at all. I already hated the Facebook web experience anyway, so why bother with it? Now I am only going to check it using the Facebook iPhone app.

This one just may take the cake…

First, a qualification: Since I got a flat-panel display at work, I no longer have my PC connected directly to the display; I view the PC’s video output via Remote Desktop Connection on my Mac. I’ve learned over time that RDC does not provide a direct, unaltered feed of the PC’s video. For understandable reasons (faster screen refresh), but by perhaps unjustifiable methods, RDC re-renders parts of the video display. The result is that you do not see a pixel-perfect (or even simply downsampled) representation of the actual PC video; it appears to be redrawn completely for network transmission.

In particular, this does funky things with Internet Explorer’s output. Last year I spent a few hours trying to figure out why borders around my buttons were extending by one pixel both down and to the right, until I realized that on the actual PC’s display this wasn’t happening… it was just an RDC quirk.

With that out of the way, I have to admit that perhaps my current problem is an issue with RDC and not with Internet Explorer. But either way, it’s a Microsoft problem.

After making some CSS adjustments to a page I was working on, I noticed that the main body seemed to be extending 3 pixels wider than it should be. Further testing revealed this only happened on certain pages, and after resorting to commenting out each CSS class one-by-one, I tracked this down to an inline class that simply italicizes text. So, for whatever reason in the grand Microsoft scheme, a word or two in italics can cause a much larger section of the page (at least 2 or 3 levels up in the document tree) to expand by 3 pixels.

Again I ask… WHY???

And again my cry for explanation goes unheeded. Time for another lame workaround?

Addendum: As it turns out, in this particular case a workaround will not be needed. I went to our test PC and confirmed that this is an RDC glitch, and not an Internet Explorer one.