Browsers get more aggressive with blocking user tracking

The controversy over tracking users via social media is so 2018.

It’s widely known that many other parties have taken advantage of user tracking and data collection, and it’s clearly gotten out of control and downright abusive.

Now, browsers are getting aggressive and proactive about putting an end to it.

I’ve discussed measures announced by Google for Chrome. Here are two other, recent developments.

Firefox

Firefox is beginning to activate Cloudflare’s encrypted DNS over HTTPS service, which will hopefully end the ability of ISPs and mobile service providers to snoop in on user website browsing activity. The data collected has allegedly been sold to third parties with the aim of targeting users with ads.

ISPs and the telecom industry are not impressed and have been lobbying to prohibit browsers, particularly Chrome, from being able to encrypt DNS traffic. Google is also planning to implement DNS encryption in Chrome.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo, known for their privacy-focused browser, is openly sharing their data on online trackers and the internet domains they’ve accessed. The aim is to allow others to use the repository in their efforts to identify and block user tracking.

The data set is known as Tracker Radar and is available online at GitHub. While anyone can access and use the information, DuckDuckGo will also offer the data set as a paid license, in exchange for assistance with implementing the data to block tracking activity.


Can you market your way out of a bad reputation?

People who work in marketing typically play a significant role in defining their company’s brand and reputation.

But it’s important to remember that marketing isn’t necessarily the result of people who “do marketing.”

Marketing is about the specific actions and functions that determine and shape how a company is perceived in the eyes of its customers and the public.

And when things go badly, it can become an absolute nightmare.

Robinhood’s PR fiasco

Take Robinhood as a prime example. Because of the massive outages suffered with its stock trading platform, in the midst of two majorly intense days of market activity, Robinhood’s short and long-term reputation is on the line.

It’s unfortunate for those working in Robinhood’s marketing operations, because no matter how much of a positive image you try to project, it’s highly likely marketing actions themselves will not overcome a reputational black eye.

Instead, the result will be just the opposite: amplifying the company’s negative image and reminding everyone what happened.

Robinhood’s downtime will have cost their customers many millions if not billions in lost stock trade opportunities. As a first, all-important face saving measure, the company sent out an email to its customers from the co-CEOs.

Besides the standard formalities of apology and regret, the correspondence invites customers to get in touch directly with the company to address their concerns. Robinhood has stated they will offer compensation to customers on a case-by-case basis.

Please reach out to us here if you were affected by this outage so we can work with you directly to address your concerns.

This statement, together with the follow-on measures to remunerate customers, could well save Robinhood’s future. It’s not a marketing-specific action, but really does serve as such.

Marketing is a business function, no matter how it is carried out, regardless of whether it’s from someone on the marketing team or anyone else.


Is it OK to nag via email?

As a marketing professional, I routinely get solicitation emails from marketing vendors and service providers. That’s pretty much alright and expected.

Whenever I get such a message, I generally ignore it and move on.

But far too often, I get subsequent emails that build on the original message, as if to remind me that I was contacted previously, but somehow hoping I’ll feel guilty and follow up as a result. Like this one, in which the vendor tried to engage me three times.

Nagging marketing solicitation email

This example is somewhat annoying, but nothing like other messages I’ve received with “Putting this at the top of your inbox” and “Getting in touch again because I haven’t heard back from you.”

I also frequently get something like “Trying you again one last time.”

Seriously – are you trying to give me an ultimatum or something?

Let’s stop using email to promote ourselves out of desperation.



If you’re planning to publish videos on YouTube with mention of the coronavirus, good luck. That is, if you’re expecting to continue monetizing with them. YouTube has made the sudden decision to demonetize videos with reference to the coronavirus epidemic. Apparently the move was to counter a flood of hoax videos on the platform.


Chrome to block insecure content

If you’re a web developer, you should by now be very well aware that Google has begun to block insecure content resources in Chrome.

Over the past several years, there’s been a mass transition from insecure HTTP to securely delivered websites via HTTPS. That’s great news of course.

What’s not so great is that HTTPS websites continue to link to bits of content from insecure origins via HTTP. This can include things from images and video, to downloadable files such as PDFs and ZIPs.

Google refers to this scenario as mixed content in an HTTPS website. They’ve made the issue known to the public, and on the Chromium blog, have announced their intention to gradually issue warnings and then block non-secure content in future releases.

The process has begun for images, video, and audio. By default, Chrome is already blocking iframes and scripts from insecure origins.

Now, Google has announced they will proceed with warning, and then ultimately blocking insecure file downloads as well. Below is their schedule for future releases starting with Chrome 81, due March 2020.

Table of future Chrome brower releases for warning and blocking insecure file downloads
Source: Google

Chrome 86 is anticipated to be released from October 2020. By then, all insecure content will be blocked, and that includes the inability to download files.


Advertising trade associations plead for mercy from Google

First, let’s establish the situation: the prosperity of the digital ad industry is dependent on a single company.

That company, of course, is Google.

In January, Google announced it was planning to phase out the allowance of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser. It’s a measure to improve user privacy and end the ability for digital ad networks to target people using Chrome.

The reaction from the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers was swift. In a statement, they pleaded for Google to reconsider. See below – a screenshot of the statement from the AAAA website.

The tone and wording goes to show, as I’ve stated so many times before, the reality of what can happen when a company absolutely and indisputably controls the platform and makes a unilateral decision on it.

To date, Google has not indicated it will compromise or backtrack on its decision to end third-party cookie hosting.



I’ve just learned of the very unfortunate news that WordCamp Asia 2020, due to take place in Bangkok from February 21, has been cancelled. We all know about Mobile World Congress – to date the highest-profile trade show to be cancelled due to uncertainty around the coronavirus epidemic. But unlike MWC, WordCamps are community driven and supported by individuals – often with very limited budgets and resources. Compared to an industry event such as MWC, the cancellation of WordCamp Asia will be far more impactful in terms of personal costs.

In light of this reality, Wordfence and GoDaddy have graciously offered to help defray expenses associated with cancelling flight and hotel reservations. Thank you!


Google’s privacy plans may exempt themselves

I recently commented on Google’s intentions to implement two important measures to combat rampant user tracking by third parties – and thereby put a kibosh to user fingerprinting and planting browser cookies that can stay in perpetuity.

Alas, they’ve done a very fine job making us all feel good and even believing a tech giant is now becoming our noble friend. Except that you’re left wondering if they’ve still reserved the right to track you, as a user of their Chrome browser. After all, Google’s core business is selling ads.

As I wrote earlier:

… it’s worth noting that Google hasn’t stated anything about limiting the ability to use their own cookies or any of their proprietary user tracking data.

There’s recently been a controversial flareup around something called “X-Client Data.” It’s proprietary to Google and is said to be a means to enable tracking Chrome users, at least theoretically – while bypassing their privacy measures imposed on third-party ad networks.

For their part, Google has denied this as their intention. They’ve stated that the data collected is for purposes unrelated to user tracking or selling ads. Instead, the data is claimed to be for generating analytics with the goal of helping Google improve Chrome.

Concerned users can make a few tweaks in their Chrome browser to avoid the possibility of being tracked through X-Client Data.

But there is, of course, a simpler alternative: use a different browser.


Why do we tolerate creepy marketing behavior?

I continue to find it amazing that ethics is largely ignored in today’s marketing practices.

In all the rush of social media and growth-driven marketing, behaviors tantamount to violating user privacy have somehow been acceptable.

Any of us would find them utterly objectionable. And yet, so many seem to think they’re OK, or worse, merely part of the reality with the way we do marketing today.

Take user activity tracking, for example. Recently, I decided to open, and then click on a link in one of the dozens of marketing solicitation emails I receive monthly.

Here’s the email I got in response.

Email with message that user is being tracked

Telling someone you’ve been following their activity is just wrong and downright creepy, but also…

  • Immature.
  • Tells the reader you’re really desperate.
  • Indicative of little or no disciplinary control in a company’s marketing operations.

Marketing is, and always should be about honest and professional communication. It’s generally very bad practice to say anything to anyone to the effect of:

  • “We’ve noticed you’ve been… “
  • “You’ve been opening our emails but we haven’t heard from you… “
  • “I see that you’ve visited our website… “

Or any other statement along these lines. It’s basically stalking behavior and ruins a company’s reputation in the eye of the recipient.

Needless to say, I did reply, and rather strongly:

Response to email about being tracked

Somehow, many have been led to believe that just because Google and social media networks actively track users, it’s OK for others to do so. Not true at all!

I’ve seen tracking creepiness from not only small marketing companies but also much larger businesses. You’d be truly surprised.

It’s time to start growing up and recognize unprofessional behavior. Maybe it’s time for us to start publicly outing companies and individuals engaging in this practice.


Lyft adds to marketing-related job cutbacks

As the latest in a string of recent layoff announcements from tech-related companies, Lyft has stated it will be eliminating 90 jobs in its marketing and enterprise sales operations.

The layoffs in marketing are reportedly aimed to consolidate city-focused teams into regional groups – something we’ve been seeing in many other fast-growth companies as of late. The pressure to shift away from cash burning to profits is forcing the hand of executives to make cutbacks wherever they can.

As I’ve reported earlier, it’s not just marketing staff reductions that are highly likely as a result. Marketing leadership itself it also at risk, especially for new or recently minted CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers).