DNA Testing – Part 2

March 1, 2015 at 11:46 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the first part of this series, I talked about personal DNA testing and the available options. I ended up choosing 23andMe to include the health markers.

It’s worth noting that humans are 99% the same genetically. What the tests look at is parts of the 1% of genes that vary person-to-person. The different organizations vary on the focus of the genes they read. 23andMe looks more at health while FTDNA more at the family tree, as per their name.

The process is straightforward. As noted, you buy a test kit and they mail it to you. You take the simple sample and register the kit to yourself on their web site. And you mail it back in, prepaid. They let me know when it is received by the actual lab. (from Canada, they appear to gather the samples and batch ship them across the border) 4-6 weeks later, you get notified of the results on-line. And there is quite a bit of info.

This includes detail on quite a few areas. There’s your Maternal and Paternal (if you’re a male) lines (Haplotypes), genetic risk factors, drug response, inherited conditions, and traits. There is general ancestry info and and some ancestry composition. I was amused to see a connection with Doggerland, a now-submerged area that once connected France and England.

They accurately named eye colour, hair colour, blood type, and more. Birth weight range was wrong. I saved over 2 dozen reports. Even got to download the “music” of my DNA. Keep in mind that much of this is still quite early on but is growing rapidly.

They also have some experimental tools for exploring health and ancestry in various ways, like comparing your DNA to someone you’ve agreed to connect with. Once you’re in the system, information will be updated as new studies are integrated.

There are also various quizzes to help add support the research. And permission requests to share your DNA anonymously with researchers. You have control how much sharing is done at all points and can change your mind. And you choose if you want to even see some of the heath reports.

Because close relatives had already done the test, I didn’t expect surprises and there were none. Pretty generic average health stuff which I realized was a very good thing. Hardy stock, as they say, that was “successful”.

In my case, I elected to connect with genetic relatives, which includes the ones I know who have tested. And they show up in the system so you can invite them, connection by connection, to compare where you’re in common. This is quite distinct even from sibling to sibling. There was a small number of close relatives, some I don’t know, then hundreds of 4th and further cousins.

I’ve also uploaded my DNA to another system and will have those results in a couple of weeks. FTDNA can’t take the new V4 chip version of 23andMe but can accept older V3 results. I plan to research several other sites mentioned in the first article and may do a follow-up article here after more of this is digested.

It’s a fascinating exploration. And the more people that test, the more results they’ll have and the more research is supported.

Meanwhile here’s an interesting story where DNA results revealed that siblings were not related to the rest of their family. Turns out, their father had been switched at birth.

The Gut Brain

February 15, 2015 at 5:37 pm | Posted in Health, Nature, Science | 2 Comments

Scientists have come to view the Enteric nervous system (ENS) of the gastrointestinal tract as something of a second brain, the “gut brain”. Unlike other arms of the nervous system, it is capable of local autonomous function, and thus it’s own decision-making ability. It is however much more limited in scope than our actual brain.

However, it can have a profound effect on our cognitive functions – something we have all experienced if we get over-hungry or indigestion.

More fascinating still though is that the gut system is not a simple chemical digestion factory but “more like a super-complex ecosystem containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms.” “such microbiota, specifically within the gut, can greatly influence many physiological parameters, including cognitive functions, such as learning, memory and decision making processes.

Here we review evidence on the ability of the gut microbiota to communicate with the brain and thus modulate behavior, and also elaborate on the ethological and cultural strategies of human and non-human primates to select, transfer and eliminate microorganisms…

While some bacteria we work to control, there are a number of kinds we live with which are vital to our well-being and ability to digest some foods. We have trillions of cells in the body but actually carry a lot more bacteria. Though invisible to the eye, there are so many that it’s suggested they add between 2 and 9 lb to our body weight.

On the cellular level, we are not “a person”, we are a vast community. Add in the microbes and we are an entire ecosystem of life, broadly working for mutual enrichment. Take a city the size of London. Now add in 500,000 more of them. The population under your skin is much larger.

Windows 8 Revisited

February 8, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back in the day, I wrote an article on Windows 8 and decided to avoid this Windows version. Many others did the same. It was designed for touch devices and I’m still very much a desktop keyboard & mouse power user. I’m used to multitasking various system intensive programs like PhotoShop, optical disc burning, and so forth. My tablet (Android) mostly gathers dust, though would see more use for reading had I the time. It’s also great for photo albums and other causal uses.

Recently however, the laptop I got for grad school has been running hot, a little burdened by years of long days. Windows 7 is now being phased out and is just getting security fixes. Windows 10 is yet to come (later this year). Other OS’s would require a major investment in time and money to shift to. And in the meantime, some of the tech authors who balked at Windows 8 originally have gradually shifted to it themselves. Especially with some of the fixes of v8.1.

Key to a reasonably happy transition is a few key changes. On a non-touch device you want to default to the desktop. And you want a Start menu to get at stuff in familiar ways.

There are several Start menu replacement programs out there that shift the startup to the desktop. Well recommended is the $5 Stardock Start8. I decided on the free Classic Shell as it has a few specific features I like, like a File Explorer toolbar. Both allow lots of customization to taste with several style options. For really simple, you can just r-click the Taskbar/ Properties/ Navigation tab and select to default to the Desktop. But I think you’ll find the Start menu useful unless you use very few programs.

Then there’s just a few small adaptations, like finding “Charms” where a lot of settings are found – the top right corner of the screen or by pressing Win-C. Win-X brings up a power users menu, with access to many back end settings. Win-F brings up Search.

Windows 8 starts Much faster than Win7. Add in an SSD (solid state) for a boot drive (recommended) and the difference is astonishing. Install your programs on the boot drive and keep all your bulky data on a second traditional hard drive. This is how I’ve organized things for years anyway – separating programs from data. As I’ve discussed prior, it makes backup much simpler – image the boot drive, file copy the data for easy access if the system ever goes down. This is backup that works in real world scenarios.

The Modern/Metro Apps will also tend to drive power users crazy, again partly because they’re touch-designed. For example, there’s no close button – you have to click and hold the top edge and drag it to the bottom. On a large screen this is excessive compared to a click. And who needs a calculator that fills a large screen? What if you want to see the spreadsheet at the same time, without splitting the screen? You can also click in the top left corner to switch back to the desktop but this leaves the app running – handy only if you want to go back and forth. Back to the top left and right click to close it. Clicking a program on the taskbar is easier.

In many cases you’ll want full versions of desktop software, not MS apps. So you’ll want a PDF viewer, an image viewer, a calculator, and so on. Lame when these have been built into Windows for many years but MS apps are not built for mousing and big screens.

Win8 requires you use a Microsoft Account for initial login. Because it uses this for on-line services like Skydrive and app purchases, it should have a long, complex password. But for routine login people will tend to use something easier to remember, sacrificing their on-line security. There is however alternatives, like using a Local Account (scroll down to the Local Account section). You’ll still need to occasionally connect on-line but can then use a password manager to handle the complex password for you. This does mean creating a new User and making all the settings, etc. so you want to do this sooner rather than later.

Another privacy issue is internal computer searches going on-line. In Charms/ Settings/ Change PC Settings/ Search and Apps/ Search: Turn the “Get search suggestions and Web results from Bing” off.

Another gotcha is the Skype app – it wants to convert your Skype account to your system Microsoft account. They offer no choice. Annoying if you use Skype on multiple systems and don’t want it tied to one. Like Local Account above, this is a privacy issue. This is a widespread industry trend of account merging. It makes it simpler for end users but vastly increases user tracking and personal security & privacy vulnerabilities.

I later installed Skype for Desktop and it worked with my old account just fine. And all the features I’m used to were back, unlike the dumbed-down app.

I also found I needed to change the Theme colour as the windows all seemed to merge together and it wasn’t clear what to select. The 3D edges are gone. After years using Win7, there’s a lot of tweaks and settings in a lot of software to migrate. I didn’t find the “Easy Transfer” software very useful.

I am finding it much faster than Windows 7, partly due to a faster system and partly Windows 8. There’s lots of small things I quite like and other things that are annoying or dumbed down. But at least I have a current OS, for now.

Wrist Phone or A Misleading Example?

February 7, 2015 at 1:55 am | Posted in Computers, Design, Hardware, Technology | Leave a comment

Here’s an interesting video made for a product in development. I’ll let you watch it first.

Certainly intriguing. The video has had over 10 million hits. But it’s also creating some controversy as they illustrate some features without explanation. Features only possible with another device, making it a bit misleading. It’s a very bad sign to mislead possible investors up front.

Part of the issue may be that many are viewing the video out of context of their web site. On the site, they talk about it as a wrist screen but seen as above, the video doesn’t stand alone.

Everything in the video is simulated. The video shows a smart phone screen but the device has WiFi and Bluetooth only. Any cell abilities require a separate cell phone. In fact, you’ll note the screen content and functionality is all from the smart phone. So this is more like a variation of a smart watch but without a glass screen. This offers a larger non-fragile view but remains more dependent on a cell phone for the displayed functionality.

When they answer the phone in the clip, it’s the cell phone that answers as the device has no speaker nor mic – just a vibrator. Again, illustrated in a way that could be taken wrong.

They show someone playing a game – their own illustrations suggest the sensors would be good for button pressing but I’d be dubious it would be high enough resolution for game play.

They illustrate it as being waterproof – certainly an interesting detail for an active person. But it has a USB port, probably for backup and charging. So that may be a little fraught.

This video shows their first working prototype.

Note the focus issues.

This certainly could be a viable alternative to a smart watch for active people. But the illustrated functionality means you can’t leave the cell in your backpack and answer the phone but could check a map as illustrated. They have a lot of problems to solve.

The company is French. I was amused to see they have a muse portrayed along with the founders.

Virtual Coupland

January 30, 2015 at 8:42 pm | Posted in Design, Humor, Internet, Media, Online services | Leave a comment

Douglas Coupland, the GenX author and artist recently had a “wildly popular” art show at Vancouver’s premier gallery, the VAG. It’s full of cultural memes, explored with some humour. This included a giant cast head of himself, onto which the public was invited to stick pieces of gum.

The Artist – from mixhart.ca

(not sure that exactly encourages respect for public art but…)

Google has memorialized it in their “Collections” and sent in a Street View team…  On this site, you can browse some sample images to the right, click Exhibits for more of an explanatory slide show or, on the left, click Street View and browse the galleries themselves. A virtual gallery walk. Keep an eye on the left map to help with directions. I can’t say the directional controls were as intuitive as a usual Street View, but it’s an interesting application of it.

The top menu bar also allows you to browse over 600 other galleries collections, plus some “User Galleries”, apparently assemblies of artwork by users.

DNA Testing – Part 1

January 20, 2015 at 10:36 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

One of the more remarkable developments in recent years is personal DNA testing. With new chip technology and for an increasingly reasonable price, we can trace family history, both fathers and mothers lineage, ancestral origins, genetic health markers, and contribute to a growing body of research.

This is of particular value for people unaware of their roots or genetic make-up. But anyone curious about these things will find a fascinating trove of information. However, there are a few caveats. You may discover unexpected ethnic roots or unwanted connections, like unknown links to an “illegitimate” family branch.

The services do give you the option of not accepting connections from genetic relatives who have also tested but that choice tends to happen before you know what sort of connections exist. Here’s an article talking about some of the pros and cons.

Genetic discrimination is another growing issue as testing becomes more common – both personally and for medical reasons. For example, you can have the marker for an illness that never manifests yet it may be used as a reason to deny you insurance.

In my own case, I’d rather be informed and prepared. However, I have little concern over health surprises due to my age and because close family members have already been tested.

There are now both DNA testing sites and post-test sites for further research.

The best known and original testing service is 23andMe. They offered both ancestry and genetic health traits. The US banned health results in 2013, evidently because it was considered “diagnosis”. But this is still available from them for those in the UK and Canada. For ancestry reviews, 23andMe has been suggested to be the most accurate. This would partly be due to their sample size from prior tests.

Another option is FamilyTreeDNA. This is more focused on ancestry, genealogy (cousin matching in the test population) and history. They offer specific tests for the male line (y, only men have), female line (mitocondrial), and the usual autosomal (genetic markers). They’re also available in packages. The other services mentioned have a single package. FTDNA also have a feature to upload your test results from other services, adding to the “worlds largest database”. If you use another service, this gives you more cousin matching and another ethnicity report for comparison. (the more they have, the better the results for everyone)

The big family tree service Ancestry.com now has a DNA service called AncestryDNA, tracing your genealogy and ethnicity. Some features are only available to their subscribers so this choice is best if you already use their services.

And most interesting is the National Geographic Genographic survey. Their focus is human origins or deep ancestry and the kit has been on sale lately. It checks the largest number of genes overall and is inclusive of 4 tests but has the smaller population base so offers less useful recent ancestry data. However, it also tests ethnicities not available elsewhere. One option to support them is to do the test here, then load it onto FamilyTreeDNA above that they partner with.

Not all of the tests are as clear as FamilyTreeDNA for what is included so comparisons can be tricky. Understanding the terminology is another issue. I found this wiki with detailed comparisons quite useful. It gives you a much better sense of the features included in each and their unique offerings.

Each service has background to help understand the reports you get and they vary somewhat by emphasis and what is being tested. The test itself is either a small saliva sample or inside cheek swab. On purchase, they send you the test package. You register on their site and send the easy sample back. Then they notify you when the test results are available in a few weeks. The DNA test data can then be used for further research at other sites.

Some of the post-test services include GED matchYSearch (for men) has affiliated with FamilyTreeDNA.

To compare your family tree with the genetic results, you need a gedcom file from family tree software. If you don’t have that, you can enter it here to get the file.

If you have British Isles history, this site helps use your DNA’s dominant surname to track place of origin. And many more options.

Here is a web site discussing the available services and research. And a blogger who did all 4 tests and compared them for ancestry data.

Results are based partly on comparisons with prior testers so the more testers, the better. Some parts of the world have a lot less data and so results may be misleading. If this is the case for you, try to get more family members tested.

I’ve ordered the 23andMe kit due to the inclusion of the health markers. I’d like to take advantage of that while it’s available. I’ll write a second part in a few weeks when I have the results.

The Fermi Paradox

December 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Posted in Science, Space, Strange | Leave a comment

The question of intelligent life in the universe has fascinated us for a long time. In an article on the subject, WaitbutWhy starts with exploring something of the scale of the universe. Then they go into the odds of life “out there”. “there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world” so there should be about “10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the observable universe.” They also describe a proposed scale of civilizations (level of development). Carl Sagan suggested we were at about 0.7 of the first stage. A more advanced level would have potentially spread far from it’s home planet.

The question then becomes “where is everybody?” – the Fermi Paradox. The article goes into exploring a number of scenarios proposed or discussed by various people to address the issue.

Personally, the use of technology like radio waves is pretty useless for any distance – even to the moon there is major lags. We’re pretty likely to adopt something better fairly quickly, leaving it as a technological blip that we’ve been radiating. Looking for others radio waves may be a useful exercise but rather like finding a needle in a haystack.

Secondly, the article assumes a materialist paradigm and that human development will be primarily technological. However, there is quite a bit more subtle development possible that is non-physical.

I’d suggest several of the possibilities in Group 2 are valid. What would be the point of physically colonizing a bunch of other places unless they’re very similar to what we’re evolved for? Other civilizations are likely to be unrecognizable to us, just as some forms of life have been on our own planet. And we’ve already gone through several major changes in our understanding of reality – a large work that’s still in progress. The ant hill example in possibility 9 is a decent analogy.

I’d also suggest there is still a great deal for us to yet learn about the world and our place in it. Still, the article is an interesting read.

New Banking

December 15, 2014 at 11:55 am | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Technology, Web Apps | 1 Comment

There is a new service developing in Canada called Koho. They’re a “technology company delivering a banking experience” rather than being a bank. Yet the money is deposited with a credit union, so is secured and insured in the usual way.

They use a debit-style prepaid credit card, processed through a credit union. But unlike cards like the BMO one I discussed here, this one will have no fees. (other than for things like cheque processing) They’ll use the standard merchant transaction fees to support the business, much as Interac does.

They’ll also donate to chosen causes from your transaction activity automatically. It’s targeting young people with web and mobile apps for saving and managing money. They describe it like Mint, but with the functionality built into your account.

If you’re used to a full-service bank, it may not be your style. But if you have an active life that is technology-supported, it may be a big improvement. They suggest they’ll be the most affordable banking in Canada.

Check out the FAQ page for details. Pretty interesting.

The only downside I can see is it means signing for transactions, unlike a true debit card. In fact, it cuts the non-profit Interac (debit) system out of the loop. But I’ve certainly found using a travel card much simplifies those kinds of transactions.

Better Base Databases

October 19, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Posted in Computers, Software | Leave a comment

The open source office suite OpenOffice and the related branch LibreOffice (my fav) are a great package for your word processing and spreadsheet needs – for free. I’ve been using them for years, ever since MS Office started locking up my machine – even when it wasn’t running. I’ve used OO for complex projects like a book with master document and separate chapter documents, auto-table of contents, end notes and more. They work fine with MS Office documents but do even better with the Open Document standard. This standard avoids some of the issues with proprietary formats. (ever tried to open a very old Word document?)

Where the package is weaker is with Base, it’s database component. Data is much more robust when stored externally from the reference document. I had a spreadsheet that was getting a little too large and decided to migrate it to a database in Base. I could then add more fields, have a data entry form, predesigned reports and so much more. I attempted to use an external SQL database (mySQL) but this required a bunch of added software and a very obscure process. While I successfully created a database, it wouldn’t link properly. I needed something more straightforward to manage.

I ended up just using Base, but with a default embedded database.  (Microsoft Access has the same issue btw) As is not so uncommon, it recently hiccuped and was unable to repair 2 components. Happily I use FileHamster, so was able to quickly recover a version saved prior to the hiccup.

But I knew I needed a better solution. This time, I ran into a more straightforward alternative for an external database. This uses JDBC and macros to manage your external data. The database is stored in the folder, outside the ODB file and is thus less prone to being corrupted. The folder is fully portable.

The instructions look long and complex but it’s actually pretty straightforward, with lots of detailed notes. Just follow the steps. I’ve summarized them below to give you a sense of it. They’re the same with OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

For a new database:
– check 2 correct settings (I’d recommend Medium security)
– download and put the Split_HSQLDB_Wiz template in a new folder
– open the template in Base and begin creating Tables and so forth
You’ll notice the 3-4 table files are created outside the ODB file, hence external.

Here are the steps in detail

For an existing database:
– check 2 correct settings (I’d recommend Medium security)
– create a new database folder
– copy your old ODB database into the folder
– using a Zip program like 7-Zip, extract the files in the database folder (your tables) of the old database into the new folder
– rename the extracted files to match the new database name, as in mylist.data
– download and put the mydb_wiz.ODB and jar file in the folder
– open the new ODB and your tables will be seen “within”
– open the old ODB file and drag and drop the Queries, Forms and Reports into the new one
Save and done.

Here are the steps in detail

You can then delete the old ODB and rename the new one appropriately.
The folder will contain the new ODB, the jar file, and the 4 db files (with no extensions). The files have to be kept together but the folder is portable.

When you open the database, the footer in Base will show JDBC | hsqldb:file:///… instead of Embedded, indicating an external database.

If you appropriately use Medium security, to avoid accidentally approving macros in an unknown document, you’ll have to OK the macros each time you open the database. To avoid this, you’ll want to add the location of your new database folder to “Trusted file locations” in Security, Macro Security, Trusted Sources tab.

Happy Data!

Social Media – Bane or Blessing?

October 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | 2 Comments

Social media is an interesting bird. On the one hand, it’s connecting us globally as never before. It has helped facilitate the Arab Spring and Occupy movements plus many flash mobs. It reconnects us with old friends and makes distances and differences grow smaller.

On the flip side, it’s no replacement for a social life. It depersonalizes social connection and creates false communities. Facebook discovered that users watching “friends” all-positive feeds were getting depressed. They ran experiments to manipulate users moods with fake friends data.

Many free services are funded by advertising. Companies discovered that with better user tracking, they could offer their advertisers more targeted ads. The experiment has largely been a failure but rather than backing off, there has been a sharp increase in the level of tracking. More and more services are being cross-linked and more and more companies are sharing their user data to enhance tracking. While companies have to respect your email address by law, they can do what they like with your activity data. It makes big news when hackers breach security on your purchase data but when they announce another massive data sharing agreement you didn’t approve, you don’t hear a peep.

Another trend is to consolidate services such as at Google, Microsoft, and Apple. This is being driven by the desire to consolidate user data from all services. They’re not interlinking YouTube, GMail, Search, Calendar plus your various accounts for your convenience. If you also use the Chrome browser and have an Android phone, I think you’d be a little startled how much information is being gathered about you. It’s much the same with other services. Facebook invites you to “friend” businesses so your purchasing activity gets added. They actively share info with data consolidation businesses. Did you also let them load your address book? There’s a big reason the government is making record requests of such businesses for user data.

Myself, I don’t think it’s a big deal if a web site knows a little about it’s visitors. Most sites, including this one, track what pages visitors view and how many things they click. Did you look at 3 pages or 5? If you make a comment, they record your IP address. (do you really think comments are anonymous?) Many also subscribe to get notices of new articles. But those are typically managed separately. Subscribers are not tied to page reads or comments here. Newsletters similarly track opens and clicks to see what people respond to but they don’t track web activity.

It may not seem like much when you talk about your dog here, chat about work there, put up a dating profile here, share pictures there, and so forth. But taken together, there is a massive library about many people on-line. It becomes information you often no longer own or control. Plus it can be used against you in court.

If you check out archive.org, you realize a lot of it never goes away even if you close your account or shut down your web site. The Wayback Machine now stores almost half a trillion web pages, including the first version of my original web site and comments I made on a tech site over a decade ago. Facebook doesn’t delete closed accounts. And so on.

The issue arises because this user data is not being used in a respectful way. And it’s being kept. Users are seen as objects to be manipulated. Government efforts to access this data, that they can’t legally collect themselves, is encouraging a new trend – moving the data off-shore to avoid local regulations. The players all have vested interests in expanding the collection.

It’s most prolific form is now on smart phones, the leading edge of device proliferation. Thousands of apps for your phone and many of the recommended ones want excess permissions. Why does a game need your address book and call list? User data.

Social Sharing
And this brings us to a new feature of this site.

As I discussed back in the Plug-in section of setting up a blog, there are three types of social sharing on a typical blog:
1 – Feeding new articles to your social media sites
2 – Offering the buttons to connect with you through the social media sites you use
3 – Offering the buttons to share your article with the social media sites readers use

The last is often the most visible. Below, beside or above many articles is a row of sharing buttons. These allow users to easily click the service of choice and share your article with others.

However, the tools used to provide this sharing are of 2 camps. On one side are services that simply refer the user to their account on the social site. On the other are services that track this process. In other words, they make money from tracking your site visitor activity in exchange for a free service. The shady part is they don’t usually bother to tell you that.

Unlike other features on my main site, social sharing has been one of the more problematic. I’ve tried quite a few tools but they’ve all typically had issues.

Such tools require constant updates due to regular changes to various services. The simple ones I tried often lacked many services, were out of date and thus partly broken, and/or tended to have bugs. The ones that were updated and working well typically included tracking – that’s how they’re funded.

For example, the service I originally used had many service links, was low key and promised no tracking. But with no budget, it gradually went down hill. The next one was was simple and lightweight but wasn’t getting updated or fixed. I couldn’t configure it how I was supposed to be able to and support questions went unanswered. Another very popular one is prone to bog down your site.

During another round of research, I tried another decent one but it was showing in places I didn’t want and it uses a List item structure (even though not a list). This caused it to inherit the themes List settings inappropriately. Again, no fix available.

I then discovered the potential of AddtoAny. It allows you to select the number of displayed icons, select a range of looks, and has a sub-menu with dozens more social media services. When I made suggestions to improve a recent update, they quickly came back with an even better option.

In checking it’s background, I found they also offer the service for web sites and many other platforms like Blogger, Typepad, Joomla. The big surprise though was one for free WordPress.com, like this site. The free WP.com doesn’t have a plug-in architecture so few such services are available for it. You get what WordPress offers. In this case it adds a few settings to Settings, Sharing. It lacks the customization of a full plug-in and it appears removing all enabled services would be the only way to “remove” it. But it’s a pretty big improvement for a free blog. The only bug I’ve seen so far is its not showing on the most recent posts. Just ones a bit older. Odd, that.

The big issue it raises is user tracking. The full plug-in shares data with your Google Analytics but the company itself tracks much more. Some of these sharing services even track activity on your site, even if a reader doesn’t click on a share icon. Just loading the plugin does it.

While they don’t bother to tell you this, it becomes very obvious if you use a browser plug-in like DoNotTrackMe. Personally, I found the plug-in overzealous and it blocked too much functionality, but it certainly gives you a sense of how much user tracking is going on. You might be surprised how much tracking your own web site is doing without your knowledge. Larger sites commonly have numerous entities, all tracking users.

To their credit, when asked AddtoAny did offer the switch to turn off tracking. However, as this article notes, AddtoAny has since been bought by another company which has added further tracking.

This page offers another illustration of how far it’s gone. It will show you how many member companies are tracking you. And this is only member companies. They check the tracking of hundreds of companies on your computer in a few minutes. The irony is that if you use an Ad Blocking plug-in (like AdBlock Plus), you don’t see the ads (whew) but they’re still tracking you. I talk about other safe browsing tools here.

Advertising does support many free services but targeted advertising has been crossing a line. They say they’re not tracking user-identifiable information but often that’s bullocks. The more they track and the more they compare notes, the bigger the picture they have of you. Would the government be asking them for records if there wasn’t traceable data?

In the meantime, it’s a balancing act. Providing the service and convenience on the one hand and  trying to mitigate the abuse on the other. You can’t really avoid it. If you’re going to use the web and email and social media, you’ll be interacting with others who are being tracked.

Be aware and safe surfing.

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