This past week, rabble.ca outsourced web commenting on blog posts, and news items to Disqus, a global data mining and web marketing company. It is now no longer possible to comment on most of rabble.ca without handing over massive amounts of data to this U.S. based corporation. Even if you already have a rabble.ca account, commenting is not allowed unless you create a Disqus account.
Ironically, rabble.ca introduced this new system at the same time as the Harper government introduced their latest intrusive spying Bill C-51.
What is Disqus? Disqus is a centralized web commenting system that tracks users comments across several million Disqus powered websites around the world. It's part of the reactionary trend that restricts free speech on the web by "de-anonymizing" web users.
It's also a system that lets other Disqus users follow your comments across millions of websites. It's something that you might find rather creepy.
When site owners use Disqus, comments are no longer managed by the "home" site, but instead are centrally managed by Disqus' own web server data farm. That means site owners give up control of their comment sections.
The powers that be on rabble.ca have said that they are beta testing Disqus. That very well may be.
Here's the problem for rabble.ca Once a site has been using Disqus for awhile, it's really difficult to stop using it given that it's a pain to export all of the old comments to whatever new platform you decide to use.
That makes inertia a very powerful force and rabble.ca may have forever caved in to the data miners and corporate spyware.
Like any web data miner, your information is aggregated and sold to advertisers who use your information to try to sell you stuff. In our post Edward Snowden world, we've learned that any information that can be collected about you for marketing purposes, can be collected about you for political purposes by whatever tyrant happens to be in charge.
Through a partnership with a company called Xasis, Disqus is in the process of rolling out a new "ads-based comments" system. Sites that run the ads will get a small cut of the ad revenue.
The Disqus Sponsored Comments ad units appear above discussion threads on websites using the company’s commenting platform and participating in its advertising. Creative possibilities for brands include text, images and embedded video, tailored to specific audiences, topics under discussion, or both. The platform will continually scan the words and expressions used on sites and in comments to ensure ads are only placed in brand safe environments. The same technology will also be used to perform enhanced targeting, enabling brands to target over 1,000 discussion topics, breaking news and trending memes.
Xasis call this new sponsored comments system "native advertising".
Since Disqus is hosted in the U.S., that means your information is vulnerable to collection by various U.S. three-and-four letter agencies.
Through Disqus's online widgets, your movements around the web are tracked whether you are logged into Disqus or not. Many more privacy conscious web users have been actively blocking the Disqus (and other) tracking widgets for years using tools like Ghostery (proprietary software) or what I prefer Disconnect Me (free as in freedom software).
The Disqus "Terms of Service" contains the usual blather about not collecting "personally identifiable information." But in a 2011 blogpost on Stanford University's Cyberlaw site, Arvind Narayanan, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Princeton argued that "there is no such thing as anonymous online tracking."
The left has argued that the Harper government should pay attention to scientists when it comes to the environment, food safety and many other issues. Shouldn't rabble.ca pay attention to computer scientists when it comes to issues of online privacy, particularly computer scientists whose area of expertise is privacy?
Disqus has also had its share of security problems. The most notable breach took place in 2013 when a group of Swedish journalists harvested 30 million Disqus-powered comments from over three million Disqus account holders around the world. The journalists were investigating far-right groups but in the process obtained far more information than they had planned.
It should be noted that the journalists pulled this information from Disqus without even having an account on the system.
When the Disqus announcement was made on the rabble bloggers e-mail list, I was told by a rabble.ca staff member that since much of rabble.ca traffic comes from Facebook (a data miner if there ever was one) that this is just an extension of using "third party" services.
However, the move to using Disqus is much worse. rabble.ca is now forcing site users to sign up to this third-party data mining service in order to engage with the majority of the site. It's: "let your data be mined or shut up." Even if you already have a rabble.ca account, you can't comment on those parts of the site where Disqus has been imposed on users.
That's not a very respectful way to treat rabble.ca account holders.
In case you're thinking that I'm picking on rabble.ca, I'm not. rabble.ca is not the only activist organization in Canada that makes use of Disqus. Open Media, an organization that fights for online rights and has done some amazing work also makes use of Disqus. An organization like Open Media should know better than to do this.
Then you find articles like this one on Extremetech.com about police departments and data mining companies teaming up to track license plates of innocent people and yet, they're using Disqus on their comments page! Talk about not being able to see the forest because of the trees!
Fortunately here on rabble.ca there is still a small piece of liberated digital real estate where you won't be data mined. You can still post pseudonymously too. It's the babble forum here on rabble that's been around since 2001, long before the data miners like Disqus, Facebook etc arrived on the scene.
I would encourage my fellow rabble bloggers, columnists and writers to post a link to their article in an existing babble thread if one on the same topic exists.
If it's a completely new topic then just open up a new thread on the forum. I would also encourage my fellow rabble rousers to engage with people on the forum.
Is this a little inconvenient? Of course it is. But, you'll be respecting your readers privacy.
The single logon that allows you to comment anywhere and everywhere sure sounds convenient, but convenience on the web always comes with a steep price tag.
If you comment with Disqus below I will not be responding to you because I don't have a Disqus account and will never have one. I respect your privacy too much to encourage you to sign up for a Discus account. I do not want a data mining company to know everything that you've posted everywhere. But I'd be happy to chat some more on babble.
You can go to this thread where babblers have already started talking about this issue.
If you've got some time on your hands, and you're concerned about the future of privacy on the net, spend an hour with this presentation by Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Centre to the 2012 Berlin re:publica Conference.
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