For the last month Duck Duck Go has been my default search engine on my computers, tablets and phone. It’s not the first time I’ve tried this experiment.

Unlike other search engines Duck Duck Go doesn’t track your searches. You’ll see advertising based on your search terms, but they don’t relate back to earlier searches. Nor are they based on your recent web activity elsewhere.

This is a different business model to Google which attempts to build profiles based on your activity. Google doesn’t just track your searches; its tentacles are everywhere. By some estimates three-quarters of all websites report your habits back to Google.

Stalker

This explains why some advertisements stalk you as you navigate the web. In my case it can be surreal. I write about technology, so let’s say I research a story about software defined networking. If I do a lot of researching advertisements for SDNs can dog me for days after. They may drop off, then return later.

While a lot of people don’t care about privacy in this way, others are concerned.

The vast amounts of data Google collects are enough to identify an individual. Thanks to the ability to read most emails, Google knows where you live, what you do and can make assumptions about how much money you earn, what you spend and who you vote for.

Google reckons

Away from privacy, the Duck Duck Go approach has another advantage. Because Google thinks it knows about you and what you want, it uses your profile to send customised search results your way.

This can be useful. It can also be a problem. It means Google searches are not neutral. If I search for a certain term, I may not get the same answers as you.

This isn’t always helpful in my work as a journalist. If I’m doing background research I want the best quality information. There’s no way of knowing that Google’s filters give me that. With Duck Duck Go I would see the same result as you.

Duck Duck Go tricks

Duck Duck Go has a couple of tricks up its sleeve which I find helpful. Let’s say you want to know more about someone you meet on Twitter. Type their address into the search bar and you get a result like this:

Duck Duck Go social media search

The last time I tried Duck Duck Go, I found there wasn’t enough depth of coverage. In particular, it didn’t do a great job of finding New Zealand-specific material.

This hasn’t changed, or if it has changed, it hasn’t changed enough. It can still be frustrating to use at times. During the last month there have been few working days where I didn’t need to switch back to Google to handle a specific search.

Away from New Zealand searches, Duck Duck Go does well enough. It is better than before. One Google feature I miss is the ability to restrict the search to Google News. This is useful for getting straight to publications avoiding sites that are trying to sell things like, say, software defined networks.

Google often seems to be more interested in delivering me to sales outlets than information services. Duck Duck Go doesn’t have a news filter, so a search for SDNs means I have to wade through lots of sales sites to find more independent information. It would be great if a news search was an option.

Bang Bing

What the search engine does have is something called bangs. This is a shorthand way of restricting a search to a single site or organisation. So, if I want to look on Bloomberg for information about SDNs, I type:

!blmb software defined networks 

This doesn’t always work. My search shown here drew a blank. When I tried the same search using The Economist bang, the browser couldn’t open anything, not even a 404 page.

When I last wrote about Duck Duck Go, I mentioned that I returned to Google because… well it looked as if it was more efficient and finding what I need.

It often still is. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. It depends on what I’m searching for. At other times Duck Duck Go does a better job. The site uses data from Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which, can be just as disappointing.

Duck Duck Go still isn’t the best choice for most searches, but it is a more private choice.

New Zealand Public’s Support for Data Analytics

New Zealanders don’t like welfare agencies using personal spending data from credit card or insurance to verify benefit claims.

The 2017 Unisys New Zealand Security Index found only 42 percent agree with welfare agencies accessing this kind of information.

It’s not just welfare. Even fewer New Zealanders support the tax office collecting similar data to verify income tax returns. Just 21 percent think this is OK.

Researchers found the most positive government use of analytics is with border security. Allowing border security officers to analyse the travel history of passengers and their fellow travellers to decide if they are eligible for fast-track border clearance gets a tick from 57 percent of New Zealanders.

Sharp insights or nosy parkers?

Business use modern analytics and big data. They see it as a way to pluck customer insights from masses of messy-looking scraps of information. It gives them a short cut to the consumers most likely to buy their products.

Governments use big data and analytics for social policy and security reasons. Marketers also love the technologies. Used well they can boost sales and reduce marketing waste.

It turns out New Zealand consumers are, at best, luke-warm, about that idea. We don’t like marketing department computers sifting out personal data. Most of the time we are not at all happy with sharing information.

Unisys found a majority, almost two-thirds, of New Zealanders do not like data analytics being used to sell goods and services to them.

Lack of trust with banks

Researchers found 64 percent don’t want their bank to monitor their spending habits to offer related products such as insurance for items they have purchased.Shop workers using face recognition glasses to identify loyalty programme members gets a thumbs down from 62 percent of New Zealanders.

Richard Parker, Unisys Asia-Pacific vice president financial services says: “While they may be trying to improve the customer experience, if businesses cross the line and appear to invade customers’ privacy by revealing that they know more about them than what the customer has knowingly shared, it just turns the customer off.

“Technology alone is not enough. It must be used in the context of understanding human nature and cultural norms.”

This is part of a series of sponsored posts about the 2017 Unisys Security Index New Zealand.

 

When do New Zealanders Support Wearable Biometrics?Unisys Security Index researchers looked at how comfortable New Zealanders are with biometrics and wearable computer devices. That’s the technical name for biometric hardware like health bands and other kit that measures medical data. It also covers smart watches and products like Google Glass.

When there’s a clear benefit, New Zealanders are happy with the devices.

Most New Zealanders support the idea of police or border security staff using face recognition body cameras to identify criminals or even terrorists on watch lists.

Likewise three-quarters of New Zealanders are happy when medical devices like pacemakers or blood sugar sensors report important changes back to a doctor.

Fingerprint scanning

About half of all New Zealand consumers are comfortable using a fingerprint scan to access a smart watch or authorise payment.

This is curious. Most recent Apple and Android phones include finger scanners. Phone makers promote the feature in advertisements and marketing. The products sell in huge quantities. This suggests a significant slice of people buying those products aren’t happy with fingerprint scans.

Around half of all New Zealanders are happy with airline staff wearing face recognition glasses to verify the identity of passengers as they board aircraft. Again, this makes sense, there’s a clear benefit from the technology speeding queues.

It seems a large segment of New Zealanders are still fiercely egalitarian. Only 24 percent support airline staff using the same glasses being used to identify VIP customers and provide them with personalised service. The same suspicions are evident in news there is low support for employers giving employees fitness trackers to track their movements or heart rate stress levels while in the workplace. Unisys says only 29 percent like the idea. This also suggests a mistrust of employers. Let’s face it, some have been known to abuse this kind of personal information in the past.

Biometrics

New Zealanders are positive about biometric devices that help health, safety and security. We don’t like devices that are part of someone’s marketing plan. New Zealand consumers do not consider a loyalty programme sufficient justification.

Mark Sabotti, director of healthcare & life sciences for Unisys Asia-Pacific, makes an interesting point on the biometric hardware results. He says consumers see a clear difference between, say, a doctor monitoring a condition and an insurance company collecting information. Even if that information means some people can save money.

Sabotti sees challenges ahead for health providers and others as the use of smart medical devices rises.

This is part of a series of sponsored posts about the 2017 Unisys Security Index New Zealand.

Technology journalist Bill Bennett discusses Russia’s move to crack down on virtual private networks. Also, two conflicting takes on the power of online advertising; and the day the music died: the Pandora music service closes in New Zealand and Australia.

New technology – Bill Bennett

From my speaker notes:

Virtual Private Networks

Virtual Private Networks allow people to surf the next anonymously. They also help keep data safe from online criminals.

A VPN is a safe tunnel, usually from your computer, phone or tablet to an end-point elsewhere on the internet. They are a form of encryption.

You can use a VPN to make it look as if you are connecting from elsewhere in the world. So, if you want to see content that can only be accessed from, say, the UK, choose an endpoint in the UK.

Earlier this week Russia followed China cracking down on VPNs.

Putin pushed a law banning VPNs through the Duma. China has been cracking down on VPNs since January. I had personal experience of issues with a VPN when I was in China last year.

Apple pulls VPNs from Chinese app store

Also this week, Apple pulled VPNs from its App Store in China.

Critics say Apple should have stood up to China and refused, even though that would mean losing sales maybe even pulling out of the Chinese market. On the other hand, it is complying with the law. Chinese law says VPNs need to be licensed.

The consequences of pulling out of China are huge. It is Apple’s second largest market. What’s more, China is where most of the company’s products and the components in its products are made. Bloomberg’s Gadfly has an interesting take on this.

Meanwhile… perhaps New Zealanders ought to be more familiar with VPNs

Symantec, which sells a Norton-branded VPN service, says New Zealanders take risks with public wi-fi – something that a VPN can protect against. About two thirds of NZers think they are safe with public wi-fi and the same number take no precautions when using it. Hardly any NZers know whether they are transmitting data safely or not. I wrote about this earlier today.

Online advertising failures and successes

Two conflicting takes on the power of online advertising:

Procter and Gamble cut US$100 million from its online advertising spend in the last quarter and noticed no discernible impact on its business. This is taken as evidence online advertising doesn’t work. Part of this is a lot of ads turn up at dubious sites and are only seen by fake traffic or bots.

Sounds like a lot of money, but P&G spent a total of US$2.5 billion on ads in the quarter.

Also says niche advertising on Facebook didn’t work either.

Motorola is a much smaller company, but it reports the money it spent on Facebook ads did nothing to help its campaign to relaunch its phone brands. It too spent on highly targeted Facebook campaigns that didn’t work.

…And yet: The New Scientist reports that ad campaigns that used artificial intelligence to target voters on Facebook were enough to swing both the US Presidential election and the Brexit referendum.

So why does one type of advertising work and the other fail?

My take is that you don’t need to shift wavering individual voters by much to swing their vote. That’s part of it. The other part is that you don’t need to influence that many voters in a tight ballot. Clinton actually won the US popular vote by around two percent, but a tight focus on key states meant moving only a tiny fraction of voters was enough to win it for Trump.

One set of researchers also pointed out that it can be more important to persuade some people to vote or not vote, than to change their choice.

The day the music died…

Pandora music service closes in New Zealand and Australia. Meanwhile Apple has dropped almost all its non-iOS iPod models. The two stories are closely related. First, the streaming music market is consolidating. That was always going to happen. Global scale is important here. It also seems users don’t like the advertising supported model much.

Meanwhile Apple’s iPhone, which, arguably is a brand extension of the iPod has eclipsed its granddad and rendering it almost obsolete. Cue squeals from people, like me, who still love their old-school iPads.

Symantec Norton wi-fi protectionTwo-out-of-three New Zealanders think their personal data is safe when they use public wi-fi hotspots. Roughly the same number use hotspots regardless of the consequences. Hardly any users know if they are transmitting data safely when using public wi-fi.

These are Key findings in Symantec’s 2017 Wi-fi Risk Survey.

Wi-fi is popular. Symantec found half of all New Zealanders ask for a wi-fi password when at locations such as a friends house, hotel or café. Almost a third ask for that password within minutes of arriving.

Wi-fi reality

Symantec territory manager Mark Gorrie says the attitudes are out of touch with reality. He says: “People often put their personal information at risk”. You don’t have to look far for examples. Gorrie says 84 percent of people will use public wi-fi to check their bank details online.

Gorrie says sites masquerading as legitimate hotspots often set up to lure users and collect private information. It’s not always known what they do with the information. Not every data collector has a criminal intent.

One of the strangest findings is that many users think they can tell if the apps they use are secure when transmitting data on wi-fi. Gorrie points out that even security experts have no way of knowing this. You need sophisticated tools to monitor traffic to check this.

Virtual private networks

Symantec’s angle on this is that the company sells virtual private network software that can make wi-fi more secure. I’ve been using it for the last year, including on a trip to China and have the latest version for testing at the moment. More about that later.

Gorrie says he recommends this for anyone who may use sensitive information over a wi-fi connection. He says users who don’t want to go that far should just be more careful about the information they share on public hotspots. He says you should make sure you don’t set your devices to auto-connect when they find an unknown hotspot.

It’s good advice. It is safer to use mobile internet on the cellular network when in risky places. It’s much harder for criminals to set up a fake cell tower than a fake wi-fi hotspot.