Noob Q re VPN/privacy: would a VPN solve being tracked by advertisers?

I live in a household with five people behind a common router connected to the internet courtesy of Xfinity (a/k/a Comcast). No one but yours truly is much concerned about privacy. Someone other than me browses for a product she wants to buy, let’s say electric guitars at a website that sells them. Next, I go on Facebook (because I’m stupid, yes – another story) and get treated to ads for guitars from that very website.

I find this exceedingly annoying, and it is a recurring phenomenon. Now, I presume this is basically because we share a common IP and are being tracked, and the other users in the house don’t bother with privacy tools of any kind. I understand but little about VPNs and I promise to do more homework, but in the meantime, my question is: would make a difference if I used a VPN? I would pay $5/month to solve this. Thanks.

  1. If you are using super-villains like Facebook, Twitter, etc. you pretty much have to give up in the long run, except you are willing to use those services only extremely cautiously, which in turn means, with a lot of effort.
  2. VPNs aren’t magic privacy providers, as their marketing is trying to tell potential customers, but they are not as useless as opponents sometimes try to portrait them.

In your specific case, using a VPN would help a bit. For example, I would assume, you wouldn’t get straight up an advertisement shown for the precise website that was just used before.
However, in the long run, they will detect stuff anyway, due to browser fingerprinting, screen resolution, other social media accounts, Facebook partners, etc.

I honestly would advise you to stop using stuff like Facebook entirely. Because doing anything else is combating symptoms, instead of the life destroying disease beneath them.

I would strongly recommend you take a look at this:

A lot of your questions of yours will be answered there in a way, everyone can understand. It’s a very useful and great website.

Example about VPNs:

Do you share anything with the other person? How much are you isolated?
-Did you use the same browser (with the same identity maybe?) So you basically shared the tracking cookies?
-If there were 2 devices, on both of them are you logged in to the same Google account (for example) by any chance?

I’m quite sure, the tracking is not IP based. It can change anytime, and surely does time to time.

Facebook and other monsters track you by any means. They will use everythihg to track you, if possible.
Additionally, the IP may change in 20 hours, but not most likely not in the next 5 minutes. So, if she was looking for something 5 minutes ago, with the same IP, then Facebook connects the two dots.
It also also possible, that the provider is profiting even more off its customers, by implementing DS Lite. Which would mean, you share the same IP address with lots of customers of the ISP and the IP rarely changes, if at all.

It is also possible that she was logged into Facebook, which system recognized who is related to her, possibly even through connections inside Facebook, and then specifically chose this relative as a target for those ads.

Never underestimate the power of big data and the monsters behind it. Since Snowden, I try to stop underestimating.
Every connection, every ad you see, is not some stupid algorithm doing stupid work.
It’s highly advanced AI spying on billions of users around the entire globe, every single day, every single hour, every single second.

P.S.:
Just because we mention Facebook here, their system will read this conversation, too.

HI. No, the other user and weren’t logged into a common Google account, and she’s on a Windows system while I am runing Linux (of course). So, different browser fingerprints for sure (neither is trying to spoof the other’s User-agent string or anything). Yeah we have a dynamic IP but in our experience it stays the same for months at a time.

I guess I’ve been assuming the common IP was involved because it’s the most obvious common denominator, but yeah, that’s weak (and/or naive) reasoning. You (and others) are no doubt right that FB and friends are using other, more sophisticated, more evil, more complex and aggressive methods. The Fing ISP is probably colluding as well. Oh, how I hate them all!

Hey Akito. I guess it’s just possible that this other user was on Facebook (she’s 19, hence not really of the generation that heavily uses FB, but maybe).

I don’t doubt that the monster FB will do anything and everything. We digress somewhat, but WTF, why not. As one who has intermediate-level tech knowledge but is interested in issues of privacy and freedom, I have a nasty habit of reading books about giant tech and the evil shit they do. I say nasty partly in jest – ignorance really isn’t bliss – but when I read something like Snowden’s memoir, or Fulfillment by Alec MacGillis, about Amazon, or the young whistleblower’s book called Mindfuck about Facebook et al, here’s what happens: no matter how bad I thought it was, I find out it is 100 times worse – and that is distressing.

My latest read is S. Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism, and I highly recommend it. Your comments remind me of her book which describes, in merciless detail though not overly technically, how e.g. Google’s entire business model depends on the invasive, totally unscrupulous, relentless extraction of what she calls behavioral surplus. Which they need to guzzle in ever-greater quantities so as to refine their behavioral prediction and manipulation products to sell to their customers, the advertisers. The goal they want to approach is 100% certainty that when they show you the ad, you click. It’s truly horrifying if you think about it. This ain’t even microtargeting, it’s more like nanotargeting.

As she explains, when you hear people say if the service is “free”, you are the product is not quite accurate. Your behavioral surplus is the raw material for their product and their customers are the advertisers. You give it away for free, but as she points out, the idea that that is the only problem is obscene. IOW even if they were to pay you something this would be, if I may put it bluntly, fucked up. There should not be a price tag for your human sovereignty!

As for Facebook, yes, as I alluded, I understand that the best thing is definitely to avoid it completely. Although I understand this fully, I still find it too hard to walk away, and in this I am not alone. That is precisely the problem, or part of it: the universality, the hugeness of Facebook. I could elaborate but I’ve talked enough :slight_smile: and this sort of brings us back to where we started, the problem of being followed around by FB.

1 Like

This is one of the many vicious circles, users put themselves into.

If you won’t leave, the other people won’t leave. If the other people won’t leave, you won’t leave. That’s how users stay on the platform.
This is why, there must be a “hero” among friends, who bites the bullet and leaves. This precedence can motivate followers. Ideally, all others would leave in the end and you would all be freed from the fangs of social media’s life suck.

A couple of months ago, my friend – who lives far away from me, so he has the cirlce of friends he sees every day and people he talks to, but who are far away, like me – announced that, after years of not being on WhatsApp anymore, he got all his friends he sees every day to finally leave WhatsApp (i.e. Facebook), as well.
In the end, all the time he was off WhatsApp eventually paid off. I suspect the big WhatsApp privacy drama was one of the last kicks in the butt the other users needed, to finally get off that drug of an app.

It’s easiest to switch, when you first make a second account over at an alternative service, that is able to replace communication usually done on Facebook, then you over time slowly use the alternative service more and more, while using Facebook less and less. In the meantime you get more and more people you communicate with onto the other service and eventually, you become independent enough of Facebook and you can switch to the alternative medium, entirely.

I hear you. And what alternative to FB wouuld you suggest? I heard about Diaspora (from Itsfoss, of course) and gave it a try, and was just not impressed. No fault of theirs, it just didn’t do it for me. This was a few years ago.

Maybe I am too cowardly. I don’t expect all my friends (and “friends”) to follow me, and I would greatly miss the social contact (duh, that’s exactly their game) if I were to leave and the strategy were to fail. And I’m by no means a serious FB addict with thousands of “friends”. Maybe 200, and maybe 30 of those are people I care about at least to some extent.

I was on Diaspora for some time, but then my account got auto-deleted, because I didn’t log in for more than 6 months.

I generally am against social media, no matter if they are based on FOSS or not. If you make a Twitter clone that is FOSS, it might become easily as destructive and life sucking, as the original Twitter. The only difference would be scale. On the FOSS alternative you would encounter perhaps a couple of hundred morons stealing your time, while on Twitter you meet hundred thousand and more morons sucking your lifetime.

This is one of the reasons I am more or less against the most popular FOSS social medium: Mastodon.
Many years ago, when I checked it out, it pretty much worked like Twitter and people behaved there like on Twitter. So, I don’t like it, even if it’s FOSS based.

I always tell every person one thing, when we are talking about this topic:
If your friends are real friends, they will follow you.

They will understand your point, or at least half of it, and when they don’t bother using a spying machine in their browser, every single day, they shouldn’t have a reason against using an additional non-intrusive alternative “just” for you. They would do it, because they would miss you, as well.
Those, who really by no means would switch, or at least use both things, Facebook for most and the FOSS alternative for people like you, are not real friends, anyway. (Of course, not counting in old or otherwise technically limited humans.)

If those 30 care about you as you do about them, they will not refrain from using a second website, besides Facebook. How horrible could it be, to use an alternative way of communication for a good friend, a relative or someone really close?

If my best friend would use a different non-intrusive way of communication, I would use that one, too, even if he’d be the only one I would use it for.

P.S.:

Whenever a I made a BBQ party, there were a couple of people eating no meat. I specifically for them put some vegetables on the BBQ. I didn’t kick them out, because they didn’t want to eat meat. The same way, I expect those friends to respect my privacy conscious behaviour, if it involves slight behaviour changes like e.g. not only using Facebook, but also a FOSS alternative just for me, who is privacy aware.

Yes it can, ish. I use Using a Hosts File To Make The Internet Not Suck (as much) is the site I use. Add the whole list to your etc/hosts file, make a backup of your original file. After adding the whole text save the file, restart your browser and marvel at the speed and no pop ups of adverts, especially from Facebook.

1 Like

Basically I use tha same technic. Except that I dedicated my own DNS server to this kind of filtering task, so I can use it on all my devices including Android devices in my family.
BTW my host list is 14MB at the moment :smiley:

This is interesting indeed! A couple of questions:

Does it matter if you have a web server running on your localhost?

Do you pay a price in overhead for processing an /etc/hosts file that large?

btw I take your point about social media – all of it. The problem with putting your personal life on the (de facto) public record is that you are putting your personal life on the public record. You can use aliases and indeed a lot of us do (news flash: mister_bludgeon isn’t my true name) but how effective is that, really? And is it not also self-defeating, if you want people you know (in real ife) to appreciate your wit and other wonderful attributes?

I am poking fun at myself here. I confess that I do like using FB to post my latest funny/clever observation and see the reaction. Many of us have narcissistic, exhibitionistic tendencies that make the platform especially tempting. I also like pushing my Bolshevik political opinions out there and engaging in discussion.

So the serious question is: is the trade-off worth it? Are you enjoying yourself so much that you don’t mind exposing whatever you say to the entire world in perpetuity?

Ideally, I would say, this entirely depends on the person you are asking. But since we are not living in an ideal world, I have to adjust my answer a bit to our reality:
It depends on who you ask, but it’s important to note, that a VAST majority of people who expose themselves publicly do this for the wrong reasons. For example, they do it, because they are psychologically tricked into doing it. You can see that behaviour with YouTube creators. They may create content for years without ever showing their face, sometimes not even letting others hear their real voice, and then, after years of community engagement and constant asking for face reveals it happens; they reveal their face, because they have been asked a million times to do so and are tricked into doing a face reveal because of reasons like “so many years I did not show my face and nothing happens; what could go wrong if I actually did?” or “so many YouTubers already show their faces, why shouldn’t I show mine?” and other psychologically tricking reasons. I call them “tricks” because those reasons never invalidate the reasons this person had to not show their face, when starting their YouTube career, in the first place. They all still exist. Fear of harassment, fear of stalking, fear of being another Chinese tracking target (remember how Tencent forced Blizzard to cancel that Hong Kong guy?) and others. All these reasons still exist and I’d say if you have hundred thousands or even millions of viewers, it takes only a single moron out of those millions to make your life crappy, by stalking, harassing or just annoying the crap out of you.

So, to clarify:
The person has to decide, but in this world the person has to educate himself very extremely well, to make an educated decision. Doing an educated decision, especially when talking about exposing oneself to the public on the internet, is extremely important. Just exposing oneself and then complaining about weird stuff happening afterwards, is the wrong thing to do. If one decides to expose himself, he needs to be sure to know all the culprits such an action comes with, by default.

Not sure, if this is a typo, or if I am just misunderstanding.
I will answer the following question:
Are you enjoying yourself so much that you don’t mind not exposing whatever you say to the entire world in perpetuity?

Sometimes I would like to share stuff, of course.
Sometimes I have, in my opinion, good ideas, that I’d like to share. Sure, that happens.

But I always remind myself of things like the following:

  • The addressees. Being on social media means you would address so many people, who read social media posts from several people and most of them probably would nod to what you say and that’s it. If you have friends so close and who are so much on the same page as you are, you don’t need social media to engage with them with new ideas, but you can share them private through instant messengers.
  • Everyone sees your stuff. Oh, blabla, but we can make posts for friends only, bla bla. Right? Wrong. Your communication is only as private/secure, as the worst addressee’s behaviour. So, if only one of the peers reading your posts is strictly anti-privacy, even if they don’t even notice that they are, your things are exposed by default. Sure, it’s much worse, when the posts are public in the first place, but the point is, that even making them friends-only doesn’t help much. Especially if you have the amount of friends, you displayed earlier. 200 and of those 30 who you seriously engage with. There is no humanly social and not fear-mongering way of forcing 30 people to follow your privacy guidelines. (Sure, one could say that could happen in instant messaging, too, but there you probably don’t talk to 30-200 people at the same time, anyway. So the risk is extremely low, compared to the above example.)
  • You are accountable, responsible for everything. Even things you posted YEARS ago. Let’s say someone doesn’t like you or perhaps is a business rival of yours. With your posting habits, that rival could fish out some post you made 6 years ago, where you misworded something. Or made a joke, that could be misunderstood. Or you don’t even misworded anything, but you are misquoted on purpose. Sounds very innocuous. Right? Wrong. There are hundreds of examples, that show how entire lives, entire personalities have been publicly discredited due to one single tweet. Sounds ridiculous, but reality indeed has become ridiculous in the past 10-5 years.
  • What do I change? What do I really achieve? Too many Twitter wannabe heroes think that when they issue a certain hashtag crap or retweet some crap someone said a minute ago or write some weird political and wannabe witty statement, that they are doing something. They feel good. They think, wow, I did my hero job for today, now I can go back to my counch and watch Netflix. So, the reality with that is, that most of the time such interactions do not change the world, it does not change the readers. It does not even change you; actually, it does the opposite: it reinforces who you are and, usually, you are nodded to by your peers for that statement, again cementing who you are into stone. However, if you want to free yourself from yourself and become smarter, quicker, more skilled, more able, more creative – in short – better than who you were yesterday, then you can’t just repeat the same crap over and over in your personal echo chamber. Ironically, even people who get attacked for what they say a lot on social media, are usually re-inforced in thinking the way they already did before, instead of engaging and seriously considering the other side’s expressions to perhaps bear at least a seed of truth. Therefore, don’t reinforce who you are. Become better. You can’t become better by reinforcing your yesterday through relaxing on social media with your closed circle, or as pointed out in the other example, let yourself be attacked and reinforcing your yesterday ironically through that.

If you really want your word to weigh something and not be a random dude on Facebook, then do something noteworthy and you will be noticed without any significant social media reach. Okay, admittedly that sounds way easier than it is and different situations turn out different, but my point is still valid: being on social media and spreading your thoughts almost never changes anything. It just re-inforces your yesterday. Sometimes it even re-inforces the world’s yesterday, by keeping everything as it is, instead of letting things change for the better.

Hope, I did not go on a too high meta level here. :laughing:


So, to answer the questions: it’s worth the trade-off!
And humans are able to pretty much accommodate to anything.
If you grew up with your cat crapping onto the table everyone eats off, you would have become used to it and it would be the most normal thing on earth for you.
The same way, you can get used to not using Facebook. I assure you, after a couple of months or, if Facebook is really a drug to you, after a year you won’t even feel the need to go on there again. You will have moments like “what is Facebook again?”. That’s the moment when you got so used to not using it anymore, that you are healed and able to proceed with your life.

No I don’t think so, if anything it would give you more protection, from being tracked.
You’ll also benefit from not using Chrome and use Firefox instead.

No what it does is speed up your Internet slightly, because it blocks all those trackers, by sending them off to another channel.

Yes, but but but… were it not for Facebook I might never have heard and seen one of the absolute funniest things I have ever seen – one of the funniest you will ever see, my friend. A “friend” posted this, and it just doesn’t get any funnier:

I wasn’t laughing because it is auto tuned. As a musician I can tell when something is fake or not.
I wonder if they used Linux to auto tune?

1 Like

Once I worked in a theatre as cameraman. I had to pick up the sound from the sound guys, they kindly provided me XLR line outs.
They had a huge Allen&Heath mixer, it was bigger then an average dining desk :slight_smile:
Before the event and in the pauses I had the chance to have a chit-chat with the sound-guys.
They told me -embedded in funny stories-, they don’t like to use the AT, because it introduces some latency, which hurts them (probably not so much the audience), but with less talented singers they often must use it.
I highly doubt, that the mixer ran on Windows, or other proprietary stuff. I suspect some specifically tailored Linux in the background… Of course I don’t know much about it, and am unsure, but yes, I beleive, if they used AT on a mixer, they could have used Linux.

1 Like

How do you mean, auto-tuned? The actual performance was so spectacularly out of tune, it spawned this whole series of hilarious videos accompanying her as she slides up and down, in and out, all over the place.

When you listen to the harmonies of the four at the front, no way can that low bass be human. Take a listen to the video of the mills brothers doing their rendition of Caravan.

No way is the bass rendition as low as that video above. Fair enough The Mills Brothers bass is doing a Double Bass impression, but you get the idea of what I’m trying to say. The only voice I know that can go that deep, is the natural voice of George Sanders who played Shere Khan in Disney’s 1967 Jungle Book.

The female singing the lead is actually in tune, just that she’s singing along with the harmony vocal group. Some notes she sings sound off, because at this time you had the likes of Mariah Carey in the charts, whose wailing like a constipated banshee.
In fact I’m surprised that people don’t dress up as Mariah Carey at Halloween? As her voice is so scary, that the sound from her voice is up there with the sound, of nails being scraped down a blackboard, that go right to the heart of terrifying.

2 Likes