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Personal Computers and Handheld Devices: Striking the Right Balance Between Safety and Intrusiveness

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Link-Up Digital

In a world ever dominated by personal computers and the handheld devices they spawned, personal privacy and freedom are relative concepts.

We have relative privacy from prying eyes, but prying eyes do intrude, inevitably. We also have relative freedom to use our tools to our advantage against others, but others may have relative freedom to use our own tools with us.

A number of recent developments shed light on these balances.

Do you like to rate things and read others’ ratings? This can help with decision making. But what about being rated yourself?

Peeple is a new app in development designed to let you rate other people on a scale of one to five. It’s similar to the popular Yelp app and website that lets you rate restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses. As of now, there will be no way to opt out of being rated.

Facebook is exploring a “Dislike” function that would work similarly to its popular “Like” function. With the version being tested in Ireland and Spain, people can use emojis, or tiny visuals, to indicate they feel angry or sad about another person’s post or link, in addition to liking it. Other emojis available in this Facebook test express love, laughter, celebration, and amazement.

People love using ad blockers on their smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Who likes ads that make viewing pages slow, take up space, or cause you to keep pushing or clicking to shut the ad?

There are a slew of ad blocking apps out there to meet this need, including Ad Block Plus, Purify Blocker, and Crystal. A recent study by the New York Times, which charges if you view more than 10 of its articles per month, shows they work.

Not everyone is happy. Ad blocking deprives website developers of ad revenue. When websites don’t charge, ads can be their only source of income. If developers can’t buy food and pay their mortgage, many will likely find something else to do and take down the websites you use.

The creator of a well regarded ad-blocking app for iPhones called Peace recently withdrew his app from the market for just this reason. In a blog post, Marco Arment wrote that the app’s success “just doesn’t feel good.”

One compromise is the development and refinement of ad-blocking apps so they block only ads that are intrusive or deceptive, those for instance that try to trick you into going where you don’t want to go.

Should advertisers be free to phone you? The backlash against “robocalls” was so great that the law in the US was changed to make them illegal. This hasn’t stopped clever crooks from continuing to do this, blocking attempts to root out who’s behind their trickery.

Google just filed suit against a search engine marketing firm, Local Lighthouse Corp., for using robocalling and claiming it was working with Google. Local Lighthouse Corp. has other lawsuits pending against it. Google also set up a new page where you can report robocalling:

How free are you to choose entertainment options? For years Comcast has been the leader in bundling cable TV networks together to force you to buy what you don’t want. Amazon just eliminated the option of subscribers receiving video of its competitors, Google and Apple, from its Amazon Prime video service.

How free are you to choose computers and devices? Apple for years has been the leader in suing other companies for using what it regards as its technology. This is despite the fact that Apple used the technology of Xerox in developing the Apple Macintosh and that Apple more recently illegally colluded with book publishers to artificially prop up e-book prices.

Do you have an ethical right to privacy online and with your phone? This is a hot issue, with people often having strongly held opinions.

When companies such as Google learn the kinds of sites you visit, it delivers ads to you that are more likely to promote the kinds of products and services you like and may buy.

When the US government is able to detect through their pattern of phone calls the people more likely to be potential terrorists, it lessens the chances of you or your loved ones dying in another 9-11.

We sometimes harken back to a “golden age” of freedom and privacy when this country was founded. But 200 years ago, everyone knew everything about everyone else, and you had less freedom to do and say what you wanted.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at or

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