What Google knows about you (2): check your ad preferences

You may find advertisements on search results pages irritating but the search engines go to a lot of trouble to ensure that the ads you are exposed to match the content of your search and the sites that you select. Google stores this information in your ad preferences and allows you to view and edit them. You think you don’t have any just because you don’t click on ad?  Then check out http://www.google.com/ads/preferences/.

It does not matter whether or not you are logged in to your Google account because the information is stored in cookies associated with your browser. If you use more than one browser, each will have their own set of preferences that have to be viewed from within the browser. This has implications if you conduct confidential research and others have access to your computer. You might be deleting your search history but it is still possible to get a general idea of what areas you are working on. Your ad preferences also affect advertisements that Google shows on other websites for which it provides advertisements, for example YouTube, news sites and blogs.

You can remove or add an interest category, or opt out altogether from Google’s targeted advertising. My Firefox ad preferences mostly reflect the type of research I carry out, although I was puzzled by the inclusion of Local -Regional Content – Africa.

Google Ad Preferences

To opt out of  behavioural or targetted advertising run by other services the Network Advertising Initiative at http://www.networkadvertising.org/ lists about 50 members and allows you to opt-out of all or a selection. The list will also inform you whether or not you currently have an active cookie from that service. When I looked at my listing there were about fifteen I had never heard of and amazed that I had active cookies on nearly all of them. This is big business!

Network Advertising list of cookies

NAI member companies set a minimum lifespan of five years for their opt out cookies but if your browser is set to automatically clear cookies after a certain time period you will have to go through the opt-out procedure again. Note that opting-out does not mean that adverts will no longer be displayed, it just means that they will not match what Google and other services believe are your interests.

iPhone 4 to be recalled: it’s true – the Daily Mail says so

The Daily Mail has done it again and proved that the quality of their research is second to none, because they don’t do any. They have an exclusive on the possible product recall of the iPhone 4. You can see the article on the Daily Mail site at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1289965/Apple-iPhone-4-recalled-says-Steve-Jobs.html, or possibly not. By the time you read this posting the Daily Mail might have realised that they have made complete idiots of themselves and removed the story. So here is a screen shot of the headline:

Daily Mail get it wrong again

The source of the story? The man himself: Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the possible recall last night via his Twitter account @ceoSteveJobs. There’s just one teensy weensy problem. The ‘bio’ for @ceoSteveJobs clearly states:

“I don’t care what you think of me. You care what I think of you. Of course this is a parody account.”

Perhaps the Daily Mail does not understand what parody is? Or maybe the ability to read is no longer a requirement for Daily Mail journalists?

Checking the authority and veracity of a source is an important part of research as those of us who do this for a living well know. It can be a time consuming and long-winded process but in this case it was clearly stated on the Twitter account that the source was A PARODY ACCOUNT. How difficult is it to read the profile on this account?

Steve Jobe Twiiter Parody Account

No doubt the Daily Mail will now regale us with tales of how Twitter is riddled with liars, fakes and false information and that it should be immediately banned from these shores.

Time to sing along to that popular ditty “The Daily Mail Song” by Dan and Dan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eBT6OSr1TI

And as I finish writing this I see that the Daily Mail have pulled the story from their web site. If you are desperate to see a copy of the original I have one here. It will feature in my workshops on assessing the quality of information!

What Google knows about you(1): check your dashboard

Many of us are well aware that the search engines track how we search and what we click on. This information is used to build up a profile of you and provide a personalised service, not only for the advertisements that are presented on your results page but also for search results. Google in particular is an expert in personalisation. At the end of last year Google announced that it would store your search history on your computer by default. (See “Your Google results are about to get weirder” at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2009/12/17/your-google-results-are-about-to-get-weirder/.) There are much more obvious ways, though, in which Google can build up a picture of your online habits: Googlemail, Google Reader, iGoogle, blog and news alerts to name just a few. But can you remember what you have set up on your Google account? Check out your Google Dashboard and be prepared for a few surprises.

Go to http://www.google.com/dashboard/ and sign in with your account. As one would expect, at the top of your dashboard is your personal information: name, nickname, user name and email address but also included in this group is “Websites authorized to access the account”. Nothing of interest here, I thought, but I had forgotten that a few months ago I had been testing out Mapalist, which is a tool that enables you to create mashups of data with Google maps. I had allowed Mapalist access to Google Docs so  that I could create a spreadsheet within Docs that could then be combined with a Google map. I am quite happy for this to continue as I shall be carrying on with the experiment but it is worth checking this section on a regular basis to ensure no unwanted applications have sneaked in. Also, an application that you are quite happy to allow at the moment could be sold to an organisation that has very different intentions and ideas of how it wants to use your data, and it may not necessarily be to your advantage.

Most of the sections and applications are what you might expect. Alerts are fairly straightforward but it is worth having a clear out of unwanted search alerts. In my account there are Analytics, Books and MyLibrary, Gmail and contacts, Google Buzz and ‘followers’ and ‘following’, Calendar, Custom Search Engines, details of my Google Docs, iGoogle tabs and gadgets, maps that I have created, Google reader subscriptions and Web history (in my case switched off). What came as a surprise to me was that I had two purchases in Google checkout. At first I thought my account had been hacked but as soon as I checked the information I was reminded that 18 months ago I had bought services from Google. Full credit/debit card information is not displayed but it does give the last 4 digits, so you can carry out a quick check if you spot a suspect transaction.

Another surprise for me was Picasa. I was certain that I had never uploaded any images but there were 3 photos sitting in the account. They had been put there by Google when I was playing around with the latest Google customisable home page background image. I vaguely recall Google telling me it was going to do that but did not take much notice at the time. I don’t have any problems with them being there but it is an example of how Google sucks you into services that you would not normally consider using.

And then there is YouTube. In my account this shows my YouTube username, gender, age and post code, all of which I had supplied when I set up the account. Also displayed were my viewing history, favourites, subscriptions and contacts.

The “Other products” section summarises Google products that you are using but which are not yet available on the dashboard. In my case there was my Feedburner account, Google Groups and Google Squared documents.

The Google dashboard serves as a reminder of which Google products you have signed up for and what Google has made publicly available about you. It also highlights how much information you have given to Google about yourself. Google makes a lot of user generated content public by default, for example Maps and My Library, and all the public ‘stuff’ in your dashboard has a small people icon next to it. If you do nothing else, work your way through everything in your dashboard and double check the privacy settings for each application and document. Equally important, it emphasises the importance of signing out of your Google account before leaving your machine unattended. Leave your browser signed in and anyone can come along and see in detail what you have on your Google account.

Updates to Company Registers page

For those of you who need to track down official company information, the following updates have been made to the RBA Official Company Registers page at http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/registers.htm :


Updated link: please use http://dataweb.telekom.at and click on Firmenbuch ‘Details’.

Thanks to Herbert Tischler, Telekom Austria TA AG for the correction.


Update: an electronic version of the register is available at http://www.brra.bg/, but only in Bulgarian at present.

Thanks to Orlin Nedkov for the update.

Isle of Man

The Isle of Man Companies Registry has changed its web address to http://www.gov.im/ded/companies/companiesregistry.xml

Thanks to Mark Collister from City Trust for the alert.


Registro Público de Panamá http://www.registro-publico.gob.pa/
The Public Registry for incorporations of Companies and Foundations in Panama. There is a searchable online register but only in Spanish. Click on the white box “Consulta Registral”, which is towards the bottom of the page, and you will then be taken to the register which currently at https://www.registro-publico.gob.pa/scripts/nwwisapi.dll/conweb/prinpage
In Spanish only.

Thanks to Tord Coucheron of Hatfield Oak International for the information.

Social media in health care libraries – wikis and Netvibes win

I recently ran a version of my social media workshop for a group of health care librarians and information professionals in Liverpool. The group were LIHNN (Library and Information Health Network North West) and HCLU (Health Care Libraries Unit). (For further information about them see their web site at http://www.lihnn.nhs.uk/). I was forewarned that many of them have limited access to social media. Several confirmed that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs were all blocked in their workplace, yet most of them came from organisations who had set up YouTube channels, Twitter streams and Facebook pages! This raises an interesting question: if they receive a query about, for example, an event listed on their Facebook page or the content of a video on YouTube how are they supposed to respond if they are not able to check the content at the time of the enquiry? I find this mass blocking of social media web sites by organisations totally bizarre and ludicrous. The blocking is not even consistent. Slideshare may be blocked but other presentation sharing sites are often accessible. Add to this the antediluvian technology most of them are forced to use – in particular IE6 – and we end up with organisations that are out of touch with their users and communities, and have no idea what is being discussed or said about them.

But health care librarians and information professionals, and  health care practitioners are an inventive lot. There is plenty of evidence of them having circumvented the barriers put in their way. The excellent Liz Azyan published a series of blog postings on social media and health care just before the workshop took place and they provide plenty of examples and support for those putting together a case for access to social media.

The postings are:

The Liverpool workshop participants were equally innovative. During the practical sessions they were able to test out social media for providing up to date information on their services and current awareness to their users. The winners were wikis for creating mini-websites and Netvibes for presenting RSS feeds and current awareness. The NHS Bolton Library wiki at http://boltonpct.pbworks.com/ and Shrewsbury and Telford Health Libraries Netvibes Team Knowledge Update at http://www.netvibes.com/sathlibraries are just two examples. There was also a great deal of interest in Twitter and blogs for at least monitoring “conversations” on health related topics and their own organisations, and word clouds for analysing the content of documents.

Facebook did not win any converts, nor did Second Life.

My PowerPoint presentation for the day is available in several places, and you should be able to view or download it from at least one of them: