Like most of the tech giants today, Google was founded with certain ideals, among which “don’t do evil.” Those days, however, are long gone. The new profitability model of major user-facing content sites has been to collect and sell user data to advertisers.
There is nothing inherently evil about this so long as everyone is informed, even though the practice is subject to abuse. A main trigger point of possible abuse is whether and to what extent that data is deployed for political purposes: that is, the desire to rule rather than to serve the public.
In the last two years, if not earlier, that line has been crossed. We’ve watched as scientists and intellectuals have been censored, their lectures and interviews taken down by Google-owned YouTube. The same has been true of all the major venues.
There are new platforms out there today that are attempting a more humane approach, and Brownstone lives on all of them (Gettr, Parler, Gab, Telegram, Odysee, Rumble) in addition to clawing our way to survival on old venues.
This weekend, Brownstone took a major step. We have eliminated all Google Analytics tracking on the website.
The products for analytics that Google offers are phenomenally good, fast, and free. Such programs used to cost tens of thousands of dollars. When Google Analytics came along to give away this service, it seemed like a dream come true. There is every incentive to use them as a means of tweaking our technology and content in the interest of serving our user base better. This is why 65% of all websites use this product.
But there is a downside: Google effectively then owns the user data generated by the website that uses the tracking codes. That raises serious privacy concerns for users, especially in our time when states are ever more interested in the browsing habits of its users. Some European states have caught on and decided to stop the practice.
Brownstone is getting ahead of the game here by opting out: your behavior on Brownstone.org will not be fed to Google Analytics. Our next steps will be to remove all Google connections on our site (Google Tags, Google Fonts, etc.)
Will this hurt our reach? No. There are privacy oriented products that perform the services we need without invasive surveillance or the risk of data theft. In addition, Brownstone has chosen a strategy of publishing using the Creative Commons Attribution license rather than conventional copyright. This means that anyone can publish our content so long as it is attributed, both author and original publication source.
Taking advantage of this has become extremely common now. A piece we published yesterday might appear on a dozen or a hundred or a thousand sites today. We see this constantly and it is a thrill. It means that our donors and benefactors see the reach of their support pervade the world.
As a mission-based organization, our goal is not to hoard ideas but to distribute them as widely as possible.
Already our analytics have shown that Brownstone, just from our domestic property, has a larger reach than organizations and venues such as Mother Jones and The Nation in addition to many once-famous think tanks and nonprofits. We are thrilled by that simply because the battle of ideas has not been this critically important in many generations.
What this means for our reach: we have our site but once the content is leveraged, we estimate that the overall reach is 100-500 times as large once you consider all the venues in which it is reprinted. And that does not include forieign translations.
All of which is to say: Google’s tracking is ever less relevant for our operational needs and it poses ever higher risks for user privacy. There is every reason to eliminate it while continuing our program of publishing in the commons.
We do ask that webmasters be careful to retain the canonical link back to the original article at Brownstone.org, just as a courtesy. This can be inserted in the <head> of any particular article or page being reprinted:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://brownstone.org/articles/article-name” />
These are enormously stressful times for all. They require everyone to reassess and rethink our relationship to technology for reasons of preserving freedom, privacy, and independence. We need to do our best to avoid becoming part of the privatization of the state. We have taken an important step in that direction.
As always, thank you for your support of Brownstone Institute.