Tech shorts: How much is your Internet privacy worth to you? And a social network designed to help you cope
AT&T puts a price on your privacy
How much is your online privacy worth to you? If you're a customer of AT&T's GigaPower high-speed fiber-optic Internet service, maintaining your privacy will cost you $60 a month. The Motley Fool's Daniel B. Kline writes in an April 5, 2015, article that GigaPower's rates start at an affordable $70 a month. However, at that price customers have to opt into AT&T's "Internet Preferences" program.
Internet Preferences gives AT&T permission to observe your browsing, serve up ads based on the sites you visit, send you email offers, and even have junk mail delivered to your house. You can opt out of the program by paying an extra $29 a month, but as Kline points out, when you get your phone and television service via GigaPower, staying private will cost you $60 a month. That doesn't even include having to pay the installation and modem fees that are waived for Internet Preferences participants.
As Kline states, opting out of such tracking should not require a "penalty fee." AT&T touts the $70-a-month rate in ads comparing its fiber-optic home service with its primary competitor, Google Fiber, even though Google's service doesn't entail anything like GigaPower's level of tracking. (Note that Google Fiber is attempting to make TV ads as targeted as their web counterparts, as MediaPost's Brian Wieser writes in a March 27, 2015, article.)
This social network wants to help you stop worrying so much
When he first started learning how to program, MIT researcher Rob Morris relied on sites such as the Stack Overflow online forum for help in solving the problems he encountered. That's where he got the notion that if a crowd of programmers could help him figure out code glitches, why couldn't a crowd of people help others figure out glitches in their own thought processes?
Morris was motivated to create a tool called Panoply that "crowdsources treatment for anxiety and depression," as Mother Jones' Rebecca Cohen writes in an April 3, 2015, article. The tool is currently called Koko and is available only by invitation, although prospective users can sign up for a chance to participate. The idea is to help people break the irrational thought patterns that distort their perception of the situations they encounter.
For example, suppose someone just lost their job and they become convinced that they'll ever find another one. They describe their situation and how they feel about it on the Koko forum, and others help them reframe their predicament in a more rational way. Cohen points out that the effectiveness of the approach has been confirmed by a study in the Journal of Internet Medical Research. The study found that people who used the service for at least 25 minutes a week for three weeks were "significantly less depressed and better at cognitive reappraisal" than people who spent three weeks engaged in a typical treatment for depression, expressive writing exercises.
Morris states that while the study focused on depression, he considers Panoply more of a stress-reduction application, in part because of the stigma of the word "depression." It's really just another fitness app, he claims, one that anyone who's fretting over a situation can benefit from using. Crowdsourcing emotional well-being sounds to me like a healthy use of the Internet, with the caveat that no one should expect any miracle cures. Sometimes there's no substitute for the personal attention of trained healthcare professionals.