For those of you following the discussion about the privacy implications of ToolButton, a browser toolbar that helps store news and other features, here’s a reply from ToolButton’s Deb Alloway about the matter. First off, my original email to her:
As I’ve said in the blog, I like ToolButton and hope that privacy of its users is respected. Your words go some way to convincing me of that. But while I can see that spam is not going to be a concern for users, I would have thought other factors might be, as I say in the comment below:
“The only problem I can see with this is that over time, that information would reveal quite a lot about the individual user. Say you’d searched for medical terms, or cars, or brands of diapers, quite a thorough picture of your family would be available to ToolButton for marketing purposes. Given that each ToolButton would have to have a unique user ID that information would end up being quite specific.”
What’s more, it seems to me that ToolButton would effectively collect the same kind of information as, say, Gator — what kind of sites the user visits, as well as terms the user enters into Google etc. That would build a complex profile of that user which could then be used for marketing purposes (targeted ads, I should imagine, which would appear in the toolbar.)
Here’s Ms Alloway’s reply:
From what I know about other “Gator” type software I have to assume you are correct - ToolButton has the ability to collect the same kind of information. The difference is how the information is used. Even though I am familiar with the “Gator” type of marketing, I still find myself falling prey to their scams. And, like most, I find their marketing aggressive and intrusive. ToolButton, on the other hand, was build with the user experience at the top of the priority list. This is a tall order especially when you consider the unique needs and wants of each user. The solution: turn the control over to the user.
Hence the whole ToolButton experience is based on user control and satisfaction. Let’s start at the beginning.
1. To download the ToolButton toolbar the user name, email address and password are required. This information provides sign-in access to both your personal account on www.ToolButton.com as well as access to the toolbar. I know of only one other toolbar which requires a user to sign-in to access functionality from within the toolbar. You might know of others. We are currently changing the download procedure to facilitate a faster and easier download.
2. A newly downloaded ToolButton toolbar appears with three or four default web site icons on the bar. These provide the user with immediate samples of the power behind ToolButton. The user can delete them at anytime. No problems, no questions asked.
3. The user can add, remove, move around, decide how to display and even add sound effects on their ToolButton toolbar. Most customization can be done right from the ToolButton toolbar itself. There is no need to go to the web site.
4. Websites who offer ToolButtons have the ability to send messages (Alerts) through their button to the user. However, third party advertising is strictly prohibited and any site caught abusing this will be removed from the site immediately. No questions – no hesitation. ToolButton users total control over this. If a website is sending too many Alerts through their ToolButton icon the user can remove icon from their ToolButton toolbar. The website will no longer have access to that user through ToolButton.
Web site owners of a ToolButton icon are able to receive stats on have access to the number of instances their ToolButton icon has been downloaded and any activity of their ToolButton. Any personal information they acquire would not be collected by ToolButton but rather by sending the user through the company’s own web site. A good example of this would be sites requiring membership or account information.
5. Third party advertising is only be allowed through the InfoButton. Here the user subscribes to categories of interest. The button will only appear on their toolbar if a message has been received. Again, the user chooses the categories and has the ability to change them at any time. This is where stats collected would be used. For example: A neighborhood pizza place has a 2 for 1 special tonight. With ToolButton, they can send their message to a targeted group of people who have indicated they are interested in receiving information about fast foods and where our stats show they live within a 1 mile radius of the restaurant. In order to receive this message a user would have to 1) live within the area selected 2) indicated they want third party information about fast food. If either of these criteria are not present, the user will not receive the message. Again – the user has control.
6. Over the next few months several new features will be offered by ToolButton. The idea behind each and every feature or plug-in is to enhance the ToolButton toolbar user experience. Again, the user controls whether or not they want to display or use these applications. A click of a button and the application can be added or removed. No problems, no questions.