"non-comprehensive" ≠ "wrong"

by benjamin hollon on february 9, 2022

When it comes to learning, I hate analogy. Being given a simplified solution, only to later be told, “Oh, it really works like this, but that was an easier way to think about it,” frustrates me to no end.

That being said, explanations don’t have to be complete. Admitting that you don’t know everything is laudable, not a problem.

And lists of examples, of all things, certainly don’t need to be complete. In fact, they should not be complete. Ideally, any lesson should only have one, two, or perhaps three examples. Any more and the audience begins to become bored.

Some perceptive readers may have realized I’m speaking out of frustration. In particular, I’m referring to a comment on my article on why web privacy matters:

You skipped over OS and Application telemetry and analytics, location tracking, web dev SaaS like Google APIs and Fonts, supercookies and profiling technologies, Chromium and all its forks phone home (does anyone open wireshark/tcpdump anymore?), droid and all its forks phone home… This is outdated because it’s incomplete

I can only assume the person who wrote this was under the misunderstanding that the intent of the article was to list every possible breach of privacy on the web. If so, they didn’t read carefully; while I did list some cases, I did not say it would be comprehensive:

Here are some ways you probably didn’t realize sites you’re visiting are making money through the data they collect about you.

“Some” ways, not “all” ways. In fact, it’s specifically “some” ways that most people don’t realize are privacy concerns; the comment’s author listed some things, such as telemetry and location tracking, that many people know are privacy issues.

But that’s not the point.

Here it is: please don’t say that something is incorrect or “outdated” because it doesn’t list every example of something (unless that’s the intention). This comment in particular was written within days of the original publishing date; there’s no way the article was “outdated.” Perhaps, if you see that a newly-published article is not comprehensive, you should take a look at the original intent.


I’m not angry at the author of that comment. I’ve probably had similar misunderstandings, and I know it happens. There are no hard feelings. There are things I could have done to make it more clear that this was not supposed to be comprehensive. For example, I have now added a note at the bottom of all the articles on digital citizenship that makes it clear that they are part of a series. If the comment’s author had read that, they would likely have realized that I had plans to address more points.

Instead, this is a note for the future. I’m hoping that a look at a common mistake, thinking through the faulty rationale, might help some people look more closely at the things they criticize in the future.

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