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Eat the ice cream.

eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat̸ ̴the̛ ̶i͠ce ̡c҉r̨e͝am ̕ea͢t t͟he͢ ice c̢ream͜ ̶e̶át ҉th͘e íce ̀c͡re̴am ęat t͏he͢ ̛i͏c̸e͝ cr̷e͞am e̸a̢t͟ t͞he͘ i̶c͞e̴ ͞crea͢m ͞e͜at̡ th͞e ̴i̶ce̷ ćre͢a͠m̷ ̷eat͠ ̸the ic̴e cr̨eám̨ ̀eąt͝ t͞h̨e҉ ̡i̛c҉e ͘çr͢e̶am ̗̲̤̖̜́e̴̫a͉͙̭̥͕t ̴̬̰̠̗͇̙t̜̺͈̹̰̘̪́h͙͈͟e̱͔̬̻ͅ ̵͓̩̼ic͎̣̮̹̤e͚͇͈̦̥͖ ̱̯̞c̦̝̖̯͎r̻͈͎e͈̬͎̫̫a̦͔̦̗̮̻m̞ ̹̱͟e̗̙̙̩̮a̯̜̰ͅț̖̦͟ ̟̪̞t̥̲̕h͕̕e̘ i̴͙c̗̭͖̠̤̖e̺̩̪̺ ͍̝͍̝͞c̘̫̮̣̰r̳̬͕̖̩ȩ͈̩a̳̯̜̟̯̖m̜͍ ̸ea̠̩͖̖t͓̪ ͠t̬̤̲̮͕̼͢h͕͕̳͉̙ẹ͢ ̶̫͈̱͉i̵̦̮͎͕̹̟c̟̙̦̗͓̘̺͝e̺̩̯̹̕ ̺̠̤͜c҉͕͕̠̫̘̖̤r̖̝͍͍̣̹ḙ͚͎a̮m̬̮͍͉̻̜ ̸ea̠̩͖̖t͓̪ ͠t̬̤̲̮͕̼͢h͕͕̳͉̙ẹ͢ ̶̫͈̱͉i̵̦̮͎͕̹̟c̟̙̦̗͓̘̺͝e̺̩̯̹̕ ̺̠̤͜c҉͕͕̠̫̘̖̤r̖̝͍͍̣̹ḙ͚͎a̮m̬̮͍͉̻̜

2017-09-21T08:35:09+10:0019th September, 2017|Tags: advertising, food, video|

Online advertising is broken.

Apparently online advertising lobbyists have their banners in a twist over Apple’s plans to introduce automatic tracker blocking in Safari.

Most current adware blocking and spyware obfuscation is user-directed. That is, if you don’t want your every move on the internet tracked, collated, and onsold by massive shady multinational surveillance companies, you need to both, a) know the problem exists in the first place, and b) know which in the massive ecosystem of imperfect-but-better-than-nothing anti-spyware products is trustworthy enough to use.1

So while companies like Google and Facebook–whose business models are spying and nothing else–wring their hands with weak and useless “initiatives” designed more to stave off the looming threat of government regulation than protect users, Apple (and, to give them credit, Microsoft) are more and more using “protecting privacy” as their market differentiators. This is why Apple, for example, added a “cop button” to Touch ID in response to that ridiculous US ruling about biometrics.2

And it’s why, one assumes, Apple continues to beef up its browser anti-spyware technology. Apple’s motto has always been “it just works”; that is, their products are intuitive for non-tech types. “It just works” when applied to browser anti-spyware means the browser’s default, unconfigured state should be to deny third-party tracking and micro-targeted advertising. If the latter really does provide the “better user experience” that ad lobbyists like to claim, then users missing their micro-segmented Russian propaganda [content warning for discussions of how Facebook’s advertising platform facilitates antisemitism] can opt-in by using a less privacy-focused browser.

… Yeah. I’m not holding my breath, either.

“But free content on the internet relies on ads!” cry the industry shills.

Well… yes and no. First of all, even when content relies on advertising, there’s no reason whatsoever that it has to rely on the hyper-targeted, micro-segmented, deeply personally intrusive style of advertising sold by platforms like Facebook. The sole reason this type of advertising exists is to give ad platforms an excuse to charge more and, thus, make more money. Keep in mind, I’m not just talking about, say, Google showing you ads for garden supply stores when you search for how to fix ruptured garden hose. I’m talking about things like Facebook trying to sell you things based on its inference of your current mood. Removing that level of intrusiveness is not, let’s be completely clear about this, going to kill the internet.

Second of all, I am Internet Old and, as such, I absolutely remember a time before the internet decided “spying on everyone, all the time” was going to be its primary business model. Yes, things looked different–they were much more decentralized, for example, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–but, again, people managed. Just like they do now with things like non-ad-sourced micropayments and premium content subscriptions. Yes, monetizing in this way isn’t “easy” but–and maybe this is just me–that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Particularly when you consider the sort of content that’s profitable in ad-based attention economies…

In other words, bring on the blockers, I say.

  1. Plug: uBlock Origin, uMatrix, and Vanilla. []
  2. One assumes that, contra Twitter hot takes, similar safeguards will apply to Face ID. []
2018-07-27T14:25:26+10:0018th September, 2017|Tags: advertising, apple, privacy, tech, xp|

Apple’s war.

Taking on crappy online ads, Apple-style.

This isn’t altruism, of course: Apple’s biggest rivals, i.e. Google, have almost all of their revenue from adtech, while Apple has more-or-less none. Coupled with the fact that users loathe ads, it means they’re a safe target for Apple to hit at.

I still use Chrome on iOS, because I like the syncing with the desktop and I like my desktop Chrome ad-ins. But mobile-based Chrome is getting worse (cough not supporting iOS’s adblockers cough), while Safari is getting better. As websites get more bloated with ad- and spyware, I’m already using Safari more and more for the simple fact that pages in Chrome become unusable. Google’s attempts to “fix” this–things like AMP and its own new “adblocking”–are more about gaining market share for Google than they are making things better for users.

I suspect it’s only a matter of time before I end up making the browser switch permanently…

2017-06-26T08:32:11+10:005th August, 2017|Tags: advertising, apple, google, tech|

Ubiquitous surveillance.

Web ads are dramatically different from prior ad media, though — rather than just being printed on paper or inserted into a broadcast, web ads are software. They run arbitrary code on your computer, which can (and usually does) collect and send data about you and your behavior back to the advertisers and publishers. And there’s so much consolidation amongst ad networks and analytics providers that they can easily track your behavior across multiple sites, building a creepily accurate and deep profile of your personal information and private business.

All of that tracking and data collection is done without your knowledge, and — critically — without your consent. Because of how the web and web browsers work, the involuntary data collection starts if you simply follow a link. There’s no opportunity for disclosure, negotiation, or reconsideration. By following any link, you unwittingly opt into whatever the target site, and any number of embedded scripts from other sites and tracking networks, wants to collect, track, analyze, and sell about you.

Marco Arment on web ads.

I’ve mentioned this before and it bears repeating: the only reason this model of surveillance-as-advertising works is because the US has fucked-up data privacy laws.

Firstly, in the US, companies own user data. In most other developed nations, the individual retains ownership of data about themselves, even when those data are held by a third party (e.g. a website).

And secondly, in the US, companies that “own” user data may use that user data however they see fit (with a few very small exceptions), including selling it to third parties. Again, in most other places, companies can only use data for the express purpose for which they were collected, unless they obtain explicit consent from the individuals whom the data describes.

To say that the internet would be a very different place if the US had proper data privacy laws (i.e. ones that hadn’t been fucked up by corporate lobbying) is… something of an understatement.

2017-07-17T11:43:14+10:0016th December, 2016|Tags: advertising, privacy, tech|

Newsglut (also, HTTPS still sucks).

Back in the early days of the web, the Guardian ran a brilliant ad which asked “Ever wondered how every day there’s just enough news to fit in the newspaper?” It was advertising the Guardian website, and the fact there was more there than you’d find in the paper.

Now? There are a gazillion websites – but tons of them are simple copies, monetised by adverts from Google or whoever, which leach from the originating sites by copying their content. We’ve now established the limits of how much news is generated each day: it’s more than fits in newspapers, but less than fits on all the websites currently dedicated to “news”.

Charles Arthur on volume.

The whole post, which is kind of old now (I’m still going through my backlog of links… from 2015), is mainly talking about tracking and advertising online.

Incidentally, as an aside, one of the things I almost never see mentioned in any lament on the rise and rise of online surveillance is the contribution from the parallel rise of HTTPS.

Yeah, you heard me.

Here’s the thing. Back in Ye Oldene Dayes of the internet, you didn’t need to follow everyone around the internet to find out where they were coming from to reach your site. You knew, because whenever they hit up one of your pages1 their browser used to send along a little thing saying where they visited from, a.k.a. the referrer.

The thing about HTTPS, is that one of the “privacy”2 features it offers is that it does not send the referrer when you move between pages. If you’ve run any kind of traditional tracking software on your website, e.g. Mint or Piwiki or Jetpack, and have done so for a while, you’ll notice that they get less and less useful data every year. Referrers from blogs? Gone. Social media? Forget about it. Even most URL shorteners work by obfuscating the true source, meaning you might know someone came to your site from Twitter (t.co), but to find the actual originating Tweet you’re going to need to do a manual search or scrape and API.

See, back in Ye Oldene Dayes, individual webmasters used to be able to assemble reasonably good profiles of their website’s users; who was linking them, who were the repeat visitors, and so on. It went both ways, too; bloggers and website owners got to know each other and built their communities around the referrer log. Nowadays, if you want that information? You’re going to have to buy it from one of the Internet Surveillance Megacorps (and it’ll cost you). In other words, the web has moved from “small town/nosy neighbor surveillance” to the capitalist Big Brother variety. Various social media sites will pretend to give some of this community back to their users–think things like Tumblr reblogs–with the key emphasis being on keeping the community on their platform (and, thus, marketable to their advertisers).

Ranting about things like this is one of the hallmarks that makes me old, I know.

  1. Actually, any resource. So if they embedded one of your images on someone else’s site? You could tell. Which is a related-but-different-story altogether… []
  2. Don’t get me started… []
2017-07-17T11:40:49+10:0016th November, 2016|Tags: advertising, https, internet, newsphobia, privacy|

The Internet of Things.

Surveillance is the business model of the Internet, and the more these companies know about the intimate details of your life, the more they can profit from it. Already there are dozens of companies that secretly spy on you as you browse the Internet, connecting your behavior on different sites and using that information to target advertisements. You know it when you search for something like a Hawaiian vacation, and ads for similar vacations follow you around the Internet for weeks. Companies like Google and Facebook make an enormous profit connecting the things you write about and are interested in with companies trying to sell you things.

Cross-device tracking is the latest obsession for Internet marketers. You probably use multiple Internet devices: your computer, your smartphone, your tablet, maybe your Internet-enabled television — ­and, increasingly, “Internet of Things” devices like smart thermostats and appliances. All of these devices are spying on you, but the different spies are largely unaware of each other. Start-up companies like SilverPush, 4Info, Drawbridge, Flurry, and Cross Screen Consultants, as well as the big players like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, are all experimenting with different technologies to “fix” this problem.

Retailers want this information very much. They want to know whether their television advertising causes people to search for their products on the Internet. They want to correlate people’s web searching on their smartphones with their buying behavior on their computers. They want to track people’s locations using the surveillance capabilities of their smartphones, and use that information to send geographically targeted ads to their computers. They want the surveillance data from smart appliances correlated with everything else.

This is where the Internet of Things makes the problem worse. As computers get embedded into more of the objects we live with and use, and permeate more aspects of our lives, more companies want to use them to spy on us without our knowledge or consent.

Bruce Schneier on gossip tech.

Remember: if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Also, sometimes, even if you’re paying for the product, you’re still the product.

Big Brother is here and he wants to sell you something.

2016-03-03T08:52:08+11:0021st March, 2016|Tags: advertising, privacy|

Adphobia.

I don’t have any patience for those who claim “it’s only a movie!” or “it’s just fiction!” Frankly, if humans were immune to obviously-fictionalized portrayals affecting our behavior, the entirety of advertising simply Would. Not. Exist. So before you try that line of argument, please remember that an industry is making $166 billion annually in the US alone off the fact that you’re wrong.

Satiricalifragilistic on selling the narrative.

2018-06-26T13:22:36+10:0015th March, 2016|Tags: advertising, culture|