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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|

GG US privacy laws.

So companies can now follow you around the internet with their ads even easier thanks to Google’s Customer Match service. Awesome.

For the record, this is why I don’t give companies my Google account email address when they ask me for addresses; I have a custom domain with a catch-all email (i.e. everything sent to literally any @domain.name address goes into the same mailbox) and then use a new address for each website I sign up to (e.g. amazon@domain.name, hulu@domain.name, itunes@domain.name, and so on). That all gets forwarded into my GMail account, but the addresses aren’t actually associated with that account.

For bonus points, it also lets me know who leaks my passwords and who sells me address to spammers. Awesome.

It’s not foolproof privacy–data correlation would be still possible if anyone knew which domain(s) I use for this–but it knocks out some of the low-hanging fruit like Match.

Oh, and incidentally? The title is because Match would be illegal in most major non-US jurisdictions; countries with sane privacy laws don’t allow the non-consensual sharing of PII (which includes email addresses) with third parties. Just, yanno. So you’re aware.

2020-05-12T08:30:52+10:0011th February, 2016|Tags: advertising, google, internet, privacy|

Why the web sucks, pt. 294.

[A]dvertisers don’t want to be ignored, and they are drunk on our data, which is what Google and other large networks are really selling. The ads are almost a by-product; what companies really want to know is what antiperspirant a woman of 25–34 is most likely to purchase after watching House of Cards.

Jeffrey Zeldman on the ugly web.

Zeldman’s entire article is about the we’ve-always-been-at-war-with-east-Amazon style vendor parochialism, coupled with a good dose of adblock apocalypse.

2016-02-04T08:46:26+11:005th February, 2016|Tags: advertising, internet, tech|

Online shouting.

Advertising is inherently hostile and self-sabotaging, in that it competes for your attention with the actual thing you want to see. There’s a huge mental context-switch involved in noticing, comprehending, considering, and then either dismissing or acting upon an ad. You’re being pulled from the material you wanted to read or view, not just visually but cognitively too. The closest analogue is someone shouting at you to distract you from what you’re doing.

Matt Gemmell makes an analogy.

This is, I think, why the “in-Dash” advertising used by places like Twitter and Tumblr makes people so much more passionately mad than banner ads. A banner ad is contextually obvious and thus easily ignored. But scrolling past a “promoted post” on Tumblr throws people for a loop; they’re suddenly left wondering why their friends are reblogging shitty gifs about terrible iPhone games or cell phone plans in between the porn of Captain America getting reamed by the Winter Soldier. A Dash is a curated space–it’s opt-in–and finding someone has invaded it with unwanted content is an emotionally jarring experience.

Ironically, this inability to ignore is exactly why advertisers buy promoted posts in the first place.

2017-08-23T09:56:14+10:008th December, 2015|Tags: advertising, social media|

Fake traffic.

A look into the fake website traffic industry. Much more interesting than it sounds, particularly because it’s one of those things everyone1 does, but never talks about.

But if you’ve ever wondered why the internet is so fucking broken? Well. Here’s the 101 right here, friend.

  1. Well. “Everyone”. Not everyone everyone. []
2018-11-26T08:07:17+11:004th December, 2015|Tags: advertising, internet|
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