So what happens when these tools for maximizing clicks and engagement creep into the political sphere?
This is a delicate question! If you concede that they work just as well for politics as for commerce, you’re inviting government oversight. If you claim they don’t work well at all, you’re telling advertisers they’re wasting their money.
Facebook and Google have tied themselves into pretzels over this.
Digital Assistants, Facebook Quizzes, And Fake News! You Won’t Believe What Happens Next | Laura Kalbag
A great presentation from Laura on how tracking scripts are killing the web. We can point our fingers at advertising companies to blame for this, but it’s still developers like us who put those scripts onto websites.
We need to ask ourselves these questions about what we build. Because we are the gatekeepers of what we create. We don’t have to add tracking to everything, it’s already gotten out of our control.
Steps you can take to secure your phone and computer. This is especially useful in countries where ubiquitous surveillance is not only legal, but mandated by law (such as China, Australia, and the UK).
To be clear, every company currently does some form of this tracking of users. There would simply be no other way to measure operations. But Facebook has quite clearly been tiptoeing outside the bounds of what is ethically acceptable data business practices for a while.
A thorough round-up of Facebook’s current data collection practices and what you can do about it.
We don’t take our other valuables with us when we travel—we leave the important stuff at home, or in a safe place. But Facebook and Google don’t give us similar control over our valuable data. With these online services, it’s all or nothing.
We need a ‘trip mode’ for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers.
Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.
You, the software engineers and leaders of technology companies, face an enormous responsibility. You know better than anyone how best to protect the millions who have entrusted you with their data, and your knowledge gives you real power as civic actors. If you want to transform the world for the better, here is your moment. Inquire about how a platform will be used. Encrypt as much as you can. Oppose the type of data analysis that predicts people’s orientation, religion, and political preferences if they did not willingly offer that information.
The more I reflect on the current practices of the online advertising industry, the more I think that ad-blocking is a moral imperative.
People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence.
Great stuff as usual from Maciej, ending with a rallying cry for us to pay attention to history:
This is not the first time an enthusiastic group of nerds has decided to treat the rest of the world as a science experiment. Earlier attempts to create a rationalist Utopia failed for interesting reasons, and since we bought those lessons at a great price, it would be a shame not to learn them.
There is also prior art in attempts at achieving immortality, limitless wealth, and Galactic domination. We even know what happens if you try to keep dossiers on an entire country.
If we’re going to try all these things again, let’s at least learn from our past, so we can fail in interesting new ways, instead of failing in the same exasperating ways as last time.
Marco is spot on here. The New York Times article he’s responding to is filled with a weird Stockholm syndrome—the one bit of the web that’s still free of invasive tracking and surveillance is where they wish a centralised power (like Apple) would come in and lock down. Madness!
Monika’s end-of-year piece is rather excellent:
The map exposes the network of fibre optic internet cables that lie deep below the sea giving an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them.
A great piece of near-future sci-fi from James.
I enforce from orbit, making sure all the mainframes that used to track and store every detail of our lives are turned off, and stay off. And as the sun comes up over Gloucestershire this morning, there they are, resplendent in the mist-piercing light of RITTER’s multispectral sensors: terabytes of storage laid out around the scalped doughnut of the former GCHQ building. Enough quantum storage to hold decades of the world’s pillow talk. Drums of redundant ethernet cable stacked stories-high. Everything dismantled, disconnected, unshielded. Everything damp with morning dew.
This is advertising we’re talking about, the industry founded on the hallucination that people secretly appreciate being tracked, analysed and told what to buy. Advertisers, and the technology companies that cater to them, are responding to ad blocking the only way they know how: doubling down on their fantasy that viewers will suddenly love advertising just as soon as ads are so all-knowing that they anticipate one’s every need and desire.
It’s a PDF and it’s an academic paper, but this rousing call to arms is a remarkably clear and engrossing read.
With few exceptions, the atomic scientists who worked on disarmament were not the same individuals as those who built the bomb. Their colleagues—fellow physicists—did that. Cryptographers didn’t turn the Internet into an instrument of total surveillance, but our colleagues—fellow computer scientists and engineers—did that.
It concludes with a series of design principles for the cryptographic community:
- Attend to problems’ social value. Do anti-surveillance research.
- Be introspective about why you are working on the problems you are.
- Apply practice-oriented provable security to anti-surveillance problems.
- Think twice, and then again, about accepting military funding.
- Regard ordinary people as those whose needs you ultimately aim to satisfy.
- Be open to diverse models. Regard all models as suspect and dialectical.
- Get a systems-level view. Attend to that which surrounds our field.
- Learn some privacy tools. Use them. Improve them.
- Stop with the cutesy pictures. Take adversaries seriously.
- Design and build a broadly useful cryptographic commons.
- Choose language well. Communication is integral to having an impact.
We need to erect a much expanded commons on the Internet. We need to realize popular services in a secure, distributed, and decentralized way, powered by free software and free/open hardware. We need to build systems beyond the reach of super-sized companies and spy agencies. Such services must be based on strong cryptography. Emphasizing that prerequisite, we need to expand our cryptographic commons.
The prognosis for publishers is grim. Repent! Find a way out of the adtech racket before it collapses around you. Ditch your tracking, show dumb ads that you sell directly (not through a thicket of intermediaries), and beg your readers for mercy. Respect their privacy, bandwidth, and intelligence, flatter their vanity, and maybe they’ll subscribe to something.
This profile of GCHQ’s “Karma Police” programme is as maddening as it is insightful: the sheer unashamed brazenness of these bastards deserves our collective anger …not the collective apathy which has been the UK’s response so far.
There is one glimmer of hope in this litany of affronts to decency:
In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities.
I really like this comparison between Waldsterben and the current situation with the web after years of pervasive tracking.
I refuse to believe that this cramped, stifling, stalkerish vision of the commercial Internet is the best we can do.
Imagine a location service that sold itself on the fact that your personal information was securely contained in its environs, used by you and you alone. You could have devices on your person that used their sensors to know things about you – when you last ate, what your dining preferences are, what your blood-sugar is, and so on, but these devices would have no truck with the cloud, and they would not deliver that information to anyone else for analysis.