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.
Any sufficiently advanced hacking is indistinguishable from a haunting. In the same way that many Internet of Things objects are referred to as ‘enchanting’ or ‘magical,’ with an intervention, they can very quickly become haunted.
James takes a tour through the English countryside, while venturing into areas of the electromagnetic spectrum that may as well be labelled “Private Property. No Trespassing. Keep Out.”
Slides and transcript from Anab’s terrific dConstruct talk.
Cole Peters calls upon designers and developers to realise the power they have to shape the modern world and act accordingly.
It is in those of us who work in tech and on the web that digital privacy may find its greatest chance for survival. As labourers in one of the most pivotal industries of our times, we possess the knowledge and skills required to create tools and ecosystems that defend our privacy and liberties.
I don’t disagree, but I think it’s also important to recognise how much power is in the hands of non-designers and non-developers: journalists, politicians, voters …everyone has a choice to make.
Watch the skies: James Bridle’s balloon will be hovering above London distributing wifi.
The transcript of Anab Jain’s talk from the FutureEverything Festival.
The transcript of Maciej’s talk from Beyond Tellerrand on how the web has become more and more centralised:
The degree of centralization is remarkable. Consider that Google now makes hardware, operating systems, and a browser.
It’s not just possible, but fairly common for someone to visit a Google website from a Google device, using Google DNS servers and a Google browser on the way.
This is a level of of end-to-end control that would have caused us to riot in the streets if Microsoft had attempted it in 1999. But times have changed.
The IETF have decided that network surveillance is damage to be routed around.
A short story set in a science-fictional future that just happens to be our present.
This is a wonderful piece by Maciej—a magnificent historical narrative that leads to a thunderous rant. Superb!
Fast Company features Aral’s tantalising Indie Phone project that he’s been working on at Clearleft Towers.
Good to see Oskar the dog getting the recognition he deserves.
On the top floor of a commercial building in the old maritime city of Brighton, England, Balkan has been quietly hacking away at Indie Phone for the last several months with the rest of his team—Victor Johansson, an industrial designer, Laura Kalbag, a professional web designer (and Balkan’s partner), and her Husky, Oskar.
A great analysis of how centralised hubs are the easiest attack vector for bad actors like the NSA and GCHQ:
How did we get such industry concentration? Why is a network famously based on distributed processing, routing, and peer connections characterized now by a few choke points that the NSA can skim at its leisure?
Don’t ever worry about not sharing again.
We shouldn’t be protecting ourselves. We should be protecting each other.
I, for one, welcome our new recycling bin panopticon overlords.
You might want to put your phone’s MAC address into this form.
A good ol’ fashioned rant.
Ben is rightly worried by the blasé attitude in the tech world to the PRISM revelations. Perhaps that attitude stems from a culture of “log everything by default”?
I think there’s a deep rooted trait within this industry that sedates the outrage. That is the normality, complicity, and dependency on ‘surveillance’ in the software we make.
Having just seen Anna Debenham’s superb but scary presentation at Update about the shocking state of UK schools, this is a timely piece of journalism.
Click on the "What's the helicopter doing over my house?" link to get the latest eye-in-the-sky reports. The latest is: "Person trampled by cows" on the South Downs.
A truly frightening description of what can happen to any person in Britain today.