Tag: tracking (page 1 of 4)

The Fediverse model can help fix the internet

This article in the MIT Technology Review largely comes to the same conclusions as my comment in another Thought Shrapnel post today. If the web is broken because of tracking, and that tracking comes from advertising funding the web, then we need a better way of funding the web.

Big Tech wants that to be user subscriptions. But there’s a federated network of instances out there called the Fediverse which will, inevitably, be around longer than any particular social network. So you might as well get onboard now.

The existential problem is that both the best and worst parts of the internet exist for the same set of reasons, were developed with many of the same resources, and often grew in conjunction with each other. So where did the sickness come from? How did the internet get so … nasty? To untangle this, we have to go back to the early days of online discourse.


In 1999, the ad company DoubleClick was planning to combine personal data with tracking cookies to follow people around the web so it could target its ads more effectively. This changed what people thought was possible. It turned the cookie, originally a neutral technology for storing Web data locally on users’ computers, into something used for tracking individuals across the internet for the purpose of monetizing them.


Our modern internet is built on highly targeted advertising using our personal data. That is what makes it free. The social platforms, most digital publishers, Google—all run on ad revenue. For the social platforms and Google, their business model is to deliver highly sophisticated targeted ads. (And business is good: in addition to Google’s billions, Meta took in $116 billion in revenue for 2022. Nearly half the people living on planet Earth are monthly active users of a Meta-owned product.) Meanwhile, the sheer extent of the personal data we happily hand over to them in exchange for using their services for free would make people from the year 2000 drop their flip phones in shock.


When we think of what’s most obviously broken about the internet—harassment and abuse; its role in the rise of political extremism, polarization, and the spread of misinformation; the harmful effects of Instagram on the mental health of teenage girls—the connection to advertising may not seem immediate. And in fact, advertising can sometimes have a mitigating effect: Coca-Cola doesn’t want to run ads next to Nazis, so platforms develop mechanisms to keep them away.

But online advertising demands attention above all else, and it has ultimately enabled and nurtured all the worst of the worst kinds of stuff. Social platforms were incentivized to grow their user base and attract as many eyeballs as possible for as long as possible to serve ever more ads. Or, more accurately, to serve ever more you to advertisers. To accomplish this, the platforms have designed algorithms to keep us scrolling and clicking, the result of which has played into some of humanity’s worst inclinations.

Source: How to fix the internet | MIT Technology Review

Paying to avoid ads is paying to avoid tracking

This article is the standard way of reporting Meta’s announcement that, to comply with a new EU ruling, they will allow users to pay not to be shown adverts. It’s likely that only privacy-minded and better-off people are likely to do so, given the size of the charge.

What isn’t mentioned in this type of article, but which TechCrunch helpfully notes, is that the issue is really about tracking. By introducing a charge, Meta hopes that they can gain legitimate consent for users to be tracked so as to avoid a monthly fee.

X, formerly Twitter, is also trialling a monthly subscription. Of course, if you’re going to pay for your social media, why not set up your own Fediverse instance, or donate to a friendly admin who runs it for you. I do the latter with social.coop.

Icon that looks like the Meta logo

Meta is responding to “evolving European regulations” by introducing a premium subscription option for Facebook and Instagram from Nov. 1.

Anyone over the age of 18 who resides in the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland will be able to pay a monthly subscription in order to stop seeing ads. Meta states that “while people are subscribed, their information will not be used for ads.”


Subscribing via the web costs around $10.50 per month, but subscribing on an Android or iOS device pushes the cost up to almost $14 per month. The difference in price is down to the commission Apple and Google charge for in-app payments.

The monthly charge covers all linked accounts in a user’s Accounts Center. However, that only applies until March 1 next year. After that, an extra $6 per month will be payable for each additional account listed in a user’s Accounts Center. That extra charge increases to $8.50 per month on Android and iOS.

Source: Meta Introduces Ad-Free Subscription for Facebook, Instagram | PC Magazine

Image: Unsplash

The supermarket is a panopticon

My son’s now old enough to get ‘loyalty cards’ for supermarkets, coffee shops, and places to eat. He thinks this is great: free drinks! money off vouchers! What’s not to like? On a recent car journey, I explained why the only loyalty card I use is the one for the Co-op, and introduced him to the murky world of data brokers.

In this article, Ian Bogost writes in The Atlantic about the extensive data collection by retailers to personalise marketing. This not only predicts but also influences consumer behaviour, raising ethical concerns about the erosion of privacy and democratic ideals. Bogost argues that this data-driven approach shifts the power balance, allowing companies to manipulate consumer preferences.

In marketing, segmentation refers to the process of dividing customers into different groups, in order to make appeals to them based on shared characteristics. Though always somewhat artificial, segments used to correspond with real categories or identities—soccer moms, say, or gamers. Over decades, these segments have become ever smaller and more precise, and now retailers have enough data to create a segment just for you. And not even just for you, but for you right now: They customize marketing messages to unique individuals at distinct moments in time.

You might be thinking, Who cares? If stores can offer the best deals on the most relevant products to me, then let them do it. But you don’t even know which products are relevant anymore. Customizing offerings and prices to ever-smaller segments of customers works; it causes people to alter their shopping behavior to the benefit of the stores and their data-greedy machines. It gives retailers the ability, in other words, to use your private information to separate you from your money. The reason to worry about the erosion of retail privacy isn’t only because stores might discover or reveal your secrets based on the data they collect about you. It’s that they can use that data to influence purchasing so effectively that they’re rewiring your desires.


Ordinary people may not realize just how much offline information is collected and aggregated by the shopping industry rather than the tech industry. In fact, the two work together to erode our privacy effectively, discreetly, and thoroughly. Data gleaned from brick-and-mortar retailers get combined with data gleaned from online retailers to build ever-more detailed consumer profiles, with the intention of selling more things, online and in person—and to sell ads to sell those things, a process in which those data meet up with all the other information big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook have on you.“Retailing,” Joe Turow told me, “is the place where a lot of tech gets used and monetized.” The tech industry is largely the ad-tech industry. That makes a lot of data retail data. “There are a lot of companies doing horrendous things with your data, and people use them all the time, because they’re not on the public radar.” The supermarket, in other words, is a panopticon just the same as the social network.

Source: You Should Worry About the Data Retailers Collect About You | The Atlantic