- To save the news, ban surveillance ads: No publisher will ever beat ad-tech at spying, but no tech company will ever understand a publisher's content better than they do.
- Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
- This day in history: 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018, 2022
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To save the news, ban surveillance ads (permalink)
Big Tech steals from the news, but what it steals isn't content – it steals money. That matters, because if we create pseudo-copyrights over the facts of the news, or headlines, or snippets to help news companies bargain with tech companies, we make the news partners with the tech companies, rather than watchdogs.
How does tech steal money from the news? Lots of ways! One important one: tech steals ad revenue. 51% of every ad dollar gets gobbled up by tech companies – primarily the cozy, collusive ad-tech duopoly of Google/Facebook (AKA Googbook). If we can shatter the market power of the concentrated ad-tech industry, news companies would go back to getting 80-90% of the ad revenue their reporting generated, which would pay for more reporting.
There's lots to like about fixing ads. For one thing, a fair ad marketplace would benefit all news reporting, not just the largest news companies – which are dominated by private equity-backed chains and right-wing billionaires who have repeatedly shown that any additional revenues will go to pay shareholders, not more reporters. Fair ads would also provide an income for reporters who strike out on their own, covering local politics or specific beats, without making themselves sharecroppers for Big Media.
One way to fix ads would be to break up the ad-tech "stacks." Googbook both operate impossibly conflicted ad-placement businesses in which they bargain with themselves on behalf of both advertisers and publishers, with the winners always being the tech companies. The AMERICA Act from Senator Mike Lee would force ad giants to divest themselves of business units that create conflicts of interest. It's popular, bipartisan legislation – and I do mean bipartisan; its backers include Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz! I wrote about the AMERICA Act and the role it will play in saving news from tech for EFF's Deeplinks Blog last week:
This week, I've got a followup on Deeplinks about another important way to unrig the ad market: banning surveillance ads:
Even if we break up the ad-tech stacks, ads will still be bad for the news – and for the public. That's because the dominant form of digital ads is "behavioral advertising" – the ad-tech sector's polite euphemism for ads based on spying. You know these ads: you search for shoes and then every website you land on is plastered in shoe ads.
Surveillance ads require a massive, multi-billion-dollar surveillance dragnet, one that tracks you as you physically move through the world, and digitally, as you move through the web. Your apps, your phone and your browser are constantly gathering data on your activities to feed the ad-tech industry.
This data is incredibly dangerous. There's so much of it, and it's so loosely regulated, that every spy, cop, griefer, stalker, harasser, and identity thief can get it for pennies and use it however they see fit. The ad-tech industry poses a risk to protesters, to people seeking reproductive care, to union organizers, and to vulnerable people targeted by scammers.
Ad-tech maintains the laughable pretense that all this spying is consensual, because you clicked "I agree" on some garbage-novella of impenetrable legalese that no one – not even the ad-tech companies' lawyers – has ever read from start to finish. But when people are given a real choice to opt out of digital spying, they do. Apple gave Ios users a one-click opt-out of in-app tracking and 96% of users clicked it (the other 4% must have been confused – or on Facebook's payroll). The decision cost Facebook $10b in the first year. You love to see it:
But here's the real punchline: Apple blocked Facebook from spying on its customers, but Apple kept spying on them, just as invasively as Facebook had, in order to target them with Apple's own ads:
The thing that stops companies from spying on us isn't the strength of their character, it's the discipline imposed by regulation and competition – the fear that they'll get fined more than they make from spying, and the fear that they'll lose so much business from spying that they'll end up in the red.
Which is why we need a legal ban on ads, not mere platitudes on billboards advertising companies' "respect" for our privacy. The US is way overdue for a federal privacy law with a private right of action, which would let you and me sue the companies who violated it, even if no public prosecutor was willing to go to bat for us:
A privacy law that required companies to get your affirmative, enthusiastic, ongoing, specific, informed consent to gather and process your personal data would end surveillance ads forever. Despite the self-serving nonsense the ad-tech industry serves up about people "liking relevant ads," no one wants to be spied on. 96% of Ios users don't lie.
A ban on surveillance ads wouldn't just serve the public, it would also save the news. The alternative to surveillance ads is contextual ads: ads based on what a reader is reading, rather than what that reader was doing. Context-based ad marketplaces ask, "What am I bid for this Pixel 6 user in Boise who is reading about banana farming?" instead of "What am I bid for this 22 year old man who recently searched for information about suicidal ideation and bankruptcy protection?"
Contextual ads perform a little worse than surveillance ads – by about 5%:
So presumably advertisers won't pay as much for contextual ads as they do for behavioral targeting. But that doesn't mean that the news will lose money. Because contextual ads favor publishers over ad-tech platforms – no publisher will ever know as much about internet users as spying ad-tech giants do, but no tech company will ever know as much about a publisher's content as the publisher does.
Behavioral ad marketplaces have high barriers to entry, requiring troves of surveillance data on billions of internet users. They are naturally anticompetitive and able to command a much higher share of each ad dollar than a contextual ad service (which would have much more competiition) could.
On top of that: if behavioral advertising was limited to people who truly consented to it, 96% of users would never see an ad!
So contextual ads will show up for more users, and more of the money they generate will land in news publishers' pockets. If context ads fetch less money per ad, the losses will be felt by ad-tech companies, not publishers.
Finally: publishers who join the fight against surveillance ads won't be alone – they'll be joining with a massive, popular movement against commercial surveillance. The news business is – and always has been – a niche subject, of burning interest to publishers, reporters, and a small minority of news junkies. The news on its own is a small fry in policy debates. But when it comes to killing surveillance ads, the news has a class alliance with the mass movement for privacy, and together, they're a force to reckon with.
My article on killing surveillance ads is part three of an ongoing, five-part series for EFF on how we can save the news from tech. The introduction, which sets out the whole series, is here:
The final two parts will come out over the next two weeks, and then we're going to publish the whole thing as a PDF that's suitable for sharing. Watch this space!
Hey look at this (permalink)
- What neo-Luddites get right — and wrong — about Big Tech https://www.ft.com/content/f312c9ff-633d-480e-8887-4b5ad3f0ae5e (h/t Naked Capitalism)
'Catastrophe Exposure' Pushes State Farm to Stop Selling Insurance in California https://gizmodo.com/climate-change-state-farm-insurance-halts-california-1850487503
Federal Judge Makes History in Holding That Border Searches of Cell Phones Require a Warrant https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2023/05/federal-judge-makes-history-holding-border-searches-cell-phones-require-warrant
This day in history (permalink)
#20yrsago Everquest social networks need the Mafia https://web.archive.org/web/20030301000000*/http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au/dac/papers/Jakobsson.pdf
#20yrsago Streisand suing environmentalists over California Coastline project https://www.californiacoastline.org/streisand/lawsuit.html
#15yrsago English nurseries fingerprinting parents “for security” https://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/kent/7430709.stm
#15yrsago Happy First Sale day! https://everybodyslibraries.com/2008/06/01/100-years-of-the-first-sale-doctrine/
#10yrsago Coloring the Haunted Mansion https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2013/06/stroll-around-grounds-until-you-feel-at.html
#10yrsago What is the social media style of protest? https://technosociology.org/?p=1255
#10yrsago Turkish Spring: Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul https://occupygezipics.tumblr.com/post/51867772932/people-chanting-off-with-the-government-as-they
#10yrsago Mouldering city built of bread is a metaphor for Earth without humans https://web.archive.org/web/20130728143258/http://www.adesignaward.com/design.php?ID=28463
#5yrsago Leaks show that Google expected its modest AI-for-drones business to expand exponentially https://theintercept.com/2018/05/31/google-leaked-emails-drone-ai-pentagon-lucrative/
#5yrsago Vermont offers remote workers a $10,000 subsidy to relocate to the state https://qz.com/work/1289727/vermont-will-pay-you-10000-to-move-there-and-work-remotely
#5yrsago Oregon employers warn that the state has run out of workers who can pass a drug test https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/05/30/oregon-is-running-out-of-workers-who-can-pass-a-drug-test/
#5yrsago Customs stole a US citizen’s life savings when he boarded a domestic flight, now he’s suing to get it back https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/05/31/a-64-year-old-put-his-life-savings-in-his-carry-on-u-s-customs-took-it-without-charging-him-with-a-crime/
#5yrsago The most interesting thing about the “Thanksgiving Effect” study is what it tells us about the limits of data anonymization https://www.wired.com/story/the-thanksgiving-effect-and-the-power-of-phone-data/
#5yrsago Uganda’s unenforceable social media tax is augmented by a biometric requirement for SIM card purchases https://globalvoices.org/2018/06/01/netizen-report-ugandas-whatsapp-tax-and-sim-card-regulations-will-make-it-harder-to-stay-connected/
#5yrsago Vanuatu will use drones to deliver vaccines across its remote chain of tiny islands https://spectrum.ieee.org/drone-delivery-becomes-a-reality-in-remote-pacific-islands
#5yrsago Spain’s austerity-loving, authoritarian Prime Minister loses no-confidence vote and is replaced by a socialist https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/spain-government-collapse-no-confidence-vote-mariano-rajoy-a8378586.html
#5yrsago At ex-CIA panelist’s insistence, Oxford Union reneges on promise to upload video of whistleblowing debate https://www.dailypublic.com/articles/05312018/irony-oxford-union-wont-release-video-whistleblowing-panel
#1yrago Inflation is caused by too little capacity: Not too much money https://pluralistic.net/2022/06/01/factories-to-condos-pipeline/#stuff-not-money
Today's top sources:
- A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW
The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW
Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION
Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION
Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION
Latest podcast: The Swivel-Eyed Loons Have a Point https://craphound.com/news/2023/05/14/the-swivel-eyed-loons-have-a-point/
- Red Team Blues event with Ian Forrester (Manchester), May 31
UCL Peter Kirstein Lecture, Jun 1 (London):
Cymera Festival, Jun 3 (Edinburgh)
Red Team Blues with Martha Lane Fox at the British Library, Jun 5 (London):
Rightscon, "Interoperability: from buzzword to a map of solutions," Jun 6 (Costa Rica):
Re:publica keynote, Jun 7 (Berlin)
Otherland event for Red Team Blues, Jun 8 (Berlin)
- How To Save News Media From Our Tech Overlords (Canadaland)
Most AI is not artificial or intelligent (with James Bridle)
- "Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com
"Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
- The Internet Con: A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech, Verso, September 2023
The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023
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