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Three Scenarios for Rolling Back Surveillance Capitalism

Johannes Ernst

How Many Different Ways Is This Wrong?

A friend of mine sent this link to me. I was incensed. (I think he knew I would be). In turn, I sent this link into an Internet Identity community I belong to and asked : “How many different ways is this wrong?”

Amazon To Pay Consumers For Their Shopping Data

Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

People First Podcast Guest Tim Walters was quick to reply (the link takes you to the podcast – the show has not yet gone live).

The great and sadly late European Data Protection Supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, said it all in 2014:

“There might well be a market for personal data, just like there is, tragically, a market for live human organs, but that does not mean that we can or should give that market the blessing of legislation. One cannot monetise and subject a fundamental right to a simple commercial transaction, even if it is the individual concerned by the data who is a party to the transaction.”

If I thought it was worth $10 a month, I’d go to a shopping district and gather discarded receipts to scan for Amazon. After all, “That data will be used anonymously, the company says.” But . . . if it is genuinely used anonymously, why doesn’t Amazon just collect and study discarded receipts themselves? They could certainly find a way to do it at far more scale — not to mention, actually anonymously — than a cumbersome mailed-pictures-of-paper-receipts-for-Amazon-credit scheme. (S&H Green Stamps, anyone?)

The company says it deletes any sensitive information such as prescriptions from drug store receipts and allows panellists to delete their own information whenever they want.” Oh, not so anonymous after all.

Tim Walters / Giovanni Buttarelli

What do you think?


It’s a couple of months old now – but sharing for posterity.

Monthly Review – Surveillance Capitalism

Commerce Data Learning Value Work

What’s Next

Day and Night – M.C. Escher, 1938
“A masterful demonstration of symmetrical opposites.”
Data Learning Newsletter Technology

Extra! Extra!

Extra! Extra!
Read All About It.

Data Is Being Used To Screw Us

This popped into a thread that I am part of …

Yeshimabeit Milner

A thread that caused ‘Friend of People First’ – Adrian Gropper to write;

A talk that argues that most of the big data is being used to screw us and mentions data trusts as a possible solution. Data trusts are an immature concept but worth considering because it’s one approach to decentralizing governance. Until we figure out data governance principles that are transparent and contextual to specific communities we should limit data aggregation by default and focus on personal agents and other fiduciaries.

Adrian Gropper

It is interesting because on that very same day I received these words from another ‘Friend of People First’ and occasional colleague Daniel Szuc after he received my newsletter declaring Data is Energy.

Energy is energy.
Climate is a result of energy misused.
Environment is the outcome.
What are the impacts on our environment today, inside people and in the outside environment people live in?
What contributes to the health or toxicity of the environment?
Data, understood deeply, should be used to contribute to the healthy environment … yet … how is it being used today?

Daniel Szuc and Josephine Wong

The answer, of course, is exactly what Adrian expressed above.

It is being used to screw us.

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Data Is Energy!

Postscript : Ad Tracking

From time to time, my newsletter gets a little TOO long and then I cut and move some of the more self-contained chunks to here, so that people can read the newsletter and if interested can jump to here for more detail. This is one of those chunks.

Are we winning? Well a whole lot more than we might have been pre-internet. 

Ad blockers are used by some 25% of internet users in 2019. In real terms, this means that 25% of internet advertising that uses trackers will not reach their intended audience. (It’s quite a bit more complicated than that, but the point is that somehow the word got out that people were being tracked and it was those pesky Ads doing all the tracking – enter Adblocking and so an industry was born and an ‘arms race’ ensued.)

The peak of the internet searching for the term ‘Ad blocker’ was September 2015. 

Me – I call it ‘tracker blocking’. There are sites that allow advertising and do not track. Ad blockers don’t work there – because there is no tracking to be blocked.

But there is no escape that at one point people were increasingly aware of ad blocking – what it was doing and most importantly – what it was doing to them. They got interested. And then it all fell away.

That’s the mistake – we need to keep piling on. Keep reminding people what is going on.

Data People First Technology

On Blocking Ads

To be strictly accurate – we should be talking about Blocking Trackers

… I came across this article (note if you are using an ‘ad blocker’ … then guess what – they tell you that you have an ‘ad blocker’ on …. actually I don’t use an ‘ad blocker‘ – I use a ‘tracking blocker’.

That aside, I thought I would extract some pertinent quotes from the piece and add my comments. The piece appeared in Adage and was written by Jason Jercinovic – and so all the quotes below I attribute to him. Adage says that “Jason Jercinovic is global head of marketing innovation and global brand director at Havas.”

Havas is a pretty good agency that has produced some great campaigns for Air New Zealand, Global Mental Health and Canal+ – so I kind of feel that they (should at least) know what they are doing. I’ll go further. They do – but it is clear that they remain bought into the narrative of ‘poor us – we have to do this [efn_note]Use Ad Trackers[/efn_note] for it to work’. They don’t.

So – let’s get too it …

and no one can blame the advertising industry for rapidly adopting them.

I can!