The only thing I don't want to do is to raise the white flag.
September 22, 2015 11:35 PM   Subscribe

What can we do about the privacy threat posed by online ad networks? And how much trust should we place in Silicon Valley to design the future of our society? What Happens Next Will Amaze You: Slides from a recent talk by (Mefi's own) Maciej Cegłowski.
It's no accident how much the ad racket resembles high-frequency trading. A small number of sophisticated players are making a killing at the expense of everybody else. [...] I don't believe there's a technology bubble, but there is absolutely an advertising bubble. When it bursts, companies are going to be more desperate and will unload all the personal data they have on us to absolutely any willing buyer. And then we'll see if all these dire warnings about the dangers of surveillance were right.

Previously on MeFi from idlewords: technology, fandom, scurvy, Yemen, and burritos.
posted by teraflop (103 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
 
When it bursts, companies are going to be more desperate and will unload all the personal data they have on us to absolutely any willing buyer.

I think this is right and I think most privacy policies will turn out to offer no protection.
posted by grobstein at 12:13 AM on September 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


MetaFilter: POLITE Q/A SESSION FOLLOWED BY A TSUNAMI OF APPLAUSE
posted by hippybear at 1:48 AM on September 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yay more idlewords! I love Maciej's presentations/writing, can't wait to see what he puts together from his upcoming Antarctica trip. Adding a previously: Web Design: The First 100 Years.

Came across this recently and I think it's relevant here too: "We Own You" - Confessions of an Anonymous Free to Play Producer.
And if you are a whale, we take Facebook stalking to a whole new level. You spend enough money, we will friend you. Not officially, but with a fake account. Maybe it’s a hot girl who shows too much cleavage? That’s us. We learned as much before friending you, but once you let us in, we have the keys to the kingdom. We will use everything to figure out how to sell to you. I remember we had a whale in one game that loved American Football despite living in Saudi Arabia. We built several custom virtual items in both his favorite team colors and their opponents, just to sell to this one guy. You better believe he bought them. And these are just vanity items. We will flat out adjust a game to make it behave just like it did last time the person bought IAP. Was a level too hard? Well now they are all that same difficulty.

...

Every time you play a free to play game, you just build this giant online database of who you are, who your friends are and what you like and don’t like. This data is sold, bought and traded between large companies I have worked for.

posted by xqwzts at 2:30 AM on September 23, 2015 [19 favorites]


It's chilling how we need to demand the right to turn off the internet connection in devices and appliances—it reminds me of the dystopia of Max Headroom from the 80s, in which it was illegal for televisions to have an off switch.
posted by XMLicious at 2:41 AM on September 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


how much trust should we place in Silicon Valley to design the future of our society?

You are proceeding from at least one invalid assumption. Possibly three.
 
posted by Herodios at 3:48 AM on September 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


I feel that with regards to privacy there is so much focus on adblocking these days and not on the big companies that most people voluntarily give their data, such as Facebook and Google. I have a small website that relies on ads shown to people who find my site through search engines. It's not completely unlike askMe in that regard, people have a problem, google it, find the solution on my site, and go on. I know people find the site useful, I often get thank you emails, which is great. But people would never pay for it, even though my site is one of the only places on the internet that provides this information (I would not pay for it either - so that's not a criticism, it's just the way it is). I use Google ads that are relatively unobtrusive (again, not unlike on Metafilter). I would never do interstitials/full page ads/video ads etc. I hate that Google is the only company that offers sites like mine the opportunity to earn money, I really wish there were better options. But I also hate that a lot of the information that was online even 10 years ago has just disappeared because hobbies are nice but you can only have so many, and it costs time and money to keep a website running.

I totally understand people who block ads because of privacy. But what I do not understand is how most of them keep using gmail and Facebook and use Google as their default search engine. I know that for some people gmail is the only option they have, but for the vast majority of people that is not the case. Almost every person who empathically tells me that yeah, it sucks that my business cannot exist any longer, but they care so much about privacy that they feel they have no choice but to block ads, posts tons of pictures of their child on Facebook, has a gmail address and uses Google every single time they search for something (so you block my ads because you don't want Google to track that you visited my site, but you used Google to find my site, allowing Google to not only know that you visited, but also exactly what specific topic you were looking for?)
posted by blub at 3:54 AM on September 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


I think this is right and I think most privacy policies will turn out to offer no protection.

Radio Shack's customer data was one of the first things on the block, despite a privacy policy that stated plainly it would never be sold. After being forced into mediation, they agreed to only sell some of it.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:55 AM on September 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


> Came across this recently and I think it's relevant here too: "We Own You" ...

Already being discussed on Metafilter.
posted by ardgedee at 4:09 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Almost every person who empathically tells me that yeah, it sucks that my business cannot exist any longer, but they care so much about privacy

It's not just about privacy. It's about a lot of things. It's about not being bombarded minute after minute, hour after hour, by ads for things I would never consider buying, that I would never want. They're collecting all this data on me, and they think it's profitable to show me an ad for a new Audi, or an enterprise database system, or some shitty free-to-play game that appears to involve nothing but ridiculously proportioned women wearing completely unfeasible armour? Show me an ad telling me bananas are on sale at my local supermarket chain, I might be more forgiving. It's also about, quite frankly, bandwidth and speed. Mobile internet ain't free - pages are getting heavier and heavier, media is getting heavier, reading a simple news article may involve loading 8 different tracking scripts, 5 different ad networks, and dodging your way around shitty auto-playing interstitials don't even close on mobile. And then the next paragraph of the article is on page 2. And none of it is any interest to me - internet advertising has been ratcheting up to an ever increasing arms race of stupid, and anything that forces a readjustment is way past due. This doesn't, of course, address your particular site. You're one of the good guys, clearly. I don't know what to do about that.
posted by Jimbob at 4:19 AM on September 23, 2015 [44 favorites]


I've met people on the Chrome team and they are serious and committed to defending their browser. I've also met people on the YouTube ads team, and they hate their lives and want to die.

i laughed out loud. great talk and great slides. thanks.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:21 AM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I totally understand people who block ads because of privacy. But what I do not understand is how most of them keep using gmail and Facebook and use Google as their default search engine.

You are completely correct that this is nonsensical. I would guess, based on my own feelings, that people just want to hurt the big corporations somehow, but aren't prepared to give up Google search and Facebook to do it. If you could create something that stopped Google/Facebook collecting data when you used them people would be all for it. Which of course you can't...

So it's not "I'm blocking ads because of privacy" as much as "this small action makes me feel better about the loss of my privacy and the big corporations I don't like, without compromising being able to use the web for what is important to me (Google search, Facebook)".

But it hurts you, of course, not them so much.
posted by alasdair at 4:44 AM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


"If you could create something that stopped Google/Facebook collecting data when you used them people would be all for it."

Doesn't Duck Duck Go tick one of those boxes?
posted by klarck at 4:55 AM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I only block ads (thanks uBlock Origin) on sites that completely take the piss. In reputable establishments like this one that I want to support, I don't.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:01 AM on September 23, 2015


Doesn't Duck Duck Go tick one of those boxes?

And Give me back my Google?
posted by hat_eater at 5:03 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


It used to be celebrities and rich people who were the ones denied a private life, now it's the other way around.

One reason many people are apathetic about privacy is they want to be noticed. They think if they have a zillion facebook likes they have status like they are Kim Kardashian or something. And if they don't have it they aspire to it.

People are warped and will be staying that way.
posted by bukvich at 5:47 AM on September 23, 2015


I clicked the top three links from MetaFilter's front page in a browser with no blocking. And I'm being confronted with (RECOMMENDED FOR YOU!)

Swedish teen Agnes Hedengard shows bum deemed 'too big… (Essential Kids)
27 Stars On Why Obama Is the Worst President In History
10 Signs You May Be Involved With a Sex Addict, By a Sex Addict
[Autoplaying fast food video]
(YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:)
The Fastest Way To Pay Off $10,000 In Credit Card Debt
Why Bridget Moynahan Is Living On Barely A $1 A Day
You Won’t Believe What These 31 Bond Girls Look Like Now!!
What NOT to do if a Burglar is Inside Your Home

and blocking this shit is not even so much about privacy as just, fuck off and take your tabloid slime and exploitive shit the fuck out of my sight.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:03 AM on September 23, 2015 [64 favorites]


Recommended reading, Philip K Dick, The Sales Pitch (1953, not out of copyright, but easily findable).

Excerpt: And the ads. That was what really did it. He could have stood everything else -- but the ads, the whole long way from Ganymede to Earth. And on Earth, the swarms of sales robots; it was too much. And they were everywhere.
posted by Devonian at 6:32 AM on September 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


I recently had some trouble with firefox so I reset it and ran it without ad blocking for the first time in years. I was amazed at how slow the web became. I wanted to yell at my mom for picking up the phone.

But what I liked most of all was the link to politburo planning. Letting the extremely rich decide what our societal priorities are is not much different from Soviet style central planning and as the Republican primaries are showing, the extremely wealthy can make some incredibly stupid bets. Our portfolio of societal strategies needs a hell of a lot more diversification and decision distribution than the current system of letting successful gamblers run things and get huge tax breaks for charitable donations to their preferred causes at the expense of all other basic societal needs.
posted by srboisvert at 6:41 AM on September 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


Funny how quantification based on arbitrary assumptions had such unforeseeable effects.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:45 AM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


One reason many people are apathetic about privacy is they want to be noticed. They think if they have a zillion facebook likes they have status like they are Kim Kardashian or something. And if they don't have it they aspire to it.

A significant fraction of the "likes" I get on Flickr are from people who are using bots to systematically like other people's photographs. (For example, this guy has 2.6 million likes). They're doing the exact same thing as the adbots in the FPP, but they're not doing it for money, they're doing it to attract attention to themselves.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:57 AM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Great piece, thank you!
posted by odinsdream at 6:59 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The part about robot click fraud recalled Permutation City, the Greg Egan book in which spam and anti-spam software were locked in an AI-arms race. Spam wanted to ensure it only revealed itself to a real person, so anti-spam software had to become better and better at emulating real people--to the point where they were essentially both sentient, and there was some concern about the ethics of allowing such intelligent software do nothing but filter spam all day.

I've also met people on the YouTube ads team, and they hate their lives and want to die.

Shout out to... me. (I didn't last long in adtech, but it did help pay for this house.)
posted by jjwiseman at 7:02 AM on September 23, 2015 [20 favorites]


It was a shout-out to jjwiseman, and I'm so happy to see him out of there!
posted by idlewords at 7:14 AM on September 23, 2015 [27 favorites]


I was totally on board, and then he started writing about San Francisco and he said it had:

Public schools that no one sends their kids to if they can find an alternative.

That is complete bullshit. Many, many SF schools are incredibly wonderful and parents go crazy with celebrating when their kids get in. My own kids got a superb public education in San Francisco.

The fact that he got this *so* hyperbolically wrong seriously undermines his credibility with me, at least. What else is he catastrophizing about?
posted by jasper411 at 7:14 AM on September 23, 2015


They're doing the exact same thing as the adbots in the FPP, but they're not doing it for money, they're doing it to attract attention to themselves.

Erich Fromm is proved more right every day.
posted by acb at 7:22 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a hell of a good talk. It's a much clearer, more detailed statement of the problem we have right now than anything I've seen. I hope it gets more exposure; while I love the way Maciej adapts his talks to a web page I think a normal article may get more attention. Then again there's like four articles worth of material here.

I worked in Google's ad machine for years and didn't hate my life. I even sort of believed one of Google's primary arguments, that if you're going to have ads anyway they might as well be good ones. Really good ads do actually help users in some circumstances. But in the past few years the escalation of ad delivery and user tracking has gotten entirely out of hand and I'm ready to burn everything down.
posted by Nelson at 7:28 AM on September 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


The fact that he got this *so* hyperbolically wrong seriously undermines his credibility with me, at least. What else is he catastrophizing about?

This may be a baseless generalization by a childless guy, but it be hard to argue that the social contract isn't in almost every other respect seriously broken in SF. Even being from DC, I was shocked by the desperateness of the poverty in San Francisco when I first encountered it in the early 90s, and only by shoving it further and further out of sight and to the periphery does that seem to have "improved".
posted by ryanshepard at 7:32 AM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I did not mean to imply that all SF public schools are bad. I mean that there are certain ones that everyone flees from, but I can see how my phrasing supports the more hyperbolic reading.
posted by idlewords at 7:32 AM on September 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


Here's the thing that really drives me crazy about the whole internet economy: this supposedly huge pile of money that is supporting all these sites is not really very much at all. These ads that we are monsters for blocking are just not worth very much money.

Let's look at the US; pretty much any other market is going to be even lower on a per capita basis. Internet ad spending in 2014: about $50 billion. Internet users: about 270 million. Ad spend per internet user: $185. If we estimate generously that the actual revenues that content-creating sites receive is 2/3 of this, we have less than $125 per internet user.

I'm pretty sure for most people, that's much less than they spend on their internet connection for home and their phone. I think a lot of people would be willing to turn off all the ads on the internet and still support the sites they visit for $125 per year.

In general, advertising is a horrible deal for people. You suffer the annoyance of advertising and someone who created some content gets some fractions of a penny.

I really hope someone figures out how to get that money from internet users to content-creators soon, because the current situation is just grim. No one wants crappy ads everywhere. On the other hand, when we are able to pay for things, the amount we have to pay is way higher than it should be. Of course no one wants to pay for subscriptions when they cost $5 or so per site per month. All we need is a way to transfer those few cents per month fairly and without undue friction.

Ironically, Google might be doing it.
posted by ssg at 7:39 AM on September 23, 2015 [25 favorites]


Print rates for ads are still much higher than online ad rates.

Is it because of all these ad-viewing robots he talks about? There ain't no robots reading magazines, I'd guess.
posted by clawsoon at 7:46 AM on September 23, 2015


And, if you consider the cost of mobile bandwidth, I'm pretty sure people are paying more for the bandwidth to view ads on their phones than the people who put the ads on their sites are receiving.
posted by ssg at 7:46 AM on September 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I did not mean to imply that all SF public schools are bad. I mean that there are certain ones that everyone flees from, but I can see how my phrasing supports the more hyperbolic reading.

Yeah, and as a San Franciscan child of the last tech boom, he's completely right even about our flagship public schools. Lowell has gone sharply downhill even during my lifetime--when I was in middle school, it was still considered on par with the private schools, but by the time my seven-years-younger younger brother was applying it was a comfortable safety for private school kids looking elsewhere for their real education. Plus, the schools are intensely segregated, economically and by race, and getting worse all the time.

Great piece, thanks for this.
posted by peppercorn at 7:54 AM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Great sidebar on the "leaders of industry" spending their time and resources on pipe dreams completely divorced from reality. The big money is chasing after space rockets to Mars and physical immortality (I guess STEM programs don't teach the Epic of Gilgamesh), instead of trying to solve SF's chronic and pervasive homelessness problem or really, any immediate issue around them. At least the Gilded Age robber barons endowed universities and libraries.
posted by Atrahasis at 8:27 AM on September 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


Every time you play a free to play game, you just build this giant online database of who you are, who your friends are and what you like and don’t like. This data is sold, bought and traded between large companies I have worked for.

I sincerely doubt they do anything different with pay games, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:43 AM on September 23, 2015


My intention isn't to derail this into a discussion about whether San Francisco or the SFUSD are or are not having problems. I'm just seriously sick of people thinking that they can throw shade on the school system here, just because they believe no one will challenge them on their facts. Peppercorn, I'd be very interested in seeing *any* data (not just an anecdote) that supports your contention that Lowell has gone downhill from whatever you think the good old days were. That school, in particular, is one of the most amazing jewels of public education anywhere.

Again, my point is not to derail - and I appreciate your semi-retraction idlewords. All I'm saying is that your credibility took a hit with that comment, and I ended up not knowing if I can trust the other dystopian claims you are making.
posted by jasper411 at 8:54 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


www.metafilter.com
Ghostery found 3 trackers
posted by goatdog at 8:59 AM on September 23, 2015


That Google Contributor thing looks pretty cool, and at $2/month I'm going to give it a shot and hope that I remember to cancel it in November.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:59 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love enjoy Maciej's talks and think he's very insightful on tech issues. 95% of this talk was fantastic.

That said, this bothered me: "we expect that people will trust us to reinvent their world with software even though we can't make our own city livable."

This is really, really underestimating how hard it is to make an economic boom compatible with American municipal and state-level policies discouraging urban infill and densification. It's not an easy problem, homeowners are very willing to defend the status quo, and if any industry could solve it on their own I would be amazed.
posted by ripley_ at 8:59 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I really hope someone figures out how to get that money from internet users to content-creators soon, because the current situation is just grim.

It's not rocket science: just put up ads. Only ads -- a jpeg with imagery and some text on it, that links to the company being advertised. No megabytes of scripting. No cookies following you everywhere. No autoplaying video/audio. No popups/unders. An ad, like you would see in a magazine, that doesn't do anything a magazine ad doesn't do.

If the intarwebs had been like a magazine, with still ads over at the side of the page, for stuff that's not totally unconnected to the content of the website I'm looking at, I doubt I would ever have installed an adblocker. Hell, I doubt I really would have even noticed. But the advertising assholes had to ruin it with popups for X10 and bouncing monkeys and shit that screams at you and tries to autoinstall malware at you and the ads seem to be almost always for super-scammy shit no sane person would ever want.

This is all Google would have to do to get me to turn off adblocker for adsense -- promise that all their ads will be just an image file from their servers that links back to the company in question without added cruft, that they will not sell ads to obvious scams and that there will will be some connection between the webpage and ad, and that they will take responsibility if they link to malware.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:02 AM on September 23, 2015 [47 favorites]


I agree with ROU_Xenophobe. I block ads not because I'm getting tracked and stuff (that's a side benefit of blocking though) but because ads autoplay videos, have pop-ups appear overlaying what I'm trying to read, have sounds autoplay, and generally negatively degrade my browsing experience.
posted by I-baLL at 9:16 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


The people in 1973 were no more happy to live in that smoky world than we would be, but changing it seemed unachievable. Big Tobacco was a seemingly invincible opponent.

Ugh. Pretty "bubble" of them to describe the rapid erosion of the option to use a consumer product as some universal consumer fight against an antagonistic industry. Big Tobacco weren't the ones pumping cigarette smoke into airports and bars. The entire population of 1973 was not in fact made up of the upper-middle class (they were actually a lot less influential).
posted by deathmaven at 9:31 AM on September 23, 2015


@deathmaven - can you expand? i thought that part of the talk made a lot of sense. what do you mean by "bubble"? who was pumping smoke (if it was people smoking, well, it's not google visiting web sites, but people using browsers)? what does the upper-middle class have to do with it (did they not smoke? if so, are they similar to people using adblock now)?

in short - i really didn't follow and it might be interesting.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:38 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


and blocking this shit is not even so much about privacy as just, fuck off and take your tabloid slime and exploitive shit the fuck out of my sight.

All of the shittiest of the shit ads like these are generally not the really big players like Goog or Facebook but smaller companies that specifically deliver these clickbait ads like Outbrain or Taboola.

And publishers run them because they make money. People click on that shit. I hate them. I have actively worked to kill them in a couple of ways. But the sad truth is that those ads send cold hard cash to publishers every month.
posted by GuyZero at 9:51 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


andrewcooke

I got that smoke was supposed to be ads in the analogy, and therefore Google was supposed Big Tobacco for encouraging its presence in public spaces. A better analogy would have been cities smokey from industry in the early 20th century and smog in the later 20th century until we passed emissions laws.
posted by deathmaven at 9:52 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also in terms of shit browsing experience, it's not just ads. Someone I follow on Twitter posted a list of JS tracking cookies dropped by Fortune.com... there were like 60 of them.

No website needs 60 separate trackers. Seriously. That's just terrible site management.
posted by GuyZero at 9:54 AM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I block ads not because I'm getting tracked and stuff (that's a side benefit of blocking though) but

I block ads because they get in my way. Good advertising supports me in finding what I'm looking for, like showtimes for a movie, the operating hours of a particular hardware store etc. The death of our culture comes when I get distracted from what I wanted in the first place. So yeah, my current DEEP peeves are those questionnaire people on the sidewalk (often working for a good cause, but seriously, I already gave online) who plant themselves between me and where I'm going, just one more f***ing obstacle/distraction -- in other words, the real world version of where online advertising has gone.
posted by philip-random at 9:56 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is really, really underestimating how hard it is to make an economic boom compatible with American municipal and state-level policies discouraging urban infill and densification. It's not an easy problem, homeowners are very willing to defend the status quo, and if any industry could solve it on their own I would be amazed.

There are a lot of things they do that make the issue worse, like running their own private bus services, instead of working with the local government to improve mass transit for everyone.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


like showtimes for a movie, the operating hours of a particular hardware store etc

These are not advertisements believe it or not. These days this is geo-entity metadata and if your mapping or review tool doesn't have it, you suck. No one is going to pay to put it out there.
posted by GuyZero at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2015


What are the good adblockers out there these days, anyway?
posted by Aizkolari at 10:23 AM on September 23, 2015


These days this is geo-entity metadata and if your mapping or review tool doesn't have it, you suck. No one is going to pay to put it out there.

however it gets there and whoever pays for it, it qualifies as marketing, and useful.
posted by philip-random at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not rocket science: just put up ads. Only ads -- a jpeg with imagery and some text on it, that links to the company being advertised. No megabytes of scripting. No cookies following you everywhere. No autoplaying video/audio. No popups/unders. An ad, like you would see in a magazine, that doesn't do anything a magazine ad doesn't do.

This is also Maciej's solution, AFAICT, or a part of it.

(But can I scratch-and-sniff my jpeg ad??)
posted by kenko at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2015


Wouldn't it be great if DuckDuckGo or any of the search engines would give bonuses in search rank for not having tracking JavaScript all over their page code?
posted by johngoren at 10:26 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Supposedly Google includes "site speed" as a ranking signal, which could indirectly penalize pages with lots of slow tracking code. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to actually do that.
posted by jjwiseman at 10:31 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is also Maciej's solution, AFAICT, or a part of it.

Yeah, I just meant to agree with that part of his or her* manifesto, not to pretend it was my great idea.

*Don't mean to be weird or a dick; I'm just honestly unfamiliar with the gender norms of Polish personal names and the user page here doesn't say
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:33 AM on September 23, 2015


There are a lot of things they do that make the issue worse, like running their own private bus services

If I were putting together a list of issues facing American transit systems, employers providing transit for their workers (and thus taking a lot of cars off the road) really wouldn't make the cut.

Also, it's not clear what tech companies could even do to improve Bay Area transit short of throwing money at it - which is a not a great solution because the problems with Bay Area transit run far deeper than a lack of funding (American land use policies, awful mode choices, unreasonably high infrastructure costs, just to name a few). I don't expect tech companies to have any expertise in that area, so getting them involved in policy could make things even worse.
posted by ripley_ at 10:34 AM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bay Area transit agencies - specifically Caltrain, but all of them to some extent - lose money with every passenger they carry. Thus adding 10K passengers per day to Caltrain would not improve the situation.
posted by GuyZero at 10:40 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The suggestion to revert to Web 1.0 ads sounds great, but wasn't the declining efficacy of those ads what led to popups and then to the whole awful menagerie we have now?

Advertising is not a sustainable industry. Period.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:41 AM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


What are the good adblockers out there these days, anyway?

EFF's Privacy Badger.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Advertising is not a sustainable industry. Period.

TV and radio beg to differ.

That said, it's not sustainable at a level that necessarily is going to keep a large newspaper in business. Steady state for non-shitty ads may be on a few cents per thousand impressions. Which is sustainable but ultimately not that useful.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on September 23, 2015




TV and radio beg to differ.

You mean the two mediums that I haven't used in like nearly a decade, along with everyone I know?
posted by odinsdream at 11:07 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


No website needs 60 separate trackers. Seriously. That's just terrible site management.

No, that's 60 different ad contracts. It's a bizdev problem, not a technical problem. Each ad vendor has their own tracking system. Shitty sites have deals with many vendors (the most I've seen is about 20). So they embed them all. It's such a mess that companies pay Ghostery to tell them what ad trackers their own shitty site is serving.

The ad blocker I prefer is uBlock Origin. It works on Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. I also run Ghostery but mostly because it shows a count of crap on every site I visit. The blocking mode of Ghostery breaks a lot of stuff.
posted by Nelson at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


And don't miss uMatrix from the same software developer, also open source, if you're of a technical bent; uBlock Origin is a sort of specialized version of uMatrix, which permits writing very fine-grained general rules about what sort of content to download or not as well as a nice spreadsheet-like UI for quick modifications, plus sundry other features like user agent spoofing.
posted by XMLicious at 11:20 AM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


No, that's 60 different ad contracts.

This is the list - a lot are indeed ad-related but I would hope they're not all loading concurrently. No need to execute RightMedia code if the page is serving a house ad from Doubleclick. If they all execute on every page load most of those calls are useless.

But for sure that list has both Yahoo and Google Analytics, which seems redundant.
posted by GuyZero at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Advertising is not a sustainable industry. Period.
TV and radio beg to differ.
You mean the two mediums that I haven't used in like nearly a decade, along with everyone I know?

I mean the two mediums that are mostly used by people who are easiest to sell to, a gradually shrinking population which is prompting much of the advertising/marketing business to lose their collective shit...
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:12 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


You mean the two mediums that I haven't used in like nearly a decade, along with everyone I know?

It's people who don't even own a TV all the way down!
posted by srboisvert at 12:26 PM on September 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


At times I'm tempted to put together a form/script that I can send off to companies whose products are advertised pointing out that the more I see their name anywhere, the higher they get ranked in my lists of "Companies whose products to never buy". If you advertise, I will actively avoid purchasing from you.

Obviously this won't do anything tangible, but it might tick a counter in some data analysis somewhere. Signal-blocking only avoids the issue. The ideal is signal-jamming. Feed trackers misinformation. Skew A/B tests. Show a Google Analytics uptick in Linux users with 4k monitors. If "click fraud" is definable as they'd like it and it encompasses any click that wasn't genuinely desired, than all clicks and impressions traced back to me are invalid.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:47 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This confused me: "Lowell has gone sharply downhill even during my lifetime--when I was in middle school, it was still considered on par with the private schools, but by the time my seven-years-younger younger brother was applying it was a comfortable safety for private school kids looking elsewhere for their real education."

As did jasper411's remark: "Many, many SF schools are incredibly wonderful and parents go crazy with celebrating when their kids get in."

As someone who went to school in a public school system where you were allocated to a school geographically (up until the addition of a special facility to warehouse "problem kids") with very little flexibility in where you went... I don't follow?

If it's a public school, why would you need to apply? Why would you celebrate "getting in"? I thought the lack of both these things were hallmarks of public education.

In the area I currently live you can request a focus option transfer for your child so that they could go to a magnet school but the decision is based on a lottery at the beginning of each school year rather than any sort of "application" (which implies to me, correct me if this is wrong here) that some sort of dossier must be submitted and assessed to meet some minimum qualification. Is that what's going on in SF?

hopefully not contributing to a derail particular to SF schools
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bay Area transit agencies - specifically Caltrain, but all of them to some extent - lose money with every passenger they carry. Thus adding 10K passengers per day to Caltrain would not improve the situation.

But that doesn't necessarily follow, right? I mean one way that Caltrain could lose money with each passenger they carry currently would be if it costs $X to run a train from 4th Street to Tamien, the average rider pays a fare of $Y, and on average fewer than X/Y people ride each train. Holding costs and fares the same and increasing ridership to more than X/Y people per train WOULD improve the situation. And let me tell you - I took Caltrain from SF to Mountain View and back daily for a couple of years, and there were typically tons of open seats outside of maybe one or two of the morning rush hour trains, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case (especially for the middle of the day trains which usually seem to be pretty much empty)
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


But we expect that people will trust us to reinvent their world with software even though we can't make our own city livable.

Frankly, I thought this was the best, most insightful part of the talk. Tech boomers are great at defining out of scope anything that can't be solved by people buying another supercomputer that fits into your pocket. It would be bad if it were just engineer's disease, but these are the folks pushing to literally redefine our every interaction: with one another, with our cars and refrigerators and governments and children. So it's a fair question to ask how, and how well, and how inclusively they have "solved" the problems of building a just society.

I'm not saying that is an easy problem: I'm saying that the tech sector seems resolutely determined not to "solve" anything that can't be "solved" by glib neoliberal "disruptions" that mostly just put people out of work, and that tech culture is, at this point, just capitalism in a really insidious form, eroding every other institution it finds.
posted by gauche at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why the industry is concerned about ad blockers. The lower the percentage of seen ads a person clicks, the more effectively you are able to target them. Similarly if they use ad blockers, they won't be able to block everything, and they'll focus on blocking what they're least interested in. Making it easier to target them more precisely.

If you want to minimize the appeal of tracking data to advertisers, regularly click on the links/ads that interests you the least.
posted by lastobelus at 1:12 PM on September 23, 2015


Matt Oneiros - many years ago San Francisco settled a lawsuit about how segregated the schools were by putting in place a very complicated application and school assignment plan. Basically, parents list school choices (maybe 5?) and then there is a computerized random lottery type system that tries to assign kids to one of their choices. Various factors are weighted differently - like if you have a sibling in the school, if you have special language needs, previous history of disenfranchisement, and so on. There is always a big battle about which factors should be weighted and how much. There are many people trying to get neighborhood weighted higher, so that kids won't get assigned to a school across town. The school board opposes this.

I'm not sure what the stats are for the current school year, but in the past families usually get assigned to one of their choices - not usually the first choice, but *a* choice nonetheless. Unfortunately, the assignment plan is not working as a desegregation tool. Schools continue to be quite segregated.

There are two high schools that aren't part of the lottery. Lowell, which selects by GPA and rank in middle school, and School of the Arts, for which kids audition.
posted by jasper411 at 1:19 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


And let me tell you - I took Caltrain from SF to Mountain View and back daily for a couple of years, and there were typically tons of open seats outside of maybe one or two of the morning rush hour trains, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case (especially for the middle of the day trains which usually seem to be pretty much empty)

Silicon Valley’s Economic Indicator: Caltrain Ridership (from last week):
But now Caltrain is overcrowded too. To cope with this rising number of commuters, Caltrain bought 16 used rail cars earlier this year to add to its trains to make the most crowded rush-hour expresses six cars, from the previous length of five cars. But even with the added cars, many rush-hour trains are still standing-room only.
Tech commuter busses are the worst possible solution to commuting to suburban campuses, except for all the others. Ultimately this is the complete failure of the architecture of suburbia. I'd love to see Mountain View rebuilt as an actual city, sadly most of its residents want it to remain 1965 forever.
posted by GuyZero at 1:24 PM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, I stand corrected about ridership - I obviously underestimated how much it's grown. Thanks for the updated stats, GuyZero.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 1:50 PM on September 23, 2015


The few times I take Caltrain I generally get a seat, but that's because I get on at Sunnyvale, which (northbound) is before the two big stations, Mountain View & Palo Alto. By the time even really early trains get to PA there are no seats.
posted by GuyZero at 1:58 PM on September 23, 2015


overeducated_alligator: "Advertising is not a sustainable industry. Period."

Oddly, for an unsustainable industry, it has accounted for a remarkably steady share of GDP (scroll down for charts), bouncing around 1%-2% between 1926 and 2012. Keeping in mind that this period includes the rise of radio, TV, cable TV, and internet as mass media, as well as the decline of newspapers and magazines, and comparing against the charts for manufacturing and finance, I wonder if it might not be more accurate to say that advertising is the only sustainable industry. The medium changes but the total ad budgets stay the same.
posted by mhum at 2:38 PM on September 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


The few times I take Caltrain I generally get a seat, but that's because I get on at Sunnyvale, which (northbound) is before the two big stations, Mountain View & Palo Alto. By the time even really early trains get to PA there are no seats.

My girlfriend takes the "Bullet" Caltain from San Jose Diridon to Palo Alto, and those trains often leave standing room only, and San Jose is the first stop.
posted by sideshow at 2:54 PM on September 23, 2015


There are a lot of things they do that make the issue worse, like running their own private bus services, instead of working with the local government to improve mass transit for everyone.

This may be a bit of a derail, and I know this is a charged issue in the Bay Area, but don't the tech company either (a) take N >> 1 private cars off the road (same as a city bus) and/or (b) reduce the load on existing mass transit. I know there were some issues with Google buses taking up curb space but I believe they reached a financial settlement with the city government.
posted by theorique at 4:51 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I thought this was the best, most insightful part of the talk. Tech boomers are great at defining out of scope anything that can't be solved by people buying another supercomputer that fits into your pocket. It would be bad if it were just engineer's disease, but these are the folks pushing to literally redefine our every interaction: with one another, with our cars and refrigerators and governments and children. So it's a fair question to ask how, and how well, and how inclusively they have "solved" the problems of building a just society.

Nobody really has the perspective to solve this problem in the way that it's described - if you're a VC, engineer, or company executive with a specialization and experience in web technology, then your professional world consists of those things. To expect these folks to build a just society is misguided - just as a statesman or humanitarian is not going to deliver us the next Angry Birds or iPhone.

The population seems to have collectively decided that they like shiny gadgets more than they worry about homeless people on the streets of SF.
posted by theorique at 5:00 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


don't the tech companies [with private bus services] ... reduce the load on existing mass transit.

Mass transit gets more efficient the more people use it. This is why denser cities can sustain a better mass transit network. The private buses are certainly better than the same people driving cars, but the argument is that really they should be using public transit, and instead of paying for the buses, the tech companies should be paying to help the government build out the public transit to do the same thing but in a way that benefits everyone.

I'm sure the reason they didn't is because even somewhere normal doing that would take forever, and public transit in the bay area is a special quagmire with a dozen different transit agencies each funded by and beholden to a different mix of cities, counties, and consolidated city-counties.
posted by aubilenon at 5:14 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This made incredibly moving reading for me, a non-techie who is educated enough to get that privacy matters, and that we don't really have any, but has no real understanding of what is happening with our privacy.

The fact that the author doesn't just give a shit about stuff like, oh, women, and massive income/resource inequality, but in the end makes social justice central to his talk, well, it actually made me tear up a little.

I get a lot of my world view at this point from my work as a nurse who works exclusively with homeless people in the Bay Area, and am also a parent trying to raise a kid in the Bay Area, and every single thing in this talk seemed completely vital and on-point. The tobacco regulation metaphor was a strong one that made the maddening stuff discussed here feel conquerable.

Thank you for writing this, thank you for posting it.
posted by latkes at 5:24 PM on September 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


(One loving critique: check out unconscious assumptions behind this kind of statement: So why is my mom supposed to make a reasoned decision about it every time she wants to check the news or weather?, recently discussed here in a thread that I found helped me recognize some unconscious anti-feminist language I had been using)
posted by latkes at 5:37 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


What are the good adblockers out there these days, anyway?


Ublock is the "high performance" one that slows down loading the least, or so I've been told. I've been using it on all my home machines + my workstation for months and it's been good. Google around about it though, apparently there's two versions now and there was some kind of schism in the development?
posted by emptythought at 9:19 PM on September 23, 2015


This was just great. Thanks, idlewords!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:24 PM on September 23, 2015


The latter part of the talk really struck a chord with me. What happened to civic pride and engagement? And did I miss my opportunity to get a Burrito Tunnel poster?
posted by Standard Orange at 11:33 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the reason they didn't is because even somewhere normal doing that would take forever, and public transit in the bay area is a special quagmire with a dozen different transit agencies each funded by and beholden to a different mix of cities, counties, and consolidated city-counties.

Yes, especially when the alternative is: "So, we just sign a contract with Acme Bus Co and they bring everybody to work? And they have WiFi? Sounds good - let's get it done."

Municipal government planning time scales and "internet time" are rather, uh ... different. That said, Google and others seem to have a hankering for long-time-scale "grand challenge" projects, that spark imaginations and bring good PR. Working with local governments on light rail or bus lines is certainly "challenging", though not in the usual "OMG we're gonna sequence the genome of the Sun using nanotech"-way that these companies tend to favor.
posted by theorique at 2:47 AM on September 24, 2015


loses money with every passenger they carry

Can you see the problem with that statement? Why would a government service for the public good be expected to make money? Government is there to take some of the money we all make and spend it on profitless endeavors because at some point we decided that, say, sidewalks were a net benefit to society DESPITE not disrupting the "walking sector".

What is happening now is what always happens after a society makes some progress: the "elites" slowly take back what they can, hoping that this time they can balance right on that razor's edge of the absolute minimum spent on their "lessors" and the absolute maximum spent on themselves. I think now the rich white guys in the valley are hoping robot servants become a reality and they'll simply be able to let the rest of us die without being able to get an artisanal cup of coffee or their shitters cleaned.

Ah, online advertising and marketing. I have worked with endless people who think that light gray "remove me" links on a white background are actually good (and more to the point, ethical). One guy who I know thinks of himself as "fighting the good fight" removed the heretofore optional "subscribe" box from his sign-in-only site catering to online marketing people because it was getting about a 1% subscribe rate.

When an industry is predicated on slime like EULAs and impossible hoops to go through to get removed from crap lists, and dumping malware it you're not hyper-vigilant, you know it's an industry of scum; it adds no value to the world.

As an example, I get a daily "in your network" email from twithole from an ancient account I know for a fact was set to "never notify" or share, and yet, miraculously, it "awakened" to these notifications about a month ago. (That account has no followers or following, so my network, based on the subject lines before I delete them, consists solely of celebrities and politicians.)

As another example, a friend who is completely computer illiterate has thrown out two computers because they literally became unusable. He is not someone who could ever be educated about "safe browsing"--and why should he need to be? It makes no sense. That we all accept it as a price to be paid tells us how much we have lost in a dramatically short period of time.

posted by maxwelton at 3:42 AM on September 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


(Is anyone else worried about how badly all of this data gathering is actually being used where we can see it? If I was a conspiracy theorist, the hilariously bad "we recommend" and other targeted ads would be a cover for something much more scientific, exact, and orders of magnitude more evil.)
posted by maxwelton at 3:49 AM on September 24, 2015


Nobody really has the perspective to solve this problem in the way that it's described - if you're a VC, engineer, or company executive with a specialization and experience in web technology, then your professional world consists of those things. To expect these folks to build a just society is misguided - just as a statesman or humanitarian is not going to deliver us the next Angry Birds or iPhone.

Then they should stop trying to revolutionize things like access to transportation that have a clear justice component.
posted by gauche at 6:45 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seems like the big unspoken thing about the tech industry in California, both the companies and the people they employee, is that they don't pay their share in taxes. We don't need them to build us a new transit system if they actually contributed fairly to the pot for our state to do so. That's the whole actual point of having government - to provide those kinds of services that benefit all.

We have chronically (decades), and criminally under-resourced public services including schools and transportation, rec programs, public health programs, safety-net programs, senior services, libraries and basically all municipal services like just local planning departments while we live in a state that, between tech, Hollywood and agriculture, generates more money than many nations, and has the literal most millionaires in the country.

Expecting 20 year old tech bros to voluntarily build mass transit for their neighbors who were here before they were born is unrealistic. But a policy from above and outside of them that requires them to be taxed at an appropriate rate for the amount of cash they are swimming in, that is a sustainable plan for making some of this wealth strengthen the communities they are currently suckling from like a giant vampire baby.
posted by latkes at 7:25 AM on September 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


latkes the #3 and #4 states on your list have no state income tax. Those CA millionaires definitely ain't planning on paying any more taxes.
posted by bukvich at 8:29 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well sure they don't want to pay more taxes. That's why the need external pressure to make them.
posted by latkes at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2015


Seems like the big unspoken thing about the tech industry in California, both the companies and the people they employee, is that they don't pay their share in taxes.

This complaint is levelled against pretty much every big company from time to time and the standard rule is that the IRS says they're complying with the law so they're paying what they're being asked to pay.

On the tangent of transit in the Bay Area this issue is not just funding it's structural. The MY MTA covers 5,000 square miles. I'm not sure what the total size of the SF Bay Area is, but the transit agencies here are peanuts compared to that. It's literally impossible to get a region-wide transit plan because there are too many agencies. And it doesn't help they they built everything in the SFBA (sorry, I'm too lazy to type the whole name) before it dawned on anyone to put in transit corridors.

In theory, creating a region-wide transit agency is a trivially fixable problem, in practice it's probably impossible.
posted by GuyZero at 9:56 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]



This complaint is levelled against pretty much every big company from time to time and the standard rule is that the IRS says they're complying with the law so they're paying what they're being asked to pay.


Right. So that's why we need to change the tax laws to tax wealthy corporations and individuals at a much higher rate (and with fewer loopholes) and to revoke Prop 13. (My personal hobby horse: all these "progressives" in Hollywood and Silicon Valley should throw their money and names behind a ballot measure to undo that travesty.)
posted by latkes at 10:15 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


FWIW, California income taxes on rich tech people are relatively high compared to most states. The tax rate for very rich people making more than $1M in a year is currently 13.3%, which I believe is the highest in the nation. It's 9.3% on income over $50k. California also taxes capital gains (long or short) the same as income, so there's no break for stock option compensation that tech people often get. There's also a state AMT rate to catch people with clever loopholes.

California property tax is low because of Prop 13. But the valuation resets at sale, so it tends to benefit people and corporations who've owned property for a long time. Rich techies in SF are typically paying 1.1% a year on the $millions they paid on their condos.
posted by Nelson at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I consider myself a pretty progressive guy, and I think that income tax rates in CA are fine, or could even be lowered IF we dropped Prop 13 and could raise property taxes. The problem with depending so heavily on income tax for revenue is that it tends to go down in recessions, when the government really needs the money. State governments are especially vulnerable because they can't just print money like the Fed can. Property taxes are more stable and give the state more tools to create economic stimulus to shorten and reduce the effects of economic downturns.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:02 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


The big money is chasing after space rockets to Mars and physical immortality

This part felt a bit thin to me. If you read Elon Musk's biography, for instance, it's clear that part of the point of pushing toward this seemingly unattainable goal of interstellar travel and colonization is 1. to resurrect the type of big goals that brought about a massive amount of technological progress, 2. to help make humans a true multiplanetary species, and 3. to help us save the earth in the meantime by pushing forward advances in electric cars and solar energy collection and storage.

I also have no problem with people with big money pursuing the goal of immortality.

There are plenty of real villains out there who are worth taking down, people who are contributing directly to inequality and the degradation of our physical environment, and these don't strike me as great examples.
posted by limeonaire at 7:44 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know, on the tax derail, I think it's clear California needs to axe Prop 13 (which I think we can do!) and that as a country, we need to significantly increase taxes for the wealthy and for corporations. Just because California pays more than some states for income and business taxes, doesn't mean we pay enough, not compared to historical or international standards. You can't support a livable, healthy community if you don't pay for it.

And on the other derail, I think it's worthwhile to support and pay for science that has no obvious or immediate pay-off, but using the resources of our planet on working on international space travel and immortality seems downright immoral when you're literally stepping over impoverished physically and mentally ill people in the street.
posted by latkes at 9:28 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


This part felt a bit thin to me.

I know what you mean, but there are people out there who think that Musk and Co. are just capitalists capitalizing. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with what they're doing, but I don't believe the marketing narratives surrounding their work. Musk in particular has a lot of public support for his ideas about going to Mars, but what's missing is the scientific knowledge he claims is just around the corner.
posted by sneebler at 2:22 AM on September 25, 2015


And it doesn't help they they built everything in the SFBA (sorry, I'm too lazy to type the whole name) before it dawned on anyone to put in transit corridors.

It's more that people actively opposed the idea when they could easily have done so.
posted by kenko at 2:42 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll concur that I don't have giant problems with people trying to build rockets. I want a future for humanity in space, think that it is not insane to believe that one is achievable, and do not see a lot of evidence that state-funded actors are getting the resources any time soon to do much more than tread water. If Elon Musk wants to be Delos D. Harriman, well, there's no shortage of billionaires with far less admirable ambitions.

That said, in the general case, I am pretty much sick of the same shit that idlewords is sick of, and the policy ideas in this piece seem pretty much on the money.
posted by brennen at 3:21 PM on September 25, 2015


(Traditional state-funded actors, I should probably have said. I'm aware that SpaceX is probably being subsidized in various ways and has NASA contracts.)
posted by brennen at 3:26 PM on September 25, 2015


I'm in a good place. Thank you MattHaughey for this place. Thank you for this FPP. Thank you for being part of the community, OP
posted by infini at 3:15 AM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


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