Eternal Sunshine of the Monetized Ghost Life
April 6, 2021 5:33 PM   Subscribe

"I want a chisel, not a sledgehammer, with which to delete what I no longer need. I don’t want to have to empty my photo albums just because tech companies decided to make them “smart” and create an infinite loop of grief." I Called Off My Wedding. The Internet Will Never Forget (Lauren Goode, Wired).

"Of the thousands of memories I have stored on my devices—and in the cloud now—most are cloudless reminders of happier times. But some are painful, and when algorithms surface these images, my sense of time and place becomes warped. It’s been especially pronounced this year, for obvious and overlapping reasons. In order to move forward in a pandemic, most of us were supposed to go almost nowhere. Time became shapeless. And that turned us into sitting ducks for technology."
posted by MonkeyToes (63 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 


I found the opening framing of the article annoying and almost closed it as a "heard it before" dismissal, but I persisted because MonkeyToes always posts good stuff and I am glad I did. It got more thoughtful and thought provoking.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:09 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]


I frequently worry about algorithmic content feeds reiterating the person we’ve been back to us over and over, whether or not that person was happy or healthy, whether or not that person might want to grow or change, whether or not that person isn’t who you want to be anymore.
posted by mhoye at 6:09 PM on April 6 [42 favorites]


At one point I used my web browser to search for some masonry anchors so I could hang a shelf on a brick wall in our house. For about four months after that, every ad slot on every web site I visited was for a company that sold masonry anchors. The potential payoff for that advertising was only $6; a wedding is worth thousands. I can imagine the retargeting must be intense.

Lucky for me I've been with my wife for 17½ years, so most of my algorithmic reminders involve her and it's not a bad thing. On the other hand Photos is currently surfacing a memory of trip I took with a previous girlfriend, because I've had an even longer relationship with digital cameras than I have with my wife. Even if there were a "forget this person" button I'm not sure I'd click it, though. That was a nice trip, and besides, I wasn't bald yet.
posted by fedward at 6:46 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]


Facebook, Google, and Apple have also trained their systems to spot photos of accidents and ambulances and to not surface those in memories.
Well, that's a small mercy.
posted by monotreme at 7:14 PM on April 6 [4 favorites]


Oh man same with dead friends and relatives. Just a relentless barrage of "remember this picture?" or "don't forget to say happy birthday!" and it's awful every time.
posted by saladin at 7:14 PM on April 6 [24 favorites]


In the first year or so post-divorce I was regularly beaned on the head by some unthinking algorithm or other. We need better tools.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:18 PM on April 6 [5 favorites]


It's only semi-related, but this article reminds me of an email I got from Nintendo at the end of last year. It was a "year in review" sort of thing, which had various statistics on what I played that year. And I enjoyed seeing what games I'd played the most that year, but they also had a section on total play time that I thought was misguided, especially for 2020. It showed how many hours I had played each month, and even the day I had played the most hours out of the whole year. Which made me think "Oh! Yeah! That was right after I lost my job! Thanks for reminding me!" And someone I follow on Twitter remarked that he had gotten the same email, and his day with the most hours was one where he spent all day at the hospital with his partner.

I wonder if running algorithms on the past was easier to normalize because we built so many of these products for college students and recent graduates. You're less likely to run across trauma with the young and wealthy.
posted by symbolboxer at 7:31 PM on April 6 [18 favorites]


Around the time of a very nasty end of a 10 year relationship, Google rolled out the recommended CC: feature for Gmail. Because my ex and myself and my best friend were all very close, anytime I went to e-mail my best friend, for at least a year afterwards my ex would pop up as a recommended CC:. There was no way to opt out. I think I actually tracked down a product manager's e-mail and sent an emphatic message on why this was a bad idea.

I do have the Google photos feature where it shows you events from previous years turned on because, as the article notes, during quarantine it's been kind of nice having a reminder of better times. Though lately due to coincidental timing, there's been a string of foster animals that had to be put down because their health was beyond repair, which has made it extra bittersweet.

I don't actually have a lot of ad blocking technology enabled and am often amazed at how bad some targeted ads still are. Twitter was convinced that I needed hair irons for African American hair (maybe because I follow/reply to/like posts by a lot of African Americans? I'm about as white as it gets) and was in the market for an electric Porsche (I'm more likely to buy a hair iron than a Porsche). I have ads from one of those dodgy online stores that's some unpleasant mixture of MAGA/evangelical Christian/skatepunk apparel following me around the internet, though that's probably tied to the fact I that I clicked every Republican ad I saw during the election cycle. The outright moneygrab ads that came with that territory vanished pretty quickly, so either they pulled the entire campaign after the election or the people focused on ripping off old people with lousy gold coin "investments" have better clickthrough analysis than Twitter does. (One of the odder Twitter ads was a tiny grocery chain someplace ~500+ miles from myself or anywhere I've visited in the past three years - I dropped them an e-mail letting them know they either needed to adjust their geographic ad restrictions or that Twitter was not abiding by such restrictions.)
posted by Candleman at 7:34 PM on April 6 [4 favorites]


I looked up unconsecrated communion wafers* once on Amazon, and completely busted their algorithm for months. Just utterly random, unrelated items that they really, really thought this weirdo might want.

*aka "Jesus pieces"
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:53 PM on April 6 [19 favorites]


In our pursuit of “customer delight” it’s easy to imagine that everything your user is doing is potentially delightful. But it’s an easy trap to fall into in all kinds of design scenarios. Just like you have to ask how someone could hurt someone else with a tool, you have to ask how an experience works if the user isn’t excited about what you’re offering. I had to make a massive cash transfer recently for reasons I didn’t want to celebrate, and my bank app basically high fived me and told me to shine on you crazy diamond. (I work there, and I could point out on slack to the product owner that they needed to think through more bummer scenarios, but most people don’t have that option.)

Also, the classic in the genre by Eric Meyer: http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2014/12/24/inadvertent-algorithmic-cruelty/
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:58 PM on April 6 [11 favorites]


Also my husband and I both get constantly retargeted by ads for what appears to be a high-end top, like, for spinning. Maybe we looked up fidget toys once too often. The ads are disturbing somehow and it’s put me off high-end tops for good.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:00 PM on April 6 [2 favorites]


This makes me thankful I use a combo of Dropbox and Amazon Photos for my photography backups. Neither one of those services ever thinks it would helpful to surface a long buried photo. And the Memories thing on my iPhone is very easy to ignore. I disabled "On this day" on Facebook just because I thought it would be annoying. This article confirms that was the right decision.

As someone whose dating and social life mostly eluded the social apps, this article read as a warning of the thing I narrowly escaped. I already have enough trouble dealing with my memories and the pain of badly timed nostalgia. It could have been so much worse.

I wonder if running algorithms on the past was easier to normalize because we built so many of these products for college students and recent graduates. You're less likely to run across trauma with the young and wealthy.

That's a great observation. I think you're very correct. If there were more 40+ programmers and product managers, I think you'd see a bit of restraint that's currently absent. I think also the economic security (or wealth) of the creators comes into play. They're not worried about their present or future which can help minimize the pain of the past. People closer to the margins would feel differently.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 8:04 PM on April 6 [7 favorites]


I'm not a big user of social media, so the worst I I get are reminder photos of a beloved deceased pet or updates about some person I am happily no longer in contact with. Getting those jarring reminders for serious personal trauma would be horrible, and shows how simplistic the programming is.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:09 PM on April 6 [2 favorites]


Especially in 2020 (but not only in 2020) these apps on my phone show me pictures of me from previous times trekking around some random country or enjoying a slice of cake... and I get to experience FOMO about my own life, which I suppose is at least a novel feeling.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:16 PM on April 6 [10 favorites]


This is honest to god one of the funniest pieces of unintentional humor I’ve ever read:

“ If we already are part cyborg, as some technologists believe, there is a cyborg version of me, a digital ghost, that is still getting married.”

Cyborg ghosts are funny. Cyborg ghost weddings are funnier.

Part cyborg?

Technologists?

“some technologists believe”?

Already?

That’s a hell of a sentence.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:24 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]


The 'part cyborg' thing is a reference to the original notion of a cyborg, where we allow machines to perform functions our bodies and minds used to do alone, or with less-advanced technology. Such as our phones keeping our friends' and loved ones' phone numbers, instead of us hand-writing into a phone book, or just remembering. 'Cyborg' meaning a mechanically-bodied humanoid of some kind, is a later definition.
posted by panhopticon at 8:31 PM on April 6 [6 favorites]


Such as our phones keeping our friends' and loved ones' phone numbers, instead of us hand-writing into a phone book, or just remembering.

I wonder where video games fit in there.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 8:38 PM on April 6


We need better tools.

Or a bit more discernment about the sales types who make tools we've lived perfectly well without for our entire lives, and which scratch no existing itch, suddenly seem necessary.

I thought it was weird when phones started appearing with cameras on them, and I have never understood the obsessive need that so many people have apparently acquired, since that happened, for documenting every little thing, let alone publishing it.

The only way to achieve an acceptable degree of privacy is to be careful what you choose to publish in the first place, and careful about using devices and/or backup services that have the potential to publish without your intent. But sometimes being careful isn't enough; sometimes the fuckers take liberties.

Getting those jarring reminders for serious personal trauma would be horrible

When my mother died, I emailed a death notice to the newspaper and found, to my dismay, that at some point since my father had died that paper had "upgraded" its death notices, mandatorily bundling them with a "bonus feature" called an "e-memorial" that I never asked for and that my mother would have been horrified by the thought of. So we just ignored that, because fuck that noise. You fuckers do not get to monetize our grieving in perpetuity.

Except they do, apparently. Bastards sent me an email reminder about its existence just the other day. First I've heard from them in ten years. It's still there. Fucking merciless upsell arseholes still have their fucking hooks in. I wish the whole boiling of them would just fuck off.
posted by flabdablet at 11:18 PM on April 6 [4 favorites]


My mother-in-law passed away suddenly about a year and a month ago. It just so happened that the UK's Mothers' Day was between the passing and the funeral, which in turn was about a week and a bit into the first lockdown for COVID in the UK, and the Friday before compulsory hotel quarantine for people returning to Australia.

Last month did more to make my wife consider switching off Facebook than anything I've said in the previous two or three years. (Fortunately for Instagram it only shows her videos of cats.)
posted by krisjohn at 1:28 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


Relevant PSA: How to turn off the "You have a new memory!" notification for iOS 12.
posted by jeremias at 3:08 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


I looked up unconsecrated communion wafers* once on Amazon

I know this is off topic but in Quebec those are called hosties and are a snack food..

Even in 2004 after my daughter died the databases haunted me. Babycenter, the maternity clothing store lists, etc. Direct marketing was bad too. I got direct mail and telemarketing for formula, toddler toys, university savings, baby book clubs...
posted by warriorqueen at 3:34 AM on April 7 [10 favorites]


Shortly after the man who was probably the love of my life broke up with me, he and I each separately and independently signed up with accounts on Match.com.

Their algorithm suggested me as a possible match for him that first week, and I consider that to be one of the few times that this kind of situation punished the right person.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:11 AM on April 7 [11 favorites]


Also my husband and I both get constantly retargeted by ads for what appears to be a high-end top, like, for spinning. Maybe we looked up fidget toys once too often. The ads are disturbing somehow and it’s put me off high-end tops for good.

That's actually your subconscious trying to tell you that you're still dreaming. Try going one level up, and see if the ads go away.
posted by yankeefog at 5:52 AM on April 7 [12 favorites]


The thing is that in either the case of the ever-recurring wedding advertising or the "on this day last year" reminders, these aren't the consequence of something that can be called an algorithm except in the most literal sense of the word.

In one case, they are using the fact that you were looking to purchase a wedding thing and just spamming anything else tagged "wedding" because that's how the dumb logic of ad retargeting works. Side note, this was one of the things that was so amusing about the whole Cambridge Analytica farrago after the Brexit referendum. After years of trying, Facebook long ago gave up trying to extract valuable information about you from your messages, timeline posts, etc. The only things they really use and keep are the things you shop for (which they can see because you're logged in and they can therefore follow you around the web). It turns out that the only good predictor of "buying X" is having looked at a site where X was for sale. If X is something that is almost exclusively shopped for by people who go on to buy it (Weddings, yes. Ferraris, no.) and has a high margin, then the dumb system will keep spamming you for a long time. This is also why you get ads for yoga matts and light bulbs, having just bought them and therefore being unlikely to buy any more. All the ad retargeting engine knows is that you were looking at buying a yoga matt today and therefore you are very likely to convert to a sale.

In the other, it's just showing something from 365 days ago. I think the real problem here is just how semi-permanent gubbins we accumulate in a permanent store. If you took pictures with a film camera in the before-times, how many actual developed and printed pictures might you accumulate a year? I think 50 would be a lot for a young adult without children. I know people who post that many to Instagram a week! So if you then end a long-term relationship, you don't have a teary afternoon removing old pictures from frames and from albums, you need a full-time archivist to go through and remove everything containing that person.

Keeping all our ephemera around is fundamentally problematic, whatever algorithm we use to organise and review them. (unless that is just to never look at them again, but that raises the question of what it means to keep something around)
posted by atrazine at 6:33 AM on April 7 [6 favorites]


Oh man same with dead friends and relatives. Just a relentless barrage of "remember this picture?" or "don't forget to say happy birthday!" and it's awful every time.

I think I mentioned on the blue once before that a year ago, one of my high school classmates died suddenly two days before his birthday. He was on Facebook, and the Zuck in his wisdom has ordained that whenever a user’s birthday rolls around, Facebook sends out reminders to all the user’s friends to “help _____ celebrate!”

20% of the guy’s wall was, “Oh my god, I just heard — what happened?” and 80% was “Have a great day! Drink one for me lol” and gifs of people dancing.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:40 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


It extends to the physical world too: once or twice a year, I get snail-mail junk mail addressed to my brother -- who hadn't lived within a thousand miles of this state in decades -- almost four years since he committed suicide.

My mom passed away in her sleep this past Christmas, and I suppose the "your running out of time for Medicare supplement signup" junkmail I get addressed for her (also, never lived here) will keep coming too.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:42 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


The memory algorithm really is a gut punch, and especially when it shows up in the most unexpected places like fucking LinkedIn.

15 years ago when I was teaching a certificate program, there was a student, early 20s who was sharp as a tack, great spirit, asked great questions. In other words, every teacher's ideal student, let's call her "Cameron". I found out that she had cystic fibrosis and unless she could get a perfect match lung transplant it would be unlikely she would live past 30.

She graduated from the program and immediately got a job as a TA in my program, although I moved onto another organization that same year. We were connected via LinkedIn and I could see she had moved up to being a teacher, we emailed a few times and then life got busy. The last I heard from her she had been on a lung transplant list for 18 months and was very hopeful. A year or two later, I heard that she had died. She had made it to 33.

That was 5 years ago, and every single year, that stupid "Congratulate Cameron on X years at ___ University" comes up with her smiling photo. Like clockwork.

I tried following LinkedIn's protocol for reporting the deceased, and since I wasn't a family member I had to provide the link to her obituary and a few other details. Which I did, and they opened up a case...which was not successful, I guess because they wanted the email that was associated with her account. So thank you, soulless professional networking site, for reminding me how unfair and bleak life can be.
posted by jeremias at 7:26 AM on April 7 [14 favorites]


I looked up unconsecrated communion wafers* once on Amazon, and completely busted their algorithm for months. Just utterly random, unrelated items that they really, really thought this weirdo might want.

Some friends of mine used to send each other random amazon links as pranks, for the explicit purpose of destroying their recommendations. A 40 gallon drum of personal lubricant. Bulk gas-station knives. Industrial quantities of crafting pompoms. A grappling hook.

After a while, all our Amazon recommendations ended up being, "the person who purchased this item also made a series of other regrettable life decisions."
posted by mhoye at 7:32 AM on April 7 [6 favorites]


I hate these automated memories, even when they work 100% as intended. I'm constantly telling facebook to not show them at all, but it insists.
Fortunately, I never post anything personal to facebook, so there's no gut punch aspect, but it's still annoying AF.
posted by signal at 7:53 AM on April 7


I think ultimately, we're going to realize that letting a business-driven algorithm have direct access to your psychological state is always going to be a spigot of human misery, something a self-respecting person should feel embarrassed to permit, and that the best thing you can do for your mental health and personal well being is to simply not participate.

I've said this before elsewhere, but: companies create their customers, and the perfect audience for any marketing-driven company is a person who’s impulsive, angry, frightened and tired. The cyclic relationships between what you see and how you think, feel and react makes that the implicit victory condition for any attention-economy machine learning, and all you end up with is a process for optimizing the creation of an audience that's effectively paralyzed by psychological trauma, too anxious and angry to do anything but keep clicking on reasons to be anxious and angry.
posted by mhoye at 7:59 AM on April 7 [6 favorites]


Also, the classic in the genre by Eric Meyer: http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2014/12/24/inadvertent-algorithmic-cruelty/

Which deserves a link in its own right, and also to the Guardian article that spawned from it.

This is still a thing, and to give you an idea of what the commercial social media companies have done and propose to do about it, Eric Meyer's article is from 2014. Two-thousand-and-four-teen.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 8:30 AM on April 7 [5 favorites]


I love "On This Day" because I am self-obsessed and think I am hilarious and it gives me a way to revisit my old content, but I've also had to curate it to keep it from showing me things I don't want to see. The three or four months I spent ferrying my rescue dog to the emergency vet so she could slowly and expensively die? All vanished. If I did anything else of not during those months, I don't need to know about it that bad.

I've also removed a particular weekend where some ex-friends of mine got together and posted a ton of photos of our activity all dutifully tagged. I'm not traumatized by how those friendships ended, exactly, but it makes me feel bad to see those photos and there are *so* many of them.

But as the author notes, this sort of thing is work. And some of it is work that's deeply buried and sort of difficult to do. I had to cancel a vacation to Hawaii one year because my Dad was too sick to get travel insurance so we couldn't go, and I spent months getting ads for things to do on Maui. It was really frustrating and delving deep into Facebook's interests pages to remove the cruft that was bringing me those ads was possible but difficult -- not terribly emotionally difficult given that my Dad recovered (that time) but technically a giant pain in the ass. I can't imagine doing it for something like a cancelled wedding or a miscarriage.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:13 AM on April 7 [4 favorites]


It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong. Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate. These are hard, hard problems.

If figuring out how to avoid hurting people with a tool is difficult, deploying that tool without any sort of safeguards to an audience of hundreds of millions of people is deeply, disgustingly irresponsible recklessness. Software isn't magic and it doesn't fall unaccountably from the sky, these are machines made out of people's decisions. If this was a lawnmower or a hair drier, we'd see it for what it is.
posted by mhoye at 10:32 AM on April 7 [6 favorites]


fucking LinkedIn.

fuck do I hate LinkedIn
posted by thelonius at 10:44 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


"deeply disgusting irresponsible recklessness" this describes a lot of things, if we're honest. I have to believe millions of people who use FB are getting something out of it. Either consciously or not, they are happy to pay the price to play in FB-Land. To the extent we live a good portion of our lives online, I think this question--with or without the heaping tablespoons of corporate manipulation--becomes more pressing with each day: what does/will it all mean? Mostly we are looking backwards to answer the question. What is it, we can't see clearly now? What will surprise/shock/appall us in the future, that we can scarcely imagine today?

I opted out of FB a while ago, I am missing a lot of stuff (friends, family, community) but I don't really think about it anymore.
posted by elkevelvet at 10:49 AM on April 7 [2 favorites]


Even the iOS "you have a memory", which is not the worst of the bunch, is really, really intrusive. A company that prides itself on user privacy nonetheless thinks it constructive to barge in as a complete stranger, not reading the room at all, and trying to ingratiate itself using a snooped photo with a timestamp.
posted by kurumi at 10:51 AM on April 7 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine doing it for something like a cancelled wedding or a miscarriage.

The fact that this is called "the miscarriage problem" in any sort of way that people know about publicly explains some of the huge empathy divide between the people who create the software and the people who use the software.
posted by jessamyn at 11:27 AM on April 7 [18 favorites]


It manages to be both insensitive and reductive, all at once.
posted by fedward at 12:06 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


The "miscarriage problem" goes back a while. I remember reading about it in David Brin's The Transparent Society back in 1998 with respect to direct mail and catalogues and I don't think he was describing something novel at the time. I probably should find where my copy of that book is and re-read it. I'm betting there's a lot of "he was right about this" and also a lot of "he was wrong about that" but it would be fun to see how the book stacks up against the last 23 years.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:07 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


A company that prides itself on user privacy nonetheless thinks it constructive to barge in as a complete stranger, not reading the room at all, and trying to ingratiate itself using a snooped photo with a timestamp.

User privacy is still maintained. It's your photos and your device, nothing outside of that circle is involved in creating Memories. Unless the Memory gets saved and shared by the user, absolutely no one else has any ideas what photos were used, what faces appeared in those photos, what theme music was chosen, etc etc.
posted by sideshow at 12:13 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


Facebook, Google, and Apple have also trained their systems to spot photos of accidents and ambulances and to not surface those in memories.

Not just accidents.

A coworker and good* friend of mine once commented "You know, it's amazing how my nudes never show up in our Memories product, no matter how many there are to chose from."

Turns out that not only those constant weekend trips where "a large group of us rented a house and went to rave in Bristol" he was taking involved a lot less clothing that I initially believed, there was lots of documentary evidence of it.

After getting over my shock at how out of touch I was with the youth of the United Kingdom, I realized he was kinda bummed that he and the dozen men/women he had been naked with all weekend couldn't later share these Memories with each other.

But, it makes sense that effort was made to not have those photos show up, since a topless picture someone covertly took during "Nana's 90th B-Day!" to send to their boyfriend is more likely than "48 hour MDMA Sex Orgy With A Dozen Of My Hot Friends".

* Not good enough to get invited to the weekend sex parties apparently, lol.
posted by sideshow at 12:33 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


It's your photos and your device, nothing outside of that circle is involved in creating Memories.
Well yes, if you use a sufficiently narrow definition of 'user privacy', you can claim to be private. Given the person above feels the intrusion is violating their sense of privacy, instead of saying "you're using terms wrong" perhaps try to meet them where they're at rather than reflexively defending a conflict of interest?

barge in as a complete stranger, not reading the room at all, and trying to ingratiate itself using a snooped photo with a timestamp.

From this, we can see a different threat model of privacy than "is it on-device, off-device, shared with third-party, etc" is in play. The device+software (and by proxy, the company as writer of said software) is itself violating privacy by intruding on the user. It assumes the user would be interested in an unsolicited interruption, rather than first gaining affirmative consent. As above, iMemories is a stranger in this case, and a boorish one at that.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:37 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


User privacy is still maintained.

Perhaps there are different uses of the word "privacy" at work here. Traditionally, not disclosing someone's personal information to third parties has only been one aspect of respecting privacy. Another aspect is not intruding in the first place.

If a neighbor came into my house and rooted around for pictures that would bring up painful emotional memories, that would be a privacy violation even if they never told another soul -- even if they were abruptly struck by amnesia after leaving the house, so that my information never went anywhere. It's perhaps not as severe a violation as if they just grabbed a fistful of photos and went around showing them to everyone in the neighborhood, but it would still be pretty intolerable.
posted by Not A Thing at 12:39 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


We might be defining terms differently. I certainly know people who consistently talk about their phone as part of their brain. Such cyborgs would consider this an intrusive thought, but not a privacy violation?
posted by clew at 2:11 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


clew: "We might be defining terms differently. "

I think that's the crux, whether you consider your various devices (and particularly, your apple devices) as extensions of your self or not, both as physical objects and as interfaces to larger noospheres.
posted by signal at 2:17 PM on April 7


I certainly know people who consistently talk about their phone as part of their brain.

I've never seen anyone walk into a lamp post while staring at their brain.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 2:20 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


I've never seen anyone walk into a lamp post while staring at their brain.

ah, now there's the way to spark a memory - that brought me right back to a time waiting in traffic with my mom, laughing our asses off after watching a guy do exactly that. good times.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:32 PM on April 7


I pretty much ad block this sort of stuff into the bit bucket but Amazon sees what I search for/browse and it is hilarious to me to see all my recommended products be related to something I search for to make a recommendation in askme. It is just so very transparent, I would have thought the algorithms would be at least a smidge more subtle.

I have one relative who dearly misses her deceased mom and seems to repost every memory Facebook surfaces of her mom and I can't imagine how tough that must be for her father and siblings.
posted by Mitheral at 7:21 PM on April 7


Such cyborgs would consider this an intrusive thought, but not a privacy violation?

That is in fact exactly how I would describe the emotional content of these experiences, yes.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:11 PM on April 7


The "miscarriage problem" and related life experience look a whole lot like waiting for product managers to grow up.

Ad technology is shockingly dumb. At least I was shocked the more I learned. At least for the big U.S. operators, they know surprisingly little about anybody, resulting in the ad targeting like "you looked at a couch once, I saw you look!" winning over everything else available.
posted by away for regrooving at 1:25 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I use the "Cookie Autodelete" plugin on all browsers, except on my phone where I use the DuckDuckGo browser that has the big flame button to manually purge stuff.

I rarely log in to anything via the Web, to the point of having exceptions in all my browsers for MetaFilter and some services I run on my home LAN (as well as a separate browser profile for work). I avoid Amazon because I detest their labour and market practices, and try to order from individual online storefronts when I can. When I do this, I log in for the duration of the transaction, and then once the tab is closed I'm automatically logged out by virtue of the automatic cookie-discarding.

And yet I can't help but feel that my ability to use the Internet in this way is somehow sponsored by all the people caught up in the relentless monetisation of their clicks and their photos and their conversations. I'm not outrunning the lions: I'm just outrunning the Lauren Goodes of the world.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:52 AM on April 8


You're still being tracked by digital fingerprinting, if anyone really wants to track you. I don't know what, if any, countermeasures are effective for that. Maybe only browse from a fresh VM? I don't know if that would work, or not.
posted by thelonius at 4:26 AM on April 8


The entire point of using the Tor Browser instead of just any old browser that connects via Tor is to defeat digital fingerprinting. The Tor Project goes out of its way to make every Tor Browser look the same as any other from a server's point of view; if you let it self-update, avoid installing extensions and avoid messing with the default settings, the only thing distinguishing you from the majority of other Tor Browser users is your screen resolution and that's nowhere near enough to identify you on its own.
posted by flabdablet at 4:43 AM on April 8


On the advertising aside, GDPR rules have made this problem... not better, but certainly different. Big apps are now required to give you a way to wipe whatever personally-identifiable data the company has gathered about you. They don't typically make it easy, but if you dig far enough, you'll find it.

Which is how, back in January, I got mad when Facebook served me up its twelfth ad for The Economist (get wrekt, neofeudalist assholes), so I went in and deleted all the ad preferences they’d quietly assigned me over the years. Then I spent an hour reporting every online casino or “nvan eht nioj “ ad they sent my way as hate speech.

The resulting chaos is GLORIOUS. With no preferences to consult, I think they’re now referring to my group memberships and the text of comments and posts I’ve made to decide what to show for ads. But 90% of my participation in anything is shitposting, so I get pitches for R2D2 tracksuits and steampunk-looking men’s formalwear. Bespoke leather briefcases, and entire mammal skeletons. Courses about Disney songs, and fan apparel for Australian rules football. Every trip through my feed is now a surreal adventure, and it’s costing someone else advertising money. Whenever the chaos starts to subside (because they think they're zeroing in on things I care about), I go back and do it again. A+++ would mess with advertising data again.
posted by Mayor West at 7:02 AM on April 8 [4 favorites]


Yet another argument for 24/7/365 adblock on everything, always, including specific plugins for Facebook, Youtube, etc.
posted by signal at 8:00 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Mayor West, you are now who I want to be when I grow up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on April 8


You're still being tracked by digital fingerprinting, if anyone really wants to track you. I don't know what, if any, countermeasures are effective for that. Maybe only browse from a fresh VM? I don't know if that would work, or not.

Safari has built-in protection (enabled by default) that "presents a simplified version of your system configuration. Your Mac looks more like everyone else’s Mac, which dramatically reduces the ability of trackers to uniquely identify your device." Firefox has a similar experimental feature (not enabled by default). Those are just the two browsers I have; other browsers may also have features available now or under development.

A few years ago blocking canvas fingerprinting entirely was uncommon enough by itself that it was (ironically) a pretty good way to identify you somewhat uniquely. Allowing fingerprinting but fuzzing the fingerprint seems to be the better way to deal with it. When we are all, effectively, Spartacus, the value of trying to identify us that way goes down.

Common advertisers and Facebook will still have a pretty good idea of who you are and what you're looking at based on your IP and all the sites you visit that have their ads or tracking pixels or share buttons. Even if you use an ad blocker the fact that a user from your IP visited a shoe store web site is a signal that you may be looking for shoes, and a weak signal is often enough for ad retargeting. You get weird leaks and assumptions in the data like how advertisers will show me ads based on my wife's browsing history because her signals are stronger than mine (when she needed a swim suit, I got ads for women's swim suits), but even that isn't entirely inaccurate.

Leaky ad retargeting can spoil surprises, though. If you're trying to keep a secret from someone you live with, maybe do your searches at the library or use a VPN. Wouldn't want your girlfriend to get ads for the engagement rings you're looking at.
posted by fedward at 8:21 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I can strongly confirm that leaky IP-based algorithmic targeting is at work in my home, at least with YouTube.

Two grade-schoolers and one co-spouse mean that my previously accurate-to-my-tastes recommendations are now infested with video-game playthroughs and prank videos, HBCU tours and Carla Bruni songs.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:30 AM on April 8


And following up on the cyborg view (experience?) of computerized memories; we ought to have more explicit control over the computer code than we do over our brains, so it should be easier to stop intrusive computerized thoughts. I'm not disagreeing that they're cruel and unneccesary, I'm just slowly picking through what terms likely describe a fix.

Similarly, I'm always extra angry at bad labor conditions in "below the API" jobs that should be fixed by adding a constraint to the code -- like, a system that knows where all the packages and doors are also should know where the bathrooms are and run every employee by them often enough. Ditto starting and ending by the breakroom or exit. This isn't even code-dependent, there was a really infuriating case a couple years ago that decided employees were not paid for time waiting to be checked in by processes completely in management's control. And fixing *that* isn't on computer code, it's on our politics to fix the laws.
posted by clew at 10:58 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


If this was a lawnmower or a hair drier, we'd see it for what it is.

6am lawnmower sessions and even leafblowers still exist, so I'm not sure people are any more attuned to the drawbacks of motorized tools than they are to online memories.
posted by bashing rocks together at 12:45 PM on April 8


I was just researching a little bit about a terminal disease that someone in my circle is facing as a possible diagnosis, so I could better understand what was going on, and IMMEDIATELY facebook started serving me up ads for real and fake treatments, for charities and scammers targeting the disease, all kinds of things. And I was legitimately really distressed by it! I thought of that Target ad that knew the teenager was pregnant before she did, and was it gmail that was advertising cat food or something alongside e-mails arranging for a guy's cat's euthenasia? I was like, Jesus, facebook, if someone is researching "brain cancer" for the first time, put a 72-hour delay on targeting that for ads maybe? Or wait for them to search "brain cancer support group"? Or maybe don't monetize fatal diseases? idk
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:08 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


don't monetize fatal diseases?

What are you, some kind of socialist?

Money is speech, and that means the First Amendment gives anybody the right to monetize whatever they want. It's the Constitution! You can't change the First Amendment!

You think the greatest health care system in the world would survive without fatal diseases? Nonsense. The best defense against fatal diseases is more fatal diseases.

If you don't want your fatal disease monetized, show a little personal responsibility and don't get one.

Also, now is not the time to be talking about banning fatal diseases.

I think that about covers it. Did I leave any out? Somehow I haven't had the stomach to watch much Fox lately.
posted by flabdablet at 5:18 PM on April 9


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