The best new phones come with the ability to shoot 108 megapixel photos, record 4K video with stereo sound, and pack the results into a terabyte of onboard storage. But what do you do when that storage fills up?

If you want to keep those files, you’ll need to offload them somewhere. Since your computer probably doesn’t have more than 2Tb of storage, you’ll need an external drive. Or two. Or three. Or more. Over time, a lot more.

Welcome to my world.

Gathered here for a portrait in a corner of my desk in Manhattan are eighteen hard drives, including the 2Tb one in the laptop I’m using now. That one has 359.75Gb available. Most of the others you see are also full, dead, or both. I also have a similar collection of drives in Santa Barbara, though I only use the 10Tb backup I keep there.

Photos occupy most of the data I’ve stored on all those drives. Currently my photo archives are spread between two portable drives and my laptop, and total about 6.5Tb. I also have a 5Tb portable drive for videos, which is back in Santa Barbara awaiting dubs off of tapes. The portable photo drives are among those in the picture above. Earlier today, my laptop gave me this news about the main one, called Black 4Tb WD Photo Drive:

That’s why I’m transferring its contents over to the 10Tb drive called Elements, on the far left. A progress report:

About 5Tb of Elements is occupied by Apple Time Machine backups. After the transfer is done, there won’t be room for more backups. So my project now is figuring out what to do next.

I could get some Network Attached Storage (NAS). I already have used 2012-vintage 18Tb QNAP one in Santa Barbara that I’ve never been able to make work.

So my plan now is to put it all in a cloud.

I hadn’t bothered with that before, because upstream speeds have been highly sphinctered by ISPs for decades. Here in New York, where our ISP is Spectrum, our speeds have long run 100-400 Mbps down, but only 10 Mbps up. However…. I just checked again with Speedtest.net, and got this:

And that’s over wi-fi.

Now I’m encouraged. But before I commit to a supplier, I’d like to hear what others recommend. Currently I’m considering Backblaze, which is top rated here. The cost i $6/month, or less for unlimited sums of data. But I’m open to whatever.

[Later…] Hmm. At that last link it says this:

What We Don’t Like:

Something I should mention is that some users have had bad experiences with Backblaze because of a not-so-apparent feature that maybe should be a lot more obvious: Backblaze doesn’t function as a permanent archive of all of your data, but instead as a mirror.

In other words, if you delete files on your computer, or the drive fails and you’re connected to Backblaze’s website, Backblaze will see that those files are gone and will remove them from your online account, too.

Granted, signing up for the forever version history option would eliminate any issues with this, but it still poses a problem for anyone using one of the limited version history options.

Alas, the forever thing is complicated.

To be clear, I want more than a mirroring of what I have on my laptop and external drives. I want to replace those external drives with cloud storage. Is that possible? Not clear.

Alas, for all of us, this problem remains.

Tags:

This is a 1999 post on the (pre-blog) website that introduced my handful of readers to The Cluetrain Manifesto, which had just gone up on the Web, and instantly got huge without my help. It was also a dry run for a chapter in the book by the same name, which came out in January, 2000. As best I can recall, I wrote most of it a year earlier, and updated it when Cluetrain was finally published.


Listen Up

By Doc Searls
April 16, 1999 

“All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value! So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!'”
— Howard Beale, in 
Network, by Paddy Chayevsky


Bob Davis is the CEO of Lycos, Inc., whose growing portfolio of companies (excuse me, portals) now includes LycosHotbotWhoWhere and Tripod. I’m sure Bob is a great guy. And I’m sure Lycos is a great company. A lot of people seem to like them both. And you have to admire both his ambition and his success. To witness both, read his interview with PC Week, where he predicts that the Lycos Network (the sum of all its portals) will overtake Yahoo as “#1 on the Web.”

Lycos will win, Davis says, because “We have a collection of quality properties that are segmented into best-of-breed categories, and our reach has been catapulting.”

I can speak for Hotbot, which is still my first-choice search engine; but by a shrinking margin. I often test search engines by looking for strings of text buried deep in long documents on my own site. Hotbot always won in the past. But since Lycos bought it, Hotbot has become more of a portal and less of a search tool. Its page is now a baffling mass of ads and links. And its searches find less.

In today’s test, Infoseek won. Last week, Excite won. Both found pages that Hotbot seems to have forgotten.

Why? Bob Davis gives us a good answer.

“We’re a media company,” he says. “We make our money by delivering an audience that people want to pay for.”

Note the two different species here: audience and people. And look at their qualities. One is “delivered.” The other pays. In other words, one is cargo and the other is money.

Well, I don’t care if Lycos’ stock goes to the moon and splits three times along the way. The only #1 on the Web is the same as the only #1 on the phone: the people who use it. And the time will come when people will look at portals not as sources of “satisfying experiences” (another of Davis’ lines) but as useless intermediaries between supply and demand.

 

Words of Walt

You there, impotent, loose in the knees,
open your scarfed chops till I blow grit within you.
Spread your palms and lift the flaps of your pockets.
I am not to be denied. I compel.

It is time to explain myself. Let us stand up.
I know I am solid and sound.
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow.

I know that I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself
or be understood.
I see that the elementary laws never apologize.

.
— Walt Whitman, from 
Song of Myself

 

“Media company” guys like Davis are still in a seller’s market for wisdom that was BS even when only the TV guys spoke it — back when it literally required the movie “Network.” That market will dry up. Why? Because we’ve been mad as hell for about hundred years, and now we don’t have to take it anymore.

Three reasons.

  1. Humanity. This is what Walt Whitman reminded us about more than a hundred years ago. We are not impotent. Media companies may call us seats and eyeballs and targets, but that’s their problem. They don’t get who we are or what we can — and will — do. And the funny thing is, they don’t get that what makes us powerful is what they think makes them powerful: the Internet. It gives us choices. Millions of them. We don’t have to settle for “channels” any more. Or “portals” that offer views of the sky through their own little windows. Or “sticky” sites that are the moral equivalent of flypaper.
  2. DemandThere never was a demand for messages, and now it shows, big time. Because the Internet is a meteor that is smacking the world of business with more force than the rock that offed the dinosaurs, and it is pushing out a tsunami of demand like nothing supply has ever seen. Businesses that welcome the swell are in for some fun surfing. Businesses that don’t are going to drown in it.
  3. Obsolescence. Even the media guys are tired of their own B.S. and are finally in the market for clues.

Alvin Toffler had it right in The Third Wave. Industry (The Second Wave) “violently split apart two aspects of our lives that had always been one… production and consumption… In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches … it ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension.” Today all of us play producer roles in our professions and consumer roles in our everyday lives. This chart shows the difference (and tension) between these radically different points of view — both of which all of us hold:

Producer view
Consumer view
Metaphor Business is shipping (“loading the channel,” “moving products,” “delivering messages”) Business is shopping (“browsing,” “looking,” “bargaining,” “buying”)
Orientation Business is about moving goods from one to many (producers to consumers) Business is about buying and selling, one to one
Markets Markets are shooting ranges: consumers are “targets” Markets are markets: places to shop, buy stuff and talk to people
Relationships Primary relationshiphs are with customers, which are more often distributors & retailers rather than consumers Primary relationships are with vendors, and with other customers

 

These are all just clues, which are easily deniable facts. Hence a line once spoken of Apple: “the clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.” But Apple was just an obvious offender. All of marketing itself remains clueless so long as it continues to treat customers as “eyeballs,” “targets,” “seats” and “consumers.”

For the past several months, I have been working with Rick Levine, David Weinberger and Chris Locke on a new railroad for clues: a ClueTrain.

Our goal is to burn down Marketing As Usual. Here is the logic behind the ambition:

Markets are conversations
Conversations are fire
Marketing is arson

The result is here — in what The Wall Street Journal calls “presumptuous, arrogant, and absolutely brilliant.”

Take a ride. If you like it, sign up. Feel free to set fires with it, add a few of your own, or flame the ones you don’t agree with. What matters is the conversation. We want everybody talking about this stuff. If they do, MAU is toast.

Here is my own short form of the Manifesto (inspired by Martin Luther, the long version has 95 Theses). Feel free to commit arson with (or to) any of these points as well.


Ten facts about highly effective markets:

  1. Markets are conversations.
    None of the other metaphors for markets — bulls, bears, battlefields, arenas, streets or invisible hands — does full justice to the social nature of markets.
     Real market conversations are social. They happen between human beings. Not between senders and receivers, shooters and targets, advertisers and demographics.
  2. The first markets were markets.
    They were real places that thrived at the crossroads of cultures. They didn’t need a market model, because they were the model market. More than religion, war or family, markets were real places where communities came together. They weren’t just where sellers did business with buyers. They were the place where everybody got together to hang out, talk, tell stories and learn interesting stuff about each other and the larger world.
     
  3. Markets are more about demand than supply.
    The term “market” comes from the latin mercere, which means “to buy.” Even a modern market is called a “shopping center” rather than a “selling center.” Bottom line: every market has more buyers than sellers. And the buyers have the money.
  4. Human voices trump robotic ones.
    Real voices are honest, open, natural, uncontrived. Every identity that speaks has a voice. We know each other by how we sound. That goes for companies and markets as well as people. When a voice is full of shit, we all know it — whether the voice tells us “your call is important to us” or that a Buick is better than a Mercedes.
  5. The real market leaders are people whose minds and hands are worn by the work they do.
    And it has been that way ever since our ancestors’ authority was expressed by surnames that labeled their occupations — names like Hunter, Weaver, Fisher and Smith. In modern parlance, the most knowledge and the best expertise is found at the “point of practice:” That’s where most of the work gets done.
  6. Markets are made by real people.
    Not by surreal abstractions that insult customers by calling them “targets,” “seats,” “audiences,” “demographics” and “eyeballs” — all synonyms for consumers, which Jerry Michalski of Sociate calls “brainless gullets who live only to gulp products and expel cash.”
  7. Business is not a conveyor belt that runs from production to consumption.
    Our goods are more than “content” that we “package” and “move” by “loading” them into a “channel” and “address” for “delivery.” The business that matters most is about shopping, not shipping. And the people who run it are the customers and the people who talk to them.
  8. Mass markets have the same intelligence as germ populations.
    Their virtues are appetite and reproduction. They grow by contagion. Which is why nobody wants to admit belonging to one.
  9. There is no demand for messages.
    To get what this means, imagine what would happen if mute buttons on remote controls delivered “we don’t want to hear this” messages directly back to advertisers.
  10. Most advertising is unaccountable.
    Or worse, it’s useless. An old advertising saying goes, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” But even this is a lie. Nearly all advertising is wasted. Even the most accountable form of advertising — the junk mail we euphemistically call “direct marketing” — counts a 3% response rate as a success. No wonder most of us sort our mail over the trash can. Fairfax Cone, who co-founded Foote Cone & Belding many decades ago, said “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is.” With the Net you can go see somebody. More importantly, they can see you. More importantly than that, you can both talk to each other. And make real markets again.

Formalized journalism is outnumbered.

In the industrialized world (and in much of the world that isn’t), nearly everyone of a double-digit age has a Net-connected mobile device for sharing words they write and scenes they shoot.

While this doesn’t obsolesce professional journalists, it marginalizes and re-contextualizes them. Worse, it exposes the blindness within their formalities. Dave Winer lays this out clearly in They can’t see what they can’t see. An excerpt:

Journalism, academia, government and the corporate world all hire from the same talent pool.

They go to the same universities, get their news from the same sources. Corporate people take government jobs, then go back to the corporations. The people move fluidly in and out of each bucket.

So you get the same story, the reality they believe in, developed over centuries, that is radically different from the reality most other people experience. The story recited daily at CNN, MSNBC, The New Yorker, NYT. The world changes, again and again, and the story they tell is how angry this makes them, and how everyone must snap back.

New technologies can make change possible, like the one we’re using now.

We would never have Trump if it weren’t for Twitter.

Marshall McLuhan, dead since 1980, had something to say about that:

People don’t want to know the cause of anything. They do not want to know why radio caused Hitler and Gandhi alike. They do not want to know that print caused anything whatever.

Also,

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive… that they leave no part of us untouched unaffected, unaltered… Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.

What could be more worked-over than our new nature as digital beings? Consider where and what you are reading right now, on your desk, your lap or in your hand. This was barely imaginable when the word “journalism” came into use around 1830.

What are we now? While remaining no less embodied than we ever were, we are incorporeal inhabitants of a digital world, absent of distance and gravity, where the only preposition that fully applies is with. Unless we aren’t. Ephemerality runs deep, and the Web is a whiteboard.

I don’t have an answer to the question in my headline. I tried one out three years ago, in my first, last and only TEDx talk, The story isn’t the whole story. To summarize, we gotta start local.

Because it is essential to be real with each other in the physical world, especially when fully relevant news actually happens. Conspiracy theories and other forms of bullshit will always be everywhere, but it’s harder for them to apply or survive when your building is on fire or your neighborhood is flooding.

Outside of that, I’m starting to think we need a new discipline: one that doesn’t start with the word journal. And decades may pass before we have it.

So I ordered one of these yesterday…

…and got a notice that said,

That was to my building in Manhattan: a three-story walk-up in a district that’s post-dangerous but pre-gentrified. In other words, safe; but not beyond worry that someone could walk off with a box on the steps that says Amazon on it.

We live on the top floor, so it took me a minute to get from my desk to the front door, where there was nothing. So I went to Amazon’s Contact Us page and got this:

Then, after I clicked on the big yellow button, a dialog ensued :

Hi! It’s Amazon’s messaging assistant again.
Amazon eero mesh WiFi system – 2 pack
Is this what you need help with?

12:49 PM

Yes, that’s it

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

Looks like this item was delivered on Tuesday, Jun 22.
Could you confirm what went wrong, so I can help?

12:50 PM

Didn’t get it

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

Sorry to hear that. Tell me a little more about what happened.

12:50 PM

Package never arrived

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

OK, looks like the delivery status may have been updated too soon.
The good news is it should arrive soon. Give us until end of day Wednesday, Jun 23.
Really appreciate your patience with this. Is there anything else I can help with?

12:50 PM

No, that’s all

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

Thanks for choosing Amazon. I’m here to help whenever you have an issue.

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant has left. Thanks for contacting Amazon!

This kind of thing has happened before; not just with Amazon, and not just here. In fact, it has happened enough times for me to wonder whether there is a method to the madness.

I mean, is “the delivery status may have been updated too soon” an occurrence that’s common for a reason? Also, might that reason be technical, human, neither or both?

To be fair, this is not a big deal. Progress is how the miraculous becomes mundane, and this is a good example of it the mundane miraculous at work. “No sooner said than shipped” is the new norm. So are conversations with robots.

I’d love it if one could give me answers below, but that feature isn’t working right now. So feel free to tweet yours or something. Thanks!

Since I’m done with fighting in the red ocean of the surveillance-dominated Web, I’ve decided, while busy working in the blue ocean (on what for now we’re calling i-commerce), to bring back, in this blog, some of the hundreds of things I’ve written over the last 30+ years. I’m calling it the Redux series. To qualify, these should still ring true today, or at least provide some history. This early one is still on the Web, here at BuzzPhraser.com. I’ve made only two small edits, regarding dates. (And thanks to Denise Caruso for reminding me that this thing started out on paper, very long ago.)


The original BuzzPhraser was created in 1990, or perhaps earlier, as a spreadsheet, then a HyperCard stack; and it quickly became one of the most-downloaded files on AOL and Compuserve. For years after that it languished, mostly because I didn’t want to re-write the software. But when the Web came along, I knew I had to find a way to re-create it. The means didn’t find that end, however, until Charles Roth grabbed the buzzwords by their serifs and made it happen, using a bit of clever Javascript. Once you start having fun with the new BuzzPhraser, I’m sure you’ll thank him as much as I do.

The story that follows was written for the original BuzzPhraser. I thought it would be fun to publish it unchanged.

—Doc, sometime in the late ’90s

BuzzPhrases are built with TechnoLatin, a non-language that replaces plain English nouns with vague but precise-sounding substitutes.  In TechnoLatin, a disk drive is a “data management solution.”  A network is a “workgroup productivity platform.”  A phone is a “telecommunications device”.

The virtue of TechnoLatin is that it describes just about anything technical.  The vice of TechnoLatin is that it really doesn’t mean anything.  This is because TechnoLatin is comprised of words that are either meaningless or have been reduced to that state by frequent use.  Like the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can put them anywhere, but they have no value.  The real value of TechnoLatin is that it sounds precise while what it says is vague as air.  And as easily inflated.

Thanks to TechnoLatin, today’s technology companies no longer make chips, boards, computers, monitors or printers.  They don’t even make products.  Today everybody makes “solutions” that are described as “interoperable,” “committed,” “architected,” “seamless” or whatever.  While these words sound specific, they describe almost nothing.  But where they fail as description they succeed as camouflage: they conceal meaning, vanish into surroundings and tend to go unnoticed.

Take the most over-used word in TechnoLatin today: solution.  What the hell does “solution” really mean?  Well, if you lift the camouflage, you see it usually means “product.”  Try this: every time you run across “solution” in a technology context, substitute “product.”  Note that the two are completely interchangeable.  The difference is, “product” actually means something, while “solution” does not.  In fact, the popularity of “solution” owes to its lack of specificity.  While it presumably suggests the relief of some “problem,” it really serves only to distance what it labels from the most frightening risk of specificity: the clarity of actual limits.

The fact is, most vendors of technology products don’t like to admit that their creations are limited in any way.  Surely, a new spreadsheet — the labor of many nerd/years — is something more than “just a spreadsheet.”  But what?  Lacking an available noun, it’s easy to build a suitable substitute with TechnoLatin.  Call it an “executive information matrix.”  Or a “productivity enhancement engine.”  In all seriousness, many companies spend months at this exercise.  Or even years.  It’s incredible.

There is also a narcotic appeal to buzzphrasing in TechnoLatin.  It makes the abuser feel as if he or she is really saying something, while in fact the practice only mystifies the listener or reader.  And since buzzphrasing is so popular, it gives the abuser a soothing sense of conformity, like teenagers get when they speak slang.  But, like slang, TechnoLatin feels better than it looks.  In truth, it looks suspicious.  And with good reason.  TechnoLatin often does not mean what it says, because the elaborate buzzphrases it builds are still only approximations.

But who cares? Buzzphrasing is epidemic.  You can’t get away from it.  Everybody does it.  There is one nice thing about Everybody, however: they’re a big market.

So, after studying this disease for many years, I decided, like any self-respecting doctor, to profit from the problem.  And, like any self-respecting Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I decided to do this with a new product for which there was absolutely no proven need, in complete faith that people would buy it.  Such is the nature of marketing in the technology business.

But, lacking the investment capital required to generate demand where none exists, I decided on a more generous approach: to give it away, in hope that even if I failed to halt the epidemic, at least I could get people to talk about it.

With this altruistic but slightly commercial goal in mind, I joined farces with Ray Miller of Turtlelips Services to create a product that would encourage and support the narcotic practice of buzzphrasing.  Being the brilliant programmer he is, Ray hacked it into a stack in less time than it took for me to write this prose.  And now here it is, free as flu, catching on all over the damn place.

What made BuzzPhraser possible as a product is that the practice of buzzphrasing actually has rules.  Like English, TechnoLatin is built around nouns.  It has adjectives to modify those nouns.  And adverbs to modify the adjectives.  It also has a class of nouns that modify other nouns — we call them “adnouns.”  And it has a nice assortment of hyphenated prefixes and suffixes (such as “multi-” and “-driven”) that we call “hyphixes.”

Since the TechnoLatin lexicon is filled with meaningless words in all those categories, the words that comprise TechnoLatin buzzphrases can be assembled in just about any number or order, held together as if by velcro.  These are the rules:

  • adverbs modify adjectives
  • adjectives modify adnouns, nouns or each other
  • adnouns modify nouns or other adnouns
  • nouns are modified by adnouns or adjectives
  • prefixes modify all adjectives
  • suffixes qualify all adnouns

Here is a diagram that shows how the rules work:

As with English, there are many exceptions.  But, as with programming, we don’t make any.  So cope with it.

With one adverb, one adjective, two adnouns, a noun and a prefix, you get “backwardly architected hyper-intelligent analysis inference leader.”  With an adjective and two nouns, you get “interactive leverage module.”  Put together buzzphrases of almost any shape and length:

  • “Breakthrough-capable technology market”
  • “Primarily distinguished optional contingency philosophy control power environment”
  • “Executive inference server”
  • “Evidently complete key business manipulation capacity method”
  • “Incrementally intelligent workgroup process topology vendor”

The amazing thing is that all of these sound, as we say in TechnoLatin, “virtually credible.”  And one nice thing about the computer business is — thanks largely to the brain-softening results of prolonged TechnoLatin abuse — “virtually credible” is exactly what it means in plain English: close enough.

BuzzPhraser makes “close enough” easy to reach by substituting guesswork for thinking.  Just keep hitting the button until the right buzzphrase comes along.  Then use that buzzphrase in faith that at least it sounds like you know what you’re saying.  And hey, in this business, isn’t that virtually credible?

Acknowledgements

Thanks to:

Stewart Alsop II, who published “Random Strings of TechnoLatin” along with the original Generic Description Table in both the Preceedings and Proceedings of Agenda 90; and who would like an e-mail front end that automatically discards any message with too many TechnoLatin words and buzzphrases.

Spencer F. Katt of PC Week, who devoted parts of two consecutive rumor columns to the Table, and posted it on the magazine’s CompuServe bulletin board, from which so many people copied it that I thought there might be something going on here.

Guy Kawasaki, who told me “this needs to be a product.”

Bob LeVitus, who told me “you ought to get this hacked into a stack.”

And Ray Miller, who did it.  Beautifully.

Doc Searls
Palo Alto, California
March 7, 1991

On the top left is a photo taken with my trusty old (also much used and abused) Canon 5D Mark III. On the top right is one taken by a borrowed new Sony a7Riii. Below both are cropped close-ups of detail. The scene is in a room illuminated by incandescent track lighting. It is not an art shot, though it does contain photo art by our good friend Marian Crostic, whose Sony a7R she is kindly remanding to my custody tomorrow. (Her main camera is now an a7Riii like the borrowed one I used here.)

Both photos were shot with Canon and Sony’s best 24-105 f4 zoom lenses, at the 105mm end. Both were also set to automatic, meaning the camera chooses all the settings. In both cases the camera chose ISO 3200 at f4. The only difference was shutter speed: 1/125 sec on the Canon and 1/160 sec on the Sony. While 3200 is not the prettiest ISO, I wanted to compare both cameras indoors under less than ideal lighting, because that’s typical of situations where I shoot a lot of people.

One difference between these cameras is the pixel density of the sensor: the Canon’s shot is 5760 x 3840 pixels, while the Sony’s is 7952 x 5304. While that difference accounts for some of the higher detail in the Sony’s shot, it’s clear to me that the Sony lens is simply sharper, as Ken Rockwell kinda promised in this glowing review. (Also, to be fair, the Canon lens has had a lot of use.)

All the images above are screen shots of RAW versions of the photos (.CR2 for the Canon and .ARW for the Sony). Though I don’t have the time or patience to show differences in the .JPG versions of these photos, it’s clear to me that the Canon’s JPGs look less artifacted by compression. The obvious artifacts in the Sony shots have me thinking I may only shoot RAW with the a7R, though I’ll need to test it out first.

The main difference overall, at least in this setting, is in the warmth of the color. There the Canon has a huge advantage. I could say it’s also because the Sony is slightly less exposed (by the higher shutter speed); but I noticed the same difference in test shots I took outdoors as well, under both overcast and sunlit skies, and at ISO 100. The Canon seems warmer, though the Sony has far more detail one can pull out of shadows.

I should add that neither camera got the color of the wall (a creamy white) right in these photos, with the Canon leaning hot and the Sony leaning cool.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that much before I pick up the a7R, and start using it to shoot stuff in New York, where I’m headed Wednesday night after more than a year away.

 

 

My post yesterday saw action on Techmeme (as I write this, it’s at #2) and on Twitter (from Don Marti, Augustine Fou, et. al.), and in thoughtful blog posts by John Gruber in Daring Fireball and Nick Heer in Pixel Envy. All pushed back on at least some of what I said. Here are some excerpts, with my responses. First, John:

Doc Searls:

Here’s what’s misleading about this message: Felix would have had none of those trackers following him if he had gone into Settings → Privacy → Tracking, and pushed the switch to off […].

Key fact: it is defaulted to on. Meaning Apple is not fully serious about privacy. If Apple was fully serious, your iPhone would be set to not allow tracking in the first place. All those trackers would come pre-vaporized.

For all the criticism Apple has faced from the ad tech industry over this feature, it’s fun to see criticism that Apple isn’t going far enough. But I don’t think Searls’s critique here is fair. Permission to allow tracking is not on by default — what is on by default is permission for the app to ask. Searls makes that clear, I know, but it feels like he’s arguing as though apps can track you by default, and they can’t.

But I don’t think Searls’s critique here is fair. Permission to allow tracking is not on by default — what is on by default is permission for the app to ask. Searls makes that clear, I know, but it feels like he’s arguing as though apps can track you by default, and they can’t.

I’m not arguing that. But let’s dig down a bit on all this.

What Apple has here is a system for asking in both directions (apps asking to track, and users asking apps not to track). I think this is weird and unclear, while simply disallowing tracking globally would be clear. So would a setting that simply turns off all apps’ ability to track. But that’s not what we have.

Or maybe we do.

To review… in Settings—>Privacy—>Tracking, is a single OFF/ON switch for “Allow Ads to Request to Track.” It is by default set to ON. (I called AppleCare to be sure about this. The guy I spoke to said yes, it is.) Below that setting is a bit of explanatory text with a “Learn more” link that goes to this long column of text one swipes down four times (at least on my phone) to read:

Okay, now look in the fifth paragraph (three up from where you’re reading now). There it says that by turning the setting to OFF, “all apps…will be blocked from accessing the device’s Advertising Identifier.” Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it seems plain to me that this will at least pre-vaporize trackers vectored on the device identifier (technically called IDFA: ID For Advertisers).

After explaining why he thinks the default setting to ON is the better choice, and why he likes it that way (e.g. he can see what apps want to track, surprisingly few do, and he knows which they are), John says this about the IDFA:

IDFA was well-intentioned, but I think in hindsight Apple realizes it was naive to think the surveillance ad industry could be trusted with anything.

And why “ask” an app not to track? Why not “tell”? Or, better yet, “Prevent Tracking By This App”? Does asking an app not to track mean it won’t?

This is Apple being honest. Apple can block apps from accessing the IDFA identifier, but there’s nothing Apple can do to guarantee that apps won’t come up with their own device fingerprinting schemes to track users behind their backs. Using “Don’t Allow Tracking” or some such label instead of “Ask App Not to Track” would create the false impression that Apple can block any and all forms of tracking. It’s like a restaurant with a no smoking policy. That doesn’t mean you won’t go into the restroom and find a patron sneaking a smoke. I think if Apple catches applications circumventing “Ask App Not to Track” with custom schemes, they’ll take punitive action, just like a restaurant might ask a patron to leave if they catch them smoking in the restroom — but they can’t guarantee it won’t happen. (Joanna Stern asked Craig Federighi about this in their interview a few weeks ago, and Federighi answered honestly.)

If Apple could give you a button that guaranteed an app couldn’t track you, they would, and they’d label it appropriately. But they can’t so they don’t, and they won’t exaggerate what they can do.

On Twitter Don Marti writes,

Unfortunately it probably has to be “ask app not to track” because some apps will figure out ways around the policy (like all mobile app store policies). Probably better not to give people a false sense of security if they are suspicious of an app

—and then points to P&G Worked With China Trade Group on Tech to Sidestep Apple Privacy Rules, subtitled “One of world’s largest ad buyers spent years building marketing machine reliant on digital user data, putting it at odds with iPhone maker’s privacy moves” in The Wall Street Journal. In it is this:

P&G marketing chief Marc Pritchard has advocated for a universal way to track users across platforms, including those run by Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, that protects privacy while also giving marketers information to better hone their messages.

Frustrated with what it saw as tech companies’ lack of transparency, P&G began building its own consumer database several years ago, seeking to generate detailed intelligence on consumer behavior without relying on data gathered by Facebook, Google and other platforms. The information is a combination of anonymous consumer IDs culled from devices and personal information that customers share willingly. The company said in 2019 that it had amassed 1.5 billion consumer identifications world-wide.

China, where Facebook and Google have a limited presence, is P&G’s most sophisticated market for using that database. The company funnels 80% of its digital-ad buying there through “programmatic ads” that let it target people with the highest propensity to buy without presenting them with irrelevant or excessive ads, P&G Chief Executive Officer David Taylor said at a conference last year.

“We are reinventing brand building, from wasteful mass marketing to mass one-to-one brand building fueled by data and technology,” he said. “This is driving growth while delivering savings and efficiencies.”

In response to that, I tweeted,

Won’t app makers find ways to work around the no tracking ask, regardless of whether it’s a global or a one-at-a-time setting? That seems to be what the
@WSJ is saying about  @ProcterGamble ‘s work with #CAID device fingerprinting.

Don replied,

Yes. Some app developers will figure out a way to track you that doesn’t get caught by the App Store review. Apple can’t promise a complete “stop this app from tracking me” feature because sometimes it will be one of those apps that’s breaking the rules

Then Augustine Fou replied,

of course, MANY ad tech companies have been working on fingerprinting for years, as a work around to browsers (like Firefox) allowing users to delete cookies many years ago. Fingerprinting is even more pernicious because it is on server-side and out of control of user entirely

That last point is why I’ve long argued that we have a very basic problem with the client server model itself: that it all but guarantees a feudal system in which clients are serfs and site operators (and Big Tech in general) are their lords and masters. Though my original metaphor for client-server (which I have been told was originally a euphemism for slave-master) was calf-cow:

Here’s more on that one, plus some other metaphors as well:

I’ll pick up that thread after visiting what Nick says about fingerprinting:

There are countless ways that devices can be fingerprinted, and the mandated use of IDFA instead of those surreptitious methods makes it harder for ad tech companies to be sneaky. It has long been possible to turn off IDFA or reset the identifier. If it did not exist, ad tech companies would find other ways of individual tracking without users’ knowledge, consent, or control.

And why “ask” an app not to track? Why not “tell”? Or, better yet, “Prevent Tracking By This App”? Does asking an app not to track mean it won’t?

History has an answer for those questions.

Remember Do Not Track? Invented in the dawn of tracking, back in the late ’00s, it’s still a setting in every one of our browsers. But it too is just an ask — and ignored by nearly every website on Earth.

Much like Do Not Track, App Tracking Transparency is a request — verified as much as Apple can by App Review — to avoid false certainty. Tracking is a pernicious reality of every internet-connected technology. It is ludicrous to think that any company could singlehandedly find and disable all forms of fingerprinting in all apps, or to guarantee that users will not be tracked.

I agree. This too is a problem with the feudal system that the Web + app world has become, and Nick is right to point it out. He continues,

The thing that bugs me is that Searls knows all of this. He’s Doc Searls; he has an extraordinary thirteen year history of writing about this stuff. So I am not entirely sure why he is making arguments like the ones above that, with knowledge of his understanding of this space, begin to feel disingenuous. I have been thinking about this since I read this article last night and I have not come to a satisfactory realistic conclusion.

Here’s a realistic conclusion (or at least the one that’s in my head right now): I was mistaken to assume that Apple has more control here than it really does, and it’s right for all these guys (Nick, John, Augustine, Don and others) to point that out. Hey, I gave in to wishful thinking and unconscious ad hominem argumentation. Mea bozo. I sit corrected.

He continues,

Apple is a big, giant, powerful company — but it is only one company that operates within the realities of legal and technical domains. We cannot engineer our way out of the anti-privacy ad tech mess. The only solution is regulatory. That will not guarantee that bad actors do not exist, but it could create penalties for, say, Google when it ignores users’ choices or Dr. B when it warehouses medical data for unspecified future purposes.

We’ve had the GDPR and the CCPA in enforceable forms for awhile now, and the main result, for us mere “data subjects” (GDPR) and “consumers” (CCPA) is a far worse collection of experiences in using the Web.

At this point my faith in regulation (which I celebrated, at least in the GDPR case, when it went into force) is less than zero. So is my faith in tech, within the existing system.

So I’m moving on, and working on a new approach, outside the whole feudal system, which I describe in A New Way. It’s truly new and small, but I think it can be huge: much bigger than the existing system, simply because we on the demand side will have better ways of informing supply (are you listening, Mark Pritchard?) than even the best surveillance systems can guess at.

This piece has had a lot of very smart push-back (and forward, but mostly back). I respond to it in Part II, here.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch Apple’s Privacy on iPhone | tracked ad. In it a guy named Felix (that’s him, above) goes from a coffee shop to a waiting room somewhere, accumulating a vast herd of hangers-on along the way. The herd represents trackers in his phone, all crowding his personal space while gathering private information about him. The sound track is “Mind Your Own Business,” by Delta 5. Lyrics:

Can I have a taste of your ice cream?
Can I lick the crumbs from your table?
Can I interfere in your crisis?

No, mind your own business
No, mind your own business

Can you hear those people behind me?
Looking at your feelings inside me
Listen to the distance between us

Why don’t you mind your own business?
Why don’t you mind your own business?

Can you hear those people behind me?
Looking at your feelings inside me
Listen to the distance between us

Why don’t you mind your own business?
Why don’t you mind your own business?

The ad says this when Felix checks his phone from the crowded room filled with people spying on his life:

Then this:

Finally, when he presses “Ask App Not to Track,” all the hangers-on go pop and turn to dust—

Followed by

Except that she gets popped too:

Meaning he doesn’t want any one of those trackers in his life.

The final image is the one at the top.

Here’s what’s misleading about this message: Felix would have had none of those trackers following him if he had gone into Settings—>Privacy—>Tracking, and pushed the switch to off, like I’ve done here:

Key fact: it is defaulted to on. Meaning Apple is not fully serious about privacy. If Apple was fully serious, your iPhone would be set to not allow tracking in the first place. All those trackers would come pre-vaporized. And Apple never would have given every iPhone an IDFA—ID For Advertisers—in the first place. (And never mind that they created IDFA back in 2013 partly to wean advertisers from tracking and targeting phones’ UDIDs (unique device IDs).

Defaulting the master Tracking setting to ON means Felix has to tap “Ask App Not To Track” for every single one of those hangers-on. Meaning that one click won’t vaporize all those apps at once. Just one at a time. This too is misleading as well as unserious.

And why “ask” an app not to track? Why not “tell”? Or, better yet, “Prevent Tracking By This App”? Does asking an app not to track mean it won’t?

History has an answer for those questions.

Remember Do Not Track? Invented in the dawn of tracking, back in the late ’00s, it’s still a setting in every one of our browsers. But it too is just an ask—and ignored by nearly every website on Earth.

Here is how the setting looks, buried deep on Google’s Chrome:

It’s hardly worth bothering to turn that on (it’s defaulted to off), because it became clear long ago that Do Not Track was utterly defeated by the adtech biz and its dependents in online publishing. The standard itself was morphed to meaninglessness at the W3C, where by the end (in 2019) it got re-branded “Tracking Preference Expression.” (As if any of us has a preference for tracking other than to make it not happen or go away.)

By the way, thanks to adtech’s defeat of Do Not Track in 2014, people took matters into their own hands, by installing ad and tracking blockers en masse, turning ad blocking, an option that had been laying around since 2004, into the biggest boycott in world history by 2015.

And now we have one large company, Apple, making big and (somewhat, as we see above) bold moves toward respecting personal privacy. That’s good as far as it goes. But how far is that, exactly? To see how far, here are some questions:

  • Will “asking” apps not to track on an iPhone actually make an app not track?
  • How will one be able to tell?
  • What auditing and accounting mechanisms are in place—on your phone, on the apps’ side, or at Apple?

As for people’s responses to Apple’s new setting, here are some numbers for a three-week time frame: April 26 to May 16. They come from FLURRY, a subsidiary of Verizon Media, which is an adtech company. I’ll summarize:

  • For “Worldwide daily op-in rate after iOS 14.5 launch across all apps,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who allow app tracking among uses who have chosen to either allow or deny tracking” started at 11% and rose to 15%.
  • The “U.S. Daily opt-in rate after iOS launch across all apps,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who allow app tracking among users who have chosen to either allow or deny tracking” started at 2% and rose to 6%.
  • The “Worldwide daily opt-in rate across apps that have displayed the prompt,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who allow app tracking among users who have chosen to either allow or deny tracking” started at 31% and went down to 24%.
  • The “Worldwide daily share of mobile app users with ‘restricted’ app tracking” (that’s where somebody goes into Settings—>Privacy—>Tracking and switches off “Allow Apps to Request to Track”), expressed as “% of mobile active app users who cannot be tracked by default and don’t have a choice to select a tracking option” started and stayed within a point of 5% .
  • And the “U.S. daily share of mobile app users with ‘restricted’ app tracking,” expressed as “% of mobile active app users who cannot be tracked by default and don’t have a choice to select a tracking option” started at 4% and ended at 3%, with some dips to 2%.

Clearly tracking isn’t popular, but those first two numbers should cause concern for those who want tracking to stay unpopular. The adtech business is relentless in advocacy of tracking, constantly pitching stories about how essential tracking-based “relevant,” “personalized” and “interest-based” advertising is—for you, and for the “free” Web and Internet.

It is also essential to note that Apple does advertising as well. Here’s Benedict Evans on a slope for Apple that is slippery in several ways:

Apple has built up its own ad system on the iPhone, which records, tracks and targets users and serves them ads, but does this on the device itself rather than on the cloud, and only its own apps and services. Apple tracks lots of different aspects of your behaviour and uses that data to put you into anonymised interest-based cohorts and serve you ads that are targeted to your interests, in the App Store, Stocks and News apps. You can read Apple’s description of that here – Apple is tracking a lot of user data, but nothing leaves your phone. Your phone is tracking you, but it doesn’t tell anyone anything.

This is conceptually pretty similar to Google’s proposed FLoC, in which your Chrome web browser uses the web pages you visit to put you into anonymised interest-based cohorts without your browsing history itself leaving your device. Publishers (and hence advertisers) can ask Chrome for a cohort and serve you an appropriate ad rather than tracking and targeting you yourself. Your browser is tracking you, but it doesn’t tell anyone anything -except for that anonymous cohort.

Google, obviously, wants FLoC to be a generalised system used by third-party publishers and advertisers. At the moment, Apple runs its own cohort tracking, publishing and advertising as a sealed system. It has begun selling targeted ads inside the App Store (at precisely the moment that it crippled third party app install ads with IDFA), but it isn’t offering this tracking and targeting to anyone else. Unlike FLoC, an advertiser, web page or app can’t ask what cohort your iPhone has put you in – only Apple’s apps can do that, including the app store.

So, the obvious, cynical theory is that Apple decided to cripple third-party app install ads just at the point that it was poised to launch its own, and to weaken the broader smartphone ad model so that companies would be driven towards in-app purchase instead. (The even more cynical theory would be that Apple expects to lose a big chunk of App Store commission as a result of lawsuits and so plans to replace this with app install ads. I don’t actually believe this – amongst other things I think Apple believes it will win its Epic and Spotify cases.)

Much more interesting, though, is what happens if Apple opens up its cohort tracking and targeting, and says that apps, or Safari, can now serve anonymous, targeted, private ads without the publisher or developer knowing the targeting data. It could create an API to serve those ads in Safari and in apps, without the publisher knowing what the cohort was or even without knowing what the ad was. What if Apple offered that, and described it as a truly ‘private, personalised’ ad model, on a platform with at least 60% of US mobile traffic, and over a billion global users?…

Apple has a tendency to build up strategic assets in discrete blocks and small parts of products, and then combine them into one. It’s been planning to shift the Mac to its own silicon for close to a decade, and added biometrics to its products before adding Apple Pay and then a credit card. Now it has Apple Pay and ‘Sign in with Apple’ as new building blocks on the web, that might be combined into other things. It seems pretty obvious that Privacy is another of those building blocks, deployed step by step in lots of different places. Privacy has been good business for Apple, and advertising is a bigger business than all of those.

All of which is why I’ve lately been thinking that privacy is a losing battle on the Web. And that we need to start building a byway around the whole mess: one where demand can signal supply about exactly what it wants, rather than having demand constantly being spied on and guessed at by adtech’s creepy machinery.

What does it mean when perhaps hundreds of thousands of one’s photos appear in articles, essays and posts all over the Web?

It means they’re useful. That’s why I posted the originals in the first place, and licensed them to require only attribution. Because of that, I can at least guess at how many have been put to use.

For one example subject, take Lithium, a metal in the periodic table. Lithium is making news these days, because it’s both scarce and required for the batteries of electric and hybrid vehicles. At issue especially is how and where lithium is extracted from the Earth. As Ivan Penn and  put it in The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles (6 May in The New York Times), extraction “might not be very green.”

But it is blue. Or turquoise. Or aqua. Or whatever colors you see in the photo above.

I took that shot on a 2010 flight over Nevada. Looking out the window, it’s hard to miss lakes of bright colors on the desert floor, looking like stained glass windows into the Earth. I didn’t know at the time that the puddles were lithium, but I did know they’d be useful when I published them, along with whatever information a little bit of research would reveal about them. After I did the research, I put 17 photos in an album on Flickr titled Lithium Mines in Nevada and added the same set to another album called Mines and Mining, which is now 329 photos long.

Also on that flight, which produced 130 photos now in an album called 2010_08_06 rno-phx-bos, other topics of interest are the Shoshone Mountains, Yucca Lake and Yucca Flat (with “subsidence craters” over underground nuclear bomb explosions), the Nevada Test Site, (where hundreds of atomic bomb tests took place, among other interesting things, “Doom Town” on Frenchman Lake, Broom Lake in Area 51, Creech Air Force Base (from which military drones are remotely controlled), Grand Canyon, and Buffalo at night. None of the photos of mine at those links (all in Wikipedia) are especially artistic. In fact most of them make me cringe today, because I hadn’t yet mastered Photoshop when I posted them in the first place. Back then I shot only .jpgs, rather than RAW photos, which means I can’t go back do much to improve them. But all are useful, especially to writers and publications covering the topic of lithium mining. For example, my photos of those lithium lakes appear in—

And those are just the first six among 23,200 results in a search for my name + lithium. And those results are just from pubs that have bothered to obey my Creative Commons license, which only requires attribution. Countless others don’t.

Google also finds 57,400 results for my name + mining. On top of those, there are also thousands of other results for potash, river, geology, mining, mountains, dunes, desert, beach, ocean, hebrides, glacier, and other landforms sometimes best viewed from above. And that’s on top of more than 1500 photos of mine parked in Wikimedia Commons, of which many (perhaps most) are already in Wikipedia (sometimes in multiple places) or on their way there.

And those are just a few of the many subjects I’ve shot, posted and annotated to make them useful to the world. Which is why I’m guessing the number of photos actually being used is in the hundreds of thousands by now.

I have placed none of those photos in any of those places. I just put them up where they can easily be found and put to use. For example, when I shot Thedford, Nebraska, I knew somebody would find the photo and put it in Wikipedia.

Shots like these are a small percentage of all the photos I’ve taken over many decades. In fact, most of my photography is of people and scenes, not stuff like you find in the links above.

But apparently my main calling as a photographer is to push useful photos to the edge of the public domain, and to describe and tag them in ways that make them easy for researchers and journalists to find and use. And so far that has been a very successful strategy.

Addendum:::

So I have a camera question for the fellow photographers out there.

My main camera is a 2012-vintage Canon 5D Mark III , which replaced a 2005-vintage Canon 5D (source of the lithium lake shots), which replaced a Canon 30D of the same generation, and a Nikon Coolpix before that. All of these are retired or beat up now. Being um, resource constrained, every camera and lens I’ve used in this millennium I’ve either rented or bought used.

Now, out of great kindness, an old friend is giving me a Sony a7R that has been idle since she replaced it with a Sony a7Riii. I’ve played with her newer Sony, and really like how much lighter mirrorless full-frames can be. (And the a7R is lighter than the a7Riii.) The question now is what kind of lens I want to start with here, given that my budget is $0 (though I will spend more than that). The Sony equivalent of the lens I use most, a Canon 24-105 f4 L, runs >$1000, even used.

I suppose I could get non-Sony lenses for less, but … I’m not sure that’s the way to go. I’m kinda tempted to get a telephoto zoom or prime for the Sony and keep using the Canon for everything else. But then I’m carrying two cameras everywhere.

But I just looked at Ken Rockwell’s take on the Sony 24-105mm f/4
FE G OSS Full-Frame E-Mount
, which appears to outperform the Canon equivalent (two links back) so maybe I’ll find a bullet to bite, and spend the grand.

[25 May…] And I did that. The lens just arrived. Now I just need to match it up with a7R, which will probably happen next Tuesday. I trust you’ll see some results soon after that.

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Have you ever wondered why you have to consent to terms required by the websites of the world, rather than the other way around? Or why you have no record of what you have accepted or agreed to?

Blame the cookie.

Have you wondered why you have no more privacy on the Web than what other parties grant you (which is none at all), and that you can only opt in or out of choices that others provide—while the only controls you have over your privacy are to skulk around like a criminal (thank you, Edward Snowden and Russell Brand, for that analogy) or to stay offline completely?

Blame the cookie.

And have you paused to wonder why Europe’s GDPR regards you as a mere “data subject” while assuming that the only parties qualified to be “data controllers” and “data processors” are the sites and services of the world, leaving you with little more agency than those sites and services allow, or provide you?

Blame the cookie.

Or why California’s CCPA regards you as a mere “consumer” (not a producer, much less a complete human being), and only gives you the right to ask the sites and services of the world to give back data they have gathered about you, or not to “sell” that personal data, whatever the hell that means?

Blame the cookie.

There are more examples, but you get the point: this situation has become so established that it’s hard to imagine any other way for the Web to operate.

Now here’s another point: it didn’t have to be that way.

The World Wide Web that Tim Berners-Lee invented didn’t have cookies. It also didn’t have websites. It had pages one could publish or read, at any distance across the Internet.

This original Web was simple and peer-to-peer. It was meant to be personal as well, meaning an individual could publish with a server or read with a browser. One could also write pages easily with an HTML editor, which was also easy to invent and deploy.

It should help to recall that the Apache Web server, which has published most of the world’s Web pages across most the time the Web has been around, was meant originally to work as a personal server. That’s because the original design assumption was that anyone, from individuals to large enterprises, could have a server of their own, and publish whatever they wanted on it. The same went for people reading pages on the Web.

Back in the 90s my own website, searls.com, ran on a box under my desk. It could do that because, even though my connection was just dial-up speed, it was on full time over its own static IP address, which I easily rented from my ISP. In fact, that I had sixteen of those addresses, so I could operate another server in my office for storing and transferring articles and columns I wrote to Linux Journal. Every night a cron utility would push what I wrote to the magazine itself. Both servers ran Apache. And none of this was especially geeky. (I’m not a programmer and the only code I know is Morse.)

My point here is that the Web back then was still peer-to-peer and welcoming to individuals who wished to operate at full agency. It even stayed that way through the Age of Blogs in the early ’00s.

But gradually a poison disabled personal agency. That poison was the cookie.

Technically a cookie is a token—a string of text—left by one computer program with another, to help the two remember each other. These are used for many purposes in computing.

But computing for the Web got a special kind of cookie called the HTTP cookie. This, Wikipedia says (at that link)

…is a small piece of data stored on the user‘s computer by the web browser while browsing a website. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember stateful information (such as items added in the shopping cart in an online store) or to record the user’s browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited in the past). They can also be used to remember pieces of information that the user previously entered into form fields, such as names, addresses, passwords, and payment card numbers.

It also says,

Cookies perform essential functions in the modern web. Perhaps most importantly, authentication cookies are the most common method used by web servers to know whether the user is logged in or not, and which account they are logged in with.

This, however, was not the original idea, which Lou Montulli came up with in 1994. Lou’s idea was just for a server to remember the last state of a browser’s interaction with it. But that one move—a server putting a cookie inside every visiting browser—crossed a privacy threshold: a personal boundary that should have been clear from the start but was not.

Once that boundary was crossed, and the number and variety of cookies increased, a snowball started rolling, and whatever chance we had to protect our privacy behind that boundary, was lost.

Today that snowball is so large that nearly all personal agency on the Web happens within the separate silos of every website, and compromised by whatever countless cookies and other tracking methods are used to keep track of, and to follow, the individual.

This is why most of the great stuff you can do on the Web is by grace of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, WordPress and countless others, including those third parties.

Bruce Schneier calls this a feudal system:

Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.

These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals.

Bruce wrote that in 2012, about the time we invested hope in Do Not Track, which was designed as a polite request one could turn on in a browser, and servers could obey.

Alas, the tracking-based online advertising business and its dependents in publishing dismissed Do Not Track with contempt.

Starting in 2013, we serfs fought back, by the hundreds of millions, blocking ads and tracking: the biggest boycott in world history. This, however, did nothing to stop what Shoshana Zuboff calls Surveillance Capitalism and Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger call Re-engineering Humanity.

Today our poisoned minds can hardly imagine having native capacities of our own that can operate at scale across all the world’s websites and services. To have that ability would also be at odds with the methods and imperatives of personally targeted advertising, which requires cookies and other tracking methods. One of those imperatives is making money: $Trillions of it.

The business itself (aka adtech) is extremely complex and deeply corrupt: filled with fraud, botnets and malwareMost of the money spent on adtech also goes to intermediaries and not to the media you (as they like to say) consume. It’s a freaking fecosystem, and every participant’s dependence on it is extreme.

Take, for example, Vizio TVs. As Samuel Axon puts it in Ars TechnicaVizio TV buyers are becoming the product Vizio sells, not just its customers Vizio’s ads, streaming, and data business grew 133 percent year over year.

Without cookies and the cookie-like trackers by which Vizio and its third parties can target customers directly, that business wouldn’t be there.

As a measure of how far this poisoning has gone, dig this: FouAnalyticsPageXray says the Ars Technica story above comes to your browser with all this spyware you don’t ask for or expect when you click on that link:

Adserver Requests: 786
Tracking Requests: 532
Other Requests: 112

I’m also betting that nobody reporting for a Condé Nast publication will touch that third rail, which I have been challenging journalists to do in 139 posts, essays, columns and articles, starting in 2008.

(Please prove me wrong, @SamuelAxon—or any reporter other than Farhad Manjoo, who so far is the only journalist from a major publication I know to have bitten the robotic hand that feeds them. I also note that the hand in his case is The New York Times‘, and that it has backed off a great deal in the amount of tracking it does. Hats off for that.)

At this stage of the Web’s moral devolution, it is nearly impossible to think outside the cookie-based fecosystem. If it was, we would get back the agency we lost, and the regulations we’re writing would respect and encourage that agency as well.

But that’s not happening, in spite of all the positive privacy moves Apple, Brave, Mozilla, Consumer Reports, the EFF and others are making.

My hat’s off to all of them, but let’s face it: the poisoning is too far advanced. After fighting it for more than 22 years (dating from publishing The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999), I’m moving on.

To here.

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