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Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack is gone. In its place is SoFi Stadium, the 77,000-seat home of Los Angeles’ two pro football teams and much else, including the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater. There’s also more to come in the surrounding vastness of Hollywood Park, named after the racetrack. Wikipedia says the park—

consists of over 8.5 million square feet (790,000 m2) that will be used for office space and condominiums, a 12-screen Cinepolis movie theaterballrooms, outdoor spaces for community programming, retail, a fitness center, a luxury hotel, a brewery, up-scale restaurants and an open-air shopping and entertainment complex.

The picture above (via this Martin Turnbull story) is an aerial view of the racetrack in 1938, shortly after it opened. Note the parking lot: immense and almost completely filled with cars. Perhaps this was the day Seabiscuit won his inaugural Gold Cup. Whether or not, few alive today remember when only baseball was more popular than horse racing in the U.S.

What interests me about this change is that I’ve enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of it, while approaching Los Angeles International Airport on commercial passenger planes. I’ve also photographed that change over the course of seventeen years, through those same windows. Between 2005 and 2022, I shot many dozens of photos of the racetrack site (along with the adjacent Hollywood Park Casino) from its last working days as a racetrack to the completion of SoFi Stadium (with the casino’s relocation to a corner of what had been the Racetrack’s parking lot).

In this album on Flickr are 91 photos of that change. Here I tell the story on one page. We’ll start in January 2005:

At this time the racetrack was long past its prime but still functioning along with the casino. (Look closely and you’ll see the word CASINO in red on the roof of the nearest grandstand. The casino itself is the gray building to its left.) In the distance, you can see the skyline of the West Wilshire region and the Hollywood Hills, topped by the HOLLYWOOD sign. (Hollywood Park is actually in Inglewood.)

This same year, Churchill Downs Incorporated sold the track to the Bay Meadows Land Company, owned by Stockbridge Capital Group, for $260 million in cash. This was good for the private capital business, but doom for the track. Bay Meadows, an equally famous racetrack just south of San Francisco, was also doomed.

This shot was taken seven months later, this time looking south:

Note the fountains in the ponds and the pavilion for members and special guests. Also, notice the separate grandstand for the Casino. The cars in the lots are almost certainly extras for LAX’s car rental companies, leasing unused parking spaces. But you can still see in the racetrack what (it says here) was “once described as too beautiful for words.”

The next photo is from April 2007:

Everything still appears operative. You can even see horses practicing on the dirt track. Also note The Forum across the street on the north side. Now the Kia Forum, its roof at various times also bore Great Western and Chase brand images. It was built in 1966 and is still going strong. During its prime, the Lakers in their Showtime era played there. (The team moved downtown to Staples Center in 1999.)

Next is this view, three months later in July 2007, looking south from the north side:

Note the stables between the racetrack and the practice track on the left. Also, note how the inner track, which had turned from dark brown to blue in prior photos, is now a light brown. It will later be green as well.

(Studying this a bit, I’ve learned that good horse race tracks are very deep flat-topped trenches filled with layers of special dirt that require constant grooming, much of which is devoted to making sure the surface is to some degree wet. In arid Los Angeles, this is a steep requirement. For more on how this works, this Wired story will help.)

Two months later, in September 2007, this view looking north takes in most of the Hollywood Park property, plus The Forum, Inglewood Cemetery, Baldwin Hills (beyond the cemetery and to the left or west):

The Hollywood Hills, with its white sign, is below the clouds, in the top middle, and the downtown Los Angeles skyline is in the top right.

Here on the Hollywood Park property, the casino will be rebuilt on the near edge of the property, along South Stadium Drive.

Here, a few months later, in February 2008, the inner track is once again blue:

This time take note of the empty areas of the parking lot, and how some regions are partitioned off. Ahead we’ll see these spaces variously occupied.

A few seconds after the shot above, I took this shot of the casino and club grounds:

The next shot comes a year and a half later, in September 2009:

Here the inner track has returned to green grass. In the far corner of the parking lot, across from The Forum, a partitioned section has activity involving at least six tents, plus other structures.

Almost three years passed before I got another view, in May 2102, this time looking south from the north side:

Here we get a nice view of the stables and the practice track. On the far side of both is a shopping center anchored by Home Depot and Target. (The white roofs are left and right.) Look in the coming shots at how those will change. Also, note the keystone-shaped fencing inside the practice track.

Here is the same scene one month later, in June 2012:

The keystone shape in the practice track is oddly green now, watered while the rest of the ground inside the track is not. A few seconds later I shot this:

Here the main change is the black-on-orange Belfair logo on the roof of the main grandstand. The paint job is new, but in fact, the racetrack became the Betfair Hollywood Park back in March, of this year.

In December begins California’s short rainy season, which we see here in my last view of the racetrack in 2012:

It’s a bit hard to see that the main track is the outer one in dark brown. We also see that the inner track, which had been blue and then green, is now brown: dirt instead of grass. This is my last view before the racetrack got its death sentence. Wikipedia:

On May 9, 2013 in a letter to employees, Hollywood Park president F. Jack Liebau announced that the track would be closing at the end of their fall racing season in 2013. In the letter, Liebau stated that the 260 acres on which the track sits “now simply has a higher and better use”, and that “in the absence of a favorable change in racing’s business model, the ultimate development of the Hollywood property was inevitable”. It was expected that the track would be demolished and replaced by housing units, park land and an entertainment complex, while the casino would be renovated.

My next pass over the property was on June 16, 2013:

The racetrack here is still verdant and irrigated, as you can see from the sprays onto the inner track, which is grass again. The last race here would come six months later, and demolition would begin shortly after that.

One year later, in June 2014, we can see the practice track and the stables absent of any use or care, condemned:

Farther west we see the casino is still operative, with cars in the parking lot:

Racing is done, but some of the ponds are still filled.

Three months later, in September 2014, demolition has begun:

Half the stables are gone, and the whole racetrack area has been bulldozed flat. Two things to note here. First is the row of red trees on the slope at the near end of the track. I believe these are red maples, which turn color in Fall even this far away from their native range. They were a nice touch. Second is the pond at the far end of the track. This is where they will start to dig a vast bowl—a crater—that will become the playing field inside the new SoFi Stadium.

Two months later, in November 2014, all the stables are completely gone, and there is a road across a dirt pile that bridges the old outer track:

This shot looks northeast toward the downtown Los Angeles skyline, and you can see the Hollywood sign on the dark ridge at the left edge of the frame, below a bit of the plane’s wing. The blur at the bottom, across the parking lot, is from the plane’s engine exhaust. (One reason I prefer my windows forward of the wing.)

This next shot is another two months later, in January 2015:

The casino is still happening, but the grandstand is ready for demolition and the racetrack area is getting prepared for SoFi.

One month after that, in February 2015, we see how winter rains have turned some untouched areas green:

Only two of the red trees remain (or so it appears), and the grandstands are still there, along with an operative casino.

This next shot is eight months later, in October, 2015:

Now the grandstand is gone. It was demolished in May. Here is a KNBC/4 report on that, with a video. And here is a longer hand-held amateur video that also gets the whole thing with stereo sound. New construction is also happening on the left, next to the old casino. This is for the new casino and its parking garage.

The next shot is almost a year later, in September, 2016:

It was a gloomy and overcast day, but you can see the biggest changes starting to take shape. The new casino and its parking garage are all but done, digging of the crater that will become the SoFi stadium has started, and landscaping is also starting to take shape, with hills of dirt in the middle of what had been the racetrack.

Ten months later, in July 2017, the SoFi crater is dug, structural pieces are starting to stand up, the new casino is operating and the old casino is gone:

Here is a close-up of work in and around the SoFi crater, shot a few seconds earlier:

The cranes in the pale gray area stand where a pond will go in. It will be called Rivers Lake.

This shot a few seconds later shows the whole west end of what will become the Hollywood Park complex:

The area in the foreground will become a retail center. The buildings on the left (west) side of the site are temporary ones for the construction project. On the right is the one completed permanent structure: the casino and its parking garage. Buildings on the left or west edge are temporary ones for the construction project.

Three months later, in January 2018, I flew over the site at night and got this one good shot (at 1/40th of a second moving at 200+mph):

Now they’re working day and night raising the SoFi structure in the crater. I share this to show how fast this work is going. You can see progress in this photo taken one month later, in February 2018, again at night:

More than a year went by before I passed over again. That was in August 2019. Here is my first shot on that pass:

Here you SoFi’s superstructure is mostly framed up, and some of the seating is put in place. Here is a wider view shot two seconds later, after I zoomed out a bit:

In both photos you see the word FORUM on The Forum’s roof. (It had previously said “Great Western” and “Chase.” It is now the Kia Forum.) You can also see the two ponds in full shape. The left one will be called Rivers Lake. The right one will pour into it over a waterfall. Cranes on the left stand in the outline of what will become an eight-story office building.

Three months later, in November 2019, the outside surfaces of the stadium are about halfway up:

We also see Rivers Lake lined, with its gray slopes and white bottom.

After this the Covid pandemic hit. I didn’t travel by air (or much at all) for almost two years, and most sporting events were canceled or delayed. So the next time I passed over the site in a position to shoot it was April 2022, when SoFi Stadium was fully operational, and the area around it mostly complete:

Here we see the shopping center in the foreground, now with the Target store showing its logo to the sky. The old practice track and stables have been replaced by parking. A few seconds later I zoomed in on the completed stadium:

We see Rivers Lake, the office building, and its parking structure are also done, as are the parking lots around the stadium. You can also see “SoFi Stadium” in raised lettering on the roof.

And that completes the series, for now.

There are a total of thirty-one photos above. All the links in the photos above will take you to a larger collection. Those in turn are a fraction among the hundreds I shot of the site. And those hundreds are among many thousands I’ve shot of ground and sky from passenger planes. So far I’ve posted over 42,000 photos tagged aerial or windowseat in my two Flickr accounts:

Hundreds of those photos have also found their ways into Wikipedia, because I license nearly all my photos online to encourage cost-free re-use. So, when people with an interest in a topic search for usable pictures they’d like to see in Wikipedia, they often find some of mine and park them at Wikimedia Commons, which is Wikipedia’s library of available images. Of the hundreds you’ll find there in a search for “aerial” plus my name, one is the top photo in the Wikipedia article on Hollywood Park Racetrack. I didn’t put it there or in Wikimedia Commons. Randos did.

My purpose in putting up this post is to encourage documentation of many things: infrastructure changes, geological formations, and any other subject that tends to get overlooked. In other words, to be useful.

A friend yesterday said, “as soon as something becomes infrastructure, it becomes uninteresting.” But not unimportant. That’s one reason I hope readers will amplify or correct what I’ve written here. Blogging is good for that.

For the curious, the cameras I used (which Flickr will tell you if you go there), were:

  1. Nikon Coolpix E5700 with a built-in zoom (2005)
  2. Canon 30D with an 18-200 Tamron zoom (2005-2009)
  3. Canon 5D with Canon 24-70mm, 24-85mm, and EF24-105mm f/4L zooms (2012-2015)
  4. Canon 5D Mark III with the same EF24-105mm f/4L zoom (2016-2019)
  5. Sony a7R with a Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS zoom (2022)

I’m not a big spender, and photography is a sideline for me, so I tend to buy used gear and rent the good stuff. On that list, the only items I bought new were the Nikon Coolpix and the two 24-105 zooms. The Canon 5D cameras were workhorses, and so was the 24-105 f4L Canon zoom. The Sony a7R was an outgrown but loved gift from a friend, a fine art photographer who had moved on to newer (and also loved) Sony gear. Experience with that camera (which has since died) led me this June to buy a new Sony a7iv, which is a marvel. Though it has a few fewer pixels than the a7R, it still has 33 million of them, which is enough for most purposes. Like the a7R, it’s mirrorless, so what you see in the viewfinder or the display on the back is what you get. It also has a fully articulated rear display, which is great for shooting out the plane windows I can’t put my face in (and there are many of those). It’s like a periscope. So expect to see more and better shots from planes soon.

And, again, give me corrections and improvements on anything I’ve posted here.

 

In one of his typically trenchant posts, titled Attentive, Scott Galloway (@profgalloway) compares human attention to oil, meaning an extractive commodity:

We used to refer to an information economy. But economies are defined by scarcity, not abundance (scarcity = value), and in an age of information abundance, what’s scarce? A: Attention. The scale of the world’s largest companies, the wealth of its richest people, and the power of governments are all rooted in the extraction, monetization, and custody of attention.

I have no argument with where Scott goes in the post. He’s right about all of it. My problem is with framing it inside the ad-supported platform and services industry. Outside of that industry is actual human attention, which is not a commodity at all.

There is nothing extractive in what I’m writing now, nor in your reading of it. Even the ads you see and hear in the world are not extractive. They are many things for sure: informative, distracting, annoying, interrupting, and more. But you do not experience some kind of fungible good being withdrawn from your life, even if that’s how the ad business thinks about it.

My point here is that reducing humans to beings who are only attentive—and passively so—is radically dehumanizing, and it is important to call that out. It’s the same reductionism we get with the word “consumers,” which Jerry Michalski calls “gullets with wallets and eyeballs”: creatures with infinite appetites for everything, constantly swimming upstream through a sea of “content.” (That’s another word that insults the infinite variety of goods it represents.)

None of us want our attention extracted, processed, monetized, captured, managed, controlled, held in custody, locked in, or subjected to any of the other verb forms that the advertising world uses without cringing. That the “attention economy” produces $trillions does not mean we want to be part of it, that we like it, or that we wish for it to persist, even though we participate in it.

Like the economies of slavery, farming, and ranching, the advertising economy relies on mute, passive, and choice-less participation by the sources of the commodities it sells. Scott is right when he says “You’d never say (much of) this shit to people in person.” Because shit it is.

Scott’s focus, however, is on what the big companies do, not on what people can do on their own, as free and independent participants in networked whatever—or as human beings who don’t need platforms to be social.

At this point in history it is almost impossible to think outside of platformed living. But the Internet is still as free and open as gravity, and does not require platforms to operate. And it’s still young: at most only decades old. In how we experience it today, with ubiquitous connectivity everywhere there’s a cellular data connection, it’s a few years old, tops.

The biggest part of that economy extracts personal data as a first step toward grabbing personal attention. That is the actual extractive part of the business. Tracking follows it. Extracting data and tracking people for ad purposes is the work of what we call adtech. (And it is very different from old-fashioned brand advertising, which does want attention, but doesn’t track or target you personally. I explain the difference in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.)

In How the Personal Data Extraction Industry Ends, which I wrote in August 2017, I documented how adtech had grown in just a few years, and how I expected it would end when Europe’s GDPR became enforceable starting the next May.

As we now know, GDPR enforcement has done nothing to stop what has become a far more massive, and still growing, economy. At most, the GDPR and California’s CCPA have merely inconvenienced that economy, while also creating a second economy in compliance, one feature of which is the value-subtract of websites worsened by insincere and misleading consent notices.

So, what can we do?

The simple and difficult answer is to start making tools for individuals, and services leveraging those tools. These are tools empowering individuals with better ways to engage the world’s organizations, especially businesses. You’ll find a list of fourteen different kinds of such tools and services here. Build some of those and we’ll have an intention economy that will do far more for business than what it’s getting now from the attention economy, regardless of how much money that economy is making today.

If you’re getting health care in the U.S., chances are your providers are now trying to give you a better patient experience through a website called MyChart.

This is supposed to be yours, as the first person singular pronoun My implies. Problem is, it’s TheirChart. And there are a lot of them. I have four (correction: five*) MyChart accounts with as many health care providers, so far: one in New York, two in Santa Barbara, one in Mountain View, and one in Los Angeles. I may soon have another in Bloomington, Indiana. None are mine. All are theirs, and they seem not to get along. Especially with me. (Some later correction on this below, and from readers who have weighed in. See the comments.)

Not surprisingly, all of them come from a single source: Epic Systems, the primary provider of back-end information tech to the country’s health care providers, including most of the big ones: Harvard, Yale, Mayo, UCLA, UChicago, Duke, Johns Hopkins, multiple Mount Sinais, and others like them. But, even though all these MyChart portals are provided by one company, and (I suppose) live in one cloud, there appears to be no way for you, the patient, to make those things work together inside an allied system that is truly yours (like your PC or your car is yours), or for you to provide them with data you already have from other sources. Which you could presumably do if My meant what it says.

The way they work can get perverse. For example, a couple days ago, one of my doctors’ offices called to tell me we would need to have a remote consult before she changed one of my prescriptions. This, I was told, could not be done over the phone. It would need to be done over video inside MyChart. So now we have an appointment for that meeting on Monday afternoon, using MyChart.

I decided to get ahead of that by finding my way into the right MyChart and leaving a session open in a browser tab. Then I made the mistake of starting to type “MyChart” into my browser’s location bar, and then not noticing that the top result was one of the countless other MyCharts maintained by countless other health care providers. But this other one looked so much like one of mine that I wasted an hour or more, failing to log in and then failing to recover my login credentials. It wasn’t until I called the customer service number thankfully listed on the website that I found I was trying to use the MyChart of some provider I’d never heard of—and which had never heard of me.

Now I’m looking at one of my two MyCharts for Santa Barbara, where it shows no upcoming visits. I can’t log into the other one to see if the Monday appointment is noted there, because that MyChart doesn’t know who I am. So I’m hoping to unfuck that one on Monday before the call on whichever MyChart I’ll need to use. Worst case, I’ll just tell the doctor’s office that we’ll have to make do with a phone call. If they answer the phone, that is.

The real problem here is that there seem to be hundreds or thousands of different health care providers, all using one company’s back end to provide personal health care information to millions of patients through hundreds or thousands of different portals, all called the same thing (or something close), while providing no obvious way for patients to gather their own data from multiple sources to use for their own independent purposes, both in and out of that system. Or any system.

To call this fubar understates the problem.

Here’s what matters: Epic can’t solve this. Nor can any or all of these separate health care systems. Because none of them are you.

You’re where the solution needs to happen. You need a simple and standardized way to collect and manage your own health-related information and engagements with multiple health care providers. One that’s yours.

This doesn’t mean you need to be alone in the wilderness. You do need expert help. In the old days, you used to get that through your primary care physician. But large health care operations have been hoovering up private practices for years, and one of the big reasons for that has been to make the data management side of medicine easier for physicians and their many associated providers. Not to make it easier for you. After all, you’re not their customer. Insurance companies are their customers.

In the midst of this is a market hole where your representation in the health care marketplace needs to sit. I know just one example of how that might work: the HIE of One. (HIE is Health Information Exchange.) For all our sakes, somebody please fund that work.

Far too much time, sweat, money, and blood is being spilled trying to solve this problem from the center outward. (For a few details on how awful that is, start reading here.)

While we’re probably never going to make health care in the U.S. something other than the B2B insurance business it has become, we can at least start working on a Me2B solution in the place it most needs to work: with patients. Because we’re the ones who need to be in full command of our relationships with our providers as well as with ourselves.

Health care, by the way, is just one category that cries out for solutions that can only come from the customers’ side. Customer Commons has a list of fourteen, including this one.

The first of these is identity. The self-sovereign approach to that would start with a wallet that is truly mine, and includes all these MyCharts. Hell, Epic could do one. Hint hint.


*Okay, now it’s Monday, and I’m a half-hour away from my consult with my doctor, via Zoom, inside MyChart. Turns out I was not yet registered with this MyChart, but at least there was a phone number I could call, and on the call (which my phone says took 14 minutes) we got my ass registered. He also pointed me to where, waaay down a very long menu, there is a “Link my accounts” choice, which brings up this:

Credit where due:

It was very easy to link my four known accounts, plus another (the one in Mountain View) that I had forgotten but somehow the MyChart master brain remembered. I suspect, given all the medical institutions I have encountered in my long life, that there are many more. Because in fact I had been to the Mountain View hospital only once, and I don’t even remember why, though I suppose I could check.

So that’s the good news. The bad news remains the same. None of these charts are mine. They are just views into many systems that are conditionally open to me. That they are now federated (that’s what this kind of linking-up is called) on Epic’s back end does not make it mine. It just makes it a many-theirs.

So the system still needs to be fixed. From our end.

 

 

 

 

 


The worldwide shipping crisis is bad. Here are some reasons:

  1. “Just in time” manufacturing, shipping, delivery, and logistics. For several decades, the whole supply system has been optimized for “lean” everything. On the whole, no part of it fully comprehends breakdowns outside the scope of immediate upstream or downstream dependencies.
  2. The pandemic, which has been depriving nearly every sector of labor, intelligence, leadership, data, and much else, since early last year.
  3. Catastrophes. The largest of these was the 2021 Suez Canal Obstruction, which has had countless effects upstream and down.
  4. Competing narratives. Humans can’t help reducing all complex situations to stories, all of which require protagonists, problems, and movement toward resolution. It’s how our minds are built, and why it’s hard to look more deeply and broadly at any issue and why it’s here. (For more on that, see Where Journalism Fails.)
  5. Corruption. This is endemic to every complex economy: construction, online advertising, high finance, whatever. It happens here too. (And, like incompetence, it tends to worsen in a crisis.)
  6. Bureacracies & non-harmonized regulations. More about this below*.
  7. Complicating secondary and tertiary effects. The most obvious of these is inflation. Says here, “the spot rate for a 40-foot shipping container from Shanghai to Los Angeles rising from about $3,500 last year to $12,500 as of the end of September.” I’ve since heard numbers as high as $50,000. And, of course, inflation also happens for other reasons, which further complicates things.

To wrap one’s head around all of those (and more), it might help to start with Aristotle’s four “causes” (which might also be translated as “explanations”). Wikipedia illustrates these with a wooden dining table:

  • Its material cause is wood.
  • Its efficient cause is carpentry.
  • Its final cause is dining.
  • Its formal cause (what gives it form) is design.

Of those, formal cause is what matters most. That’s because, without knowledge of what a table is, it wouldn’t get made.

But the worldwide supply chain (which is less a single chain than braided rivers spreading outward from many sources through countless deltas) is impossible to reduce to any one formal cause. Mining, manufacturing, harvesting, shipping on sea and land, distribution, wholesale and retail sales are all involved, and specialized in their own ways, dependencies withstanding.

I suggest, however, that the most formal of the supply chain problem’s causes is also what’s required to sort out and solve it: digital technology and the Internet. From What does the Internet make of us?, sourcing the McLuhans:

“People don’t want to know the cause of anything”, Marshall said (and Eric quotes, in Media and Formal Cause). “They do not want to know why radio caused Hitler and Gandhi alike. They do not want to know that print caused anything whatever. As users of these media, they wish merely to get inside…”

We are all inside a digital environment that is making each of us while also making our systems. This can’t be reversed. But it can be understood, at least to some degree. And that understanding can be applied.

How? Well, Marshall McLuhan—who died in 1980—saw in the rise of computing the retrieval of what he called “perfect memory—total and exact.” (Laws of Media, 1988.) So, wouldn’t it be nice if we could apply that power to the totality of the world’s supply chains, subsuming and transcending the scope and interests of any part, whether those parts be truckers, laws, standards, and the rest—and do it in real time? Global aviation has some of this, but it’s also a much simpler system than the braided rivers between global supply and global demand.

Is there something like that? I don’t yet know. Closest I’ve found is the UN’s IMO (International Maritime Organizaiton), and that only covers “the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.” Not very encompassing, that. If any of ya’ll know more, fill us in.

[*Added 18 October] Just attended a talk by Oswald KuylerManaging Director of the International Chamber of Commerce‘s Digital Standards initiative, on an “Integrated Approach” by his and allied organizations that addresses “digital islands,” “no single view of available standards” both open and closed, “limited investments into training, change management and adoption,” “lack of enabling rules and regulations,” “outdated regulation,” “privacy law barriers,” “trade standard adoption gaps,” “costly technical integration,” “fragmentation” that “prevents paperless trade,” and other factors. Yet he also says the whole thing is “bent but not broken,” and that (says one slide) “trade and supply chain prove more resilient than imagined.”

Another relevant .org is the International Chamber of Shipping.

By the way, Heather Cox Richardson (whose newsletter I highly recommend) yesterday summarized what the Biden administration is trying to do about all this:

Biden also announced today a deal among a number of different players to try to relieve the supply chain slowdowns that have built up as people turned to online shopping during the pandemic. Those slowdowns threaten the delivery of packages for the holidays, and Biden has pulled together government officials, labor unions, and company ownership to solve the backup.

The Port of Los Angeles, which handles 40% of the container traffic coming into the U.S., has had container ships stuck offshore for weeks. In June, Biden put together a Supply Chain Disruption Task Force, which has hammered out a deal. The port is going to begin operating around the clock, seven days a week. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has agreed to fill extra shifts. And major retailers, including Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Samsung, Home Depot, and Target, have agreed to move quickly to clear their goods out of the dock areas, speeding up operations to do it and committing to putting teams to work extra hours.

“The supply chain is essentially in the hands of the private sector,” a White House official told Donna Littlejohn of the Los Angeles Daily News, “so we need the private sector…to help solve these problems.” But Biden has brokered a deal among the different stakeholders to end what was becoming a crisis.

Hopefully helpful, but not sufficient.

Bonus link: a view of worldwide marine shipping. (Zoom in and out, and slide in any direction for a great way to spend some useful time.)

The photo is of Newark’s container port, viewed from an arriving flight at EWR, in 2009.

There’s an economic theory here: Free customers are more valuable than captive onesto themselves, to the companies they deal with, and to the marketplace. If that’s true, the intention economy will prove it. If not, we’ll stay stuck in the attention economy, where the belief that captive customers are more valuable than free ones prevails.

Let me explain.

The attention economy is not native to human attention. It’s native to businesses that  seek to grab and manipulate buyers’ attention. This includes the businesses themselves and their agents. Both see human attention as a “resource” as passive and ready for extraction as oil and coal. The primary actors in this economy—purveyors and customers of marketing and advertising services—typically talk about human beings not only as mere “users” and “consumers,” but as “targets” to “acquire,” “manage,” “control” and “lock in.” They are also oblivious to the irony that this is the same language used by those who own cattle and slaves.

While attention-grabbing has been around for as long as we’ve had yelling, in our digital age the fields of practice (abbreviated martech and adtech) have become so vast and varied that nobody (really, nobody) can get their head around everything that’s going on in them. (Examples of attempts are here, here and here.)

One thing we know for sure is that martech and adtech rationalize taking advantage of absent personal privacy tech in the hands of their targets. What we need there are the digital equivalents of the privacy tech we call clothing and shelter in the physical world. We also need means to signal our privacy preferences, to obtain agreements to those, and to audit compliance and resolve disputes. As it stands in the attention economy, privacy is a weak promise made separately by websites and services that are highly incentivised not to provide it. Tracking prophylaxis in browsers is some help, but itworks differently for every browser and it’s hard to tell what’s actually going on.

Another thing we know for sure is that the attention economy is thick with fraud, malware, and worse. For a view of how much worse, look at any adtech-supported website through PageXray and see the hundreds or thousands of ways sthe site and its invisible partners are trying to track you. (For example, here’s what Smithsonian Magazine‘s site does.)

We also know that lawmaking to stop adtech’s harms (e.g. GDPR and CCPA) has thus far mostly caused inconvenience for you and me (how many “consent” notices have interrupted your web surfing today?)—while creating a vast new industry devoted to making tracking as easy as legally possible. Look up GDPR+compliance and you’ll get way over 100 million results. Almost all of those will be for companies selling other companies ways to obey the letter of privacy law while violating its spirit.

Yet all that bad shit is also a red herring, misdirecting attention away from the inefficiencies of an economy that depends on unwelcome surveillance and algorithmic guesswork about what people might want.

Think about this: even if you apply all the machine learning and artificial intelligence in the world to all the personal data that might be harvested, you still can’t beat what’s possible when the targets of that surveillance have their own ways to contact and inform sellers of what they actually want and don’t want, plus ways to form genuine relationships and express genuine (rather than coerced) loyalty, and to do all of that at scale.

We don’t have that yet. But when we do, it will be an intention economy. Here are the opening paragraphs of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012):

This book stands with the customer. This is out of necessity, not sympathy. Over the coming years, customers will be emancipated from systems built to control them. They will become free and independent actors in the marketplace, equipped to tell vendors what they want, how they want it, where and when—even how much they’d like to pay—outside of any vendor’s system of customer control. Customers will be able to form and break relationships with vendors, on customers’ own terms, and not just on the take-it-or-leave-it terms that have been pro forma since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Customer power will be personal, not just collective.  Each customer will come to market equipped with his or her own means for collecting and storing personal data, expressing demand, making choices, setting preferences, proffering terms of engagement, offering payments and participating in relationships—whether those relationships are shallow or deep, and whether they last for moments or years. Those means will be standardized. No vendor will control them.

Demand will no longer be expressed only in the forms of cash, collective appetites, or the inferences of crunched data over which the individual has little or no control. Demand will be personal. This means customers will be in charge of personal information they share with all parties, including vendors.

Customers will have their own means for storing and sharing their own data, and their own tools for engaging with vendors and other parties.  With these tools customers will run their own loyalty programs—ones in which vendors will be the members. Customers will no longer need to carry around vendor-issued loyalty cards and key tags. This means vendors’ loyalty programs will be based on genuine loyalty by customers, and will benefit from a far greater range of information than tracking customer behavior alone can provide.

Thus relationship management will go both ways. Just as vendors today are able to manage relationships with customers and third parties, customers tomorrow will be able to manage relationships with vendors and fourth parties, which are companies that serve as agents of customer demand, from the customer’s side of the marketplace.

Relationships between customers and vendors will be voluntary and genuine, with loyalty anchored in mutual respect and concern, rather than coercion. So, rather than “targeting,” “capturing,” “acquiring,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” customers, as if they were slaves or cattle, vendors will earn the respect of customers who are now free to bring far more to the market’s table than the old vendor-based systems ever contemplated, much less allowed.

Likewise, rather than guessing what might get the attention of consumers—or what might “drive” them like cattle—vendors will respond to actual intentions of customers. Once customers’ expressions of intent become abundant and clear, the range of economic interplay between supply and demand will widen, and its sum will increase. The result we will call the Intention Economy.

This new economy will outperform the Attention Economy that has shaped marketing and sales since the dawn of advertising. Customer intentions, well-expressed and understood, will improve marketing and sales, because both will work with better information, and both will be spared the cost and effort wasted on guesses about what customers might want, and flooding media with messages that miss their marks. Advertising will also improve.

The volume, variety and relevance of information coming from customers in the Intention Economy will strip the gears of systems built for controlling customer behavior, or for limiting customer input. The quality of that information will also obsolete or re-purpose the guesswork mills of marketing, fed by crumb-trails of data shed by customers’ mobile gear and Web browsers. “Mining” of customer data will still be useful to vendors, though less so than intention-based data provided directly by customers.

In economic terms, there will be high opportunity costs for vendors that ignore useful signaling coming from customers. There will also be high opportunity gains for companies that take advantage of growing customer independence and empowerment.

But this hasn’t happened yet. Why?

Let’s start with supply and demand, which is roughly about price. Wikipedia: “the relationship between the price of a given good or product and the willingness of people to either buy or sell it.” But that wasn’t the original idea. “Supply and demand” was first expressed as “demand and supply” by Sir James Denham-Steuart in An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, written in 1767. To Sir James, demand and supply wasn’t about price. Specifically, “it must constantly appear reciprocal. If I demand a pair of shoes, the shoemaker either demands money or something else for his own use.” Also, “The nature of demand is to encourage industry.”

Nine years later, in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, a more visible bulb in the Scottish Enlightenment, wrote, “The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence.” Again, nothing about price.

But neither of those guys lived to see the industrial age take off. When that happened, demand became an effect of supply, rather than a cause of it. Supply came to run whole markets on a massive scale, with makers and distributors of goods able to serve countless customers in parallel. The industrial age also ubiquitized standard-form contracts of adhesion binding all customers to one supplier with a single “agreement.”

But, had Sir James and Adam lived into the current millennium, they would have seen that it is now possible, thanks to digital technologies and the Internet, for customers to achieve scale across many companies, with efficiencies not imaginable in the pre-digital industrial age.

For example, it should be possible for a customer to express her intentions—say, “I need a stroller for twins downtown this afternoon”—to whole markets, but without being trapped inside any one company’s walled garden. In other words, not only inside Amazon, eBay or Craigslist. This is called intentcasting, and among its virtues is what Kim Cameron calls “minimum disclosure for constrained purposes” to “justifiable parties” through a choice among a “plurality of operators.”

Likewise, there is no reason why websites and services can’t agree to your privacy policy, and your terms of engagement. In legal terms, you should be able to operate as the first party, and to proffer your own terms, to which sites and services can agree (or, as privacy laws now say, consent) as second parties. That this is barely thinkable is a legacy of a time that has sadly not yet left us: one in which only companies can enjoy that kind of scale. Yet it would clearly be a convenience to have privacy as normalized in the online world as it is in the offline one. But we’re slowly getting there; for example with Customer Commons’ P2B1, aka #NoStalking term, which readers can proffer and publishers can agree agree to. It says “Just give me ads not based on tracking me.” Also with the IEEE’s P7012 Standard for Machine Readable Personal Privacy Terms working group.

Same with subscriptions. A person should be able to keep track of all her regular payments for subscription services, to keep track of new and better deals as they come along, to express to service providers her intentions toward those new deals, and to cancel or unsubscribe. There are lots of tools for this today, for example TruebillBobbyMoney DashboardMintSubscript MeBillTracker ProTrimSubbyCard DueSiftSubMan, and Subscript Me. There are also subscription management systems offered by PaypalAmazonApple and Google (e.g. with Google Sheets and Google Doc templates). But all of them to one degree or another are based more on the felt need by those suppliers for customer captivity than for customer independence.

As Customer Commons unpacks it here, there are many largely or entirely empty market spaces that are wide open for free and independent customers: identity, shopping (e.g. with shopping carts of your own to take from site to site), loyalty (of the genuine kind), property ownership (the real Internet of Things), and payments, for example.

It is possible to fill all those spaces if we have the capacity to—as Sir James put it—encourage industry, restrain fraud and correct negligence. While there is some progress in some of those areas, the going is still slow on the global scale. After all, The Intention Economy is nine years old and we still don’t have it yet. Is it just not possible, or are we starting in the wrong places?

I think it’s the latter.

Way back in 1995, when the Internet first showed up on both of our desktops, my wife Joyce said, “The sweet spot of the Internet isn’t global. It’s local.” That was the gist of my TEDx Santa Barbara talk in 2018. It’s also why Joyce and I are now in Bloomington, Indiana, working with the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University on deploying a new way for demand and supply to inform each other and get business rolling—and to start locally. It’s called the Byway, and it works outside of the old supply-controlled industrial model. Here’s an FAQ. Please feel free to add questions in the comments here.


The title image is by the great Hugh Macleod, and was commissioned in 2004 for a startup he and I both served and is now long gone.

 

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

tmobile in a hole

For a few years now, T-Mobile has been branding itself the “un-carrier,” saying it’s “synonymous with 100% customer commitment.” Credit where due: we switched from AT&T a few years ago because T-Mobile, alone among U.S. carriers at the time, gave customers a nice cheap unlimited data plan for traveling outside the country.

But now comes this story in the Wall Street Journal:

T-Mobile to Step Up Ad Targeting of Cellphone Customers
Wireless carrier tells subscribers it could share their masked browsing, app data and online activity with advertisers unless they opt out

Talk about jumping on a bandwagon sinking in quicksand. Lawmakers in Europe (GDPR), California (CCPA) and elsewhere have been doing their best to make this kind of thing illegal, or at least difficult. Worse, it should now be clear that it not only sucks at its purpose, but customers hate it. A lot.

I just counted, and all 94 responses in the “conversation” under that piece are disapproving of this move by T-Mobile. I just copied them over and compressed out some extraneous stuff. Here ya go:

“Terrible decision by T-Mobile. Nobody ever says “I want more targeted advertising,” unless they are in the ad business.  Time to shop for a new carrier – it’s not like their service was stellar.”

“A disappointing development for a carrier which made its name by shaking up the big carriers with their overpriced plans.”

“Just an unbelievable break in trust!”

“Here’s an idea for you, Verizon. Automatically opt people into accepting a break on their phone bill in exchange for the money you make selling their data.”

“You want to make money on selling customer’s private information? Fine – but in turn, don’t charge your customers for generating that profitable information.”

“Data revenue sharing is coming. If you use my data, you will have to share the revenue with me.”

“Another reason to never switch to T-Mobile.”

“Kudos to WSJ for providing links on how to opt-out!”

“Just another disappointment from T-Mobile.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“We were supposed to be controlled by the government.”

“How crazy is it that we are having data shared for service we  PAY for? You might expect it on services that we don’t, as a kind of ‘exchange.'”

“WSJ just earned their subscription fee. Wouldn’t have known about this, or taken action without this story. Toggled it off on my phone, and then sent everyone I know on T Mobile the details on how to protect themselves.”

“Just finished an Online Chat with their customer service dept….’Rest assured, your data is safe with T-Mobile’…no, no it isn’t.  They may drop me as a customer since I sent links to the CCPA, the recent VA privacy law and a link to this article.  And just  to make sure the agent could read it – I sent the highlights too.  the response – ‘Your data is safe….’  Clueless, absolutely clueless.”

“As soon as I heard this, I went in and turned off tracking.  Also, when I get advertising that is clearly targeted (sometimes pretty easy to tell) I make a mental note to never buy or use the product or service advertised if I can avoid it.  Do others think the same?”

“Come on Congress, pass a law requiring any business or non-profit that wants to share your data with others to require it’s customers to ‘opt-in’. We should(n’t) have to ‘opt-out’ to prevent them from doing so, it should be the other way around. Only exception is them sharing data with the government and that there should be laws that limit what can be shared with the government and under what circumstances.”

“There must be massive amounts of money to be made in tracking what people do for targeted ads.  I had someone working for a national company tell me I would be shocked at what is known about me and what I do online.  My 85 year old dad refuses a smartphone and pays cash for everything he does short of things like utilities.  He still sends in a check each month to them, refuses any online transactions.  He is their least favorite kind of person but, he at least has some degree of privacy left.”

Would you find interest-based ads on your phone helpful or intrusive?
Neither–they’re destructive. They limit the breadth of ideas concerning things I might be interested in seeing or buying. I generally proactively look when I want or need something, and so advertising has little impact on me. However, an occasional random ad shows up that broadens my interest–that goes away with the noise of targeted ads overlain and drowning it out. If T-Mobile were truly interested, it would make its program an opt-in program and tout it so those who might be interested could make the choice.”

“Humans evolved from stone age to modern civilization. These tech companies will strip all our clothes.”

“They just can’t help themselves. They know it’s wrong, they know people will hate and distrust them for it, but the lure of doing evil is too strong for such weak-minded business executives to resist the siren call of screwing over their customers for a buck. Which circle of hell will they be joining Zuckerberg in?”

“Big brother lurks behind every corner.”

“What privacy policy update was this?  Don’t they always preface their privacy updates with the statement: YOUR PRIVACY IS IMPORTANT TO US(?) When did T-Mobile tell its customers our privacy is no longer important to them?  And that in fact we are now going to sell all we know about you to the highest bidder. Seems they need at least to get informed consent to reverse this policy and to demonstrate that they gave notice that was actually received and reviewed and  understood by customers….otherwise, isn’t this wiretapping by a third party…a crime?  Also isn’t using electronic means to monitor someone in an environment where they have the reasonable expectation of privacy a tort. Why don’t they just have a dual rate structure?   The more expensive traditional privacy plan and a cheaper exploitation plan? Then at least they can demonstrate they have given you consideration for the surrender of your right to privacy.”

“A very useful article! I was able to log in and remove my default to receive such advertisements “relevant” to me.  That said all the regulatory bodies in the US are often headed by industry personnel who are their to protect companies, not consumers. US is the best place for any company to operate freely with regulatory burden. T-mobile follows the European standards in EU, but in the US there are no such restraints.”

“It’s far beyond time for the Congress to pass a sweeping privacy bill that outlaws collection and sale of personal information on citizens without their consent.”

“Appreciate the heads-up  and the guidance on how to opt out. Took 30 seconds!”

“Friends, you may not be aware that almost all of the apps on your iPhone track your location, which the apps sell to other companies, and someday the government. If you want to stop the apps from tracking your locations, this is what to do. In Settings, choose Privacy.   Then choose Location Services.  There you will see a list of your apps that track your location.  All of the time. I have switched nearly all of my apps to ‘Never’ track.  A few apps, mostly relating to travel, I have set to “While using.”  For instance, I have set Google Maps to ‘While using.’ That is how to take control of your information.”

“Thank you for this important info! I use T-Mobile and like them, but hadn’t heard of this latest privacy outrage. I’ve opted out.”

“T-Mobile is following Facebook’s playbook. Apple profits by selling devices and Operating Sysyems. Facebook & T-Mobile profit by selling, ………………… YOU!”

“With this move, at first by one then all carriers, I will really start to limit my small screen time.”

“As a 18 year customer of T-Mobile, I would have preferred an email from T-Mobile  about this, rather than having read this by chance today.”

“It should be Opt-In, not Opt-out. Forcing an opt out is a bit slimy in my books. Also, you know they’ll just end up dropping that option eventually and you’ll be stuck as opted in. Even if you opted in, your phone plan should be free or heavily subsidized since they are making dough off your usage.”

“No one automatically agrees to tracking of one’s life, via the GPS on their cell phone. Time to switch carriers.”

“It’s outrageous that customers who pay exorbitant fees for the devices are also exploited with advertising campaigns. I use ad blockers and a VPN and set cookies to clear when the browser is closed. When Apple releases the software to block the ad identification number of my device from being shared with the scum, I’ll be the first to use that, too.”

“It was a pain to opt out of this on T-Mobile. NOT COOL.”

“I just made the decision to “opt out” of choosing TMobile as my new phone service provider.  So very much appreciated.”

“Well, T-Mobile, you just lost a potential subscriber.  And why not reverse this and make it opt-in instead of opt-out?  I know, because too many people are lazy and will never opt-out, selling their souls to advertisers. And for those of you who decide to opt-out, congratulations.  You’re part of the vast minority who actually pay attention to these issues.”

“I have been seriously considering making the switch from Verizon to T-Mobile. The cavalier attitude that T-Mobile has for customers data privacy has caused me to put this on hold. You have to be tone deaf as a company to think that this is a good idea in the market place today.”

“Been with T-Mo for over 20 years because they’re so much better for international travel than the others. I don’t plan on changing to another carrier but I’ll opt out of this, thanks.”

“So now we know why T-Mobile is so much cheaper.”

“I have never heard anyone say that they want more ads. How about I pay too much for your services already and I don’t want ANY ads. We need a European style GDP(R) with real teeth in the USA and we need it now!”

“So these dummies are going to waste their money on ads when their service Suckky Ducky!   Sorry, but it’s a wasteland of T-Mobile, “No Service” Bars on your phone with these guys.  It’s the worst service, period. Spend your money on your service, the customers will follow.  Why is that so hard for these dummies to understand?”

“If they do this I will go elsewhere.”

“When will these companies learn that their ads are an annoyance.  I do not want or appreciate their ads.  I hate the words ‘We use our data to customize the ads you receive.'”

“Imagine if those companies had put that much effort and money into actually improving their service. Nah, that’s ridiculous.”

“Thank you info on how to opt out. I just did so. It’s up to me to decide what advertising is relevant for me, not some giant corporation that thinks they own me.”

“who is the customer out there like, Yeah I want them to advertise to me! I love it!’? Hard to believe anyone would ask for this.”

“I believe using a VPN would pretty much halt all of this nonsense, especially if the carrier doesn’t want to cooperate.”

“I’m a TMobile customer, and to be honest, I really don’t care about advertising–as long as they don’t give marketers my phone number.  Now that would be a deal breaker.”

“What about iPhone users on T-Mobile?  Apple’s move to remove third party cookies is creating this incentive for carriers to fill the void. It’s time for a national privacy bill.”

“We need digital privacy laws !!!   Sad that Europe and other countries are far ahead of us here.”

“Pure arrogance on the part of the carrier. What are they thinking at a time when people are increasingly concerned about privacy? I’m glad that I’m not currently a T-Mobile customer and this seals the deal for me for the future.”

“AT&T won’t actually let you opt out fully. Requests to block third party analytics trigger pop up messages that state ‘Our system doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Sorry for any inconvenience. Please try again later’.”

“One of the more salient articles I’ve read anywhere recently. Google I understand, we get free email and other stuff, and it’s a business. But I already pay a couple hundred a month to my phone provider. And now they think it’s a good idea to barrage me and my family? What about underage kids getting ads – that must be legal only because the right politicians got paid off.”

“Oh yeah, I bet customers have been begging for more “targeted advertising”.  It would be nice if a change in privacy policy also allowed you to void your 12 month agreement with these guys.”

“Thank you for showing us how to opt out. If these companies want to sell my data, then they should pay me part of the proceeds. Otherwise, I opt out.”

Think T-Mobile is listening?

If not, they’re just a typical carrier with 0% customer commitment.

Historic milestones don’t always line up with large round numbers on our calendars. For example, I suggest that the 1950s ended with the assassination of JFK in late 1963, and the rise of British Rock, led by the Beatles, in 1964. I also suggest that the 1960s didn’t end until Nixon resigned, and disco took off, in 1974.

It has likewise been suggested that the 20th century actually began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the start of WWI, in 1914. While that and my other claims might be arguable, you might at least agree that there’s no need for historic shifts to align with two or more zeros on a calendar—and that in most cases they don’t.

So I’m here to suggest that the 21st century began in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic and the fall of Donald Trump. (And I mean that literally. Social media platforms were Trump’s man’s stage, and the whole of them dropped him, as if through a trap door, on the occasion of the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021. Whether you liked that or not is beside the facticity of it.)

Things are not the same now. For example, over the coming years, we may never hug, shake hands, or comfortably sit next to strangers again.

But I’m bringing this up for another reason: I think the future we wrote about in The Cluetrain Manifesto, in World of Ends, in The Intention Economy, and in other optimistic expressions during the first two decades of the 21st Century may finally be ready to arrive.

At least that’s the feeling I get when I listen to an interview I did with Christian Einfeldt (@einfeldt) at a San Diego tech conference in April, 2004—and that I just discovered recently in the Internet Archive. The interview was for a film to be called “Digital Tipping Point.” Here are its eleven parts, all just a few minutes long:

01 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
02 https://archive.org/details/e-dv039_doc_…
03 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
04 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
05 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
06 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
07 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
08 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
09 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
10 https://archive.org/details/e-dv039_doc_…
11 https://archive.org/details/e-dv039_doc_…

The title is a riff on Malcolm Gladwell‘s book The Tipping Point, which came out in 2000, same year as The Cluetrain Manifesto. The tipping point I sensed four years later was, I now believe, a foreshadow of now, and only suggested by the successes of the open source movement and independent personal publishing in the form of blogs, both of which I was high on at the time.

What followed in the decade after the interview were the rise of social networks, of smart mobile phones and of what we now call Big Tech. While I don’t expect those to end in 2021, I do expect that we will finally see  the rise of personal agency and of constructive social movements, which I felt swelling in 2004.

Of course, I could be wrong about that. But I am sure that we are now experiencing the millennial shift we expected when civilization’s odometer rolled past 2000.

Just got a press release by email from David Rosen (@firstpersonpol) of the Public Citizen press office. The headline says “Historic Grindr Fine Shows Need for FTC Enforcement Action.” The same release is also a post in the news section of the Public Citizen website. This is it:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Norwegian Data Protection Agency today fined Grindr $11.7 million following a Jan. 2020 report that the dating app systematically violates users’ privacy. Public Citizen asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general to investigate Grindr and other popular dating apps, but the agency has yet to take action. Burcu Kilic, digital rights program director for Public Citizen, released the following statement:

“Fining Grindr for systematic privacy violations is a historic decision under Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and a strong signal to the AdTech ecosystem that business-as-usual is over. The question now is when the FTC will take similar action and bring U.S. regulatory enforcement in line with those in the rest of the world.

“Every day, millions of Americans share their most intimate personal details on apps like Grindr, upload personal photos, and reveal their sexual and religious identities. But these apps and online services spy on people, collect vast amounts of personal data and share it with third parties without people’s knowledge. We need to regulate them now, before it’s too late.”

The first link goes to Grindr is fined $11.7 million under European privacy law, by Natasha Singer (@NatashaNYT) and Aaron Krolik. (This @AaronKrolik? If so, hi. If not, sorry. This is a blog. I can edit it.) The second link goes to a Public Citizen post titled Popular Dating, Health Apps Violate Privacy.

In the emailed press release, the text is the same, but the links are not. The first is this:

https://default.salsalabs.org/T72ca980d-0c9b-45da-88fb-d8c1cf8716ac/25218e76-a235-4500-bc2b-d0f337c722d4

The second is this:

https://default.salsalabs.org/Tc66c3800-58c1-4083-bdd1-8e730c1c4221/25218e76-a235-4500-bc2b-d0f337c722d4

Why are they not simple and direct URLs? And who is salsalabs.org?

You won’t find anything at that link, or by running a whois on it. But I do see there is a salsalabs.com, which has  “SmartEngagement Technology” that “combines CRM and nonprofit engagement software with embedded best practices, machine learning, and world-class education and support.” since Public Citizen is a nonprofit, I suppose it’s getting some “smart engagement” of some kind with these links. PrivacyBadger tells me Salsalabs.com has 14 potential trackers, including static.ads.twitter.com.

My point here is that we, as clickers on those links, have at best a suspicion about what’s going on: perhaps that the link is being used to tell Public Citizen that we’ve clicked on the link… and likely also to help target us with messages of some sort. But we really don’t know.

And, speaking of not knowing, Natasha and Aaron’s New York Times story begins with this:

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority said on Monday that it would fine Grindr, the world’s most popular gay dating app, 100 million Norwegian kroner, or about $11.7 million, for illegally disclosing private details about its users to advertising companies.

The agency said the app had transmitted users’ precise locations, user-tracking codes and the app’s name to at least five advertising companies, essentially tagging individuals as L.G.B.T.Q. without obtaining their explicit consent, in violation of European data protection law. Grindr shared users’ private details with, among other companies, MoPub, Twitter’s mobile advertising platform, which may in turn share data with more than 100 partners, according to the agency’s ruling.

Before this, I had never heard of MoPub. In fact, I had always assumed that Twitter’s privacy policy either limited or forbid the company from leaking out personal information to advertisers or other entities. Here’s how its Private Information Policy Overview begins:

You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission. We also prohibit threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.

Sharing someone’s private information online without their permission, sometimes called doxxing, is a breach of their privacy and of the Twitter Rules. Sharing private information can pose serious safety and security risks for those affected and can lead to physical, emotional, and financial hardship.

On the MoPub site, however, it says this:

MoPub, a Twitter company, provides monetization solutions for mobile app publishers and developers around the globe.

Our flexible network mediation solution, leading mobile programmatic exchange, and years of expertise in mobile app advertising mean publishers trust us to help them maximize their ad revenue and control their user experience.

The Norwegian DPA apparently finds a conflict between the former and the latter—or at least in the way the latter was used by Grinder (since they didn’t fine Twitter).

To be fair, Grindr and Twitter may not agree with the Norwegian DPA. Regardless of their opinion, however, by this point in history we should have no faith that any company will protect our privacy online. Violating personal privacy is just too easy to do, to rationalize, and to make money at.

To start truly facing this problem, we need start with a simple fact: If your privacy is in the hands of others alone, you don’t have any. Getting promises from others not to stare at your naked self isn’t the same as clothing. Getting promises not to walk into your house or look in your windows is not the same as having locks and curtains.

In the absence of personal clothing and shelter online, or working ways to signal intentions about one’s privacy, the hands of others alone is all we’ve got. And it doesn’t work. Nor do privacy laws, especially when enforcement is still so rare and scattered.

Really, to potential violators like Grindr and Twitter/MoPub, enforcement actions like this one by the Norwegian DPA are at most a little discouraging. The effect on our experience of exposure is still nil. We are exposed everywhere, all the time, and we know it. At best we just hope nothing bad happens.

The only way to fix this problem is with the digital equivalent of clothing, locks, curtains, ways to signal what’s okay and what’s not—and to get firm agreements from others about how our privacy will be respected.

At Customer Commons, we’re starting with signaling, specifically with first party terms that you and I can proffer and sites and services can accept.

The first is called P2B1, aka #NoStalking. It says “Just give me ads not based on tracking me.” It’s a term any browser (or other tool) can proffer and any site or service can accept—and any privacy-respecting website or service should welcome.

Making this kind of agreement work is also being addressed by IEEE7012, a working group on machine-readable personal privacy terms.

Now we’re looking for sites and services willing to accept those terms. How about it, Twitter, New York Times, Grindr and Public Citizen? Or anybody.

DM us at @CustomerCommons and we’ll get going on it.

 

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