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.

I wrote this fake story on January 24, 2005, in an email to Peter Hirshberg after we jokingly came up with it during a phone call. Far as I know, it was the first mention of the word “iPhone.”

Apple introduces one-button iPhone Shuffle

To nobody’s surprise, Apple’s long-awaited entry into the telephony market is no less radical and minimalistic than the one-button mouse and the gum-stick-sized music player. In fact, the company’s new cell phone — developed in deeply secret partnership with Motorola — extends the concept behind the company’s latest iPod, as well as its brand identity.

Like the iPod Shuffle, the new iPhone Shuffle has no display. It’s an all-white rectangle with a little green light to show that a call is in progress. While the iPhone Shuffle resembles the iPod Shuffle, its user interface is even more spare. In place of the round directional “wheel” of the iPods, the iPhone Shuffle sports a single square button. When pressed, the iPod Shuffle dials a random number from its phone book.

“Our research showed that people don’t care who they call as much as they care about being on the phone,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “We also found that most cell phone users hate routine, and prefer to be surprised. That’s just as true for people answering calls as it is for people making them. It’s much more liberating, and far more social, to call people at random than it is to call them deliberately.”

Said (pick an analyst), “We expect the iPhone Shuffle will do as much to change the culture of telephony as the iPod has done to change the culture of music listening.”

Safety was also a concern behind the one-button design. “We all know that thousands of people die on highways every year when they take their eyes off the road to dial or answer a cell phone,” Jobs said. “With the iPhone Shuffle, all they have to do is press one button, simple as that.”

For people who would rather dial contacts in order than at random, the iPhone Shuffle (like the iPod Shuffle) has a switch that allows users to call their phone book in the same order as listings are loaded loaded from the Address Book application.
To accommodate the new product, Apple also released Version 4.0.1 of  Address Book, which now features “phonelists” modeled after the familiar “playlists” in iTunes. These allow the iPhone Shuffle’s phone book to be populated by the same ‘iFill’ system that loads playlists from iTunes into iPod Shuffles.

A number of online sites reported that Apple negotiating with one of the major cell carriers to allow free calls between members who maintain .Mac accounts and keep their data in Apple’s Address Book. A few of those sites also suggested that future products in the Shuffle line will combine random phone calling and music playing, allowing users to play random music for random phone contacts.

The iPhone Shuffle will be sold at Apple retail stores.

As a follow-up to what I wrote earlier today, here are my own favorite podcasts, in the order they currently appear in my phone’s podcast apps:

Note that I can’t help listening to the last two, because I host one and co-host the other.

There are others I’ll listen to on occasion as well, usually after hearing bits of them on live radio. These include Radiolab, This American Life, 99% Invisible, Snap Judgement, Freakonomics Radio, Hidden BrainInvisibilia, The Moth, Studio 360. Plus limited run podcasts, such as Serial, S-Town, Rabbit Hole and Floodlines.

Finally, there are others I intend to listen to at some point, such as Footnoting History, Philosophize This, The Infinite Monkey Cage, Stuff You Should Know, The Memory Palace, and Blind Spot.

And those are just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.

Anyway, most of the time I’d rather listen to those than live radio—even though I am a devoted listener to a raft of public stations (especially KCLU, KPCC, KCRW, KQED, WNYC, WBUR and WGBH) and too many channels to mention on SiriusXM, starting with Howard Stern and the NBA channel.

 

KPCCNPR, which turned 50 yesterday, used to mean National Public Radio. It still does, at least legally; but they quit calling it that in 2010. The reason given was “…most of our audience — more than 27 million listeners to NPR member stations and millions more who experience our content on NPR.org and through mobile or tablet devices — identify us as NPR.” Translation: We’re not just radio any more.

And they aren’t. Television, newspapers and magazines also aren’t what they were. All of those are now experienced mostly on glowing rectangles connected to the Internet.

Put another way, the Internet is assimilating all of them. On the Internet, radio is also fracturing into new and largely (though not entirely) different spawn. The main two are streaming (for music, live news and events) and podcasting (for talk and news).

This sidelines the radio sources called stations. Think about it: how much these days do you ask yourself “What’s on?” And how much do you listen to an actual radio, or watch TV through an antenna? Do you even have a radio that’s not in a car or stored away in the garage?

If you value and manage your time, chances are you are using apps to store and forward your listening and viewing to later times, when you can easily speed up the program or skip over ads and other “content” you don’t want to “consume.” (I put those in quotes because only the supply side talks that way about what they produce and what you do with it.)

This does not match the legacy structure of radio stations. Especially technically.

See, the purpose of stations is to stand in one place radiating sound (called “programs”) on signals, in real time (called ‘live”), around the clock, for a limited geography: a city or a region. Key thing: they have to fill that time.

For this stations can get along without studios (like companies in our current plague have found ways to get along without offices). But they still need to maintain transmitters with antennas.

For AM, which was born in the 1920s, the waves are so long that whole towers, or collections of them, radiate the signals. In almost all cases these facilities take up acres of real estate—sometimes dozens of acres. For FM and TV, media born in the 1940s, the waves are short, but need to radiate from high places: atop towers, tall buildings or mountains.

Maintaining these facilities isn’t cheap. In the case of AM stations, it is now common for the land under towers to be worth far more than the stations themselves, which is why so many AM stations are now going off the air or moving off to share other stations’ facilities, usually at the cost of lost coverage.

This is why I am sure that most or all of these facilities will be as gone as horse-drawn carriages and steam engines, sometime in the next few years or decades. Also why I am documenting transmitters that still stand, photographically. You can see a collection of my transmitter and antenna photos here and here. (The image above is what radiates KPCC/89.3 from Mt. Wilson, which overlooks Los Angeles.)

It’s a safe bet, for a few more years at least, that stations will still be around, transmitting to people mostly on the Net. But at some point (probably many points) the transmitters will be gone, simply because they cost too much, don’t do enough—and in one significant way, do too much. Namely, fill the clock, 24/7, with “content.”

To help get our heads around this, consider this: the word station derives from the Latin station- and statio from stare, which means to stand. In a place.

In the terrestrial world, we needed stationary places for carriages, trains and busses to stop. On radio, we used to need what we called a “dial,” where radio stations could be found on stationary positions called channels or frequencies. Now those are numbers that appear in a read-out.

But even those were being obsolesced decades ago in Europe. There a car radio might say the name of a station, which might be received on any number of frequencies, transmitted by many facilities, spread across a region or a country. What makes this possible is a standard called RDS, which uses a function called alternative frequency (AF) to make a radio play a given station on whatever channel sounds best to the radio. This would be ideal for the CBC in Canada and for regional public stations such as WAMC, KPCC, KUER and KCRW, which all have many transmitters scattered around.

Alas, when this standard was being worked out in the ’80s and early ’90s, the North American folks couldn’t imagine one station on many frequencies and in many locations, so they deployed a lesser derivative standard called RDBS, which lacked the AF function.

But this is now, and on its 50th anniversary public radio—and NPR stations especially—are doing well.

In radio ratings for New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, San Diego, and dozens of other markets, the top news station is an NPR one. Here in Santa Barbara, about a quarter of all listening goes to non-commercial stations, led by KCLU, the most local of the NPR affiliates with transmitters here. (Best I can tell, Santa Barbara, which I wrote about here in 2019, is still the top market for public radio in the country. Number two is still Vermont.)

But I gotta wonder how long the station-based status quo will remain stationary in our listening habits. To the degree that I’m a one-person bellwether, the prospects aren’t good. Nearly all my listening these days is to podcasts or to streams on the Net. Some of those are from stations, but most are straight from producers, only one of which is NPR. And I listen to few of them live.

Still, it’s a good bet that NPR will do well for decades to come. Its main challenge will be to survive the end of station-based live broadcasting. Because that eventuality is starting to become visible.

On Quora, William Moser askedWould the KPIG radio format of Americana—Folk, Blugrass, Delta to modern Blues, Blues-rock, trad. & modern C&W, country & Southern Rock, jam-bands, singer/songwriters, some jazz, big-band & jazz-singers sell across markets in America?

I answered,

I’ve liked KPIG since its prior incarnation as KFAT.I’ve liked KPIG since its prior incarnation as KFAT.

It’s a great fit in the Santa Cruz-Salinas-Monterey market, anchored in Santa Cruz, which is a college/beach/hippie/artist kind of town.

Ratings have always been good, putting it in the top few. See here.

It has also done okay in San Luis Obispo, for similar reasons.

For what it’s worth, those are markets #91 and #171. Similar in a coastal California kind of way.

The station is also a throwback, with its commitment to being the institution it is, with real personalities who actually live there, aren’t leaving, and having a sense of humor about all of it. Also love. And listener participation. None of that is a formula.

Watch this and you’ll get what I mean. It’s what all of radio ought to be, in its own local ways, and way too little of it is.

William replied,

I have played tha brilliant ‘Ripple’ since it was released; the editing is spot-on.I have played tha brilliant ‘Ripple’ since it was released; the editing is spot-on.

With respect to DJ personalities, there are at least two that, in my fantasy of owning that station, would be gone before the ink was dry. (You might even have an idea of whom). Paradoxically, that’s probably part of what makes KPIG work.

It’s really the cross-country market appeal of the ‘Americana’ music format that is my question.

My response:

I think it’s a local thing. KPIG (and KFAT and KHIP before it) is a deeply rooted local institution. It’s not a formula, and without standing one up in some other region like it, and funding it long enough to see if it catches on, it’s hard to say.

All of radio is in decline now, as talk listening moves to podcasts and music listening moves to streaming. The idea that a city or a region needs things called “stations,” all with limited geographical coverage, and with live talent performing, and an obligation to stay on the “air” 24/7, designed to work through things called “radios,” which are no longer sold in stores and persist as secondary functions on car dashboards, is an anachronism at a time when damn near everything (including chat, telephony, video, photography, gaming, fitness tracking and you-name-it) is moving onto phones—which are the most persistently personal things people carry everywhere.

There are truly great alternative stations, however, that thrive in their markets: KESP in Seattle and WWOZ in New Orleans are two great examples. That KPIG manages to persist as a commercial station is especially remarkable in a time when people would rather hit a 30-second skip-forward button on their phone app than listen to an ad.

So I guess my answer is no. But if you want Americana, there are lots of stations that play or approximate it on the Internet. And all of them can be received on your phone or your computer.

That was a bit tough to write, because yesterday I was poised to enjoy Ron Phillips‘ long-standing Saturday morning show on WWOZ when I learned he had died suddenly of a heart attack. Ron has been a great friend since the 1970s, when he was a mainstay at WQDR in Raleigh, and I was a partner in its ad agency (while still being a funny guy at cross-market non-rival WDBS), and I had planned to give him a call after his show, to see how he was doing. (He’d had carpal tunnel surgery recently.)

Though WWOZ is alive and thriving, and there persist many radio stations that are vital institutions in their towns and regions, radio on the whole has been in decline. See here:

The slopes there are long, and a case can be made, on that low angle alone, that radio will persist forever, along with magazines and TV. But it’s clear that our media usage is moving, overall, to the Internet, where mobile devices are especially good at doing what radio, TV and magazines also do—and in some ways doing it better.

But back to William Moser’s question.

There are already many ways to stream Americana (aka American roots music) on the Internet, whether from stations, streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, or a channel or two on SiriusXM. But those are largely personality-free.

What KPIG has (once described to me as “mutant cowboy rock & roll”) isn’t a format. It’s an institution, like a favorite old tavern, music club, outdoor festival, or coffee shop—or all of those rolled into one. Can one replicate that with an Internet station, or a channel on some global service?

I think not, because those services are all global. You need to start with local roots. WWOZ has that, because it started as a radio station in New Orleans, a place that is itself deeply rooted. After years of living all over the place, Ron moved to New Orleans to be with those roots, and near its greatest radio voice.

Radio is geographical. All the stations I mentioned above, living and dead, are not the biggest ones in their towns. KPIG’s signal is almost notoriously minimal. So is KEXP’s in Seattle. They are local in the most basic sense.

I suppose that condition will persist for another decade or two. But it’s hard to say. Mobile devices are also evolving quickly, getting old within just a few years.

I’m not sure we’ll miss it much, the succession of generations being what it is. But we are losing something. And you can still hear it on KPIG.

KSKO radio

On Quora, somebody asked, Which is your choice, radio, television, or the Internet?. I replied with the following.

If you say to your smart speaker “Play KSKO,” it will play that small-town Alaska station, which has the wattage of a light bulb, anywhere in the world. In this sense the Internet has eaten the station. But many people in rural Alaska served by KSKO and its tiny repeaters don’t have Internet access, so the station is either their only choice, or one of a few. So we use the gear we have to get the content we can.

TV viewing is also drifting from cable to à la carte subscription services (Netflix, et. al.) delivered over the Internet, in much the same way that it drifted earlier from over-the-air to cable. And yet over-the-air is still with us. It’s also significant that most of us get our Internet over connections originally meant only for cable TV, or over cellular connections originally meant only for telephony.

Marshall and Eric McLuhan, in Laws of Media, say every new medium or technology does four things: enhanceretrieveobsolesce and reverse. (These are also caled the Tetrad of Media Effects.) And there are many answers in each category. For example, the Internet—

  • enhances content delivery;
  • retrieves radio, TV and telephone technologies;
  • obsolesces over-the-air listening and viewing;
  • reverses into tribalism;

—among many other effects within each of those.

The McLuhans also note that few things get completely obsolesced. For example, there are still steam engines in the world. Some people still make stone tools.

It should also help to note that the Internet is not a technology. At its base it’s a protocol—TCP/IP—that can be used by a boundless variety of technologies. A protocol is a set of manners among things that compute and communicate. What made the Internet ubiquitous and all-consuming was the adoption of TCP/IP by things that compute and communicate everywhere in the world.

This development—the worldwide adoption of TCP/IP—is beyond profound. It’s a change as radical as we might have if all the world suddenly spoke one common language. Even more radically, it creates a second digital world that coexists with our physical one.

In this digital world, we are at a functional distance apart of zero. We also have no gravity. We are simply present with each other. This means the only preposition that accurately applies to our experience of the Internet is with. Because we are not really on or through or over anything. Those prepositions refer to the physical world. The digital world is some(non)thing else.

This is why referring to the Internet as a medium isn’t quite right. It is a one-of-one, an example only of itself. Like the Universe. That you can broadcast through the Internet is just one of the countless activities it supports. (Even though the it is not an it in the material sense.)

I think we are only at the beginning of coming to grips with what it all means, besides a lot.

NFTs—Non-Fungible Tokens—are hot shit. Wikipedia explains (at that link),

non-fungible token (NFT) is a special type of cryptographic token that represents something unique. Unlike cryptocurrencies such bitcoin and many network or utility tokens,[a], NFTs are not mutually interchangeable and are thus not fungible in nature[1][2]

Non-fungible tokens are used to create verifiable[how?] artificial scarcity in the digital domain, as well as digital ownership, and the possibility of asset interoperability across multiple platforms.[3] Although an artist can sell one or more NFTs representing a work, the artist can still retain the copyright to the work represented by the NFT.[4] NFTs are used in several specific applications that require unique digital items like crypto art, digital collectibles, and online gaming.

Art was an early use case for NFTs, and blockchain technology in general, because of the purported ability of NFTs to provide proof of authenticity and ownership of digital art, a medium that was designed for ease of mass reproduction, and unauthorized distribution through the Internet.[5]

NFTs can also be used to represent in-game assets which are controlled by the user instead of the game developer.[6] NFTs allow assets to be traded on third-party marketplaces without permission from the game developer.

An NPR story the other day begins,

The artist Grimes recently sold a bunch of NFTs for nearly $6 million. An NFT of LeBron James making a historic dunk for the Lakers garnered more than $200,000. The band Kings of Leon is releasing its new album in the form of an NFT.

At the auction house Christie’s, bids on an NFT by the artist Beeple are already reaching into the millions.

And on Friday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey listed his first-ever tweet as an NFT.

Safe to say, what started as an Internet hobby among a certain subset of tech and finance nerds has catapulted to the mainstream.

I remember well exactly when I decided not to buy bitcoin. It was on July 26, 2009, after I finished driving back home to Arlington, Mass, after dropping off my kid at summer camp in Vermont. I had heard a story about it on the radio that convinced me that now was the time to put $100 into something new that would surely become Something Big.

But trying to figure out how to do it took too much trouble, and my office in the attic was too hot, so I didn’t. Also, at the time, the price was $0. Easy to rationalize not buying a non-something that’s worth nothing.

So let’s say I made the move when it hit $1, which I think was in 2011. That would have been $100 for 100 bitcoin, which at this minute are worth $56101.85 apiece. A hundred of those are now $5,610,185. And what if I had paid the 1¢ or less a bitcoin would have been in July, 2009? You move the decimal point while I shake my head.

So now we have NFTs. What do you think I should do? Or anybody? Serious question.

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.

travels

One year ago exactly (at this minute), my wife and I were somewhere over Nebraska, headed from Newark to Santa Barbara by way of Denver, on the last flight we’ve ever taken. Prior to that we had put about four million miles on United alone, flying almost constantly somewhere, mostly on business. The map above traces what my pocket GPS recorded on various trips (and far from all of them) by land, sea and air since 2007. This life began for me in 1990 and for my wife long before that. Post-Covid, none of this will ever be the same. For anybody.

We also haven’t seen most of our kids or grandkids in more than a year. Same goes for countless friends, business associates and fellow (no longer) travelers on other routes of life.

The old normal is over. We don’t know what the new normal will be, exactly; but it’s clear that business travel as we knew it is gone for years to come, if not forever.

I also sense a generational hand-off. Young people always take over from their elders at some point, but this handoff is from the physical to the digital. Young people are digital natives. Older folk are at best familiar with the digital world: adept in many cases, but not born into it. Being born into the digital world is very different. And still very new.

Though my wife and I have been stuck in Southern California for a year now, we have been living mostly in the digital world, working hard on that handoff, trying to deposit all we can of our long experience and hard-won wisdom on the conveyor belt of work we share across generations.

There will be a new normal, eventually. It will be a normal like the one we had in the 20th Century, which started with WWI and ended with Covid. This was a normal where the cultural center was held by newspapers and broadcasting, and every adult knew how to drive.

Now we’re in the 21st Century, and it’s something of a whiteboard. We still have the old media and speak the same languages, but Covid pushed a reset button, and a lot of the old norms are open to question, if not out the window completely.

Why should the digital young accept the analog-born status quos of business, politics, religion, education, transportation or anything? The easy answer is because the flywheels of those things are still spinning. The hard answers start with questions about how we can do all that stuff better. For sure all the answers will be, to a huge degree, digital.

Perspective: the world has been digital for a only few years now, and will likely remain so for many decades or centuries. Far more has been not been done than has, and lots of stuff will have to be improvised until we (increasingly the young folk) figure out the best approaches. It won’t be easy. None of the technical areas my wife and I are involved with personally (and I’ve been writing about) —privacy, identity, fintech, facial recognition, advertising, journalism—have easy answers to their problems, much less final ones.

But we like working on them, and sensing some progress, which doesn’t suck.

 

 

 

A few minutes ago I wanted to find something I’d written about privacy. So I started with a simple search on Google:

The result was this:

Which is a very very very very very very very very very very very very very way long way of saying this:

 https://google.com/search?&q=doc+searls+…

That’s 609 characters vs. 47, or about 13 times longer. (Hence the word “very” repeated 13 times, above.)

Why are search URLs so long these days? The didn’t used to be.

I assume that the 562 extra characters in that long url tell Google more about me and what I’m doing than they used to want to know. In old long-URL search results, there was human-readable stuff there about the computer and the browser being used. This mess surely contains the same, plus lots of personal data about me and what I’m doing online in addition to searching for this one thing. But I don’t know. And that’s surely part of the idea here.

This much, however, is easy for a human to read:

  1. Giant URLs like this are cyphers, on purpose.
  2. You’re not supposed to know what they actually say. Only Google should know.
  3. There is a lot about your searches that are Google’s business and not yours.
  4. Google has lost interest (if it ever had any) in making search result URLs easy to copy and use somewhere else, such as in a post like this.

Bing is better in this regard. Here’s the same search result there:

That’s 101 characters, or less than 1/6th of Google’s.

The de-crufted URL is also shorter:

 https://bing.com/search?q=doc+searls+pri…

Just 44 characters.

So here is a suggestion for both companies: make search results available with one click in their basic forms. That will make sharing those URLs a lot easier to do, and create good will as well. And, Google, if a cruft-less URL is harder for you to track, so what? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing some of this tracking in the first place.

Sometimes it’s better to make things easy for people than harder. This is one of those times. Or billions of them.

 

 

 

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