#11 The Return of the Thing

Long time, no see...

I haven’t written an issue of Ad Hominem since July. If you’re still interested in getting news and updates about all the wild new things being done with your personal data by the Advertising Data Economy, then thanks for sticking around. This newsletter is one response among many to the data crisis we face as a society.

The internet is not healthy right now, despite being high-functioning. The social and legal conversation around privacy is heating up, and the consequences of what we choose today will be more significant than we can imagine. We are now living in a world where a few corporations own and use the data of almost every human for profit. Companies like Google and Facebook are able to make billions from advertising because of the enormous quantity of data they have access to. They have a lot, and they’re hungry for more. The fact that Google is now offering a VPN should give everyone a reason to scratch their head (Google). We need to have a lot more serious conversation around this subject, and this newsletter is an attempt to contribute to that conversation.

There is some pushback coming against these data warehouse corporations from governments around the world. The European Union is now treating Google’s privacy violations as a human rights issue, and using that as an argument in anti-trust cases (TechCrunch). The Solomon Islands government is even moving forward with a ban on Facebook for the sake of “national unity” (abc.net.au).

The policy wonks are already all over this. EFF has put forward some good ideas about how legislation can address online privacy and market consolidation as one issue (EFF). You’ll hear more and more about Section 230 over the next year or so. This is rapidly becoming one of the more significant social and legal debates of our time.

The problem of data and advertising is hard for most people to wrap their head around. The web is complex and hard for even the best minds to really comprehend. This video from Tom Scott does a good job of summarizing some of the web technologies and initiatives by advertisers that got us into our current state of affairs.

It’s important that we understand how the web works, because this is how the world works. We need technologically literate people at the helm of government, setting corporate policy, and watching out for the rights of citizens. Across the tech scene, folks are looking for better tools to maintain their privacy, and if the nerds are scrambling over this, that means everyone should be (The Verge).

Feds watchin’… but everyone else is too…

The State of New York has decided to put a two-year moratorium on the use of facial recognition in schools (TechCrunch). Some neighborhood associations are now partnering with private companies to install license plate readers, to create the ultimate invisibly gated community (OneZero).

Clear (not to be confused with ClearView AI) is used by airports for security scanning of passengers before they board planes, but now the business is expanding deeper into the private sector, adding data points they collect, and even adding health tracking to their portfolio (OneZero). Changes like this are done in the name of security, but they are simply surveillance by another name.

The United States still enjoys relative freedom compared to China, where citizens must now scan their face in order to register for cell phone service (WSJ). France, meanwhile, is rioting right now over laws that prevent and stifle the recording of police (France24). Where we choose to go forward as a human society on issues like speech, privacy, and technology will shape the world in real-time.


(Un)related:

  • 🇨🇦 Canadian police are now using predictive policing techniques to determine patrol zones and attempt to predict young people who may go missing. (Vice).

  • 🛸 The City of Atlanta made an arrest using a drone (Facebook).

  • This Twitter thread (click through to read the full series of tweets) about the surveillance capabilities of Microsoft Teams:


Ad Hominem is a blog and newsletter about the Advertising Data Economy and Surveillance Capitalism, and how those forces relate to Humanity. Ad Hominem currently has no paid subscription. If you want to support this project, the best way is just to spread the word via Twitter or forwarding this email to a friend. You can also send me a tip on my BuyMeACoffee page.

If you have any feedback on this or any other issue of Ad Hominem, please let me know on Twitter. Thank you for your time and attention. I know it’s your most precious resource.

- S