Ad Hominem #5
Don't target me, bro...
Welcome back to Ad Hominem, a newsletter about the changing nature of AdTech, surveillance capitalism, and the privacy issues that face every individual in the modern marketplace. If you’ve been forwarded this email from a friend, you can read other issues and sign up here.
One of the factors that has shaped our current political climate and which continues to dangerously steer reality has been the invention of targeted and personalized advertising, which has exploded over only a few recent years. In the monologue from a recent episode of his excellent podcast, Team Human, Douglas Rushkoff does a great job of outlining how and why we all actually experience different versions of reality as a result of this targeted ad world. [Recommended listen]
Facebook has been central to this new means of advertising and our perception of its harms, though they are by no means the only actor in the space. Scandals like Cambridge Analytica have begun a popular awakening to the reality of the danger posed by personalized advertising. While they are guilty of much wrongdoing, the social network is beginning to respond to scrutiny and criticism by updating its policy on manipulated media and adding better tools for visibility and control of political ads on its platform.
It’s important to remember that while “the network” enables bad actors, we need to place the blame on the bad actors themselves. This piece from Vox describes Steve Bannon’s strategy of misinformation and social confusion via the media. It’s partly the structure of our modern networks that allows a strategy like this to be so effective, but propaganda is not itself a new idea. We can solve for problems in our tech stack all we want, but enabling malicious political actors will always be a more important problem.
Small Bites of News:
Almost Every Website You Visit Records Exactly How Your Mouse Moves - One upside of this is that tracking mouse movements and analyzing them with machine learning has been proven as an effective way to detect Parkinson’s early. How would you feel if your banking website sent you an email telling you to go to the doctor? Stuff like this is a great example of how technologies are converging.
Critical Security Flaw Found in WhatsApp Desktop Platform Allowing Cybercriminals Read From The File System Access - We still have so much work to do on encryption and security, and perhaps we always will - even if William Barr doesn’t manage to backdoor all American security products.
Facebook has added some additional tools for controlling how your data is shared with 3rd parties. There’s still not enough here to win back my trust in the social network, but it shows that security and privacy concerns are entering their thought processes. I’m still not sure the ship can be saved.
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