D4TC - Surveillance Ads and Social Media


When we talk about surveillance, we end up this conniving mix of both ads, apps, social media and everything in between. Starting with ads, online ads, it’s rampant, its everywhere and people today block it. There is a study that says over 419 million people block ads. Why is that?

This growth is linear and its going to keep growing until someone stops us. A new trend is a browser that blocks ads rather than extension which we are used to using on our chrome browsers. It is all because of data, because this is the future of open web, privacy, advertising, democracy and journalism. It’s all connected.

Pop culture has prophesied this, In 2006. Mike Judge creator of Beavis and Butthead had a movie called Idiocracy, which seems to a documentary about the current state of the United States of America where there a scene where he predicted a world without adblockers, where you have TV’s surrounded by ridiculous banners ads. Steve Spielberg, has prophesied the world of advertising as a dystopia, in which a scene in Minority Report shows the boundary between the government surveillance and the advertising industrial complex are intertwined  that there is no difference between surveillance and advertising surveillance. We very close to this reality.

A close examination of this rising reality is called retargeting, Retargeting is when the ads follow you around, you look on Amazon and therefore whoever you go, you see the same ad of the product, the ad is stalking you. This very technology is causing people to reject and react against this.

Because what it has done, is it has taken the camouflage of the surveillance and people consciously realize they are under this surveillance, and a thought occurs: how does this know about this when I’m on a different site?

Research says people don’t trust ads anymore, social media and online ads they don’t trust them. Most people have no confidence that their personal data is protected with ads and social media.

One of the biggest problems is that this pays for journalism, it pays for news and democracy. Democracy is facing its ultimate challenge, since its driven by this dynamic, reaching for ratings, clicks, eyeballs, an algorithmic democracy, its driven by this technology.

Unfortunately though, the new sites that are generating our awareness of the world are totally unethical, researchers have found instances, where anonymous data is being used to discriminate minorities and information such as your email address and other identifiable information is linked back to your identity and they always claim they don’t sell your information. But researchers suggest, that is a lie. All different startups, gathering data, and selling it and repackaging it and inn the United States this is not agains the law.

Even reputable organizations are doing this and yet what’s really disturbing and scary is when you look health information, when you go to Web MD, and you look about a health condition and you think you have privacy when doing that but unfortunately all the same ad tech companies are gathering your browsing history and attaching it to your identity. So when you look up Alzheimers risk, it now locks it up to you. This is the most damaging idea of this industry, that your health care information is being bought and traded in the open market. With one of the companies that determines your credit rate, another which determines your loan, bank account, job opportunities and potentially insurance companies.

And these Insurance companies would want to know what health conditions, your looking up online. Pharmaceuticals would love to know what health care issues your looking online, don’t let them find out.

Google subtly in the privacy policy, which only a couple people noticed snuck in, that now your double click cookie is attached to your google account. Google knows everything you look at, period. There is no regulation on what can be done with the data, there are no laws against this in the United States, this is really terrible.

Which moves me to the world of social media, where these information, which brings us to a public sense of surveillance, where all your friends around your social circles can see and surveil you without almost no attempt. This has brought a drastic change to the behavior of the younger generation of teens, making them actively respond top this. Because young people today are aware that their record online is permanent and would definetly affect their online identity. It is confirmed that teens delete Instagram posts that do not receive a minimum amount of likes, and those teens would manage, multiple Instagram accounts to prevent different social circles from seeing the content.

Apps are even worse,  a study shows that 73% of Android apps leak your data. up to 40% iOS apps do the same thing. This is not just your browser history, this is your location, your battery, your entire meta data.

Uber has been accused of surging your price when your battery is low because it knows that you will take the price when your battery is down to almost zero. So the manipulation through meta data is astonishing and is being abused. So when you download an app for free, its not for free.

A professor at Harvard Shoshana Zuboff coined the term Surveillance capitalism, that technologies natural tendency is towards surveillance and has some rules. 3 Laws.

- Everything that can be automated will be automated.

- Everything that can be informated will be informated. That means digitized, indexed, searchable.

- In the absence of counter-veiling restrictions and actions  every digital application that can be used for surveillance, will be used for surveillance and control. If we do not resist it, its natural flow is to create surveillance.

So given with all of these, what can we do as designers?

A first step to begin to define what is privacy for us entirely. Companies define privacy in various ways, giving advantage to the data driven companies that use your information which then distorts the definition entirely from social perspective of privacy. This I believe is where we can begin, so the next question is, how do we begin?