Thanksgiving Week Link Dump - #1 of 2

Online advertising and privacy are good Thanksgiving dinner topics now.

Can here, curating a few holiday links covering our favorite topics of privacy, advertising and capitalism.

This week, I am in Seoul for a friend’s wedding. I will be doing my best to avoid the white-guy-in-Asia-wildly-fascinated-by-mobile-apps trope, but I cannot promise I won’t be posting inane photos of regular South Korean people doing regular things and caption them with “Woah, this is the future”. I apologize in advance.

It is also Thanksgiving week in US, so it’ll be a short and sweet link dump as opposed to a long rambling about technology and business.

Here come the links

The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising: The promise of digital that has always been that it’d solve the “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” problem. Yet, today, the adtech stack is so, so deep and so complicated that no one fully knows how it works, or even if it does. The complexity and the opaqueness mean that promised lucidity about advertising returns remains as elusive as ever. Our friends at Why is This Interesting, who actually worked in the trenches of digital media, also had some things to say about this piece.

The story that emerged from these conversations is about much more than just online advertising. It’s about a market of a quarter of a trillion dollars governed by irrationality. It’s about knowables, about how even the biggest data sets don’t always provide insight. It’s about organisations and why they are so hard to change. And it’s about us, and how easy we are to manipulate.

Why Do We Care So Much About Privacy?: It’s tricky to pinpoint sometimes what privacy means. You can look at it from individualistic lens, and come to the conclusion that it is about people having control over what’s most important to them. Or you can approach from a collectivist point of view and argue that it’s more like the air we breathe in, a shared resource that we consume instead of we individually generate. Others argue that privacy is the excuse of last resort, a crutch people reach out to when they are upset and there’s no legal construct to hang your grievances on. This piece explores many of those ideas.

The lone dissenter was William O. Douglas. Douglas was a judicial renegade, with little concern for precedent. “We write,” he began his dissent, “on a clean slate.” Finding no rule, he provided one. Freedom was the issue, he explained, and “the beginning of all freedom” is “the right to be let alone”—that is, the right to privacy. To Douglas, more was at stake than annoying background music. Forcing people to listen to the radio, he said, is a step on the road to totalitarianism. If you can tell people what to listen to, you can tell people what to think. “The right of privacy,” Douglas concluded, “is a powerful deterrent to any one who would control men’s minds.”

How Capitalism Betrayed Privacy: There aren’t many topics that’d get me more riled up than capitalism and privacy. And when Tim Wu pits them against each other, it’s always a fun read. Like I discussed above, there’s a good argument (but not the only argument) to be made that capitalism and privacy derive their intellectual thrust from a belief in individualism. Capitalism is supposed to be the engine of prosperity through individual enterprise, and privacy is supposed to make sure individuals can keep it to themselves. Yet?

By the 1960s the rise of a propertied middle class had put each man in his “castle,” each drinker in his saloon, each worker in his own office and each child in her own bedroom. Private physical spaces, along with semiprivate spaces like motels, bathhouses and dance clubs, created their own expectations of privacy (as did, later, virtual spaces like personal computers and hard drives). It was on those foundations that legal thinkers and activists began to speak of the masses enjoying a right to privacy, to be unwatched — a right to be “left alone.” Capitalism was on privacy’s side.