[Plura-list] Renegotiate the web "bargain" by blocking all ads

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Apr 28 09:29:45 EDT 2022

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2022/04/28/shut-yer-pi-hole/


This morning (4/28), I'm on a streamed panel called "The Power of Utopia," hosted by The Center for Artistic Activism:



Today's links

* Renegotiate the web "bargain" by blocking all ads: The Adafruit ESPHole lets you say "How about 'Nah?'"

* Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.

* This day in history: 2002, 2007, 2012, 2017, 2021

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading

🎣 Renegotiate the web "bargain" by blocking all ads

Back in 2019, I wrote a case-study on ad- and tracker-blocking as part of EFF's series on adversarial interoperability (AKA "competitive compatibility" or comcom). My point was that the ad-tech industry says that it tracks you as part of a bargain: you trade away your privacy and get media in exchange, but that this was a bizarre kind of take-it-or-leave-it form of bargaining.


The ad-tech deal boils down to this: "Just by following a link to this page, you have agreed to, well, *anything* we feel like doing. We can collect your data, sell it, merge it with other data, share it, mine it, exploit it. Forever."

That's not much of a bargain. Clearly the ad-tech companies don't take it very seriously - as Facebook's own privacy engineers have admitted in a leaked memo, they have *no idea* how they're using your data (an FB engineer called the company's data-handling "a complete shitshow"), so how can this possibly be a fair trade?


I'm no free market stan, but I do think that bargaining can improve outcomes. That's where ad-block comes in: by blocking ads (or trackers, say, with EFF's Privacy Badger), the website makes an offer: "Give me everything," and you make a counter-offer: "How about 'Nah?'"

A couple weeks ago, the folks at Adafruit got in touch to tell me about a new privacy kit they were developing: the ESPHole, a variant on the PiHole privacy appliance. This is a matchbox-sized gadget based on the open source Raspberry Pi processor. You get it onto your home wifi and then tell all your devices to use it as their DNS server. It has a list of known ad servers and when your computer tries to contact one of these servers (to fetch an ad embedded in a web-page or app), it sends back as the IP address. Your computer is unable to reach the ad server, so you don't see the ads - and the ad-tech company doesn't get to harvest your data.

I sent them my EFF case-study and they thought it was a great fit, so they programmed their ESPHole to count blocked ads a "Nah"s - so the screen will tell you "283 Nahs!" after blocking 283 ads.


Back in 2015, Doc Searls called ad-blocking "the biggest consumer boycott in history." The industry claims it harvests and processes our data with our consent. Gadgets like the ESPHole let you withdraw that consent, and make it stick. It lets you say, "How about 'Nah?'"


In the early days of the browser, the web was taken over by an epidemic of obnoxious pop-up ads. They would spawn in invisible windows, or play sound, or run away from your cursor. Closing one would make three more pop up. We killed pop-ups once Mozilla and Opera shipped a browser with pop-up blocking turned on by default. All the arguments about whether pop-ups were good or bad for publishers or users were trumped by a technological fact: *no one sees pop-up ads anymore.* Once that fact was true, pop-ups disappeared for good.

America desperately needs a federal privacy law with a private right of action, and the EU desperately needs to start actually enforcing the GDPR. But as important as these laws are, the technology has a role to play here. Stopping tracking in your browser, or across your whole home network, will make it much easier to get good laws passed and enforced. After all, if no one *sees* invasive ads, the companies won't have any money to mobilize to block privacy laws.

The ESPHole is $25, plus another $5 for a USB cable if you don't already have one. I don't have any commercial interest in Adafruit or the ESPHole - but I am proud as anything to have played a small role in inspiring this great little gadget.


🎣 Hey look at this

* Ken MacLeod's Address to the Edinburgh Science Festival Church Service 2022 https://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/2022/04/address-to-edinburgh-science-festival.html


🎣 This day in history

#20yrsago RIP, George Alec Effinger https://memex.craphound.com/2002/04/28/rip-george-alec-effinger/

#15yrsago Barenaked Ladies want a compulsory P2P music license https://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2007/04/barenaked-ladies-if-i-had-a-compulsory-blanket-music-license/

#15yrsago The Economist slams DRM https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2007/04/27/criminalising-the-consumer

#10yrsago How “jaywalking” was invented https://web.archive.org/web/20120426231223/http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/04/invention-jaywalking/1837/

#10yrsago Newark Terminal C evacuated because TSA forgot to screen a tiny baby https://consumerist.com/2012/04/newark-airport-terminal-evacuated-over-unchecked-baby.html

#5yrsago An open letter on DRM to the inventor of the web, from the inventor of net neutrality https://d2jhuj1whasmze.cloudfront.net/docs/EME_debate_6fMY.txt

#5yrsago Ex-Fox News host: when I filed a sexual harassment claim against Ailes, the company hacked and stalked me https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/04/former-fox-news-host-claims-company-hacked-her-stalked-her-with-sock-puppets/

#5yrsago Extreme wealth inequality will always devour the societies that produce it https://www.tor.com/2017/04/28/shared-destinies-why-wealth-inequality-matters/

#1yrago Dems want to give $600b to the one percent: Repealing the SALT cap is not a middle-class issue https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/28/inequality-r-us/#neotrumpism


🎣 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 532 words (88624 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

* Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Big Tech Isn’t Stealing News Publishers’ Content

Upcoming appearances:

* The Power of Utopia, The Center for Artistic Activism Apr 28

* Demicon 33 (Des Moines), May 6-8

* OpenJSWorld Keynote (Austin), Jun 8

* UK Competition and Markets Authority Data Technology and Analytics conference (London), Jun 15-16

Recent appearances:

* Blockchain, Crypto & Web3 (Life Itself podcast)

* Launch for Jennifer Egan's "Candy House" (Vancouver Public Library)

* Surveillance Capitalism, Borders, and the Police (Tech Workers Coalition San Diego)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.

Upcoming books:

* Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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