(I work for Mozilla. None of this is secret. None of this is official Mozilla policy. Not speaking for Mozilla here.)
The following is an interesting business model, so I'm
going to tell it whether it's true or not. I once
talked with a guy from rural China about the tofu
business when he was there. Apparently, considering
the price of soybeans and the price you can get for
the tofu, you don't earn a profit just making and
selling tofu. So why do it? Because it leaves you
with a bunch of soybean waste, you feed that to pigs,
and you make your real money in the hog business.
Which is sort of related to the problem that (all
together now) hard news isn't brand-safe. It's
hard to sell travel agency ads on a plane crash story,
or real estate ads on a story about asbestos in the
local elementary schools, or any kind of ads on a
disturbing, but hard to look away from, political
In the old-school newspaper business, the profitable
ads can go in the lifestyle or travel sections, and
subsidize the hard news operation. The hard news is
the tofu and the brand-friendly sections are the hogs.
On the web, though, where you have a lot of readers
coming in from social sites, they might be getting
their brand-friendly content from somewhere else.
Sites that are popular for their hard news are stuck
with just the tofu.
The browser may have to adapt to
treat trustworthy and untrustworthy sites
in order to come up with a good balance of keeping
sites working and implementing user norms on data
sharing. Will news sites that publish hard news
stories that are often visited, shared, and commented
on, get a user data advantage that translates into
ad saleability for their more brand-safe pages?
Does better user data control mean getting the hog
(I work for Mozilla. None of this is secret. None of this is official Mozilla policy. Not speaking for Mozilla here.)
Browsers are going to have to change tracking
protection defaults, just because the settings
that help acquire and retain users are different
from the current defaults that leave users fully
trackable all the time. (Tracking protection
is also an opportunity for open web players to
differentiate themselves from mobile tracking
Before switching defaults, there are a bunch of
opportunities to do collaboration and data collection
in order to make the right choices and increase user
satisfaction and trust (and retention). Interestingly
enough, these tend to give an advantage to any browser
that can attract a diverse, opinionated, values-driven
Do innovation challenges and crowdsourcing for
tracking protection tools. Use the results to expand
the available APIs and built-in options.
Develop a variety of tracking protection
methods, and ship them in a turned-off
state so that motivated users can find
the configuration and experiment with
them, and to enable user research. Borrow
approaches from other browsers (such as Apple
where possible, and test them.
For example: avoid blocklist politics, and increase
surveillance marketing uncertainty, by building
Privacy-Badger-like tracker detection. Enable
tracking protection without the policy implications
of a top-down list. This is an opportunity for a
crowdsourcing challenge: design better algorithms
to detect trackers, and block them or scramble
Ship alternate experimental builds of the browser,
with privacy settings turned on and/or add-ons
Communicate a lot about capabilities, values,
and research. Spend time discussing what the
browser can do if needed, and discussing the
results of research on how users prefer to share
their personal info.
Only communicate a little about future defaults.
When asked about specifics, just say, "we'll
let the user data help us make that decision."
(Do spam filters share their filtering rules with
spammers? Do search engines give their algorithms
to SEO consultants?)
Build functionality to "learn" from the user's
activity and suggest specific settings that
differ from the defaults (in either direction).
For example, suggest more protective settings
to users who have shown an interest in
privacy—especially users who have installed
any add-on whose maintainers misrepresent it as
a privacy tool.
Do research to help legit publishers and marketers learn more
about adfraud and how it is enabled by the same
kinds of cross-site tracking that users dislike.
As marketers better understand the risk levels of
different approaches to web advertising, make it
a better choice to rely less on highly intrusive
tracking and more on reputation-driven placements.
Provide documentation and tutorials to help web
developers develop and test sites that
will work in the presence of a variety of privacy
settings. "Does it pass Privacy Badger" is a good
start, but more QA tools are needed.
If you do it right, you can force up the risks of future
surveillance marketing just by increasing the uncertainty
of future user trackability, and drive more marketing
investment away from creepy projects and toward pro-web,
This is OFF MESSAGE. No Mozilla policy here.
This is my personal blog.
(This is the text from my talk at the Reynolds
Journalism Institute's Revenue Models that
event, with some links added. Not exactly as
Hi. I may be the token advertising optimist here.
Before we write off advertising, I just want
to try to figure out the answer to: why can't
Internet publishers make advertising work as well
as publishers used to be able to make it work when
they were breathing fumes from molten lead all day?
Has the Internet really made something that much
I have bought online advertising, written and edited
for ad-supported sites, had root access to some
of the servers of an adtech firm that you probably
have cookies from right now, and have written an ad
blocker. Now I work for Mozilla. I don't have
any special knowledge on what exactly Mozilla intends
to do about third-party cookies, or fingerprinting,
or ad blocking, but I can share some of what I have
learned about users' values, and some facts about the
browser business that will inform those decision for
Mozilla and other browsers.
First of all, I want to cover how new privacy
tools are breaking web advertising as we know it.
But that's fine. People don't like web advertising
as we know it.
They surveyed 300 publishers, adtech people, brands,
and various others, on whether users will consent
to tracking under the GDPR and the ePrivacy
The survey asked if users would allow for tracking on
one site only, and for one brand only, in addition to
“analytics partners”. 79% of respondents said
they would click “No” to this limited consent
And what kind of tracking policy would people prefer
in the browser by default? The European Parliament
suggested that “Accept only first party tracking”
should be the default. But only 20% of respondents
said they would select this. Only 5% were willing
to “accept all tracking”. 56% said they would
select “Reject tracking unless strictly necessary
for services I request”. The very large majority
(81%) of respondents said they would not consent to
having their behaviour tracked by companies other
than the website they are visiting.
Users say that they really don't like being tracked.
So, right about now is where you should be pointing
out that what people say about what they want is
often different from what they do.
It's hard to see exactly what
people do about particular ads, but we can see some
indirect evidence that what people do about creepy
ads is consistent with what they say about privacy.
First, ad blockers didn't catch on until people started to see retargeting.
Second, companies indirectly reveal their user research in
policies and design decisions.
Back in 1998, when Google was still
"google.stanford.edu" I wrote an ad blocker.
And there were a bunch of other pretty good ones
in the late 1990s, too. WebWasher, AdSubtract,
Internet Junkbuster. But none of that stuff caught
on. That was back when most people were on dialup,
and downloading a 468x60 banner ad was a big deal.
That's before browsers came with pop-up blockers,
so a pop-up was a whole new browser window and those
could get annoying real fast.
But users didn't really get into
ad blocking. What changed between then and
Retargeting. People could see that the ad on one
site had "followed them" from a previous site.
That creeped them out.
Some Facebook research clearly led in the same direction.
As we should all know by now, Facebook enables an
extremely fine level of micro-targeting.
Yes, you can target 15 people in Florida.
But how do the users feel about this?
We can't see Facebook's research. But we
can see the result of it, in Facebook Advertising
If you buy an ad on Facebook, you can target people
based on all kinds of personal info, but you can't
reveal that you did it.
Ads must not contain content that asserts or
implies personal attributes. This includes direct
or indirect assertions or implications about a
person’s race, ethnic origin, religion, beliefs,
age, sexual orientation or practices, gender identity,
disability, medical condition (including physical
or mental health), financial status, membership in
a trade union, criminal record, or name.
So you can say "meet singles near you" but you
can't say "other singles". You can offer depression
counseling in an ad, but you can't say "treat your
Facebook is constantly researching and tweaking
their site, and, of course, trying to sell ads.
If personalized targeting didn't creep people the
hell out, then the ad policy wouldn't make you hide
that you were doing it.
All right, so users don't want to be followed around.
Content Neutrality: Content blocking software
should focus on addressing potential user needs
(such as on performance, security, and privacy)
instead of blocking specific types of content (such
Transparency & Control: The content blocking
software should provide users with transparency and
meaningful controls over the needs it is attempting
Openness: Blocking should maintain a
level playing field and should block under the
same principles regardless of source of the
content. Publishers and other content providers
should be given ways to participate in an open Web
ecosystem, instead of being placed in a permanent
penalty box that closes off the Web to their products
If we have all those great values though, why aren't
we doing more to protect users from tracking?
Here's the problem from the browser point of view.
Firefox had a tracking protection feature in
But the mainstream browsers have always been held
back by two things.
First, browser developers have been cautious about not breaking
sites. We know that users prefer not to be
tracked from site to site, but we know that they
get really mad when a site that used to work just
stops working. There is a lot of code in a lot of
browsers to handle stuff that no self-respecting
web designer has done for decades. Remember
the 1996 movie "Space Jam"? Check out the web
some time. It's a point of pride to keep all that
1996 web design working. And seriously, one of
those old 1996 vintage pages might be the web-based
control panel for somebody's emergency generator, or
something. Yes, browsers consider the users' values
on tracking, but priority one is not breaking stuff.
And that includes third-party resources that are not
creepy ad trackers—stuff like shopping carts and
comment forms and who knows what.
Besides not breaking sites, the other thing that keeps
browsers from implementing users' values on tracking
is that we know people like free stuff. For a long
time, browsers didn't have enough good data,
so have deferred to the adtech business when they
talk about how sites make money. It looks obvious,
right? Sites that release free stuff make money from
ads, ads work a certain way, so if you interfere
with how the ads work, then sites make less money,
and users don't get the free stuff.
Mozilla backed down on third-party cookies in 2013,
and again on tracking protection in 2015.
Microsoft backed down on Tracking Protection Lists.
Both times, after the adtech industry made a big fuss about it.
So what changed? Why is now different?
Well, that's an easy answer, right? Apple put
Intelligent Tracking Prevention into their Safari
browser, and now everybody else has to catch up.
Apple so far is putting
their users ahead of the usual alarmed
from the adtech people. Steven Sinofsky, former
president of the Windows Division at Microsoft,
Stand strong Apple [rhetorical]. Had these groups come after us trying to offer browsing safety. MS backed down. https://t.co/L4saQpdE7l
You're going to see other browsers make moves that
look like they're "following Safari" but really,
browsers are not so much following each other as
making similar decisions based on similar information.
When users share their values they say that they want
control over their information.
When users see advertising that seems "creepy"
we can see them take steps to avoid ads following
Some people say, well, if users really want privacy,
why don't they pay for privacy products? That's not
how humans work. Users don't pay for privacy, because
we don't pay other people to come into compliance with
basic social norms. We don't pay our loud neighbors
to quiet down.
Apple looks like a magic company that releases
magic things that they make up out of their own
heads. "Designed by Apple in California." This is
a great show. It's part of their brand. I have
a lot of respect for their ability to make things
But that doesn't mean that they just make stuff up.
Apple does a lot of user research. Every so often
we get a little peek behind the curtain when there
is discovery in a lawsuit. They do research on their
own users, on Samsung's users, everybody.
Mozilla has user research, too.
For a long time, browser people thought that there
was a conflict between giving the users something
that complies with their tracking norms and giving
them something that keeps them happy with the sites
they want to use.
But now it turns out that we have some ways that we
could act in accordance with user values that also
produce measurably more satisfied users.
How badly does privacy protection break sites?
Mozilla's testing team has built, deployed to users,
and tested nine different sets of cookie and tracking
Lots of people thought there are going to be things
that break sites and protect users, or leave sites
working and leave users vulnerable.
It turns out that there is a configuration that gives
both better values alignment and less breakage.
Because a lot of that breakage is caused by
We're learning that in a few important areas,
even though Apple Safari is in the lead, Apple's
Intelligent Tracking Prevention doesn't go far enough.
What users want
It turns out that when you do research with people
who are not current users of ad blockers, and
offer them choices of features, the popular choices
are tracking blockers, malvertising protection,
and blocking annoying ads such as auto-play videos.
Among those users who aren't already using an ad
blocker, the offer of an ad blocker wasn't as popular.
Yes, people want to see fewer annoying ads. And
nobody likes malware. But people are also interested
in protection from tracking. Some users even put
tracking protection ahead of malvertising protection.
If you only ask about annoying ad formats you get a
list of which ad formats are popular now but get on
people's nerves. This is where Google is now. I have
no doubt that they'll catch up. Everyone who’s ever
moderated a comment section knows what the terrible
ads are. And any publisher has the motivation to
moderate and impose standards on the ads on their
site. Finding which ads are the crappy ones are
not the problem. The problem is that legit sites
and crappy sites are in the same ad space market,
competing for the same eyeballs. As a legit site,
you have less market power to turn down an ad that
does not meet your policies.
We are coming to an understanding of where users
stand. In a lot of ways we're repeating the early
development of spam filters, but in slow motion.
Today, a spam filter seems like a must-have feature
for any email service. But MSN started talking about
its spam filtering back when Sanford Wallace, the
“Spam King,” was saying stuff like this.
I have to admit that some people hate me,
but I have to tell you something about hate. If
sending an electronic advertisement through email
warrants hate, then my answer to those people is
“Get a life. Don’t hate somebody for sending an
advertisement through email.” There are people out
there that also like us.
According to spammers, spam filtering was just
Internet nerds complaining about something that
regular users actually like. But the spam debate
ended when big online services, starting with MSN,
started talking about how they build for their
real users instead of for Wallace’s hypothetical
If you missed the email spam debate, don’t
worry. Wallace’s talking points about spam filters
constantly get recycled by the IAB and the DMA,
every time a browser makes a move toward tracking
protection. But now it’s not email spam that users
supposedly crave. Today, they tell us that users
really want those ads that follow them around.
So here's the problem. Users are clear about their
values and preferences. Browsers must reflect user values
and preferences. Browsers have enough of a critical mass
of users demanding better protection from tracking
that browsers are going to have to move or become
That's what the email providers did on spam.
There were not enough pro-spam users to support an
email service without a spam filter.
And there may not be enough pro-targeting users to
support a browser without privacy tools.
As I said, I do not know exactly how Mozilla is going
to handle this, but every browser is going to have to.
But I can make one safe prediction.
Browsers need users. Users prefer tracking
protection. I'm going to make a really stupid,
safe prediction here.
User adoption of tracking protection will not affect
the amount of user data available, or affect any
measurement of number of targeted ad impressions
available in any way.
Every missing trackable user will be replaced by an
Every missing piece of user data will be replaced by
an "inferred" piece of data.
How much adfraud is there really?
There are people who will stand up and say that
we have 2 percent fraud, or 85 percent. Of course
it's different from campaign to campaign and some
advertisers get burned worse than others.
You can see "IAS safe traffic" on fraud boards.
Because video views are worth so much more,
the smartest bots go there. We do know that when
you look for adfraud seriously, you can find it.
Just recently the Financial Times found a bunch.
The publisher has
found display ads against inventory masquerading as
FT.com on 10 separate ad exchanges and video ads on
15 exchanges, even though the FT doesn’t even sell
video ads programmatically, with 300 accounts selling
inventory purporting to be the FT’s. The scale of
the fraud uncovered is vast — the equivalent of one
month’s supply of bona fide FT.com video inventory
was fraudulently appearing in a single day.
[W]e were seated next to the head of this advertising
company, who said to me something like, "Well, I
really always liked AllThingsD and in your first week
I think Recode’s produced some really interesting
stuff." And I said, "Great, so you’re going to
advertise there, right? Or place ads there." And he
said, "Well, let me just tell you the truth. We’re
going to place ads there for a little bit, we’re
going to drop cookies, we’re going to figure out
who your readers are, we’re going to find out what
other websites they go to that are way cheaper than
your website and then we’re gonna pull our ads from
your website and move them there."
The current web advertising system is based
on paying publishers less, charge brands more.
Revenue share for legit publishers is at 30 to 40
according to the Association of National Advertisers.
But all revenue split numbers are wrong because
undetected fraud ends up in the ‘publisher’ share.
When your model is based on data leakage, on catching
valuable eyeballs on cheap sites, the inevitable
overspray is fraud.
People aren't even paying attention to what could be the biggest form of adfraud.
Part of the conventional wisdom on adfraud is that
you can beat it by tracking users all the way to a
sale, and filter the bots out that way. After all,
if they made a bot good enough to actually buy stuff
it wouldn't be a problem for the client.
But the attribution models that connect impressions to
sales are, well, they're hard enough to understand
that most of the people who understand them are
probably fraud hackers.
The dispute betwen Steelhouse and Criteo
settled last year, so we didn't get to see how two
real adtech companies might or might not have been
hacking each other's attribution numbers.
But today we have another chance.
I used to work for Linux Journal, and we followed
the SCO case pretty intently. There was even
a dedicated news site just about the case, called
Groklaw. If there's a case that needs a Groklaw for
web advertising, it's Uber v. Fetch.
This is the closest we have to a tool to help us
understand attribution fraud. When the bad guys
have the ability to make bogus ads claim credit for
real sales, that's a much more powerful motivation
for fraud than just making a bot that looks like
a real user watching a video.
Legit publishers have a real incentive to find and
control adfraud. Adtech intermediaries, not so much.
That's because the core value of ad tech is to find
the big money user at the cheapest possible site. If
you create that kind of industry, you create the
incentive for fraud bots who appear to be members
of a valuable audience. You create incentives to
produce fraudulent sites because all of a sudden,
those kinds of sites have market value that they
would not otherwise have had because of data leakage.
As browsers and sites implement user norms on
tracking, they get fraud protection for free.
So where is the outrage on adfraud?
I thought I could write a script for a heist movie about adfraud.
At first I thought, this is awesome! Computer
hacking, big corporations losing billions of
dollars—should be a formula for an awesome heist
Every heist movie has a bunch of scenes that
introduce the characters, you know, getting the crew
together. Forget it. All the parts of adfraud can be
done independently and connected on the free market.
It's all on a bunch of dumb-looking PHP web boards.
There go a whole bunch of great scenes.
Hard-boiled detectives trying to catch the gang? More
like over easy. The adtech industry "committed
$1.5 million in funding" (and set up a 24-member
committee!) to fight an eleven billion dollar
problem. Adfraud isn't taking candy from a baby,
it's taking candy from a dude whose job is giving
away candy. More fraud means more money for adtech
Dramatic risk of getting caught? Not a chance of going
to prison—the worst that happens is that some of
the characters get their accounts or domains banned,
and they have to make new ones. The adfraud movie's
production designer is going to have to work awful
hard to make that "Access denied" screen look cool
enough to keep the audience awake.
So the movie idea is a no-go, but as people learn
that today's web ads don't just leave the publisher
with 30 percent but also feed fraud, we should see
a flight to quality effect.
The technical decisions that enabled the Lumascape
to rip off Walt Mossberg are the same decisions that
facilitate fraud, are the same decisions that make
users come looking for tracking protection.
I said I was an advertising optimist and here's why.
The tracking protection trend is splitting web advertising.
We have the existing high-tracking, high-fraud market
and a new low-tracking opportunity.
Some users are getting better protected from
The bad news is that it will be harder to serve
those users a lucrative ad enabled by third-party
The good news is that those users can't be tracked
from high-value to low-value sites. Those users
start to become possible to tell apart from fraudbots.
For that subset of users, web advertising starts
to shift from a hacking game to a reputation game.
In order to sell advertising you need to give
the advertiser some credible information on who
the audience is. Most browsers have been bad at
protecting personal information about the user,
so web advertising has become a game where a whole
bunch of companies compete to covertly capture as
much user info as they can.
But some browsers are getting better at implementing
people’s preferences about sharing their
information. The result, for those users, is a
change in the rules of the game. Investment in taking
people’s personal info is becoming less rewarding,
as browsers compete to reflect people’s preferences.
And investments in building sites and brands that are
trustworthy enough for people to want to share their
information will tend to become more rewarding. This
shift naturally leads to complaints from people who
are used to winning the old game, but will probably
be better for customers who want to use trustworthy
brands and for people who want to earn money by making
ad-supported news and cultural works.
There are people building a new web advertising
system around user-permissioned information, and
they've been doing it for a long time. But until now,
nobody really wants to deal with them, because adtech
is just selling that information taken from the user
without permission. Tracking protection will be the
motivation for forward-thinking brand people to catch
the flight to quality and shift web ad spending from
the hacking game to the reputation game.
Now that we have better understanding of how user
norms are aligned with the interests of independent
browsers and with the interests of high-reputation
sites, what's next?
Measure the tracking-protected audience
Legit sites are in a strong position to gather
some important data that will shift web ads from a
hacking game to a reputation game. Let's measure
the tracking-protected audience.
Tracking protection is a powerful sign of a
human audience. A legit site can report a tracking
protection percentage for its audience, and any adtech
intermediary who claims to offer advertisers the same
audience, but delivers a suspiciously low tracking
protection number, is clearly pushing a mismatched
or bot-heavy audience and is going to have a harder
time getting away with it.
Showing prospective advertisers your
tracking protection data lets you reveal the tarnish
on the adtech "Holy Grail"—the promise of high-value
eyeballs on crappy sites.
You can't sell advertising without data on who the
audience is. Much of that data will have to come from
the tracking-protected audience. When quality sites
share tracking protection data with advertisers,
that helps expose the adfraud that intermediaries
have no incentive to track down.
This is an opportunity for service journalism.
Users are already concerned and confused about web
ads. That's an opportunity that some legit sites
such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York
Times are already taking advantage of. The more that
someone learns about how web advertising works, the
more that he or she is motivated to get protected.
But if you don't talk to your readers about tracking protection, who will?
A lot of people are getting caught up today in
publisher-hostile schemes such as adblockers with paid
whitelisting, or adblockers that come with malware
If you don't recommend a publisher-friendly protection
tool or setting, they'll get a bad one from somewhere
Advertising done right can be a growth spiral of
growth spiral of economic growth, reputation building,
and creation of cultural works. It’s one of the most
powerful forces to produce news, entertainment goods,
fiction. Let's fix it.
One of the problems with a bug futures
is: where do you get the initial investment, or
"stake", for a developer who plans to take on a
In order to buy the FIXED side of a contract and
make a profit when it matures, the developer needs to
invest some cryptocurrency. In a bug futures market,
it takes money to make money.
One possible solution is to use personal tokens,
such as the new Evancoin.
Evancoin is backed by hours of work
performed by an individual (yes, his name is
If I believe that n hours of work from Evan are
likely to increase the probability of a Bugmark-traded
bug getting fixed, and my expected gain is greater
than n * (current price of Evancoin), then I can
buy the FIXED side of the Bugmark contract
redeem n Evancoin for work from Evan on the bug
sell my Bugmark position at a profit, or wait for it to mature.
Evan is not required to accept cryptocurrency exchange
rate risk, and does not have to provide the "stake"
himself. It's the opposite—he has already
sold the Evancoin on an exchange. Of course, he has
an incentive to make as much progress on the bug
as possible, in order to support the future price
If Evan is working on the bug I selected, he would
also know that he's doing work that is likely to
move the price of the Bugmark contract. So he can
use some of the proceeds from his Evancoin sale to
buy additional FIXED on Bugmark, and take a profit
when I do.
Evan's skills tends to improve, and my understanding
of which tasks would be a profitable use of Evan's
time will tend to increase the more Evancoin I redeem.
So the value of Evancoin to me is likely to continue
rising. Therefore I am probably going to do best if
I accumulate Evancoin in advance of identifying good
bugs for Evan to work on.
Brainfood and Mozilla’s Open Innovation Team Kick Off Text Classification Open Source Experiment
Mozilla’s Open Innovation team is beginning a
new effort to understand more about motivations and
rewards for open source collaboration. Our goal is
to expand the number of people for whom open source
collaboration is a rewarding activity.
An interesting question is: While the server side
benefits from opportunities to work collaboratively,
can we explore them further on the client side, beyond
browser features and their add-on ecosystems? User
interest in “filter bubbles” gives us an
opportunity to find out. The new FilterBubbler project
provides a platform that helps users experiment with
and explore what kind of text they’re seeing on the
web. FilterBubbler lets you collaboratively “tag”
pages with descriptive labels and then analyze any
page you visit to see how similar it is to pages you
have already classified.
You could classify content by age or reading-level
rating, category like “current events” or
“fishing”, or even how much you trust the source
like “trustworthy” or “urban legend”. The
system doesn’t have any bias and it doesn’t
limit the number of tags you apply. Once you build
up a set of classifications you can visit any page
and the system will show you which classification
has the closest statistical match. Just as a web site
maintainer develops a general view of the technologies
and communities of practice required to make a web
site, we will use filter bubble building and sharing
to help build client-side understanding.
The project aims to reach users who are motivated
to understand and maybe change their information
environment. Who want to transform their own
“bubble” space and participate in collaborative
work, but do not have add-on development skills.
Can the browser help users develop better
understanding and control of their media
environments? Can we emulate the path to contribution
that server-side web development has? Please visit
the project and help us find out. FilterBubbler
can serve as a jumping off point for all kinds of
specific applications that can be built on top of
its techniques. Ratings systems, content suggestion,
fact checking and many other areas of interest can all
use the classifiers and corpora that the FilterBubbler
users will be able to generate. We’ll measure our
success by looking at user participation in filter
bubble data sharing, and by how our work gets adapted
and built on by other software projects.
When you release open source software, you have this egalitarian idea that you’re making it available to people who can really use it, who can then built on it to make amazing things....While this is a fine position to take, consider who has the most resources to build on top of a project that requires development. With most licenses, you’re issuing a free pass to corporations and other wealthy organizations, while providing no resources to those needy users. OpenSSL, which every major internet company depends on, was until recently receiving just $2,000 a year in donations, with the principal author in financial difficulty.
This is a good example of one of the really
interesting problems of working in an immature
industry. We don't have our incentives hooked up
Why does open source have some bugs that stay open longer than careers do?
Why do people have the I've been coding to create lots of value for big companies for years and I'm still broke problem?
Why is the meritocracy of open source even more biased than other technical and collaborative fields? (Are we at the bottom of the standings?) Why are we walking away from that many potential contributors?
It is to the benefit of software companies and programmers to claim that software as we know it is the state of nature. They can do stupid things, things we know will result in software vulnerabilities, and they suffer no consequences because people don’t know that software could be well-written. Often this ignorance includes developers themselves. We’ve also been conditioned to believe that software rots as fast as fruit. That if we waited for something, and paid more, it would still stop working in six months and we’d have to buy something new. The cruel irony of this is that despite being pushed to run out and buy the latest piece of software and the latest hardware to run it, our infrastructure is often running on horribly configured systems with crap code that can’t or won’t ever be updated or made secure.
We have two possible futures.
People finally get tired of software's
boyish antics lethal
irresponsibility, and impose a
regulatory regime. Rent-seekers rejoice. Software
innovation as we know it ceases, and we
get something like the pre-breakup Bell
System—you have to be an insider to build
and deploy anything that reaches real people.
The software scene outgrows the "disclaimer of
implied warranty" level of quality, on its own.
How do we get to the second one? One approach is
to use market mechanisms to help quantify software
risk, then enable users with a preference for high
quality and developers with a preference for high
quality to interact directly, not through the filter
of software companies that win by releasing early at
a low quality level.
There is an opportunity here for the kinds of
companies that are now doing open source license
analysis. Right now they're analyzing relatively few
files in a project—the licenses and copyrights.
A tool will go through your software stack, and
hooray, you don't have anything that depends on
something with a consistent license, or on a license
that would look bad to the people you want to see
your company to.
What if that same tool would give you a better
quality number for your stack, based on walking your
dependency tree and looking for weak points based on
One important reason is that black or gray hat
security researchers are likely to have extreme
confidentiality requirements, especially when trading
on knowledge from a co-conspirator who may not be
aware of the trade. (A possible positive externality
win from bug futures markets is the potential
to reduce the trustworthiness of underground
vulnerability markets, driving marginal vuln
transactions to the legit market.)
What to do about different kinds of user data interchange:
Data collected without permission
Data collected with permission
Build tools and norms to reduce the amount of reliable data that is available without
Develop and test new tools and norms that enable people to share data that they choose to share.
Report on and show errors in low-quality data that was collected without permission.
Offer users incentives and tools that help them choose to share accurate data and correct errors in voluntarily shared data.
Most people who want data about other people still
prefer data that's collected without permission, and
collaboration is something that they'll settle for.
So most voluntary user data sharing efforts will need
a defense side as well. Freedom-loving technologists
have to help people reduce the amount of data that
they allow to be taken from them without permission
in order for data listen to people about sharing data.
(I work for Mozilla. None of this is secret. None of this is official Mozilla policy. Not speaking for Mozilla here.)
Setting tracking protection defaults for a browser is
hard. Some activities that the browser might detect
as third-party tracking are actually third-party
services such as single sign-on—so when the
browser sets too high of a level of protection it
can break something that the user expects to work.
Meanwhile, new research from Pagefair
that The very large majority (81%) of respondents
said they would not consent to having their behaviour
tracked by companies other than the website they are
visiting. A tracking protection policy that
leans too far in the other direction will also fail to
meet the user's expectations.
So you have to balance two kinds of complaints.
"your dumbass browser broke a site that was working before"
"your dumbass browser let that stupid site do stupid shit"
Maybe, though, if the browser can figure out which
sites the user trusts, you can keep the user happy
by taking a moderate tracking protection approach on
the trusted sites, and a more cautious approach on less
If the user has not interacted with example.com in
the last 30 days, example.com website data and
cookies are immediately purged and continue to be
purged if new data is added. However, if the user
interacts with example.com as the top domain, often
referred to as a first-party domain, Intelligent
Tracking Prevention considers it a signal that the
user is interested in the website and temporarily
adjusts its behavior
It might makes more sense to set the trust level,
and the browser's tracking protection defaults,
based on which site the user is on. Will users
want a working "Tweet® this story" button on
a news site they like, and a "Log in with Google"
feature on a SaaS site they use, but prefer to have
third-party stuff blocked on random sites that they
happen to click through to?
How should the browser calculate user trust level?
Sites with bookmarks would look trusted, or sites
where the user submits forms (especially something
that looks like an email address). More testing is
needed, and setting protection policies is still a
Because typical Facebook ads are shown only to finely
targeted subsets of users, the best way to understand
them is to have a variety of users cooperate to run a
client-side research tool. ProPublica developer Jeff
has written a WebExtension, that runs on Mozilla
Firefox and Google Chrome, to do just that. I asked
him how the development went.
Q: Who was involved in developing your WebExtension?
A: Just me. But I can't take credit for the
idea. I was at a conference in Germany
a few months ago with my colleague Julia
and we were talking with people who worked
at Spiegel about our work on the Machine Bias
We all thought it would be a good idea to look at
political ads on Facebook during the German election
cycle, given what little we knew about what happened
in the U.S. election last year.
Q: What documentation did you use, and what would
you recommend that people read to get started with
A: I think both Mozilla and Google's documentation
sites are great. I would say that the tooling for
Firefox is much better due to the web-ext tool. I'd
definitely start there (Getting started with
the next time around.
Basically, web-ext takes care of a great deal of the
fiddly bits of writing an extension—everything
from packaging to auto reloading the extension when
you edit the source code. It makes the development
process a lot more smooth.
Q: Did you develop in one browser first and then test in the other, or test in both as you went along?
A: I started out in Chrome, because most of the
users of our site use Chrome. But I started
using Firefox about halfway through because
of web-ext. After that, I sort of ping ponged
back and forth because I was using source maps and
handles those a bit differently. Mostly the extension
worked pretty seamlessly across both browsers. I had
to make a couple of changes but I think it took me a
few minutes to get it working in Firefox, which was
a pleasant surprise.
Q: What are you running as a back end service to collect ads submitted by the WebExtension?
A: We're running a Rust server that collects the ads and
uploads images to an S3 bucket. It is my first Rust
project, and it has some rough edges, but I'm pretty
much in love with Rust. It is pretty wonderful to know
that the server won't go down because of all the built
in type and memory safety in the language. We've open
sourced the project, I could use help if anyone wants
to contribute: Facebook Political Ad Collector on
Q: Can you see that the same user got a certain
set of ads, or are they all anonymized?
A: We strive to clean the ads of all identifying
information. So, we only collect the id of the ad,
and the targeting information that the advertiser
used. For example, people 18 to 44 who live in
Q: What are your next steps?
A: Well, I'm planning on publishing the ads we've
received on a web site, as well as a clean dataset
that researchers might be interested in. We also plan
to monitor the Austrian elections, and next year is
pretty big for the U.S. politically, so I've got my
work cut out for me.
Q: Facebook has refused to release some "dark"
political ads from the 2016 election in the USA. Will
your project make "dark" ads in Germany visible?
A: We've been running for about four days, and so far
we've collected 300 political ads in Germany. My hope
is we'll start seeing some of the more interesting
ones from fly by night groups. Political advertising
on sites like Facebook isn't regulated in either the
United States or Germany, so on some level just having
a repository of these ads is a public service.
Q: Your project reveals the "dark" possibly deceptive
ads in Chrome and Firefox but not on mobile
platforms. Will it drive deceptive advertising away
from desktop and toward mobile?
A: I'm not sure, that's a possibility. I can say that
Firefox on Android allows WebExtensions and I plan
on making sure this extension works there as well,
but we'll never be able to see what happens in the
native Facebook applications in any sort of large
scale and systematic way.
Q: Has anyone from Facebook offered to help with the project?
A: Nope, but if anyone wants to reach out, I would love
what's the difference between a futures market
on software bugs and an open source bounty system
connected to the issue tracker? In many simple cases
a bug futures market will function in a similar way,
but we predict that some qualities of the futures
market will make it work differently.
Open source bounty systems have extra transaction costs of assigning credit for a fix.
Open source bounty systems can incentivize contention over who can submit a complete fix, when we want to be able to incentivize partial work and meta work.
Incentivizing partial work and meta work (such as bug
triage) would be prohibitively expensive to manage
using bounties claimed by individuals, where each
claim must be accepted or rejected. The bug futures
concept addresses this with radical simplicity:
the owners of each side of the contract are tracked
completely separately from the reporter and assignee
of a bug in the bug tracker.
And bug futures contracts can be traded in advance of
expiration. Any work that you do that meaningfully
changes the probability of the bug getting fixed by
the contract closing date can move the price.
You might choose to buy the "fixed" side of the
contract, do some work that makes it look more
fixable, sell at a higher price. Bugmark might make
it practical to do "day trading" of small steps,
such as translating a bug report originally posted
in a language that the developers don't know, helping
a user submit a log file, or writing a failing test.
With the right market design, participants in
a bug futures market have the incentive to talk their
by sharing partial work and metadata.
Yes, user tracking is creepy, and yes, collecting user
information without permission is wrong. But read
on for what could be a better approach for sites that
can make a bigger difference.
First of all, Twitter is so far behind in their attempts
to do surveillance marketing that they're more funny
and heartening than ominous. If getting targeted by
one of the big players is like getting tracked down
by a pack of hunting dogs, then Twitter targeting is
like watching a puppy chew on your sock. Twitter has
me in their database as...
Owner of eight luxury cars and a motorcycle.
Medical doctor advising patients about eating High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Owner of prime urban real estate looking for financing to build a hotel.
Decision-maker for a city water system, looking to read up on the pros and cons of cast iron and concrete pipes.
Active in-market car shopper, making all decisions
based on superficial shit like whether the car has
Beats® brand speakers in the doors. (Hey, where am
I supposed to park car number 9?)
Funny wrong Twitter ad targeting
is one of my reliable Internet amusements for the day.
But that's not why I'm not especially concerned
with tagging quoted Tweets. Just doing that doesn't
protect this site's visitors from retargeting schemes
on other sites.
And every time someone clicks on a retargeted
ad from a local business on a social site
(probably Facebook, since more people spend more
time there) then that's 65 cents or whatever of
marketing money that could have gone to local news,
bus benches, Little League, or some other sustainable,
marketing project. (That's not
even counting the medium to heavy treason
that makes me really uncomfortable about seeing money
move in Facebook's direction.)
So, instead of messing with quoted Tweet tagging, I set up this script:
(If you are viewing this site from an unprotected
browser and still not seeing the warning, it means
that your browser has not yet visited enough
domains with the Aloodo script to detect that
you're trackable. Take a tracking protection
test to expose your
browser to more fake tracking, then try again.)
If the other side wants it hidden, then reveal it
Surveillance marketers want tracking to happen behind
the scenes, so make it obvious. If you have a browser
or privacy tool that you want to recommend, it's easy
to put in the link. Every retargeted ad impression
that's prevented from happening is more marketing
money to pay for ad-sponsored resources that users
really want. I know I can't get all the users of
this site perfectly protected from all surveillance
marketing everywhere, but hey, 65 cents is 65 cents.
Bob Hoffman's new book is out! Go click on this quoted Tweet, and do what it says.
what's the difference between a futures market on
software bugs and a prediction market? We don't know
how much a bug futures market will tend to act like
a prediction market, but here are a few guesses about
how it may turn out differently.
Prediction markets tend to have a relatively small
number of tradeable questions, with a large number
of market participants on each side of each question.
Each individual bug future is likely to have a small
number of participants, at least on the "fixed" side.
Prediction markets typically have participants
who are not in a position to influence
the outcome. For example, The Good Judgment
recruited regular people to trade on worldwide events.
Bug futures are designed to attract participants
who have special knowledge and ability to change
Prediction markets are designed for gathering
knowledge. Bug futures are for incentivizing
tasks. A well-designed bug futures market will
monetize haters by turning a "bet" that a
project will fail into a payment that makes it more
likely to succeed. If successful in this, the market will have this feature in
common with Alex Tabarrok's Dominant Assurance
Prediction markets often implement conditional
trading. Bug markets rely on the underlying bug
tracker to maintain the dependency relationships
among bugs, and trades on the market can reflect the
strength of the connections among bugs as seen by
What's the difference between spam and real advertising?
Advertising is a signal for attention bargain. People
pay attention to advertising that carries some
hard-to-fake information about the seller's intentions
in the market.
says,What seems undoubtedly true is that humans,
like peahens, attach significance to a piece of
communication in some way proportionally to the cost
of generating or transmitting it.
If I get spam email, that's clearly signal-free
because it costs practically nothing. If I see a
magazine ad, it carries signal because I know that
it cost money to place.
Today's web ads are more like spam, because they
can be finely targeted enough that no significant
advertiser resources stand behind the message I'm
looking at. (A bot might have even written the copy.)
People don't have to be experts in media buying
to gauge the relative costs of different ads, and
filter out the ones that are clearly micro-targeted
Our data, and data about us, is the crude that Facebook and Google extract, refine and sell to advertisers. This by itself would not be a Bad Thing if it were done with our clearly expressed (rather than merely implied) permission, and if we had our own valves to control personal data flows with scale across all the companies we deal with, rather than countless different valves, many worthless, buried in the settings pages of the Web’s personal data extraction systems, as well as in all the extractive mobile apps of the world.
Today's web advertising business is a hacking
contest. Whoever can build the best system
to take personal information from the user
wins, whether or not the user knows about it.
(And if you challenge adfraud and adtech hackers
to a hacking contest, you can expect to come in
As users get the tools to control who they share their
information with (and they don't want to leak it to
everyone) then the web advertising business has to
transform into a reputation contest. Whoever can
build the most trustworthy place for users to choose
to share their information wins.
This is why the IAB is freaking out about privacy
by the way. IAB member companies are winning
at hacking and failing at building reputation.
(I want to do a user focus group where we show
people a random IAB company's webinar, then
count how many participants ask for tracking
protection support afterward.) But regulations
are a sideshow. In the long run regulators
will support the activities that legit business
So Doc has an important point. We have a big
opportunity to rebuild important parts of the web
advertising stack, this time based on the assumption
that you only get user data if you can convince the
user, or at least convince the maintainers of the
user's trusted tools, that you will use the data in
a way that complies with that user's norms.
One good place to check is: how many of a site's
readers are set up with protetcion tools that make
them "invisible" to Google Analytics and Chartbeat?
And how many of the "users" who sites are making
decisions for are just bots? If you don't have good
answers for those, you get dumbassery like "pivot to
which is a polite expression for "make videos for
bots because video ad impressions are worth enough
money to get the best bot developers interested."
Yes, "pivot to video" is still a thing, even though
The good news here is that legit publishers, trying
to transform web advertising from a hacking game
into a reputation game, don't have to do a perfect
job right away. Incrementally make reputation-based,
user-permissioned advertising into a better and better
investment, while adfraud keeps making unpermissioned
tracking into a worse and worse investment. Then wait
for some ambitious marketer (and marketers are always
looking for a new angle to reinvent Marketing) to
discover the opportunity and take credit for it.
User privacy is at risk from both hackers and lawyers.
Right now, lawyers are better at attacking lists,
and hackers are better at modifying tracker behavior
to get around protections.
The more I think about it, the more that I think it's
counterproductive to try to come up with one grand
unified set of protection rules or cookie policies
Spam filters don't submit their scoring rules to
ANSI—spammers would just work around them.
Search engines don't standardize and publish their
algorithms, because gray hat SEOs would just use
the standard to make useless word salad pages that
And different people have different needs.
If you're a customer service rep at an HERBAL
ENERGY SUPPLEMENTS company, you need a spam filter
that can adjust for your real mail. And any user
of a site that has problems with list-based tracking
will need to have the browser adjust, and rely more
on cleaning up third-party state after a session
instead of blocking outright.
Does your company intranet become unusable if
you fail to accept third-party tracking that
comes from an internal domain that your employer
acquired and still has some services running on?
Browser developers can't decide up front, so the
browser will need to adjust. Every change breaks
That means the browser has to work to help the user
pick a working set of protection methods and rules.
This will need to include both list-based protection
and monitoring tracking behavior, like Privacy
hackers and lawyers are good at getting around
2. Limit data sent to third-party sites
Apple Safari does this, so it's
likely to get easier to do cookie double
without breaking sites.
3. Scramble or delete unsafe data
If a tracking cookie or other identifier
does get through, delete or scramble it on
leaving the site or later, as the Self-Destructing
extension does. This could be a good backup for
when the browser "learns" that a user needs some
third-party state to do something like a shopping
cart or comment form, but then doesn't want the info
to be used for "ads that follow me around" later.
All of the conversations on the newspaper side have been focused on how can we join the advertising technology ecosystem. For example, how can a daily newspaper site in Bismarck, North Dakota deliver targeted advertising to a higher-value soccer mom? And none of the newspapers them have considered the fact that when they join that ecosystem they are enabling spam sites, fraudulent sites – enabling those sites to get a higher CPM rate by parasitically riding on the data collected from the higher-value newspaper sites.
The field of Search Engine Optimization has white
hat SEO, black hat SEO, and gray hat SEO.
White hat SEO helps a user get a better
search result, and complies with search engine
policies. Examples include accurately using the
same words that users search on, and getting honest
Black hat SEO is clearly against search engine
policies. Link farming, keyword stuffing, cloaking,
and a zillion other schemes. If they see you doing it,
your site gets penalized in search results.
Gray hat SEO is everything that doesn't help the user
get a better search result, but technically doesn't
violate a search engine policy.
Most SEO experts advise you not to put a lot of time
and effort into gray hat, because eventually the
search engines will notice your gray hat scheme and
start penalizing sites that do it. Gray hat is just
stuff that's going to be black hat when the search
engines figure it out.
This scheme seems to be intended to get around
existing third-party cookie protection, which is
turned on by default in Apple Safari and available
in other browsers.
But how long will it work?
Maybe the browser of the future won't run a "kangaroo
cookie court" but will ship with a built-in "kangaroo
law school" so that each copy of the browser will
develop its own local "courts" and its own local
"case law" based on the user's choices. It will
become harder to predict how long any single gray
hat adtech scheme will continue working.
In the big picture: in order to sell advertising you
need to give the advertiser some credible information
on who the audience is. Since the "browser wars"
of the 1990s, most browsers have been bad at
protecting personal information about the user,
so web advertising has become a game where a whole
bunch of companies compete to covertly capture as
much user info as they can.
Today, browsers are getting better at implementing
people's preferences about sharing their
information. The result is a change in the rules of
the game. Investment in taking people's personal
info is becoming less rewarding, as browsers compete
to reflect people's preferences. (That patent
will be irrelevant thanks to browser updates
long before it expires.)
And investments in
building sites and brands that are trustworthy
enough for people to want to share their
information will tend to become more rewarding.
(This shift naturally leads to complaints
from people who are used to winning the old
but will probably be better for customers who want to
use trustworthy brands and for people who want to earn
money by making ad-supported news and cultural works.)
As far as I know, there are three ways to match an
ad to a user.
User intent: Show an ad based on what the user is
searching for. Old-school version: the Yellow Pages.
Context: Show an ad based on where the user is, or
what the user is interested in. Old-school versions:
highway billboards (geographic context), specialized
magazines (interest context).
User identity: Show an ad based on who the
user is. Old-school version: direct mail.
Most online advertising is matched to the user
based on a mix of all three. And different
players have different pieces of the
action for each one. For user intent,
search engines are the gatekeepers. The other
winners from matching ads to users by intent are browsers and mobile platforms, who get
to set their default search engine. Advertising based
on context rewards the owners of reputations
for producing high-quality news, information,
and cultural works. Finally, user identity
now has a whole Lumascape
of vendors in a variety of
categories, all offering to help identify users in some
way. (the Lumascape is rapidly consolidating, but
that's another story.)
Few of the web ads that you
might see today are matched to you purely based on
one of the three methods. Investments in all three
tend to shift as the available technology, and the
prevailing norms and laws, change.
The basic functionality of the internet, which is built on data exchanges between a user’s computer and publishers’ servers, can no longer be used for the delivery of advertising unless the consumer agrees to receive the ads – but the publisher must deliver content to that consumer regardless.
This doesn't look accurate. I don't know of any
proposal that would require publishers to serve
users who block ads entirely. What Rothenberg
is really complaining about is that the proposed
regulation would limit the ability of sites and
ad intermediaries to match ads to users based on
user identity, forcing them to rely on user
intent and context. If users choose to block
ads delivered from ad servers that use their personal
data without permission, then sites won't be able to
refuse to serve them the content, but will be able to
run ads that are relevant to the content of the site.
As far as I can tell, sites would still be able to
pop a "turn off your ad blocker" message in place of
a news story if the user was blocking an ad placed
purely by context, magazine style.
Privacy regulation is not so much an attack on the
basic functionality of the Internet, as it
is a shift that lowers the return on investment on
knowing who the user is, and drives up the return on
investment on providing search results and content.
That's a big change in who gets paid: more money
for search and for trustworthy content brands,
and less for adtech intermediaries that depend on
Advertising: a fair deal for the user?
That depends. Search advertising is clearly the result
of a user choice. The user chooses to view ads that
come with search results, as part of choosing to
do a search. As long as the ads are marked as ads,
it's pretty obvious what is happening.
The same goes for ads placed in context.
The advertiser trades economic signal, in
the form of costly support of an ad-supported
resource, for the user's attention. This is
common in magazine and broadcast advertising,
and when you use a site with one of the (rare)
pure in-context ad platforms such as Project
it works about the same way.
The place where things start to get
problematic is ads based on user identity,
placed by tracking users from site to site.
The more that users learn how their data is
used, the less tracking they tend to want. In one
66% of adult Americans said they do not want
marketers to tailor advertisements to their
interests, and when the researchers explained
how ad targeting works, the percentage went
If users, on average, dislike tracking enough that
sites choose to conceal it, then that's pretty good
evidence that sites should probably ask for permission
to do it. Whether this opt-in should be enforced by
law, technology, or both is left as an exercise for
So what happens if, thanks to new regulations,
technical improvements in browsers, or both,
cross-site tracking becomes harder? Rothenberg
insists that this transformation would end
ad-supported sites, but the real effects
would be more complex. Ad-supported sites are
already getting a remarkably lousy share of
ad budgets. “The supply chain’s complexity
and opacity net digital advertisers as little
as 30 cents to 40 cents of working media for
every dollar spent,” ANA CEO Bob Liodice
high-reputation sites tends to be a better
than using highly intermediated, fraud-prone, stacks
of user tracking to try to chase good users to cheap
sites. But crap ad inventory, including fraudulent
and brand-unsafe stuff, persists. The crap only has
market value because of user tracking, and it drives
down the value of legit ads. If browser improvements
or regulation make knowledge of user identity
rarer, the crap tends to leave the market and the
value of user intent and context go up.
Rothenberg speaks for today's adtech,
which despite all its acronyms and Big
Data jive, is based on a pretty boring business
find a user on a legit site, covertly follow the
user to a crappy site where the ads are cheaper,
sell an ad impression there, profit. Of course he's
entitled to make the case for enabling IAB members to
continue to collect their "adtech tax." But moving ad
budgets from one set of players to another doesn't end
ad-supported sites, because marketers adjust. That's
what they do. There's always something new in
marketing, and budgets move around. What happens
when privacy regulations shift the incentives,
and make more of advertising have to depend on
trustworthy content? That's the real question here.
Moral values in society are
collapsing? Really? Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
The baseline moral values of poor people do not,
in fact, differ that much from those of the rich.
(read the whole thing).
Unfortunately, if you read the fine print,
it's more complicated than that. Any market
economy depends on establishing trust between
people who trade with each other. Tim Harford
Being able to trust people might seem like a pleasant luxury, but economists are starting to believe that it’s rather more important than that. Trust is about more than whether you can leave your house unlocked; it is responsible for the difference between the richest countries and the poorest.
Somehow, over thousands of years, business
people have built up a set of norms about
high-status and low-status business activities.
Craftsmanship, consistent supply of high-quality
staple goods, and construction of noteworthy
projects are high-status activities. Usury and
are examples of low-status activities. (You make
your money in quarters, gambling with retired people?
You lend people $100 until Friday at a 300% interest
rate? No club invitation for you.)
Somehow, though, that is now changing in the USA.
Those who earn money through deception now have seats
at the same table as legitimate business. Maybe
it started with the shift into "consumer
by respectable banks. But why were high-status
bankers willing to play loan shark to begin
with? Something had to have been building, culturally.
(It started too early to blame the Baby Boomers.)
We tend to blame information technology companies
for complex, one-sided Terms of Service and EULAs,
but it's not so much a tech trend as it is a general
business culture trend. It shows up in tech fast,
because rapid technology change provides cover and
concealment for simultaneous changes in business
terms. US business was rapidly losing its connection
to basic norms when it was still moving at the speed
of FedEx and fax. (You can't say, all of a sudden,
"car crashes in existing fast-food drive-thrus are
subject to arbitration in Unfreedonia" but you can
stick that kind of term into a new service's ToS.)
There's some kind of relativistic effect going on.
Tech bros just seem like bigger douchebags because
they're moving faster.
Regulation isn't the answer. We have a system in
which business people can hire lobbyists to buy the
laws and regulations we want. The question is whether
we're going to use our regulatory capture powers
in a shortsighted, society-eroding hustler way,
or in a conservative way. Economic conservatism
means not just limiting centralized state control
of capital, but preserving the balance among all
the long-standing stewards of capital, including
households, municipalities, and religious and
educational institutions. Economic conservatism and
radical free-marketism are fundamentally different.
People blame trashy media for the erosion of norms
among the poor, so let's borrow that explanation for
the erosion of norms among the rich as well. Maybe
our problem with business norms results from the
globablization and sensationalism of business
media. Joe CEO isn't just the most important corporate
leader of Mt. Rose, MN, any more—on a global
scale he's just another broke-ass hustler.
One of the common oversimplifications in discussing
open-source software licenses is that copyleft
licenses are "idealistic" while non-copyleft licenses
are "pragmatic." But that's not all there is to it.
Instead of treating the downstrem
developer's employer as a hive mind,
it can be more producive to assume good
on the part of the individual who
intends to contribute to the software,
and think about the license from the
point of view of a real person.
Releasing source for a derivative work costs time
and money. The well-intentioned "downstream"
contributor wants his or her organization to make
those investments, but he or she has to make a case
for them. The presence of copyleft helps steer
the decision in the right direction. Jane Hacker
at an organization planning to release a derivative
work can say, matter-of-factly, "we need to comply
with the upstream license" if copyleft is involved.
The organization is then more likely to do the right
thing. There are always violations, but the license
is a nudge in the right direction.
(The extreme case is university licensing offices.
University-owned software patents can exclude a
graduate student from his or her own project when
the student leaves the university, unless he or she
had the foresight to build it as a derivative work
of something under copyleft.)
Copyleft isn't a magic commons-building tool, and it
isn't right for every situation. But it can be enough
to push an organization over the line. (One place
where I worked had to a do a source release for one
dependency licensed under GPLv2, and it turned out to
be easist to just build one big source code release
with all the dependencies in it, and offer that.)
Least surprising news story ever:
The Campaign Against Facebook And
Google's Ad "Duopoly" Is Going
Independent online publishers can't beat the
big surveillance marketing companies at surveillance
marketing? How about they try to beat Amazon and
Microsoft at cloud services, or Apple and Lenovo
at laptop computers? There are possible winning
strategies for web publishers, but doing the same as
the incumbents with less money and less data is not
one of them.
Meanwhile, from an investor point of view: It’s the
Biggest Scandal in Tech (and no one’s talking about
Missing the best investment advice: get out of any
B-list adtech company that is at risk of getting
forced into a low-value acquisition by a sustained
fraud story. Or short it and research the fraud
Apple’s Upcoming Safari Changes Will Shake Up Ad
Not surprisingly, Facebook and Amazon are the big
winners in this change. Most of their users come every
day or at least every week. And even the mobile users
click on links often, which, on Facebook, takes them
to a browser. These companies will also be able to
buy ad inventory on Safari at lower prices because
many of the high-dollar bidders will go away.
A good start by Apple, but other browsers can do
better. (Every click on a Facebook ad from a local
business is $0.65 of marketing money that's not going
to local news, Little League sponsorships, and other
A lot of privacy people these days sound like a little
kid arguing with a sibling. You're going to be in
big trouble when Dad gets home!
Dad, here, is the European Union,
who's going to put the General Data Protection
foot down, and then, oh, boy, those naughty
surveillance marketers are going to catch it, and
wish that they had been listening to us about privacy
The problem is that perfectly normal businesses are using
GDPR-violating sneaky tracking pixels
and other surveillance marketing as part of their daily
As the GDPR deadline approaches, surveillance
marketers in Europe are going to sigh and
painstakingly explain to European politicians
that of course this GDPR thing isn't going
to work. "You see, politicians, it's an example
of political overreach that completely conflicts
with technical reality." European surveillance
marketers will use the same kind of language
about GDPR that the freedom-loving
side used when we talked about the proposed
It's just going to Break the Internet! People will
lose their jobs!
The result is predictable. GDPR will be delayed,
festooned with exceptions, or both, and the hoped-for
top-down solution to privacy problems will not come.
There's no shortcut. We'll only get a replacement for
surveillance marketing when we build the tools, the
networks, the business processes, the customer/voter
norms, and then the political power.
Proctor & Gamble makes products that help you comply
with widely held cleanliness norms.
Digital ads are micro-targeted to you as an individual.
That's the worst possible brand/medium fit. If you
don't know that the people who expect you to keep
your house or body clean are going to be aware of
the same product, how do you know whether to buy it?
I thought it would be fun to try Twitter ads, and, not
surprisingly, I started getting fake followers pretty
quickly after I started a Twitter follower campaign.
Since I'm paying nine cents a head for these
followers, I don't want to get ripped off.
So naturally I put in a support ticket to Twitter,
and just heard back.
Thanks for writing in about the quality of followers and engagements. One of the advantages of the Twitter Ads platform is that any RTs of your promoted ads are sent to the retweeting account's followers as an organic tweet. Any engagements that result are not charged, however followers gained may not align with the original campaign's targeting criteria. These earned followers or engagements do show in the campaign dashboard and are used to calculate cost per engagement, however you are not charged for them directly.
Twitter also passes all promoted engagements through a filtering mechanism to avoid charging advertisers for any low-quality or invalid engagements. These filters run on a set schedule so the engagements may show in the campaign dashboard, but will be deducted from the amount outstanding and will not be charged to your credit card.
If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to reply.
That's pretty dense San Francisco speak, so let
me see if I can translate to the equivalent for a
Hey, what are these rat turds doing in my raisin bran?
Thanks for writing in about the quality of your raisin
bran eating experience. One of the advantages of the
raisin bran platform is that during the production
process, your raisin bran is made available to our
rodent partners as an organic asset.
I paid for raisin bran, so why are you selling me raisin-plus-rat-turds bran?
Any ingredients that result from rodent engagement
are not charged, however ingredients gained may not
align with your original raisin-eating criteria.
Can I have my money back?
We pass all raisin bran sales through a filtering
mechanism to avoid charging you for invalid
ingredients. The total weight of the product, as printed on the
box, includes these ingredients, but the weight of
invalid ingredients will be deducted from the amount
charged to your credit card.
So how can I tell which rat turds are "organic" so
I'm not paying for them, and which are the ones that
you just didn't catch and are charging me for?
Buying Twitter followers: Fiverr or Twitter?
On Fiverr, Twitter followers are about half a cent
each ($5/1000). On Twitter, I'm gettting followers
for about 9 cents each. The Twitter price is about
18x the Fiverr price.
But every follower that someone else buys on Fiverr
has to be "aged" and disguised in order to look
realistic enough not to get banned. The bot-herders
have to follow legit follower campaigns such as
mine and not just their paying customers.
(I call them "sleepers." They do all sorts of natural things (following suggested accounts, tweeting quotes) aging into "trusted" zone.)
If Twitter is selling those "follow" actions to
me for nine cents each, and the bot-herder is only
making half a cent, how is Twitter not making more
from bogus Twitter followers than the bot-herders are?
If you're verified on Twitter, you may not be
seeing how much of a shitshow their ad business
is. Maybe the're going to have to sell Twitter to
sooner than I thought.
Just thinking about approaches to incentivizing
production of information goods, and where futures
markets might fit in.
Article 1, Section 8, of the US Constitution still covers this one best.
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
We know about the problems with this one. It
encourages all kinds of rent-seeking and
freedom-menacing behavior by the holders of
property interests in information. And the
transaction costs are too high to incentivize the
production of some useful kinds of information.
Commoditize the complement
Joel Spolsky explained it best, in Strategy Letter
Smart companies try to commoditize their
products’ complements. (See also: the list
of business models in the Some Easily Rebutted
Objections to GNU's Goals section of the GNU
This one has been shown to work for some categories
of information goods but not others. (We have Free
world-class browsers and OS kernels because search
engines and hardware are complements. We don't have
free world-class software in categories such as CAD.)
Release a free information good as a way to signal
competence in performing a service, or at least a
large investment by the author in persuading others
that the author is competent. Works at the level
of the individual labor market and in consulting.
Don't know if this works in other areas.
Game and market mechanisms
With "gamified crowdsourcing" you can earn play
rewards for very low transaction costs, and contribute
very small tasks.
Higher transaction costs are associated with "crowdfunding" which
sounds similar but requires more collaboration and administration.
In the middle, between crowdsourcing and crowdfunding,
is a niche for a mechanism with lower transaction
costs than crowdfunding but more rewards than
By using the existing bug tracker to
resolve contracts, a bug futures market keeps
transaction costs low. By connecting to an existing
cryptocurrency, a bug futures market enables a kind
of reward that is more liquid, and transferrable
We don't know how wide the bug futures niche is. Is it a tiny space between
increasingly complex tasks that can be resolved by crowdsourcing and
increasingly finer-grained crowdfunding campaigns?
Or are bug futures capable of achieving low enough
transaction costs to be an attractive incentivization
mechanism for a lot of tasks that go into a variety of
Bryan Alexander has a good description
of an "open web" reading pipeline in
I defy the world and go back to
I'm all for the open web, but 40 separate folders for
400 feeds? That would drive me nuts. I'm a lumper,
not a splitter. I have one folder for 12,387 feeds.
My chosen way to use RSS (and one of the
great things about RSS is you can choose
UX independently of information sources) is a
"scored river". Something like Dave Winer's River of
concept, that you can navigate by just scrolling,
but not exactly a river of news.
with full text if available, but without
images. I can click through if I want the images.
items grouped by score, not feed. (Scores assigned
managed by a dirt-simple algorithm where a feed
"invests" a percentage of its points in every link,
and the investments pay out in a higher score for
that feed if the user likes a link.)
I also put the byline at the bottom of each item.
Anyway, one thing I have found out about manipulating
my own filter bubble is that linklog feeds and
blogrolls are great inputs. So here's a linklog
from the live site, which annoys everyone except me.)
The Al Capone theory of sexual harassmentInitially, the connection eluded us: why would the same person who made unwanted sexual advances also fake expense reports, plagiarize, or take credit for other people’s work?
Jon Tennant - The Cost of KnowledgeBut there’s something much more sinister to consider; recently a group of researchers saw fit to publish Ebola research in a ‘glamour magazine’ behind a paywall; they cared more about brand association than the content. This could be life-saving research, why did they not at least educate themselves on the preprint procedure....
2014:When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.
2018 (?): When there's no other dude in the fund, the cost of financing innovation anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a portfolio of public company stock. So the magic there is, you basically bring the transaction costs of venture capital below the cost of public company ownership for everybody, and then public companies go away.
Could be a thing for software/service companies faster than we might think. Futures contracts on bugs→equity crowdfunding and pre-sales of tokens→bot-managed follow-on fund for large investors.
Here's a probably stupid idea: give bots the right
to accept proposed changes to a software project.
Can automation encourage less burnout-provoking
A set of bots could interact in interesting ways.
Regression-test-bot: If a change only adds a
test, applies cleanly to both the current version
and to a previous version, and the previous version
passses the test, accept it, even if the test fails
for the current version.
Harmless-change-bot: If a change is below a
certain size, does not modify existing tests, and
all tests (including any new ones) pass, accept it.
Revert-bot: If any tests are failing on the
current version, and have been failing for more than
a certain amount of time, revert back to a version
Would more people write regression tests for their
issues if they knew that a bot would accept them?
Or say that someone makes a bad change but gets
it past harmless-change-bot because no existing
test covers it. No lengthy argument needed. Write
a regression test and let regression-test-bot and
revert-bot team up to take care of the problem. In
general, move contributor energy away from arguing
with people and toward test writing, and reduce the
size of the maintainer's to-do list.
This is not new. Right-wing shitlords, at least the
best of them, are the masters of database marketing.
They absolutely kill it, and they have been
ever since Marketing as we know it became a thing.
Some good examples:
All the creepy surveillance marketing stuff they're
doing today is just another set of tools in an
expanding core competency.
Every once in a while you get an exception. The
environmental movement became a direct mail
operation in response to Interior Secretary James
who alarmed environmentalists enough that
organizations could reliably fundraise with direct
mail copy quoting from Watt's latest speech. And the
Democrats tried that "Organizing for America" thing
for a little while, but, man, their heart just wasn't
in it. They dropped it like a Moodle site during
summer vacation. Somehow, the creepier the marketing,
the more it skews "red". The more creativity involved,
the more it skews "blue" (using the USA meanings of
those colors.) When we make decisions about how much
user surveillance we're going to allow on a platform,
we're making a political decision.
News sites want to go to Congress, to get permission
to play for third place in their own business?
You want permission to bring fewer resources and
less experience to a surveillance marketing game
that the Internet companies are already losing?
We know the qualities of a medium that you win by
being creepier, and we know the qualities of a medium
that you can win with reputation and creativity.
Why waste time and money asking Congress for the
opportunity to lose, when you could change the game
Maybe achieving balance in political views depends
on achieving balance in business model. Instead of
buying in to the surveillance marketing model 100%,
and handing an advantage to one side, maybe news sites
should help users control what data they share
in order to balance competing political interests.
Given this, it appears that an open source venture (a company that can scale to millions of worker/owners creating a new economic ecosystem) that builds massive human curated databases and decentralizes the processing load of training these AIs could become extremely competitive.
But what if the economic ecosystem could exist
without the venture? Instead of trying to build a
virtual company with millions of workers/owners,
build a market economy with millions of participants
in tens of thousands of projects and tasks? All of
this stuff scales technically much better than it
scales organizationally—you could still be
part of a large organization or movement while only
participating directly on a small set of issues at
any one time. Instead of holding equity in a large
organization with all its political risk, you could
hold a portfolio of positions in areas where you have
enough knowledge to be comfortable.
Robb's opportunity is in training AIs, not in writing
code. The "oracle" for resolving AI-training or
dataset-building contracts would have to be different,
but the futures market could be the same.
The cheating project problem
Why would you invest in a futures contract on bug
outcomes when the project maintainer controls the
And what about employees who are incentivized from
both sides: paid to fix a bug but able to buy futures
contracts (anonymously) that will let them make more
on the market by leaving it open?
In order for the market to function, the total
reputation of the project and contributors
must be high enough that outside participants
believe that developers are more motivated
to maintain that reputation than to "take a
on a bug.
That implies that there is some kind of relationship
between the total "reputation capital" of a project
and the maximum market value of all the futures
contracts on it.
Open source metrics
To put that another way, there must be some
relationship between the market value of futures
contracts on a project and the maximum reputation
value of the project. So that could be a proxy for
a difficult-to-measure concept such as "open source
Open source journalism
Hey, tickers to put into stories! Sparklines! All
the charts and stuff that finance and sports reporters
can build stories around!
This paper presents the largest study to date on gender bias, where we compare acceptance rates of contributions from men versus women in an open source software community. Surprisingly, our results show that women's contributions tend to be accepted more often than men's. However, women's acceptance rates are higher only when they are not identifiable as women.
For outsiders, women coders who use gender-neutral profiles get their changes accepted 2.8% more of the time than men with gender-neutral profiles, but when their gender is obvious, they get their changes accepted 0.8% less of the time.
The experiment, launching this month,
will help reviewers who want to try breaking
habits of unconscious bias (whether by gender or
insider/outsider status) by concealing the name and
email adddress of a code author during a review on
Bugzilla. You'll be able to un-hide the information
before submitting a review, if you want, in order
to add a personal touch, such as welcoming a new
The extension will "cc" one of two special accounts
on a bug, to indicate if the review was done partly
or fully blind. This lets us measure its impact without
having to make back-end changes to Bugzilla.
(Yes, WebExtensions let you experiment
with changing a user's experience of
a site without changing production web
applications or content sites. Bonus link:
A first release is on a.m.o., here: Blind Reviews BMO
if you want an early look. We'll send out
notifications to relevant places when the "last"
bugs are fixed and it's ready for daily developer use.
Adfraud is a big problem, and we keep seeing two
basic approaches to it.
Flight to quality: Run ads only on trustworthy
sites. Brands are now playing the fraud game
with the "reputation coprocessors" of the
audience's brains on the brand's side. (Flight
to quality doesn't mean just advertise on the
same major media sites as everyone else—it
can scale downward with, for example, the Project
model that lets you choose sites that are "brand safe"
Increased surveillance: Try to fight adfraud by
continuing to play the game of trying to get big-money
impressions from the cheapest possible site, but throw
more tracking at the problem. Biggest example of this
is to move ad money to locked-down mobile platforms
and away from the web.
Anyway, I'm interested in and optimistic about
the results of the recent Mozilla/Caribou Digital
It turns out that USA-style adtech is harder to do
in countries where users are (1) less accurately
tracked and (2) equipped with blockers to avoid
bandwidth-sucking third-party ads. That's likely
to mean better prospects for ad-supported news and
cultural works, not worse. This report points
out the good news that the so-called adtech
tax is lower in developing countries—so
what kind of ad-supported businesses will be
enabled by lower "taxes" and "reinvention, not
of more magazine-like advertising?
Of course, working in those markets is going to be
hard for big US or European ad agencies that are
now used to solving problems by throwing creepy
tracking at them. But the low rate of adtech
taxation sounds like an opportunity for creative
local agencies and brands. Maybe the report should
have been called something like "The Global South
is Shitty-Adtech-Proof, so Brands Built Online There
Are Going to Come Eat Your Lunch."
Why would you want the added complexity of a
market where anyone can take either side of a
futures contract on the status of a software bug,
and not just offer to pay people to fix bugs like a
sensible person? IMHO it's worth trying not just
because of the promise of lower transaction costs
and more market liquidity (handwave) but because it
enables other kinds of transactions. A few more.
Partial work I want a feature, and buy the
"unfixed" side of a contract that I expect to lose.
A developer decides to fix it, does the work, and
posts a pull request that would close the bug.
But the maintainer is on vacation, leaving her
pull request hanging with a long comment thread.
Another developer is willing to take on the political
risk of merging the work, and buys out the original
Prediction/incentivization With the right market
design, a prediction that something won't happen
is the same as an incentive to make it happen.
If we make an attractive enough way for users
to hedge their exposure to lack of innovation,
we create a pool of wealth that can be captured
by innovators. (Related: dominant assurance
Bug triage Much valuable work on bugs is in
the form of modifying metadata: assigning a bug
to the correct subsystem, identifying dependency
relationships, cleaning up spam, and moving invalid
bugs into a support ticket tracker or forum.
This work is hard to reward, and infamously hard to
find volunteers for. An active futures market could
include both bots that trade bugs probabilistically
based on status and activity, and active bug triagers
who make small market gains from modifying metadata
in a way that makes them more likely to be resolved.
Content Neutrality: Content blocking software
should focus on addressing potential user needs
(such as on performance, security, and privacy)
instead of blocking specific types of content
(such as advertising).
Transparency & Control: The content blocking
software should provide users with transparency and
meaningful controls over the needs it is attempting
Openness: Blocking should maintain a
level playing field and should block under the
same principles regardless of source of the
content. Publishers and other content providers
should be given ways to participate in an open Web
ecosystem, instead of being placed in a permanent
penalty box that closes off the Web to their
products and services.
[T]he police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
Web browser developers have similar responsibilities
to those of Peel's ideal police: to build a browser
to carry out the user's intent, or, when setting
defaults, to understand widely held user norms and
implement those, while giving users the affordances
to change the defaults if they choose.
The question now is how to apply content blocking
principles to today's web environment. Some qualities
of today's situation are:
Tracking protection often doesn't have to be
perfect, because adfraud. The browser can provide
some protection, and influence the market in a
positive direction, just by getting legit users
below the noise floor of fraudbots.
Tracking protection has the potential to intensify
a fingerprinting arms race that's already going on,
by forcing more adtech to rely on fingerprinting
in place of third-party cookies.
Fraud is bad, but not all anti-fraud is good.
Anti-fraud technologies that track users can create
the same security risks as other tracking—and
enable adtech to keep promising real eyeballs on
crappy sites. The "flight to quality" approach
to anti-fraud does not share these problems.
Adtech and adfraud can peek at Mozilla's homework,
but Mozilla can't see theirs. Open source projects
must rely on unpredictable users, not unpredictable
platform decisions, to create uncertainty.
Which suggests a few tactics—low-risk ways to
apply content blocking principles to address today's
Empower WebExtensions developers and users. Much
of the tracking protection and anti-fingerprinting
magic in Firefox is hidden behind preferences. This
makes a lot of sense because it enables developers
to integrate their work into the browser in parallel
with user testing, and enables Tor Browser to do
less patching. IMHO this work is also important
to enable users to choose their own balance between
privacy/security and breaking legacy sites.
Inform and nudge users who express an interest
in privacy. Some users care about privacy, but
don't have enough information about how protection
choices match up with their expectations. If
a user cares enough to turn on Do Not Track,
change cookie settings, or install an ad blocker,
then try suggesting a tracking protection setting
or tool. Don't assume that just because a user
has installed an ad blocker with deceptive privacy
that the user would not choose privacy if asked
Understand and report on adfraud. Adfraud
is more than just fake impressions and clicks.
New techniques include attribution fraud: taking
advantage of tracking to connect a bogus ad impression
to a real sale. The complexity of attribution models
makes this hard to track down. (Criteo and Steelhouse
settled a lawsuit about this before discovery could
A multi-billion-dollar industry is devoted to
spreading a story that minimizes adfraud, while
independent research hints at a complex and lucrative
adfraud scene. Remember how there were two Methbot
Methbot got a bogus block of IP addresses, and Methbot
circumvented some widely used anti-fraud scripts.
The ad networks dealt with the first one pretty
quickly, but the second is still a work in progress.
The more that Internet freedom lovers can help
marketers understand adfraud, and related problems
such as brand-unsafe ad placements, the more that
the content blocking story can be about users, legit
sites, and brands dealing with problem tracking,
and not just privacy nerds against all web business.
More on the third connection in Benkler’s
which was pretty general. This is just some notes
on more concrete examples of how new kinds of direct
connections between markets and peer production might
work in the future.
Smart contracts should make it possible to enable
these in a trustworthy, mostly decentralized, way.
Feature request I want emoji support on my blog,
so I file, or find, a wishlist bug on the open source
blog package I use: "Add emoji support." I then offer
to enter into a smart contract that will be worthless
to me if the bug is fixed on September 1, or give me
my money back if the bug is unfixed at that date.
A developer realizes that fixing the bug would be
easy, and wants to do it, so takes the other side
of the contract. The developer's side will expire
worthless if the bug is unfixed, and pay out if the
bug is fixed.
"Unfixed" results will probably include bugs that
are open, wontfix, invalid, or closed as duplicate
of a bug that is still open.
"Fixed" results will include bugs closed as fixed,
or any bug closed as a duplicate of a bug that is
closed as fixed.
If the developer fixes the bug, and its status changes
to fixed, then I lose money on the smart contract but
get the feature I want. If the bug status is still
unfixed, then I get my money back.
So far this is just one user paying one developer to
write a feature. Not especially exciting. There is
some interesting market design work to be done here,
though. How can the developer signal serious interest
in working on the bug, and get enough upside to be
meaningful, without taking too much risk in the event
the fix is not accepted on time?
Arbitrage I post the same offer, but another user
realizes that the blog project can only support emoji
if the template package that it depends on supports
them. That user becomes an arbitrageur: takes the
"fixed" side of my offer, and the "unfixed" side of
the "Add emoji support" bug in the template project.
As an end user, I don't have to know the dependency
relationship, and the market gives the arbitrageur
an incentive to collect information about multiple
dependent bugs into the best place to fix them.
Front-running Dudley Do-Right's open source
project has a bug in it, users are offering to buy the
"unfixed" side of the contract in order to incentivize
a fix, and a trader realizes that Dudley would be
unlikely to let the bug go unfixed. The trader takes
the "fixed" side of the contract before Dudley wakes
up. The deal means that the market gets information
on the likelihood of the bug being fixed, but the
developer doing the work does not profit from it.
This is a "picking up nickels in front of a
steamroller" trading strategy. The front-runner is
accepting the risk of Dudley burning out, writing a
long Medium piece on how open source is full of FAIL,
and never fixing a bug again.
Front-running game theory could be interesting. If
developers get sufficiently annoyed by front-running,
they could delay fixing certain bugs until after the
end of the relevant contracts. A credible threat to
do this might make front-runners get out of their
positions at a loss.
CVE prediction A user of a static analysis tool
finds a suspicious pattern in a section of a codebase,
but cannot identify a specific vulnerability. The
user offers to take one side of a smart contract
that will pay off if a vulnerability matching a
certain pattern is found. A software maintainer or
key user can take the other side of these contracts,
to encourage researchers to disclose information and
focus attention on specific areas of the codebase.
Security information leakage Ernie and Bert
discover a software vulnerability. Bert sells it to
foreign spies. Ernie wants to get a piece of the
action, too, but doesn't want Bert to know, so he
trades on a relevant CVE prediction. Neither Bert nor
the foreign spies know who is making the prediction,
but the market movement gives white-hat researchers
a clue on where the vulnerability can be found.
Open source metrics: Prices and volumes on bug
futures could turn out to be a more credible signal
of interest in a project than raw activity numbers.
It may be worth using a bot to trade on a project you
depend on, just to watch the market move. Likewise,
new open source metrics could provide useful trading
strategies. If sentiment analysis shows that a
project is melting down, offer to take the "unfixed"
side of the project's long-running bugs? (Of course,
this is the same market action that incentivizes
fixes, so betting that a project will fail is the
same thing as paying them not to. My brain hurts.)
What's an "oracle"?
The "oracle" is the software component that moves
information from the bug tracker to the smart
contracts system. Every smart contract has to be tied
to a given oracle that both sides trust to resolve
For CVE prediction, the oracle is responsible
for pattern matching on new CVEs, and feeding the
info into the smart contract system. As with all
of these, CVE prediction contracts are tied to a
Bots might have several roles.
Move investments out of duplicate bugs. (Take a "fixed"
position in the original and an "unfixed" position in the
duplicate, or vice versa.)
Make small investments in bugs that appear valid
based on project history and interactions by
Track activity across projects and social sites
to identify qualified bug fixers who are unlikely
to fix a bug within the time frame of a contract,
and take "unfixed" positions on bugs relevant
For companies: when a bug is mentioned in an
internal customer support ticketing system, buy
"unfixed" on that bug. Map confidential customer
needs to possible fixers.
Since most software is sold with an “as is” license, meaning the company is not legally liable for any issues with it even on day one, it has not made much sense to spend the extra money and time required to make software more secure quickly.
The software business is still stuck on the kind of
licensing that might have made sense in the 8-bit
micro days, when "personal computer productivity"
was more aspirational than a real thing, and software
licenses were printed on the backs of floppy sleeves.
Today, software is part of products that do real
stuff, and it makes zero sense to ship a real product,
that people's safety or security depends on, with the
fine print "WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO TOTALLY HALF-ASS
OUR JOBS" or in business-speak, "SELLER DISCLAIMS
THE IMPLIED WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY."
But what about open source and
collaboration and science, and all that
stuff? Software can be both "product" and
Should there be a warranty on speech? If I dig up my
for re-running the make command when a
source file changes, and put it on the Internet,
should I be putting a warranty on it?
It seems that there are two kinds of software: some is
more product-like, and should have a grown-up warranty
on it like a real busines. And some software is more
speech-like, and should have ethical requirements like
a scientific paper, but not a product-like warranty.
What's the dividing line? Some ideas.
"productware is shipped as executables, freespeechware
is shipped as source code" Not going to work for
elevator_controller.php or a home router security
"productware is preinstalled, freespeechware is downloaded
separately" That doesn't make sense when even
implanted defibrillators can update over the net.
"productware is proprietary, freespeechware is open
source" Companies could put all the fragile stuff
in open source components, then use the DMCA and
CFAA to enable them to treat the whole compilation
Software companies are built to be good at getting
around rules. If a company can earn all its money in
faraway Dutch Sandwich Land and be conveniently too
broke to pay the IRS in the USA, then it's going to
be hard to make it grow up licensing-wise without
hurting other people first.
How about splitting out the legal advantages that the
government offers to software and extending some to
productware, others to freespeechware?
license may disclaim implied warranty
no anti-reverse-engineering clause in a freespeechware license is enforceable
freespeechware is not a "technological protection measure" under section 1201 of Title 17 of the United States Code (DMCA anticircumvention)
exploiting a flaw in freespeechware is never a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
If the license allows it, a vendor may sell freespeechware, or a
derivative work of it, as productware. (This
could be as simple as following the You may
charge any price or no price for each copy that
you convey, and you may offer support or warranty
protection for a fee. term of the GPL.)
license may not disclaim implied warranty
licensor and licensee may agree to limit reverse engineering rights
DMCA and CFAA apply (reformed of course, but that's another story)
It seems to me that there needs to be some kind of
quid pro quo here. If a company that sells software
wants to use government-granted legal powers to
control its work, that has to be conditioned on not
using those powers just to protect irresponsible
Check it out—I'm "on Facebook"
again. Just fixed my gateway through
dlvr.it. If you're reading
this on Facebook, that's why.
Dlvr.it is a nifty service that will post to
social sites from an RSS feed. If you don't
run your own linklog feed, the good news is that
Pocket will generate RSS feeds from the articles you
so if you want to share links with people still on
Facebook, the combination of Pocket and dlvr.it
makes that easy to do without actually spending
human eyeball time there.
There's a story about Thomas Nelson,
leader of the Virginia Militia in the Revolutionary
During the siege and battle Nelson led the Virginia Militia whom he had personally organized and supplied with his own funds. Legend had it that Nelson ordered his artillery to direct their fire on his own house which was occupied by Cornwallis, offering five guineas to the first man who hit the house.
Would Facebook's owners do the same, now that we
know that foreign interests use Facebook to subvert
America? Probably not. The Nelson story is just an
unconfirmed patriotic anecdote, and we can't expect
that kind of thing from today's post-patriotic
investor class. Anyway, just seeing if I can
move Facebook's bots/eyeballs ratio up a little.
I'm thankful that the sewing
was invented a long time ago, not today. If the
sewing machine were invented today, most sewing
tutorials would be twice as long, because all the
thread would come in proprietary cartridges, and you
would usually have to hack the cartridge to get the
type of thread you need in a cartridge that works
with your machine.
Tracking protection is still hard. You have to
provide good protection from third-party tracking,
which users generally don't want, without breaking
legit third-party services such as content delivery
networks, single sign-on systems, and shopping carts.
Protection is a balance, similar to the problem of
filtering spam while delivering legit mail. Just as
spam filtering helps enable legit email marketing,
tracking protection tends to enable legit advertising
that supports journalism and cultural works.
In the long run, just as we have seen with spam
filters, it will be more important to make protection
hard to predict than to run the perfect protection
out of the box. A spam filter, or browser, that
always does the same thing will be analyzed and
worked around. A mail service that changes policies
to respond to current spam runs, or an unpredictable
ecosystem of tracking protection add-ons
that browser users can install in unpredictable
combinations, is likely to be harder.
But most users aren't in the habit of installing
add-ons, so browsers will probably have to give them
a nudge, like Microsoft Windows does when it nags
the user to pick an antivirus package (or did last
time I checked.) So the decentralized way to catch
up to Apple could end up being something like:
When new tracking protection methods show up
in the privacy literature, quietly build the needed
browser add-on APIs to make it possible for
new add-ons to implement them.
Do user research to
guide the content and timing of nudges. (Some
prefer to be tracked, and should be offered a
chance to silence the warnings by affirmatively
choosing a do-nothing protection option.)
Help users share information about the pros and
cons of different tools. If a tool saves lots of
bandwidth and battery life but breaks some site's
comment form, help the user make the right choice.
Sponsor innovation challenges to incentivize
development, testing, and promotion of diverse
tracking protection tools.
Any surveillance marketer can install and test a
copy of Safari, but working around an explosion of
tracking protection tools would be harder. How to
set priorities when they don't know which tools will
What about adfraud?
Tracking protection strategies have to take adfraud
into account. Marketers have two choices for how to
deal with adfraud:
flight to quality
Flight to quality is better in the long run. But
it's a problem from the point of view of adtech
intermediaries because it moves more ad money to
high-reputation sites, and the whole point of adtech
is to reach big-money eyeballs on cheap sites.
Adtech firms would rather see surveillance-heavy
responses to adfraud. One way to help shift marketing
budgets away from surveillance, and toward flight
to quality, is to make the returns on surveillance
investments less predictable.
This is possible to do without making value
judgments about certain kinds of sites. If you like
a site enough to let it see your personal info,
you should be able to do it, even if in my humble
opinion it's a crappy site. But you can have this
option without extending to all crappy sites the
confidence that they'll be able to live on leaked
data from unaware users.
I have to admit that some people hate me, but I have to tell you something about hate. If sending an electronic advertisement through email warrants hate, then my answer to those people is "Get a life. Don't hate somebody for sending an advertisement through email." There are people out there that also like us.
According to spammers, spam filtering was just Internet
nerds complaining about something that regular users
actually like. But the spam debate ended when big
online services, starting with MSN, started talking
about how they build for their real users instead of
for Wallace's hypothetical spam-loving users.
If you missed the email spam debate,
don't worry. Wallace's talking
points about spam filters constantly get recycled by
surveillance marketers talking about tracking
But now it's not email spam that users supposedly
crave. Today, the Interactive Advertising Bureau
tells us that users want ads that "follow them around"
from site to site.
Enough background. Just as the email spam debate
ended with MSN's campaign, the third-party
web tracking debate ended on June 5,
With Intelligent Tracking Prevention, WebKit strikes a balance between user privacy and websites’ need for on-device storage. That said, we are aware that this feature may create challenges for legitimate website storage, i.e. storage not intended for cross-site tracking.
Surveillance marketers come up with all kinds of
hypothetical reasons why users might prefer targeted
ads. But in the real world, Apple invests time
and effort to understand user experience. When Apple
communicates about a feature, it's because that
feature is likely to keep a user satisfied
enough to buy more Apple devices. We can't read their
confidential user research, but we can see what the
company learned from it based on how they communicate
(Imagine for a minute that Apple's user research
had found that real live users are more like the
Interactive Advertising Bureau's idea of a user.
We might see announcements more like "Safari
automatically shares your health and financial
information with brands you love!" Anybody got one
of those to share?)
Saving an out-of-touch ad industry
Advertising supports journalism and cultural
works that would not otherwise exist.
It's too important not to save. Bob Hoffman
[H]ow can we encourage an acceptable version of online advertising that will allow us to enjoy the things we like about the web without the insufferable annoyance of the current online ad model?
The browser has to be part of the answer. If the
browser does its job, as Safari is doing, it can
play a vital role in re-connecting users with legit
advertising—just as users have come to trust
legit email newsletters now that they have effective
Safari's Intelligent Tracking Prevention is not the
final answer any more than Paul Graham's "A plan
for spam" was
the final spam filter. Adtech will evade protection
tools just as spammers did, and protection will have
to keep getting better. But at least now we can
finally say debate over, game on.
Looks like the spawn of Privacy Badger and cookie
double-keying, designed to balance user protection
from surveillance marketing with minimal breakage of
sites that depend on third-party resources.
(Now all the webmasters will fix stuff to make it
work with Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which
makes it easier for other browsers and privacy tools
to justify their own features to protect users.
Of course, now the surveillance marketers will rely
more on passive fingerprinting, and Apple has an
advantage there because there are fewer different
Safari-capable devices. But browsers need to fix
Apple does massive amounts of user research and
it's fun to watch the results leak through when
they communicate about features. Looks like they
have found that users care about being "followed"
from site to site by ads, and that users are still
pretty good at applied behavioral economics. The side
effect of tracking protection, of course, is that
it takes high-reputation sites out of competition
with the bottom-feeders to reach their own audiences,
so Intelligent Tracking Prevention is great news for
Meanwhile, I don't get Google's weak "filter"
Looks like a transparently publisher-hostile move
(since it blocks some potentially big-money
ads without addressing the problem of site
commodification), unless I'm missing something.
Benkler builds on the work of Ronald Coase, whose
The Nature of the Firm explains how transaction
costs affect when companies can be more efficient
ways to organize work than markets. Benkler adds
a third organizational model, peer production.
Peer production, commonly seen in open source
projects, is good at matching creative people to
As peer production relies on opening up access to resources for a relatively unbounded set of agents, freeing them to define and pursue an unbounded set of projects that are the best outcome of combining a particular individual or set of individuals with a particular set of resources, this open set of agents is likely to be more productive than the same set could have been if divided into bounded sets in firms.
Firms, markets, and peer production all have their
advantages, and in the real world, most productive
activity is mixed.
Managers in firms manage some production directly
and trade in markets for other production. This
connection in the firms/markets/peer production
tripod is as old as firms.
The open source software business is the second
connection. Managers in firms both manage software
production directly and sponsor peer production
projects, or manage employees who participate
But what about the third possible connection between legs of the tripod?
Is it possible to make a direct connection between
peer production and markets, one that doesn't go
through firms? And why would you want to connect peer
production directly to markets in the first place?
because that's where the money is, but because markets
are a good tool for getting information out of people,
and projects need information. Stefan Kooths,
Markus Langenfurth, and Nadine Kalwey wrote, in
"Open-Source Software: An Economic Assessment"
Developers lack key information due to the absence of pricing in open-source software. They do not have information concerning customers’ willingness to pay (= actual preferences), based on which production decisions would be made in the market process. Because of the absence of this information, supply does not automatically develop in line with the needs of the users, which may manifest itself as oversupply (excessive supply) or undersupply (excessive demand). Furthermore, the functional deficits in the software market also work their way up to the upstream factor markets (in particular, the labor market for developers) and–depending on the financing model of the open-source software development–to the downstream or parallel complementary markets (e.g., service markets) as well.
Because the open-source model at its core deliberately rejects the use of the market as a coordination mechanism and prevents the formation of price information, the above market functions cannot be satisfied by the open-source model. This results in a systematic disadvantage in the provision of software in the open-source model as compared to the proprietary production process.
The workaround is to connect peer production
to markets by way of firms. But the more that
connections between markets and peer production
projects have to go through firms, the more chances
to lose information. That's not because firms
are necessarily dysfunctional (although most are,
in different ways). A firm might rationally choose
to pay for the implementation of a feature that they
predict will get 100 new users, paying $5000 each,
instead of a feature that adds $1000 of value for
1000 existing users, but whose absence won't stop
them from renewing.
Some ways to connect peer production to markets
are already working. Crowdfunding for software
are furthest along, both offering support for
developers who have already built a reputation.
A decentralized form of connection is
which Balaji S. Srinivasan describes as a tradeable
version of API keys. If I believe that your network
service will be useful to me in the future, I can
pre-buy access to it. If I think your service will
really catch on, I can buy a bunch of extra tokens
and sell them later, without needing to involve you.
(and if your service needs network effects, now I
have an incentive to promote it, so that there will
be a seller's market for the tokens I hold.)
by Alexander Tabarrok, build on the crowdfunding
model, with the extra twist that the person proposing
the project has to put up some seed money that
is divided among backers if the project fails to
secure funding. This is supposed to bring in extra
investment early on, before a project looks likely
to meet its goal.
What happens when the software industry is forced to grow up?
I'm starting to think that finishing the tripod,
with better links from markets to peer production,
is going to matter a lot more soon, because of the
software quality problem.
Today's software, both proprietary and open
source, is distributed under ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ terms.
"Disclaimer of implied warranty of merchantability" is
lawyer-speak for "we reserve the right to half-ass our
jobs lol." As Zeynep Tufekci wrote in the New York
"The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More
to Stop It?" At some point the users are going to
get fed up, and we're going to have to. An industry
as large and wealthy as software, still sticking to
Homebrew Computer Club-era disclaimers, is like a
40-something-year-old startup bro doing crimes and
claiming that they're just boyish hijinks. This whole
disclaimer of implied warranty thing is making us
look stupid, people. (No, I'm not for warranties
on software that counts as a scientific or technical
communication, or on bona fide collaborative development,
but on a product product? Come on.)
Grown-up software liability policy is coming,
but we're not ready for it. Quality software
is not just a technically hard problem. Today,
we're set up to move fast,
break things, and ship dancing pigs—with incentives
more powerful than incentives to build secure
software. Yes, you get the occasional DARPA
or tool to facilitate incremental
but most software is incentivized through too many
layers of principal-agent problems. Everything is
If governments try to fix software liability before
the software scene can fix the incentives problem,
then we will end up with a stifled, slowed-down
software scene, a few incumbent software companies
living on regulatory capture, and probably not much
real security benefit for users. But what if users
(directly or through their insurance companies) are
willing to pay to avoid the costs of broken software,
in markets, and open source developers are willing
to participate in peer production to make quality
software, but software firms are not set up to
What if there is another way to connect the "I would
rather pay a little more and not get h@x0r3d!" demand
to the "I would code that right and release it in open
source, if someone would pay for it" supply?
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
Bob Hoffman makes a good case for getting rid of user
in web advertising. But in order to take the next
steps, and not just talk among ourselves about things
that would be really great in the future, we first
need to think about the needs that tracking seems to
satisfy for legit marketers.
What I'm not going to do is pull out the
argument that's in every first comment on
every blog post that criticizes tracking: that
just technology and is somehow value-neutral.
Tracking, like all technologies, enables some kinds
of activity better than others. When tracking offers
marketers the opportunity to reach users based on
who the user is rather than on what they're reading,
watching, or listening to, then that means:
But if tracking is so bad, then why, when you go to
any message board or Q&A site that discusses marketing
for small businesses, is everyone discussing those
nasty, potentially civilization-extinguishing targeted
ads? Why is nobody popping up with a question on how
to make the next They Laughed When I Sat Down At the
Targeted ads are self-serve and easy to
get started with. If you have never bought
a Twitter or Facebook ad, get out your credit
card and start a stopwatch. These ads might be
but they have the lowest time investment of any legit
marketing project, so probably the only marketing
project that time-crunched startups can do.
Targeted ads keep your OODA loop tight. Yes,
running targeted ads can be addictive—If
you thought the the attention slot machine
on social sites was bad, try the advertiser
dashboard. But you're able to use them to
learn information that can help with the rest
of marketing. If you have the budget to exhibit
at one conference, compare Twitter ads targeted
to attendees of conference A with ads targeted to
attendees of conference B, and you're closer to
Marketing has two jobs: sell stuff to customers
and sell Marketing to management. Targeting is
great for the second one, since it comes with the
numbers that will help you take credit for results.
We're not going to be able to get rid of risky
tracking until we can understand the needs that it
fills, not just for big advertisers who can afford the
time and money to show up in Cannes every year, but
for the company founder who still has $1.99 business
and is doing all of Marketing themselves.
(The party line among web privacy people
can't just be that GDPR is going to
save us because the French powers that be
are all emmerdés ever since the surveillance/shitlord
tried to run a US-style game on their political
system. That might sound nice, but put not your trust
in princes, man. Even the most arrogant Eurocrats in
the world will not be able to regulate indefinitely
against all the legit business people in their
countries complaining that they can't do something
they see as essential. GDPR will be temporary air
for building an alternative, not a fix in itself.)
Post-creepy web advertising is still missing some key features.
Quick, low-risk service. With the exception
of the Project Wonderful
targeted ads are quick and low-risk,
while signal-carrying ads are the opposite.
A high-overhead direct ad sales process is not a
drop-in replacement for an easy web form.
I don't think that's all of them. But I don't
think that the move to post-creepy web advertising
is going to be a rush, all at once, either.
Brands that have fly-by-night low-reputation
competitors, brands that already have many
tracking-protected customers, and brands with
solid email lists are going to be able to move
faster than marketers who are still making tracking
work. More: Work together to fix web ads? Let's
I'm still two steps behind in devops
coolness for my network stuff. I don't even
have proper configuration management, and
that's fine because Configuration Management is an
now. Anyway, I still log in and actually run shell
commands on the server, and the LWN review of
mosh was helpful
to me. Now using mosh for connections that persist
across suspending the laptop and moving it from
network to network. More info: Mosh: the mobile
write a long Medium post apologizing to your users for failing
end date for IP Maximalism
When did serious "Intellectual Property Maximalism"
end? I'm going to put it at September 18,
which is the date that the Gates Foundation announced
funding for the Public Library of Science's
journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
When it's a serious matter of people's health,
open access matters, even to the author of "Open
Letter to Hobbyists". Since then, IP Maximalism
stories have been mostly about rent-seeking
behavior, which had been a big part of the
freedom lovers's point all along. (Nobody quoted in this
story is pearl-clutching about "innovation",
for example: Supreme Court ruling threatens to
shut down cottage industry for small East Texas
Is it just me, or does it look to anyone else like the
man in the photo is checking the list of third-party
web trackers on the site to see who he can send a
National Security Letter to?
Could a US president who is untrustworthy
enough to be removed from office possibly be trustworthy
enough to comply with his side of a "Privacy
If it's necessary for the rest of the world to
free itself of its dependence on the U.S.,
does that apply to US-based Internet companies that
have become a bottleneck for news site ad revenue,
and how is that going to work?
If you're "verified" on
Twitter, you probably miss these, so I'll just
use my Fair Use rights to share that one with you.
Twitter is a uniquely influential medium, one that
shows up on the TV news every night and on news
sites all day. But somehow, the plan to make money
from Twitter is to run the same kind of targeted ads
that anyone with a WordPress site can. And the latest
Twitter news is a privacy update that includes, among
other things, more tracking of users from one site to
Yes, the same kind of thing that Facebook already
does, and better, with more users. And the same kind
of thing that any web site can already get from an
of companies. Boring.
If you want to stick this kind of ad on your
WordPress site, you just have to cut and paste some
ad network HTML—not build out a deluxe office
space on Market Street in San Francisco the way
Twitter has. But the result is about the same.
What makes Twitter even more facepalm-worthy is that
they make a point of not showing the ads to the
influential people who draw attention to Twitter to
start with. It's like they're posting a big sign
that says STUPID AD ZONE: UNIMPORTANT PEOPLE ONLY.
Twitter is building something unique, but they're
selling generic impressions that advertisers can get anywhere.
So as far as I can tell, the Twitter business model
is something like:
Money out: build something unique and expensive.
Money in: sell the most generic and shitty
thing in the world.
Facebook can make this work
because they have insane numbers of
Chump change per minute on Facebook still adds
up to real money. But Facebook is an outlier
on raw eyeball-minutes, and there aren't enough
minutes in the day for another. So Twitter
is on track to get sold for $500,000, like Digg
Which is good news for me because I know enough
Twitter users that I can get that kind of money
So why should you help me buy Twitter when you
could just get the $500,000 yourself? Because I have
a secret plan, of course. Twitter is the site that
everyone is talking about, right? So run the ads
that people will talk about. Here's the plan.
Sell one ad per day. And everybody sees the same one.
Sort of like the back cover of the magazine that
everybody in the world reads (but there is no such
magazine, so that's why this is an opportunity.)
No more need to excuse the verified users from
the ads. Yes, an advertiser will have to provide a
variety of sizes and localizations for each ad (and
yes, Twitter will have to check that the translations
match). But it's the same essential ad, shown to
every Twitter user in the world for 24 hours.
No point trying to out-Facebook Facebook
or out-Lumascape the Lumascape.
Targeted ads are weak on
and a bunch of other companies are doing them more
cost-effectively and at higher volume, anyway.
Of course, this is not for everybody. It's for
brands that want to use a memorable, creative ad to
try for the same kind of global signal boost that
a good Tweet® can get. But if you want generic
targeted ads you can get those everywhere else on the
Internet. Where else can you get signal? In order
to beat current Twitter revenue, the One Twitter
Ad needs to go for about the same price as a Super
Bowl commercial. But if Twitter stays influential,
that's reasonable, and I make back the 500 grand and a lot more.
Internet users have been asking what they can do to protect their own data from this creepy, non-consensual tracking by Internet providers—for example, directing their Internet traffic through a VPN or Tor. One idea to combat this that’s recently gotten a lot of traction among privacy-conscious users is data pollution tools: software that fills your browsing history with visits to random websites in order to add “noise” to the browsing data that your Internet provider is collecting.
[T]here are currently too many limitations and too many unknowns to be able to confirm that data pollution is an effective strategy at protecting one’s privacy. We’d love to eventually be proven wrong, but for now, we simply cannot recommend these tools as an effective method for protecting your privacy.
This is one of those "two problems one solution"
The problem for makers and users of "data
pollution" or spoofing tools is QA. How do you
know that your tool is working? Or are surveillance
marketers just filtering out the impressions
created by the tool, on the server side?
The problem for companies using so-called Non-Human
Traffic (NHT) is that when users discover
NHT software (bots), the users tend to remove
it. What would make users choose to participate
in NHT schemes so that the NHT software can run for
longer and build up more valuable profiles?
So what if the makers of spoofing tools could get a
live QA metric, and NHT software maintainers could
give users an incentive to install and use their
NHT market as a tool for discovering information
Imagine a spoofing tool that offers an easy way
to buy bot pageviews, I mean buy Perfectly
Legitimate Data on how fast a site loads from various
home Internet connections. When the tool connects
to its server for an update, it gets a list of URLs
to visit—a mix of random sites, popular sites,
and paying customers.
Now the spoofing tool maintainer will be able to to
tell right away if the tool is really generating
realistic traffic, by looking at the market price
of pageviews. The maintainer will even be able to
tell whose tracking the tool can beat, by looking
at which third-party resources are included on the
pages getting paid-for traffic.
The money probably won't be significant, since real
web ad money is moving to whitelisted, legit sites
and away from fraud-susceptible schemes anyway, but
in the meantime it's a way to measure effectiveness.
Setting up a couple of Linux systems to work
which is one of the things that I'm up to at work
FilterBubbler is a
and the setup instructions use
so I need NPM. In order to keep all the NPM stuff
under my own home directory, but still put the
web-ext tool on my $PATH, I need to make one-line
edits to three files.
One line in ~/.npmrc
prefix = ~/.npm
One line in ~/.gitignore
One line in ~/.bashrc
(My /bashrc has a bunch of export PATH= lines
so that when I add or remove one it's more likely to
get a clean merge. Because home directory in git.) I
think that's it. Now I can do
npm install --global web-ext
with no sudo or mess. And when I clone my home directory on another system it will just work.
(This is an answer to a question on
Twitter is the new blog comments (for now) and I'm
more likely to see comments there than to have time
to set up and moderate comments here.)
Adfraud is an easy way to make mad cash, adtech is
happily supporting it, and it all works because the
system has enough layers between CMO and fraud hacker
that everybody can stay as clean as they need to.
Users bear the privacy risks of adfraud, legit publishers pay for
and adtech makes more money from adfraud than fraud
hackers do. Adtech doesn't have to communicate or
coordinate with adfraud, just set up a fraud-friendly
system and let the actual fraud hackers go to work.
Bad for users, people who make legit sites, and civilization in
But one piece of good news is that adfraud can change
quickly. Adfraud hackers don't have time to get stuck
in conventional ways of doing things, because adfraud
is so lucrative that the high-skill players don't have
to stay in it for very long. The adfraud hackers
who were most active last fall have retired to run their
resorts or recording studios or wineries or whatever.
So how can privacy tools get a piece of the action?
One random idea is for an obfuscation tool
to participate in the market for so-called sourced
Fraud hackers need real-looking traffic and are
willing to pay for it. Supplying that traffic is
sketchy but legal. Which is perfect, because put
one more layer on top of it and it's not even sketchy.
And who needs to know if they're doing a good job
at generating real-looking traffic? Obfuscation tool
maintainers. Even if you write a great obfuscation
tool, you never really know if your tricks for helping
users beat surveillance are actually working, or if
your tool's traffic is getting quietly identified on
the server side.
In proposed new privacy tool model, outsourced QA pays YOU!
Set up a market where a Perfectly Legitimate Site
that is looking for sourced traffic can go to buy
pageviews, I mean buy Perfectly Legitimate Data on
how fast a site loads from various home Internet
connections. When the obfuscation tool connects to
its server for an update, it gets a list of URLs
to visit—a mix of random, popular sites and
Set a minimum price for pageviews that's high enough
to make it cost-ineffective for DDoS. Don't allow it
to be used on random sites, only those that the buyer
controls. Make them put a secret in an unlinked-to
URL or something. And if an obfuscation tool isn't
well enough sandboxed to visit a site that's doing
traffic sourcing, it isn't well enough sandboxed to
surf the web unsupervised at all.
Now the obfuscation tool maintainer will be able to
to tell right away if the tool is really generating
realistic traffic, by looking at the market price.
The maintainer will even be able to tell whose
tracking the tool can beat, by looking at which
third-party resources are included on the pages
getting paid-for traffic. And the whole thing can be
done by stringing together stuff that IAB members are
already doing, so they would look foolish to complain
If you want people on the Internet to argue with you, say that you're making a statement about values.
If you want people to negotiate with you, say that you're making a statement about business.
If you want people to accept that something is inevitable, say that you're making a statement about technology.
The mixup between values arguments, business
arguments, and technology arguments might be
why people are confused about Brands need to fire
by Doc Searls.
The set of trends that people call adtech is a
values-driven business transformation that is trying
to label itself as a technological transformation.
Some of the implementation involves technological
changes (NoSQL databases! Nifty!) but fundamentally
adtech is about changing how media business is
done. Adtech does have a set of values, none
of which are really commonly held even among people in
the marketing or advertising field, but let's not make
the mistake of turning this into either an argument
about values (that never accomplishes anything)
or a set of statements about technology (that puts
those with an inside POV on current technology at an
unnecessary advantage). Instead, let's look at the
business positions that adtech is taking.
Adtech stands for profitable
platforms, with commodity producers
of news and cultural works. Michael
Tiffany, CEO of advertising security firm White Ops,
saidThe fundamental value proposition of these ad tech
companies who are de-anonymizing the Internet is,
Why spend big CPMs on branded sites when I can
get them on no-name sites? This is not a
healthy situation, but it's a chosen path, not a
technologically inevitable one.
Adtech stands for making advertisers
support criminal and politically heinous
activity.I'll just let Bob Hoffman explain that
Fraudulent and brand-unsafe content is just the
overspray of the high value platforms/commoditized
content system, and advertisers have to accept
it in order to power that system. Or do they?
People have a lot of interesting decisions to make:
policy, contractual, infrastructural, and client-side.
When we treat the adtech movement as simply
technology, we take the risk of missing great
opportunities to negotiate for the benefit of brands,
publishers, and the audience.
This is a brand new blog, so I'm setting up
the basics. I just realized that I got the
whole thing working without a single script,
image, or HTML table. (These kids today
have it easy, with their media queries and CSS
One big question that I'm wondering about is: how many of the people
who visit here are using some kind of protection
from third-party tracking? Third-party tracking
has been an unfixed vulnerability in web browsers
for a long time. Check out the Unofficial Cookie
FAQ from 1997.
Third-party cookies are in there...and we're
still dealing with the third-party tracking problem?
In order to see how bad the problem is on this site,
I'm going to set up a little bit of first-party
data collection to measure people's vulnerability to
third-party data collection.
The three parts of that big question are:
Can a third-party tracker see state from other sites?
All it does is swap out the tracking image source three times.
When the Aloodo tracking script runs, to check if this browser is blocking the script from loading.
When the Aloodo script confirms that tracking is possible.
The work is done in the setupAloodo function,
which runs after the page loads. First, it sets the
src for the tracking pixel to js.png, then sets
up two callbacks: one to run after the Aloodo script
is loaded, and switch the image to ld.png, and
one to run if the script can track the user,
and switch the image to td.png.
Step three: check the logs
Now I can use the regular server logs to compare
the number of clients that load the original image,
load the two tracking images.
Metalsmith is pretty fun. The basic pipeline from
the article seems to work pretty well, but I ran
into a couple of issues. I might have solved these
in ways that are completely wrong, but here's what
works for me.
First, I needed to figure out how to get text from
an earlier stage of the pipeline. My Metalsmith
build is pretty basic:
turn Markdown into HTML (plus article metadata
apply a template to turn the HTML version into
a complete page.
That's great, but the problem seems to be with getting
a copy of just the HTML from step 1 for building the
index page and the RSS feed. I don't
want the entire HTML page from step 2, just the inner
HTML from step 1.
The solution seems to be
This doesn't actually strip off the template, just
lets you capture an extra copy of the HTML before
templatization. This goes into the pipeline after "markdown"
but before the "layouts" step.
Select Browse, then Browse Local, then select the .qcow2 file.
That's it. Now looking at a virtual MS-Windows guest
that I can use for those troublesome web conferences
(and for testing web sites under MSIE. If you try
the tracking test,
it should take you to a protection page that prompts
you to turn on the EasyPrivacy Tracking Protection
List. That's a quick and easy way to speed up your
web browsing experience on MSIE.)
Andrew Cowie has written something
The main thing that this one does differently is to
ask make which files matter to it, instead of doing
an inotifywatch on the whole directory. Comments and
The process is going to be a little different from
what you might be used to with another OS. If you
shop carefully (and reading blogs is a good first
step) then the drivers you will need are already
available through your Linux distribution's printer
HP has done a good job with enabling this.
The company has already released the necessary
printer software as open source, and your Linux
distribution has already installed it. So, go to
printers fully supported with the HPLIP software, pick a
printer you like, and you're done.
If you want a recommendation from me, the
HP LaserJet 3055,
a black and white all-in-one device,
has worked fine for me with various Linux setups
for years. It's also a scanner/copier/fax machine,
and you get the extra functionality for not much more
than the price of a regular printer. It also comes
with a good-sized toner cartridge, so your cost per
page is probably going to be pretty reasonable.
Other printer brands have given me more grief, but
fortunately the HP LaserJets are widely available
and don't jam much.
It's important not to show a smug expression on your
face while printing if users of non-Linux OSs are
still dealing with driver CDs or vendor downloads.
When you give travel directions, you include
landmarks, and "gone too far" points. Turn left after
you cross the bridge. Then look for my street and
make a right. If you go past the water tower you've
gone too far.
System administration instructions are much easier
to follow if they include those kind of check-ins
there, too. For example, if you explain how to set
up server software you can put in quick "landmark"
tests, such as, "at this point, you can run nmap and
see the port in the results." You can also include
"gone too far" information by pointing out problems
you can troubleshoot on the way.
A full-scale troubleshooting guide is a good idea,
but quick warning signs as you go along are helpful.
Much better than finding yourself lost at the end of
a long set of setup instructions.
doesn't accept dotted quads for ranges, but
fortunately most of the commands that accept an IP
address will also take it in the form of a regular
decimal. (Spammers used to use this to hide their
naughty domains from scanners that only looked for
the dotted quad while the browser would happily go to
So here's an ugly-ass shell function to convert an
IP address to a decimal. If you have a better one,
please let me know and I'll update this page. (Yes,
I know this would be one line in Perl.)
if [ $(echo $1 | grep -q '\.') ]; then
dq2int $(echo $1 | tr '.' ' ')
elif [ $# -eq 1 ]; then
total=$1; next=$2; shift 2
dq2int $(($total*2**8+$next)) $@
It says "Personal and Confidential" or "IMPORTANT
CORRESPONDENCE REGARDING YOUR OVERPAYMENT" on the
envelope—can you really discard it without
opening it? You sure can. Some junk mailers disguise
their mail pieces as important correspondence from
companies you actually do business with, and the
USPS helped them out a lot by renaming "Bulk Mail"
to "Standard Mail". But you can look at the postage
to discard "stealth" junk mail without opening it.
that any bills or mail containing specific
information about your business relationship with
the company must be mailed First Class.
So, if "Standard Mail" or "STD" appears in the upper
right corner, it's not a bill, it's not your new
credit card, and it's not a check. It's just sneaky
All that is really needed on computers
is a "Calculate" button or omnipresent menu command
that allows you to take an arithmetic expression,
like 248.93 / 375, select it, and do the calculation
whether in the word processor, communications package,
drawing or presentation application or just at the
Fortunately, there's a blue "Access
IBM" button on this keyboard that doesn't do much.
So, I configured tpb
"Access IBM" do this:
If you want to do this, besides tpb, you'll need xsel and xte, which is part of xautomation. If you don't have an unused button, you could also set up a binding in your window manager or build a big red outboard USB "eval" button or something.
If you make a new ssh key and try to use it with ssh -i while running ssh-agent, ssh tries
the agent first. You could end up using a key provided by the agent
instead of the one you specify. You can fix this without killing
the agent. Use:
The most important part of picking a distribution
is thinking about where you will go for help, and
what distribution that source of help understands.
That's true if your source of help is a vendor,
a consultant, or a users group.
If you're getting into uses for Linux that are
different from those of your local user group,
it's more important to use a list of people like
you than just the geographically closest user
group. For example, if you're planning to set
up a Linux-based recording studio and your local
LUG is all about running web sites and playing Crimson Fields, you might want to get on the
Planet CCRMA mailing list, and get your Linux
distribution recommendations there.
If you have a script that uses ssh, here's something
to put at the beginning of the script to make sure
the necessary passphrase has already been entered, and the
remote host is reachable, before starting a time-consuming
operation such as an rsync.