Ad-tech, touchscreen capture, and our ‘social dilemma’

Survellance capitalism doesn’t trade in actually good predictions. You know, from direct first hand experience with targeted advertising, that ad-tech is (on average) bullshit. You are not an outlier: ad models don’t work much better on anybody else. They trade on the statistical illusion of ad targeting.

This illusion is tenuous. Click-through rates fall as users become more canny, & click-throughs are the best metric anybody has for ad success (even though most clicks don’t turn into sales & most sales are not the results of ad clicks).

This doesn’t mean the ad-driven revenue model has no effects. It has massive effects: as the ad-tech industry doubles down on whatever tricks can still con investors, and applies those tricks at scale, we end users are pushed into behaviors that are of no use to anybody, let alone us: doomscrolling, notification anxiety, starting drama with strangers. What it does mean is that the promises that make these strategies profitable are lies, and as soon as the illusion becomes untenable, the bubble collapses, taking Facebook/Twitter/Google with it. (Amazon is not listed here, because Amazon is not dealing in ad tech per-se: they know what sells and what gets returned. Their recommendation system is as shitty as the rest but it’s based on real data instead of simulacra.)

So, what do we do? Ad-tech accelerationism!

The adnauseam plugin clicks on every ad, while hiding it. It hastens the fall of adtech. At the same time, privacy weasel & privacy possum block trackers. Other plugins will spam them with flak data.

At the same time, we can counteract trendism (the primary behavioral result of ad-tech-oriented media) by sorting by new on social media, and by adding random noise to our reccomender-oriented systems (youtube, netflix, spotify). There are apps to show random entries, and better yet, random entries with zero views.

Disabling system-level notifications entirely and limiting in-app notifications to mutuals makes it easier to avoid being sucked into doomscrolling and drama, while keeping the valuable parts of our online communication (the conversation and support of friends) front and center.

Basically, we need to sabotage the illusion that ad-tech is profitable while protecting ourselves from its fallout. Nobody will do this for us.

Writing, and then printing, produced massive disruption until social technologies were developed to tame them. Writing in Sumer ushered in the cultural supremacy of the Akkadians, and printing the Gutenberg bible ushered in first the protestant reformation and then widespread secularization, and eventually, night-universal atheism. Social tech around social media will be no better to ad-tech than the printing press was to the Roman Catholic Church. We can accelerate this process.

‘The algorithm’ is stupid. The algorithm thinks you want more of the same. It is easily tricked. Consume things you don’t like occasionally and it’s absolutely lost.

Here’s the thing:

We, as users (technical or nontechnical) don’t own or control the computing devices we rely on.

We don’t control them because it is more profitable to keep the important parts on remote servers.

It’s profitable because the ad-tech bubble hasn’t burst yet.

I’m not gonna tell everybody to move to distributed social networks like Secure Scuttlebutt, though that would be a good start. We spent decades with proprietary software, and open source only took off when it could be locked up behind corporate firewalls & the important decisions about YOUR allowed actions limited to elites. Bursting ad-tech is not a panacea, nor is it totally inevitable. The divine right of kings, despite being obvious bullshit, lasted a thousand years. We need dual power. Create small-computing alternatives to big-computing behemoths. Make them ready for the fall.

Anyway this has been my extended subtweet on The Social Dilemma. Instead of watching it, read my books on the subject (on amazon or

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store