Surveillance capitalism

By now we’ve all had the spooky experience of searching for a product and suddenly being stalked by it online. That’s the obvious use of surveillance by marketers.

The less obvious, though still well known, is how companies use our preferences and engagements to offer us products they think will appeal to us. (This is a super-enhanced version of what radio stations & TV programs & single topic magazines have done for practically ever.)

The story details the travels of the “non-woke” Jeremy’s Razors, which uses identifying groupings such as “likes Johnny Cash”, “hunts”, “has school age children”, and so on. [Spoiler: the razors are, well, poorly reviewed.]

Now comes a study saying that much of what you are offered online is of inferior quality and/or overpriced, which is not a surprise to me. After having been scammed twice by Facebook advertisers (small dollars, big lesson) I will no longer buy anything offered on the site. Ever. They do not vet advertisers as traditional media does (ability to pay the bill is actually quite a big one). I have found when I find something interesting I am able to get it for less, with more information (reviews, etc.), faster.

* On top of all of this, it turns out that targeted ads aren’t helping consumers, either. Last year, researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Virginia Tech presented a study of the consumer welfare implications of targeted ads. The results were so surprising that the researchers repeated the study to make sure their findings were correct.
  • The [new study], published online this week, confirmed the results: The targeted ads shown to another set of nearly 500 participants were pitching more expensive products from lower-quality vendors than identical products that showed up in a simple web search.

  • The products shown in targeted ads were, on average, roughly 10 percent more expensive than what users could find by searching online. And the products were more than twice as likely to be sold by lower-quality vendors, as measured by their Better Business Bureau ratings.

It comes home because just yesterday I saw a scrolling ad on Facebook for a tool which interested me. $59.95. I went to Amazon and found the identical item for $24, including delivery, and no worries about the company disappearing with my credit card. It’s not the first time, but it’s nice to see a study which confirms what I already knew.

It probably won’t matter to Facebook et al but letting sketchy advertisers through does have a cost, even if they pocket a quick couple grand.


Using market research to target ads has been going on for eons. Internet makes targeting easier and potentially far more precise.

There’s no telling who subscribes to the lists. Could well be crooks or scammers.

My experience with searching on line is the ads usually appear a day or so after i made my purchase. Works best for items you research for days or weeks. Autos, appliances, furniture, major projects, travel, etc.

Not bad if they offer a good deal you find interesting.

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I have mentioned before that every six months or so I spend an hour a day for a few days looking at mens swimsuits and underwear so as to have “pretty wallpaper” while on line. No longer work. The rats are getting smarter.



I haven’t had that experience. And I do plenty of shopping and looking at various products on line.

But I have also had an ad blocker for years. I have one on my desktop computer and one on my cell phone. Why everyone doesn’t use these baffles me.

Yes, I know it doesn’t prevent the data gathering. But it does keep me from seeing incessant ads for stuff that I may have looked at one time. And frankly, I don’t really care if businesses gather parts of my internet surfing. I don’t care if they know I looked at gardening supplies or chicken recipes or pain relievers. I do care if they are looking at my banking data, of course, but that hasn’t been the issue.

With today’s available tools, seeing ads is a choice people are making.


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This is 100% true. I quite often flag a FB ad as “fake” or “spam” or whatever they call it. I mean the kind who try to sell you an item at 10-30% of the real price. Obviously fake. And when you report an ad on FB, it disappears from your timeline. BUT invariably, a day or two later I see the same or a similar ad from the same fake sales site. They don’t care at all, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that flags such ads.

It doesn’t help for FB ads that are embedded in your timeline (or whatever they call your stream of stuff they show you).

My solution there is simple. I’m not on Facebook. I mainly care about keeping up with extended family, and we mostly do that by a big group text thread. No ads there.


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I don’t know why people put up with the ads. Either AdBlock Plus or uBlock Origin will completely disappear the ads from FB and most other sites.

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Anybody use a VPN to avoid surveillance?
Supposedly Russians are avoiding State surveillance by using VPNs and Telegram (a privacy oriented SMS system).

There seem to be an infinite number of VPN companies, based on the adds on YouTube.

Any particular VPN recommendations?

Telegram creators are Russian.

Elon Musk recommended Signal.

Use Signal.

As for VPN… Unless you want to spoof your location, I’d recommend giving Cloudflare’s a try. It’s free, dead simple to set up and comes with a gigantic on/off button.


(It says “Zero Trust” in my case because of my rebuttal in a thread on Saul’s board; Decided to go all-in and set up zero trust to test for myself if it resulted in any performance degradation.)

It’s designed to be a VPN for people who don’t know what V.P.N. stands for. Your traffic will automatically go to the closest data center and exit with a Cloudflare IP from there. The geolocation of that IP, however, will map to your approximate location. On mobile there’s also a paid version (WARP+). I haven’t tried it and won’t vouch for it.

By the way, a good ad blocker like uBlock Origin is essential in my opinion. It’s really not just about not seeing ads. It’s about blocking a ton of stuff that track you and bog down performance. It’s also about security. The less that gets loaded and/or executed when you visit a site the better.