~100 Words #5: User-Side Ad Tech 2

This is a continuation of the discussion in User Side Ad Tech 1.

So now we know what a pixel is at its most basic, it is an object owned by an external site (person B) that when loaded indicates to that site that a user (person A) has interacted with whatever is tied to that object in some way.

However one-sided this may seem, you’re probably thinking of it as one-sided in the wrong way. Sure, it’s person B surreptitiously putting a tracker in way such that person A inadvertently loads the pixel and tells person B they did so. That said, the actual dynamic is person A (with whatever level of knowledge they have of what is happening) going to person B’s server and saying “hey, I want this pixel.” So person A is not receiving the tracker, but rather giving person B the information to track them. This is true beyond the pure information of “load this pixel,” most information passed through via these tracking pixels is gotten by asking things of the system and being given answers: what operating system are you using? what button did you just click? where are you located? Sure, this all happens imperceptibly fast and largely out of human hands, but the answers to all these questions are not (a) unavoidable or (b) unspoofable. They’re just things we give because our browsers are designed to be kind to this system.

Thus a realization I have been chewing on the past few months: doesn’t this mean we can just lie? If the base dynamic is the gifting of information, then can’t we just give shitty gifts? If the surveillance economy of digital advertising is a machine with intake valves wide open, then what do we want to throw in?

Next time I come back to this, some thought experiments.

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