The State of Instagram

(Rise Up! by Christopher Parsons)

I owe a lot to Instagram. Starting in January 1, 2017 until October 2017 I began a project of uploading a photo a day (or thereabouts) and, in the process, I learned an awful lot about how to use my cameras, shots that I tend to prefer taking, and the cool stuff you could do by looking at other photographers’ shots.

It was pretty great.

But for reasons I’ve previously written about I’ve drifted away from regular postings to Instagram or even taking photographs with the regularity of the last year. Specifically, I wrote:

… something is changing in how I approach photography itself, at least right now: I don’t want as many amber memories, and instead want to enjoy the development and unfolding of certain memories, and feel more comfortable in the knowledge that the ‘final’ memories I’ll have will be even more subjective than those associated with photographs. Some will even vanish in their entirety.

In fact, from November 2017 – April 2018 I didn’t post a single photo to Instagram and only logged in once or twice.1 But my not uploading photos has been nagging me because I know that part of why I was taking shots — and getting good ones! — was because I had been actively trying to upload stuff on a regular basis. Instagram was a method for pushing me to practice my own skills and, occasionally, receiving feedback on the shots I was getting.

So I dipped my toe back in, with a fresh upload, and then started to browse my feed. As usual, there were great photographs from the photographers that I follow.2 But there were also a lot of ads. I mean, every 5-7 images was another ad. That really, really, really sucked because it made the platform a lot less enjoyable to browse and look at; it was less a network of people, and more an ad network that was interspersed with real people’s photographs.

So what I’m going to do is upload a photo a week, or so, to Instagram because I’d like to keep my profile alive. But I’m not going to invest the time in the platform that I did in the past. And, instead, I’m going to reflect on where I want to put my content, why I want it there, and with what regularity I want to upload photos to the public Internet. That’s part of an activity I’ve been undertaking over the past year but I’d honestly thought that Instagram might remain a fun place to interact with people. Sadly, it looks like that might not be the case after all.

  1. I was, however, taking photos during that period though not with daily-regularity.
  2. I don’t tend to follow people, including friends and family, unless they take shots I find aesthetically pleasing. So there aren’t a lot of family photos, breakfast shots, or other site such material that make their way onto my feed very often.

The Dangers of Political ‘Marketing’

‘Politics’ by Samuel Thorne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) at

From n+1:

Given that some of the major players involved in Trump’s campaign effort have obsessions with war tactics and strategy, it’s easy to imagine that weaponized targeting may not only be a pre-election phenomenon. Such efforts could be employed as part of an ongoing campaign to weaken any resistance to the Trump Administration and thwart political opposition through ratcheting up in-fighting and splintering. It’s not an overstatement to suggest that the infrastructure of mass consumer surveillance enables new kinds of actors to take up the work of COINTELPRO on a mass scale. Former Cambridge Analytica employees have said the company internally discusses their operations as psychological warfare.

Cambridge Analytica may not be alone in pursuing these types of psychological warfare tactics. In response to the recent revelations of Russian-bought Facebook ads, Senator Mark Warner told the Washington Post that the aim of the ads was “to sow chaos.” Yet, rather than promoting general chaos, some ads may have been specifically designed to fuel infighting among the Trump opposition. Earlier this year, The Intercept showed that TigerSwan, a shady mercenary firm hired by Energy Transfer Partners to combat communities opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline, used knowledge gleaned from surveillance as part of their own strategy to splinter their opponents. A leaked TigerSwan document declared, “Exploitation of ongoing native versus non-native rifts, and tribal rifts between peaceful and violent elements is critical in our effort to delegitimize the anti-DAPL movement.”

What our current digital environment affords are opportunities for efficient, large-scale use of such tactics, which can be refined by data-rich feedback loops. Manipulation campaigns can plug into the commercial surveillance infrastructure and draw on lessons of behavioral science. They can use testing to refine strategies that take account of the personal traits of targets and identify interventions that may be most potent. This might mean identifying marginal participants, let’s say for joining a march or boycott, and zeroing in on interventions to dissuade them from taking action. Even more worrisomely, such targeting could try to push potential allies in different directions. Targets predicted to have more radical inklings could be pushed toward radical tactics and fed stories deriding compromise with liberal allies. Simultaneously, those predicted to have more liberal sympathies may be fed stories that hype fears about radical takeover of the resistance. Such campaigns would likely play off divisions along race, gender, issue-specific priorities, and other lines of identity and affinity.

We’re reaching the pinnacle of what online advertising can do: identify persons of interest, separate specific persons from others to discretely target them, and motivate targets to change their emotional states and act based on those states. It’s bad enough this is done to push products but, now, the same activities are seeping into the political systems and damaging democratic undertakings in the process. Such activity has to be regulated, if not stopped entirely.


Google’s latest IM client, Allo, isn’t ready for prime time

Ars Technica:

It’s no secret that Hangouts was poorly supported inside Google, so will Allo be any different? I’ve heard that Google Hangouts was never given resources because Google felt it would never be a money-maker. In instant messaging, you talk to your friends and send pictures back and forth, and an ad-powered Google service is never involved. With Allo, that changes because the Assistant is a gateway to search. Every question to the Assistant is a Google Search, with in-app answers coming for questions and links to generic Web searches for everything else. With search comes the possibility for ads, both from the generic search links and in the carousels that answers often provide. I’ve yet to see an advertisement inside Allo, but since it seems possible for Allo to make money, maybe it will receive more support than Hangouts did.

Setting aside the basic privacy issues of Google having access to unencrypted, plaintext, chats you have with friends and colleagues, the fact that Google is apparently unwilling to support its own products if they can’t be used to empower Google advertising is just gross. Google has impressively wasted the skills and talents of a generation of developers: imagine what might exist, today, if people were empowered to write software absent the need to data mine everything that is said for advertising purposes?


Dollar Shave Club and The Disruption of Everything

Dollar Shave Club and The Disruption of Everything:

The implications of this go far beyond P&G: fewer Gillette razors also mean less TV advertising and no margin to be made for retailers, who themselves are big advertisers; this is why I argued last month that the entire TV edifice is not only threatened by services like Netflix, but also the disruption of its advertisers, of which P&G is chief.

The importance of looking at secondary consequences of product disruption – in this case with regards to men’s razors – is key to mapping out the still-developing Internet-inflected economy. If it’s razors today, what might it be tomorrow?


iOS 8 strikes an unexpected blow against location tracking

iOS 8 strikes an unexpected blow against location tracking:

Good: Apple is demonstrably improving an aspect of wifi privacy. Kudos to them!

However: Retailers are using Bluetooth to engage in the same activity, so ideally a similar privacy enhancing technique will be designed when Bluetooth functionality is turned on.

Depressing Reality: I’ll really believe that Apple is invested in privacy when they enable/initiate similar privacy by design functions in their own physical environment system, iBeacons.


How advertising cookies let observers follow you across the web

Source: How advertising cookies let observers follow you across the web


But perhaps the most important recent development at Facebook is one that has no immediate bearing on the company’s finances. In October, Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s head of monetization analytics—a convoluted, five-dollar title that obscures his importance at the company—took to the stage at a marketers’ conference to announce that Facebook had formed a partnership with Datalogix, a market-analytics firm with purchasing information on about 70 million American homes. Under the agreement between the companies, Facebook would be able to measure whether a user’s exposure to an ad on the site was correlated with that person’s making a purchase at a store.

That type of information is essential for Facebook. Put simply, many corporations are still mired in click-through data, a standard of analysis that fails to fully reflect purchasing activity generated by online advertising. “The click is a terrible predictor of off-line sales,” Smallwood says. “Every research company knows that’s true.”

Still, Smallwood acknowledges, Wall Street continues to view clicks as the critical measure of online-ad performance. “At some level, people have gotten used to the click, and they still want to see the click when they deal with online,” he says. “It’s kind of our job to explain that that is not necessarily the best measure.”

The numbers from the early studies are powerful. Some 70 percent of the campaigns that were measured showed sales equal to three times or more the amount spent for the ads; 49 percent brought in at least five times what the ad had cost.

* Kurt Eichenwald, “Facebook Leans In