One Billion Farmed

28th August, 2015 — Laura Kalbag

Person using a computer in a cage, held up by Facebook’s Like icon

Yesterday, Facebook announced that 1,000,000,000 people had used their service in one day. Or, as Aral put it, yesterday Facebook farmed 1 billion people.

The UN’s new special rapporteur for privacy, Joseph Cannataci, must be horrified too. He doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter, and said it was regrettable that so many people sign away their digital rights without thinking about it:

“One thing that is certainly going to come up in my mandate is the business model that large corporations are using”

Cannataci, a professor of technology law, singled out the UK for having the weakest oversight on digital surveillance, calling it a joke and “worse than anything George Orwell could have foreseen.” He wants the UN to create a Geneva convention style law to protect privacy. A new universal law on surveillance that could embarrass the governments who choose not to sign up to it.

More on content blocking

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the demise of the web ad, and how iOS 9 content blocking could have a huge impact on advertising.

“Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”

Doc Searls wrote about content blocking as “chemo for the cancer of adtech”:

“This means the iOS platform will now support developers who want to build sophisticated apps that give users ways to block stuff they don’t like, such as adtech tracking and various forms of advertising — or all advertising — and to do it privately.

This allows much more control over unwanted content than is provided currently by ad and tracking blockers on Web browsers, and supports this control at the system level, rather than at the browser level. (Though it is executed by the browser.)”

Developers have already been working on content blockers. Marco Arment mentioned his own blocker in his post on the ethics of modern web ad-blocking. Dean Murphy has created a blocker called Crystal. He started out blocking scripts from third party sites to remove ads, and found there were additional bonuses from removing advert banners, blocks, popovers, autoplay videos, App Store redirects and invisible tracking scripts.

Crystal reduces data use by 53% on average, so you can worry less about your data limits while also using less battery life

Pages render more than 3.9x faster on average with Crystal

If you’re on the developer beta of iOS 9, you can join Crystal’s beta program.

We haven’t heard about any free and open, or community-driven, content blockers yet. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was an Indie Content Blocker?

Doc Searls believes that the wide adoption of content blockers will contribute to a separation of two types of advertising: the type that tracks people, and the type that targets audiences more broadly without trackers.

Am I being tracked (by my mobile carrier)?

Telecommunications companies have been tracking their users through “stealth zombie cookie” headers injected via wireless data packets. Consumer advocacy group Access has been running a site called If you visit the site using your mobile network, it tells you if your mobile carrier is tracking the websites you visit on your phone. Worringly, it turns out that 15% of all mobile network traffic is being tracked in this way:

“Globally, the report notes that AT&T, Bell Canada, Bharti Airtel, Cricket, Telefonica de España, Verizon, Viettel Peru S.a.c., Vodafone NL, and Vodafone Spain are all now using stealth headers. In many of these instances there’s no opt-out mechanisms in place for users, or the opt-in mechanisms that exist don’t actually work.”

What have those cheeky corporations been up to this week?

They’re always up to something


Twitter has shut down Diplotwoops and Politwoops by suspending API access in 30 countries after blocking the US version of Politwoops in May. The Diplotwoops service tracked the tweets of diplomats and embassies, making their deleted tweets visible. The Politwoops service did the same for politicians.

Twitter believes that their decision is fair because deleting a tweet is “an expression of the user’s voice” and that tweeting would be “nerve-racking – terrifying, even” if it was “immutable and irrevocable.” Arjan El Fassed, the director of Open State Foundation, pointed out that the rights of diplomats, embassies, and politicians are different from those of everyday tweeters, as they should be held accountable:

“What elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record. Even when tweets are deleted, it’s part of parliamentary history. These tweets were once posted and later deleted. What politicians say in public should be available to anyone. This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice.”


Google’s 3D-mapping tablet, Project Tango, is going on sale in the UK for the first time. As Alex Hern writes, Project Tango can understand its location in the physical world “in the same way a human does.” As Aral explains in his talk You Are The Product, Project Tango will enable Google to access the only space it can’t get to with Streetview: the inside of your home.

Keep up

The forum is brimming with interesting discussions, and has all the links that didn’t make it into this week’s roundup. If we’ve missed anything interesting, please put it on our Radar!