Trashing the trash.

I plugged in this external board today. It’s supposed to have a capacity of 16MB and I needed all sixteen. There were a few files on it so I deleted those, and emptied my system trash can. That should have done the trick. (I’m sure you see where this is going.)

Try to upload to the board: No space! I inspect it and find out that it’s still nearly full, 14MB on it, despite me doing all the right things to delete what was on it.

Fuck you, computer.

So, let’s take a trip to the Land of Wind and Ghosts, where files live on long after you’ve killed them.

sis-transis$ cd /
sis-transis$ ls Volumes/
mainDrive externalBoard
sis-transis$ cd externalBoard
externalBoard sis-transis$ ls
externalBoard sis-transis$

List: nothing. O rly. Time to look in the corners.

externalBoard sis-transis$ ls -a
. .. .Trashes

Trashes. You little fucker. Get in the sea.

externalBoard sis-transis$ sudo rm -rf .Trashes

Presto: Available space, 16.6MB.

As always, fuck you computer, but today fuck that Trashes file in particular.

How We Sewed Our Own Straight Jacket

Google recently announced its initiative to improve the mobile browsing experience of all net users via its Accelerated Mobile Pages project, AMP.

AMP is a direct competitor to Facebook’s Instant Articles functionality but abstracted from the platform as a standard or protocol rather than within the context of Facebook’s walled garden.

I say walled garden because of the 1.5 billion active Facebook users 30% access the service through a mobile app of some sort. Unless you’ve specifically set it up to not do so it uses an internal browser. I have no figures to hand about how many people have changed their default Facebook browser to be one of their own choosing. My instincts tell me that it’s very few. Why is this an issue? If you ask my mother or my youngest niece what the Internet is they would most likely respond “Facebook”. Facebook is becoming a platform in its own right. And content creators, journalists and publishers both are treating it as such. I’ve heard figures from online media agencies that cite numbers as high as 50% to sometimes as high as 90% conversion rates on Facebook posts. That’s a lot of eyes on articles and for some publications that’s the difference between life and death. I get it.

The AMP proposition is a sub-set of the HTML standard which eschews all JS (read none at all), ads, and embeds. I’m not saying that the spirit with which this was suggested is bad per-se but that perhaps by following our knee-jerk reaction against the popularity of Facebook’s Instant Articles we’re going to accidentally create a tiered system akin to the one that net neutrality believers are still trying to fight. Why do I mention Net Neutrality? Because AMP suggests a selection of tags specifically for a small group of preferred vendors with tags such as amp-twitter and amp-youtube. This codifies the web as it exists at the moment. Fine. For now. But what if the landscape changes? What if an unknown video streaming provider becomes the de-facto media delivery service ahead of YouTube?

Oh wait, it can’t because who’s going to use it if it doesn’t work out of the box?

One of the beautiful things about the Open Web is the ability to make your own bad decisions about what technologies you use and to badly implement them however you see fit. That’s how people learn. It’s certainly how I learned. By picking apart code and stitching my own creations together from what I thought I had gleaned. Without this ability the web becomes static, inert and unchanging.

Some of us old internet dinosaurs used to have to wrangle the then new markup language HTML 4.0, then later the better but still incredibly flawed XHTML1.0 specification before being presented with HTML5. HTML5 is great. A video is a video, audio is audio, and all of the old favourites such as iframes and objects and embeds still work with no muss or fuss. Back in the days before broadband when mobile telephones were small things that had monochrome screens and about 24 characters of space total, way before the iPhone would come along and change our lives forever there *was* a mobile internet markup language. Wireless Markup Language. WML was a pared down and fairly ugly web technology which used the idea of cards. It was pretty unpleasant. Then mobile networks caught up, we have faster than broadband wireless speeds on our handsets. They started to access the web as our desktops did. We were given CSS3 and its media queries to allow us to make all this look presentable on our pocket machines. So why the need for AMP or Facebook Instant Articles? Because we’ve bloated the web with so much tracking and third party javascript that even with 4G access pages take 8 seconds or more to load. It’s our own broken web and impatience that’s prompted Facebook and Google to try and fix it for us. But it’s as far from the Open Web as it’s possible to get. What we have are competing standards, one a proprietary initiative by a would-be-platform that seeks to become the Internet and another by a coalition of worried parties who want a language of whitelisted third-party service providers. At least that last one is Open Source and you can roll your own support if you have to.

So how do we go about solving this issue? Well one way would be to speed up web page delivery. Stop commodifying the user quite so much. Do websites really need to know where you’ve been and what you’ve clicked? I would say not. If you’ve not helped your friends and family block tracking and ad software as a matter of course you’re remit in your responsibility to their security and online safety. Ads are potentially poisonous and have been the vector for a good number of high profile malware attacks.
If you create websites push back against injecting more tracking. Write cleaner more efficient code. Use less libraries, maybe switch from jQuery to Aerogel or use vanilla JS for more things if it reduces your bloat. Optimise your images and videos. Start your design phase with a mobile first methodology. Uglify your CSS and JS (add maps to this though, you still want to a) be able to use the developers tools to read your work and b) you’re a good netizen and want people to read your output and be inspired).
From a user point of view you can install ad-blockers and tracker blockers like Adblock and Ghostery on your laptop.

There are wifi Adblockers available for mobile devices too, they will also speed your experience up. It’s up to us to keep the web free by not making the tracking of users profitable or useful.

Are there alternatives?

Yes. Sort of. A lot of this technology is in it’s infancy. So much so in fact that FBIA and AMP seem to have got the drop on Mozilla and other open source heavy hitters. One hopeful is the CPP.

This is an open note and I will be adding more points as I think of them.

Solution: Add more piss.

I read somewhere recently:

Getting your data off the internet is like trying to get piss out of a swimming pool.

I really liked that. (I wish I know who said it; if you know please tell me.) UPDATE: Headcrash found the origin (or as far back as this appears to go). Apparently this was a line from the massively underrated television show, Newsradio:

I was part of a conversation recently where the topic of discussion was how to keep your data out of the big system. Stay off Facebook, avoid Twitter, keep everything behind a VPN, don’t take your mobile phone anywhere you don’t want someone knowing you were .. you know, the kind of stuff even I used to file under “tinfoil hat nonsense” until some years ago.

Anyway, it struck me that it’s pretty much impossible to operate like a human being in the contemporary western world and keep your data out of the hands of people who will use it in ways you don’t agree with, or sell it/give it away to people you don’t want to see it. The entire corporate internet is set up to take your data, suck it up like a relentless black hole that absorbs everything it can find.

If you want to live like a normal Western 21st century human being means that your data will leak onto the internet at some point, in some form. You will sign up for a Gmail address, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a newsletter, or you’ll download an app or you’ll buy something online, an innocent act that allows a spigot to be shoved into your personal flow of data, and some invisible entity to siphon off all it can. These procedures are so painless, so buried in terms and conditions implicitly or lazily agreed to (and we all click Agree for the sake of convenience, all the time), that moving through the digital realm without a trace has become, if not impossible, then incredibly fucking hard. The piss leaks into the pool; good luck finding all of yours and extracting it.

There is a weakness in this data-siphoning system, however: it’s indiscriminate. It assumes everything it knows about you is true. It assumes you don’t lie. Facebook didn’t bat a robot eyelash when I changed my gender to see if it would change the advertising I got (big surprise: it did). It accepted what I gave it, moved on, accepted it without prejudice.

Could the solution to this invasion of privacy, then, be not to extract one’s own piss, but rather add more piss? 

If we can’t move through the digital realm without a trace, then surely we can cover our tracks with sufficient digital garbage that it’s impossible to tell what’s a real footprint and what isn’t, to give the algorithms all the data they can eat – because if there’s one thing we all know about algorithms, it’s garbage in, garbage out. Hide in plain view by covering yourself in garbage. Like everything. Fill out all optional fields. Choose a new age range every day. Move between genders. Shopping websites and consumer entities may know that a woman is pregnant before she has told a living soul, but how can these algorithms infer pregnancy if they have no idea what gender they’re dealing with?

This has already been played with, to some extent, with the Chrome plugin Valley Girl, which clicks “Like” at every opportunity presented. No matter where you are on the internet, if there’s a Like button, Valley Girl will click it. After a matter of weeks, what you really like becomes immaterial; your taste, your humour, your political leanings are obscured by the sheer volume of noise inserted into what Facebook knows about you.

High five, Valley Girl. I hope you piss into the gutter of my Facebook data profile forever and ever.