Download: Episode 39
This week Audrey and I chat about Net Neutrality, the state of the Open Web, Facebook’s latest bad behavior, and more. Enjoy!
- FCC Enacts Title II Net Neutrality Rules With Partisan Vote | US News
- Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now | Free Press
- More than a Million Pro-Repeal Net Neutrality Comments were Likely Faked
- The U.S. government’s proposal to kill net neutrality is even worse than we expected
- Astroturfing – Wikipedia
- Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web – Neustadt.fr
- André Staltz – The Web began dying in 2014, here’s how
- Facebook (Still) Letting Housing Advertisers Exclude… — ProPublica
Things we like on the internet this week
Holiday Newsletter Starts Dec 5th
Next week we’ll be sharing daily gift ideas, educational resources, and favorite causes to support, from December 5-16. Stay with us through all twelve days to be included in a final gift drawing from The Recompiler and our friends. Further details and sign-up here.
Call for Contributors for Issue 10: Science!
For our second issue of 2018, we’ll be talking about science! From computers to data to social and natural sciences, it’s a way we explore the world and define our work.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Connecting computer science fundamentals with everyday programming
- How open source software tools power scientific exploration
- Ethical data collection and use
- Citizen science and ways of bringing non-specialists into our work
- When is computing an art, a science, a craft?
- Anything involving dinosaurs
We look for ideas that will be effective at an advanced beginner to intermediate level of technical knowledge, and that are grounded in the author’s personal experiences. We’re especially interested in work from people who are part of under-represented groups in technology. Contributors are paid.
Find the details and submit your ideas at https://recompilermag.com/participate/. Submissions are open through January 1.
Now Broadcasting LIVE Fridays at 10am PST
Taking what we learned from our first ever live telethon earlier this month, and equipped with a brand new mic for Audrey, we’ll now be broadcasting our episode recordings LIVE on Fridays at 10am PST. Mark your calendars and visit recompilermag.live (not quite live yet, but it will be by Friday) to tune-in.
We love hearing from you! Feedback, comments, questions…
We’d love hearing from you, so get in touch!
Christie: Hello, and welcome to the Recompiler, a feminist hacker podcast where we talk about technology in a fun and playful way. I’m your host Christie Koehler. Episode 39, Giving Something Away For Free For Fun. This week Audrey and I chat about net neutrality, the state up the open web, Facebook’s latest bad behavior and more. Enjoy. Hey folks, Christie here with some announcements before we get to the main part of the show. First off, we met the requirements for our Kickstarter, $24,001. Thank you for everybody who contributed to that and tuned in to our first ever live telethon the other weekend. That was a lot of fun.
Speaking of which, we are going to take what we learned from that telethon and we’re going to broadcast our weekly recording sessions. We’re moving to record every week and we’ll be broadcasting that live on the air 10:00 am Pacific time on Fridays. We’ll post the links on Twitter and stuff, but it should be at the new domain recompilermag.live. That will be starting this Friday, which is December 1st. Join us for that, that will be a lot of fun. Once again, we’re going to be doing our holiday newsletter starting December 5th. In this we’ll be sharing daily gift ideas, educational resources, and favorite causes that you can support. This will run from December 5th through 16th.
If you stay with us throughout the entire 12 days, you’ll be included in a final gift drawing from the Recompiler and our friends. A link for where to sign up for that is in the show notes. You can also find it if you go to Recompilermag.com. Also, our call for contributors for Issue 10: Science! is now open. This will be our second issue of 2018. By science, we’re going to be talking about things from computers, to data, to social and the natural sciences. It’s a way we explore the world and define our work. Some ideas to get you started: connecting computer science fundamentals with every day programming, how open source software tools power scientific exploration, ethical data collection and use, citizen science and ways of bringing non specialists into our work, when is computing an art, a science, a craft, anything that involves dinosaurs.
We’re looking for ideas that will be effective in an advanced beginner to intermediate level of technical knowledge and that are grounded in the authors’ personal experiences. We’re especially interested in work from people who are part of underrepresented groups in tech. Contributors are paid. Go to recompilermag.com/participate to find out more details and submit your ideas. Submissions are open through January 1st. Alright, that’s it. Enjoy the show.
Audrey: I have to move this tab out of the foreground. I don’t need to stare at Zuckerberg for an hour.
Christie: No, I don’t recommend it. OK, it is Friday, November 24th, Black Friday or opt out Friday. No, opt outside Friday if you’re following REI’s lead.
Audrey: Was that their thing?
Christie: Yeah. Their stores are closed today and they encourage you to go be outside. I think a bunch of state parks are free.
Audrey: Oh, that’s cool. I have messy and complicated feelings about Black Friday and the Buy Nothing Day of my teen years. Because there’s a lot of actual essential things that become cheap today, like clothing. It kinda has an impact.
Christie: We survived Thanksgiving. I guess we’re partially celebrating Black Friday by doing our first ever live broadcast of our podcast recording.
Audrey: Which is to say giving, something away for free for fun?
Christie: Is that what we’re calling it? Is that why I dragged myself out of bed rather than sleeping in?
Audrey: We have exactly $6 in podcast supporter money, every podcast.
Christie: Oh, shit. I just realized I wasn’t recording in one way. Hold on. It’s a good thing I have two methods to record this thing. Well, I have definitely earned my $6 here.
Audrey: That’s something we can work on for 2018.
Christie: One second. I’ve got to do something. Please bring water.
Audrey: Yeah, I forgot that part.
Christie: I have some tea, but I’m not sure it’s going to last the whole hour or whatever. Where are we starting, net neutrality?
Audrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Christie: I feel like this was really big a couple years ago and then it got settled. Then it’s really big again. I assume that has something to do with the change of administration.
Audrey: Right, yeah. I think the lobbying has not changed, but do you remember that big blackout campaign?
Audrey: There were these couple things I felt like Wikipedia and a couple of other big organizations got on board with around net neutrality and just general internet freedom. I think we both remember there was just a ton of campaigning that went on that went into that 2015 FCC rule that insured a certain amount of net neutrality for all of us in the United States.
Christie: Well, the players you would expect like Wikimedia foundation, Mozilla, and other EFF and other type people, they plan a lot of activity around these sort of things.
Audrey: It has just such a big impact. Maybe not in the short term, but we’ve seen just so much aggregation, so many conglomerates come together that control our ISPs and internet access.
Christie: For anyone who is listening, just so I make sure I know what we’re talking about, net neutrality is the idea that our ISPs, our internet service providers, should be neutral with regard to the kinds of traffic that flows through their networks.
Audrey: They shouldn’t preference any particular origin of traffic.
Christie: Preference or de-preference. Preference as a negative.
Audrey: They can’t make it so that Netflix is fast and Hulu is slow. They can’t make it so that my personal dinky website is delivered at a lower speed or a lower bandwidth than Google’s homepage.
Christie: One of the reasons they may want to do this is because they can segment use on their networks and charge different things for it.
Audrey: They can charge traffic at at least two different points of the process. They can make Netflix pay more potentially to get that higher priority access, and they can make us pay more to get a full internet plan instead of one that’s just restricted to a couple of sources.
Christie: If they didn’t want to do business with a certain traffic source, they can just really make it slow.
Audrey: Even block it out. I think one of the directions this could go in is the rival ad networks, that kind of content originating. It has the potential to get really messy in a lot of different ways.
Christie: We have a new FCC chairman who wants to roll back rules that were put in place in 2015. From what I understand, the original rules were a little bit of a hack but the best we had.
Audrey: They at least set some groundwork that this is the direction we want to continue in.
Christie: Because of the say the FCC is structured, it tends to be partisan. It tends to align with whatever the current administration is.
Audrey: It’s also pretty heavily swayed by the lobbying of the organizations that it controls.
Christie: It’s the FCC that’s voting again in December, in a couple of weeks?
Audrey: Yeah. There is a proposal I think to roll back the original rule. I’m not certain it goes further than that. I unfortunately have not actually read the details.
Christie: The argument to roll them back, and I’m going to try not to roll my eyes, is that regulation is burdensome. Less regulation fosters competition, and competition protects the consumer, and drives business innovation and activity. People that want to roll this back say having these rules dampen the amount of investment and innovation the ISPs wanted to put into their infrastructure, and so rolling them back won’t hurt consumers because it will be competition and they’ll get better service.
Audrey: They’re claiming that we have options. I don’t know, in Portland you can pick from two ISPs in most parts of town. Maybe three, if you’re lucky. I think we had talked about this at some point previously that we, between the two of us, had to decide whether we were going Comcast or CenturyLink.
Christie: I don’t even think CenturyLink has been viable at either our previous house or this one because the wiring in our house is shitty. When I started working remote at the old house I had to go to Comcast because we had DSL with CenturyLink, which I think was still Qwest at the time. The latency in the signal was so bad I couldn’t do video conferencing. When it would rain, which it does a lot here sometimes, but we would lose service all together sometimes.
Audrey: I remember that, because it was a wacky story you had. When your choice is between Comcast internet, which the way cable internet works the more people on your block that have it the slower your traffic tends to get, or CenturyLink, which was providing only DSL until recently. I probably wouldn’t have gone with them except that they added fiber on my block.
Christie: You’ve had a good experience with that haven’t you, relatively speaking?
Audrey: Yeah, as long as I don’t have to talk to their customer service. On their paperwork I had to hand write my name. Their billing database has the weirdest contortion that I’ve ever experienced, that I’ve ever seen of my name. I can’t get them to change it. The bill does not go to Audrey Eschright. It’s got a lot of other letters in there.
Audrey: I didn’t really want to try going through like how many times do you have to talk to customer service to fix that kind of thing, so I just give up.
Christie: Honestly, they wouldn’t stop sending people to our door to sell us that fiber. Even though we have a pretty extensive no soliciting sign they kept saying, “Oh, you just have to call.” I’m like, “No. We have a sign. I should not have to make an extra customer service phone call for your sales folks to respect our request for not having door to door solicitations.”
Audrey: No, their door to door stuff is super gross. That was part of why I initially ruled them out.
Christie: I would say that if a city like Portland, which is relatively big and pretty tech oriented, only has two options that tells you the state of the market for ISPs.
Audrey: I don’t know if you saw there’s a town just north of us that barely has one ISP. CenturyLink in theory provides them access, but in practice it’s not good. They get really, really bad DSL.
Christie: All kinds of groups are really energized about this. I feel like its dominated my Twitter feed recently. You’ve got some other articles, not just related to net neutrality but to where web traffic comes from on the internet, how people get to sites, and how even aside from net neutrality we’re locked in to a few major companies.
Audrey: I really think that there are these complicating factors that make things different in 2017 than they were in 2015. Things were already headed in this direction, but net neutrality means a different thing in a context where there are many search engines. There are many ways that you find the things on the internet that you use. It means a different thing when there are really only two companies that control that. There was this piece that I was reading, I think blog post from about a month ago, maybe a month and a half ago, where somebody had gone through and looked at the originating traffic stats and concluded that Google and Facebook control 70% of the traffic on the internet, in terms of their search.
Christie: More than two thirds?
Audrey: Yeah. It came at an interesting time for me because when I get a chance to come up for air between working on issues at the Recompiler, I start looking at our sales and marketing stuff. I had started to have this suspicion that the way that I was thinking about how we attract new readers might actually not be working in the same way that I had been thinking about it. In particular, I had ruled out Facebook because I don’t use Facebook. I don’t want to use Facebook. What this article really showed me is that by doing that, I’m losing half of my audience. I think that we do pretty well on Google in terms of people find articles that they’re looking for, but by not being on Facebook I think we’re missing out on a lot of people who might find it useful.
Christie: You know how the browser became synonymous with Google and the internet? Those things collapse for people. Is Facebook now part of that? Is Facebook synonymous with the internet, or at least with how you access the internet?
Audrey: I think it literally is for some people because do you remember their internet access initiative that they were doing? I think it started in India, Facebook, where they were offering free internet. It was basically like you got Facebook for free and then maybe you could access a couple other things. I think for a lot of people, those start pages in your browser really are how we experience things. If your default start page is Google, then you experience things from a Google filter. If you just stay logged into Facebook and that’s where you start your day, then you’re viewing things through a Facebook filter.
Christie: I remember when I was at Mozilla learning that one of the top searches, either through the start page or through SUMO, I can’t remember exactly which, was Facebook. People open the browser, and then type in Facebook in the search to get the Facebook. I remember that really surprising me at the time. That was my first clue as to maybe I don’t use the internet and the browser the way most people do.
Audrey: My starting point is about five different things in a given day. Like I said, Google and Facebook aren’t the first places I look for anything. I started to realize because of this article and because of just looking at what was going on with our site, that I was missing a major point about what actually happens. The article gets into it how, this and another piece that I think we’re going to link to, how search engine optimization was, how people had been told to think about marketing. What I’ve been hearing from a friend of mine, Koronda Dares, that we really need to be looking at Facebook ads and Facebook promoter posts to have the same impact. Because that’s how people find things, that is really how they find what they’re going to read.
Christie: Isn’t that just great?
Audrey: It’s not really the web I wanted to be on or the internet that I want to experience. I think we’ve both been doing this long enough that we’ve seen it be different. To realize that things are not just a little bit going in this direction but we may have already missed that topping point, that’s pretty distressing.
Christie: Tipping point into the walled garden total consolidation?
Christie: You’re making me regret a little bit that I deleted my Facebook account that was really well established. It’s hard to build that up. My account was pretty well established. I had tons of friends.
Audrey: The Recompiler does have a Facebook page now. A friend and reader decided to set one up for us during the Kickstarter campaign to see if that would maybe help a little bit. I found it was pretty easy to get us up to 50 follows, not so bad to start. It’s definitely there for people who like that kind of thing.
Christie: Facebook.com/recompiler or recompilermag?
Audrey: Recompilermag. Yeah, like our Twitter handle and Instagram.
Christie: If you’re on Facebook, which a lot of you listening probably are, go like that page. Right? Cool.
Audrey: Yeah. Like it, follow it. I think likes put it into other peoples newsfeed a little bit more. I think following just means that you’re going to read it.
Christie: I think when I did it the like made me automatically follow it.
Audrey: Yeah. That makes sense. This is just the strangest way to get marketing ideas, but one of the things I was reading about the Russian trolling and fake news things had somebody who had studied it saying, “Well, one of these pages only needs to get 100 likes to start to have an influence on what people are reading.” I’m like, “Yes! I only need 100 likes to get people to start seeing blog posts from the Recompiler.”
Christie: I was wondering where you got that stat from. That’s funny.
Audrey: This is a little twisted, but if that’s how we reach people.
Christie: I just thought of some weird pun with that old ad about the Tootsie Pop, how many licks does it take to get to the center? Nevermind.
Audrey: It’s just a weird landscape that we’re in. I think, like we were saying, the EFF and some of the free press things that they’re talking about net neutrality, I feel like they’ve let this slip under the radar a little bit. It’s not like I think that they’re ignorant of it, but outside of being on Mastodon I don’t see a lot of people really agitating for getting out of these walled garden environments.
Christie: Where are we in that conversation? Are there other solid ideas out there yet?
Audrey: Yeah. I’m seeing a lot of ideas. I think people really undercount the social aspects of this when they start thinking creatively about how we build our way to a better internet. There was this conversation that I was trying to have on Mastodon, on toot.cat specifically, that’s the node that I’m on, about how there’s this whole linking intersection of where our traffic comes from as a small media company, where our traffic comes from, how we sell things, how people find us, how we pay for things, how we get people to pay for what they’re buying. It’s all tied into this tight little system. To replace a piece of it means you have to look at the whole system. You can’t just say, “Well, I’d really like an open and distributed alternative to Facebook.” That covers one part of it but if I need 100 Facebook-type likes, I need 1,000 people on a mailing list or a couple thousand people on a mailing list to have that same impact. I don’t see a lot of people putting all the pieces together that way when they’re trying to build out what we do next.
Christie: There’s a critical mass you have to hit.
Audrey: I think it’s more than that. I think it’s about replacing more of the pieces and seeing all the different kinds of views or perspectives. I think talking about alternatives to Twitter, we talked about that critical social mass, but we don’t necessarily talk about the integrations, the ways that different sites and different sources are integrated into it. Those Twitter cards have a big impact. They preference certain types of content over other kinds of content.
Christie: You mean if your site is formatted to supply the meta information that Twitter can make those cards from?
Audrey: The week that Instagram got bought by Facebook, what happened? You stopped seeing Instagram photos in your Twitter feed.
Christie: That’s so super obnoxious. I click on them less. Oh, Twitter doesn’t want to send traffic to Facebook.
Christie: Can I just pay for that feature?
Audrey: That’s not how this works. They don’t think that user dollars are anywhere near what ad dollars will do for them. In the long run, that’s probably misguided. I think there’s a real race to the bottom around online advertising. In the short term they want to make their investors happy, which means ads.
Christie: We could do a whole episode on what happens to companies when they become public?
Audrey: That might be really informative for people too.
Christie: I just reread Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, about the mortgage crisis in 2008. I think he might cover this more in his first book on the banking industry, but having investment banks go from private to public fueled into that too. I think it’s not just a tech company thing. Did we want to talk about this other article, the user hostile web?
Audrey: Yeah. I think it ties into the same kinds of things. There was a second piece that I read maybe a couple weeks after the first one that talked just about what the personal impact of this is, that ad tracking is built into a lot of most websites. People don’t necessarily think about those like buttons, share buttons, but they tie even non advertising related sites into those networks. There’s just an enormous amount of tracking that goes on. That has impacts on your privacy. It has impacts on literally whether you can load web pages. Another thing that just gets overlooked is low bandwidth users. Like I said, that town that’s always in the news it seems like in Washington that has practically no internet. They’ve tried to do a lot of lobbying to get that, but there are plenty of people even in the US that are in low bandwidth environments. Those ad trackers and all of that extra stuff going on really weighs down web pages.
Christie: Not just the bandwidth, but the processing power. I don’t remember if you said that or not.
Audrey: When over half of your webpage is just about the ad display, the ad data collections. If you watch the callouts that happen, just pick a newspaper or something you’ll see it’s not just that they have one tracker. It’s that they have a dozen different kinds of trackers that things are calling out to.
Christie: From sometimes being on the implementation side of this stuff what I’ve noticed is, one, I think hardly anyone is testing on lower bandwidth. Developers tend to have a lot of bandwidth and higher powered machines, newer machines. They’re not testing under the conditions of all their users, or even representative groups of their users. Then there’s a lot of things where you integrate a third party service because it’s convenient, I don’t know, to collect donations or something. That third party service has got its own set of trackers. I’ve been in a situation where I’m analyzing some aspect of a website and realize that Google analytics has four separate tags or something in it because of different third part integrations.
Audrey: You’ll see a lot of that.
Christie: That definitely adds up.
Audrey: Even The Recompiler doesn’t run advertising but we of have a Facebook share and a Twitter share link because, again, the way that we gain new readers is mostly through word of mouth. We don’t have that if it takes a lot of work for people to share what they’re reading.
Christie: There’s an advantage to having the like buttons.
Audrey: I don’t know. I feel like on the advocacy side I get a lot of shaming, tons of shaming from it. I don’t think we can afford to opt out of this, I really don’t. I think that there are a lot of other businesses in that situation. I think we minimize how we participate in this, but to entirely opt out would mean that I would need just an enormous personal network of people who answered my emails and listened to what I asked them to do. I can tell you how big that network is from our Kickstarter but it’s not huge. It’s not enough to keep us in business indefinitely.
Christie: I think a lot of the advocacy groups that might espouse that all or nothing approach are really well established and probably maybe don’t remember what it’s like to start out.
Audrey: Sure, if we’d been around since the late ’90s I might have a different feeling about this but with just a couple of years in. Sometimes it does feel really hard to get the word out to people. I can’t even market us as a low integration with ad networks organization without a way to market it. Like we were talking about with the control of traffic, how would I even do that? There’s no way. It’s not like I can go out and run print ads or something. I guess what I want to get across is that this is a messy, complicated situation. It doesn’t have simple answers. I think it has some strong directions that advocacy and technical work can go in, but it’s not as straightforward. As an individual user, you should definitely go ahead and use an ad blocker if that’s what you want. You should block trackers if that’s what you want, but that’s not a solution for us.
Christie: I think the Brave browser is trying to take a different approach of opting in to participating in advertising, and supporting sites and micropayments and stuff. I think there’s efforts out there.
Audrey: I haven’t talked to anybody who uses Brave as their default browser. Have you?
Audrey: I went and registered us. It said it would email me if we got however many bitcoin, the initial payout is.
Christie: Well, then I should update mine and start browsing with it.
Audrey: That was a while ago. I haven’t actually logged in to see if they’ll give me any stats.
Christie: Then anything that’s really non bitcoin, we’re starting to get more and more articles about the energy consumption required to mine bitcoin. It seems like a weird pyramid scheme to me, if you think about it that way. I just feel like the stuff with net neutrality, there’s just so much. I’ve heard different things about how the comments submitted to the FCC site were probably faked.
Audrey: It’s a weird direction. Astroturfing is the word I’ve always hear used for making it look like there’s a grassroots effort but it’s actually just entirely sponsored. It’s a weird direction to deploy astroturfing.
Christie: Because it seems to prove the point?
Audrey: Well, they’ve got so much lobbying money to throw at it. What did they think that the comments were going to do?
Audrey: Especially since it was pretty obvious to detect.
Christie: Comcast is like, “We would never do all these terrible things you think we might do if we were allowed to do them, but you should allow us to do them anyway.”
Audrey: “Please, change the circulation so we can continue to not take advantage of them,” no. That’s just remarkably unlikely.
Christie: I’ve seen a lot of comments that are basically saying all this organizing we’ve been able to do over the last year to save our healthcare and things like that, that could be significantly compromised if the rules are returned.
Audrey: Again, I think Mastodon attracts a lot of people that are interested in what alternatives we have to building the internet, to how we access things, how we communicate things. I did find it really helpful that people are thinking about a lot of different ways that this could work. Especially in terms of activism, in terms of groups that are really dependent on having more openness because there’s just a lot of reasons that maybe you can’t depend on Facebook to be a good place for your organizing.
Christie: Do you think some of those efforts will take a long time to materialize though? Is it likely to get worse before it gets better?
Audrey: Yes. I think so. I think, again, because it’s such a complicated system to intervene in I think I’m seeing people talk a lot about technologies and a lot about protocols. People are trying a lot of things, which is great. There’s an eat your own dog food approach that I see people using. Again, there’s just that critical mass thing. There’s that thing of thinking about the financial side of it and who can afford to make changes?
Christie: How to sustain the people who are trying to do that. I guess that’s what you said, basically.
Audrey: The funniest thing to me about this is that, so how does all this stuff get funded? How do the developers that experiment with this stuff, how do they get funded? They’re all in Patreon. The thing that I see the most is people sharing their Patreon. Then they’re locked into a single financial system.
Christie: Which if they make policy changes, or there’s any number of things that could happen.
Audrey: There was already that thing about kicking sex workers off of their end. That’s often the group that’s first to go when a financial service is looking at things. I don’t know. I think that’s an indicator. Patreon’s another site that I looked at and I thought about whether we should participate in it, whether we should use it. I decided against it even though I think that we probably could be getting some support from readers by being on there. Because it makes it easy.
Christie: To avoid lock in?
Audrey: Yeah, to avoid lock in. I don’t want to count on getting $100 or $1,000 a month and then find that I could be locked out of it. It’s why I try to avoid using PayPal too.
Christie: Do you think there’s always going to be attention between the advantages of having a single big platform versus something that’s more distributed?
Audrey: Sure. Discoverability just remains key. I don’t know. I guess that raises a question about are search engines good enough? Do we always need these social aggregators? Part of what that first article talks about is how Facebook is working from a social aggregation standpoint and Google is working from an AI standpoint, which is a generous way of talking about machine learning. They’re taking two different approaches to how they handle content, how they handle information.
Christie: It’s interesting because the last season of Halt and Catch Fire, the last, the final, that’s the thing that gets explored is that there’s two competing companies for internet, I’m going to call it, search. One of them is more machine indexing for the search and the other one is people aggregating.
Audrey: Oh, interesting.
Christie: You just described it. I think it’s interesting.
Audrey: I’d say that the writers have been paying attention then. You have those two directions and you can’t necessarily replicate them on a small scale. The Facebook social approach requires, geez, I don’t even want to think about how many users they have. It’s horrifying if you feel strongly about independence. It requires just a pooling of efforts in some way. The most straightforward way to do that is for a single organization to control the effort.
Christie: I think there’s all kinds of ideas that federation can approach this, but it doesn’t seem like it.
Audrey: What I see happening is really experimental still. It’s great. I want to see lots of people putting their effort into it but, again, the people doing that are dependent on a network like Patreon to get enough support to fund full-time development. I keep chewing on this discoverability aspect of it because I think that’s central to all of these problems.
Christie: Also, if you think about it, if we’re talking about something that’s largely a software solution then you have to deploy it. Where has the industry gone in the last ten years? The cloud.
Audrey: The cloud.
Christie: Again, you can get Amazon, Google. I feel like there’s more competition in that regard. You have Digital Ocean and there’s Linode. There’s still a few smaller players and I try to use them when possible.
Audrey: This is another area that net neutrality is really important. Google can afford to pay to have their servers have prioritized access. Amazon can afford to pay for that, but maybe Digital Ocean can’t. They’re not at that same level.
Christie: Then I worry because I became a Rackspace customer, not intentionally but because years ago they bought Slicehost. I am waiting for something like that to happen with Digital Ocean.
Audrey: I hope not. It’s a big risk. Have you ever looked into setting up your own email server? I feel like this is a really good example of this problem too.
Christie: Yeah. Even if you love postfix and just really like being in those CF files, you’ll still be at risk for having mail relayed from there as not as trusted. Because the way the spam databases have come to work is that they really preference the really big providers.
Audrey: I have talked to somebody who has done it. One of the things they had to accept is that not all of their emails reaches its destination. It takes a long time. It takes a long time and a long track record.
Christie: To establish that trust?
Christie: I like tinkering with servers. I do not like tinkering with mail servers. That’s why I ended up going with Fastmail, which I think has done a good job having a really compelling offering. Especially if you’re someone that really needs that calendar integration. When I went and looked at this a couple years ago to get off Google and Gmail, that was the most fully featured alternative. There’s things like PObox, which is now owned by Fastmail. Even at that level, they get consolidation.
Audrey: How many options do you really have? You can have Gmail. You can have what you’re on. You can have Hotmail. I assume Hotmail is still there. I don’t know when the last time I saw it was. Yahoo Mail, which we keep seeing various security problems over there. Have we named five companies yet?
Christie: Rackspace still had an offering. Amazon has an offering. Most web hosting has that built in. You have Round Cube, or Horde, or different webmails. Then, again, I don’t know how many of those are just reselling on top of others. They might be running on Amazon servers, I don’t know. It’s hard to tell when hosting has their own bare metal.
Audrey: You could look at the logs and the pathways to see a little bit of that.
Christie: It’s probably Office 360 or Microsoft’s Office, they have a comparable thing to G Suite. Actually, I looked at it. The docs look compelling but most organizations are automatically on Google Docs, so what are you going to do?
Audrey: Yeah, it’s $5 a user a month. That’s why we’re there. It’s affordable. I saw Bruce Schnier point out a while ago, it’s not that effective to move your own email off of Google from a privacy standpoint when almost everybody you communicate with is on Googles servers. You don’t get a lot of benefit.
Christie: I remember this article. We should dig it up for the show notes. His point was that even if you switch off, again, it’s that critical mass thing. It’s that you can switch off, but if 98% of the people you’re communicating with are on Google then most of your email is going through Google anyway. While I was at Mozilla, they made the decision to go to Gmail from hosting their own, Zimbra. That was a conversation. Some of us really wanted to have it and the others of us were like, “What is your deal? Everybody uses this, stop complaining.”
Audrey: I don’t know. At some point I feel like we are just going to run out of alternatives, and we’ll be there, and we’ll really have to think about what we do next. I think things are starting to get that critically bad. I think a lot of people don’t care and that’s fine. They shouldn’t have to. Having an open internet is not the top priority for most internet users, but it just changes the scope of what we can do. It does change activism. It does change subgroups, minority groups, what they can do.
Christie: I do want to say the Office Live stuff is not that much more than G Suite.
Audrey: We could switch.
Christie: Yeah, but it’s that ecosystem thing again. I was going to say even organizations invested in an open internet like Mozilla, not to pick on them, still went with Gmail. Going through that whole thing again also made me realize even the people who are supposed to care about this still go with the easy, obvious thing that everybody is using.
Audrey: Even at a larger organization.
Christie: Wikimedia uses it.
Audrey: I have just one of these articles open still. The sentence I keep staring at is, “This would destroy the open internet.” I think we’re already there. Turning back, the net neutrality rules will push us one step further but we’re already very far down this path. Should we talk about what people can do aside from the ad blockers?
Christie: Yeah, what can people do?
Audrey: Well, I think if you haven’t tried one of these federated tools, and I think Mastodon is probably the easiest one to do, get yourself set up on a Mastodon node or look into one of the other interesting federated options. I think that’s another thing I see people playing with a lot. Just give it a try and learn how these things work. I think we can be better. It’s a collective exploration. I think that we can be better participants if we just get a little bit more of a personal sense of how this stuff works, what its advantages or disadvantages are, to be able to have a better conversation about that.
Christie: One thing I would suggest with that, and we talked about Mastodon in an earlier episode, which we must have not called it anything related to Mastodon so I’ll find it and include it in the show notes, is that we included I’m pretty sure a link to a guide about it, but also get a couple of your friends together. Make some tea or coffee and be like, “Let’s get on Mastodon together.” Because I think, especially with the social stuff, if you just log on and you don’t know anybody it’s harder to get the point. I would just encourage get a couple of friends to try it out together.
Audrey: It’s not about a one for one replacement. I see completely different activity in conversations on Mastodon than I do on Twitter. Different social norms, just different groups coming together in various ways. There’s a website that will help you find a good node for you. Getting on one that’s a lot of like minded people is great because you have these local conversations. It’s just very different from being on Twitter. I don’t know, that’s another thing to think about to get to learn what the different strengths of different kinds of tools are, and spend a little bit of time experimenting. Bring your friends, but also maybe get on there and make a couple new friends. It will give you some more exposure.
Christie: I like your comment about the locality of it because that is something I miss from early days of being on networks, especially pre-internet networks like bulletin board systems and stuff.
Audrey: It’s not necessarily geographically local, but it’s a smaller group that’s not everyone all together.
Christie: There’s a different kind of almost intimacy, for lack of a better word. Do you know what that site is called to help you find a Mastodon instance?
Audrey: No, not off hand.
Christie: We’ll find it for the show notes. What else can people do? Is that the main thing?
Audrey: I’m thinking. If you’ve got the time for it just to sit down and think about what you’re already using, I think is really good too. Like I said, for marketing the Recompiler I’ve had to sift through these. I think it’s always helpful to look at where you’re making a default choice because it’s the easy thing and where you could make a different choice. Even if you don’t change anything, you do you still become more informed. Another part of this that I haven’t mentioned yet, we’re on WordPress. We’re even on WordPress.com but WordPress controls, do you remember?
Christie: It’s a huge number. It’s a lot, like 30%.
Audrey: Like a quarter of the websites out there are running WordPress, even though they’re on a lot of different servers that’s still all using the same software.
Christie: That’s actually an interesting example because it’s become really successful, but you can still run it on your own.
Audrey: It’s extensible. It’s open sources extensible, there’s a lot of ways you can modify it. Some of these federation experiments actually started with WordPress plugins.
Christie: 27.5% is what Wikipedia says currently, which is huge. I was going to say something, then I forgot.
Audrey: I think looking at your personal choices and trade offs is a good way to start to look at the global ones.
Christie: Yes, and whenever we’ve talked about security situation awareness and threat modeling, looking at your own situation and the threats and concerns that you have is really integral to it. What you’re saying is just reminding me of that.
Audrey: It’s definitely a path toward better security too.
Christie: We had some followup on something we talked about before. Although, I feel like we talk about freaking Facebook in every episode.
Audrey: It makes sense though. We’ve seen the numbers. This is why we have to talk about Facebook so much. Because if we talk about the internet as a podcast, this is a true and enormous part of the story.
Christie: ProPublica found that last year Facebook advertisers could target housing ads to whites only. The company was like, “Oh, that’s terrible.” They said they built a system to deal with it. Then ProPublica has recently retested and found that there’s still major omissions. They were able to buy dozens of rental housing ads on Facebook but asked that they not be shown to certain categories of users such as African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, ex-pats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.
Audrey: You can get really detailed with your bias.
Christie: Every single ad was approved within minutes. The only ad that took longer than three minutes to be approved sought to exclude potential renters interested in Islam, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. It was approved after 22 minutes.
Audrey: It got automatically flagged, and then somebody signed off on it.
Christie: That would be my guess, yeah.
Audrey: Isn’t this the kind of thing they can be sued over? I’m not saying that that will necessarily change Facebook’s behavior either, but isn’t this a legal liability for them?
Christie: I would think so. I’m not sure how much safe harbor applies. I guess it’s only in a copyright, or does it apply to other things besides copyright?
Audrey: I think it applies to content more broadly, but I also think that because they’re creating a mechanism. It’s not about the content of the ads, it’s about the mechanism of how those ads are sold. I would think that would put it in a different category.
Christie: ProPublica has got a screenshot here of the targeting screen from 2016. Then the targeting screen of these new ads that were proved in 2017. Previously it said demographics ethnic affinity. Now it says behavior multicultural affinity. African American, Asian American, Hispanic. Good job, Facebook.
Audrey: They really hold it. That reminds me of another bit of interesting Facebook data surfacing thing. They said, yes, we found the Russian trolls. Not all of them, but they found a lot of pages that were related to this consorted political effort. They’re building a tool to let people know if they’ve interacted with any of these.
Christie: I did see that. Did you try it out? I hardly interact on Facebook.
Audrey: Yeah, I don’t have my own account to try it with. It sounded like you had to go through the help center. It’s not like it says, “Hello, we may have shown you some really terrible things.” You have to really go looking for it and know that this tool is out there. Also, from what I was reading, if you saw it in your newsfeed not because you followed that page or liked that page but because it added it from somebody else’s activity, they don’t really have tracking on that. There are probably a lot more people who were exposed to this stuff who won’t be able to ever see that. It’s still a start. I would like it to be thorough and maybe a giant warning label at the top of the page, but it’s not a bad effort.
Christie: I think that was most of what we had. Is there anything else before I tell you about my favorite thing on the internet this week?
Audrey: I just think it all comes together, unfortunately. The net neutrality, and the way internet traffic is tightly funneled, and the advertising. This is not my favorite thing on the internet, but the Recompiler is running a retargeting ad. Retargeting is when somebody has already been to your site. Shops use this all the time. If you’ve ever been on Zappos and then seen the same pair of shoes follow you around the internet, that’s a retargeting ad. I turned one on for the Recompiler that shows you a promo for our issue that has an article about browser cookies, so that maybe a few people will see that thing and go, “Oh, how does that work?” The ad is a little bit silly.
Christie: It’s also kind of a meta joke?
Audrey: It’s a meta joke, yeah. Probably a lot of our readers are using ad blockers so maybe nobody will see it, but I would love for it to be informative for even just one person. It got approved.
Christie: Is it running now?
Audrey: Yes, but it won’t actually show up anywhere. We have to have 100 hits on the shop I think before it starts activating it. We don’t quite get a hundred a week, but I think probably by the end of next week I’ll be seeing something.
Christie: Help us out and go to the recompilermag.com/shop. Right, or is it shop.recompilermag.com?
Audrey: Shop.recompilermag.com. Go browse the shop, even if you don’t buy something, if you have ads turned on and you’re around on the internet. Actually, I’d love it if somebody would send me a screencap. I’d love to know what content it ends up alongside.
Christie: Here’s my favorite thing on the internet. I didn’t send you this link yet so I’ll do that now. The Folger Shakespeare Library has put out a DIY First Folio. They have scanned Shakespeare’s First Folio, and you can get PDF’s that are set up so that you can print them and impose your own copy of the First Folio. Which, I’m a printing geek and I like Shakespeare, so I thought that was fun. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, when books and really big things are printed there multiple pages printed on a sheet. You do some kind of assembly to create sections of the book that are called signatures. Then you assemble those. Part of that process is laying out the pages, so that when you fold them or assemble them they’re in the right order.
Audrey: It’s a basic math to figure out how everything lines up and to get the pages in the right order.
Christie: Yeah, there might be math. I never learned the math. I had other manual ways of doing it. There’s this fun page, it talks about all this. They have a virtual printing house where you can unmake and remake the book. It was fun. I thought that was neat.
Audrey: Nice. Well, my favorite thing, I think you are already familiar with it, but I only saw this a few weeks ago. It’s Tabby Cat Club, the Chrome extension.
Christie: I just thought it was called Tabby Cat.
Audrey: I think the website where I actually found it so I could install it is Tabby Cat Club.
Christie: I thought that they were adding dogs?
Audrey: Oh, really?
Christie: I don’t know.
Audrey: You can save a cat. I should back up. It’s this Chrome extension, you install it and every time you open a new tab it gives you a cat first. You can share the cats. Somebody I know had I think posted one of their favorites on Twitter and I’m like, “I don’t know what this thing is.” I looked it up and now I too have cats in my browser.
Christie: I’m getting 502 bad gateway. I saw the thing. Where is the tabby cat? At this point, let’s just search for tabby cat. What am I doing?
Audrey: Are you getting a really great stream of cats?
Christie: Well, that’s a dog. That’s a cow. Oh, no. There’s a cow with a stripey cat. Oh, man, there’s a lot of cats that look like Puck. That’s a very fluffy tabby. Tabby cat. Maybe they’re just tabbies.
Audrey: I don’t know if searching Twitter is going to be a good choice here.
Christie: Extension. Well, that’s where I saw the news that they were going to be adding dogs. I’m not finding it at the moment. Yeah, do you have that now, that extension?
Audrey: I’m afraid to type while we’re talking because I have this lovely new microphone set up, thanks to Christie.
Christie: You sound great.
Audrey: Hopefully I’ll be a lot clearer, a lot less tin can dwelling.
Christie: Now any audio problems are probably my fault.
Audrey: Not me using a built in microphone on my computer. Well, we’re improving. It’s great.
Christie: Yes, and applying that $6 dollars, we’re negative. No.
Audrey: Like I said, I have this grand scheme. We finished the Kickstarter. This is our first post Kickstarter podcast, right?
Christie: It is.
Audrey: We finished the Kickstarter. We raised $24,001. Thank you to our last person who was like, “Yes, let’s get to the right number and then one.” Part of what this is going to allow me to do is to bring in more people in the process of each issue. That includes editors. I am actively looking for technical editors to add. I would love to talk to women of color who are doing that kind of work. That should allow me more time in theory to work on our marketing, and our outreach, and that kind of stuff, which means in theory that I can focus on getting us more podcast support.
Audrey: Yeah, it all fits together.
Christie: DIY First Folio and Tabby Cat extension. Hopefully their website will be working again by the time we publish this.
Audrey: Maybe people were just really excited about the dogs and getting their own tabby dog. Are there stripey dogs?
Christie: That would be cool, but not in the same way that tabbies are stripey. I also may have hallucinated that. I don’t know. Sometimes I dream stuff and it’s not real.
Audrey: Well, then it’s a future request.
Christie: Audrey, thanks for doing our first live broadcast of the podcast. We’ll get this edited and posted. Thanks everyone for tuning in. I think we’re going to sign off now.
Audrey: Have a great day.
Christie: That’s a wrap. You’ve been listening to the Recompiler podcast. You can find this and all previous episodes at Recompilermag.com/podcast. There you’ll find links to individual episodes as well as the show notes. You’ll also find links to subscribe to the Recompiler podcast using iTunes or your favorite pod catcher. If you already subscribe via iTunes, please take a moment to leave us a review. It really helps us out. Speaking of which, we love your feedback. What do you like? What do you not like? What do you want to hear more of? Let us know. You can send email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send feedback via Twitter to @recompilermag, or directly to me, Christi3k. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling 503-489-9083 and leaving a message. The Recompiler podcast is a project of Recompiler Media, founded and led by Audrey Eschright and is hosted and produced by yours truly, Christie Koehler. Thanks for listening.