Marketing The Internet

Twitter Interests and the scam of interest-based targeting

a screenshot of the Twitter Interests page with some interests deselected
I don’t have any special interest in space telescopes, but I think astrophotography is pretty and like science generally. I like Star Trek TNG, though I’m not a Trekkie. But tanning? I am anti-interested in tanning. And sports — absolutely zero interest. I would prefer to avoid all sports news except to hear if it’s going to make traffic in Seattle a nightmare.

Social media silos are harvesting our personal data, selling it and using it to target us with ads and filter the information we see through their algorithm — and they’re crap at it. We sacrificed our privacy for this? 🤔

Targeting problem: a significant portion of supposed interests — which I presume are used to support algorithmic decisions and targeted advertising — are incorrect.

I recently looked through my Twitter Interests and removed everything that I was actively not interested in. About half of my interests were totally wrong. It appears it hasn’t improved much since 2019.

As the old saying goes, half of what you spend your money on in marketing is a waste, but you don’t know which half. Portraying targeting based on personal data extrapolated from users’ online actions as inherently more accurate or higher quality than other forms of advertising feels like a scam.


Spotify Wrapped 2021

I like Spotify Wrapped but am always a little irritated it comes out in December instead of January — there’s still a whole month left! But apparently I listen more than most people… and maybe a lot of people screw up their stats with holiday music in December?

That’s a bit over 20 hours a week, or about 3 hours a day. That doesn’t seem like that much to me? But I think I tend to be a gorger of music and books, while lots of other people gorge on TV or video games 🤷‍♀️

As per usual, Spotify has bonkers genres and claims I’ve listened to 140. My top genres (two of which I recognize):

  1. Indie rock
  2. New rave
  3. Shimmer pop
  4. New wave
  5. Neo-psychedelic

(Playlists from Every Noise at Once – should be a way to find more songs I like 😉)

My top artists are no surprise: Islands, Ladytron, Tame Impala, Spoon and OK Go. Though I try to listen to a variety of music – I listened to 1906 artists (so far) in 2021 – those favs mark a pretty good indicator of my age. Guess we just can’t escape the sounds of our late teens, early twenties 🤷‍♀️

I have to lol that I am indeed the super-est fan to superfan of my favorite very indie band no one has heard of, Islands <3

And to round it out, my top five tracks:

I know they like to switch it up every year but I liked the “how many countries” stat they had in the past, especially since that’s nigh impossible to figure out yourself. They probably design this more for the average listener, and need to have stats that will be interesting for everyone no matter how much they’ve listened to.

It’s frustrating they have all this data that we can’t access. I get more than a lot of people because I use LastFM but that isn’t in a format you can analyze like this. They also do a year end report (actually at the end of the year) but again doesn’t let you see the data. Too bad our data laws don’t let us download our own data, in a usable format that doesn’t require transforming or cleaning up first (looking at you Fitbit).

Future Building

A Surveillance Free Public

In another angle of how government should work differently than businesses, here’s one that should have occurred to me: government websites should be surveillance free.

I removed analytics from my personal blog a little over a year ago. But it didn’t occur to me that I could do anything about the local government where I work.

As a public servant, I need to try to push my city to think about what is best for our residents. The City is redoing its website right now and I’d bet we’re continuing to use Google Analytics on the new platform. I can plant a seed of thought at the least.

Does the value staff and Council get in knowing how many people visit a page or which pages see the most traffic outweigh the cost to our residents in providing that data to Google? I’d argue no. Analytics do help staff improve the usability of our website but probably not enough to justify the cost of being surveilled on a government website.

Would many people in my tech-sector town (which houses a Google office) bat an eye that their data were being collected on the city website? Probably not, but that doesn’t give us a pass. And those who don’t want to share their data shouldn’t have limited access to government services. We have an opportunity to do better by our residents, to be leaders in protecting our residents’ privacy.