BEAR ALLEY BOOKS

BEAR ALLEY BOOKS
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Friday, April 13, 2018

Comic Cuts - 13 April 2018

With the new book out, I'm finally taking a few days off. I have a habit of letting things pile up. "When I get a chance I'll do that." Unfortunately, I never get the chance because I've not paused between books for a decade. Well, completing the latest book has coincided with my birthday and I fancied doing something different for a bit.

Now, this might not be everybody's idea of a break, but I had a two foot-high pile of Private Eyes dating back to 2010 that I've been saying I'll sort through, making a few notes on the comic strips that have appeared over these past few years. That's over 160 issues to sort out, look through and over 100 scans.

I had the Congressional hearings with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook playing in the background. It's amazing how little we actually understand about the social media sites we use. I'm not a Luddite but I do try to limit myself – I'm on Facebook because a lot of people I wanted to tell about my books had signed up. I'm not on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and other places where the cool kids hang out, and I try to limit my activity on Facebook simply because I don't have that much spare time.

I think we all know that television is not about delivering quality programming to viewers – it's about delivering viewers to the advertising that plays during and around a TV programme. It has always been targeted, which is why you'll see adverts for stairlifts playing during the afternoon run of gameshows, hunting through attics or boot sales for bargains, home improvement and consumer shows and other programmes aimed at an older audience. As we reach early evening the adverts begin to feature smiling mums saving money in supermarkets and during the post-watershed hours the advertising switches to cars and perfume.

The web-tracking software at Facebook is far more sophisticated, so it will know when I've looked at Amazon for a new hard drive (as I did a few months ago) and will start advertising hard drives to me around and in my news feed. The algorithm is unaware that I only look at such things when I need to buy them, so usually I've just ordered one as the adverts start to swamp my Facebook feed. That tells me that while the web-tracking software may be aware of where I've looked, it isn't aware that I've made a purchase, which could lead to all sorts of problems. So, phew! There is at least some privacy left on the internet.

Facebook is very good at guessing what you're interested in and targeting you with advertising. It doesn't always get it right but it must be delivering customers to advertisers given how much they spend on Facebook these days ($40 billion in 2017). I've just Google searched "how many data points does Facebook hold on users" and the top result is a 2016 article from the Daily Mail talking about 98 points needed to make up a complete profile of a person. Well, Cambridge Analytica – the company at the centre of the recent data-scraping/selling scandal – boasts on its website about having up to 5,000 data points on over 230 million American voters:

There are 250 million people who can vote in the USA, so that's data on over 90% of them. And if CA Political can gather that amount of information, Facebook must have 10,000+ data points on every single one of its 2.13 billion active users (as of 31 December 2017). That's why their marketing is often scarily precise.

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