My new column is live in The Drum:
If you need to use targeted adtech to convince your wife to want sex, you are a wanker. In both senses of the word.
This is 2018, so we all know today how marketers and tech companies use online tracking to deliver direct response and sell personal data. For better or worse, most consumers seem to accept it. But there is a new – alleged – platform that embodies the worst of where surveillance marketing can lead.
The Spinner purports to let individuals influence the behaviour of others through tracking that displays tailored news articles on websites that the targets visit. The primary example that the company highlights is that husbands can subliminally convince their wives to initiate sex more often.
Based on the company’s website, the basic idea is that a husband pays $29 and then receives a shortened URL with a tracking code that is linked to a cookie. He then sends the URL in a text message to his wife (with, presumably, some cover story).
When the wife clicks on the link, a cookie is downloaded to the her phone. Then, whenever the wife browses news websites, she will see articles supplied by The Spinner such as “3 Reasons Why You Should Initiate Sex With Your Husband.”
A “news report” in a video on the company’s homepage summarises the process with this graphic.
Maya Kosoff, a tech writer for Vanity Fair and The Hive, tweeted on 9 July that an “Elliott” – see below – pitched her on the company. She wrote: “This is by far the creepiest and worst pitch I’ve ever gotten. What about the stories I write or who I am as a human being would make you think I wanna write about this?”
“We should all be thanking the Valley Bros that made The Spinner – it might just be what it takes for folks to sit up and take note of (a) how this crap works (b) what it is designed to do (c) how fucked up it all is,” Aral Balkan, a self-described cyborg rights activist, added. “The Spinner is surveillance capitalism in its purest… The Spinner is surveillance capitalism’s Martin Shkreli moment.”
Doc Searls, an adtech critic and the editor of Linux Journal, condemned the idea on Twitter. So did David Carroll, the American media professor who helped to break the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal this year in the UK. The Spinner, he wrote, is “essentially using a spearfishing attack on friends and loved ones to entrap them in a microtargeting/retargeting peer-to-peer digital psyop”.