EPA’s scientific advisers warn its regulatory rollbacks clash with established science

EPA’s scientific advisers warn its regulatory rollbacks clash with established science
By Juliet Eilperin
Dec 31 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency is pushing ahead with sweeping changes to roll back environmental regulations despite sharp criticism from a panel of scientific advisers, most of whom were appointed by President Trump.

The changes would weaken standards that govern waterways and wetlands across the country, as well as those that dictate gas mileage for U.S. automobiles. Another change would restrict the kinds of scientific studies that can be used when writing new environmental regulations, while a fourth would change how the EPA calculates the benefits of limiting air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

Three of the four draft reports, posted online Tuesday, suggest that the administration’s proposals conflict with established science. They were prepared by members of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, a panel of experts created by Congress in 1978 to review the agency’s scientific methods.

“It really calls into question to what degree these suggested changes are fact-based as opposed to politically motivated,” said Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund who served on the advisory board for two terms before stepping down on Sept. 30.

It is noteworthy that an advisory board dominated by scientists appointed by Trump — some of whom advocate looser federal rules — found serious flaws in the science behind several of the proposed changes, Hamburg said in an interview.

In an email, EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said the agency “always appreciates and respects the work and advice” of the advisory board but added that its reviews “may potentially be revised” before they are finalized.

At issue are some of the EPA’s most significant efforts to weaken federal limits on water and air pollution. At least two of the rules — governing mercury pollution from power plants and what sort of chemicals can be used near waterways — are set to be finalized in January. Another rule, which would relax fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, is expected to be finalized by March.

The independent assessments raise questions about the basis for the administration’s push to unspool regulations enacted under President Barack Obama.

For example, regarding the EPA’s plan to reverse a rule that limits what sort of dredging or pesticide applications can take place near smaller streams and wetlands, the advisory board said the proposal “neglects established science” that shows how contamination of groundwater, wetlands and waterways can spread to drinking water supplies. A separate report says the economic models used to justify reducing the average mileage targets for cars and light trucks between now and 2026 were “implausible” based on assumptions about the kinds of vehicles consumers will drive in the future.

Schiermeyer said several of the proposed changes, such as the water pollution rule, reflect limits imposed by the Supreme Court as well as Congress.

“As a result, the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ may be informed by science, but science cannot dictate where to draw the line between federal and state or tribal waters,” she said, adding the new air pollution rule also reflected a ruling by the Supreme Court.

Relaxing mileage standards would make new vehicles more affordable, Schiermeyer said, while the proposal affecting research studies would require “the science to withstand skepticism and peer review.”

The moves come as the agency has overhauled how it factors science into its decision-making.

More than a year ago, the EPA disbanded an expert panel charged with updating assessments of the public health risks posed by soot. In December, the EPA’s inspector general concluded it failed to analyze how a plan to loosen emissions standards for truck components would affect children’s health. And it is now drafting a rule to restrict which scientific studies it uses to develop public health policies.

While previous administrations have occasionally pushed back at findings from scientific advisers, or ignored them altogether, friction between the group and the EPA has escalated under Trump — even though nearly two-thirds of its 44 members were appointed by him. 

In 2019, the board met less frequently than at any time in the past two decades, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The number of industry experts on it has tripled since the president took office, while the portion of academics has been cut nearly in half.

H. Christopher Frey, an environmental engineer who served on the board from 2012 to 2018, said that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has effectively marginalized the group.

“In effect, he’s said, ‘No, I’m not interested in your advice,’ ” said Frey, also a professor at North Carolina State University. “He’s just sidelining the Scientific Advisory Board. He obviously has an ideological agenda of pursuing regulatory rollbacks, and the science is not always going to be consistent with that ideological agenda.”

In a recent interview, Wheeler said that he was open to input from the board, but it needed to move faster. “It certainly is a discussion we’re having with the SAB, the SAB leadership,” he said, referring to the group’s acronym. “We want to make sure that their reviews are timely.”

But members of the advisory board say it is agency leaders who have been slowing down their work. Advisory board members first raised the prospect of reviewing several of the EPA’s proposed rollbacks in June 2018. But the group waits for feedback from EPA staff before conducting reviews, and Wheeler did not respond to its inquiries until nearly 10 months later.

Hamburg said the EPA has intentionally tried to hamper the board’s work.


How we survive the surveillance apocalypse

How we survive the surveillance apocalypse
Online privacy is not dead, but you have to be angry enough to demand it.
By Geoffrey A. Fowler
Dec 31 2019

Go, go gadgets has long been the attitude in my house. Perhaps yours, too: A smartphone made it easier to stay in touch. A smart TV streamed a zillion more shows. A smart speaker let you talk to a smart thermostat without getting out of bed. That’s progress, right?

Now I’ve got a new attitude: It’s not just what I can get out of technology — I want to know what the technology gets out of me.

For the past year, I’ve been on the trail of the secret life of our data. What happens when you put your iPhone to sleep at night? Does Amazon’s Alexa eavesdrop on your family? Who gets to know where you drive — and where you swipe your credit card?

Trying to get straight answers has been, literally, a full-time job. I’ve digested the legal word salad of privacy policies, interrogated a hundred companies and even hacked into a car dashboard to grab my data back. There are lots of stories about online threats, but it feels different watching your personal information streaming out of devices you take for granted. This year I learned there is no such thing as “incognito.” Just stepping out for an errand, I discovered, lets my car record where I shop, what I listen to and even how much I weigh.

Learning how everyday things spy on us made me, at times, feel paranoid. Mostly, my privacy project left me angry. Our cultural reference points ­— Big Brother and tinfoil hats — don’t quite capture the sickness of an era when we gleefully carry surveillance machines in our pockets and install them in our homes.

With each discovery, I’ve looked for ways to change my own relationship with technology. I’ve stopped installing new smart-home devices that let corporations or police log what’s happening at my house. I switched Web browsers and credit cards. When possible, I use a pseudonym or a throwaway email address.

Still, I’m going to level with you. After a year of wrestling my data from corporate America, I hardly feel in control. Being paranoid isn’t enough to save us in the age of surveillance.

But no, privacy isn’t dead. A path to reclaiming it — fuzzy and almost too late — is starting to emerge. We just have to be angry enough to demand it.

Data is power

While we’re busy living increasingly online lives, it’s hard to know what’s at stake in our data.

Most of the headlines focus on leaks and the unintended consequences of data collection, like hackers stealing credit card numbers. You hear about creepy but vague violations, like when Apple and Amazon hired people to review recordings taken from their voice assistants. In a world where so many others are collecting our personal data, it’s legitimate to worry whether they’re doing enough to protect it.

But there’s a more fundamental problem: Why is so much of our information being collected in the first place?

When I began my privacy project, I learned something about the now-ubiquitous Alexa I hadn’t quite understood when I first brought home an Echo speaker. Every time Amazon’s artificial intelligence activates, it keeps a recording. Amazon had four years of my family’s conversations.

There’s more: Amazon also keeps reports on appliances you connect to Alexa — in my smart home, every flip of a light switch or adjustment on the thermostat. Last week, Amazon reported that Alexa users received “millions” of doorbell and motion announcements during the 2019 holiday season, “from carolers to delivery drivers and holiday guests.” Surveilling that many homes is a thing the company brags about. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but I review all technology with the same critical eye.)

Amazon isn’t building its dossier on you just to be creepy. It wants your voice and your data to train its AI, the technology it hopes will rule our future economy.

While we’ve been wondering at the new capabilities of connected apps and devices, many of them have been quietly turning our private experiences into their raw materials. These companies act like the data belongs to them, rather than us. Largely unhindered by law, a hidden economy of data brokers gobbles every data morsel it can. Author Shoshana Zuboff gave this data grab a sharp name that I hope sticks: “surveillance capitalism.”

There are lots of ways your data can, and will, be used against you. Governments frequently compel companies to hand over what they know. Tracking your credit card lets retailers know how much you’re willing to pay. Tracking what you watch on TV lets politicians micro-target your fears. Tracking your Web surfing lets marketers glimpse your desires — to get you to buy things you may not really need.

These corporations understand that data is a form of power. It’s time to take ours back.


On land, Australia’s rising heat is ‘apocalyptic’; in the ocean, it’s even worse

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jock Gill.  DLH]

On land, Australia’s rising heat is ‘apocalyptic’; in the ocean, it’s even worse
Dec 28 2019

BRUNY ISLAND, TASMANIA (WASHINGTON POST) – Even before the ocean caught fever and reached temperatures no one had ever seen, Australia’s ancient giant kelp was cooked.

Mr Rodney Dillon noticed the day he squeezed into a wet suit several years ago and dove into Trumpeter Bay to catch his favourite food, a big sea snail called abalone. As he swam amid the towering kelp forest, he saw that “it had gone slimy”.

He scrambled out of the water and called a scientist at the University of Tasmania in nearby Hobart. “I said, ‘Mate, all our kelp’s dying, and you need to come down here and have a look. But no one could do anything about it.”

Climate change had arrived at this island near the bottom of the world, and the giant kelp that flourished in its cold waters was among the first things to go.

Over recent decades, the rate of ocean warming off Tasmania, Australia’s southernmost state and a gateway to the South Pole, has climbed to nearly four times the global average, oceanographers say.

More than 95 per cent of the giant kelp – a living high-rise of 30-foot stalks that served as a habitat for some of the rarest marine creatures in the world – died.

Giant kelp had stretched the length of Tasmania’s rocky east coast throughout recorded history. Now it clings to a tiny patch near Southport, the island’s southern tip, where the water is colder.

“This is a hot spot,” said Professor Neil Holbrook, who researches ocean warming at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. “And it’s one of the big ones.”

Climate scientists say it’s essential to hold global temperatures to 1.5 deg C above preindustrial times to avoid irreversible damage from warming.

The Tasman Sea is already well above that threshold.

The Washington Post’s examination of accelerated warming in the waters off Tasmania marks this year’s final installment of a global series, which identified hot spots around the world.

The investigation has shown that disastrous impacts from climate change aren’t a problem lurking in the distant future: They are here now.

Nearly a tenth of the planet has already warmed 2 deg C since the late 19th century, and the abrupt rise in temperature related to human activity has transformed parts of the Earth in radical ways.

In the United States, New Jersey is among the fastest-warming states, and its average winter has grown so warm that lakes no longer freeze as they once did. Canadian islands are crumbling into the sea because a blanket of sea ice no longer protects them from crashing waves.

Fisheries from Japan to Angola to Uruguay are collapsing as their waters warm. Arctic tundra is melting away in Siberia and Alaska, exposing the remains of woolly mammoths buried for thousands of years and flooding the gravesites of indigenous people who have lived in an icy world for centuries.

Australia is a poster child for climate change. Wildfires are currently raging on the outskirtsof its most iconic city and drought is choking a significant portion of the country.

Nearly 100 fires are burning in New South Wales, nearly half of them out of control. Residents of the state, where Sydney sits, wear breathing masks to tolerate the heavy smoke, which has drifted more than 500 miles south to the outskirts of Melbourne.

This is happening even though average atmospheric temperatures in Australia have yet to increase by 2 deg C.

The ocean is another story.

A stretch of the Tasman Sea right along Tasmania’s eastern coast has already warmed by just a fraction below 2 deg C, according to ocean temperature data from the Hadley Centre, the UK government research agency on climate change.

As the marine heat rises and the kelp simmers into goo, Mr Dillon and other descendants of Tasmania’s first people are losing a connection to the ocean that has defined their culture for millennia.

Aboriginals walked to present-day Tasmania 40,000 years ago during the Stone Age, long before rising sea levels turned the former peninsula into an island.

Cut off from Aboriginals on the mainland, about a dozen nomadic tribes were the first humans to live so close to the end of the Earth, fishing amid the giant kelp for abalone, hunting kangaroo and mutton birds, turning bull kelp into tools, and fashioning pearlescent snail shells into jewellery for hundreds of generations.

But that was before British colonisers took their land and deployed an apartheid-like system to wipe them out.

Now, as descendants try to finally get full recognition as the first people and original owners of Tasmania, climate change is threatening to remove the marine life that makes so much of their culture special.

Two of the most severe marine heatwaves ever recorded struck back to back in recent years.

In the first, starting in 2015, ocean temperatures peaked at nearly 3 deg C above normal in the waters between Tasmania and New Zealand. A blob of heat that reached 2 deg C was more than seven times the size of Tasmania, an island the size of Ireland.

The region’s past heatwaves normally lasted as long as two months. The 2015-2016 heatwave persisted for eight months. Mr Alistair Hobday, who studied the event, compared it to the deadly 2003 European heatwave that led to the deaths of thousands of people.

“Except in this case, it’s the animals that are suffering,” said Mr Hobday, a senior research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, a government agency.

South of the equator, Australia’s summer stretches from December to February – and soaring temperatures turned the mainland deadly this year. An estimated 23,000 giant fruit bats – about a third of that species’s population in Australia – dropped dead from heat stress in Queensland and New South Wales in April.

The bats, called flying foxes, cannot survive temperatures above 42 deg C. Another 10,000 black flying foxes, a different species, also died. Bodies plopped into meadows, backyard gardens and swimming pools.

A month later, more than 100 ringtail possums fell dead in Victoria when temperatures topped 35 deg C for four consecutive days.

The warming waters off Tasmania are not just killing the giant kelp, but transforming life for marine animals.


The Big Change Coming to Just About Every Website on New Year’s Day

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

The Big Change Coming to Just About Every Website on New Year’s Day
Thanks, California!
Dec 30 2019

Starting New Year’s Day, you may notice a small but momentous change to the websites you visit: a button or link, probably at the bottom of the page, reading “Do Not Sell My Personal Information.”

The change is one of many going into effect Jan. 1, 2020, thanks to a sweeping new data privacy law known as the California Consumer Privacy Act. The California law essentially empowers consumers to access the personal data that companies have collected on them, to demand that it be deleted, and to prevent it from being sold to third parties. Since it’s a lot more work to create a separate infrastructure just for California residents to opt out of the data collection industry, these requirements will transform the internet for everyone.

Ahead of the January deadline, tech companies are scrambling to update their privacy policies and figure out how to comply with the complex requirements. The CCPA will only apply to businesses that earn more than $25 million in gross revenue, that collect data on more than 50,000 people, or for which selling consumer data accounts for more than 50 percent of revenue. The companies that meet these qualifications are expected to collectively spend a total of $55 billion upfront to meet the new standards, in addition to $16 billion over the next decade. Major tech firms have already added a number of user features over the past few months in preparation. In early December, Twitter rolled out a privacy center where users can learn more about the company’s approach to the CCPA and navigate to a dashboard for customizing the types of info that the platform is allowed to use for ad targeting. Google has also created a protocol that blocks websites from transmitting data to the company, which users can take advantage of by downloading an opt-out add-on. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that it does not need to change anything because it does not technically “sell” personal information. Companies must at least set up a webpage and a toll-free phone number for fielding data requests.

Some companies are reportedly hiring outside firms to design special buttonsthat users can click to exercise their CCPA rights. The links and buttons will direct users to interactive forms where they can specify what they want done with their data. Each company will have its own way of setting up these forms, but there are some basic pieces of information that most will want to fulfill the request. “You might want to capture who is the consumer, what exactly is the information, and depending on how much information you store about consumers, you might want to know what time frame they’re talking about,” says Joseph Lazzarotti, a privacy and data lawyer who is assisting companies with CCPA compliance.

Depending on which right a consumer wants to exercise—access, deletion, or opting out—there may be different kinds of information that a company will want to gather through the web form in order to verify the identity of whoever is making the request. “With regard to the right to access your data, that has the highest threshold for risk analysis and what mechanisms you use to authenticate the person,” says Tara Cho, a privacy and cybersecurity lawyer who is also helping companies navigate the new law. “You could end up creating a data breach by sharing the information with a fraudulent actor.”

The law is vague on how much power and transparency companies must offer to consumers in this process. Some companies may thoroughly spell out in their privacy policies exactly what kinds of information they collect and use; data covered by the CCPA includes IP addresses, contact info, internet browsing history, biometrics (like facial recognition and fingerprint data), race, gender, purchasing behavior, and locations. In some cases, consumers may be able to choose what specific data they want the company to use or delete, though this isn’t strictly mandatory under the CCPA. Other companies will be much vaguer about data collection methods in their privacy policies to meet the bare minimum of transparency requirements set out by the law. “We’ve seen a real spectrum in the level of granularity in the disclosures. There’s a lot of confusion over how exactly you’re supposed to do it,” says Adam Connolly, a privacy and cybersecurity lawyer at Cooley LLP, another firm working with clients on CCPA issues. Some of this ambiguity may be clarified in the final draft regulations, which the California attorney general’s office is expected to release later in 2020.


The Legacy of Destructive Austerity

The Legacy of Destructive Austerity
The deficit obsession of 2010-2015 did permanent damage.
By Paul Krugman
Dec 30 2019

A decade ago, the world was living in the aftermath of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Financial markets had stabilized, but the real economy was still in terrible shape, with around 40 million European and North American workers unemployed.

Fortunately, economists had learned a lot from the experience of the Great Depression. In particular, they knew that fiscal austerity — slashing government spending in an attempt to balance the budget — is a really bad idea in a depressed economy.

Unfortunately, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic spent the first half of the 2010s doing exactly what both theory and history told them not to do. And this wrong turn on policy cast a long shadow, economically and politically. In particular, the deficit obsession of 2010-2015 helped set the stage for the current crisis of democracy.

Why is austerity in a depressed economy a bad idea? Because an economy is not like a household, whose income and spending are separate things. In the economy as a whole, my spending is your income and your spending is my income.

What happens if everyone tries to cut spending at the same time, as was the case in the aftermath of the financial crisis? Everyone’s income falls. So to avoid a depression you need to have someone — namely, the government — maintain or, better yet, increase spending while everyone else is cutting. And in 2009 most governments engaged in at least a bit of fiscal stimulus.

In 2010, however, policy discourse was taken over by people insisting, on one side, that we needed to cut deficits immediately or we would all turn into Greece and, on the other side, that spending cuts wouldn’t hurt the economy because they would increase confidence.

The intellectual basis for these claims was always flimsy; the handful of academic papers purporting to make the case for austerity quickly collapsed under scrutiny. And events soon confirmed Macroeconomics 101: America didn’t turn into Greece, and countries that imposed harsh austerity suffered severe economic downturns.

So why did policy and opinion makers go all in for austerity when they should have been fighting unemployment?

One answer, which shouldn’t be discounted, is that inveighing against the evils of deficits makes you sound responsible, at least to people who haven’t studied the issue or kept up with the state of economic research. That’s why I used to mock centrists and media figures who preached the need for austerity as Very Serious People. Indeed, to this day, billionaires with political ambitions imagine that dire warnings about debt prove their seriousness.

Beyond that, the push for austerity was always driven in large part by ulterior motives. Specifically, debt fears were used as an excuse to cut spending on social programs, and also as an excuse for hobbling the ambitions of center-left governments.

Here in the United States, Republicans went through the entire Obama era claiming to be deeply concerned about budget deficits, forcing the country into years of spending cuts that slowed economic recovery. The moment Donald Trump moved into the White House, all those supposed concerns vanished, vindicating those of us who argued from the beginning that Republicans who posed as deficit hawks were phonies.

This politically weaponized Keynesianism is, by the way, probably the main reason U.S. economic growth has been good (not great) over the past two years, even though the 2017 tax cut completely failed to deliver the promised surge in private investment: federal spending has been growing at a rate not seen since the early years of the past decade.

But why does this history matter? After all, at this point unemployment rates in both the United States and Europe are near or below pre-crisis levels. Maybe there was a lot of unnecessary pain along the way, but aren’t we O.K. now?

No, we aren’t. The austerity years left many lasting scars, especially on politics.

There are multiple explanations for the populist rage that has put democracy at risk across the Western world, but the side effects of austerity rank high on the list.


Three Theories for Why You Have No Time

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

Three Theories for Why You Have No Time
Better technology means higher expectations, and higher expectations create more work.
By Derek Thompson
Dec 23 2019

One of the truisms of modern life is that nobody has any time. Everybody is busy, burned out, swamped, overwhelmed. So let’s try a simple thought experiment. Imagine that you came into possession of a magical new set of technologies that could automate or expedite every single part of your job.

What would you do with the extra time? Maybe you’d pick up a hobby, or have more children, or learn to luxuriate in the additional leisure. But what if I told you that you wouldn’t do any of those things: You would just work the exact same amount of time as before.

I can’t prove this, because I don’t know you. What I do know is that something remarkably similar to my hypothetical happened in the U.S. economy in the 20th century—not in factories, or in modern offices. But inside American homes.

The household economy of cooking, cleaning, mending, washing, and grocery shopping has arguably changed more in the past 100 years than the American factory or the modern office. And its evolution tells an illuminating story about why, no matter what work we do, we never seem to have enough time. In the 20th century, labor-saving household technology improved dramatically, but no labor appears to have been saved.

Technologically, the typical American home of 1900 wasn’t so different from the typical home of 1500. Bereft of modern equipment, it had no electricity. Although some rich families had indoor plumbing, most did not. Family members were responsible for ferrying each drop of water in and out of the house.

The following decades brought a bevy of labor-saving appliances. Air conditioning and modern toilets, for starters. But also refrigerators and freezers, electric irons, vacuum cleaners, and dishwashers.

These machines worked miracles. Electric stoves made food prep faster. Automatic washers and dryers cut the time needed to clean a load of clothes. Refrigerators meant that housewives and the help didn’t have to worry about buying fresh food every other day.

Each of these innovations could have saved hours of labor. But none of them did. At first, these new machines compensated for the decline in home servants. (They helped cause that decline, as well.) Then housework expanded to fill the available hours. In 1920, full-time housewives spent 51 hours a week on housework, according to Juliet Schor, an economist and the author of The Overworked American. In the 1950s, they worked 52 hours a week. In the 1960s, they worked 53 hours. Half a century of labor-saving technology does not appear to have saved the typical housewife even one minute of labor.

This might seem impossible. But there are three simple reasons for this—and each has clear implications for why a combination of individual psychology and structural forces makes it so hard for Americans to find more time, even in an economy that is becoming ever more rich and technologically sophisticated.

Better technology means higher expectations—and higher expectations create more work.

For most of history, humans blithely languished in their own filth. Most families’ clothes were washed on a semi-annual basis, and body odor was inescapable. The fleet of housework technologies that sprang into the world between the late-19th and mid-20th century created new norms of cleanliness—for our floors, our clothes, ourselves.

New norms meant more work. Automatic washers and dryers raised our expectations for clean clothes and encouraged people to go out and buy new shirts and pants; housewives therefore had more loads of laundry to wash, dry, and fold. As one 1920s housewife wrote, of her new dusting and mopping and furniture-polish technology, “because we housewives of today have the tools to reach it, we dig every day after dust that grandmother left to a spring cataclysm.”

New home tech also created new kinds of work that absorbed the extra time. For example, refrigerators made it easier to keep food fresh and electric ovens made it faster to cook. But housewives used this convenience to spend more time driving to the supermarket to buy fresh produce to stock the fridge. Between the 1920s and the 1960s, Schor writes, time spent prepping food fell by about 10 hours a week. But time spent shopping for food increased, in part thanks to another 20th-century invention: the supermarket.

In short, technology made it much easier to clean a house to 1890s standards. But by mid-century, Americans didn’t want that old house. They wanted a modern home—with delicious meals and dustless windowsills and glistening floors—and this delicious and dustless glisten required a 40-to-50-hour workweek, even with the assistance of modern tools.

In the 1950s, a British civil servant coined the term Parkinson’s Law to explain the phenomenon that “work expands to fill the available time.” The rule first described the seemingly infinite busywork of government bureaucracies. But it might also apply to housework. Expectations rose, and work expanded to fill the available time.

This story offers one explanation for why leisure hasn’t much increased for many rich workers in the 21st century. We’d collectively prefer more money and more stuff rather than more downtime. We are victims of the curse of want.


Re: Where Even the Children Are Being Tracked

[Note:  This comment comes from friend Doc Searls.  DLH]

From: Doc Searls <doc@searls.com>
Subject: Re: [IP] Where Even the Children Are Being Tracked
Date: December 27, 2019 at 1:43:30 PM EST
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

That’s an excellent piece in a terrific series (https://www.nytimes.com/series/new-york-times-privacy-project) that has been running in the New York Times since April of this year. And, like nearly all pieces of this type, it also fails to mention that the Times itself is also in the tracking business. According to Privacy Badger these “potential” (though in many cases actual) trackers were aimed at my browser while I read that piece on the Times’ site:


Using Privacy Badger’s controls, I permitted some of those, while blocking the rest. Among those I blocked was Google Analytics, which not only tracks people, but we found (at Linux Journal) can yield highly misleading results, especially when a large percentage of readers (such as I) block tracking outright (by browser feature, ad blocker, or tools such as Privacy Badger)—and the bot, fraud and malware traffic is massive and largely un-measurable. 

Involvement in surveillance capitalism is a third rail none of the major pubs are yet willing to grab and shake—and that includes The New York Times. I’ve talked with reporters at the Times and other major pubs about the irony of those pubs’ own participation in the system. All of them thank me for pressuring them, and beg patience while they cover the topic of online tracking done elsewhere (especially by Google and Facebook, which, while important, misdirecting red herrings in respect to the pubs’ own involvement in the pracctice).

Credit where due: one third-rail grab by the Times was this one by Farhad Manjoo: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/23/opinion/data-internet-privacy-tracking.html. It ran last August, and—far as I can see—changed nothing. Same goes for all the other pubs I’ve been following. They tell me they share my concern, and that they will try to change. But they don’t.

A few minutes ago I finally decided to subscribe to the Washington Post, just to see if tracking went down after I signed up. Instead it increased. I’ll be writing about that soon. Meanwhile this earlier piece provides some background: https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2019/06/28/dear/ .

Another irony here is that these pubs don’t need to track us. I’ve explained why that’s the case, often and at length, in posts, essays, articles and talks listed here: http://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/the-adblock-war/ .

I invite others to raise their voices, or—better yet—join the work going on in these places:





I’m work with all of them, and look forward to seeing some of you there.


Where Even the Children Are Being Tracked
We followed every move of people in one city. Then we went to tell them.
By Charlie Warzel and Stuart A. Thompson
Dec 21 2019