Listen: Tim Wu on The Attention Merchants


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What Mr Wu completely failed to notice is that the techniques used by the “attention merchants” date back to world war II. See the PBS documentary “Century of Self”


♬ “I don’t believe what I read in the papers.
They’re just out to capture my dime.” ♫


Advertising is pretty incredible: merchants pay someone else (the advertiser) for work you are doing, reviewing the product. This is a pretty lucrative business worldwide, and now that the Internet has made it easy to collect the space of our attention robotically, we have enormously profitable entities whose entire livelihood is based on this theft.

It is pretty clear that you are doing work, because content providers consider your attention a form of remuneration. That is, they will refuse to show you their stuff if you are running an ad blocker: they expect to be given something in trade.

However, users are the lowest form of citizen in this universe, and the idea that they would have some rights of property with respect to their production (attention) is completely absent, while Google, Facebook, et al make off with trillions.

Users should be negotiating for a bigger piece of the pie. If Google is making money selling my attention, I should be able to demand commensurate services in return. For every $0.01 of attention I give them I expect at least $0.005 worth of something back. Am I getting it? It seems doubtful, given how much net profit they’re walking away with.


Wu’s history begins significantly before WWII. He starts with medicine shows.


I remember people talking about this a decade ago, maybe more. Eyeballs as commodity.


Excellent conversation. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Wu is a really smart guy with a balanced but extremely skeptical perspective towards the “attention merchants” he writes about.


Devil’s advocate: You are being compensated with ‘free’ services, such as email, social networking, web indexing, etc…


A great pod, thanks for that. Wu is great, and I think I’ll keep listening to the series.

Ironic that it should be this article in which I first notice this intrusive nonsense fekkan with context menus and being entirely unwanted.


My contention is the value of these things is very low compared to the value of our attention, thus the super-profits being made.


Anyone know of an extension to block it?


Yes. Lookie here.


Yeah, but Doctorow is wrong or misleading about almost everything he posts and he took that Leigh Alexander book very seriously, so this should probably be taken as more of a book anti-recommendation or a warning or an indication that this book is mind-poisoning nonsense.


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