tracking.exposed manifesto

version 1.0.0, 16 July 2018

https://tracking.exposed hosts different interrelated projects, each one under a dedicated and when possible self-explanatory sub-domain.

The manifesto

Our main objective is to put a spotlight on users' tracking, profiling, on the data market and on the influence of algorithms. As long as these phenomena are shielded from view or understood only by experts, they cannot be tackled with the political determination that problems of such magnitude deserve. That is why we strive to explain the issue, test and promote new solutions, developed to benefit the community.

Towards algorithmic diversity

Algorithms are the technological solution to the information overload: they are as powerful as necessary to manage the overflow of data that reaches us. Unfortunately, they can also conceal the existence and use of assessments and judgments that impact the dissemination of ideas and culture. No one should be allowed to abuse such power over connected people. At this stage, consent is nor informed nor optional.

As algorithms define what our priorities are, they should be recognized as an extension of our will. We must be able to consciously build our own algorithms, change them whenever we want, and not have to delegate this decision to a commercial entity, with opaque functioning and objectives.

This is the goal of tracking.exposed, a goal that can only be achieved through education. We recognize that not everyone possesses the knowledge and skills to design their own algorithms, and therefore there is the need to create a support community, where algorithms can be shared, compared, improved and criticized. The algorithm is power; it can be a harmful cage or a helpful filter. Only autonomous and informed individuals can decide what is most appropriate for them at a given time.

Exposing the tracking of users for what it is

Tracking is a de-humanizing system: it transforms people into users and then into numbers, optimizing their behaviors in order to profit from their online activities. The control over what should be profitable and the limits to data exploitation is not in people's hands, but in the hands of those who own and analyze the data. This definition would be enough if we lived in books, but our communication must compete with the cultural imperialism of Silicon Valley. We must therefore create new values, new benchmarks, new toolboxes for everyday life, helping to distinguish a useful technology from an intrusive one, offered solely with the purpose of spying on us. That is the origin of tracking.exposed domain name, which can host specific cases under its umbrella. The aim is to be as distributed as possible and to speak with the language and the values corresponding to a given area, or to the customers of a company. We want to diversify ourselves in order to fight an imperialistic globalization model and to preserve the natural cultural diversity in the connected geography of the web. Illustrating the message through concrete examples is necessary to communicate to a non-technical public. After all, the specialized public employed in the tech sector has already been aware of the dramatic state of web tracking for many years. They have the insight to ponder on the implications, such as the loss of freedom, and on adoptable countermeasures, such as adblocker and cleaner sites, and on the responsibilities of those who develop sites and applications. But this sectoral knowledge has not been enough to address the political problem behind it all. To make these values more comprehensible, we need to make tracking less abstract and to reach out to the whole audience that perceives the problem, not just to the Information Technology niche.

Interoperability and control

Control in this case is understood as disillusioned transparency. In the current state of social and economic imbalance, transparency is an act of openness that allows the possibility, for those who have the skills and tools to put data in perspective, to exploit users' personal information; thus, it is an act of power transfer. Transparency is desirable for those in power, but it is not equally necessary for common citizens. This power transfer should lead to greater balance and no more abuses. At tracking-exposed we value transparency, but we are also aware that, when we ask people to share their data, we should always question what type of data is released and how this can be used. For example, transparency in a social network cannot be uncritically accepted, people's data cannot and should not be public a priori, and even data anonymization is not enough to prevent abuses. Absolute transparency should instead be reserved to data policies, so how data is processed, analyzed and exploited, both for our protection and for the direct benefits that can derive from it.

Social networks are unlimited pools of information. With the right analysis they could help us understanding where our society is headed. Currently this power is exploited only by monopoly platforms, and this is the biggest obstacle to remove. We recognize the value of plurality: platforms should be many, should offer different functions, effects, guarantees and should interoperate with each other. This federation prevents the creation and the persistence of a single central system. Only such decentralized approaches can avoid creating monopolies like Facebook and Google. The logic behind data sharing must be under the control of people, or at least under public scrutiny. We believe that only through a decentralized but federal system of technologies we can counteract the excessive power of digital monopolies; the logic of data control must be public and controllable within a democratic system and not for corporate profit.

Tracking.exposed will not be dedicated to the development of these technologies: for that there is already a large community like the one working on fediverse (the universe of federated social networks), but we must support it with the political experience and critique we can develop. Fediverse does not have to be a mere open source alternative to Facebook and Youtube, but it must modify from within the speculative radicalization, the unbridled prioritization of the economic exploitation of the Internet to the detriment of the positive impact and the opportunities it offers. This is why we are looking for a new social imaginary.

We must integrate ourselves while respecting diversity and supporting the transition from a centralized system to a federated one, bringing in the techno-political reflections that we produce here.

Many organizations already work to achieve this goal of federating peers and breaking the monopoly, some through lobbying and others analyzing openly insane usability dynamics, such as the competition and the atomisation of users, so that they do not replicate freer alternatives. Tracking.exposed presents itself as an ally to help where technology intersects society.

Enhance the base of the pyramid

Peer-to-peer society and free software utopias have inspired us, but they have also shown their limits and have been used as a trampoline by those who created oppressive systems (with MacOSX, based on a BSD system, and Android, based on Linux, as the two most striking examples in which monopolists have capitalized upon the strength of the community). The utopia of a freer and more just society that has animated this community has not changed, but we must develop new tactics and strategies. The adversaries of twenty years ago - proprietary software, the interception of content and the centralization of information sources - have been substituted by the monopolists of the social graph, deceptive UXs, uncritical and radical transparency, lock-in systems, technological and cultural imperialism.

Our domain is techno-politics; we are not an NGO and we do not have a business plan. Should someone find business systems in line with our policies, they will perhaps be welcome. Most likely, we might become the target of surveillance activities that will try to oppress our logic. We will try to prevent this in any way, and we must counter these abuses systemically, when possible, or with a specific approach in the most pernicious cases.

Considering the situation, apparently with no way out, in which institutions react with years of delay, they are influenced by direct and indirect lobbying, and pervasive control systems are legitimized day by day, we can affirm that every step away from the status quo is a success.

The creation of a new solution is often drowned in a technocratic labyrinth in which innovation must always fall within the logic of profit, and when it works, it is bought and destroyed. Indeed, a technology for the collective interest may exist, but too often data policies remain distant from the development process, delegated to marketing, to lawyers or to mere discussions on storage. We work in this gap.

Services

Tracking.exposed provides tools for those doing activities consistent with our manifesto. At the moment we are working on two macro-categories. Algorithms analysis: policies for the reuse of data collected by social networks, providing services that social networks have no interest in offering to people. Analysis of web trackers: allow local communities to develop their communication and education campaigns for a better digital ecosystem, managing data analysis and release.

The community

This community has a Collective Code Construction Contract (C4). If you have a project that falls within this mandate, you can present it to be included in the tracking.exposed subdomains.

The C4 is halfway between a contract and technical specifications. It describes how you contribute to the project, and the agreement among the parties. The license we use to produce material is always GPL3, the product is collective and it is always clear that the data and the network around it constitute the valuable elements. Since we want to apply policies, the added values of our group are our analysis and our ability to quickly create a technology that validates it.

Our github repository

This document revision history, and contacts