What does it mean when hundreds of thousands of one’s photos appear in articles, essays and posts all over the Web—and one hasn’t been paid for them?

In my case, it means they’ve all proven useful. That’s why I posted the originals in the first place, licensing them to require only attribution.

For an example of how this works, take Lithium, a metal in the periodic table. Lithium is making news these days, because it’s both scarce and required for the batteries of electric and hybrid vehicles. At issue especially is how and where lithium is extracted from the Earth…

Earth is 4.54 billion years old. It was born 9.247 years after the Big Bang, which happened 13.787 billion years ago. Meaning that our planet is a third the age of the Universe.

Earth’s own role as a life-supporting planet began maybe 3 billion years ago. Nobody knows exactly, but scientists do know that in a billion years or less the Sun will be too large and hot to allow the persistence of photosynthesis on Earth, and eventually the Sun will age into a red giant with a diameter the size of Earth’s orbit.

Some additional perspective: the primary rock…

Nearly all the people in this photo are using a mobile phone. These people are not the same as they were before those devices extended their minds and bodies in the digital world no less than they do in this subway car.

“We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,” wrote Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham and a colleague of Marshall McLuhan, whose magnum opus was Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man.

So: who — or what — are we, now that we are extended by, say, our phones?

Explained McLuhan, “All media are extensions of some human faculty — psychic or physical. The wheel is an extension of the foot.The book is an extension of the eye. Clothing, an extension of the skin. Electric curcuitry, an extension of the central nervous system. Media, by…

Privacy regulations are good, but without a clear understanding of them, plus enforcement, they can actually make things worse—especially if they start with the assumption that your privacy exists only as a grace only of other parties, and most of those parties are incentivized to violate it.

Exhibit A for how much worse things can get is the online advertising and publishing industry’s response to the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which went into force in May of last year. Soon as that happened, websites everywhere put up “cookie notices” on the doors to their websites, requiring (or appearing…

Journalism as we knew it is washing away. But the story is bigger than journalism alone, and bigger than a story alone can tell. (Image borrowed from the brilliant Despair.com.)

We who care about journalism are asked to join the Save Journalism Project, and its fight against Big Tech. Their pitch begins,

The following lives in continuous draft form at the ProjectVRM wiki. Improvements are welcome. (Details in the Call to Action at the bottom.)

Doors and locks are privacy tech. So are clothes. We have nothing of the sort yet online. And laws alone won’t produce them. We need the tech first, then the norms that arise from use of that tech. The best laws will follow both—or, if they happen first, encourage development of both.


The purpose of this manifesto is to encourage and guide development of tools that enhance and extend people’s ability to protect and project their privacy in the online world.

We have used such tools in the natural world for as long as we’ve had the privacy technologies called clothing and shelter, and social norms for signaling and respecting personal intentions around privacy. …

Don’t think about what’s wrong on the Web. Think about what pays for it. Better yet, look at it.

Start by installing Privacy Badger in your browser. Then look at what it tells you about every site you visit. With very few exceptions† (e.g. Internet Archive and Wikipedia), all are putting tracking beacons (the wurst cookie flavor) in your browser. These then announce your presence to many third parties, mostly unknown and all unseen, at nearly every subsequent site you visit, so you can be followed and profiled and advertised at. And your profile might be used for purposes other…

By telling the story of The Spinner’s outrageous business, journalists miss the story of their own outrageous business model. Exposing that miss is The Spinner’s hack.

The Spinner* (with the asterisk, which I’ll henceforth drop) is “a service that enables you to subconsciously influence a specific person, by controlling the content on the websites he or she usually visits.” Meaning you can hire The Spinner to manipulate another person. It works like this:

  1. You pay The Spinner $29. For example, to urge a friend to stop smoking. (That’s the most positive and innocent example the company gives.)
  2. The Spinner provides you with an ordinary link you then text to your friend. When that friend clicks on the link, they get a tracking cookie that works as…

The Aspen Institute just published a 180-page report by the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy titled (in all caps) CRISIS IN DEMOCRACY: RENEWING TRUST IN AMERICA. Its Call to Action concludes with the that screen-grab above.

This is good. Real good. Having Aspen and Knight endorse personal sovereignty as a necessity for solving the crises of democracy and trust also means they endorse what we’ve been pushing forward at ProjectVRM for more than a dozen years.

Since the report says (on page 73) we need to “use technology to enhance journalism’s roles in fostering democracy,” and that “news…

Doc Searls

Author of The Intention Economy, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Fellow of CITS at UCSB, alumnus Fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.

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