Behold! I have an opinion. An EXCLUSIVE opinion.

Privacy
Man holding up a sign at Speaker's Corner that says "It's now or never, come listen to me, I'm very clever, I know everything"

Part of the joy of working in digital policy in the UK is that many of your days start like this:

I, a Tory politician, have a brilliant plan / erudite commentary / a policy announcement on tech policy strategy. Click here to read it in this EXCLUSIVE Elite Broadsheet Newspaper piece.

And then you can’t, because the piece is both ad-walled and subscriber-only.

Mind you, you can bypass both layers (so I’ve heard, of course) quicker than a child can bypass an age verification mechanism, and then you’re able to access that information and get on with your day.

We all know full well that this is how the game of politics works. These brilliant plans, erudite commentaries, and policy announcements aren’t made for you plebs. They’re made for the machine to feed the beast inside it. And hey, they do their job.

We also know full well that you can’t possibly expect politicians holding positions of power and influence over digital policy to understand digital, much less use their own resources – a Parliamentary constituency blog, a five-minute-install open source CMS, or the staggeringly good resources which the Government Digital Service shares freely – to publish their thoughts on their own space, under their own office, and without requiring mandatory payment to a private company.

But there’s something else to consider the next time you see a policy announcement, or a power play, made behind a newspaper paywall rather than on a free resource.

That “something else” was detailed by Pat Walshe in a thread he assembled a few months ago. It was in response to the dreadfully ironic announcement of a monumental shift in the UK’s privacy regulations being announced behind a Telegraph paywall first, and not on gov.uk. Pat detailed the adtech tracking that went into monetising that government announcement:

(That’s a long thread, you’ll need to go to it.)

And if you don’t have time, the tl;dr was that the Telegraph used its exclusive publication advantage to monetise the government policy announcement, for itself, using 1,044 adtech surveillance trackers on that one single article.

That was one thousand and forty four private surveillance mechanisms granted access to your device, your browsing history, your location, the apps on your phone, the content on them, your contact list, information about your purchases, information about your offline life, and all of that data off any other devices in your house sharing the same IP address, even if they belong to other members of your family, in order to funnel ad revenue to the Telegraph, as a condition for your being able to read a government policy announcement.

There’s many things you could call that, but here’s what I call it:

a bung.

It’s politicians acknowledging who they really work for by allowing surveillance capitalists to monetise government policy in their private financial interests.

The policy announcement itself, whatever it said or whatever its intended impact, is irrelevant here. It’s a game being played.

And the next time you see a politician playing it, you should keep that in mind.

And ignore whatever it was that was so exclusively important for them to say.

Because it doesn’t matter.

It never did.

The Author

I advocate for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. I'm currently searching for my next tech policy role, and you should probably sort that.