Back to the Future ➲ Rethinking RSS for Privacy + Control

5/4/2022

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Back to the Future ➲ Rethinking RSS for Privacy + Control

This article is aimed at helping you discover (or in some cases rediscover) the use of RSS Feeds as an effective way to protect your privacy whilst gaining freedom from algorithms that deliver content designed to be biased towards sponsored (that is, advertised) content. You can take back control of what you read!

James D. Ford GAICD

Founder, M.D. & General Practice Lawyer

Contents

The Problem ➲ The "Attention" Economy

"Back to the Future" to find the Solution

Which RSS Feed Reader should you use?

The Federal Court of Australia RSS Feeds

Interesting Legal Blog RSS Feeds

Sample Guardian RSS Feeds

Call to Action ➲ Try RSS and let us know what you think ...

Summary of Modern Consumer Privacy Protection Legislation

The Problem ➲ The "Attention" Economy

Privacy Concerns, Algorithms + Advertising …

Does this sound familiar.

The following description of the way the "attention" economy works is extracted from the article "At best, we're on Earth for around 4,000 weeks - so why do we lose so much time to online distraction" by Oliver Burkeman in his column for the Guardian.

"Many of us are familiar with the basic contours of this situation.
We know that the “free” social media platforms we use aren’t really free, because, as the saying goes, you’re not the customer but the product being sold.
In other words, the technology companies’ profits come from seizing our attention, then selling it to advertisers.
You might also be aware that this is delivered by means of “persuasive design” – an umbrella term for an armoury of psychological techniques borrowed directly from the designers of casino slot machines, for the express purpose of encouraging compulsive behaviour.
One example among hundreds is the ubiquitous drag-down-to-refresh gesture, which keeps people scrolling by exploiting a phenomenon known as “variable rewards”: when you can’t predict whether or not refreshing the screen will bring new posts to read, the uncertainty makes you more likely to keep trying, again and again and again, just as you would on a slot machine."

The implications of having your "attention" seized away from you are far reaching.

In short, you may suspect that you have missed out on something important but you don't know what!

This quote (made after their attention was seized to watch a video on Facebook) may place some perspective on the situation:

"I've been watching you guys put rubber bands around a watermelon for 40 minutes.
What am I doing with my life?"

Social Media Algorithms

In the background of your social media feed there is an algorithm that decides what you see next.

We have no idea how the algorithm works.

What we do know is that when a post is sponsored by advertising $$$ it gains a boost in readership.

In such a scenario we are the ones providing the "paid for" readership.

In a nutshell, the algorithm is designed to seize our attention for as long as possible to deliver "sponsored" posts to us.

Diligence Required

Even if proactive cybersecurity measures are taken to protect our personal information from hackers, phishers, etc. the default position* in Australia is that:

✅ If we don't read the Privacy Policy (which is an extremely common occurrence); +/or

✅ Seek legal advice when in doubt (in contrast, a very rare occurence)…

⚖️ The majority of Australian businesses/NFP's (that is, those businesses/NFP's not covered by the Privacy Act 1988 (Comm.)) that we directly provide our personal information to may automatically obtain our "implied consent" to legally track + sell or trade our personal information to data brokers and then to advertisers.

In these dealings our personal data is usually accompanied by a profile analysis which assists advertisers to assign us to a particular segment of their target market.

* Unless you are a Californian or EU consumer ➲ see the summary of Modern Consumer Privacy Protection Legislation at the bottom of this article.

Note: This untenable situation requires the privacy legislation in Australia as well as many other countries (+/or the country in which the business/NFP you are dealing with is located) to be updated to provide more modern + robust consumer privacy protection.

Missing out on non-boosted posts

As an algorithm decides what you see next in your feed over time you may discover that you haved missed posts from people/businesses you follow which are not sponsored as they have not paid for your attention.

As a business owner I have noticed over time that our non-boosted LinkedIn posts don't have the organic reach they once had.

LinkedIn now prominently displays an offer to pay to "Boost" the readership of each post.

This is the "attention" economy in action.

My News App

My experiences with my News App deserve a special mention.

When I used my News App I found that apart from a few recent items much of what is displayed was yesterday's news.

I used to see something interesting only to discover that the content was reserved for "subscribers only".

I started paying a monthly subscription to gain access to all of the content.

However, I quickly discovered that you don't get access to everything.

In some cases I was still being requested to subscribe directly to the particular news source before I could read their content.

The reading experience was horrible.

The same annoying adds popped up every time.

When I started to read an article there was often a video at the top.

I started to watch the video and quickly discovered the video content had nothing to do with the article I clicked to read.

When I scrolled down to read the article I had to endure more annoying advertising which interrupted and confused my reading experience.

Essentially, I had no control over the content I was served via the News App.

There had to be a better way.

"Back to the Future" to find the Solution

The good news is that there is a solution.

The interesting part is that the solution comes from the past (circa March 1999).

You may not know about or have used RSS Feeds in their heyday.

In September 2004, Stephen Horlander created the now ubiquitous RSS icon for use in the Mozilla Firefox browser.

RSS icon

The use of RSS Feeds died away as the social media revolution has taken over the world.

Many people (our web developer included) have never heard of an RSS Feed.

What is an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) Feed?

RSS Feeds are free, protect your privacy, allow you to control what you read, and unless you opt-in to a feed which contains adds you can generally avoid them!

It almost sounds to good to be true.

The following overview has been extracted from Nicky's blog article "4-minute intro to RSS" dated 1 July 2021 which inspired the name of this blog article:

"Imagine an open version of Twitter or Facebook News Feed, with no psy-op ads, owned by no oligopoly, manipulated by no algorithm, and all under your full control.
Imagine a version of the newsletter where you don't have to worry about them selling your email to scammers, labyrinth-like unsubscribe pages, or stuffing your inbox with ever more crap.
Now imagine this existed and was extremely popular 15 years ago. Then we got suckered by the shiny walled gardens.
Well, it's time to make like a tree and go back to the future, baby!"

You can subscribe to Nicky's RSS blog feed by adding the link found here to your RSS Feed Reader.

Which RSS Feed Reader should you use?

When you google "RSS Feed Reader" and you should find a multitude of both free and paid options.

News Explorer

I currently use News Explorer as my RSS Feed Reader as it is free via Setapp + automatically synch's across all my devices.

Here is a screenshot by way of example:

Sample Screenshot: News Explorer RSS Content Reader

Extracted from the Federal Court of Australia website

About RSS feeds & readers

"Use an RSS feed reader if you'd like to be alerted to new content that has been added to a webpage.
Not all web pages are RSS enabled; usually an RSS icon is used to indicate a feed is available.
There are various types of feed readers."

Web browsers

"Many web browsers including Internet Explorer and Firefox allow you to subscribe to RSS and other web feeds.

Smartphone & tablet apps

There are many RSS reader apps available.
Some examples are Feedly, digg, FeedlerRSS, MobileRSS and G-Whizz.
Please note the applications listed here are suggestions only; the Federal Court does not endorse any particular application."

The Federal Court of Australia RSS feeds

News & Announcements ➲ RSS feed

Paste this link into your feed reader:

http://www.fedcourt.gov.au/rss/news-and-events-rss

Federal Court Judgments ➲ RSS feed

Paste this link into your feed reader:

http://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/remote_content_feeders/judgments_rss

Interesting Legal Blog RSS Feeds

Below is a sample screenshot:

Sample Guardian RSS Feeds

Some news sources such as the Guardian publish a separate RSS Feed by news topic.

Below is a sample screenshot:

Call to Action ➲ Try RSS and let us know what you think ...

We have comments enabled on our blog and welcome your feedback.

Summary of Modern Privacy Protection Legislation

The CCPA allows "Opt-Out" for California Consumers

A legal right exists for California consumers to "Opt-Out" from the sale of any of their personal information obtained when dealing with a business based in California under the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA).

Look for the CCPA Opt-Out Icon.

GDPR requires express "Opt-In" consent^ for EU Consumers

Under the Global Data Protection Regulation or GDPR (which appplies to EU consumers) the tracking and sale of personal information is not directly mentioned.

However under the general principles laid down by the GDPR the default position will be that all businesses/NFP's dealing with EU consumers (including Australian businesses/NFP's) require express "Opt-In" consent from the EU consumer before then can legally track and trade their personal data.

For Australian Business/NFP's to learn more please about the GDPR (especially the potential for large penalties for non-compliance) please read our brochure:

Privacy Policy ➲ GDPR Update for all Australian Businesses

References:

"At best, we're on Earth for around 4,000 weeks - so why do we lose so much time to online distraction" by Oliver Burkeman in his column for the Guardian.

Wikipedia

Federal Court of Australia Subscriptions Page

Nicki's Blog

Hashtags:

#RSS #future #FeedReader

Social Sharing Image: Courtesy of Delorean Rental on Unsplash

Credits: This blog article was written by James D. Ford GAICD | Principal Solicitor, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.

Important Notice:

This blog article is intended for general interest + information only.

It is not legal advice, nor should it be relied upon or used as such.

We recommend you always consult a lawyer for legal advice specifically tailored to your needs & circumstances.