Evil WeekEvil WeekWelcome to Evil Week, our annual chance to delve into all the slightly sketchy hacks we’d usually refrain from recommending. Want to weasel your way into free drinks, play elaborate mind games, or, er, launder some money? We’ve got all the info you need to successfully be unsavory.
The advertising industry is a cesspool of manipulation and misinformation. And now you can use it to convince your partner to let you get a dog. Or convince them to settle your divorce out of court, because they caught you using hyper-targeted internet ads to convince them to let you get a dog.
The Spinner promises to serve content ads to one person of your choice, all pushing a specific agenda. The site offers ready-made options for what message you want to get across, like “Propose to me!” or “Quit smoking!” or “Stay in college!” or “Let’s have an open relationship!”
For $49, Spinner promises to insert 10 headlines with this agenda into normal advertising during your target’s normal web browsing, totaling 180 impressions. (Users can also request custom packages.) These headlines are placed inside “native advertising,” the “around the web” sites that you see littering news sites and blogs such as this one. (If you don’t see the Taboola links below, turn off your ad blocker for a second.) The headlines link to actual articles on the given topic, along the lines of “Playing Video Games Makes Boyfriends More Loving” or “Why Every Family Should Own a Dog.”
To identify your target for Spinner, first you have to get your target to click a specific link. This can be any normal link, but Spinner will attach a string to the URL that lets them start tracking your target. So Spinner only works on people who trust you enough to click a link from you, and who won’t check all the crap at the end of the URL (and who does?).
This service gets real gross, real fast. And if Spinner can be believed, it’s not just an art project; they’ve sold millions of dollars in targeted campaigns. Early this year Facebook considered suing the company.
While targeting specific users feels really shady, well, that’s what ads are now! Facebook doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, since they’ve made billions of dollars on hyper-targeted ads, based on trackers that follow people around the internet whether or not they even have a Facebook account. The federal government even sued them for illegal discrimination for letting housing ads exclude audiences based on race, religion, and birthplace. They allow hyper-targeted, un-fact-checked political ads, and audiences don’t know how they’re being targeted for any given ad—whether by location, age, religion, political affiliation, race, or more. Without the scary levels of targeting that run the digital ad industry, led by Google and Facebook, Spinner couldn’t exist.
Spinner’s claimed high success rate seems easily explained through the placebo effect: if someone sincerely tries to brainwash their partner through content ads, they’re probably doing other things to change their partner’s behavior too. Sneaking a few articles called “Why you should initiate sex” into someone’s Taboola box aren’t exactly tantamount to sending in the Inception team. Spinner’s best use is as a warning: This is what the ad industry is doing to you, all the time.