Security through obscurity is out, security through tomfoolery is in.
That’s the basic philosophy sold by Track THIS, “a new kind of incognito” browsing project, which opens up 100 tabs crafted to fit a specific character—a hypebeast, a filthy rich person, a doomsday prepper, or an influencer. The idea is that your browsing history will be depersonalized and poisoned, so advertisers won’t know how to target ads to you. It was developed as a collaboration between mschf (pronounced "mischief") internet studios and Mozilla's Firefox as a way of promoting Firefox Quantum, the newest Firefox browser.
“These trackers and these websites really commoditize you, and they don’t really make you feel like a person,” Daniel Greenberg, director of strategy and distribution for mschf, said in a phone call. “So we wanted to do something visceral that makes the user feel like they’re in control again.”
There are already ad blockers, which remove banner and pop-up ads from web pages, and pixel blockers, which block internet-history tracking pixels used by websites to sell you ads. I use an adblocker on Chrome, so it was pretty much impossible for me to tell whether Track THIS was working or not. The press release does note that if you’re an avid user of ad blockers, then this tool is “not for you.” But Greenberg said Track THIS worked for him.
“In my personal experience, I opened up the influencer one, and within the next seven days, I was getting ads for stuff that had nothing to do with me whatsoever,” Greenberg said. “I was getting ads for women’s clothing, I was getting ads for makeup, I was getting ads for skincare—all these things I’ve never looked at.”
Just a warning—if you use Track THIS it may take several minutes for all 100 tabs to load. (I used Chrome as my browser.) But when as it gradually loads, it’s like taking a first-person journey through someone else’s consciousness.
When I was a Hypebeast, I entered a whirlpool of Yeezys, Prada, Nike, and Canada Goose. (VICE’s homepage is one of the sites opened with the hypebeast option.) Then when I was filthy rich, I browsed CNN Business and Yahoo Finance, went on Coinbase, and looked at the sites for Ezoo and Alexander McQueen. When I was a doomsday prepper, I shopped for prepper kits, hazmat suits, emergency kits, and ultra-powerful flashlights (four Motherboard links are opened up, too.) And when I was an influencer, I looked at Glossier, Trivago, Lululemon, Astrology Hub, and Sugarbear Hair—yes, the same product whose promotion ignited the wild feud between Tati Westbrook and James Charles.
“I was always fascinated with the idea of taking on other personas through ads,” Greenberg said. “So forgetting about the privacy aspect for a moment, I always thought it was an interesting idea to pretend you’re someone else on the internet.”
Humans are empathetic creatures, and it’s naturally fun to feel like you’re enter someone’s headspace. But there’s also something morbid about entering other people’s heads as a mode of self-defense, as an effort to make yourself ever-so-slightly less commoditizable to the companies that always, silently watch you browse.