Consumer Cost of the Bullshit Web


This essay is a draft: it is considered incomplete and there are plans to add or change information contained in it.

In this essay, I explore the financial cost to consumers of the "bullshit web," such as tracking code used to enable targeted advertising.

This essay was written by me, emsenn, and is released for the benefit of the public under the terms included in the "License" supplement. It was made possible with financial contributions from humans like you. Please direct comments to my public inbox or, if necessary, my personal email.

Consumer Cost of the Bullshit Web

My numbers are all about the United States - use the resources I link to find the own for your own country.

The other day I happened to read Nick Heer's criticism of the "bullshit web", which is his term for what most websites are: bloated slow things that prioritize bringing you a billion snippets of code for tracking you or sometimes doing literally nothing. And Heer highlights that it isn't any one of these snippets that is at fault:

There is a cumulative effect of bullshit; its depth and breadth is especially profound. In isolation, the few seconds that it takes to load some extra piece of surveillance JavaScript isn’t much. Neither is the time it takes for a user to hide an email subscription box, or pause an autoplaying video. But these actions compound on a single webpage, and then again across multiple websites, and those seemingly-small time increments become a swirling miasma of frustration and pain.

Earlier today, I happened to Tim Kadlek's website that measures the cost of a webpage for users on a mobile data plan. Interestingly, they assume user has the best available plan:

Prices were collected from the operator with the largest marketshare in the country, using the least expensive plan with a (minimum) data allowance of 500 MB over (a minimum of) 30 days. Prices include taxes. Because these numbers are based on the least expensive plan, they are best case scenarios.

Their emphasis. The website also goes on to cite the HTTP Archive and say that the average website is 1513kb, leading to a cost of 9 cents per page.

(Don't worry, this page is around 3.5kb, and most pages on my website are between 6-13, so cost around 0.0004 cents.)

[This page is likely some other size than 3.5kb. - editor]

Based on an average income of $59,039 and 250 8-hour working days a year, that breaks down to ~26 page views for 1% of daily income (about $2.36, which is also about 5 minutes of your time).

Going back to Heer's piece about bloat on the Internet, I was curious: how many pages do I need to download to spend that 1% just on tracking codes. This part took me a while - I couldn't find any numbers about how much of an average page was tracking code, so I went back through my own history on my phone's browser and did my best to measure what each page was made of. It worked out to 38% of a page being tracking code. (For my privacy, I'm not going to release my data, so take this number with a grain of salt.)

Which in turn means around 68 page views to spend 1% of daily income just on downloading things that track you.

I've downloaded 84 pages on my phone today.


Further Reading


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Copyright 2019 emsenn

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Author: emsenn

Created: 2019-05-02 Thu 19:22