Vortex, a data management game, may end online ad targeting as we know it.


One of the central dilemmas of the Internet is the pervasive pressure to represent yourself as authentically as possible. We want intimate exchange from the medium, but it can only host one-sided proclamations that require pre-existing intimacy to be fully sensical.

The data produced through these exchanges becomes a new kind of currency from which companies build shadow profiles about the most monetizable aspects of your life, discarding everything that can't be correlated to a shopping choice. You are never going to get what you came for in online interactions, and the most meaningful ones only point back toward offline relationships and the unquantifiable instinct for what's been left out of the data trail. 


Vortex seeks to break the feedback loop that subconsciously pushes a person deeper into an identity of consumption choices.


Rachel Law, a graduate student at New York's New School, has created a new program called Vortex, which allows people to interrupt their own data trails and the personas that result from them. The program turns the process of tracking browser history into a Pac-Man-style 3D game, in which users navigate an environment eating up sea creatures that correspond to individual cookies stored on a computer. The cookies a person collects during the game create a randomized online identity that interrupts the algorithms online advertisers use to target people based solely on cookie-scanning.

The ideal goal for Vortex is the creation of a catalog of cookie-built identities and a body of counter-data about what kinds of advertising behaviors those identities trigger.

"That's why it needs critical mass," Law told AdAge's Kate Kaye, "because only when enough people are playing can we start seeing patterns in what kind of cookies or attribute-identifiers companies look for and discriminate with."

Vortex would then be able to build a wiki-style database of cookie-profiles that users could selectively activate for their own benefit. If, for instance, you want to go shoe shopping but don't want all of your searches to steer you toward hightops and oxfords because you often read about sports and finance you could load a new cookie-self and get linked to water socks or espadrilles, and who knows, maybe you'd surprise yourself.

Vortex seeks to break the feedback loop that subconsciously pushes a person deeper into an identity of consumption choices, a way to make it more and more difficult to use the Internet as an agent for becoming something other than what you have been.

Because of our faith in productivity and efficiency, we have made the Internet's existential purpose an accelerant to getting things done. Everything from sexual arousal to job hunting are driven by efficiency and volume when done through the Internet. And since we don't need to question the mechanisms through which arousal or work are acquired, we can fixate on making the distribution channel as open and instantaneous as possible.

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