Consumer tracking & YouTube

While ruminating on the relationship between content and containers, my mind kept returning to YouTube. In this week’s readings, Whitney Ann Trettien (2013) writes about “artifacts that seem to skirt the peripheries of the average user’s experience in fact occupy a central position within the digital marketplace, exposing the processes of mediation and communication circuits upon which network capitalism depends.” One place where the invisible infrastructure of network capitalism is apparent is the tracked search.

As other YouTubers will attest, the place of advertisements on the site has changed over time. Once one video ends, another will begin almost immediately, creating a continuous play list. In between these videos, advertisements will occasionally play. Normally I do not pay much attention to advertising on the internet, ads are after all commonplace; however, around the time I was planning my wedding, the ads were suddenly all wedding-themed. This shift in content was jarring, and made YouTube’s ability to track my searches obvious.

While I am aware my searches are being tracked on most sites, this sudden shift in ad content, so clearly linked to changes in my recent searching activity, made the surveillance visible. It was a reminder that the continuous flow of content available on YouTube is determined by my search habits and the site’s ability to monitor what I watch. For a moment the infrastructure of logarithms and code designed to make a profit at my expense was obvious.


Trettien, Whitney Anne. “A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: the Case of English Reprints of John Milton’s Areopagitica.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 7, no. 1 (2013).

2 thoughts on “Consumer tracking & YouTube”

  1. I totally can relate to this…

    Also, it made me think of how pervasive video ads are in YouTube nowadays. Five or so years ago YouTube content did not have these ads. This reminds me that YouTube and its videos are not really part of a grassroots community. It is owned by Google. And Google advertises. For profit. Now, I see YouTube content as commercialized even more than I did a decade ago when the advertising was sidelined to my periphery in the form of banner ads and the like.

    1. This shift has been interesting to me since I’ve spent too much of my time watching YouTubers in the past. The shift from grassroots to actual studios has made a lot of people lose interest in YouTubers. Like you both pointed out, it’s obvious and really distracting.

      I recently started playing with a Firefox plugin, NoScript, which allows you to turn of JavaScript and the like on sites. It’s been fascinating to see how much stuff was at work. But what was really terrifying was how many times Google Analytics showed up. I’ve now done my due diligence to block it.

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