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Tail of the access log

I’ve been digitising a load of my old cassettes recently so that I can put them away and never have to think about whether they still work or not. Some of them contain things I taped off the radio in the ’80s and ’90s, some of which are interesting.

One of the tapes contains a two part BBC Radio 1 documentary, Pop Goes the Web from November 1997 which, now, is barely mentioned online except, of course, a mention in Need To Know:

... contrary to
Time Out's ill-informed "preview", radio docu POP GOES THE
WEB (9.30pm, Sun, Radio 1) devotes about half its airtime
to kewl MPEG sites...

And, yes, a lot of the first half hour is about the potential dangers to the music industry of pirated pre-release music that is now not only available in tiny tinny RealAudio clips but also in “CD quality” full-length “em peg three” files, which are about the size of “three floppy disks”. It’s all quite delightful in a pre-Napster, pre-Spotify kind of way.

But, even better, was a little bit about how the benefits aren’t all one way because the industry can find out things about the fans. Presenter Rachel Reynard introduces the section with:

Sure, you can see what your favourite band is up to, but they can also see what you’re doing. When you visit the Virgin site big brother Wayne Shevlin is watching you… from a back room at Virgin HQ.

Oooh, scary! Listening from 2019, with all our surveillance, and dozens of tracking scripts on every page, and Facebook knowing more about you than anyone, and Amazon knowing what your pet had for breakast, what creepy information was Wayne gleaning from visitors to the Virgin website?

So this is Channel Three, this is the Spice Girls, and Kavana and 911. What I’m going to do here is run this thing called tail, of the access log… And what you’re watching here are people accessing the site in real time. That’s people coming into the site, looking at the site. And what you see there is every single line there is a hit. … We’ve got somebody called [?], I think that’s Finland, so we’ve got somebody from Finland looking at here, it has the date and time of when they came in, and then what they wanted to look at, so what they’re getting here is one of the image files from the Spice Girls photo shoot area.

Bless. Imagine a time when the only thing commercial websites could possibly know was that a specific file had been requested from a particular domain or IP address.

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