Are robots reading your old blog?


Are robots reading your old blog?

There's No Opting Out of the AI Boom

THE EASIEST THING for any of them to steal from you is time. Even when they're stealing something else, they're also stealing your time, as collateral theft. Yesterday, 404 Media reported that Automattic, the company that owns Tumblr and WordPress, is "preparing to sell user data to Midjourney and OpenAI." Here, it seems that "user data" means "work," even more than it usually does. People published things on these platforms for other people to see and read, before there were any such things as major commercial generative artificial-intelligence products. Now those things are being repurposed as raw material for the AI industry.

The user settings—for users who published their work on publishing platforms, with no inkling that it was even possible for that work to be ground to slurry to fuel some future industry of text- and picture-fabricating machines—are being adjusted to "allow users to opt-out of data sharing with third parties," 404 Media wrote. Even by the usual abusive standards of opt-out schemes, this seemed particularly brazen. How were people making blog posts on the platforms, or who'd made blog posts on them in the past, supposed to be the ones taking responsibility for stopping the company from selling off their work behind their backs?

Then, a day after I got mad about the principle of the thing, I realized those bloggers might include me. The original ancestor publication to Indignity, Hmm Daily, was built with WordPress. So is Popula, where I was editor. I think I used WordPress for my personal blog long ago, too, before the domain registry slipped through the cracks and the whole thing got unpublished.

Was Automattic looting my work, and the work of other people I'd paid to write for the sites? I logged into the old dashboard for Hmm Daily. There were no notifications there about any new terms of service. I checked the bottom of the dashboard, where it said "Thank you for creating with WordPress." The "WordPress" part was a hyperlink, and when I floated the cursor over it, the address that came up was

The dot-org part was the key. As the WordPress dot Org site explained:

People are often confused about the differences between WordPress and WordPress is the free, Open Source web publishing software project, owned by no one individual or company. is a hosted blogging service run by a company called Automattic.

It went on:

Sites powered by WordPress may have a “Proudly powered by WordPress” credit, or they may have no credit at all. The absence of any mention of “” is a good indicator that it is a self-hosted WordPress instance)...
Having “” in the domain of the blog or the presence of a “Blog at” promo message or credits image can be used to determine whether a site is hosted at

So Hmm Daily was not under Automattic's jurisdiction. That almost cleared it up, although 404 Media had some lingering questions about the arrangement:

[A] statement published by Automattic after this article was published specifically mentions, which are blogs that Automattic hosts as a service. There is separately an open-source WordPress CMS ( that people and businesses use on self-hosted websites. What remains unclear is whether self-hosted WordPress blogs that use popular Automattic plugins like JetPack to connect those blogs with Automattic's infrastructure are subject to the company's AI-scraping deals. Automattic did not immediately respond to a question about whether sites using JetPack are subject to its data sharing agreements.

Did my old publication use a JetPack plugin? If so, did that really matter? How much research or investigation did I need to do to figure out if somebody was selling my work to an AI company? Why was I wasting my time on this? And now I'm wasting your time on this! All because somebody grabbed something that they have no logical excuse to grab.

The way to avoid this hassle would be for a company like Automattic to ask people for permission before it sells their work to the AI companies, and even to offer them a fair share of the money from the deal. But it's only a hassle for the people who published the blogs. It's not a hassle for Automattic, or not enough of one.

And so Automattic apparently approached the deal with a different set of principles: scrape up everything and then maybe figure out what to exclude. 404 Media quoted an internal document from a Tumbler engineer reporting that "the initial data dump to Mindjourney/OpenAI" had included ("and should not have included") material including "private posts on public blogs," "private answers," "posts that are marked 'explicit' / NSFW / 'mature'," among other things.

(Also on the engineer's list were posts from brand-backed blogs "that may have creative that doesn't belong to us, and we don't have the rights to share.")

Grabbing everything without asking for permission is the foundation of contemporary Silicon Valley. Move fast, break things, copy people's nude photos and private messages for robots to make further copies of. Someone who cares about it can clean up the mess later. If they have the time to figure out that the mess even exists.


Over on Flaming Hydra today, your editor wondered what it would mean to be a goblin:

Disposability is the goblin's lot. J.R.R. Tolkien's Great Goblin lasts all of three pages of The Hobbit from his first blustering appearance to his unceremonious demise, cut in half by a single stroke of Gandalf's sword. His followers scatter but they soon regroup; though goblins may be killable, they're persistent.

The goblins have brio and they have goals of their own. They ride intelligent wolves, their comrades in war and raiding. Tolkien specifies that the wolves are "evil wolves over the Edge of the Wild," just as he specifies in introducing the goblins that they are "cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted." It's important to say who the bad guys are because, as he concedes, the animosity between the villain goblins and his hero dwarves is basically a fight over underground real estate. If the deck weren't stacked against them, the goblins might have a valid point.

New York City, February 26, 2024

★★★ Crows flapped down to a rooftop against luminous eastern clouds, with a gray pall directly overhead. There were supposed to have been flurries but they were either too brief to notice or absent altogether. Occasional bursts of sunlight came through in the morning, but somewhere between them was enough of a shower to wet the pavement and bead on the parked cars. Returning sun caught a starling perching upright on the end of a cornice, pale-beaked and bronze-sized in the glow. By afternoon it was warm and clear, so the younger boy came home complaining about how hot the parka he'd worn to school was. Four contrails ran near-parallel across the now-clear northeastern sky.

New York City, February 27, 2024

★★★★ Fog veiled buildings less than a block away in the azure early light. Air through the window flowed damply over the ankles. Past midmorning the sun was still glary, even as other parts of the sky resolved into white clouds on blue. The fog had lifted but only unevenly. Two miles downtown, at the foot of the Park, the towers were still entangled in gray. A red-tailed hawk flew out of the small trees by the path, so low its wing beats were audible. It perched in a higher tree for a moment and then went on, uttering one little peep as it departed. The sun was strong enough to cast shadows but below it a thin mist lay on the ballfields. A fishy dockside smell carried all the way into the North Meadow. Not even 45 degrees of sky separated distinct bright-edged clouds from shapeless gray smudges. A line of yellow-gold crocuses had come up, low to the ground. Far beyond the end of 102nd Street, the spires of the Triborough Bridge were snagged in low cloud or more lingering fog. By midafternoon all the different things overhead had smoothed out into gray. Rain was sloshing in the streets by dinner, and the people who'd had to be out in it came back drenched.


Indignity Morning Podcast No. 226: A photo-opportunity as an opportunity to take a photo.

Tom Scocca • Feb 28, 2024


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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of sandwiches from Modern Priscilla Cook Book; One Thousand Recipes Tested And Proved At The Priscilla Proving Plant, published in 1924, by The Priscilla Publishing Company, now in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

1 cup cucumber or new cabbage
1/2 cup onion
4 tablespoons sweet pepper

Chop cucumber moderately fine, mix with minced onion, sweet pepper, and cayenne. Use at once, or, if allowed to stand before using, drain off accumulated water.

1 cup green pepper
1/8 cup onion (Spanish or Bermuda)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup pimiento cheese, or 1 cup cottage cheese, and 1/4 cup chopped pimiento

Put the pepper and onion through the food chopper, using fine cutter. Add with salt to the cheese, and pimiento, and mix well. 12 sandwiches.

1 can (small size) tuna fish
1 cup mustard pickle
Salt, pepper

Flake tuna fish very finely. Chop mustard pickle and add to fish, add salt and pepper to taste. If more liquid is needed to make a softer paste, add water. 12 sandwiches.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to


The second printing of 19 FOLK TALES is now available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Huddle up against the cold with a cozy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read within the snowy part of a wintry-mix storm.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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