Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

We Could Just Ban Targeted Advertising

Gilad Edelman, Wired:

The thinking goes like this. Google and Facebook, including their subsidiaries like Instagram and YouTube, make about 83 percent and 99 percent of their respective revenue from one thing: selling ads. It’s the same story with Twitter and other free sites and apps. More to the point, these companies are in the business of what’s called behavioral advertising, which allows companies to aim their marketing based on everything from users’ sexual orientations to their moods and menstrual cycles, as revealed by everything they do on their devices and every place they take them. It follows that most of the unsavory things the platforms do — boost inflammatory content, track our whereabouts, enable election manipulation, crush the news industry — stem from the goal of boosting ad revenues. Instead of trying to clean up all these messes one by one, the logic goes, why not just remove the underlying financial incentive? Targeting ads based on individual user data didn’t even really exist until the past decade. (Indeed, Google still makes many billions of dollars from ads tied to search terms, which aren’t user-specific.) What if companies simply weren’t allowed to do it anymore?

Don’t think of this as a flip-a-switch instant fix for all that ails the web; think of it as cutting out the junk food and taking up jogging.

This piece is deeply researched and well worth your time. One thing that stood out to me is the vehement defence by advertising types of personalization, as though they cannot envision an effective ad that does not depend on creepy targeting. Any time they have been questioned about personalization, ad industry representatives love to threaten that it will financially cripple the web. But, as Edelman notes, targeted advertising is a recent invention, and there’s little indication that non-personalized ads are less effective or lucrative.