Does Targeted Advertising Really Violate Your Privacy?
A senator from Missouri — one of those red-neck states that recently decided to deny women control over their own bodies — proposed a Do-Not-Track Act that would task the Federal Trade Commission with implementing a system “to protect consumers from unwanted online data harvesting and targeted advertising.”
It’s unfortunate that more than 20 years into online advertising, “targeted advertising” is being conflated with “privacy.” This is largely because the rationale given for collecting data is too often to “serve the right ad, to the right person, at the right moment.”
Yes, “improving the user experience” is also tossed around by many digital companies — but short of “curating” content and saving your place, no one has yet convincingly explained how data collection lifts your life out of the mundane to the sublime.
The digital ad industry has only itself to blame, since early on, it overloaded users with stupid ads that were not only ugly, they covered up content, redirected you to other pages, randomly opened and closed, presented a cacophony of never-ending options and helped launch the ad-blocking industry. We are still dealing with auto-launched video and retargeting that seem to piss off rather than please users.
Moreover, the initial argument about the value exchange between free content and advertising was lost when users found out there really was no such thing as “protecting your PII” and “anonymized” — and that digital data fields are now thousands of lines long, consisting not just of first-party data, but supplemented with everything from your credit card purchases to your search terms, from your reading preferences to the content of your emails.
No rational person can see the point in, say, a social platform having this much personal information about them (in spite of the fact they voluntarily gave up a lot of it by participating in the platform).
It’s especially galling when a hacker steals millions of records, forcing consumers to take protective action unnecessary in the pre-internet world. Not that this has anything whatsoever to do with advertising, but consumers only have advertising to blame — since ad companies have been forced to be more explicit in the fact that they are collecting reams of user data.
That makes “targeted advertising” evil.
An entire industry has grown up around “advocating” for less online tracking (or none at all, really). And the arguments put forth by these “privacy advocates” are convincing and seemingly valid. That some of them would entirely wipe out all but contextually placed ads, matters not to those who argue the whole system is full of fraud, deception and annoyances.
The digital ad industry has fallen all over itself to establish best practices and minimum standards to try and demonstrate it can function as a net benefit to users — rather than the pain in the ass users perceive ads to be. It has also fought tooth and nail to derail attempts like Missouri’s to end tracking.
We now sit at the dawn of the micro-payment age, when it is will be simple and easy for publishers to charge users for the content they consume. When the world becomes divided between pay-up-and-see-no-ads, or the still-free-with-ads, it will be interesting to see just how concerned the public really is about being tracked and targeted.