What We Have Now Is Not Advertising

Billboards, TV commercials, magazine ads – these are what I would call advertising. There is no way to measure the number of times a billboard on the side of a highway has been looked at. It is not possible to estimate the percentage of people who glanced at a magazine ad and subsequently bought the product. You can estimate, sure, but it is an inexact science.

What we have today is not advertising. The amount of personally identifiable information companies have about their customers is absolutely perverse. Some of the world’s largest companies are in the business of selling your personal information for use in advertising. This might sound innocuous but the tracking efforts of these companies are so accurate that many people believe that Facebook listens to their conversations to serve them relevant ads. Even if it’s true that the microphone is not used, the sum of all other data collected is still enough to show creepily relevant advertising.

The list goes on and on: people now get most of their information from social networks yet these networks dictate the order in which content is served to the user. Google makes the worlds most popular mobile operating system and it’s purpose is drive the company’s bottom line (ad blocking is forbidden). “Smart” devices are everywhere and companies are jumping over each other to put more shit in your house so they can record your movements and sell the information to advertisers. This is all a blatant abuse of privacy that is completely toxic to society.

For these reasons, I think it is important for us all to embrace technology that enhances our life and respects our privacy and put in the work to distance ourselves from software that capitalizes on our attention. Reading a book on your phone is convenient and improves your life yet it is so difficult to focus on a novel when the endless instagram feed – perfectly engineered to grab as much of your attention as possible – awaits.

To combat this trend, I have taken the following steps and I think others should join the movement:

Aggressively block all online advertisements

Publishers will call this unethical but I disagree – I believe advertising in its current state is unethical. Advertisers have gone too far. It is the publisher’s responsibility to develop a business model that is sustainable and ethical.

Here are some tools to help you block ads on the internet:

Don’t succumb to the “curated” feeds

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – all of these platforms exist to sell your attention to advertisers. One way they do this is by choosing the order in which content is delivered to your “feed” in order to increase engagement. I’m a huge fan of Twitter but they have unfortunately joined the other networks in enforcing this.

If you can, use a 3rd party app that allows a chronological timeline. I use Tweetbot which is great. I don’t use Facebook or Instagram.

Use an RSS reader to read your news instead of using social networks. This ensures that you can control the content you are viewing and you can choose sources that you trust.

Not every device needs to be “smart”

I have a bunch of Philips Hue lights that I love. They are useful to me and improve my quality of life.

My TV is also “smart” but I don’t connect it to the internet after I updated it. I don’t have a smart fridge or a smart toothbrush. And I certainly don’t have an Amazon Alexa device or Google Home.

I do use Siri on Apple devices. She’s not the smartest but I do have a fragile trust in Apple that their stance on Privacy is more than just marketing.

My point is to be selective with the devices you allow into your home. It is far too easy for these devices to record personal information for the benefit of advertisers.

For the devices that I do allow into my home, I ensure that they can’t call home by blocking all traffic to advertising domains using Pi-hole (see above).

Some may feel that this is a paranoid rant – and maybe it is – but I think the state of advertising has crossed a line. Advertising is no longer ethical and it needs to change. The only way for it to change is our society and our communities (i.e., “the market”) show them that it is no longer profitable.


Wayne posted on 2018-07-29
Do you also pay for content (if possible) that you block ads for? Subscribe to news sites, pay the $5/month for music services that sell ads, etc? If not the ad blocking really is stealing.
Jp posted on 2018-07-29
Thank you for differentiating advertising and user tracking. I tend to agree with you! Why don't add platforms make a curl-based platform where websites could fetch content without JavaScript and user tracking? I wonder why low-tech techniques like these do not get any traction. I'd definitely unblock ads like these. My guess is that it is easier to ashame users. It's sad.
anon posted on 2018-07-29
I wish people would stop going along with the fiction that all this data collection fuels only the relatively benign goal of advertising (people can always ignore ads). It's a far more extensive surveillance system than the security agencies of the Soviet-era communist world were ever able to mount. It will be used for political and economic and social control in every way imaginable. See for example: * https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-11-15/the-brutal-fight-to-mine-your-data-and-sell-it-to-your-boss * http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-28/allstate-seeks-to-follow-google-as-ceo-mulls-selling-driver-data * http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/the-digital-debate/shoshana-zuboff-secrets-of-surveillance-capitalism-14103616.html?printPagedArticle=true
CodeWriter23 posted on 2018-07-29
You’re only paranoid until proven to be insightful.
Phil Kahrl from https://weblum.photos posted on 2018-07-29
Great article. The tech industry has lost all regard for any user privacy, and tracking is done for the benefit of the owners of the company and not the consumer. I have built a web app for people who want to share photos and content without ads or tracking. Of course I have to charge money for my app, but considering what Facebook has gotten us with a free app that makes them $5 per month per user maybe people are now willing to pay a modest amount of money for a software product that actually respects users' privacy. My app can be purchased at https://weblum.photos
Aesop Hod posted on 2018-07-30
I also do not feel I'm responsible for (company x) coming with a viable, sustainable business model. If you don't want me to block ads put your content behind a pay wall. If you succeed, great. If not... well, I suspect you already know you won't succeed, and that you wouldn't have the small amount of revenue that you do have because your content is just not worth paying for. It is your responsibility to find a way to make money - not mine.
Robert Muirhead posted on 2018-07-30
I think there are two issues with your post here: 1 - your claim that tracking and targeted advertising is "a blatant abuse of privacy that is completely toxic to society" has no evidence or supporting reasoning. And it certainly doesn't stand on its own. So from the get-go, it seems like your post is false. 2 - you're more or less advocating for a dystopian society yourself here: "Publishers will call this unethical but I disagree – I believe advertising in its current state is unethical. Advertisers have gone too far. It is the publisher’s responsibility to develop a business model that is sustainable and ethical" Such a business model does not exist for the vast majority of publishers. And most importantly - such a business model does not exist for ANY publishers attempting to deliver objective news under a market system. News publishing is very expensive. It cannot be easily made more efficient. For centuries, have refused to pay the real cost of it. And so, news publishing has been propped up by one or more of the following three different, unethical, revenue or cost-cutting methods: 1 - appealing specifically to an affluent audience by reaffirming their beliefs, to serve higher value advertising or sell more expensive publications. 2 - forming a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information, such as the government or private corporations with conflicts of interest, in order to lower the cost of investigating and sourcing news. 3 - relying on investment from donors with conflicts of interest, to continue publishing despite continuous losses. 4 - lowering costs by hiring interns or employees willing to work at relatively low salaries, who happen to tend to be from affluent background and overrepresent the views of said demographic. My personal view is that - if targeted advertising gives news media the ability to create higher quality journalism, be less dependent on traditionally biased processes such as those described above, and to expand its audience and publication to less affluent, more diverse demographics - then it is an incredible benefit to society. The printing press was revolutionary - it created news media... but only news written by those in power. Targeted advertising is part of the next revolution - making is economically feasible to publish news written by the people, for the people.
Simp posted on 2018-07-31
You have a "fragile trust" in Apple? Everything else you say is irrelevant. Trust is for people, not corporations. Either take the necessary step and lose your trust in faceless mutinationals or give in to the surveillance state. Half measures don't work.
Johnny posted on 2018-08-03
And here this webpage analyzes what I do on your page through Google Analytics, hmmm...