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:
- uBlock Origin (works on Google Chrome and Firefox)
- 1Blocker (works on iPhone and Safari)
- Pi-hole (blocks all ads on your network)
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.