Imagine a world without ads targeted by personal information

Elephants wouldn’t be killed for their tusks if there wasn’t a demand for ivory. We can do all sorts of things to discourage poachers, but as long as the market is there, the killings will continue.

Likewise, the flood of privacy scandals involving Facebook, ad exchanges, and other privacy poachers all tie back to the same root cause: Personal information is valuable because we use it to target ads.

But what if you couldn’t do that? Then the personal information would cease to have value, and the flood of privacy scandals would stop (or at least greatly diminish).

The world of commerce spun around just fine in the era before ads could be targeted by personal information. When ad buyers would place their spots based on context. Got a new car to sell? Put an ad on a website that talks about cars. Maybe it wasn’t as efficient, or maybe it was. Either way: The societal price we pay for allowing ads to be targeted is far too high.

We’ve placed all sorts of other restrictions on advertisement, so it’s not like this is a new thing. You can’t advertise tobacco products in many places. Some countries restrict advertisement against children. Regulation like this works.

Just try to imagine that world without ad targeting. It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be a better one.

6 thoughts on “Imagine a world without ads targeted by personal information

  1. I was surprised to read this article from you. In the past, you have really been strongly against advertising in a whole. Would you support a world where ads only target the user based on the context of the website they are visiting? If I go to a website about ReactJS, would an ad about a product or service that is geared towards React developers ok?

    I believe this is possible, and already happening. About 18 months ago I started up a side project called Code Sponsor. The idea was to show relevant ads to software engineers and have the revenue from those ads support the open source projects. This has evolved over time, but we still remain solid in being 100% open (https://github.com/gitcoinco/code_fund_ads) and ethical (no user tracking, no cookies, no misleading info, no 3rd party scripts, only relevant ads, etc).

    Advertising itself is not bad. Unethical advertising is. I really hope you will give CodeFund another look and see that we are trying to realize the “imagined world” that you speak of.

    https://codefund.app

    1. I just want to say this is an awesome idea and I will be looking into signing up.

      I’m currently a big fan of Brave which blocks all ads and tracking, but you can also support your favourite publishers/content creators with the basic attention token (BAT) which is a crypto currency donation. Soon you’ll be able to view ads inside the browser and get paid for using your attention on the ads. They only track locally within your browser and it never gets sent to anyone. I feel like these kinds of projects are the future.

      Also, the NYT changed their ads for European countries, the ads no longer track you which is great.

  2. Haven’t targeted ads been beneficial to companies like yours?

    We need to also remember that targeted ads are beneficial to small companies who don’t have massive budgets to run campaigns at ‘everyone’. I reckon Facebook in 2017 announced 70% of its advertising income was by small businesses.

    What should happen to all those businesses who use targeted advertising services?

    Also the quality of adverts would greatly diminish and be terrible without targeting. Contextual(based on text) targeting is nice but is obviously not enough.

    Consumers don’t want generic, random ads but at the same time don’t want ads that are targeted?

    Doesn’t make any sense. Something has to give.

  3. It’s sell sell sell in a buyers market. Fads come and go. Circle of life just flows. Roll with the punches and punch back when you’ve had enough. Be an Olympian not a goddam gladiator. Shake hands when it’s all over.

    1. My thoughts on this are that we should only provide ads if (1) the user does not choose to block them and (2) the selected ad is chosen based solely on the context of the website or search terms.

      Ethical advertising means no targeting based on public info.

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