Mon 30 Mar 2015 07:33:29 AM PDT
It's not about freedom
Doc Searls writes:
We hold as self-evident that personal agency and independence matter utterly, that free customers are more valuable than captive ones, that personal data belongs more to persons themselves than to those gathering it, that conscious signaling of intent by individuals is more valuable than the inferential kind that can only be guessed at, that spying on people when they don’t know about it or like it is wrong, and so on.
I'm going to agree with Doc that these are all good and important principles.
But then I'm going to totally ignore them.
Yes, it is "self-evident" that it's important to behave as a decent human being in online interactions, and in marketing projects. (Complexity dilutes understanding of a system but not moral responsibility for participating in a system. Just because you don't understand how your marketing budget gets diverted to fraud does not mean that you aren't ultimately responsible when you end up funding malware and scams.) Thinking about user rights is important. 30 years ago, Richard Stallman released the GNU Manifesto, which got people thinking about the ethical aspects of software licensing, and we need that kind of work about information in markets, too.
But that's not what I'm on about here. Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful is just background reading for a marketing meeting. And I've been to enough marketing meetings to know that, no matter how rat-holed and digressed the discussion gets, Freedom is never on the agenda.
So I'm going to totally ignore the Freedom side of discussing the targeted ad problem. You don't have to worry about some marketing person clicking through to this site and saying, WTF is this freedom woo-woo? This site is all pure, unadulterated, 100% marketing-meeting-compatible business material, with some impressive-looking citations to Economics papers to give it some class.
Big Data proponents like to talk about "co-creating value," so let's apply that expression to advertising. The advertiser offers signal, and the reader offers attention. The value is in the exchange. Here's the point that we need to pick up on, and the point that ad blocker stats are shoving in our face until we get it. When one side's ability to offer value goes away—when a targeted ad ceases to carry signal and becomes just a windshield flyer—there's no incentive for the other side to participate in the exchange. Freedom or no freedom. Homo economicus himself would run a spam filter, or hang up on a cold call, or block targeted ads.
The big problem for web sites now is to get users onto a publisher-friendly tracking protection tool that facilitates advertising's exchange of value for value, before web advertising turns into a mess of crappy targeted ads vs. general filters, the way email spam has.