Tackling the Internet’s Central Villain: The Advertising Business

from NYTs

Pretend you are the lead detective on a hit new show, “CSI: Terrible Stuff on the Internet.” In the first episode, you set up one of those crazy walls plastered with headlines and headshots, looking for hidden connections between everything awful that’s been happening online recently.

There’s a lot of dark stuff. In one corner, you have the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election with digital propaganda. In another, a rash of repugnant videos on YouTube, with children being mock-abused, cartoon characters bizarrely committing suicide on the kids’ channel and a popular vlogger recording a body hanging from a tree.

Then there’s tech “addiction,” the rising worry that adults and kids are getting hooked on smartphones and social networks despite our best efforts to resist the constant desire for a fix. And all over the internet, general fakery abounds — there are millions of fake followers on Twitter and Facebook, fake rehab centers being touted on Google and even fake review sites to sell you a mattress.

So who is the central villain in this story, the driving force behind much of the chaos and disrepute online?

This isn’t that hard. You don’t need a crazy wall to figure it out, because the force to blame has been quietly shaping the contours of life online since just about the beginning of life online: It’s the advertising business, stupid.

And if you want to fix much of what ails the internet right now, the ad business would be the perfect perp to handcuff and restrain — and perhaps even reform.

Ads are the lifeblood of the internet, the source of funding for just about everything you read, watch and hear online. The digital ad business is in many ways a miracle machine — it corrals and transforms latent attention into real money that pays for many truly useful inventions, from search to instant translation to video hosting to global mapping.
But the online ad machine is also a vast, opaque and dizzyingly complex contraption with underappreciated capacity for misuse — one that collects and constantly profiles data about our behavior, creates incentives to monetize our most private desires and frequently unleashes loopholes that the shadiest of people are only too happy to exploit.

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5 Comments

  1. Advertising is a weird subject. People have no idea how much advertisers work on ads just to be remembered. There are thousands and thousands of ads that we see a day, and we will maybe only remember 3 at the end of the day. I don’t think advertisements are ruining the internet nor do I think they are the worst thing on the internet. We have gotten so used to getting to do what we want and getting it fast everyone thinks ads are an inconvenience. When you go on anything that you can attain for free there are going to be ads on it because that’s how certain things like apps and websites get money. However, if you want to get rid of ads on things like apps and websites, you have to pay a monthly fee. Ads are there to sell you things. More than half the population ignores them anyway unless they are in the way of doing something fast. For example, Youtube, you go to watch a video and there’s an ad at the beginning of the video and at the end. Now if you buy Youtube Red you get no ads. What people don’t understand is that those ads help pay the creators on youtube who upload the videos.
    Are we really that much in a rush that we cant watch a 30 second to a minute video on shampoo? I can understand if you are presenting a video and an ad at the beginning, that kind of brings the effect down. However, are we really bothered by them all? I feel close to this because I am studying to become an advertiser. Ads are in a constant fight to be remembered, and people think they are ruining the internet? Advertisements are everywhere outside the internet as well. Radio, TV, billboards, print ads, t-shirts, sponsors, cars, ect. I don’t think ads are ruining the internet. I think people have gotten used to everything being so fast, being interrupted with an ad is the worst thing to ever happen.

  2. Often when we browse the internet, we’ll usually see a pop-up ad for a new product or movie coming to the market. It’s because of these ads that companies are able to pay for and maintain their online presence. Many social media websites will use ads that are meant for a young adult demographic. These will includes pop-ups for sports, concerts, and fast food products. Over the course of the digital uprising, companies have taken advantage of the internet’s lack of advertising rules and regulations. There are commercials everytime someone wants to watch a new video on Youtube and often do not allow users to skip them. While most pop-up ads are on websites with no restrictions at all, the advertising industry still plays a large roll in the amount of profit the internet makes. Instant streaming websites like Hulu will have ads playing while customers are watching a TV show, and will allow them to skip them for a more expensive, premium package. Some consumers will say the best way to avoid ads online is to install an ad-blocking program that prevents them from opening up on different websites. However, this will not always work, as advertising agencies have found ways around this. These streaming websites won’t work unless the ad-block programs are disabled. It’s understandable that companies would want to make money anywhere possible, but the amount of ads found on the internet are enough to drive anyone off their browser. People’s addiction to the internet only helps provide more information to advertising agencies, who create ads to target user interest in their products and post them on websites with the highest amount of network traffic. A good amount of this traffic is just consumer mindlessly browsing the web for less than a few minutes at a time. When they stay on a page for an extended amount of time, that’s when companies start taking notes. Not only do users need to worry about these ad, but fake ones as well. Facebook’s home page contains countless fake advertisements that lure unsuspecting people on their websites and ask for their personal information so they can give them a free prize. Luckily, there are several different ways to tell the difference between a fake and real ad. Real ads won’t make you type in any unnecessary information to view their products. The other ones will tell you to type in a series of letters to prove that you are not a robot spying on them. Given the sheer amount of data on the internet, it’s not surprising that ad agencies will go out of their way to pay website to run their ads on their homepages. Thereby making it next to impossible to ignore while using the internet. Perhaps one day, advertising companies shall shift their focus towards a different social platform like video games or web camera applications.No matter how often users will voice their disapproval on ads online, companies will still allow them to run and present their products to the people.

  3. Polarizing issues are generally the ones that get the most attention. Think about the most discussed issues in American politics today: gun laws vs rights, abortion, immigration; all these receive hours of time and space both on the news and in newspapers and all elicit extremely divisive responses. Similar to how the divisive topics and stories get more air time, divisive advertisements also receive more views and get people talking more about the subject of that ad. Really, advertisers are brilliant in the sense that they can get “free” advertising simply by publishing advertisements that generate conversations. Advertisers capitalize on this, particularly online which is where many of the problems with advertising stem from.
    Platforms like Facebook have a serious dilemma. Advertisers are more likely to pay more to put forth polarizing ads like those used by Russia in the 2016 presidential election as they garner more responses. Those who publish such polarizing ads (like Russia) generally do not have the most honest of intentions, which sets up the question of what these platforms should do in order to address the issue. These ads are a major source of income for the company, so of course they want to be able to continue to run them in order to make their company as profitable as possible, however what role do they owe to those using the service? There is an argument that could be made that these advertisers give the companies the funds to improve the free services given to users. However, these platforms also have a duty to users to thoroughly monitor what ads are available, the distributors of those ads, and what the purpose of those ads are.
    Furthermore, advertisers are cunning in that they are able to successfully make back their money by posting ads on websites like Instagram and Twitter. These platforms tend to have a younger demographic using them, thus they are more impulsive, and more likely to buy items that they see advertised to them. For example, around 2016 there was a company that put out an ad that the first 100 people who followed their account would receive a free bathing suit. However, there was a fine print that said you would be charged if you were not one of those people. Teenagers would be least likely to read the fine print and as a result thousands ended up charged. It is companies that advertise on platforms with the younger demographic that are doing the most for themselves, and leaving the consumer feeling scammed.
    Advertisers are capitalizing, and rightfully so, on every opportunity they have. For websites such as Facebook, polarizing ads get the most attention and can therefore cause the most change to a person’s opinion. On other websites like Twitter and Instagram, advertisers are tapping into the concept of impulsive buying with the knowledge that the consumers are young enough to fall into such acts. Ultimately, these social media platforms have decisions to make on how much they will let advertisers rule their sites, as well as how many, and what types of advertisements users will be protected from.

  4. As you casually surf the cyber-web for product related merchandise or personal entertainment, you casually close out a few pop-ups ever so often. And before you know it, within weeks you may have viewed or closed out hundreds of them, thousands by the period of a month. You may not know it, but if you take a second to focus on the marketing strategies and displays which surround you, you may be shocked to find that the internet has been nothing but an atmospheric corporative manipulation battlefield, which in many scenarios are targeting your very private information. In our current societies, advertising is one of the main methods for individuals to receive revenue from their services or companies. For example, in terms of YouTube and the users whom attract the most demand in terms of their videos, advertising is what allows them to profit off of their services. There is an option that you could receive that allows you to monetize your videos which would basically implement ads within each post you have. With this, individuals are able to get paid for what they enjoy doing. In a more corporative sense, Facebook is known to implement ads as one of their primary forms of profit optimization. With the incessant spread of ads on their platform, advertisement accounts for almost 90 percent of total revenue, which equals over 10 billion dollars. With this increased in advertisements, companies are also starting to find more efficient ways to put more ads that consumers are actually interested with. This could be seen by Facebook’s recent “data leak”, a situation in which user information was being sold in order for companies to put more preferred ads in groups of individuals profile’s. To only further this controversy, Facebook had been thought to be part of the 2016 election run, within Trump’s administration. Daily, over 500 ads were being shifted in order to gain more popularity over a certain candidate. This had also been a strategy used to see where certain presidential candidates would go and speak, based on how certain locations of people reacted to each types of ads. In such regards, our current internet has become a vulnerable advertisement revenue powerhouse; an undertone that follows in our footsteps, like a leech sucking out our blood earned money. Even Google has started testing auto play ads that appear before you could scroll through your searches. And the “skip ad” feature has continued to be outsmarted from the under six second ads that more companies are beginning to implement. As many individuals most probably prefer video sources over written documents, another key feature to these advertising platforms is the complete use of video technology. Ad companies will pay way more to have the video played out rather than a picture or photo, because it grasps the viewers’ attention far more. The solutions to such concerns seem very scarce, as buying an ad blocker only invests into the marketing schemes, as each ad blocker usually downloads other services and requires various payments. And even as people have fewer ads presented to them, platforms continue to adopt more egregious methods of obtaining personal data information. With this increased age of technology the internet has become the means for primary communication, entertainment, and shopping, bound to the wilderness of the advertising creatures that lurk beneath your searches, hungry for profit.

  5. In the world of business and entrepreneurship in recent years, advertising online has drastically improved sales for companies and businesses that chose to use them. I personally have some experience with Facebook ads as I started my own Shopify store a few months ago to advertise seasonal products to users on Facebook that would be most likely to buy. Throughout the lifespan of my online store, which was about 1 month, I acquired a lousy sale to just 1 customer. Considering the fact that starting up your own online business has an extremely low success rate, acquiring 1 sale was better than many others. However, in the article, “Tackling the Internet’s Central Villain: The Advertising Business” explains much of the bad of the internet and how we are gradually harming ourselves through the powerful use of not only the internet but also technology. There is a reason why we are labeled as ‘users’ of technology. Just like how a meth user needs his daily fix, we need our daily fix by wasting time browsing our phones and the internet. In addition to the advertising business on the internet being a central villain, there is much listed on the internet that the normal web does not allow us to see. This is because it is being advertised on the dark web. The dark web is known for containing everything illegal. Every illegal activity that you can think of, you can find on the dark web, such as the purchasing of illegal substances, firearms, and even hiring a hitman. It is a dark and scary place, and I believe is the real central villain of the internet because of the power and potential this place has for not only endangering people but destroying lives too. On the flipside, the technology addiction is also a problem that we must realize and begin to change because it may not be destroying lives, but it may be ruining your dreams and aspirations by holding you back in your school work, side hustle, and even your relationships with others. We must change our restrictive habits to get ahead of others that have not yet come to a realization of their addictions.

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