I’m not a fan of advertising. In general my view is that the best products should sell themselves; I have a nagging suspicion that any product that needs to be heavily advertised is probably either unnecessary or not as good as it’s competitors. It tends to make me look suspiciously at the product and wonder what they’re trying to hide behind all that advertising spend.
I find advertising on the internet even worse. Because it’s so (relatively) inexpensive to reach people on the internet there appears to be very little time put into making the majority of advertising interesting; most of the advertisers seem to have adopted a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach, figuring that if they throw enough, something will eventually stick. As a result most people I know are all fairly jaded, and tend to just ignore them all.
To counter this, the advertisers are trying to tailor the adverts that you see so they they are more closely matched to your circumstances or interests, presenting them to you almost as a “service”. The idea is that if they can show you adverts that are more likely to be of interest to you, then you’re more likely to “click through” and possibly buy something. So if you’ve just had (or even better, are about to have) a baby, they’ll show you adverts trying to sell you nappies, baby foods, etc. The idea is that you’re less irritated (because the adverts are now supposed to be useful), and they can charge the product owners more for each of those adverts because they’re supposed to be more effective. According to the advertisers, everyone wins.
Except, to be able to target those adverts at us, the advertisers need to know a lot about each of us. They need to be able to work out what kind of adverts we might be interested in. So they have to gather that information. Lots of it. And Google is gathering a lot more information than I care to think about. It monitors everything most people search for. It knows which of the search results it gave you that you decided to click on. It often knows a lot about which websites you visit during your normal web-surfing because the owners of many of those websites use Googles advertising services to deliver targeted adverts to you too. And now, thanks to Android, which now has a 75% share of the world-wide smartphone market, it usually knows exactly where you are when you do almost anything with the “mobile internet”. It brings a whole new meaning to tracking your browsing habits.
I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this. For me, the straw that broke the camels back was Google wrapping their search results links in code that tracks you as you click on your choice of result. I’ve decided that I just don’t believe the platitudes from Googles execs about their famous motto of “Do no evil”. It’s just too easy for those people to redefine what they mean by “Evil”.
So I’m doing what I can to be a little less tracked. I now block all adverts, period. And although I still need to use Google, I’m doing my best to avoid letting them know much more than my search terms; I’m certainly not going to let them know which of their results I finally clicked on. It’s not much, but it’s a start towards keeping myself a bit further under the radar, in this increasingly Orwellian internet.
(*) Actually, Big Brother almost certainly is either watching you too, or getting Google to do it for them.