Tech firms track nearly every click from website to website, develop detailed profiles of your interests and desires and make that data available to advertisers. That’s why you get those creepy ads in your Instagram feed or on websites that seem to know what you were just talking about.
The ability to track people has turned out to be an unbeatable advantage for the online ad industry, which has grown to a $540 billion market worldwide, according to the media agency GroupM, dwarfing all other forms of advertising, including TV, radio and newspapers. It has propelled the massive growth of Google and Facebook as well as hundreds of so-called ad tech firms that serve as intermediaries between the buyers and sellers of targeting information.
But the rise of microtargeting has come with a staggering price tag. “There is limited evidence to suggest that the efficiency and efficacy gains to advertisers and publishers of this system outweighs the societal impact,” concludes a 274-page study published by the European Commission this year. It calls for reforming the surveillance business model.
Already, we know that web tracking has decimated publishers. This has been particularly devastating for traditional news outlets: Global newspaper revenue plummeted from $107 billion in 2000 to nearly $32 billion in 2022, according to GroupM. This is a blow to democracy: Studies show that voting decreases and corruption increases in communities without strong news outlets. [Continue reading…]