Opinion

No, tracking and surveillance are not an essential part of digital advertising

Ad contrarian Bob Hoffman argues that despite what the 'digi-weasels' might say, online advertising that does not rely on tracking is a real possibility.

This week, as the GDPR gets closer to implementation, we can expect to hear a lot of noise from digi-weasels here in the US explaining to us why we need to allow wide data collection as a fair “value exchange” for the free access we get to online services.

This argument is total bullshit.

Let’s start at the beginning. First, the true part. The web provides us with amazing services and they are essentially all free of cost. I don’t think there is any doubt that most of us don’t really appreciate the benefits we get from free web services. The duopoly of Google and Facebook provide us with a whole lot of valuable stuff that we pay nothing for. Especially Google. They are entitled to recompense for the amazing services they provide.

And they are well compensated for their efforts. They are two of the most profitable companies on the planet. And essentially all of their profit comes from advertising.

This is no different from how other media, like TV, radio, and magazines, make their money. They provide us with entertainment and information, and in return they are able to reach us by selling advertising space and time to their clients. This is a legitimate value exchange.

Here’s where the bullshit comes in. The online ad industry claims that they are entitled to some extra value – the value of knowing every little thing about us. This goes by the benign name of data collection, but what it really is is intrusive surveillance into personal aspects of our lives to which they have no legitimate claim.

Advertising is essential to the economic structure of the web as it is now configured. But tracking and surveillance are not.

Hoffman: “The collection, sharing, and sale of personal, private data has no place in the value exchange.”

We can have online advertising that does not rely on tracking, just as we’ve had TV, radio, and magazine advertising that did not rely on tracking. But the online ad industry is trying to confuse things.

They are saying the value exchange is this: we’ll give you free services, you give us your data. The true value exchange is: they give us free services, we give them the opportunity to reach us with advertising.

The collection, sharing, and sale of personal, private data has no place in the value exchange.

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog, where this post first appeared.

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