Original bug, not original sin
Ethan Zuckerman calls advertising The
Internet's Original Sin. But
is overstating it. Advertising has an economic
and social role, just as bacteria have an
important role in your body. Many kinds
of bacteria can live on and around you just
and only become a crisis when your immune system
The bad news is that the Internet's immune system is compromised. Quinn Norton summed it up: Everything is Broken. The same half-assed approach to security that lets random trolls yell curse words on your baby monitor is also letting a small but vocal part of the ad business claim an unsustainable share of Internet-built wealth at the expense of original content.
But email spam didn't kill email, and surveillance marketing won't kill the Web. Privacy tech is catching up. AdNews has a good piece on the progress of ad blocking, but I'm wondering about how accurate any measurement of ad blocking can be in the presence of massive fraud. Fraudulent traffic is a big part of the picture, and nobody has an incentive to run an ad blocker on that. The results from the combination of fraud and use of privacy tools are unpredictable. Paywalls are the obvious next step, but there are ways for sites to work with privacy tools, not against them.
What Ethan calls pay-for-performance is the smaller, and less valuable, part of advertising. Online ads are stuck in that niche not so much because of original sin, but because of an original bug. When the browsers of Dot-Com Boom 1.0 came out in a rush with support for privacy antifeatures such as third-party tracking, the Web excluded itself from lucrative branding or signaling advertising. The Web became a direct-response medium like email spam or direct mail. Bob Hoffman said,
Recent news, from Kate
Tummarello at The Hill: Tech
giants at odds over Obama privacy bill.
Microsoft is coming in on one side, and
a group of mostly surveillance marketing
the united voice of the Internet
economy is on the other. There's no one
original sin here, but there's plenty of opportunity
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