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A growing disconnect between consumers and businesses over use of customer data (rsa.com)
82 points by pmoriarty 40 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments



"Do you want to be forced to watch an advert you have no interest in?"

"Do you want to pay to have your advert shown to somebody who has no interest in your product?"

The same answer to both these questions is why why ad-personalization is "good" - and why TV, printing and all the rest are having their collective arse handed to them by on-line.

Now we can move onto discussions around fraud, ethics, leaking, micro-transactions and a million other things - but that study is clearly stupid.


Interest can be inferred from context instead of your history and contextual targeting is in fact more efficient and doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy.

For example most ads shown by Google Search are based on the search keywords, since that’s what most advertisers bid on and not a user profile. Google’s great advantage in this space is that a search shows clear intent, clear need.

I once worked on a platform for serving ads in mobile apps. The apps themselves can be pretty clear signals of intent. A weight loss app for example can serve ads for gym or diet-friendly restaurants with great success. Similarly for publications. I can imagine articles on politics don’t have valuable context, unless the elections are coming, however howto articles or articles on home and garden or various hobbies have great context.

Btw, I never click on ads. If personalization was meant to save costs you’d think these ads companies would have learned to not serve me any ads.

Truth of the matter is that personalization has less to do with cost savings and more to do with optimizing the message for better conversions. And that’s what I find unethical ... the use of personal data to personalize a message in order to make me buy a product that I normally don’t want to buy.


While relevant, the stuff pushed by ads are almost always inferior to organic results.


Even if you don't interact with an ad they still deliver their payload right to your brainbox.


Indeed, that’s how TV advertising works, however we’re talking about brand advertising right now, as in ads made to make you remember the brand the next time you’re presented with a choice, like in a supermarket.

Thing is you don’t need personalization for this to work and it can be counterproductive. Because these ads are designed to make the customers remember the brand in the future, when they’ll need it and not to fulfill an immediate need.

Ads companies doing personalization try to paint their algorithms as having better conversions, however measuring the impact of brand advertising is really difficult due to the deferred effect and all you can do is to make educated guesses. And for the labels in a supermarket for example, which is the vast majority of brand advertising, you don’t need any personalization.

Personalization is meant for the long tail. Like those shitty commercials on FB trying to sell you indestructible iPhone cases or shitty apps that help you exercise your brain. Or miracle cures to diabetes, if you were uninspired enough to join an FB group on such topics.

Such ads do not benefit just from being seen. If you don’t click on them, the opportunity for the advertiser is gone.


>The same answer to both these questions is why why ad-personalization is "good".

Not at all. This assumption that ads themselves are unavoidable is ludicrous.

>Now we can move onto discussions around fraud, ethics, leaking, micro-transactions and a million other things.

Enormous blunders of fraud and ethics out of sight unless we look directly at ads, targeted or not. And if you’re like most, you’ve got a banal understanding of how advertising and psychology game the limits of the sensual system.

As someone who spent most my life producing them, I must be honest: ads are the bane of our existence.

Ads have hollowed subsumed and proceeded to hollow art and culture.

They have wrecked our landscapes.

They have reformed our workforce into consumers and producers of something entirely foreign to our sustenance and enrichment.

They have malformed our conception of private and social responsibility.

They have rewritten the very rules of power!

Targetted ads are just a technological conclusion of an existing problem.


"As someone who spent most my life producing them" - I can only assume you were escorted from the premises..

I'm more pragmatic. I earn and spend money. Given that I'm going to spend money, I'd like to spend it wisely. That's why I might use amazon to check out the reviews for say a "sliding mitre saw" - I know some are better than others. I go to amazon as they have a load of reviews - and have all the sliding mitre saws, they don't care which one I buy - as long as I buy one. So makes sense for amazon to know what I want to buy, know which is going to make me happiest, and just shove up a "here's a saw for £x, that has 4.7 from a thousand people". The traditional advert wants to sell me something I don't need/want. The perfect modern advert tells me what I actually (probably) need - and removes the friction.


You've just neatly made the case for ads without personalisation or tracking.

If I go to Amazon and search for mitre saws, I'll see mitre saws, and probably some ads for mitre saws. If I visited Amazon via an ad derived from a google search for "buy sliding mitre saw", they can direct me to the right page, and know my search term.

They do not need to know what sites I visited last week, how often, or where I go next, or where the device currently is. Amazon already has my address, anyone else will require it on order. Nor do they need to continue showing ads for mitre saws now I'm on Youtube watching a music video or reading a news site. 99 times of 100 retargeting is trying to sell me on something I just decided I don't want (maybe I just read and didn't like that product's specs in my brief ad-driven visit to the site), or I decided I got something more urgent or fun to do right now than buy mitre saws. If it's approaching someone's birthday retargeting gladly ruins the surprise if you share a house or device with anyone.

None of what you have described needs a continually growing personal profile made for me, across as many sites and niches as possible, in order to work nicely. Just context relevant ads - that's very different to personalisation.


Except to follow this to the logical conclusion, amazon will be the only person I can buy my "sliding mitre saw" from.

In the end I didn't buy mine from Amazon - I picked up my maybe #2 option from a local wholesaler that had an offer on and gave me a discount if I picked up the saw and the compatible base. In this case I was just using amazon to confirm that the item was 'fine' Now I didn't check in this case, but I am aware that other online merchants discount their stores based upon tracking - and who doesn't like a discount? I like to think 'they' knew that I "goldcd wanted a decent saw for a mid-price" and were all undercutting each other to try to get me to enter by details.


Your process sounds like a Tower of Babel to me. The interests of these entities are in great conflict and their power over your limits of time and awareness are increasing all the time.

In the end, your purchase is relying on so much effort to curtail price exploitation, and it misses the potentials for manipulation and misrepresentation. You feel like an independent player but a minimal systemic analysis shows you could just as likely be misled. Of course, the systems you depend on are designed to do exactly that, unless it somehow benefits them more to help you out. What are the chances? Well, it benefits them not to tell you that. Your confidence appears foolish, I am afraid.

Trust and aligned interests are out the window with these systems. We can do trmendously better to one another.


Except Amazon does care what saw you buy. They want you to buy the one that makes them the most profit.


> They want you to buy the one that makes them the most profit.

Which is quite different than the one that's best solution for your problem given the money you want to pay. This is the fundamental immorality of most ads; the place they disturb the voluntary exchange of value the free market should be all about.


If you can't tell a good sliding mitre saw from a bad one by inspecting the tool you're not worth the better one anyway.


Sorry but sadly, reviews are gamed, a lot.


I don't want to be forced to watch anything, ad, movie or programme.

I don't want a personal tail following everything I, and my family who periodically share devices, do over years in order to "infer" what's suitable to target me for. Ever.

I am more than happy to have ads on the page that are relevant to the page, or to the search terms I've just used. I would even whitelist them in my adblocking if they were served from a first party domain and were free of JS crap.

Ad personalisation is not good, unless I have requested it on that particular site. Which for some sites, I very well might, so long as it remained siloed. Which would require trust. Which rules out everyone currently in Adtech.


Nobody "wants" to be forced to do anything. But, it's a transaction. That youtube video is free to you, the guy who made it deserves some compensation (plus the hosting from google isn't free) blah blah. Nothing works unless you provide something of value in exchange - your eyeball for that advert. No eyeball - no content. So unless you've pressed the stop button at this point, the goal is to put the least offensive thing to you on that screen for 10 seconds, with the highest click-through. My point is that there is a win-win to be had here - but they need to know about you to provide it.


Being dependent on ads to make a profit is a bar business model, when ads are so easily blocked, and have often served as a vector for malware attacks. Especially when you just put your stuff up for free in the first place. It doesn't entitle you to compensation.

I feel absolutely no obligation to support a deeply flawed business model. That's why I block all ads now and forever, and do my utmost to block any online tracking. I will never whitelist a single ad, because advertising is nothing but lies, designed to steal my time, attention and money.

I do not support the "hidden payment" that advertising represents, because it is dishonest and the terms of the deal are opaque. I prefer content creators who are upfront about their funding needs and use services like Patreon or direct donations or merch sales.


> That youtube video is free to you, the guy who made it deserves some compensation

No, he doesn't. He puts it up for free, and then expects a particular way of compensation. Anywhere else this kind of behaviour is considered antisocial, and is frowned upon; it's advertising industry that tries to perpetuate a lie that they have moral high ground here.

It's a deceptive practice. A fair one would be e.g. putting up a paywall. Companies prefer ads because they work better - in the same way that mugging people makes money faster than selling pretzels. Better doesn't automatically mean more ethical.


IIRC YouTube has a paid version that removes ads. The option to avoid the ads is already there.


Do you think there is a difference between things that you don’t want and things that are immoral?


I was answering GP's questions phrased "do you want...?". Of course there is a huge difference. I find tracking across sites immoral as it makes inferences from information I have not willingly, or knowingly shared. Often very dubious inferences. Adtech as a whole seems like an industry free of ethics, happy to use every dark pattern and dubious trick (like ignoring DNT, or worse using as fingerprint), to get data anyway regardless of user wish.

In every other scenario aside from online, I can decline to answer or decline the loyalty card etc. If I have attracted enough interest of the authorities to gain a real-life surveillance tail ads are the least of my worries. :)


I think you've nailed it. I've just accepted I'm tracked and it's the price to pay for the benefits shrugs I don't see adtech as 'free of ethics' - merely what I'd do myself in their position (qualified with the legal gubbins). If you really don't want to be tracked, you've got tails, tor, crypto, whatever - and this is the opt-out if you're prepared to put the effort it (It's certainly less onerous that getting online in the pre-Aol world).

My take is that there's a generation of people who've come later and just have complete cognitive-dissonance as to what pays for what they interact with. "I use Facebook - but I've no idea why they're worth billions" I've no doubt a correction is coming, and the winner should be whoever can ride this new wave.


>"If you really don't want to be tracked, you've got tails, tor, crypto, whatever - and this is the opt-out if you're prepared to put the effort"

Honestly, that's a bit like saying "if you don't want to be shot, you got bulletproof vests and bodyguards, that's your opt-out", in a world where everyone can just shoot guns randomly at each other, with very few to no repercussions.


The best targeted adverts I've seen have all required no personalized targeting. Ads for webcomics on another webcomic. Games on gaming websites. Products as I google/bing for them. Sponsors baked into the youtube video I'm watching. Some humans went "hey, you know what, your audience might like our product!". Not exactly rocket science.

Data driven / targeted advertisements are the worst of both worlds: doxxing people, and terrible results. Products after I've already bought them. Junk I'm not remotely interested in. Stuff I'm interested in, but won't touch, because humans are so far out of the loop that I can't trust anything about it.

I can't trust the quality, I can't trust whatever ecommerce site it's taking me to, I probably can't even trust my browser to render because of the threat of malware. No vetting, no accountability.


This feels like multiple straw man arguments.

> “Do you want to be forced to watch an advert you have no interest in?” > The same answer to both these questions is why why ad-personalization is "good"...

I don’t want to be forced to watch any ads. Personalization isn’t “good” because I get forced to watch something I’m more likely to be interested in buying. And just because I’m more likely to be interested doesn’t somehow make losing privacy okay. Ads don’t become more moral when they work.

> ...and why TV, printing and all the rest are having their collective arse handed to them by on-line

Personalized ads have nothing to do with why online is growing and why TV and print are shrinking. The web exploded precisely because of the amount of content you could get without any advertising at all. Ads and privacy concerns are now slowing the growth. TV and print are just dying because they’re nowhere near as convenient.


Ads should be stopped. There is a positive reinforcement loop with ads: there more aggressive ads overall, the more aggressive should be an ads campaign to be successful. If there were no ads in internet, then a single banner of single product shown to a billion random people would have an enormous success. But because ads are everywhere no one would notice one more ad. Oh... and there is an adblockers story which is there because of too many ads, which makes situation even worse.


Do you want to be forced to watch an advert you have no interest in?

I wouldn't know until I watched it. As opposed to seeing an ad of something I recently bought.

Do you want to pay to have your advert shown to somebody who has no interest in your product?

How do we know that? Having no information about a given person is not equal to knowing that that person is not interested.

It's not that simple.


You're right - it's not that simple. To take an anecdotal example. I was slightly interested in knowing why so many people now took credit cards. Not 'traditional businesses in shops' - but food-carts/stalls, beggars - pretty much everybody. Tiny little calculator things I could tap my card/phone on. Even went so far as to work out which the best ones were, what rates were, reviews of the various companies - I was just interested. I then spent the next few months being bombarded with adverts for them from one company (the best provider, if I wanted this service). I just wished to could click to stop them showing me the advert - I DON'T WANT IT - please spend your limited money on selling to somebody who might. You're seemingly an awesome company and you're wasting your money.

Or when I proposed. I worked out that a jewelry-maker usually just adds a fixed % to the costs to come up with the final price. I bought a 'modest' flawless diamond and then got my local jeweler to put it in a beautiful mount, for a fixed price. 6 f'in months over every page I looked at, being covered in diamonds. Each and every one of them wasting their money. Now in perfect data-mining-world, they'd have worked out I'd booked a wedding venue and a ring, so unlikely to need another ring.

...Actually, this gives me quite a good thought. All the tracking we have, is "one-way" - and it's hard to correct the f'ups. If we could maybe accept the tracking and learn to live with it, the trackers could be more upfront and ask us direct questions. Or at the very least have a "was this advert of interest to you" button. A/B test it obviously - as most people will say no to everything, but I'd be on board.


> "Do you want to be forced to watch an advert you have no interest in?"

Compared to being forced into watching something an AI-bubble mistakenly believes I’m interested in, for the 20th time, sure.

Also, not being tracked is pretty great.


"Do you want to be advertised things based on what you say in front of an electronic device?"

Stop fucking snooping, even if it's just for ads. And stop working for companies that have zero morals on this.


> "Do you want to be forced to watch an advert you have no interest in?"

In general, yes, because then I might learn something new about the world. I'm not a business owner, but I saw a few B2B untargeted ads during the Super Bowl. Now I know stuff like those companies exist.

It's like asking a school kid if they want to be forced to read a textbook, or if they would rather read something targeted to them specifically like a comic book.


Targeting doesn't really work that well. There are numerous claims by companies that spending X dollars on Google ads or FB ads did not provide sensible ROI.

Personal anecdote - I find targeted ads more boring and irritating than standard ads in the press - they are either predictable and therefore don't catch me off guard or they are just plain silly - data driven mistaken predictions.


You don’t get to decide which discussions are stupid and need to be moved on from.

I might even agree with you. But ad tech has lost the battle for trust so badly, they are now playing defensive on issues they probably thought safe.


The survey was of the victims, not of creepy surveillance marketers.

Given your way, you'd have us in the therapy chair from A Clockwork Orange.


The problem aren’t personalized ads but the way the personalization happens, i.e. by collecting thousands or sometimes millions of data points on individuals, often without their knowledge or consent.


I would rather see an ad for something that I have no interest in, because I'm less likely to be mislead by it.

It's irrational to use any information obtained from an advertisement to make a purchasing decision, because the advertiser is incentivized to give you any information that will influence you to buy the product, regardless of whether it's true or useful. Consequently, it's in your best interest to ignore any advertisements you see.

If I see an ad for car insurance, it doesn't affect me, because I don't have a car. If I see an ad for mechanical keyboards, I might be influenced to buy one, even though it might not be the best-value option. So I'd rather see the car insurance ad.

Well, not really, because Geico ads make me want to jump off a tall building. But the point still stands.


Targeted ads: Do you want to create incentives for companies to find your weakest point? Do you want to create incentives for them to find out when you are stressed, or distracted and sell you stuff.


I don't look at it as being antagonistic - it's a non-zero-sum game. If you accept as a starting point that there is consumption and production, then optimizing that provides efficiencies that enable both more production and consumption. Both sides are better off.

I'm fully aware that writing at an abstract level and am personally a reluctant capitalist - but I detest waste.

To deep-dive into a really specific example. Today there is most likely a plane flying from your city with an empty seat, to a city you want to visit but can't afford, which has an empty hotel room. Why would not offering you this itinerary for a price you could afford, not be a good thing to offer you before you watched your next youtube video?

Now the intrusive part of this is that it requires somebody to work out where you want to go, which airlines and hotels are hiding 'failure', and what "you can afford". Nobody really wants to share any of this - but as a theoretical, could make everybody a bit happier.


It's not zero-sum, it's ultimately negative-sum. Ever increasing amount of resources are spent fighting over relatively fixed pie, ruining many lives and countless days in the process.

Advertising in practice does not converge to market efficiency; it overshoots and ultimately strip-mines people, by exploiting information asymmetry.


You argue based only on the assumption that human is a consumer and dong targeting in mass has no negative externalities.

At the end it's behavioral modification.


serving advertisements is unethical. i never consented to being attacked and constantly distracted by an endless ocean of ads, and yet that's what happens. there is no ad that is good. furthermore, advertisers do not have my interests at heart, and i do not want any of them to have even a single shred of information regarding my habits or qualities because it implies having power over me.

until ads become opt in, i will opt out of 100% of ads wherever possible. i'll also always run Ad Nauseum and try to ruin advertiser's profit margins and quality of information wherever legally possible and within my means and convenience.

if i'm "forced" to see an ad, i can always use a different product or service instead. or i could simply do without altogether instead -- like with TV.

just to drive this point home, i want to make it clear that i'm putting my money where my mouth is. i refuse to invest in companies that use ad-based revenue as their business model or develops ad tech for others to use. and i'm not alone.

in fact, i don't know any people in tech -- or outside of tech -- who don't try to block ads as often as they can.


I suspect that this is a bit skewed by the fact that targeted ads, as they are typically done, are a horrible experience that has little transparency and that the user has very little control over.

Some people are just going to hate all ads no matter what. I'd guess a much larger number (including me) would see them as a reasonable way to support web sites and services that they like, if those ads were to give them much better experience, and that mostly means more control. For one, I suggest that ads have a way you can express, with a couple clicks (and without leaving the page) one of the following:

- I already purchased this

- I already purchased a competing product

- I am not interested in this anymore

- I was never interested in this

- This ad is too creepy or personal or otherwise makes me uncomfortable

- this ad is obnoxious / distracting / ugly / disturbing

- I don't want this displayed because it might reveal something private to an onlooker (example: gift purchase for spouse)

- I'm not interested in this product but I might be interested in competing products

- I'm in the market for ______________ and I don't mind getting ads for them

- Thanks for the reminder, not now but maybe later

- Ads that track me really annoy me

Of course, in addition to collecting this information, it should act on it in a reasonable way. It would also be nice if it was accompanied by an option to pay a small, reasonable amount to remove ads.

For whatever reason, ad companies don't seem to want to do this sort of thing. It may take legislation, which I would certainly get behind.


It makes a lot of sense and I'm sure advertisers would very much like it as much as you do (in this specific context that is).

I mean, there's a reason this infamous quote is still relevant today: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

The real issue is the ad-ecosystem is afraid (and rightly so if I may) that people might try to game the system and would rather not bother.

That and realising that out of your X thousands / millions monthly unique visitors, only a small percentage are an adequate audience will pelase neither the publisher nor the ad exchanges. Sure you could fall back to branding adverts but those are usually of lesser value.


Just curious, how would you imagine it being gamed? I could certainly imagine advertisers or competitors gaming it one way or another (which is true today), but what about regular people? Do you think there is a rational reason someone would not want to express what they really think?


Well, the main thing I can think off would be people constantly rejecting ads up until you only get the untargeted ads which means :

1) Less valuable and therefore bad for publishers. 2) Remove users from the pool available to those ad-tech providers and therefore is a big nono for them.

I could very well be wrong, so take it for what is worth.

This being said I'd like to highlight that there are 2 main concerns I have with completely killing the targeted ad industry, namely :

1) The big players will probably find workarounds and be able to sustain themselves, whereas the smaller players ( local news, niche website etc..) will probably get decimated or at the very least severely diminished.

2) A shift towards more sneaky advertising, something that isn't clearly identified as such. For all their issues, display advertising as it stands today tends to be pretty obvious. If you kill this segment, something else will fill the gap. It has already started and it might need to be heavily regulated (as the FTC did for those Instagram / Youtube folks promoting things).

I honestly believe that there's some room for improvements and it is in the best interest of the industry to get a grip and rein itself in. But the greed will prevail I'm afraid and therefore all those scandals might bring in (much needed tbh) regulations.


Thanks for the response, and yeah I share your concerns and personally am not against targeted ads if done well. Many ads I see kind of make me smile, because they are for things that I actually want I they are "happy things". (typically amazon or ebay ads: skateboard parts, digital pianos, etc)

I'll bet that the sort of people who just keep insisting on untargeted ads probably aren't ones to bother with too much. So my hope is that if a system like I proposed gets adopted (possibly due to regulation) that the great majority of people would accept targeted ads as long as they "play nice" and are pretty transparent.


If a group is allowed to have sufficient knowledge of an individual through pervasive surveillance, then they can weaponize that by shifting the individual's Overton window through micro-messaging.

An altered perspective is the objective of propaganda and targeted advertising and radicalization. Their methods and objectives are the same: make someone believe what we want them to believe without their awareness of the effort.

This activity is underhanded and deceptive. It's neither persuasion nor debate, intentionally so.


> individual's Overton window

Overton window is by definition a property of a group, not an individual.


Agreed; hence the qualification.

The Overton window is the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse; restricting to an individual, it may be considered the range of ideas tolerated in one's private thoughts.


Behavioral targeting which requires stalking people 24/7 and building invasive profiles is not only unethical but creepy, deeply dehumanizing and democratically problematic.

As usual many are too blinded by greed to realize this simple fact, focused on 'innovation' and profit but once you dehumanize your fellow citizens its the beginning of the end.

The tone of discussion on HN itself on these issues betrays the dehumanization and alienation from the general concerns of privacy, democracy and ethics.


Would being able to create various anonymous profiles with interests that are only loosely tied to you be considered less creepy?

I'm an industry insider and while yes, it's how I make money, I can't deny there are some creepy bits which should be a concern for all.

But unless someone comes up with a better revenue model, most of Internet is supported by the Ad money. Be it the big players such as Google or Facebook, or the many modest operations out there.

So we have to figure out a way to make it work, something that shouldn't be creepy but can still support the ecosystem.


Its unnecessary but those in the midst of this massive data collection effort have convinced themselves its hypercritical. Context and IP is available with zero tracking and from an advertising perspective, anything more is often superfluous.

Someone reading an auto site or watching a video, healthcare information, makeup guides or a million other things already provides nearly 99% of an advertisers profiling needs, and geolocation delivers finely grained control of delivery. No tracking and behavioral creepiness needed.

All the tracking betrays a certain unhealthy obsessiveness, a desire for control and second guessing and a false belief that knowing an individuals history, race, religion, sex, health data, political beliefs, purchasing history 'somehow' makes things more efficient. But this looks like pursuing an advertising chimera given it has never and will never be a 'neat' science and human behavior is complex. Why not just take the context and immediate interest, and show some basic respect for your fellow humans.


>"But unless someone comes up with a better revenue model, most of Internet is supported by the Ad money."

To be perfectly blunt, that's not my problem. Abolish ad money, let the sites that only exist because of ads die, let the enthusiast-driven sites survive.

I feel absolutely no obligation to support ad-funded businesses or individuals.

Create a subscription system or use Patreon (with perks for higher tiers), if you need to cover costs.

The internet did fine before corporate interests invaded. It'll do fine once we kick them to the curb again.


Select ads based on the content/copy, not the individual user.

No need to track me across the internet and planet.


Ideally yeah, that would be the best but the supply and demand might not always match up. Maybe no advertiser is willing to spend some money on the content you're being served because it's very irrelevant to them or because there's simply no advertiser with enough budget to pick up the slack.

So you end up with highly valuable spots and then the rest which is at best barely enough to cover the costs of the publisher.

I'm not trying to blindly advocate for user targeted ads as the be all end all of online ads but the reality is that a huge swath of the publishers would probably disappear, consolidating the web even more.


Excuse me, everyone saying that we should enjoy ad targeting because we want to watch "relevant" ads - please consider your own thought process here. I worked in ad tech for a couple years on the targeting tech side specifically, and I can emphatically say that what people buying ads are optimizing for is not relevance, it is reach!

Organizations should exclude people that have already purchased products from seeing ads for those products - but they almost unanimously do not.

If relevance is what people want, given the data google has about my transport habits, shouldn't I see zero car ads? Or, is perhaps that too creepy? Or maybe, google has no incentive to make advertisers pay less money on useless, irrelevant ads. Or, maybe the marketing manager who paid for the ads doesn't care to optimize their spend because the CMO doesn't care to - both of them want to say they're responsible for the largest budgets and BIGGEST audiences ever (which by the way is the reason TV ad campaigns are still so prevalent, they look good on resumes).

Do marketers have time to understand complex ML models with hundreds of variables? No. Biggest audience possible, please and thank you.


Completely un-scientific analysis; people don’t mind ad targeting if it’s relevant to them. Example - don’t show me ads for swim suits and beach umbrellas if I live in Montana.

What people object to is the detailed, strange and onerous collection and dissemination of this data - eg, the location data controversy...


Actually, from my experience, the people that get creeped out by this get creeped out the most when an ad is extremely relevant to them. I would also like to see a baseline of how many people think ads in general are immoral. We find it normal, having grown up with it, but I personally detest the constant psychological manipulation waged by ads in general. It gets even worse when those ads are personalized.


I'm actively reading ads since puberty or so, that is, I look at what they're saying, what they're trying to imply, compare with the reality, and what they generally are doing to language and communication. I used to consider it just being a smartass prick, a hairsplitting, literally-taking party pooper... but without knowing it, since I can think I tried all I could to innoculate myself against this:

> Because we are lied to all the time, in ways so routine they are beneath conscious notice, even the most direct lies are losing their power to shock us.

-- Charles Eisenstein, https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-ubiquitous-matrix-o...

I take many things into account, but the judgement of those who aren't that active and hostile in their interaction, who just soak in it, is not one of those things. That many people do see a problem makes me think better of them, but it doesn't influence my opinion of the ad landscape, that's something between me and the ads.


I agree with your actual point, but from what I've seen, people get creeped out by ads that:

a: are clearly based on personal information ("I just bought a washing machine, now I'm getting ads for washing machines."),

and b: are extremely irrelevant to then ("I already bought a washing machine, I don't need another.").


I can't find the damn thing now, but I believe you're right - I mentioned some other anecdotal "being pursued across the internet incorrectly" comment in this thread. Solution to diffuse the feeling was to insert the identified item, between a couple of other semi-random items on the banner.


Also, if you ask people if they want targeted ads or pay some money to visit the same sites (because untargeted ads pay less) then most people will choose free browsing with targeted ads.

People don't want to pay if they don't have to, and most people don't care about targeted ads.


However if you've been furiously googling for holiday destinations in Maui - maybe I'd slip you some adverts for swimwear, but hold-off on beach umbrellas as you'll never get one on the plane.


I think this is more along the lines of, show me Skiing Ads in an Skiing Enthusiast magazine/website.

Don't show me ads on the brand of tampons I'm considering that you gleaned from a conversation you picked up from my Echo or Microphone.


Targeted ads can become creepy and offensive in lots of circumstances, such as when a woman who was pregnant has a miscarriage and still receives ads about baby items.


100% of online advertisers and publishers that use online ad networks believe ad-blockers and tracker blockers are immoral.

Online ads are cross-site attacks directed against viewers/users. They are visual or textual hacks that strive to cause targeted users to take actions they might not otherwise take.

edit: speaking generally about online ad networks, real-time bidding providers, campaign aggregators, and so on.


> to take actions they might not otherwise take.

This assumes all advertising is coercive.


Okay only some advertising may be coercive, such as, ads that try to change my mind, ads that try to convince me to buy something I might not have bought otherwise, or ads that try to encourage me to continue to act or feel in certain way.


If you don't want to participate in the marketplace then block the ads.


I do. And, some sites do their best to remind how immoral I am for doing so.

If the site is an ad-block denier, I just add them to my blacklist and move on with my life.


Just like assuming all animals with wings can fly. Yes, there are penguins. But in general, both assumptions are true in 99%+ of cases.


Weird how fast this story is falling off the front page of HN.

I wonder how many HN readers, patrons, or sponsors earn big dollars inventing, implementing, or promoting the technology that makes people feel that online advertising as we know it is immoral.


17% believe it's moral..but what were the options, e.g. was it something like moral vs. Immoral or was not sure an option? People might have very different impressions of what constitutes ad-targeting, e.g. technically going to a bikes website and showing a bike ad would be a form of targeting, not as invasive as tracking a person around the web. I would like to see a question asked like, should companies keep track of what sites you've visited so they can better advertise to you? IMO that would give a clearer picture of the situation.


I’m sure if you rephrased the question you would get much different results. It’s pretty easy to prime people to answer a certain way, especially by mentioning the word “immoral.”

“Do you want to see relevant ads?”

“Would you like to see ads for products you would never buy?”


I have a couple:

Would you like to see ads deliberately selected to trigger an emotional response in you to help overcome your rational resistance to buying a product?

Do you think designing ads that take advantage of your emotions to sell garbage you don't need is moral?


I mean, those are certainly questions you could ask. I'm just pointing out that you can get people to answer any which way by the phrasing. My wife is a research psychologist who designs studies and comes up with various questions to test a certain hypothesis. It's very difficult to neutralize priming by how questions are phrased. You often need to ask the question in a variety of ways to get unbiased results.


And this is why we have a represenative democracy instead of direct ones

Let represenatives and legislative assistants do the real research before passing some emotion based law so often


Why exactly is ad customization immoral?


Ah, an ad person. I'm sure you can see this from the inside, the advertising industry has built a large surveillance apparatus in order to sell us thing we don't need. The whole selling things we don't need is already immoral -- but that's a general criticism against advertising and marketing; In this case we have something already dubious turned into a panopticon nightmare. As we grow closer to our technology, this technology is constantly spying on us to order to optimize selling us things we don't need.

You can't build trust in technology when that same technology is grassing you out to every huckster who wants to pour junk into your eyeballs.


> Ah, an ad person.

I don't work in advertising.

> the advertising industry has built a large surveillance apparatus in order to sell us thing we don't need. The whole selling things we don't need is already immoral -- but that's a general criticism against advertising and marketing; In this case we have something already dubious turned into a panopticon nightmare. As we grow closer to our technology, this technology is constantly spying on us to order to optimize selling us things we don't need.

That's all a bunch of cute stuff to say, but where's the nightmare? Thinks seem pretty good to me. Do you want to go back 50 years? 100? Which point in history was not a nightmare, to which you'd like to return?


I'd argue that unsolicited advertising in general is immoral, and ad customization (or targeted ads) is even more immoral because it's more effective.

The reason I'd argue that unsolicited advertising is immoral is because it's a means of enticing or perhaps even coercing people to buy things that they would not otherwise buy. It's an attempt to control customers to enrich the sellers and marketers.

In certain cases, where spending or consuming is actually harmful to the consumer, advertising is even worse. For example, let's say I have an eating disorder and can't resist buying a certain brand and flavor of ice cream. If ads are not targeted and I'm shown ads of, say, motorcycles, I can resist those and not buy them, but if I'm shown ads of my favorite ice cream I'll be tempted to buy it, overindulge, and harm my health. Gambling ads seen by gambling addicts, alcohol ads seen by alcoholics, and so on can similarly be harmful in financial, psychological, and social ways.

Solicited ads are more of a gray area, because at least the consumer would be looking to buy whatever it is that's being advertised, and they want to see ads. In that case, the best outcome is that the ads help the consumer make a more informed decision. But the reality of advertising is that ads are often misleading or outright lying, making emotional appeals, or trying to psychologically manipulate consumers in to buying the product or making positive associations with the brand. So even the case of solicited advertising is very problematic.


> I'd argue that unsolicited advertising in general is immoral

What does 'unsolicited' mean? Would you argue that human beings are ethically incapable of consenting to being advertised to? If not, what level of consent is required? Nobody forces you to use Google, Facebook, or watch television.

> In certain cases, where spending or consuming is actually harmful to the consumer, advertising is even worse. For example, let's say I have an eating disorder and can't resist buying a certain brand and flavor of ice cream. If ads are not targeted and I'm shown ads of, say, motorcycles, I can resist those and not buy them, but if I'm shown ads of my favorite ice cream I'll be tempted to buy it, overindulge, and harm my health. Gambling ads seen by gambling addicts, alcohol ads seen by alcoholics, and so on can similarly be harmful in financial, psychological, and social ways.

Sure, some kinds of advertising may be immoral. But I don't see much of an argument here for advertising in general being immoral. Often advertising is quite useful, in that it connects me with products I didn't know about that I might want. Is that kind of advertising immoral? Is it immoral when Dollar Shave Club advertises on podcasts to tell you how much you can save on razors by buying from them instead of the big companies? If so, who's being harmed?


>"Often advertising is quite useful, in that it connects me with products I didn't know about that I might want."

In other words, ads create a demand that you didn't have before. You were perfectly content without the advertised product, so why do you consider it attractive after being exposed to an ad?

If it was something you actually needed in your life, you would either already own it, or you would know that you needed it, without ads.

Don't confuse "need" and "want".


> In other words, ads create a demand that you didn't have before. You were perfectly content without the advertised product, so why do you consider it attractive after being exposed to an ad?

Before shoes were invented, demand for them 'didn't exist'. But I assume you wear them, and would be averse to eliminating them from your life, because they make your life better.

> If it was something you actually needed in your life, you would either already own it, or you would know that you needed it, without ads.

Do you have a smart phone? How did you find out which smart phone was good? Did the idea for a smart phone emerge unaided into your consciousness, and then you set about asking every individual on earth whether there was a company that made such a device, and then lo and behold you discovered Apple? No. You didn't. You either saw an advertisement, or communicated with someone who did. That's how you found out about nearly every product you own.


>"Before shoes were invented, demand for them 'didn't exist'. But I assume you wear them, and would be averse to eliminating them from your life, because they make your life better."

I don't wear shoes because I see ads for them, I wear shoes to protect my feet from the elements and to lessen the impact from walking and running. The demand has been there as long as people have existed, because all people who ever existed have experienced foot pain and damage. It was not some novel need that people only realized because of advertisements.

Please note that I am not against personal recommendations and word of mouth, unless it is deliberately manipulative and/or directly financially motivated.

>"Do you have a smart phone? How did you find out which smart phone was good? Did the idea for a smart phone emerge unaided into your consciousness, and then you set about asking every individual on earth whether there was a company that made such a device, and then lo and behold you discovered Apple? No. You didn't. You either saw an advertisement, or communicated with someone who did. That's how you found out about nearly every product you own."

I do have a smartphone. I found out which model to buy through reading the spec sheets and independent reviews, and by asking friends about their phones and trying them out. As a result, I ended getting a phone that wasn't bogged down by shovelware and actually had the specs I needed, most notably a long battery life.

Did some of my friends buy their phones based on ads? Maybe, but now you're severely stretching the definition of ads influencing my purchases.

So no, I choose not to let advertising unduly affect my purchasing habits.

Of course, this all depends on your definition. If I sign up for a newsletter from a band, and they tell me they have a new album out, is that advertising? Unlike the unwanted advertising you see on billboards, in magazines and online, I explicitly opted in, and I can just as easily opt out again. So I don't consider it advertising, I consider that a subscription to a newsletter. Similarly I also don't consider a manufacturer's product page as advertising, since you have to make an active and deliberate choice to look up the information in question, it is not presented to you unasked and unwanted.

I do obviously have a problem with those examples if the information is misleading or otherwise flawed.


> I don't wear shoes because I see ads for them, I wear shoes to protect my feet from the elements and to lessen the impact from walking and running. The demand has been there as long as people have existed, because all people who ever existed have experienced foot pain and damage. It was not some novel need that people only realized because of advertisements.

Yes, but someone had to invent them and then tell people about them. If you invent a new product that makes the world better in some substantial way...are you going to rely on word of mouth to get it to the public?

> I do have a smartphone. I found out which model to buy through reading the spec sheets and independent reviews, and by asking friends about their phones and trying them out. As a result, I ended getting a phone that wasn't bogged down by shovelware and actually had the specs I needed, most notably a long battery life.

Sure, I do the exact same thing. But how did you know you needed a smartphone? You presumably weren't born into the world with a specific thirst for a small rectangle with internet access. Maybe you were personal friends of Steve Jobs, but I certainly wasn't. I found out about it via ad campaigns. And then I researched it and chose the one I wanted.

Let's say tomorrow you invent a cure for cancer. Ok great, you've made it possible to substantially improve the world. But in order to actually realize those improvements, people need to know about your cure. Doctors need to be educated. Patients need to be informed. How are you going to accomplish that?


Unsolicited advertising in general is immoral. Personal recommendations and solicited advice/help are not.

Good ideas spread naturally, they don't need unsolicited advertising.


> Unsolicited advertising in general is immoral.

So you specifically requested to every media outlet and person that you know, that they inform you if and when someone starts manufacturing small rectangles capable of computing and communicating wirelessly?

> Good ideas spread naturally, they don't need unsolicited advertising.

This is simply false. There are plenty of good ideas that don't spread even with advertising. If you actually believe this, it doesn't seem like you've actually given this very much thought at all.


Just because you personally disagree, that does not mean my ideals are somehow thoughtless or not fully formed.

I bought my first mobile phone because I needed to call people when not near a landline, and I chose a Nokia because that's what my parents had and recommended. I got my first smartphone at work, because they wanted us to have email and a web browser available on the go (I work at a major telco), they chose the specific model for me (and have done so for every one of my work phones since). I bought my first smartphone for similar reasons, which I chose because it was the next version of one I had at work. My current phone was chosen because it has longer battery life than the other phones I looked at, which I discovered by looking at spec sheets.

Advertising did not play into it, I had specific needs that I wanted to cover, and I sought out the information I needed to make an informed choice.

You seem to think that advertising is the primary (or only) source of information about new products and services, which is just blatantly false. I live my life as free from advertising as I can possibly make it. Will some ads inevitably sneak in, as paid-for articles or the like? Sure, but I do try to avoid them whenever possible, it is usually relatively easy to spot product placement or fluff pieces.

Everyone should try living without ads everywhere. It's rather nice. I don't care about buying stuff just because I've heard of it. I only buy things if I have specific needs that I need to cover, and I don't impulse buy anything.


Advertising absolutely played into it. You just aren't thinking more than one step out. How did your company know about them? How did your parents?

> Everyone should try living without ads everywhere. It's rather nice. I don't care about buying stuff just because I've heard of it. I only buy things if I have specific needs that I need to cover, and I don't impulse buy anything.

I'm sure that I see similarly few ads to you. I use an adblocker. I don't watch television. But if a product is good enough, it will bubble up to me through the culture. However, even though i'm not directly viewing the advertisements, those advertisements are still necessary to bootstrap that bubbling process. Without advertising, it is extremely difficult for disruptive companies to get off the ground. Companies that create enormous amounts of value for lots of people.


Sure, advertising could have played a role. My point is that none of that advertising was actually necessary.


I guess we have different definitions of necessary. Advertising takes many forms. One form of advertising is product placement on shelf space in your drug store. To go back to the example of razor blades...without explicit advertising, someone has to have the prominent shelf space. Shelf space in drug stores is limited. What that means is that the shelf space is going to go to the highest bidder. How then is a cheap razor blade company going to get on the shelves? The answer is that they aren't. Which means that the only channel they are going to be able to distribute through is one like the internet. If you are running your cheap razor blade company which unequivocally benefits everyone who buys it (the razors are just as good, but cost dramatically less) how do you reach your customers without advertising? How does that company get bootstrapped? Do you think that company wasn't worthwhile, or do you think that it could have happened without advertising?


Advertising is so important that no business can survive without it, no matter how good is its product.

You might say that this is only because the competing businesses are advertising, whereas that one isn't.

That's fair, but in that case, who will decide how trade is conducted, basically?

It will have to be your government that decides what kinds of shoes are available on store shelves.

Or else, how do you envision it? The shoe store owner gets a personal recommendation from another such owner about which shoes to get wholesale? Based on what factors? Where does that recursion end; how does the first shoe store owner decide what to bring in? How does the shoe factory decide what to make?

Is the shoe store allowed to have a billboard, and is that not advertisement?

> Maybe, but now you're severely stretching the definition of ads influencing my purchases.

A smartphone is made of countless parts which come from a market in which advertising plays a role. Companies making systems-on-a-chip (SoC-s) and other silicon advertise that they have such things available. They don't do so on TV in the middle of sitcoms and football games, of course.


>"Or else, how do you envision it?"

Abolish capitalism, currency and wage labor.

Extreme? Maybe, but capitalism is to blame for our current extremely unsustainable exploitation of the Earth's resources.


And replace it with what? Hunting and gathering?


Horizontal democracy, the abolition of nation states, work and resources from each according to ability, to each according to need.

The vast majority of hurt and suffering in the world is caused by capitalism.


You're really glossing over quite a bit there. You know people have tried to implement systems like that. The problem with them is in the details. When people produce goods and services from their own labor, they don't generally like to give them up to the collective. You can force them to, of course, but then you need an apparatus of coercion. Things get quite messy from there.


Because it sets up an incentive structure for advertising businesses to engage in sweeping and intrusive data collection and user surveillance.

The technology that results is nigh indispensable from the foundations of a panopticon.

Algorithms can end up exacerbating echo chambers, and reinforcing negative biases many people aren't comfortable with.

And it's just bloody creepy when you sit down and think about it.

That's just what I could think of off the top of my head.


But it's no less creepy that Fox News/CNN/your news provider of choice, noting you're a statistical viewer and flogging adverts you're more likely to like, and employing pundits you're more likely to turn off. (and before this your daily newspaper and columnists)

"We've 'been the product' from the moment we weren't the sole funder of what we received" Even when we were - "I've become a patron a fine artist, who's got excellent reviews for some Mona-whatsit thing" - he didn't go on to paint your wife ugly. Or even more banal examples - emergency plumber will charge you a callout, same plumber in non-emergency situation will pop around that evening to give you a free quote. Same plumber, same effort - just a different transaction.


Many TV ads are also immoral.

Taking advantage of emotions to trick people into buying things they don't want or need is immoral.


Is that what's actually happening though? Is there any persuasive evidence that people are, en masse, being 'tricked' into buying things they "don't want"?

It seems to me that a much more persuasive case can be made that on the margin, some people flip between this product or that for meaningless reasons, but for the most part, advertising informs people of the existence of products that might improve their lives.


It's immoral if you steal your prospective (non-customer) client data without their consent. Actually it's immoral even when the client actually is a customer, if you steal their data without their consent.


That is wholly distinct from ad customization. Collecting customer data is sometimes used for ad customization, but there are varying degrees of ethicality in collection.




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