Few things in life are free, including, it seems, your right to privacy, writes John Williams.
In recent years, consumers, academics, social commentators and politicians have become alarmed at the power of a very small number of Internet companies over the daily lives of almost everyone on the planet.
Frightened by the pervasive both unwarranted and undisclosed surveillance of our every online movement, and the resulting power that access to this data gives to commercial, political and criminal interests, regulators around the world have taken action. against these companies, notably Alphabet (which owns Google and YouTube) and Meta (which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp). These two companies of course own other companies, but these are the most worrying.
While Meta / Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shrugs, deflects or denies any criticism, Alphabet has had a somewhat different reaction. More importantly, it has decided that in the near future it will no longer accept third-party cookies in Google Chrome, which is the world’s most popular web browser. Other web browsers, notably Firefox, have already taken this step.
For those of you who don’t know, every time you visit a web page (or use many mobile apps) your web browser or app may receive a request from the server to store information on your device. The original goal of this technology was to make it easier to navigate the web, so that users would not be prompted for the same information over and over again. However, this technology has been co-opted by the advertising industry (Alphabet and Meta derive well over 90% of their revenue from advertising) to uniquely identify individuals and record their online activity as much as possible. Alphabet, and others, have also expanded their monitoring offline, partnering with retailers and credit card companies, to further capture our business and our preferences, tastes, opinions, etc.
It was a godsend for marketers, who were sold by Alphabet and Meta who instead of paying for an ad that would interest almost no one and that no one would respond to (on the radio, TV or commercials of “Banner” on websites), they would only show advertisements to people who were genuinely interested in the merchant’s product or service and were almost ready to buy. It sounds like a win-win: marketers waste less money (“I know half my ad budget is wasted, but I don’t know which half!”) And consumers are less bothered by ads. for things that don’t interest them. Nirvana? Dear reader, I leave it to you to assess how well this system has worked for you over the past decade. But that is all about to change. In the name of privacy, third-party cookies, and therefore laser targeting, end. Marketers and advertisers are in deep trouble; naming this event in the near future the “cookiepocalypse”. But it must be good for consumers: right?
Wrong. Well, it’s good if you value your privacy (Google and Meta still know your every move, but they won’t share your data with other companies anymore, at least that’s what they say). But if you’re annoyed with ads (who isn’t?), Your online experience is about to get more irritating.
Because companies can’t show you ads based on things you like, and search ads (ads that appear when you search for something on Google or Bing, among others) become less effective, the budget Advertising is now moving towards “contextual” advertising, that is to say on reports, YouTube videos, etc.
It’s a throwback to the bad old days of newspapers having more advertising than actual news, and TV channels having almost as much advertising as what we actually want to watch.
It’s getting worse. If it is true that online advertising based on monitoring at the individual level has resulted in less unnecessary ad spend, then if this goes away, the business costs will increase. And when that happens, who do you think will pay?
Additionally, advertisers are now using “branded content” as opposed to “native advertising” or “sponsored content” to further blur the lines between advertising and actual content.
Very little is free in life, including, of course, your right to privacy.
– John Williams is Senior Lecturer in the Marketing Department at the University of Otago.