Targeted ads ALWAYS divide
Why wasn’t this more obvious..
A recent research, summarized here, found and documented an interesting toxic effect of online advertising:
“online targeted advertising also divides and isolates us by preventing us from collectively flagging bad ads“
It’s one of those things so obvious that one is disappointed (as I was) when others have to show it to him:
if many people see, for example, an outrageously sexist, physical billboard in a subway station, all together, they could stimulate each other’s indignation enough that at least one of them calls some watchdog, that will eventually remove that billboard, and fine its authors.
But if the same people see exactly the same content (or customized versions of it!) alone, each on their smartphone in their own bathrooms or beds… it is much more likely that none of them will do anything but passively absorb the ad, and its more or less hidden message.
Besides, exactly because the ads are served and customized on millions of individual devices, it is impossible for regulators to supervise them. That task is left to “algorithms” that more often than not fail, and it may make no difference whatsoever if they fail in your phone, instead of some server.
To solve the problem, the researchers suggest “restoring the role of consumers as active participants in the regulation of online advertising”. That is surely good, and necessary. Personally, however, I would put at least as much effort into greatly reducing what they call “very isolated experience online”. The more time you spend not alone, and really talking with others, the more you reduce all these toxic effects. Even if you talk through smartphones, if there is no other possibility. As long as it’s real, honest talk with people as close as possible to you, both physically and ideally.