Disproving Big Tech's Claims That Everyone Needs Targeted Ads
For the past decade, online advertising has wreaked havoc on the internet and also the world as we know it. The collection of our online data for the purpose of behavioral targeted advertising has led to everything from dividing and isolating us both socially and politically to other horrors like learning Uncle Jerry's online shenanigans after he asked the group chat, "Why is Instagram trying to sell me this leather gag thingamajig?!" (We're not kink-shaming, Uncle Jerry, but we also didn't need to know that.)
But the internet knows. Oh, it knows so many, many things about you, Uncle Jerry, and also all of us. Going online means being followed and harassed by every click you've ever made, purely because some marketer wants to see what you like and feed you their shit so the money machine can keep on rolling.
For too long a time, this business model was sold to both publishers and users as a major success and the best way for everyone to just live with intrusive advertising online. In 2019, Google did a study that claimed disabling third-party cookies on websites could reduce publishers' revenues by more than 50% because fear of going bankrupt is the best way to make people shut up and stop questioning you. Never mind that an independent team of economists did their own study and found that targeted ads only caused around a 4% increase in revenue. Google said it's vital, so it had to be true, regardless of the fact that they themselves pocket most of those ad revenues and would just really love to continue doing so, you guys.
Media companies, however, are proving that Google’s claim about publishers’ lost revenue is hokey and biased. When the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation privacy law went into effect in 2018, the Dutch public broadcaster called the Nederlandse Publieke Omroep (pretty much the BBC of the Netherlands) decided they would test these claims for themselves. They gave their users the option to opt out of cookies entirely, and, unlike other sites, their default setting automatically opted users out, too. Not that it was needed, because a whopping 90% of their users opted out themselves, and guess what? Their revenue has gone way up, even in the midst of a pandemic that has seen many publishers buckle under financial pressure. The same thing happened to The New York Times when they cut behavioral targeting ads from their business model in Europe and opted for direct-selling ads instead.
The BS rhetoric from Google and Facebook surrounding the use and supposed need for internet cookies is, at last, coming to a head, it seems, as more pressure is being put on these advertising giants to just freaking quit it. Google says it'll start blocking cookies on its Chrome browser, but that plan has already been pushed back, and it seems like they don't really know how to fix the problem that has made them so much money. Facebook, of course, doesn't give a flying fork, but with the antitrust folks relentlessly going after them, they might be forced to admit somewhere in the near future that their entire digital advertising model is bunk, anyway.