Let’s Outlaw Advertising and Other Lofty Goals

Ramsi Woodcock at the University of Kentucky suggests that a core problem with television and mass media is that advertising represents a monopolistic hold on competition and effectively strangles free speech of companies that don’t provide sugary death water to 60% of the planet.

His solution seems to be to lobby the FTC to ban mass advertising, or at least have the FTC sue certain corporations and advertisers on anti-trust grounds. I hope I’ll eat my words some day, but I think it’s safe to say that the man responsible for trolling the Internet for the last two years isn’t going to suddenly decide that advertising isn’t a protected form of speech.

Woodcock’s suggestions might drive the conversation forward, but they’re certainly not very plausible. Maybe by getting enough people agitated about the effects of massive corporations sucking all the air out of the competition-room we can start meaningful conversations about reform, but I strongly suspect this ship has sailed.

“We Could, So We Did,” said every massive corporation fooling around with our Personal Information

If Woodcock’s piece was a sobering realization of our impotence in the face of massive corporations’ interests, then Lucia Moses’ piece about USA Today, ESPN and NYT targeting ads to users based on their mood as determined by artificial intelligence was a swift kick in the nethers.

Reading ESPN’s Senior VP Vikram Somaya say, “We have a lot of first-party data we can use with a lot of transactions with the consumer; why wouldn’t we do it?” really inspires confidence in a world recently stunned by Cambridge Analytica leaks, regular security breaches and — really, anyone who’s ever watched any episode of Black Mirror.

Our personal information is the most valuable thing average citizens bring to the internet today, and massive online entities are able to acquire it, monetize it and profit from it without our input or say-so. On top of that, they’re using deep learning to identify and respond to our emotions as we use their product — who’s to say they’re not going to try to manipulate our emotions too?

“Publishers and agencies say they draw the line at using personally identifiable data.” Oh, yeah, that’s fine — no oversight needed there!

Jeff Bezos Saves WaPo and Sets the Example

This week’s star baker was Dan Kennedy. His piece exploring The Bezos Effect occasionally runs a bit close to being a paean to the world’s wealthiest human, but on the level does a great job of investigating and analyzing the successes of acquiring a massive news entity, and trying to get it productive in this century.

Aircraft carriers famously take several miles to turn when underway. Having never worked at a the WaPo, I can only imagine that it is similarly burdened with internal, external and institutional momentum that makes revolutionizing, modernizing and embracing the fact that the Internet is — in fact — a different thing from television and radio pretty hard.

Reading about Bezos’ philosophies and plans to convert the newspaper into an internet-facing platform was exciting to say the least. Keeping on the editorial and technological heads helped to keep internal momentum, while flooding the scene with profit-tied money clearly worked something to get the up to speed.

Just Whose Responsibility is Personal Data Online?

My boy over at Stratchery didn’t post a new blogpost before the deadline for this submission, so I went backwards to his post about data factories online.

This blogpost from Ben Thompson wrestles with the idea that aggregators online (Facebook, Google) actually do have a very real interest in keeping users happy, and so it’s not entirely true that “you’re the product.” But he points out that Facebook and Google are effectively converting the entire process of the Internet experience into a data-refining process, and that is profit-driven, thereby justifying the need for some regulation.

The struggle, however, is that personally-driven advertising is not only going to be nearly impossible to shake off, it’s also beneficial. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to be insidious and harmful. Thompson writes an exhaustive analysis of what exactly Google and Facebook provide for the internet, advertisers and users while calling for better regulation and oversight. Go read it.

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