Amateur writer covering, privacy, security and open-source development. Team member @ PrivacyTools
Advertising as we know it became popular in the mid-19th century. People would pay money to put their words on a newspaper that anyone could read. Due to this, adverts on the front of newspapers were extremely varied.
For example, on the same page of any paper you could have one advert for a butcher shop, one advert for cough medicine and one advert for a power spray pump (you can see this exact page for yourself). These products are all unrelated; the only thing that connects them is the sheet of paper. The same cannot be said of the advertising you see online today.
If I go onto a website about computers, I can expect to see adverts about things related to computers. You could argue that this benefits both the consumer and the retailer. If you see a more relevant product to the one you're looking for then you're more likely to investigate it.
However, as most of you are aware, there is a dark side. A part of the reason that these ads are so accurate is because they are targeted. Personalised just for you. Sounds nice on the surface, but if you look into how this works you soon discover that it isn't. Advertising companies have huge databases that they can use to profile users based on search queries (which can be very revealing). Data is knowledge; knowledge is power.
Modern day adverts don't reflect what advertising used to be about. Instead they use trackers to gain as much information as possible on the unsuspecting user. Analytics track users around the web, recording what sites they've visited and serving ads accordingly. All of this results in a massive loss of privacy. The sole aim is to make money regardless of the ethics of it. If the product is free, you're the product.
Simply put: modern day ads are invasive.
While you could argue that newspaper adverts generate less traffic because they are less targeted, they still work (and continue to do now). People still read newspapers and advertisers pay for ads. It is effective.
Newspaper adverts never tracked people, nor did they need to. If companies wanted to reach a certain demographic with ads then they chose the right newspaper for their purpose.
The model is not flawed, but our attitudes are. The worst bit is that the solution exists. Alternatives to unethical online adverts exist. codefund.io is an example that sets out to solve this very problem.
We need to rethink online advertising. If you run a website with ads consider your options. Could donations be viable? Are the ads we serve putting our users privacy at risk?
The discussion over online ads needs to be had at some point. Why not start it now?