The Internet's Original Sin

Source: Atlantic, The
Coverage Type: op-ed
Center for Civic Media (MIT), 20 Ames Street Wiesner Building, E15, Cambridge, MA, 02139, United States

[Commentary] I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the web. An ad supported web has at least four downsides as a default business model.

First, while advertising without surveillance is possible, it’s hard to imagine online advertising without surveillance.

Second, not only does advertising lead to surveillance through the “investor storytime” mechanism, it creates incentives to produce and share content that generates pageviews and mouse clicks, but little thoughtful engagement.

Third, the advertising model tends to centralize the web. Advertisers are desperate to reach large audiences as the reach of any individual channel shrinks.

Finally, even attempts to mitigate advertising’s downsides have consequences. To compensate us for our experience of continual surveillance, many websites promise personalization of content to match our interests and tastes. By giving platforms information on our interests, we are, of course, generating more ad targeting information.

[Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and principal research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab]


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