Advertising and the Rights of the Individual


There are a lot of people concerned about the privacy of their information these days, especially after realizing that large companies such as Facebook and Google are collecting a lot of information about them. This leads many people to try to protect themselves and browse anonymously, use blockers, fear surveillance, etc.

What if, instead of futilely trying to defend ourselves against increasing surveillance and privacy violations, we were to instead target the incentive large companies have for spending large amounts of resources surveilling us in the first place? If it were no longer worth their while to collect our data, they’d stop collecting our data on their own. The incentive I’m referring to is advertising.

Why do people assume intrusive, non-consensual advertising is an acceptable everyday activity at all, instead of the violation of our rights that it clearly is? It might not be as severe as sexual harassment or a punch in the face, but it’s wrong for the same reasons: an advertiser is causing my phone or doorbell to ring to try to sell me their product when I never consented. They’re treating me as a means to them having a job, without any thought of whether I consent to spend my time talking to them or of what they might be interrupting.

In the early days of TV, advertising became mainstream because you could (and still can) get a few TV channels for free with an antenna, so the channels needed to advertise to have an incentive to broadcast content. But they don’t need that incentive anymore – most people who watch TV pay for a cable package, which gives them money. Why should people pay for TV channels and then pay again in the form of commercials? Or buy DVDs and then pay for them again in the form of ads when they’re inserted?

The internet is no different: we already pay an Internet Service Provider a fee to get internet. Why can’t some of that money go to the cost of hosting content? Currently, someone who wants to provide free content to the world must either pay to host it on a website or submit their content to an ad-supported website such as Facebook, making their recipients pay the cost as ads. But internet users already pay ISPs for service. All it would take is an ISP providing a slice of a server for people who want to host content. This couldn’t cost more than an extra $5 per month (and it would probably cost much less), and I’d gladly pay $105 per month instead of $100 per month for an ad-free internet.

How could large websites with many users posting content exist under this system, you ask? A distributed scheme would be one possible solution – each user of that website could provide some computing power, and storage space from their slice of space their ISP gave them, to serve the website, forming a large, distributed server out of the userbase, much like many of the other distributed computing solutions that have become increasingly common (bitcoin, BitTorrent, etc.). Users would become both producers and consumers rather than merely consumers. There are probably other information ecosystems that could evolve to solve the problem, and if enough of us start questioning the fundamental idea of why we allow non-consensual advertising, I can’t see any reason why the problem won’t get worked on and solved. Even if large websites like Facebook were to go away in favour of individual but interconnected ad-free blogs, would that be so bad? People could still communicate and accomplish the same goals.

Non-consensual advertising is not necessary for business, and a loss of jobs if it were outlawed is not a concern any more than the loss of jobs to scribes would have been at the advent of the printing press. Times change and some jobs replace obsolete jobs. Obviously, if I voluntarily go into a store, or visit the website of an online store, I expect to receive information about products; that advertising is consensual. I even like how online stores recommend to me things I might like when I voluntarily go to their website. My objection is when companies start to encroach into my everyday life, my phone, my email, my house, my non-store websites, and continually beg for my attention as if my life revolves around shopping for their products. This is totally unacceptable and a violation of my freedom. Why are we not questioning this behaviour and enacting laws to put a stop to it, just like we do for other forms of aggression?


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