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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/14/20

Surveillance Capitalism Is Having Its Own Recession

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For months I've been thinking about "targeted advertising" and the dark side of it, Surveillance Capitalism. The question that bothered me was, if targeting is so good, how come I never get any ads that are "relevant?" Not that I'm complaining!

Then, listening to Harry Shearer, as I do religiously every Sunday, I heard something that provided insight.

It seems that PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) did a study for some British advertising trade group or other, and they reported the following:

  • Publishers only receive 51% of advertiser "ad-spend"
  • One-third of supply chain costs were unattributed
  • Bla bla bla agency fees bla bla demand-side bla

"All of these findings come when publishers need to squeeze every last cent from the chain as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Transparency and accountability are more important than ever..." []

Harry translated this rather amazing revelation about transparency from the industry that melts like the Wicked Witch in the face of authenticity: the publishers who sell the ads in question only get half of what the advertisers spend. The rest goes to "ad supply-chain intermediaries." About 15% of the total spent, or 1/3 of the fees, cannot be accounted for at all.

PWC could not reconcile this.

They reported that 25% of ads are never seen. These are "programmatic ads," that is, bought and sold by algorithms, not people. Googly-moogly and Book of Faces ads, about 82% of US ads. This is a $333 billion dollar industry worldwide.

$42 to $5.8 billion is attributed to "ad fraud."

A couple billion people lack potable water, right now.


I want to ask: if targeted ads are such a poor investment, where's all the money coming from, that makes the tech giants, um, giant? Not from internet ads? Well, where else then?

Surveillance. More precisely, attention-mining.

The "targeted ads" thing is reduced by The Virus to window-dressing. They are ineffective anyway, and a nuisance to everybody. They only have one function now, and that's to cover the multibillion-dollar Surveillance Capitalism operations that are destroying our democracy -- or have destroyed it. Depending on whether you think we had it in the first place. It can't have been in very good shape, to be so easly circumvented by bots and troll-farms.

Now, as we all jump online to keep some kind of functioning society going, educate our kids, run our businesses, keep the lights on, maintain some kind of sanity whilst waiting out this scary microbe, the surveillance machine is having some trouble maintaining its composure. The tech giants should be rolling in the stuff now, more than ever. A captive audience, what could be better! But they're screaming, because all this money is going down "a big hole in the value chain" (according to Graeme Adams, head of media at BT Group).

And maybe it's dawning on people that those stupid banners and popups and self-playing videos are a total waste of time. The whole mechanism relies on processing the vast troves of personal data that pour into it every minute, to separate and filter and catagorize us into little hungry audience-markets. These datasets are then bundled and tranched and derivatized and subprimed and automated and sold to other processors that feed each of those one-seat markets an individuallized stream of "relevant content." Click-bait.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay (more...)

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