Google and Apples crusade to block ads

In February, Google announced it would be blocking certain ads. That’s right: the world’s biggest ad company, that takes a gigantic chunk of its revenue from ads, is now in the ad blocking business.
Around about the same time, Apple announced that Safari, its proprietary browser, would be automatically blocking ad tracking.

Which of these do you think advertisers got upset about?


Let’s see.

Google isn’t blocking all ads. Just the ones that show up on sites that display too many ads that violate the standards from the coallition for better ads.

Google explained why it was making this move in a blog post published way back in June of last year. (Source)

In other words, Google is blocking the worst ads to preserve the reputation of the better ones.

Why is Google doing this now?

Digital advertising is in a weird place right now. It’s been trashed by numerous high-profile scandals where ill-contrived, under-supervised algorithms have served viewers ads for guns, Nazis and other ‘brand-inappropriate content.’

It’s been smeared by association with spies and dirty tricks.

And it’s been exposed as a hunter-seeker system for unscrupulous affiliate advertisers who are unusually open about how much they despise their potential customers. Facebook’s ad targeting system, says one, means the company ‘goes and finds the morons for me.’


Google isn’t really anti-ads

The thing is, digital advertising is a multibillion industry, and Google and Facebook are the sharks in that particular pond.

So one reason advertisers aren’t up in arms about Google putting the boot to some unscrupulous advertising practices might be that they don’t want to sour their relationship with the leviathan they rely on. But another might be that this isn’t about protecting you from ads. It’s about protecting ads from you.

Read that Google blog post excerpt again: the concerns being addressed are advertisers’ concerns. What Google’s trying to do is make digital advertising respectable enough that users will tolerate it and the bucks will keep rolling in.

Nothing wrong with that, per se – I’ve seen ads for things that I genuinely didn’t know were available until I saw the ad, but then found really useful. It happens.

But much more often, advertising and marketing more generally works with new digital tracking and data processing technologies to constantly serve you ads based on what you just did or looked at on another website.

Digital advertising runs on (your) data

The privacy implications are profound even if you’re only looking at commercial organizations. Crucial data about you is held by companies that aren’t competent or motivated to keep it safe.

We’ve created a panopticon and used it to fling commercial messages across every surface of the virtualized space where we increasingly learn, work, converse and participate in public life.

And that’s before we imagine what might happen if a political actor got hold of that data and used it to monkey with the democratic process deliberately.

Imagine that.

So why are advertisers not cool with Apple, if they’re totally OK with Google?

Because Apple isn’t doing anything with ads. It’s stopping tracking.(Source)

But the amount of money involved is no joke. Advertising agencies and affiliates base the packages they pitch clients on their ability to maintain ‘brand safety’ (ie, not display your ads next to Nazi propaganda or dam’-fed’ral-gummint shotgun teardowns) and targeting. That targeting depends on tracking.

Google is just proposing that advertisers do what they’ve always done, but to a higher professional standard. That’s why all the best advertisers are in favor.

Apple, on the other hand, is cutting the whole industry off at the mains, stymying its access to the resource that has become its lifeblood.

Your data.

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