I was an executive at a global advertising company, watching a demo from a third-party data provider on how they could help with ad targeting. Their representative brazenly demonstrated how he could pull up his own personal record and share with us his income, his mortgage details, where he worked, what kind of car he drove, which political party he was likely to vote for, and his personal interests (craft beer, of course). It was everything, all in one place.
Not to be outdone, another startup projected a map of San Francisco with a red line tracking a real, anonymous person throughout their day. He challenged us to infer what we could about her. She left the house at 7 a.m. Went to Starbucks. Went to a school. Went to a yoga studio. Went back to the school. She was a mother with at least one child, and we knew where she lived. We knew this because this woman’s cell phone was tracking her every move. As does every other cell phone, including the one in your pocket right now.Richard Stokes, “I left the ad industry because our use of data tracking terrified me” at Fast Company
Stokes exited the industry shortly thereafter, thinking that “Advertising had ceased to be about connecting with consumers—it was now about finding novel ways of extracting evermore personal information from computers, phones, and smart homes.” Significantly, he tells readers, “With every post, click, and purchase, we have become the product. I didn’t agree to that, and I bet you didn’t either.”
Neither does tech philosopher George Gilder. In Life after Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, Gilder warns about this exact problem: If social media are not charging us for the service, it is because we are the product. And surveillance, in order to maintain profitability, becomes the price we pay for being the product.
Stokes went on to found a company that offers clients tools for internet privacy. Chances are, he’ll have many competitors. According to Fortune, “Anything With ‘Privacy’ In the Title is a hot new job this year.
The death of the ad agency was widely publicized But, like so many industries, advertising turned out to be weathering the digital storm after all (It is now part of relentless tracking of customers.)
George Gilder: Google does not believe in life after Google