Nobody likes too much advertising, but everybody likes a great deal. Consumers often take for granted the ability of companies to target their individual interests and to expose them to relevant ads. At the same time, people tend to despise the idea that tech companies like Facebook and Google are aggregating data about us behind the scenes. I personally don’t care and I defend my position by saying that I choose to participate in online sites that aggregate information and rewards programs that can link together my purchasing activity because it often benefits me. For example, I am a frequent user of Finish Line’s website because they always have great shoes on clearance. I discovered this site because I clicked on a Facebook ad that showed a cheap pair of basketball shoes that piqued my interest.
Why are people against companies aggregating public data? Most the data mentioned in the articles was a result of public activity such as shopping, Facebook likes, and birth records. All the data is public, so why should a company be at fault for using this information to make a profit? I recently read The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver and I have become increasingly interested in data analytics ever since. Statisticians like Andrew Pole of Target have an incredible skill that brings value to large companies. I personally disagree with the argument that this aggregation of personal data is invasive because we make it public by participating in social media and signing up for rewards programs. If you do this because you are attracted to the incentives, then you can’t complain that companies track activity to enhance the effectiveness of their strategy. We often benefit from optimized strategies because random ads that are meaningless to us individually do not show up, and ads that bring value to our lives show up everywhere. If all ads annoy, then use AdBlock!
That brings us to the question – is the use of ad blockers such as AdBlock ethical? I say yes. If companies aggregate data about us constantly, then why does it matter if we choose to use an ad blocker? It’s kind of a win-win, companies still get to gather useful information about our consumer activity and we can choose to block ads if we don’t want to see them. It’s no secret that many people use ad blockers, and some companies identify this on their sites. I have visited websites that require you to turn of ad blockers, and I have also visited sites that respect the use of ad blockers and ask for donations to replace lost revenue. I favor this approach as a consumer because it makes me aware of the effects of using ad blocker while respecting my decision to remove advertising from my browsing experience.
Now what happens when companies sell this data… well, I still don’t care. Like I said earlier, most of it is public! If the companies purchasing this data had the technical ability to gather such information, then they would surely have access to it. In addition, this method of generating profit helps to cancel out the common use of ad blockers. For instance, we can choose to keep them from effectively using the data to expose us to target ads, so they can sell the information to other companies and make money that way.
The point I am trying to make here is that the information is public, so if someone develops an efficient method for aggregating such large amounts of data, then more power to ’em. I am content seeing a few ads every once in awhile especially when they are relevant to me. I am always down for a cheap new pair of basketball shoes.