There is a lot of talk these days of the evil of ‘fake news’. As far as I can tell, fake news is just a symptom. The real problem is the ‘easy money’ mentality of the online ad machine. This largely anonymous (and most definitely unregulated) mechanism rewards any and all bad behavior by handing out cash for page views. These days, that means page views creaking from the overload of irrelevant advertising that delivers no value to the viewer but does enrich the bottom-dwellers that plaster ads all over the page. Fake news, clickbait, porn, gossip, real news – at this point they are rewarded equally by advertisers.
Fake news is only the most headline grabbing; there is so much more of this dubious activity festering everywhere and in more subtle ways. Most recently, I have noticed online retailers starting to use unnecessary parcel tracking services ‘to better server their customers’. In this case, to better serve customers bandwidth wasting, unnecessary advertising. I have strongly suggested to some retailers that I do business with to just stick the tracking number for my order in the shipment confirmation email. I don’t want to (or need to) click on a series of links that are awash with advertising just to get to the tracking number that could and should be provided me in plain text in my email.
I can’t tell if companies are just ill-informed or just don’t care that much about customer satisfaction and privacy when it comes to things like this. We recently stayed at a hotel in San Diego that offered as one of it’s ‘customer services’ the ability to text the hotel if something was needed. What was not disclosed was that this service is not operated by the hotel, but by a third party. So, by texting the ‘hotel’ you are (probably unwittingly) providing this third party with your cell phone number, name, info about your stay and who knows what else. That information gets sold immediately and you get nothing for it. Just like the dubious ‘free’ safe in your room that requires you to swipe a credit card to ‘activate it’. As soon as you swipe, some unknown, undisclosed third party now has your credit card number, name and whatever else is encoded on your credit card’s magstripe. That’s right, I don’t need or want your data harvesting in the middle.
Additionally, I have little sympathy for all of the web sites that block visitors if they are using ad blocking software (which has been shown to prevent the distribution of ad-based malware (aka, forbes, businessinsider, wsj, wired, etc). They whine about not getting their vig from online ads but are silent about the 10, 15, 20 trackers and beacons (in the form of cookies and local storage) that they DO profit from that are placed on your system without your knowledge or approval (again ‘to better provide you service’). But, don’t believe me, run a browser extension like Ghostery to see all the garbage that gets placed on your system when you visit one of these cookie cesspools. Alternatively, you can at least click on the site information icon in Chrome and see all the ‘3rd party’ cookies that are placed on your system.
Increasingly, the web is moving away from its roots as a means to easily share information (and actual data) into the realm of the quick buck, ‘publish anything that will generate a click’ crapfest we have now.
Install ad-blocking in your browser and think before (and after) you click.