Advertisements may seem like an irritant, but they are (unsurprisingly) imperative to the companies that utilize them. Advertisements are tailored to different demographics of consumers in an attempt to ensnare their target market. This can entail language used, both the terminology and the dialect, as well as content and the location of the ad.
Recently, advertisement placement has been the topic of controversy. Google’s algorithm — one of the key factors to the rise of Google — tracks user clicks and web pages visited. The data collected allows the algorithm to place advertisements on sites that the user has previously visited. However, this method affects more than just the consumer; some companies do not want their advertisements to be featured on websites with certain content. Some of the content in question includes hate speech, racial and anti-Semitic sentiment, or heavily-slanted political commentary.
Because the algorithm does not yet possess the flexibility to exclude websites based on content when determining ad placement, many major companies that use the service have backed out, including AT&T and Verizon. YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, faces a similar problem, and advertisers are pulling out their business due to their ads shown before or during controversial or discriminatory videos.
There will not be a quick fix for this issue. Flagging problematic words might be easy enough, but subtext, connotations, and statements can create derogatory messages without using the contentious words. Additionally, flagging words can arguably interfere with free speech and deny some websites access to a larger audience base through Google’s services due to improper characterization of content.
The larger issue at hand comes from the recent repeal of online privacy measures. While any given individual never had much privacy to begin with, the Federal Communication Commission’s rules created protections against reporting an individual’s information to companies without their permission. The absence of these rules provides an advantageous opportunity for companies to access the spread of information, as well as create and use more specifically targeted ads. Businesses looking to more accurately target potential customers benefit from the change. On the other hand, it creates increasingly transparent channels for the distribution of consumer information. The security measures that used to monitor the flow of information to companies is now almost non-existent.
As individuals and consumers, what can we do? For the most part, be aware that advertisements are targeted at you, and do not necessarily approve of the content of the website they appear on. To create a little more privacy online, a virtual private network can be obtained.
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