October 22, 2018

Totalitarian Marketing


This post is adapted from my book "BadMen: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace."

Advertising used to be concerned with imparting information. Today it is concerned with collecting information.

Online advertising, the predominant form of marketing communication, is largely reliant on "tracking" to accomplish this. Tracking is just a pleasanter word for surveillance. Our web browsers, our search engines, and the sites we visit use invisible software to keep track of everything we do and everywhere we go on line. Our emails and texts are read and archived by the providers we use.

All this information is collected, stored, and sold to third parties. Usually without our knowledge or consent. It has proven to be easily accessible to hackers, foreign governments, and other malefactors.

The preposterous rationale for all this abuse of our privacy is that it helps marketers provide us with more relevant advertising. As if the citizens of the world are taking to the streets demanding more relevant advertising.

We were taught to fear totalitarian governments. We feared they would know everything about us, follow us everywhere, know who we were talking to and what we were saying, and keep secret files about us which could be used to influence our lives in ways that were only vaguely visible to us.

We are well on our way to such a nightmare. Except it isn't our government that knows everything about us, follows us everywhere, knows who we are talking to and what we are saying, and keeps secret files about us. It is the marketing industry.

We know where totalitarian government leads. It lead to Iron Curtains, Gestapos, and Killing Fields. It leads to the trivialization of personal freedoms and the unchecked power of tyrants.

But we don't know where totalitarian marketing leads. It's hard to come up with a scenario that isn't frightening.

Surveillance marketing is little more than 10 years old but has already played a significant role in undermining our confidence in the legitimacy of our elections and the credibility of our news media.

It is time for us to demand that as a first step toward a reformed, credible web, tracking must be stopped. Tracking is a danger to democratic societies and to individual citizens.

The privacy rights of individuals are far more important to society than the convenience of marketers.




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