Scene: Browsers For Sale

Published on: June 26th, 2017

Last month, Congress torpedoed internet privacy regulations instituted by the FCC under Obama appointee Tom Wheeler, touching off a firestorm of hand-wringing and general social media freaking out that has become so commonplace in the Trump era. In a nutshell, this move allows ISPs to self-regulate what and how they choose to collect and sell in terms of your internet browsing activity to marketers.

And no, I’m not a fan of that call. However, the reason I’m not is because I believe the internet should be completely regulated as a Title II public carrier service.

Title II is a section of the Telecommunications Act of 1934 that basically would designate “common carrier” status to the internet, regulating it in a similar fashion that was assigned to the phone utilities. This would be a firm commitment to the whole concept of a free and open internet — also affirming the concept of “’Net Neutrality.” This would prevent ISPs like Comcast from prioritizing web traffic as they choose.

But the thing I’m less interested in complaining about is the fact that this would provide a wealth of data to marketers.

To say we’re in a period of social upheaval would be an understatement. And there’s no shortage of impetus that’s gotten us to this moment. But a critical factor that allowed us to land here — a post-factual era — is the decline of journalism. And the main culprit there was a critical loss of revenue from advertising which fled to digital channels where data was much more useful.

But there’s still plenty of ad dollar to go around. You just need to allow it.

“If you’re in advertising or marketing, kill yourself,” comedian Bill Hicks once famously said in a TV special in 1993. But that was before social media was invented, effectively turning the world into one giant collection of marketers, trumpeting their opinions, beliefs, causes, needs, words, sounds and images at each other millions of times every second.

Marketing is who we are. We need to tell each other about the things we experience. The exchange may be money, or it may simply be time, but it’s a core of what it is to be human.

There’s plenty of terrible marketing out there. And that’s what Bill was likely driving at — irrelevant messages that distract us from more important pursuits.

But our toolset has evolved. Data’s in everything now, and that means relevant messages can reach us. If we let them. It’s not advertising we hate. It’s just bad advertising.

We love good commercials. It’s why the Super Bowl is so heavily watched. Seriously, only about 47 people outside of Atlanta cared about the Falcons last year, yet everyone watched, because the commercials are a coveted event. We’re all eyes and ears on that one.

So much of the important content we consume on a daily basis is supported by advertising revenue, and the more you ad-block out, the less there is to go around. And hearing voices like The Young Turks will become harder and harder against Fox News dollars. So you make the call — either we agree to start spending money on the content, which is never going to happen, or we let marketers get better at targeting us with messages we might be interested in hearing.

If we do neither?

We just might end up electing a buffoonish reality TV star with a penchant for misogyny and malignant narcissism to the most powerful position in the world.   

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