Bookmark: "10 Reasons Why Online Advertising is Broken"

Sebastian Greger


In “10 Reasons Why Online Advertising is Broken”, Karolina Iwańska summarizes the toxicity of behavioural advertising not in one, but ten, points (and stresses that this list is not exhaustive).

Starting out with the illusion of consent and intrusive profiling, she frames the distribution of user information via ad exchanges as “quite possibly the largest data breach ever recorded” [highlight by me], made even worse by the lack of transparency, making it entirely opaque to the subjects. After tackling the intrinsic potential for discrimination, she concludes that adtech is in conflict with the core values of the GDPR:

The EU data protection law, GDPR, introduced the concept of privacy by design and by default. […] Targeted advertising couldn’t be further from these principles - in fact it is broken by design and by default.

The remaining points are an outlook of the bigger scale impact on our societies: she describes adtech as fuel to an unhealthyinternet by encouraging clickbait, hoaxes, and sensationalism, and highlights that there is a thick layer of middlemen capturing the major share of ad spend. She further points out how the enormous amount of data processed also has a “carbon footprint too big to be ignored” and arrives at the inevitable outlook on adtech as a key player in surveillance captialism:

Online advertising in its current form upholds business models based on surveillance, built on the premise that people and intimate information about them can be treated like a commodity.

The article (whose presentation gained quite some praise at last week’s CDPD2020 conference) closes with the promise to foster a debate that goes way beyond regulating cookie banners or otherwise treating the symptoms:

It has never been more urgent to talk about alternatives that respect privacy and human rights, and contribute to a healthier media ecosystem. As civil society and regular Internet users we should be part of this discussion. We have too much to lose.

I look forward to the promised follow-up with recommendations for the industry and policymakers. It is about time that surveillance advertising gets outlawed and replaced with advertising that respects human rights.


  1. CDPD is probably the world’s biggest conference on privacy and data protection, yet ironically and concerningly sponsored by big surveillance capitalists like Google and Facebook.

I'm Sebastian, Sociologist and Interaction Designer. This journal is mostly about bringing toge­ther social science and design for inclusive, privacy-focused, and sustainable "human-first" digital strategies. I also tend to a "digital garden" with carefully curated resources.

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