Bookmark: "Category Error: Tracking Ads Are Not a Funding Mechanism"

Sebastian Greger


Peter Bihr builds a solid argument why “online ads on content fund its creation” is a so-called category error, where things that belong to one category are presented as belonging to another (where they don’t belong).

The original social contract with ads on websites, he presents, was:

I give my attention to a company’s advertisement, and that company gives the media outlet money.

Yet, with behavioural ads following people around the internet across sites and exploiting their usage data, we are talking about a very different contract:

I get to look a little at a website without paying money, and that website and its owner and everyone the owner chooses to make deals with gets to take an in-depth look at all my online behaviors and a significant chunk of my offline behaviors, too, all without a way for me to see what’s going on, or of opting out of it.

This contrast alone is essentially enough to prove his point about the category error. But the text continues, looking at just how dangerous the microtargeting etc. are. And comes to conclude:

Tracking ads are not a funding method for online content. Tracking ads are the infrastructure for surveillance & manipulation, and a massive attack vector for undermining society and its institutions.

I concur. The online ads of today have nothing to do with funding, but with surveillance. This should play a massive role when evaluating the moral, and even legal, implications of adding such techniques to a website that their reason of existence indeed has nothing to do with.

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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