No, it wasn’t porn.
They’d discovered that while visiting exactly the same website my grandmother got Zalando adverts on the side and my grandfather got ads for golf courses. I explained that a lot of websites use Google Ads and thus your Google searches and your browsing history have a big influence on what the Internet is trying to sell you. Or, as Google puts it, they “try to make ads as useful as possible – and many can help you research and shop better online.” Silly, cute grandparents, I thought, shocked by the ways of the modern world.
But later I thought, that’s actually not that ridiculous a thing to be shocked by at all. The fact that your Google searches and online perusals are sold to advertisers is kind of intrusive.
I’d like to think of myself as relatively media- and advertising-aware, but only recently I was shocked by the online advertising machine myself. Facebook advertising to be precise. This was pre moving in together and The Boyfriend and myself were chatting on Facebook as usual. He was trying to enthuse me about the location of our new love pad by telling me there was a shopping centre nearby with a branch of ‘Rituals’ inside. (He knows about my love for mid-range eucalyptus scented shower gel.) Five minutes later an ad for Rituals appeared in my news feed. (!!!!!)
I must admit that the BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!-ness of this incident freaked me out (a lot) and got me thinking some more about Facebook ads.
Besides the privacy related side of things, I think we can all agree that Facebook ads are really annoying. Nowadays they fill up about half of our news feeds. Where I used to be able to scroll for ages through embarrassing party pictures, over sharing breakup statuses and a selfie or two, Facebook now makes the selection for me, which means I see the same stories from the same people with about 30% ads in between all day long. While this might mean less distraction and be better for general productivity, it still makes me feel like a slave to the Facebook algorithm. I’d like to be more in control of my social media time wastage. If Facebook changed this back to the old days, I might even forgive them for intruding my privacy and shoving ads in my face all day long. Or maybe not.
I’m obviously not alone in my annoyances with Facebook turning into such an ad-centric social medium. Some way more talented Internet people decided to create a whole new one in response.
Ello, the supposedly forever ad free social medium, has been a hot topic of late and while I’m sure all you hip innovators out there (I took a marketing course once) and your friends have been on it for ages, I decided to join now and see what all the fuzz was about. After Ello playing a bit hard to get (you have to get invited, these kinds of things make me roll my eyes, but let’s forgive them for being oh so exclusive), I made a profile and had a little play with it.
The first thing I noticed is that it is clean and very aesthetically pleasing. The options seem relatively basic, but their whole business plan is built on the fact that they plan to sell extra options later on. As an alternative to the dreaded adverts.
I’m not a social media guru in any way, so I have no idea if Ello will soon be the new Facebook. I’m not sure if people will get so tired of ads that they’ll be willing to go through the effort of changing platforms, finding their friends and uploading all their happy holiday snaps all over again.
So let’s wait and see shall we?
Now I have expressed my dislike for Facebook advertising, I’d also like to write a few lines on their merits. Facebook does give small business with small publicity budgets the opportunity to advertise their products and services, grow their clientele and build their community (don’t you just hate that word?) without breaking the bank. That is definitely not a bad thing in my opinion. I like the fact that it gives people the opportunity to experiment with promoting their stuff without having to go through an agency. Is grass-roots advertising a thing?
In general, I think free services almost have to come with advertisements. After all, nothing is really free. (Except maybe sunshine and rainbows) I do think more transparency for the use of our data are in order (and please don’t use my private conversations to create targeted ads!) as well as more control about what we get to see in our news feeds. And maybe just a little less adverts wouldn’t be a bad idea either. After all, people might just get fed up and actually jump ship.