The Surveillance Ad Model Is Toxic — Let’s Not Install Something Worse

Article by Elizabeth M. Renieris: “At this stage, law and policy makerscivil society and academic researchers largely agree that the existing business model of the Web — algorithmically targeted behavioural advertising based on personal data, sometimes also referred to as surveillance advertising — is toxic. They blame it for everything from the erosion of individual privacy to the breakdown of democracy. Efforts to address this toxicity have largely focused on a flurry of new laws (and legislative proposals) requiring enhanced notice to, and consent from, users and limiting the sharing or sale of personal data by third parties and data brokers, as well as the application of existing laws to challenge ad-targeting practices.

In response to the changing regulatory landscape and zeitgeist, industry is also adjusting its practices. For example, Google has introduced its Privacy Sandbox, a project that includes a planned phaseout of third-party cookies from its Chrome browser — a move that, although lagging behind other browsers, is nonetheless significant given Google’s market share. And Apple has arguably dealt one of the biggest blows to the existing paradigm with the introduction of its AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) tool, which requires apps to obtain specific, opt-in consent from iPhone users before collecting and sharing their data for tracking purposes. The ATT effectively prevents apps from collecting a user’s Identifier for Advertisers, or IDFA, which is a unique Apple identifier that allows companies to recognize a user’s device and track its activity across apps and websites.

But the shift away from third-party cookies on the Web and third-party tracking of mobile device identifiers does not equate to the end of tracking or even targeted ads; it just changes who is doing the tracking or targeting and how they go about it. Specifically, it doesn’t provide any privacy protections from first parties, who are more likely to be hegemonic platforms with the most user data. The large walled gardens of Apple, Google and Meta will be less impacted than smaller players with limited first-party data at their disposal…(More)”.