4 Ways You Have Shockingly Little Control Over What You See On The Internet


Internet Advertising

I currently work within the online marketing industry with a variety of websites all focused on driving a massive online presence to attract more visitors. The reason I wrote this anonymously is not to advertise my company or skills, but to voice my anger at how the internet is being changed for the worse thanks to companies like the one I work for. Those of you who work in online marketing or search marketing this is going to come as no surprise, but for anyone who believes that the internet is providing the best information/products for them, this is to show you why it isn’t.

1. Search engines are not website directories, they’re biased

Google, Bing and Yahoo are the main stage for most search user journeys with over 95 per cent of internet users beginning their session with a search. The issue is that your search is a quantified product that companies target, phrases like “t-shirt”, “hd tv” and “package holidays” are all targeted and ruthlessly scraped for every person who uses them. Every website is trying to make sure their site shows up first in search results for these phrases, not because they have the best t-shirt or hd tv, but because they have the best targeted website.

This is the great flaw in the internet. Search engines, by necessity, have to categorise websites according to their quality as defined by a variety of parameters. This is only the case as the number of products available online are far too numerous to fully index and rank. As a result businesses aren’t becoming more competitive where it counts for consumers (price, quality, value etc.) instead they are building more competitive websites to satisfy search engines. So when you see those first ten websites for the term “dress”, bear in mind they aren’t the best dresses, just the ones with the best website.

2. EVERYTHING you do is monitored and marketed

If you’ve gone to YouTube after visiting an e-commerce store and noticed that the product you were looking at is being advertised next to the video, you have a small idea of how vast this issue is. Cookies – small amounts of data used by browsers to communicate with servers – are tagged with code to ensure that various website tools and software can identify your journey throughout a website. Whenever your browser goes to subsequent sites various pieces of software recognise you’ve been on that site and then market the product to you again. This is commonly referred to as display advertising and, in my opinion, is actively corrupting the internet’s flow of information to consumers.

You see it in pre-reel YouTube video ads (skip in 5 seconds) and all over your browser. Fortunately, there are ways to stop this using a piece of software called AdBlocker which prevents these ads from ever showing and removes the annoying pre-reel advertising from YouTube. It’s free and I haven’t turned it off since I first downloaded it a year ago.

3. Google doesn’t just read your email

There has been a great deal of controversy about the fact that Google uses information in personal Gmail accounts to market to you. As a result, you’ll find targeted ads in your inbox and promotional material. However, this isn’t the only data that Google uses. If you use Chrome your history and bookmarks are scanned and the results in search are targeted accordingly, your location drastically alters personalised search results, even your age and location can be seen (generally) in traffic analysis tools that put you in demographics.

If you don’t believe me, do a search for something simple like “restaurant” or “suit”. Now do that same search in “Incognito Mode” (Ctrl+Shift+N) in your browser, this effectively puts a blank slate on your browser. You’ll notice the results are slightly/drastically different, the reason being that they don’t have any data to operate on. This can help you get cheaper flights on airline sites (you can check this hack as airline sites hike up prices the more times you go back) as well as a variety of other little tricks.

4. Businesses generally don’t care about you, your internet journey or the content you view

To illustrate this I invite you to check out Mirriad, in my opinion an organisation that is morally on par with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. They have developed technology that allows them to alter imagery in the background of videos to advertise different brands depending on bids. Firstly, this subliminal advertising is fairly ethically questionable as you are attempting to brainwash audiences whilst they are watching something for their pleasure. Second, they are actively altering other people’s videos and content for their own profit. Content authors can have their work effectively “defaced” by this software without even knowing it and it’s not even new!

There is very little that is sacred on the internet currently and the upcoming net neutrality issue will only take more away from us as consumers. At one point, the internet forced businesses to better serve their customers and develop a trustworthy brand. They had to be creative with advertising and provide good customer service. Now any company willing to provide enough money to “game the system” and push themselves in front of your face and although this applies to the bigger brands, it is far more true of the SMEs who cheat their way in without the hard work.

The Internet Goes The Way of Television

It’s true, that’s the path we’re heading down. People wonder what the future of the internet is and see it in their homes and on their phones but in fact it will end up like TV, mindless advertising that dominates what you actually want to watch/read. The internet is far too valuable and amazing for us to lose to businesses, we have changed the way people see disasters, the way we form societies, rebel against governments and destroy businesses. Tools like Adblocker are designed by people who want to see the internet be a force for the good and I would advise you adopt it as it will save you time, energy and make a point about your opinions on online advertising.

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