Watering the data lawn
News from California: Big month for conservation: Californians cut water use by 31% in July.
Governor Brown said to cut back by 25%, and people did 31%.
Why? We were watering and maintaining lawns because we were expected to, because everyone else was doing it. As soon as we had a good excuse to cut back, a lot of us did, even if we overshot the 25% target.
Today, advertising on the web has its own version of lawn care. Ad people have the opportunity to collect excess data. Everyone is stuck watering the data lawn and running the data mower. So the ad-supported web is getting mixed up with surveillance marketing, failing to build any new brands, and getting less and less valuable for everyone.
Clearly, the optimum amount of data to collect is not "as much as possible". If an advertiser is able to collect enough data to target an ad too specifically, that ad loses its power to communicate the advertiser's intentions in the market, and becomes just like spam or a cold call. By enabling users to confidently reduce the amount of information they share, advertisers make their own signal stronger. (Good explanation of signaling and advertising from Eaon Pritchard.)
Where's a good reason to justify a shift to higher-value advertising? Everybody wants to get out of the race to collect more and more, less and less useful, data. So what's a good excuse to start?
Could a good news frenzy do it? No IT company is better at kicking off a news frenzy than Apple, and now Apple is doing Content Blocking. Doc Searls covers Content Blocking's interaction with Apple's own ad business, and adds:
It's a start, but unfortunately, Big Marketing tends to take Apple's guidance remarkably slowly. Steve Jobs wrote Thoughts on Flash in 2010, and today, more than five years later, battery-sucking Flash ads are still a thing.
So even if Apple clobbers adtech companies over the head with a "Thoughts on Tracking" piece, expect a lot of inertia. (People who can move fast are already moving out of adtech to other things.)
Bob Hoffman writes:
The era of creepy tracking, maddening pop-ups and auto-play, and horrible banners may be drawing to its rightful conclusion.
But things don't just happen on the Internet. Someone builds an alternative. It looks obvious later, but somebody had to take the first whack at it. Tracking protection is great, but someone has to build the tools, check that they don't break web sites, and spread the word to regular users.
So why just look at tracking protection and say, wow, won't it be cool if this catches on?
Individuals, sites, and brands can help make tracking protection happen..
And if you really think about it, tracking protection tools are just products that users install. If only there were some way to get the attention of a bunch of people at once to persuade them to try things.