Our Trust Issues With Advertising-Based Revenue Models

Facebook’s in the soup again, getting its hand slapped for tracking everybody's location.

I have to ask, why is anyone surprised Facebook is tracking our location?

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: What's good for us is not good for Facebook’s revenue model. And vice versa.

Social platforms should never be driven by advertising. Period. Advertising requires targeting. And when you combine prospect targeting and the digital residue of our online activities, bad things are bound to happen. It’s inevitable, and it’s going to get worse.

Facebook’s future earnings absolutely dictate that it has to try to get us to spend more time on its platform, and to be more invasive about tracking what we do with that time. Its walled data garden and reluctance to give us a peek at what’s happening inside should be massive red flags.



Our social activities are already starting to fragment across multiple platforms -- and multiple accounts within each of those platforms. We are socially complex people and it’s naïve to think that all that complexity could be contained within any one ecosystem, even one as sprawling as Facebook’s. 

In our real lives -- you know, the life you lead when you’re not staring at your phone -- our social activities are as varied as our moods, our activities, our environment and the people we are currently sharing that environment with.

Being social is not a single aspect of our lives. It is the connecting tissue of all that we are. It binds all the things we do into a tapestry of experience. It reflects who we are and shapes our identities.

Even when we’re alone, as I am while writing this column, we are being social. I am communicating with each of you, and what I'm saying is shaped by my own social experiences.

My point here is that being social is not something we turn on and off. We don’t go somewhere to be social. We are social.

To reduce social complexity and try to contain it within an online ecosystem is a fool’s errand.

Trying to support such a system with advertising just makes it worse. A revenue model based on advertising is self-limiting. It has always been a path of least resistance, which is why it’s so commonly used. It places no financial hurdles on the path to adoption.

We have never had to pay money to use Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat. But we do pay with our privacy. And eventually, after the inevitable security breaches, we also lose our trust. That lack of trust limits the effectiveness of any social medium.

Of course, it’s not just social media that suffers from the trust issues that come with advertising-based revenue. This advertising-driven path has worked up to now because trust was never really an issue. We took comfort in our perceived anonymity in the eyes of the marketer. We were part of a faceless, nameless mass market that traded attention for access to information and entertainment.

Advertising works well with mass. As I mentioned, there are no obstacles to adoption. It was the easiest way to assemble the biggest possible audience. But we now market one to one. And as the ones on the receiving end, we are now increasingly seeking functionality.

That is a fundamentally different precept. When we seek to do things, rather than passively consume content, we can no longer remain anonymous. We make choices, we go places, we buy stuff. In doing this, we leave indelible footprints that are easy to track and aggregate.

Our online and offline lives have now melded to the point where we need -- and expect -- something more than a collection of platforms offering fragmented functionality. What we need is a highly personalized OS, a foundational operating system intimately designed just for us that connects the dots of functionality.

This is already happening in bits and pieces through the data we surrender when we participate in the online world. But that data lives in thousands of different walled gardens, including the social platforms we use. Then that data is used to target advertising to us.

And we hate advertising. It’s a fundamentally flawed contract that we will -- given a viable alternative -- opt out of.

We don’t trust the social platforms we use, and we’re right not to. If we had any idea of the depth or degree of personal information they have about us, we would be aghast. 

I have said before that we are willing to trade privacy for functionality, and I still believe this. But once our trust has been broken, we are less willing to surrender that private data, which is essential to the continued profitability of an ad-supported platform.

We need to own our own data. This isn’t so much to protect our privacy as it is to build a new trust contract that will allow that data to be used more effectively for our own purposes -- and not those of a corporation whose only motive is to increase its own profit.

We need to remove the limits imposed by a flawed functionality offering based on serving ads to us that we don’t want. If we’re looking for the true disruptor in advertising, that’s it in nutshell.

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