Something that needs to stop

I've complained about ads a lot here -- we need to have some kind of policy reform on advertising, or at least some kind of advisory board, that gives advertisers a seal of approval, like registering plumbers. One of the big things that needs to be on that list is ads that look like the content the site is offering.

This picture is from the BBC's US and Canada news page:

Here are some of the problems I see with this ad:

  • The only indications that it's an ad are in small print, off to the side.
  • They're in an image/text format similar to the format of the actual articles on the BBC page
  • Many people skim headlines, and come to conclusions about reality based on those.  That's the problem with articles titled things like "Is Obama a communist?" -- even if the bulk of the article is saying "No, absolutely not, what are you even talking about," you're still misinforming people scanning the page.
  • The ad company's logo looks similar at a glance to AP's logo.

You see this kind of treatment all over the internet.  Google's ads look like search results.  Ads on filesharing sites have huge "CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD" buttons.

Ads aren't intrinsically bad.  It's possible to have advertising that's about connecting interested customers with worthy products, and that's a mutually beneficial arrangement.  But this kind of advertising isn't about helping out the customers.  It's about harvesting the potential monetary residue of lazy browsing habits, at the cost of net trust in the world.

I don't want my internet to be a collection of pit traps.  I don't want there to not be ads -- I've found some stuff I really like that I heard about because it was advertised.  But I don't want every webpage to have links that look like they're going to give me cool new content, and are actually just going to deliver me to a sales staff.

Facebook founder's family member announces via Twitter that she works for Google

(via Ana Ulin on Google+) Randi Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg's sister, tweeted yesterday that she's working for Google now, after the company she works for, Wildfire, was acquired by Google.

Wildfire is an advertising app that helps organize companies' social presence or a more successful, targeted marketing campaign.  My main focus for this story is that the tweet was funny, but I also want to talk about the existence of third-party marketing organizations, especially backed by Google.

Unlike a lot of people on the internet, I don't think advertising is outright evil.  It needs way more ethical oversight than it has now, but there's a gem of value in there.  If you assume the basic goal of advertising is to connect a customer with a product they would benefit from, then advertising is a mutually beneficial relationship.  With more ethical guidance, the better the targeting, the more valuable the ads are to both the advertiser and the consumer.

We're not moving in this direction now, and even if Google wanted to, their obligation to their shareholders would probably prevent them pushing towards more ethics in advertising.  But I think it's a direction worth pursuing -- even more now that there are companies who specialize in organizing ad campaigns, so the advertiser companies can focus on the quality of their product.