Every single second you are being sold. Did you feel it? Maybe not. Because it’s subtle. And we’ve grown used to it.
Your attention currently powers the greatest corporations of our time. Most of the current innovations across Google, Facebook, and other internet giants are funded by our eyeballs. Our focused attention.
These giant networks sell our attention to advertisers who then sell us products that are based upon the data these companies provided them. How else do you think the sidebar ads that keep showing up are strangely compelling and begging you to click?
Below we look at why advertisers are battling over our attention and what we can do to protect ourselves from this raging war.
How Did We Become So Valuable?
Photo credit: Andrew Pons
We live in a world where our attention is a currency as valuable as money. This behind the scenes advertising system is auctioning off our attention and our personal data to the highest bidder.
Maybe these advertisers are finally realizing that we’re unique snowflake children and they finally want to reward us for that. Or, maybe it’s something a bit more sinister.
Let’s find out.
You probably know the joy of discovering a new online service that’s totally free. How cool; I love free stuff! However, depending on the size of the tool you’re using, it might not actually be free. Instead of paying an entry fee to use a product like Facebook, our attention is being sold, so the tool can continue to thrive and we can continue to track down people with our same last name all over the world.
Without our attention and our actively using these tools, they simply wouldn’t exist. Why else do you think Zuck wants every person in the entire world to have a Facebook account? I’m guessing his motivations aren’t entirely altruistic. No matter what their propaganda machine (cough cough), advertising wants us to believe.
When Did We Become Nothing More Than Products on a Shelf?
Photo credit:Skitter Photo
A lot of us hold tight to the belief that we’re autonomous human beings with free will. We’re completely and totally in control of decisions. We can choose to go to the bathroom on the clock. We can choose the eat that second piece of cake. We can choose to wear tie-dye socks to spice up our business attire.
We like to think that we have the reins for every decision we’re making. But…this isn’t entirely true. Especially, with the prevalence of online advertising. Think about it this way:
You’re off work (of course, YOU would NEVER do this on the clock) and you do a casual search for a pair of expensive sunglasses you’re thinking about buying. You quickly forget about it and proceed to get lost scrolling through Facebook and Google.
Now, you might have totally forgotten about that pair of sunglasses. But, the advertisers haven’t. Being the digital sleuth you are, you might begin to notice little ads for the same exact pair of sunglasses keep popping up everywhere.
Just look how much fun she’s having, (and I’m just sitting here reading this blog post!).
Photo credit:Ryan McGuire
You try to ignore them at first by convincing yourself you really don’t need to invest $200 in a pair of Ray Bans. But, over time you give in. The endless onslaught of ads is causing you to have dreams about these glasses at night. You can’t escape their pull.
Of course, that scenario might be a tad dramatized. But, this happens hundreds of times every single day. Everything you search for, every web page you visit, every thought you think, is being tracked and sold.
The advertisers can purchase this data, so they can create the perfect ad that’s going to push you to buy something you (probably) don’t even want.
The buying and selling of our attention makes us a little like cattle. We’re no longer treated as breathing, thinking, and feeling human beings. We’re being treated like eyeballs and impressions — open wallets really that advertisers can extract money out of. And nothing more.
I Get It…It’s Scary, How Can I Protect Myself?
Photo credit:Anna Dziubinska
You wouldn’t stand on the corner of a busy intersection and hand out a piece of paper containing your personal interests, biggest fears, banking information, and the names and locations of your children. That would be insane.
So, why do we so readily give this information away online?
Partly, because we don’t know it’s happening. And partly, because of a whole bunch of other reasons. But, there are a few ways you can protect yourself.
Your information and attention is valuable. You should be able to consciously choose where you direct your attention, not be herded along by advertisements and tailored search results so we click on what “they” want us to click on.
1. Use a Different Search Engine
Since Google search tracks your history and stores it forever, we recommend trying to use a search engine that, you know, doesn’t do that. One of the best is our friends over at Duck Duck Go.
Besides the cool name that brings back childhood memories of innocence, they offer a search engine that doesn’t track any of your information and will never sell your information to advertisers. How nice of them.
Now, transitioning over to a different search engine might take some getting used to. But, the growing pains are well worth it. Set it as your default search engine for a while to see how you like it. After a while you might even start thinking, “Google who?”.
2. Install an Adblocker
If you’re looking to free yourself from the tyranny of online advertising forever, then you should try out an ad blocker. This nifty piece of software does exactly what it sounds like—it blocks online ads from showing up. These ad blockers aren’t perfect, but if you want to avoid your browsing experience being hampered by relentless advertising, then give some of the following tools a test drive.
Now, there are some arguments against the use of advertising blockers. For example, say you really love a certain website that relies on third-party advertising revenue to power their site. By blocking ads you could be diminishing revenue for that company whose content you love to consume.
It’s a trade off. Especially, if you want the online publication of your choice to continue to thrive. You have to find what works for you. Maybe you allow ads on certain sites you frequent and disallow ads on others. The goal is to protect yourself and your data, that’s why our online privacy recommendations are less of a blanket policy and more of a try this and customize it to your liking.
If you’re ready to stop being a blind consumer who buys whatever product is being hocked across your feed, then give a few of the tools and ideas above a go. Or, you can do what we do and recite the mantra, “I am not a product, I am a real boy” again and again until you fall into a blissful night’s sleep. Both methods work—one is just more effective than the other.