Today’s sophisticated digital ads surveil, marginalise, and have serious environmental impacts. How can we build a better online ecosystem?
In environmental science, the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is a concept that concerns shared resources (such as a piece of ‘common’ land, or the air we breathe), which cannot be regulated by conscience and altruism alone. The theory goes that some individual users will always spoil or exploit the resource by acting in their own self-interest, contrary to the common good of all users. These ‘free-riders’ create costs for others, which must be discouraged through intervention.
The internet is also a shared resource, and the same patterns that are seen in the real world apply online, too. Here, pollution occurs via an unscrupulous digital advertising ecosystem: big platforms dependent on an advertising business model exploit and twist the development of the online commons to prioritise commercial interest. Information evolves to suit advertising better, and fraudsters or megalomaniacs game the system. The result? Journalism that reads more like clickbait, and fake news sites which spread misinformation like wildfire. Unethical organisations engineer ad fraud through false clicks and bots, which supplements organised crime to the tune of billions.
The consequences of this online pollution are far-reaching, from the decline of quality journalism to new types of discrimination. Not only has this bias distorted the quality of information we find online, but it has also degraded user experience.
Fixing this requires a mindset shift and action. Businesses must see themselves as part of something bigger. Stewards of a future in which we can all thrive, with access to an internet that’s open, diverse and accessible. Online advertising funds the internet, and with that great power, comes great responsibility. The digital brands of the 21st Century must embrace this responsibility, interrogating overblown promises around new technology. Implementing AI and advertising technology in ways which considers humans, the internet and the environment, to build a better online future for all.
Read the rest of this article, including why advertisers need to ‘lean in’ to their responsibility to fund the internet, on the @Mozilla blog here.
If you’re working on any of the issue I touch on above, please get in touch at hello [at] harrietkingaby.com