Are we all living in adland?

If data is the currency of digital marketing, fueling surveillance capitalism and adtech, where did it all start?

We’ve all had that experience of doing a Google search or buying something online and then ads for that product or related products follow us around the web. Congratulations, you’ve been surveilled.

Surveillance capitalism has come to define the widespread collection of personal data by businesses that is then processed and monetised and used for a wide range of targeting through advertising and marketing. professor emerita at Harvard Business School Shoshana Zuboff discusses the rise of this new variant of capitalism that has taken hold of the digital milieu.

Businesses profit from utilising this data, which can extend as far and wide as internet search and online shopping, social media interactions across a huge array of services and platforms, webmail, YouTube and apps. And as more parts of our lives have a digital component, the sources of data are expanding. Think: the plethora of smart home devices, health and fitness trackers and monitors, motion sensors, microphones, drones, cameras, toys and so on.

Starting with Google, Zuboof defines surveillance capitalism as the unilateral collection of private human experience as the raw material used for behavioral data, which are processed and sold as prediction tools for human behavioral futures markets. This is used by business customers with a commercial interest in knowing what we will do now, soon, and later.

We unwittingly provide huge amounts of personal data every day as we interact with all of these digital services and platforms where it’s mined and used to predict and even shape our behaviours. Now buying an extra pair of joggers or something for the house because you saw an ad that appeals may not seem too much of a problem. But when you consider the effects, and the implications for this en masse, you see the bigger issue.

As in other areas of our lives, people should have the right to persona agency. They have a right to interact with digital services without every click potentially being recorded, monetised and turned back on them and used to sell to them.

Even so, a ruling by the EU demanding Facebook’s parent company Meta reform its approach to personalised advertising that could potentially make tracking practices more explicit and requests people’s permission. It shows there are efforts being made to curb some of these practices.

Where did adtech originate?

We’ve long been operating in an economy that utilises data-driven surveillance. That is according to Lee McGuigan, who’s new book Selling the American People: Advertising, Optimization, and the Origins of Adtech, traces the history of computerised advertising.

McGuigan, assistant professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina, explores the way management science and technology, using tools like automation, have been brought together to remake marketing using mathematical optimisation. As the attention merchants and choice architects deploy data-driven marketing, it has come to mediate the daily encounters of people, products, and public spheres. He contends that it’s reached the point where surveillance capitalism is one of the defining experiences of public life.

So it is that the marketer’s personalisation, which delivers messaging of relevance and interest to people, is another Orwellian digital world without privacy. Yet there are new laws and regulations that attempt to redraw some of the boundaries around personal data and privacy and provide more transparency and control back to people. But wow we’re turning our attention to artificial intelligence, generative AI like ChatGPT and machine learning and algorithmic systems and their impact on our lives.

Are you using ChatGPT and co?

Are you using ChatGPT, Bard, Bing or other tools? How are you finding them?
I’m keen to hear from people about their thoughts and experiences with generative AI tools. I’ve got an anonymous survey to gather some industry experiences. I’ll share some insights at the upcoming Content Byte Summit, where I’ll be speaking on a panel about content creation, working with agencies and the impact of generative AI. I’ll also write up the responses for a future blog post here too. I’d love it if you could fill out my short survey.

Will I see you at the Content Byte Summit?

Speaking of the Content Byte Summit, it’s happening live and virtual over 2.5 days with 24 different speakers sharing their insights and experiences.

As I mentioned above, I’ll be speaking on a panel about content creation, working with agencies and the impact of generative AI.

This amazing conference is for journalists, content writers, copywriters and other freelance creatives who want to hear where the industry is at and how to futureproof their freelance income as the impact of technology reshapes the media and publishing landscape.

To find out more and grab your pass, click below.

Main image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Rosalyn Page

Rosalyn is an award-winning writer with a niche in digital lifestyle, technology, innovation and travel.

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