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The Age of Advertisements

The world has changed with the turn of the millennium. Companies had to post profits and then claim an increase in their valuation. To some extent, one could correlate the profits with the valuation of the company. Today however companies are in losses and yet posting huge valuations. Don’t the investors care about earning their money back?

Firms today are targeting rapid growth and are trying to onboard as many users as quickly as they can. But what good will a large number of users do if they aren’t paying anything? To expand the scope even further, content creators of Youtube, TikTok and other such platforms have made a living out of these platforms by posting, say cat videos.

The goal is to attract as many eyeballs as possible so that these eyeballs can be shown ads. Seems insignificant on the face of it. It's been happening for ages now. But if you think about it, any infeasible business can be made feasible by the use of ads. If what you do is remotely interesting to a large enough group of people, you can make money out of it.

What has emerged today is a three-way win-win situation,i.e. for the individuals who don’t have to pay anything, the content creators who make a living out of the profession they love and the firms showing personalised ads. That is also the reason why it has become impossible to avoid these ads no matter how cut off from social media you are.

Why would someone not want to be exposed to ads? Because when we consume any content we are giving away our preferences. As algorithms get better at driving insights out of these preferences, they can deduce what you will do or like in the future, even before you have started liking it. You could be manipulated in more ways than one not just on the consumer preferences, but political and social preferences as well. Whether you belong to the political right or left, which party you vote for, how likely you are to steal, how likely you are to go through a divorce and many other deeply personal attributes can be deduced. To see what ads are truly capable of, see Black Mirror Season 1 episode 2.

Is there a way to avoid this? As an individual, no. You can delete the social media apps and at the cost of your social life and entertainment you would have avoided some ads, but you still are a part of the social network when you use messaging apps like WhatsApp. Regulatory institutions around the world are waking up to this threat and are trying to curb the rampant monopoly of Facebook in this domain. But the fight is far from over.


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