Lines from Bob Dylan songs routinely pop into my mind. For instance, these lines:
Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you
That verse is from "It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)," copyrighted in 1965. I am replaying that verse for you, today, because I want to direct your attention to a column from The New York Times, published in The Times' April 7, 2023, edition: "If It’s Advertised to You Online, You Probably Shouldn’t Buy It."
Dylan's suggestion is that any advertising statement is likely to be unreliable (if not actually false), and I think he is providing us some pretty good advice about that. The kicker - something Dylan could know nothing about in 1965, when he wrote his song - is that advertising disseminated to us online is particularly potent. Julia Angwin's column in The Times makes that point:
Tech firms track nearly every click from website to website, develop detailed profiles of your interests and desires and make that data available to advertisers. That’s why you get those creepy ads in your Instagram feed or on websites that seem to know what you were just talking about. The ability to track people has turned out to be an unbeatable advantage for the online ad industry, which has grown to a $540 billion market worldwide, according to the media agency GroupM, dwarfing all other forms of advertising, including TV, radio and newspapers. It has propelled the massive growth of Google and Facebook as well as hundreds of so-called ad tech firms that serve as intermediaries between the buyers and sellers of targeting information. But the rise of microtargeting has come with a staggering price tag. “There is limited evidence to suggest that the efficiency and efficacy gains to advertisers and publishers of this system outweighs the societal impact,” concludes a 274-page study published by the European Commission this year. It calls for reforming the surveillance business model (emphasis added).
It is worth paying attention to the phrase, "surveillance capitalism." It's real, and it's with us! Advertisers aren't the only ones who use our peregrinations in the online world to hunt us down and manipulate us. Governments, or businesses, or political candidates, or fraudsters of every other type, who now can know everything about us, can often manipulate us so well we never even notice.
Watch out for those "advertising signs," and watch out for all those persons and institutions who will use the information that they have gathered from the online world to manipulate and defraud us in this one - the "real world."
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