Thu 2020-04-09 05:19

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It seems Paul Jarvis has a problem with targeted advertisements, and his proposed solution is to ban targeted ads immediately. I'm okay with that. Of course, it would mean that companies like Google and Facebook would either go out of business, or likely have to greatly curtail the services they offer to compensate for their much reduced income stream. Ads are targeted, because advertisers will pay more for targeted ads and Google and Facebook garner the lion's share of that ad money.

Personally, I'm not bothered by the prospect of Google or Facebook reducing their service offerings or vanishing entirely. But I'm probably in the minority, since I don't use Facebook and I only use Google as a secondary search option (for the rare occasions that DuckDuckGo comes up short). Probably most people would be a little unhappy if Google or Facebook stopped offering their online services for the low, low price of all of your personal information.

My solution to the privacy problem is different, but perhaps easier to implement than trying to police whether or not a particular ad was in fact targeted, or just by coincidence happened to match that exact thing that a person of your age, race, gender, income bracket, political affiliation, and sexual orientation might want at the exact moment you viewed the ad.

I would propose simply amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to revoke safe-harbor provisions from any service that is ad-supported. If you show ads (at all) then you enjoy no protection under section 230 for things users post on your platform. Sites and services that are not ad-supported would still enjoy safe-harbor protection as long as they follow the remaining tenets of the Act and uphold their policing responsibilities as platform owners.

This would mean that for example, ad-supported news sites could still exist - sans comment sections (which a lot of news sites are dropping anyway). Community forums and other websites that didn't show ads but existed on patronage or donations would continue to enjoy safe harbor provisions for user content. And services like Google and Facebook would be forced to move to a subscription-based model. At which point, we will find out exactly how much real value people place on those services when they are no longer "free" (hint: they were never free).

The ad-supported model is the fundamental problem, and the "everything on the Internet should be free (as in beer)" mindset is how we've arrived at our current surveillance capitalism dystopia. Let's fix the business paradigm for Internet platform providers, and return to a simple "cash for product" model. It may mean people have to give up one or two lattes a month to pay for their cat videos and rage tweets, but the situation will be a hell of a lot less creepy than the current status quo.

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