"I work on ads at Google"
"Can I ask why? I honestly can't understand how anyone could."
Someone recently asked me why I work on ads, and I wanted to write up something more thorough than my comment. (Despite being a work topic this is a personal post and I'm speaking only for myself.)

One answer is that I'm earning to give: I give half of what I earn to the most effective charities I can find, and the more I earn the more I can give. This is not the full answer, however, since when people ask me this they're generally coming from a perspective of viewing ads (or perhaps online ads) as negative, and the question is more like "why do you choose to work on something bad?"

The thing is, I think advertising is positive, and I think my individual contribution is positive. I'm open to being convinced on this: if I'm causing harm through my work I would like to know about it.

So: why is advertising good? I mean, isn't it annoying when sites show you ads instead of whatever it is you want to read? The question is, what is the alternative? I see two main funding models:

  • Paywalls. You pay with your money.
  • Ads. You pay with your attention.
It's also possible to fund projects through donations, or as hobbies, but producing most of what there is to read requires more money.

(I'm using the internet-specific term 'paywall' to refer to the general "pay money for access" concept: buying books, paying admission, subscribing to streaming services, etc.)

Both paywalls and ads have a range of advantages and disadvantages. Some of these vary by medium: books are expensive enough to print that they couldn't be funded by advertising; an analog radio receiver is simple enough that a paywall would require draconian legal force. On the internet, however, I think ads are generally a better fit for two reasons:

  • Minimal friction. You can follow links from site to site, without barriers. You don't have to decide which sites to subscribe to. If someone sends you a link to an article, you can read it.

  • Non-regressive. Paywalls, like other fixed costs, are regressive: a newspaper at $220/y is effectively much more expensive for someone earning $10k than $100k.

You can sort of fix friction with bundling: you subscribe to a streaming service then can watch (or listen to, or read) anything in their collection. There are advantages to this approach, but it's a bad fit for articles. Web browsing works best when people can read and share anything without a subscription ("sorry, this article is for Conglomerated Media Group subscribers only"). To meaningfully fix friction with bundling you would need to get down to a small number of subscriptions, which then gives those organizations an enormous (and dangerous!) amount of power.

Micropayments could potentially resolve this friction in a decentralized way, which I would love to see. On the other hand, this is a really hard problem: people have been working on it since at least Digital's Millicent in over 25 years ago. There have been many proposals and startups, but nothing has really worked out.

Even if we could resolve payment's friction issues, however, we would still be stuck with the basic problem that some people have much more disposable income than others. Universal basic income would help, and I'm strongly in favor of it, but I don't think that's likely to be politically feasible anytime soon.

And so: ads. Funding the open web.

Or perhaps: better ads than paywalls

I don't want to be too easy on ads, though: there's a lot wrong with internet advertising today. For example, there isn't enough incentive for advertisers to limit their use of bandwidth or publishers to avoid annoying ad experiences. But the biggest issue I see people raising is the privacy impact of targeted ads.

Most products are a much better fit for some people than others. If you tried selling bicycles to fish very few would be interested, and you'd mostly be wasting their attention. This means advertising is worth a lot more when you can put the right ad in front of the right person.

One way to do this is to advertise in places where people who are disproportionately interested are likely to be. Model railroad ads on model railroading forums, sponsored products on Amazon, a booth at a trade show. This works great if you want to write a blog about cool new credit cards, but what about all those sites that don't have a strong commercial tie-in?

A large fraction of ads on the web today are targeted based on past browsing. When I was writing all those posts about cars I visited a lot of car sites, and then I saw a lot of car ads on other sites. I didn't end up buying a car, but advertisers were correct that I was much more likely to buy a car soon then a random person.

Historically, ads like this have been built on top of third-party cookies. When I visited one of those car sites they probably put a little bit of HTML on their page like:

<img src="https://adtech.example/cars">
My browser sent a request for that image, and got back an invisible "tracking pixel" with something like:
Set-Cookie: id=6735261
The vendor probably stored a record like:
  id       interests
  -------  ---------
  6735261  cars
Later on, perhaps I visited a site about flowers, and was served:
<img src="https://adtech.example/flowers">
This time, my browser already had a cookie for adtech.example and so included it on the request:
Cookie: id=6735261
This lets the vendor update their record for me:
  id       interests
  -------  -------------
  6735261  cars, flowers
Sometime later I'm reading something unrelated on a site that contracts with adtech.example to show ads. My browser sends a request for ads, and my cookie is included. The vendor runs an auction, bidders are especially interested in paying to show me car ads (more profit than flowers) and I get an ad about cars.

This model has some major drawbacks from a privacy perspective. Typically, the vendor doesn't just get that you are interested in cars, they get the full URL of the page you are on. This lets them build up a pretty thorough picture of all the pages you have visited around the web. Then they can link their database with other vendors databases, and get even more coverage.

This started to change in 2017 when Safari announced "Intelligent Tracking Protection". The first of very many rounds of of iteration, it brought Safari to full third-party cookie blocking about a year ago. Firefox followed, and Chrome announced they would too.

Well, sort of. Chrome's announcement was a bit more nuanced:

After initial dialogue with the web community, we are confident that with continued iteration and feedback, privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete. Once these approaches have addressed the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers, and we have developed the tools to mitigate workarounds, we plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome. Our intention is to do this within two years.

The idea is, build browser APIs that will allow this kind of well-targeted advertising without sending your browsing history to advertisers, and then get rid of third-party cookies.

One of these proposed APIs is TURTLEDOVE. It lets an advertiser tell your browser "remember that I know this user is interested in cars" and then later "show this ad to users I said were interested in cars." Because the browser stores this information, and is very careful in how it handles bidding, reporting, and showing the ad, it doesn't let the advertisers learn what sites you visit or sites learn what ads you see.

I've been figuring out how ads can use TURTLEDOVE, helping build an open-source plain-JS implementation of the API for testing and experimentation, and suggesting ways the API could be better (#119, #146, #149, #158, #161, #164). I think this is a lot of why I've been blogging less lately: writing up these ideas draws from a similar place.

Advertising is how we fund a web where you can freely browse from site to site, and my main work is helping figure out how to move ads onto less-powerful more-private APIs. While I think the vast majority of my altruistic impact is through donations, I don't think my work in advertising is something harmful to offset.

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jefftk, you state you're open to being convinced that you're causing harm through your work. So let me take a crack:

Have you read about the "rehabs near me" incident that the Verge uncovered? https://www.theverge.com/2017/9/7/16257412/rehabs-near-me-google-search-scam-florida-treatment-centers

Yes, Google chose to act *after it became public*, but Google was operating a major market segment, where they had dedicated members of the Ads sales team working on fostering a business area that was... outright predatory. At a CPC of $230, big money was moving here. It's hard for me to credibly believe that this harm happened due to the algorithm, that no humans at Google were clearly aware of what was going on, when Googlers were being sent out to events to pitch to this market.

This business Google was involved in was targeting an incredibly at-risk segment of the population, getting wild profit off of it, and, despite being a party to fraud, gets to keep all of it's profits from having done so. The problem I see here isn't just that the Ads team gets paid for participation in criminal activity, but they have no incentive to really stop profitable illegal activity.

When Google got caught, th... (read more)

It sounds like you're talking about ads on search results? I work on display ads and don't know very much about the search side of things. I don't have any internal information, but some thoughts on the examples you're listing: * Scammers placing ads is harmful, though not unique to advertising. The article you link describes a similar issue happening in the phonebook era. It's very hard to tell from this sort of investigation how well a service is doing at avoiding abuse. * "Google Ads are regularly hijacked, such that they present https://youtube.com or https://bestbuy.com as the destination, but lead to a fraudulent website" Is this actually common? Looking at your link, it's hard to tell what happened in that case but I think it was probably an open redirect on amazon.com? * I'm not able to find any examples of ads against "MapQuest" searching on my laptop or phone in a couple different browsers; you don't happen to have screenshots? * "It's in the best interests of Google for the consumer to click on an ad, not a search result. So even if Google has the best search result, it's goal is to get the consumer to click on the ad." This misses that there's enormous value in giving users a good experience long-term, where they keep coming back. But again, I know very little about this kind of advertising, since I work in a completely separate part of the industry.
Also an IT professional here.  Google is among the less unsavory players in the ad space, but it's a cesspool overall.  Malicious ads seem to be one of the easiest ways to get that crap in front of a huge number of users.  In practice I don't see "reputable" providers directly serving malware: rather it's generally a chain of redirects either implemented by the site they land on (that presumably behaves itself under indexing/due diligence), or by exploiting the ads on the landing site to cause a redirect.  Ultimately lands either on an attacker-controlled site or just a site running an ad network that gives zero fucks or outright caters to cybercrime. That said I made up my mind on this a while ago and I've been blocking substantially all ads and analytics for 5+ years.  The game of cat and mouse may well have moved on. I have definitely caught AdSense serving those super dishonest software download ads that pretend to be the download button on file sharing and software sites… As far as you core concern, are you actually causing significant harm with your work, I really doubt it.  Google has a decent incentive to crush bad actors lest govt. step in and kill their cash cow, and just getting the industry at large to match the mediocere level of ethical standads Google is upholding would still be a huge win.  Ads suck as a solution and cause a fair amount of preventable harm, but harm reduction is a legitimate thing to work on.  Bonus points when you can pressure competitors to shape up and not be too evil.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. It sounds like the fraud involved was extremely sophisticated, as it was hiding behind state negligence. Google now requires these advertisers to be licenced by a reputable third party. In 2011 Google settled a negligence case regarding illegal pharmaceutical sales for $500 million. I find it hard to imagine this is true within reputable ad networks, though I agree that such content is endemic to online advertising.
IDK how many repeats you get or if you're looking for tools, but if so, consider setting DNS to one of the public DNS providers (e.g. OpenDNS) that provide some basic web filtering of malicious websites without otherwise breaking the internet too much.  The Ghostery plugin for chrome/edge is also worth a look.  Even without setting it to block ads or analytics, it shuts down shady behavior like multiple redirects that many of those bad ads rely on.  Can be configured to do more but gets progressively higher touch.  Both lowish touch free options.

While I think that ads can be (and, at least in my personal case, are) positive-sum, I don't think this article expresses the reason why.  I would phrase it as follows:

  • There are many things I would buy if I knew of their existence.  Certain kinds of music, games, etc.
  • Unfortunately, I don't know of their existence.  In a world with billions of people, figuring out what products I might want takes time and effort.
  • You could let anyone who wanted to tell me 'you should buy my product'.  Unfortunately, lots of people will waste lots of my time.
  • Instead, we set up an ecosystem where:
    • A website (let's say Youtube) shows me content I want to see.
    • Rather than charging me $20/month or whatever, they make me watch brief ads.
    • Companies that think they have a product I want to buy pay Youtube to advertise on it.
  • If the companies are right:
    • I buy the product.
    • I am very happy!  I got to see content I wanted to see anyway, without having to pay for it, and I also got alerted to the existence of a product I'm interested in!  Yay!
    • Youtube is happy.  They got paid for providing content to me (albeit indirectly) and I'm happy and likely to keep coming back.
    • The company is hap
... (read more)

while I agree with most of what you said and in an ideal world ad should work in a win-win manner as you described, I have cut out as many ads from my life as possible since they are significantly net harmful in my experience.

the problem that I found, and you don't seem to address, is that ads are not just a simple showing of "I have the stuff you may want". It is usually an attempt of manipulation using primarily superstimulus or social engineer to maximize profit for the advertisers. e.g. for a car ad they show happy people living exciting lives which have no relation to the car but make you associate the buying of the car with non-existence social fulfillment.

It would be ok if advertisers' incentives are aligned with ours. But usually, they are not perfectly aligned if not horribly misaligned. And I assume that companies that use "honest" ads would fail to compete against "superstimulus" ads. So the majority of ads would be the equivalence of attempted mind control which rational agent should avoid even at the price of not knowing that there are things you may want to buy.

2clone of saturn3y
It's actually worse than that -- the way the manipulation works is to induce you to compare the people in the ad with your own life, causing you to feel ugly, unlovable, like you're missing out on life, etc. and then to propose the product as a relief from this deliberately induced misery.
So, this viewpoint is very harsh and I don't know how fully I endorse it, but my gut reaction is something like this: If you can't benefit from positive-sum informative advertising because you are incapable of watching a 15-second ad without succumbing to mind control, this is a problem with you rather than a problem with ads.  The correct response is for you to avoid ads personally (and in fact  many websites that use internet advertisements give you the option to pay instead, e.g. Youtube Premium), just as a child who cannot prepare food without cutting themselves should not be given a set of steak knives.   It sounds like you are doing that already, so good for you! The correct response is not for you to try to prevent a positive-sum thing from existing for others, just as the correct response to a child getting their hands on a steak knife and cutting themselves should not be to try to ban steak knives for everyone else. Attempts to restrict advertisements on those grounds seem isomorphic to e.g. New York Mayor Bloomberg's infamous attempted ban on large sodas.  The justification there appeared to be 'I am incapable of existing in a world with large sodas without drinking too much soda and getting fat, therefore other people should be banned from positive-sum trade to protect me from my weakness without me needing to exert any effort.'  The argument against soda seems to me a substantially stronger argument than the equivalent argument against ads: first, I think the harms of obesity are substantially larger than the harms of advertisements; and second, I think it is easier to personally avoid exposure to internet advertisements than it is to personally avoid exposure to large sodas.

In defense of the position df fd took, you're playing a very asymmetric game here. Advertisers are investing very large sums of money and lots of person-hours of work to figure out how to change people's preferences with those 15-second ads. There's not a comparable degree of investment in developing techniques for making sure your desires aren't manipulated. I think it's hard to be totally sure that ads aren't subtly creating new associations or preferences that are intended to benefit the advertiser (potentially at the reader's expense). 

Taking a bigger look, I think most people would agree that the average person in the United States makes at least a few irrational consumption decisions (such as buying a large expensive car, eating an unhealthy diet, or spending money on mobile games). There are lots of things one could point to in order to try and explain why that is, but I think it's potentially good evidence that people overall are susceptible to having their desires changed by advertising. 

this is a problem with you rather than a problem with ads

Oh, I absolutely agree that this is a problem with me rather than with ads. But the problem with me is that my brain is human. I can't totally fix the exploits in the human brain that ads target.

Given that this is a society of humans, ads seem contraindicated. I do try to avoid them, but ads are going out of my way to expose themselves to me in a way sodas mostly do not (except insofar as they are advertised).

6df fd3y
again, I mostly agree with you. however a few thing I want to submit for consideration: -unrelated but I am mildly miffed at the comparison of me to a child with the seeming implication of lack of knowledge, power and agency [also did you just called me weak will lol?]. Although this may not be the intended effect. -If I make take my point to the extreme, say on one side of the spectrum we have what you describe "win-win" situation on the other imagine a chip in your brain that stimulates your pleasure centre when you think of buying the product. I am sure we agree that there is no need to regulate the good end of the spectrum and there is an urgent need to fight against the bad end. now obviously we need to draw the line somewhere, and everyone would be affected differently and predisposed to draw the line differently. And I found the current state of advertising in general way over my line, I am glad to hear your experience is different. But to quote banksy: this beg the question: am I entitled to live my life free of ads if I wanted to? I am not talking about space where I consent to see ads to walking into like youtube. I am asking: am I entitled to walk outside and see no banner ads, watch movies with no product placement.    Anyway, my crux is that ads have at least 2 parts to them, "good" information and "bad" social manipulation. and we may disagree on whether the current ratio of them in ads is worthy of banning or not [inherently subjective I believe]. But surely we agree that if we can turbocharge the good part and minimize the bad part we should try to do that. we may disagree on how to do that though. I am partial to some kind of tax for preference. 
I'm very suspicious of this line of reasoning, since I could also say: "those men kissing in public didn't ask for my permission to put themselves in front of me". This isn't a knock-down rebuttal or anything, I just wanted to note this.
Fair enough (and apologies for the rudeness).  I do think I'd draw a pretty sharp distinction between 'ads dropped in public spaces where you cannot avoid seeing them' vs. 'ads on webpages that you watch in lieu of paying for things' - the latter seems much easier to avoid and much less likely to be harmful. (And as I understand things OP seems to be mostly working on the latter?)
You have not produced evidence that billboards are generally 'criminal mind control', only that they violate norms for shared spaces for people like Banksy. Ultimately this boils down to local political disagreement, rather than some clever ploy by The Advertisers to get into your brain. This is strictly true in the sense that advertisement is negative cost and negative value, but that is exactly why it is used as a tool for producing otherwise difficult to coordinate public goods. To quote David Friedman:
Relevant: the non-adversarial principle of AI alignment

I think you're somewhat underselling the bad by saying the thing that usually annoys you is insufficiently targeted advertisements, because it's downplaying the bad, like auto-play video/audio ads, or ads that expand or move around the screen.

I'm also noticing a trend - Youtube, I'm looking at you - of making advertisements less about actually selling advertisement, and more as a punishment for using the free version of a service as an incentive to push people onto the paid version.

These two things may not be entirely unrelated.


Also, while I think you're correct, I don't think your experiences are universal; in particular, targeted advertising just doesn't work for me.

Years ago, I tried to sign up for Match, and was rejected because they wouldn't be able to match me to anybody.  I feel that the same kind of thing happens with targeted advertisements; I feel like they're trying really hard, but the targeted advertisements just don't ... connect with me.  I think I've seen two advertisements in all of twenty five-ish years on the Internet that actually gave me information on a new product I was actually interested in getting.


Nonetheless, now that I've basically ... (read more)

This is very idealistic description of advertising. The type of ad that merely informs you of an existence of a product is possible in theory, and maybe existed in 19th century, but I was born too late for that. This model fails to explain e.g. why many ads are annoyingly loud, or what is the purpose of showing you the same ad hundred times. Also, why the ads show you attractive people, contain exaggerated claims about the product, etc.
I have purchased clothes, plush animals, books, and games because of online advertisements that told me about their existence; I would have been unaware of the products in question if not for the ads. (I have also generally been happy with the products that I got; one of the clothes that I ordered is probably my favorite piece of clothing.)
I agree with you that the best case scenario for ads is very positive sum, but I take issue with...   I would frame this as "I paid with time and attention", rather than "I didn't pay for it".  There are definitely times when trading time or attention for money is an excellent trade, but it's not guaranteed and it's not the same as not paying for something. I'm curious if you take advantage of the "get paid to watch ads" programs, and why or why not, since it's essentially the same trade but with a different default.
This is largely discounting the third scenario, advertiser or viewer is actively hostile.  Top comment above goes into the first of those two, but ads are frequently a gateway to all manner of scams, cons, and fraud.  A cost largely born by those far less clever and more vulnerable than those participating in this discussion.  On the other side, you've got things like click fraud.  While not huge relative to ad volume, the costs and externalities are also huge compared to the money changing hands in these transactions normally and probably tips the scale significantly.

As someone who also works on Ads at Google, I have to take the opposite stance; I view advertising as a blight upon the face of humanity, something to destroy if we can at all figure out how to do so.  I comfort myself knowing that Google Ads is arguably the best of what's an awful ecosystem, and that I work in what's arguably the 'least bad part of advertising', which is fraud and abuse protection.  At least the systems I work on make things less terrible.

However, the 'least bad part of advertising' is still not 'good'.

My favorite analogy for advertising right now is weaponry; specifically, guns.  Advertising is like a handgun. Sure, it can be used for good, and sure, in the right hands it's fine, safe even.  However, the default for a handgun is that it is Unsafe, and you have to put forth effort to "use it for good" because it's entire purpose is to kill living things.  That's advertising - its entire purpose is to alter people's mental state without their permission.  Sure, you can "use it for good", and sure, you can make it 'safe'.  But it's a lot easier to use it for abuse and clockwork orange scenarios.

I'll be switching teams in the next few months to be out of Ads.  Hopefully I can find something positive to work on.

its entire purpose is to alter people's mental state without their permission

I think that's the core of our disagreement? Here's an example I think is about maximally sympathetic: in non-pandemic times I help organize a contra dance. There are people who would like our dance, but don't know contra dancing exists, don't know that they would like it, or don't know about our dance in particular.

If I place ads, and some people see them and decide to come to our dance, do you have a problem with that? Or is it that you think most advertising doesn't work that way?

> its entire purpose is to alter people's mental state without their permission

I think that's the core of our disagreement?

Yes, and I think that would be a better path to attack my position.  There's two attack vectors in that quoted line - "alter peoples mental state without their permission", and "permission".  I would recommend avoiding the first attack vector; that will be an exceedingly difficult sell to me.

Permission on the other hand is already a partially open attack vector, and you're much, much more likely to change my mind by that route.  Examples:

  • I have very little objection to the ads on the Google web search interface.  I don't notice them, but I do sometimes click on them.  The reason I have no objection is because "I was actively looking for something", and the ads are almost always topical and don't drown out real results. In other words, I gave implicit permission by searching for the thing that was being advertised to me.
  • I have very little objection to the ads within the Amazon search interface.  Again, it's because I was explicitly looking for the thing in question, and typically the ads presented are factual results that answer
... (read more)
I'm not convinced I fully understand your distinction, let alone that we could codify it sufficiently to make it into law. If you visit a model railroading site, are ads for model locomotives push or pull?
Regarding 'codify into law', that's not an excuse, and it disregards how the US legal system works.  If we can codify slander, if we can codify "harm", if current advertising companies can codify "unacceptable ad", we can codify this. Firm push, but only because of the physical realities of the current system. The fact of the matter is that by default, visiting a site isn't a directed action.  Clicking on links may take you anywhere, and links may be obfuscated.  My preference would be that any/all landing pages should be clean, and ads only shown for explicit searches requesting explicit content.  As a second best, I'd take 'only show ads on explicit navigation after page landing'.
I'm still confused about what you consider to be pulled. If I click on a link within the model railroading site to their page about locomotives, would locomotive ads in the response be push or pull?
These extremely short responses discarding the bulk of my content feel less like you're attempting to understand, and more like you're attempting to get me to draw bright lines on a space I have repeatedly indicated is many different shades of grey.  Disconnecting from the discussion for now.
I don't mean to butt in. Hopefully this interjection is not unfriendly to your relative communicative intentions... but I found the back-and-forth personally edifying and I appreciate it! Also, I do love bright lines. (I like weighing tests better, but only if the scales are well calibrated and whoever is weighing things is careful and has high integrity and so on.) In places, it seemed like there was a different gestalt impression of "how morality and justification even works" maybe? This bit seemed evocative in this way to me: Then this bit also did: For me, both of these feel like "who / whom" arguments about power, and exceptional cases, and how the powerful govern the powerless normally, and the justifications power uses, and the precedent of granting such power, and how precedents can cascade weirdly in black swan events, and how easy or difficult it is to resist seemingly-non-benevolent exercises of power, and to what degree appeals are possible, and so on. I read Jeff as trying to break the question of "ads" down into a vast collection of cases. Some good some bad. Some fixable, some not. Some he might be personally able to change... some not? Then he constructed at least one case that might be consistent with, and revelatory of, an essentially acceptable (and not unbenevolent?) exercise of a certain kind of power. One case could exist that was good for everyone in that one case... because it is full of puppies and roses for everyone (or whatever). The "power" here is basically "the power to choose at the last second what some parts of a website (that in some sense 'has been asked for by the person the website copy will be sent to') might look like"? If you object even to this one quickly constructed "best possible use" of such a website editing power, despite the puppies and roses... that would mean that it isn't "the results as such", but (groping here...) more like "who or how are the results decided"? Which... maybe who and how any economic even
Not the OP, but this seems obviously true to me, so much that I wonder how could anyone see it otherwise. I can't remember the last time I saw an ad that merely gave me facts about something. This may be a crazy idea, but perhaps an ethical way to do ads would be if the person who wants to advertise something would provide a list of facts, and an independent editor would create the corresponding announcement. Like, you could give a description of contra dance, plus time and place, and an URL to find out more, but you wouldn't be allowed to also add images of half-naked women, flashing lights, or annoyingly loud screams. You wouldn't be able to out-scream the other advertisements, or the content the advertisements are attached to. I imagine that for a reader this would be a more pleasant experience, and the factual information would still be there; I would be even more willing to read it. (But maybe annoying people works better for the advertiser, because the readers may have a less pleasant experience, but they will be more likely to remember. Emotional things are easier remembered, even if the emotion is negative.)
Sorry, what I was trying to find out was whether Dentin was opposed to even this maximally sympathetic case. Like, is their view idea that commercial persuasion is fundamentally unethical, or that it is typically unethical in practice?
Here's another version of your example:  Some people aren't watching nearly enough snuff and torture videos. There are people who would like to watch them, but don't know it exists.  If I place ads for torture and snuff videos and some people decide to click on them while other people don't, is that a problem? As I mentioned earlier, advertising is like weaponry.  Your example also reads to me like a classic justification for 'everyone having guns':  "but what if I'm attacked by a rabid dog?  If I have my gun I can protect myself!  See, guns are ok to have!"  Just because it's possible to point out a positive use case, doesn't mean that the remainder of the field is also positive. And to be clear, I consider your example to be about as likely as the rabid dog example.  Sure, in a world with perfect targeting it could be done, but we're not in that perfect world, and consumers have a vested interest in keeping it that way.  The new privacy initiatives are a big part of that.
In that case I expect users to find viewing these ads incredibly unpleasant, on average, much more so than either the example I gave, or advertising in general? (And almost all publishers would not be willing to work with an ad network that placed this kind of ad on their page)
You might find it unpleasant, but it's it the job of Simurgh Followers to spread the Truth Of The Endbringers to everyone!  Surely if people just watch enough of it, they will be converted. The point is that the target gets to decide what's acceptable and what isn't, not the advertiser. The current system makes the advertiser the judge, and that's not ok, even if we have managed to construct a sorta functional system that mostly takes care of the worst abuses.
You mean the publisher, right?
Publisher, advertiser, the distinction does not matter.  The point is that the target does not get to decide.
There are a lot of decisions I can make to influence the ads I see. On facebook I can give quite detailed feedback. In the Google ecoystem I can tell google the interests for which I want to see ads. In many cases I can decide whether an app gets access to an identifier to give me customized ads or random ads. 
At least on the internet you could argue that people give their permission by choosing to visit the sites (as opposed to avoiding them, or paying for an adfree experience). But maybe people aren't giving their permission because they underestimate the power of ads and are not making a conscious choice? Curious what you think of JeffTk's argument about the counterfactual -  would universal paywalls be better? 

First off, kudos for putting your view up for criticism.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the opportunity cost. Putting the question of whether or not ads are good or bad aside, do you think you can find a job that creates more good in the world and pays about the same?

I think it's pretty unlikely that I could be paid more working for another company given my preferences (I want to stay in Boston, I want to work a reasonable number of hours, I don't like working remotely). I think my pay would be about the same if I switched within Google Cambridge, so that's possible, though I like my team a lot and there's a replaceability argument. Did you have something specific in mind?
Well, I already tried recruiting you for our hedge fund, so not really. :D Although it's possible with covid there's a larger pool of remote jobs available. But yeah, given all those constraints, it's quite possible you're in a relatively optimal position.

I don't really see my POV represented in the comments here, so I will add my 2c.

I have two strong beliefs:

  1. Ads are net bad for people watching the ads.
  2. It's really bad to create business models that involve creating a substantial marginal price for something that has little or no marginal cost, like models where you invest a bunch of money to build something and then charge people in money or attention to have it. Ads are just a different kind of price.

1 seems extremely obvious to me and I'm sort of confused why people think differently. It's true that sometimes if I see an ad, it will communicate helpful information to me. However, this is obviously not even close to commensurate with the value of my time. If I have a problem, and I want to solve the problem, I will never, ever look for ads to help inform me about solutions to the problem, because there are much, much more efficient sources of information about solutions to all problems I ever have. This is a natural consequence of the fact that advertiser incentives are grossly misaligned with my preferences, and incidentally the fact that ads are produced by random marketing professionals who are usually not actually foremost expe... (read more)

We should create coordinated investment systems where people who desire a product pay in advance in accordance to how much they desire it, and the product is then given away for free to anyone. Patreon (and clones) and Kickstarter (and clones) are clearly successful examples of this, and we should try to move more and more consumer spending into that model.

This really doesn't work at equilibrium though. Why would I pay in advance instead of free-riding? Why would the amount I'm willing to pay reflect the value I get? That only happens if I believe that my contribution is 100% responsible for bringing about the good, but it's not clear to me how to ever get more than 1/N. The whole thing seems to rely on charity (which I do like, but for stuff that's charitably supported you don't need ads anyway).

I agree that problem #2 is bad, but I don't think we really have an alternative right now. I don't really like ads but still think it's plausible that they are better than charging if you aren't good at price discrimination.

(I think this is probably the most salient problem with capitalism after distributional issues. Wei Dai and I independently proposed this scheme.)

I'm sure you've thought about it more than me, and I agree that it's not clear this will work at mega-scale as a "literally everything that requires an initial investment runs on this" strategy. However, it also really looks to me like it can work for a lot of things. Some things working in its favor: * Humans have a lot of intuitively operating cooperation machinery. People understand the idea of pitching in. It makes them feel like they did a good deed. * People respond well to social prestige as a reward for pitching in, which these platforms are getting very good at providing, through mechanisms like special badges, public credits, and access to special preview content (technically this is a loss to not to provide to everyone, but it's tiny compared to the usual model.) * Removing so much waste creates a huge amount of slack for people to defect and still get results of the quality they are accustomed to. * Pay-in-advance models typically make visible the option to price-discriminate upwards, allowing people with huge amounts of money or grantmakers to pay for more warm fuzzies, more prestige, and more choice over what gets funded. This seems to happen often enough to make a substantial difference -- you can see examples of whales on Patreon if you look at higher tier rewards that have "N of M remaining" visible. Your scheme is also interesting and is clearly in some sense a "less hacky" approach than trying to get people to altruistically do things which are economically irrational. (Although -- sometimes it's a lot easier to get humans to do things that seem like the socially acceptable thing to do than to get them to do the economically rational thing to do.) I would like to see that tried, too.

"if I'm causing harm through my work I would like to know about it". Here is: sites that earn from ads effectively fight not for your attention, but your screen time. And your screen time is limited to 24h a day, minus such unwanted distractions as sleep, eating, etc. 

And that's the whole pie, it's not extendable. When Facebook wins an hour of your screen time, Twitter looses it. There is no win-win.

So the sites use every and all tech to keep you glued to the screen (and to their site). That's why we have video previews now. That's why catchy (and misleading) titles. That's why we're fed outrage. That's why news are negative. That's why a lot of things that are bad on the Net.

And the problem is, once one site figures up something, others have to adopt it, too, because the pie is limited. Or they'll lose. 

Subscription based services, on the other hand, don't have to care how much time you spend with them - as long as you keep the subscription. They don't have to be evil to survive.

I don't think this is a very good model for subscription services. Consider Netflix: they don't do ads at all, subscription only. But they still optimize for watch time and other engagement metrics, because they're very good proxies for retention.
5Gordon Seidoh Worley3y
If subscriptions don't have to be evil, why must ads be? You seem to be assuming advertising here means display advertising and are forgetting about things like cost-per conversion advertising where there's not necessarily any value in keeping you looking at things, only at rarely getting you to look at the right thing that results in you buying something, which is not much different than getting you to pay to look at things via a subscription.

I strongly disagree with your sentiments.

Advertising is bad because it’s fundamentally about influencing people to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. That takes us all away from what’s actually important. It also drives the attention economy, which turns the process of searching for information and learning about the world into a machine for manipulating people. Advertising should really be called commercial propaganda - that reveals more clearly what it is. Privacy is only one aspect of the problem.

Your arguments are myopic in that they are all based on the current system we have now, which is built around advertising models. Of course those models don’t work well without advertising. If we reduced advertising the world would keep on turning and human ingenuity would come up with other ways for information to be delivered and funded. I don’t need to define what new system that would be to say that advertising is bad.

Advertising is bad because it’s fundamentally about influencing people to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. That takes us all away from what’s actually important.

Advice is bad because it's fundamentally about influencing people to do things they wouldn't do otherwise. Giving and receiving advice takes us all away from what's actually important.

Sorry for the snark, but I think this is too general of an argument, proves too much, and therefore fails.

Advice from a person who doesn't care about you and makes money when you follow it is useless at best, and likely harmful. Advertising from a friend who wants what's best for you might be beneficial, if such a thing existed.

I don’t think this is fair. Advice is usually given when requested. In fact, people often don’t like receiving unsolicited advice. I’m sure people would be fine with advertisement if it was opt-in.
2Gordon Seidoh Worley3y
Yet we also often think unsolicited advice is net good even if the person dislikes it, e.g. an intervention to get a drug addict to clean up. People might be okay with opt-in ads, but we should leave open the possibility that the world is actually better sometimes when you're coerced, including into seeing an ad, given that it in general seems possible to coerce others for what we consider to be net good.
I didn’t mean to imply that advice is always given with consent. I just meant that it is so to a far larger degree than advertisement, and that that is an important difference. Even when advice is unsolicited (your intervention example is a good one) it is usually done with the intention of doing something good for the recipient. I think advertisement is usually carried out with the intention to benefit the advertiser. Again, I’m not saying it’s always black and white. But I think there are pretty clear differences between these two activities on average.
4Gordon Seidoh Worley3y
Sure, a great counter example might be anti-smoking ads, or pro COVID-19 vaccine ads (assuming there's general agreement that less smoking and more vaccines are net good).

I feel the same way (and viscerally detest ads, and go to very great lengths to avoid exposure to them), but I'm not sure whether I actually agree.

Having an advertiser attempt to manipulate your brain so that you do a thing you otherwise wouldn't have done is, for sure, bad for you. But so is having less money, and at present the only available ways of getting Nice Things On The Internet that no one is choosing to supply out of sheer benevolence[1] are (a) that you pay them money and (b) that someone pays them for showing you ads.

So, how do the harm of being manipulated and the harm of being charged money compare? Suppose it costs you ($1 times number of viewers) to make something nice, and you can get that back either by charging everyone $1 or by showing everyone ads that pay you $1. Presumably the people making the ads think they're getting more than $1 of value in exchange, on average; probably not much more, else the prices would be lower since I think these markets are quite competitive. Let's say it's $2. That means that they think that on average they can bamboozle me into spending enough money on their stuff to bring them $2 of profit, which at typical margins might mean t... (read more)

+1 for making the case for a side that's not the one your personal feelings lean towards.

I've always felt weird about my contribution to ads.  Half the projects I've worked on at Microsoft were ads and I'm currently waiting to hear back from hiring committee at Google about working on some different ads for them instead.

I guess the part I'm not sure about is, are the people who purchase something in response to an ad better off?  The only purchase that stemmed from an unsolicited ad I saw was bugging my mom for some Heelys as a kid; but every time I've let an "almost ad" like a friend talking about something convince me to buy someth... (read more)

Advertising tries to legitimize all kinds of surveillance. Somehow we got the situation where it is considered perfectly normal that a corporation is reading my letters to my wife (she uses Gmail), tracks my every movement (I use Android), and keeps a detailed log of maybe half of the web articles I have ever looked at (depending on what ads they serve and whether I used a blocker). Me calling a spade a spade almost makes me sound paranoid. But can you imagine traveling 25 years in the past and telling everyone "this is the glorious future our 'not evil' c... (read more)

a corporation is reading my letters to my wife (she uses Gmail)

Gmail announced they would no longer use the contents of email to target ads in 2017: https://blog.google/products/gmail/g-suite-gains-traction-in-the-enterprise-g-suites-gmail-and-consumer-gmail-to-more-closely-align/ https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/23/technology/gmail-ads.html

tracks my every movement (I use Android)

You can choose whether to have location tracking enabled, though? I have it on, because I like having a record of where I've been and I trust Google to handle this information securely, but I could turn it off if I wanted.

keeps a detailed log of maybe half of the web articles I have ever looked at (depending on what ads they serve and whether I used a blocker)

That's what the second half of the post is about: a project I'm working on to serve targeted ads without letting advertisers know all the sites you visit.

With advertising, if I accidentally click on the link, I already paid. ...even if 3 seconds after opening the page they regret having clicked on the link, the ad was already shown, the author of the page made the profit

Mostly not. Advertisers know whether their ads were viewed and aren'... (read more)

A path ads could take that seems like it would both be more ethical and more profitable, yet I don't see happening: actually get direct consumer feedback!

I like the concept of targeted ads showing me things I enjoy and am interested in, but empirically, they're not very good at it! Maybe it's because I use an adblocker most of the time, but even on my phone, ads are reliably uninteresting to me, and I think the fraction that I click on or update positively towards the company from must be far below 1%.* So why don't advertisers have an option for me to say... (read more)

I think universal paywalls would be much better. Consider how video games typically work: You pay for the game, then you can play it as much as you like. Video games sometimes try to sell you things (e.g. political ideologies, products) but there is vastly less of that then e.g. youtube or facebook, what with all the ads, propaganda, promoted content, etc. Imagine if instead all video games were free, but to make money the video game companies accepted bribes to fill their games with product placement and propaganda. I would not prefer that world, even tho... (read more)

Universal basic income would help, and I'm strongly in favor of it, but I don't think that's likely to be politically feasible anytime soon.

There's a solution to achieving this without going the political route: create a digital currency that regularly distributes to everybody in a UBI-like fashion, then ask for that specific currency exclusively as payment. Bonus points if several different similar fee-requiring projects do so together.

I'll describe the problems I have with online advertising, both for me and in general:

a) For me personally:

  • I'm a philosopher by formation, and I work in a very technical area, so I have as my focus of interest two things: truth, and data. Modern ads have neither.

If a manufacturer wants to get me interested in anything, at all, I want specs front and first. No fluff, no emotional appeal, no aesthetic considerations. Hard data. If an ad has any of these, and none of the form, I not only ignore it, but I develop a very strong negative bias towards the bra... (read more)

When you switch to a paywall model, you have to accept that you're going to lose a large portion of your readers, which means you need to charge the remaining ones a lot more, no?
Yes, but no. Technically there's no direct derivation from costs to price charged. The costs involved in you providing a good or service let's call it Vmin, determine a lower boundary, so that if you cannot charge below that you're operating at a loss and won't provide that service, instead opting to do something else. On the other extreme, your potentials customers' maximum ability to pay (in aggregate), let's call it Vmax, which in turn is bounded by their income, determine how much you can charge them. The price, V, that you're effectively going to charge, is between Vmin and Vmax. Customers will do what they can to push V towards Vmin. You, on the contrary, will do what you can to push V towards Vmax. In the end, V ends up somewhere in the middle, so that Vmin < V < Vmax. Therefore, my prior is that a charge of $20/month for such a service is much closer to Vmax than it is to Vmin, for the sole reason this is the incentive playing on the provider's side. Be as it may, I neither accept lying, biased, and dark-pattern exploiting ads, nor do I have a high enough income to justify paying more than a few dollars per month, in aggregate, for the sites I read. Solving this equation is something site owners, together, should work into. If there's no solution and the end result is less of those specific contents, well, I derive marginal utility from having access to that content, so if it goes missing, shrugs.

Third funding model: You pay with contributed labor value

Consider how amazon turk employs people to work on small problems for small payments.

Google maps engages users to answer questions and write reviews for places they have been, for free. What if instead, occasional contributions to updating the map was the price for using it?

What if more online resources worked on a torrent-ish model where those accessing it contribute to hosting it for others? Wouldn't that be grand?

A small amount of non-expert labor is just not worth very much? Like, Amazon Turk pays famously poorly. I could imagine a world in which that was part of using the map, but it's hard to imagine one in which it is a substantial portion. There are so many monetary costs to running a mapping site that you need some form of money coming in. Bandwidth is generally a small portion of the cost of running an online service. For example, the budget of this site (LW) is so overwhelmingly engineering time that they mostly don't worry about the cost of servers, let alone bandwidth.
I agree, but I think what you are doing is a fairly noncentral example of "working in advertising". You are helping to add good constraints on a probably-bad process.
I'm not working on adding constraints, I'm working on adapting advertising to constraints proposed by browsers (primarily Chrome). Perhaps this is the same, since if advertising could not be adapted to the constraints you might end up with weaker constraints, but I do want to clarify that I'm on the ads side not the browser side.

For me, every web page would be improved if it had no ads. Ads just get in the way of whatever my purpose was in going to that web site. How big sites like YouTube can support themselves is an important question, and maybe one must put up with ads, faute de mieux, but that does not change the fact that they are invariably a bad experience for me. The number of times I've hit mute on a particular middle-aged prat launching into his spiel about how "The funeral industry has been ripping people off for—"!

The only quasi-exception to that is when I specifically... (read more)

I see a lot of disagreement about whether ads are "manipulative" or not, and I generally agree with OP's example in another comment about a contra dance. I have also organized various clubs and activities before, and I don't really think "ads you see when using a website" and "ads you see when glancing at your university's activities wall" are all that different, ethically speaking. 

I think the "manipulation" aspect has far more to do with the content of an ad than where it's placed. Concerns of this sort are ones I would level at someone who works in... (read more)

Nicely written and argued!

I don't have any interest in trying to change your mind. Given current options, there really isn't any other rational option. I know that privacy is an issue, but the danger is largely speculative to date.

I'm more interested in the relationship between people (sorry, 'consumers') and marketing/advertising in general.

In the beginning, somebody said, 'I think people would like to know about my product' and put up a sign or had somebody wander around telling people.  It worked, and more people began doing the same. Some people w... (read more)

Hi jefftk-

My major issue with ads is that they're slowly obliterating the consumer surplus of the internet.

This is mostly anecdotal, but it seems much harder to find useful information on an internet search today than it was, say, 10 years ago. Any given search is polluted by a series of ad-laden pages with the absolute minimum information content required to get them to rank for a given search. There may be more useful information on the internet today than the 2011 internet, but it seems like it's increasingly crowded out by less useful information with ... (read more)

Commenting just to add support for putting your worldview up for discussion and criticism, especially when you've got a lot of the latter. Always interesting to see people openly grappling with the impacts of their work/ choices and demonstrating a willingness to change their mind.

better ads than paywalls

Having worked in advertising for 4 years, I am not convinced. Citation is needed. It also implies these are the only two options, but consider the very webpage you are on currently: no ads, no paywall! What's going on?!

Which is only to say that there are other options to explore. That those two models are the most prevalent does not mean they are the only viable options (think of how easy it is to go with an ad-model if users have been trained to accept it as the status-quo, which is self-enforcing, and how viable some other mode... (read more)

Less wrong is funded by donations. So is Wikipedia. I touch on this in the post, but I think a model where donations fund the operations of most sites, let alone most journalism, is far from practical? I had a crack at answering this from the perspective of what this would do to products a couple years ago: Effect of Advertising. From the perspective of users, I think the internet would be essentially unusable unless you subscribed to a few standard services, which would then have harmful levels of leverage. This is the "You can sort of fix friction with bundling..." paragraph above. I'm not really sure what your hypothetical is supposed to be? For example, if I start a news site and I want to employ journalists, will the magical space aliens give me as much money as I want for their salaries?
I wonder about that: before third-party services started popping up, internet service providers and nonprofits used to offer more services that are now offered by third parties. E.g. your ISP used to give you an e-mail account and website space, and services such as Usenet and IRC functioned in a decentralized fashion, with servers being hosted by universities, ISPs and others. That model won't work for everything, but it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to imagine services such as social media and search shifting to a more decentralized model if advertising was banned. (Decentralized social media networks such as Diaspora already exist; I'm under the impression that the main reason they're not used more is that network effects create too much lock-in to existing, more centralized services.)
Thanks for the link to your earlier post, it makes your position a little more clear. I think we make different predictions, probably because (A) we are biased and (B) ads and the internet are so entangled by now that it is hard to make a predication like that. Any prediction will need to take into account a multitude of factors. The line on aliens paying your salary was added because I wanted to preempt the response 'well if ads are no longer the payment model I'd need to find another job'. But you're right to ask that question you did, it is still a weird hypothetical. What I meant to do with it is have all the external costs covered, i.e. hosting fees. What if ads only 'had' to cover the costs of hiring those journalists? Ads could be constrained to a more commercial domain, and websites such as lesswrong.com wouldn't have to exist by grace of donations only. I think one thing I do not like about ads is how any webpage that gets big enough will add ads out of necessity just to cover their sudden spike in costs. Take that factor away and perhaps ads can be added as a precision tool rather than a blunt instrument: allow them only where they make sense / add value (if you believe in that) ?
The primary cost of websites like lesswrong is not hosting fees, but developer time. By a huge margin. Are the aliens paying for that too?
Perhaps true in lesswrong's case (is it still under active development then?). You'll have to suffer me moving the goalposts again, because what I was getting at was websites that serve fairly static content. If lesswrong is actively developed and has taken a lot of effort to build, then take a random wordpress page instead. No the aliens don't pay for developer time, for the same reason they don't pay the journalists.
Why do you believe that to be true? For what websites do you believe it to be true? I would expect that any content website that's big enough that hosting fees are the primary issue for raising money can fund hosting fees via Patreon. 
Because I used to work for/with companies whose business model was mostly free access covered by ads. Costs of keeping those sites running were substantial and proportional to amount of visitors.

I slightly disagree that "producing most of what there is to read requires money". Yes most writing is made for profit, but the very best writing I is often made because the author needs to say it, not because they expect compensation. Definitely need to look at evidence on this, though.

If bad writing is helped more than good writing by ad revenue, then it's less clear that advertising is good.

I think journalism is a good example here? Very few people can afford to self-fund that kind of research
1Tao Lin3y
Yes journalism does some useful research, but on the average newspaper frontpage you see 0 remotely useful research. The amount of money spent by newspapers isn't at all in proportion to the amount of research being done

Jeff, the main premise of your article "better ads than paywalls" is a weak argument. Would you prefer to drive a car, given to you for free, but you have to be exposed to ads all the time you drive it? Would you prefer to live in a home that was given to you for free but every wall, every mirror and every device is recording everything you do and playing ads non-stop? Paywalls are meaningful. The "wall" protect us, our privacy, our thoughts, our sanity and gives us guarantees via a two way contract.  

You can argue that some people would opt-in into a... (read more)

Cars and houses aren't good examples: they're so expensive that the only way to plausibly fund them with ads (and it's not actually economically plausible) would be incessant ads.
-3Vladimir Prelovac3y
Trading a house for ads may seem expensive today but it is only one order of magnitude difference taking median home price,  fact that most people get it on 30 year mortgage and average ARPU for ads.   Let's also notice that ad monetization is increasingly aggressive which I assume is what most your team collegues have as some sort of OKR - given how we came from the world of 'ads are bad' to a world where nowadays we have entire Google search results beings ads  and Youtube plays a commercial every 30 seconds. With this pace of growth ARPU will probably match average yearly mortgage payments in 5-10 years. Even if my math is off by some we are talking about ad-homes in our lifetime. Or forget even that, you can just extend payoff period and get there today.  Google could just "gift" ad-enabled homes to 20 year olds today to have contractual ~70 year payoff period (with increased ARPU as well as adhomes would monetize better).   So the question for you is - is this the world you want your children to grow in? 
Ad funded houses really can't work, unless we figure out how to make housing much cheaper. An upper bound on the amount it can be worth to advertise to someone is the amount of money they spend, and in practice it's much lower. There isn't much I can say publicly on this, except that this is a huge misunderstanding of the business? A small number of searches where people tend to be about to spend a lot of money have lots of ads. The majority of searches have few to no ads. My interpretation here is that Google has gotten much better at figuring out when to show ads, and when it is not worth showing ads. Again, I don't have internal numbers, but I would be very surprised if ads-per-search today were higher than it was ten years ago. Since my wrists got really bad I've started watching a lot more video, including YouTube. There is no way there's a commercial every 30 seconds; where are you getting that?
1Vladimir Prelovac3y
  ... Or ARPU for ads grows which is the point I am making. It grew from 0 to whereever it is now in 20 years and in another 20 it may match the average mortgage cost of a USA household. This is without taking into account that a lot of people would settle for less than average home, and that ad-homes would probably monetize better.  Since average mortgage is only about $10k/year, I find it plausible to think of such ad-driven annual spend. But lets say it takes 100 years to reach that point. My question that you still elluded to answer stands: is this the world you want your children to grow in?  Secrecy is understandable just not an argument. I provided evidence of first hand experience of growing and aggressive monetization and it should be obvious to anyone reading from their own experience that it is indeed the case.  And since you did not produce any evidence to the contrry, I will not dig more into it and let the reader decide. Can we agree that ads-per search are certainly higher than 20 years ago when there were no ads?  And not only that number of ads is growing, their presentation is increasingly aggressive : https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22107823 Ads per video have definetely gone up to the intelligence insulting levels. Try watching any cartoon with your kids without an ad blocker.  https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26519707 I do commend you on standing for your employer and having the courage to write about a what has to be a difficult subject, for a good reason.  ps. Are you using an adblocker in your browser?
You're talking about how much one company was able to grow ad revenue, which not surprisingly went up a lot as the company learned how to do ads. At the same time, other companies saw a large decreases revenue per user: famously, newspapers used to make a huge amount of money from classified advertising. Instead, I would look at the growth pattern of total advertising spend per American. Someone poor enough to consider an ad-funded house their best option is not going to have a spending pattern worth $10k/y to influence. Of course, but I don't see what point you're making? Your link goes to a discussion of a change to search results which showed favicons for regular results. I again don't have any internal information on this, but from this looked to me like a change to make search results more informative. After objections, the change was rolled back. I'm not, and haven't, no.

I have two different thoughts on this:

  1. I don't think ads are inherently bad. It's true that ads are a way of financing things that either would otherwise not be financed, or would be financed by (and thus exclusively available to) relatively rich people. However, I'm pretty sure that online ads actually devalue ads in general, and make it more difficult to provide these services. An ad that runs in a newspaper is much, much more valuable than an online ad on that same newspaper's website, even if the website reaches many more people. This effectively means
... (read more)

The way online ads are currently monetized relies on personalization. This means that online ads create a strong incentive to track people, and to harm people's ability to have privacy online.

You might be interested in the second half of the post, starting with "But the biggest issue I see people raising is the privacy impact of targeted ads..."?