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Targeted Advertising

Twitter Ban shows that the free market works

Big tech’s conservative purge will lead to stricter regulations.

Earlier this month, Twitter banned the personal account of Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) and at the same time limited the official White House account, leaving the President of the United States unable to directly communicate with the nation and its voters on the platform. 

For many conservatives, the move to ban Trump from Twitter after the Capitol riots on January 7, was an assault on freedom of speech and since then, many leaders around the world have also condemned how Twitter handled the situation. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was critical of Twitter for blocking President Donald Trump’s account, considering the ban a threat to free speech. The European commissioner Thierry Breton saw Twitter’s decision as a total break from the past, calling it “the 9/11 moment of social media” in an op-ed published by Politico. Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack said blocking Trump amounts to censorship. And the French Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune said to Bloomberg that “This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO.”

Other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube followed Twitter’s lead and now Trump is banned from virtually every major platform out there, mostly indefinitely. Those who approve of Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump and the purge of thousands of conservative accounts on the platform, like to invoke the mantra that if conservatives think they have been “shut down”, they should also find comfort in the fact that the free market will provide an alternative and competition. However, it’s not that simple.

Social media platforms enjoy a great privilege that not many other companies or sectors do. They make their own rules under their Terms of Service and have total control of their platforms. This extreme power makes it hard for users and companies who feel that they have been unfairly treated to have a diligent due process review of their claims. With nowhere to go to have their voices heard, one last line of defence still stands and stronger than ever: the market.

After the ban of Donald Trump’s accounts, which had over 80 million followers on Twitter, some consumers started to ditch the social media platforms and services that they believe were censoring and targeting conservative speech. Many well known political accounts, such as James Woods reportedly lost over 7 thousand followers in 48 hours and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, lost 45,000 followers. Even more centrist political accounts as Dave Rubin reported a drop of over 35 thousand followers on Twitter. Republican lawmakers also lost thousands of followers. According to USA Today, about 42% of the accounts – 213 – had fewer followers on Jan. 13 than they did on Jan. 6. The vast majority of those accounts –200 – belonged to Republicans. As a result, the next week, Twitter stocks plummeted more than 10%. Facebook fell 4% to $256.84, Alphabet stock was down 2.2% to $1,766.72, and Amazon stock dropped 2.2%, to $3,114.21.

The market reacted this way because large tech companies are alienating users by directly excluding accounts and because people are simply leaving the platforms all together for alternatives such as Gab and RumbleParler was a popular alternative for Twitter but was wiped off the internet last week after both Apple and Google remove the app from their stores and Amazon decided not to host the website on their AWS servers. 

Most of today’s social media platforms are free because they collect data about their users every day, from location to website searches, even fingerprinting all your devices. Those pieces of information are sold to advertisers who cater to your interests.  As we have written, this practice is both innovative and helps support the social media networks we use. However, the business model is not sustainable if tech companies are not able to gather updated information about their users, or worse, if the consumers the advertisers are looking to reach are not on their platforms anymore. 

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whose company’s share plumed the most this week, seems to have realized this the hard way. His strategy may have backlashed as now, millions of conservative consumers are out on the internet, without a home, and desperately looking for a new place to be heard and speak freely. He acknowledged last week that banning Trump from Twitter “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

Tech companies should be aware that even though they enjoy a privileged position now, this might not last for long. The European Commission, for example, has introduced two proposals that would place more restraints on digital giants. The first, is the Digital Markets Act, the centerpiece of Europe’s digital plans aimed at boosting online competition in a world dominated by Silicon Valley. The second is the Digital Services Act aimed to limit the spread of illegal content and goods online, making online platforms responsible for the spread of such content. Other countries might also try to regulate digital services in a way that would be prejudicial to tech companies and most importantly, to consumer choice. Poland, for instance, plans to make censoring of social media accounts illegal: “algorithms or the owners of corporate giants should not decide which views are right and which are not,” wrote the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki on Facebook last week.

For now, a free market is still the most powerful way in which consumers can have a voice and make their choices clear. This might change in the future, but it’s comforting to know that even when governments fail, consumers and private companies can count on the power of supply and demand. And if you ask me, I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

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Originally published here.

New digital regulations: the good and the bad

Last month, the European Commission presented the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act. The regulatory framework that has been long in the making aims to prevent and punish anti-competitive behaviours across digital platforms, in particular, those with at least 45 million users.

Although the introduction of these new regulations as such was a historic moment for EU digital policy, the very nature of this new approach is punitive and its unintended consequences might curb innovation instead of enhancing it.

The European Commission’s goal to keep big tech giants at bay has become obvious long ago when antitrust investigations into Facebook and Amazon started to build up. The witchhunt after anti-competitive actions has been the result of the European Union’s lack of knowledge about these new platforms and how their supply chains operate.

For example, using his Twitter account, Dutch MEP Paul Tang categorised the European Parliament’s vote against targeted advertising as a “win”, further adding that “We see that big tech continues to expand their market power by considering personal data as a commodity. In addition to interfering with our privacy, such a revenue model is unhealthy and sickening for the internet.” These policy remedies would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the greatly innovative tech sector that provides value to users across Europe.

Digital Markets Act introduced a series of ex-ante restrictions that will tell big platforms on how to behave and by introducing a new competition tool.

Several factors need to be considered in order for these developments to be fair and less damaging than they have the potential to be. First, ex antre regulations should be limited to large online platforms that qualify as gatekeepers and shouldn’t discriminate between them. However, considering that the world of technology is constantly evolving and the economy as such is going to change, it is crucial that ex-ante regulations are concise and straightforward, and flexible.

A smart approach, and the one we advocate for, would be to strike a balance between the need to safeguard competition and remaining liberal enough to not block innovation. A code of conduct that would lay out specific blacklisted practices without making the costs of compliance excessively high for gatekeepers and preserving consumer choice might be as close as we can ever get to a compromise.

The European Union’s digital lag is well-known, and if we put even more brakes on our digital economy, we might find ourselves in the back of the queue for economic wellbeing. The key narrative of the EU digital reform shouldn’t be “let’s punish the big tech for its success” but rather “let’s create the favourable conditions for smaller enterprises”. Granting the Commission large-scale investigation powers would be an extremely dangerous move that will likely only increase the number of costly antitrust proceedings without boosting innovation.

Although transparency is equally important, its pursuits shouldn’t lead us beyond the pale. The very fact that digital platforms bring value to Europeans is a clear indication that they do something right, and that should be enough for the Commission to form its judgment. Unmatched demand for digital services, including those provided by the big tech, speaks for itself.

The best way to approach the newly presented digital framework is to be realistic about its unintended consequences. Our goal should be innovation, not punishment.

Originally published here.

Stopping targeted advertising cuts off industries and dumbs down tech

The European Parliament’s vote to phase out the practice threatens to reduce consumer choice and stifle what is one of Europe’s most innovative sectors, writes the Consumer Choice Center’s Yaël Ossowski.

hen we hear gripes about social media, one of the top concerns is targeted advertising.

On any given day, this type of segmented advertising is used by the local hair salon searching for new clients, an environmental group asking for signatures on a petition, and a political candidate seeking your vote. These are all important and vital for our civil societies in Europe.

These groups pay to get your attention on social media because it achieves something essential: to generate business, to advocate for social causes, or win elections. This is facilitated by the unique platforms where we post and share information.

And because social media is usually free, accepting this advertising allows platforms to grow and scale to continue providing value to users. That is the balance that most of us understand. Some people are mildly annoyed, but others prefer advertising that caters to their interests.

Unfortunately, that distinction has given fodder to activists and politicians who want to ban this style of advertising to limit the ability to spread information on social media.

In October, MEPs in the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of severely restricting and eventually phasing out targeted ads. The proposal was an amendment to the annual competition report, aimed at overhauling the Digital Services Act. It remains non-binding until such regulation is issued by the European Commission.

Using his Twitter account, Dutch MEP Paul Tang categorised the vote as a “win” against large tech companies, further adding that “We see that big tech continues to expand their market power by considering personal data as a commodity. In addition to interfering with our privacy, such a revenue model is unhealthy and sickening for the internet.”

In this case, politicians in Brussels get it wrong. These policy remedies would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the greatly innovative tech sector that provides value to users across Europe.

Social media platforms have grown to be popular because they empower users to speak their minds and profitable because they enable small businesses and groups to find current and future customers. That is a win-win for our societies.

If targeted advertising is dismantled online as some hope, it would severely restrict the options for entrepreneurs and social groups to find supporters and clients. That may sound good in theory, but in practice, it means stopping advertising options for environmental groups, restaurants hoping to deliver food during continued lockdowns, and more.

Regulating innovative technology because of serious legal and health concerns is warranted but stopping information and unique algorithms that give us what we want is a step too far.

We must face the fact that social media has become the new marketplace where we seek information. If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries. This harms everyone.

“If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries. This harms everyone”

More than harmful, it is also based on the false assumption that adults are not intelligent enough to understand or interpret advertising. This is both paternalistic and wrong.

Of course, ads are annoying for those who do not want them. And, luckily, the same technology that created targeted micro-advertising has also spawned ad-blocking browser plugins, Virtual Private Networks, and private browsing modes that are simple and easy to use for those who want them.

Thanks to technology, everything we do online has gotten more efficient, more effective, and less costly. It has empowered non-profits like mine, given a voice to millions of entrepreneurs, and offered untold value to users around the world.

As advocates for a free and open Internet, we must continue to uphold innovation and ensure it is protected from those that wish to limit its potential. The European Union needs to find ways to foster, rather than choke off, the innovation that every citizen on the continent deserves.

Originally published here.

Halting targeted advertising kills industries and dumbs down tech

When we hear gripes about social media, one of the top concerns is targeted advertising.

On any given day, this type of segmented advertising is used by the local hair salon searching for new clients, an environmental group asking for signatures on a petition and a city council candidate seeking your vote. These are all important and vital for our civil society.

These groups pay to get your attention on social media because it achieves something essential: to generate business, to advocate for social causes or win elections. This is facilitated by the unique platforms where we post and share information.

And because social media is usually free, accepting this advertising allows platforms to grow and scale to continue providing value to users. That is the balance that most of us understand. Some people are mildly annoyed, but others prefer advertising that caters to their interests.

Unfortunately, that distinction has given fodder to activists and politicians who want to ban this style of advertising to limit the ability to spread information on social media.

The latest scandal du jour, as one can guess, revolves around the 2020 elections and how political forces targeted would-be voters on social media.

Using Twitter and Facebook proved effective for both the Biden and Trump campaigns, up until both platforms halted political advertising. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent and tens of millions of voters were reached.

In a hearing on Tuesday, senators on the Judiciary Committee excoriated Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for their proprietary algorithms that drive engagement and sell ads.

Senators took turns grinding their axes, lodging complaints about content moderation, targeted advertising and market power.

The policy remedies discussed have so far been two-pronged, either using antitrust laws to break up the social media firms or rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that currently treats online outlets as platforms rather than publishers, not making them liable for the content shared on their pages.

In either case, politicians in Washington get it wrong.

Action in either direction would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the great innovative tech sector that is the world’s envy.

Social media platforms have grown to be popular because they empower users to speak their minds and be profitable because they enable small businesses and groups to find current and future customers. That is a win-win for society.

If targeted advertising is dismantled online as some hope, it would severely restrict the options for entrepreneurs and social groups to find supporters and clients.

That may sound good in theory, but in practice it means stopping advertising options for environmental groups, restaurants hoping to deliver food during continued lockdowns and more.

Regulating innovative technology because of serious legal and health concerns is warranted but stopping information and unique algorithms that give us what we want is a step too far.

We must face the fact that social media has become the new marketplace where we seek information. If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries.

This harms everyone.

More than harmful, it is also based on the false assumption that adults are not intelligent enough to understand or interpret advertising. This is both paternalistic and wrong.

Of course, ads are annoying for those who do not want them. And, luckily, the same technology that created targeted micro-advertising has also spawned ad-blocking browser plugins, Virtual Private Networks, and private browsing modes that are simple and easy to use for those who want them.

Thanks to technology, everything we do online has gotten more efficient, more effective and less costly. It has empowered nonprofits like mine, given a voice to millions of entrepreneurs and offered untold value to users around the world.

As advocates for a free and open internet, we must continue to uphold innovation and ensure it is protected from those who wish to limit its potential.

Originally published here.

The Sun: Halting targeted advertising kills industries and dumbs down tech

When we hear gripes about social media, one of the top concerns is targeted advertising.

On any given day, this type of segmented advertising is used by the local hair salon searching for new clients, an environmental group asking for signatures on a petition and a city council candidate seeking your vote. These are all important and vital for our civil society.

These groups pay to get your attention on social media because it achieves something essential: to generate business, to advocate for social causes or win elections. This is facilitated by the unique platforms where we post and share information.

And because social media is usually free, accepting this advertising allows platforms to grow and scale to continue providing value to users. That is the balance that most of us understand. Some people are mildly annoyed, but others prefer advertising that caters to their interests.

Unfortunately, that distinction has given fodder to activists and politicians who want to ban this style of advertising to limit the ability to spread information on social media.

The latest scandal du jour, as one can guess, revolves around the 2020 elections and how political forces targeted would-be voters on social media.

Using Twitter and Facebook proved effective for both the Biden and Trump campaigns, up until both platforms halted political advertising. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent and tens of millions of voters were reached.

In a hearing on Tuesday, senators on the Judiciary Committee excoriated Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for their proprietary algorithms that drive engagement and sell ads.

Senators took turns grinding their axes, lodging complaints about content moderation, targeted advertising and market power.

The policy remedies discussed have so far been two-pronged, either using antitrust laws to break up the social media firms or rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that currently treats online outlets as platforms rather than publishers, not making them liable for the content shared on their pages.

In either case, politicians in Washington get it wrong.

Action in either direction would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the great innovative tech sector that is the world’s envy.

Social media platforms have grown to be popular because they empower users to speak their minds and be profitable because they enable small businesses and groups to find current and future customers. That is a win-win for society.

If targeted advertising is dismantled online as some hope, it would severely restrict the options for entrepreneurs and social groups to find supporters and clients.

That may sound good in theory, but in practice it means stopping advertising options for environmental groups, restaurants hoping to deliver food during continued lockdowns and more.

Regulating innovative technology because of serious legal and health concerns is warranted but stopping information and unique algorithms that give us what we want is a step too far.

We must face the fact that social media has become the new marketplace where we seek information. If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries.

This harms everyone.

More than harmful, it is also based on the false assumption that adults are not intelligent enough to understand or interpret advertising. This is both paternalistic and wrong.

Of course, ads are annoying for those who do not want them. And, luckily, the same technology that created targeted micro-advertising has also spawned ad-blocking browser plugins, Virtual Private Networks, and private browsing modes that are simple and easy to use for those who want them.

Thanks to technology, everything we do online has gotten more efficient, more effective and less costly. It has empowered nonprofits like mine, given a voice to millions of entrepreneurs and offered untold value to users around the world.

As advocates for a free and open internet, we must continue to uphold innovation and ensure it is protected from those who wish to limit its potential.

Originally published here.

Halting Targeted Advertising Kills Industries and Dumbs Down Tech

When we hear gripes about social media, one of the top concerns is targeted advertising.

On any given day, this type of segmented advertising is used by the local hair salon searching for new clients, an environmental group asking for signatures on a petition and a city council candidate seeking your vote. These are all important and vital for our civil society.

These groups pay to get your attention on social media because it achieves something essential: to generate business, to advocate for social causes or win elections. This is facilitated by the unique platforms where we post and share information.

And because social media is usually free, accepting this advertising allows platforms to grow and scale to continue providing value to users. That is the balance that most of us understand. Some people are mildly annoyed, but others prefer advertising that caters to their interests.

Unfortunately, that distinction has given fodder to activists and politicians who want to ban this style of advertising to limit the ability to spread information on social media.

The latest scandal du jour, as one can guess, revolves around the 2020 elections and how political forces targeted would-be voters on social media.

Using Twitter and Facebook proved effective for both the Biden and Trump campaigns, up until both platforms halted political advertising. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent and tens of millions of voters were reached.

In a hearing on Tuesday, senators on the Judiciary Committee excoriated Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for their proprietary algorithms that drive engagement and sell ads.

Senators took turns grinding their axes, lodging complaints about content moderation, targeted advertising and market power.

The policy remedies discussed have so far been two-pronged, either using antitrust laws to break up the social media firms or rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that currently treats online outlets as platforms rather than publishers, not making them liable for the content shared on their pages.

In either case, politicians in Washington get it wrong.

Action in either direction would end up being harmful to both consumers and small businesses, and dumb down the great innovative tech sector that is the world’s envy.

Social media platforms have grown to be popular because they empower users to speak their minds and be profitable because they enable small businesses and groups to find current and future customers. That is a win-win for society.

If targeted advertising is dismantled online as some hope, it would severely restrict the options for entrepreneurs and social groups to find supporters and clients.

That may sound good in theory, but in practice it means stopping advertising options for environmental groups, restaurants hoping to deliver food during continued lockdowns and more.

Regulating innovative technology because of serious legal and health concerns is warranted but stopping information and unique algorithms that give us what we want is a step too far.

We must face the fact that social media has become the new marketplace where we seek information. If we legislate and ban specific methods of sharing information on products and services online, this reduces consumer choice and chokes off entire industries.

This harms everyone.

More than harmful, it is also based on the false assumption that adults are not intelligent enough to understand or interpret advertising. This is both paternalistic and wrong.

Of course, ads are annoying for those who do not want them. And, luckily, the same technology that created targeted micro-advertising has also spawned ad-blocking browser plugins, Virtual Private Networks, and private browsing modes that are simple and easy to use for those who want them.

Thanks to technology, everything we do online has gotten more efficient, more effective and less costly. It has empowered nonprofits like mine, given a voice to millions of entrepreneurs and offered untold value to users around the world.

As advocates for a free and open internet, we must continue to uphold innovation and ensure it is protected from those that wish to limit its potential.

Originally published here.

How Not to Respond to Alarming Social Media Censorship

Protecting a free and open internet means not using punitive regulations or policies to hamstring social networks because of the scandal of the day.

Call it election interference, censorship, or simple editorializing, but Twitter and Facebook’s throttling of several New York Post articles this week has drawn lots of criticism.

The stories allege that Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, introduced Ukrainian energy adviser Vadym Pozharskyi to his father after receiving a cushy $50,000 a month board seat at the company Burisma. (Other outlets have contested the report).

There is no question that the social networks in question made a bad call. Disabling the link on the various platforms made even more people seek it out, creating a “Streisand Effect” of mass proportions.

But the content of the articles isn’t what really matters.

The reaction to the New York Post report reveals just how much pressure is put on social networks to perform roles far beyond what they were intended for. We want them to simultaneously police speech online, keep the networks free for open discussion, and be mindful of “fake news” that spreads rapidly.

So, it is important to understand why Facebook and Twitter felt they had to censor the story in the first place—and why all of us are actually to blame. For the last several years, campaigners, activists, and politicians have primed us all to accept the byzantine expectations and regulations put on social networks.

From Netflix documentaries such as The Social Dilemma and The Great Hack to the criticisms of “surveillance capitalism,” many voices are calling for further regulation of social media networks.

Some on the Right smirk as Sen. Josh Hawley pens legislation to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or to ban “infinite scrolling” on social media apps. Meanwhile, some on the Left cheer as technology CEOs are dragged before congressional committees and castigated for “allowing” Trump to win in 2016. 

This week, it was revealed that the New York State Department of Financial Services wants a “dedicated regulator” to oversee social media platforms. Other states will likely follow suit.

But what we’re all too loath to admit is that these firms do what any of us would do when under scrutiny: they pivot, they engage in damage control, and they aim to please those with pitchforks outside their doors. It’s the same whether it’s Black Lives Matter or President Trump.

Facebook has committed to ending all political advertising online (hurting non-profit advocacy groups like mine) and Twitter already implemented a similar policy last year, lauded by political figures such as Hillary Clinton and Andrew Yang.

Of course, when tech giants censor or delete stories that we perceive to advance or hurt our political “team,” we are all up in arms. But protecting a free and open internet means not using punitive regulations or policies to hamstring social networks because of the scandal of the day.

Internet policy remedies dreamed up in Washington, D.C. will almost always end up hurting those of us who don’t have power or deep pockets. It harms the small businesses that use social networks for advertising, and it sets up more roadblocks for ordinary users who simply want to check in with friends and family. 

Big Tech isn’t powerful because it has money, but because it has delivered superior products, those that have left platforms such as AOL, Myspace, and Yahoo in their wake.

Social networks have evolved from places to connect and share information across borders to intellectual and political battlefields where we wage digital wars.

Of course, there should be regulation in some respect. But it should be smart regulation that keeps platforms relatively free and open and provides incentives for future innovation. The powerful platforms of today can afford to comply with cumbersome rules, while new market entrants cannot. 

That means that with every new proposal to roll back Section 230 protections or require quasi-governmental fact-checking functions around Election Day, we’re depriving consumers of choice and entrepreneurs of the ability to innovate.

Of course, targeted censorship of certain accounts or stories on social media networks is bad. But policy “solutions” dreamed up by technologically illiterate bureaucrats and power-hungry politicians would no doubt be even worse. 

Originally published here.

Ads are changing, and we should be happy about it

Shifting consumer behavior is changing the world of advertising as we know it, says Bill Wirtz. 

We have come along way in the evolution of the advertising business. The Egyptians used papyrus to make sales messages and wall posters, while the Middle Ages made us transition to town criers and billboards. But even trademarks are much older than many would think – the first trademark dates back to 1300 BC in what is India today. Advertising is simultaneously a reflection of reality and a gross over-exaggeration of consumer expectation – they are flashy, they are gross, they feature musicians and actors. Some ads are so entertaining that viewers tune in to watch them, and they generate massive clicks on video platforms such as YouTube.

Terrestrial TV is a good example of how some service have only been ad-funded for a long time already. With the popping up of online advertising we’ve seen entire newspapers switch gear on their business models. The Guardian – which isn’t exactly the defender of modern capitalism – raises more money online than it does through print. No wonder – online advertising is better for advertisers and consumers. Targeted advertising tells the company that posts the ad if it is actually viewed and clicked on – something that you cannot guarantee in any way on TV or radio. On the video platform YouTube, the company says that you only pay for your ad if people choose to watch it:

“For example, when someone chooses to view your TrueView ad for at least 30 seconds or engages with your ad – like clicking on a call-to-action overlay, a card or a companion banner.”

This certainly applies to myself: as a craft beer enthusiast, Google and Facebook ads constantly tell me about the latest beer releases. Why should I be upset? I get to use a free online service, and in return I get informed about products I like? It would be strange to claim that this is somehow worse than the old days, when I’d be shown things I don’t actually buy, such as women’s hygiene products, or new car tyres.

There is also a common assumption that advertising is a form of brainwashing, constantly bombarding is with things we don’t want until we end up buying it. It poses the ancient old question: can you make someone buy something that they do not want? The American legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who was Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under the Obama administration published an essay entitled “Fifty Shades of Manipulation“, in which he labels conventional marketing as manipulation. He writes for instance: “It is important to acknowledge that in the commercial realm, manipulation is widespread; it is part of the basic enterprise.”

Yes, when companies advertise health benefits of their products that cannot be proven, then they are intentionally misleading their customers. However, this is miles away from advertising a product as being cool, refreshing, comfortable, or trendy. Are we to define the mere fact that a product is being described by the producer as “good”, as manipulation? Because by this same standard, I could feel equally manipulated by the fact that Sunstein calls a book he edited himself, “relevant” (which he did).

You couldn’t sell anyone a candle as a means of replacing electric bulbs, but you can advertise products in a positive fashion. Of course advertising works, otherwise there would be no point it. However, the assumption that it is bad having ad-based services, and online and offline users being exposed to them, that is retrograde thinking. Many careers, including those of free-lance journalists, have been made possible through modern advertising. Many consumers happier about having specific targeted ads online, as opposed to being bored by their TV.

Advertising is changing because we are changing as consumers.

Originally published here

Opinion: Facebook trustbusters motivated by partisan politics, not consumer protection

Channeling the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt and nostalgia for the early 20th century Progressive Era, the latest bad idea being circulated in elite circles is to use the trust-busting power of the federal government to break up the social network Facebook.

The idea has been promoted by such Democratic politicians as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz. Even Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, has hitched his wagon to the idea, as expressed in his now infamous New York Times op-ed.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not dealing with a corporate monopoly akin to Standard Oil, U.S. Steel or even Microsoft. We’re talking about social media websites and services available on the open web.

No one is forced to use these platforms, and are very free and cheaply able to create their own. This is not a monopoly in the literal sense, or even a figurative one.

There are already plenty of competing social networks that people use for a host of services. Whether it’s Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest or Twitter, there are plenty of services where people connect with friends and share information. Facebook just happens to have “clued in” to the needs of the greatest numbers of consumers. Does that warrant government intervention? No.

Let’s be clear: The internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations, however, will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

No doubt, some actions by the company have been egregious and they’ll be rightfully punished. The Federal Trade Commission’s expected $5 billion fine on Facebook because of its mishandling of data and consumer privacy is a good first step.

But the movement calling on federal regulators to use their power to break up the company reeks of partisan politics.

Democrats are incensed that users on the platform may have been persuaded to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election due to an impressive outreach effort by the Trump campaign (not to mention alleged Russian front groups). Republicans, on the other hand, decry Facebook’s liberal-heavy moderation that has specifically targeted conservative pages and posts. Its censoring of a post citing the Declaration of Independence because it was considered “hate speech” is just one example.

But from what we’ve learned from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other tech elites, banning individuals or pages are highly complex decisions made by thousands of moderators who follow an internal set of guidelines, whether at YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. The investigative article published on the Verge about Facebook moderators’ workload and stress while removing bad content from the platform speaks to that.

Despite these follies, the overwhelming majority of users are happy with their profiles. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability for ordinary people like myself or millions of other consumers to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up.

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not tip our hand to invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on.

The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states. Let’s not use temporary partisan politics to determine the fate of online services and platforms from which we all enjoy and benefit.

Yaël Ossowski is a consumer advocate and deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Read more here

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