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Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and…
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Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of… (edição: 2020)

de Tim Hwang (Autor)

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Membro:trotta
Título:Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet (FSG Originals x Logic)
Autores:Tim Hwang (Autor)
Informação:FSG Originals (2020), 176 pages
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Etiquetas:to-read

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Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet (FSG Originals x Logic) de

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Not bad! Lots of good details.

I didn't feel like the thesis of the book was adequately defended. Programmatic advertising (or minor variations thereof) seems like it is here to stay. Perhaps the price will change to better reflect its value to firms. A complete collapse (à la 2008) seems unlikely. ( )
  uoshah | Nov 6, 2020 |
Hwang’s book takes a deep dive into the inner workings of the adtech industry and compares it, convincingly and in detail, to the subprime mortgage crisis that kicked off the 2008 global economic crisis. Where the industry (dominated by Google and Facebook, with ad auctioneers busy in the background) likes us to think they are “data-driven wizards of consumer persuasion,” they are actually at the helm of a rickety structure riven by “perverse incentives, outright fraud, and a web economy on the brink.” Yeah, that sounds eerily familiar.

Like the financial systems that used lightning-fast algorithmic predictions and computerized transactions to buy and sell derivatives that grew increasingly risky, the adtech industry suffers from a similar combination of hubris and opaque complexity that’s impossible to analyze clearly. Hwang draws an intriguing lesson from James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State. To administer power over a large population, you need “legibility” – a way of identifying and tabulating humans and their behavior. To do this, platforms are designed to appropriate data in order to administer ads.

Though these companies collect an incredibly vast amount of data in violation of our privacy, legibility is one-way. In spite of data about click-throughs and impressions, nobody who places an ad can tell where it will end up or whether it is actually effective. A few big corporations have an outsize impact and no incentives to improve transparency or even simple accuracy. Hwang cites a claim Facebook once made about its ability to reach a coveted American youth demographic, stating it could put ads in front of 25 million more people in that age range than actually live in the entire US; its disastrous “pivot to video” claims cost media companies time, energy, and a lot of money.

What’s more, those dollars are chasing a dwindling audience, especially among younger people who increasingly use ad blockers, and a lot of the attention metrics are fraudulent. Many ads are never seen by anyone, and a large percentage of the “viewers” for those “seen” are non-human, automated systems designed to pump up the numbers. Hwang provides an in-depth analysis of how the financial incentives parallel the subprime mortgage crisis: people have more money to spend than they have places to put it. Google and Facebook not only absorb most digital ad dollars, they are replacing the media outlets that depend on ads – newspapers, for instance. As more people get their news directly through ad-driven platforms, traditional and new media watch their ability to influence the ad industry leached away, along with attention.

Hwang names, though doesn’t spend much time on, the anti-social tendencies of ad-driven persuasion, but urges us to recognize an economic bubble that will soon burst. The longer it has to grow, the more damaging the consequences. He urges us to imagine an alternative and to do a “controlled demolition” to avoid disaster. He argues for independent industry research to inform our understanding of digital advertising’s effects, legal protection for whistle-blowers, and recommends a regulatory overhaul similar to those imposed after the 1929 crash as a model for public accountability and the rebuilding of a more robust, bubble-proof internet. Apparently it’s one that might still be largely financed by advertising, (I wasn’t sure) but it would be less fraudulent and opaque.

"The internet we have, for better or worse, is yoked to the structure and prospects of the advertising economy by the business models, companies, and economics that have dominated over the last few decades. If this system of advertising is brittle, then the internet as we know it is brittle. Whether we leave these marketplaces deregulated and feral or implement systems to manage them for public benefit will define not just the future of advertising, but the future of the technologies that have shaped and continue to shape our society."

Hwang’s focus is on advertising as the financial backbone of the internet. The problems caused by giant corporations and their data-sucking assaults on privacy isn’t so much that they suck data, in his estimation, as that they suck at advertising, yet have been able to build fortunes through misleading and increasingly ineffective practices. He's a good guide to the problems caused by adtech and what might happen if we don't do something before the bubble bursts.
  bfister | Sep 12, 2020 |
The internet has morphed through numerous stages to get to the current advertising model. Tim Hwang says that global model is so corrupt and corrupted it looks like the stock markets just before the Financial Crisis and recession of 2008. “The whole edifice of online advertising…is bunk,” he says. In his Subprime Attention Crisis, he explores the many ways it doesn’t work.

The whole raison d’être of the world wide web seems to be personal data collection and surveillance. Hwang says the data collected is laughable. Ten percent of the records have some data that is wrong, and as many as 85% are just plain wrong altogether. In a world where garbage in means garbage out, decisions made on this data are worthless at best. Yet they are the pride of the internet: it’s shining difference.

It was supposed to be so highly targeted there would be no waste. For users, it meant ads speaking directly to them, based on sites they had visited, things they had purchased, and chats they had posted. For marketers, it meant finally knowing which half of the money they were spending on advertising was wasted, while improving the closing of sales because no effort was being inefficient. Turns out almost all the money spent on website ads is wasted. Users are not clicking or buying, and pinpoint targeting fails repeatedly.

Compounding this disaster is the structure of ad placement itself, which has evolved from direct negotiation with various sites, to middlemen placing the ads for a fee. The problem is those middlemen are raking off a 70% cut, leaving the site with just 30% of the revenue from showing ads on their services. Sooner or later, Hwang says, both advertisers and their host sites will wake up to the ripoff. The result might be the complete destruction of the model and a whole new beginning for the internet.

The way it works now is that two kinds of middlemen meet to place ads. One aggregator represents the sell side, with an inventory of empty slots on various sites. On the buy side are the advertisers who want pinpoint placement to take advantage of the internet’s supposed power to target individuals precisely.

When someone lands on a page, the buy side and the sell side get together in an instant auction, placing some client firm’s ad on that page. The firm bought into that placement being precisely what it wanted: the right user landing in the right spot, interested and ready to purchase the firm’s product.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and sales results prove it daily.

Not only is the personal data wrong, but far from being of interest to the user, ads are all but totally ignored. When they began in the id-90s, ads were so new, people clicked on them out of curiosity. The clickthrough rate was an astonishing 44%, convincing many firms that the internet was where to place their marketing dollars. Today, the clickthrough rate less than one half of one percent, making it a worse buy that most other media. People are sick of ads, don’t want the distraction of clicking away from what they were doing and often resent the ads that come closest to actually being of importance to them. It is too creepy to have an ad know exactly what you want.

Meanwhile, back in the process itself, marketers’ ads end up costing far more than they thought they would in the instant auction process. They pay more and get less exposure than they paid for. Some ads get placed at the bottom of the page, where the user might never scroll to before clicking away. As many as 56% of online ads are never seen by a human, just because of bad placement. Some end up on pages that are merely there to collect ad revenue and have no content. Some are fraudulent clicks made by bots. And of course, both bots and paid humans click away on the ads themselves to boost the (fake) results and thereby convince the sucker, er, marketer, to keep buying that space on that page. More than half of inventory is lost to click fraud or unviewable inventory. Hwang says it is “a massive global economy of fraud in the programmatic advertising marketplace. “ 51

But wait! There’s more. Users have taken matters into their own hands too. Free ad-blocking software has been installed on hundreds of millions of devices. Browsers themselves now come equipped with automatic ad blockers. Estimates are that 75% of North Americans use some sort of ad blocking, so they never see an ad at all.

How long before the marketers wake up? How long before they admit their ads are not being seen, never mind being clicked by a highly reliable and curated potential customer? How long before the marketers rebel at the absurdly high cost per ad in the totally opaque and untraceable process of purchasing an ad space? What could possibly go wrong with this infrastructure setup?

While consumers might rejoice at the ripoff of advertisers and their failure to increase sales or even be noticed at all, there is a very dark side to the joy. The whole web has arisen on the back of the ad model. Everything that is free on the internet is supported by revenue from ads. Without the marketers ‘ money greasing their engines – even if it is just 30% of the final auction price – millions of services worldwide will quickly starve to death.

Hwang uses the buy and sell siders’ own words to show how closely the ad system tacks to the stock markets. He quotes numerous firms’ executives describing their auction systems as paralleling the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ markets. It seems they are just as blind and vulnerable as those markets, which took a decade to recover from the Financial Crisis they allowed to overtake them in 2008. But in this case, they might not come back at all. They are not institutions, but weak new companies with shallow pockets and no roots.

It will mean a completely different kind of World Wide Web going forward. It might be subscription based, or perhaps services will be entirely sponsored by one firm. Or something completely different. The main point is a huge disaster is looming. No one is preparing for it, and no one knows what will replace the current system. This portends turmoil like the web has never experienced.

If you had to pay for twitter, would you? If you had to pay for every Google search, would you? Of the dozens of free services you now use, how many could you even afford to pay for?

So don’t get comfortable with your lovely set of highly focused bookmarks. All those sites are as fragile as the newspapers and magazines they so easily displaced. The internet as we know it might have the shortest lifespan of any medium to date.

David Wineberg
Author, The Straight Dope, or What I learned from my first thousand nonfiction reviews ( )
4 vote DavidWineberg | Jul 14, 2020 |
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