The problem is with advertising, not Facebook

Lots of talk about the New York Times opinion piece on privacy:

Data aggregation has social implications as well. When young people in poor neighborhoods are bombarded with advertisements for trade schools, will they be more likely than others their age to forgo college? And when women are shown articles about celebrities rather than stock market trends, will they be less likely to develop financial savvy? Advertisers are drawing new redlines, limiting people to the roles society expects them to play.

via, who quoted the less interesting paragraph directly above the one quoted here.


At first this paragraph struck me. Everyone hates things that "limit people to the roles society expects them to play." That's like a cardinal sin in America. Then I remembered that Facebook has nothing to do with this.

The problem is redlines, not Facebook (or data aggregation.) Calling out Facebook for allowing advertisers to redline is like yelling at convenience stores for selling cigarettes. These advertising redlines that Lori is talking about, that bombard people and helps to shape (or limit) the range of things people think about, have been around for a long time.

What we should be concerned about is not Facebook, or new instantiations of these redlining policies, but about the idea in general. But because there's lots money behind these strategies, it will be tough to get them to change. Until we make that kind of advertising illegal (if that's even possible) or shunned (also pretty tough) there's little hope of stopping advertising that's potentially "limiting." Offer companies a better way that makes them more money and they may take notice. Or move beyond a consumption-based advertising driven culture. It's not that moral shunning never works. It's worked well with tobacco. It's worked somewhat well with the tech and gaming scenes being less horribly sexist sometimes. And it's not that laws limiting advertising are impossible. Drug ads are barred in most of the world. The US has laws against alcohol ads at certain times of the day. It's that money talks. And the more there is the louder it gets.