The world wild web; The future

These days advertisers are feeling less certain of themselves. They are still trying to come to grips with the radical changes technology has brought to the way advertising is consumed, sold and personalised. If technology can help advertising become more relevant, clever and innovative, that is worth celebrating. Firms such as Facebook, which gives each consumer a different landing page with updates about their friends, and Google, which tailors search results to what the system knows about the user, have shown that personalised content can have great appeal. The same idea might work for advertising. But advertisers and data firms have to be careful. When consumers sign up for services like Facebook and Google, they have a fair idea that information about them might be used in all kinds of ways, though few of them are aware of how much tracking goes on. Yet when online data are gathered by third parties, making it possible to target ads across the web, it is often done without consumers' consent or knowledge and with few, if any, checks and balances.

In future there might be two options for targeted advertising, says Clement Tsang, an online-advertising executive in China, just as there is now talk of creating a two-tier internet, with a free slower version and a paid-for faster one. Consumers could continue to get free services from Facebook, Google and others on the understanding that their personal data will be collected and used; or they could pay a monthly fee to ensure the site did not track them.

For most of the quarter-century that the internet has been around, it has relied on advertising based on extensive consumer tracking across the web. So far people seem to have been willing to put up with that. Until they start protesting, David Ogilvy's radar will keep sweeping.

last updated february 2017