Advertising is Really Starting to Cross the Line

January 27, 2014 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: tech.

Max HeadroomMany years ago I used to joke about how nothing is sacred to advertisers and that one day you wouldn’t even be able to go for a quiet visit to the “throne room” without being advertised to; unreeling the toilet roll, there would be an advert on your triple-quilted soft-ply toilet tissue and you’d finally realise that there was nowhere safe to hide from the advertisers. But at least, if you didn’t like what was being advertised, you know what you could do with it 😉

Seriously though, in this day and age, advertising is really starting to cross the line.

Now I must state that I’m not here to bash advertising full stop; I work in the web industry where advertising pays the bills and puts food on the table and advertising has it’s place – but the definition of “it’s place” is now a rapidly moving target.

This morning, I was out driving in my car, using the Waze app on my iPhone, not to naviagte around the roads that I know like the back of my hand, but to keep abreast of developments in traffic. After 30 minutes, for the first time ever, an ad flashed up on my screen. It makes sense that, using a free app, it had to be paid for somehow and, since Google brought Waze for a cool billion dollars, there are now ads in the app.

Sitting at my laptop I check my twitter feed. I don’t normally follow trending topics but I noticed “Is Just the Beginning” in my sidebar and was intrigued by what sounds like a refrain from a Nine Inch Nails track with Trent Reznor singing “this is the beginning”.

Looking at the tweets, the trending topic is part of the headline of an article on Mashable – The Future of Advertising: ‘Pay-Per-Gaze’ Is Just the Beginning. It looks like Google have just patented an ad serving system that knows that you’ve looked at an ad and for how long and will bill advertisers accordingly, all using a “gaze-tracking device” which is presumably Google Glass, even though it is not mentioned by name.

From what I understand Google Glass has that display screen in front of one eye that can be used to flash up all manner of data. One possibility is that Google can use augmented reallity to plaster ads all over the place and if you glance at these distractions that can and will be recorded. Advertisers will be paid on a “pay-per-gaze” basis and Google will be collecting more data about what you look at and the time that you look at things for.

Tie this in with the data that Google already has on you, those ads on Gmail that display related to the content of your emails, what you’ve searched for, where you went, tracked by Google-owned Waze, your G+ circles… Google knows a LOT about you and, whilst supposedly not actively participating in government spying schemes, if all that data is accessible by snoopers, of any level, then that’s a concern.

But going back to the main subject here, we’re in this realm now where advertising is really starting to cross the line. Another story I’ve read in the past couple of years is how we’re starting to be able to affect the brain using technology. By that, I mean we can harness neural activity through electronic means to control devices. And, vice versa, there is research into using electronics to manipulate brain activity.

Now, couple that technology with Google’s thrust to place ads almost everywhere and you could have this: Your thoughts could be ads, not of your own volition, they could be projected to you by advertisers. You could be dreaming what others beam into your head, so even being asleep is not a safe haven from advertisers.

Of course, feel free to brand this as a tinfoil hat moment, but these things are close to becoming reallity.

Think “blipverts” from Max Headroom. Think wearable tech, in the form of glasses, in Charles’ Stross 2005 novel “Accelerando”. Think “Google Grid” in the 2004 flash movie Epic 2014 which I blogged about that year and got a re-post from the legendary Mick Farren (Who I see sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago)

Is advertising now starting to cross the line? What do you think?


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