David Heinemeier Hansson

May 25, 2021

Targeted ads are staggeringly unpopular so we should ban them

People really don't like getting tracked around the internet by targeted ads. I mean really, really don't like it. A staggering 96% of users in the US are declining the privilege of being followed around their apps and websites for the grand prize of "more relevant ads" when given the choice in iOS 14.5. The American public can barely agree on anything, but their dislike of targeted ads appear damn near unanimous.

The next step here is obvious: ban targeted ads entirely. Not just as a feature of one of the two dominant mobile operating systems, but entirely, and by law.

Protect people from corporate internet stalking by law might not technically prevent stalker ads from being served overseas, but the coffers of P&G, Coca Cola, Mercedes, and every other respectable brand in the world would surely close. Immediately.

Game over, surveillance capitalism.

The benefits from banning targeted ads won't stop with the protection of individual privacy, either. If Facebook and Google couldn't turn the worst sludge of the internet into gold through the alchemy of targeted ads, much of that gold would return to its rightful owners: the people creating great stuff.

Targeted advertisement has reduced all content to commodities, which has its worth measured purely in "engagement". That nasty, viral post on Facebook is worth just as much as that deeply-researched magazine article, as long as the same number of people spend the same amount of time on it. That's been an utter disaster for journalism, for premium magazines, for everyone except the internet ad duopoly of Google and Facebook.

So far proponents of targeted ads have been able to claim that actually many people like to be tracked because getting "relevant ads" is totally worth handing over all your personal data. There's been study after study showing how maybe only 60% of people would reject the stalking if given the choice.

But the polls were wrong (probably because they were rigged!). The results from reality are in. 96% don't. NINETY SIX PERCENT. That's not just a landslide election, that's a mandate. A fucking obligation.

Ban targeted ads now.


About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.