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On Friday we discussed the four different ways of giving away something for free and still making money. According to Chris Anderson these are “paid product subsidising free products”; “Paying later subsidizing free now”; “Paying people subsidizing free people”; and finally free products and services that are subsidized through advertising.It is the latter of the four which I wish to discuss in this instalment of my blog, and more specifically advertising on the web.

In the last decade the institution of online advertising has exploded. It is almost impossible to find a page worth browsing that is not draped in a wide assortment of banners and assaulting you with pop ups. This advertising has allowed for people to make their livings from writing blogs, articles, and managing websites, as well as providing free online gaming and a whole host of other internet based services. But is this a good thing?

The most prominent argument against online advertising is that it is an invasion of privacy. However this doesn’t argue directly against online advertising, but rather the closely related practice of data capture. Every time you log onto a website, special software built into that website tracks every mouse click you make, what captures you attention, and what you skim past. How private this information actually is, is debatable. Most people couldn’t care less, but others feel that where you go and what you view is your business, and yours alone. Furthermore most sites capture your IP address which can be traced back to an individual more often than not.

Another problem besides that of privacy is the practical application of this data. Advertisers use this information to show individual viewers specially tailored collections of adverts, depending on their browsing history. There are two sides to this coin. On the one hand advertisers can offer you things that interest and appeal to instead of buffeting you with things you don’t care about. However on the other hand it discriminates and puts the viewer into a box, just showing them the same things without allowing for novelty

A more recent trend has also become apparent, and this is the question of the objectivity of websites when reviewing products they are being paid to advertise. A couple months ago there was a huge incident with a popular gaming website, GameSpot, reportedly providing biased reviews of game which they were on the payroll of. This rocked the foundations of all reviewing and the dust is still yet to settle with people speculating that the Gamespot incident is the reason behind the massive drop of traffic in many of the largest video game review sites.

Ultimately whether you disagree with online advertising or not it is here to stay. It is the fuel that drives the internet, and without it the feasibility of running your favourite websites and blog’s would be almost impossible.