People Prefer Ads, But Do They Know the Trade-offs?

A new study is out reporting that 67% of U.S. adults are fine with online ads because they’re unwilling to pay more for ad-free versions of the services they enjoy. This despite the fact that 75% of adults find such ads intrusive, especially online ads that follow them around from site to site.

The way the question was framed is interesting to me: How much would people be *willing* to pay?

I have to wonder what sort of results might have been found if the question “How much are you *able* to pay?” were asked.

Personally, I’d be willing to pay up to $100 a month to not only have an ad-free experience but to opt out of ad-tracking entirely. I don’t want Google, Facebook or anyone else adding either online or offline behavior to their profile on me. I want to support media and the work they do but just can’t afford to do so right now. I’m sure I’m not the only one in that position and with that same attitude.

In this way, media companies and are exploiting those at the lower end of the income spectrum, those who can’t afford to even entertain the option of paying for an ad-free experience. These people will continue to be tracked by advertisers to an ever-increasing degree because of social media, accessed to a great extent via mobile device, is how they connect to the world. As this post says, Facebook and Google are essentially surveillance companies acting on behalf of advertisers.

More affluent consumers have the luxury of opting-out of ads when they feel compelled to do so. They have the means to do so.

Those without those means don’t have a choice, even if they have a theoretical preference. People obviously know ads are increasingly intrusive, but they may not know all the ways media companies are tracking them to help facilitate that intrusiveness.

There need to be protections in place to guard those who are at the most risk of serious exploitation but least in the position to do something about it themselves. Without those safeguards, they’ll continue to be inundated by ads that are more and more finely-targeted to the point that companies running those ads know intimate personal details about the individual than anyone else does. That’s a system ripe for abuse in various ways, something we’re already seeing.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.