On the way up to Bellingham to present to the Bellingham Angel Group (who I must note were really well organized and friendly to boot) Mike Crill of Atlas Accelerator and I had a very interesting discussion about Facebook, Google, and advertising. Specifically, the idea that by sharing more information with a company that they can then send you "ads that interest you."
Sounds great on the surface. Let's dive a little deeper...
Put one way, advertising is the process of convincing people that they want to buy what you're selling. Merriam-Webster defines advertising as "calling something to the attention of the public" but I think that's a little too simplistic. You not just saying, "Hey, here's our stuff and you can buy it if you want."
Nope, you're trying to convince people that your product is better, that yours is cheaper, that they really want... no strike that... that they really need yours.
As the folks on the receiving end of this we try like hell to filter it all out. We don't want to hear the messages. Not just because they are irrelevant to us, but often because they are both relevant and persuasive. I've got more than enough junk that sounded like a good idea at the time thankyouverymuch.
So the advertisers try to convince you to buy something, and you try your best to ignore them. In this way advertising looks a lot like a classic measures-countermeasures game. But right now the advertisers have imperfect or incomplete information about you.
Advertisers come up with something, you learn to ignore it (e.g. dancing banner ads), they come up with something new, you learn to avoid it... and so on.
Saying that we want more relevant advertising based on our likes, dislikes, culture, background, blah-blah-blah is kinda like saying, "here are the keys to my brain, come on in and make yourselves at home and my wallet is on the coffee table."
We don't want more relevant advertising. We want less advertising altogether and more authentic communication. The advertiser wants me to buy their product. The authentic communicator wants to help me solve my problem no matter what (if any) thing I buy. For a good introduction authentic communications read any of Joshua Porter's excellent posts touching on the Cluetrain Manifesto).
For this reason alone I think that Facebook and others that hope to capitalize on our personal information by targeting advertising based on our profiles (even if they keep the details of our information from the companies doing the advertising) are doomed in the long run.
We just won't sit still for it. We will evolve new defenses and the game will start all over again.