Advertising is the business that creates the most money on the internet. Companies like Google and Facebook fund their businesses with advertising. A recent comprehensive history of advertising, Jef I. Richards’s A History of Advertising: The First 300,000 Years contextualizes advertising within technological advancements. This textbook offers a basic explanation for how companies like DoubleClick allow advertisers to collect customer data and how innovations like internet cookies enabled targeted advertising. In The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth, Joseph Turow gives an important analysis of how media agencies use the internet to create customer profiles, often without the knowledge of the customer. This book centers on how personal data is collected, analyzed, and sold in online markets to create targeted marketing. Turow concludes that consumer profiling can lead to social discrimination, where reputation is based on one’s consumer profile.
The transformation of the internet into a major platform for advertising has attracted a host of critics. Tim Wu tells an engaging story in The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get inside Our Heads about how advertising has invaded all aspects of life. His story begins in the nineteenth century and culminates with a detailed look at the advertising methods of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where capturing users’ attention is the basis of their business. This book also highlights those who resist this invasion of advertising in all aspects of life. Likewise, Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet, by Tim Hwang, explains how internet advertising markets work. Pointing out that advertising is the money machine for Google, Facebook, and Twitter, Hwang draws strong parallels between online advertising markets and financial markets, and how both could be prone to boom-and-bust cycles. He concludes that, without more government regulations to ensure stability and transparency, the lifeblood of the internet is at risk. Two books, Steven Levy’s In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives and Roger McNamee’s Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, are devoted to the specific advertising practices of Google and Facebook. They highlight what made these companies successful and offer criticisms.