The state and future of the internet
How access to reliable information is a worldly necessity
How does the internet impact our freedom and way of life? There’s more to the online world than simple business; we connect for information, news, banking, entertainment, and much more. But business matters, and for the internet to function, we need a dependable value exchange that provides access to reliable content to as many people as possible. Because access to information and quality journalism (or lack thereof) can have wide-reaching ramifications on society, the internet plays a crucial role in creating the world we want to live in.
The online value exchange, though, is fundamentally dysfunctional. Invasive ads make the internet less usable, and tracking raises significant privacy concerns. Big tech controls distribution, monetization, and access to quality information and journalism. As a result, global society’s ability to prosper is severely compromised.
In our recent “State of the Internet” remote panel at eyeo, these issues occupied the thoughts of CEO Till Faida, VP of Core Technology Shwetank Dixit, and Business Lead of Monetization Maciej Wicha. In a conversation with VP of Growth Simonetta Batteiger, each shared their perspective on the current reality of the online experience as well as what the future may hold. A preoccupation shared by all three concerned the way in which people come to high-quality content that publishers can afford to produce.
Shwetank Dixit highlighted how interaction with, and accessibility to, content impacts society and democracy, a theme Till Faida pointed to as a foundational tenet of our vision at eyeo. “What I worry about, sitting here in India,” Shwetank said, “is a web behind walled gardens, because there is a huge portion of the people who have access to the web and a mobile phone, but who sometimes don’t have a credit card. For them, to get good, high-quality content, their only way is to have access to a website which is supported by ads. The moment there is a pay wall in front, they are gone, they are erased .” Shwetank’s frank assessment encapsulates exactly what we in the online community are trying to fix.
Even for those with access, Till further pointed out, the online experience is in a vicious cycle that presents risk at every turn. Intrusive advertisements and tracking threaten the user experience. More privacy and security is needed but without innovative solutions, publishers’ monetization suffers, leading them to price global audiences out of quality information with the very walled gardens and paywalls Shwetank cites. Ad-filtering and privacy-first products are two empowering, creative solutions to break the toxic cycle.
We’ve all witnessed how advertising and targeting can warp reality. Algorithms designed to get clicks control what we see. Divisive and sensational content, reliable or not, gets more clicks. The more content like this a user views, the more of it they are presented with, creating a bubble, so to speak. Ad-supported misinformation, presented as news, can even sway the democratic process: ad-funded misinformation impacted American society at the highest level at the United States Capitol in January. Elsewhere, the spread of unreliable information has generated public outcry for journalistic regulation, as can be seen in the current situation with Facebook, Google and the Australian government.
“I worry about being in a world where all the high-quality, reliable content is locked,” continued Shwetank. “This affects society – the ones who can pay for things, they will get access, the ones who cannot, will be misled. There are a lot of people who cannot pay, because they are older or not tech savvy, a lot who are disabled, or teens who are not yet earning money, or people who simply don’t have the financial resources – it is equally important for them to be informed, but they cannot go and sign up for things. ”
Simonetta Batteiger added, “without good and profitable journalism, people in power will not be held accountable for the misinformation they spread. Good content becomes a privilege that is not available for everyone.” Maciej Wicha also found this point crucial, noting how we in the industry “are watching these developments and trying to bring sustainability and fairness to the fold, otherwise, not only is business compromised, but also societies, with developing countries being specifically affected by the dangers presented by not establishing a fair value exchange online.” Till then brought attention to eyeo’s long-standing efforts, especially with Acceptable Ads, to try to establish common ground between users, advertisers and publishers.
The panel’s contributors dove into thought-provoking questions that tackled how our experience of the internet affects us as people. Their words inspired me, as an audience member, driving home the importance of the vital work that we do each day.
At eyeo, we want fairness and reliable information to serve as pillars of society. This panel reminded us all of the critical role a sustainable and fair internet plays in that society’s formation. To that end, we will continue to provide a forum for discussion on these fundamental questions. As we all grapple with solutions to such vast problems, we invite you to continue thinking them over, as well.
Photo by Hasan Almasi in Unsplash