Advertisers bought the right to put things in those rectangles.Viewers occasionally looked at the rectangles by accident and bought the products and services they saw pictured there. There were ad agencies to help match publishers with advertisers, figure out what should go in the rectangles, and attempt to measure how well the ads were working.They created user profiles of everyone using the web.
The 2014 Sony Pictures hack exposed highly sensitive (and amusing) emails and employee data. What was the most damaging data breach in the last 12 months?
The trick answer is: it's likely something we don't even know about.
I think there’s a concern that this could get whipped up into a paranoia that could harm the advertising industry,” I am certainly here to whip up paranoia that I hope will harm the advertising industry. There's nothing about advertising that is inherently privacy-destroying. The phenomenon whereby ads are tied to the complete invasion of privacy is a recent one. It was a simple trinity of publisher, viewer, and advertiser.
Publishers wrote what they wanted and left empty white rectangles for ads to fill.
In his excellent book on surveillance, Bruce Schneier has pointed out we would never agree to carry tracking devices and report all our most intimate conversations if the government made us do it.
But under such a scheme, we would enjoy more legal protections than we have now.
They learned to notice when people put things in a shopping cart and then failed to buy them, so they could entice them back with special offers. They learned to scroll, hover, and move the mouse around just like you and me.
They got better at charging different prices to people based on what they could afford—the dream of every dead-eyed economist since the dawn of the profession. Ad networks countered each improvement on the robot side.
Clever mechanisms started connecting clicks with sales. Publishers no longer had to sell all those empty rectangles themselves.