Too many ads. Too many ads. Too…

by | May 27, 2019 | Tech, What if:

Reading time: 5 minutes

With even sports stars tattooing brands into their skin, how can we get rid of some of the noise?

Here’s the thing, numbers are horrible, fantastic, soothing and terrifying. All at the same time. So are statistics. The funny science that seems designed not only to confuse us, but also to confirm what we already believe. We… love it.

And some stats are really funny, some are tragic and some are plain wrong. For example, did you know that the average person checks their phone about 140 times a day? Or that they receive more than 1,000 SMS messages per month? Yes, it’s unbelievably accurate.

However, what’s scarier is the number of adverts each one of us is exposed to every single day. Care to venture a guess…?

…nope, you’re quite wrong. It’s 2,400. You are going to wake up tomorrow, go about your day, receive 2,400 adverts, and go to sleep. Yes, I feel you making the calculation and thinking it’s impossible. You are awake for about 16 hours a day, and that means you are receiving 150 ads per hour. How? When? Impossible!

2,400 ads a day straight into your brain. Consciously or subconsciously

Let me explain. On the road there are between 3 and 20 ads per kilometre. Sure, not on long haul trips, but certainly during the daily urban commute. Social Media has one ad every 5-10 posts. Youtube, one ad every 2-4 videos. The videos have advertisers. Radio delivers 3 ads every 10 minutes. And don’t tell me you watch any sort of sport on TV either, because almost every item is branded. On top of all that, you are going to receive between 5 and 15 advertising SMS messages per day, the lobby of your building has leaflets, your car is covered in cards, the news website has an average of 6 ads per screen, the Candy Crush has advertising at the bottom and, every 3 or 4 games you have a full-screen ad, you will probably receive 2 to 5 calls a week from some bank/insurance/credit card/real estate/you-name-it marketing team.

Then you will receive about 150 spam emails, out of which you will open around 10. These will probably be one of those coupon thingies, which means the email will contain close to 8 offers. Perhaps you will get a couple of emails from the bank, or the telephone company, which have ads at the bottom. Shall I go on?

“You are going to wake up tomorrow, go about your day, receive 2,400 adverts, and go to sleep. Yes, I feel you making the calculation and thinking it’s impossible.”

Reality shows display about 20 brands per program, any standard newscast has advertisers and sponsors, the taxi you see on the road has adverts, as does the train, the bus, the metro and the stations. The supermarket is plagued with various ads, merchandisers, T-Shirts and the like. And, finally, there’s you, who so readily buys obnoxiously branded products to demonstrate your worth to the world: Ferrari caps; Porsche polo shirts; Metallica; Nike; Ralph Lauren; Hello Kitty phone covers, etc etc. We are all walking billboards.

Do you believe me now?

It’s not only pure ads, it’s also up-sell strategies.

The gym is eager to sell you protein shakes, or maybe a personal trainer. How can you do without the keratin treatment for your hair? The gas station now offers a bottle of water with your soda, and more than likely they’re have a Starbucks coffee machine or a Tim Hortons drive-through. The cinema is a standing billboard in itself for films you didn’t even realise you wanted to see. Every restaurant has specials. Any ATM screen offers you a mortgage. The elevator advertises cleaning, laundry and moving companies.

Does 2,400 ads per day seem such an impossibility now?

So, other than go about your life blindfolded and with earbuds, there is nothing we can do about out-of-home media (OOH). There is quite little we can do about TV ads other than switch the thing off altogether. However, we can do something about online ads? And here’s how.

Enter Pi-Hole and DNS servers.

A DNS server is what translates into a set of numbers that designates a particular server, port and webserver, which sends back the site you are looking for. Companies like Google are so kind they give you their DNS so that you can use it. For free. How generous.

What perhaps you’ve never realized though is that by putting that magic on your router, you are giving Google a whole host of information about yourself and your family. Things such as where you are, what you see at what times, etc. etc. Sure, Google uses the information on its servers to maintain the database of websites most visited, the indexes and tons of other data. However, they also use this information to get to know you, and thus to send you ads directly that are, quite accurately, related to what you wanted, searched for or desired.

“What perhaps you’ve never realized though is that by putting that magic on your router, you are giving Google a whole host of information about yourself and your family.”

Don’t fret. They’ll get to know details about you anyway from a wide variety of small digital footprints you keep laying about, so accept it.

However, a study of internet traffic reveals that something like 41% of the internet traffic in your home network is actually unwanted advertisement-related info. From trackers to cookies to mouse and screen analytics to ad servers to IP and system info to location data. Endless and hence, BigData.

What can be done?

For our day job, we handle hotspot wifi, so we decided to launch a little survey among our 100,000 daily users asking them the following question:

Would you like a WiFi experience with almost no ads?

Yes, 92% of respondents wanted an ad-free experience. So… we did it. We got a tiny Raspberry Pi, we installed Pi-Hole, we put it in our network, and we set this tiny, but powerful, computer as the DNS server in our public wifi.

The results were quite amazing. While the speed of the network remained unchanged, the latency (how quickly you start to download the page) was halved. And then, the total amount of traffic was reduced by about 40%, hence the overall speed of the network felt better. Websites were clean, applications had no ads and life got cleaner.

Still, this is no magical pill. Some services such as social media and youtube have native ads that no adblock can remove, but all those server based advertisements vanished in a second.

However, the whole experiment became very expensive. I mean, we had to get the $50 Raspberry Pi, we had to get the $1 ethernet cable and we had to put in close to one full hour of work the first time we did it. Sure, now we can just copy the operating system in about four minutes, but the restaurant or the gym still have to spring for those $51 and, who has that kind of money?

Think it over…

*One last thing. And this is something everyone should do: just install adblock. We talk about it in depth HERE.

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