From FSGO x Logic: a revealing examination of digital advertising and the internet's precarious foundation
In Subprime Attention Crisis, Tim Hwang investigates the way big tech financializes attention. In the process, he shows us how digital advertising—the beating heart of the internet—is at risk of collapsing, and that its potential demise bears an uncanny resemblance to the housing crisis of 2008.
From the unreliability of advertising numbers and the unregulated automation of advertising bidding wars, to the simple fact that online ads mostly fail to work, Hwang demonstrates that while consumers’ attention has never been more prized, the true value of that attention itself—much like subprime mortgages—is wildly misrepresented. And if online advertising goes belly-up, the internet—and its free services—will suddenly be accessible only to those who can afford it.
Deeply researched, convincing, and alarming, Subprime Attention Crisis will change the way you look at the internet, and its precarious future.
FSG Originals × Logic dissects the way technology functions in everyday lives. The titans of Silicon Valley, for all their utopian imaginings, never really had our best interests at heart: recent threats to democracy, truth, privacy, and safety, as a result of tech’s reckless pursuit of progress, have shown as much. We present an alternate story, one that delights in capturing technology in all its contradictions and innovation, across borders and socioeconomic divisions, from history through the future, beyond platitudes and PR hype, and past doom and gloom. Our collaboration features four brief but provocative forays into the tech industry’s many worlds, and aspires to incite fresh conversations about technology focused on nuanced and accessible explorations of the emerging tools that reorganize and redefine life today.
Hwang, a research fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology, rebukes the current economic model of the internet in his bracing debut. Claiming that programmatic digital advertising ("the money machine that has fueled the meteoric rise of the most prominent tech giants and content creators of the modern era") is built on fraudulent metrics, Hwang compares the current situation to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis and the 1929 stock market crash. Marketing agencies and companies such as Facebook and Google, which make their profits on ad sales, have "systemic incentives to oversell the value and price of advertising inventory," Hwang writes. He notes that younger (and more valuable) demographic groups are unlikely to click on ads, and describes how techniques such as "click farming" and "domain spoofing" exploit ad buyers. In addition to a familiar call for tighter industry regulation, Hwang makes the more radical argument that "a well-considered and structured implosion" of the programmatic advertising model would pave the way for a better internet that's not funded by the commodification of user attention. Using apt analogies and accessible terminology, Hwang makes a persuasive case that the internet bubble is bound to burst. This wake-up call rings loud and clear.