Individualization, information asymmetry, and exploitation in the advertiser-driven digital era

David J Park


In response to the massive growth in online advertising and individualized content, this article analyzes the tactics and technologies of commercial surveillance, with particular attention to online price customization in the United States. It argues that these strategies exploit online users and erode consumer agency, while exacerbating pre-existing economic inequalities. It also details the astonishing growth in online data collection, advertising, overall consumption, and e-commerce revenue during the past few decades. The private sector collects and sells user data to businesses and advertisers, who in turn use the data to individualize content in order to more effectively advertise, set prices, and sell goods and services. These developments are based on the exploitation of online user labor, which extends into consumer exploitation during online price determination and purchase processes. The results of this exploitation tend to maximize the capital extraction employed by those who already possess the means of production, which in turn heightens their power and influence within society. The article concludes that this process exacerbates economic inequalities while doing little to enhance democratic governance, as those with more capital often have a disproportionate political influence.

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