NYC – Fixing our Broken Online Advertising Ecosystem from Facebook to Amazon


Date: January 16, 2019

Time: 5:30 – 8:30 pm
Livestream at 6:30

Speaker: John Battelle

America’s got a fundamental problem with how information flows through its economy and society. Encouraged by a light touch regulatory framework, early internet business models – from Amazon to Facebook – have metastasized, in the process creating an information architecture that’s proven toxic to our society. As John Battelle, our guest at the January What’s Now: New York event, sees it, the problem comes down to who controls the flow of information in our increasingly interconnected world. But to understand that flow, we first have to visualize it, then we must imagine alternatives. As hearing after hearing in Washington has proven, we’re failing at this basic task.

Data is often understood in terms of ownership and personal harm, and certainly these are important factors. But data flows through systems, and these systems are not well understood. For example, Facebook leases our data to advertisers, but neither the advertiser nor the Facebook user has any transparency into how that data is managed, manipulated, or categorized. Amazon connects customers to a wide range of products, including Amazon’s own, but none of the participants in this process have access to how their data interacts with Amazon’s systems. And it is these systems which have directly impacted America’s economy and democracy – often with dramatic consequences.

Americans are now facing up to the fact that we need some layer of governance that reworks the system and ensures that not only the tech middlemen benefit, but that the rest of our economy and society thrives as well. Almost all businesses that use online marketing and advertising, or that are involved or compete with online retail, will be impacted by the outcome. Battelle is the perfect person to explain how the system actually works today and lay out better ways forward. A serial entrepreneur who has co-founded and run more than half a dozen startups in the San Francisco Bay Area, Battelle writes frequently about media, advertising, and technology issues, and is the author of a best-selling book on Google called The Search. In the last year he’s been called on as a leading authority to testify before the U.S. Senate on what to do about Facebook, Google, and the other tech giants.

Battelle now lives in New York City and is teaching a course on Internet Business Models and Technology Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. At Columbia he and a team of grad students are working on a project visualizing data as it flows through the digital advertising ecosystem. Battelle believes there is a way to create an ecosystem of true innovation that reworks the way data flows through society and who owns that data. Key to such a system is machine readable data portability and an associated overhaul in the private “shadow regulation” of companies’ Terms of Service. Battelle will lay out his early thoughts on a new way forward and we hope to have others who can add their ideas. Join us for what will be a fascinating conversation about the future of marketing, advertising and retail in the midst of the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York.