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BrainThe most irritating form of privacy intrusion is the increasing trend in video advertising. As print advertising declines, the Internet is awash in advertising. Publishers must receive income to cover the cost of quality journalism and creative productions. The question is how the income is derived. Some people love their brands and are happy to hear from them, but many are disgusted with the rapid rise in video advertising.

Suppose you are reading a news article about you find of great interest. You are really into the subject and reading with the intention to understand what the author wrote. You are focused on the content. In your reading, you come upon a link to a term or phrase in the article that allows you to drill a bit deeper into the topic. You click on the link, and up pops a video advertisement about a new car or a vacation cruise. Your continuity of thought has just been torpedoed. Your brain was attacked. I like to follow spaceX and the amazing technological feats they perform. Yesterday, I clicked a link to watch the landing of the first stage of the rocket back at Cape Canaveral. First I had to suffer through an irrelevant video ad. Then the 15 second video of the landing began. After ten seconds, the video stopped and a video ad began. A message appeared saying the rocket landing video would continue after a brief advertisement.  This is the ultimate invasion of privacy and disruption in our continuity of thought.

I had the occasion a couple of years ago to meet with an AOL executive and I asked him about the emerging trend of video ads. He agreed with the point about disruption of continuity of thought. He used a simpler term — he called it “an annoyance” — but confided that advertisers are insisting on the practice. In other words, advertisers are paying money for their ads to be seen and they want to force us to watch them whether we want to or not. Some video ads have a “skip ad” button. Some require you to watch at least ten seconds and then you have the choice to continue watching the ad or to skip it. These options are becoming more scarce. The advertisers are desperate. They want to barrage us with the ads. They could care less about our continuity of thought.

I am not suggesting that ads be banned. I am simply advocating for choice. The first commercial web site I can recall using was weatherunderground.com. Beginning in 1991, a PhD student at the University of Michigan developed a technique to show weather information on the Internet. In 1995, the popular weather site got a web interface. The most innovative and forward-thinking feature of the site was a $5 per year option to get Ad-Free Weather. The fee today is $10 per year, which I happily pay. For the modest fee, weatherunderground.com removes all the ads from their site, providing the viewer with a cleaner, uncluttered, faster site access. For $10 per year you get no banners, no dancing bears, and no sponsored links. Regardless of what device you are using, your access to weatherunderground.com provides continuity of thought for your weather information. Could the social networks and news sites offer a similar option? They surely could. I don’t know the economics — how much it would cost per user per year to have Ad-Free access. Perhaps the vast majority of people don’t mind the ads and would prefer to save the money. For many, they would like to save continuity of thought.