Contextual advertising might soon rival or even surpass behavioral advertising’s harms unless policy makers intervene, says Katharina Kopp. Shutterstock Contextual advertising is said to be privacy-safe because it eliminates the need for cookies, third-party trackers, and the processing of other personal data. Marketers and policy makers are placing much stock in the future of contextual advertising, viewing it as the solution to the privacy-invasive targeted advertising that heavily relies on personal data. However, the current state of contextual advertising does not look anything like our plain understanding of it in contrast to today’s dominant mode of behavioral advertising: placing ads next to preferred content, based on keyword inclusion or exclusion. Instead, industry practices are moving towards incorporating advanced AI analysis of content and its classification, user-level data, and insights into content preferences of online visitors, all while still referring to “contextual advertising.” It is crucial for policymakers to carefully examine this rapidly evolving space and establish a clear definition of what “contextual advertising” should entail. This will prevent the emergence of toxic practices and outcomes, similar to what we have witnessed with surveillance-based behavioral marketing, from becoming the new normal. Let’s recall the reasons for the strong opposition to surveillance-based marketing practices so we can avoid those harms regarding contextual advertising. Simply put, the two main reasons are privacy harms and harms from manipulation. Behavioral advertising is deeply invasive when it comes to privacy, as it involves tracking users online and creating individual profiles based on their behavior over time…Is So-Called Contextual Advertising the Cure to Surveillance-Based “Behavioral” Advertising?