An employee at consultancy company McKinsey recently rewrote part of the company’s Wikipedia page, falsely crediting himself as its founder. Almost instantly he received an email notifying him that his changes to the page had been rejected and the page had reverted to its original form.

When I heard about it I felt admiration for the unheralded army of people devoted to True Facts, who manage to detect and correct Wikipedia contributions so speedily and efficiently. Alas, my admiration was naively romantic. Those zealous, shining humans don’t exist, at least in this instance. Bots — automated software programs — were doing the noble work of protecting accuracy.

Bots work hard, but they are not always honest or accurate. Some years ago one of the biggest advertisers on this planet — Proctor & Gamble — decided to move its advertising away from television towards the digital media. That seemed wise. You never can tell what target groups on the couch are actually watching TV advertising. Let alone whether they pay attention. On the Net everything is more effective and efficient. And everything comes with side-orders of DATA.

You want to reach out exclusively to middle-aged men with a love for Pink Floyd and expensive retro Hi-Fis? Easy. You want to approach middle class lesbians, but only the Jewish ones, with a fascination for blue orchids? Done — thanks to the same software that created the bots. It’s all super-sharp and super-transparent with instant in-depth info on the success or failure of your campaign.

Except it isn’t. P&G’s love-affair with digital advertising seems to be already over. Sales didn’t increase — and all the targetting and data in the world isn’t terribly useful if you’re in the business of selling stuff and it doesn’t actually shift.


Worse, it has been revealed that digital advertising is being bombarded by bots. Big time. When you click on an online advertisement, it is called an impression. It is estimated that about one third of all clicks on ads are done by bots. And bots are definitely not buying anything. Nevertheless, these clicks are added to the impressions or ‘viewer’ ratings — for which the advertiser pays. Also, even when an actual human being clicks on an advertisement video but immediately surfs on somewhere more interesting, it counts as if they had watched the video.

So P&G is back on television, disappointed in the information age promise of accuracy, transparency and efficiency, which mostly turned out to be a shiny new lie.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.