Google Wants to Put Ads on Your Fridge

...and your thermostat, and your watch, and your car dashboard...

Old newspaper advertisements. Credit:

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Google, a gigantic multinational advertising company that occasionally dabbles in consumer technology, recently offered a surprisingly candid glimpse into the future of its core business—and it's the most realistic prediction we’ve seen in a long time.

When tech brands or the tech media dish about the future, they have a tendency to focus on radical sci-fi ideas—stuff like robotic beehives, self-sustaining gardens, and flying cars. Rarely do these self-congratulatory daydreams bother to account for mundane hurdles like affordability, infrastructure, and public policy. Even more rare is any mention of the unpleasant side effects that come with this tech.

You know... like advertising.

That’s why Google's recent SEC filing is so interesting. The report explicitly outlines how Google plans to annex rapidly proliferating connected appliances and personal gadgets as new advertising channels. It’s one likely side effect of the Internet of Things that the big tech brands don’t want you to think about—yet here's the biggest one of all shouting it from the rooftops.

The report explicitly outlines how Google plans to annex connected appliances and personal gadgets as new advertising channels.

The SEC filing was meant to be Google's explanation for why it can't provide the SEC with precise data for projected mobile ad revenue—information that other Silicon Valley firms readily supply. Mobile platforms, Google explained, are becoming increasingly difficult to define.

The tech giant lists tablets as an example: While previously classified as a mobile device, tablets are functioning more and more like desktop or laptop computers:

“In a short period of time, the meaning of ‘mobile’ at Google has shifted dramatically to ‘handset’ from ‘tablet + handset.’”

And then this revealing line:

“A few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities.”

So there you have it. The future of smart appliances, thermostats, AR glasses, watches, and every other promised technology will be rife with advertising. Here's a video that pretty much called it back 2012, although with a far more satirical bent:

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But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, most existing smart platforms don't inundate users with advertisements. Mobile operating systems, for instance, are generally ad free—it's third-party apps that pack in ads to generate revenue. Second, overaggressive ad campaigns have a nasty way of backfiring. Google itself recently made a change to penalize sites with too many ads at the top of the page, and it's recently talked about other ways to make them less annoying.

Overly aggressive ad campaigns have a nasty way of backfiring.

Despite its distasteful reputation, advertising is the lifeblood of the internet as we know it. It's why you're able to access most websites free of charge, and it's a big part of how companies like Google fund all those sci-fi visions of the future.

Sure, the Epicurious app on your next fridge might show an ad or two, and your Apple CarPlay infotainment system might suggest a certain restaurant if you're looking for reservations. But that's just a logical extension of our current world. In other words, while advertising is an inevitable part of the future, it probably won't take on a disproportionately greater role than it currently holds.

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