Secret Google Plan to Pay Us for Ad Clicks-April or any Month Fools' Errand?

By Peter Bernstein April 01, 2014

Happy April Fools’ Day! 

In the past I have written parodies/hoaxes in celebration of one of the memorable days of the year. In fact, on more than one occasion I have drawn the ire of certain companies’ legal departments who to be honest can’t take a joke. They accused me of providing information which since it was on the Internet could have a “material impact” on the stock price of their client even though my postings were clearly identified as fiction. Hence, view what I just said as a type of disclaimer.

A history lesson

I will get to the subject in the headline in a moment, but on this day of frivolity I thought a little history as to why and what we are celebrating might be useful. It can at a minimum make you look smart with colleagues, friends and family. 

Truth be told, the origin of April Fools’ Day is shrouded in historical conjecture. The most popular theory, now itself in dispute, is that France changed its calendar in the 1500s so that the New Year would begin in January to match the Roman calendar instead of starting in early April. Lacking modern broadband connectivity word traveled slowly to the hinterland. So the explanation goes, as a result people in rural areas continued to celebrate the New Year near or on this day and became known as "April fools."   

Others cite the origin back to the fourth century when Holy Roman Empire ruler Constantine  made his court jester Kugel “King for a Day.” Kugel then supposedly decreed that henceforth this day would be one of absurdity.  

As to pranks, there seems to be some consensus. In 1561, Flemish writer Eduard De Dene published a comical poem, “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach” which roughly translated means, “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.“ The poem is about a nobleman who sends his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st. The reason was in theory to help prepare for a wedding feast. Wise to his master the servant senses a prank. In the last line of the poem says, “I am afraid… that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.” Historians like this as a marker for tying April first to pranks.

No matter how we got here, around the world April 1 is now a day for a bit of whimsy and mischief meant to create laughter and not pain. 

Now for something completely different from Google 

With the above as context, going on a fool’s errand is what Google has all of us doing when we click on an ad for which some poor advertiser has paid a tidy sum. Any of us who click really are on a fool’s errand regardless of the day. 

Google has used big data to target us with certain ads and charges advertisers (pardon the pun) what some have called “a kings’ ransom” for the targeting. In return for clicking we get bombarded with interactions which, especially in the case where we clicked out of curiosity rather than with intent to transact, while the price we pay for a “free” service is still an unwelcome flooding of our inboxes. What’s worse are in-app ads that not only are obnoxious and even possible sources of malware, but drain precious mobile device battery time.

For loyal readers, you are more than aware of my multiple previous rants as to the value of our personal information and why those who trade on it should ask for permission to us it and pay us for the privilege if we say yes. 

That raises an interesting question relating to the headline. Is Google secretly working on a plan to entice we who increasingly do not click on ads with a little something for our  clicks?   

Enquiring minds want to know. Such a program would certainly create differentiated value in the market. I leave it up to readers to decide if this is fact of fiction, with the caveat that you consider the day and for that matter the source.  J

I can say that following the popularity yesterday of World Backup Day, maybe there is a need for a “World Don’t Click on Ad Day.” We could all take a pledge to send Google, Bing et al a message, “No More Fool’s Errands!”  

Have a nice and fun day. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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