One in four Brits don’t realise the internet is funded by advertising

By John Glenday | Reporter

The Trade Desk


advertising article

October 19, 2020 | 5 min read

Ignorance of advertising's role in funding the internet is putting websites at risk, according to a survey of 1,500 Britons carried out by The Trade Desk.

A mere 27% understood how the internet was funded with 41% oblivious to advertising's role in generating revenue for online publishers.

Brits are ignorant about advertising

  • The representative survey established that 10% naively believe that internet providers are responsible for funding websites while 8% praise Google and Facebook for providing free content.

    One in four Brits don’t realise the internet is funded by advertising

    'Ignorance of advertising's role in funding the internet is putting websites at risk,' the report claims

  • Confusion reigns supreme among many with 5% mistakenly believing their taxes help keep the internet online while 2% labour under the belief that websites could be funded by China or even the military.

  • The vast majority (73%), however, admit they have no idea how the internet is funded, with the scale of this ignorance being attributed to a failure of the advertising industry to communicate its role as a pillar of the service.

  • Just 22% realised that many of their favourite websites and apps would cease to function without the presence of data-driven ads to provide the necessary funds to keep them going.

  • A mere 15% understood that they would have to plug the gap and fund such content out of their pocket if websites and apps were prevented from harnessing data to target personalised ads.

Putting the free internet at risk?

  • A head in the sand stance means 39% of Britons would be unwilling to cough up with the same proportion refusing to spend over £5 per month to support digital services in the absence of advertising.

  • This conflicts with the stated position of 35% of respondents who admit to employing an ad blocker, contributing to publisher losses of over £18m in 2018 according to the Association for Online Publishing, with only 50% willing to share their data in return for free content.

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  • Philippa Snare, SVP of EMEA at The Trade Desk, explained: “For too long, consumers have been plagued with pop-up consent banners that fail to communicate the value exchange that publishers rely upon to provide users with quality free content.”

  • Responding directly to the serious ramifications of such omissions The Trade Desk is championing an industry-wide initiative to build a new, cookie-less, independent identity solution. Snare said: “This open-source system aims to create consistency across the internet, offering an identity solution that simplifies browsing, while clearly explaining the value exchange to consumers.”

  • Snare concludes: “The new solution will also empower consumers to have control over their data and how it’s used. Upgrading the current identity technology is critical for rebuilding trust in the advertising industry and preserving the free internet - for the benefit of consumers, publishers and advertisers alike.”

  • An aversion to paying where possible has fueled consumer openness to ad-funded services elsewhere with 40% wishing their utility bills to be subsidised in such a manner and 39% open to having their grocery bills trimmed by advertisers.

  • Other aspects of daily life which consumers would concede heavier commercial involvement in return for savings include public transport (28%), Netflix (27%), flights (21%) and national rail journeys (19%).


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The Trade Desk™ is a global technology company that empowers buyers of advertising. Through its self-service, cloud-based platform, ad buyers can create, manage, and optimise more expressive data-driven digital advertising campaigns across ad formats, including display, video, audio, native and, social, on a multitude of devices, such as computers, mobile devices, and connected TV. Integrations with major data, inventory, and publisher partners ensure maximum reach and decisioning capabilities, and enterprise APIs enable custom development on top of the platform. Headquartered in Ventura, CA, The Trade Desk has offices across North America, Europe, and Asia. To learn more, visit or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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