Online advertising could consume as much energy as Belgium

Will the ecological transition agency Ademe end up recommending the installation of an ad blocker on Internet browsers? The question deserves to be asked when a study estimates that global online advertising displays could consume as much energy as a country like Belgium!

This is the conclusion of a preprint researchers from Carlos III University in Madrid, who teamed up with the Norwegian online advertising specialist Cavai to imagine CarbonTag, a tool for measuring the energy consumption of advertisements in real time.

Inaccurate calculations

Flat, it is currently impossible for them to stop a perfectly reliable model, as the parameters are numerous and the calculations complex. This is why they estimate that the energy consumption of global online advertising is between 6.5 and 84 billion kWh, which corresponds respectively to the electricity consumption of Luxembourg and Belgium.

As we can see, the margin of error remains gigantic, but this research is sufficient – ​​according to the authors – to validate the relevance of making the energy consumption of advertising a real social debate.

It is very difficult to precisely measure the energy needs of the online advertising industry, because it is a fundamentally unstructured sector, where a huge number of players and technologies intervene, generating numerous crossings and exchanges of data even before that the display of an ad is decided on a location of a single browser.

This is why the methodology of this study is divided into two parts, the “network” on the one hand and the “devices” on the other, where the only process of advertising display, which is easier to analyze, will be observed. The researchers find that the first part is by far the most energy-intensive. They also notice that an ad displayed on a desktop computer consumes more energy than one displayed on a laptop or smartphone.

An energy label for advertising?

Ultimately, these researchers would like to refine the CarbonTag algorithm to make it a realistic tool for measuring the energy consumption of advertising in order to transform it into an essential building block of the online advertising industry. Indeed, with this “energy label”, the sector could be confronted with its energy and ecological responsibilities, knowing that many Internet users would doubtless be asking for such information.

And José González Cabañas, director of research, to imagine that Internet users could one day choose to be exposed only to energy-efficient advertising campaigns. A noble objective which, unfortunately, has little chance of succeeding since it would require all players in the Internet advertising sector to adhere to a principle contrary to their vocation: to broadcast ever more advertising and generate ever more silver.

Unless the legislators end up seizing the subject. After all, the Citizen’s Climate Convention had opened the debate around the ban on advertising for certain products such as SUVs, and the fight against overconsumption is a major ecological issue.

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