On Governments Getting into the Ad Game

It occurred to me today when I read about how California is considering new license plates (digital ones) that when the car is stopped they would display ads – what occurred to me is that governments can be a lot like newspaper companies. Bear with me for a moment.

In publishing we have the infamous ‘paywalls’ where content providers put all the good juicy content behind a login page that requires you to buy a subscription. Often times owning a subscription though does not mean that you get content free from ads – the subscription price alone is not enough to pay for the production of the content.

So let’s go back to governments and this digital advertising on license plate idea. You have to pay to license and register your car (tabs, plates, taxes, etc.) and then once you do that you get a plate that will then show ads. Hmm sounds familiar.

This brings more than just paywall problems to rise – what about taste, endorsements, or moderation? If CA does this, then would they allow strip clubs, or porn to be advertised on the license plates – surely they would not. That in itself represents the government limiting free speech, does it not? What if the government had been running ads for Bernie Madoff, would they be sued by citizens who expected them to fully vet each advertiser.

This is all just concept at this point, and I am sure there are some very smart people in the tech heavy California that will point out these obvious problems. Still – it makes you think – should the government be allowed to sell advertising on license plates? I would think not.

Originally posted for members on: June 21, 2010
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