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My macaroni and cheese has an awesome
surveillance bunker, which fills me with
—nobody, everPosted Sun 08 Mar 2015 11:37:20 AM PDT
From Jason Kint at Digital Content Next, here's all the third-party web tracking that comes with browsing the St. Louis Post-Dispatch web site.
So, not much of a surprise, people don't trust web ads, because creepy tracking. Kint writes,
This problem is only getting worse and the consumer tools that counter it are getting less effective and more and more damaging to those who respect the consumer’s right to understand when and why their activities are being tracked. Transparency and providing the consumer with adequate control over their online privacy are vital—not harmful—to businesses that are built on a solid foundation of trust.
These companies may employ cookies and clear GIFs to measure advertising effectiveness. Any information that these third parties collect via cookies and clear GIFs is generally not personally identifiable.... We encourage you to read these businesses' privacy policies if you should have any concerns about how they will care for your personal information.
In other words, "third party tracking? That's
a thing on the Internet now. We have no idea what's
going on with it, so you're on your own." No wonder,
as Kint points out,
Online advertising is trusted
less than any other form of advertising.
The result of all this tracking isn't just wigged-out users and ever-increasing ad blocker installs. The real problem for newspaper sites is data leakage. All those trackers that Kint points out are busily digesting the paper's audience like flies on potato salad, breaking the readership down into database records, and feeding the "print dollars to digital dimes" problem by breaking signaling.
When it comes to data leakage, publishers
aren't bringing a knife to a gun fight, they're
bringing a white paper about a knife to a gun
fight. Terry Heaton, in “Local” is Losing to
In 2015, [non-local] independent companies will
account for nearly three-fourths of all digital
advertising, elbowing out local-media competitors who
have tried for two decades to use their existing sales
forces to also sell digital advertising. Why is
it that when a St. Louis business wants to advertise
to a St. Louis newspaper reader, three-quarters of
the money goes to intermediaries in New York and Palo
The problem, though, isn't so much that the adtech firms are taking 3/4 of the advertising pie, it's that they're making the pie smaller than it could be, by building the least trustworthy form of advertising since email spam.
So how do we keep the local papers, the people who are doing the hard nation-protecting work of Journalism, going? Kint says the "consumer tools" are getting worse, and if you're just looking at the best-known ad blocker, I'd have to agree. The "acceptable ads" racket doesn't address the tracking problems that matter. Meanwhile, it's not practical to browse the web with no protection at all, because who's going to read all those "transparent" explanations of exactly how some company you've never heard of sells some information you didn't know you were revealing?
Fortunately, though, we have publisher-friendly alternatives to ad blocking such as Tracking Protection on Firefox, the Disconnect extension, and Microsoft's Tracking Protection Lists. Instead of focusing on the two bad alternatives: unaccountable tracking or misdirected ad blocking, why not focus on the tracking protection that works?
Don't worry, interesting stuff remains to be done. To start with, hey, where are all the ads on stltoday.com? Just because I want to get protected from creepy tracking doesn't mean I'm against advertising in general. I like to look at the ads in local papers when I'm going there, because it gives me a sense of business in the town. (The New York Times is showing me Saks Fifth Avenue ads, and I have tracking protection on.) St. Louis, please, make your newspaper site work with tracking protection, and show me some ads.Posted Mon 02 Mar 2015 07:39:32 PM PST
Charles Stross, in A different cluetrain:
"Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media."
Bruce Schneier, on Ars Technica:
"Facebook could easily tilt a close election by selectively manipulating what posts its users see. Google might do something similar with its search results."
The bias doesn't have to be deliberate, though. Eric Raymond posted an example on Google Plus.
G+ may be engaging in non-viewpoint-neutral censorship of news articles relating to firearms.
Turned out that there was a bug in how Google Plus interacted with the CMS on a pro-Second-Amendment site. Not a deliberate political conspiracy, but software is full of bugs, especially when independently developed projects interact. When bugs affecting some political content are quietly fixed faster than bugs affecting others, it's not a sneaky conspiracy. It's just the natural result of programmers and early adopters choosing to test with less of the content that isn't a "cultural fit". Software developers have political views, and those views tend to escape into their software, and affect the software's users.
Google and Facebook don't have to decide to manipulate elections. Manipulation is an emergent property of networked software development. On the Planet of Classical Economics, Facebook and Google would sell their user-manipulating power to the highest bidder. But here isn't there. In the USA, the Data Party (mostly for mental extraction, mostly "blue") has the mainstream Internet businesses, and the Carbon Party (mostly for resource extraction, mostly "red") doesn't.
Today, is somebody on the Carbon Party side doing for their "SJW in our people's pockets" problem what Ailes did for their "liberal in our people's living rooms" problem? Yes, a Data Party has a head start over a Carbon Party in a race to build a mobile platform, but plenty of "red state" people can code, write checks, and place orders from the countries that still know how to make things.
Are we going to get two parallel user-tracking industries in the USA, the same way we have two factions in broadcast and cable media? And will each one offer tools to protect users from the other? I might buy a Koch-o-Phone just to watch the OS and the inevitable PLA spyware fight over my Facebook timeline.Posted Sat 28 Feb 2015 07:45:52 AM PST
(Bob Hoffman says that the B word in a post title is good for more traffic so let's try it.)
Alex Kantrowitz for Advertising Age: Publishers Watch Closely as Adoption of Ad Blocking Tech Grows.
Adblock Plus, for instance, recently surpassed 300 million installs, according to spokesman Mark Addison, who said it stood at 200 million roughly a year ago. Mozilla has seen more than 200,000 downloads of Adblock Plus nearly every day since Sept. 1. Mr. Addison attributed the extension's popularity primarily to the fact that it is now available on every browser.
Lots of stuff is "available on every browser" but sank without a splash. There must be something more going on.
No One Should Be Outed By an Ad: Marc Groman of the Network Advertising Initiative points out that
A young man or (woman) searches on his computer in the privacy of his home for information about sexual orientation or coming out as gay. Hours or days later, he receives ads for gay-related products or services while surfing on totally unrelated websites. Maybe this happens while at school, in the office or when sharing his computer with family members. Recent developments in cross-device tracking mean that ads for gay events or venues could surface not only on his home computer where he originally searched for the information, but on his work laptop or tablet. In addition, the ads could even be displayed on his parents’ computers, which could unknowingly be linked to his PC because they appear to be part of the same household.
According to Groman, "nearly 100 of the most responsible companies in online advertising today" won't do this.
But as for the remaining, less scrupulous adtech firms, the take-away is: better get your ad blocker on.
72 percent of US internet users look up health-related information online. But an astonishing number of the pages we visit to learn about private health concerns—confidentially, we assume—are tracking our queries, sending the sensitive data to third party corporations, even shipping the information directly to the same brokers who monitor our credit scores.
What could possibly go wrong?
That's just a couple of targeted advertising stories from the past week. And the IAB is worried that ad blockers are a thing? That's like crapping on the sidewalk and complaining about people wearing rubber boots.
"Online advertising" is turning into a subset of "creepy scary stuff on the Internet." Advertising done right can be a way to pay for things that people want to read, but what we have on the web now is not working.
So why do publishers put up with this? Why not just run only first-party ads? It's a long story, but basically because other publishers do.
If websites could coordinate on targeting, proposition 1 suggests that they might want to agree to keep targeting to a minimum. However, we next show that individually, websites win by increasing the accuracy of targeting over that of their competitors, so that in the non- cooperative equilibrium, maximal targeting results.
So the gamesmanship of it all means that publishers end up in a spiral of crap.
Ad blocking isn't helping. The AdBlock Plus "acceptable ads" racket will pass ads that are superficially less annoying, but still have fundamental tracking problems. It's "acceptable" to split a long article into multiple annoying pages to put ads at top and bottom, but not to put ads within the flow of a modern long-scrolling article. "Acceptable ads" requires 1990s-vintage design and avoids fixing the real problems.
Fortunately, there's a solution that works for users and for publishers. Tracking protection is a safe, publisher-friendly alternative to ad blocking. Blocks the creepy stuff, to help publishers, without dictating design or interfering with advertising in general.
Tracking Protection on Firefox filters out tracking, while letting quality ads through. There's no "acceptable" program to join, and no limits on design.
Disconnect is a browser extension to protect users from the "web of invisible trackers."
Tracking protection helps publishers solve the big problem, the problem that the IAB doesn't want to talk about. Data leakage.
The prime "bovine-fertilizer-based information solution" here is all the verbiage about trying to break out the ad blocking problem from the ad fraud problem from the "print dollars to digital dimes" problem. It's all connected. Shovel through it all and you get something like:
Adtech as we know it is based on data leakage.
Ad blocking, along with adtech fraud, is a side-effect of the data leakage problem.
In the short term, data leakage is bad for publishers and good for adtech.
Having meetings to express grave concern about ad blocking isn't the answer, any more than having meetings to express grave concern about ad fraud is the answer.
Arguing about how to clean the carpet while the sewer pipe is still broken is not the answer.
Getting more users onto tracking protection, as an alternative to ad blocking? A way to fix data leakage at the source? For publishers, that's a good step toward the answer.
If I say it again, it's $1 in the jar for the EFF.
Terms to try to use instead:
Privacy is a big hairy problem, like the "freedom" in "free software." Plenty of people are philosophizing about it. But working with the web every day, the fixes that need to happen are not in the philosophy department, but in plugging the leaks that enable dysfunctional ads and building the systems to enable better ones.Posted Thu 26 Feb 2015 06:44:08 AM PST
When I explain the whole Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful thing to software developers who work in adtech, I keep expecting a "well, actually" from somebody. After all, the Lumascape is large so there's no way the general points I'm bringing up can possibly apply to every single company on the chart.
Instead, I've been getting two main reactions from developers.
You're right, adtech is a racket, I'm surprised that clients and publishers put up with it.
You're missing something—another really messed-up thing about adtech is...
(example: The problem with anti-fraud measures so far is that their impact falls hardest on small legit publishers. Not only does adtech move ad revenue away from sites with real users toward fraudulent ones, but when networks attempt to stop it, they hurt the legit sites worse.)
Anyway, ad agency clients (not just CEOs) go read What Every CEO Needs To Know About Online Advertising by Bob Hoffman.
Web publishers, watch this space.Posted Sun 22 Feb 2015 08:03:49 AM PST
One way or another, some kind of tracking protection tool is going to join the basic recommended list of security software for regular users. Firewall, check. Virus checker, check. Tracking protection, check.
The question is whether the anti-malvertising slot on the shoppping list will be filled with a problematic and coarse-grained ad blocker, or with a publisher-friendly tracking protection tool such as Disconnect or the built-in tracking protection in Firefox.
What's the difference, and why does it matter?
Tracking protection tools and AdBlock Plus will each let some ads through. However, AdBlock Plus uses the concept of "acceptable ads", which is broken for modern web designs.
For pages featuring a reading text ads should not be placed in the middle, where they interrupt the reading flow. However, they can be placed above the text content, below it or on the sides.
So a nice-looking design like Quartz does not have "acceptable" ads because the ads there can appear when scrolling a long article, but a crap-ass legacy CMS that splits a shorter article into 9 pages is A-OK.
More importantly, targeted third-party ads can buy into the "acceptable" program too, which does nothing for improving the value of the medium.
This is where the IT media can influence, not just observe.
The more that you write about tracking protection tools other than ad blockers, the more users will get them, and the better that business becomes for content sites, including the ones that pay you.
The less attention you pay to the issue, the more users are likely to switch to a "dumb" ad blocker, and the more that web ads slide into a no-win struggle like email spam/anti-spam.
Attention all fans of me. Come hear me at Southern California Linux Expo, February 19-22 in Los Angeles, California, USA.
There's a speaker interview on the conference site, with some more info on what I'll be talking about.
(If you read this blog for the "targeted advertising considered harmful" stuff, I pitched a short talk on that, too, but I don't know if it'll get in.)Posted Thu 12 Feb 2015 07:45:36 PM PST
The ad market, on which we all depend, started going
Haywire is about right. In one slide...
(from an upcoming conference talk, if I can get a conference to take it. Details.)Posted Tue 10 Feb 2015 09:42:28 PM PST
Posted Tue 10 Feb 2015 10:37:20 AM PST
I am furious at a world in which women and POC are
being told to be as self-confident as a group of mostly
white dudes who are basically delusional
We’re great the way we are, level-headed
self-assessments and all. Stop rewarding them for being
How retargeting is supposed to work, from Rohit Yadav:
For example, prospect visits your website and you have a cookie tied into that site. That cookie is tied into an Advertisement network on the web. This allows you to follow that person around for the next five, ten or thirty days with display ads. You in a way are re-marketing yourself to that person who first hit your website and you retain brand presence. The customer is saying. “Wow, this is a big company. They must be credible with a real brand.” This is a very cost effective way to spend money.
Unfortunately for retargeting, the customer probably isn't saying that at all.
As David Ogilvy once wrote,
The consumer is not
a moron, she is your wife. If retargeting is
something that you can explain in a blog post to the
average marketing person, or to your spouse (who as
Ogilvy points out is just as much of not a moron as
you are), how long does it take a person using the
web to figure it out?
Yadav is 100% right on the desired signaling effect of web advertising. Advertising, when it works, does have the purpose of establishing the credibility of the advertiser's brand. (Which is why ad creative is so important. If it's memorable, the advertiser gets a multiplier effect on the cost of the same ad space.)
The problem, though, and why retargeting doesn't
work for signaling, is that people are now aware
of it. People commonly remark on
ads that follow
me around the web. When the audience is aware
of targeting, it breaks the signaling power of an
Not only does retargeting not give one advertiser a free lunch, it contaminates everyone else's lunch by devaluing the medium. What's the solution? I think we're close to figuring it out.Posted Fri 06 Feb 2015 06:00:50 AM PST
(update 13 Mar 2015: Add link to Tom Foremski piece)
Mitchell Reichgut writes,
Forrester recently found that mobile represents only five percent of brands’ total advertising budget — and the majority are not making significant increases in their mobile investment year-over-year.
And Tom Foremski wrote,
Traditional media companies that were struggling with online ads that produced one-tenth the revenue of print, now have to cross an incredible chasm: $1,000 dollars in print advertising becomes $10 on mobile.
Mobile advertising works fine for search [coffee near me], or impulse app downloads ("I'm bored with this game, what else can I play?"). But mobile ads on average are consistently at the bottom of the standings in terms of revenue per user minute, because they're nearly perfectly targetable and carry no signal. Naturally, adtech players concur on the solution to low mobile ad revenue: throw more technology at the problem. The idea is to use "cross-device tracking" to match the people who saw mobile ads with web users.
Wait a minute—mobile ads are crappy, therefore connect them with less crappy (some web ads are remarkably good by now—see Quartz) web ads? That won't make mobile any better, because of signaling failure, but it's a pure loss for web publishers.
The data leakage problem has leveled up. With cross-device tracking, data doesn't just leak to less valuable sites in the same medium, but to a less valuable medium entirely.
Some background on data leakage from Sophia Cope at the Newspaper Association of America: Data leakage is a serious problem for newspaper websites:
Data leakage harms newspapers by affecting revenue from direct advertising sales. Third parties drop cookies when consumers are on newspaper websites, and then sell ads on other websites targeted to known newspaper readers.
Adtech advocates are trying to get everyone to flip out over ad blocking while ignoring data leakage, and so far it's working.
Ad blocking is survivable, but data leakage isn't. The web kept ad blocking to a tiny niche from 1996, when the first easy ad blockers came out, until 2010, when the Wall Street Journal's "What they Know" series came out. As browsers get better able to act on user intentions, ad blocking can go back to being a niche again.
Data leakage, on the other hand, is a long-term threat to journalism and other original creative work on the web. It forces reputable publishers to compete with infringing, fraudulent and other low-quality sites. Ad blocking is a 9-10% loss for non-technical sites. It's a problem, but not a severe one outside of the gaming niche, where more than 40% of impressions are blocked. Data leakage, though, by putting all sites into a race to the bottom, costs more like 90%, across all site categories.
The problem is that, from the point of view of adtech, data leakage is a win. Adtech is a constant game of how much data leakage various intermediaries can get away with. (Publishers and adtech firms are on opposite sides of the game, which is why publishers and brand advertisers need their own organization separate from the IAB, which works for data-leakage-powered tech companies.)
With various cross-device tracking concepts floating around, the pressure of the leak has grown. Valuable audience data isn't just leaking to bottom-feeder web sites, it can leak all the way down to mobile.
A new kind of third-party service: original content sites are going to need another technology thing, as if there wasn't enough to worry about. A tracking protection solution. This will mean using a user trackability detection platform (UTDP), a new tech category, in order to classify user sessions into tracking-protected and tracking-vulnerable. (Once a site has the UTDP results, a tracking-protected user could get many different rewards: access to bonus content, comments promoted, or an early reset on the article count for a paywall.)
Most of the work is already done: the main part of tracking protection is on the client side, something that the users install and run. Tracking protection is a publisher-friendly alternative to an ad blocker, and many easy implementations are available. The server-side work is is to promote, nudge, and reward users for running them.
Finally, the best part: the web site side of a tracking protection program is a sponsorship opportunity, especially for advertisers with a brand personality connected to security or fraud prevention. For example, an area of a site behind a reverse tracking wall can be branded "Exclusive content only for tracking-protected users, brought to you by example.com Insurance." High-profile malvertising is likely to make this a hot sponsorship to sell.
Bonus links, part one: data leakage in action
MediaPost | Garfield at Large: 'Your a Traytor, You But Ugly Kosheralist Pusstard' Click Here to Learn More!
Bonus leaks, part two: Have we reached "peak creepy"?
stopthecyborgs: Strategic pause
Gleb Budman: How to Save Marketing Money by Being NicePosted Wed 04 Feb 2015 06:36:39 AM PST
Ever wonder if this plan...
The Chinese government has adopted new regulations requiring companies that sell computer equipment to Chinese banks to turn over secret source code...
...is the other half of this plan?
The Chinese regime is getting into the patent trolling business, having set up a company that will start suing American companies....
You know how regular patent trolls have to seek out infringers and then go through a complicated discovery phase? Both just got hella easier. This trolling operation not only gets pre-researched cases, it can also go through the code submitted for "security" in order to build a shopping list of patents to acquire.
Vertically integrated economic nationalism in action.
Of course, patent reform in the USA could stifle this plan, but a little lobbying cash can go a long way to perpetuate the current dysfunctional system. The funny thing is that open source companies have figured out how to be super-careful with patent-sensitive material in their codebases from the start, so will probably be much less vulnerable.Posted Sun 01 Feb 2015 06:06:47 PM PST
Posted Sat 24 Jan 2015 09:20:29 AM PST
It’s one thing for individuals to upload all my
music for free listening (it doesn’t bother me). It’s
another thing entirely for a major corporation to force
me to. I was encouraged to participate and now, after
I’m invested, I’m being pressured into something I
don’t want to do.
Arel Lidow has a look at Mary
Meeker's Internet Trends report and
Each year, the gap between dollars spent on mobile
advertising versus time spent on mobile devices
increases: in 2011, the implied gap was about $14
billion; in 2013, it was about $28 billion.
So why is the gap in mobile ad spend so damn large? And
when will those billions of dollars come flooding
I plotted the same data, and and put the numbers for print, web, and mobile, across several years, on the same graph.
Clearly, Lidow is right. Mobile is remarkably disappointing, compared to web. But what is going on with print?
Even as the fraction of user time spent on print falls, it's worth more to advertisers than mobile is.
This isn't much of a surprise, if you look at advertising history. More targetable ad media such as junk fax and email spam tend to fall in value, while non-targetable ad media tend to hold or gain value. (Seems paradoxical until you look at the economics behind it.)
But here's Lidow's recommendation:
If you could
wave a magic wand and provide a perfect attribution
system with widespread usage by marketers and
agencies, the mobile ad landscape would change
quickly, and ad spend would increase.
So wait a minute. Take the a low-value ad medium and make it more valuable by doing more of what makes it less valuable? Wouldn't you want to figure out how to go the other way?
I don't get it. More and more I'm starting to think that this whole surveillance marketing trend is more about selling Marketing to the rest of the company than about selling stuff to customers.Posted Thu 22 Jan 2015 07:12:23 AM PST
Is it just me, or is all this stuff hitting the web ad business all at once?
The market couldn't sustain a zillion different 8-bit
back when those were a thing. And it has always seemed
unlikely that the market can keep supporting a zillion
adtech firms. Jack
Marshall of the Wall Street Journal
A shakeout is under way in the online advertising
industry, where dozens of startups—often with
seemingly undifferentiated services and limited
scale— face the reality that there isn’t enough
room for everyone.
Google and Facebook are eating
ecosystem. Michael Eisenberg
Today, most adtech companies are exploiting
features that are missing on the core platforms of
Google, Facebook, and many of the already public
companies. They are optimising and brokering
between technology platforms (mobile and web),
exchanges and advertisers. However, information
is nearing perfection in this market, making it
difficult to build a moat around businesses and
that plan to make a living helping clients navigate a confusing list of
technology partners are probably on the wrong
side of the trend here. They're like Unix ISVs who planned
to keep building the same basic product on dozens of
basically identical but incompatible Unix variants.
A difficult feat of management and tech integration,
but not really the way that mature technology markets
tend to go.
You know how, when a lot of people are starting committees to talk about how something is an industry-wide problem and it's everyone's responsibility to fix it, that means the problem is about to go away?
Blocking keeps going up, tracking protection emerges
Ad blocking is trending up, but it's not for everyone. Many users have a basic fairness expectation around advertising: if you look at the content, you should also accept the ads that that support it.
Tracking protection, though, is a
situation where fairness norms point away
from adtech as usual. A 2014 survey found that
87 percent of users choose not to be tracked by
Tracking protection products such as
Disconnect and Privacy
using a different message from crude ad blocking, to
reach more users.
Disconnect is positioning its tracking
protection product as as basic Internet security
Join over 3 million people
who use our open source software to protect their
identities and sensitive personal info from hackers
and trackers—not a way to get something
Browser built-in tracking protection is coming along,
Apple Safari already blocks
third-party cookies, MSIE has tracking protection
(which lump adtech in with
malware) and Firefox is getting
its own tracking protection too.
The holdout is Google Chrome, and that's a whole other story. Google as a whole would certainly do better on an all-tracking-protected web, because if everyone's less able to track users, Google's expertise in parsing content matters more. But it's hard for information packrats to walk away from shiny, tempting information.
The typical adtech/publisher relationship has more in common with one-sided record contracts than with typical advertising. Publishers haven't understood the technology as well as adtech firms, and so have signed away their valuable audiences, and accepted an ongoing data leakage problem, in pursuit of surveillance marketing woo-woo.
But that's changing. New publishers have web skills from the ground up. Vox Media is a good example. And existing publishers are getting better at defending their interests. Quartz, an Atlantic Media site, runs ads that look and work more like expensive magazine ads than like ratty web display ads. And, most important, Quartz ads are intact for users running Disconnect.
The near-term effect of VC investment in web publishing startups is that many publishers will have the breathing space to turn down the short-term revenue from crappy, targeted "click the monkey" or "one weird trick" ads, and pursue other options. Stronger publishers with better in-house tech skills are likely to put data leakage back on the table, and tracking protection for a site's audience is the kind of "moat" that investors tend to look for.
Put it together
The fun part isn't any one of these trends, or even the fact that they're hitting at the same time, but how they interact.
Fraud helps drive consolidation. Consolidation, with more accurate tracking, encourages more users to try tracking protection. Tracking protection and fraud drive ad spending to quality publishers. Success for quality publishers means more investment in tracking protection. And around it goes.
What a fun year this is going to be.Posted Thu 15 Jan 2015 05:35:48 AM PST
Older stuff: archive