Thu 26 Feb 2015 06:44:08 AM PST
Ad blocking, bullshit and a point of order
(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.