Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

Apologies if the comparison offends anyone but every time I see PR (public relations) about ad-blocking by Google, I see them as a company like Goldman Sachs, who has taken positions on both sides of a bet, so to speak.

There is a glaring conflict of interest as others have pointed out; it cannot be ignored. Through strategic acquisitons such as Doubleclick, Google and its subsidiaries are the largest warehouse of advertising on the www. The company is the machine that keeps web advertising humming along.

Google wants to keep everyone happy. Users are fed up with advertising. For example, Google could offer a search engine free of any ads, as they did in the early days.FN1 They have more than enough cash to do it. This would make users very happy. Google could try to support itself by selling something, besides advertising. But this will not happen. Why? (Rhetorical question. Not asking for an answer. We all know what it is.)

By creating a web-advertising juggernaut and collecting the maximum allowable quantity information about users through every means legally possible, (far beyond merely search engine usage) Google has taken a position against users (the ones who dislike ads) as well as for them (as argued in myriad PR pieces).

Google is not curbing it own actions (as the #1 promoter of advertising on the www), instead it is taking aim at advertisers. Some of those could be existing or potential clients (which might seem intriguing).

But while its clients (be they advertisers, users or others) may experience "losses", like Goldman (or not; sorry, bad analogy!), Google always "wins".

Any PR piece proclaiming that Google is taking sides with users (for a "better web") ignores that they also have taken sides with advertisers. Google has big bets on advertising. As everyone knows, users do not contribute significant inputs to the Google balance sheet; advertisers do.

FN1 At that time one of the Google founders called out advertising as being something to avoid. Interestingly, there was no "disruptive" vs "non-disruptive" advertising distinction.




> Google could offer a search engine free of any ads, as they did in the early days. They have more than enough cash to do it. This would make users very happy. Google could try to support itself by selling something, besides advertising.

This reasoning doesn't make sense to me. Many startups offer their services for free or low cost, burning cash, to acquire users/mind-share until they find a way to be profitable. Google and Facebook found advertising as that way, and thus survived instead of running out of money. And are able to offer their services for free.

"Google should ditch that and start again" doesn't even start to make sense.


I think his claim is more of "The Search Product" can be run as a loss-leading free product just like Youtube was, while they profit elsewhere.

And he covers this with the rhetorical question: They can do these things, but they don't, because being as anti-user as possible (while putting out the occasional fluff PR piece) earns them billions and billions and billions of dollars.

He's basically saying "Google could remove advertising and figure out how to make money without being one of the most user-hostile organizations in software history, but they don't because their hostility to privacy and their revolution in combining aggressively curated private data with advertising has made them one of the richest corporations in history"


> while they profit elsewhere.

what is this elsewhere of which you speak? Google apps for your domain? Youtube red? Android licensing fees?

The truth can be seen from the way users behave. Nobody wants to pay any money for online services, and if google were to stop advertising, they'd basically be bankrupt as the userbase is not willing to pay the equivalent amount to google that they derive from selling user data.


To be clear, Google doesn't sell user data to anyone. In fact, it's got the strongest of incentives to keep other companies or hackers away from the data of their users. Which is maybe why Google's security team is what it is.


Technically, most companies in the advertising space don't sell user data. They sell the ability to target users based on anonymized and pre-digested data. Google Search Ads and AdWords both work that way, as does pretty much all of Facebook's ads products.

As an example, Facebook might sell you the ability to target people between ages 12 and 20 located in major metropolitan centers in the US. You never bought any user data that let you flag individual users, but you are still "using" the data.

(Disclaimer and also claim to authority: I worked in ad tech.)


The end result is the same if Google sold your data to an advertiser or used the data to advertise on the same advertiser's behalf. So I find "Google sells your data to 3rd parties" to be an accurate enough description.


If you think the end result is the same, you are being very charitative in your guess of what those companies could do with your data. Without giving it much thought, for a start you would lose the ability to control what that data is and who has it.


> would lose the ability to control what that data is and who has it.

It's the same with Google, you cannot control your data and what they do with it.


Have you visited the privacy checkup page lately? https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup

I'm not sure why people keep saying that Google and Facebook is selling user data. Does that mean that if those companies started to actually do it, it wouldn't bother the claimants as they consider it being done already? Seems to me like an important distinction to make.

In comparison, are Uber selling software? Rather than using software to sell a service?


> what that data is

Can I find out what data Google has on me?


I know that you can restrict it from https://myaccount.google.com.


I don't see a button that would prevent doubleclick/ganalytics from tracking me all over the place.


The relationship between that and "it's the same as if Google sold my data to third parties" is lost on me, honestly. Looks like you're trying to prove a sentiment instead of a point.


Obviously there is a technical difference between "Google sold my data" and what they actually do. My point is that the outcome is the same in both cases. It doen't matter to me which specific entity erodes my privacy. So in the larger scheme of things, Google did sell my data to advertisers.

Amazon doesn't directly sell you the AWS infrastructure. But they rent it to you. Google is doing something akin to that. If they had an opt out saying "Don't use my private data to show me ads" I'd no longer make the point they sell my data. But they don't provide any opt-out, and the effect is identical to my data being sold to advertisers.


When I pay Amazon to use AWS I get access to those machines. When I pay Google to display ads, I don't get access to the data of any user.

If a company sold your information, you can say bye bye to being able to restrict what that information is and who has it; you might as well consider it public from that point on. I don't think anybody in their right mind would call that difference a technicality.

Google does provide the opt out you say they don't, too: Browsing in incognito mode.


> not willing to pay the equivalent amount to google that they derive from selling user data

I think that's the GP's point -- but Google has enough cash in the bank that they could probably continue to provide services indefinitely if they took the decision to divest themselves of advertising and re-organise themselves appropriately.


> Nobody wants to pay any money for online services

I wish this meme would die already. Youtube red cannot be purchased in half the world. Google the search engine does not even have pay-for-no-ads offering that I know of.

You can't say they actually tried to get money from users yet.


Google has also learned the lesson though that ads which produce a negative user impression aren't sustainable, and bad for both Google and advertisers. They have a vested long-term interest in making ads palatable and useful, or their cash cow goes away. Their incentives mesh with mine -- I would be less likely to demand ad blocker if ads weren't so disruptive.


> Their incentives mesh with mine

If that were the case Chrome's disruptive ad blocker would have been released shortly after the rise of flash ads

If that were the case I would be able to completely opt out of tracking and accept slightly less targeted ads

We could go on and on here. Suffice to say I do not believe Google's incentives align with most on the web any more.


> If that were the case Chrome's disruptive ad blocker would have been released shortly after the rise of flash ads

This seems like an odd argument. Are uBlock's incentives unaligned with yours because they didn't release their adblocker earlier? What does the timing of the release have to do with anything?

> If that were the case I would be able to completely opt out of tracking and accept slightly less targeted ads

You can opt out of tracking and ad targeting https://myaccount.google.com/u/1/privacy


> uBlock's incentives unaligned with yours because they didn't release their adblocker earlier

Not really a fair comparison - uBlock aren't selling ads. Google are and have been for a decade. There have been many occasions that search has been compromised via advertising from the days of SERPs being mostly adsense mini sites years ago. The response to those also took years despite search being near ruined. Google could have done far more far sooner.


Well, I was just talking for myself. For instance, ad tracking personally doesn't bother me. What bothers me is intrusive ads that interrupt my normal browsing experience.


Until there are better integrated controls for deciding which arbitrary code blobs run on your computer, a large majority of people using adblockers will continue to do so despite Google's efforts.


I question whether a "large majority" of people using adblockers are aware they are doing anything other than blocking ads. The HN crowd tends to overestimate the tech-savviness of the general population when it comes to this stuff.


OP said "large majority of people using adblockers", not that a large majority were already using them.


So did I? I'm not sure what your point is. My post was framed around the current users of adblockers.


I understand what you were saying, but I made the (unfounded) assumption that most of the general ad-blocker population were turned onto it by someone they trust who is more computer-savvy, and those people will generally continue to recommend ad-blockers to their less-savvy friends as long as good reasons still exist.


Yes, but often I will temporarily lift the block to load the page (just a few mins ago I was on AWS announcement page, I couldn’t play a video unless I reload the page without content blocker. Not only do we have a tracking epidemic, we have external js issue. I have to either whitelist fonts.google.com and some other js libraries, or else explicitly reload page without blocker whenever I see a broken website... this security-privacy consciousness i is a good trade-off, but can we, as developers, do something?


Have you given uMatrix a try?


uMatrix on Firefox 57+ is completely broken for me, no frames are allowed even if the extension is soft disabled.

I'm kind of at my wits end... it's severely degrading my experience. Thinking of just disabling it for now and just relying on uBO


It's not a hedge bet, necessarily. It's a way for them to get direct input from users on which ads are tolerable and which are not. This information will undoubtedly be used to make ads 'more tolerable' so that Google's bottom line is not impacted.

I wonder if we're heading into a new era where online advertisements will become indistinguishable from non-ads. For example, a picture of your friend vs a picture of your friend with a soda bottle subtly added. That would be more tolerable to most everyone when compared to a flashy gif of that soda bottle bouncing around in your browser.


Wouldn't that "picture of your friend with a soda bottle" be considered a violation of the property rights of whoever took that picture? (lets leave alone the idea that the ad insertion violates the viewer's rights to unadulterated content - that could potentially be waived as a part of the EULA/TOS).


I don't think so. Many platforms include EULAs that basically state that they own content you upload to them.

> viewer's rights to unadulterated content

Not that I necessarily agree with you that this should be a right, but where in the world is anyone enforcing this as a right?


Well, we are used to the kind you spoke of already. Soda, fastfood and car brands are mentioned in films and music videos. But if some Javascript adds a soda bottle to my friend’s picture, I can see that as a potential violation (if you use facebook, you would probably get a “You and Bob have friends for ten years now” greeting slideshow... made by facebook with effects. But I haven’t heard anyone sueing FB yet).


What if instead of adding a soda bottle, they recognize there's a soda bottle in your friends' posts already and bump those images up in your feed?


That’s a good point, maybe I misread the initial post.


>For example, Google could offer a search engine free of any ads, as they did in the early days.FN1 They have more than enough cash to do it.

Doesn't google still make like 80% of its revenue off advertising in search? If its true, then they really don't have the money to drop it

And instead of viewing it as double-betting, it can just as easily be seen as a compromise. They still want to advertise, and makes sense for them to want to, and the truly troublesome ads are poisoning the water for everyone, by leading (normal) people to total solutions ie adblock. Which is bad for business. In which case, you should expect them to find a middle-ground solution, and it would be absurd for google to move in either direction too strongly (because the money's not there).

Its not that they're taking sides, but that they're trying not to.


> There is a glaring conflict of interest as others have pointed out; it cannot be ignored. Through strategic acquisitons such as Doubleclick, Google and its subsidiaries are the largest warehouse of advertising on the www.

The point is, they're not only a near-monopoly in web advertising, but also have very detailed data about their competitors (via GA and many other products) AND now are controlling the channel for 60% of users. It's unbelievable they managed to pull this out and still so few people seem to care.


AFAIAC, Google should not exist in its current form. I'd urge employees to question if they think the organization should exist as it is.

I hear the job is great, and the technical challenges are certainly wonderful, but Google and Facebook are the perfect setup for a turn-key tyranny.


> Google could try to support itself by selling something, besides advertising.

what could they possibly sell that would even come close to replacing ad revenue?


It’s not both sides, it’s just more control of the online advertising industry.

Google should be broken up over this type of behaviour. Spend too much money in Washington though.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: