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I have all the reputed news sites asking me to disable adblockers only to be shown the scum links from Taboola and Outbrain. Most times ads from Taboola and Outbrain keep showing up even when i specifically disable those divs.
Which is why this field is in dire need fir reinvention. It's terrible, but it works. The challenge is making it work, without being terrible.
That's a rationalization that works for all kinds of terrible things. It's never good enough to excuse the behavior.
It's a terrible product, a terrible experience, and nobody benefits from it except these companies and the people responsible for revenue at whatever publisher is infested with these ads.
I work at an ad supported site, we trialed these things and I'm sure that any of the journalists at places that have these things hate this crap as much as their users do but they don't have any say over its inclusion. It's some finance person, running the numbers.
These ads are there because they work, savvy users might not like them, you don't, I don't. It's time for new players to step up and disrupt this market, but not if that means a loss for businesses. That's the challenge.
We're not talking about whether the CTA button should be light blue or dark blue. We're talking about decision to unleash some of the worst garbage Internet has on unsuspecting and unwilling people. It hurts individuals, and drags down both the industry and the society at large. Someone in the company should be able to say "no" to that.
The author of the article described some of the consequences, strongly implying but stopping short of saying one thing out loud, so I'll say it here: chumboxes are unethical products, and showing chumboxes is unethical behaviour too.
(But yeah, I do understand competitive pressure. That's why I hope we eventually get around to killing Taboola and friends through regulatory means.)
I wonder if this is having some sort of effect on people at a national level? What would you measure to see if this is effecting people negatively?
I wonder if my parents would fall prey to these scummy ads if I didn't maintain their adblockers...
This toxic clickbait needs to end.
That's one of the many reasons why I consider it my civic duty to recommend uBlock Origin to everyone, and to install it on any computer I'm asked to do maintenance on.
Taboola and Outbrain damage the legitimacy of our institutions. If the Washington Post is filled up with crap like that, it seems a little less strange to believe that vaccines cause autism, that every Trump scandal is politically motivated "fake news", the moon landings were faked, etc.
One page view at a time these ads are undermining our democracy.
No idea what this means from a business perspective.
This. traditionally, is where you explain to me that it's patently absurd to ask a businessperson to care about anything but profit, or even to suggest that they could.
I don't think anyone LIKES renting a storefront to a pawnshop, for example, but if they are the only ones who want to rent your location, you're screwed.
Essentially ethical business would wind up needing the journalism market to implode, ending up with a few state-subsidized outlets that could more or less survive with no advertising at all.
How do you go from "people exhibit this behaviour" to "this behaviour provides them some benefit"?
Most of the ads are hyper-targetted to psychological weaknesses we have in the same way that drugs hijack our reward pathways.
I've had plenty of people say to me (and plenty of frugality pundits write) they had to get off of social media because they feel manipulated by their personal network into buying crap they don't need. I've never heard somebody say they need to opt out of Outbrain ads because of the same thing.
Literally the top post from this comments section is someone highlighting adblocking software to get rid of the stuff.
I get that a job is a job, but don't drink the industry kool-aid.
To me that means there are other reasons people are clicking on the stuff and yeah I like to believe it's because they get some benefit from it (even if it's the same benefit they get from watching trashy tv or reading pulp fiction). I don't like to believe that because I think ads are awesome, I like to believe that because it feeds my belief that people do much of what they do out of free will. If we're puppets of corporations we're willing puppets of corporations and blaming ad networks won't change us.
The current alternative seems to be a combination of "that, but indirectly, through access to primary sources" and "your paycheck comes from turning everyone against everyone by saturating their attention with outrage-inducing content". Is that really better?
If those shitty ads at the bottom of the page make the difference between surviving or folding, then I have a bit of sympathy for the truly desperate situation they are in.
However, that's not normally the case. Instead it means a small bump in revenue for no extra work and that's hard for somebody that only cares about this quarter's numbers to say no to no matter how healthy the profit numbers are.
My paper tried having a separate site for subscribers with very few ads (an occasional shallow sponsor banner or sidebar spot with no junk ads), a clean, print-inspired design and a focus on hard news. We tried a paywall and then a meter (3 to 5 articles before paywall). Print subscribers had free access. We launched that in 2013 and iterated on it until it was deemed a failure and abandoned early this year. During that time we maintained a free, ad-supported site as well, because we couldn't afford to lose that revenue. That site continued to thrive with mostly wire/commodity content and "stubbed" versions of our bylined work (basically teasers) encouraging people to subscribe for the good stuff.
It's not about big profits these days, it's about keeping the lights on, the presses running and hopefully having enough left to invest in the future. Margins are tiny if they exist. The fat has been cut - optimizations have been optimized, consultants have been consulted. We've all been through rounds of layoffs, buyouts, hiring freezes, salary freezes, reorganizations, consolidations, etc. Our goal is to keep our staff the size it is now, which is less than half the size it was in 2006. The big conglomerates are getting by on economies of scale (which comes with its own tradeoffs - a shared copy desk may sound ok until you realize knowledge of a place is pretty relevant to accuracy for stuff like which neighborhood or part of town something happened in, or when the web team is maintaining 50+ sites so everyone needs to have the same templates/CMS and your editorial objectives/concerns might not be a priority or worth adding complexity to the system).
Honestly I don't see how the publicly traded operations can be successful long term - they are serving too many masters, the product is suffering and diminishing returns are inevitable. Investigative journalism is magnitudes more expensive than the low hanging fruit, so when your objective is profit over mission and you're squeezing pennies, something's got to give. But it's not just profit-focused papers struggling. Those of us who have the luxury of some budgetary flexibility have, for the most part, been profit neutral or running at a deficit for upwards of ten years; we've maxed out our revenue (and it's declining) so our only option is to cut costs. We're so lean at this point that anything else we cut is to the detriment of our product (see: chum). I'm not sure the way forward but I think our best bet for a sustainable future is non-profit, or in some instances private ownership by benevolent patrons/ civic-minded companies.
So $33.3M per year or roughly $2.8 million per month. Time claims to see 65 million unique visitors per month so that works out to less than a nickle per unique user every month.
Lots of things work. Of course "Finance People" are supposed to say no, because they are finance PEOPLE, not finance algorithms.
No, it doesn't work at all. That's illegal.
>Come to think of it, putting children to work in factories works. Dumping pollution in drinking water sources works.
Nope. That's illegal too..
>Lots of things work.
If you're making a list of things that are illegal, you're going to need a bigger comment box.
There is no need to needlessly take things to the extreme when it was very obvious that what we're talking about is in no way shape or form comparable to exploiting children.
Comparing click-bait ads to child exploitation still makes no sense. It is incredibly insensitive to draw any kind of analogy between the two.
> ...time for new players to step up and
> disrupt this market, but not if that means
> a loss for businesses. That's the challenge.
The "challenge" is to get more people to use adblockers, punish scammers ruthlessly, and demand that the journalism sites which are worth anything at all to screen the the ads they accept and perhaps even face consequences for displaying proven scammer ads.
If I believe my work is a valuable service to my community, closing up shop is more than a "loss of business".
I work for an advertiser and believe it or not I know people who directly benefited from some of the ads. There's bad ads, even "terrible" ads, but in the end they're just ads.
The behavior of click-bait ads isn't terrible in a way that should cause someone to question their own ethics. You may disagree. So what? You aren't going to fix the human condition by drawing a line in the sand, nor would it be moral to do so. The price of skepticism is uncertainty and the price of certainty is extortion (in terms of clicks and attention).
I would not include such bad behavior from some bad actors as part of the "human condition" but outliers on the fringe because I believe most people want to be good and do good things, but apparently not these assholes.
It is. You take the good with the bad. There's not a lot of evidence this is "bad" within that spectrum. It's very subjective, since I never had to question my ethics when working in advertising. There are things I will do and things I won't, but I don't champion the eradication of those things I won't do.
I'm guessing publishers love them as they seem to get people to click on the ads, but eventually any reputable advertisers will wise up and get out of there.
"Advertiser" is also an overstatement as this article explains. Most are doing as arbitrage.
In all but one case in this analysis, the only thing that is worth something is the click. A click not leading to a credit card transaction.
Take the case of the 5G ad. If you convince a user to click on that and then on one of the ads on the google results, someone gets $10. Nothing of value unless the user also has interest in the super specialized networking equipment being sold, something that seems extraordinarily unlikely.
This is a form of fraud isn't it? You're just putting a few million page views in the mix and calling it legitimate behavior when someone accidentally clicks once in a while.
Such a great article.
Generally, they know what those few million page views value is.
A direct method could be to pause the campaign for a while and see how it effects a metric that matters to them. (if they don't have such metric, then yeah... they're a little stupid)
In a lot of cases it is still worth it. In many other cases people perceive it to be worth it, but don't really do the research involved to prove that it is.
https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/rakuten-europe-srl-a16-335037... mug with "C" handle and "UNT" body, banned
https://www.asa.org.uk/advice-online/recognising-ads-native-... Ruling on "native advertising", mentions Outbrain ruling https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/Outbrain-Inc-A13-251818.html
Where they have leverage is with TV (which submit semi-voluntarily) or where the advertiser is regulated by another body, like financial services, pharmaceuticals or gambling. In these cases, the regulators can and do hand out fines based on ASA results.
It seems like their website isn't displaying all the rulings though.
I have also worked for US defense related companies. It was also fun and the tech was top notch.
Most people's jobs in the world seem to come at someone else's expense if you think deeply enough. Quite a shame.
It is true. There are degrees - some of the jobs don't hurt others, and some that do don't do it on purpose or as a primary outcome. A company making screws and nails likely exploits only its employees.
Some are taking advantage of their customers but still deliver a basic need. Think grocery stores that like to screw with food quality to the limit allowed by laws and social tolerance. You don't get exactly what you think you paid for, but it won't otherwise hurt you either.
Some jobs can involve hurting people, but at least have a somewhat plausible justification for it. E.g. some of the defense work can be justified by just protecting your borders and deterring attacks, and the hurt isn't realized until some external party tries to test your defenses.
Then there are jobs that are purely about exploiting other people, without giving them much of value. A lot of advertising is this. Chumboxes, telemarketing, e-mail spam, native advertising, retargeting... I could go on. It all essentially boils down to treating human beings as exploitable resources - bags with money that you get to squeeze out by applying psychological pressure. It does feel very much like factory farming.
(Yes, this post is sorted in descending order of what I think about occupations. Yes, I think defense companies can be morally superior to advertisers. The former help maintain a bubble of law and order in which we can happily live. The latter exist to screw our lives up.)
Arbitraging evil, in a way.
There's even a FAQ entry on the Adblock/Adblock Plus/uBlock (not Origin) website (they're almost certainly the same company)
> "I want to support websites I love. I just don't want to see ads from Taboola!"
which is answered with
> We hear you. [...] We agree that Taboola (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Outbrain) ads aren't "acceptable." We're hopeful that now that the Acceptable Ads list is under the control of that third-party board, Taboola and Outbrain will be removed from it. We encourage you to voice your opinion of Taboola ads on the Acceptable Ads forum.
The Wayback machine only has it since 2018 but I think it's been there since ""acceptable" ads" was transferred to the completely-independent-and-objective-no-hidden-agenda "third-party board" in 2017. Guess what one of the oldest and the most viewed threads on the forum is about?
Going forward, that subsidization will finish evaporating and the only news media that can earn ad dollars will be either sponsored content or have chum strewn across them. Buy gold, miracle cures, payday loan, t&a.
Expect the chum to be optimized, enhanced, and enriched.
The real problem is the lack of a payments infrastructure that doesn't have tremendously high fees for small amounts, especially small recurring payments. I'm willing to pay for a WaPo subscription upfront, for a year, and that makes the credit card fees acceptable on their end. But the amount I'm willing to pay for other sites is smaller, and that probably makes it prohibitive for them to accept credit cards directly, and there's no other good standard way of getting paid.
Ironically Google is in the best position to do micropayments (hell they could even do impression-based micropayments!) because it's not too dissimilar from their ad-revenue billing. But of course they won't, because they're an advertising company.
But the faster we kill ads, which basically means the more people who use adblockers, the more market pressure will be created for someone to act as a clearinghouse for small payments between content creators and consumers. And the stuff that people aren't willing to pay for, won't be created, or will be created only if it's someone's hobby or scratches their creative itch.
There are many (more) players in the "supply chain" yet we perceive their respective responsibility differently, perhaps arbitrarily. I wrote my gut reactions in parenthesis above, but I can't see a strong rational behind my own sentiments.
I hate them with a passion, partly because I understand (deep down) why they continue to exist: they sometimes work on me, in the sense that they arouse the basest form of curiosity and I get the impulse of clicking on them. I like myself a little less for it, even though I never actually do it.
The chumbox advertisers, being nameless arbritrage affiliates or fly-by-night sellers, have zero brand equity. They have very little to lose if they accidentally get their ad running against the wrong message.
"Taboola and outbrain are clearly filling a need in the market. There is a gap between what publishers can monetize through their existing direct and remnant channels, which outbrain and taboola help fill. They also provide the sites with deeper engagement by cross linking related content that people are likely to read."
That was funny..
With that in mind it is very interesting to note that these are both linked with Israeli intelligence and do more than just provide third party advertising. To me it is a good idea to block them off.
Do note though that Google, Facebook, apple, did disclose that they work in collaboration with the US intelligence.
I also believe this is an area that is still craving for real innovation and solutions. There is a lot of money to be made here, but no one has really "cracked" it yet, not truly.
This is how a lot of people justify working on some pretty awful things :(
It’s like a criminal justifying his actions with “well at least it isn’t murder so I’ll keep going”.
I didn't qualify my statement to leave these out…
The internet, sadly, still runs due to these shady platforms. Without them, businesses wouldn't sell enough, "good sites" wouldn't have a revenue model, people that falsely believe their work is ethical and good wouldn't be paid.
The solution is not to purge, but to improve and clarify.
There seems to be little legitimate money to be made and it mostly hinges on tricks & dark patterns to mislead customers into bad deals as far as they’re concerned.
For most pages, I'd say very little to the customer, a lot to the merchant: the merchant can't claim things about the product for legal reasons, can't make up fake reviews/testimonials etc, so they outsource that task to the affiliate. Of course, they don't say "just claim some bullshit", but they accept that it's done, and it will be done because there's a lot of incentive to do it and none to not do it.
What I'm really surprised with is the whole couponing sector of affiliate marketing. It doesn't provide any value to the merchant, because people typically look for coupons after they've decided to buy something at a specific store. You may get fewer abandoned carts by offering rebates and coupons, but there's no reason to pay some middleman to serve them.
It's price segmentation. There's lots of people who will not buy some types of stuff unless they can find a deal. Coupons let you profit off those people, sometimes enough to make it worth to pay a middleman to take care of the work involved in distributing them.
That it later turns out that the deal was bad for the company long-term - well, that's the reality of business. Plenty of dishonest and exploitative companies exist and are successful.
It may be that some consultant talks shops into it, I just never understood what the value proposition is. "Look, just pay somebody 5% of your revenue and deal with annoyed customers instead of spending an hour on this once" doesn't sound that attractive.
Sure, a lot of that content is bullshitters bullshitting about bullshit products and in the MLM world some of the bullshit "products" consist solely of instructions on how to make more affiliate links, but affiliate marketing is also how most price/feature comparison sites which are actually useful make their money, and started off as a way of getting people to take writing book reviews more seriously because they could earn a bit from linking interested readers directly to a purchase page on a new website called Amazon.
Like what? Attribution and customer journey?
Affiliate Marketing is nothing compared to that.
There’s plenty of stuff out there beyond FAANG.
Amazon is involved in advertising though so it’s just a matter of time before that cancer consumes the entire company (in addition to being unethical overall like closing their eyes on the counterfeit problem).
That out of the way I have a few issues with this piece.
1. Ranjan did an interesting thing that chum purveyors like us do all the time. He lead the article with a disturbing screenshot of the lowest piece of crap chum he could find. That draws you in to read more because who wouldn't stare at a train wreck right? What he didn't say is that the screenshot he showed isn't an Outbrain widget. In fact almost every recommendation in that widget breaks Outbrain's content guidelines (https://www.outbrain.com/amplify/guidelines/) and would be removed from our network. Tying those ads to Outbrain is not accurate.
2. The block of chum below the first one, with the 5G and such? Yeah totally Outbrain. Ranjan went through all the ads there and found none of them are harmful. Yeah some are vapid entertainment, one is a nonsensical link to a dying search engine, but a few of them gasp are actually useful. Somehow though the fact that people make money off of advertising is bad.
3. None of either example are worse than what you would find in the back pages of Psychology Today or Popular Science back in the day. Those publishers were as responsible for those ads back then as WaPo is for the chum at the bottom of its articles today. If you read our content guidelines you'll see that Outbrain takes that responsibility seriously. We're guests on our publishers' pages and we never forget that.
I think this article could have gone a whole lot deeper into the terrifying world of ad arbitrage, programmatic buying, behavioral tracking, GDPR skirting, etc. and it would have been more meaningful, but the fact that it is complaining that these chum buckets are as bad as display advertising in the magazine era isn't really saying anything new.
In an era of "fake news" accusations, having actual fake news right there on your home page isn't great.