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Adblocking: How about Nah? (eff.org)
918 points by dredmorbius on July 27, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 534 comments

I don't actually want to block ads. If you want to put a small text or image blurb anywhere on the page... Good for you. I'll gladly accept those on a webpage so that the content creator can make a bit of cash.

But these companies are intentionally blurring the lines between advertisement and digital surveillance. You don't need to collect everything about my operating system, browser, monitors, GPU, every click I make on every website I visit, etc.

That's crossing a line of what "advertisement" means. So the more these "advertisers" work to blur those lines the more their "ads" will be blocked under the umbrella of those who don't want this level of pervasive tracking and surveillance.

Agree. I’d go as far as forbidding embedded JS altogether which removes the attack vector for malware within advertising networks. The networks have proved time and time again they are not able to prevent distribution of malware, and this is the primary reason I use an adblocker.

Maybe a new <ad /> tag which points to a resource which can only serve an image, video or text. Absolutely no scripting. Pass along only the advertiser ID and the bare minimum.

The problem is it’s not in Google or Microsoft’s interest to implement this. This has to come from legislation at US gov level. So it’ll never happen.

I’ll continue ad blocking.

> as far as forbidding embedded JS altogether

I do this on my iOS device. It's a bit of a pain to not have JS enabled in safari, but I can always share a page from Safari --> Duckduckgo's browser which i have installed for just such occasions.

Settings > Safari > Advanced > Javascript off

Good idea, but I wish there was a less harsh method. I have been using my iPad a lot recently and the thing that bugs me is that it’s almost impossible to listen to Spotify uninterrupted as you use Safari because of auto-playing videos (not just advertisements).

It’s completely obnoxious and there is no way to stop it. Safari takes control of sound even if the video does not have audio toggled on and pauses your Spotify. Then if you use control center to start it again, it plays iTunes. I can’t believe this hasn’t been fixed.

EDIT: Just tried Brave Browser and this is pretty great so far. Seems to be the best compromise. Thanks!

On iOS I swear by Dnscloak - local-only vpn that routes only DNS requests through pihole-enabled dns server of your choice: https://apps.apple.com/cz/app/dnscloak-secure-dns-client/id1...

I’ve been thinking about doing something like that, but would that stop auto-playing videos on news sites? Or are there specific filters for that?

Either way, do you find that the Adblock detection / nags are less reliable when you do it DNS based instead of the client?

Possibly the best feature of the Brave browser is having that be one tap away, remembered per-site. I really wish Firefox would copy it since I’m not optimistic about Brave’s longevity.

Ublock origin (in advanced mode), umatrix, and noscript each enable this functionality. Umatrix has the best UI of the three once you get used to it in my opinion. Go on YouTube and look for "the hated one" for great tutorials on JS blocking with umatrix and ublock origin.

uMatrix is wonderful. I can’t imagine browsing without it. The parent comments are talking about iOS, though, where there is unfortunately much less choice. Even “Firefox” on iOS isn’t really Firefox and can’t run normal extensions.

> Ublock origin (in advanced mode)

You can wholly block JavaScript in uBlock Origin without having to enable advanced mode, by using the per-site JavaScript master switch.[1]

* * *

[1] https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock/wiki/Per-site-switches#no-...

Yes, but then it's all or nothing. In advanced mode you can have a global configuration to block all third party scripts and frames, and then allow scripts from specific domains (or neutralize the global deny for that domain, so that block lists still work). Particularly useful when you just want to move forward and Google's captcha is blocked, but don't want to allow all the other 50 scripts on the site.

Try the umatrix extension

I should have been more specific that I wanted it on iOS, too. That’s a good option for desktop and worth mentioning.

Doesn't work on ios.

This is true. uMatrix's interface is difficult even where it works on Android. This calls for custom firewall rules and/or Privoxy.


That sounds a lot like noscript's functionality.

I also do this. Safari is my stateless browser, no cookies, no scripts, no location access, etc. And then Firefox or Brave are what I use for anything requiring Javascript. Though brave’s UI is much cleaner than FF.

Another possibility would be to create ad blockers that do that, i.e. block third party javascript but not pure text or images. Then you get the same result, simple ads get through but ad scripts don't, so the people who use ads without scripts are the only ones who make money from them.

It's for this sort of reason that I like Privacy Badger. It tries to block tracking and trackers algorithmically, rather than ads per se.

I think it's too late for that. I, for one, wouldn't enable even static ads anymore even if my blocker offered the option. The trust is completely lost and would take a long time to rebuild.

umatrix does that, but third party is the problem. so many domains put their js on a separate domain. even if they own it.

There also websites that use CDN like CloudFront and sometimes their subdomains are changing quite often.

Blocking third party JavaScript will have the unwanted consequence of blocking CDNs as well, so at least you need some whitelist that allows those scripts.

Which rather defeats the alleged purpose - you know ever CDN is monetizing your data.

Such a ad blocker already exists; it's called NoScript.

Ad blockers block specific things - NoScript blocks all JS. It’s really not an acceptable alternative.

> Maybe a new <ad /> tag which points to a resource which can only serve an image, video or text. Absolutely no scripting. Pass along only the advertiser ID and the bare minimum.

How would fraud detection work in this model? How do advertisers know the requests are coming from real users and not bots? Without assurance there, advertisers would pay much less, and publishers would earn much less.

(Disclosure: I work on ads at Google, speaking only for myself.)

Honestly, I don’t care. It worked in print, it can work in digital. Adverts would bother me less if advertisers hadn’t proven again and again that they can’t be trusted and that they don’t care about my privacy. I also believe that advertisement is a cop out for a real business model and the lowest form of business. Besides, as Banksy said: “You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”

And before you say that the content creators need to get paid, just looks at the situation on Youtube, where Google makes a fortune and the content creators make fuck all, and big companies can take what little ad revenue the creators would have got for copyright claiming over 5 seconds of audio that falls under fair use. Many content creators now rely either on sponsorship or direct support through things like Patreon. Sorry, but Google can go suck it.

(I’ve also started just not consuming content from hostile sites. It’s mostly trash anyway.)

Content creators make plenty of Youtube, but it's spread out among millions of them which is why very few actually make any serious money. Also most content you wouldn't pay for, but will likely watch because it's free.

On the flip side, many creators have tried to go towards the subscription/patronage angle and far fewer are ever successful at that, with many making what amounts to a tiny trickle of supporting income while being burdened with much more responsibility to deliver. It's a hard bargain.

You say, "google makes a fortune and content creators make fuck all", then why do people still upload their content? That makes no sense to me at all.

But besides that, i am all for more competition. Better user interfaces, better conditions, less censorship, i am for all of it.

And to me it earns a lot of respect, that i can upload my 8k video to youtube, they distribute it potentially to millions of people, and i dont have to pay a dime. And that they are still able to make it a platform, where i get a lot of interesting things to see. And it is somehow sustainable.

> then why do people still upload their content? That makes no sense to me at all.

Why do websites exist that don’t have ads? Why do people have personal websites and blogs? Perhaps it is, in fact, physically possible for a website to exist without serving third-party JavaScript ads.

Definitly. And hosting is very cheap. But i would argue, that if you were a band or a big company like disney, and suddenly you have millions of people interested in your stuff, because you have a new release or constant demand, that you then must have some kind of model, that pays for it all. Who can do this with their own pockets?

Ah. I see for example netflix. And now it splits up into many sites again, who offer their own things. The technology is now there, maybe it becomes more and more a commodity, organizing payment is easy, maybe it all gets more diversified again. Does no one remember, how popular internet shops once were? But then amazon became way more convenient.

Ah, iam ranting :>

There's a method of distribution called bittorrent that scales with popularity. If people love it, you don't have to pay to distribute it. If people want you to make more, they've shown themselves willing to send money even after they've consumed your product.

> Perhaps it is, in fact, physically possible for a website to exist without serving third-party JavaScript ads.

This was never in dispute. If a website owner chooses to do so, it is their own choice.

Nobody disputes that. But then there is website and website.

That’s a good question. People do it for free, because they want to contribute to society. That’s why people contribute to open source, or Wikipedia, or write blog articles, participate on StackOverflow or post to HN.

Not everything is about the almighty dollar. Did you get paid for participating in this discussion?

Of course they also want to contribute to society. It is a great thing. And behind all this, someone has to pay for the other stuff. Its not only the content creator. On what hardware is this all running on? Who provides for electricity? Who is writing the software? Who makes sure, that we have internet cables deep below in the ocean. Someone has to pay for it. There are people having jobs. So of course i want that people can contribute. But it is only a part of the calculation, its a give and take. Everyone is in for something.

Let's not pretend that the distribution of things that people enjoy isn't free. People pay for an internet connection, they happily share media with each other. If you have a fanbase, you could make a film and put it on a high speed connection for five minutes once, tell people when it will happen on a message board, and rest assured that everyone who wants to see it will see it and it will exist in perpetuity with no further intervention from you.

Right, but the discussion is about whether that money has to come from (exploitative and invasive) advertising or not. In support of the current advertising model, someone had claimed that YouTube must be compensating content creators well, it is a good thing and so forth, because people still upload videos -- meanwhile, most people upload videos for free. The people doing it for money are uploading things like "CGI Joker Mates With Choo-choo Train Sing-a-long ABC's" and "$30,000 Rolex Watch -- Can We Blend It?"

Exaggerating only slightly for argument, YouTube is presently a great force for evil, actively chipping away at collective privacy and promoting the creation and dissemination of Worthless Garbage so that they can sneak in ten second promotions for Even-More-Worthless Garbage like Grammarly, whatever horror movie's coming out soon, etc.

Because for historic reasons, Youtube has a monopoly position on viewers and the content creators need those viewers, despite that they have to resort to other means, like Patreon, merchandise or product placements/sponsorship to make any money themselves.

This won't be the case forever, I hear more and more people (creators and viewers alike) complaining about Youtube, its monetisation and it recommendation algorithms.

You can make the same argument about podcasts, television, radio, magazines, billboards, etc. At some point you rely on statistics that someone is giving you in all of those mediums but they still made money.

I've personally made much more money producing content (YouTube and podcasts) by directly working with brands than I ever have from Adsense anyway so I'm not convinced that the advertisers "paying more" is helping content creators much to begin with. Patreon seems to be a symptom of that.

Edit: Also, on the subject of advertisers paying less. Isn't part of the problem the fact that adtech giants like Google are saying "look, we have this awesome tracking and targeting tech so you can pay less for ads to reach your target audience". Thus reducing the potential ad money that those people would pay into potential revenue for content creators to reach their audience?

   Patron seems to be a symptom of that
Wouldn't Patreon be more an indicator of said symptopms?

I hate English sometimes, and its my native language.

I don't really care if ads stop being profitable. If ads stopped being a good source of revenue, the tech industry would adapt, and my guess is that the end result would be much more favorable to society. I'm working on an early-stage startup right now, and I'm certainly not going to use ads as part of my revenue model.

Google might not be too happy about an outcome like that, but I'm not overly concerned about Google's wellbeing. :)

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this since you work on ads: are ads actually essential in the software industry, or could we do just fine without them?

In recent years we, conscious consumers, shot down several viable business models that could have replaced ads such as data collection for trend analysis and crypto mining in the browser. They were met with outright hostility.

Perhaps justifiably so, but we have to keep in mind that any producable "value" will have to "hurt" in some way. We have to give something in exchange for "free" services. Yet the focus is only on the price paid instead of the fairness of the transaction (or lack thereof).

Either we give up the "free" model alltogether and shift back to paid services only, or we choose the lesser evil and live with it.

> data collection for trend analysis

Of course that's going to be met with the same hostility. It's 99.9% the same thing.

> crypto mining in the browser

Of course that's going to be met with similar hostility. Climate change is even more present in the public consciousness.

> Either we give up the "free" model alltogether and shift back to paid services only, or we choose the lesser evil and live with it.

This is true in a specific way, and it is sometimes useful to use this frame. But in this case, I think the frame obscures more than it focuses.

"We" aren't getting together and voting or bidding or whatever. I think the closest thing to a choke point for decision making about some of this is in Google's hands, with Chrome. At least until the browser monopoly wheel spins again.

> We have to give something in exchange for "free" services

Eh? No. The requirement is that services need resources to exist. If you immediately extrapolate to pseudo-moralistic finger-wagging at "consumers", you're ignoring a lot of ways various organizations have found to exist. It is either self-blinding or a heavy thumb on the scale.

How about I keep leveraging the fact that I'm smarter than the average user so I can give nothing and and the losers who get their data mined or their power used to mine coins can pay you.

This mutual hostility has worked for the entire life of the internet and probably has another decade of life if not more.

Game theory. In a world with network effect and a choice to make money from ads or subscription, the companies that choose defect (bad ads) win. We have to change the environment to get a different outcome.

I still remember the web when I got my first modem. What the ads changed is the amount of various clickbaits, useless sites, sites "for fun", garbage of the internet. All this would be gone without ad revenue, there wouldnt be any sustainable bussiness model for them.

Regarding usability of ads, in 20 years I never bought anything shown. When I need something I search for relevant product solving my need and I buy it. And trying very hard to avoid fake reviews. If your product type showed on ads is what I need, I will still do my best to check the market and find best product type for me with lowest price I can get. Which is typically not what is shown on ad. At the end they dont change anything for me.

Now the question is - would internet without ads really be that bad?

My personal expierience with one of the news sites (cant remember which it was) after GDPR was somehow refreshing. If you didnt agree, they disabled all javascript and throw you into same website but with only text and images relevant to the article. I loved it.

> My personal expierience with one of the news sites (cant remember which it was) after GDPR was somehow refreshing. If you didnt agree, they disabled all javascript and throw you into same website but with only text and images relevant to the article. I loved it.

That was probably NPR.

Text version: https://text.npr.org/

Thank you very much for this. :) Yes, it was npr, and it is perfect example of quality content not needing megabytes of js content while still beeing usable. As a content. Not eye candy.

(Disclosure: I read book each week and I am thrilled by anything new I learn. I dislike pictures of cute animals and I do all communication with friends over the phone or going out.)

> I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this since you work on ads: are ads actually essential in the software industry, or could we do just fine without them?

The industry would definitely adapt, but I don't think it would be more favorable to society. Here's what I would expect to happen if we stopped letting third party ad networks detect ad fraud:

* Facebook, Youtube, Reddit, etc and other huge sites are already big enough to run their own ad serving, and keep doing that. They are still in a position to detect fraud as a first party, and they're big enough that advertisers trust them.

* Current ad networks build first-party integrations, where to the browser everything comes from the publisher's site. This could be designed as a newspaper licensing an ad serving system. This would provide high levels of trust, but not as high as the current system because you lose the protection of cross-origin iframes.

* Ad networks don't find it worth it to integrate with long-tail sites, the sites make less money, we have fewer of them.

If we went far enough to functionally remove ads from the internet, either by banning them or by ads losing the adblocker-blocker-blocker-blocker arms race, then I'd expect a different pattern:

* Everyone moves to subscriptions of various kinds, probably with slightly porous paywalls.

* Right now ads are effectively a progressive tax: the publisher makes more money from you in proportion to how valuable it is to advertise to you, which is roughly in proportion to how much money you have. To raise the same amount of money from subscriptions you need to charge more than what people can afford to pay at the low end, so some people get cut off.

* There's a massive drive to consolidation: people don't want to have a lot of subscriptions to manage, so we get things where one subscription covers many people. The economics of how small sites get included in this are complicated, and I suspect this also hoses the long tail.

* Free sites are popular, making money through some combination of product placement, charitable funding, and funding to push worldviews. The latter worries me a lot.

> funding to push worldviews. The latter worries me a lot.

This is already happening in the advertisement world of today, where certain topics—some political but some not—are not "friendly to advertising", and so get demonetized on various platforms. How is that different from the scenario you worry so much about?

> certain topics—some political but some not—are not "friendly to advertising", and so get demonetized on various platforms

I think they're pretty different. If you look at the AdSense prohibited content policy [1] or the ones for other general-interest networks they don't allow their ads on sites about porn, drugs, gambling, etc. If you run a standard newspaper, for example, covering the full breadth of what a newspaper typically covers, you should be able to put ads on ~every story.

In a world without ads, the newspaper would probably be a subscription site, and would be competing with non-subscription sites that are funded by people who want to push a perspective. The current dynamic effectively prioritizes perspectives in terms of how much people want to read them (because that's where the advertising money is) while in this new dynamic there would be more prioritization based on how much money the people with that perspective have (because that's where the funding is). I think that's probably worse for the world?

[1] https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/1348688

> There's a massive drive to consolidation: people don't want to have a lot of subscriptions to manage.

Imo subscriptions aren't viable at all. For me to subscribe to something I need strong evidence that I will use it enough.

Automatic micropayments with a daily allowance seem like a much superior solution. They remove the friction of making the subscribe decision and keep the content creators in check by only paying for interesting content. Subscriptions can be easily forgotten or aren't annoying enough to bother to cancel them even if the provided content isn't worth it anymore.

There is a company called Blendle that offers a curated source of news/op-ed/etc to read, where you pay some fraction of a dollar per read, usually in the 10-25¢ range. If you feel the article wasn't worth it, you can click a link to get an immediate refund, no questions asked.

I like the idea, and I do use their service. They have plenty of room to improve- the articles they pick tend to almost always have a certain political slant, and I find more puff than meat more often than I think a curated service should offer.

But. It's a real attempt at a new model, and they're trying. I do get enough value out of it to keep using them to the few-dollars-a-month level, and I hope they improve their system over time.

Blendle has stopped pay-per-article, moving to subscriptions entirely.

Are you sure about that? I literally received their daily digest which has the price-per-article, as expected, just a few hours ago. Maybe they are now offering both?

Yes, they're stopping micropayments on August 1st: https://www.niemanlab.org/2019/06/micropayments-for-news-pio...

Bummer. Guess that's the end of Blendle use for me. Thanks for letting me know.

The biggest problem I’ve had with Blendle is that I want to read an NYT article due to a recommendation, not because I go to their app. I just would forget to go there. There was no “open with blendle” option to move into my flow.

> Subscriptions can be easily forgotten or aren't annoying enough to bother to cancel them even if the provided content isn't worth it anymore.

Which is precisely why companies prefer the subscription model. See gyms, cable TV, and insurance companies.

> Automatic micropayments with a daily allowance seem like a much superior solution.

How do you ensure some content quality that goes beyond a headline and a catchy teaser paragraph?

Kindle Unlimited had this problem when they started distributing payouts based on pages read, which led to a proliferation of books with catchy first page, instructions to skip to the last page and a bunch of junk in between.

> How do you ensure some content quality that goes beyond a headline and a catchy teaser paragraph?

How about a simple button that makes a view/visit not count?

> instructions to skip to the last page

That happened because it didn't count pages read or time spent.

Kindle Unlimited has other problems that make issues for content quality, king among them being the KDP Select requirement.

I’ve managed to find value from Kindle Unlimited, but pretty much nobody but self published authors (which I have no problem with, but there’s effectively zero bar to entry meaning quality is over the place) is available on the service because of the KDP Select issue. It doesn’t seem to be evenly enforced either, since the Harry Potter books are available via Kindle Unlimited yet are available for sale on other eBook stores, for example.

> I'm working on an early-stage startup right now, and I'm certainly not going to use ads as part of my revenue model.

That is great, but who are the people paying you? Are they end users, or are you selling a service to other web companies that DO rely on ad dollars to make money?

I think that the democratizing effect of services that make money through advertising is vastly underestimated. There are a lot of people on the internet who can't afford to pay for Microsoft Office, or a set of encyclopedias, or courses like those which can be found on YouTube or blogs.

It's all well and good to say that you hate ads because you can afford to pay to remove them. Many can't, and we should think very carefully before we remove services they need.

The best content I’ve found in recent years has been either on sites that don’t contain advertisement (because they’re someone’s personal hobby blog, for example, or HN) or from videos where the person was supported directly by fans through Patreon.

Anecdotally, the advertisement-supported content is mostly garbage.

HN does have ads. They're job ads for YC companies, and they're the entries you see without an option to vote on. Ones like "Come eat – I mean build with the ZeroCater (YC W11) engineering team".

That's an example what ads should be. They are relevant, appropriate, they don't try to fool you or spy on you.

I believe your comment and Godel_unicode's are both correct, and I am pro-choice. Some people may prefer adverts over payment. I don't agree, but that is their choice. I can't stand to hear from NPR's underwriters any more, and will start singing songs loudly (I'm a bad singer to boot) when they come on. In other words, I am personally ad-adverse. My 80-something parents, however, don't even mute the channel, let alone change it, when watching TV and the advertising starts (it drives me nuts). Some people don't mind, and I think they have a right not to be denied content via advertising if that is an "offer on the table."

If one looks at the history of the HBO cable channel vs. broadcast channels (i.e. ABC, NBC, and CBS), and also Netflix, I think one can see there are similar dynamics at play.

The chaos of freedom is a beautiful thing, but using the government to enforce your version of utopia is scary.

Being pro-choice about advertising is like being pro-choice about influenza. Advertising is an infectious disease, it does not respect the choices of those who'd prefer to pay up front, and people underestimate its danger to young, old and weakened individuals.

You should check out Neil Degrasse Tyson on YouTube. Or virtually any podcast.

I listen to maybe a dozen podcasts. None have ads; most of them I support on Patreon.

It's unclear to me what that has to do with my point; the existence of high quality patreon-backed podcasts doesn't mean anything about the supply of quality advertising-supported podcasts. You should look into it, there are a lot of them.

I listen to ad-supported material, I just have muscle memory, and a visceral reaction to advertising where I will just advance VLC's playback by 1min via shortcut-key (assuming one uses a standard RSS reader and DLs the mp3 file locally).

I'm not sure I understand the point of saying you listen to non-ad-supported podcast, and not mentioning how they are supported or if it's pure hobbyist stuff you listen to.

Advertising comes in many forms (i.e. native content), and unless you link your .opml file, I can't ascertain the value of your statement. I do not recommend doing so, but young tech people think it's OK to put your real name on the internet (which is contrary to the ideas I was taught in the 90s; the use of pseudonyms has proven sound given our current circumstances).

Many podcasts are 100% advertorial content. The ad is the podcast.

But they can afford LibreOffice, Wikipedia, and Vimeo.

The current allocation of human productivity enablement is not the only one possible (and an "is" is not an "ought to be" as per Hume).

You need a computer to run LibreOffice. So no, in many cases, they can't afford it.

Vimeo requires the person creating the content to pay, yes? So if I want to do a series of videos on Kibana, or Active Directory, or astrophysics, I need to pay Vimeo in addition to the effort of creating my content.

Basically no one outside a philosophy lecture has ever suggested that the current state of anything is the only possible one, that's a meaningless strawman. Please avoid the condescending suggestion that others can't imagine things being different, it's as patronizing as it is pointless.

True, but in many cases you can still offer a service for free without ads. E.g. offer a free version with limited functionality, and then offer a paid version with features that are needed mainly by people who use your product for work. Even if ads weren't an option, it's still advantageous to get lots of people using your product, and I think companies will continue to find ways to do so.

It seems to me that the problem is entirely of the web advertiser’s making, though. When the web was new and novel, tracking was used to prove or validate specific ad spend. You can still do that sort of comparative analysis but now detection might have to live on and be limited to what can be detected from the advertiser’s own site. And if by the nature of the product or sale, it proves impossible to tell if I’m a human, well, that will be a shared cost or concern that all advertisers would have. If sites were forced to or mandated this new form of anti-tracking ad, advertisers would eventually go along with it because the alternative is not advertising on the large percentage of sites which have adopted it. This would probably make non-web ads and validated human email addresses more valuable unless they too are subject to the same anti-tracking provisions. An email service (or search service) by it’s nature offers more opportunities to tell if you’re human though, and such services would be inherently more profitable to advertise on... (see Facebook profits)

I don’t really see problems here outside of encouraging an entire industry to move on from tracking and/or DRM the way an entire nascent industry moved on from the popup and pop-under ad, or invasive screen takeover and annoying animated ads.

Your industry doesn't itself create value it maximizes the value of other industries by connecting customers and creators. The ultimate equilibrium might see your industry having to do more with less.

Ultimately the world did everything it does now without internet marketing and ultimately could do so again.

A sizable share of a smaller pie is better than all of nothing. Essentially your concern is both correct and irrelevant.

Nobody cares if Google has to make less money to have a less crappy internet the same way nobody cares if the newspaper industry makes less money.

How would fraud detection work in this model?

Honest but blunt answer: We (my businesses acting as advertisers) don't rely on your (Google's, or any other ad network's) claims anyway. The only thing that matters is the metrics we measure on our own sites, and we're going to be able to separate those by ad campaign anyway. We don't care about getting more Facebook likes or how many Instagram views some image gets or how many impressions Google claims to have shown on third party sites. We only care whether a given campaign gave a good return on investment in terms of direct benefits and/or actionable leads.

I used to work at an advertising company that worked this way, doing lead gen. In some verticals there's nothing better, and as long as your own metrics are good you can figure out how much a traffic source is worth. If a traffic source goes bad and starts being 50% spam, no problem, your automatic system lowers its bids by 50% and you're fine.

The thing is, only a very small fraction of the ads ecosystem works this way. Coke wants to show ads to people to position their brand, not to get people to buy soda over the internet, which means they're not able to measure the efficacy of channels on a per-publisher basis and figure out if they're being cheated. Brand advertisers typically use third-party fraud detection services like Moat to inspect the environment their ads are running in and see if they look legitimate.

Then there's a large range of people doing things where you could measure the effect of channels, but the site just isn't that sophisticated. Some pizza place somewhere buys some ads, they don't have the tech staff to measure conversions and optimize their channels, instead they trust the ad network to make sure they're not being cheated.

Even sophisticated performance advertisers rely on ad network fraud detection, just indirectly. Yes, you run your ad campaign, and you bid what the traffic is worth to you based on your measurements. But the existence of that traffic stream comes from fraud detection. Imagine some publishers on an ad network start spamming it, and the ad network isn't able to detect the fraud. The money from advertisers now isn't going to publishers in proportion to the value of their traffic, but instead in proportion to how much they're cheating. The publishers that were the source of your good traffic go out of business, and the ad network collapses because it doesn't have valuable traffic to send to anyone.

I recognize that other advertisers may have different goals, such as for large, brand-centric advertising campaigns. I'm not an expert on those so can't offer an informed opinion on any specifics. From a casual observer's point of view, I don't see how they're any worse off than the classic "everyone is wasting half of their ad budget, they just don't know which half" of the print/broadcast era. As you say, at least with online ad networks there can be some indication of where the ads are being shown, allowing a level of independent scrutiny by the advertiser if they wish.

Try looking at it from the publisher's perspective. If their ad network can't detect fraud then of all the money the network brings in an increasing proportion will go to fraudulent publishers. Honest publishers will make less and less money and eventually give up on the ad network.

This does seem to assume that ad networks are the main or only way to support sites that rely on ads for their funding. I'm not sure why we should make that assumption, though.

We're talking about a built-in feature to safely and transparently include ad content from a third party in your own site. It seems possible that advertisers could set up standardised content to work with that feature. Then the kinds of hosts who make enough from advertising to be worth keeping it anyway could either delegate to an advertiser's own server or self-host. Payment could be either a direct transfer or use some new, simpler and more transparent service just to handle that aspect.

Do you feel like advertisers know that now? I feel like I hear about clickspam/ad fraud operations getting closed down (and nigh-instantly popping up elsewhere) on a constant basis.

Is this like intrusive DRM in PC games, where all the studies show that it increases producer costs and complexity, annoys consumers, and doesn’t actually improve sales revenue, but some companies do it anyway because “what about piracy?”

Are their studies that show that?

I have heard the opposite. Every day you can stop a game from being pirated is quite a lot of sales earned back.

Dunovo has been quite effective at this in the past.

If you can stop your game from being pirated for a week a lot of people who want the game right now will switch to buying instead.

After it’s been cracked a lot of publishers will then patch out the DRM since it doesn’t matter anymore.

> After it’s been cracked a lot of publishers will then patch out the DRM since it doesn’t matter anymore.

This does not happen nearly as much as you think.

I think one big difference with DRM for PC games, is that piracy of PC games is normally not a money making activity for the pirates. It might prevent companies from selling a game to certain people, but there is no clear cut evidence that person would have otherwise bought it.

For advertising however, you can first of all incur a cost to an advertiser (since costs are calculated per click, view, etc), but furthermore, pirates can even profit from it by having a website and generating fake clicks for that website. If you would not try to prevent this ad fraud you would have bad actors siphoning off complete company advertising budgets to their accounts.

You don’t have to use a model which allows this. Pay-per-placement, for example. You pay a fixed amount to put your ad in a specific article (or on the entire site or in whatever rotation people like) and then there’s no way to rip off advertisers with click farms.

You still need to measure your audience to get advertisers to pay the price, but this is decoupled from the individual ad buys so it can be done differently.

Ha, please have a little trip to any of the open air electronic markets of Eastern Europe(even of those countries that are within the EU) and every other stall has DVDs of almost any PC game/software you can think of. Signs like "newest game releases here!", "Windows 10 all versions no key one dvd!", "Blu-ray movies - 10 per disc!" Are still common. They are not even trying to hide this even though the police are meant to be on a look out for that stuff, but I can guarantee that I could come back with a backpack absolutely full of pirated PC games from one of these markets - that is making people money, no one is doing this out of charity even if prices are low.

> that is making people money

the people buying the pirated software would not have otherwise spent the money on the official/real version. This is the stickler - counting "loss" from this kind of sale is at best immaterial and at worst fraudulent.

> advertisers would pay much less, and publishers would earn much less

I think people like me who argue that web advertising should return to dumb/static/contextual ads also accept that it might kill a huge fraction of web revenue/jobs/content.

The downside is that advertisers move to the walled gardens of a few big players, and to native advertising. I’m still more ok with that than with the way the ad industry works now.

Consumer: im blocking all ads for reason x

Advertiser: dont block my ads because the business depends on it

Consumer: here's a solution that works for me

Advertiser: but then that solution doesn't work for me

Consumer: i don't care, im still blocking all ads until I feel like i don't have to

Consumer: I block ads for reason X.

Publisher: Don't block ads or I will go out of business.

Consumer: Then please allow me to contribute in some other way (subscription, Patreon, microtransactions).

Publisher: Hm, I dunno, that sounds like work.

I'm seeing more and more articles about online ads popping up. I also use an ad blocker (unlock origin on mobile, umatrix on desktop) for all my browsing just to make it bearable.

But I also see a lot of people saying they'd like to contribute to the sites they visit frequently. I built a proof of concept website to let everyone do just that:


There are several similar concepts (Mozilla with Scroll, quid, even patreon et al), but I think mine reduces friction because signing up is as easy as on HN. Oh, and there's absolutely no tracking or selling of information to third parties.

Any feedback is welcome.

How does fraud detection work on newspaper sales figures, or television viewer numbers?

The internet has seemingly decided that without tracking ads don't work. No. Serve your static ad or I will continue to see nothing. :)

There are rating agencies that verify both print and TV numbers with as much accuracy as possible, and Connected TV (streaming, smart tvs, netflix, etc) now have comparable metrics to website ads.

Those older mediums were also just inefficient and create a lot of wasted spend, whereas the internet has allowed far more businesses to start and thrive by lowering their customer acquisition costs. These companies would never survive if they had to still rely on older ad models.

There's not really any meaningful empirical proof of ad impressions now, just a very shady chain of trust between a handfull of companies who all have a vested interest in not scrutinizing these things too closely.

Once you're at the point where you are buying traffic to meet goals, you're not going to scrutinize the origin of that traffic beyone anything that would appear to be flagrant fraud to your customers.

These are all interesting questions for advertisers but it's not obvious the burden of addressing advertisers' problems should be dumped on users with next to no informed consent, as is the case now.

So there’s the choice. Get more money and get blocked, or get less money and do not get blocked.

> How do advertisers know the requests are coming from real users and not bots?

Leaving aside that this isn't the problem of end users:

Link to a site, use an ID for that campaign (analogous to an affiliate ID), and don't pay unless a purchase takes place. Bots can't fake that.

Except many ads are not directly linkable to purchases. Coca Cola won't track you to a local grocery store and an ad for a musical won't track you when you buy the ticket a week later.

It depends. Your credit card company knows what you bought and when, while the ad network knows the phone number linked to the PC where the ad was shown. Join the two tables and we can track you to the grocery store.

Even if this were done (I don’t think that either of the involved companies would or could share this detail of data) you still have a problem. What about ads that don’t work?

I have put an ad on your site, it took up space for some time. The ad was bad and nobody bought anything even though a hundred thousand people saw it. The publisher is still owed money because they did their part.

Do they though? They do know where and how much, but the cashiers commonly put in an amount manually into the credit card device.

You would only do business with companies you trust to not cheat. Or just charge flat rates.

>You would only do business with companies you trust to not cheat.

That massively increases the barrier to entry. Right now you can make a new site, sign up with an ad network, and start showing ads. No one involved needs to trust you (much) since the ad network is in a good position to detect cheating. Remove that, and big trusted publishers (NYT, FB, Google) are still fine, but smaller ones wouldn't be able to demonstrate to the ad network or advertiser that they should be trusted.

> Or just charge flat rates.

Adverse selection will kill you.

> Right now you can make a new site, sign up with an ad network, and start showing ads.

With the tiny payout you get from Adsense, unless your site is really popular to begin with, you're not going to make much of anything. Pennies maybe (which you won't receive until hitting a threshold anyway). So I don't see how it helps with entry.

By the time your service is popular enough to make real money you could approach smaller brands and advertisers to get better deals than Adsense.

Adsense exists to make ads cheaper for the advertisers and there's no way around the fact that that means content producers will be making less money as a whole. You can't have it both ways. It's lowering the amount that advertisers are willing to pay content creators by giving them the perception that their money stretches further, aided by online tracking and targeting. Meanwhile Google caches in on their cut of the deal and all of the piles of data they collect with their monopoly while content producers get shafted.

AdSense and other networks primarily exist to automate matchmaking. Publishers and advertisers can already find each other, but this requires a lot of work. By automating this work, it can make more money for publishers (in aggregate) and make things cheaper for advertisers at the same time.

My understanding of your argument is that no publisher should be using Adsense etc today, and they should all be negotiating direct deals instead, is that right? What would you say to publishers (and I've talked to many) who are happy to have the "collect bids from people who want to advertise on my site" portion automated for them so they can focus on running their sites?

(Still speaking only for myself)

I'm not saying that there aren't content producers who want that or would benefit from it. I'm saying that they probably won't make as much money that way. And if the only way to do it is to use pervasive tracking and digital surveillance (which users are increasingly blocking and lawmakers are becoming skeptical about) then it's a business model on unstable ground to begin with.

My experience, especially with media content producers, is that those ad platforms are never sufficient and it's always advisable to rely on partnerships or Patreon. Because, yeah, it's more work to create those relationships, but the alternative is relying on a low-revenue platform where a small update from the whims of Google might destroy you without warning.

Yes. Arguing that online advertising should be like traditional advertising (killing the adtech industry of today) means accepting that a ton of money will flow from small players to the bigger players, and into more insidious forms of ads (video overlays, native ads posing as news). But it’s a tradeoff I’m more than happy to accept.

> Right now you can make a new site, sign up with an ad network

and spend the next two weeks delivering explanation after explanation to the ad networks and Google that you are indeed a real person/company and indeed created a site with unique content and indeed plan to generate leads, etc, etc.

After two weeks of back and forth you are approved by Google only to be indefinitely temporarily blocked for "additional traffic verification" in a couple of days despite purchasing only the best traffic for start of the site.

> smaller ones wouldn't be able to demonstrate to the ad network or advertiser that they should be trusted

It is already very, very complicated and is rapidly getting close to impossible.

>How do advertisers know the requests are coming from real users and not bots?

Maybe the dominant adops model was a mistake? To throw back to an older, simpler time: what would thinking outside the box look like for this?

You don't ? And you get paid less by click but you also have more clicks ? (also cf NYT)

This way you also avoid the arms race between ad networks, ad blockers and clickbot farms.

It wouldn't, so targeted ads should be de-emphasized in a human-centric model.

Good point. I guess it’d kill PPC. I’m not sure how advertisers detect fraud but maybe you can check the limited info sent along with the request and do whatever heuristics you do as usual.

How do they know if it's a bot?

> How would fraud detection work in this model?

Your business model is not our problem.

That would imply ethical (actual) use of this tag. I cannot thing that any advertiser would ad this, just as they ignore the "Do not track". I fear that we will never we able to rely on the ad-makers honesty, as the hunt for the bottom-line never ends. It looks like this will be a war we will continue fighting with AdB+, NoScript, uBlock(s), hosts, and other tools.

It has been a cat and mouse game. The tech changes, but the game goes on.

Sure but then it becomes much more morally/ethically easy to justify running ad blockers (while allowing <ad/> through).

Hell at that stage Mozilla could probably justify rolling ad blocking lists in as a default as long as they allow the labeled ads through.

As you say the game will go on but maybe it the will be a more pleasant one to play.

>forbidding embedded JS altogether which removes the attack vector for malware

The more worrying ones I've seen don't rely on JS but are just links to bad sites. Downloading software can be a bit ridiculous these days with alongside the main download button about five ads saying "Download Now" linking to god knows what iffy software.

good idea! your ad tag is exactly the type of compromise we’ve been asking for since the web (and online ads) became a thing: first-party-served ads with only basic first-party analytics and clear delineation of the ads. unfortunately competition happens around targeting, segmentation, and conversion, which pushes us way past that.

One issue I’ve run into with blocking JS at the browser level is that it also ends up blocking extensions that use JS from working. I would block JS on websites much more if my extensions that use JS could still run.

I don’t suppose there’s a config setting in Chrome that discriminates between the website’s JS and the JS from my extensions?

You can use NoScript to control which domains you want content loaded from and what type.

It's often necessary to allow same-host scripts for extensions or bookmarklets to work. Those some-host scrips are often a considerable part of the problem.

I do want to block ads. I hate advertising in all its forms. I despise the psychological games that advertisers play with our minds.

If I could wear a pair of contact lenses that blocked out billboards and other kinds of non-digital advertising, I would do so in a heartbeat.

Agreed. I would go so far as to vote for a representative who wanted to pass a law restricting what is legal advertisement.

I believe undisclosed ads should be illegal, I would ban music in ads, I would ban color in ads, I would ban sexuality in advertisement, I would ban appeals to emotions in ads.

If a product truly makes the life of the purchaser better, then no gimmicks are needed to sell it.

I would also ban all "puffery" in advertising, a.k.a. lies that are ok because they're unverifiable.

And yet we try to appeal to others ratio or emotion with arguments in discussions like these. So that that they buy in to our ideas. We persuade, it is good to be charismastic and seducing too. And if someone famous writes or speaks, someone we adore, we listen more careful. In the end it matters, that we can find enough people to vote for that one guy, to give him or her the power, that bans or controls behaviour, that we just used ourselves. Meh. Its all blurry lines.

There are certain pieces of classical music I cannot hear without immediately thinking of the product it was used to advertise.

It's maddening that advertisers can be allowed to destroy culture like that.

I found it astonishing that the song "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" (which is seemingly about corruption of art) was later licensed for commercials for oatmeal and a hotel chain... complete with modified lyrics!


I have no issue with static, contextual ads (I had this conversation on here the other day in fact).

Imagine reading something about, say, a particular lawnmower and the article has a link to that lawnmower at the top as an ad from Flymo with a discount. No tracking just a link to buy it with a tracking Id in the URL or something.

Can someone answer me this: Are there studies, not funded by those who benefit from mass-tracking, that show the benefit of all this data-gathering to show ads? Or that show it doesn't work perhaps?

My gut tells me the difference in success rate is minimal and couldn't possibly justify the data collection but I'd love to be proven wrong.

At this time, I believe the whole scheme to be a con. (there, I said it!)

The online ad industry is super shady and is getting much worse since google and facebook have started eating their lunch. But it would be very hard to pull data collection out of this business model. If company a puts the lawnmower ad up and only reports clicks and company b reports the percentage of men aged 35-40 company b will eventually put company a out of business. Content providers have to run what ads will actually make them money so they’re going to go with networks where companies actually buy ads. The only way this cycle is going to get stopped is with serious pushback either from consumers, technology or laws.

I agree with your sentiment, but there is far too much money in ad tracking for it to be ineffective. Internet advertising is a very metrics-driven enterprise

> I'll gladly accept those on a webpage so that the content creator can make a bit of cash.

Why do you feel like your attention should be for sale? There should be no advertising on the web. Content should be free or cost money, and the cost should be transparent. Advertisements are just socially accepted psychological manipulation. We can do better.

That's a completely different discussion though. Personally I'm not offended by seeing a brand placement if it helps the content creator and is transparent (meaning I know it's an ad, and it's not collecting data about me).

Bringing it to a physical example, if I walk into a store and see a product placement or physical sign advertisement, I'm not that offended by it. But if they started fingerprinting me and taking my picture under the premise of selling me more stuff... I'm offended by that.

I don't use any of the methods they mention there (although I know that they can use my credit card info to track me as well).

But, yeah, I'm still offended by that. It doesn't justify the widespread behavior on the internet to me, they're both bad.

You may not use the CCTV in stores but I can assure you it is using you.

Source: I set up this tracking for a retailer.

Contextual ads is fine. An ad for a gadget when I searched for the gadget is fine. An ad for the same gadget next to an article about similar gadgets is fine. An ad for the gadget on Facebook because I searched for that earlier is not acceptable.

Anything that remembers anything about me or my behavior is distinctly off limits. I don’t care if your site or business depends on it. If you use a an ad network that uses tracking cookies to show ads, you’d business model is flawed and your business should die.

By "we" do you mean only people who agree with you? Or do you accept that in a democratic society there can be ads? Personally, I don't block ads on principle. I simply don't visit websites that feature blaring over the top ads or otherwise feature annoyances. When you block ads you are explicitly signalling that you are receiving something of value by visiting the website. I prefer to not send that signal.

>When you block ads you are explicitly signalling that you are receiving something of value by visiting the website.

This is not the case. I have visited thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of websites in which the content was not valuable to me, and I blocked those ads, too.

When I block ads, I send the signal that my attention is not for sale, and moreover, the content creators' business model is not my concern. Eventually, if they get the enough of these signals, they'll find a new way to make money.

You think you're doing that, but in reality the site thinks they're hot shit, and people just are annoyed with the ads.

Except you're also blocking their analytics scripts, so you don't send any signal at all.

You don't need scripts to know who visited your website. Scripts can potentially tell you how many are blocking your ads though. But its always a cat and mouse game. I prefer to simply avoid sites that show shitty ads.

They should learn to do the job correctly and look at the server logs too.

I'm not saying you're wrong.

Remember Gmail ads from like 2006? They were very minimal and on point. I was so optimistic thag the future of advertising was that.

This describes AdSense in general - the original point was some text ads.

But as the article points out, we acclimate to stimulus, so any ad that's welcomed and successful will lose engagement over time. Which is why we get either very creative compelling advertising or advertising that attempts to trick us.

The entire thing is fundamentally broken, of course, and nobody seems to have a monetization strategy beyond subscriptions or the perpetual cat and mouse game of blockers, blocker-blockers, blocker-blocker-blockers and so on.

In an industry full of innovation the monetization aspect is stuck in the newspaper model created 150 years ago.

You put your finger on the pulse of it. Ads give little net positive to society in general, because their sole value add is to inform. But with information acquisition cost drastically reduced due to good search engines, the value add becomes nil. So advertisers create company value by other modes. This is not a net good.

But as the article points out, we acclimate to stimulus, so any ad that's welcomed and successful will lose engagement over time. Which is why we get either very creative compelling advertising or advertising that attempts to trick us.


Relevant (and somewhat humorously self-aware) take on the matter from youtube channel Wisecrack-which is a channel that likes to look at the deeply classically philosophical aspects of how we react and inform ourselves through the lens of modern media.

Unfortunately they didn’t need to use JavaScript to track you because they already had access to a wealth of information about you from your email…

The one place I thought ads were relevant was on google search. After all, I was searching for the product they are advertising.

But the line started to blur when they decided to remove that yellow background that tells me the result is an ad. Now, it's a 11px font that spells ad. That's the only indicator.

For myself, I created a single use extension that turns google ads background to yellow[1]. I'm fine with ads on Google search, as long as I know they are ads.

[1]: https://github.com/ibudiallo/gadlight

Well that, and the fact that it actually says “Advertisement.”

No, as the parent mentioned, it says "Ad". As this is so short, I also find it easy to miss this

It's clear Google removed the previously obvious demarcation between ads and results specifically to make it less obvious.

I'd prefer a different background colour (like the parent's extension), but it would also help a bit if it said "Advertisement" instead of "Ad".

I actually want to block ads. If you want to put a small text or image blurb anywhere on the page... I don't want to see it. I'd rather people stop whoring me out and start standing up for what they believe in.

And now I have the tools to do so.

Not to mention the extra resources being eaten by all this JS. When I leave a typical website with lots of ads and tracking open, I can see the energy usage averaging much higher in Activity Monitor on my Mac, even in Safari and with some basic ad blocking on.

I imagine folks serving up the JS have figured out ways around whatever simple blocking tech I have. If their JS wouldn’t eat up so much battery, I’d mind a lot less, since I leave tons of tabs open.

Yeah not to mention malware is often fed through ad services. I want context based ads. Context being the web page I am on not my life story.

All it takes is one of these tech giants pulling a Equifax and who knows how much data spills over.

Domain-specific auctions was nice when it was done by Project Wonderful, but there is too much convenience in being able to push advertisements for the entire internet.

Designing secure APIs that can’t be misused by a Cambridge Analytica or similar is a hard problem. Google Plus was “breached”.

To be fair I'm not even sure which companies I trust to do ads with. I guess I'll avoid ads on any of my websites. I do agree though, security of that scale is not an easy problem to solve.

Project Wonderful is the only ad network I have ever fully whitelisted. I've whitelisted specific networks on specific sites before, but Project Wonderful was not only acceptable to me, I actually occasionally found it useful on the webcomics I saw ads on, as it generally showed off the art style. I (almost) never saw ads for unrelated products, there were no videos, few ads were even animated. To me, Project Wonderful fulfilled the promise of 'relevant advertising' far more than the tracking ads currently do. General location- and demographic-targeted advertising can certainly be annoying, but is not offensive in the manner of tracking my browser history.

I just hope ALPR/facial recognition/etc doesn't get combined with digital billboards to bring internet ads into physical locations.

Agreed. I occasionally buy newspapers for ads.

I decided a few years ago to disable ad blocking for awhile. The result was frankly, a parade of shit. Google was probably best at showing the occasional relevant ad, mostly in GMail.

Beyond that, the automated crap that does the targeting tends to hit the lowest common denominator topic. What I actually do online barely registered, but if my kid used my laptop, it would immediately take over the ad experience.

Absolutely. If the content creator and the advertiser dont trust each other enough to have the ad be delivered from the same server as the content, then why would I trust them to run whatever code they want.

> small

Heh, do you really think that static ads would be a small portion of the page?

Look at small local newspapers for what a business driven by revenue from non-targetable ads looks like. The ads take up more than half the page!

Small ads on the web are still more targeted than newspaper ads, since web ads appear on specific websites which are of interest to the user. If I visit a motorcycling forum, I should get motorcycling ads, and they can be effective even if they're small.

The "news hole" was for a long time about 40% of a typical daily paper (ads being 60%).



What pisses me off is the intrusiveness of the ads. Auto playing video or audio. The amount of malware attacking browser zero days. Until that goes away, I'm going to run a layer of adblockers. That's a problem the ad networks introduced and allowed. It's not on me, as an end user, to fix. You serve me auto playing audio, video, and malware? I'm going continue to block you until you fix that.

Yes, agreed. Ads are a great way to finance things where there is value in being accessible by everybody - I'm not happy about seeing podcast episodes locked behind Patreon walls, for example. While it's great these creators are gaining an additional revenue stream, it still means I or others are priced out of accessing their content. I don't have any natural right to access it, of course, but I prefer the open access ad-driven model over a marketplace where I have to pay every single podcast I listen to $5 a month. And hell, podcast ads weren't tracking and profiling me.

I'd be happy to not use an adblocker, but the abuse of ads for tracking users and as a potential attack vector for malicious content means I'm leaving my adblocker up, no matter how much sites might beg.

Podcasts are a great example. They've had to do advertising the old fashion way, by market research and trying to figure out which ad campaigns are more effective without mass surveillance.

Often they use the strategy of widespread name recognition, which is why you can probably think of a mattress brand, and a recruiting platform off the top of your head. That's effective advertisement without tracking.

Some podcasts do algorithmic auction style ad sales with targeting based off geolocation on the downloading ip address. This works by generating a new audio file for each download. I think the industry calls it "dyanmic ad insertion".

Patreon gives you a private RSS feed so paid podcasts are indeed a possibility. It is similar to getting your private activity ATOM feed from Github for example.

You can subscribe to password protected podcasts in many players just by including the username and password in the url.

A podcast is a podcast. Some of the podcasts I listen to have put a bunch of content behind a Patreon paywall. The distinction whether it's an RSS feed isn't meaningful. I still don't have access.

If it makes you feel any better, we're only collecting GPU info so we can identify you when you've "forgotten" to accept cookies. It's only like we're lifting your finger prints from discarded coffee cups, no biggie. (adtech developer)

>I don't actually want to block ads. If you want to put a small text or image blurb anywhere on the page... Good for you. I'll gladly accept those on a webpage so that the content creator can make a bit of cash.

I would be more than happy to accept that and I do see it from time to time. But I still won't be disabling my adblocker - allowing ads served from DoubleClick et el is just far too dangerous from both a security and privacy perspective. Even if they're not responsible for the actual ad content they're at the very least complicit in all of it.

This sounds like such a rational comment, but it is based on the naive idea that ads can be effectively targeted simply based on content. You're never going to have ads that people are willing to pay for (i.e. a certain threshold click-through rate) without some sort of direct targeting. For example, you can't tell if your article on basic car maintenance is being read by a 30 year old male who might be interested in a beer ad or a 30 year old female with two kids who might be more interested in a new iphone cover.

When I turned 25 I started getting nothing but hard soda ads from YouTube. I don't drink.

I went and disabled personalized advertising, and for the first time in years I started seeing ads that tempted me to click through, ads from tech companies about tech. Why the difference? Because YouTube started showing me ads related to the content I'm actually watching rather than based on their faulty neural network profile of me.

Obviously this is just one anecdote, but it's illustrative of the point: don't try to advertise either beer or iPhone covers on a car maintenance site. If I'm on a car maintenance site, you know all you need to know about where my interests are at that exact moment. Why try to hijack my attention (difficult when I'm trying to solve a car problem) when you could instead subtly redirect my attention to an ad for a local mechanic?

You have a good point here. What website I'm currently on is a pretty strong indicator for the types of content and services I'm interested in. Content aggregator sites like Facebook where people spend a ton of time thinking about all sort of topics are really the Holy Grail target, though, and that probably explains why the ad delivery model is less about where you are on the internet and more about who they think you are.

> Why try to hijack my attention (difficult when I'm trying to solve a car problem) when you could instead subtly redirect my attention to an ad for a local mechanic?

If there's only space for one ad, do they show you an ad for tools, exterior mechanic, engine mechanic, or a new car ad? All are valid options for both you and the advertiser.

This is where invasively tracking your online behavior can help you.

Direct targeting basic car maintenance alone covers a lot of ground doesn’t it? cars, spares and consumables, accessories, tools, car shows, workshop equipment, vacuum cleaners, mechanical things in general and diy... it’s endless.

Edit: ok endless is hyperbole, but content targeting is hardly useless.

Ads existed long before "direct targeting" of " 30 year old male who might be interested in a beer ad" has.

Seems to be working for the New York Times – “The publisher blocked all open-exchange ad buying on its European pages, followed swiftly by behavioral targeting. Instead, NYT International focused on contextual and geographical targeting for programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace deals and has not seen ad revenues drop as a result“ (source: https://digiday.com/media/gumgumtest-new-york-times-gdpr-cut...)

I didn't want to block ads either; originally I just used policeman / uMatrix. Unfortunately Google analytics broke pages (because some pages required all scripts to load before rendering anything), so I had to switch to uBlock Origin with its extra Google analytics shim.

>I don't actually want to block ads. If you want to put a small text or image blurb anywhere on the page... Good for you. I'll gladly accept those on a webpage so that the content creator can make a bit of cash.

For years I allowed google text ads because of non invasion and distracting they were. However the of amount tracking taking place forced me to also disable them.

> But these companies are intentionally blurring the lines between advertisement and digital surveillance.

That's what I've been harping on. I'm not blocking ads, I'm trying to protect my privacy and keep ad companies from effectively DoSing my browser.

Nothing about 'ad blockers' prevent advertisers from showing ordinary magazine style ads.

If you are fine with ads so that content creators make money, where do you draw the line? How much money should they make?

Having more data about you allows them to pick out 'better' ads and make more money. Wether this money goes to ad networks or content creators depends on how much leverage one has over the other.

It's not a question of how much money they make, but how they make it. An advertisement should be a one-way channel from the publisher to the audience. If information is flowing in the other direction (particularly if without the audience member's express permission) then it's become something more than an advertisement and that's a good place to draw the line.

We need to abolish user agents. At the most, a universal web versioning or a "release timestamp" would be sufficient.

This is the first step to reducing fingerprinting, remove distinctions between different browsers and only have the level of web version or timestamp they can support.

Except those little unobtrusive ads are easy to ignore and hardly anyone clicks on them so no one will pay anything for them. Also there’s no way to verify the clicks that do happen are genuine.

Exactly this is why I block, and I also would not object to your "less intrusive" ad. I would still block, but I wouldn't mind at all seeing such a static, self-served ad.

For many many years I resisted installing an ad-blocker. As someone who worked at a website that made the bulk of it's revenue from ads, it felt hypocritical, and also, I wanted to make sure that the experience of our website was bearable without ad blocking, by forcing myself to experience it every day.

I gave up about two years ago. The web just go so bad I had to install ad-block. My computer would spin like a jet plane at least once an hour due to insane advertising on a website consuming all the CPU.

I literally installed ad-block to save my computer hardware.

The ads don't even bother me that much. I used to always say, "my brain is my ad-block". It was the slow loading, CPU heavy ads that got me to turn.

If advertisers want to advertise to me, that's fine. I understand they need to make money. But how about not melting my computer in the process?

> If advertisers want to advertise to me, that's fine. I understand they need to make money.

I feel sad just reading that. Advertisers are paid to deliver targeted psychological manipulation to you, and yet you feel ashamed for making their work less profitable. It's like observing some kind of digital stockholm syndrome.

> targeted psychological manipulation to you

This seems exceedingly hyperbolic. With advertising, we can enjoy many services free of charge.

Using google as an example, google maps, search, android, etc all provide tremendous value to their users while being ostensibly free. Without revenue, they simply wouldn't be able to exist.

Having witnessed what advertising and marketing strategies do to psychologically vulnerable people, I now feel I am financing these services on their back.

I know someone who is in debt (and in denial) because she can't resist buying something that is "on sale". Her house filled with things she does not need but that were a bargain.

No, "targeted psychological manipulation" is not an hyperbole, you just are not the target. You, when you see "YOU HAVE WON A PRIZE!" blinking you think "Yeah, right, who falls for these anyway?" The answer is, a few people whose life is pretty miserable.

I'd rather have the internet financed in a sane way through microtransactions than the thing we have now.

> we can enjoy many services free of charge

It's not free of charge, you're just paying in a different way. These services are able to operate because they deliver content that changes your mind in a way that benefits the corporations who pay for ads. They alter your purchasing habits, sway you politically, and change your emotions. If they were not able to manipulate you then they would be worthless.

I would change “ostensibly free” to “nominally free”. While you pay no up front cost, you are worth a dollar value to these companies.

That money isn’t being spun out of thin air, it’s being extracted from you somehow.

Whether that method of abstraction is getting you to buy something you otherwise wouldn’t have, or by using your data to manipulate others to do the same; they exact their toll on you.

> Without revenue, they simply wouldn't be able to exist.

Nonsense. OSM exists, HN exists, Linux exists. And just because some services need revenue to pay bills, it doesn't mean advertising or users paying is the only way to get it. Google Maps gets revenue from businesses using it on their websites, for example.

I do not see your argument. That some projects are subsidized, because they carry a value, that pays off manyfold somewhere else, no one denies.

> With advertising, we can enjoy many services free of charge. Using google as an example, google maps, search, android, etc

Google gets much much more than just showing you ads. You surrender all your digital life using Google free services, and that info is priceless, because 95% of people did the same. What would you say if in 10 years, government, police and businesses will routinely use google data for background checks? It is just one use case.

Yeah, for many years I figured "Let the website owners make money, I get to use their service for free anyway, and I can always mentally tune the ads out."

And then sometime around 2015 or 2016, I started noticing ads that would lock up my CPU, or get my laptop's fan running, or prevent the page from loading entirely, or increase page loading time by 10x. And then I decided enough was enough, and installed an adblocker.

It's not the general concept of advertising that I object to. It's when the advertising makes the content that I initially came to see unusable. Fix your goddamn Javascript and maybe I won't block you, although at this point I'm kinda enjoying the ad-free experience.

For me the moment was when some websites started putting popup ads in every single link and navigation.

I a specific instance there was no way to use the site, every link would redirect directly without opening the correct page at all.

I literally needed an ad-blocker to be able to use the website.

The uh, seedier parts of the web never stopped using popups it seems.

When referring to popups from such websites, you're not pronouncing it correctly if you're not wiggling your eyebrows.

If this keeps being an issue, maybe browser vendors will eventually limit website CPU usage by default.

For web apps that need it, it could be an explicit permission, like webcam or location access.

Hey I like this idea. This is something that needs to happen. Every website starts with aggressive CPU throttling, and then they can ask for permission to be unthrottled. "Our web page requires lots of CPU to deliver text, for some reason we would prefer you not think about, can you please unthrottle us?". This seems like an action browsers could take to significantly improve the web.

For memory and network usage too. Could solve a lot of issues of modern web.

Effectively, reimposing costs on publishers.

Same boat. I actually don't mind most ads. Then the slow page loading, CPU melting became annoying. And on mobile, even reputable sites were having ads hijack the browser. I'm done, I only use Opera or Brave now. I feel like I was a target demographic to advertise to, and they abused me instead.

This x2 for phones. I use AdGuard on my Android phone. Without it, my phone is so and bogged down by ads that it's essentially useless for internet.

I wonder what percentage of mobile data bandwidth is used to transmit ads vs actual content.

what’s wrong with using your CPU? (seriously)

I used to not use ad blockers as I'm not bothered by ads. But it's getting increasingly difficult not to because the ads are making thousands of requests downloading hundreds of mbs of who knows what quite often simply crashing the tabs. It has got to the point that ads and analytics are being added so mindlessly (I saw it first hand as random CPU hogging battery killing trackers were pushed onto my single-page web app by product managers) that browsing without an ad blocker isn't viable anymore performance-wise.

> the ads are making thousands of requests downloading hundreds of mbs of who knows what quite often simply crashing the tabs

Where are you going for that to happen? Not only does a tab crashing is extremely rare for me, even on my low 8 GB of RAM which I got 8 years ago. It seems a bit crazy that it happens quite often for you.

Did anyone ever investigate what benefits ads have to a population? It seems like a net loss to me, because ads are used to make people consume more than they need; ads make people buy the product with the biggest advertising budget instead of the best product; and while ads may make the internet "free", we are still paying for those ads indirectly.

Why then, doesn't the government bring advertising to a halt? At least they could start with targeted advertising as seen on the internet.

(Of course, if you measure the success of an economy by the GDP, then it might seem that ads have a positive influence, but that seems a bit like a broken-window fallacy to me).

IMO the first place to start implementing ad bans is in public spaces, which I hear is common in Europe. I don't have to watch TV so I don't see TV ads. I don't listen to the radio much so I don't listen to radio ads. I can use an ad blocker on the web, yet for some reason the public spaces I inhabit (and help pay for) are full of ads.

> I hear is common in Europe

It is not. I have seen a ramp-up in the amount of advertisement everywhere. Maybe poorer countries like Romania - I have been just to Bucharest - are not so affected. But, Sweden, or Spain, - the countries that I spend more time - are just installing more and more advertisements everywhere.

Gambling advertisements are quite common in Stockholm. I remember specially one telling people to buy lottery tickets because they live sucks and the only lottery can save them from their horrible lives. It was disgusting.

Cities have a high amount of cognitive pollution.

Not saying you are wrong, but which European states is this common in? I’ve never noticed this, and many public spaces in Europe have a great deal of poster/bill board style advertisements.

I remember reading Paris tried this, but that’s a long way from “common in Europe”.

The only example I know is São Paulo (not in Europe).


There are several US states (Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont) that don't allow billboard advertisements.

Some cities in California place heavy restrictions on billboards: https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Supreme-Court-turns-d...

There aren't any billboards along freeways in Switzerland, e.g.

There’s usually no shortage of public ads for Swiss watches at Zurich airport. There is for sure no ban on advertisements in public places.

Airports are never going to be high on the list of places sans billboards and are usually privatized space. I'm not too bummed out about airports and shopping centers, but I draw the line at public transit and actual fully public spaces like the streets of downtowns (which are choked in ads in Sydney now).

Airports are not public places, you literally have to pay for a ticket to get past security.

Sigh. Aside from the fact this comment adds no value to the discussion, anyone can walk into Zurich airport and buy a ticket.

By this logic, many public transport centres such as train stations wouldn't be public spaces either (not unheard of for a train station to have a ticket barrier too). There are adverts in places other than the airport too!

This is not true, you can't buy a ticket without identification and you can't get past security unless you go through several other checks. Going into a public area like out on the street is not even similar at all. Airports are not public locations, they are much more similar to the interior walls of a private business than a public location, which doesn't require you to pay to enter and produce varying amounts of identification.

It's possible I'm mistaken about the commonness, I'm just repeating hearsay. That said, I still think it should become the norm everywhere.

Maybe you heard about prohibition of billboards in highways, but it was only of alcoholic beverages. I remember hearing about it years ago when Osborne's bulls where saved because they were (justly IMHO) a national monument or something like that. The name was removed though.


Correct. It's awful here in Sydney. The local government a long time ago decided that it couldn't be bothered to put up and maintain infrastructure like bus shelters and the like, so they got JC Decaux to do it (a French company, whose maintenance trucks amusingly use an Australian flag as their major design motif) in exchange for plastering the whole city with ads.

Advertising has also been proven to be bad for your sense of life satisfaction, which is an externality not paid for by advertisers.

"The effect implies that a hypothetical doubling of advertising expenditure would result in a 3% drop in life satisfaction. That is approximately one half the absolute size of the marriage effect on life satisfaction, or approximately one quarter of the absolute size of the effect of being unemployed."


I don't see how the study is establishing causation. It does not prove that advertising is creating an externality, as you claim.

In fact, it explicitly says that it does not show causation and recommends further research.

It's easy to come up with theories to explain it that don't have anything to do with the one you proposed. For instance, higher advertising could be caused by weakness in the economy that doesn't show up in other data (or at least not GDP) but which leads to less satisfaction later, which wouldn't show up in their controls.

I have managed to block advertising out of my life so effectively for so long I nearly recoil when a normal tv advertisement at someone’s home or a bar catches me somehow at full volume.

That or I marvel to those around me at the amazing production value of some stupid commercial that’s aired to them countless times is.

I have no doubt a barrage of ads day in and day out, regardless of economic condition is bad for a person’s well being.

Perhaps you're free-loading on other people that don't.

I am no martyr of ad viewing. You are welcome to do your part.

This is one of the most gangster comments I've read on Hacker News.

Even disregarding the many questionable aspects of consumerism, think about how many developers you know that have dedicated their entire ability to creating better advertising. The amount of brain power that has been spent on marketing (largely) unnecessary products to consumers is staggering. I hesitate to suppose where we could be if those abilities had been directed elsewhere, but I expect the world might be a much better place.

I work in marketing/advertising.

I assure if you the industry disappeared tomorrow, I would certainly find some other way to continue making the world a much worse place.

Yeah, a lot of humanity's potential is wasted on advertising, commodities market analysis, and developing javascript frontend code

>'Why then, doesn't the government bring advertising to a halt? At least they could start with targeted advertising as seen on the internet.'

Interesting idea. I just read that over £20bn is spent a year on advertising in the UK. The problem is that things which are socially valuable - especially journalism, but also a lot of entertainment - are chronically dependent on advertising revenues.

Netflix is an interesting example of a new model of entertainment that generates revenues through subscriptions instead of advertisements. Lots of newspapers have also shifted to a subscription-based model, though only The Guardian has done so without placing their website behind a paywall. Another alternative is public service broadcasting, like the BBC.

Are those really new models? People’ve been subscribing to newspapers forever, and HBO has been a subscription service.

I guess they mean purely via subscriptions. But of course Netflix also uses product placement and probably sells all your viewing and behavioural habits as well.

Definitely product placement going on.

I'd be surprised to hear they were selling viewing data though. A few years ago, they were making a lot of noise about how that data gave them a unique way to make decisions on what content to produce that other studios lacked. Seems like the kind of thing you'd hold close if that were the case.

When you search, it's also clear they have shadow profiles for content they don't have (e.g. before they had Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they'd autocomplete to "Things like Monty Python and the Holy Grail" pretty early in the autocomplete results). I wonder how heavily that search data is weighted in deciding how much to offer to license existing content.

> I wonder how heavily that search data is weighted in deciding how much to offer to license existing content.

Probably quite highly, as it’s well known that Netflix also watches what’s popular on torrent sites to help decide what to licence next.

>The problem is that things which are socially valuable - especially journalism, but also a lot of entertainment - are chronically dependent on advertising revenues.

I think calling journalism "socially valuable" is debatable.

There was a paper on the psychological effects, i.e. net negative effects on happiness not too long ago [1], I think it was posted on HN a while back. Haven't read it though so I can't comment on the specific findings and the quality.

If anyone has any literature on the other effects mentioned by the parent, I'd be highly interested as well.

1. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/centres/cag...

There are countries that ban ads, but they also ban a lot of other things.

My presumption is that if advertising was banned, and you were still dealing with a relatively free society, that many more resources would go in to PR and marketing. At least an ad you know is an ad.

A good exercise is to go back and look through magazines from the 1950s and 1960s, especially Playboy. The advertising seems much more transparent in its shallow promises and we actually know what the long term outcomes were from following them -- e.g. alcohol, tobacco, and cars no one gives a shit about anymore. The editorial bridges between advertising and content glaringly stick out. These things aren't necessarily no longer true, but the obviousness of time shines a bright light on it.

To me the biggest story in ads isn't ad blockers or Google, it is Facebook getting consumers to spend gargantuan amounts of money creating content for free and then making tens of billions of dollars from it. Youtube/Google at least has revenue sharing.

>> Youtube/Google at least has revenue sharing.

Barely. It's not like a person can create an account, upload an original video which becomes extremely popular, and receive a single penny in compensation.

> At least an ad you know is an ad.

True. In some countries, mixing content and ads (see social media influencers) is already forbidden, especially when targeting children. I suppose the law could be extended here.

I worked briefly in a marketing department as programmer. Learned the following there. The benefit of advertising is to inform the consumer of products they may not be aware of. "Messa thinks Messa might have Mesothelioma!" Most of the time advertising is a waste of time, and there certainly are better ways of learning about products. However, the function of informing consumers of products they may not be aware of is of mild benefit.

A better question than what benefit is advertising might be, "How can advertising be made more beneficial to the viewers"

To a minimalist advertising could almost be construed as a form of psychic attack on ones value system.

Imagine firing off hundreds of ads at a vegan about how eating meat is good. That's essentially what all the "buy this shit" ads are doing to someone who explicitly buys as little as they can to get by.

This doesn't only apply to minimalists. I don't consider myself a minimalist, but I do consider advertising as a psychic attack. This is how many justify disabling billboards and ad blocking : they are merely defending themselves.

Another way of looking at it: What are better alternatives for helping people learn about available products? Or better yet, good ways of solving different problems in life, which may not always involve buying a product.

There is an inherent problem with advertising in that the incentives are somewhat misaligned. Company X doesn't want me to learn about the best way to solve problem Y. They want me to learn about _their_ solution to problem Y.

Or even worse... Company X wants me to believe that Y is a problem for me — when in fact it may not be, or at least not how they claim — and that only they can solve it.

I'm currently reading the book the book, "Utopia for Realists" by Rutger Bregman. I consider myself fairly intelligent, but of course knowledgeable in just a few domains, but he brought up something that I'm ashamed to not have realized for myself.

Simon Kuznets, a Russian emigre to the US, developed the concept of the GDP in 1934, and according to Bregman, tracking the GDP was a significant factor in the US's ability to harness its manufacturing capability during the war effort; most countries had a significantly inferior understanding of their own production dynamics.

As useful was it was for the war effort, Kuznets warned that the GDP should be redefined after the war, as the country's needs had changed. Instead, military spending is part of the GDP. No party wants to significantly cut back on military spending because it would affect the GDP. So not only does the GDP encourage increased military spending, it doesn't reward so many things that would be beneficial to society, and thus little effort is spent optimizing for those things.

TL;DR: if the GDP doesn't measure it, there is no political will to address it, and if the GDP does measure it, it is a political necessity to boost spending in that area. Thus, needless military spending, rent seeking money shuffling on wall street, and advertising are richly rewarded as they are included in the GDP.

Thanks for sharing that. I've had this feeling in my gut for a while, and I think it touches on a similar notion.

The feeling has to do with the fact that where I live, nearly every software engineer you meet works for a defense contractor, an issuance company, or a finance company. These jobs, and the dollars that come from them, seem somehow hollow to me. I'd accept a significant pay cut if my code were somehow contributing to something like growing food.

> It seems like a net loss to me, because ads are used to make people consume more than they need;

My SO opened an escape room a year ago. I though similarly as you before that (not that it make people consume more, but that they'll buy the inferior product), but then after a few weekend without any reservation... it made me realize how things aren't just found.

You need to be reminded that something exist to even consider it. It's not even a question of whether that's the best thing for you.

She always ask people what they think once they done and recently she got as a comment "but you aren't visible enough". We pay for ads, a few thousands, we are probably not too far from having spend 5 digits in ads. I couldn't imagine how people could be aware of our existence without ads at all.

> and while ads may make the internet "free", we are still paying for those ads indirectly.

We are paying for it, sure, but at least we are paying, aren't we? I like that I can get any ads on a channel. I love DIY channels, I seriously hate how almost all of them hide that all their tools were given. They say it from time to time, but on most videos, they'll just keep using the one from the past videos without mentionning getting them for free. That's an ads by the way, they may even directly get paid for using theses tools. With adsense though, the ads I get aren't necessarily related to the video, I'm AWARE they are ads, they are made FOR ME (thus more profitable for the channel, because I may need tool, but I may be more likely to buy a new computer for example).

> because ads are used to make people consume more than they need

Not necessarily. An ad for a restaurant doesn’t necessarily make you eat more. An ad for a hotel doesn’t make you go on more trips.

Are ads really that effective? I'd love for my internet ads to show me stuff I could buy at nice prices. What I get is I bought a mechanical keyboard once and now for two months all ads will be bombarding me with mechanical keyboard offers. Why would I want one if I already got one?

Advertising exists to increase consumption, because capitalism requires constant growth. On order for it to sustain itself, we need to buy more and more, consume more and more.

When a company can produce a product that is somehow too high quality to be a viable business model, you know we're living in a weird society. Capitalism requires that stuff breaks and is replaced regularly.

And advertising helps manipulate us to desire new things constantly.

"Why then, doesn't the government bring advertising to a halt?"

I've been advocating for bans on unsolicited advertising for many years. Usually such comments get voted down in to oblivion, but as the years have gone by more and more people are beginning to feel the same way.

Advertising is severely detrimental, not only because of the reasons that you state, but they also distort the media because news outlets are loathe to do investigative journalism or negative reporting on the companies that provide their bread and butter and because they also want to run stories that don't offend or antagonize their advertisers -- stories from that point of view that capitalism is bad or advertising is bad, for instance, are off limits to many outlets partially because of this.

Advertisers also routinely lie about the products they're selling, so people are being deceived about the products they're buying, sometimes with very serious negative consequences (such as advertising of cigarettes or medical products that are actually harmful).

The problem is, like me, you can be relatively unintelligent, work forty hour weeks, and make around a quarter million dollars a year peddling ads. That's tough to give up when nobody's dropping dead because of it.

Nobody's obviously and immediately dropping dead.

Advertising and advertised products have and do do tremendous harm. It's just generally indirect by one or more degrees. Tobacco, alcohol, petroleum, gambling, leaded paint. Just off the top of my head.

This line of thought is complete nonsense. When you get a product in a transaction, you get something from the other party and you give them something in exchange. When you buy an iPhone, what you're giving is $700. In the case of non-paywalled online content, what you're giving is an ad impression. It would be ludicrous to say after an iPhone purchase "I didn't get anything out of the part of the transaction where I paid $700? The government should ban it".

I'm not dismissing the possibility of conversations about whether advertising for services is a type of transaction that's difficult to reason about, and that users need to be protected from themselves by regulation. But looking at only the outflow half of a transaction and asking "I don't benefit from this part, we should ban it" is utter gibberish.

"Did anyone ever investigate what benefits payment systems have to a population? It seems like a net loss to me, since payment systems cost money to operate and in the end all they do is reduce the amount of money a user has. While payment systems may allow you to 'buy' services, we are still paying for these systems directly and indirectly

Why then, doesn't the government bring currency and bank accounts and credit cards to a halt?"

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