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Taboola and Outbrain are merging to create a clickbait giant (nytimes.com)
125 points by danso 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

Why is this cancer allowed to exist and not blocked by every antimalware/safe browsing lists? They fit most definitions of malware, it's annoying, designed to trick/mislead you, can lead you to other malware, and spies on you (so it's spyware as well).

As clickbaity as the ads are, the actual technology used to show them is much better than most ad networks.

Last I looked into outbrain, the ads were simply a picture and some text. These linked to the advertised site. All images and scripts were hosted by outbrain themselves so there was no third party scripts running or other dubious content that could be inserted.

So in terms of security, outbrains ads were doing a lot better than, say, Google's ad network. Of course what is being advertised is more dubious but that's always been an issue with clicking random ads.

I definitely understand why "acceptable ads" offends so many people. Between approving clickbait and their steep 30% cut for "large" Acceptable Ads members, it's clearly not simply for the benefit of users. And the rules on "unobtrusive" static images simply don't seem to be honored. But I have to admit that the ABP model is at least a massive improvement over nothing. It "just works" better than more vigorous tools, and it pretty reliably keeps out malware - especially the stuff that can affect you without being clicked.

I don't like Outbrain's clickbait ads, but they're at least part of the debate around "is it fair to use sites while knowingly avoiding their monetization?" As far as I'm concerned, that entire debate is a nonstarter if it implies loading whatever wretched JS happens to be served by a page. ABP is sufficient to let us talk about honesty and distraction, which apply to TV or print ads also. Otherwise, I think the conversation begins and ends with security and privacy.

Yeah, the clickbait itself is enough to criticize without adding unnecessary exaggeration. Now we just look stupid by attributing things that simply are not true. It happens way too often here. People are in pitchfork mode and upvote the most slandering comment, even if it's false.

Because some, like, Adblock Plus and I assume all the other ad blockers who take part in the ridiculous "Acceptable Ads" programme, receive money from Taboola to allow those ads to show. Here's an entry where Taboola was added: https://adblockplus.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=25991

The day adblock plus coined the concept of acceptable ads was the day they were compromised by the alure of payment.

The last bastion left is ublock origin. Please, more people need to move to it (and while at it, consider moving to firefox as well).

How can I get u block origins on iOS or the equivalent? Ad block plus does nothing.

You can’t have the full functionality of uBlock Origin on iOS because Safari only allows blockers to consist of a list of regexes rather than executing code, but 1Blocker X has 95% of the functionality. I’m very happy with it.

What’s wrong with pi-hole?

Belt and suspenders.

Pi-Hole (or equivalents, I use the OpenWRT Adblock package on my router) work through domain and host-based blocking, which is powerful, but not exclusive, and carries side-effects. As a bonus, if your local resolver (which is what Pi-Hole is) serves your local LAN or WiFi network, ALL devices are automatically protected, at least while they're on that network (and are configured to use that resolver).

uBlock Origin works based on domain-based blocks, but also other heuristics, and (where the capability exists) can block specific elements within Web pages.

Generally, Pi-Hole or other resolver-based DNS blocklists:

- Covers all local devices and applications.

- Its configuration can be automatically configured via your network's DHCP server.

- It covers all applications.

- It works only for devices while they're using that network or DNS resolver.

Generally uBlock Origin or other extension-based adblockers:

- Cover only the application for which they're installed.

- Offer more extensive blocking capabilities.

- Work regardless of network you're on or when roaming in mobile state.

Where possible, I use both. For devices and apps in which uBlock Origin (or equivalent) isn't available, I rely on DNS-based blockers. When I'm mobile, unfortunately, I get ads, and really, really, really, really hate them.

Not the OC, but I use uBlock, not pi-hole simply because:

- hardware, and I’m lazy (admittedly, that doesn’t really qualify as a good reason);

- I browse on mobile, at work, from cafés, etc.

I like the idea of having a device that handles my connection everywhere and my mobile and laptop are always “on wifi” with that device. I’d love to have a centralised solution to use the dodgy wifi connection at airports, for instance.

You can set up pi-hole + a VPN on a cloud provider to solve the mobile problem. I did that, and it's great, but I do recognize that it has greater time demands (setting up the server, hardening it, setting up the CA, generating keys, ongoing maintenance, etc) and expense.

Here's a dated but reasonable overview of the process from Digital Ocean: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-bloc...

Unfortunately DNS based ad-blocking solutions are nowhere near as effective and convenient as an extension like uBO. Even if you have a publicly available DNS based service they will tend to be more lax in order to not break sites which lets many ads through.

I use a combination of PiHole, Firefox+uBO, and VPN + FW rules to stay as much away from ads as possible even when browsing mobile. uBO is the single most convenient and effective measure out of all of them.

An important nitpick for those who are unaware: hopefully you use uBlock Origin, not uBlock. uBlock is owned by AdBlock and allows "Acceptable Ads".[1]

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UBlock_Origin#uBlock

> hardware

It doesn't have to be real hardware: you can run pihole in a VM (KVM, Hyper-V, etc) on your local machine. It'll eat a bit of RAM of course, but it doesn't need a huge amount to serve one user.

This doesn't solve the setup time of course, and trouble-shooting time if something goes wrong.

For mobile I run OpenVPN at home: all my traffic when on on my phone provider's network or public/guest wifi goes down that including DNS request going to my pihole instance. This isn't perfect of course: there is still some setup and maintenance involved, and some networks block or significantly throttle VPN traffic (throttling can be worked around by running the VPN on port TCP443 if it is done by simple port based rules but that may mean having a spare IPv4 address to hand).

This is a really obtuse way to run a proxy server.

My pihole isn't running on a "client" machine, though it is running on a VM on the home router/server just to keep it entirely separate to aid maintenance. A container would do the job too. I was just pointing out that the OP wouldn't need new hardware to set up pihole.

And in my case the VPN is not just for accessing my ad-/malware- blocking DNS resolver, but also for accessing other local resources and for general paranoia (nothing goes over the mobile network or public/guest WiFi unencrypted). Useful extra feature: because payment processors think I'm at home I'm bothered less by extra identity verification steps than I would be if my source address and therefore derived location changed regularly.

DNS traffic going through the VPN stops the network intercepting and forcing it through their resolver anyway (I'm looking at you, Sky) and means that I don't have to make my DNS resolver visible to the unwashed masses.

So I'm not just being obtuse. IMO, anyway.

Or you can use a DNS server that handles that for you, like dnsadblock.com

Nice. nextdns.io [0] is another alternative, which may not remain free forever.

dns.adguard.com [1] is decent for a free offering, though offers no custom rules.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20012687

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18788410

It only works on a domain/host level of blocking, but not content blocking. Pi-hole can't do anything about blocking ads in the Android YouTube app, for example, because Google serves the ads from the same domain as the video content.

It's crazy they got categorized as "acceptable". They are among the least acceptable ads I regularly see.

I don't mind ads; I just don't want this clickbait crap, so I created a blocklist (compatible with Adblock Plus and uBlock Origin) just for these chumbox ad networks:


How does your list differ than just using Fanboy Annoyance list? FB Annoyance is what I've always used to block these two clickbait networks (Taboola/Outbrain).

Even when I don't have adblock running, those two I block at the hosts file or DNS layer. Some of their clickbait photos are offensive or disturbing (although of course not quite enough to get them banned)

uBlock Origin blocks them. I only see them when I'm using Chrome on mobile.

firefox mobile works OK, and can install ublock origin.

Indeed. That is the number one reason why I use it!

I just checked and both domains are already on my DNS blocklists, and I'm just using the default blocklists from DNSCrypt. I look forward to blocking them and their combined entity. [Deity]bless the people who maintain those lists.

who says they're not blocked? ublock origin certainly blocks it for me?

I mean by mainstream antimalware including the built-in safe browsing lists that most browsers use. The world would be so much better & safer for non-technical users if operating systems blocked such trash out of the box, as most non-tech people don't even know ad/cancer blockers exist.

1Blocker also blocks it for me on iOS and macOS.

> Adam Singolda, who runs Taboola and will take charge of the combined company, characterized the deal in a statement as a way to “create a more robust competitor to Facebook and Google” while “strengthening journalism.”

Do potential investors/employees actually believe this kind of drivel or is it a sort of expected formalistic dance?

Drivel. Investors care about business model, and potential profitability. And annoyingly, these click baits do work to drive traffic, and drive advertising.

For what it's worth, I have worked with two genuine journalistic enterprises who relied on Taboola revenue, and were deeply involved with them.

I noticed when I ran my mouth about Taboola and they told me a Taboola employee was sitting right there. :- )

Perhaps you do not like their content, and I'm totally with you there, but I don't know that I'd classify this as "drivel". Sure, it's all about money in the end, but they're not wrong. FB/Google competitor? Check. Doesn't mean you have to like them. Strengthening journalism? You mean like, paying them money so they can keep the lights on? Check. Again, you don't have to like it (buy a subscription already).

Weasel words all around, but I can't point to where they're specifically lying.

That drivel is for the public, the investors only care about the money they're making.

I'm very surprised that I see Outbrain ads when I visit cnn.com. Google have a decade of of my email history, my search queries, my Android location, my YouTube history, etc, etc. Yet apparently Outbrain's advertising is so effective that they can offer more money to CNN to place ads. What is going on?

Outbrain doesn't offer more money as much as steady money. When I talked to an advertising person about it, she told me we had a guarantee from them for a certain amount. That makes budgeting much simpler. You don't have to worry about if you make your traffic numbers or not.

With that logic, google (and a handful of other giants like FB and Amazon) should be the ONLY companies in the digital advertising space. There're probably other factors in play here.

Its mostly around the CPC business model for advertisers, and the performance-optimized block of ads for publishers. Pubs get steady payouts with a single block of code, and advertisers only have to pay for clicks, which are generally pretty cheap.

AdSense has a similar CPC model, but leaves it to the publisher to place individual ads, and suffers from bifurcated demand- much of the Google ad money flows to their CPM / Impression based Ad Exchange banner ads.

Direct response advertisers do very well with content-rec style ads. I would never think its okay to run them as a publisher, but thousands of big sites can't say no.

It sounds like there are cracks in the idea that Google's info harvesting apparatus gives them the ultimate edge in advertising

Because clickbait 1) looks like normal content, so the brain doesn't filter it out, 2) is more likely to provoke clicks than actual ads.

Had a dubious pleasure to implement both on a website of a major publisher. Eventually both got removed due to low business value. They didn't actually drive any traffic.

I've often wondered about this. Many of the places I see them, they seem so very out of place in the context of the main content of the page. I would love to know what the percentage of clickthroughs actually is, and how valuable they really are.

I run into them on slashdot where they don't seem to fit

They didn't actually drive any traffic.

I've often wondered about that. Because when I see Taboola/Outbrain at the bottom of the page, I think to myself, "whoops, took the wrong exit and now I'm in the low-rent district."

Indeed, they are a huge turnoff to audiences.

But the people responsible for ad operations at publishers will often insist on placing such widgets on every remaining patch of white space, saying that failing to do so is "leaving money on the table."

When the founders look back at their life and see "litter the internet with garbage" as their biggest accomplishment, I wonder if the money will be worth it.

They probably don't care or see it as a way to keep newspapers in business.

I'm running an adtech platform for newspapers (I do price comparison and I believe that I add value to the product review articles) and newspapers need to generate revenue. They usually have loads of staff from decades ago when people were still buying paper journals and magazines.

I'm not against the idea of ads, at their best they actually serve as a form of product discovery for viewers. What I am against is deceptive and low quality clickbait.

You're assuming that those people will actually "look back at their life".

Many don't, never will, and are incapable of understanding what the problem even is.

Unfortunately you're probably right.

These two cancerous clickbait entities were basically 95% of the sole reason I started using adblockers to begin with many years ago. I can't stand seeing their crap on any webpage I visit. It is filth that ruins the Internet for majority of people who don't have a mental filter to not click on this stuff.

The other 5% reason is malicious ads/tracking. I'd actually be open to not running adblockers anymore if these two reasons were eliminated from the web. I'd be fine with small non tracking ads from non cringe worthy gigantic ad networks that invade basically every webpage I visit nowadays.

PS - Ublock Origin actually doesn't block these two networks (Taboola/Outbrain) by default - you have to enable Fanboys Annoyance list to do so.

Nevermind adblockers, these outlets deserve to be blocked at the hosts file level.

As much as I dislike seeing them on publisher websites this is just going to be further bad news for publishers in finding revenue outside of ads and subscriptions.

We're just going to see crappier content at a larger scale that earns them less money due to significantly reduced competition.

Might this help by reducing the size of the pi-hole black list?

Taboola and Outbrain are like the Mossad in your livingroom. They spy on your browsing habits for who knows what reasons

This seems like a very bad thing.

("Taboola and Outbrain, the two biggest chumbox providers, are merging to create a clickbait giant.")

Yes, photo captions are often a source of better titles. Thanks!

Seems recently barely a day passes without a NYT article being on the home page or page 2.

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