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Do not track is dying (cnn.com)
22 points by sonabinu 1755 days ago | hide | past | web | 53 comments | favorite

Of course it's dying. There is no acceptable solution that isn't on by default, and advertisers will never accept that because nobody would ever turn it off. Their business model would dry up and die. So they block it at every opportunity, because what else are they going to do? Change to a business model based on things people actually want? Ha! What an idea.

You seem to be assuming that the existing business model is one which people don't want. It allows websites to monetize using information that the vast majority of people don't care about, which allows most content on the internet to remain free. I'd say people are, by and large, pretty happy with this business model.

If people want this business model, why is adblock so popular and getting moreso?

15 million daily users for just Firefox ABP alone! For comparison, this is roughly 5M more people than play World of Warcraft. And I'd wager most people know someone who plays that game..

Why are advertisers so scared of DNT on by default? If people want it so much, surely they'd go out of their way to enable it?

According to Firefox, they have 450 million users... I wouldn't call 5% "so popular". Having DNT on by default (and advertisers actually paying attention to it) would result in an immediate 100% of firefox users.

From my perspective, I'll use adblock, but I want everybody else to NOT use adblock. That way more websites can exist on advertising revenue.

edit: not quite apples-to-apples, as DNT reduces the value of an ad, while adblock eliminates it. but the general idea still stands

It's because the website owners choose a machine gun over a rifle when it comes to ads - instead of carefully selecting and testing ads for each page, they just slap half a dozen of them on every page and hope some get clicked on. It's very annoying for the readers/users, hence the popularity of ABP and NS.

Of course, the former approach takes more work, but the results are worth it in the long run...

A minor point here - from practical experience, if a website owner does indeed carefully select and test ads, there's no guarantee at all that the annoying ads won't be found to perform better.

Often, a LOT better.

The same applies to ad placement. Just because you - or most users - find an ad layout obtrusive, doesn't mean it wasn't carefully split-tested and kicked the ass of every less-obtrusive layout. Certainly, the floating banner at the bottom of my 400k unique/mo website outperformed anything thrown against it 2:1, despite being annoying.

Is this just tracking ad clicks or is it tracking actual conversions on something?

When I get a really annoying ad I often try and click on anything that I think might make it go away and the ads often seem to interpret that as a click and redirect me to the target page.

Yeah, those are super-obnoxious, and frankly user-hostile. I'm not sure why advertisers don't consider that click-fraud.

I was on some page the other day that had a popover ad that looked kind of like this:

  B B B B B B B B B B
  B B C C C C C C B B
  B B C C C C C C B B
  B B A A A A A A B B
  B B A A A A A A B B
  B B C C C C C C B B
  B B C C C C C C B B
  B B C C C C C C B B
  B B B B B B B B B B
Here the elements are Ad, Background, and Content. Everything except the content was treated as click target for the content.

The example I mention was clicks on a CPC platform, but the EPC from the ad remained higher than any other option for 9 months - long enough for high accidental clickthrough rates to be noted and corrected for.

Another blogger I know has tested layouts and settled on the same floating banner for his Clickbank ads - thus, conversion-tracked.

I use adblock but I only actually care about blocking < 1% of ads. I hate autoplaying videos with sound and popups, banner ads and google ads rarely bother me at all.

I imagine a lot of adblock users are the same.

I could whitelist sites with acceptable advertising but in reality I don't because I'm lazy (like most people).

I'd bet that most people who install AdBlock software aren't doing it because they care about getting tracked, but because they get sick of obnoxious ads, which exist independent of tracking.

AdBlocking software does not stop tracking. That's not feasible, unless turning on AdBlock also severs your internet connection. It might diminish tracking, but only incidentally.

Obnoxious ads that also happen to slow down your computer.

Because adblock gives the a free ride -- if adblock meant that you would have to pay before viewing sites that normally have ads, I am pretty sure most of those people would uninstall it.

using information that the vast majority of people don't care about

That feels false to me. I think the vast majority of people are too busy with their actual lives to understand how much tracking pixels and spy javascript can figure out about them over the course of a multi-year cookie lifetime.

(also see: patriot act. People with enough free time to care do care, but most people are busy raising kids, dealing with relationships, and recovering from emotional exhaustion due to broken workplace politics to think about things that they can't touch, taste, or have sex with.)

People would care if they knew and understood, but learning about how anything inside "the computer" works besides throw-the-cow or pin-the-clothes or filter-the-food is too nerd/geek and comes with negative social repercussions in their circles because they "know stuff."

This sort of reasoning is pervasive in many debates -- where people believe that "if only people understood the issues, they'd agree with me". This is moot, because (a) there's no way to prove it -- in fact, there are plenty of people who understand the business model and are fine with it, and (b) my point still stands that the vast majority of people don't care about it whether they understand or not.

>using information that the vast majority of people don't care about

You quoted the wrong person here; I never used those words.

I agree, the more targeted the ads, the higher value of the page view, the more free services. Plus people tend to buy things they think they want, so they are happy if they get ads that are actually relevant.

The problem is that there is a lot of value in that data beyond just targeted advertising. That's where things get cloudy.

I want advertising. It tells me about things I might like.

You're perhaps one of the very very few people who dislike being told about things, but thankfully you're in the minority.

The whole "do not track us" idea is ridiculous and a 'moot' issue. Cookies aren't really necessary, you can track people server side based on their browser make up, and they won't know they're being tracked. 99.9% of browsers are completely unique and identifiable back to the computer.

If you really don't want to be tracked (<0.01% of users), then use TOR, lynx, adblock, disallow cookies, etc etc etc

Look also at the recent EU cookie laws, and how ridiculous and needlessly cumbersome they have made websites that have addopted it. Endless clicking confirmation boxes / dropdowns to say it's ok for them to store a cookie. We do not need more of this madness.

I want advertising. It tells me about things I might like.

Assuming that I wanted to be aware of relevant advertising, the signal to noise ratio is absolutely microscopic. Even sites that have massive data dossiers on me (Facebook and Google) routinely abuse my attention.

>I want advertising. It tells me about things I might like.

I hate advertising. Usually the ads are irrelevant and for things I do not and would not ever want, are often scammy, sometimes they carry malware, often get in the way of me retrieving the information I went to a site to see..

I bet if I counted every time I clicked on an advertisement in the last decade, that number would be less than 20.

That said, I agree completely the "tracking" worries are absurd and more borne out of FUD than any concrete privacy issue.

>Look also at the recent EU cookie laws, and how ridiculous and needlessly cumbersome they have made websites that have addopted it.

Due to shoddy implementation of a shoddy law - that does not reflect whatsoever on the concept. And cumbersome? Really? Could you point to an example site?

> And cumbersome? Really? Could you point to an example site?

It's definitely cumbersome. I've hit a bunch of sites recently that threw up an interstitial requiring me to "opt in" to cookies. This is obnoxious, and I go through the same thing on every device. It's not that one site doing it is especially cumbersome. It's the aggregate behavior.

I didn't realize that a new EU law was responsible for this until I read mibbitier's comment, though.

The worst implementations "drop down" a message at the top of the page to tell me they're using cookies. This invariably happens just as I'm clicking on a link. The link moves, and I click on some link I didn't want to click on.

There are no words strong enough to describe how shitty that is, and it's incredibly common, on big, widely used websites.

Recently became required by the EU for all websites to notify users of cookies, so don't expect the notifications to go away. Better implementations don't move content around the page though.

I expect us (UK) to withdraw from the EU in the next few years, so hopefully it'll become irrelevant.

>You're perhaps one of the very very few people who dislike being told about things [...]

The question is told by who, when, and at what cost?

If the answer is, by someone with a vested interest, all the time, and at the cost of someone accumulating massive amounts of very personal information about me, then no, I don't want to be told about things.

I really don't think many people see advertising as valuable information. They see it as payment for a service they want and that's what makes this issue so difficult. I don't like being tracked, but if I have to pay for every single service with my credit card, that's not going to increase my privacy either.

It's a real dilemma.

Cookies aren't really necessary, you can track people server side based on their browser make up, and they won't know they're being tracked.

In theory, maybe. In practice, no that's not true. The big web advertising companies all subscribe to the Internet Advertising Board's code of standards which prohibits anything like panopticon-style user tracking.

How are 99.9% of browsers unique?

Surely something like "Windows 7 running $LATEST_CHROME" must account for a very large chunk of traffic?

I assume this takes into account IP address also?

Panopticlick demonstrates a few things a website can gather. It's not just browser and OS version: https://panopticlick.eff.org/

I just tested at Panopticlick, and it told me my browser is completely unique. Just like it said the last 8 or so times I've been to Panopticlick.

So I question how meaningful that is. Yes, it's pulling enough info to uniquely identify a browser for now, but in a week I'll add a plugin, remove a plugin, change a setting, update Firefox, whatever and the tracking will be lost.

Edit: Also, browsers could be patched to randomize some of the information Panopticlick is using, like the exact way the HTTP Accept header is written, and the order in which plugins are reported.

Interesting , I just cleared cookies and tried that and apparently my browser is unique.

I guess it would be somewhat rare (I am running Ubuntu) but not that rare.

I'd be interested to know how this can be, since nothing in the info it gave back looked especially unusual.

That you're running Ubuntu is 99% of the entropy. Nobody uses Ubuntu (for certain values of nobody). The fonts you have installed. The versions of the plugins you have installed. &c.

I've long wanted to build a WebKit based browser that simply lies in response to all of those evil questions. Add it to my backlog of Important Projects, I guess.

But then a lot of websites wouldn't work properly because they are pushing IE specific CSS (or whatever) on you.

I haven't installed any weird versions of plugins, I assumed they would be tied to whatever chrome version I have.

And Ubuntu isn't rare enough for me to be the only person using it (especially on EFF).

Going to have to experiment with this a bit.

> nothing in the info it gave back looked especially unusual.

It doesn't have to be unusual, it just has to vary slightly from machine to machine. It's the specific combination of those slight variations that's unusual.

I'm curious, what business model do you think people want? Apps that offer ad-supported and paid versions tend to have many, many more ad-supported users, so I'm not convinced that's it.

"This website requires ad tracking to be enabled in order to view its content. Do you want to enable ad-tracking for this site?"

The site gets to use ad tracking on end users, it has their explicit permission, and I get to have a list in my browser of all those sites that are tracking me. Everybody wins.

I like the idea of more transparency from publishers, but like the UK cookie law this just seems like it would just add a lot hassle for not a lot of benefit. It's not like the people using Facebook aren't aware that it tracks you.

I think if a permission request for tracking were required, it would be treated much like "I agree to the terms and conditions" checkboxes are today...almost universally ignored.

> It's not like the people using Facebook aren't aware that it tracks you.

I call bullshit on this. The majority of the people using Facebook have no clue what information they are giving up to a third party, and would be very concerned if they realized that their browsing habits were tracked by Facebook without their explicit authorization.

It's a UI problem. If a site wants to track you, it should somehow instruct the browser that it won't let you in with the flag enabled.

1. Add another 400 code: "Privacy not allowed".

2. Browser displays dialog box "This site wants to track you. Yea/Nay?".

3. Everybody clicks Yea, since they want the site.

The EU cookie law faff from earlier this year shows that's probably not what would happen. Various people tested opt-ins for cookies. It didn't go too well.

Instead, any site running a system like that, except those for which there genuinely is no alternative whatsoever, would see their visitor numbers plummet.

Problem is that there's nothing stopping the site from telling the browser that it is not tracking the user and then simply tracking them anyway.

'"The advertisers have been extraordinarily obstructionist, raising the same issues over and over again, forcing new issues that were not on the agenda, adding new issues that have been closed, and launching personal attacks," said Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford privacy researcher and Do Not Track technology developer who is involved in the negotiations.'

So get a better Chair.

That this is even a debate is preposterous to me. I am a buyer. I love to shop. I also love the internet. What I don't love is being FORCED to view advertising I have no desire to view. Is advertising a right? If so, I've certainly never heard of it. I personally could not care less if internet advertisers dropped dead of starvation. They have no inherent right to follow me around to check out what I am doing in my personal time just so they can MAYBE get me to buy something that will put money in their pockets and food in their mouths. I think it is time to send advertisers a message (SOPA/PIPA style). I think it is time to send congress a message that states that we DO NOT WANT forced advertising and we will not be silent until we get it. Opt-In is the only acceptable choice for a free society.

I certainly understand the ad industry wanting to make enough money to eat. I also understand the importance of advertising. It is a great way to raise capital while offering viewers a chance to see what products and services are out there. It is also a great way to financially support a site. I have made many purchases due to great advertising. But is it really their right to force ads on us while we have no right to a simple "leave me alone" button? Maybe there could be an option version of "do not track" that allows advertising based on the SITE information or adblocking that removes ALL ads. Then let the consumer choose. I would certainly accept a non-tracking option most of the time. Am I completely unique in this?

As for the argument that viewers will not opt-in to advertising, I simply laugh. I use "do not track" and ad blocking implementations extensively. However, I turn it off (my version of opting in to advertising) for family birthdays, anniversaries, and especially holidays. How else will I find the best deals? However, the rest of the time, I have absolutely no desire to see any Web page containing 50% (conservative for some sites) advertising. Unless I am completely unique in this world, I cannot imagine that I am the only individual who does this.

Again, why is a consumers right to be tracked or advertised versus a company's right to track me and advertise to me even a debate?

I can't get behind this. It's just some ads, chill out. Advertisers have the right to advertise and you have the right to ignore the advertising. Advertising is a form of speech just as the content you're going to the site to see. You say you understand the advertising industry and that sites are able to stay in business because they make money on the ads they show you but then you go on to basically say you think they have no right to do it. This sounds like entitlement to me. If I want to advertise on my own website then I shouldn't be stopped from doing so just because someone comes along and has a real hardline opinion on the matter.

You're also not being forced to view advertising in the same way you're not being forced to visit a website. To make this into some kind of high ideal/moral/philosophy is just silly. They're just ads. Go get adblock, don't click on the ads, or just stop visiting the sites that have them. A site you really like shows ads and so you think you're backed into a corner? No way. No site is obligated to present content to you in the way you like it. There's way too many people these days shouting about how they want their FREE internet services just the way they want it like it's their right or something. It's not anyone's right.

Now tracking, that's a different story. We should all have the right to opt out of tracking if we don't want it. But to say we should never have to see an ad because it might annoy us is just ridiculous.

Is advertising a right? If so, I've certainly never heard of it.

Advertising is speech (tracking aside). On one's own site, yes, we have a right to advertise.

I think it is time to send congress a message that states that we DO NOT WANT forced advertising and we will not be silent until we get it.

If you don't want advertising, you're free not to use websites with ads. Please don't fuck with free speech just because you don't like them.

Now, tracking is (IMO) a different issue and yes, it should be opt-in.

OK, advertising is speech, sure (I suppose). But, there's no right to demand that anyone listen to you; I am still free to peel the logo off my car, remove the tag from my shirt, fast-forward past commercials, tear pages out of magazines.

And that's the problem with trying to use protected speech as a defense for advertising: all that does is protect your right to use it; it does not force me to also use it. Once the content is loaded on my browser, on my computer, I have the right to do with it whatever I please -- including automatically block any of the pieces that I don't want.

You're free to have advertising on your site. I'm free to not download any of it. Freedom is great!

Sure, but that's not really a contention point. Even Google, the biggest advertiser, lets you install AdBlock from their own "Web store": https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/adblock/gighmmpiob...

DNT is pretty laughably ill conceived. Vague definitions of what is able to be tracked, what constitutes a first party and third party (Is a browser vendor first party or third party?). Some of the major proponents are companies like Google and Microsoft, both with their respective gigantic ad platforms DART and Atlas. Would they be able to collect data directly from the browser and dominate the ad world? It's certain that if this were legislated that it would destroy the business model for many large companies. (Yahoo, ValueClick, AOL).

The existing legislation requires an opt-out policy from tracking. Advertisers must respect the user's choice with regards to targeted advertising. Does Microsoft turning on DNT by default represent the users choice or does it represent Microsoft's interests? What about third party identification for things like disqus? Sure we have ways to handle CORS today but what if there was a law (that only effected the USA) saying you were not allowed to "track" if you were a third party? If it's just about advancing web technologies why isn't this just a w3c proposal or RFC? What's wrong with the existing opt-out methods?

From what I see DNT is just a political tactic to gain power in the ad-world, not a way to protect the privacy of users.

Of course its dying. It's compeltely impractical and almost comical. There wa no reason to believe it would amount to anything but a publication in some journal.

This might be a naive idea, but it seems like you could throw noise into their system by having a program send out random requests, making their data less valuable.

How would this work in a real world scenario?

Maybe something like a browser plugin that would work like selenium ,but instead of scripting it with test cases, it could be fed by a service providing it with urls with the intention of throwing off anything data-mining your traffic across sites by giving it false data-points. Im not an expert though... for all i know, what im describing might be impossible or like fighting a rhino with a wet sponge.

Instead some regions have been outright making tracking without opt in illegal, e.g. the EU.

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