Month: September 2012

An olive branch to advertising

Online advertising has a couple of big problems that could possibly be turned into opportunities. One is Do Not Track, or DNT. The other is blocking of ads and/or tracking.

In my last post I talked about how DNT might be turned into DNT-D, for Do Not Track – Dialog. Then I said a bit more about that in this post at Harvard Business Review. Note that DNT is one among many possible HTTP headers. If DNT bogs down in politics (which it already has to some degree), there is nothing to stop anybody from working on alternatives that create opportunities for agreement and productive hand shaking between users and sites.

On blocking of ads and tracking, I’ll start by leveraging this from my HBR post:

According to ClarityRay’s Adblock Report, issued in May of this year, the overall rate of ad-blocked impressions in the U.S. and Europe is 9.26%. Even if we discount the source (ClarityRay’s business deals with ad blocking), the rate of ad blocking is substantial. Mozilla shows 170.5 million downloads of Adblock Plus, with more than 3 million downloads in the last 30 days alone, and an average of 13.9 million daily users. That’s for just one add-on for one browser.

People are also taking action against unwanted tracking. All the major browsers support some form of Do Not Track (DNT) signaling by browser users to websites, and Microsoft is committed to turning it on by default with the next version of Internet Explorer.

But to engage, VRM can’t just draw lines in the sand. It will also provide ways to cross those lines, offer a handshake, and back that handshake by demonstrating new and better ways of doing business.

Next, here’s a list of ad blocking tracking monitoring and blocking services, listed in the ProjectVRM wiki:

Abine DNT+, deleteme, PrivacyWatch: privacy-protecting browser extentions

Collusion Firefox add-on for viewing third parties tracking your movements

Disconnect.me  browser extentions to stop unwanted tracking, control data sharing

Ghostery  browser extension for tracking the trackers

PrivacyScore  browser extensions and services to users and site builders for keeping track of trackers

And I’m sure that leaves out a few more.

This is all a natural reaction simple bad manners on the part of sites and some of their advertisers and third party partners. Civilization runs on manners. The whole Net runs on the form of manners we call protocols. These are simply agreements about how things get along. They take the form of working together. In most cases no agreements are signed.

This is very much the way things work in the open marketplaces of the physical world. When we go in to a store, we behave as civilized human beings, and the stores are discreet about following us. (Which they do in many cases, and we know, either tacitly or explicitly.)

When you walk out of a department store on Main Street or a mall, nobody follows you with their hand in your pocket, saying “I’m just following you around so we can give you a better experience.” Yet this is nearly pro forma on the commercial Web today, and why we have the growing list of work-arounds above.

Yet few of us want no advertising at all, anywhere. Most of us appreciate what advertising can do, and certainly what it pays for, which is many of the graces that constitute the Web we know, starting with search.

The advertising business does have a conscience. The IAB, for example, has a Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising. Leaders in that industry, such as John Battelle and Randall Rothenberg, have done much to address the industry’s problems with overreach.

But they can’t do it alone. We can help from our end. One way is by making DNT-D happen, or by coming up with something better that respects what only advertising can do (as well as what we’d rather not have it do). Another is by bringing industry reps and tech developers into dialog with some of the development work we’re doing.

A good place to do both, and to just get dialog going, is at IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop, an inexpensive unconference we hold twice per year at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. The next one will be on 23-25 October. Hope to see you there.

Bonus links from Zemanta (which I’m using experimentally here):

Let’s turn Do Not Track into a dialog

Do Not Track (DNT), by resembling Do Not Call in name, sounds like a form of prophylaxis.  It isn’t. Instead it’s a request by an individual with a browser not to be tracked by a website or its third parties. As a request, DNT also presents an interesting opportunity for dialogue between user and site, shopper and retailer, or anybody and anything. I laid out one possibility recently in my Inkwell conversation at The Well. Here’s a link to the page, and here’s the text of the post:

The future I expect is one in which buyers have many more tools than they have now, that the tools will be theirs, and that these will enable buyers to work with many different sellers in the same way.

One primitive tool now coming together is “Do Not Track” (or DNT): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Not_Track It’s an HTTP header in a user’s browser that signals intention to a website. Browser add-ons or extensions for blocking tracking, and blocking ads, are also tools, but neither constitute a social protocol, because they are user-side only. The website in most cases doesn’t know ad or tracking blocking being used, or why. On the other hand, DNT is a social gesture. It also isn’t hostile. It just expresses a reasonable intention (defaulted to “on” in the physical world) not to be followed around.

But DNT opens the door to much more. Think of it as the opening to dialog:

User: Don’t track me.
Site: Okay, what would you like us to do?
User: Share the data I shed here back to me in a standard form, specified here (names a source).
Site: Okay. Anything else?
User: Here are my other preferences and policies, and means for matching them up with yours to see where we can agree.
Site: Good. Here are ours.
User: Good. Here is where they match up and we can move forward.
Site: Here are the interfaces to our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, so your VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) system can interact with it.
User: Good. From now on my browser will tell me we have a working relationship when I’m at your site, and I can look at what’s happening on both sides of it.

None of this can be contemplated in relationships defined entirely by the sellers, all of which are silo’d and different from each other, which is what we’ve had on the commercial Web since 1995. But it can be contemplated in the brick & mortar world, which we’ve had since Ur. What we’re proposing with VRM is nothing more than bringing conversation-based relationships that are well understood in the brick-and-mortar world into the commercial Web world, and weaving better marketplaces in the process.

A bit more about how the above might work:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/23/how-about-using-the-no-track-button-we-already-have/

And a bit more about what’s wrong with the commercial Web (so far, and it’s not hard to fix) here:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/21/stop-making-cows-stop-being-calves /

So, to move forward, consider this post a shout-out to VRM developers, to the Tracking Protection Working Group at the W3C, to browser developers, to colleagues at Berkman (where Chris Soghoian was a fellow, about at the time he helped think up DNT) — and to everybody with the will and the ways to move forward on this thing.

And hey: it’s also our good luck that the next IIW is coming up at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, from October 23rd to 25th. IIW is the perfect place to meet and start hashing out DNT-D (I just made that up: DNT-Dialog) directions. IIW is an unconference: no keynotes, panelists or vendor booths. Participants vet and choose their own topics and break out into meeting rooms and tables. It’s an ideal venue for getting stuff done, which always happens, and why this is the 15th of them.

Meanwhile, let’s get in touch with each other and start making it happen.

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