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):

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