Better here than never(tm)

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    Hi fellow CCS fans, and, most certainly, esteemed hosts! My story is a pretty simple (and long, and tedious) one, so let me spare the trouble as they do in online games, by introducing it slowly, piece by piece. Suffice to say, I’m just someone on the internet with the occasional “free” time – by “free” I mean “lots of stuff to do but I don’t feel like doing anything productive, especially after work”. Over the years I’ve written on some topics that made me wish I had a blog, then I always caught myself by the throat and said “don’t you remember the last time you had one?”

    Anyway, there are a few posts, or, rather “rants”, that I might eventually share on this forum. Why here? It seems one of the few places where a discussion doesn’t (instantly) deteriorate into kittens vs ponies, and I won’t be called “Trump”, or some other highly esteemed but controversial political figure, for stating something that internet nobody #321321 might find offensive, even if it is just some random post by another internet nobody #234211 (my own dumb and self-absorbed … well, self). So here goes the first one, on the hot topic of internet advertising and ad blocking, and other bad evil stuff(tm).

    Finally, if this forum is actually for linking stuff that was published elsewhere, this can easily be moved into offtopic, as I have no intention of publishing these “rants” anywhere else, short of some other forums I have the habit of lurking.

    DISCLAIMER: it is in no way aimed at CCS, you guys and gals are great, and I am not against ads on the internet, so long as you know what stuff your site is linking to – or, at least, I hope. 🙂


    Advertizing, tracking and “theft” – works both ways, really

    To start let me state that I have never used ad blockers (perhaps due to not being overly bothered by most ads), up until recently. Tried Ghostery, and was surprised just how much gets broken. Now, I didn’t disable ads per se, just the “track me baby” part. Which is a bit sad, since my broswers were always configured to send “do not track” markers in their request – just shows how much tracking has become an integral part of any service to the point it simply doesn’t work without, and just how much of “do not track” was getting plain and simply ignored.

    The rant below deals with several issues at hand – ad revenue as a source of income, levels of “obnoxious”, tracking and “evils so common that it’s actually good”.

    The biggest complaint against using ad blockers I have heard were mostly related to lost revenue, kind of like they claimed piracy was preventing sales. Some of it makes sense, unless you start digging – then it doesn’t (with piracy, that is). With ads – it’s plain well known that sites get paid for showing ads. Not clicking (though some ad sources provide that too), but just for showing. The counterargument is that if ads were less shown across the globe, value of individual ad would eventually even out the amount of expositions, or whatever the industry calls it. However, one could view this as a weak argument, and I concede this point. It is not 100% unambiguous, and could indeed lead to potential loss of revenue. That is not to say ads are universally efficient, but w/e, if someone gets paid for showing me ads, fine by me, as long as I don’t have match sticks in my eyes forcing me to look at them. And I don’t – even when they show popups right above the text, I can still look away…

    But comparing it to theft, isn’t that over the line? Perhaps listening to your neighbour’s awfully loud stereo is also theft, even if you have no say whether you want to in the first place… Come to think of it, I don’t recall needing (or reading) all the 50 articles on a news page, but they somehow think I need to see all the ads on it regardless.

    In any case, let’s see the other side’s complaints. First and foremost, ad “culture” has significantly deteriorated over the years. A small banner here and there was all we had in the “brave new world”, when I wasn’t a “sad old git”. What I certainly don’t remember is giving any consent for a “digitally-printed” media to play any audio or video sources until I click “play”. Nor do I recall asking for more than one browser window open per click. This is no longer artistic creativity, it is hijacking my computer. If the previous argument was about web site owners having the sole right of say about whatever is displayed within the window of your browser, likewise whatever is outside is none of their business, and is the sole domain of the user. Fair?

    Second, tracking. In EU it is actually simpler, any kind of tracking is illegal, unless consent was explicitly given. Cookies are semi-legal, depending on the use, but tracking is certainly not, and not limited to cookie-based either. Is there any reason why ad network companies saying “we’re unable to ask for consent since we don’t interact with the user” is supposed to be grounds for “so we don’t need to ask”? Thus when I prevent tracking by using some side tool, or by simply adding a few lines to my router config (which reminds me, I should probably do that), I am simply making sure my rights are protected.

    In the rest of the world, things aren’t as legally clear, and interfering with ad tracking may not just be exercising your rights, but actually breaking some 3rd party contract you never remember signing, the one that makes you waive almost any right. Then again, let’s think for a moment – is the user required to use a specific browsing agent? I could telnet for all I care, and it would be as much my right to do so in US, as in good old Europe.

    Finally, the biggest catch 22 yet. It is well-known that websites do not wish to spend time and insane amount of money to screen ads for safety and security. It is also known that ad networks sometimes make a blunder, and some fecal matter hits a big rotating object. Then there are web sites that “ask politely” to stop using ad blockers to see their content (not giving any specific names here, you know our “heroes”). Problem is, if I am forced to view ads as part of the web site (and they make it a legal thing, as part of copyright law in US, as in “modifying the work of art is an infringement”), doesn’t that content suddenly constitute first party, not third party content? And if I am not permitted to block it, fine, just assume your legal responsibilities for this “first party” content when that thing with the fan happens – how about that? Doesn’t the restaurant, after all, accept all responsibility for food poisoning even if their supplier mixed up and got them the sweets box made special as a git to Snowden? Or if my car was to be squashed by some bricks that fell of the wall of a nearby building, so long as it happened on their parking lot?

    Actually, I’m not entirely sure on the latter part, they would definitely try to weasel out of it. But in the case of internet ad networks, they (site owners) don’t even have to – it’s “third party content nobody verified or is responsible for that I still somehow am obliged to accept to use their site”. Sounds awful lot like software bundling, and that wasn’t legal, last I checked.

    Finally, as for ads “quality” goes, I would probably say what other hell-knows-how-many people say on the internet: as long as ads don’t do no-no’s, I’d be quite ok with those. What no-no’s? Don’t pop above, behind, or anywhere else within the content part of the site, don’t autoplay anything, and, above all, do not track. You want to show me a BWM because I’m browsing a car magazine – fine with me. You keep showing me a BMW when I’m on a cooking website an hour later – screw you, I drive an Alfa Romeo anyway.

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