The abominable ad tech arms race

I am posting about the online advertising and tracking “arms race” because it affects all of us who use Wi-Fi and cellular networks and it affects the network owners who make money by offering “free” Wi-Fi through ads. It IS an arms race: as users block more intrusive advertising and ad tracking on their (desktop and laptop) browsers, websites that offer content for free (online news sites, blogs, etc.) place ever more intrusive advertising and ad tracking software.

The war began with pop-up ads. That was the line that advertising crossed. When users found a way to block pop-ups, websites got clever and partnered with ad tech companies to do much more: tracking you, gathering information on your site visits and your profile, placing ads in the middle of articles, autoplaying video ads, you name it. The worst happens on mobile devices. There’s no way to block ads on the iPad or iPhone, whether on a mobile browser or in an app. As a result, the ads, including autoplay videos and other junk they load onto your phone, gobble up ever more megabytes (where “unlimited” data is not quite unlimited) and drain the battery. NOT good.

Enter Apple. The next iOS 9 will enable “content blocking”:

“Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”

According to Doc Searls, there are apps for iOS 9, such as Crystal by Dean Murphy, that promise to “remove advert banners, blocks, popovers, autoplay videos, App Store redirects & invisible tracking scripts that follow you around the web.” They make the web pages load faster and reduce data use. Doc Searls’ entire article is well worth reading:
Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of ad tech

Another must-read is Marco Arment’s The Ethics of Modern Web Ad-Blocking. He says:

I’ve never been tempted to run ad-blocking software before — I make most of my living from ads, as do many of my friends and colleagues, and I’ve always wanted to support the free media I consume. But in the last few years, possibly due to the dominance of low-quality ad networks and the increased share of mobile browsing (which is far less lucrative for ads, and more sensitive to ad intrusiveness, than PC browsing), web ad quality and tolerability have plummeted, and annoyance, abuse, misdirection, and tracking have skyrocketed.

Here’s the thing. I don’t mind advertising if it is relevant, tasteful and respectful. For example, I read sponsored posts on beauty websites where the post is about a new beauty or skin care product. I check out the links to sponsors on Daring Fireball. But this business of throwing ads at you that are completely irrelevant, intrusive and tasteless is unacceptable. I wonder what the ad tech industry will come up with next. They won’t go quietly into the sunset. There’s too much money invested in companies that deliver sleazy ads and track people for them to just quietly fold up. As I said, this is an arms race.

What to use on your desktop or laptop browser to block ad tech: Ghostery, Ad Block Plus and Privacy Badger.