Adtech

Because I live in the United States, I grew up with the notion that TV would provide me “content” for free in exchange for embedding advertisements in that content. It's always seemed fair and reasonable to me so I've resisted the urge to install an ad blocker in my browser. After all, I enjoy and profit from the works that people put on the Internet so it's only fair that I pay for them with the accompanying ads.

That doesn't mean, however, that I've signed up to be a pushover. Annoy me enough and I'll learn to forego your contributions. For example, if you autoplay a video advertisement when I enter your site, I'm gone as soon as it starts and I won't be back. There are, it turns out, much worse things than autoplay videos and they're mostly invisible and easy to overlook.

I'm talking about the tracking ads and beacons that go by the generic name of adtech. If you want the scales to fall from your eyes, install something like Ghostery or Privacy Badger in your browser and see what happens. It will, I promise you, make your hair stand on end. Some sites are pushing over 20 tracking beacons to your browser all of which are tracking you across the Internet. Some are being reused by the NSA to track “people of interest.”

It's even worse on mobile where all this extra cruft uses up your expensive bandwidth and depletes your battery charge. Dean Murphy, the developer of Crystal, an iOS 9 app that blocks tracking ads and beacons, has run some benchmarks. He finds that blocking trackers makes pages load 3.9 times faster and use 53% less bandwidth.

Plugins like Ghostery, Privacy Badger, or Crystal seem like an ideal solution to me because they don't block ads per se, only tracking ads so you're keeping faith with the content providers as long as they don't abuse your trust. Sadly, the content providers are getting ripped off by adtech too. Don Marti explains adtech fraud in an excellent post that shows how content providers and advertisers are getting ripped off while we users are having our privacy violated. You really should read it but the TL;DR is that the adtech vultures drop a tracking cookie on you when you visit a high quality site such as The Atlantic but actually serve the ad when you visit a low quality site with cheaper ad rates: collect your interests in the high rent neighborhoods but sell you the goods in the sketchier parts of town.

As I said at the beginning, I don't mind ads but that doesn't mean that I'm open to having my behavior tracked by mostly unsavory ad networks that feel entitled to run arbitrary scripts on my computer without my knowledge or consent. Until they clean up their act, Ghostery will block their privacy invading scripts. Marco Arment says that even if some publishers experience difficulties that doesn't mean we're obligated to let them romp through our machines. I agree. Send me non-tracking ads and I'll see them. Otherwise, your ads are going right into the bit bucket unread and unexecuted.

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