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Respectful Ads not Acceptable Ads

When you’ve becomes too familiar with the an industry’s trade organizations, it is a sure sign that you have entered the vale of tears. Forget the newly minted worries about fake news, this is the world of paid opinions, a hall of mirrors where facts are irrelevant; broadcast power combined with political clout are what matters.

In March the advertising industry published its conclusions regarding acceptable ‘ad experiences’. They found, unsurprisingly, that users hate autoplay video ads, pop-ups, countdown ‘prestitials’ and a series of other things. The new acronym behind this standard, the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA), includes Facebook, Google and entities such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Network Advertising Initiative (NAI). The CBA’s strategic purpose is to find ways to stanch the demand for adblockers upstream, cutting off the legs from uncontrolled third parties like Adblockplus, whose ‘Acceptable Ads‘ criteria have been enforced by ABP since 2012.

But this competing standard can’t undermine the adblockers unless it is given form as software. Thus the rumor that Google are going to integrate an adblocking feature with Chrome; it won’t be an adblocker as we know it, but one which implements the CBA’s rules. (If you want a browser with integrated adblocking or tracker blocking, Opera and Brave offer that functionality already.)

The CBA and the Acceptable Ads program have something in common: neither address user concerns unconnected with format, but to do with the tracking and surveillance architecture which sits at the core of the advertising industry. In their eyes it is just a case of users being irritated by annoying formats, but it’s not, and research about the motivations behind adblocker adoption have repeatedly demonstrated that, including research commissioned by the IAB itself. The following chart comes from a report (1) produced by the IAB last summer:

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 17.39.18

fig 1. Ad Blocking: Who Blocks Ads, Why and How to Win Them Back, IAB & C3 Research, 2013

The discussion needs to be emancipated from the straitjacket of ‘format acceptability’ and turned towards the relationship between publishers and readers. Treating readers/users respectfully means to value their time and attention, acknowledge and abide by their privacy preferences, and to find ways to deliver utility in ways they want.

Such an attitude does not come naturally to the many members of the CBA who spent the last half year lobbying against the FCC’s privacy rules, enabling ISPs to spy on their customers. These organizations prefer fig-leaf self-regulatory schemes that claim to offer privacy choices, programs dismissed by the former FTC commissioner Julie Brill. Now the Network Advertising Initiative have the hubris to organize a ‘Privacy Hackathon’ – anyone considering participating might wonder if it’s sensible to align their privacy work with an organization which fought for the repeal of consumer privacy rules at the FCC.

(1) See chart on page 20, Ad Blocking: Who Blocks Ads, Why and How to Win Them Back, IAB, June 2016.

April 30, 2017 Posted by | / | Leave a comment