Hey publishers, let’s get past mistaking tracking protection for ad blocking

Here’s what the Washington Post tells me when I go to one of its pieces (such as this one):

Here’s the problem: the Post says I’m blocking ads when I’m just protecting myself from tracking.

In fact I welcome ads. By that I mean real ads. Not messages that look like real ads, but are direct marketing messages aimed by tracking. Let’s call them fake ads.

Here’s one way to spot them:

When you see one of those in the corner of an ad, it means the ad is “interest based,” which is a euphemism for based on tracking you.

If you click on that icon, you get an explanation of what the ad is doing there (though no specifics about the tracking itself, or where trackers sniffed your digital exhaust across the Web), plus a way to “choose” what kind of ads you see or don’t. Here’s how the AdChoices site puts it:

Here are just some of the many ways this is fulla shit:

  1. It’s not your AdChoices Icon. It’s the Digital Advertising Alliance‘s. They are not you. They are a cabal of “leading national advertising and marketing trade groups.” And they don’t work for you. Nor does their icon.
  2. The most “control” you take when you click on that icon is over a subset of advertising systems that might be different with every AdChoices icon you click. It might be Google‘s, Experian‘s, DataXu/Evidon‘s, Amazon‘s or any one of thousands of other ad placement systems, each with their own opt-out rosters, none of which you can track, audit, or make accountable to you in the least.
  3. What’s behind the AdChoices icon is what you find behind every fig leaf. And it has the hots for your data.
  4. Next to the wheat of real advertising (which we’ve had since forever, has never tracked you, and carries straightforward brand messages for populations rather than individuals), “relevant” advertising is pure chaff. I explain the difference in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.
  5. The benefits of relevant advertising are mostly monetary ones going to intermediaries rather than to advertisers, publishers or human beings. As Bob Hoffman puts it to publishers, “adtech middlemen are scraping 60-70% of your media dollars (WFA and The Guardian).”
  6. After perhaps a $trillion has been spent on on “relevant” advertising, not one brand name (meaning one known by the world) has been created by it, nor has a known brand even been sustained. On the contrary, many brands have hurt themselves by annoying the shit out of people, creeping them out with unexpected or unwanted “relevance,” or both. So it’s no surprise that Procter & Gamble cut $100 million out of its digital advertising budget, and all they missed was the trouble it caused.

Aagain, I have no trouble with real advertising, meaning the wheat kind, which isn’t based on tracking me. In fact I like it because it tends to ad value the publications I read, and I know it sponsors those publications, rather than using those publications just for chasing readers’ eyeballs to wherever they might be found, meaning the publisher-sponsoring value of a “relevant” ad based on tracking is less than zero. I also know real ads aren’t vectors for fraud and malware.

That’s why I run tracking protection, in this case with Privacy Badger, which tells me the Washington Post has 49 potential trackers trained to sniff my digital ass. I don’t want them there. I am also sure the Post’s subscribers and editorial staff don’t want them there either.

So how do we fix that?

You can track movement toward the answer in these reports:

  1. Helping publishers and advertisers move past the ad blockade 
  2. How #adblocking matures from #noads to #safeads
  3. How NoStalking is a good deal for publishers
  4. What if businesses agreed to customers’ terms and conditions?
  5. How true advertising can save journalism from drowning in a sea of content
  6. What if businesses agreed to customers’ terms and conditions?
  7. How to plug the publishing revenue drain

Right now Customer Commons is working on NoStalking, which simply says this:

Obeying that request has three benefits:

  1. It puts both publishers and advertisers in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European privacy law that forbids personal tracking without express personal permission, has global reach (it applies to European Citizens using U.S. services) and large fangs that will come out in May of next year. I explain more about that one here.
  2. Ads not based on tracking—real ads—are far more valuable to publishers than the fake “relevant” kind. First, they actually sponsor the publication. Second, they carry no cognitive overhead for either the publisher or the reader. Both know exactly what an ad is for and what it’s doing there. Third, they can be sold and published the old fashioned ways that publishers abandoned when they jobbed out income production to revenue-sucking intermediaries. It ain’t that hard to go back.
  3. Real ads are more valuable to advertisers because they carry clear economic and creative signals. Don Marti explains how at DCN.

So here’s a request to the Washington Post and to every other digial publisher out there: talk to us. Let’s fix this thing together. Sooner the better. Thanks.

Defining #customertech

Look at your phone.

What apps there are yours? I mean yours in the way a hammer in your hand is yours. Or your car when you’re driving it. In other words, an extension of yourself.

The phone itself may seem to be that. But the apps? Not as much. Not yet. Especially not in the commercial world where we operate as customers. While there is an abundance of tech on the corporate side, all meant to give us a better “customer experience” (or just to sell us stuff), there is a paucity of instruments that extend ourselves as customers.

We have those in the physical world. Your clothing in a drawer is not an extension of your self, but it extends you totally when we wear it. Same goes for your wallet or your purse.

Clothing is many kinds of tech at once: privacytech, expressiontech and fashiontech, to name three. Unless you shop naked, which you probably don’t, clothing is also customertech: a way of extending your sovereign self into the marketplace, signaling your fitness as a customer, whether or not you are conscious of doing so.

Likewise your wallet. In that you carry a portfolio of instruments—cash, credentials, credit cards—that you can use selectively and expertly in every store, restaurant and other commercial setting we visit. In this sense wallets have scale. If you carry a purse, it might also contain a second wallet of loyalty cards and perhaps an address book where we keep notes and a list of contacts. Those tools—wallets, purses, address books—are all extensions of yourself that work everywhere in the marketplace. That’s why you carry them.

All of those things are now moving onto our phones as well, but not in ways that are fully ours. For example, there is no digital wallet made that’s as personal and private as the ones we carry in the physical world. And there should be. If anything, the customertech we have in our phones should start with the graces we enjoy in the physical world—of privacy, control, scale, convenience and expression—and expand them into the virtual one through the amazing graces of digital technology and the Internet. Instead we get lots of conveniences that offer scale only inside the silos of Google, Amazon, Apple and dozens of retailers, banks and other entities that mostly just want to acquire or move our cash and data. (In many cases they also want our attention, our loyalty—always coerced—or other scarce resources of consciousness.)

One example of good customertech we don’t yet have is a contact app that tells every company we know that we’ve changed your phone number, email address, or some other field in their databases. Another would be a wallet that’s not a service provided by one company but a personal tool that engages with all of them. Bots and APIs that belong to us, or are under our control, should be able to do that.

We can only begin to imagine these things, and how they should work, if our job is to equip the customer with tools that are fully hers. If the tool we imagine is a service, it should be one that gives the customer scale.

One real-world model for this is a rental car. When the customer has one, it’s hers to drive anywhere she likes. It isn’t a shopping cart with a steering wheel that only works inside one retailer, or only with the rental agency’s partners. She also has a reasonable expectation that the car is her private space as long as she’s driving it.

So, toward making customertech happen in a big way, Customer Commons will soon be issuing challenges for developers to make true customertech.

But first we’ll be defining it. We invite your help with that.

Meanwhile, a hat tip to Hugh MacLeod of @Gapingvoid, who drew the image above in 2004, to help explain exactly what we’re talking about here, way before the world was ready, which it is now.