Let’s make May 25th Privmas Day

25 May is when the GDPR—the General Data Protection Regulation—went into effect. Finally, our need for privacy online has legal backing strong enough to shake the foundations of surveillance capitalism, and maybe even drop it to the ground—with our help.

This calls for a celebration. In fact, many of them. Every year.

So let’s call 25 May Privmas Day. Hashtag: #Privmas.

And, to celebrate our inaugural Privmas let’s make a movement out of blocking third party cookies, since most of the spying on us starts there. Let’s call it #NoMore3rds.

Turning off third party cookies is easy. Here’s our guide, for six different browsers.

There is much more we can do. But let’s start with #NoMore3rds, and give us all something to celebrate.

 

How customers help companies comply with the GDPR

That’s what we’re starting this Thursday (26 April) at GDPR Hack Day at MIT.

The GDPR‘s “sunrise day” — when the EU can start laying fines on companies for violations of it — is May 25th. We want to be ready for that: with a cookie of our own baking that will get us past the “gauntlet walls” of consent requirements that are already appearing on the world’s commercial websites—especially the ad-supported ones.

The reason is this:

Which you can also see in a search for GDPR.

Most of the results in that search are about what companies can do (or actually what companies can do for companies, since most results are for companies doing SEO to sell their GDPR prep services).

We propose a simpler approach: do what the user wants. That’s why the EU created the GDPR in the first place. Only in our case, we can start solving in code what regulation alone can’t do:

  1. Un-complicate things (for example, relieving sites of the need to put up a wall of permissions, some of which are sure to obtain grudging “consent” to the same awful data harvesting practices that caused the GDPR in the firs place).
  2. Give people a good way to start signaling their intentions to websites—especially business-friendly ones
  3. Give advertisers a safe way to keep doing what they are doing, without unwelcome tracking
  4. Open countless new markets by giving individuals better ways of signaling what they want from business, starting with good manners (which went out the window when all the tracking and profiling started)

What we propose is a friendly way to turn off third party tracking at all the websites a browser encounters requests for permission to track, starting with a cookie that will tell the site, in effect, first party tracking for site purposes is okay, but third party tracking is not.

If all works according to plan, that cookie will persist from site to site, getting the browser past many gauntlet walls. It will also give all those sites and their techies a clear signal of intention from the user’s side. (All this is subject to revision and improvement as we hack this thing out.)

This photo of the whiteboard at our GDPR session at IIW on April 5th shows how wide ranging and open our thinking was at the time:

Photos from the session start here. Click on your keyboard’s right (>) arrow to move through them. Session notes are on the IIW wiki here.

Here is the whiteboard in outline form:

Possible Delivery Paths

Carrots

  • Verifiable credential to signal intent
  • Ads.txt replaced by a more secure system + faster page serving
  • For publishers:
    • Ad blocking decreases
    • Subscriptions increase
    • Sponsorship becomes more attractive
  • For advertisers
    • Branding—the real kind, where pubs are sponsored directly—can come back
    • Clearly stated permissions from “data subjects” for “data processors” and “data controllers” (those are GDPR labels)
    • Will permit direct ads (programmatic placement is okay; just not based on surveillance)
    • Puts direct intentcasting from data subject (users) on the table, replacing adtech’s spying and guesswork with actual customer-driven leads and perhaps eventually a shopping cart customers take from site to site
    • Liability reduction or elimination
    • Risk management
    • SSI (self-sovereign identity) / VC (verified credential) approach —> makes demonstration of compliance automateable (for publishers and ad creative)
    • Can produce a consent receipt that works for both sides
    • Complying with a visitor’s cookie is a lot easier than hiring expensive lawyers and consultants to write gauntlet walls that violate the spirit of the GDPR while obtaining grudging compliance from users with the letter of it

Sticks

  • The GDPR, with ePrivacy right behind it, and big fines that are sure to come down
  • A privacy manager or privacy dashboard on the user’s side, with real scale across multiple sites, is inevitable. This will help bring one into the world, and sites should be ready for it.
  • Since ample research (University of Pennsylvania, AnnenbergPageFair) has made clear that most users do not want to be tracked, browser makers will be siding eventually, inevitably, with those users by amplifying tracking protections. The work we’re doing here will help guide that work—for all browser makers and add-on developers

Participating organizations (some onboard, some partially through individuals)

Sources

Additions and corrections to all the above are welcome.

So is space somewhere in Cambridge or Boston to continue discussions and hackings on Friday, April 27th.

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.