Podcast: Adblocking: How About Nah?

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay Adblocking: How About Nah?, published last week on EFF's Deeplinks; it's the latest installment in my series about "adversarial interoperability," and the role it has historically played in keeping tech open and competitive, and how that role is changing now that yesterday's scrappy startups have become today's bloated incumbents, determined to prevent anyone from disrupting them they way they disrupted tech in their early days.

At the height of the pop-up wars, it seemed like there was no end in sight: the future of the Web would be one where humans adapted to pop-ups, then pop-ups found new, obnoxious ways to command humans' attention, which would wane, until pop-ups got even more obnoxious.

But that's not how it happened. Instead, browser vendors (beginning with Opera) started to ship on-by-default pop-up blockers. What's more, users—who hated pop-up ads—started to choose browsers that blocked pop-ups, marginalizing holdouts like Microsoft's Internet Explorer, until they, too, added pop-up blockers.

Chances are, those blockers are in your browser today. But here's a funny thing: if you turn them off, you won't see a million pop-up ads that have been lurking unseen for all these years.

Because once pop-up ads became invisible by default to an ever-larger swathe of Internet users, advertisers stopped demanding that publishers serve pop-up ads. The point of pop-ups was to get people's attention, but something that is never seen in the first place can't possibly do that.

MP3

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Empirical analysis of behavioral advertising finds that surveillance makes ads only 4% more profitable for media companies

In Online Tracking and Publishers’ Revenues: An Empirical Analysis, a trio of researchers from U Minnesota, UC Irvine and CMU report out their findings from a wide-ranging (millions of data-points) study of the additional revenues generated by behaviorally targeted ads (of the sort sold by Facebook and Google) versus traditional, content-based advertising (that is, advertising a piano to you because I spied on you when you searched for pianos yesterday, versus showing you an ad about pianos next to an article about pianos). Read the rest

Mozilla's Internet Health Report: discriminatory AI, surveilling smart cities, ad-tech

Every year, the Mozilla Foundation releases a massive "Internet Health Report" summarizing the ways in which the internet is being used to both support and subvert human thriving; though these reports cover a wide range of topics, every year the foundation chooses a small number of themes to focus on. This year, they are Let's Ask More of AI; The Power of Cities and Rethinking Digital Ads. Read the rest

Vast majority of Americans and Europeans believe ad-targeting and feed customization are immoral

An RSA survey of 6,000 US and EU adults found that only a minority (48%) believes there is any ethical way to use personal data (that figure rises to 60% when considering US respondents alone); 57% believe that data-breaches are the fault of companies for gathering and retaining data, not the hackers who release it; only 17% believe that ad customization is moral; and only 24% believe that newsfeed customization is moral. Read the rest

Citing terms of service and "bad actors," Facebook locks out tools that catalog ads and ad targeting

Propublica is one of many organizations, mainly nonprofits, whose "ad transparency" tools scrape Facebook ads and catalog them, along with the targeting data that exposes who is paying for which messages to be shown to whom. Read the rest

Every minute for three months, GM secretly gathered data on 90,000 drivers' radio-listening habits and locations

On September 12th, GM's director of global digital transformation Saejin Park gave a presentation to the Association of National Advertisers in which he described how the company had secretly gathered data on the radio-listening habits of 90,000 GM owners in LA and Chicago for three months in 2017, tracking what stations they listened to and for how long, and where they were at the time; this data was covertly exfiltrated from the cars by means of their built-in wifi. Read the rest

Apple makes it harder to track you online, ad industry has an aneurysm

Safari has blocked third-party cookies (used to track your behavior across multiple websites) since 2010, but the ad-tech industry has fired back with a bunch of covert tracking tools that watch you even if you've adopted privacy countermeasures; the latest version of Safari goes one better, deploying machine-learning to selectively block even more tracking technologies, while still preserving useful third-party cookies that help you stay logged in and do useful work across different sites. Read the rest

Methbot: a $3M-$5M/day video ad-tech fraud

White Ops, a security firm, has published a detailed report on a crime-ring they call "Methbot" that generated $3M-$5M by creating 6,000 fake websites to embed videos in, then generating convincing bots that that appeared to watch 300,000,000 videos/day -- running virtual instances of various browsers (mostly Chrome) on virtual machines running MacOS X, from a huge pool of IP addresses that they fraudulently had assigned to US locations, deploying clever grace-notes like limiting access to "daylight" hours in their notional locations; simulating mouse-movements and clicks and more. Read the rest

Listen: Tim Wu on The Attention Merchants

Tim Wu's book The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (review) was one of the best books I read in 2016; on Rick Kleffel's Narrative Species podcast, Wu discusses the book (MP3) covering depth that he couldn't fit between the covers. Read the rest

Malware delivered by bad ads takes over your home router to serve more bad ads (for now)

Proofpoint has identified a new version of DNSChanger EK, a strain of malware that changes your DNS settings so that the ads on the websites you browse are replaced with other ads that benefit the attackers -- and which can also be used for more nefarious ends, because controlling your DNS means controlling things like where your computer gets software updates. Read the rest

Tech companies: you have 63 days to make these 5 changes to protect your users before Trump is sworn in

When the next president takes office, he brings with him an anti-encryption, anti-free-press, Islamophobic, racist, anti-transparency agenda that will depend on the tech sector's massive databases of identifiable information and their sophisticated collection capabilities to bring his agenda to fruition. Read the rest

The surveillance economy has 67 days to disarm before Trump is sworn in

The Obama administration asserted the power to raid the massive databases of peoples' private, sensitive information that ad-based tech companies have assembled; the Trump administration has promised to use Obama's powers to effect the surveillance and deportation of 11 millions undocumented migrants, and the ongoing, continuous surveillance of people of Muslim heritage. Read the rest

Botwars vs ad-tech: the origin story of universal surveillance on the Internet

Maciej Cegłowski's posted another of his barn-burning speeches about the Internet's problems, their origins and their solutions (previously), a talk from the Fremtidens Internet conference in Copenhagen called "What Happens Next Will Amaze You." Read the rest