Companies Keep Asking Us To Track You; We'd Rather You Be Protected From Tracking

from the the-ads-biz dept

We've talked in the past about the ridiculousness of the online advertising business. Over the last few years, the dollar value of most online ad revenue has declined drastically. Remember how musicians whined that their revenue dropped precipitously due to changes on the internet? I know how they feel -- though rather than lash out and blame the internet or demand legal changes, I'm hoping that we can find a better way -- and part of that is by reaching out publicly for support. Here's the thing, though: while the dollar value on ads has continued to decline, there's still been an explosion in companies filling up the online ad space. We're contacted by between one and five internet ad companies every single day, asking us to put their ads on our site. They often make bold promises, which few can actually live up to. We ignore most of these requests. Many are obviously scammy or fly-by-night. Others use language that immediately turns us off. For example, there's one company that emails basically every week promising to help us "fix" our "ad blocking problem" by forcing people using ad blockers to see ads. I don't even want to bother letting them know that we let users turn off ads themselves if they want.

We recently received a pitch from a company offering to give us a lot of money if we'd let them track our users in a very specific way. They were, more or less, promising revenue rates that are approximately 3x to 5x what we currently get. After speaking to them, we recognized that they were serious and actually had put a lot of thought into making sure that they were taking users' privacy into account. But, it still felt... sketchy. On top of that, to implement it, it would have required us to change our privacy policy, which just set off alarm bells for us. If we need to change our privacy policy to do something like that, it's probably not worth it, just because we recognize how much many of you value your privacy, and even if they're offering much higher rates, what good is that if we lose the trust of our readership?

In the meantime, we are always looking for ways to help keep Techdirt funded that are good for everyone, rather than ones that undermine trust or treat our community poorly. That's why we have this ongoing partnership with Private Internet Access, the popular and excellent VPN service that helps stop companies from tracking you so carefully. And that's why we'll do things like make money off of affiliate fees from helping protect your privacy, instead of selling out any good will and trust by treating you "as the product" (as the slightly ridiculous saying goes). So we've told the tracking company no thanks and to take a hike. I doubt most other websites would do the same, but we thought it was the appropriate move and, in the interest of transparency, wanted to share our decision with you.

Obviously, I'm also not just writing this to pat ourselves on the back -- but to give you some transparency into the fact that to keep Techdirt strong, we need support from you guys who make up our community. And, again, picking up your Private Internet Access VPN from us is one great way to support Techdirt (and help you protect your privacy). You can also buy stuff from our Deals Store or support us directly via our Insider Shop. And we'll have some other stuff coming in the future (including, yes, more awesome T-shirts). We try to be overly cautious not to be too aggressive in asking for support, but after our experience with this one tracking company, it seemed appropriate to share that story and remind you of ways you can support us that don't require that we change our privacy policy and compromise our values.
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While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

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Filed Under: ads, journalism, privacy, tracking, vpns


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  • icon
    Deimal (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 9:50am

    Subs

    I'm not sure what you get from an individual reader viewing and/or clicking ads are, not the business I'm in. However another website that I read daily, Ars Technica, does offer an annual subscription to readers who want to support the site and I am one of their subs. Now a part of their offering is no-ads on the site, a large reason I sub to be honest (feel better subbing and not seeing ads than not seeing ads and not supporting them).

    Is there some sort of option for TD to do so? Obviously the no ads thing wouldn't work since you already offer that for free, but maybe something like earlier access to media content or something along those lines? I don't know any other reader so I can't say if they would be willing to sub, but for the right price and the right hook I would.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2016 @ 10:00am

    Y'know...I think I'll go for the PIA offer. I realize that it isn't much support for TD, but it's at least a start.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 10:02am

    i thoroughly realize i am the skunk at the party...

    ...but while i generally agree with and like the sentiments/ points being made w various tee shirt designs, i am also generally disappointed with the graphic design itself...
    RARELY (if ever)do i buy a tee shirt SOLELY on the message being conveyed, it had better be a decent looking tee shirt if you want me to be a walking billboard for it...
    to that end, i would be willing to do some simple designs based on the sundry topics here, but realizing i am untouchable, i know both my suggestion and offer to help is not wanted...
    i tried...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2016 @ 10:53am

    While I agree that our privacy is a good argument, I find Mike Masnick's comments to be offensive in nature.

    He says in his article: "That's why we have this ongoing partnership with Private Internet Access, the popular and excellent VPN service that helps stop companies from tracking you so carefully."

    Not only is that comment misleading but it's also self serving, coming from Mike Masnick. First, Techdirt directly benefits financially. Second, since you'd be paying with credit card or your bank account, Private Internet Access has the ability to track you via your payment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 11:02am

      Re:

      Second, since you'd be paying with credit card or your bank account, Private Internet Access has the ability to track you via your payment.

      PIA is among the most aggressive VPNs in offering anonymous ways to pay. You can pay using Bitcoin, or using a wide variety of retail gift cards.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 4:15pm

      Re:

      Not only is that comment misleading but it's also self serving, coming from Mike Masnick. First, Techdirt directly benefits financially.

      You really need to pickup your level of reading comprehension from kindergarten to at least high-school level.

      For example, if you include the sentence directly following what you quoted:

      That's why we have this ongoing partnership with Private Internet Access, the popular and excellent VPN service that helps stop companies from tracking you so carefully. And that's why we'll do things like make money off of affiliate fees from helping protect your privacy, instead of selling out any good will and trust by treating you "as the product" (as the slightly ridiculous saying goes).

      From that second sentence, they are acknowledging that they take a kickback ('affiliate fees') from referring purchasers to PIA.

      And further down in the article, again an acknowledgement that they make money from PIA and their own Insider Shop:

      And, again, picking up your Private Internet Access VPN from us is one great way to support Techdirt (and help you protect your privacy). You can also buy stuff from our Deals Store or support us directly via our Insider Shop.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard M (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 10:59am

    You still need to test your connection

    I have been using PIA for at least a couple of years and some recent testing showed that I was still leaking some information. Updating and tweaking fixed most of them but their IPv6 leak protection does not work (at least on my win7 computer) and I ended up disabling IPv6 altogether for now. Not really a long term solution but hopefully at some point their IPv6 leak protection will do what it is supposed to do.

    You need to run regular privacy testing to make sure all the steps you are taking are actually working like they should.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    pegr, 17 Nov 2016 @ 10:59am

    One suggestion

    Wean yourself away from those extremely crappy "education" "deals" provided by next-to-scammer level BS providers. I've seen their course ware. I'm a twenty-year professional in some of the fields they cover, and the content is absolute shit.

    Hey, but it's only $25! Total and utter rip-off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 11:53am

    This article will be a perfect opportunity for me to address something that's been bugging me for a while.

    For some time, I've noticed an attitude shift in the articles written on the site, most notably from Mike, Timothy, and Karl.

    Some articles borderline derogatory statements and others include profanity. In extremely rare cases, both may appear.

    I get it. When we feel passionate about a subject, sometimes our common sense is put aside and we throw everything we can at it, hoping our words mean something. My own comment history can attest to that.

    But here's the thing: my best comments have been those which removed my personal... choice of words. Twice, I've received kudos from readers to make the yearly top posting.

    So why haven't my more colorful posts been awarded? The answer comes down to simplicity: if people focus more on the vulgarity, the point is lost.

    This is true. Does anyone at Techdirt honestly think if I forward a message where the word "BULLSHIT" was included that the recipient would find this as journalism?

    Don't take my word for it. Look around the people you hang with. Gaming online with Timothy, I would expect nothing but a slew of vulgarity in my headset.

    Listening to profanity over an important subject? Not professional.

    I'm certainly not opposed to vulgarity, clearly, but there *is* a tremendous difference between remaining above those who Techdirt calls out and remaining civil rather than saying "What you're doing is bullshit. Knock it off."

    The recipient of such a phrase (note: not actually used on any article, just an example) would be dismissed not only by the target of the article, but anyone standing around.

    It's immature, just as we romp while we game. There's a right time to be immature and then there's the right time to remain above everything else going to hell in a handbasket.

    My Nsider badge will remain missing from my account for a while, because I can't see myself endorsing articles which are slowing degrading into the likes of Fox News, or worse, Breitbart.

    I expect better from Techdirt.

    I know 2016 has been one of the worst years in recorded history, but should this be an excuse to throw all civility out the window?

    Techdirt has always been up front with us regarding its financial situation, and why it pushes ads (which I now have whitelisted, by the way), and it's always been a great relationship.

    But lately, I feel the relationship is falling apart. I can't, and never will, relate to articles where the content looks to be more of a personal attack than simply presenting the factual truth.

    I don't read typical news pages, such as Yahoo or "feeds" (more often clickbait than news). I don't use Facebook.

    This means my news is limited to a couple of sources: Techdirt, Ars, and the Entertainment and Products sections of Bing's news site.

    I'm not asking Techdirt to change its formula. It has every right to post as it chooses.

    But if I'm being honest, it's a formula I don't agree with, and cannot directly support financially.

    Sorry for the long post, but as I said, this was a good opportunity to bring this up. It's been bugging me for a while.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Rapnel (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 4:21pm

      Re:

      Really? Because I drop in for the free form flow of info that includes feelings, rants and opinions. Not too mention the old school approach to a comment section. There's absolutely nothing more inane than a bunch of carefully crafted and polished blog posts for not much value other than someone might take offense. That and I positively abhor the trends I'm witnessing with most "apps" (what-the-actual-fuck), mediation, advertisement, comment sections disappearing en-masse and.. fuck me, prosecutions founded on text and words and based on nothing more than pussy, fear-mongering, bitchy bullshit.

      I expect dirt from techdirt, pure, unfiltered, dirty dirt. And I like bad words and, unlike the "pc" trends and views, it shows me grit and purity.. And fuck-all the puritanical, "I didn't hear what you said because I didn't like how you said it" crap because I can't fathom willful ignorance under any circumstances.

      Everyone is expecting the Internet to make them some money. Look at telecom - the depth and breadth of that greed-based stranglehold makes me want to break shit. I pay .. hm.. too damn close to $500.00 a month for all my comms. And it's rapidly, extremely rapidly, turning into nothing but cable 2.0. I expect better from the Internet, I demand it. Speak your minds. Oh and thanks for sharing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Eldakka (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 4:36pm

        Re: Re:

        Couldn't agree more.

        This is a blog, not a news site. I expect a lot more personal opinions, emotion, and a more conversational style on a blog site. In a conversation, people drop the occasional 'light' curse word, damn, shit, bugger, bloody hell, bullshit. Well, everyone except maybe the Queen. And, depending on the audience (e.g. not in a conversation with my mum), and how passionate one feels about the topic, the odd f-bomb or other stronger curses may be used.

        If I want the dry, sanitized news, I'll go to a news site with their army of editors. Style editors, newsworthiness editors, fact checkers, topic-specific editors (sports, entertainment, et al.), editors-in-chief. All answering to corporate masters (CIOs, Boards, owners of the conglomerates that owns the company that owns the news site).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Scote, 17 Nov 2016 @ 6:05pm

          It's a news site

          Saying "This is a blog, not a news site" is like saying "This is a website, not a news site." There is nothing about being a blog that means it can't be a news site.

          Techdirt does both original reporting and reporting on stories that other media outlets have covered. It even shows up in Google News. Not sure why you think it isn't a news site.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Seegras (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 3:43am

          Re: Re: Re:

          > the odd f-bomb or other stronger curses may be used.

          This is EXACTLY the kind of fucking self-censorship I really can't stand.

          What you're doing isn't even swearing, you're just talking about swear-words, and STILL you're self-censoring yourself.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Niall (profile), 1 Dec 2016 @ 6:08am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            But Eldakka doesn't even need to. 'F-bomb' is a legitimate phrase in its own right, and there is no need to incldue more as they were in an earlier post.

            Plus - if someone feels like self-censoring, isn't that their prerogative? Just because you may feel free to swear like a navvy doesn't mean that everyone else does... or wants to.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Go5 (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 6:08pm

      I don't mind a bit of vulgarity and snark. It's how my friends and I usually talk about these topics, so it fits right in.

      That said, I have wondered if the style ever impacts Techdirt's quotability or authoritativeness at the megamediacorps. But Mike and crew have been at this party for a while, they know what they're doing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Atkray (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 9:40pm

      Re:

      Well said.

      I too have felt there has been an increase in coarse language and insults and felt it was a distraction and unprofessional.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 3:39am

      Cultural differences

      Hi

      I very much disagree with you. While I think that derogatory statements might (might!) be a problem, I totally disagree when it comes to swearing. It's what we (Europeans!) do, and I really, really, can't cope with this US-American anti-swearing self-censorship-shit.

      It's immature, and it's constantly lamp-shading itself, actually drawing attention to itself by telling me "I would be swearing, but I'm censoring myself now" constantly. In other media, it's even worse: Beeping is just obscene.

      I'd rather have people writing honest.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lutch, 18 Nov 2016 @ 9:38am

      Re:

      bollocks

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Scote, 17 Nov 2016 @ 12:28pm

    Are any of the ad tracking methods you talked about fooled by a VPN?

    Mike, I love the Techdirt ethos, and your upfront policies and transparency on ads. Techdirt one of my few daily must reads. However, I can't help feel that this post is a bit misleading. Are any of the ad tracking technologies you declined to implement completely dependent on a static IP? Would any be thwarted by merely using a VPN? Any of them?

    Although a static IP aids data aggregation, the main tracking technologies for advertisers are based on being able to uniquely identify your computer and/or browser and associate it with a login or other information you've given to other sites. The methods include traditional cookies, flash cookies and other persistent identifiers, all of which pass right through a VPN and also allow the VPN IP to be associated with the target.

    Private Internet Access has a very good reputation as a VPN, and promoting them is totally consistent with the Techdirt ethos. But I do think you are overselling just what a VPN can do when you mention it as a solution to advertiser tracking.

    Also, I'd like to read more details about the *names* of the companies and the *exact* tracking technology they wanted to use. If you really are never going to use it you have no valid reason not to write about it. It's very much Techdirt material, and being cagey about it is not very Techdirt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 4:55pm

      Re: Are any of the ad tracking methods you talked about fooled by a VPN?

      Although a static IP aids data aggregation, the main tracking technologies for advertisers are based on being able to uniquely identify your computer and/or browser and associate it with a login or other information you've given to other sites. The methods include traditional cookies, flash cookies and other persistent identifiers, all of which pass right through a VPN and also allow the VPN IP to be associated with the target.

      There are many technologies that are used for tracking. IP's being one of them. They are all used because if, for example, you delete all your cookies, but they have your IP on record from when you had their cookies, when we re-connect with the same IP but no cookies, they can deduce that you are that person because you are using the same IP .

      It's the combination of information that they use. IPs, cookies, logins, tracking 'gifs', browser user-agent strings, what software you have installed on your computer (yes, some browser scripts can pull information directly from your computer, check out ThreatMetrix), hardware serial numbers, and more. They collect it all, so if a few elements go missing from your next session, say cookies deleted, or IP changed, or using a different username, they can use the remaining info that you haven't changed to fill in the gaps and still know who you are.

      Therefore it requires defense in depth. Changing IPs regualrly, using VPNs, ad-blocking, script blocking, URL blocking, plugins such as Ghostery, Ad-Block, uMatrix, uBlock Origin, Policeman, NoScript, and others.

      And also note, that in many ways the biggest threat to general online tracking is your own ISP. Look what the various ISP's have tried - putting unique identifiers on all your outbound packets, and so on. A VPN (as long as they are independent and not in cahoots with your ISP) will strip that (if it's at TCP/IP level) from your packets so the destination won't have that tracking information.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2016 @ 1:09pm

    If the deals would be shipped to Canada you would have more sales. Doesn't need to be free shipping like the US., though that would be nice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2016 @ 3:27pm

    The thing about PIA...most vpns...

    If a structural engineer came to my firm, and I noticed one of the "high quality" materials they offered to construct my building, was a concoction of magicians flash paper and plaster.... (ie- something that appeared very strong, but would 100% immolate with the slightest friction- thus setting the whole building on fire)

    That certainly wouldn't be a company I"d do business with- or have ANY associations with for that matter. There is something horribly wrong with this picture- don't you see?

    This sort of thing is emblematic of the vpn industry. An unregulated free-for-all owned mostly by technologically inept and greedy business men.

    PIA offers PPTP- a "permanently" broken protocol, which we've known to be un-fixable for many years. PPTP can not be made secure with future updates

    The "vpn industry" cares far more about taking your money and covering there arses, then they do about providing anything beyond a passable false sense of privacy and security.

    -so; confront PIA about PPTP- try and get them to drop it.

    My bet- they'll refuse, because they have far to many income producing "no touch" customers that they'd then have to help to use a protocol that is actually capable of providing the benefits that they advertise there service has.

    Maybe they justify this in their heads by saying it's just industry practice, or that the devices that will only run pptp are so hopelessly outdated that they're insecure anyway.

    That's the kind of people you want to do business with? They sell security/privacy, but if they can't offer that- they just take your money, give you a placebo and keep quite about it.

    fuck that.

    You'll get points from me if you can turn them into anything better then the most gilded turd in the cesspool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2016 @ 12:36am

      Re: The thing about PIA...most vpns...

      PIA are probably strait-up government.

      If not, they are definitely 100% owned by five-eyes, as they are based in the US and subject to NSLs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 3:50am

      PPTP

      PPTP is about as secure as WEP. Both can be broken within seconds. And both are unfixable, since the vulnerability isn't in the implementation, but the protocol itself.

      Don't ever use them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 17 Nov 2016 @ 9:02pm

    Where are the overpriced T-shirts??

    I've bought Techdirt T-shirts before and will again.

    But I just looked and now I can't even find them on the site.

    I'd buy overpriced coffee mugs, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    intrautarchy, 18 Nov 2016 @ 7:15am

    In the interest of transparency

    "We recently received a pitch from a company offering to give us a lot of money if we'd let them track our users in a very specific way … in the interest of transparency, wanted to share our decision with you."

    In the interest of transparency … what company was making the offer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 18 Nov 2016 @ 7:56am

      Re: In the interest of transparency

      That doesn't really matter. What matters is what sites have accepted their offer and did they get any insight into what would be necessary in a privacy policy or if there is anything that can be done to detect them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        intrautarchy, 18 Nov 2016 @ 8:09am

        Re: Re: In the interest of transparency

        How do you figure that "doesn't really matter?" If you're going to write an article of this nature and make a claim like this but not identify the actual party, how can it be taken seriously? This is what the State Department does all the time when quoting "credible" NGO's and "humanitarian" organizations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV80Wec9IBs

        You're not just going to tell me part of the story and expect me to value the entirety of what you're claiming. Full disclosure that can be vetted independently is the priority when writing for public consumption.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Nov 2016 @ 8:10am

    Advertisements have become downright obnoxious these days. If they were happy with showing you the ads it would be one thing but they want to be with you as close and intimate as an anal suppository by inserting themselves everywhere and tracking you. When people realize how bad it is, ads will start becoming toxic. That will be beautiful to see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    GEMont, 21 Nov 2016 @ 12:24am

    ...

    Thank you.
    All of you.
    :)

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fudouri (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 7:13am

    I wish you the best

    I have worked in the internet advertising industry for almost a decade now, and I feel your pain.

    It is great that you have standards that you try your hardest to hold to, and its unfortunate that the industry as a whole has been unable to provide an answer.

    It is a two way street though. Users also want the websites for free, and without intrusive ads, but are also unwilling to make up that lost portion.

    If you ever figure out the land between "users want it free with easy to ignore ads" and "ads which pay enough for us to sustain ourselves", please let me know. I expect without a major paradigm shift, there is no land in between.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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