advertising · privacy

A new year’s resolution: The end of ‘right ad to the right user at the right time’

By Don Marti

Start toward the end of “right ad to the right user at the right time”. That’s my aspiration for 2017.

don-marti
Don Marti

The current web advertising model depends on tracking the same user across multiple sites (either “anonymously” or using PII). Per-user targeting across the web is unsustainable and likely to become less available to advertisers in the future.

Targeted advertising fails to support news: News sites are unable to pay the bills with web ad revenue. If current trends continue, news ends when print does. Publishers are seeking higher-value models. Finding them is not optional.

Competition to reach users: Sites that produce content for a local audience or community of practice are now in direct competition with targeted ads, which can appear on low-value sites, to reach the same audience.

Fraud: Today’s adtech ecosystem makes fraud relatively easy and anti-fraud relatively difficult. Advertisers are effectively funding billions of dollars worth of artificial intelligence research, to create increasingly human-like adfraud bots. The presence of fraud in the system drives down the price of all web advertising, even ads on high-quality sites. Publishers and copyright holders, not adtech intermediaries, bear the costs of fraud.


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User choices: Most users are willing to accept some advertising, but aversions to some targeting practices are widely held. Protection from strongly disliked practices, such as price discrimination and targeting by medical condition, is already a competitive advantage for the Apple Safari browser, and other browsers feel pressure to innovate.

Regulatory re-balancing of data risks: User identity theft and other security risks are negative externalities of data collection practices that enable, among other things, ad targeting. Regulators in some jurisdictions are likely to try to shift these costs to the firms that collect the data.

Ad blocking seems to be mainly a balance between the hassle of blocking (dealing with broken sites and anti-adblock warnings) and the hassle of not blocking (slow page load times, annoying ads). However, ad blocking did not go mainstream until retargeting showed users how ads were attempting to reach them, and were not just something on the site. The economic signal of non-targeted advertising is a way to shift the ad blocking balance back toward advertising.

A new advertising system will let the web lose the directly user-targeted ad while continuing to provide the information that advertisers need in order to measure ad performance and continue supporting high-quality sites.


Don Marti is a former editor of Linux Journal now working on open source at Mozilla. He is a developer on the Aloodo Project, a service designed to enable high-reputation publishers to reclaim web advertising. This article is his personal opinion and does not represent the views of his employer.

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