Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech

Intravenous equipmentThe tide of popular sentiment is turning against tracking-based advertising — and Apple knows it. That’s why they’re enabling “content blocking” in iOS 9 (the new mobile operating system that will soon go in your iPhone and iPad).

Says Apple, “Content Blocking* gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”

This is aimed straight at tracking-based advertising, known in the trade as adtech.* And Apple isn’t alone:

[*Note: far I know, there was not a term for tracking-based advertising until adtech seemed to emerge as the front-runner. I chose it for this post because others (e.g. the first two examples above) have done the same. Tell me a better word and I’ll swap it in. And if you want to know why we need to distinguish  between advertising based on tracking people and advertising that is not, read my last post, Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.]

Here’s Apple’s tech-speak on the feature:

Your app extension is responsible for supplying a JSON file to Safari. The JSON consists of an array of rules (triggers and actions) for blocking specific content. Safari converts the JSON to bytecode, which it applies efficiently to all resource loads without leaking information about the user’s browsing back to the app extension.

This means the iOS platform will now support developers who want to build sophisticated apps that give users ways to block stuff they don’t like, such as adtech tracking and various forms of advertising — or all advertising — and to do it privately.

This allows much more control over unwanted content than is provided currently by ad and tracking blockers on Web browsers, and supports this control at the system level, rather than at the browser level. (Though it is executed by the browser.)

How likely is it that these apps will be built? 100%. One of those is Crystal, by Dean Murphy. His pitches:

  1. Remove advert banners, blocks, popovers, autoplay videos, App Store redirects & invisible tracking scripts that follow you around the web.
  2. Pages render more than 3.9x faster on average**.
  3. Reduces data use by 53% on average**.

[**Benchmarks calculated from a selection of random pages from 10 popular sites.]

All three of these address obvious appetites by customers in the marketplace:

  1. To avoid ads, and being tracked.
  2. To speed things up.
  3. To minimize data usage, for which mobile carriers charge money.

In iOS 9 content blocking will transform the mobile Web: I’ve tried it., Owen Williams (@ow) of TheNextWeb gives Crystal a spin, finding it delivers on its promises.

If I read Owen right, he believes Content Blocking will have two results:

  1. Publishers will lose, because they depend on advertising that will be blocked; and
  2. Apple will win, because publishers will be driven to the company’s News app, on which Apple can make money with its own advertising system, called iAd. [Since then discontinued. See the note at the end of this piece.]

While these assumptions might be correct, they are part of a much larger picture, which will surely change as content blockers such as Crystal get adopted. So let’s look at that picture.

  1. The market is very unhappy with abuses to personal privacy. Studies by Pew, TRUSTe, Customer Commons and Wharton all make clear that more than 90% of the connected population doesn’t like privacy abuse on the commercial Web. Following people with tracking cookies and beacons violates their privacy. This is a big reason why ad and tracking blocking, through popular browser extensions and add-ons, is already high and continues to go up. It is therefore safe to say that iOS apps like Crystal will be very popular.
  2. There are two kinds of advertising at issue here, and it is essential to separate them (which I do, at length, in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff). One is tracking-based advertising, or adtech. That’s the kind that wants to get personal, and depends on spying on people. The other is plain old brand advertising, which isn’t based on tracking, and is targeted at populations rather than individuals. Content Blocking is aimed squarely at adtech.
  3. Apple’s iAd is for brand advertising, not adtech. At least that’s what I gather from Apple’s literature. (See here, here, here and here.) This puts them on the side of wheat, and Apple’s competitors — notably Google, Facebook and all of adtech — on the side of chaff.
  4. Apple has put a big stake in the ground on the subject of privacy. This is clearly to differentiate itself from adtech in general, and from Google and Facebooks in particular.
  5. Brand advertising is more valuable to publishers than adtech. Its provenance and value are clear and obvious and it sells for better prices. Also, while some of it may be annoying, none of it shares its business model with spam, which adtech does. And brand advertising uncorrupted by fraud, which is rampant in adtech — so rampant, in fact, that T.Rob Wyatt, a security expert, calls adtech “the new digital cancer.”

This is why content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech. It is also why everybody involved in the advertising-funded online ecosystem should start separating the wheat from the chaff, and to make clear that the wheat — plain old non-tracking-based brand advertising — is (to mix metaphors) the baby in the advertising bathwater that users will start throwing out with their content blockers.

However it goes down, the inevitable results, long term, will be these:

  1. Brand advertising (the non-tracking-based kind) will be seen again as the most legitimate form of advertising.
  2. Brand advertising will again be credited for doing the good work of funding publishers (also broadcasters, podcasters and the rest).
  3. Adtech, and spying in general, will be shunned, as it deserves to be.
  4. Adtech will still live on, rehabilitated and cleansed, as a trusted symbiote of users who give clear and unambiguous permission for trackers they bless to dwell in their private spaces and give them optimal personalized advertising experiences.

In other words, what I said at the close of the Advertising Bubble chapter of The Intention Economy will come true:

When the backlash is over, and the advertising bubble deflates, advertising will remain an enormous and useful business. We will still need advertising to do what only it can do. What will emerge, however, is a market for what advertising can’t do. This new market will be defined by what customers actually want, rather than guesses about it.

* As a term, “content blocking” is an unfortunate choice, since until now it meant government censorship. But the deed is done. From this point forward it means you get to block stuff you don’t want happening on your mobile device.


Later (2:36pm) — So I tweeted this post here, not long after it went up, and the response is split between yea and nay (though mostly yea). Since I have no argument with the yeas, I’ll take on the nays…

@cpokane writes,

it is offensive to us who work in adtech by day and nurse the result of cancer by night, at home. disappointing metaphor.

Gareth Holmes (@mgrholmes) adds these:

No offence to but comparing ad tech to cancer is beyond hyperbole. FACT: ad tech has been keeping the internet free since 1993

having never met I only hope he doesn’t have to wait until he’s lying next to a dying loved one to realise he was wrong.

And Vlad Stein (@vstein) weighs in with this:

Couldn’t imagine a stupider, more offensive title. Ad tech is what makes free online content viable, like it or not.

No offence taken. Or meant to be given. Cancer is a common metaphor for many things that are not. So is chemo: a medicine that sickens a patient while killing (or at least trying to kill) his or her cancer. Tell me a better metaphor and I’ll gladly use it. (I have also experienced loved ones dying of cancer, and I’m not sure they would have disapproved of the metaphor.)

As for hyperbole, guilty as charged. I’m making a strong point here, and one almost nobody else (other than Don Marti and Bob Hoffman) is making — or has seen sunk in. The market sentiment against surveillance-based marketing — aka adtech — is strong, growing, and almost entirely ignored by the whole adtech business.

As for Apple’s nature as a company, they are hardly pure. In fact, there is a vast inconsistency between what they’re doing on the B2C side with Content Blocking and on the B2B side with adtech.

On the B2C side, which is 99+% of what Apple does, the company works on behalf of its paying customers. This is huge, because there isn’t a customer on Earth who wants to be tracked like an animal without clear and explicit permission, or to have pages slowed by tracking cookies, beacons and ads fed by unknown and unwelcome servers. Especially on mobile. Apple knows this because they talk on the phone and in stores every day with those customers. They’ve also seen abundant research (some cited above) that makes clear how much people hate having their privacy violated, which Adtech does with abundant impunity. Meanwhile adtech doesn’t talk to those customers. It only follows them. Ain’t the same.

On the B2B side, Apple with iAd has been in the adtech business from the start, in 2010. (I visit all this in my next post.) While they don’t allow third party cookies or tracking, they do allow advertisers to aim their ads based on what Apple knows about you from your iTunes and App Store purchases, plus other intelligence the company gathers from its interactions with you. This is adtech, pure and simple.

So yes, Apple is having it both ways.

I suspect Apple will reconcile the two by pushing non-tracking-based brand ads for higher prices. If they do that, both publishers and brands will appreciate the lack of reader confusion about the provenance and motives of those ads. But I don’t know. We’ll see.

Next, saying adtech (or anything) has kept the Net free is like saying coupon flyers have kept geology free. The Net was born free and remains that way. Same goes for the Web. They support an infinite variety of sites, services and activities, and not just commercial ones. (More about that here, here and here.)

In fact, commercial activity was impossible on the Internet before NSFnet (the one non-commercial network within the Internet) stood down on 30 April 1995. After that ecommerce took off. (Amazon and eBay were both born in ’95.) So did advertising, but not as fast. Adtech (or ad tech) didn’t take off until well after the turn of the millennium.

This blog has been free and viable since 1998, by the way, without an ounce of advertising. So has everything Dave Winer‘s done. Without Dave we wouldn’t have blogging, syndicating (e.g. RSS) or podcasting as we know it.

Something worth thinking about: if we had jobbed out inventing and developing the Net and the Web to commercial interests, would they even exist?

@Ertraeglichkeit writes,

@dsearls what did the NSFnet bring, that it started “commercial activity” on the net and say not hotwired in 1994 with ad banners?

The Internet is a collection of networks united by agreements called protocols. Those protocols said data should be passed between any one end and any other end over any path available, on a best effort basis. This means the data you send to me could go over any path on any network between us on the whole thing called the Internet. This also meant that if any one network forbid one kind of activity, it would do for the whole internetwork. Because the NSFnet (National Science Foundation Network) forbid commercial activity on itself, and the NSFnet was a member of the Internet, it forbid commercial activity for the whole thing. So, when the NSFnet went down on 30 April, 1995, it opened the whole Internet to commercial activity. That’s a short version. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend Wikipedia’s article on the NSFnet.

[August 27] Bonus link from Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian (and a hero of all-wheat advertising): Is Our Long Digital Nightmare Coming To An End? Writes he,

I can think of nothing that has done more harm to the internet than adtech.

It is a plague. It interferes with virtually everything we try to do on the web. It has cheapened and debased advertising. It has helped spawn criminal empires. It is in part responsible for unprecedented fraud and corruption. It has turned marketing executives into clueless baboons. And it is destroying the idea of privacy, one of the backbones of democracy.

And for what? 8 clicks in 10,000 impressions?

But maybe there is hope for those of us who hate adtech.

Sure hope I’m right.

[Later (15 January 2016)…] Apple let develpers know that iAd will be discontinued.

46 comments

  1. Seth Rubenstein’s avatar

    Actually,
    Apple is working to force publishers to join its new censored/curated news platform where Apple will collect information about users for its iAd platform and then server ITS ads atop other publishers hard produced content. Apple couldn’t care less about its consumers.

    Apple is constructing this narrative that it cares about its consumers because it doesn’t rely on big-data like Google or Facebook. The truth of the matter is it doesn’t have the engineering background to do what Google or Facebook are doing with big-data so it’s couching that language that as “consumer protection” rather than admit to shareholders that its behind on the future of computing.

  2. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    The problem is that the brand baby IS being thrown out with the bathwater. And letting Apple be the only gatekeeper for legitimate advertising is not much of a solution. What percentage of the ad revenues that pay my salary are we supposed to give to Apple? And why do THEY get to own the user experience for our content instead of our apps and websites? That’s like allowing the newstand owner to define magazine design.

    I can tell you that we don’t WANT to give our users a bad experience. It’s worth noting that among other things that Apple’s ad-tech “chemo” results in is forcing us to put a preroll ad in front of every, single piece of video. We don’t WANT to do that, but a 3rd party cookie is required for us to track the users video pre-roll ratio.

  3. francine hardaway’s avatar

    Doc, the industry already knows this and is trying to fix it. I advise a company called ZEDO, which has built an entire platform to clean out the supply chain between advertiser and publisher without sacrificing the obvious workflow advantages of “programmatic” buying (buying at scale using software). You could call this company adtech, because it makes formats and serves ads. I’m sitting on a committee of the Online Trust Association.

    There will be a bloodbath in the intermediaries between advertiser and publisher. But it won’t eliminate what users really don’t like, which is advertising that takes over the page or pops up. Much of that is what you call brand advertising. BMW, for examples. But there IS a difference between trackers and the “adtech” used by private marketplaces. In a private marketplace, the data comes from either the publisher’s own data about its audience, or the advertiser’s data about what it wants to buy.

  4. John Taylor’s avatar

    This will be a big blow to both Google and Facebook who’s primary business model is advertising. Their mobile advertising revenue is currently thriving and investors in these companies are very happy with it. The revenue they earn through mobile advertising is however going to be lowered dramatically when Apple starts to roll out the iOS 9 update globally as around 75% of mobile advertising revenue comes from iOS devices. The best part is, this is only the beginning.

    When Apple sees the positive feedback they’ll receive from this update regarding to ad blocking, it’s almost inevitable that it’ll be introduced on their Mac computer line as well. This will trigger other companies that aren’t interested in selling their users data to implement ad blocking functionality by default as well.

    All in all I think this update is a very positive movement started by Apple that will make the internet a bit more cleaner for normal users. The amount of ads I have to dig through these days to read a simple article on my mobile device is disgusting. About time someone stood up to it.

  5. David’s avatar

    I would happily subject myself to clever brand advertising if it meant I didn’t have to be tracked. Apple is the “Gatekeeper” only for iAds. Get another platform out there that rejects any ads with tracking in them, ads with sound, popover ads, ads with auto-play videos, etc. and I’ll happily subject myself to their ads too.

    It’s very disconcerting to see products I viewed on one retailers site following me in ads all over the internet. I have Ghostery and AdBlock Plus installed in all my web browsers to keep them out and am seeing NO ads. I whitelist websites I trust to support them, but have blocked several that began using Adtech based ads after the fact.

    The writing is on the wall – it’s up to advertisers to read it and get their ads out there, and up to advertising networks to get on board with preventing intrusive “adtech” based ads unless they want all their ads blocked entirely.

  6. L.’s avatar

    Never said better.

    One point not spelled out here, but covered in related posts: Adtech itself played a big role in eroding publishers’ abilities to nurture their own audiences and advertising rates. It reduced the value of ads to that of spam.

    I never wanted an ad-blocker, and did not install one for years. I *require* a tracker blocker and installed them as soon as I learned of the surveillance economy. I do not consent to differential pricing and a filter bubble. Opt-outs provided by the industry do not work–they prevent the display of ‘relevant’ ads, not tracking.

    Adtech does not keep the web free, it breaks every possibility of a free and unfettered commons where people can wander, window shop, linger and be themselves.

    Keep the chemo coming. The cure will be worth it.

  7. Andy R.’s avatar

    @Jonathan Peterson:

    “And why [does Apple] get to own the user experience for our content instead of our apps and websites? That’s like allowing the newstand owner to define magazine design.”

    Because the “magazine designers” have been shoehorning obnoxious, intrusive ads and adtech into the “magazine” along with their content, thereby giving the newsstand’s customers a worse experience that they don’t want, and the newsstand itself wants to keep those people’s business. That should be pretty obvious.

    The designers dug themselves into this hole when they decided to hitch themselves to invasive and obnoxious ads and adtech. If the newsstand can give the customers a more-desirable experience than the magazine designers can, then the magazine designers have strategized themselves right out of a job. Welcome to capitalism; don’t let the door hit your business model on the way out.

    “I can tell you that we don’t WANT to give our users a bad experience.”

    Bullshit. As an advertiser, you WANT to force unwanted ads to show up alongside the content that users have actually sought out. Your entire job is to manipulate people like me into taking a portion of the time and brainpower that we intended to spend consuming content, and spending it on considering your advertisement instead, thus reducing the value of our experience of that content. That’s the very definition of a bad experience. If you, personally, don’t want to give users a bad experience, you shouldn’t be in advertising at all; full stop. Don’t be disingenuous by pretending your work improves anybody’s day (except maybe your client’s). If giving people a good experience is what you want to do with your life, then quit your job, get out of the echo chamber, and start thinking about all the ways in which advertising detracts from people’s lives.

  8. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    @Andy.

    Bullshit yourself:

    First of all, I work for a PUBLISHER, not an advertiser and adtech is pushed at us by advertisers. It makes our sales supply chain horrible to deal with, our websites slow and buggy and pisses off our customers.

    The properties for which I manage ads DO NOT want to stick ads in front of everything. We turn away a great deal of advertising through industry exclusions because those ads would devalue our properties. We would LOVE to only have deep pocket sponsors who accept subtle sponsorship, but are forced to accept programmatic and intrusive crap to pay the bills.

    I’m curious what your media usage looks like – unless you are paying for all your content by subscription, advertising IS capitalism.

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks for the comments, everybody. I’m on the road, so some quick responses.

    First, I’m no Apple fanboy. I’m sure what they’re doing with News and iAds is self-interested, closed and icky in other ways. But my main point with this post is that Apple is giving users something they will want very much with Content Blocking, and this will be worse for tracking-based advertising than for the more old-fashioned kind. (In fact it will be bad for both. At least in mobile. I do have some hope one or more other substantial players will step in, though.) BTW, just heard from Apple on a question I asked about iAds: “Third party cookies are not supported on iOS devices and the in-app nature of our advertising means we are never in the browser environment.”

    Francine, you’re right that there is a lot of bad acting on the brand advertising side as well. So let’s imagine 2×2 with Good and Bad on one axis and Tracking-based and Non-tracking-based on the other. The high value stuff is in the Good/non-tracking-based quadrant. I believe there is also no adtech in there, and nothing but brand stuff.

    Andy, et. al., It’s important to remember that what people in the ad and publishing business call “advertisers” are companies whose business is something else, and for whom spending money on advertising is a discretionary expense. Most also don’t want to be hated for the advertising they do. Ideally they want the ads they buy to be appreciated at some level. (FWIW, I was a partner in one of Silicon Valley’s top agencies for two decades, with my name on a building in Palo Alto. I know something about the business.) Advertising doesn’t have to be annoying or intrusive to succeed. Nor does it need to be clicked on. (All the great brands were built without a single click.). The best advertising complements the published and broadcast goods it pays for, and is appreciated by readers, viewers and listeners. We need to encourage that kind of advertising in the world. Content Blocking won’t do that at first. But I think it will downstream.

    We should be clear that the problem is spying. Tracking. Unwelcome surveillance. Get that out of advertising and it’ll be a lot better.

  10. Logan Smith’s avatar

    @Seth Rubenstein

    That is literally the dumbest comment posted.

    Thanks for degrading this blog

  11. Glenn Fleishman’s avatar

    Fundamental problem with adtech is that everyone has developed…their own tech. News app is an Apple-controlled platform just like Facebook is a Facebook-controlled platform. This control allows the minimization of in-experience apps (JavaScript code on the web), that bloat pages, increase downloads, slow things down, and can be secretly engaged in malicious activity.

    Imagine if there were an ad platform that was a single unified set of publicly vetted, open-source (but not necessarily freely licensed) super-efficient JavaScript that was designed to be common libraries to which different networks called? It’ll never happen, because adtech is evolution: it fights for its place alongside competition and tries to eke out better results which come sometimes from use and abuse of custom code.

    Apple is by force allowing its iOS customers (just like any desktop customer with any major OS and major browser) to opt out of the heterogeneous suck of browser performance and downstream bandwidth and privacy degradation.

    It’s actually strange it’s getting so much attention — close to half of all news-reading online users already employ a desktop ad blocker (Reuters Institute report from earlier this year). This comes off as a power play to some because Apple is offering a different path for publishers through the non-exclusive News platform. Android already has these ad blockers, but because Google didn’t introduce a platform alternative, apparently nobody spewed about it.

  12. Logan Smith’s avatar

    @Jonathan Peterson:
    “And letting Apple be the only gatekeeper for legitimate advertising is not much of a solution.”

    No, like FB Instant Articles. Apple allows the news publisher to own & operate the ads within their content feed

    Also, remember Apple monetizes from **HARDWARE** not online traffic or ads. Unlike Google or Facebook. Google & Facebook *COMPETE* against online news publishers in terms of traffic, user tracking, content, attention, and **AD revenue*!

    For news publishers, I think you’re missing the worry/threat: it’s Google & Facebook. Not Apple

    “What percentage of the ad revenues that pay my salary are we supposed to give to Apple?”

    If you choose to *use* iAd, Apple’s cut is 30%. That is CHEAP! In the digital advertising world, the cut is 45% minimum

    No publisher is complaining about Apple’s cut. They’re shocked & thankful.

    “And why do THEY get to own the user experience for our content instead of our apps and websites? That’s like allowing the newstand owner to define magazine design.”

    Actually no. News publishers get to control their experience. The Apple News native format spec is slowly being given to more & more publishers. And so far is a huge selling point/hit.

    You’re forgetting news publishers have already lost control & leverage on the internet because of Facebook (especially on mobile). Facebook is by far the single biggest traffic referrer on mobile – and news publisher’s dependence on FB algorithm is only growing. Worse, direct traffic is eroding fast as its being cannibalized by Facebook (even on desktop).

    Apple News is our (news publishers) best alternative option. It’s Flipboard at **SCALE*** (this is HUGE)

  13. Logan Smith’s avatar

    @John Taylor

    No. Not true. This is not at all a blow to Facebook. It’s actually a **HUGE** plus – as most Facebook traffic & ads are In-App (on the iOS app especially)

    Regarding Apple News coming to the Mac. Don’t hold your breathe. It’s not coming soon. News publishers monetize off desktop traffic (hardly off mobile as outlined above). And because Mac users are more affluent, more engaged, and more homogenous – they’re more attractive to advertisers. Hence, News publishers will not be too happy if Apple News came to the Mac – as it will erode online traffic.

    Though it will eventually – if Apple can prove iAd to be viable business (will Apple take iAd seriously?). And if Apple can prove Apple News users are highly engaged – and more engaged than the average web browser user

    Also, iAd revenue would have to come close to revenue generated on desktop for news publishers

  14. Logan Smith’s avatar

    @L.

    You’re absolutely correct. Adtech has not only eroded the experience on our site for our most loyal users – it has significantly eroded our leverage of advertising on OUR OWN SITE!

    We – like our end users – hate adtech as well. Unfortunately, we have little to no leverage over the crap ad networks do on our site.

    Worse, ad blockers hurt us – the publishers. We need brand ads – but that’s essentially non-existant online – and especially mobile.

    Is iAd ‘the brand ad platform for the mobile era?’ Yes. However the question is, will Apple finally take iAd seriously and allow it to become a serious business/player in the ad industry?

  15. Logan Smith’s avatar

    @Andy R.

    Not true. You’re going way overboard. Yes Jonathan Peterson comment was completely nonsense – and probably one of the worst comments I’ve read on industry blogs. I feel bad for this Harvard blog, as Jonathan Peterson degrades their comment

  16. Perry de Havilland’s avatar

    Doc, the people moaning about the entirely apt cancer analogy need to be ignored rather than humoured. Seriously, the propensity for people to take offence these days is itself becoming offensive. I know how I would have responded, but then you always were far more polite and less confrontational than me :-)

  17. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks Perry. Miss you, man. :-)

  18. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    @Logan.

    How about trying to be civil instead of insulting and let’s see if we can both learn something? Adtech is a pain in the ass for legitimate large publishers. Just as happened with email marketing, the gold rush of ad technology and ad sales generated a rush to the bottom. Intrusive and scammy ad models are similarly poisoning legitimate online advertising.

    No, like FB Instant Articles. Apple allows the news publisher to own & operate the ads within their content feed

    A publisher can book ads INSIDE iAds and get a check – Apple does not currently support 3rd party ads calls. That means that my company has to manage iAds inventory and reporting as a completely different revenue channel from everything else we do. On YouTube and Twitter we are able to setup 3rd party ad calls to our own DFP and Freewheel instances so that we directly manage campaign performance (and give a slice to those platforms for the traffic).

    Also, remember Apple monetizes from **HARDWARE** not online traffic or ads. Unlike Google or Facebook. Google & Facebook *COMPETE* against online news publishers in terms of traffic, user tracking, content, attention, and **AD revenue*!

    Google and Facebook are competitors, but unlike Apple, they don’t have any way to strip our revenue generating ads from our own online properties, to force us to publish on their proprietary platform. Apple is treating web content creators in exactly the same way iTunes treated music publishers. iTunes made $18B last year. And THAT hasnothing to do with hardware and is the same slice of the pie that they want from internet content creators.

    If you choose to *use* iAd, Apple’s cut is 30%. That is CHEAP! In the digital advertising world, the cut is 45% minimum

    We pay DFP and Freewheel less than 5% of our average advertiser CPM rates. Your 45% might be close to the rate taken by programmatic vendors, or AdWords for a site that doesn’t do any ad sales. But we have a huge ad sales force. Apple wants to take a programmatic sized slice of our direct sold and sponsorship money and forcing us to create NEWS app content to get that. Imagine Apple’s music app ONLY playing music purchased through iTunes.

    The Apple News native format spec is slowly being given to more & more publishers. And so far is a huge selling point/hit.

    You’re clearly very fond of Apple – but less egregious in screwing publishers than Facebook isn’t really a very high bar. HTML, javascript, swift and Java are not under the control of a company who takes a slice of our advertising revenue.

    Apple News is our (news publishers) best alternative option. It’s Flipboard at **SCALE*** (this is HUGE)

    Flipboard had 70M users, not sure exactly how they don’t scale. But our Flipboard channel is incremental revenue. Any cannibalization of our mobile web content is voluntary. Apple’s won’t be.

  19. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    @doc

    I’ve seen little about this, but it appears that in opening it up to programmatic vendors to increase the available ad inventory they are turning over the keys to the kingdom and exposing individual users iTunes app, music and video purchase history. That seems pretty damned egregious for a company that is celebrating itself as a champion of privacy.

    http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/get-ready-more-mobile-ads-your-iphones-apple-launches-new-iads-161600

    I think more digging into the iAds business model may be in order?

  20. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks for all the useful input and unpacking, Jonathan.

    More digging into iAds is necessary indeed.

    I’m especially concerned by what I read here in the cited piece:

    Apple iTunes and App Store consumer data will finally be open for use to target ads. This is tremendous information about which apps every user has downloaded and which media each one consumes. This knowledge has been locked away within Apple, untouched by marketers until now. “They have App Store behavioral data, and we’ll be able to target based on the types of apps that people like,” Berke said.

    If Apple is saying to advertisers “We’ll do the aiming for you, and not reveal anything about our individual customers to you,” that’s one thing, and probably not any different from what Amazon does now. The difference is context. An ad inside Amazon is clearly put there by Amazon in some way. An iAd-placed ad could be anywhere. So an individual will have no idea that the ad she sees for a rockabilly concert nearby was placed there by Apple because the company knows she has bought a lot of rockabilly music. If that’s how iAds is going to work, the effect to individuals is no different from adtech as usual: one sees a suspiciously personal ad and finds one’s self in the uncanny valley where the provenance of the ad is unknown while all that is known is that one has been followed in some way. The only “clean” thing about this is that Apple isn’t giving away personal data to third parties. But it will be emulating the same effect in the open marketplace, because the individual will remain in the dark about the mechanisms behind what they see.

    I hope Apple is mindful of the potential problems here, but I really have no idea. And I should. We all should.

    [Later…] After more digging I put up another long post about this: Will Content Blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business?

  21. Mark’s avatar

    Hi

    Interesting article, interesting debate.

    As mentioned, digital Ads don’t exist just to track and annoy consumers, although at times it feels that way! For publishers and entertainment sites those adverts pay the bills. Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all run on advertising revenue.

    It is frightening just how little attention is given, to how companies use the personal information of internet users for their own commercial purposes. This is being done in a way that the millions who use their services are seem unable to comprehend; ‘implied consent’ is common. This does matter, this situation should be a major concern to everyone.

    In his speech (June 2015) to the civil liberties group Apple’s CEO Tim Cook warned users: ‘You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose. And we think that someday customers will see this for what it is’

    He further delivered a stinging rebuke. He said that along with other internet search and networking companies Facebook and Google were: ‘Gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.

    Good points, however as pointed out in the article At the Worldwide Developers Conference (June 2015), Apple revealed another update to iOS 9: App developers will be able to create ad blocking software for Safari’s mobile browser.

    Does this not create a serious conflict of interests, as their’ iAd’ platform sole purpose is to allows third-party developers to directly embed advertisements into their applications? Apple seem to want to lock as many users as possible into an apple certified gilded cage.

    Internet and mobile users may soon face a stark choice: Block ads and lose their much loved ‘free’ social network and entertainment services. Or begrudgingly accept the fact that ’free’ services and ‘free’ apps are really only free because that annoying spam ad and push notification actually pays the bills.

    Mobile advertising is a multibillion dollar industry, I do not think for one moment that it is going to disappear overnight just because consumers decide to fight back and block their ads.

    Why not as a phone owner, simply agree to receive, targeted ad content that may actually be of interest to you. On the proviso of course that you are paid to receive the ad content, after all, it is your phone and it should be your choice.

    Perhaps I am being a little naïve, but I see online and mobile advertising evolving in the future into a reward based business model. That is the phone owner being rewarded for receiving target ad content on their phones with their prior agreement.

    Thus making the industry a little more ethical and transparent, changing implied consent to explicit consent. Giving consumers something back and putting phone owners back in control of their mobile phones and devices.

    Time will tell!

  22. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Mark.

    First, check out Don Marti’s latest for a sense of how long it will take for content blocking to cure advertising of unwelcome tracking. Probably a few years. Even if Content Blocking on Apple’s Safari has 100% usage, that’s just one browser on one mobile platform, and it doesn’t cover the in-app advertising where Apple and everybody else continues to play the adtech game. As ad and tracking blocking continue to go up on the Web, however, the whole ad-supported model is going to get ever more squeezed.

    Second, the Web and the Net were around, and quite free, before commercial activity bloomed on it. There are plenty of businesses and models for websites and services and apps that don’t depend on advertising, tracking-based or otherwise. None of e-commerce requires advertising to make money. (Ads are a tiny fraction of what Amazon brings in, and I’ve already covered how little Apple needs iAds.) Lots of creators of online goods make money as a second-order effect, of what they give away. That’s the case with this blog. I make most of my money consulting and speaking. Not with advertising. (This is called a “because effect.” You make money because of something rather than with it.)

    Third, the moral argument against the privacy-violating practice of tracking people is far stronger than the normative argument for it. In other words, just because it’s easy for adtech to track people doesn’t make it right. Tracking and personalized advertising should be opt-in rather than opt-out.

    Fourth, sooner or later individuals will have close to full control of their own experiences on the Net. (This is what I have been working toward for the last nine years with ProjectVRM — and for far longer than that through my work with Linux Journal and my co-authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto.) This is only natural. People want to be free. They want full agency (the power to act with effect in the world). They don’t want to be captive to systems that limit or eliminate their choices. Ask yourself, Do I want to be tracked, or to see ads from unknown sources that are based on my tracked behavior in the world? Then ask what kind of advertising will survive a majority of users who can act on the answer to that question.

    Fifth, I doubt a reward-based advertising system will work, because most of the time we aren’t buying anything, and the money spent by advertisers rewarding people directly will be wasted. (I also doubt people will want to be on the receiving end of that, even if they do get paid. The annoyance is likely to be high and the actual pay quite small.) I do believe, however, that we need better ways of signaling the marketplace of our intentions when we are in the market for something. That’s what intentcasting is about, and why there are (at current count) 22 developers working on it. On the vendors’ side this is the same old qualified leads business, only with the leads 100% qualified by the customers themselves.

  23. Mark’s avatar

    Dear Doc

    Thank you for your prompt and comprehensive prognosis.

    This is all new and fascinating stuff, I come from an ‘old school’ advertising background of column inches. I’ve just about come to terms with the metric system and now advertising speak has changed to CPC, CPM, CTR’s and real time auctions. Then you tell me, VRM day is coming! Twelve months ago I would have assumed it was a discussion on latest SUV’s and posted something embarrassing, like ‘I can get 20 MPG from mine’!

    Correct me if I am wrong, in layman’s terms the bottom line is companies need sales. The drive for ever more cost effective ‘online’ lead generation has come at the expense of consumer privacy. Additionally it would appear some companies lost their moral compass along the way.

    Obviously the penetrators of tracking software need flogging or at the very least tagging, see how they like being electronically monitored.

    However playing devil’s advocate CTV tracks us in the real world Adtech tracks us in the cyber world, so what’s the difference?

    You seem to be mudding the waters a little Doc, as many firms commonly referred to as “ad tech” companies actually generate the majority of their revenues selling ad space and campaigns to marketers, not pieces of software as the “tech” label might suggest. You asked for a better word for tracking-based advertising how about coining ‘trackads’

    “It’s about getting marketers closer to their customers. The ability to give them more information about their audience so they can make more informed decisions, both with regard to when and where they deliver their message, and at what price,” said Edward Montes, CEO of Digilant.

    Is this true, or just advertisers spouting forth their psychobabble?

    We all know 78.99% of statistics are probably made up on the spot but according to eMarketer From 2013 to 2016, the global mobile ad market will have expanded over 400%. Between 2016 and 2019, the last year in eMarketers’ forecast period, mobile advertising spending will nearly double, hitting $195.55 billion to account for 70.1% of digital ad spend as well as over one-quarter of total media ad spending globally. So there seem no lack of tailors offering new clothes for the Emperor, or indeed Emperors out shopping.

    I deference to your many years of experience Doc I am prepared to change my belief that in the future we will see a business model of reward based advertising. Lets hope it will evolve into an Intentcasting business model. I just need to do more research to understand it.

    Chemo is brutal crushing option, not always effective, so that’s a fair analogy for Apple inc. I would argue that Adtech is benign, the biopsy results are as yet inconclusive.

    To sum up the industry, I will leave my last words to Alex Baldwin Character, Blake: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

    These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. . Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They’re for closers’

  24. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hey Mark.

    I too come from the old school. Hodskins Simone & Searls was one of Silicon Valley’s top ad agencies in the 80s and 90s, and big in North Carolina before that.

    Correct me if I am wrong, in layman’s terms the bottom line is companies need sales.

    Yes, but the bottom financial line isn’t the only one. As Peter Drucker put it, “A company makes shoes, and no financial man understands that. They think money is real. Shoes are real. Money is an end result.”

    Every company also succeeds or fails at the grace of its customers. The best companies enjoy the best relationships with their customers. This is what CRM and VRM are both about. Relationship is their middle name.

    The drive for ever more cost effective ‘online’ lead generation has come at the expense of consumer privacy. Additionally it would appear some companies lost their moral compass along the way.

    Exactly. In technology, what can be done will be done, one way or another; and when lots can be done with tracking, data crunching, real time bidding, re-targeting and the rest of the stuff adtech does, lots does get done — all without feedback from the targets, because the targets are not involved in the business.

    In fact the feedback is there, in the form of abundant research showing that people don’t like being tracked, and don’t like monstrous amounts of advertising, much of it annoying or worse. But adtech has been ignoring that feedback, mostly, for years. So, naturally, the market will adjust by giving people better means of controlling what marketers like to call their “experience” of marketing on the Web, and with their apps. Content blocking is one of those adjustments. So is VRM. Intentcasting will give companies far better qualified leads than the poor sales guys in Glengarry Glen Ross ever got from downtown.

    Obviously the penetrators of tracking software need flogging or at the very least tagging, see how they like being electronically monitored.

    No, they need better signaling from the marketplace. And they’ll get it.

    However playing devil’s advocate CTV tracks us in the real world Adtech tracks us in the cyber world, so what’s the difference?

    CTV monitors us for the purposes of law enforcement, doesn’t follow us into our private spaces, and doesn’t exist to sell us something whether we like it or not.

    You seem to be mudding the waters a little Doc, as many firms commonly referred to as “ad tech” companies actually generate the majority of their revenues selling ad space and campaigns to marketers, not pieces of software as the “tech” label might suggest. You asked for a better word for tracking-based advertising how about coining ‘trackads’.

    That’s a good one. Think you can get the market to adopt it? Might be worth a try.

    “It’s about getting marketers closer to their customers. The ability to give them more information about their audience so they can make more informed decisions, both with regard to when and where they deliver their message, and at what price,” said Edward Montes, CEO of Digilant.

    Is this true, or just advertisers spouting forth their psychobabble?

    It’s delusional.

    Show me the marketer who actually talks to a customer, or the customer who wants to talk to a marketer. When customers want to talk to companies, they want to talk to a sales or a service person, not to a marketer.

    Many marketers, especially in adtech, assume that people are in a shopping mode 100% of the time. In fact most of the time people are living their lives, not buying stuff. And when they are buying stuff, they want to be in charge of the process of informing themselves. That process can be greatly improved, but not by constant tracking and an experience of marketing that makes people hate it.

    We all know 78.99% of statistics are probably made up on the spot but according to eMarketer From 2013 to 2016, the global mobile ad market will have expanded over 400%. Between 2016 and 2019, the last year in eMarketers’ forecast period, mobile advertising spending will nearly double, hitting $195.55 billion to account for 70.1% of digital ad spend as well as over one-quarter of total media ad spending globally. So there seem no lack of tailors offering new clothes for the Emperor, or indeed Emperors out shopping.

    … or emperors who are naked underneath it all.

    To cheerleaders for any business (including media who make money from those businesses), all trees grow to the sky.

    In deference to your many years of experience Doc I am prepared to change my belief that in the future we will see a business model of reward based advertising. Lets hope it will evolve into an Intentcasting business model. I just need to do more research to understand it.

    Hey, I’m open to whatever works for the customer. That’s why VRM is a big tent. Among those in that tent are companies in the business of people selling their data rather than having it taken away. We’ll see how they do.

    Chemo is brutal crushing option, not always effective, so that’s a fair analogy for Apple inc. I would argue that Adtech is benign, the biopsy results are as yet inconclusive.

    First, the chemo hasn’t yet been applied. We’ll see what happens when Content Blocking apps show up on iOS.

    Second, if adtech were benign, ad and tracking blockers wouldn’t be as popular as they are, and we wouldn’t have so much research saying people are highly concerned about their privacy online.

    To sum up the industry, I will leave my last words to Alex Baldwin Character, Blake: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They’re for closers.

    Glengarry Glen Ross wasn’t about marketing. It was about sales. Blake’s leads may have come from marketing back at headquarters; but in the play Blake was yelling at salesmen in a sales office; and the salesmen he yelled at knew most of Blacke’s leads were poor.

    And that’s adtech’s problem as well. Most of the people being tracked, most of the time, are terrible leads. Think about it. Are you in the market for anything right now? If so, is adtech actually helping you with that? Would you be better off as the machine in which marketers are the pinballs, or as pinballs in marketing’s machine?

    The simple fact is that the negative externalities of adtech are immense, rationalized by the business and mostly ignored. Adtech’s income, substantial as it is, also comes at the price of an unhappy marketplace that adtech does not understand well enough, because its tracking-based faction is addicted to gathering as much data as it can, by any means possible, and pushing messages at people, in as many ways as it can, at all times and at all costs, so long as it continues to make money.

    The marketplace had a good-enough relationship with advertising’s wheat: the stuff that wasn’t personal, did a good job of creating and maintaining brands, and existed in productive harmony with the media it supported. We’ll return to that. And we’ll have many more qualified leads coming to the Blakes of the world directly from the leads themselves, when they’re ready.

  25. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    The adtech problem, is that the cancer of really intrusive tracking uses exactly the same technology underpinnings (3rd party cookies, flash supercookies, etc.) that legitimate brand advertisers use to validate their large media property buys.

    Image a world where broadcast TV required a Nielsen box in every house, that couldn’t be turned off, which broadcast that you were home and what you were doing, to every door to door salesmen, political canvaser, religious tract peddler and conman in the city.

    Problem is adtech has sold advertisers and agencies the (largely mistaken) belief that they’re wasting a LOT less than the traditional half of their advertising spending, so they keep pushing.

    Even Apple, with their captive audience, found very few takers for the kind of premium CPM dollars that they wanted without handing over even MORE details of user activities than even the most egregious of snoopy adtech firms.

    As you say, the RIGHT solution is back to basics real brand advertising. Apple’s 3rd party cookie blocking doesn’t hurt our brand advertising revenues, but DOES hurt our customer experience, (for instance, I can’t make an interstitial only load once a day, when the DFP cookie that records the impression is blocked).

    For legitimate publishers and advertisers, Adblockers are even worse. Blocking tracking is chemo, but complete ad blocking is trying to cure cancer with a handgun. THAT creates a giant hole in the media landscape, with literally no way to make money online between giving it away for free to try to get a paying gig and a TV Everywhere cable company login.

  26. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Jonathan. As always, great stuff.

    So how do you think we should fix it?

  27. Mark’s avatar

    Hi Doc

    I appreciate your time and patience in replying, moreover thanks for the introduction to Peter Drucker. Having found parts of the 6hr interview, two simple lines stood out and made me stop and think!

    •The customer uses the Internet not to buy a car but to eliminate or reject. Now, when they come to the dealer, they know what they don’t want.

    •Maybe on the Internet you need to be a buyer for your customer, not a seller.

    Thanks again Doc, you have a new follower.

  28. Doc Searls’s avatar

    In Digital Distributors: the new supermarkets of the Web, Dries Buytaert (father of Drupal and CEO of Acquia) points here and adds, “I believe that as an unexpected consequence, content blocking will place even more power and control over monetization into the hands of digital distributors, as publishers become less capable of monetizing their own sites.” Background: Digital distributors vs. the Open Web. He could be right.

  29. pilu’s avatar

    Apple being so huge and having an impressive team, their latest venture should be – social net software – php or python or ruby based and kill the monopoly of FB. The social net stuff can be inbuilt in all iphones and can even be email based so that “closed garden” gets killed – I at hotmail can have you at yahoo on friendlist and so on. But how to put these to their ears?

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