People vs. Adtech

no-ads-trackingThese are blog posts, articles and essays I’ve written about what millions (soon billions) of us are doing to fight surveillance of our private spaces online by tracking-based advertising, known in the trade as adtech—and to replace that broken system (built by what ad veteran Bob Hoffman, aka @adcontrarian, calls Bad Men) with a much better one that respects personal freedom and agency, plus the ethical worth of media that don’t frack our heads for the oil of personal data.

  1. Every User a Neo (31 January 2018 in Linux Journal)
  2. An easy fix for a broken advertising system (12 October 2017 in Medium and in my blog)
  3. Without aligning incentives, we can’t kill fake news or save journalism (15 September 2017 in Medium)
  4. Let’s get some things straight about publishing and advertising (9 September 2017 and the same day in Medium)
  5. We need customertech. Simple as that. (4 September 2017 in Medium. It’s also an answer to a comment under “Markets are more than marketing,” below.)
  6. Good news for publishers and advertisers fearing the GDPR (3 September 2017 in ProjectVRM and 7 October in Medium).
  7. Markets are about more than marketing (2 September 2017 in Medium).
  8. How the personal data extraction industry ends (27 August 2017 and 28 August 2017 in Medium).
  9. Publishers’ and advertisers’ rights end at a browser’s front door (17 June 2017 in Medium). It updates one of the 2015 blog posts below.
  10. Google enters its chrysalis (16 June 2017 and on the same date in Medium).
  11. Actual chat with an Internet disservice provider (12 June 2017 in Medium). Relevant because it uses technical relatives of adtech to make humans sound like robots and vice versa.
  12. How to plug the publishing revenue drain (9 June 2017 in Medium). It expands on the opening (#publishing) section of my Daily Tab for that date.
  13. Customertech Will Turn the Online Marketplace Into a Marvel-Like Universe in Which All of Us are Enhanced (29 May 2017 at ProjectVRM and in Medium)
  14. CustomerTech (15 May 2017 at ProjectVRM)
  15. When the customer becomes the first party (a talk given on 9 May 2017 at the European Identity and Cloud conference in Munich)
  16. The question is whether we’ll kill all of advertising or just some of it (6 May 2017 in Medium).
  17. Our radical hack on the whole marketplace (30 April 2017 in ProjectVRM)
  18. What if businesses agreed to customers’ terms and conditions? (28 April 2017)
  19. How are ad blockers affecting journalism? (My answer to a Quora question on 27 April 2017)
  20. The only way customers come first (26 April 2017 in Customer Commons)
  21. Brands need to fire adtech (23 March, and 25 March in Medium)
  22. The Problem with Content (1 March 2017 in Linux Journal)
  23. The Next Revolution in Advertising Will Be One Customers Lead (7 February 2017 in Medium)
  24. How True Advertising Can Save Journalism From Drowning in a Sea of Content (22 January 2017 in Medium and 26 January 2017 in my blog.)
  25. How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract (31 December 2016 in Medium)
  26. After Peak Marketing (3 December 2016 in Medium).
  27. The egg on Zuck’s face. (12 November 2016) and That’s not fake egg on Zuck’s face (24 November in Medium). The latter improves on the former.
  28. Marketing bullshit is a structural problem. (28 October 2016 in Doc.Blog) Nice follow from Don Marti at Aloodo.
  29. The problem for people isn’t advertising, and the problem for advertising isn’t blocking. The problem for both is tracking.(21 October 2016 and same date in Medium).
  30. It’s People vs. Advertising, not Publishers vs. Adblockers (26 August 2016 in ProjectVRM and 27 August 2016 in Medium)
  31. The cash model of customer experience (17 August 2016 and 18 August 2016 in Medium).
  32. If it weren’t for retargeting, we might not have adblocking (13 August 2016 in ProjectVRM and 15 August 2016 in Medium)
  33. Nobody else owns our experiences (3 August 2016 and 1 October 2017 in Medium).
  34. The Castle Doctrine (19 June 2016 in ProjectVRM, and in Medium)
  35. Why #NoStalking is a good deal for publishers (11 May 2016, and in Medium)
  36. Is the advertising bubble finally starting to pop? (9 May 2016, and in Medium)
  37. How customers can debug business with one line of code (19 April 2016 in ProjectVRM and in Medium)
  38. An invitation to settle matters with @Forbes, @Wired and other publishers (15 April 2016 and in Medium)
  39. TV Viewers to Madison Avenue: Please quit driving drunk on digital (14 Aprl 2016, and in Medium)
  40. For true true two-way agreements with websites and services, we need terms we can assert and they can accept. (9 April 2016 in Medium)
  41. The Data Bubble (Early April 2016)
  42. A Way Off the Ranch (1 April 2016 in Medium)
  43. Time for THEM to agree to OUR terms (29 March 2016 in Customer Commons and in Medium)
  44. Giving Customers Scale (15 March 2016 in Medium, expanding on an earlier post in Customer Commons)
  45. Earth to marketing: customers don’t want to be “acquired” (14 March 2016 in ProjectVRM)
  46. @BlockstackOrg, @IPFS, @OpenBazaar, @OneName, @Telehash, @Mine_Labs #Mediachain, @IBMIVB #ADEPT: Come 2 @IDworkshop and @VRM Day (28 February in ProjectVRM) This was later retitled and partially rewritten as Iot & IoM next week at IIW (20 April 2016)
  47. What if we don’t need advertising at all? (15 February 2016 in ProjectVRM) Also in Medium (Same date.)
  48. Rethinking John Wanamaker (18 January 2016)
  49. What we can do with ad blocking’s leverage (1 January 2016 in Linux Journal)
  50. Why ad blocking is good (17 December 2015 talk at the U. of Michigan)
  51. More thoughts on privacy (13 December 2015)
  52. The End of Internet Advertising as We’ve Known It (11 December 2015 in MIT Technology Review)
  53. At last, Cluetrain’s time has come (5 December 2015)
  54. Ad Blockers and the Next Chapter of the Internet (5 November in Harvard Business Review)
  55. How Will the Big Data Craze Play Out (1 November 2015 in Linux Journal)
  56. How #adblocking matures from #NoAds to #SafeAds (22 October 2015)
  57. Helping publishers and advertisers move past the ad blockade (11 October on the ProjectVRM blog)
  58. Dealing with Boundary Issues (1 October 2015 in Linux Journal)
  59. Beyond ad blocking — the biggest boycott in human history (28 Septemper 2015)
  60. A way to peace in the adblock war (21 September 2015, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  61. How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract (23 September 2015)
  62. Debugging adtext assumptions (18 September 2015)
  63. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them (8 September 2015)
  64. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business? (29 August 2015)
  65. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech (26 August 2015)
  66. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff (12 August 2015, and on 2 July 2016 in an updated version in Medium)
  67. Captivity rules (29 March 2015)
  68. On taking personalized ads personally (27 March 2015)
  69. Because freedom matters (26 March 2015)
  70. Thoughts on tracking based advertising (18 February 2015)
  71. On marketing’s terminal addiction to data fracking and bad guesswork (10 January 2015)
  72. Privacy is personal (2 July 2014 in Linux Journal)
  73. Time for digital emancipation (27 July 2014)
  74. Why to avoid advertising as a business model (25 June 2014, re-running Open Letter to Meg Whitman, which ran on 15 October 2000 in my old blog)
  75. Earth to Mozilla: Come back home (12 April 2014)
  76. We are not fish and advertising is not food (23 January 2014 in Customer Commons)
  77. Beyond the advertising bubble (12 October 2013 in Customer Commons)
  78. What the ad biz needs is to exorcize direct marketing (6 October 2013)
  79. Thoughts on Privacy (31 August 2013)
  80. Bringing manners to marketing (12 January 2013 in Customer Commons)
  81. What could/should advertising look like in 2020, and what do we need to do now for this future? (Wharton’s Future of Advertising project, 13 November 2012)
  82. An olive branch to advertising (12 September 2012, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  83. After Facebook Fails (23 May 2012)
  84. Stop making cows. Quit being calves. (21 February 2012)
  85. For personal data, use value beats sale value (13 February 2012)
  86. A sense of bewronging (2 April 2011)
  87. The Data Bubble II (30 October 2010)
  88. The Data Bubble (31 July 2010)
  89. After the advertising bubble bursts (23 March 2009)
  90. Why online advertising sucks, and is a bubble (31 October 2008)
  1. Joseph Ratliff’s avatar

    These could almost be collected into a book of essays titled the same way this post is “The Adblock Wars.”

    Perhaps a PDF with all these collected, at minimum (links included). But even a paperback would be nice (self-published).

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I wrote this in a comment under the Bermuda Response Triangle of Advertising piece (above) that pinged here…

    Several points.

    First, I have no problem with “digital.” We live in a digital world now. (I’ve written about this a lot. One sample:

    Second, there are plenty of places where “the relatively benign and balanced model of advertising laid out by Searls” does still exist. Examples include all of print, all of commercial radio, live broadcast TV (especially sports) and the parts of digital where ads aren’t direct response marketing, cloaked as advertising. (For more on the differences, see

    Third, if by “more accountable and effective models” you mean tracking-based adtech, there are many (including some in the business) who would beg to differ. These three pieces in the Financial Times…

    * It does not pay for advertisers to narrow their targets too much
    * Consumer fightback against online marketing is ramping up
    * How the Mad Men lost the plot

    … lay out the case pretty well. So does ample research on the privacy concerns of individuals. (Many reports by TRUSTe and others say 90%+ of people surveyed are at least concerned for their privacy—especially being tracked like animals online).

    Fourth, a sleight-of-meaning takes place in claims that an “exchange” is happening when people merely put up with something they don’t like when they get something they do. “Exchange” implies a conscious and willing action. That’s not what’s happening with mere acquiescence. (For more on that, Annenberg has a good study on what it calls “The Tradeoff Fallacy”:

    Fifth, I totally agree that we’re in a “disruptive wave.” For that wave, full credit should be given to individuals, in the hundreds of millions, choosing of their own free will to block ads and tracking in their own private spaces, such as their browsers. This amounts to the biggest boycott in human history (see To blame that boycott (as does, for example, the IAB) on the companies providing the prophylactics, is pure misdirection. Individuals are taking a lead in this thing, and it would be best to respect where they are going with it. (For a long list of those places, see It sounds to me like you are among those individuals when you say “We will fight back by blocking the hijacking of our attention.” If so, I salute that, and hope you will join our efforts at ProjectVRM ( to solve market problems not just with better marketing, but with better tools on the customers’ side.



  3. moviecounter’s avatar

    adblock is really destroying the new generations limits. I have been using advertising from long time..its like hands are tied now. once you can’t generate money with your blog or website ..peoples will stop adding new content and it will lead to loss of information technology

  4. sajan’s avatar

    Nice! These could almost be collected into a book of essays titled the same way this post is “The Adblock Wars.”


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