Four years ago, I posted An olive branch to advertising here. It began,
Publishers and the advertising business either attacked or ignored Do Not Track, which was too bad, because the ideas we had for making it work might have prevented the problem those businesses now have with ad blocking.
According to the latest PageFair/Adobe study, the number of people blocking ads passed 200 million last May, with double-digit increases in adoption, worldwide. Tracking protection is also gaining in popularity.
While those solutions provide individuals with agency and scale, they don’t work for publishers. Not yet, anyway.
What we need is a solution that scales for readers and is friendly to publishers and the kind of advertising readers can welcome—or at least tolerate, in appreciation of how ads sponsor the content they want. This is what we have always had with newspapers, magazines, radio and TV in the offline world, none of which ever tracked anybody anywhere.
So now we offer a solution. It’s a simple preference, which readers can express in code, that says this: Just show me ads that aren’t based on tracking me. Equally simple code can sit on the publishers’ side. Digital handshakes can also happen between the two.
This term will live at Customer Commons, which was designed for that purpose, on the model of Creative Commons (which also came out of work done by folks here at the Berkman Center). This blog post provides some context.
We’ll be working on that term, its wording , and the code that expresses and agrees to it, next week at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. Monday will be VRM Day. Tuesday through Thursday will be IIW—the Internet Identity Workshop (where ProjectVRM was incubated almost ten years ago). VRM Day is mostly for planning the work we’ll do at IIW. VRM Day is free, and IIW is cheap for three days of actually getting stuff done. (It’s by far the most leveraged conference I know, partly because it’s an unconference: no keynotes, panels or sponsor booths. Just breakouts that participants create, choose and lead.)
If you care about aligning publishing and advertising online with what worked for hundreds of years offline — and driving uninvited surveillance out of business itself — come help us out.
This one term is a first step. There will be many more before we customers get the full respect we deserve from ad-funded businesses online. Each step needs to prove to one business category or another that customers aren’t just followers. Sometimes they need to take the lead.
This is one of those times. So let’s make it happen.
See you next week.