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The Case For Targeted Ads 290

Nofsck Ingcloo writes "CNet has published a guest column by Eric Wheeler warning the world of the evil consequences of Do Not Track. In it he makes strong (I would claim exaggerated) arguments in favor of targeted advertising. He claims the threat of political action on Do Not Track should, 'strike fear into the hearts of every company that does business online....' He speaks of compromising a $300 billion industry, which I read as being the industry composed of online advertisers and all their clients. He clearly thinks the trade off between freedom from snooping and free access to web content always favors free access. He concludes his arguments by saying, 'Taken as a whole, the potentially dire impact of Do Not Track is clear: the end of the free internet and a crippling blow to the technology industry.' He then goes on to advocate contacting legislators and the FTC in opposition to Do Not Track."
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The Case For Targeted Ads

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  • Two words: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Quakeulf ( 2650167 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:05PM (#41405799)
    Fuck. You.
  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:05PM (#41405805)

    So what? It could be a three hundred quintillion dollar industry. It doesn't change the ethics, morals, or the fact that most people don't want it. Advertising has been shoved down people's throats. It's been put in places where it was promised not to appear. It eats away at our culture, it deadens people's nerves, and it saturates everything it comes in contact with. It is a plague -- and it needs reform. It is an industry without regulation, without controls, and with an insatiable appetite.

    And not a one of them are for reasonable controls. It was only recently, and after fighting tooth and nail, that we even got them to stop screwing with the volume on our TVs. Fuck them -- when they learn to be responsible, then maybe I'll learn to give a damn whether they get thrown under a bus or not. But probably not.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:11PM (#41405851) Homepage

    It's the money. All the way down.

    Pretty impressive diatribe by an advertising executive. He probably eats the Wheaties box for breakfast.

  • Excellent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:14PM (#41405889) Homepage
    All this screaming means that we're on the right track.
  • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:28PM (#41406029)

    Actually, the larger the valuation for the industry, the worse it is, since the size of the industry is what gives you an idea of how much is being bled off from sectors that wouldn't be better off if set on fire.

    Hey, I'm not saying advertising doesn't have its place. I'm not even saying companies shouldn't be allowed to spend as much as they want on it. I happen to believe in freedom of speech, even speech I disagree with. But I also have the right to ignore others' speech, or to respond with speech of my own. Legislating away that choice is wrong -- and that's what this guy is advocating. Well, fuck him. His position isn't just unethical, it's unamerican. Nobody has a right to shove their own beliefs down other people's throats and that statement doesn't change because money is involved, even a lot of money.

    If people hang a "no soliciting" sign on the door of their home or business, it should be respected. In many jurisdictions, there's a penalty if you don't. If you add your phone number to the "do not call" list, that also has to be respected. It's even required by law in cases where the other party is owed money. The right to free speech doesn't include the right to be heard: I can walk away. That doesn't change just because the speech is digital instead.

  • golden rule (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:42PM (#41406163)
    Don't forget the golden rule of business! It applies to advertising as well. It is: "If customers hate your product, fuck you, I hope you go out of business."
    Sorry, web advertising. There's always Valpak, lol.
  • Re:Irony not lost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:50PM (#41406231) Journal

    Why do we even listen to these people?

    "We" don't, but our elected representatives do.

  • by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @07:51PM (#41406237) Homepage

    It always amazes me how such an educated group of individuals as exists on /. always makes such irrational statements evertime an article like this comes around.

    Full Disclosure: I've been in digital media for several years and am currently a fairly high-level individual on the more technical analytics/strategy side of things at a top digital media agency.

    Now, despite my background, I want to preface this by saying that since I was very young, I've always been very paranoid about my privacy, and still remain paranoid to this day. I used to react to these sorts of things by spewing vitriol without knowing enough technical details to truly be qualified to comment. I would venture that is the case for the vast majority of people here. You know how to code, but I doubt you know how these systems actually work, what they actually collect, or how that data is actually used in the real world (not whatever scare story you are reading this week).

    If you knew these things, you wouldn't be so disgusted by online advertising tracking practices. Do I dislike intrusive advertising? Yes. Do I think there is a lot of shitty advertising out there? The vast majority of it is. But just as there are bad coders who give the rest a negative reputation, the same is true for online advertising.

    Beyond that, the end user of the tracking data does not give a shit about the special unique snowflake that you are. I know--I used to be one of those end users and now I managed a relatively large group of them. Do we have IP-level data? Technically, yes. Although to be honest, the only time I've actually looked at that was when trying to figure out a tracking bug with discrepancies between analytics platforms when I needed to compare timestamps.

    Could the big bad evil government know what you are browsing? Yeah--but they could have done that anyway. Encrypt your traffic if you care.

    The reality is, you guys are in the minority, and despite a lot of people being vocal about this, they are still in the minority. The reason this stuff keeps being made and actively pursued is BECAUSE IT WORKS AND PRODUCES BETTER RESULTS. Digital is all about the data, and I can tell you that retargeting, RTB inventory that uses audience data, etc. are all incredibly effective because they are SO well targeted that people click more, and more importantly, convert at higher rates. This means people find the ads more relevant, and are purchasing because of it. Period. End of story. They can think it is evil all they want--it still works and nobody forced them to click the fucking ad or make the purchase.

    So get off your high horses and realize that this wouldn't exist if it weren't effective, and nobody is holding a gun to your head to click an ad. Don't like ads? Use ad block.

    Now, with that rant out of the way, I will say that I am just as in favor of DoNotTrack measures as the rest of you. I think a user's data is theirs to own and do with as they please, and that if they don't want it collected, that is their right. I also think that sites have the right to withhold content from those who do not make their info available because the content is provided in exchange for it. Don't like it? Go elsewhere--maybe the impact will be such that the site will find another revenue source. But unless you are in the majority, that will likely not happen.

    Bottom line...get educated about this topic if you want to have a real world discussion about it instead of just throwing out false statements and vague statements that anybody in the industry would laugh at because of how uneducated you sound. This is no different than when creationists attack science because they don't understand it and it scares them.

  • if he is right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by binarstu ( 720435 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @08:00PM (#41406325)
    Just imagine what would happen if "do not track" were incredibly successful, and as this guy predicts, the "bottom drops out" of the online advertising industry, forcing "free" sites like Facebook to turn to subscription-based models to pay for themselves.

    We would find out really quickly what people actually care about on the Web. My guess is that for many advertising-supported sites, Facebook included, we'd see that user loyalty is a mile wide and an inch deep. Most current users would be unwilling to have to pay to continue using the service, in my opinion. Most people don't care about paying for a service with their privacy, but make even a small dent in their wallet, and they will suddenly care very much.
  • Re:Irony not lost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RKBA ( 622932 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @08:51PM (#41406651)

    "We" don't, but our elected representatives do.

    More specifically, our elected representatives listen to their campaign contributions, bribes, etc.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @09:00PM (#41406693)

    The argument against spam goes like this: person A maintains an email server that person B uses to send spam. Person A shoulders the cost while person B receives the benefits, this is widely acknowledged as a bad thing.

    No, the argument against spam is that (in the absence of filtering) it overwhelms users' inboxes with unsolicited and unwanted messages and makes it exceedingly difficult for email / Usenet / SMS / etc. to be useful. Remember the days of writing your email address like this: email example com? That is not what the administrators or owners of mail servers were doing; that was what users did, to avoid spam in their inbox as long as possible.

    Visiting an ad supported website goes like this: person A maintains a web server that person B uses to retrieve content. Person A shoulders the cost but offsets this with advertising money, person B receives the (non-monetary) benefits.

    The other day, my mother was trying to read The New Yorker online, but a hover ad kept covering the article -- and there was no clear way to get rid of it. She now uses ABP, because otherwise, some websites would be unusable. That is exactly the same situation as email and Usenet spam, except that this time, it is so overwhelmingly profitable that the people doing it can appear to be "legitimate" (OK, I'll be fair: they usually advertise real products, which adds some amount of legitimacy).

    You know whose resources are wasted with advertising on the web? Users', that's whose; CPU cycles, RAM, screen time and space, and so forth. What benefit are users getting? Targeted ads they did not want to begin with? When people need to buy things, they actually do benefit from advertising, but of a much different kind: classifieds like Craigslist, shopping search engines (what, you think that is not a form of advertising?), etc. It is not surprising that Amazon makes so much money in advertising -- not because they track users, but because when people need something, they use Amazon's search engine to find what they need.

    Advertising is very important to the web as it exists right now

    If that is true (and frankly, I think the web would be fine if everyone used ABP), then it is time to make a better system, perhaps one that is more distributed so that popular online publications are not so costly to operate.

    What I'm saying is, and I'm trying to put it politely, people as a whole should be aspiring to a higher level of ethics than douchebag spammers.

    I agree, but I am not greedy.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zadaz ( 950521 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @09:02PM (#41406703)

    The thing I I do want it. I would love it if I was only shown ads which were for things that I was truly interested in. It would be wonderful if ads were a product discovery service.

    Except they're not. There's not enough margin in that and that's not how advertisers want to reach me.

    Take for example and of the music streaming services. Pandora, Spotify,, etc. They know exactly what music you like to listen to. So it should be a slam-dunk to target ads to you for stuff you're interested in. Sell you the album you're listening to, sell you tickets to a local show of any of your favorite artists. Hell, alert you some TV show, movie, or game that uses your favorite music in the soundtrack.

    But no. You get adverts for songs, artists, and genres that you've explicitly told you never want to hear again. The service that can have surprisingly good accuracy when suggesting new music and artists is quite literally tone deaf when suggesting ads.

    The only explanation is that the record labels are dumping so much money to promote X that they buy up all the available slots, whether its appropriate or not. They still think we're listening to the radio and are not an infinitely fragmented audience, so they throw money at it to keep the little guy out. The little guy who would most benefit targeted ads. And the streaming services let them do this, even though it's a disservice to their listeners because the listeners aren't their customers, the record companies are, and they're already on thin ice with them to begin with. So they'll do what it takes to keep them happy.

    Now that's just streaming music, but the same factors apply in other areas where targeted ads could work if the players had any interest in playing that game.

  • Re:Irony not lost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @09:50PM (#41406915)

    I think we are sorely misstating the problem to say the problem is bribes or even contributions, even though both have influence, more or less.

    The real problem is that representatives *have no fucking idea what they are talking about on most subjects*. If we ignore that tiny, but critical fact, we start realizing what a shitty idea it is to turn the operation of various industries over to their tender mercies. If we just pretend that it is possible to elect a white knight representative who will not take bribes, all this will get better. It won't. He or she will be honest, but just as useless as the current people.

    We get these laws because the industries write these bills. Some of these bills are almost carbon copies of model legislation that the lobbyists hand representatives or their staffers. And even an honest rep is probably happy to have them, because they don't have the resources or the knowledge to properly regulate the industries that we've given them to regulate. That's why there is a revolving door, folks. The government needs people who know the industry, and the industry need people who know the government system. And every time we insist on even more regulation, we make industry people even more necessary to the government.

    Who needs bribes when the only bribe you need is someone to do your homework for you so you can get your ass re-elected?

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