[Feedback Request] Deincentivizing Screen Addiction Through An Anti-Digital Ad Pledge & Blocklist

idea
advertising
#1

Hi Everyone,

I’d love your feedback on the following idea, whose aim is to alter the incentive structure around digital advertising, and thus help restore sanity in our digital experiences.

Description of Issue:
As we are all aware, advertisers currently pay tech companies to develop attention-grabbing (social) media platforms, because ads convert some percentage of the people they are shown to into paying customers. Currently, advertisers assume that their ads have one of two outcomes: either they cause conversion / increased interest / increased brand awareness or they are ignored. From an advertiser’s point of view, these effects are respectively positive or neutral.

What this means is that though AdBlockers render digital ads ineffective, they don’t send the message to advertisers that their efforts may be harming them more than helping them.

Potential solution:
Imagine people signing an anti-digital-ad campaign pledge: people who sign commit to heavily resisting or not buying products from any company for which they see a digital ad. A browser extension could be created to automatically keep track of which companies an individual will “blocklist”, such a blocklist could then be downloaded to a person’s phone via a paired mobile app. When a person goes shopping, either physically or digitally, the mobile app surfaces the list of companies that the user is attempting to avoid. (Maybe version 2.0 recommends alternative products that address the same concern).

This would be most effective, I think, if organized by region, as advertisers tend to select location as an important parameter when designing ad campaigns. If 10% of the internet browsing citizens, say, the city of Oakland were to commit to such a pledge, it would suddenly behoove advertisers to spend their money elsewhere.

Lastly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is one group that could be approached to help out with the development of the aforementioned digital tools. Perhaps the Mozilla foundation is another.

So what do you say? If the tools and this pledge existed, would you be willing to give it a go? What problems do you foresee?

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#2

I like the gist of the idea, and I think that in future we should combine a number of ideas that were discussed on this forum in a smart, appealing advocacy campaign to help improve the ways we are advertised to.

Adblockers do send a message to advertisers, but it is just that too few people are using them still for the message to have the desired impact. There are sites that block users that have adblockers and recently sites have started to design their HTML specifically so that it becomes very hard for adblockers to block the ads that exist on them. So these blockers are definitely getting noticed.

On our Awesome Humane Tech list there are some blacklisting projects (not directly ad-related) and blocker solutions, as well as some interesting Awareness tools. Code of these may be reused/combined in a new extension to address your idea.

There is another tool (not on the Awesome list) that does the opposite of what you propose: It automatically clicks all Ads that are on a page from a sandboxed process, so that advertisers cannot create an accurate profile of you, but the website (which has content you are interested in) still receives the ad revenue. This tool is:

AdNauseam is a free browser extension designed to obfuscate browsing data and protect users from tracking by advertising networks. At the same time, AdNauseam serves as a means of amplifying users’ discontent with advertising networks that disregard privacy and facilitate bulk surveillance agendas.”

I did not include this on the awesome list because it is doubtful if this works effectively. The tool is controversial and Google tried to block it from the Play store. Coincidentally it was discussed on Hacker News yesterday: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19278936

But one idea to be adopted from AdNauseam is creating requests, but not to the advertisement service, but to the product website being advertised in the Ad. And e.g. have one or more requests that deliberately fail and lead to a 404 Page Not Found in the log files of the product website (e.g. with URL’s https://ProductWebsite.com/your-site-is-blacklisted-by-AdKiller.io) to leave a clear message (create 50 requests in a row for extra attention).

The blacklist that is collected by all users could be distributed amongst the users of the extension in decentralized fashion, so no centralized website (and that can be taken offline) is needed to manage them.

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#3

I think this is an interesting idea but I also think that ads are not the issue so much as the trackers that they tend to use to collect your data. In fact, for someone with a small website/business online they may rely on ad revenue to stay open, even without any malicious intentions. This is why adnauseum, as mentioned above, is such a cool-sounding tool, but of course it’s hard for us as end users to know how well it works for the cause that it claims. Additionally, I’m doubtful that a handful of people (even if it was a lot of people) not buying a product due to seeing an ad would even cancel out the revenue generated simply from the data collected from the ad itself.

In the end I tend to group all ads simply into the - bad- category and use adblockers, tracking blockers etc. But of course this doesn’t really do anything to affect the companies that send out the ads, and thus changes nothing, so perhaps there is a better solution out there

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#4

Yes, you are quite right in your post. It is a mixed bag, and there are shades of grey, not black and white. We have to take this into account when campaigning.

Another topic on this forum I created deals with Humane Advertising: Humane advertising - ethical and mutual-beneficial: It is possible !

I think there will be a range of solutions to fight current harms of technology related to advertising. And each applies to different cases. But maybe in time we can define some comprehensive framework or methodology to address them.

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#5

Good points!

I had not heard of AdNauseam before, thanks for pointing me to it. I also think the AdNauseam requests-to-404 redirect idea could be a nice touch. Also, @joshs – I think you have good points.

There are indeed small and medium businesses that rely on advertising to boost their revenue. So perhaps this anti-digital pledge is best augmented by a focus on larger companies, or a whitelist of exceptions for the blacklist. Like if there was some way I could pledge never to respond to an Amazon Ad, or something similar.

As far as I’m aware, the only data that the ad itself gathers is whether it has been clicked on, which when aggregated over all of its clicks, gives a click-through rate. Ad platforms provide the data on if the ad has been viewed, and in what context. Sometimes, this includes demographic breakdowns, by Age, Gender, and inferred preferences. Other forms of tracking attempt to predict whether an individual will click on an ad, and ultimately whether they are a “convertible” customer.

But our data is only valuable because it is believed to have predictive power over what we do next. If enough people committed to a pledge, it could chip away at this foundational assumption of the ad-based economy. Thus one of the better ways to break the loop is through a coherent campaign that could multiply the efforts of individuals (using ad-blockers, user-agent spoofers, etc.) via collective action. The point would be to give Chief Marketing Officers (and not just the individuals who might read the Ad logs and discover AdNauseam-ed 404 requests, for example) something new to worry about.

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#6

Hi. Please consider Renaming “Blacklist” to “BlockList” so that it’s inclusive. Etymology of words like Blacklist/Whitelist…I recommend to use alternatives like “BlockList / AllowList”.

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