Humane advertising - ethical and mutual-beneficial: It is possible !

advertising
ad-tech
privacy
personal-data
ethics
#1

Original title: Idea - Humane advertisement policies: ethical and mutual-beneficial

I was inspired to create this topic thread by some great posts and discussions [0][1] stating the following:

  1. The idea of a social network that uses all the tricks of the trade to actually improve its users (the example of FacebookForMe in @paulwduignan’s article)
  2. The opinion of @anon76657042 that an Ad-based business model and selling users data still is the best model

Initially very sceptical on 2. (still am on selling personal data, but that may be inevitable in some cases), I think there is a great merit in combining 1. and 2. in social network organizations that offer Humane advertising policies.

For my own startup plans, I intend to use an ad-free business model, but this is a special case, because it will be a non-profit organization, be decentralized (less infra costs, control your own personal data) and can therefore be based on an alternative economic model that is not available to a commercial entity.

It has a social network component, called fullcircle (with a sustainability theme, consuming less), where advertisement does take place (but by users), so I am very interested in finding a good ad policy.

I believe the root causes of current tech problems and also the reason that ad industry “is currently filled with used-car salesmen types, scammers and even a disproportionate number of psychopaths” as @anon76657042 colorfully states, is that our current global economic models (yes, capitalism) are failing… they are a zero-sum game, a race to the bottom, where ultimately only the global elites will survive and the rest of humanity will be left living in a dystopic society. A surveillance capitalism plutocracy, maybe.

But we are not there yet, and can still steer the ship around. In any case in any alternative economic model you still have people that need to sell their products and services and thus - necessarily - need to advertise them. If an organization / social network wants to be moral and ethical, actively improve their lives, and offer this as value to their users - even unique selling points.

So how to combine 1. and 2.? What are some of the criteria a humane ad policy should comply to? Well… just brainstorming a bit:

  • Mutual beneficial: Benefits the advertiser (promotes/sells product or service), benefits the social network (advertisement income), benefits the user (is something the user might need, and complies to humane criteria)
  • Transparent: User should be able to see which personal data led to displaying the ads to them. Should be able to easily browse/control any personal data that the social network has access to.
  • Ethical: Where ‘ethical’ in a For Ethical Use Only open-source software license is very hard to define, for an ad policy this should be much easier. It should be part of the Privacy Policy and Code of Ethics of the network
  • Enforceable opt-out policies: If I don’t like certain ad companies, or even do not want to have the social network use it anymore, I should be able to retract the data, make it inaccessible / unusable
  • Enforceable data resales policies: As a user I should be able to choose how my personal data is traded to 3rd parties:
    • Forbidden: The default setting (other policies are opt-in). This will cost revenue to the social network, so they may have to incur a subscription fee to me
    • Free: Do what you want with it. The current practice. The social network could offer me added benefits for this
    • Selective: Only allow certain 3rd parties of the users’ choice.
    • Further restrictions might be applied, like 3rd party does not get full ownership of data it buys, is not allowed to resell to others (hard to enforce)

With regards to enforceable opt-out and resales policies I see a big role for new encryption methods:

  • Data is managed / controlled by the user and encrypted by default
  • When opting-out it is encrypted with a different key, which the opted-out party can no longer decrypt (existing data that was previously supplied could still be illegally used, so regulation is necessary, or smarter encryption methods… I am no expert in this field)
  • Regarding resales: the 3rd party could receive the data in encrypted form and only while providing it to social network applications and apps that have my consent, can it be used to show ads to me. This would enforce a policy where it does not get resold without restriction

Very curious to hear your thoughts and additions!


[0] @paulwduignan in Mark Zuckerberg as the Greatest Self-Help Guru of All Time?
[1] @anon76657042 in Business model innovation

3 Likes

[Feedback Requested!] Proposals for Specific Tech / Algorithmic Regulations and Enforcement Mechanisms (Re: Ads and Notifications)
Working in Social Media/Advertising Industry
[Feedback Request] Deincentivizing Screen Addiction Through An Anti-Digital Ad Pledge & Blocklist
#2

It’s a chicken and egg problem. Maybe we’re getting too much into the details of finding revenue before the product is even there.

Ad tech is complicated and even the biggest companies have trouble managing the deluge of data and advertisers.

Why not wait until later for making any choices, leaving it open to many possible paths? There could be multiple income sources combined.

Imagine you had an established business with users. If ethical ads make one penny per user every month and you have a million users, then you are making $10,000 per month which can support just one or two employees in rich countries. Very hypothetical numbers here. But say users increased to 10 million or 100 million, then you’d have both a larger team and audience and thus the ability to sell ethical ads or sponsorships at a much higher revenue rate per user.

Or look at what Wikipedia does. Wikipedia asks for donations. There are many ways to go, just as long as the service is simple and not too expensive to run.

I agree the best idea I’ve seen is @paulwduignan’s FacebookForMe.

0 Likes

#3

As a non tech person- I don’t like the distractions and having to figure out how to turn something off in order to protect my “peace bubble”.

Even if something is non profit based and ethical- it’s like having a really nice person come over to have coffee on your house right when you want to take a nap…

1 Like

#4

Agree. I don’t want to investigate a definitive model for my own startup, nor for the CHT organization (Note: I am not in the loop on their future plans). Instead just wanted to brainstorm ideas in a general sense, so yes, this includes how could a 100+ million user site could be more ethical in their advertising…

Ha ha, well, to take this further… then you would have to advertise that you want to take a nap, right? Either have a ‘Do not disturb’ plate on your front porch (non-tech solution) and ignoring the knocks on the door (ethical?), or have them phone/msg you beforehand (tech). And also you’d probably want to communicate the 'rules of engagement` to your acquaintances beforehand (code of ethics) :wink:

1 Like

#5

Great exchange here;). In real life we don’t have to turn something off- social nuances take care of that- like a friend or neighbor knowing you- that you take naps at a certain time or we set boundaries with each other and say I usually need time to wind down in the afternoon- hint hint- people get to know each other and just know.

In America it’s not unethical to not answer your front door- unless The visitor was unexpected.

Some people experience info overload or instructive exhaustion in technology- to turn this or that off or on- at least the non tech professions. We are dependent of technology but only because we are forced to.

0 Likes

#6

Adtech is a sprawling monster that not one entity can even explain or understand.

Even ads run by the “top” companies like Google and Facebook lead to harmful fake products and fake software that are designed soley so harm the user. These include browser toolbars, software and ads which misdirect you, hijack your browser, inject ads in place of original ads, inject viruses, inject spyware, hold you up for ransom, inject affiliate codes and so on.

These are companies whose sole business models are designed on doing harm and at the same time don’t have any real products at all. And these are not just a few bad apples. Many of these scamvertising companies are medium-sized companies in the USA and Western Europe. Two Isrealis assosiates of mine deal in fraud ads for a living. Google and Facebook are actually courting these leeches.

Here are some random comapneis that run spamvertsing on Google, ads which install harmful toolbars or apps and hijack people’s devices. Yes Google has been very knowingy taking money from these scam advertisers for years, and contunues to knowingly take money from people who through a chain of first hijacking your devices, then rediercting it to a successive chain of ever more harmful sites, are breaking down your devices defenses and attacking you. And the first link in this chain is ads by Google.

  • IAC Applicationa (formery Mindspark) - Medium-sized US company with about 1000 fake products which are all designed to hijack your devices. By the way they’re hiring and have 18 jobs to fill at the moment,
  • Adknowledge - similar to IAC, note this multimillon dollar US company’s home page is just a contact form
  • Movilwave - Scams, from Germany!
  • Raut Media - We’re a tech company that makes millions but don’t even have a company webpage.

"As customer clicks on any sort of advertisement, he literally calls the hundreds of malicious programs to enter the PC. This occurs, because undesired program changes the options of customer’s browser, to assist the incoming adware to infect the computer nice and prompt. Later on, Raut Media exhibits customer dozens of links to the malicious websites, and the user will press though at one of them. But this is not yet all of Raut Media’s options! "

By the way this is true of every advertisng network which deals with programmatic ads, which is literally every ad network these days.

By the way when you click on one of these Google ads, they will take you to a page like this: Ramdom Malicious Adware by IAC Applications

IAC Applications actually has about a thousand of such fake products and they all look the same, just substitute “image converter” for “PDF converter” or “weather” or “maps” or “directions” and so on.

1 Like

#7

Doc Searls, from Linux Journal - whom I contacted for the MIT Consent Hack Day - pointed me to two of his articles on how to improve the overall Ads experience. They are really good and a lot of pointers to interesting information and tools.

The first article explains about the plethora of trackers we encounter in most websites, and the need to get to be freed from them:

Linux Journal, April 4, 2018: How Wizards and Muggles Break Free from the Matrix

The second article gives us information on how we can actively improve things, and asks for our help:

Linux Journal, March 14, 2018: Help Us Cure Online Publishing of Its Addiction to Personal Data

0 Likes

#8

Reviving this topic, I want to address notions I’ve seen on this forum, in the line of:

  • “All online advertisement is evil and should be banned”
  • “All personal data collection is evil and must stop”

Are these statements realistic and valid?

Advertising has gained a certain meaning as per definition related to paid promotion (emphasis mine):

“The action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements (Merriam-Webster)

But when looking at the verb To advertise:

1 to make something known to : notify

2a. to make publicly and generally known advertising their readiness to make concessions

2b. to announce publicly especially by a printed notice or a broadcast a poster advertising forthcoming events

2c. to call public attention to especially by emphasizing desirable qualities so as to arouse a desire to buy or patronize

Note, there is no such commercial marketing aspect in it. And in fact if we have something to sell, anything, then we must advertise it in some way, for other to take notice of that fact.

If you are a market vendor at a flower stall, and shouting to passers-by “Beautiful flowers. Just $5!”, then you are advertising.

I pose that advertising is a business requirement.

So why should there be any difference when advertising online? In the tangles of the web it is even more necessary to advertise your products and services than in the physical space. Not doing so, your products will not be found, and you’d be out of business really quick.

Following from that is that online advertising in itself is not evil, and also using paid services to do so more effectively is not evil.

Now for information collection. If I were to do completely untargeted online advertising, then it would be very ineffective and I would be wasting my money. E.g. when my car repair tools would be advertised on a fashion website to an uninterested audience. Some personal information is needed to target ads appropriately.

Question is whether that information should collected. This is where things get shady. Let’s first address ads that go the evil end of the spectrum: ‘Evil’ advertising violates ethical and moral principles. There is a whole range of such violations being practiced. Mentioning only some that come to mind now:

  • Deceiving the target, with obfuscated messages. Being opaque, not transparent, honest
  • Using psychological tricks to steer the behaviour of the targets in specific direction, finding weak spots
  • Disguising promotional content so target is unaware of it. Masquerading as expert advice, or science, etc.
  • … (many more evil techniques) …

‘Good’ advertising then adheres to an ethical framework that does not involve any of these techniques. How may this look like? Some examples:

  • DuckDuckGo - alternative to Google Search - is a commercial entity which has privacy as a USP. They do not profile you, collect data. But internet search is expensive and they use an advertisement-based business model. But they have the search query you type to show you targeted ads, without the need to identify you, or store any information about you (see their revenue model).

  • Any site that is dedicated to a certain topic can show ads that are related to that topic without need to track you and collect information. News and media websites can target based on the topic or keywords of individual articles.

  • If you are visiting a webshop you may explicitly want to be targeted based on your browsing behavior and searches. The webshop sets some cookies (but they are 1st-party cookies) and they may use that data on a next visit, to help you continue your sales experience where you left off.

None of these require tracking or data collection and storage or 3rd-party data exchange per se, but each of these may be needed to offer the proper user experience or e.g. requirements by law. A platform may store your preferences, purchase history, or use 3rd-party systems to deliver their service.

This still does not make them ‘evil’ if they are good custodians and ethical, and document that in their Privacy Policy and Terms of Services document: what is tracked, what is shared, for what purpose, what is stored and for how long (e.g. data retention for 2 weeks only).

(Note: I edited the title, adding “It is possible!” if only we define “Humane Advertising” well enough)

1 Like

#9

I just found this website via Hacker News in a discussion 'Let’s discuss on open-source sustainability, about open source funding (note: there is a crisis in FOSS where open-source maintainers cannot sustain their projects, and tech companies use their code for commercial purposes without giving back).

In a comment founder Eric Berry presents Codefund as a means to have ethical advertising for OSS projects:

1 Like

#10
0 Likes

#11

I think that ethical advertising is a really good idea that makes a lot of sense…as long as you’re not Facebook, Google, Amazon etc as these companies thrive not only on getting every last bit of data but squeezing every last ounce of revenue from it. I feel like it’s hard for a big company like that to change, while easy for a startup to ponder the possibility. Personally I’m not sure how such a system will change given the level of engagement that so many users have with it. Perhaps an ad-tech company that can pitch ethical ads to existing tech giants?

2 Likes

#12

Therein lies the problem. What company, big or small, would intentionally be willing to take less revenue? Right now the situation is the reverse, companies try to maximise revenue by doing unethical things up to the limit they they don’t get caught. The biggest AdTech company Google for example is actually one of the less bad, bad AdTech companies. Google will not only track people everywhere, but they will also intentionally run ads for scams such as those from Mindspark Interactive. Mindspark creates hundreds of fake software, malware programs that hijack people’s computers and opens the door to viruses and other even worse kinds of malware by redirecting users to dangerous places. Why does a company like Google intentionally work with malware companies like Mindspark, and even helps them hide their tracks though thousands of accounts and sites? Because Google wants to increase profits, and will do so in any way they can get away with it short of outright porn, violent criminality and other things which would more likely cause outrage.

Things like scams and malware ads however are Google’s line of business, it is what Google sells. One of the world’s most profitable companies, Google, is a scam and malware dealer.

Just a few days ago my dad was almost taken advantage of by a scam advertised by Amazon. It was a fake company who was going to do design work for him, at a cost of US $900. He trusted the company because he assumed that Amazon was recommending it when in fact they were just making money by advertising for what is literally a criminal organisation. Thankfully my dad realised that they were criminals and did not pay them anything, but the question is why is Big Bad Tech helping scammers commit crimes?

1 Like

#13

While reading up on readthedocs.io as a candidate tool for community documentation I came upon their business model description which is based on 1) ReadTheDocs advertising and 2) donations. They use the term ‘Ethical Advertising’ here and it is an interesting showcase to what that could mean:

Ethical Ads

From their docs:

Ethical Ads respect users while providing value to advertisers. We don’t track you, sell your data, or anything else. We simply show ads to users, based on the content of the pages you look at. We also give 10% of our ad space to community projects, as our way of saying thanks to the open source community.

Our Worldview

We’re building the advertising model we want to exist:

  • We don’t track you
  • We don’t sell your data
  • We host everything ourselves, no third-party scripts or images

We’re doing newspaper advertising, on the internet. For a hundred years, newspapers put an ad on the page, some folks would see it, and advertisers would pay for this. This is our model.

As developers, we understand the massive downsides of the current advertising industry. This includes malware, slow site performance, and huge databases of your personal data being sold to the highest bidder. […]

We opt out

  • We don’t store personal information about you.
  • We only keep track of views and clicks.
  • We don’t build a profile of your personality to sell ads against.
  • We only show high quality ads from companies that are of interest to developers.

There is much more information in this section, including details on how to implement ethical ads on a technical level. So check out this section for best-practices.

https://docs.readthedocs.io/en/stable/advertising/ethical-advertising.html

1 Like

#14

So how to combine 1. and 2.? What are some of the criteria a humane ad policy should comply to? Well… just brainstorming a bit:

My suggestion is to redefine #2 and then 1 and 2 are easy to combine. I believe user data is the strawman economic value, meaning it is a misdirection away from the actual value, which is our attention.
This does not mean that there could evolve a data “attachment” to the value of our attention, which could increase its base value.

Right now, without publishers or brands making any adjustments to their current media buying habits, we can measure the value of attention on the internet, quantifiable down to seconds, so it is also easier to measure and issue value.

  • Mutual beneficial : Benefits the advertiser (promotes/sells product or service), benefits the social network (advertisement income), benefits the user (is something the user might need, and complies to humane criteria)

Absolute agreement, with some clarification.

The ecosystem has three main stakeholders and I can list each’s unique concerns and problems

Publishers/content creators

  • Reach problem: Each publisher (with few exceptions) cannot reach their own audience to any significant degree with any singular piece of content. This relates to another problem listed below, one product that does reward publishers and advertisers love is sponsored content, where a publishers writers will create branded content, native to the platform, around a brand narrative.

  • core design flaw: ads on page like magazines or newspapers. the early web literally adopted the same sensibility as old media.

  • third party ad networks: usually the ones applying the data, and keeping the margin for themselves while buying remnant (low cost advertising in bulk) from the publisher.

  • Continually de-escalating revenue from third party ad networks: which just increases the problems listed above, now pubs have to run more ads on one page to make an aggragate eCPM, which requires more third parties dropping cookies, which pisses off more users.

  • Facebook: Content shared on facebook makes a significant majority of most publishers audience acquisition, but difficult to monetize because of Facebook Pages, keeping the users in Facebook and away from the publisher.

  • ad blockers: in response to all the issues exasperated above, some publishers are actually losing 90% of their monetizable audience to ad blockers (especially tech blogs)

  • IAB and any internet advertising guidelines, which have set the standardization in ad tech mediation platforms for various ad products, all of which create the above, while preventing innovation from coming inside the system because everything has to conform to the standardization.

Brands/Agencies

  • Channel control: Just where in the hell are my ads showing and why are they next to YouTube child porn videos??? to name a common complaint.

  • Viewability: How the hell can I tell if anyone even saw the ad that I paid for them to see?

  • Bots: “How much more money do I have to dump into click farms for publishers to meet their delivery requirements???”

  • Direct to publisher reach: “We finally found a product that works, we love sponsored content, how many views Mr. Publisher with 10M MAUs can you get us on our sponsored content article on your website? Really, less than 1% guarantee? That’s it?”

  • Direct to publisher communication: “I want to be able to work directly with the publishers!”

Internet Users

  • FU we hate ads. “The only ad I can accept is an ad that I can barely notice.”

  • Wasted attention: “Hey Youtube, I was fine with the five second video ad that I could click away from, until I found out that the content creator made $0 and you also made $0, why are you wasting my time for no money???”

  • Tracking: “Stop tracking me, I only like it when its what I want to buy”

  • WASTED TIME: Fake news/clickbait: “Wow! that’s so interesting that hillary clinton eats babies, feed me more! Yes, I will click on pictures of big boobs without thinking twice, and anything kardashian.”

*** Transparent : User should be able to see which personal data led to displaying the ads to them. Should be able to easily browse/control any personal data that the social network has access to.**

Transparency across the ecosystem, same issue, brands dont have it and sometimes either do the pubs.

  • Ethical : Where ‘ethical’ in a For Ethical Use Only open-source software license is very hard to define, for an ad policy this should be much easier. It should be part of the Privacy Policy and Code of Ethics of the network

Right now, the major third parties agree that porn, violence, gambling, 420 and alcohol are boundaries. Ethics probably alter per publisher. The ability to buy audiences for super cheap works great for affiliates who sell scam products.

  • Enforceable opt-out policies : If I don’t like certain ad companies, or even do not want to have the social network use it anymore, I should be able to retract the data, make it inaccessible / unusable

Which data type? Some data is shared, like how long you spent on a page for the publisher, or how much fo a video you watched. That data can just be linked to an IP address. This is why data is so difficult because the demarcation gets blurred over what is reasonable and what is invasive.

  • Enforceable data resales policies : As a user I should be able to choose how my personal data is traded to 3rd parties:

Personally, i view a set of our online data as something we have ownership stake in, so in principle, I dont believe there should be any transaction that the user is not compensated for.

  • Forbidden : The default setting (other policies are opt-in). This will cost revenue to the social network, so they may have to incur a subscription fee to me

Not sure what this means specifically?

  • Free : Do what you want with it. The current practice. The social network could offer me added benefits for this.

But doesnt that still open up the same problems with social media such as targeted harassment, misinformation, etc?

  • Selective : Only allow certain 3rd parties of the users’ choice.

Remove the third parties all together :slight_smile:

  • Further restrictions might be applied, like 3rd party does not get full ownership of data it buys, is not allowed to resell to others (hard to enforce)

Remove the third parties all together :slight_smile:

  • Data is managed / controlled by the user and encrypted by default
  • When opting-out it is encrypted with a different key, which the opted-out party can no longer decrypt (existing data that was previously supplied could still be illegally used, so regulation is necessary, or smarter encryption methods… I am no expert in this field)
  • Regarding resales: the 3rd party could receive the data in encrypted form and only while providing it to social network applications and apps that have my consent, can it be used to show ads to me. This would enforce a policy where it does not get resold without restriction

We can get there like today if we remove the data value and attach it to the attention value :slight_smile:

I’m going to read the rest of this thread now…great work @aschrijver

thanks for posting this discussion!

1 Like

#15

Well, I thank you for your excellent follow-up!! I am really happy with your input, even though I lack the time now to go into it more deeply.

Regarding value (in monetary sense, and regardless whether that has merit or not) there is the interesting:

I am in contact with their CEO after I noted the overlap with Solid Project. DigiMe is commercial, but does not exclude combining with Solid in the future (and Solid itself tries to commercialize their standard with Inrupt). Just a quick note and I am off again :slight_smile:

0 Likes