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



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 incubating tech startup innercircles, 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.

innercircles 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

Working in Social Media/Advertising Industry

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.


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…


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:


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.


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.


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


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)


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: