My disgust with online spying by the NSA / GCHQ is well documented here on diablog. And in a recent post here, I took a shot at online advertising, which by now is just as bad as the government spying. Casper wants to know more, so here it comes.
First let me say, I am not against advertising in general. Offline as well as online advertising serves its purpose. But online in particular, it has gone way too far. And I am not the only one saying so. There is a post by the IAB, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, admitting (quote, emphasis mine):
We messed up. As technologists, tasked with delivering content and services to users, we lost track of the user experience.
Twenty years ago we saw an explosion of websites, built by developers around the world, providing all forms of content. This was the beginning of an age of enlightenment, the intersection of content and technology. Many of us in the technical field felt compelled, and even empowered, to produce information as the distribution means for mass communication were no longer restricted by a high barrier to entry.
In 2000, the dark ages came when the dot-com bubble burst. We were told that our startups were gone or that our divisions sustained by corporate parent companies needed to be in the black. It was a wakeup call that led to a renaissance age.
But we messed up.Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty. The fast, scalable systems of targeting users with ever-heftier advertisements have slowed down the public internet and drained more than a few batteries. We were so clever and so good at it that we over-engineered the capabilities of the plumbing laid down by, well, ourselves. This steamrolled the users, depleted their devices, and tried their patience.
Whenever you visit a website like The New York Times, or The Guardian, you are bombarded with ads. And not just banner ads, there are various horrendous interruptions. Lay-overs, flash videos on auto-play, and many many more.
See, those publishers are too lazy or stupid to place the ads on their websites themselves. They leave it to 3rd parties. And there is neither editorial oversight, nor any technical oversight what goes on their website. Which in the worst case leads to ads infecting visitors with maleware. The normal case is, that up to 80% of the data traffic from websites is advertising. Think about that for a moment. 80% of the data you download, and for which you pay, is junk you never wanted in the first place.
Of course, revenues from ads are not enough for greedy bastards. On top of you being pestered with ads, you are tracked. The publishers sell your data. The Guardian for example has about a dozen (!) companies tracking you. Again, there is zero oversight, what is collected and how. And to whom your data is sold afterwards. You think, selling your data isn’t a business? Then read this article: http://adage.com/article/datadriven-marketing/24-billion-data-business-telcos-discuss/301058/
So, what can you do?
The most convenient solution is the Privacy Badger, https://www.eff.org/privacybadger, by the infamous Electronic Frontier Foundation. The privacy badger blocks many ads and many tracking servers.
If you want to set up your own system against ads, you should install an adblocker first. As the article by IAB notes, almost 50% of all internet users have ad-blocking software installed in their browser. So should you. If you are using Firefox, you can install ublock https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/ublock/
This browser extension blocks thousands of advertising servers. These are the servers, that do nothing else but pump ads onto websites. These are the 3rd party tools, the lazy, stupid internet publishers use. Please note, ublock does not block an ad, that comes from the server you are visiting. If the publisher actually cares about what ads they show you, the ad goes through.
What can you do against tracking?
Well, you could use TOR. Then you are more or less completely anonymous. But with tor you still see ads.
Alternatively you can install Disconnect https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/disconnect/. This browser extension blocks more than 2,000 (!) tracking servers.
A little bit more advanced is Ghostery https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/ghostery/. Besides blocking thousands of trackers already, you can determine yourself, what additional trackers are blocked. It also lets you see, what is blocked on any website you visit. Thus, you can easily avoid those bastards in the future.
If you have further questions, let us know.
A few final words. If you read the above mentioned article by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, you noticed it is spin. It is a bit of a smoke screen. With 50% of internet users having adblocker installed, the internet advertising industry is scared to death. Once marketers learn, that nobody actually sees their ads, they will stop buying. And then those 3rd party companies will go bust. As far as I am concerned, they can just do so. I do not give a flying fuck. If a website wants to show me ads, they at least should pick the ads and place them in front of me themselves.
But guess what, recent studies have shown, employees of big online advertising and internet publishing companies are using adblockers too. They cannot even stand to look at their own shit. Then, why should you?