Save advertising in one line of JavaScript (and why you might want to)


A long-lived Internet bug is spreading malware, enabling fraud, and taking financial support away from important cultural goods. The good news is that any maintainer of an independent web site can help fix it with one line of JavaScript.


The bug I'm talking about is the problem of third-party user tracking. It's left over from some quick-and-dirty web security decisions of the 1990s. When users can be tracked from site to site, most of the value created by web advertising is shifted away from sites and users, and toward criminals and companies that collect user data.


Surveillance marketing, such as behavioral and retargeted advertising that appears to follow users from site to site, has negative externalities. The costs of malware, data leakage and identity theft are paid by the people whose information is compromised, not by the companies that choose to collect personal data.


Even if you, as an individual web expert, are able to install and use tools to protect yourself, your site will do better when you can help protect others. Every minute and every dollar that your web site visitors lose to surveillance marketing is a minute or a dollar that can't go to support creative activity on the web.

The tracking protection tools we need to fix the problem are already available, and improving every day. Users just need to turn them on. Your site can inform, nudge, or reward each user to turn on or install a tracking protection tool that works for his or her own browser. Every time a user gets protected, the web works a little better. Tracking protection discourages the forms of advertising that have negative externalities, and helps shift ad budgets to ads that have positive externalities.

If you are already running ads on your site, and are concerned about ad blocking by users, offer them tracking protection as an alternative. Tracking protection helps stop the creepy-looking and malware-carrying ads that motivate users to run ad blockers.


Without protection, an advertiser can take advantage of data leakage to track users away from your site and reach them elsewhere—which often results in supporting malware and deceptive sites. With tracking protection, those low-quality ad impressions disappear from the market, pushing up the value of high-quality ads.


Whether or not your site carries advertising, some forms of advertising have positive externalities that are good for you. When you read an anthology of short stories collected from old magazines, or watch old episodes of TV shows, you benefit from the power of advertising to support cultural goods.


We can make web ads work more like the magazine ads that support quality content, and less like direct mail.

Sunday, January 3, 2016 - 13:15