Robin Miller for Slashdot : I'm Robin Miller for Slashdot and with us today is Doc Searls, who you may be well aware of from Linux Journal and from many other wonderful places; from the Cluetrain Manifesto; and just generally from being a cool dude, he is like...
Doc Searls: Thank you, it’s a lot. it says a lot.
Slashdot: It says a lot.And that's all introduction we need and that's
Doc Searls: Thanks.
Slashdot: for those of you don’t know, so.
Doc Searls: Yeah. Just spell my name right and then people can look it up.
Slashdot: S-E-A-R-L-S, no E.
Doc Searls: Exactly, yeah.
Slashdot: Yeah and what we do with Doc Searls is we’ll talk about, and he's been writing a lot about, ad blockers.
Doc Searls: Yeah.
Slashdot: Advertising stuff and that's been in the news a lot lately. So the question I had for Doc Searls, is this: Ad blockers, do they cause cancer?
Doc Searls: And my answer to that in fact – not in fact – metaphorically, they cure cancer.
Doc Searls: The cancer that we have as users and as individuals operating browsers on the World Wide Web, is being invaded by unwelcome files and things we don't ask for. When you're using the hypertext protocol, you have an expectation that you're going to get a sum of data that is going to be displayed on a page. And that's going to be it. We don't expect to be tracked like animals, but what's happened is we are being tracked like animals. And that's being used in all kinds of ways, but basically what ad blockers do are two things: It’s not just blocking ads. They block tracking. Most of them block tracking as well. There's some that just block tracking for example Privacy Badger from the EFF, blocks tracking and they give you a little slider so you can allow/disallow different things.
Slashdot: I learned about Privacy Badger reading your blog.
Doc Searls: It's good and I learned about it from Don Marti who
Slashdot: I know him very well, yes.
Doc Searls: Yeah. Don is one of the best editors-in-chief that we've ever had at Linux Journal and is by far – just look up D Marti or just look at up Don Marti. The writing he's been doing on advertising in general is just freaking brilliant and absolutely on top of it, he's
Doc Searls: To me, he is the top thinker on the subject of advertising online today. Something he started by the way, he probably went earlier than that, but he asked to help out when I was writing a book called The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge. It's based on the work that I've been encouraging in my capacity as a fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard starting a few years ago. I'm no longer a fellow there but the project is still there. And when I was writing the book, I gave Don basically the keys to the online part of the Harvard Library which gave him access to 15 million volumes and a zillion academic journals. And he just ran with it, he has been running with it ever since. And one of the things that he talks about that's really an important thing is that the kind of advertising we have in Linux Journal, the kind that is in Vogue, it’s in New Yorker or that, that you know. They're part of -- they add value to the magazine. People know what it's there for. It's not tracking you. The provenance of it is obvious. It starts with a company. They hire an agency, the agency places the ad. You know the ad is aimed at a population, Linux users, people who need a server, people who need cables, whatever it is, it's being advertised. With fashion, I sat next to a woman on a plane once who read a Vogue page by page from front to back, looking at every ad.
Slashdot: Absolutely. And it’s cheaper for us to get the local newspaper, Sunday only, than to get nothing but the digital online edition. Which is all I need.
Doc Searls: And...
Slashdot: My wife goes through that Sunday paper. For what? Ads and coupons.
Doc Searls: There's a well understood social contract there. Nowhere in there does it say you know what we're going to give you a better advertising experience by planting a tracking beacon on you. And they're going to follow you around. And they're going to feed that into a big data machine that's going to come up with better guesswork about what they think you might want. Now, there are several problems with that, one is the manners are horrible. And it breaks the social contract. But another problem is and this is a really big thing: We are not buying anything most of the time. We're not in the market to be clicking on an ad because we think we might want that. We just know that I expose myself to something in place A and I'm getting shipped somewhere else in place B, C, D and E. And it goes into the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is where things are strangely human-like but not really – and it creeps you out. The browser on our laptop and our laptops and our phones and other things... these are extensions of ourselves. They are personal spaces but they didn't come with privacy. Now, they should have. But they didn't. But browsers allow add-ons and extensions and with ad blocking we have some privacy. We have prophylaxis that where we can put a diaphragm in our virtual vaginas and keep from being impregnated by these files that want to get inside our bodies (that's a horrible metaphor but I kind of like it).
Slashdot: It's really terrible, yes.
Doc Searls: It really is but I mean, it calls to mind Alien, and you know it is fun. Anyway...
Slashdot: Okay, let me ask you a question.
Doc Searls: Sure.
Slashdot: Isn't it pretty easy to defeat Ad Blockers? From the advertiser side? I know how – and I'm not the smartest man in the world.
Doc Searls: Yeah sure it's a... I'm told it's easy to defeat. There is going to be a kind of arms race here. What matters is the signals being sent. They're freaking out now because it works to some degree. Okay. It's pissing off the right people in the right ways. But a lot of these are the same people who said of the music industry, ”You know what? The internet's here now and music is free and you're fu**ed.” Figure out a new business model.
And now, you know, they're saying, “Oh my gosh, you're going to eat our whole business model because advertising is -- tracking based advertising – is the only way to make money on the web,” which is absolutely bullshit.
We are in the Internet age—figure out another way to make money.