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The Internet

Video We Asked Doc Searls: Do Ad Blockers Cause Cancer? (Video) 116

A whimsical headline, but not much more of a shark-jumper than some of the talk we've heard lately from ad agencies, online publishers, and others who earn their living from online advertising. Doc Searls recently wrote a piece on his personal blog titled Beyond ad blocking — the biggest boycott in human history. Naturally, we wanted to ask Doc to expand a bit on what he's been writing about ad blocking and advertising in general. So we had a fine conversation about online advertising -- ending with a challenge to the advertising industry, which Doc says should be looking for ways to produce better, more effective, and less annoying ways to sell to us online.

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.

Slashdot: Okay.

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

Slashdot: Total.

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.

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We Asked Doc Searls: Do Ad Blockers Cause Cancer? (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • Cancer (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2015 @03:21PM (#50637843)

    Do Ad Blockers Cause Cancer?

    No. But videos on Slashdot do.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Not to mention animated ads.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      That's actually a true statement. If you open a slashdot page with a video that instantly plays and makes noise, it could result in you getting fired for slashdotting on company time, meaning you lose your health insurance, and if you get cancer at the same time, you can't pay for treatment, and the cancer spreads. Videos kill!

    • Ads are a cancer upon the net, and ad blockers are a cure for that cancer.

  • The bad apples are ruining it for the good apples. The good apples should get together the define good ad standards and enforcement procedures, otherwise nobody will get apples.

    • Re:Bad apples (Score:4, Insightful)

      by grimmjeeper ( 2301232 ) on Thursday October 01, 2015 @03:45PM (#50638019) Homepage
      Yeah, I hate it when that 95% of them ruin it for everyone else.
    • Bad analogy. But if we have to use food analogies, it's like us sorting out the non-marshmallows in the breakfast cereals. Mostly because we actually only want the marshmallows, but they don't give us them without the other crap that we dump.

    • I hate to defend we advertisers, but this doesn't really make sense here. Even if the "good apples" (hahaha, yeah right) actually got together and decided on standards for web advertising, such as no flashing, no pop-ups, no pop-unders, no auto-starting videos, etc., how exactly would they enforce this?

      It's not like it's that hard to code up a pop-up ad. Any decent programmer could probably figure it out in a few hours, even if they don't know JavaScript, and in a few days put together a working ad system

  • I followed the link to his blog and he managed to be patronizing inside the first three sentences. That's certainly efficient I guess.
  • I use Ad-Block's element-hiding add-on [adblockplus.org] to get rid of not merely ads, but various other elements I dislike — including the incessant newsletter sign-up invitations, footers full of legalese, persistent "navigation" menus, "share-bars" and "article-tools" (thank you, I can increase the font without your little icon), weather-widgets, "related articles", "back-to-top" (seriously, who needs these on a desktop??), "next" and "previous" arrows — all of that crap...

    In fact, I'm addicted. Upon coming to a new (or recently redesigned) site, I must clean it up before reading. Web-browsing without AdBlocker is just scary nowadays. And revolting...

    • I spend a lot of time removing crap from webpages.
      sadly, this breaks things due to wildcarding a bit too much.

      but I love having control over what the page renders to. in fact, it was the main idea behind the separation of content and format. the wizziwhig (lol) idiots broke the web when they refused to understand the CONCEPT of a tagged language that gets rendered to the USER'S liking, not the PUBLISHER's.

      damn.

      • I spend a lot of time removing crap from webpages.

        That fastest way to do that is to cancel the ISP.

    • I use Ad-Block's element-hiding add-on [adblockplus.org] to get rid of not merely ads, but various other elements I dislike
      In fact, I'm addicted. Upon coming to a new (or recently redesigned) site, I must clean it up before reading.

      You sound like you have some serious OCD issues. Have you tried doing the same with uBlock (or better yet uBlock Origin)? And have you thought about publishing your filters so other people can have a more enjoyable web experience? If you're going to go to all that trouble, yo

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        I don't know, what "OCD" means in this context. No, I don't want to publish my filters for they aren't sufficiently generic anyway. They will allow people to know, which sites I frequent, however.

        The first step is to disable all of the "whitelists" in Ad Block-supplied filters. You know, the items shown in green — which are, what bigger sites have paid Ad Block authors to whitelist. You can do that by applying sed(1) to remove disabled=true to the ~/.mozilla/firefox/*/adblockplus/patterns.ini (while

        • Why bother with that, when you can instead install uBlock Origin which doesn't whitelist anything, and even better, uses a fraction of the RAM of ABP? ABP is very inefficient; that's why everyone's switching to the uBlock stuff.

    • Isn't that what GreaseMonkey is for?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... AdBlockPlus
    Ghostery
    Greasemonkey
    HTTPS Everywhere
    NoScript
    Privacy Badger

    Because running code on somebody else's computer without consent is trespass to chattels [wikipedia.org].

    NO TRESPASSING!

  • Yup! (Score:5, Funny)

    by khr ( 708262 ) <kevinrubin@gmail.com> on Thursday October 01, 2015 @03:48PM (#50638055) Homepage

    Yup, I'm sure Ad Blockers can cause cancer. Just the other day I saw an ad "beat cancer with one weird trick" and followed it and paid and now I won't get cancer, but all those people who blocked the ad will!

  • by tchuladdiass ( 174342 ) on Thursday October 01, 2015 @03:55PM (#50638095) Homepage

    One day, I had a Slashdot page still opened in my browser, locked my screen, went to lunch. Came back to complaints that my computer was annoying everyone in the office -- delayed auto-playing video ads were the culprit. So thanks to Slashdot (and me wanting to keep my job), I now have adblock installed.

    Oh, not to mention the 3 times in the past I got a nasty computer virus due to an infected ad network. These are now no longer a worry.

  • On 3 different computers, 85% of the time on a non-computer related video there was an ad for a Windows 10 driver update tool aka complete and utter malware. Google allows and completely supports this. If you type "HP support" or "Sony support" or "Samsung support" or "dell support" into Google, you get paid ads for scam services in India who are pretending to be the company and then ripping people off. So fuck internet advertising. It's useless, abused garbage and nobody is ever going to do anything to
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday October 01, 2015 @04:36PM (#50638599)

    Before we get the whining from the ad peddlers: YOU killed your golden goose. Not us. YOU killed it off yourself with the proverbial greed that the story about the original goose conveys.

    There were ads and we accepted them as part of the deal. They were non-intrusive and they didn't bother us too much. We thought "fair vs. fair" and didn't block them. Yes, there were always the ones that block anything and everything "on principle" but the majority of those that knew how to block didn't. And the others didn't block because, well, they had no idea how to.

    Then ads got more obnoxious. Maybe because too few clicked them and you wanted more, more, MORE! They started to flash and cause seizures, they started to play loud music, they started to pop up, pop under, pop your eyes out. And people who knew how to block them got fed up enough to do so.

    But it took even more effort on your part to be obnoxious invaders of our space to actually drive those that didn't know anything about blocking to find out about it. And that's something, you know? The average Joe Randomsurfer puts up with a lot. A LOT. Before the average computer illiterate starts asking his friend about his computer "being weird", it usually means that there are SO many browser addon bars installed that you can't even SEE the actual webpage anymore, and starting it means clicking away like a dozen or two windows popping up from some crapware he managed to step in. THAT is what he WILLINGLY puts up with! That does NOT bother him.

    Do you have a FAINT idea just HOW MUCH you have to piss someone like this off for him to bother trying to find out how to block it???

    And you did that. You managed to piss people off enough who put up with obnoxious browser plugins and on-start popups. That's a feat and a half.

    And there is nothing, literally NOTHING you could possibly do to make them uninstall it. You can promise what you want, you can threaten how much you want, they don't give a shit. It takes a herculian effort to move them and get them to do anything, you will not get them to remove their blockers.

    And you most certainly won't get anyone who at least has a remote idea of computers to do so either.

    You cannot provide your content without ads? Ok. Shut down, the next one offering it is around the corner.

    We don't need you. You needed us. You pissed us off. Now be a good little ad asshole and die already!

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Thursday October 01, 2015 @05:09PM (#50639037)

      Could not agree more. I started looking into blocking only when the flashing and animation insanity started. Blocking was not a lot of effort, but suddenly I could find the web again under all that trash. Will keep blocking, unless they make all ads non-intrusive and they get the problem of malicious ads fixed effectively and permanently. As neither will be happening...

      • by c ( 8461 )

        Will keep blocking, unless they make all ads non-intrusive and they get the problem of malicious ads fixed effectively and permanently. As neither will be happening...

        Even if it did... how are people using ad-blockers even going to find out?

        "Please, give us another chance!" banner ads?

        That's where the "ad blocking is a boycott" theme kind of breaks down. A boycott is an intentional action which requires a certain amount of effort to maintain. Ad blocking, once you roll it out, requires no effort or even awa

        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          Even if it did... how are people using ad-blockers even going to find out?

          Good point. I will find out because I use several computers and not all have ad-blocking. The ones I use more rarely do not. But that is likely not the typical situation, so most people will not find out. Still a boycott. If you look at what it gave it its name, Mr. Boycott finally had to leave the country because nobody did any business with him anymore. An end to it is not necessary for a boycott. Incidentally, Mr. Boycott seems to have had business practices about as despicable and repulsive as the ad in

    • +1 Greed.

      --
      Please publish Gaby's test again. thx

    • by c ( 8461 )

      And there is nothing, literally NOTHING you could possibly do to make them uninstall it.

      This.

      The thing about ad blockers is that they're fire-and-forget. You install them, and then... nothing. They're low-maintenance and basically transparent. People don't uninstall them because they'll forget they even have them installed within a few days.

      And hoping for voluntary whitelisting is a pipe dream.

      The best the ad industry can hope for is that they fix the problem before the remaining 80% of people not using ad

  • That will cut down on the need to advertise. That products nobody sane really wants get heavily advertised for is no surprise, and the advertising is the lesser unethical thing there.

  • Ad blocking is not boycott, it is free-riding: using the service (getting the benefits) and refusing to pay (accepting the costs). I'm surprised there is no browser plugin to implement proper boycott.

    Boycott (properly understood) means that instead of blocking the ads and still displaying the content, the browser would block the content from loading as soon as an undesirable ad or tracker is detected.
    It could even annotate links to sites with such "bad" advertising reputation so the user wouldn't click
    • Ad blocking is not boycott, it is free-riding: using the service (getting the benefits) and refusing to pay (accepting the costs).

      Do you think that the cost of visiting the sites with ads should include slowing down page loads and getting infected with malware?

      Thats why we block ads, thats why there is a boycott; because people don't feel that this offensive behaviour from ad brokers is an appropriate payment for visiting the sites.

      • Ad blocking is not boycott, it is free-riding: using the service (getting the benefits) and refusing to pay (accepting the costs).

        Do you think that the cost of visiting the sites with ads should include slowing down page loads and getting infected with malware?

        Thats why we block ads, thats why there is a boycott; because people don't feel that this offensive behaviour from ad brokers is an appropriate payment for visiting the sites.

        If this trend continues, and adblockers are eliminated, I still won't see their ridiculous fucking ads, because I'll find something else to do with my time. I think that is the real issue after time passes. Using the ad enabled internet is simply slow, boring, and damn near useless.

      • by dumky2 ( 2610695 )

        Do you think that the cost of visiting the sites with ads should include slowing down page loads and getting infected with malware?

        A question is not an argument. But if I read between the lines, you're implying that you don't like the costs (slowness, risk of foreign javascript, etc) compared the benefits. That's fine, then choose to boycott those websites.
        That means you should avoid them, just like you avoid restaurants that don't offer a worthwhile trade-off in your view. Boycott is a perfectly valid choice and I encourage it.

        Just don't pretend that getting the benefits while dodging the costs is "boycott", when it is free-ridin

        • Do you think that the cost of visiting the sites with ads should include slowing down page loads and getting infected with malware?

          A question is not an argument. But if I read between the lines, you're implying that you don't like the costs (slowness, risk of foreign javascript, etc) compared the benefits. That's fine, then choose to boycott those websites.

          That means you should avoid them, just like you avoid restaurants that don't offer a worthwhile trade-off in your view. Boycott is a perfectly valid choice and I encourage it.

          Just don't pretend that getting the benefits while dodging the costs is "boycott", when it is free-riding.

          Nope, because the 'cost' thats being imposed is egregious and harmful to the public perception of advertising. It needs more push than just avoiding the websites; we the public need to impose a 'cost' on them to get them to change their ways.

          Advertising is, in itself, not an evil. The way it has been implemented on the web is.

    • "Let's just not pretend that ad blocking is honorable."

      Are we allowed to pretend that without adblocking, the Web is pretty much unuseable? I don't see where honour comes into it.

      "Ad blockers offer a convenient way of having the content and not pay for it"

      When the intrusive ads stop you enjoying the content without a blocker, "having the content" is a bit of a myth.

      The non-intrusive sites suffer, I agree. But it's not my problem if someone pissed on their chips.

      • by dumky2 ( 2610695 )

        Are we allowed to pretend that without adblocking, the Web is pretty much unuseable?

        Define unuseable (for instance: how fast a page needs to load, how good the layout should be, how little bandwidth should be used). I'm sure there are plenty of sites that fit to whatever reasonable definition you provide.
        You don't have to like the entire Web, it's not yours. People provide services and either you like them or not. If you don't like them, then don't use them (boycott).
        There are plenty of parts of the web that are usable even with ad blocking. People complain that the web was "better in

        • "If you find parts of the web un-usable, then don't use them."

          The problem is that's closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. I don't know about the others, but my adblocker is there to protect my machine preemptively. I don't want to discover the site is abusive only after the damage is done.
          I'd go along wholly with the idea of a warning system if it were a) reliable and b) somebody else's baby -- they won't be able to count on the likes of me to report abusive sites because I don't intend to be

          • by dumky2 ( 2610695 )
            I agree with you that, ideally, a boycott system should catch the problem before you even click on the link.
            The same way that lists of domains or url patterns get published for tools like adblock plus, it would be easy to publish lists of domains for a boycott plugin.

            Yes, this can be done automatically, and I can think of doing it without even depending on a master list: the first time you click on a link, and the browser sees you the page is no good (either explicitly by pressing a thumbs-down reputat
  • Seriously.

    The only kinds of ads most people would look at as "acceptable" are the very types of ads most advertisers and indeed, most people looking to profit from ad revenue, would rather not serve. Why? Because there's a low return proposition on them, and they can't really mine for data (which is even more valuable than actual click-throughs) with them.

    Most people, given a choice, don't WANT pop ups, pop unders, video ads, flash ads, tracking, etc. But ad networks and content providers have such a har

  • Worst case scenario you load all the ad wants , and confirm all advertising being loaded in the browser. Except it is not the browser but a VM browser which display nothing just do the actions without displaying or allowing any permanent file change, and is sanitized away from the OS. How are they to distinguish that ? Spend a lot of dollar ? ads blocker only have to stop their work around, and it is much easier than develop a way to bypass the blocker.
  • WHO CARES? The whole world has turned into one gigantic ad. It's sickening! We've had enough! http://news.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

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