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February 25th, 2016

Poll: You Vote to Outlaw Tracking by Advertisers

The FOSS Force Poll

Our latest poll indicates that our reader’s would support legislation that would prohibit tracking by advertisers.

Back on February 15 when we ran an article calling for a ban on advertisers’ practice of tracking users who just happen to drive by an ad, much less click on it, we ran a poll to find out what you think. Actually, we were pretty sure we already knew what you thought. You tell us everyday, either in the comments section to our articles or by blocking ads here on FOSS Force. The poll was mainly to put some numbers to what we already knew.

The poll was pretty straight forward. “Should advertisers and ad agencies be forbidden to track users as they surf the web?” we asked. There were three answers offered, “Yes,” “No” and “With exceptions.”

As far as FOSS Force polls go, the numbers were pretty low on this one. In all, 143 of you took the poll, a minuscule sampling by any measure, but with conclusive results: You’re completely against having your journeys through cyberspace tracked.

Well, not completely. There were six of you, representing 4.2 percent of the vote, who seem to like things just fine as they are. Nine voters, or 6.2 percent, voted for regulation, but with exceptions, and 128 votes went to absolutely forbidding advertisers from tracking users’ surfing habits at all.

In the comments to the article in which the poll was introduced, there was only one, coming from Timon19, which could be construed as supporting an advertisers “right to track,” and who seemed to be opposed to regulation on Libertarian grounds:

“Liberty for me, not thee, eh?

“Freedom of speech (or association, or whatever) means nothing if only speech (or associations, etc.) that is ratified by some committee is allowed in what amounts to a network of private/privately-managed spaces.

“Prior restraint leads to all sorts of unintended consequences. Careful what you wish for.”

And one reader, mike, expressed an opinion which would seem to indicate that he doesn’t like advertising in general, no matter what the medium:

“Advertising (in all its forms, online and off) is a form of pollution. It clutters up the web, our roadways and towns, and pollutes our night skies.

“Not much else needs to be said on the matter.”

Actually, lots of you seem to not like ads. Some of you, lke nonya, even went so far as to indicate that if you had your druthers you would go far beyond merely forbidding the practice of tracking and would regulate things like the appearance of ads and the technologies that can be employed by websites to deliver content.

“[I]n my view, ALL tracking of people’s web browsing MUST STOP! All selling or giving out of user information MUST STOP as well! Targeted advertising MUST STOP altogether! Ads on web pages that are like the printed ad in a magazine (no flashing colors etc…) might be acceptable as long as they are directly related to the content of the article or magazine. That is the only way that I could find any ads on the web acceptable.

“The bottom line is that I paid for my computer, I pay for my (capped) bandwidth. Therefore, I am the only one that gets to have any say in what is downloaded with my bandwidth and displayed on my computer! As for advertisers calling those of us who block ads criminals (along with the authors of ad-blocking software), I say that the advertisers themselves are the criminals, stealing private information, trying to steal our bandwidth, our valuable time and even more valuable attention. My time and attention are too valuable to be wasted looking at ads for crap that I neither want nor need!”

While stealing private information such as surfing habits certainly should be outlawed, in our estimation, we have a little trouble with the notion that advertisers are “stealing” users’ bandwidth. A good defense attorney, we figure, might be able to make the case that no one forces anyone to visit ad supported websites as there are plenty of sites to visit that are ad free.

Bernardo Verda made the latter point in a comment which also touches on Wired’s recent announcement that they’ve begun locking-out users who block ads.

“I consider seeing ads (well-behaved ones, at least) a perfectly reasonable quid pro quo for being able to see the content — but I consider snooping on my habits to be simply unacceptable.

“I also consider it a rather revealing quirk that blocking only analytics and beacons ends up blocking most advertisements as well. If refusing to accept tracking means that I can’t see the content…well, that’s just too bad; I can, and will, go elsewhere — there’s already more worthwhile content online than I actually have time for.”

The dilemma that website operators face was also addressed. Andrew Powell began his comment with a quote he pulled from our article introducing the poll:

‘Even without tracking, advertisers will still be able to target ads — the old fashioned way and how Google got its start, through keyword matching. An article on this site about cloud computing, for example, might show ads on that article’s page for cloud services, or an article on Wired on cell phones might show ads for Apple’s latest and greatest iPhone. The big difference would be, the ads wouldn’t follow users around after they move on.’

“I love that last paragraph. It’s so simple and should work just fine, it’s a great argument. Of course the ad companies would complain that it doesn’t ‘allow us to provide as good a user experience.’ Ugh.

“As an owner of a content creating website, albeit a fairly small one. it’s a dilemma I face quite often. I use AdSense on my site and often feel fairly guilty for doing so. At the same time, the pennies it brings in, while currently only enough to really pay for the site hosting and domain, is useful. I don’t begrudge those who use ad-blockers because I’d do the same thing myself, though I do whitelist particular sites (while being well aware I’m then still sacrificing some privacy that way).

“I hope to find a happy medium one day…”

Here at FOSS Force we have no intention of ever locking-out visitors who block ads. However, we do ask those who block ads and visit our site regularly to go to our Indiegogo campaign and either make a $10 contribution to help make up for the revenue we lose, or to take out a $25 annual membership, which allows entrance to our ad-free version among other benefits.

8 comments to Poll: You Vote to Outlaw Tracking by Advertisers

  • Timon19

    I’m sure you didn’t mean to make it sound this way, but my comment should not be construed as a personal endorsement of ads or of tracking. After all, I make use of widely-available tools to kill off just about anything except that which I whitelist.

    I just have a philosophical aversion to using the power of the state for banning stuff. You never know when the worm will turn and that power will be used to silence you.

  • @Timon19 I think your comment was clear in that regard. You’re comment said nothing about your personal feelings about tracking, only that you don’t think that you don’t think that legislation is the way to go. 🙂

  • tracyanne

    As I have pointed out in probably a different thread from which you have mined the above quotes. It is entirely possible to use advertising that does not annoy the shit out of your readers, I even provided a link to a website I designed that does exactly that.

    The ads are hosted bythe the domain, No third party, so they are controlled by the site owner. The ads are all “below the fold”, and they are all relevent to the purpose of the site.

    If site owners take responsibility for what is displyed on their sites, in this manner, I don’t have a problem with advertising.

  • Anonymous

    There will never exist a web without “Ads”, they make money, and unfortunately, Money is KING, so to stop this crazy tracking, why not use “obfuscation”. Companies want to track you and you do not endorse this, so lead them where they cannot find you. There is a brilliant article on this subject from a Firefox plugin that does exactly this, however it is meant for the Major tracking companies we shall not mention here. My personal system runs this 24/7 and visits 8620 sites during this period. After a week you have visited 60480 sites. Do the math, it works. Ads popping up have no clue as to what I want or what I want to do or where I have been.

  • tracyanne

    @Anon… I’ll stick to no Ads (via an adblocker) or no tracking.

    In fact when the site owners take responsibility for the ads (as is the case with the example I gave in another thread) and self host the ads, Ad blockers don’t work, as the on site ads are just content, and as Mike Masnick at Techdirt points out Content IS advertising.

  • @tracyanne Unfortunately, selling and hosting ads in house is not an option that works for all websites, especially small sites with a non local readership. You can’t paste one solution on all sites, then affix the blame to the website owners instead of the near-monopoly ad agencies who do the tracking. You’re playing a game of “blame one of the victims” here.

  • tracyanne

    @Christine

    Actually no.

    Placing ads relevant to the content, and intent of the site is relatively easy, and applicable to non local readership.

    When have you ever had ads that apply to my part of the world, that is also relevant to the purpose of this site, while using a near monopoly ad agency. Never, I would guess.

    All I’m asking for is that website owner opt out of the near monopoly ad agency milieu, and place ads relevant to the purpose of the site. That might mean ads for Canonical’s products, Linux Mint, and other FOSS based companies, and none of those ads for Microsoft and other proprietary companies that don’t respect Freedom.

    BTW, if smaller sites choose to use one of those near monopoly ad agencies, that inject tracking etc, then yes it is the site owners fault when the ads piss of the site’s users, because they made the choice to use the “service”.

  • Anonymous

    @TracyAnne,
    Add blockers only block you from seeing the content, they still track your movements, this is why the only root way of stopping this is at the heart of the advertising industry on the web by implementing “policies” whereby they may track and use your information. Again, you cannot stop the tracking of the Ads, that is why I point out obfuscation.