On the “Coalition for Better Ads”

Behold the newest self-regulatory group, the “Coalition for Better Ads,” which claims that it will, “improve consumers’ experience with online advertising. The Coalition for Better Ads will leverage consumer insights and cross-industry expertise to develop and implement new global standards for online advertising that address consumer expectations.” How? They will:

  • Create consumer-based, data-driven standards that companies in the online advertising industry can use to improve the consumer ad experience

  • In conjunction with the IAB Tech Lab, develop and deploy technology to implement these standards

  • Encourage awareness of the standards among consumers and businesses in order to ensure wide uptake and elicit feedback

    The Coalition will draw upon consumer research in shaping the standards.

What are “better” ads? Certainly more secure ads would be welcome, in the sense that modern web advertising is not a billboard but rather code that can introduce insecurity. But what about privacy? Wouldn’t it make sense for ads to be more respectful of users privacy? How about advertisers’ use of data brokers to merge data online and off–something that NAI promised would not happen back in 2000?

These are dangerous questions to ask. So dangerous, that the fearless leaders of Facebook wouldn’t even ask them. Recall last month when Facebook announced it would circumvent ad blockers? Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth wrote:

For the past few years at Facebook we’ve worked to better understand people’s concerns with online ads. What we’ve heard is that people don’t like to see ads that are irrelevant to them or that disrupt or break their experience. People also want to have control over the kinds of ads they see.

Well, I think those conclusions are correct. Obviously no one wants disruptive ads–the emergence of the popup blocker is testimony to that. And if you are going to have advertising, you might as well have relevant ads. The elephant in the room is privacy–how did a company that tracks people on about 40% of the public web, intermediates the conversations, and tracks them physically not raise privacy issues? The answer is that Facebook didn’t ask about privacy.

Turning to the Coalition for Better Ads, it did not mention privacy anywhere in its discussion of ads. Nor did Pagefair in its 2015 study of ad blocking, nor did IAB’s primer on ad blocking. The closest that any ad group will get to the question appears to be Secret Media, which in a 2016 report wrote, “It is our hypothesis that advertising technologies are negatively impacting publisher websites and causing users to be frustrated by slow page load, tracking that exploits personal data, and the over exposure to ads.”

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