Newspaper Association Thinks FTC Should Force Readers To Be Subject To Godawful Ads And Invasive Trackers

from the please-let-us-continue-to-screw-our-audience dept

So, it’s come to this. After battling back against ad-blocking by guilting or forcing people into whitelisting sites — rather than taking a good look at their terrible ad inventories, intrusive trackers, or reprehensible practices — the press is turning to the FTC in hopes of having the government decide how you can surf the web. (h/t EFF)

The crux of the complaint [PDF] is various practices deployed by ad blockers that the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) considers to be anti-competitive or dishonest. But in its run-up to the actual complaints, the NAA makes some seriously stupid assertions.

Adblockers undermine the ability of publishers to continue to provide free or reduced-price content on the Internet because they undercut publishers’ ability to finance enterprise journalism, and they threaten the livelihood of journalists and other content creators.

This assertion continues to scapegoat ad blocking for many publications’ decision to force readers to play “find the content” when visiting their sites. As user ad blindness eventually rendered banner ads invisible, the response has been to escalate intrusion, via new ad delivery methods like popunder/popups, autoplay video ads, pervasive trackers, or escalating encroachment of ads into the “content” area. If ad blocker usage is more prevalent, publishers really have no one but themselves to blame.

And there’s nothing out there that suggests the only way a publication can remain profitable is by assaulting users with ads and tracking them all over the internet. But that’s the narrative publishers have chosen because it’s simpler to make users conform to their wishes than it is to cede ground to site visitors’ best interests.

From there, the NAA’s narrative gets even worse. In deriding “free-rider technology,” the NAA defends its use of invasive trackers by implying that all content — whether it’s ads or the stuff site visitors actually want to see — is equal in its eyes.

By preventing publishers from identifying repeat visitors and making these offers to them, content blockers harm consumers.

“Content blockers.” If that’s a slip, it’s a Freudian one. This suggests those behind this letter to the FTC consider advertising to be just as worthwhile a use of bandwidth and user attention as the actual journalism buried underneath it.

In the NAA’s eyes, the real villain here is “deceptive” ad blockers.

Ad-blocking companies argue that consumers should use their software to “opt out” of the online advertising ecosystem, either because of concerns with privacy or the data use represented by digital advertising. But as a review of the practices of adblocking companies discloses, consumers do not “opt out” of an ecosystem by using ad-blockers. Instead, they “opt in” to a deceptive new environment that does not adequately disclose its practices to consumers.

The supposed “deception” the NAA refers to is things like AdBlock Plus selling companies spaces on its “whitelist.” Then it has the audacity to make claims about the darkish shade of ad blockers’ kettles by claiming any information about these built-in whitelists is buried in the terms of service. Burial of crucial details under several pages of fine print is SOP for 99.9% of the internet — including (especially) the same tracking software the NAA says is crucial to the survival of the industry.

The NAA also claims that evading paywalls — if enabled by ad blockers — is an “unfair method of competition.” Considering how easy it is to evade most paywalls (via referral links, Google searches, going “incognito,” etc.), it seems rather disingenuous to claim the automation of this process is somehow a violation of trade laws. For that matter, the complaint offers no proof that any popular ad-blocking extension actually offers this “service.” (There are extensions written solely for that purpose, however.)

The complaint also takes issue with “replacement” services that substitute bad ads with better ads or offer micropayments to sites in exchange for blocking their revenue generators. The NAA insists these, too, are deceptive and should be kicked of the ‘net by the FTC.

But most worryingly, the NAA wants internet users to be forbidden from taking steps to protect their privacy.

Some ad-blockers evade metered subscription services and paywalls by preventing publishers from identifying repeat visitors and making offers to consumers about their subscription services…

While it doesn’t specifically name any apps or extensions that act in the interest of users’ privacy, the wording used implies the use of IP-address obscuring options (VPNs, Tor) along with script blockers and software like the EFF’s Privacy Badger are similarly unwelcome in its plan for the future.

What the NAA wants is an internet that operates on its terms. It wants to continue to deploy shitty ad inventories and allow users to take the bandwidth hit, all the while shadowing them across the web in hopes of shoving even more ads in their faces. There’s no hint of a compromise in this complaint. It wants the FCC to force the web to bend to the NAA’s will. At no point does it even consider the ramifications of this action. It’s pure self-interest, disguised as a concern for poor consumers who have voted to opt-out of ad onslaughts by using “deceptive” ad blockers.

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Companies: naa, newspapers association of america

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Comments on “Newspaper Association Thinks FTC Should Force Readers To Be Subject To Godawful Ads And Invasive Trackers”

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61 Comments
Jason says:

Our unchanging business models need you!

In other news, the National Association of Broadcasters demands the FTC to mandate technology that would prevent ad-recipients (we don’t use the word “viewer” any more) from changing channels during a commercial break, with an accompanying suite of laws that would criminalize anyone who left the room during that time. Similar requests were made for manufacturers of car radios. Newspaper publishers are also calling on Silicon Valley to invent more modern paper (“analog paper is so quaint!”) that will show a full banner add on each sheet until it’s been opened to daylight for 60 seconds, before fading away to reveal the articles beneath. “There are some really smart folks out there. Surely they can come up with something. Come on… nerd harder, already!”

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Our unchanging business models need you!

That’s a good analogy, but keep going:

* Whenever you change a channel, you get ads that border on fraud, such as “10 Crazy Things Obama Won’t Tell Homeowners About Their Mortgage”.
* Whenever you change a channel, half of it will be covered by a pop-up ad until you close it.
* Whenever you change a channel, a video will play in the upper corner, drowning out the show you want to watch.
* When you change the channel, the show will start playing, but then start and stop as ads are loaded. Or the show will stop completely because it can’t connect to the ad-server.
* When you change the channel, your TV is infected with malware and won’t work until you take it be repaired, yet the TV channel claims no responsibility. (My favorite!)

TRX (profile) says:

Re: Re: Our unchanging business models need you!

Whenever you change a channel, a video will
> play in the upper corner, drowning out the
> show you want to watch.

Uh, some markets, they’ve been doing that for a long time.

While visiting my brother in Florida circa 2005?, I observed that his local broadcaster had a fat marquee scrolling on the bottom, a narrower one on the top, one on each side, and a big station ID icon that occasionally animated. The sidebars weren’t wide enough for readable text, so they showed video ads.

The viewable area in the middle was a porthole of less than half the total screen area. He was used to it, and didn’t realize that the rest of the country hadn’t sunk that low. Yet.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Our unchanging business models need you!

Wow.

I stopped watching broadcast TV when they started putting those animated promo banners for other shows over the top of shows. It made the viewing experience simply too irritating to enjoy, no matter how good the show may be. I simply can’t imagine how anyone could tolerate what you describe for more than half a second.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sometime in the past, in a dimly-lit room:

Cigar-Smoking Man: We have to get this “Internet News Website” thing banned! It is threatening the livelihood of our newspaper cartel! Time for some ‘campaign contributions’ to our minion, er, Congressional Representative…

10 years later…

Cigar-Smoking Man: We have to get these “adblockers” banned! They are threatening the livelihood of our Internet News Website cartel! Time for some ‘campaign contributions’ to our minion, er, Congressional Representative…

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s my PC (laptop, desktop, tablet, phone, raspberry pi, arduino, HP UX box – yes I have one, whatever, etc). Mine, all mine.

It’s my internet connection and those are my routers. My routers allow through what I want them to allow through. Control is mine, all mine.

It’s my browser installation, configured how I want it. Mine, all mine.

My browser is a rendering engine. It renders content I want on what I own.

That is all.

Now if they want to try to sell me an addon subscription to allow me to see their ads then they can try to sell me one and I will control whether I buy it.

That is all.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Dear FTC,

As a consumer I read the laughable complaint filed by the newspaper association and wanted to share some things.

We live in a nation where there are caps on the bandwidth consumers buy. Advertising doesn’t care, and uses as much as possible, often pushing consumers into paying for ‘overages’ for the ‘pleasure’ of being assaulted by advertising.

The statement “they threaten the livelihood of journalists and other content creators”, is most laughable. Their failing to adapt their business model isn’t a burden everyone else should have to bear. There are many cases out there showing the threat to the livelihood of consumers when these sites offer up malicious advertising. Identity theft, extortion for the return of your files, theft of your passwords, and a host of horrible things aren’t just a possibility it happens daily. It can take, in some cases, months of notifications that a site has been compromised and is actively harming users. No media site, that I am aware of, has offered to pay to fix a consumer harmed by their indifference to the subject.

The bad advertising offers no recourse to consumers, there is no one stepping up saying it is our fault and we’ll fix it for you. Rather than demanding stricter guidelines from the advertising networks to try and stem the tide of malware, they demand new tools to defeat ad-blockers and open those consumers up to harm.

One would expect that there would be a government body that could regulate those selling the ad space and the ads to hold them responsible when they harm consumers. Perhaps if such a body had existed and punished sites & networks earlier, people wouldn’t have had to resort to ad-blocking. Of course they would complain about the hassle it caused them, but one wonders if they have ever surfed their own sites without ad-blocking enabled to see first hand how horrible it actually is.

Being able to display an ad to make money, while costing consumers more in multiple ways seems like a very unbalanced equation. The loss of a computer during the time it is in for service trying to fight off an infection, the loss of security as passwords & logins could be stolen, the loss of cash having to pay higher prices for bandwidth because an autoplaying full screen take over ad got them 3 cents instead of 2.

The problem is of their own making. They expected consumers to accept being abused by 2 industries who care more about forcing the advertising onto you than to making sure that the advertising won’t encrypt your files and demand hundreds to unlock. It might be far to late to get people to stop blocking ads online, they’ve done that much harm to consumers. Perhaps if they started to clean up the mess they created, people might come back.

Don’t punish people for defending themselves from those who enable & profit from attacks on them.

Thanks for pretending to care,
TAC

DB (profile) says:

I’m strongly opposed to their proposal.

But if it is put into place, it should come with full, unlimited liability for the content they serve.

If they present an ad that is actually malware, the publisher should be completely responsible for the damage it creates.

That’s only reasonable — they are ones insisting that the reader not block any of the content.

Of course this exposes them to an absurd scale of liability. Especially with encryption malware putting a specific price on the otherwise imprecise value of family photos and personal notes.

But that’s really just shifting the cost back to the publisher.

I’m sure one of the first objections is that “we aren’t responsible — we were using a ad service”. Well, then why can’t the user decline the ad server content separately? They can’t have it both ways…

kpkpkp (user link) says:

Thought Experiment - Fair Use?

I go out and purchase 2 copies of today’s New York Times and then cut it up, discarding any advertising, keeping only the articles and photos. (I need two copies of the newspaper to do this because: front and back of each leaf)

I then paste each article onto a separate piece of paper along with any accompanying related images.

I then hand the pile of pages to a friend, who reads the content.

Is this fair use?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Thought Experiment - Fair Use?

I would suggest that in ages past, when news came in dead-tree* format, people of reprehensible moral nature brazenly infringed copyright by letting multiple persons read the same newspaper. This should still be a crime, even in the case where different persons wanted to read different sections. And it is much worse when two or more people laugh at a single copy of the comic section. Or the travesty of two different people identifying a movie that they want to see — by looking at the movie section of the same newspaper!.

So your experiment seems like it should be a quadruple crime. You had two copies of the paper, and specifically avoided the ads for both copies. Then you gave those two copies to another person who also did not see the ads.

This causes four times the damage to the poor newspaper editors, journalists, photographers and printers. Think how much better off they would have been if you had actually read the advertisements in those newspapers. And then maybe just to be kind, read the ads a second time.

/s

* dead tree format — otherwise known as ‘paper’

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Once more, with feeling

Advertisers are the enemy. Period.

Advertisers totally ruined the golden age of television, and turned it into a vast wasteland by the mid 1970’s.

Then came cable, supposedly without ads. But then advertising ruined that too.

Then came movie rentals on VHS. And then advertising.

And DVD, and ads.

And web pages. And ads. And as with all the prior examples, the ads started out mild. Then went totally out of control.

Then came internet streaming. And in some cases, ads — even with paid service! Those services with the ads will inevitably be ruined by the ads. It is a disease that totally infects the medium in which it is placed.

Our roadsides are polluted with ads. And our cities.

AnonJr (profile) says:

I'll just take the other option

Instead of engaging in this particular battle, I’ve taken a different road – one many have taken, and many more are likely to take up.

I just won’t go.

When the obtrusive ad pops up, takes over my screen, etc. – I just leave. If I see it enough, I stop following any links there (or leave the second I know where that damned Bit.ly link from twitter goes).

Done. Money/links/attention going to your smarter competitors.

sharp as a marble says:

I would be more accepting of adds if either the add dristibuter or the service that has the adds on its site could easily be held financially liable for malware they distribute. Or if there was better rrgulation to force them to verify their adds are clean. If the fcc is going to regulate online add related systems then a liability for serving up malware should be at the top of their list.

Tom Mink (profile) says:

History repeating itself

News organizations are following the same path as dead tree papers, and inevitably to the same conclusion

First there were newspaper inserts that I promptly threw away

Then there were ads wrapped around the outside, and special sections interspersed throughout paper that quickly followed the inserts to the recycle bin

Then the actual news began being crowded off the page by ads… and I quit reading newspapers

TRX (profile) says:

Re: History repeating itself

How about the “blow-in cards” that infested magazines?

The rock bottom for those was PC Magazine, which included scented cards. They contaminated the whole magazine with a stench that would probably have worked as an insecticide.

I used to have my wife shake all the cards out and put the magazines in a plastic bag with a spoonful of bleach. After that the magazine mostly smelled like bleach, but you didn’t need a gas mask to read it.

Mat (profile) says:

Tell you what:

It’s my machine. It’s my choice what content I load onto it. Loading ads takes appreciable bandwidth (I’m on rural DSL, bandwidth is at a premium around here…). I do whitelist some sites. Usually ones that have gone above and beyond to get rid of autoplaying or otherwise pain in the ass ads.

When advertising goes back to being as intrusive as it is in a print newspaper for the whole web, I’ll consider turning off my adblock and privacy badger. Until then? Nope.

ECA (profile) says:

hoW MANY YEARS?

How many years does it take, to figure out that IF’ you dont let kids play on your computer, there are less problems..
That the easiest way to protect yourself from Virus and bots and PAYING SOMEONE TO CLEAN your computer at $50 per hour…is abit of protection..

WHY is there a market for..
Anti virus.(kasperky,avast,..)
Anti Bot.(spybot,adaware,..)
Malware removal.(kasperky,..)
SYSTEM cleaners that get rid of history, Cache files, and Garbage gathered on the net?(Ccleaner,…)
and recovery programs for windows AFTER some Idiot program DOES SOMETHING it shouldnt have..

NOW who has done any of this.
It ranges from MS, and a script in a music program.
to a Game maker that installed DRM that Corrupted a personal machine.

Why in HELL do we want/need/USE anything around to protect our computers???
Could blame for NOT sand boxing EVERYTHING that is used under windows. NOT protecting Windows itself, not letting ANY program augment or change the system files..
Its just that Spending 6+ hours to reinstall WINDOWS, and any other files you want..to get BACK to where you were…IS A PAIN..

I would LOVE a Browser that would TAG, every script installed on my computer, with a TAG of where IT CAME FROM…so that I could SUE the site that installed it..
1 Court case WIN, would REALLY shut this down fast..

TRX (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That was basically the profit model for TV and radio. You paid for your “free” entertainment by being exposed to their ads.

In the early days of cable TV you paid by writing a check each month and then got to watch programs ad-free. That didn’t last too long in my area. The ads came back despite paying not to see them.

TV/radio could operate that way due to scarcity – most places only had two or three channels and a handful of stations; it wasn’t like you could click off and watch something else. But the web has changed that…

Anonmylous says:

The Simple Solution

Dear associated websites, webmasters, and other idiots who rely on 3rd party advertising on your site to generate revenue,

There is a very simple solution to ad-blocking that gets past it 100% of the time. The only way to block this method is for targets to simply stop coming to your website at all, but they won’t do that because of course you have content they wish to consume.

This simple solution is a bit antiquated, but we believe the internet is now a mature enough platform and your own sites are mature now and readers know where to find you.

The simple solution is this: host your own ads. I know, I know! It seems a bit backward-thinking but hear me out! You gain control once more! No longer at the mercy of someone else leeching off the content you work so hard to provide, you get to keep ALL the revenue generated from selling ads! You can charge whatever you wish, you can pick and choose who is allowed to display their advertising on your hallowed pages! Partnerships, ad campaigns, even small listings such as proper classifieds again! The only limits are you imaginations!

And no one can block your ads, they come directly from your own servers, no 3rd parties involved, you can even *gasp* vet your advertisers submissions and then can GUARANTEE your site is free of harmful malicious drive-by infecting ad networks! that your reader’s safety comes first and you are proud to be conscientious caretakers of their online experience!

You have everything to gain by taking advertising in-house once more, and the faster you do it, the faster your readership numbers will blossom and you can get out ahead of the competition.

Sincerely,
The Entire Internet

Anonymous Coward says:

As long as ads are a threat to my computer security, as long as the advertising industry refuses to accept and acknowledge ‘Do Not Track’, refuses to police it’s own ads for malvertising, and wants me to pay for seeing their ads on a connection that is capped by using my bandwidth without so much as asking (with estimations of as much as 70 to 80% of bandwidth usage), these ad companies can plant their kiss where the sun don’t shine.

I’m very happy with them blocking sites to prevent those of us who use ad blockers from seeing their content. I don’t want my eyeballs counted in the process of them determining how much they should charge for their ads.

None of their content is so unique that I absolutely must see it. Block my blocker, forget me visiting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Worse on mobile

The ads have become so bad for anyone using mobile that many web pages are unviewable.

First there is a pile of sponsored links and/or ads at the top of the page. Then there are ads every two paragraphs. (And each paragraph is no more that two sentences.) Then there is another block of ads at the bottom of the page. Of course the article you are trying to read is split up into multiple pages, so you have to suffer through all of that mess all over again and again and again. And once you start actually reading an article, a popover ad appears and obscures the text that you are reading.

And this is without the pushed malware and fraudulent ads saying your phone is loaded with viruses.

Bill Hicks was right about Sales and Marketing.

Anonymous Coward says:

I like ads.

Seriously, they are great! I really like targeted ads, they are even better, they are trying to waste my money, not my time. They don’t have ads in Venezuela because there is nothing to sell and if there was it would probably be illegal.

If a company wants to provide content that they have made and investment to create and in return ask that you provide some screen real estate for advertising, that is a great deal.

When the ads becomes too annoying and invasive on a particular site, I stop going there.

If a site blocks me because I don’t want their advertising, that is fine too.

What I don’t understand is WHY THE FUCK DOES ANYONE NEED TO INVOLVE THE GOVERNMENT ??????

That One Guy (profile) says:

"What do you mean actions have consequences?!"

Yeah, zero pity here. Ads have become so bad that ad-blockers are pretty much required to have a working internet, tracking has become so invasive that script-blockers are the only way not to have your activities online tracked by dozens of different companies, and that’s not even getting into the malware infected ads that the sites hosting them couldn’t care less about so long as they get ‘their’ money.

They didn’t care what the public wanted, now they get to enjoy the fallout from their indifference, and they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

If than ban VPNs and AdBlockers, I will just simply ignore tha law and use them anyway. I have my own private VPN for use when I travel anywhere, and I will continues to use the VPN I have on my own server.

I also block ads at the router level on my network. I will continue to do that.

I will just IGNORE the law and do it anyway.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Weird definition of "harm"

By preventing publishers from identifying repeat visitors and making these offers to them, content blockers harm consumers.

I actively choose to prevent tracking as much as possible, largely because of pervasive ad-related tracking. Am I harming myself? If so, isn’t that my right?

This sort of argument always irritates me because it betrays a fundamental misconception that advertising agencies just can’t seem to disabuse themselves of: that targeted advertising is a benefit to the people being advertised to.

It is not. It is a benefit to advertisers and advertisers alone. It is a cost to everyone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Two paths to take:

1. Advertising is enforced (at gunpoint?) but then anyone serving an add thats offensive or malware is on the hook for FULL punitive damages.

2. Websites build a system where you have to watch 30 seconds of intrusive adverts BEFORE reading the content. Then watch their pageviews tank as people close the site 1-2seconds in.

3. Websites build NON-Intrusive (hey you stop laughing at the back) adverts that people don’t mind that cannot serve up code in any way shape or form…i.e. basic animations and no javascript etc.

WillSee (profile) says:

Adblocker blocking costs real paper money

I’ve subscribed to the paper version of Wired for 6+ years. When I go to their website I get blocked: they won’t show content unless I turn adblocking off. This has had three effects:

1. wired has been deleted from my bookmarks/favorites.
2. I don’t follow links to stories on Wired’s website.
3. Renewal notices for the paper magazine will join other paper in the recycling bin.

I’ve enjoyed wired for a long time, but I won’t pay double for their content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Adblocker blocking costs real paper money

Do you have a router at home? Just block the ads at the router level. I find I can do that, and Wired has not yet figured out how to detect router-level ad blocking.

Publishers are finally getting wise to router-level ad blocking (which, franly, is better than AdBlock, becuase pages load faster), but it will take them time.

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