How Most Of The Anti-Internet Crew Misread The News That The NY Times Is Getting Rid Of 3rd Party Advertisers

from the now-they're-doing-the-same-thing-as-facebook dept

One of the most frustrating aspects of discussing the internet, business models, and privacy is how many otherwise intelligent people continue to insist that Google and Facebook are “selling your data.” It’s a concept that is widely considered accurate, but has never been true. It’s so ridiculous that it leads to silly Congressional exchanges between elected officials who are sure the tech companies are selling data, and the people from those companies themselves. Doing targeted advertising is not selling data. There are many, many things you can reasonably and accurately complain about regarding big internet companies and their use of data, but “selling” the data is not one of them.

As a refresher: the way targeted advertising works is that an advertiser agrees to place an ad and uses whatever system to target those ads to particular groupings of people, as set up by the ad platform. So, if you want to advertise to grumpy bloggers in their mid-40s, you can find a way to have those ads show to that demographic. But the advertiser doesn’t get any data from the platform about anyone. The companies are selling access to highly targeted demographics, but it’s never been selling data.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t other companies that do sell private data. There are. Lots of them. Data brokers, telcos, some ISPs, and even your local DMV have been caught selling your actual data. But for some reason, everyone wants to keep insisting that Google and Facebook also sell data, when they never have, and have always only sold targeted advertising in which the data only goes in one direction, and not back to the advertiser.

Now, that’s all background to the very interesting news that the NY Times is now moving away from using 3rd party advertising services.

The New York Times will no longer use 3rd-party data to target ads come 2021, executives tell Axios, and it is building out a proprietary first-party data platform.

However, it is building out its own targeting platform:

Beginning in July, The Times will begin to offer clients 45 new proprietary first-party audience segments to target ads.

  • Those segments are broken up into 6 categories: age (age ranges, generation), income (HHI, investable assets, etc.), business (level, industry, retirement, etc.), demo (gender, education, marital status, etc.) and interest (fashion, etc.)
  • By the second half of the year, The Times plans to introduce at least 30 more interest segments.

Now, if you understand the ad market, what’s happening here is that the NY Times is building its own version of what Facebook and Google do. This is probably smart for them, because it makes them less reliant on various partners. And, one of the reasons the NY Times is able to do that is because it’s such a large player in the space:

“This can only work because we have 6 million subscribers and millions more registered users that we can identify and because we have a breadth of content,” says Allison Murphy, Senior Vice President of Ad Innovation.

But what was odd is that the usual crew of people who regularly like to slam Facebook and Google… seemed to celebrate this move as if it was somehow antagonistic to Facebook and Google’s practices, and “more privacy protective.”

Yet, again, the NY Times is now doing the same thing that Facebook and Google have done. It’s collecting data on its users, and then using that data to sell access to advertisers. Why is that evil “selling data” when it comes to those other companies by “good” when it’s the NY Times? Look at the segmenting the NY Times already says it’s doing: how exactly is it getting “marital status”? Or income levels? Is that the sort of info you give up to get a NY Times subscription (and if so, who is actually giving that info away?) or is the NY Times collecting that information through other means?

Now, there are some reasonable arguments to be made that in making this move the NY Times will be sending less data back to 3rd party advertisers, but even that is only narrowly true. First of all, the data that flows back to ad networks via publishing partners is already a lot less significant than you might think. It’s just not that much — and unless the NY Times is also going to pull other things like the URL tracking it includes in its “share on Facebook” links, it’s still going to be sending data back to companies like Facebook.

None of this is to say what the NY Times is doing is bad. I think it is a good thing, but it’s more a statement on the terrible state of ad networks today than it is on any big “privacy” effort. Frankly, we’ve been discussing ditching 3rd party ads entirely ourselves over the last few months, but unlike the NY Times, we can’t then set up our own “targeting” operation (nor would we want to), and tragically, very few advertisers are left who will sponsor sites directly based on topic, and without targeting (trust us, we’ve tried for years to find them).

But it is quite silly for the people who have been hating on Facebook to now cheer on the NY Times doing the same thing that Facebook has done as if it’s somehow different.

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Companies: facebook, google, ny times

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Comments on “How Most Of The Anti-Internet Crew Misread The News That The NY Times Is Getting Rid Of 3rd Party Advertisers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Do NOT understand the add market.

What I do understand is that people who are layers do not tell the truth. That people who run scams are not honest. That people who insists that slavery is freedom are contemptible and that socialism is just another form of slavery which is despised by civilized people.

Based on that the only thing T New York Times is good for is to wrap very dead smelly fish or piles of dog poop in to keep the odder down until they are haled off to the local land fill.

Anonymous Coward says:

You do know aggregate data can be tracked...

So if we look into, hmm:

So I purchase a Facebook ad targeting customers aged 25 – 45, male, and interested in computer science. I use that data to inject a cookie to cross reference on my site which uses facebook analytics with other advertisers as well to get a cross section slice and correlates to another advertiser or my own analytics company to identify the user, and amazing they are not technically selling your data, but could be lending a hand in it. After all, what have you said for years, there’s no such thing as anonymous data.

Now the thing is, that could still bite them in the ass, because there is still COPA: Sadly I don’t think it’s even enforced in the slightest at least from what I can tell from using my newphews/nieces iPads/PCs for every time I use their devices on most sites.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: You do know aggregate data can be tracked...

I have to assume you misunderstand the premise.

If you want to place an ad for a 25-45 male with a CIS interest, you go to face book and put in those parameters in an ad buy, and facebook places those ads. No data is going back to you in that transaction

If you are separately aggregating data on people coming to your site and cross referencing that data with aggregate data from other ad buyers to identify users, you collected that data. You didn’t buy it from facebook. Don’t hide your shitty practices of buying prop ads to harvest the data of customers coming to your website as facebook selling the data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: RE: "buying prop ads to harvest the data"

I think that’s the point. When I can use an advertising company to single out based on age, date, location, and interest, the POI are basically being sold to single out data. While they may not mean to specify an individual they give enough points that it’s meaningless in their misdirection when anyone with some time on their hands can figure out how to manipulate it otherwise. So saying your unique order id displayed on a web form of 1234, and the next is 1235 is not hacking but negligence.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: RE: "buying prop ads to harvest the data"

But that isn’t facebook selling your data. What they sold was a promise to display an ad to a random person that matches targeted categories. If you, the advertiser, use that purchase to harvest aggregate data and then combine that data set with other separate data sets to identify specific individuals, that isn’t facebook selling user’s data. It not what rules against sellibg personally identifying info are designed to prevent, because facebook can’t prevent you from tracking data from people who click through your own ad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You do know you are paying for that specialization...

You should probably talk to an SEO, I’m not a fan or an expert, but can look at the pages at least. So say you purchase an ad on Facebook, which allows for in depth POI. Then look at DuckDuckGo which uses Microsoft ads based on search queries.
There’s going to be a different price on what you select based on keywords, age, location, et al… It’s a given, so yes they are selling your data though anonymized, when you redirect to the site landing page, and they record everything under the sun as the browser size, geolocation, insert x-cookie, browser version; well that’s up to the link you click, but in reality shit flows up hill. So yes they are selling you what you paid for, it just costs more to localize on a specific group, and it should as they are doing more work. Who you choose to do business with is up to you. I really don’t give a crap unless it’s sprayed on myself, so I’ll avoid it if possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

and have always only sold targeted advertising in which the data only goes in one direction, and not back to the advertiser.

Are there no web beacons? Are there no tracking cookies?

I dispute your assertion, sir. You are correct as far as "Google does not give my home address to the advertiser", but targeted advertising by nature will map anyone targeted with those data points. And those advertisements WILL phone home. (If nothing else, when you click on them.) Aggregate that information with those services that DO sell PII and you have a fine way to collect information.

And even lacking PII, ad methods will be sure to link your IP with, for instance, "camp stoves", "skinning knives", and "squirrel churro recipes".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Of course, what I’m really saying here is, it doesn’t matter what protections Google or Facebook, or anyone else puts in. The fact that they are using targeting information means that the targeting information will leak. And ultimately, the only way to prevent that leakage is to not use the targeting information.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:

Which is a valid point, but the thrust of the article is about the different treatment the actors are getting for doing the exact same thing.

Data from Google and Facebook will leak. Sure. That’s not "selling your data" – that’s data inevitably leaking. Arguing that they shouldn’t be collecting it is fine, but those making the arguments (not you, but those referred to in the article) are making a false statement when they say that Google and Facebook are selling data. An argument predicated on that idea is flawed because that’s not what they are doing.

On top of that, those same people now applaud the NYT for doing exactly what Google and Facebook already do. The exact some concerns are present when the NYT does it, but those concerns are not being brought up by those applauding the NYT…

which is the whole point of the article. That the data leaks even if Google/Facebook aren’t selling it doesn’t make a difference to the whole point of the article.

Federico (profile) says:

How most of Mike Masnick's article misread the news about NYT

No, Mike, I’m sorry but there’s no indication that the NYT is doing anything like the ads networks it’s replacing. NYT says they’ll have a few dozens segments (mostly simplistic demographics data), as opposed to thousands in the most basic Google/Twitter/Facebook ads, multiplied by +inf combinations created by machine learning on behavioral data.

There is no indication that they’ll buy data from data brokers to merge their users’ profiles with their Visa/Mastercard payments, their movements, whatever they’ve visited around the web, their insurance and healthcare data and all the sorts of things Google/Twitter/Facebook do.

NYT is basically following Mike Masnick’s advice that publishers probably don’t need all this data trickery because

ad targeting doesn’t really work, and it’s mostly a scam pulled on advertisers to get them to pay higher rates for little actual return

Mike, you won! NYT is going back to standard banners for its ads! Rejoice! Scream it from the rooftops.

Anonymous Coward says:

I trust Google not to leak ad tracking data, 90per cent of websites rely on ads to exist, ban ads and most websites would shut down. There’s apps and browser extensions you can use to give you more privacy.
Users in the USA have little privacy. The government or law enforcement can get acess to all your browsing data from your isp without asking for a warrant. Nyt ad tracking is the least of your worrys right now

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bypass Ad Blockers?

Seriously, Probably your best bet is EFF’s Privacy badger and uBlock Origin or something similar. Still could get hit by your ISP like Verizon’s Super Cookies on VZW, but that was an outlier to say the least. Mostly they’ll usually have is netflow data, so what IPs you’ve gone to, and application ports used, but that isn’t bad for peering policies and such. Basically, you want to try to block all cookies that are not specifically necessary for your login information on that site. After your done that session clear everything, I’m not a big fan of CCleaner but it’s better than nothing if you don’t want to manually do it. Biggest thing is though, get a password manager, even Password Safe: Completely free, allows really complex passwords limited to each login, and now they have most apps for phones written by third parties.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Bypass Ad Blockers?

I use both Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin plus a script blocker (and some others). I have gotten rid of all my ad blockers after finding out some bad things about how they work. I still, every now and then, get some website asking me to turn off my ad blocker. I presume they really want the javascript enabled, and leave.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Bypass Ad Blockers?

Problem with that policy is that a lot of sites will ask you to log in with Facebook, Google, Apple, et al. That’s just one more tracking added to the pool. Thus the password manager with individual logins per site, plus it diversifies the threat landscape but limiting a breach to a single point of failure. For myself I also use a local DNS resolver with Q-name minimization, but that’s probably too far for most users.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Bypass Ad Blockers?

I also use a password manager, though PassWordSafe no longer has a Linux build, but there is a clone called pasaffe that works with the pwsafe database. I never use a login from a different site. If I need to log into a site, and it feel it is worth it, I sign up, and use both a unique username and as long a password as they will allow.

I also use a VPN and open source DNS servers. Given that, Q-name minimization does seem a bit much.

Federico (profile) says:

Re: Ad blockers and third-party cookies

No, but if they’re simple banners without tracking cookies etc. people might be happier to let them show up. I would personally consider enabling ads on the NYT (I’ve never in my life seen one), as I used to do on StackExchange, if they’re really in house etc.

Also, if it’s all served from NYT servers it might be easier to not fall foul of the various systems protections from third party cookies which are growing in all browsers. Chrome 83, released this month, has started disabling third-party cookies as promised in January. NYT’s decision was probably influenced by that.

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