back to article W3C's failed Do Not Track crusade tumbles to ad-blockers' Vietnam

The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Do Not Track (DNT) proposal, to give users a way to tell web sites not to track them, recently reached its "Last Call" stage. Last call is what comes just before a standard becomes “recommended”, which is W3C-speak for “done”. Indeed, most browsers have already implemented at least some …

  1. sandman

    Irony

    Well, yes, but I read this article on the Reg, which does seem to rely on advertising - which I don't see because I'm using Adblock. The question is, am I standing up to "The Man" or helping destroy the provision of free content which I enjoy reading?

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: Irony

      It's a good point about free content, but the problem is that most websites delegate ad serving to third parties with absolutely no consideration for their readers. I'd be happy to trade free content for well-focused, well-behaved ads for stuff I want, like and have money for. In practice I get auto-running sound and videos for products and services which are of no interest to me and just steal my bandwidth and screen area. That's why most of us up-shields.

      1. Pointer2null

        Re: Irony

        Auto running videos with sound and adverts that splash over the content are the exact reasons why I use Ad-blockers. On a few sites I have disabled the ad-block as they don't have these type of annoying ads.

    2. Samuel Penn

      Re: Irony

      I only started using an ad blocker after the Reg started using offensive ads that obscured the whole page. Until then I either put up with them if they were inoffensive (because I understood they provided the sites I read money) or went elsewhere if they were offensive. I wanted to continue reading the Reg, so an ad blocker got installed.

      However, now that I don't see any ads I don't click on them any less than when I did see them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Pint

        Re: Irony

        Some forums sprinkle their site with polite text reminders to subscribe/donate. We adblocker users see them because they're not ads. Hint, hint.

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Irony

          It could have been easier, the advertisers could have had a little more respect for privacy and playing fair, most people would find a free content site with non intrusive adds acceptable, instead they thought they could push the limits. Unfortunately for them, on the web with tech savvy people all around, people don't bother trying to change a law, they write a program, this is the counter reaction to their extremes

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Irony

            > the advertisers could have had a little more respect for privacy and playing fair

            For real. I'm pretty sure most advertisers never even get around to using/abusing the data they collect on comment spammers, wordpress botnets, and potential loyal customers. Ain't got time for that!

  2. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Hah!

    "When a consumer puts Do Not Track in the header, we don't know what they mean."

    s/know what they mean/give a monkeys/gi

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: Hah!

      And it was spoken by the Chief Trust Officer.

    2. Andrew Moore Silver badge

      Re: Hah!

      It means "stupid people should not be in management positions"...

  3. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
    Joke

    If the technical tools don't work then the next step will be the to turn to the legislature: outlaw ad blockers...

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      ...and hosts files?

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        @Rich 11

        Here's a good start: http://someonewhocares.org/hosts/

    2. sandman

      I take it the joke icon is ironic ;-) ? I'm thinking suing for restriction of trade would also be another possibility (particularly in the US).

    3. Paul Shirley

      Already happening http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/may/27/german-broadcasters-adblock-rtl-prosiebensat1-eyeo

      So far the adslingers are losing. Unfortunately a US court will inevitably favour business over voters when the scum try it there :(

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        I can't help thinking that the admen's attempts to outlaw ad-blocking will be every bit as effective as the record industry's attempts to outlaw home copying, and for much the same reasons.

  4. theModge

    Mobile may yet save advertising. Briefly.

    I've rather assumed that advertisers are just praying that we all shift to mobile and that rooting phones continues to be a pain in the proverbial. As an example, my own phone still sadly lacks adblock (and I very much feel that lack) but I keep being to root it so I can install adblock there. Others sharing my attitude may well be the saviour of the advertising industry, until that particular bubble bursts as rooting phones becomes more mainstream.

    1. Wade Burchette

      Re: Mobile may yet save advertising. Briefly.

      Firefox for Android phones supports the Ghostery add-on.

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: Mobile may yet save advertising. Briefly.

        Adblock is also available on Firefox for Android.

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Go

          Re: Mobile may yet save advertising. Briefly.

          And for those of us on iThings, the iCab browser provides ad-blocking.

  5. Graham Marsden
    Facepalm

    "tactics like denying content to users with DNT turned on"

    Which (if they don't already exist, I haven't checked) will simply result in people creating browser extensions that will send spoof data back to the trackers...

    Oh and as for "an advertising-based revenue model that works much better – for readers and advertisers – when ads are tailored to users' interests" it may work better for the advertisers, but if I'm looking for something I don't want recommendations based on who has paid the most to the ad slingers to get their stuff in front of my face, I want ones based on whether the product is any good!

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: "tactics like denying content to users with DNT turned on"

      I occasionally hit a site where Ghostery and the other minions guarding me from ads leaves my screen empty. I just leave. Nothing is unique and nothign is so earth-shattering that I will recall my minions in order to read it.

  6. <shakes head>

    so what happens when

    you add a pluging that tells the advertisers that you just visited your own site and please can you pay me for displaying the advert

  7. Wade Burchette

    Fight back

    It is my opinion that a person cannot be tracked in conceivable way for any reason without a legally obtained warrant or if there is an active police pursuit. We need to fight back now. Just because you cannot escape the immoral commercial tracking does not mean you should give up. You can start in Windows 10 by turning off Bing universal search, using a local account only, and turning off all default-on advertising settings.

  8. CaptainHook

    Advertising on websites

    Advertisers already know a fair bit about a site reader by knowing about the site not the reader. If I'm reading TheReg or Slashdot, I'm probably interested in Tech, so advertise Tech related products to me. If I'm reading a Motorbike forum, show me a picture of that latest Ducati.

    You don't need to track me individually from the Tech related site to the Motorbike related site just to show me an Intel ad while I'm asking a forum about bleeding brake lines.

    I've never had a big problem with ads, except maybe Popups etc which get in the way of the article I'm reading, but I have a big problem with companies I have no relationship with logging every webpage I visit and that desire to avoid tracking is what forces me to run with RequestPolicy etc.

    The Online Advertising industry seem more interested in tracking than advertising.

  9. Smooth Newt Silver badge

    Do not eat

    I always thought DNT was a waste of time. There is no benefit whatsoever to websites to pay attention to it. It's like putting a "do not eat" sign on your hen house to discourage foxes. Even if they could read, why should they?

    Who says people aren't prepared pay for content anyway, it's just that there's no need if the competitor is free. When its not, or the competition is rubbish by comparison, then lots of people do pay. A good chunk of the online population have Netflix etc subscriptions.

    1. Mike Bell

      Re: Do not eat

      That's why there should be laws in place to make it compulsory to pay attention to such headers. On pain of a large fine.

      1. TitterYeNot

        Re: Do not eat

        "That's why there should be laws in place to make it compulsory to pay attention to such headers"

        The trouble with legislating is that, unless it's done well (which we know isn't going to happen) we'll just end up with something similar to the rubbish caused by EU cookie directive.

        There'll be an annoying banner or popup saying "Thank you for visiting. By continuing to breathe you accept our terms and conditions, and that you didn't really mean it when you sent us that nasty DNT header..."

      2. Dan Paul

        Re: Do not eat @MikeBell

        Then don't expect to see any free content anymore. On pain of a large subscription cost.

    2. Awil Onmearse

      Re: Do not eat

      "There is no benefit whatsoever to websites to pay attention to it."

      Did you read the article? The benefit to advertisers is that users won't disappear behind their own privacy tools.

      I'd willingly pay for El Reg, but I usually have an adblocker on for 2 reasons: firstly the people serving the ads and tracking me *aren't* El Reg and could be peadoterrorist Nork spooks - or worse - an actual advertising company for all I know. Secondly, the ads served are invariably total bollocks.

      1. Smooth Newt Silver badge

        Re: Do not eat

        >Did you read the article? The benefit to advertisers is that users won't disappear behind their own privacy tools.

        I read it. If websites obey the DNT then the effect for advertisers is identical to the user deploying privacy tools. If a tracking company obeys it then all their tracking data disappears, followed shortly afterwards by their business. If they don't obey DNT then their tracking business stays alive for several more years, and maybe forever.

        The discussion about ad blockers seems a bit irrelevant because DNT wouldn't turn off adverts.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Do not eat

          @Smooth Newt - You still missed the point.

          Many advertisers have decided to be intrusive, abusive, and deliberately and overtly ignore the viewers' preferences.

          Thus, many people install ad blockers and see no adverts at all.

          If advertising on the Internet was unobtrusive and obeyed the viewers' preference, then very few people would bother to install ad blocking software.

          The ad agencies are burning their golden geese.

      2. Paul Shirley

        Re: the ads served are invariably total bollocks.

        Invariably they're for something I've just bought and no longer need to buy.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Do not eat

        '"There is no benefit whatsoever to websites to pay attention to it."

        Did you read the article? The benefit to advertisers is that users won't disappear behind their own privacy tools.'

        That assumes that the advertising industry indulges in intelligent thought.

      4. Triggerfish

        Re: Do not eat

        I started using it on el reg, when they became all flashing to get my attention or started fecking moving across the page, not good when I am trying to get past the fact its morning and I am awake and I have not had a brew yet.

  10. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    FAIL

    What do they expect?

    After years of fighting pop-ups and pop-unders I no longer want to see this crud. I mostly browse with Firefox and have the NoScript, AdBlockPlus, Ghostery and BetterPrivacy add-ons. It's quite worrying when I visit certain news sites and enable Javascript to see maybe 17 or so trackers being blocked by Ghostery.

    I also think that it is time to root my Android phone, Google is becoming more annoying than useful.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google Scripts

    But is there a "workable" solution for al the sites dependent on Google's javascript?

    NoScript can block the scripts, but that indirectly blocks the content as pages regularly fail to load if the scripts are in any way impeded?

    1. clanger9

      Re: Google Scripts

      Try Ghostery. It seems to block the Google tracker without breaking the site (mostly).

  12. Jon 37

    The disingenuous "we don't understand DNT" stuff is the fault of the admen and Microsoft.

    The admen's plan for DNT was: "Lets have a DNT header that users can choose to set. Only privacy nuts will do that. 99% of users won't bother, so it won't affect our revenue significantly. When the vocal minority whine about privacy to the legislators we can point to DNT and say that people can always opt out, so there's no problem, and the legislators will leave us alone."

    Then Microsoft came along and made DNT the default on IE. Well, technically they weasel-worded it, and it's not actually the default because that is against the DNT rules, but you get a pop-up the first time you use IE, asking you to set up IE, and if you click "Use Express Settings" like 99% of people do then DNT is turned on. To turn DNT off you have to go into "Custom settings".

    That meant that a large number of people had DNT turned on by default, *not* because they're privacy nuts, but because they chose the "express settings" option. That utterly breaks the admen's plans.

    And that's the point that the admen dropped their support for DNT, because it's clearly going to be on by default for a large number of people, so it became a major threat to the admen.

    The "we don't understand" is not "we don't understand DNT", it's "we don't understand if DNT is on because the user carefully chose that or because they just clicked the default".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >"we don't understand if DNT is on because [...]"

      Well they can just stop right there, because anybody's *motivation* for setting DNT is a) not part of the technical spec and b) none of their fucking business. "Do Not Track" does not mean "Try and second-guess the user's motivation". It means "DO NOT TRACK" and nothing else.

      Any claim otherwise is specious entitled bullshit peddled by marketing wankers who are just using motivated reasoning to try and justify doing exactly what they wanted to do in the first place anyway. It's not a legitimate argument and should not even be acknowledged as such.

      1. Jon 37

        Re: >"we don't understand if DNT is on because [...]"

        > anybody's *motivation* for setting DNT is a) not part of the technical spec

        Actually, it is. The spec says:

        > the signal sent must reflect the user's preference, not the choice of some vendor, institution, site, or network-imposed mechanism outside the user's control. The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user. In the absence of user choice, there is no tracking preference expressed.

        And:

        > A [browser] must have a default tracking preference of unset (not enabled)

        Having an "Express Setup" button that enabled DNT is clearly not what the spec expects. That button would normally have been labelled "Use Default Settings", but Microsoft weasel-worded it so they can claim conformance with the letter (but not the spirit) of the spec.

        There's a reason *why* that's in the spec:

        If you want nobody on the Internet to be tracked, then you could try to get the politicians to pass a law saying that. But the admen aren't going to let that happen, and I think most people involved in the debate know that.

        If you're happy with everybody on the Internet being tracked, then you can persuade the politicians to leave the law alone. The admen and the ad-supported industries pay lots of money to politicians to keep the law this way.

        If you want people to be able to make a considered choice to opt-out of tracking, then you can invent DNT, make the DNT header off by default, then try to get the politicians to pass a law saying that following DNT is mandatory. That's a compromise, and it might have been possible to get that through the politicians.

        But if you make the DNT header on by default for everyone, then try to get the politicians to pass a law saying that following DNT is mandatory, that's disingenuous. It's basically the same as outlawing tracking altogether, and I think everyone knows that. Since Microsoft have made it clear that's what they'll do, the admen will kill DNT.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd pay for content if the price was right, the problem is the price is always set a long way from right.

    Obviously I don't know how much The Reg earns per page from advertising but my experience of running a site means I'd guess it's somewhere around 0.1ppp (pence per page). If I could reliably give The Reg that much each time I read an article I'd happily do it. I reckon I read 5 articles a day on The Reg so that's 0.6 pence per day. Since I don't think I've ever clicked an ad here (I run an ad blocker) this would be new money.

    Now take The Times newspaper as an example, it currently cost £12 for a twelve week subscription. If I read five articles a day that's 2.85ppp or 14 pence per day.

    The point is that The Times is essentially asking for 23 times more money from me than it would likely get from advertising and I can't justify paying that when I can install an ad blocker for free.

  14. Peter2 Silver badge

    In the long term,anything you can do on the browser won't matter a jot.

    Long before people were using fancy javascript+cookie tracking systems it was possible to track which pages were generated through reading the logs and using programs to parse these to produce a similar output. If a huge number of people block the scripts, advertisers will just fall back to tracking based on their logs.

    Probably without telling anybody they are doing it, since selling lists of IP's and URL's is probably going to be unpopular.

    1. keithpeter
      Windows

      Web logs

      "Probably without telling anybody they are doing it, since selling lists of IP's and URL's is probably going to be unpopular."

      Well, I'm on adsl broadband in good old Brum so what exactly is the IP address currently in use (from a pool) going to tell you? Not trolling, just I suspect the results might not be very valuable.

      And some student surfing from the public wifi in the College where I teach will be one of 12000 surfers with the same IP address. And when they toddle off and connect in Starbucks, you won't be able to follow their movements.

      These people want specifics I think. I have no idea what the answer to the general conundrum is by the way.

  15. you are idiots
    Devil

    if they dont understand DNT

    How about a new header

    "Fuck off and die and do not record anything I do on the internet you fucking bastard advertisers"

    or

    "By accepting this header any tracking will be charged at a rate of £10000 per website payable to user of this browser"

    1. keithpeter
      Windows

      Re: if they dont understand DNT

      How about a new header

      "Fuck off and die and do not record anything I do on the internet you fucking bastard advertisers"

      or

      "By accepting this header any tracking will be charged at a rate of £10000 per website payable to user of this browser"

      Or simply

      "I have no money and don't buy things"

      See icon

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: if they dont understand DNT

        'Or simply

        "I have no money and don't buy things"'

        Or a flag that says "I have money and I buy things but if you shove an advert in my face I'll go out of my way to buy from someone else."

        My preference is still for an add-in that, subject to a maximum bandwidth allowance, will accept some ads & send them straight to /dev/null. Everyone wins: the user doesn't see the ads, site and advertising network get paid because they don't know the ad wasn't seen and the advertiser doesn't lose potential sales by pissing off the users.

  16. Nate Amsden Silver badge

    my own DNT

    sqlite3 ./permissions.sqlite

    SQLite version 3.8.2 2013-12-06 14:53:30

    Enter ".help" for instructions

    Enter SQL statements terminated with a ";"

    sqlite> select count(*) from moz_hosts where permission = "2";

    10359

    sqlite>

    10,359 hosts that try to set cookies firefox will not store their cookies, firefox prompts me for every site, and has done so for what feels like 7 or 8 years now. Sometimes I block too much and a site stops working, and I want to go back and allow it to store cookies, or in some cases I just temporarily use another browser for that site.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: my own DNT

      Easier - set your browser to barf its cookies when it closes.

      I whitelist the small number of sites that I want to keep their cookies, everything else is destroyed when the browser closes.

  17. BinkyTheHorse
    Thumb Up

    Speaking of alternative ways of revenue generation

    So how about for El Reg to embrace "scheduled" crowdfounding schemes like Patreon? I'd happily throw a buck or three into the pot as a recompense for having my adblocker turned on when browsing the site.

    1. keithpeter
      Coat

      Re: Speaking of alternative ways of revenue generation

      Subscription to a weekly curated *email*(1) on IT regulations/privacy/copyright legislation with executive summaries (not just a list'o'links). Leveraging your journalistic abilities to give us briefings similar to what the MPs get from their bright PPE/Oxbridge aides.

      I'd pop a Starbucks or two a month for that one.

      (1) Remember that?

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Speaking of alternative ways of revenue generation

      I would do this. I support Rooster Teeth in a similar fashion with their paid sponsor program.

      Also I do like RT's ad model, they have one of the cast do actual ad reads during podcasts. It's very 1920s ye olde radio style and pretty non-intrusive. I actually listen to them as they're selected by RT as "products *WE* would (and do) buy" so they're intelligent ads for decent products.

      Similarly, we could have Tim Worstall hawk the mineral refining blokes of the week!

      Not Dabs tho, does he actually like anything?

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