Monday, 15 April 2019

tacky adverts in the moment of next and how to get rid of them


That character shown shares my angst at the increasing number and type of annoying and useless adverts that appear when web-browsing. It's not the historic pop-up and embedded ones, which are relatively easy to suppress, it's the ones at the end of a piece and in the side margins of the page. Now I know why the print press called it gutters and why taboola and outbrain are increasingly involved.

These adverts have titles like "How to recognise if you have loose windows", or "Ten top shampoo tips" or "Would you even recognise this film star now?" - which are supposedly designed to make you click through. Some take you directly to the 'sell', others take the unsuspecting to a series of photos which have associated advertisements. Every click counts in this game and following the fascination of "do you recognise this car part?" or "20 uses for vinegar" clicks around the related advertisement count. More clicks / interest in the pictures = more money for someone.

I took a look at the technology behind this. It has all kinds of diagrams of the architecture, but it appears to be a case of putting some clothes on the emporer. It is never more telling then the advertorial provided by one of the purveyors which took until about slide five to explain how the billing to advertising clients worked. My chart is from the helpful NAI (Network Advertising Initiative), which shows that adverts are aggregated and then sprayed out via a publisher to an unsuspecting consumer. There is supposed to be a special filter for context, geography, propensity to buy, but I suspect, based on my own experiences, that this is all cookie-derived hokum.

It relies upon the principle that the adverts are 'native ads' in terms of the original web site. In other words, that the publisher of the web-site has given permission for them to be added to the site - although I'm not sure whether they wold give the same permission to add a dive bar to the side of their corporate property. Once the native application dealing software is there, it can tip out all kinds of adverts personalised towards the reader and different for everyone who stumbles upon the page.

But why doesn't the virus checking software, or the advertising suppression software remove this stuff? I notice that these advert-dealing frameworks are designated as PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) and that they cannot be automatically suppressed because 'someone'(?) might want them.

It's a part of the business model of one of the advertising blockers to let this kind of thing through - a kind of protection service one might say.

My examples show adverts derived from an Israeli company called Outbrain and the proposition is now to sell their technology to reputable sites. I notice too, that Smartfeed is an Outbrain company.

There's another company called Taboola (co-incidentally with its R&D in Israel) that does the same thing. And further ones that download themselves to a client computer and then install into the browser.

One way is to block the adverts is at source, by editing the /etc/hosts file and filtering the domain addresses of the offenders. Another is to 'set shields high', in the adblocker software of choice. That's my preference.

It's that final non-obtrusive ads option that does the trick. Unchecked it'll remove the PUPs from the browse - no more unwanted adverts.

So who is doing this? It's coming from the deep and dark world of security software scooping up the cookies. We all know that cookies are there to track us. That they have an innocuous sounding name that is a bit like breadcrumbs. As well as Google and Facebook, there's the curious world of Adroll. Notice there's taboola, outbrain and rubicon listed on this slightly misleading scrolling list of people with whom they interact.

Check out the marketing spin - Adam Singolda of Taboola: “Today, Taboola is used by thousands of companies to empower over a billion people worldwide to discover what’s interesting and new at the moment they’re ready to experience new things, In doing so, we partner with companies to attract, and strengthen, their customer relationships.” - spectacular doublethink for guerrilla advertising topped only with: “The idea behind Taboola was to create a software that would help consumers discover things that they may like and never knew existed, wherever they may be – to go after that ‘moment of next’ where people are predisposed to discover something new and interesting that is relevant for them.” - or - to send a huge number of adverts at everyone in the hope that something sticks.

I found an example of this buried in a font directory on my computer. Smacks of virus, doesn't it? Then there's adblade, content.ad, ayboll, yahoo gemini, rev content, adnow, as a few other examples.
As well as monetisation of websites, content and access to consumers, there's also the shady world of profiling and the interest displayed not just by advertisers, but also by state actors.

Oh well, as they say, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

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