GDPR and Trust and Ads

Republished from the May 28th 2018 Newsletter.

Marcel Freinbichler on Twitter: “Because of #GDPR, USA Today decided to run a separate version of their website for EU users, which has all the tracking scripts and ads removed. The site seemed very fast, so I did a performance audit. How fast the internet could be without all the junk! 🙄 5.2MB → 500KB…”

There’s a number of sites that have stripped down version that—turns out!—are both easier to read and load considerably faster. NPR has a text only version of their site that admirably basic. There’s no header tags even, they replaced them with <p> tags, which is…bold (and inaccessible): Text-Only

Publishers could sell simple display ads (think a static image that is linked to a unique URL) on these refreshingly calm versions of their sites, but the trust between publisher, reader, and advertiser is so misaligned that I’m going to guess they won’t try.

Imagine if, generally speaking, the reader knew that: the ads on the site were relevant to the site, definitely didn’t include tracking scripts, and didn’t measurably slow down the site they were trying to visit. If that was the case, I bet fewer people would be running ad blockers.

You could still track an ad’s effectiveness with unique URL’s supplied to the publisher, but there’s no way the ad network would trust that those wouldn’t get abused.

And the publisher has so much else to think about, so why not just outsource the pixels to an ad network and get a check every now and then?

All that combines to bring us to where we are today. Since no one trusts each other we rely on analytics to “prove” that everything is working, which then ushers in a race to the bottom for who can manipulate the data quickest to get their stats up higher, which then creates a market for more and more tracking, which is how we got to here.