A long-lived Internet bug is spreading malware, enabling fraud, and taking financial support away from important cultural goods. I'm writing to ask you, as the maintainer of an independent web site, to take a few minutes to help fix it.
The bug I'm talking about is the problem of third-party user tracking. It's left over from some quick-and-dirty web security decisions of the 1990s. When users can be tracked from site to site, most of the value created by web advertising is shifted away from sites and users, and toward criminals and companies that collect user data.
Surveillance marketing, such as
retargeted advertising that appears to follow
users from site to site, has negative externalities.
The costs of malware, data leakage and identity
theft are paid by the people whose information is
compromised, not by the companies that choose to
collect personal data.
Even if you, as an individual web expert, are able to install and use tools to protect yourself, your site will do better when you can help protect others. Every minute and every dollar that your web site visitors lose to surveillance marketing is a minute or a dollar that can't go to support creative activity on the web.
How an independent site can help
The good news is that the tracking protection tools we need to fix the problem are already available, and improving every day. Users just need to turn them on. Your site can inform, nudge, or reward each user to turn on or install a tracking protection tool that works for his or her own browser. Every time a user gets protected, the web works a little better. Tracking protection discourages the forms of advertising that have negative externalities, and helps shift ad budgets to ads that have positive externalities.
If you are already running ads on your site, and
are concerned about ad blocking by users, offer them
tracking protection as an alternative. Tracking
protection helps stop the
creepy-looking and malware-carrying
ads that motivate users to run ad
Without protection, an advertiser can take advantage of data leakage to track users away from your site and reach them elsewhere—which often results in supporting malware and deceptive sites. With tracking protection, those low-quality ad impressions disappear from the market, pushing up the value of high-quality ads.
The simplest way to help is to add the Aloodo script to your site.
It will pop up a tracking warning when it detects that a visitor is unprotected. (Different tracking protection systems work in different ways, so a user has to visit several sites that include the script in order to get a warning.)
Users who are already protected from tracking will not experience any increase in page load times or other changes. The ad.aloodo.com site is already blocked by the popular tracking protection lists.
See it in action
The simplest way to see a tracking warning is to start up an unprotected browser and:
Take a tracking protection test, so that the system can figure out that your browser can be tracked from site to site.
Visit a page with the script already installed. You should see a warning.
Warnings in your own words
If you want a customized warning,
like the one on the Aloodo.org privacy
page, you can add
the script and make any HTML element with an id of
and a style of
display: none. The script will show
your warning (change display to
instead of adding the default warning.
The Aloodo home page has an example of a fixed-position warning that stays in place as the page scrolls. (It won't show up unless the system can see that you're trackable, as happens when you fail the tracking test.)
Aloodo is an easy-to-use platform that webmasters can use to educate users about third-party tracking on the web, and encourage unprotected users to turn on or install tracking protection.
Aloodo code is open source. You are welcome to fork, clone, send pull requests, or make new issues. Or use all or part of it to make your own system to help your users get protected.
Whether or not your site carries advertising, some forms of advertising have positive externalities that are good for you. When you read an anthology of short stories collected from old magazines, or watch old episodes of TV shows, you benefit from the power of advertising to support cultural goods.
We can make web ads work more like the magazine ads that support quality content, and less like direct mail.
Thank you in advance for your help.
The Shariff project, sponsored by German computer magazine c't and heise online, is a safe way to add social sharing buttons to a page. Users can
tweeta page without leaking all page visits to third parties. (Shariff powers the social buttons on this blog.)