Let's make an acronym.

The IAB has come up with "L.E.A.N." and "D.E.A.L." for strategies to face down the ad blocking problem. But if that's all we do, we would be wasting a crisis here. Worse, we have the adfraud crisis happening at the same time, so we would be wasting two crises.

The big problem from the web publisher point of view is:

The same content brings in an order of magnitude less ad revenue on the web than in print.

From the advertiser point of view, that looks like:

The web is a low-value advertising medium.

Making changes around the edges to try to slow down ad blocking won't help that. Web advertising is still on the downward slope of the peak advertising curve that any targetable ad medium goes through. For example. the "E" in "D.E.A.L." is a weak link. Explaining how web ads work today is likely to build more interest in blocking. The more targetable an ad is, the more rational it is to ignore, block, or regulate it. It's only good behavioral economics to pay attention to advertising when the ad medium can carry a hard-to-repudiate signal.

We can't get web ads out of the ad blocking rut, but there are ways to make the web work as a low-fraud, high-signal medium and get it off the peak advertising curve entirely. Doc Searls writes,

For example, we could come with a term that says, Just show me ads that aren’t based on tracking me.

Good idea. We can take the qualities that next-generation web advertising must have, and make them spell out a word. Best if the word makes it clear that we're working on the core problem. We don't have an "ad blocking problem" and an "ad fraud problem". We have one problem, and ad blocking and ad fraud are two symptoms.

So, acronym. Right. Let me take a whack at it.

CNAMEs: Ads, and other third-party resources such as analytics scripts, served from what looks to the browser like a subdomain of the publisher's domain, not from a third-party domain that appears on multiple publisher sites. This is a small change for third parties, but a big barrier to cookie licking fraud. And responsible privacy tools won't block a dedicated subdomain that can't be used to track users across sites.

HTML5: avoid the malvertising risks of vintage plugins by using web standards only. Maintaining a reasonably secure device on today's Internet is hard enough. Users can't maintain problematic software just to see the ads.

Encryption: Limit the ability of ISPs and other observers to gather user data that can be used for targeting later.

Data leakage protection: Many users are still unprotected from web tracking. When appropriate, notify them and offer incentives to get protected. (This is especially important for brands in data-sensitive categories such as health care, and for high-reputation brands that compete with low-reputation ones in categories such as financial services and travel.)

DNT: Respect user norms on tracking across sites. (Update 26 April 2016: Show that you do this by hosting a copy of the EFF DNT policy on the ad server.) Respecting DNT is better than tricking users into giving up information, because eventually, users figure out what they're uncomfortable with and take steps to protect themselves. Meet the users where they are instead of trying to move norms.

Accountability: accurate WHOIS info for everything. No anonymous registrations. Rob Leathern explains this better than I can. Malvertising and fraud are too easy otherwise. (Update: important for publisher sites too because of the brand-supported piracy problem. Any real solution to brand-supported piracy depends on cleaning up both third-party tracking, to protect users from being tracked to infringing sites, and contact info for any site where an ad can appear.)

Reciprocity: Now you have an ad medium that's worth something to both ends. It restores the essential bargain of advertising: an offer of signal from the advertiser for attention from the audience. The result is an ad system that's harder for scammers to defraud, valuable for the advertisers who pay for it, and rational for users to accept.

So does C.H.E.D.D.A.R. work for you? Let me know, or just get started.

Don Marti · #