I’m no different than a large portion of web users who are looking to read content and stay safe: I use one or more ad blockers. Is this stealing website content? No. I’d be happy to be served ads is they didn’t have such a bad track record in terms of security and privacy.
Many people are still ignorant to what information they are giving up to online advertisers. In a 2013 post by VentureBeat they noted:
Advertisers and the tracking companies they employee are able to gather all sorts of information about you, such as the websites you frequent and what kind of products you’re interested — and even some even scarier stuff like political views, health problems, and personal finances.
Over time the picture you provide to these private companies becomes clearer and clearer. Of course, you may not care if companies know you like chocolate chip cookies but you may not want them to know more personal things or, worse, be able to extrapolate things about you that you haven’t even unknowingly shared … not to mention government use for predictive modeling.
Privacy is important but this is the bigger problem in my opinion. Malvertising has proven a successful vector to infect users machines with malware. If you are interested in a time line of large malvertising events GeoEdge has a nice post. A quick summary of heavy hitters who have inadvertently exposed their readers to threats include The New York Times, eBay, LA Times, Spotify, Answers.com, Huffinton Post, MSN, BBC, AOL and NFL. Of course, there are many more but that list should be enough to get anyone’s attention.
So what are valid options to protect personal privacy and security on the web?
Ignore Internet Content
This is the best option but it’s very unlikely. Everyone loses with this as content providers get nothing from their ads and readers don’t get any news.
Go To “Safe” Sources
Another good option, but about as unlikely as the first. It takes work to find out the sites that are not tracking or injecting third party advertising. It also assumes safe sources are always safe but the web is a constantly evolving place and a site may be totally different upon two visits.
Run an Ad Blocker
This is the most common solution today. It blocks as many ads and third party cookies as it can and generally keeps users safe. It’s not a perfect solution as the content providers miss getting any ad clicks/impressions but the reader gets a much safer (and faster) experience.
Some sites actively block ad blockers. When I come across these sites who nicely ask me to unblock their ads I head over to google and find another source for the same story. I don’t think I’m alone in doing that.
Use (something like) Brave That Shares Ad Revenue
This is a newer thing and the actual reason I wanted to write this post. Brave seems to be a good middle ground which attempts to keep users safe while still providing money back to content providers. In some ways Brave is acting like a arbitrator to let everyone get something out of the deal. Users get content, creators get money. Yeah Brave (and users) get a cut to but that’s not so bad (though I’d be fine with not getting a cut at all as a user).
Here is the flows for revenue from Brave:
Unfortunately, the NAA didn’t quite grasp the above idea and has called to Brave to stop. Surprise, at least one of the companies who signed the letter has put users at risk via malvertising on multiple occasions.
My hope is that users will jump on to the idea that Brave provides (whether they use Brave or not) and that the NAA will understand that it is a business model where everyone wins, even their readers.