How customers can debug business with one line of code

Four years ago, I posted An olive branch to advertising here. It began,

Online advertising has a couple of big problems that could possibly be turned into opportunities. One is Do Not Track, or DNT. The other is blocking of ads and/or tracking.

Publishers and the advertising business either attacked or ignored Do Not Track. Which was too bad, because the ideas we had for making it work might have prevented the problem those businesses now have with ad blocking.

According to the latest PageFair/Adobe study, the number of people blocking ads passed 200 million last May, with double-digit increases in adoption, worldwide. Tracking protection is also gaining in popularity.

While those solutions provide individuals with agency and scale, they don’t work for publishers. Not yet, anyway.

What we need is a solution that scales for readers and is friendly to advertising readers can welcome — or at least tolerate, in appreciation for how ads sponsor the content they want. This is what we have always had with newspapers, magazines, radio and TV in the offline world, none of which ever tracked anybody anywhere.

So we offer a solution. It’s a simple preference, which readers can express in code, that says this: Only show me ads that aren’t based on tracking me. Equally simple code can sit on the publishers’ side. Digital handshakes can also happen between the two.

This term will live at Customer Commons, which was designed for that purpose, on the model of Creative Commons. This blog post provides some context.

We’ll be working on that term, its wording , and the code that expresses and agrees to it, next week at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. Monday will be VRM Day. Tuesday through Thursday will be IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop, an unconference (no keynotes, panels or vendor exhibits) where participants choose the topics and do all the work. VRM Day is for planning the work we’ll do at IIW. It’s free, while IIW is cheap for three days of actually getting stuff done.

We already have adblock, tracking protection and other interested parties booked to show up and help out. If you care, which you should, we’d like your help too.

This one term is a first step. There will be many more before we customers get the full respect we deserve from business. Each step needs to prove to one business category or another that customers aren’t just followers. Sometimes they need to take the lead, for the sake of the businesses that depend on them.

This is one of those times. So let’s make it happen.

See you next week.


Originally published at blogs.harvard.edu on April 19, 2016.

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