blog: Don Marti


a clean ad network for independent sites?

23 October 2018

Project Wonderful is no more. This was the ad network that got a lot of the important parts of web advertising right.

  • signal-carrying model: all visitors to the same site on the same day see the same ad(s).

  • brand safety: advertisers choose sites, and site owners approve ads.

  • fraud resistance: ads sell by the day instead of by impression or click.

  • incentive to discover and support new sites the first advertiser to express interest in a site get to run their ad for free until another advertiser places a bid.

But there were still some problems.

  • Project Wonderful was just as vulnerable to ad blocking as regular adtech.

  • The audiences of sites using Project Wonderful were just as vulnerable to tracking as everyone else.

The second one is especially important. Why spend the effort to pick, and run ads on, mutiple independent sites in order to get your ad in front of the right people, when you could just sign up for some user tracking scheme? The people who control marketing budgets need a problem, a trend, and a story in order to shift money from one place to another.

What would it take to borrow and build on the good parts of the Project Wonderful model while taking steps to fix the problem of data leakage?

  • Avoid privacy-focused ad blockers by accepting the EFF DNT policy. Third parties that can pass EFF's Privacy Badger also tend to stay off other blocklists.

  • Offer unlimited CNAMEs, also to help beat list-based blockers.

  • Don't participate in paid whitelisting as a network, but individual sites that choose to do so could, for their own specific CNAME.

  • Good metrics on tracking protection adoption by the audience. Show advertisers that these users are hard to reach another way.

  • Include reverse tracking walls, tracking detection roadblocks, and A/B test alternate "turn off your ad blocker" messages to motivate users to get protected from cross-site tracking.

  • Limited, user-permitted data collection with clean consent management.

The hard part for an independent ad network is to offer small advertisers something they can't get from Google or Facebook. Access to a protected audience?


How publishers are navigating the perilous path to diversification

Thomas Barta: If you want influence, abandon your desk

Delivering Malware Programmatically Is Too Easy

Privacy Badger Now Fights More Sneaky Google Tracking