how I think about how the New York Times thinks about privacy
11 April 2019
A. G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, writes,
If you’re reading this essay on an internet browser, it offers a useful example of what tracking looks like at a practical level. Before you had time to read a single word, a number of different companies had already placed a “cookie” or other tracking mechanism on your browser to study your internet use. The Times hosts these trackers for three purposes: to learn about how people use our website and apps so we can improve their experience; to reach readers we hope will subscribe; and to sell targeted advertising.
Read the whole thing. But my inner tech editor could not be silenced, and had a small suggestion. How about...
If you’re reading this essay on an internet browser, it offers a useful example of what tracking looks like at a practical level. Before you had time to read a single word, your web browser had already accepted a “cookie” or other tracking mechanism from a number of different companies to study your internet use. The Times hosts these trackers for five purposes: to learn about how people use our website and apps so we can improve their experience; to reach readers we hope will subscribe; to sell targeted advertising; to leak our readers' personal information to help our competitors sell ads targeting our audience; and to enable fraudulent bot traffic to impersonate human visitors.
As soon as I make the web browser, and not the tracking company, into the subject of the sentence, it helps explain some of the business reasons for news sites to focus on privacy. For a site, examining your own privacy practices is fine, but it's not where the big wins are. The important part, for the New York Times and other sites that need to protect their ad revenue, is to work along with in-browser tracking protection technology. Protecting reader data for the readers is mostly the same as protecting audience data for the ad business.
It's kind of like the situation with email. Email is a viable marketing medium today not just because legit email marketers don't spam, but because email users have good spam filters. Spam filter technology kept low-value email lists from devaluing email marketing. In-browser privacy technology is starting to reverse the process by which low-value cross-site tracking has been devaluing web advertising.
The Times is already doing some good service journalism on web privacy. Next step: set up the paywall to give extra free articles per month for anyone running Apple Safari ITP Apple Safari ITP or Firefox ETP? The more reader eyeballs a a site can remove from the race-to-the-bottom eyeball market, the more market power it has.
Spam filters and legit email marketers saved email as a marketing tool. Can privacy-protecting browsers and legit ad-supported sites do the same for the web?