Future of Advertising May Be Privacy

Times Square with lots of advertisements

Some Background#

I have been deeply interested in technology, primarily, techspec. For those unfamiliar, ’techspec’ just means technological speculation.

This interest goes back for me over ten years ago when I started writing about technology and techspec on a blog that I had on Blogspot.

My mom wouldn’t give me any money to host my own site and I was still in middle school at the time. As such, I had thought that I should try to raise some money somehow through the internet to host my own website where I could run that blog.

It was a chicken and egg problem from the way that I saw it. I was getting 100 - 500 reads a month on it and a terrible bounce rate of 70%+, I imagined that the rampant comment spambots contributed to the vast majority of it.

The way to remedy these issues was for me to get a proper website, I thought.

I had an idea that the way to make money with my blog would be to allow ads on it but I had no idea of how to go about implementing them.

Privacy certainly wasn’t something that was on my radar back then (2012 ish).

I found a senior in my school who started a tech blog with a whole website and everything, with more of a gaming focus. I checked out the site daily and tried to borrow some styling cues from it to enhance my own blog every once in a while.

Not long after, it must have been maybe two months of it being up, I saw that the site had advertising on it. I was shocked.

I remembered that prior to getting those banner ads, there was a placeholder in those spots that said “Your Ad Here” and “Wanna advertise?”. Not sure on the exact wording, but it was basically very similar to empty billboards in real life looking for advertisers.

When I clicked on the placeholder, it would take me to a contact form.

And that was it.#

I figured that the way to put ads on my blog was to designate areas for advertising and someone would pay me money to put a clickable banner there.

I was totally naive and uninformed at the time.

I had kept makeshift banners and posts to advertise on my blog for several months and not a single person emailed me.

In the process, I discovered AdSense and various other ways to advertise online.

One being one of those scummy links that you would hover over and it would display an ad. Another, those that when you clicked them, would first show an ad for 5 seconds before redirecting you to the real site that you wanted to link.

I would usually cite sources for the things that I wrote about and put a shortened URL redirect by one of those scummy services.

(I am not naming them on purpose because I think it would downgrade this post on search results and effect the reputation of my website in doing so.)

AdSense Rejection#

Fast forward, I got my AdSense rejected because I replaced every single link on my blog with those terrible scummy ad redirect URL shortened links.

Not only that, I believe that I was blacklisted from Google search entirely.

My blog stopped coming up even if I put the exact URL in the search bar.

I returned all the links to normal and never applied those scummy ad networks on my blog ever again, but despite my efforts, AdSense never approved me again and even though I started getting some views again, it was nowhere near the levels that I had before.

I stopped publishing anything online soon after.


But the thing that I want to highlight from this experience is that my first reaching out for how I thought advertising should be done was much more natural.

Had things been that way, there would be no need for tracking, excessive data collection, cookies that would follow you everywhere and so many other downsides that we associate with advertising.

Well, the way things are headed, I think we might be reaching that point very soon. In an upcoming paradigm that is much more oriented towards privacy, towards data ‘ownership’ and overall the sentiment that we have come to associate with Web3.

I am not talking about selling JPEGs or whatever people associate with web3.

One of these days, I am going to make a more thorough post about web3 where I give my thoughts on what I think its ought to be and where it is headed, without all the overhype or overpessimism surrounding it.

Though, I will say that I am more optimistic of the outcomes.

Adblock everything, everywhere#

For now, we can just imagine a scenario where everybody has adblock somehow, even on mobile.

Now, in such a case, the information that ad networks can still use about the users would basically come from the website itself. Such information would most commonly be the geolocation, that is inferred from the IP address, and the language, that the browser or system is in.

Apart from this, all other information will be what the user strictly chose to reveal themselves.

Such as, by being a logged in user of the website and providing their own information such as maybe their interests or creators that they follow or communities that they subscribe to. There could be any amount and variations of such arrangements but the point is that it is voluntarily revealed information.

Question then is, how, with adblock, would online advertising even work?

Privacy oriented ad networks may have an answer.

Private Advertising#

How would these even work?

I think everyone is familiar with how sponsorships work in Youtube videos.

They are a bit more random but they don’t really use any tracking in how they work.

The general outline that I have experienced is that tech type channels get NordVPN as their sponsor, science and education type channels get Brilliant, podcasts and other content may get Manscaped.

Though, this isn’t in any way strict, it is more random than anything.

I think that is due to conventional online advertising being a much bigger part of online advertising leading to a few players in the ‘sponsoring space’ to capture a lot of eyeballs due to less competition, thus, leading to the existing players to cover more area than they otherwise would.

But the future of privacy oriented advertising is much the same.

Websites would place their own banners that they delegate an ad to. They would be paid by companies for such spots in many ways.

Since the website has information about the geolocation of the visitors, they could auction the spots for their different location visitors to different advertisers and same with the different languages.

The benefit of this is that adblocks would become redundant. Ads being part of the website itself and coming from the same site would not require any blocking of the hosts because it would mean blocking the website.

Now, yes, I am aware of extensions like Sponsorblock that work with video content to skip parts of it marked as sponsored segments by weighted voting of sorts and similar could be developed for banner ads. But these would have a smaller impact than adblocks did just by the sheer amount of content spread throughout the internet in text as compared to multimedia.

Not to mention, unlike video and audio content where segments could be skipped and there’s nothing the creator can really do about it from their end, the websites could rebuild the site and deploy every single day with CSS modules that randomise class names for ad elements making it that much harder for adblockers to keep track of what they should be blocking. This could easily be automated. This can theoretically be done with hosts but it is that much harder to randomise hosts for advertising as it stands right now. It would take too much domain purchasing for this war to be won conventionally.

If a website is oriented towards travel blogging, they could naturally partner with travel agencies and such to place those types of banners on the website using the information available to them.

I can even imagine that this is much more effective as a method of advertising because sites like these would more often than not accept advertising from places that they themselves approve of and would, of course, be more relevant to their readers and visitors.

This shares similarities with the affiliate advertising very much.

We could even see that networks of sites shift the entire burden of advertising to their end by various services that may dedicate themselves to this task.

You just install something on the backend instead of a script that runs on the frontend and there you go.

The burden of what and how it is advertised will shift entirely and resemble much closer to how traditional advertising worked. Ads will be baked into the code, in the DOM, at the build time for all pages dynamically.

I think this is also going to be a net positive in terms of revenues.

If I have been looking for toasters, then I go to book a vacation and consult some resource blog in the process, do I really want to see the ad for a toaster at that point? Or am I much more likely to book a flight to a certain destination?

I’d wager that I’m more likely to book a flight to my destination there than buy a toaster at that point. Sites already affiliate for such things in similar ways.

Why would this even happen?#

Without even making an argument for web3, I think it is human tendency to just become calloused to things and ignore them when they become ubiquitous, especially when those things displease us.

Think about people that walk by hundreds of homeless people every single day to work. Do they recognise all of them?

Much in the same way in my experience living in India, people have become calloused to beggars and hawkers trying to scam them alike.

People who walk by them everyday just ignore them like they aren’t even there.

The same happens with advertising over time.

And I say this because after one point, TV advertising was incentivised to become creative and grab eyeballs in a different way.

TV ads started incorporating hit songs, jingles, funny sketches, popular celebrities, and many other such things going above and beyond to set themselves apart from the competition.

In Youtube sponsorships, I have seen a similar trend where instead of simply shouting out the sponsor of a video, creators would incorporate the ad more creatively and segway into the ad in many other creative ways to drive more conversions.

These incentives develop over time as more and more things become samey.

I’m willing to bet that conventional online advertising will become less and less effective over time for the same reason.

How does web3 affect this?#

My understanding of web3 may be different from your understanding of it. It is certainly nothing that’s set in stone and, like I said earlier, I will make a post about web3 itself going deeper on the subject.

However, if your data is something that you have to voluntarily reveal parts of, that’s how it is going to go down.

Yes, it is possible that websites would simply refuse to operate unless you agree to give that information.

Is it likely? Not at all.

We are seeing a difference in how websites inform users of their cookie policy right now.

Initially, I saw a lot more websites use annoying modal windows that reminded me of popup ads on the early internet.

Now, however, I am seeing more and more websites have a simple line at the bottom with a little ‘More information’ link that when you click opens up a modal for your preferred cookie settings.

Granted, many subpar sites still annoy you and try to trick you into accepting it. But that is not likely to go much longer once search engines start disincentivizing these sites.

What my point with this is that websites are not willing to risk losing visitors just so they could force people to accept cookies.

Over time, the winning and sustainable sites will be those that more and more people interact with or visit.

In the same way, websites in a data ownership model are not likely to pester you aggressively to give up your information just to use it.

Especially if they have something to sell you!

This is where it all ties together.

In summary#

  • They don’t know anything about you so they focus on what you’re there for.

  • They sell you what they think that you want instead of knowing what you want already.

  • Ads become more relevant.

  • Ads become more creative.

  • Ads don’t follow you everywhere.

  • Your data travels with you but remains separate.

  • Websites make more money, you become less annoyed.

© Aryansh Malviya 2023