back to article Dutch national broadcaster saw ad revenue rise when it stopped tracking users. It's meant to work like that, right?

Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer at privacy-focused browser biz Brave, has reported on how ad revenue increased when Dutch national broadcaster NPO stopped running third-party trackers on its online video website. From a marketing perspective, targeted advertising is supposedly a dream realised: why waste money showing ads to …

  1. DavCrav

    What, you mean people who are searching for holidays might want to see adverts about holidays? You mean, rather than see adverts about power showers, because they bought one last month?

    Well, duh.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      You mean, rather than see adverts about power showers, because they bought one last month?

      Amazon seems particularly bad for that. I buy a book on Kindle, and get "you can also buy it in hardback and paperback and the French translation and the film of the book and this other book which is totally unrelated except for the fact someone mentioned the first book in their review …"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      Not only does this make sense from the user's perspective, I think it would make sense for ad spewing services as well.

      If all targeted ads were banned, companies wouldn't stop advertising, Goods would still make money, and ads might be more, not less effective.

    3. Lon24

      Every advert targetted, personalised or not is a free (as in beer) ad for Pi-Hole.

      1. quxinot


        Every ad shown. Period.

  2. Stumpy

    ... effective. According to Ryan, RTBonline advertising "is a cancer eating the heart of legitimate media, and a business model for the bottom of the web." ...

    There, FTFY

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Oh, because all online media is illegitimate ?

  3. Chris G

    Targeted ads miss all of the people whose tracking doesn't show interest in a product but that is not to say they have no interest or are unlikely to buy it.

    I rarely click on an ad but sometimes having seen a name will remind me of something I wish to buy.

    It seems the best marketing people are those employed to market services to marketing people.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Funnily enough, I support the conclusions of the research. My iPad I've done practically everything to block targeted ad's, so get the generic stuff. Because of this I've been made aware of products of use to my children and other family members.

      As for the targeted ad's, well my PC gets those, so I tend to look something up, maybe even put it into my basket, but not purchase and wait a day or so for the discount ad's to appear...

      1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

        Got to love "targeted" ads. Gave me the chance to be told what presents my wife was looking at before my x0 birthday.

        Joke was on me though coz it ended up as a prezzy from the inlaws...

  4. Sgt_Oddball

    Shocking news!

    People interested in a subject, more frequently interested in using products, services related to subject?!

    In other news, Pope a Catholic, bears deficate in woods and Sherlock loses track of Schitt.

    On a more serious note, the issue is also that the RTB ads are easier to setup for sites, since they don't require adding context for articles. But as with many things this is probably much more nuanced a subject.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Shocking news!

      Next big marketing hype. Blockchain powered AI to analyse pages and place ads based on context which will never go wrong, honest, no siree Bob! (Such ads for porn sites on sexual health pages)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I still fail to see the value to advertisers in telling me about stuff I have already bought and have no need for more, stuff I have looked at and decided not to buy and suppliers I already know about. The only effect it has on me is to piss me off. I can think of several prominent advertisers I would think twice about using and have indeed avoided. To my ultimate benefit, may I add.

    1. Insert sadsack pun here Silver badge

      It depends on the product. If you've bought dog food before, you probably will buy dog food again, and it makes sense for me to advertise dog food to you. I agree there is no point in advertising ladders to you if you've just bought a ladder, but maybe I could try selling you some paint.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Naaah. I bought dog food once. Never again. It tasted horrible.

        1. IT's getting kinda boring

          ..and now you know why dogs lick their testicles. It's to take away the taste of the food.

          Obligatory tip of the hat to Red Dwarf....

    2. Mike 137 Silver badge

      The real value

      The advertiser is not the intended primary beneficiary. It's the broker, that gets paid for the placement via the automated auction whether the ad converts or not.

  6. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    There is one enormous benefit of targeted ads

    They are an effective way to convince people that their advertising budget should be spent on targeted ads.

    1. Ben Tasker

      Re: There is one enormous benefit of targeted ads

      Exactly this. My interpretation of behavioural/targeted ads has always been that they're less good, but provide a "unique selling point" for the ad-platform to shout about to advertisers: we can get you more relevant clicks... Like most marketing, the claim needn't actually be true.

      Targeted ads, to me, always seem to consist of something you bought months ago, or something you decided against buying.

      1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        Re: There is one enormous benefit of targeted ads

        The U in USP isn't "Useful."

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: There is one enormous benefit of targeted ads

      "They are an effective way to convince people that their advertising budget should be spent on targeted ads."

      This is because marketing have been lead to believe the maxim that "half of all advertising is wasted, they just don't know which half" is true.

  7. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    'Relevant' ads

    Meanwhile, ads that are targeted at you based on your web history and failing dismally at their job - flinging washing machine ads after you've bought a washing machine - have become such a cliche that comedians are using them. Perhaps the targeting just doesn't work very well.

    1. hoola Silver badge

      Re: 'Relevant' ads

      Or you search for something you want to buy and the top 20 entries are all a mix of adverts, bots and Amazon. You see one that looks cheaper only to find that it is somebodies archive page and the product is discontinued. Amazon in particular are bad at this with links to long dead shops and items but once in their website you get a tempting array of "suggestions" to ensure that you buy from them.

      The wretched bot engines that just create a web page based on your search should be banned. As far as I can see they only exist to generate clicks, page views and advertising revenue.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: 'Relevant' ads

      "Perhaps the targeting just doesn't work very well."

      The targeting doesn't have to actually work, it just has to look convincing enough to justify the publisher taking their hefty cut.

    3. veti Silver badge

      Re: 'Relevant' ads

      Comedians were doing that routine 20 years ago. Is that really still the reality of targeted ads? I don't see the things myself.

      1. Uffish

        Re: 'Relevant' ads

        No doubt the algorithm is ten times as long but the result is always the same - more of the advertiser's budget is spent on the likes of Google.

  8. John H Woods Silver badge

    makes sense

    Targeting probably works best for campaigns, when you can benefit from repeatedly hitting the target with similar messages. Much less useful to advertise an endless succession of crimping tools to someone who has just bought a crimping tool.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: makes sense

      After all, just how many Anvils does a blacksmith need? It is not as if they wear out every year, five years or even twenty years. It is not as it there is a sleek cool new model of Anvil that every smith must have today!

      I hate ALL adverts and stuff that gets repeatedly advertised to me goes on my 'do not buy' list. It is surprising how long that has become over the years.

      Hey Mr Camera Dealer,

      "Yes, I know that I have just puchased a Nikon DSLR. I'm hardly going to go out and buy a Canon DSLR the next week am I! STFU with all those Canon adverts."

      Targetted adverts are the worst sort of adverts ever invented.

      ALL ad-men and agencies need to [see Icon]

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Targetted by idiots

    The problem with 'targeted' advertising seems to be it's total inability to comprehend time scales and human behaviour. So I search for Washing Machines - clever targeted algorithms assume that, for the next 12 months I must be interested in washing machines, presumably assuming that all their adverts are so rubbish that I can't possibly have bought a new washing machine within, say 48 hours of starting to look. I stay in a hotel in Boston - targeted adverts assume that for ever more it must be somewhere I want to go back to, carefully ignoring the fact that I went there for a weekend a year ago , and also ignoring the fact that in the same year I went to a couple of nice hot sunny places that I might like to go back to more - but for some reason (bidding by the Boston tourist authorities?) never pop up in side bars. (And ty El Reg - because I looked for hatches (for the deck of a boat) a couple of weeks ago, I find your telecoms/IT cavity wall hatches sales pitch brighten up my morning every day, but I already bought the hatches I need and I'm not sure the ones you advertise are waterproof..)

    1. Steve K

      Re: Targetted by idiots

      I find your telecoms/IT cavity wall hatches sales pitch brighten up my morning every day, but I already bought the hatches I need and I'm not sure the ones you advertise are waterproof..)

      They may not be waterproof, but the El Reg ones do have a sign "Beware of the leopard" on them....

  10. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

    Targeted ads are sometimes quite stupid, e.g. on YouTube. Sometimes, when an ad is off by solar systems from my own interests and the target audience of the video I am watching, I am left wondering if the targeted-ad business isn't a hype/scam waiting to blow over.

    I would very much prefer old-school approach to advertisement.

    1. The Nazz

      Old fashioned?

      Speaking of old fashioned adverts, i'm currently rereading my stash of National Geographic magazines, some going back to the 1960's.

      Quite interesting to see ads for such as Sabeena and yes, i do read them. If only to see how "bad" the good times were.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Old fashioned?

        Oddly enough, I was watching CNN the other day and weather forecast came on. Part way through, the map disappears and some tractor company logo fills it. The weatherman then proceeds to tell me this tractor company sponsors the weather and they also supply animal feed. The 1950's called and want their "now here's a word from our sponsors" tagline back. And for what it's worth, I'm watching in the UK so am unlikely to buy from them anyway. I guess CNN think it's mainly farmers watching their weather forecast and they can't find a way to use technology to put a more localised advert in.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hate being followed by adverts across the net

    A few years back I’d been checking out some popular nsfw sites on my personal computer.

    A few weeks later at work on my work machine, googling an issue with my boss among the pages returned where adverts for Russian brides, dating sites and others, clicking any of the links to stack exchange or equivalents resulted in further Inappropriate adverts Being displayed. I was naturally embarrassed and pissed off I’d been followed across machines.

    The only commonality I could see was that I was signed into gmail on both machines.

    I now use ad blockers, change tracking id’s frequently and click the triangle asking not to be shown those types of adverts again.

    I’d much rather see non targeted ads at all times.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I hate being followed by adverts across the net

      > The only commonality I could see was that I was signed into the largest and most pervasive targeted-advertising company in the world on both machines.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate being followed by adverts across the net

        Indeed. What more proof do you need that Google is the root of all evil (aka The Devil) eh?

    2. Captain Hogwash

      Re: I was signed into gmail on both machines

      Well, duh!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear Advertisers,

    There is something you should know.

    I will *never* click on any ad displayed on any of my electronic devices. Regardless of their relevance to me, my life, or my current shopping requirements. Never.

    Once in a blue moon, an advert might remind me of something, in which case I will go and search for whatever it is I was reminded of on my own time. But I will NEVER click on a garbage square of annoying bullshit vying for my attention.

    So just fuck off already. :)

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Dear Advertisers,

      Dear Def,

      billions of clicks from your less enlightened brethren beg to differ…

      Actually, targeting ads generally appeals to the same sort of companies and users of services like Groupon: they have a shitty product that they're desperate to get rid of.

      Context is everything so just wait for targeted product placement coming to a streaming service near you with products being placed in real time on breakfast tables, cars, etc. of the shows you love. I wish was making this up but AFAIK it's already been patented.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dear Advertisers,

        I often wonder how many of those clicks are intentional though, and how many are fat fingers trying to hide the ad, or click somewhere right as an ad appears.

        If Kellogg's want to insert their products onto the table in a show I'm watching I have no problem with that. It's a product in a show where it would normally appear. As long as it doesn't start jumping up and down, flashing different colours, obscuring the actors, and screaming over their voices I can safely ignore it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dear Advertisers,

        Not only patented, but in use now. The benefit (for them) is that you can't block these adverts.

        Advertisers can slip adverts into a scene (on the side of a bus for example) based on the market the stream is going to. Watch the same thing a month later and the advert could be different. A special effects team going to the dark side:

      3. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Dear Advertisers,

        "billions of clicks from your less enlightened brethren beg to differ…"

        Billions, huh?

        You know the population of this planet, right?

        And you know how many of them have a computer and internet access, right?

        And you know how many actually see your advert and understand what it says enough to want to click on it, right?


        'Cos, I think you'll find, those billions of clicks came from excited webcams and underappreciated toasters. Because, come on, what toaster doesn't dream of having a pristine slice of Hovis gently slid inside of itself? {click} {click} {click}

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Dear Advertisers,

          Or maybe millions of people click on 1000's of ads per year?

    2. John 110

      Re: Dear Advertisers,

      I don't really mind ads, as long as they're static. Flashing and/or playing video with sound makes me activate my adblocker immediately. I disable adblock for sites that I appreciate (I'm a sucker for Schlock Mercenary) as long as the ads are stationary (or stationery)

  13. ExampleOne

    I find it amusing that the ad targeting produced by the internet advertising is so appallingly bad. It's worse than the supermarkets did 15 or more years ago based on their "loyalty" cards. What is really sad is how basic many of the mistakes are: I am pretty certain the "recommender systems 101" course I did about 12 years ago would avoid them once even slightly trained.

    1. Krassi

      Targeted advertising can work pretty well for a supermarket. I bought some yoghurt this morning, give it a week, I'll likely buy some more, and a well-targeted voucher could tempt me to try a more expensive brand. Its not really the same for many other purchases. My washing machine broke the other week - searched online for faults, repairs and then for a new one and suppose I've triggered all the ad trackers as a washing machine obsessive. I won't be interested in the topic again for a good few years I hope.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Wouldn't work for me

        There is only one brand of yogurt I like. It's that or none.

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Actually, that's really contextual ads because you're already in the supermarket, where the house always wins because the brand is paying for both the campaign and the discount.

      3. ExampleOne

        My point is that amazon A) knows what I have purchased on amazon, and B) don’t appear to be able to make the leap to related products. Even a basic recommender system should be able to make the related product leap when fed amazons dataset. I mean, surely the dataset makes it clear someone who bought a drill is more likely to buy screws than a new drill?

    2. A-nonCoward

      Loyalty cards?

      A chain supermarket here offers discounts, and not too bad ones, but "only with card". So I don't ever go there unless I really feel like going to the trouble of asking someone in the line to let me use their card, so they get the points, everybody wins, but the scheme is idiotic and I dislike that. I could buy there often, but why should I submit to that?

    3. Sherrie Ludwig

      The grocery loyalty card is no more

      In my part of the USA, the grocery store "card" is now a phone app that creepily tracks you, which of their stores you buy from, and wants location tracking turned on constantly (found THAT obscure button and disabled it) I signed up using an email that I use for spam and other annoyances, it gets the bombardment of ads. The card does a super low price loss leader weekly, and often a free product of something horrible and processed. So, I go there largely to pick up the loss leaders that I can use, and I will take the free product to donate to the local food pantry (dinosaur-shaped pasta in a boxed mac-and-cheese anyone?) but do my main shopping at Aldi's, which thankfully does not do this nonsense.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: The grocery loyalty card is no more

        There's possibly bluetooth beacons in the store tracking which aisles you go up and down, how long you take, if you stop at a certain point, eg near a display, and how long for too.

  14. BenDwire Silver badge


    Pihole. That is all.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I block tracked ads, not ads per se.

    If you have an ad on your site related to the site I'm looking at, it will get a view, and may get a hit.

    Any tracked ads are blocked, and even before I blocked them, they were useless.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Almost makes me want to disable the adblocker and see what's going on.

    Almost, but not quite.

    1. A-nonCoward

      Re: Almost makes me want to disable the adblocker and see what's going on.

      with covid and all, and being "reduced in force" we cut the cable expenses. No libraries. Sometimes the wife and I make use of those "free with adverts" movie sites. We are amazed at what trash is being offered to the public, in amazingly trashy ways. Yes, the ad leaves an indelible impression, the kind that makes you need a box of sandpaper on the bedsite table besides the normal one with tissue. I'm glad my ad-blockers are there in the computer.

  17. PPCNI

    You Don't Love Retargeting?

    I've worked in PPC for maybe 13 years now.

    I agree 99% that most display retargeting/remarketing (and display advertising in general) is a joke.

    Last I checked, Google gave publishers 68% of the revenue they charged advertisers. So they do take a hefty cut, but for smaller publishers, it is incredibly easy to set up and maintain hence why so many do.

    Search advertising (where you search for a blue widget and are shown adverts for blue widgets) is obviously far better (and totally necessary now since Google make sure that no organic search results ever appear on smarphones for search terms with commercial intent).

    I think the majority of display (non-search) spend is from advertisers who have too much money and are prepared to spend megabucks on 'getting the brand out there', getting millions of views and impressions without worrying about whether they get a single direct sale from the advertising. Google now make it pretty easy for advertisers like this to set up campaigns with a few clicks and a question like 'how much would you like to give Google every day until further notice'. I'm sure Facebook are every bit as bad but I haven't touched Facebook in about 10 years now.

    And, as an aside, seeing as how Google make only about $1 billion every second, they obviously can't afford to employ anyone in their support department (I use the term loosley) who has had more than 2 days of basic Google Ads training. It is a sign of things to come for sure, that nowadays it is extremely hard to speak with a human at Google who will say anything other 'computer says no...'.

    Having said all that, this research was conducted by the privacy focused Brave browser people, and has data from *one* not huge publisher for only a couple of months, showing a decent increase in revenue year on year. There are always lots of factors involved, and and we are not privy to all the changes that were made prior to the revenue increases (were the ad unit sizes and position identical before and after, did online viewrs increase significantly year on year etc, etc?).

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: You Don't Love Retargeting?

      And let us not forget that those stats concern a time where people were starting to be cooped up in their homes, thus having more time for browsing.

      I'll be interested to see the stats this time next year - supposing we aren't all shut-in again for the winter.

    2. The obvious

      Re: You Don't Love Retargeting?

      There’s a significant difference between facebook and google though. You can choose not to give facebook your data, quite easily. Whereas with google it is impossible to just (for example) sinkhole their ASN and have done with it.

  18. Mage

    But can we trust Google and Facebook?

    "The success of Facebook is based on the ability of advertisers to define an audience by location, age, sex, personal interests and more."

    You mean their success is based on the fact that advertisers believe this.

    1) Is it legal.

    2) Is is ethical.

    3) How accurate is the information?

    4) Has anyone unbiased actually done meaningful measurements to prove Facebook and Google claims?

    My understanding is that Facebook makes these claims because magazines, newspapers, billboards, radio and TV can't make them. They have been caught lying about video impressions.

    Also fraudulent activity makes money for website owners with Google adverts.

    Twitter and Facebook are full of fake accounts and bots.

  19. heyrick Silver badge

    RTB is fascinating

    Advertising is the art of making money through bullshit. Reduces the signs of aging, nine out of ten budgerigars prefer it, clinically proven...

    Now along comes RTB which is a whole new way to make money out of bullshit, but what is being sold is somebody else's bullshit. It's like double plus bullshit equals kerching. [*]

    It's fascinating, all this money being created out of hot air and waffle, that ultimately makes products cost more, a price that we end up paying unless we take the attitude that companies that advertise aggressively have to overcharge for their product in order to cover costs, and thus refuse to buy from aggressive advertisers.

    * - My phone's swipe-type autocorrect wanted to replace "kerching" with "leeching". My phone understands. That is all.

  20. Anoymous Coward

    Herd Instinct

    My theory is that adverts feel most comfortable when they are in herds. Click on a Herd Leader and it will call the rest of the flock.

    It's the best explanation I can think of for why I get adverts for washing machines mithering around me for months after I looked up an instruction manual for one of them.

  21. A-nonCoward
    Big Brother

    Duck Duck Go privates?

    As a matter of course I have one "normal" Firefox instance, to pick up my passwords automatically, for personal stuffs, ElReg, editing Wikipedia, that kind of thing. Anything else I do, especially work related in my personal laptop, happens in "incognito" windows.

    Lately I am noticing that Duck Duck Go seems to be serving me local results, and some to be "topic related" to previous searches, in OTHER incognito windows, or previous days... So, at the very least, not only "what words I type", but IP address geoloc, with some kind of "history" tracking for my IP address? Haven't gotten paranoid enough to actually design and perform some kind of testing. Just a nagging feeling for now. And a hmm...

    1. flokie

      Re: Duck Duck Go privates?

      No comment on the 'topical' results, but yes DDG now implement geo-based results.

      On the results page you'll see a couple of filters at the top: Safe search, filter by date - and the first one is geographic. You can switch it off, or change to another country. I think the default is on, and it will derive your country from your IP.

  22. martinusher Silver badge

    Its a self-supporting bubble

    I've long suspected that the modern advert ecosystem is a self-sustaining bubble -- it only works because the people involved in it believe in it and the moment that belief falters the whole thing will just pop and disappear. The microtargeting of advertisements is a great idea in theory but its implementation is so poor that it rarely serves up anything that I'd be interested in looking at. Its got to be a bit of a game, watching how random keywords can sent the algorithms off into the weeds, and its obiously so widespread that this turned up in the punchline of a recent nationally syndicated comic strip.

    I suspect one reason why Amazon has become so successful is that unlike other retailers who have to rely on third party spyware to track users' browsing habits and interests they have all this information on a plate since they're both advertiser and supplier. This means that they can strip a lot of the client side code making their site a lot more responsive than the typical retailer site. From a users' perspective this makes going anywhere other than Amazon a tedious exercise in browsing as a search on anything other than a premium system with a low latency link leads to interminable delays in page loads and responses to user input.

    1. Ropewash

      Re: Its a self-supporting bubble

      Your first sentences also encapsulate the basics of a fiat economy.

      Interesting parallel there.

  23. Uffish

    AI Hype

    I have much respect for the people of google, not much for their overall policies now that they are allowed to be evil and none at all for their approach to advertising.

    Every time I get totally inappropriate 'targeted' adverts I cringe. Is this the best that a large number of the finest minds in the business can do for an algorithm. It clearly is not doing a good job of reaching out to potential customers, as opposed to 'targeted' customers.

    Oh, I had a thought, Googles advertising methods are clearly working for google, perhaps that is the only thing they were supposed to do.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Just Like Fishing Lures

    Fishing lures are not made to catch fish. They are made to catch fishermen.

    Tracking ads are not made to catch consumers. They are made to catch publishers.

  25. Sanctimonious Prick

    Content Is King

    I'm close to re launching an old website of mine.

    The site will need advertising, but it will not be from the usual places. Instead, I'm spending considerable time finding advertisers that'll make a nice fit for the content presented.

    I've always used that method. Worked in the past. No reason it shouldn't work now.

  26. sniperpaddy

    blindly building from constrained data

    Smart move not to trust the targeted tracking models to properly account for the cultural/financial impact of covid19. These models made the basic mistake of blindly building from constrained data and not appreciating how inappropriate the data set is under a new context.

    Contexual ads are a more accurate realtime association.

  27. John_3_16

    Heck Yeah!

    Stupid people with too much money doing stupid things to obtain more money.

    Please pull your collective heads out of your anal cavities & remove all of the tracking/spying ad code. We can remove our blocking code & all of the regulatory laws. All we will need is an honest browser to "spy" on you to insure you don't put the code back. Doing the right thing once DOES not insure future honesty... Stupidity & greed are your only constants.

    I have several apps & a blocking browser. With all of this I am still bombarded by a sea of ad trash on half of the sites I visit. FF has an audio/video blocker that is very selective. When I turn it on it does not even work on half of the sites I visit. Stupidity & greed win out. How hard is it to understand "Block All" when clicked? That is why multiple apps/browsers must be used today. None of them do what you want them to. Google, IMHO, creates & allows most of the spyware apps they make a big fuss over when they block them & remove them. This is only done when their employees have created newer more effective spyware to offer as apps. FF endorses a few apps but does nothing to see what the other apps are doing with user info they are forced to surrender to actually block audio/video ads. We can not win.

    Users are simply viewed as $$$... We will never be anything more... Anyone have a view on who really writes the malware that sells the anti-virus packages? Anything out there that beats several of these requiring a pricey update is always suspect, IMHO...

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