back to article Apple's pending privacy clampdown drives desperate marketers to overwhelm domain database

Marketers frantic to preserve their ad tracking capabilities in advance of Apple's iOS 14.5 privacy restrictions have overwhelmed a volunteer-maintained database used to oversee domain names and improve web security. The Public Suffix List (PSL) is a Mozilla-founded, community-run project to provide a list of domain suffixes, …

  1. RM Myers Silver badge
    FAIL

    "Apple created this issue in the first place"

    No Benjamin Savage, it was companies like your employer, Facebook, tracking people across the web that caused the real problem - the attack on personal privacy. Apple is trying to fix that problem. That fact this causes an issue for companies trying to measure tracking clicks is unfortunate for those companies, but it is not Apple's fault.

    1. martyn.hare
      Megaphone

      I've a fix for the whole lot

      uBlock Origin, AdBlock Plus, AdGuard... deploy at least one of these and don't look back. If we all refuse to watch adverts without compromises, the problem goes away.

      Free Internet services don't need advertisers, they need sponsors. A decent sponsor will get more than their fair share of additional customers by directly supporting services people love without needing to run expensive ad-driven marketing campaigns. Whether it's a VPN service supporting Freenode, a cloud password manager supporting podcasts (like Security Now) or mattress companies supporting relaxation videos... people will know the company name, having associated it with things they enjoy.

      It really isn't rocket-science people! The World Wide Web will be just fine without crappy ads!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I've a fix for the whole lot

        uBlock Origin, AdBlock Plus, AdGuard... deploy at least one of these and don't look back. If we all refuse to watch adverts without compromises, the problem goes away.

        Sure. Logic alone would have stopped people voting for Trump, right?

        The problem is simple, and exists in three parts:

        1 - there are a Godawful amount of people around whose online behaviour ranges from innocent to utterly stupid. The former we can continue to educate, the latter are beyond that, and combined they form the audience for targeted advertising.

        2 - advertising to these people makes a stonking amount of money, and companies will go over bodies to keep that going. Maybe I'm biased, but I see this is a feature of mainly US companies where everything, including even the most basic ethics, is sacrificed for the almighty buck.

        3 - it is highly unlikely that these outfits do not have an espionage arm which keeps them nicely into government funding as well and gives them legal leeway in how they operate. We've known this since the days of Microsoft being accidentally too clear in tagging their software (who, by the way, is still at it).

        With respect to point 3, it is worth noting that we have found a sharp uptick in attempts to buy EU based security companies by investment outfits that on deeper investigation emerge to be of US origin or have strong US connections. Buying such companies would expose them to US law, in other words, it would backdoor EU security for US use.

        Anyway, I digress. I see this as mild panic from the likes of Google: they see efforts to block their privacy invasions gaining more and more success, and even their backdooring of mainly WP websites with Google fonts to keep at least some sort of intelligence is slowly being noticed (by the way, Adobe is at that too with TypeKit, and we know how seriously Adobe takes security..).

        Add Apple who has no need for personal details as their hardware business is doing just fine without it, thank you, and is now using privacy as an active element of sale and they have a problem.

        Hence FLoC and all the other crappy efforts to bypass what are in essence our article 12 rights since 1948, naturally without violating such rights for the owners of such outfits. That's also behind Google's efforts to make you pay not to get interrupted every minute by ads on Youtube: preserving the flood of money.

        IMHO, the board of every company convicted for privacy violations should be doxxed as part of the punishment. Financial fines have no impact, they are merely considered the cost of doing business.

        What could help is tarnishing the companies that BUY those services, because that's where the money is coming from. Google has been smart here because there's now a vast eco system of people who have no other employment than generating content to get a tiny slice of that income, but all of these would work just as well without the targeting - or target the ads based on the content, which leaves the user's privacy in place. Just thinking out loud here.

  2. sbt Silver badge
    FAIL

    re: easier for advertisers if everyone just gave up on privacy

    You know what would be even easier for everyone? If advertisers just gave up on tracking.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. sbt Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: internet advertising was rendered ineffective

        No thumb as I think this is different issue. Trackingless advertising wouldn't be ineffective, it just wouldn't be personally targetted. Advertisers could still choose sites based on contextual content, e.g. wool vendors could place their ads on sites with knitting patterns. If this didn't work, commercial tv wouldn't exist, either. It still works, just not with a privacy problem.

        The benefits of personalised advertising are doubtful, particularly when so many of the anecdotes are along the lines of "I just bought a fridge, why do I keep seeing adverts for fridges?"

        Start-ups don't necessarily rely on advertising. Some dominant players with advertising revenues crowd out alternative services, including from start-ups. Who's going to fund a FB or Google killer now?

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: internet advertising was rendered ineffective

          Yep, I bought a dishwasher on Amazon, I got near daily emails from Amazon offering me other dishwashers and every time I visited Amazon, the first half dozen items it offered were dishwashers...

          With "targeted personal advertising" like that, from first party to first party, who needs it?

          1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Re: internet advertising was rendered ineffective

            Even more fun to be had with books. You just bought the Kindle version of X, would you like to buy X in hardback, softback, audiobook, French translation, …

            1. Scottish Nelly

              Re: internet advertising was rendered ineffective

              Best one I had was Amazon suggesting a book I might like. They were right, as I wrote the book...

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: re: easier for advertisers if everyone just gave up on privacy

        Remember back in the previous century, there were these things called "televisions" and "newspapers".

        They carried ads. And those ads worked much more effectively despite (or because of) the fact they were exactly the same ads for everyone, and no ability to track which retail purchases (in "shops" that you had to physically visit) were triggered by which ads.

      3. big_D Silver badge

        Re: re: easier for advertisers if everyone just gave up on privacy

        The advertisers should "track" the sites they place adverts on, not the visitors to the site.

      4. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: re: easier for advertisers if everyone just gave up on privacy

        It's actually very easy.

        You go back to contextual advertising like NPO did.

        The advertiser pays less per ad, the host gets more per ad and you cut out the entire ecosystem of data aggregators and profilers who add precisely no value to the process but currently hoover up the lion's share of what the advertiser pays (which in turn makes page loads faster and cuts web traffic).

        People get far too hung up on this idea of being able to identify users. A competent agency should be able to deliver just as good results using contextual advertising ("I have a user looking at an article about the new Volvo") as using intrusive profiles ("I have a 42-year old male looking at an article about the new Volvo"). In either case, you know that they're probably interested in cars to some extent and can advertise based on that.

        If contextual advertising didn't generate a positive ROI, people wouldn't continue paying megabucks advertising on TV or in print.

        1. Dinanziame Silver badge

          Re: re: easier for advertisers if everyone just gave up on privacy

          People are definitely paying less and less for print advertising though.

          1. rg287 Silver badge

            Re: re: easier for advertisers if everyone just gave up on privacy

            People are definitely paying less and less for print advertising though.

            They are, but that's because they're splitting their budget into more channels (TV, Radio, Print, Billboard - now Facebook/Google/other), and because print lost it's monopoly and has had to drop it's rates.

            But that has nothing to do with user-targeted advertising. If targeted ads were the goldmine they promised, businesses would have abandoned the contextual channels because they could they could just send a handful of ads to their prospective customers with high chance of conversion.

            As it is, that isn't the case. Partly because most user-targeted ads suck (looking at you Amazon, sending me ads for stuff I've just bought. What works for nappies doesn't work for laptops). Partly because contextual advertising really works very well and involves fewer middle-men. The context is sufficient targeting.

            It's an all-round sustainable model with a larger & fairer proportion of total spend landing with the actual publication/site/channel.

      5. Oh Matron!

        Re: re: easier for advertisers if everyone just gave up on privacy

        So tell me.... How do they track road side adverts, TV commercials, etc, etc? That seems to be a business in rude health...

  3. doublelayer Silver badge

    Lies

    "For months, developers at Facebook and Apple have been trying to figure out a way to continue to allow advertisers to track ad conversions – to understand which ads people click on – in the web's increasingly complicated technical environment."

    No, they're not. It is easy to determine which ads people are clicking on. Let's say a company is running five different ads for the same thing and they want to measure whether there is a difference in effectiveness between the presentations. Here's how you do that:

    Ad 1: links to https://ispamyou.adnetwork/ad/1

    Ad 2: links to https://ispamyou.adnetwork/ad/2

    And so on. Or, because the short numbers will get reused:

    Ad 1: links to https://ispamyou.adnetwork/ad/aei6zln2

    Ad 2: links to https://ispamyou.adnetwork/ad/fl2ozvnp

    If you're on something which doesn't do custom paths, you can do the same thing with query parameters. Then you just dump the request in a database to look at later and redirect the user. Facebook could build a server to collect that if there is a user who lacks the technical knowledge to do it themselves. I wouldn't be surprised to hear they already have that. The privacy protection thing doesn't make that harder.

    What it does make harder and what Facebook wants to make easy again isn't figuring out what ads people are clicking on, but to figure out who the people are who click on the ads. Or do anything else online. That's what Apple's privacy measure is intended to protect. Facebook and its advertisers are angry about that and I understand why, but that's just too bad. They never asked my permission for invading my privacy. I will neither ask their permission nor care when they object to my blocking and impeding them.

  4. claimed

    The Etsy problem

    Is Etsy's problem. If you want to set up a multi tenant website and offer features to your customers, fine, but you can't force other websites to support those features.

    The best you can do is assume they comply with web standards, which are predicated on domains being seperate entities.

    1. DarkwavePunk

      Re: The Etsy problem

      I was thinking something similar. Fine, you want to flog stuff on Etsy and use their platform, whatever. At least set up your own domain name and have it forwarded to the Esty one. That way you have your own domain identity and get the "benefits" of their platform. I must be missing some kind of marketing ad-slinging voodoo that this would break.

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: The Etsy problem

        Yep. And if you want to know which ads or which platforms are best at triggering actual sales then invest some marketing bucks in finding out. For too long, customer privacy has been sacrificed to allow advertisers to get free marketing data.

        If you want to know "which half of my marketing budget is wasted" you need to spend money on market research. You can pay a competent market research company (good luck finding one of those nowadays as they have all given up due to there being no money in market research at the moment) or you can spend the budget internally. For example, take 10% of your sales and make the customer an offer to refund 10% of their purchase price if they will answer your survey ("how did you find our web page", "on which of these sites do you remember seeing an ad from us", etc.).

        Yes, that will cost some money. So sorry - but we, your customers, aren't willing to give you that information for free any more - we want something in return.

      2. Mitchy

        Re: The Etsy problem

        This undersells the value of Etsy (which IMO has been excellent at encouraging micro-commerce). Home bakers looking to sell their wares have no interest in setting up their own domain, nor do they have money to throw around on 'suck it and see' campaigns in different locations on the web.

        None of this is to say I think that the current tracking ecosystem is a good thing - but I think micro-sellers on Etsy have legitimate interests.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: The Etsy problem

          Of course they do. Yet their interests are not a reason I should have to sacrifice my privacy. If they want to track conversions, they can without having to create their own domain. If they want to know about their customers, they can send out a survey and see how many of the customers will fill it out for free, or they can have a prize to increase participation rates. If they want to track me elsewhere along with a massive company, too bad for them. I'm not going to let them do it if I can help it. Just because they're not making enough money to pay for ethical market research is not an excuse to let them violate others.

        2. hoola Silver badge

          Re: The Etsy problem

          All well and good except when everything is still sent from Amazon when you buy from an Etsy link.

  5. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    "Two weeks ago, Jothan Frakes, senior product manager at PLISK and PSL volunteer..."

    Wasn't he the bloke in Str Trk?

  6. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Bill Hicks said it best

    KYS

    1. Kane Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Bill Hicks said it best

      "KYS"

      I'll just leave this here, shall I?

  7. IGotOut Silver badge

    I do this without tracking

    If I were to run an ad on Facebook, I'd just send them to a landing page for that advert. No more complex than that. Different one for twitter. Different one for the daily mail.

    It's like the Facebook, Vero and Instagram links on my site, they are just a image set as a link. No tracking at all and the user knows no difference.

  8. DS999 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Why the fuck should we care if Facebook's tracking pixel works properly?

    What's wrong with Etsy sellers asking customers at checkout "where did you hear about this product?" and making Facebook one of the options? THEY are the ones who care whether Facebook ads have helped them or not, so THEY should be the ones getting information directly from customers.

    Facebook wants to keep things as they are so Etsy sellers have no choice but to trust Facebook's claims about ad conversion coming out of their black box, which I'm sure is totally accurate and when mistakes are made it is random whether it is in Facebook's favor or not.

    IMHO Apple shouldn't have their engineers waste time talking to Facebook about how to make their tracking pixel work. That's their problem, and it would be better for all of us if it ceased to be useful!

    1. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Why the fuck should we care if Facebook's tracking pixel works properly?

      Tracking pixels are a completely underhand method of tracking stuff and just go to show what lengths these wretched companies will go to.

      This is an arms race that anything on the side of the user or privacy is losing. We are barely playing catchup as there is so much money on the other side.

  9. YetAnotherJoeBlow Bronze badge
    FAIL

    IMHO...

    If the advertisers want to trespass on my phone, utilize my bandwidth, subsidize the cost of a new phone. If i want privacy, I will not get the subsidy.

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