31 votes

Can killing cookies save journalism? A Dutch public broadcaster got rid of targeted digital ads and its revenues went up 62-79%

16 comments

  1. [9]
    Eric_the_Cerise
    Link
    I was very impressed by this article. It is a new approach, contextual ads but dynamically sold and highly micro-targeted, just like current user-targeted ads, except based on web page content....

    I was very impressed by this article. It is a new approach, contextual ads but dynamically sold and highly micro-targeted, just like current user-targeted ads, except based on web page content.

    And the idea, specifically, that this approach could reverse the death spiral of Internet journalism, that's very appealing.

    But then I went and visited the actual websites mentioned in the article ... you know, that ones that "completely abandoned using cookies to track users"?

    And guess what? Cookies.

    And my uMatrix and NoScript plugins both identified several google-based libraries — maybe trackers, maybe just pretty menus — but suspicious, either way.

    16 votes
    1. sron
      Link Parent
      Cookies are definitely only part of the problem. We've still got analytics, fonts, fingerprinting and so on.

      Cookies are definitely only part of the problem. We've still got analytics, fonts, fingerprinting and so on.

      10 votes
    2. [7]
      Kuromantis
      Link Parent
      Do you mind taking a screenshot or any confirmation? Because this is basically saying this article is fake news and should be treated as such.

      Do you mind taking a screenshot or any confirmation? Because this is basically saying this article is fake news and should be treated as such.

      1 vote
      1. Moonchild
        Link Parent
        Chrome's 'cookies.txt' extension reports these cookies for https://over.npo.nl/:...

        Chrome's 'cookies.txt' extension reports these cookies for https://over.npo.nl/:

        over.npo.nl	FALSE	/	FALSE	1596944162	XSRF-TOKEN	eyJpdiI6IkxmcXRHRFEwb2lLQmdEOVwva2MySzhBPT0iLCJ2YWx1ZSI6IlJiVEdraENCOGVTNG1aY0pBdTB0RjNzbXBVTzZjTitVaGVVK3BWcmxOZ05JdDdkbGNRNmtKU29sZzZrVEZvbW0iLCJtYWMiOiJiNWRlNWY0OTc0ZTI3ZGU0YjllODIyNDFlNDFiOTY0Y2JlNjI3ZWY5YzdkMmI3M2I3YjBmOGQwYzVlZWUzYTAzIn0%3D
        over.npo.nl	FALSE	/	FALSE	1596944162	laravel_session	eyJpdiI6IkZrYkpiQ29KamdBM2dIWjFpMUtTRlE9PSIsInZhbHVlIjoicDh2TXpYNW4yQ1hKNXdxZGVSY0d6cTdlQ1RJUHc1cmtxZnExaTVYUU16MGpJR09rQ1NhSFl2NlwvMmNWYWJ4YWwiLCJtYWMiOiI5ZTYyNzNjNWMwMzQzNTVkODA4NjVjMmMzY2U1OTcyZTg2MWM0ZTIxMmRkNTNlYTJkYTI0M2I1NjFjMGE1NjhhIn0%3D
        over.npo.nl	FALSE	/	FALSE	0	balancer://npop4cluster	balancer.npop4d
        .npo.nl	TRUE	/	FALSE	1596940563	CCM_Wrapper_Cache	eyJ2ZXIiOiJ2My4xLjEwIiwianNoIjoiIiwiY2lkIjoiR2dyYUJ0Q2krNXRHMXc9PSIsImNvbmlkIjoiZWJsbGYifQ==
        .npo.nl	TRUE	/	FALSE	1612488963	Cookie_Consent	false
        .npo.nl	TRUE	/	FALSE	1628472963	CCM_ID	GgraBtCi+5tG1w==
        .npo.nl	TRUE	/	FALSE	2227656963	Cookie_Category_Necessary	true
        .npo.nl	TRUE	/	FALSE	2227656963	Cookie_Category_Analytics	true
        .npo.nl	TRUE	/	FALSE	1612488963	Cookie_view	1
        
        2 votes
      2. [4]
        Grzmot
        Link Parent
        uBlock Origin lists these domains on https://www.omroepbrabant.nl/ omroepbrabant.nl api.omroepbrabant.nl www.omroepbrabant.nl cloudflare.com ajax.cloudflare.com dimml.io cdn.dimml.io faktor.io...

        uBlock Origin lists these domains on https://www.omroepbrabant.nl/

        omroepbrabant.nl
        api.omroepbrabant.nl
        www.omroepbrabant.nl
        cloudflare.com
        ajax.cloudflare.com
        dimml.io
        cdn.dimml.io
        faktor.io
        config-prod.choice.faktor.io
        googletagmanager.com
        www.googletagmanager.com
        
        1 vote
        1. [3]
          Adys
          Link Parent
          None of these are advertising related. Well, GTM can be, but it looks to be only used for analytics.

          None of these are advertising related. Well, GTM can be, but it looks to be only used for analytics.

          13 votes
          1. [2]
            Grzmot
            Link Parent
            I'm not claiming they are (I'm not OP), I was just trying to provide more information.

            I'm not claiming they are (I'm not OP), I was just trying to provide more information.

            2 votes
      3. Eric_the_Cerise
        Link Parent
        I'm posting a new top-level comment, expanding on this.

        I'm posting a new top-level comment, expanding on this.

        1 vote
  2. [5]
    sron
    Link
    Cutting out the middlemen and using contextual rather than microtargeted advertising helped increase revenues. Hopefully this approach will be used more widely in the future.

    Cutting out the middlemen and using contextual rather than microtargeted advertising helped increase revenues. Hopefully this approach will be used more widely in the future.

    9 votes
    1. [4]
      Gaywallet
      Link Parent
      While cutting out the middlemen is nice, I think there's something to say about sort of relevant but not hyper-relevant ads. The example of hungry people looking at food more willing to buy...

      While cutting out the middlemen is nice, I think there's something to say about sort of relevant but not hyper-relevant ads.

      The example of hungry people looking at food more willing to buy snickers I think holds true across a lot of what we do on the internet. If I see an ad about a tech service on a news article about tech, it doesn't stand out to me in the same way that an add for say, dishwashing detergent because they happen to know I buy this and it's been x amount of time since I've bought some.

      How many times have we all told or heard a story about talking about a product and then an ad showing up for said product minutes or hours later when we were doing something else - joking that alexa or google must have overheard the conversation. More likely it's these hyper targeted ads that are tracking our behaviors, but I think the key here is that these hyper targeted ads have the ability to focus attention on the ad and make it very clear that it is a targeted ad instead of a more subconscious oh hey that looks like a good idea, let me click that link and buy some.

      9 votes
      1. daturkel
        Link Parent
        I was also very taken by the Snickers analogy. I work in recommendation/personalization and so I was very intrigued by the implications of it to recommendation systems—it helped me to better put...

        I was also very taken by the Snickers analogy. I work in recommendation/personalization and so I was very intrigued by the implications of it to recommendation systems—it helped me to better put words to some thoughts I'd been having for a while. I'll re-jigger some tweets I wrote into a comment here:

        Focusing only on user-based personalization can lead to a form of over-fitting where we always assume that past behavior can tell us what's most relevant to a user. But if the past is a good signal for user's latent taste, it can still completely miss their current needs.

        There's ongoing work on learning a user's context real-time, but I think it's often ok to just let the user tell the application what they're up to. For Netflix, that might be as simple as selecting the genre, for adtech it could mean letting the user pick topics of interest. My Youtube viewing habits are a mix of semi-educational tech videos, live music performances, movie trailers, and occasional gaming stuff—and they're all mixed together in my homepage recommendations. It would be lovely to open Youtube and say "this is a music browsing session" and have the experience tailored to that.

        If we think of personalization as a "push" model, where the user's wants are inferred and given to them without asking, I'm interested in more integration of search/"pull" model where the user can guide the personalization.

        10 votes
      2. [2]
        Diff
        Link Parent
        That's an interesting idea, sort of like an ad targeting uncanny valley where they're simultaneously really good and not good enough? I definitely wonder if that might be the case, since this...

        That's an interesting idea, sort of like an ad targeting uncanny valley where they're simultaneously really good and not good enough? I definitely wonder if that might be the case, since this isn't the first time some internet site has found that contextual ads are just as good as targetted ones. As another example, DuckDuckGo only uses ads based on the context of your search term and they've said it works well for them.

        5 votes
        1. Gaywallet
          Link Parent
          Yeah I think there's a good middle point where they're unobtrusive and not too targeted in which people are likely to notice them rather than treat them as noise, but also not so targeted as to be...

          sort of like an ad targeting uncanny valley where they're simultaneously really good and not good enough?

          Yeah I think there's a good middle point where they're unobtrusive and not too targeted in which people are likely to notice them rather than treat them as noise, but also not so targeted as to be creepy.

          But that's just my highly nonacademic theory. Frankly I haven't dived into the science of ads all that much.

          4 votes
  3. [2]
    Eric_the_Cerise
    Link
    So, I posted a comment here, saying "cool article, but the website in question doesn't seem to match the story". Several people asked for more detail. First issue is, the article itself never...

    So, I posted a comment here, saying "cool article, but the website in question doesn't seem to match the story". Several people asked for more detail.

    First issue is, the article itself never actually identifies which website(s) to which it refers. I originally assumed NPO website was https://www.npostart.nl/ , that's the first hit I got on my search. Others have pointed out https://over.npo.nl/ , plus the company is a large media group. They have many subsidiary sites, and exactly which sites are included, I'm just not sure.

    Near the end of the article, they link to a Brave study, which confirms the article's basic theme, and lists many NPO subsidiary websites (but also no parent site?). The article also links directly to one subsidiary site, https://www.omroepmax.nl/ .

    Now, all that said, you can just go visit any of these sites, and the first thing you get (ahem, in Dutch) is the familiar "we use cookies" pop-up.

    Furthermore, upon closer reading, the article says they got rid of all "third party tracking/cookies" (that is to say, advertising cookies). I guess that means they still use cookies for their own website. It's still a huge step, but it definitely loses some of its impact.

    Keep in mind, I do not speak Dutch. IDK what those "we use cookies" messages actually say. Might be worth getting those details.

    Finally, between uMatrix and NoScript, on various subsidiary websites, I see things like

    • ajax.googleapis.com
    • gstatic.com
    • googletagmanager.com
    • fonts.googleapis.com
    • fonts.gstatic.com

    Notably, right now, on what I think is the parent site, https://www.npostart.nl/ , I see absolutely no google-like, nor any other tracking-like, libraries. I could have sworn I saw a couple there the other day, but perhaps I mixed up my sites at the time.

    7 votes
    1. Wes
      Link Parent
      None of these domains are related to ads or tracking though, are they? At most GTM can be used to bootstrap analytics, but it's not like you're going through DoubleClick or something.

      None of these domains are related to ads or tracking though, are they? At most GTM can be used to bootstrap analytics, but it's not like you're going through DoubleClick or something.

      4 votes