Apple can’t protect you from data trackers forever. No one can

“The battle to protect your privacy is like a roller coaster, with breathtaking highs and turbulent lows,” Alfred Ng writes for CNET. “It is, after all, a constant game between the technology that guards your information and the trackers that find new ways to profile you.”

“Apple hit a high point for privacy last week,” Ng writes. “At its Worldwide Developers Conference, the consumer electronics giant introduced tools to protect your data by blocking ‘device fingerprinting’ and social media trackers on its Safari browser.”

“While privacy experts applaud Apple’s new features, they say it’s more like putting a Band-Aid on the internet’s massive privacy wound. That a company as massive and influential as Apple could struggle to adequately protect its users underscores the lengths to which trackers will go to get at your personal information,” Ng writes. “After all, Apple’s move pits it directly against an industry that includes Facebook and Google — companies that make it their business to track your information for targeted advertising.”

“And these companies are very good at what they do. ‘There is a long history of great success in bypassing these [trackers],’ said Lance Cottrell, the founder of Anonymizer and chief scientist at security company Ntrepid. ‘You’ll see advertisers worry that the world is coming to an end, and then pretty quickly, they seem to work around it,'” Ng writes. “Cottrell estimates that when you connect to a website, you’re likely connecting up to at least 20 different companies on one page. Their trackers can come as ads, Like buttons from Facebook, images and pixels — tiny, nearly invisible tracking tools that you’ll never notice.”

“Even if tech titans take on trackers, it won’t take long for advertisers to find a way around them. Data trackers have become too ingrained in how people go online, and a trackerless internet would be a completely different experience, Cottrell said,” Ng writes. “‘It would take a huge revolution in the way the internet functions to have that change meaningfully,’ he said. ‘We’ve all been trained so early to expect the web to be free. That requires online advertising, which is ineffective unless it’s targeted.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we discussed last month, a couple of years ago, the model that had worked since our inception (put some ads on your site, get paid enough to keep running it) cracked. The ad rates dropped significantly. Many sites’ revenue was cut dramatically. Some sites (like the long-lived MacNN) didn’t make it and closed up shop.

As our regular readers know, and as we’ve discussed with many longtime readers behind the scenes, our stopgap measure was to put up more ads to make up for the shortfall. And, it worked to the point where we can keep financing the site. But, it’s certainly not optimal. In fact, it’s a mess. We know it’s a mess. You know it’s a mess. And it makes us sad, along with many of you from whom we’ve heard.

We long to go back to the old days of fewer, better, more relevant, and less annoying ads making for a much less cluttered site. Being freed, even partially, from dealing with “The Ad Situation,” as we call it (maybe with an additional adjective or three), would also give us more time to concentrate on content.

An increasing number of our regular readers have suggested we try something like Patreon. Basically, we’d be asking readers to patronize the site (as opposed to patronizing our advertisers) by contributing a few dollars each month. Most Patreon sites offer something extra for patrons and we’d certainly do that (readers who patronize MacDailyNews would get extra articles written by SteveJack, for example, that would only be available to our reader patrons), but, if we did this, we’d also like to offer a twist that benefits all visitors:

Eliminate ads as the income they bring in are offset by Patreon.

So, not only would our patrons be getting something extra, they’d also be purging the site of ad positions. We’d simply remove ads as each ad position’s average monthly revenue is offset. Theoretically, we could get to the point where there would be no ads on the site at all. But, even along the way, everyone would benefit, thanks to the patrons.

Anyway, what do you think of that idea or do you have a better or additional ideas?

12 Comments

    1. $2-$5 per year ain’t gonna cut it. For what MDN describes (Patreon), I estimate it’d take at least $3 per month from regular visitors to begin seeing significant ad reduction.

  1. I’d subscribe, as I do at Slate and a couple of other sites that offer me articles I value as opinion, perspective, and insight. You, MDN, meet my requirements for subscribing for an annual fee.

    ~~Jazzbo

    PS. Related aside: I run Safari on my Mac with Ghostery installed and enabled. It blocks trackers and gives me visibility into what I’m allowing and what I’m blocking. The intrusiveness of trackers (etc) tipped me over the edge some years ago, long after I was working on the great Usenet hierarchy re-org. (I *am* old!)

  2. I think every content provider is struggling with this and there is no easy answer. Most people aren’t going to pay for a subscription. And a subscription is additional overhead and doesn’t really offer growth like serving up ads does.

    I despise the ads on MDN because they hijack your app and experience and would be willing to pay (as long as the content was something I couldn’t get for free elsewhere.). I do like the MDN takes so there’s that but not sure if that alone is worth paying for.

    I’m guessing this is a full time job and you’re trying to make money and income beyond just nominal expenses?

  3. The 1970s through the mid-1980s were times of innocence driven by the expectation of a peaceful, communal brotherhood in the future. Sharing and openness was the mindset…not security and certainly not privacy. Then the private sector go ahold of the internet and began milking it for profits. And, now, we complain about the data aggregators and trackers that naturally resulted from that combination of openness and flexibility and naivety.

    If we want to clamp down on the tracking garbage, then we will have to make compromises and sacrifices in the name of personal privacy. At this point, however, most people seem OK with allowing Google and Amazon and Facebook and Twitter and many other companies to vacuum up their information as they hop around the internet. I think that most of the complacency is due to ignorance of what is really happening. The rest is due to typical human apathy about the abstract – out of sight, out of mind.

  4. I think that your phased approach to eliminating ads is rather clever. It leverages a snippet of human psychology in terms of incentivizing people to join. Whether or not a subscription fee would be successful depends upon several factors. First, is your product unique? Is it sufficiently compelling for people to pay rather than looking elsewhere? Will you add features to improve your site and the user experience? Second, will the subscription add sufficient value to the client? Do we get something in response, other than just helping everyone else. Third, will the lack of a subscription hurt people who do not subscribe? For instance, consider limiting forum posts to subscribers… The trick is to make it hurt enough to induce people to subscribe, but so much that it chases people off who will never subscribe. Because I do not think that you will ever entirely eliminate advertisements. And advertisements will only pay if you maintain your viewer base.

  5. I donated before.

    If i had to pay USD10/yr this would be a no-brainer – I guess even 20. It‘d definitely be a „brainer“ if it‘s more than 40 bucks, but I wouldn‘t rule it out either.

    I really appreciate this website – especially SteveJacks comments. When I am busy I ignore the articles completrly but always check the articles for „MDN Take“ and SteveJacks conments.

    And I am always sad that there are no news during the weekends.

    Kind regards from Switzerland! 🤗

  6. I’d pay a monthly subscription fee if it were reasonable, say around $1.99 or $2.99 per month or something like that.

    I also strongly suggest that MDN start offering additional, original content. A weekly or even twice weekly commentary article would help add real value to the site,

    MDN’s comments on articles are often valuable and interesting (as well as hilarious), and I’d like to see MDN giving its take on current Apple issues and news. MDN might also want to hire some writers to add value to a monthly subscription fee.

    If you need a writer, let me know. I used to write the commentary on Apple for IDG’s CIO.com Eye On Apple site here:

    https://www.cio.com/blog/eye-on-apple/

    For a reasonable monthly fee, I’d be happy to write original articles about Apple for MDN and help the site offer original content.

  7. If every app starts asking to charge to block ads, that could add up.

    With MDN, my biggest complaint are ads that “hijack” MDN’s stories. I have significantly reduced my use of the app. Usually, I quit the first time I get hijacked. It’s unfortunate. But getting hijacked (sometimes multiple times trying to read the same story) is too annoying to continue. I complained once to MDN and got a “we cannot control it.” I read that as “we don’t care enough about you to try.” So I reduced my use of the app.

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