• Newsletter Issue #823

    September 7th, 2015


    In recent days, with speculation about the next iPhone more or less stabilizing around a basic set of specs, talk has increased over the form and function of the next Apple TV. One story quoted Steve Jobs on the subject back in 2010, bemoaning the inability of tech companies to replace the cable/satellite set-top box. His theory, that since can get them for just $10 a month, rental, competitive products are really going to have rough going. And don’t forget there are often several devices that might be hooked up to your set, such as a gaming console, Blu-ray player, and maybe even a video streaming box.

    Add to that the remotes — and yes, I realize there are universal remotes that promise to, more or less, replace them all, and you have the source of plenty of clutter. I have a Logitech remote that is programmed for the TV, soundbox, Blu-ray player and an Apple TV. It’s an awkward process to get any single function to start up properly, unless I hold remote just so to allow its signal to reach all the devices, and maybe not even then. The Logitech has a Help menu that attempts to fix things, but it usually requires extra steps to respond to the queries about whether a particular device is on or off.

    It’s a mess, and Apple would do wonders to straighten it all out, if they can. But is that what the next Apple TV is all about? Or will it just be a spruced up version of the one we have, with more functions and a higher price tag to justify the extra goodness? And what about reports that Apple is planning to introduce a subscription TV — someday? How does that fit into their strategy to conquer the living room?

    So this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. we presented Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. He discussed predictions about the fourth generation Apple TV. What new features can we expect? Will Apple raise the price, and what about 4K (Ultra HD) support? You also heard a debate about a recent commentary from columnist Jonny Evans, a friend of the show, who suggested Apple ought to consider making a version of OS X that’ll run in a virtual machine on a Windows box for enterprise use. Would that endanger sales of high priced Macs? And what about the admission, from an Apple executive, that they are working on fixes for Apple Music problems?

    You also heard from Avram Pitch, the Online Editorial Director for Laptop magazine. He also discussed what might be expected from the next Apple TV. The discussion also focused on Apple’s rumored plans for a subscription TV service, and the potential pitfalls of cord-cutting. What about cable and satellite companies offering a la carte, where you pick just the channels you want? There was also an extended discussion about ad-blockers, which are designed to shield you from ads on web sites. But is there a downside — the large potential loss of income by online publishers? I’ll have more to say about that shortly. Avram also briefly discussed the possibilities for a larger version of the iPad, subbed iPad Pro by the media.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris and Goggs Mackay are joined by Walter Bosley, an author, a former AFOSI agent and a former FBI counterintelligence specialist. They discuss a wide variety of subjects from pop culture, movie special effects, to so-called breakaway civilizations. So is it possible that UFOs and other unusual events are caused by individuals who have left our known world and are engaging in actions that we do not quite understand? The term was originally coined by UFO researcher and historian Richard Dolan to describe black budget projects, a secret space program, central bankers, secret societies and other agencies that fly under the radar. But Bosley feels there are actually two breakaway civilizations.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


    This is a self-serving column. I’ll say that up front, so you know my point of view without excuses. But stick with me for a little while, and maybe you’ll agree with me. You see, I’m talking about some widely installed browser extensions, or apps, that are costing companies billions of dollars in lost revenue.

    Do I have your attention?

    How about this oft-repeated statistic, that digital advertising totals $60 billion each year in the U.S. alone. But 25% of Internet users are running ad blockers to hide that content. No, I cannot tell you how much money is actually lost from ad blockers, although there are estimates in the billions of dollars.

    Now imagine any industry where that much money is left on the table. It means that people might lose their jobs, publishers might go out of business, or be forced to establish paywalls for their online content. So with the Washington Post, for example, you are allowed to read up to 10 articles, free, each month. After that number is reached, you are taken to a page where you are told to pay up if you want more. But I wonder how that works towards persuading readers to go elsewhere, or maybe enough sign after sampling the material to make it all worthwhile regardless.

    But consider this: Web advertisers demand performance, more so than broadcast and newspaper ads. Something that merely builds brand awareness, reinforced by repetition, doesn’t count. They want to see evidence of exposures, or impressions, and clicks. If your click is converted to a sale, and the tracking mechanism needs to be accurate to make that determination, particularly if it’s not all done in a single process, that’s considered prime evidence of an advertising medium’s viability.

    We carry some Google AdSense banners, and we get paid if you click on those ads. There is no other factor that generates money from that source. It doesn’t matter if you see the ad and, eventually, buy the product somewhere based on seeing it over and over again. It has to be immediate gratification, since that’s the way a pay-per-click ad works. If you are caught repeatedly clicking on those ads yourself to increase your payout, watch out. You might just lose the opportunity to run those banners.

    So basically digital advertising requires more of the publisher than other forms of advertising. While the rates paid by advertisers has actually decreased — and Google has reported this in their recent financial reports — if more and more people do not see those ads, the publisher loses even more money.

    So what about ad blockers? Well, Adblock Plus is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, although there are other ways for you to block ads. Malware apps and other ad blocking utilities come to mind. Adblock Plus is offered as an extension to your browser, and that includes Safari. When you go to their site, and I will not list it here for obvious reasons, you are offered the version that works with the browser detected for your visit.

    Now Adblock Plus offers different ways to shield you from the ads you don’t want. One is just to block everything. Another is to allow “acceptable ads,” which are provided by advertisers or publishers that meet the company’s requirements. And they can be stringent. When I checked, there were references to text-only, no animation, and clear labeling as ads. But I hardly think a traditional web banner requires an “advertising” label, since its intent is obvious.

    Adblock Plus earns revenue from donations and from publishers who participate in its “acceptable ads” program.

    I don’t want to be graphic about this, but paying an entity to allow your ads to be seen comes across to me as ransom. If you don’t want to be blocked, prepare to accept the program and pay up. I don’t begrudge the right to earn a living, but this scheme doesn’t strike me as fair. Advertisers or publishers who cannot afford to pay the piper are in danger of losing the revenue they need to survive.

    Now I am not going to argue that you should always accept web ads, or not use an ad blocker. Usually you can enter exceptions and allow some content to appear with ads intact.

    I would hope our sites are included.

    Unfortunately, some web publishers are not making the experience of seeing ads terribly pleasant.

    Consider USA Today. It has a lot of material I’d like to read, but far too much of it contains embedded autoplay videos. You call up the page, and within seconds, something starts playing, even if the page is in the background. It come be startling if you’re busy listening to something else, or cherish your silence while working on your computing device. Indeed, Safari for OS X El Capitan is one browser that will allow you to kill the unwanted audio with a single click, and that’s a good thing.

    Other advertisers throw up so-called interstitial ads, huge things that suddenly insert themselves between you and the content you want to read. Usually you can click them away, but sometimes you have to look at the huge banner or multimedia presentation to find the exit button or link. I find it irritating and do not accept such ads, although a few advertisers will occasionally put up a smaller display that can be easily dismissed.

    Most ads we present have limited animation, and do not generate audio without your approval. I don’t want to see our ads interfere with your ability to read the content. Unfortunately, far too many publishers do not consider your comfort and peace of mind when they throw things in your face willy nilly hoping that you’ll click on something and help them earn their keep.

    That sort of behavior is what increases the number of users who install Adblock Plus or a similar extension. Unfortunately, it’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The vast majority of sites who present ads in a tasteful manner are hidden just as easily as those who don’t. Regardless, unless you set the option to block everything, you may still see ads that they consider acceptable in large part because someone paid them for the privilege.

    As some of you know, I have anti-ad block utilities installed on most of my sites. They are designed to detect if you’re using an ad blocker, and put up a gentle message reminding you that we are paid by advertisers so we can stay in business, and wouldn’t you please allow our ads to appear?

    What’s more, if you see an advertiser putting up content that is presented in an offensive manner, let me know right away and I’ll try to fix it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of setting up an exception in an ad network’s control panel.

    Consider this: Web publishers are entitled to be paid for their work. Just as you can fast forward through ads on a podcast or a TV show, you can block the ads if you want. But when too many people do that, incomes suffer. Or publishers are forced to charge extra to make up the difference. I do offer versions of my two radio shows free of network ads — for a price.

    So I hope you will think about what I have to say. If you’re using an ad blocker, please also consider the harmful consequences to the company who is providing the material you want to read. Is that what you really want?


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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    13 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #823”

    1. Harry Harold says:

      I chose not to use an ad blocker for a long time because advertising supported websites that I cared about. Even though I liked the idea of micro-payments (pay a few cents to read each article), it has never caught one, and even I must admit that I would rather put up with advertising on some sites than pay for the content. But I use an ad blocker now because of tracking. I don’t like companies following me around the web, building a profile about me that, research now shows, can identify me even if my name is never sucked off a web page slowing down my browsing, and making money off me — all without my permission and despite my explicit request not to be tracked. (Why did you not even mention tracking-based advertising in your column?) Recently, a major news site asked me to turn my ad blocker off. I am not going to turn my ad blocker off as long as I am being tracked. But it is wrong for me to read the news on that site, not view ads, and not pay for reading the content. So I chose to stop visiting the site. Now everyone loses. So my suggestion is: either stop tracking or enable micro-payments. If you do neither and ask me to turn off my ad blocker, I just won’t visit your sites. I lose, you lose, the advertisers lose, and the trackers lose. But maybe someone with a better idea will win in the long term.

      • @Harry Harold, We don’t track anyone’s ad behavior or preferences. But some ad networks do. You can disable tracking in browsers or, in iOS, as a system setting (Privacy > Limit Ad Tracking), if you want to stay invisible. That has little to do with the ad blocker.


    2. Harry Harold says:

      Good for you for not tracking. Almost every site does. Sorry, some of my comments were irrelevant for your site.

      I don’t think that disabling tracking is as easy as you say. I’m not aware of any browser, certainly not my preferred browser, Safari, that can disable tracking. The most that can be done is to state a preference not to be tracked, which trackers just ignore. As I understand it, “limit ad tracking” (note: not “prevent” ad tracking), works with apps on iOS, but not in browsers (and requires developers to play by the rules, which they may not). I use an application on my desktop computer that removes tracking cookies periodically, but even it cannot prevent them from getting installed in the first place and working for some time.

      Does ad tracking have little to do with ad blocking? On your sites, yes. Kudos to you. On other sites? I guess that one could limit tracking as I do and still accept ad, so you’re right. I used to use that approach. Then I got fed up with the amount of tracking. I have seen up to thirty trackers on a single page. It’s ridiculous. So my attitude has evolved to: “As long as you abuse me, slow down my browsing, ignore my preferences, etc., I’m not going to help you make money.” Not visiting the sites that track would be more ethical, but, really, that would effectively mean not using the Web. Thus, blanket ad blocking.

      What to do about exceptions such as your sites? Should I make the effort to find out which sites do not track and to white-list them? Maybe. But it seems like too much effort. Would be better if advertisers and site managers just behaved better.

      • @Harry Harold, It all depends on what you define as tracking, and we aren’t a commerce site. Web sites keep stats on who visits them, and those are recorded in a mass of statistics about what browsers they use, what operating systems they use, their locations, etc. But that is not tracking any individual’s actual behavior beyond what stories they click on, and this is used as a tool in which to gauge circulation.

        That’s not tracking in the sense of wanting to know what ads you prefer, which is the province of an ad delivery network. They will track that to determine which ads you want to see. That can benefit you unless you want to see ads that are of questionable legality. But it’s not necessarily a limiting factor on your personal privacy, because you can ask them not to track you (even Google will stop if you convey that message in your browser settings or through an anti-tracking network).

        When you click on an ad, obviously that action is recorded, but most often to determine if you visited the site so the advertiser knows that someone is looking and what their preferences might be. It’s the sort of tracking that is good business for you and the advertiser, since they want to sell you a product or service. That’s the sort of tracking that benefits you in the sense that you can return to the site and receive content or offers that fit your pattern, and for the publisher, who benefits from income if people are responding to ad campaigns.

        So, again, you have to define what sort of tracking you’re talking about. Obviously, if you login to anything, you are being tracked in the sense of being able to return without logging in again. So, yes, if you join our forums, we have to feed a cookie so the forum software knows that you are logged in and can return without inconvenience. But that sort of tracking is not impacting what ads you see.


        • Further: When you buy something in a physical store, they are tracking you in the sense that your information is recorded in a sales receipt, and that information about buying patterns is used to determine what stock to carry. And please don’t forget to tell the store owner to turn off the security cameras so they can’t see what merchandise you linger on, or whether you’re stealing something.

          We all want privacy, we all deserve privacy. But there are times when you have to connect to something to see the content you want, buy the products or services you want, and make sure it is you and not someone else trying to access your account.

          So you may want to visit a site and let the ads appear in rotation from networks without them knowing which ads you might like to see. That’s fine. But wouldn’t it be nice if, when you are looking for a new car, the cookies are sent, so you’ll see car-related offers? Or offers for a new mattress if you’re in the market for one?

          Getting the best value from a site that wants you to buy something requires a small limitation to your personal privacy so they can cater to your needs. Consider the tracking Amazon does as your personal shopper. It makes your visit to their site more productive.

          Limit what you want, but please be realistic about what you are giving up in terms of convenience.


    3. BDK says:

      I don’t pay any attention to ads or commercials. Only one time in my life has an ad persuaded me to buy something. That said, if an ad tries to jump in my face for attention, I’m blocking it. And since I don’t pay any attention to any of them, I block them all.

    4. Undisclosed Name a la Dick Cheney says:

      Hi Gene,
      Commercial sites and blogs can not be trusted to not “track,” whatever that may mean in a real sense. And neither can the NSA be trusted to not track as well as the myriad of other Police state entities whose business under the US Patriot Act and the yearly spy authorizations acts passed by the US Congress.

      But let’s call it what it really is: Peeping Tomism, spying, and stalking.

      Those federal spy agencies are sneaky: They can simply purchase commercially gathered info on innocent citizens who use your site or, in another instance, MacDailyNews, if the law prohibits them from getting that info on their own. Then they use many Socialist companies who live off of gov. contracts such as Booz Allen Hamilton of Edward Snowden fame to make sense of all the raw data.

      Now, you might say, “Gee, why would the NSA, et al, be interested in this reader’s reading TechNightOwl?” The answer is that the NSA collects all, all of the time, forever, everything, even the most innocuous stuff. Why? Because all of it can benefit the creation of a portfolio on a citizen – and get this – in the event that it needs to build a case on a reader. This is the true definition of “big gub’mnt,” not some poor and desperte mother stealing a few extra dollars from a SS program to fix her kid’s teeth.

      So far, I love ad blockers and tracking blockers because they make it just a little harder for the over-reaching and hostile National Security Police State to track my behavior and thoughts. Don’t you agree?

      So, who is to blame from my perspective? Why, it’s the National Security Police State Apparatus in the form of the NSA, CIA, NRO, and the various military intelligences who pool their resources into one neat, huge package, ready to command and control, (i.e., oppress.”

      If you want me to stop ad blockers and trackers, get rid of the US Patriot Act and similar anti-democratic programs.

    5. dfs says:

      Okay, I realize that people who maintain websites gotta eat and that, like everybody else, they are entitled to make a living by their work. But the problem is that web advertising can be more or less intrusive, or, put a bit differently, more or less ethical, and surely the end user ought to have the right to defend himself from stuff like popups that interfere with his ability to look at the stuff he wants to look at. Or, far, far worse, advertising that plants code on our machines? That’s about as rude and offensive as if somebody were to march into my house uninvited and take a dump on my living room carpet, and i. m. h. o. some of the worst of these tactics ought to be criminalized just as much as any other form of home invasion. Taken as a whole, the web advertising industry does at best an indifferent job of policing itself, and that’s probably an overoptimistic evaluation. Given this fact, what’s the poor user to do but arm himself with whatever defensive measures he can lay his hands on? Gene, rather than just venting your spleen on ad-blockers and those of us who use them, maybe you ought to focus some of your attention on the rotten apples who cut into your income by compelling us to adopt these protective measures?

      • @dfs, You mean like USA Today and its autoplay videos? I do, but publishers who don’t present offensive ads shouldn’t suffer. If a site doesn’t deliver the experience you want, stay away. Don’t penalize everyone.


        • dfs says:

          @Gene Steinberg, That’s a very weak and naive response, as if avoiding offensive should be entirely MY responsibility. Like everybody else in the world, I visit new sites all the time and have no way of knowing in advance what kind of experience I’m going to have with any given one. Usually it’s a good one, but every now and then it can be horrible. No, Gene, there’s something very wrong with the net advising industry as a whole if it wants to thrust the entire responsibility on me, regard any kind of behavior as acceptable, and disown any kind of responsibility for the actions of its more wayward members. Plenty of other professions and industries have established codes of ethics and are self-policing. Why in the world should this particular one be exempt? In a lot of ways the web is still the Wild West, and in that kind of environment I’m going to bring along every kind of weapon I can find. I can’t imagine any sane person who wouldn’t.

    6. Duane says:

      In the past I did not use ad blockers. But ‘some’ sites got to be so nasty (close one popup and another opens immediately!) that in self defense I now block all of them. I’m not sure on how to tell the ad blocker program to permit ads on a specific site. Rather than take a chance on unblocking everything, I block it all. At my age of 77 I don’t imagine I am missing much. Rarely did I see an ad that applied to me. Occasionally I will go back and use the German shareware browser ‘iCab’ which doesn’t seem to block anything. I am astonished at the number of ads that show up! As long as these sites continue their obnoxious behavior, I’l continue to block them.

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