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What is an advert?

Discussion of EasyList subscription policy

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Michael
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What is an advert?

Post by Michael » Thu Jun 23, 2011 7:28 pm

The basic principle of EasyList is that its "filters must remove adverts". However, several discussions, usually with website owners, have highlighted an obvious issue: we have not defined what an advert is. I am therefore going to attempt to provide and justify criteria that will determine what an advert is and would welcome all contributions.

I would like to start the discussion with my initial definition, derived from my previous rule of thumb: an advert is "the promotion of third party content in return for goods or services". I have further defined an explained some of the terms below.

"Promotion"
Specifying that an advert must be promotion means that a factual link (e.g. "Adblock Plus is a Firefox add-on.") cannot be an advert as it lacks a marketing aspect, nor can an independent review, as it critically examines all facets of the content, not just the positive aspects.

"Third-party"
The aim of a website is to entice users to read more of its own content, and it would be ridiculous to block internal links, regardless of how positively they are portrayed - there would be no domains left! Furthermore, a person who has visited a website presumably desires to view the content of the domain and should not be hindered in doing so by a filter subscription. Whether websites are third-party or first-party (what happens if one person owns two domains?) would be a question for the author to consider.

"... in return for goods or services"
An important question that has been raised is whether an advert requires the exchange of money, to which I would respond that it is not an essential element. Money may be one of the goods returned, but there may also be services provided in return which would mean that the link would be necessitated. Therefore a link to, say, the web host would be removed if this is a link required as a provision of service, but not if the description is merely factual, as this would not be promotion.

How does this match up with other peoples' definitions of adverts?

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Post by Tarun » Thu Jun 23, 2011 9:52 pm

So what would linking to other websites be considered as in your above definition?

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Post by Michael » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:08 am

In the case of your affiliate program:

"Promotion"
In my opinion, the links go beyond the factual by being images on the homepage of your website - we have certainly seen similar arrangements for adverts.

"Third-party"
The links are third-party websites.

"... in return for goods or services"
The affiliate program results in reciprocal links, a service provided as a result of the image being placed on your homepage.

My current definition of adverts therefore appears to include link affiliate programs. Is there any qualification that you would propose is added to the definition to exclude an edge case such as your own while still ensuring that items that we all agree are adverts are classified as such?

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Post by anonymous74100 » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:42 am

Michael wrote:"... in return for goods or services"
How do you prove this? How can you know the website owner gets any goods or services for displaying something in his site? Most ads don't have a message next to it that says "this is an ad and I get money for displaying it".

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Post by Tarun » Fri Jun 24, 2011 4:13 pm

If an affiliate website link has a referrer url then I could see that as being an advertisement. But if you look into the source and all you see is the image link and a link such as

Code: Select all

<a href="http://www.example.com" target="_blank"><img here /></a>
then I see nothing that merits it being blocked. Websites that do a link exchange are obviously putting this content on and it is unchanging. However with advertisements those ads are constantly changing. In fact, the advertisement content is being served from another url entirely.

On my website there are no advertisements. I have said this since the beginning. There are no ads and I have no plans to implement any ads. I honestly found it rather offensive that being able to affiliate/recommend other websites was considered advertising. People that I have spoken with about this very matter have said quite plainly that a website linking to other websites (where said websites link back) is not advertising, it's a link exchange.
It's very common on many websites and to view it as any form of advertising is absurd.
Advertisements are served from another website. Yet affiliates/recommended links are served from the website itself. On my site, every affiliate image is served straight from my website. I control the content/images that are served in the links to other/friend sites. When a website is in control of what is being served to their visitors I see no reason to block it.

With that said, advertisements are served from a third-party website. Let's say that your website is example.com and you're using Google Ads. I believe they're served from googlesyndication.com. The content that is displayed is not controlled much at all by the webmaster of example.com. I think you have to log in to Google Ads to filter anything but I'm not sure, I don't have a Google Ads account.

On a few gaming sites where I help moderate as a PC Tech, I've seen reports of ads serving up viruses. To me, that means that when you're using something that served up advertisements from well known ad companies that are using random content, then that falls within the parameters of being allowed to be blocked.

But if you're displaying a simple image with a link to another website, that's not advertising. You're in full control of the content served.
Example:

Code: Select all

<a href="http://www.example2website.com/"><img src="http://www.example.com/images/button.png" /></a>
In this example the image is being served from your own website linking to one that you recommended.

I would even go as far as to say that if the image is being pulled from the destination website that it shouldn't qualify as advertising either. Though that is actually a bad practice that some webmasters still do, I've come to learn.
Example:

Code: Select all

<a href="http://www.example2website.com/"><img src="http://www.example2website.com/images/button.png" /></a>

Hope this makes sense.

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Post by Michael » Mon Jun 27, 2011 5:46 pm

In terms of how we know whether an item is loaded in exchange for goods or services, we usually partially discover this when filtering a site. If checking a third-party we often look at information about a business if the website is not clear on what exactly it provides. Furthermore, I would suggest that it is reasonable to assume that, unless indicated otherwise, most promotions of third party products are funded by an external organisation - I cannot imagine website owners would decorate their domains thus otherwise.

Tarun, as I understand it there are two extensions to the definition of an advert that you have proposed: that an advertisement requires a referrer and that an advertisement only qualifies as such if it is hosted third-party. Is this correct and have I missed any other possible qualifications?

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Post by Tarun » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:37 pm

Basically, I'd like to see a way where websites can suggest/recommend other sites without worry that their images or link section will be blocked. In fact, I can say that as a surfer I've learned of some other sites that are relevant to my interests by these types of Recommended/Affiliates/etc. links that I never would have learned of if they were filtered/blocked.

See, I honestly don't see anything really wrong if there's an image link being pulled from the site that is being linked to. But I hope that was fairly clear in my previous post. Both of the examples in the codeboxes above, I would deem as being safe and there being no need to filter them.

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Post by Michael » Wed Jun 29, 2011 6:42 am

The issue is that, according our definition of an advert, link exchange schemes should be removed by EasyList. Specifying that adverts may only be defined as such if they are hosted third-party is incomplete given the hundreds of rules present for first-party adverts, and the security advantage of EasyList should be seen as a consequence of filtering adverts, not a purpose - the subscription is certainly no substitute for anti-virus software. I am also reasonably certain that advertisers would argue that their content should inform users of relevant sites - it is the best way for them to make money.

Personally, I would prefer to see link schemes replaced with review blog posts. An independent review of a domain that a webmaster likes will ultimately be a recommendation, but will also inform a user and, due to the critical evaluation, not be defined as an advert and therefore not removed by EasyList. However, the subscription is about objective decisions. One possibility is to define "advert" more specifically such that it excludes link exchanges, yet to do so neutrally and precisely will be difficult.

Assuming that link exchanges merit special consideration, I would propose that we instead discuss whether it might be advisable, on a utilitarian basis, for EasyList not to remove such content, which is mostly first-party and generally nowhere near as annoying as other adverts. Given the number of sites on which link exchanges are present and the amount of EasyList maintenance that would be required, does it really benefit users to filter such items when there are other adverts that could be eliminated?

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Post by Tarun » Wed Jun 29, 2011 4:01 pm

Please, by all means, propose some details for review. :)

I believe that I have made my point clear that Recommended/Affiliates type links to other sites (including images for said sites if present). I've even asked some of my friends if they believe that these images/links/content blocks should be filtered out and so far not a single person has said yes they should be blocked. They're to be expected, they raise awareness of sites similar to the one you're visiting and are a common non-advertising practice.

As I have stated before, I see no benefit for end-users who use Adblock Plus and Easylist to have Recommended/Affiliates to be filtered out. With that said I defer to my previous statement, "I can say that as a surfer I've learned of some other sites that are relevant to my interests by these types of Recommended/Affiliates/etc. links that I never would have learned of if they were filtered/blocked." With that said, would you agree there is a positive benefit to not having those filters in place?

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Post by Michael » Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:02 pm

Tarun wrote:They're to be expected, they raise awareness of sites similar to the one you're visiting and are a common non-advertising practice.
Yet we do not have a definition that clearly distinguishes between link exchanges and advertisements.
Tarun wrote:"I can say that as a surfer I've learned of some other sites that are relevant to my interests by these types of Recommended/Affiliates/etc. links that I never would have learned of if they were filtered/blocked." With that said, would you agree there is a positive benefit to not having those filters in place?
I can see that adverts might be advantageous in that respect, but back when I saw automated adverts - which is nigh on two years ago now - they were poorly targeted and I therefore never saw any interesting links. Furthermore, I find that the privacy and security disadvantages outweigh any potential benefits that I could derive from adverts.

I further detest adverts because I find them to be very demeaning. The basic premise ("You must buy product x and will do so after seeing this advert") is, in my opinion, a sad reflection of society if this is genuinely what occurs. I believe that, if people want to purchase something, they should make that decision independently and be permitted to review the item from a neutral perspective. To remove a person's autonomy by attempting to enforce a corporate opinion upon an individual is nigh on immoral - at least in my opinion.

In other less ideological news, I'm finishing a post about a possible exception for link exchanges for discussion tomorrow.

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Post by Tarun » Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:42 pm

An exception for link exchanges sounds reasonable. :)

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