An advert against online privacy

“No, you can take anything… just don’t take my apps!”

An advert against online privacy

Not everyone is in favour of better privacy online.

The advertising industry, for instance, has its knickers in a twist so tightly about European privacy regulations that it made videos like this to try to sway public opinion:

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Their argument?

“Data-driven ad revenue helps make high quality journalism possible. With that revenue diminished, funding for a wide choice of media content will be squeezed. Many independent publishers will start to downsize, and some may even disappear making it more difficult to hold power to account. For the consumer this means far fewer independent sources of information and less diversity of opinion.”

Consumers, they are argue, will be confused, exhausted, and unable to cope if they are given choice about which websites they wish to grant access to their private information.

It begins to sound like a bad movie, when advertisers tell us we face an apocalyptic app wasteland due to the lack of income from data-driven ads:

“The tech startups behind some of the world’s best apps often rely on data-driven ad revenue to offer their apps for free and scale up their companies. Without it, their business model basically falls apart. Less revenue will mean fewer startups and eventually fewer apps for consumers.”

Or, I guess, you could just charge the price of one cup of coffee each year if people wanted to use it.

“Europeans prefer to access content and services for free, but without revenue from data-driven ads free stuff will be in severely short supply. From one day to the next, consumers could be in for rude awakening that requires them to pay up or be left in the cold.”

The challenge that the tech industry is facing is that users are increasingly waking up to the fact that so-called “free” content and services often aren’t free at all. You’re paying by being tracked, and through the collection and exploitation of your data.

Over-the-top videos like “Like a Bad Movie”, made by a tarnished online advertising industry, don’t make me want to have less privacy regulations, they make me want to see more.

What do you think? Are you convinced by the video? Leave aa comment below.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

12 comments on “An advert against online privacy”

  1. stine

    Ad revenue is down. If you read Cyanide & Happiness, you know that their revenue was down enough that they started a account to crowdfund their operations. In less than a week, they had met their goals (hooray) and will apparently continue to do business. My point is, that if an online webcomic company can do this, surely trusted news organizations can do it too. The fact that morally reprehensable companies, like Cambridge Analytica, were allowed to exist speaks volumes to the necessity of the current and pending legislation.

  2. Rich

    What do I think? I think people are stupid enough to believe that bullcrap. Most would trade security for convienience without a second thought.

  3. Matt

    If you want some really cringe-worthy material, read Steward Baker's articles on The Volokh Conspiracy. Which is a legal blog and not a conspiracy theory blog.

    Baker truly believes that for the sake of "information security", there should literally be no online privacy, no end-to-end encryption, and that all encryption should have a magic "back door" key entrusted to the government. He completely rejects the idea that if one entity can have a decrypt key then anyone can find it. I'm not even sure he cares.

    I believe he used to work for or with the NSA. Make of that what you will.

  4. @duckblog

    I think there are some typos in the video.

    For example, where the narrator says…

    "Consumers deserve to know what's happening with their data. So by designating browsers as gatekeepers, the providers of online services can't directly inform their consumers about how their data is used."

    …I think she meant to say…

    "Consumers deserve to know what's happening with their data. Thanks to browsers, online services can effortlessly and reliably publish statements directly to their consumers about they use that data."

    I suspect there may be a few other mistakes, too.

  5. Thomas Mullen

    Video is bollocks.

    You've hit the nail on the head — "The challenge that the tech industry is facing is that users are increasingly waking up to the fact that so-called “free” content and services often aren’t free at all. You’re paying by being tracked, and through the collection and exploitation of your data."

    i.e. we're really the product, not the customer

  6. fred nerk

    Teh well I don t care if I m tracked as I use fake personal detsils so no one can trace me anyway and most adverts you can skip after five secondx ..

    Long live feee stuff. Of course there s a quid pro quo and As the information about me that I supply is completed codswallop then what do I care what they do with it .

  7. Ben

    I don't care about their business model, I do care about my datas..
    and I'm not about to change my mind on that matter, no way.
    If their business model is not viable anymore,it's their business not mine
    So, they have to find another way.. like when coal mines closed..
    but maybe they are too tired to innovate or just used to that easy
    stream of money made on people or maybe both.

  8. Paul W.

    We need more tools to fight the privacy invading advertisers. It's an arms race and they have more resources.

    I have long wished that browsers would limit the number of offsite scripts called from a web page to something configurable by the user. For example, set to 3 and if the site uses 4 you get a privacy warning popup. I'd also like to see courts rule that the domain (i.e. web page) that hosts the script is legally responsible for unannounced cryptomining or data harvesting.

    Perhaps browsers should allow you to save all scripts as individual files so the good guys can analyze them to make better plugins. Also, browsers should have a tab that shows the http/s traffic headers as Proxomitron used to show.

  9. Doug

    I remember a time back in the day that a Radio Shack required my address to purchase anything. On one occasion I just wanted a couple of batteries and at the checkout counter was asked for my address. I ask, do you really need my address to sell me these batteries. And the clerk said: "Yes." I asked if I could purchase without giving up my personal information and the clerk said: "No." I put the batteries down and walked over to the local pharmacy store and purchased my batteries without having to give up private information. This is no different – however, you don't have an option if you want to use the app. Imagine the outcry if your local grocery store required you to divulge PII to buy food. The grocers have volunteer programs that provide PII called memberships so you can get coupons while they get your information.

  10. Spryte

    I do not live in Europe so it still matters… I get a lot of my content there and I care about tracking and information collected about me & those close to me.
    I do not mind "Paid Services", especially News (real news that is) provided by a reputable company/site that:
    1) pays its newswriters.
    2) allows me the convenience of paying for my subscription any way I want without revealing my banking info
    The "Free" ones have set up the business model mentioned in the add… they provide free news at the cost of tracking the consumer (end user) and not paying for articles they've re-written by their writers. There IS a cost to working for no pay.

  11. Doug Revell

    Speaking as a retired advertising man, I didn’t understand much of it, but what I did understand I strongly disagreed with. They appear to think we are too dim to understand what’s going on, and certainly won’t understand attempts to let us decide what happens to our data. This is an awful video, and among other things forgets the basic advertising rule that advertisements – and this is just an advertisement – sell benefits. So trying to scare people like this is unlikely to work. Fortunately!

  12. Kam Banwait

    I fee like I just watched a trailer of stock videos with some copy between each one.

    On a more serious note. I'm more worried that there might be more of these videos and the general public will believe this bs. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I'm tired of explaining my stance of this to people I know that question privacy issues I've talked about.

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