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There is a new blog post on the Stack Exchange company blog announcing SE's advertising principles. But reading that there are very few principles actually mentioned in the post, it directs that part to the Interactive Advertising Bureau's guidelines:

So for all our advertising offerings, we are following the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)’s guidelines as a starting point.

I looked through the actual IAB guidelines (PDF), and they seem to be a rather constrained effort to disallow the worst of the worst ad behaviours. But they still allow a lot of annoying behaviour, and are entirely silent on some important aspects. These guidelines are a far cry from the original SE advertising principles.

The IAB guidelines allow the following things

  • animated ads (up to 15 seconds, but flashing, high-contrast animations are not recommended)
  • interstitial ads (but at least a timer before allowing the user to close is disallowed)
  • video ads
  • autoplay audio ads under some circumstances (if the user has audio turned on and the ad has 100% screen coverage)
  • ads are allowed only up to 30% CPU usage
  • ads are only allowed 10 HTTP requests on initial load (more requests are allowed after the initial load)

The guidelines do disallow some terrible stuff like popup ads or auto-expanding hover ads. But they still allow a lot of rather annoying stuff, and are entirely silent on important topics like the actual topics of ads and privacy issues like tracking and fingerprinting.

The title of the blog post is "Our Advertising Principles", but the only principles I can actually parse from it are that SE will try to be a bit better than what's in that document. This is really not telling us much, especially as the IAB guidelines allow some ads that are arguably worse than what is currently running on SE sites.

What are the actual advertising principles of SE? Which types of ads are allowed, how much animation is allowed, are ads allowed to track and fingerprint users, how closely must ads relate to the topic of the site, which topics and types of ads are not allowed at all (e.g. pseudo-science, dubious health ads, gambling, scams, ...)?

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    Honestly, I’d say in all the important ways, including advertisements, SO is going down the standard US corporate org path. Expect and treat ads here like you would any other web product you use: ie, an ad blocker. – Dan Bron Sep 19 '19 at 20:00
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    @DanBron there's a snag though. I have visited more than one site on the Internet which explicitly asks me to disable my ad blocker. What happens if Stack Exchange ask me the same? – Mari-Lou A Sep 19 '19 at 20:48
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    @Mari-LouA Ignore them? – Dan Bron Sep 19 '19 at 20:49
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    adblock said message. :shrug: – user400654 Sep 19 '19 at 20:53
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    @DanBron If SE imposes a similar measure, it means users, old and new, will not have free access to the site unless they disable their ad blocker. In fact, the number of sites who ask (tell) me to disable my ad blocker increases weekly. It never used to happen. – Mari-Lou A Sep 19 '19 at 22:11
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    @Mari-LouA I now understand. I thought you meant a toothless plea to disable your adblocker (“please disable your adblocker, we rely on ad revenue!”). I see now you mean anti-adblocker tech. FYI, there is anti-anti-adblocker tech you can plugin to your browser and it works pretty reliably. You can still access the site, and there are still no ads. For example: reek.github.io/anti-adblock-killer . – Dan Bron Sep 19 '19 at 22:14
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    @Mari-LouA At that point, it becomes a cat and mouse game, and anyone at all worried about privacy abandons the sinking SE ship in droves. – fbueckert Sep 19 '19 at 23:02
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    Text headed "Our X Principles" that does not enumerate any principles is saying (perhaps inadvertently) "We have no X principles". I don't want to believe SE has fallen that far. SE ought to post a clarification. – Raedwald Sep 20 '19 at 6:35
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    It is all to clear they are planning an IPO. They have to boost their turn-over and the profitability of the Q&A concept for a succesful IPO. Angel investers dont stick around for ever. – Luuklag Sep 20 '19 at 7:24
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    @Mari-LouA And against such efforts there exists add ons to adblocking software that automatically delete the notices too. So continues the internet arms race. – Magisch Sep 20 '19 at 8:57
  • Also, I recently saw adds when browsing on my mobile. While I recall someone stating that they weren't going to do that. – Luuklag Sep 20 '19 at 11:05
  • Oh wait, they were planning to do so after all: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/310193/mobile-web-missing-ads – Luuklag Sep 20 '19 at 11:06
  • @DanBron Anti-Adblock Killer by reek has been abandoned and discontinued since November 2016. It has been superseded by Nano Defender. – galacticninja Oct 4 '19 at 17:19
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I asked our Advertising product and Marketing teams to answer your questions. This is what they provided to me.

Our core advertising principle is to do better than the IAB guidelines and run ads in a unique Stack Overflow way. As part of our effort to do better, we aim to give users control and will respect that control. Beyond that, we aren’t able to make specific statements about advertising principles because the market and technologies are always changing.

Regarding the types of ads, functionalities, relevancy to the site, we can’t make specific statements of what we will or won’t allow. Advertising and the market is constantly evolving. We will make our best efforts with our blocking processes. For example, we will set up blocks for sensitive categories, advertising that has autoplay audio, in-banner video, and extreme forms of animations . We may not catch everything but we will remain vigilant.

We can say that we’re aiming to give users control over the ads they see and give users a way to report ads. We believe these features should be released by the end of the year.

While there are global advertising principles that we abide by, we will continue to strive for a higher ethic. In short, we will continue to track down ads that do not reflect our standards as well as continue to look for ways to give our members control over what they see.

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    Thank you for providing an official response. I'll restrict my feedback to a single point, and that is that I think SE is missing the point with the attempt to give users control over the ads. We don't want control, we want reasonable defaults for everyone. Individual users hiding ads doesn't scale at all, having to interact with ads to hide the bad ones at all would be a nuisance, not a solution. The default ads SE shows to all users must be something SE is willing to defend as appropriate, user-specific settings are not a solution here. – Disappointed in SE Sep 27 '19 at 22:22
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    If SE is going to make me responsible for mediating my own experience with ads, they won't like the result. – Culyx Sep 30 '19 at 21:27
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In particular, in light of the recent string of off topic and frankly inappropriate ads, this expression seems hollow:

We will always aim to do better than these guidelines and run ads in a unique Stack Overflow way. For example, we’re working on two new ways for our registered users to control their experience:

I would be interested to hear about how they plan on doing that, if they continue to use external ad networks who generally speaking don't let customers much their ad selection and presentation in any way other then excluding ads one by one.

  • I'd be interested to know whether SE will ever place an "unblock ad blocker" banner. With the know-how they possess, I'm pretty sure they could overcome the ad blockers apps that the majority of Internet users have installed. – Mari-Lou A Sep 22 '19 at 11:16

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