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Today, we have updated our Advertising Guidelines as follows:

  • “Retargeting pixels are not allowed on any campaign. allowed for a limited number of vetted and pre-approved Programmatic partners.

  • ”All creatives creative themes (style + substance) served via 3rd party tags must be pre-approved by Stack Overflow before a campaign goes live.”

This change only affects users who are opted-in to targeted cookie tracking. We are posting this today so that you know what is changing and how it will affect you and other users.

What is getting updated?

To ensure that community members can confidently visit Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites to learn, engage, and ask and answer questions, we review our advertising and privacy policies on a regular cadence to stay up-to-date. Our Advertising Guidelines are primarily focused on a direct advertising model, which means Stack Overflow launches and manages a customer's campaign on a site from start to finish.

However, the digital advertising industry is increasingly moving towards a programmatic guaranteed model, in which the customer dynamically manages the campaign that then gets served on the Network following our advertising guidelines. In this model, we have made the careful decision to allow certain trusted advertisers to implement retargeting pixels. What this means is that certain vetted advertisers can use data they have gathered to personalize the ads shown on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites (for users opted-in to targeted cookie tracking). All targeting cookies placed by advertisers will be noted on our Cookie Policy.

We acknowledge that 3rd-party cookies will be phased out in the future (learn more here), but this provides an interim solution to provide support for existing customers while we work toward cookieless solutions.

Does this update apply to all sites?

Any monetized site (that is, any site that serves paid ads on the Network) will be affected by this change.

How does this change my experience on the sites?

Keeping a positive user experience on Stack Overflow is a top priority, and these changes to evolve with the industry landscape were made with your security and participation in mind.

Only users that are opted-in to targeting cookies will see the programmatic ads from vetted customers using retargeting pixels. These customize a user’s ad experience by building a profile of interests and showing the most relevant advertising on our site and other sites they may visit. Consistent with our Privacy Policy, your personal information will not be stored or shared with those customers. Additionally, you can read more about our usage of cookies in our Cookie Policy.

Opt in or out of cookie tracking

To opt in or out of cookie tracking, scroll down all the way to the bottom of any page on Stack Overflow or a Stack Exchange Site. Under the “Company” heading click “Cookie Settings”. There you can change your cookie preferences.

Ads on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites allow us to bring in revenue to support the Network. We remain committed to protecting users’ privacy and providing the best possible on-site experience.

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  • 109
    Retargeting pixels are not popular. If you want to know tomorrow why your proposal was received the way it was, that's it.
    – Mast
    Dec 12, 2023 at 18:15
  • 27
    I didn't even know you have guidelines for advertising, that's a pleasant surprise. I assume the next change would be in the "Only static image ads" part, I can only hope it will take some time until then. Dec 12, 2023 at 18:22
  • 14
    @ColleenV nope, I still didn't read enough about this topic so pretty much neutral. Overall, as long as it can be blocked and/or prevented, I don't think it's terrible, and telling us about it is also a change for the better. In the past they would just do it silently and perhaps reply when people would find and cry out. Dec 12, 2023 at 18:40
  • 24
    While I understand the appeal of retargating pixels to advertisers, as a user I find the practice invasive, exploitative and opaque. So I appreciate you including the info on how to check our cookie setting.
    – Dhaust
    Dec 12, 2023 at 23:09
  • 1
    Des, if you could please take a look at What is the script being fetched from cdn.cookielaw.org when I open the cookie settings dialog?, that would be appreciated
    – starball
    Dec 13, 2023 at 8:27
  • 19
    It would be worthwhile to point out that the existing cookie policy already applies to these pixels In this Policy, we use the term “cookie” to refer both to cookies and similar technologies. so, you aren't really doing us a favor by conflating cookie opt-out with pixel opt-out; you're just doing what your policy states. The policy needs to be updated so we know who to contact to get their privacy policies for trackers you allow them to set. These other third party websites may also use cookies or similar technologies...For privacy information..consult their policies
    – ColleenV
    Dec 13, 2023 at 14:21
  • 3
    @starball just wanted to note that I responded on the other post.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 13, 2023 at 20:54
  • 30
    @ColleenV Stack Exchange should note that they're not allowed to delegate the “look at their privacy policies” work to us. It's on them to collect this information, and present it clearly to us – perhaps in sub-pages of their Cookie Policy, if it's really big enough to require multiple documents, but it shouldn't require us contacting third-party organisations or doing our own research.
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 14, 2023 at 2:29
  • 2
    @wizzwizz4 Actually I may have been hasty about that part… that’s about links, not cookies. Throughout our websites we may link to other websites owned and operated by certain trusted third parties to service advertisements or provide analytical services. These other third party websites may also use cookies or similar technologies in accordance with their own separate policies. It’s not clear to me whether that only applies if we follow the link.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 14, 2023 at 11:20
  • 5
    If you let the camel get his nose under the tent, it's all over. SO/SE visitors deserve better than targeting pixels. You can't put lipstick on a hog and turn it into anything other than a hog. This community is built on trust - targeting pixels violate that trust. Once squandered, trust is something you never get back. Dec 19, 2023 at 21:51
  • 17
    @DavidC.Rankin Poetically phrased, but we're way past "Trust is something you never get back". We're roughly in the territory of "Trust is something you lost years ago, made naive attempts to get back like six times, and then lost again right after". That is to say, we're in the territory of a long-term abusive relationship. Dec 20, 2023 at 15:12
  • 14
    Laughs in uBlock Origin
    – user314962
    Dec 25, 2023 at 22:45
  • 8
    Am I the only one who had to Google "retargeting pixels"? It looks like Stack Exchange wants to profit more off of me; is my current contribution not enough? This sort of stuff makes me feel like we have an adversarial relationship, i.e., we're not on the same side. (PS. Dear ad bot, please serve me advertisements for elephants. I really want to buy an elephant. Where can I buy an elephant?) Dec 30, 2023 at 0:27
  • 5
    @RebeccaJ.Stones - something you always need to bear in mind here on SE: we (users) are not the "customers" which SE refers to. We're the product they sell to their customers (advertisers, etc).
    – brhans
    Dec 30, 2023 at 15:01
  • 2
    @SilvioMayolo Yep, it's like killing the goose that laid golden eggs. Once it's dead, it's dead.
    – user314962
    Jan 7 at 20:52

17 Answers 17

164

Will you disclose your "certain trusted advertisers" list?

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    Of course they won't.
    – Kryomaani
    Dec 14, 2023 at 3:21
  • 59
    Just in case my position isn’t clear… There is no company that can be trusted to responsibly invade people’s privacy. They are going to hoover up data, including potentially sensitive health information, travel plans, workplace issues, school issues, work projects, et al. It is virtually impossible for someone to allow only a little private information to leak to advertisers when they aggregate so much data to make inferences about an individual.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 14, 2023 at 12:28
  • 3
    To be clear, we are not sharing any data about SO/SE users with advertisers. You can read more about that in this comment.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 15, 2023 at 21:31
  • 4
    While we don't plan to disclose a list of programmatic partners, we can share that there are currently fewer than 10 that meet the eligibility criteria for this kind of partnership. You can learn more about that here.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 15, 2023 at 21:32
  • 22
    @Sasha What makes you think SE is not included in the "companies" I referred to? So advertisers won't know what page their ads are being shown on? Regardless, I block all that tracking the best I can, so I don't care that much. I don't think y'all have a very good grasp of just how intrusive this is or how much you're expecting us to trust that you aren't going to mess up and leak stuff you said you weren't going to share. The best option is to not allow you to collect it in the first place, so I guess I'll spend a lot more time logged out.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 15, 2023 at 22:19
  • 15
    @Sasha then what data are you sharing with them that is interesting enough for them to pay for? Do you not consider enabling them to link their existing customer profiles to specific SO/SE users sharing our data? That kind of statement without explaining further appears incredibly deceptive.
    – Kryomaani
    Dec 18, 2023 at 20:39
  • 18
    I don't really think "trust" and "advertisers" should even be in the same sentence. Dec 21, 2023 at 22:20
  • 3
    @Sasha How come my tracking blocker add-ons find up to 8 trackers on stackoverflow.com? If those aren't tracking user activity, then what are they tracking? How can I tell if that is SO spying on me against my will, or 3rd parties spying on me against my will? It's all the same to me btw: like every other person on the planet, I don't trust any private company which has made an unprofessional business decision to spy on their own customers. I would never conduct any form of business with such a company, neither as a private consumer nor as a representative of another company.
    – Lundin
    Dec 22, 2023 at 14:17
  • @Lundin Many things that appear as "trackers" are actually valid external software that we use to power our site functionality like ad-serving, analytics and cookie consent management. If you share more details on what you find concerning, we can take a look.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 22, 2023 at 18:59
  • 1
    @htmlcoderexe "Trust" and "advertisers" never belonged in the same sentence, don't belong in the same sentence these days, and for the foreseeable future they will never belong in the same sentence.
    – user314962
    Jan 6 at 10:53
  • @Sasha if you mean Google Analytics, I don't trust them.
    – Florian F
    Jan 12 at 12:58
136

Following the moderation strike, an agreement was reached that includes "gathering community feedback before committing to a major change to the platform". I am not aware of an attempt to gather or solicit feedback before making this change. Because of the privacy implications associated with this change, I would consider it to be a "major change" that would have an opportunity for members of the community to weigh in before it goes live.

I don't think that soliciting feedback necessarily means that you are obligated to change anything. However, the agreement was made that feedback would be gathered, and ideally read, before an announcement of the change was made.

I do not believe that posting on the Moderator team, especially without an orange diamond notification, constitutes "gathering community feedback before committing to a major change to the platform". Not all elected moderators are on the Moderator team space, and the elected moderators are a thin sliver of the affected community members. These kinds of changes should have feedback solicited on Meta.

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    We felt that the concrete impact on users’ experience on the platform would be relatively modest, and not a change which would “substantively impact the user experience” warranting wider community feedback per the agreement, for several reasons.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 12, 2023 at 22:26
  • 14
    1. The ads shown to opted-in users based on retargeting pixels will follow all our other advertising guidelines, so the look and content will not be significantly different from the ads users are already shown across the Network. 2. Only a limited number of advertising partners that Stack Overflow has relationships with will be allowed to implement retargeting pixels, and only users who are opted in to cookie tracking will be affected.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 12, 2023 at 22:26
  • 22
    We do respect that many users do not want to engage with retargeting pixels, which is why we have highlighted how to opt out.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 12, 2023 at 22:27
  • 32
    @Sasha It's worth investing time in having a community discussion around "major change to the platform", because a major change doesn't have to "substantively impact the user experience". Even if feedback isn't considered, there is a commitment to being transparent about updates and proposed changes to give people enough time to react - in this case, understand the change, the implications, and adjust their settings appropriately before the changes are live. Users who opted in may want an opportunity to opt out because of these changes, for example. Dec 12, 2023 at 22:53
  • 20
    @Sasha If the company really respected users' privacy (as opposed to just talking about it), this "feature" would be off by default, and those that want to be spied on would opt in, not vice versa.
    – Dan Mašek
    Dec 13, 2023 at 16:58
  • 22
    I disagree that this should fall under the "major change to the platform" label, but I completely agree that some sort of consensus needs to be reached around what that label actually means in practice. With how comprehensive the agreement was, it's a bit amazing to me that this terminology wasn't clearly defined– it's going to continue to be a cause of significant friction if parties disagree on the meaning.
    – zcoop98
    Dec 13, 2023 at 17:33
  • 3
    @zcoop98 I fully agree. If two or three people are looking at "major change to the platform" and we can't agree on what is or isn't a major change that other parts of the agreement rely on, we have a problem. There may be similar points of contention around concepts like "foundational system of the platform", "timely manner", and "substantively impact the user experience", to name a few. Dec 13, 2023 at 18:28
  • 19
    @Sasha "The ads shown to opted-in users based..." - They haven't opt'd in. They have been forced to accept this by default. You have buried directions on how to opt out in this meta post. It's already negative so it's not showing on the Meta Front Page. Meta is used by a small percentage of the overall community. And most importantly, the cookie settings don't load for a very common use case: Users with adblockers..
    – Andy
    Dec 14, 2023 at 4:50
  • 7
    @Andy this post is featured, so it shows up in the right side bar on every site across the network. There is a heading about opting out, intended to make those directions easy to find even for someone who just skims the post briefly. We are doing our best to notify users about this change and their options.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 14, 2023 at 15:03
  • 18
    @Sasha I don't know if this is the best that can be done. A single post on the Moderator team with no orange diamond? Making this change in holiday season, where people who primarily use the network at work may miss it by the time they return? Not giving a public notice in advance to let people adjust their settings before the changes go live? Dec 14, 2023 at 23:09
  • 18
    @Sasha Hiding all this behind a single, tiny link titled " Update to our Advertising Guidelines" is hardly doing anything to reach out to your user base. We can see this post has now been viewed ~4k times, whereas SO alone currently has 22 million users. Do you genuinely consider reaching at most 0.02% of your users "doing your best to notify" them?
    – Kryomaani
    Dec 18, 2023 at 20:59
  • 3
    @ThomasOwens I posted a response to the request that we have a community discussion about what constitutes a "major change to the platform" as an answer here.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 4 at 19:33
  • @Sasha - While this might not seem like much of a change from a technical perspective, as it is simply allowing a behavior instead of implementing one, that does not mean it is not a stark departure from a promise long held here at Stack Overflow.
    – Travis J
    Jan 10 at 22:23
118

Now that the use of retargeting pixels is allowed for advertisers, SE should remove/update the following line in the Activity Data section on the User Preferences page:

Stack Overflow never sells or shares your activity data with third parties

Activity Data section of User Preference page on Stack Overflow

As Des said: "...advertisers can use data they have gathered to personalize the ads shown on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites...".

This unfortunately renders 'never sells or shares your activity data' incorrect.

5
  • Technically, they don't share this copy of it. They instruct your browser to send a different copy directly to the advertisers. Substituting "your" for "this" would make it correct.
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 13, 2023 at 3:35
  • 54
    @wizzwizz4 It will be sad if SE starts misleading users by engaging in that kind of legalese BS to avoid clearly stating that user activity data (regardless of which copy) can now be sent to and used by advertisers.
    – Dhaust
    Dec 13, 2023 at 3:45
  • 26
    @Dhaust No worries. SE already has a track history of misleading users with BS. Dec 13, 2023 at 4:05
  • 4
    The “data that [advertisers] have gathered” in this case refers to data they have gathered about user activity on their own websites that is being used to inform the ads that are displayed to the same user when on the Network. In other words, with retargeting pixels we are allowing them to use data they already have from their own platforms on this platform, but it doesn’t go both ways. We are not sharing data we have about SO/SE users with them.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 15, 2023 at 21:30
  • 29
    I mean... is the fact that we're here not info you're sharing with them by allowing serving said retargeted ad?
    – Kevin B
    Dec 15, 2023 at 22:04
67

I may be blunt, but you probably noticed that my patience has been rapidly declining over the course of the latest dumpster fires, so... I simply don't have the will to embellish these post anymore.

I really suspect you didn't consider the realistic outcome of this choice. Let me introduce you to two friends.

They are called uBlock Origin and uMatrix. They do a wonderful job at ensuring that when you browse a site you aren't actually browsing N more unrelated sites that the owner declines any responsibility for (because let's be sincere: I doubt that Stack Overflow would take any blame if one of its "trustworthy" providers felt for a malvertising campaign—no one ever did).

Yeah, I know I know... maybe you hoped that Chrome would be your "Knight in Shining Armor™" and save you from those evil foes... I guess that the Manifest V3 API changes must look soooo good with Google trying to ensure that ad-blockers can't work anymore. But again, let's be realistic. Your SO-centric network cosmology probably already gave you a big hint: most of your users are developers and people working in IT-related technologies. I fear they know how to switch browsers if the one they are using does some major trust-breaking changes.

So... Congrats I guess.
You probably just pushed the few remaining users that cared about you, wanted you to be able to make some money and thus keep ads enabled on the network to finally walk out and block you fully... like everyone else was already doing. I am sure that this will work so well.

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  • 7
    I understand you are not happy about the change and are promoting the usage of Adblockers. (I use them myself, with very aggressive settings.) But at the same time, is it neccessary to write in this type of sarcastic/offensive tone? Assuming that there are human beings on the other side who are not pure evil, I am very sure that they have thought about the implications of this decision. I think what you are trying to say could have been expressed in a much more respectful and polite way.
    – lxg
    Dec 15, 2023 at 6:51
  • 17
    @lxg I also feel like I am treated as an idiot every time a similar announcement gets made. Hand-waving this as "like everyone else is doing right now" or "just the natural evolution of Ads" is something that ads providers LOVE to do to justify their unethical behavior (because let's get honest: the level of tracking most ads providers aim to do IS unethical if not borderline illegal). We also have previous cases of "this is fine, you don't get this" (see Zoe answer here)
    – SPArcheon
    Dec 15, 2023 at 9:05
  • 16
    I also get the felling that any feedback here is wasted since, once again, this decision seems to have skipped the procedure they agreed upon in order to stop the striking moderator from... well, continue the strike (see Thomas and wizzwizz4 comments on this page). So, again this looks like someone fells they are in a position of enough power to just push this on the community, and "if the community cries, let them eat cake".
    – SPArcheon
    Dec 15, 2023 at 9:14
  • 16
    Lastly, I also get the felling that they don't realize something quite important. While they bought the site and are free to do whatever they want with it, they didn't bought the users nor they own them. Perhaps you don't agree, but I see them as constantly pressing their luck to see how bad they can go before the rhetorical tree branch snaps back into their face. For this reason, I sadly think a little sarcasm can help getting thru the message that the branch is indeed about to break.
    – SPArcheon
    Dec 15, 2023 at 9:18
  • 1
    " I think what you are trying to say could have been expressed in a much more respectful and polite way." Sometimes respect means calling a spade a spade. It is NOT respectful to use polite circumlocutions ("For your comfort and safety") to try to make unwelcome facts more palatable. Jan 4 at 11:21
  • Privacy Badger is also a good one, I've been using it even on Android phones, together with Adblock/Plus (both of which work on Chrome, but I prefer Firefox), both of which work are effective even for Youtube in-video ads. On SO/SE, where I'm supposed not to see any ads (thanks to the hard-earned reputation), I'm still tracked by Google Analytics (4 trackers in total, 2 blocked by default by Privacy Badger).
    – mirekphd
    Jan 6 at 18:51
60

I almost feel like—taking into account the community and the history we've had with advertising—the inclusion of tracking pixels essentially does more harm than good to the company.

I do appreciate the heads up (both previously via the moderator team and here), but I think to an extent, this is still going to be controversial and the negative impact is less on 'user experience' than 'trust'.

For a company obsessed with developers and knowledge workers, a good chunk of their browsers already come with some degree of tracker blocking, either by default or via an addon. As such - well, the data that advertisers get, even from people who explicitly don't opt out, might not be great.

SE's also not historically engendered trust over their choice of advertisers and the advertiser's choices.

Consider the reaction to the last time someone tried tracking - see Why is Stack Overflow trying to start audio? and its response.

Microsoft is a big advertising partner with a very long-standing relationship, and well... their advertising partners tried this invasive tracking process and honestly the company's response was underwhelming.

And even if it's seen as a relatively small number of people complaining, they're valid complaints. I do realise SE 'needs' the money, and advertisers literally don't get the idea of things like privacy, and the right not to be tracked, but we do get and want privacy and a right not to be tracked.

40

Oddly, this is the one that pushes me over the edge. It is now abundantly clear to me that SO, Inc is desperate for money and has no respect for processes we've agreed on many times.

I have no confidence in the company's stewardship of my content and - most importantly - association of myself with it. The need for the company to make money has eclipsed its core principles.

I'd like to request disassociation from all posts on all network accounts except Stack Overflow. Please provide the process you'd like me to follow to make that happen.

7
  • 2
    Will you resign as a moderator, and cease all moderation activities (such as in CHQ), then? Dec 13, 2023 at 2:35
  • 6
  • 3
    I’m not shutting down what I do on SO right now, and Charcoal stuff is generally not dependent on me.
    – Undo
    Dec 13, 2023 at 3:31
  • Best approach is use the contact form to ask for such a thing, or even contact a CM in private. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:25
  • 52
    I think its worth considering the subtext here - that we're losing a valued contributor who has put in thousands of hours as well as worked on other critical community infrastructure over a lack of belief in the stewardship of the network in general. Wouldn't have the same effect quiet quitting Dec 13, 2023 at 14:45
  • 5
    We are sorry to hear that you feel that way, but we respect your wishes. Please make a request through the contact form and someone will follow up with you. As an aside, this comment and the following ones explain our thinking on the process in this case.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 13, 2023 at 20:45
  • 1
    "Best approach is use the contact form to ask for such a thing, or even contact a CM in private." Ideally there would be a button somewhere in the profile, where you can initiate the process and say some waiting time like one-two weeks in which this process won't take place but one has the ability to stop it. Ceasing usership (or ownership of the content) is normal part of the user life cycle. Dec 24, 2023 at 15:06
34

I know I'm all about the privacy, but… Stack Exchange has already been letting arbitrary third-parties track us like this. As I understand, this is just documenting their existing practices, under the guise of a change of policy. (This assumption might not be is not correct: I've asked about it here.)

However, the digital advertising industry is increasingly moving towards a programmatic guaranteed model, in which the customer dynamically manages the campaign that then gets served on the Network following our advertising guidelines. In this model, we have made the careful decision to allow certain trusted advertisers to implement retargeting pixels.

That makes it sound like a recent thing, but they've been "moving towards" that for as long as I've been using the web! You can be honest with us: you want to use the Google Ad network for… reasons, the advertisers won't pay you enough money unless you let them track us, and they're doing it anyway. As I understand, all this change is (hopefully) doing is:

  • actually making the "decline" option work; and
  • adding proper documentation to the Cookie Policy.

You don't have to pretend that this is a new thing. That'll just make people less happy with it, for no benefit.

Only users that are opted-in to targeting cookies will see the programmatic ads from vetted customers using retargeting pixels.

I will be testing this. If you're just adding additional tracking, without resolving the existing issues I (and others) have raised over and over again… I can't say what will happen.

If you somehow weren't aware of the existing tracking being done by your advertising clients, and are proposing to add additional tracking on top, we need to have a serious talk yesterday.

Edit 2023-12-22: The existing tracking should not have been happening – and I'm not sure how it could've been, given SE's internal processes. (Perhaps it was an oversight with “3rd party tags”? I wish I'd kept more details.) This update is allowing additional tracking.


I was one of the few who saw the summarised pre-announcement in the mod team. On 2023-12-05, I left the comment:

This particular grump [me] is satisfied by the announcement you've described.

I didn't notice that this change wasn't advertised to moderators according to the usual procedures, for which I am sorry. My providing feedback without pointing this out was irresponsible, and – by leaving the CMs with feedback plural – helped obscure the communication failure. If I missed it, I see how they could have missed it. (Maybe this failure wasn't really a mistake, but I still don't believe that the individual people involved in decisions like these – many of whom I could name – are acting maliciously. Stack Exchange might be bad, but it's not Google.)

Honestly, I'm not even sure myself what the correct procedure for these announcements is. I just know SE didn't follow it, because nobody outside the company got to review the contents of this announcement before it became Policy.

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    I just wish that there was a way to cure companies of their addiction to ad money so we can evolve past this ad-supported dystopia. People will pay to support something they like even if they could get it for free. I’m not going to admit how many hundreds of dollars I spend on game cosmetics a year (for games I paid for and subscribe to even). Ad money looks so easy, but it’s a trap that gives other companies influence over the ad-supported company’s policy and content, and that’s a terrible thing for a site purportedly about sharing knowledge.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 13, 2023 at 11:52
  • 1
    Just want to note for anyone following this conversation that many of the questions raised here have been addressed in this answer on separate post.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 22, 2023 at 15:48
  • 1
    I'm confused by the strikethroughs in your first paragraph. Omitting the strikethroughs leads to several sentence fragments: "I know I'm all about the privacy, but… Stack Exchange. As I understand,. (This assumption is not correct: I've asked about it here.)"
    – M. Justin
    Dec 27, 2023 at 21:03
  • @M.Justin Well, Stack Exchange markup doesn't support the <ins> element, so I couldn't do it properly. ;-)
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 27, 2023 at 21:04
  • @wizzwizz4 Fair enough, but what are you actually currently trying to convey with that paragraph?
    – M. Justin
    Dec 27, 2023 at 21:05
  • @M.Justin Including the old contents of the answer, while making it clear that it was incorrect.
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 27, 2023 at 21:17
32

What is involved in the vetting and pre-approval of a "programmatic partner" and what is done to make sure that their pre-approved compliance is continued?

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    There are other answers that focus specifically on user dissatisfaction, and I didn't touch those — the core of those answers is to express dissatisfaction. The core of this answer is another, very specific, set of questions; additionally, the part I removed could be read as passive-aggressive, as opposed to clear cut "I am dissatisfied" type comments — for those reasons, I thought the edit made sense to ensure that the core concern of this answer was its sole focus, thus ensuring people wouldn't get pulled into the piling on part instead, @Kryomaani. Happy to discuss more elsewhere.
    – JNat StaffMod
    Dec 14, 2023 at 15:52
  • 3
    A programmatic partner is one that the company has an established relationship with. They follow all of our policies and guidelines while we have ongoing conversations via email, meetings, and various points of contact who are managing or interacting with the campaigns.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:29
28

To ensure that community members can confidently visit Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites to learn, engage, and ask and answer questions, we review our advertising and privacy policies on a regular cadence to stay up-to-date.

This is drivel. There is not a single community member who can "confidently visit" SO or other SE sites, as a consequence of this change, who previously could not visit with confidence. It's completely disingenuous for you to claim that this change will benefit users in any way, but the idea that it will improve people's confidence is more disingenuous still.

Obviously, allowing tracking by third parties will have a negative impact on people's confidence in the site. Just tell us you're doing it for money. At least that would be honest!

these changes to evolve with the industry landscape were made with your security and participation in mind.

This, too, is drivel. Sharing data with advertisers does not improve users' security and does not promote participation. It doesn't improve anything for users whatsoever, even the ones who "opted in" (read: clicked on the most prominent button to make the annoying popup disappear).

20

It is dishonest to claim there are "users opted-in to targeted cookie tracking"

The number of users who knowingly, willingly, and actively choose to "opt in" to having their preferences tracked with cookies for the purpose of allowing a network of advertising companies to build up a profile on them for the purpose of targeted advertising is close to zero.

Instead you have users who didn't bother to opt-out, who got apathetic and clicked whatever button, etc etc.

This is just grubby.

7
  • 2
    They're doing evil, we all agree, but it's not SE's fault if people click without reading. They use no dark pattern, and the "accept all" button is just besides the "necessary only" one and they're highlighted in the same way. Dec 20, 2023 at 10:13
  • 3
    Thanks to GDPR, the world is now divided between the "accept all" cookie monster people who are getting tracked by everyone and their mother, and the people who try to minimize the amount of cookies, manually delete & use blockers. The former just have to deal with it. The root problem is that crappy legislation allows user tracking for questionable purposes in the first place.
    – Lundin
    Dec 20, 2023 at 12:44
  • 7
    @FedericoPoloni It's absolutely SE's "fault". If you know that people don't actively make choices about cookies, you can't hide behind some wording about "opted-in" users. Dec 21, 2023 at 12:20
  • 1
    @FedericoPoloni I think that the issue goes beyond the simple "not reading". I assume that Steve was pointing out that the default state is OPT-IN, while in a pure metaphorical fully ethical scenario one would prefer to be opted-out by default and have to act to be opted-in. This is why the ones "opted-in" are strictly speaking just "never opted-out" users: the rhetoric is all around the fact that the "opted-in" user never acted to be opted in, while the words "opted-in" imply some form of action. Steve, please correct me if I got your intended message wrong.
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 4 at 8:48
  • @SPArcheon Thanks for the clarification: this is a great point: if the rules were changed after users opted in, then they did not consent to this new form of tracking (and especially in GDPR-land this has legal implications). I agree with you that this is correct and an important point. I suggest OP to edit the post to make this specific issue clearer. Jan 4 at 8:58
  • 1
    @FedericoPoloni I am actually trying to check what is the default state for the "tracking cookies" option for a newly registered user. Apparently unregistered users have those disabled by default, but as you can see some comments here seems to imply it is by default allowed for registered users instead. I don't remember the original setting since I already edited my preferences long ago.
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 4 at 9:04
  • @FedericoPoloni Quite confident now that users are by default opted-out unless they don't manually opt-in so that part of the issue should be solved at least. That said you did point out something I didn't think about. The extend of tracking performed changing after the initial consent was given would indeed be ground for a request to confirm your settings.
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 4 at 9:26
18

Opt in or out of cookie tracking

To opt in or out of cookie tracking, scroll down all the way to the bottom of any page on Stack Overflow or a Stack Exchange Site. Under the “Company” heading click “Cookie Settings”. There you can change your cookie preferences.

Glad to hear it!

This will probably sound nitpicky but I wouldn't have guessed these settings were configurable from the footer - I don't often have reason to visit it. It would be nice if there was a way for logged in users to configure them from the User settings page - even just a link that opens the same modal that the footer shows would suffice.


Update: This has been raised as a separate : Add a link to the site cookie settings from the User Settings page

2
  • 5
    It’s not nitpicky, thanks for pointing this out. User experience, including the ease of finding resources, is important to us. Please submit this as a separate Meta post with the feature-request tag, and we will approach it through our normal process for handling requests for changes to the platform. See more about feature requests in the Help Center and on this Answer.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 14, 2023 at 15:23
  • 2
    Thanks @Sasha, I've raised it as a separate request :)
    – Robotnik
    Dec 14, 2023 at 23:38
18

The “data that [advertisers] have gathered” in this case refers to data they have gathered about user activity on their own websites that is being used to inform the ads that are displayed to the same user when on the Network.

Do those tracking pixels allow the advertiser to know what page on the Network the user is browsing when their ad is served?

The reason I ask is that on my profile it states:

Stack Overflow never sells or shares your activity data with third parties. We use your on-site activity to show you more relevant content. For example, we might show you questions based on the tags you usually browse, or show you job listings in your current location.

But, if you are allowing a third-party advertiser to know what page I'm on when you serve their ad and you allow them to send a tracking pixel that uniquely identifies me, you ARE sharing my activity data with a third party. It isn't very obvious that by allowing you to set "cookies and similar technologies (such as local storage and pixels)" that a user is agreeing to allow you to share their activity on the network, not just what ads they see and click on.

If the advertiser doesn't know what page a user is viewing their ad on, that's great! If they do, then they can infer a lot more about that user than the user might expect once the data is aggregated. Those inferences could include things like possible medical issues, or being part of a labor dispute, or being engaged to an addict*.

I believe that the SE staff doesn't really want to invade people's privacy, but you're entrusted with more personal information than I believe you realize.


* These are just a few random questions I grabbed with a quick browse on sites I knew there would be sensitive questions; they aren't the best or most compelling examples.

5
  • 1
    Advertisers can determine which pages their ad is being served on. It is common industry practice for advertisers to have visibility into the pages that their ads are running on to monitor their ad spending. However, they don’t receive any personal information (such as username, profile link, contact info, etc).
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 10 at 15:11
  • 3
    Thank you for highlighting that quote from the profile settings preferences page. I have asked our legal team to look into this to make sure the language used accurately reflects what happens on the back end.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 10 at 15:11
  • 1
    Opting out of cookie tracking in the way described in the post is the best way to avoid engaging with advertisers in this way. Users who do want to remain opted in can also clear their cookies on their browser to start with a blank slate.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 10 at 15:11
  • 1
    @Sasha Thanks. Clearing cookies doesn't affect these pixels or does it? It just changes the settings for whether SE lets advertisers set them in the future? I don't know much about the tech so I might be asking dumb questions :) If the point is to personalize ads for me and these advertisers (who we're not going to know are the ones setting these pixels) know both the person associated with that pixel and the page the ad that has the tracker in it is displayed on, they get my SE browsing (in part). How do I tell the advertiser to delete the data they've already collected?
    – ColleenV
    Jan 10 at 16:31
  • 2
    I know I'm being a little annoying, esp since I've been opted out for years and this doesn't really affect me. However, I'm a very technical person and I'm having a hard time understanding all of the implications of this change, and the goal of sharing this information is to be transparent (I assume). Targeting pixels as I understand them are cookies the targeted user can't clear, which is why advertisers want them. Just because it's an industry standard to invade people's privacy does not make it OK.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 10 at 16:39
15

To opt in or out of cookie tracking, scroll down all the way to the bottom of any page on Stack Overflow or a Stack Exchange Site. Under the “Company” heading click “Cookie Settings”. There you can change your cookie preferences.

It appears that we have to do this on every site. Could you at least offer a global option for all Stack Exchange sites?

4
  • 5
    For logged in users, the cookie settings selection is global for all sites hosted on stackexchange.com. However, a selection does have to be made separately for sites on other domains, such as stackoverflow.com, askubuntu.com, serverfault.com.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 14, 2023 at 19:41
  • 2
    @Sasha this is unclear from your instructions in the original post.
    – user282012
    Dec 28, 2023 at 18:23
  • 1
    @Sasha you may want to reword that a little. As it stands "opting out does have to be done separately for sites on other domains" seems to also imply that "opted in" is the default state, while the default is "opted-out" as one would obviously expect. It is important that you make clear that consent has to be given explicitly and is not "assumed because the user was lazy and didn't opt out"
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 4 at 9:22
  • 1
    @SPArcheon good point, I reworded the comment above
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 4 at 16:37
12

Is there impact when visiting the site (assume for the first time) but not doing anything with the cookie dialog?

So, if a user neither accepts, nor rejects, nor changes anything about their cookie preferences, would they be served retargetting pixels?

For clarity, it is my understanding that the retargetting pixel relies on cookie information to serve content tailored to that particular user. And also my understanding is that right now, unless a user takes an explicit action for the cookie dialog (accept all, only necessary, custom), the cookies they would get would be limited to necessary only. Thus, the question is would retargetting pixels be served to users who have not expressed preference for cookies yet.

1
  • 4
    If a user does not make a selection in the cookie dialog, they will only receive the strictly necessary cookies, therefore, retargeting will not apply. However, if they have already made a selection for cookie settings on another site on the same domain (typically, stackexchange.com) then those same preferences will apply to all sites they visit on that domain. Read more about that in this comment.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:23
9

To opt in or out of cookie tracking, scroll down all the way to the bottom of any page on Stack Overflow or a Stack Exchange Site. Under the “Company” heading click “Cookie Settings”. There you can change your cookie preferences.

This link isn't working for me. It's just sending me to the current page's URL with a # postfixed to it.

On this question I get:

https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/395389/update-to-our-advertising-guidelines/395399#

From

https://meta.stackexchange.com/

I get:

https://meta.stackexchange.com/#

(URLs are shown in code blocks to stop the site from showing the page title instead of URL text in the first one, and for consistency in the other two.)

11
  • 7
    Looks like you block the JS required for this button to work, check in the network tab what resource is blocked and whitelist it, if you want. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:23
  • 3
    hmmm. Only JS I'm blocking is meta.stackexchange.com/Content/Js/newsletter/… is UBO blocking it a false positive, or is SE forcing me to allow one creepy bit of spyvertizing to opt out of a different bit of spyvertizing. Dec 13, 2023 at 7:30
  • Well dunno, I might dig into it later and look for the location of the JS, maybe also try in different site, MSE take the resources from a different place. Dec 13, 2023 at 8:04
  • From quick look, maybe the code is here. Can you see the file? Dec 13, 2023 at 8:05
  • 1
    Ditto, if I right-click and copy the link from the footer on this page it points to: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/395389/update-to-our-advertising-guidelines?cb=1#. I have no intentional javascript blocking enabled, using Edge
    – Wolfie
    Dec 13, 2023 at 14:23
  • Trying on stackoverflow.com the only thing I have getting blocked is graph.facebook.com/10157639905215634/picture?type=large but the cookie settings link is just stackoverflow.com/#. Dec 13, 2023 at 17:25
  • 7
    The cookie dialog requires (apparently) requires a third party script to work, from the cdn.cookielaw.org domain; if this is blocked then I'm not sure it will show. The href is misleading; that "link" in the footer isn't really operating as a traditional link (as it doesn't actually bring you anywhere), it's more akin to a button that triggers the dialog to show (e.g. it has some JS action attached). Opening it in a new tab doesn't appear to work; it only shows for me when I just click the link normally.
    – zcoop98
    Dec 13, 2023 at 17:26
  • 7
    ok, that explains it. Clicking the link itself with the console open triggers two blocks. UBO stops cdn.cookielaw.org/scripttemplates/6.37.0/otBannerSdk.js and I don't Care About Cookies (a tool specifically to delete the stupid eu law banners) is stopping geolocation.onetrust.com/cookieconsentpub/v1/geo/location Dec 13, 2023 at 17:49
  • 6
    @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight I find Consent-O-Matic better than IDCAC: Consent-O-Matic rejects where possible (this is configurable), whereas IDCAC just does whatever was easier for them to implement (often accepting).
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 13, 2023 at 18:15
  • @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight the later isn't (or shouldn't be) relevant for the dialog, but the first is, it's the script used to show it. Dec 14, 2023 at 7:37
  • 2
    Thank you for raising this issue. The commenters above me are correct that some ad blockers do interfere with the JavaScript that runs to make the cookie settings dialog box pop up when that button is clicked. As a work around users can briefly disable and then re-enable their ad blocker after selecting their cookie settings.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Dec 14, 2023 at 19:48
5

This is a response to this comment and others in that thread. Posting as a separate answer for better visibility.

Sorry for the delay on this, but yes we are open to having a conversation around clarifying which changes necessitate broader community feedback. As you know, we negotiated the existing language as part of the agreement to end the Moderator Action last year. It’s clear that the language that finally made it into the agreement was a little vague and didn’t capture a number of potential use cases, so we are open to a reevaluation of that and an enhanced definition. But that conversation is outside the scope of this particular post.

Philippe agrees that there is a need to re-define this, so we’ll put it on our backlog as a task to look at sometime in the next fiscal year (which begins April 1st, 2024).

6
  • 2
    so should we expect the company to initiate that discussion here on MSE on April 1st? or should we initiate it ourselves?
    – starball
    Jan 4 at 19:54
  • 1
    This is good. Although any chance there would be some previews in what's on the backlog going into the new fiscal year and what the priorities are? It's probably still too early for that now, but as we get closer to April. So perhaps in March or so, letting us know what kind of dev and community projects will be happening and what the most important ones are. Jan 4 at 20:27
  • 1
    @starball I can’t say that we will definitely be starting this conversation with the community on the very first day of the new fiscal year, but we are committing to taking on the project within the year (beginning in April). Community members are welcome to initiate conversations on meta at any time, and we will respond as we are able. But we don’t want to rush this, as it’s important to make sure that we can devote the appropriate time and capacity to it.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 10 at 15:15
  • 1
    @ThomasOwens We will be sharing some info about our plans and what we’ll be focusing on for the coming year in the near future. With that said, we know that we can’t predict everything, and we always expect to need to pivot and reprioritize as the year progresses.
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 10 at 18:17
  • I can see how stability in planning is important, but what could possibly be more important than not alienating your community, enough to postpone any meaningful action on this for several months?
    – tripleee
    Jan 11 at 5:21
  • 2
    You're "looking at" having the conversation some time after april 1st? Is this an out-of-season april fools joke or has this company become so dysfunctional that even kicking off a discussion needs to be kicked down the road for at least a whole quarter?
    – l4mpi
    Jan 12 at 13:36
0

How exactly can I opt out of retargetting pixels (and all other tracking technology)?

You can, right?

2
  • 1
    As explained in the post ("Only users that are opted-in to targeting cookies will see the programmatic ads from vetted customers using retargeting pixels."), opting out of cookies opts you out of all similar technologies. The cookie policy states "In this Policy, we use the term “cookie” to refer both to cookies and similar technologies."
    – ColleenV
    Jan 12 at 13:48
  • It is explained under the last heading in the post: Scroll down to the footer on any page on Stack Overflow or a Stack Exchange Site. Under the “Company” heading click “Cookie Settings”. There you can change your cookie preferences, including making sure you are not opted into "Targeting Cookies".
    – Sasha StaffMod
    Jan 22 at 15:25

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