Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

New York Times to Stop Using Third-Party User Data for Advertising by 2021

Sara Fischer, Axios:

The New York Times will no longer use 3rd-party data to target ads come 2021, executives tell Axios, and it is building out a proprietary first-party data platform.

[…]

Beginning in July, The Times will begin to offer clients 45 new proprietary first-party audience segments to target ads.

Those segments are broken up into 6 categories: age (age ranges, generation), income (HHI, investable assets, etc.), business (level, industry, retirement, etc.), demo (gender, education, marital status, etc.) and interest (fashion, etc.)

By the second half of the year, The Times plans to introduce at least 30 more interest segments.

I don’t fully understand why Times executives anonymously break news like this, and a similar story last year, through Axios rather than through their own newspaper or a corporate press release.

Zack Kanter:

Wow. Adtech giant NYT ($800m ARR, $6B valuation) to begin selling user data directly to advertisers. Scary, anticompetitive trend led by corporate journalism – local news outlets just can’t compete with closed tech platforms like this.

Amee Vanderpool:

The New York Times will no longer use 3rd-party data to target ads come 2021 and it is building out a proprietary first-party data platform that will force them to rely on data that they collect directly from their users. YOUR DATA.

Antonio García Martínez:

Due to GDPR penalizing third-party data, and due to the advantages granted thereby to large first-party repositories of data, the NYT is *precisely* emulating FB and becoming a data collector (but with worse privacy probably).

These simplistic interpretations of privacy arguments are, at best, unhelpful, and are obnoxious in their laziness at worst.

The personalized advertising model of the last decade or so is toxic to the web. It incentivizes surveillance of users to create highly granular categories of behaviour and interests because there is the assumption that more data points lead to better targeting which, I guess, is supposed to mean a greater likelihood of conversion into ad clicks. In return, users are supposed to be comfortable with their every click and scroll being tracked from website to website — all for only about 4% greater ad revenue than non-tracking ads with relevant context.

In short: selling ads based on where they will be shown is just about as effective as selling ads based on who they will be shown to. That is how print advertising has been sold for ages. Recall, for example, the subscription cards that come with magazines: in addition to the bare minimum contact and billing details required to deliver each issue, there is often a demographic survey asking about age, household income, and so on. None of these fields are required, but many people fill them in anyway. The publisher uses this information to set rates and give advertisers a broad idea of the magazine’s readership.

Today’s Times announcement is almost a hybrid of those two worlds. It uses the proprietary data of the paper’s readership to build profiles without the use of third parties, and none of that data leaves the Times’ properties. I do not understand what Kanter is referring to when he describes this arrangement as “selling user data directly to advertisers” — either that is an accidentally wild misreading, or a deceptive statement.

This is a far more honest way of targeting advertising. It isn’t at all like the hundreds of ad tech companies that receive much of a typical user’s browsing history without their knowledge. If you visit the Times’ website, it will collect some information about you; if you don’t want it to, you don’t have to visit the Times’ website. It won’t be collecting behavioural data about you if you don’t.

I would vastly prefer to revert to a pre-personalized ad world, but I still see this move as a step in the right direction. It may still collect data for targeting, but at least it does not involve the near-universal surveillance of companies like Facebook and Google. Reducing their ability to conduct broad and intrusive behavioural data collection is an important step towards a more private web.