By admin | Uncategorized

Apr 26

As part of its on-going existential struggle, IAB announced a program as an alleged action to “fight ad blocking”. That is the actual languge from the announcement, IAB is fighting ad blocking. I will show you in about 5 minutes why this program can’t work, and is a reactive attempt to maintain some remnants of buyer trust at best.

When I saw IAB’s L.E.A.N iniative for the first time, I really did not know where to start so I thought I better not. Because it came up in various discussions over the past few weeks, looks like I have to comment. I’m afraid that many think that L.E.A.N has some genuine merits as an effort to make the internet better. Actually it’s not at all about making the internet better, nor does it have any merits to that extent whatsover. More than anything, it is a somewhat weak attempt to defend the disfunctional and often outright corrupt internet advertising model. A model that has arguably caused more harm to the internet than any other thing. First TL;DR

Light…please. IAB can’t make ad calls light unless IAB members completely abandon their 3rd/nth-party tag based business models. Please prove me wrong.

Encrypted does not address the underlying issues. Actually at the moment it’s the malvertisers who use ssl in an attempt to disguise their malicious activity.


The last point, about non-invasive ads…maybe that was still relevant two years ago. Now the focus of the discussion is on privacy, malvertising, new topics such as energy consumption / sustainability rising to the surface.

Yet, out of the four “letters”, the announcement on IAB website ( focus on the “N” i.e. non-invasive ads.

IAB: The IAB Tech Lab cares about the user experience, which is a top priority in all our activities as we develop creative standards and platforms.

If this is the case, and indeed IAB’s top priority in all of their activities was user experience, we would not have the ad blocking mess in the first place. Also, for an increasing number of internet users, blocking ads is a priority in respect to their internet experience[2]. Many of those users consider ads in itself to be detrimental to their user experience.

IAB: The IAB Tech Lab will issue guidance on lighter ad standards for advertising sales and ad operations, aligning with HTML5 and other IAB Ad Unit Guidelines.

First point is that adtech companies are notorious for not playing by the book, including IAB’s biggest members. The other point is that the load users experience on the pages is not coming from the ads as much as it’s coming from everything that goes on the background, including tracking tags, ad stuffing and other questionable practices. This has nothing to do with HTML5 or ad unit guideliness. It has everything to do with the mindless use of javascript to faciliate for what is often outright illegal passing of user data between IAB’s members.

A breakdown of what is being loaded on a common website landing page (i.e. JAVASCRIPT)

IAB: Our new guidelines and standards, with the sunset of Flash in favor of HTML5 has started a path towards better optimization, security, and user experience.

Should we be convinced with “our new guidelines” coming from the organisation whose standards led to the ad-block-alypse in the first place? Not ot mention the ad fraud problem, where IAB’s members are the greatest beneficiaries of the criminal revenues generated by ad fraud? To predict the future, we have two basis of reference; historical trend, and most recent events.

Historical trend — is that the current situation is a result of the past standards created and popularised by the IAB.

Recent events — the work on viewability is not at all convincing. Like with so many other major mistakes of the IAB, I was very vocal about it before the guidance had become public. For example I made the point about how ad fraud actors would use it to make their inventory seem more legitimate. Now we know that’s what happened [3]. I’m not saying I’m good in forecasting things, I’m just good in stating the obvious, even when it’s unpopular to do it. I also called in I-COM 2011 that ad fraud is a massive problem and effects every buyer in the market, now everyone is saying the same thing.

IAB: As part of the standards work, the IAB Tech Lab focuses on the minimum amount of data calls required to achieve good user experience and targeting, reducing latency and making sure consumers are served the ads that were intended for them.

Minimum sounds nice, but is totally ambigious in case you did not notice. The IAB Tech Lab is made out of tech people from the IAB member companies, and they know very well that their business model is 100% depedent on redundant data calls referred to as “cookie sync” in the industry[4].

What’s killing the internet and the way users experience it, is all the tags inside ads and the tags inside tags inside ads

If you want to understand more about the level of redundancy we’re talking about, visit any major website and use an outgoing network monitor such as Little Snitch[5] and try for yourself.

A major website’s landing page will regularly establish up to 100 (or in some cases more) outgoing connections

IAB will argue that without such “syncing” the eco-system will stop functioning. In this light it would be good to understand which minimum we are talking about? Minimum to protect the interests of IAB’s members, or the minimum for having a healthy internet eco-system. I was in the internet long before ads were, so I don’t think there is a “god given right” for IAB’s members to use nth-party tag nesting (beyond 3rd-party), or even 3rd-party tags inside the 1st-party, just so that they can continue “business as usual” after publishing a piece of paper titled with a catch acronym. Ad blocking, malvertising and ad fraud are all clear signals that there is something substantially wrong with IAB’s idea of “business as usual”.

IAB: The IAB Tech Lab is investing in the creation of new, dynamic, and responsive ad units that will further make user experience better across screens.

If somebody can show one single piece of evidence that IAB has a connection with basic principles of user experience, that would be nice. I come from UX background, and I have never seen one single comment that would actually substantiate genuine understanding for user experience aspect of the internet. Without understanding, there can be no genuine concern either. It’s very easy to say you are concerned.

Also if I may suggest, instead of investing in to creation of new ad formats, IAB should make investment in to fixing the “old” standards extending far beyond ad formats. I’m afraid it will prove impossible to “fix” issues arising from poorly developed standards, by creating new standards. Especially when those standards too are poorly developed.

Many of IAB’s imembers do not understand clearly what compliance means, which in part has led to rapid growth in ad blocker usage. By compliance I mean respect the fundamental rights of internet users. In response to which, some of IAB’s members are using unlawful methods[6] to try and stop users from protecting their privacy and the security of their devices. Given that users are doing this to counter the non-compliance of IAB’s members, we can see that what IAB’s members are doing is trying to counter the consequences of their own non-compliance with further non-compliance.

The program that goes together with L.E.A.N, is not only failing to address the actual problem, but is inciting companies to use measures that are against European law[6]. We’ll cover D.E.A.L in the next article.








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