Ads & Tracking – why most websites today suck
Have you used the Internet lately? Almost every popular website in Europe serves you some kind of Cookie Consent, a popup overlay in which they want you to grant permission to further track your movements on their website. And that’s where a lot of the misconception already starts: Not the popup itself nor the European Union for regulating this is the problem. The problem solely is the owner of the website you’re trying to visit and the tools and services it uses to track & analyze you.
I get this almost on a daily basis when talking to clients, friends or even family. They get annoyed by the cookie popup and then more often than not just click to accept all of the cookies and at the same time begin a rant on the EU and how inconvenient they’ve made the web. Don’t get me wrong, the EU has made a lot (A LOT) of questionable or even clearly wrong choices regarding laws within the Internet, most prominently with article 13/17.
But since the rise of the mandatory cookie notices, people at least were made aware of the fact, that the publications they use on a daily basis are tracking every click, every page view, viewpoints and sometimes even their mouse tracks to basically sell this data to ad networks. Ignoring this and clicking on the accept button for all cookies does not solve it.
The web simply is broken if your local plumber has full blown Google Tag Manager on his website because someone once recommended it to him. But the only one benefiting from this are services like Google and Facebook who have easy game collecting data from every visitor on this website and use it for their purposes.
It’s not that I’m generally against tracking on websites, but I’m strongly against needless tracking on websites, which happens all too often. Shops and web services which rely on constantly improving user experience and high uptime have very good arguments for running analytics, because the truly evaluate them and act upon.
But what I will never understand is how and why news portals unload that much crap on their users. If you don’t use an ad blocker, for example CNN.com will track you with an average of 28 trackers every page, while Spiegel Online still serves you almost 18. And that’s why most of todays popular websites suck. They are designed and optimized not for the user but for advertisers and maximizing profit. If they were designed for the user and with user experience and performance in mind, there would only be one tracker for analyzing in place and all the ads would be served ideally from the same server infrastructure but at the very least without 3rd party cookies.
And those publications seem to underestimate the trend that Mozilla with Firefox and Apple with all of their devices are cracking down on 3rd party cookies with blocking them by default and thereby basically devaluing the ads and the industry itself.
Of course there are and there always will be news publications that by their core values alone don’t want to track and sell their users, going with different types of financing. Popular examples for this kind of journalism in Germany are Krautreporter (backed by paying members) and netzpolitik.org, which is financed by donations. While Krautreporter only has the privacy friendly self-hosted Matomo in place, netzpolitik.org has no external scripts at all.
If you like to read independent journalism and like to live in a (web) future where you don’t get tracked on every click, supporting publications like these will help immensely.