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January 2020
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Senator Wyden Wants Paid Ad Blocking Whitelists Investigated

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For years, journalists have highlighted how ad blocking companies have slowly but surely been compromising their ethics -- and products -- to make an extra buck. Several years ago you'll recall that numerous ad blocking companies were busted letting some companies' ads through their filters if they were willing to pay extra. Others collect and monetize "anonymized" data that's gleaned from what ads you're receiving and which ones you're blocking (recall that studies repeatedly have shown that anonymized data is not at all anonymous).Enter Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who, this week, sent a letter to the FTC (pdf, hat tip The Verge) urging some greater scrutiny of the sector:

"Hundreds of millions of consumers around the world have downloaded and installed software tools that purport to block online ads. In turn, the largest ad companies--including Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Verizon Media--have quietly paid millions of dollars to some of the largest ad blocking software companies in order to be able to continue to track and target consumers with ads.
Much like VPN companies who promise security and privacy but then hoover up your personal data, it's an erosion of consumer trust to promise a product that's doing the opposite of what it claims while not being transparent about it. While ad blockers are maligned by many sites, they're a natural evolution of the internet's insistence on pushing its luck with terrible, performance and security-eroding ads. So if they're going to be viewed as essential security and privacy tools, Wyden suggests they should be more up front about behavior like this:
"Eyeo, the German company that makes Adblock Plus, operates and "Acceptable Ads" program in which it whitelists advertisers that agree to prohibit pop-ups and other types of annoying ads. Eyeo requires the largest internet advertising companies to pay 30% of their revenue from ad blocking users to be included in this program. In October of 2015, Eyeo announced that it had opened its acceptable ads program to competing ad blockers, enabling competitors to use Eyeo's whitelist and receive payments from the major ad companies. The same day, AdBlock, another popular ad blocker, revealed that it had been sold to an anonymous buyer and would be joining the Acceptable Ads program. AdBlock then automatically "upgraded" millions of AdBlock users, without their affirmative consent, into tracking and targeting by major ad companies that paid to be included in Eyeo's whitelist."
In short what began as a sector responding ethically to the rise in terrible ads has been co-opted by the ad industry itself via cash and consolidation, without being transparent about its "evolving" relationship with advertisers. Wyden suggests the failures of transparency and notification here are likely illegal under federal law, and the sector should be prompted to, at the very least, make these relationships and product limitations clear to the end user.

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Game Dev Torrents Its Way To More Sales, Not Less

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Piracy is bad, full stop. That's the message repeated far too often by far too many in the content industries. Nothing as complicated as how copyright infringement impacts a content maker could be that simple, of course. Instead, piracy effects different content makers and companies in different ways. And, as we've seen in the past, when rightsholders actually try to connect with pirates and make good use of piracy, they often encounter beneficial results. When this occurs, detractors typically begin claiming all sorts of reasons for why those cases are unique: it only works for big companies that can absorb the sales losses, it only works for small companies that aren't generating much in sales anyway, it only works for some genres of video games and not others, etc.This reasoning is pointless. The fact is that smart use of the internet and piracy have too many success stories at this point to be written off in this way. And those success stories keep slamming into the stonewall shouts that piracy is always bad, such as a recent example where an indie developer put his own game up torrent sites, only to find a significant boost in sales as a result.

Game developer Shota Bobokhidze, aka ‘ShotX,’ falls in the latter category. The indie developer from Tiblisi, Georgia, runs his one-man company ShotX Studio which just released a new shooter game titled ‘Danger Gazers.’The release is available on Steam where it currently sells at $9.99. While that’s not an extremely steep price, ShotX realizes the average game fan may not have the financial means to try out all the new titles that come out every month.This prompted the developer to release a special edition targeting the pirate community.
He put the game up on the Pirate Bay, telling folks that it was a DRM free version of Danger Gazers, no strings attached. It was the full version of the game, and he simply asked anyone that might download and play it to consider paying for it later via a legitimate purchase or a donation. ShotX went on to post a link to the Pirate Bay on Reddit with the same messaging: just buy it if you like it. And this wasn't supposed to be some pre-planned gimmick, either.
ShotX says that this certainly wasn’t a planned PR campaign. He just wanted to get the word out and give the free torrent a chance. That said, he does believe that piracy can have a positive exposure impact, which was also the case here.“It wouldn’t have been effective if it was a planned PR move to get people to buy the product. It was just a kind act that I was lucky enough to get noticed. I’m sure it would have been apparent if it wasn’t so,” he says.ShotX’s approach worked well. The Reddit post promoting the official torrent reached a broad audience. This resulted in a lot of free downloads but also motivated people to buy the game and spread the word.“The response so far was amazing,” ShotX says. While he didn’t expect anything in return, the free release actually resulted in a significant revenue boost.
And isn't boosting revenue the entire point? How can piracy be always bad, full stop, if the end result in some cases is increased revenue for a content creator? That doesn't make any sense.Instead, this is yet another example that highlights how content creators can act human and connect with people out there, even those that might download their games for free. Through that connection, even those downloading the game, evil beings as they are, managed to send more money the developers way. Be human, awesome, and make use of the internet, folks.

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