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To Keep the Web Free – We’re Changing How Fair Ads Work

May 21, 2017

After donating thousands of dollars to charity on behalf of our users, now comes a time when even dreamers like ourselves have to face reality. We wanted to use the power of choice to keep the web free (by using Fair Ads), AND use some of the ad dollars to benefit charity. We now have to choose between the two.

We can no longer sustain a positive ad experience with premium brands. We wanted to continue and support Fair websites, and keep the web free, even if that meant we can no longer support charities with ad dollars. You can benefit from the best-in-class annoyance and malware protection online, and can still control your ad experience - and we're maintaining the approach that users have the final word.

How ads work - and why it didn't work for us

We always knew we wanted the ads on our platform to be the most polite, respectful, and unobtrusive we can find. We quickly discovered we can split the adverts market in two - the ads that answer our criteria - and the ones that don't.

The ones that do will usually be premium brands. The ones that don't, are usually brands you never heard of, using extremely annoying tactics to grab your attention, and often having some part in distributing malware.

As it turned out, there were two key challenges to get the premium ads we wanted.

1) The adware/malware problem:

Some malicious software, often a type of adware/malware, will try to inject ads onto everywhere you go, creating a horrible and very annoying experience - both for the user and the brand.

To maximize their revenues, the bad guys try to trick premium brands to send them adverts and premium dollars. The premium brands are forced to fight back, usually with that with automated tools that can detect such scenarios.

Unfortunately, to those automated tools, our ad inventory often looks too similar to the bad guys' inventory, and we were getting blocked. While we we were able to convince some brands of our good intentions, it's a big uphill battle that makes scaling the platform a real challenge.

1) The ad blocking "problem":

Ad blocking is still "unsolved" for in the online ads industry. On one end, brands, publishers, and everyone in between are all starting to grasp that it's not going away. They begin to understand that users are protesting a sub-par experience and are scrambling to find solutions.

When we started to offer our Fair Ads in the market, we thought it's an ideal solution: Users who block ads are willing to allow some ads (i.e. Fair Ads), under some terms premium brands should have no problem accepting.

And maybe it was ideal - but it was very hard to find out. Brands kept telling us, off the record, how great this could be - to reach users while respecting their choices. But they feared the overarching theme in the online ads space - a theme declaring war on ad blockers, the source of all evil. "How will I be able to do business in this industry?", one ad executive told us, "if I work with an ad blocker it'll cause me a lot of problems elsewhere".

So in a sense, even though our solution made perfect sense, we couldn't bring it to market because the industry is having a big war with ad blockers.

Choosing what's Fair

If premium brands won't work with us, we decided to see if we can work with other, non-premium brands. That'll increase our advertising income, allowing us to both share that income with the website owners as well as with the charities users choose to support.

But every time we tested ads from such brands, the experience was underwhelming. Ads were terribly annoying, flashy, low quality, obtrusive in every way, and to top it all - sometime contained or led to malware.

And so came a choice: are we going to insist on sourcing the ads ourselves - which allows for better direct control of the experience and provides for charities - or are we going to find another solution.

Every passing day just made it harder - we were blocking ads - but not supplying website owners any alternative. After countless hours of brainstorming, we realized we only ever had one choice.

Our first and most important goal is to help websites and users find the balance between a great user experience and funding operations with ads. We had to find a solution that solved for that, even if it means forgoing the ability to donate ad revenue.

The new Fair Ads program

The solution we found is simple, require no additional work on the users' end, and little-to-no work on the website's end.

Users will still configure their Ad Blocking preferences, and if they choose to (and we hope they do!), will still use Fair Ads to decide how many (and later on which types of) ads to allow.

But now, on supported websites that joined our Fair Ads program, we will transmit the users' ad choices to the website in real time. The website will then be able to adhere to those choices, only showing users the right amounts and types of ads, from the sources available to them (which should match the users' requirements).

To ensure users always have the last word, we're building new and easy-to-use reporting tools, so that users can easily report websites that abuse the system and show too many or inappropriate ads. Those websites will be suspended if reported frequently, and removed from the Fair Ads program altogether if the abuse is not stopped.

New Chapter

We feel that this solution can work long term. We will continue to invest in the best technology to stop malware, popups, trackers, and annoying ads. At the same time, we will have a way to support websites who are fair to their users. We hope you'll continue to support us through this journey. If you have any questions, drop us a line to info@standsapp.org, or hit the "feedback" button in the app's dashboard.