Surveillance Advertising
Good advertising doesn't have to follow you around the web
Modern online advertising works by accumulating and processing data on millions of people usually without their consent to help target ads with ever more granularity. This is called surveillance advertising and we believe in a different approach. Whether you're an individual just hoping to not be tracked, an advertiser looking for an alternative, or you run a website but don't want to sell your visitors' data, we want to help you opt-out.
Profiling millions of users for fun and profit
To first understand the problem, it's useful to go through some of the basics of online advertising. Showing the right ad is critical to good performance and as an advertiser you want to make sure your ad is shown to a relevant audience. As an ad network or publisher, a better ad results in more clicks, more interaction, and importantly more money. To ensure that the best-performing ads are shown to the right folks, ad networks build profiles of users. In the advertising industry, building a profile of users to target ads is called behavioral targeting or personalized advertising.
To build these profiles, most advertising networks create a database of user data in order to show the right ad. This can include data such as:
Extremely large sites like Facebook have a lot of first-party data on users already such as the posts they've liked or the groups they are a member of. This data is very useful to target ads but all that data at least was given directly to Facebook willfully and voluntarily. Things get a little murkier when tracking users across the web on third-party sites.
Building a profile from users' visits to third-party sites is typically accomplished by the use of trackers (sometimes called beacons or pixels). For example, if a site uses a tracker from an ad network and a user visits that site, the site operator can now target future advertising to that user – a known past visitor – with that network. This is called retargeting or remarketing. The site operator (often just a small business) gets to target their own ads better but also helps the ad network create their enormous database of all the sites users have visited in the past. Critically, the site visitor didn't agree to share this data with the ad network but their browser did it anyway.
Other ad predictions are made by grouping similar users together based on some user data and using machine learning. Frequently this involves an advertiser uploading personal data on users (often past customers of the advertiser) to an ad network and telling the network to target similar users. The idea is that two users with similar demographic information and similar interests would like the same products. In ad tech, this is known as lookalike audiences or similar audiences.
Understandably, many people have concerns about these targeting techniques. If you've ever felt that ads "follow you around" while you browse the web, it's because of these. While the modern advertising industry has built enormous value, it's done so by centralizing massive amounts of data on as many people as possible.
We target our ads differently
Our vision for advertising is different. We target exclusively based on the content of the page and general geography (usually the country level). For example, if you are browsing a page about front-end web development from Switzerland, we might show you an ad for a Swiss company looking to hire front-end web developers. These types of ads perform fantastically well and don't require compiling data on millions of users. It really is that simple to have a high-performing ad without tracking users.
This approach of putting ads next to relevant content is called contextual targeting and all advertising used to work this way. Before online advertising, advertisers placed an ad in a related magazine or during a TV program their desired audience watched. Every successful marketing campaign of the past worked this way and this approach built every iconic brand you can remember. Advertising doesn't have to be personalized to reach its target audience.
By focusing our ad network exclusively on developers, we already have a huge leg up in terms of reaching the right audience for an ad. If you're browsing a site with our ads, we don't need user profiles to know you're a developer. You're browsing a site for developers. By knowing a little more about the sites that run our ads, we can further focus on developer niches like data science or DevOps to reach just the right audience for an advertiser while still respecting the privacy of everyone involved.
Opting-out of surveillance advertising
As an individual
If you're an individual just aiming to not get profiled, there's a few steps we recommend:
As a site operator
If you're a site operator, say a site for users interested in a certain niche or perhaps a small online business, there's a few things you can do:
As an advertiser
We understand that you can't just turn off all your ads. You'd quickly be out of a job. Whether you're a large or a small advertiser, here are some actions you can take to make privacy-focused advertising succeed:
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