Vivaldi Browser CEO wants to fix web advertising

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Vivaldi Browser CEO wants to fix web advertising

Vivaldi is one of our favorite browsers, and for good reason. It’s filled to the brim not just with customization options and features that help enhance your web browsing experience, but it also has a built-in tracking blocker that works to limit advertisers from following you around the web everywhere you go. While that sort of thing’s a standard feature on many browsers today, in Vivaldi’s case, there’s more to it. Vivaldi’s CEO Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, whom we sat down with after MWC 2023, doesn’t believe in the attention- and tracking-based advertising world we live in today, and is advocating for a radical renaissance that shifts us to a broad and content-based approach, like we’re familiar with from print and TV.

To start with a little excursion, Jon explains to us that the internet wasn’t always the attention-based advertising machine that we know it to be today. This trend supposedly really only started when Facebook went public in 2012 and started to focus on the interests of shareholders. The company was then forced to keep users on the platform as long as possible and monetize their interactions, leading to the redesign of the Facebook feed to be less focused on people you know, and more focused on supposedly interesting content.

This approach meant that publishers could suddenly compete against each other on the same platform, leading to an influx of click-optimized headlines and less money to be distributed among websites overall. Facebook’s success with this model also quickly drove other platforms to copy the approach, like Twitter, which has for a long time tried to push its algorithmic-based feed onto users, rather than the beloved chronological timeline.

In turn, this led to the advent of poor-quality, high-quantity ads that advertisers effectively have less control over than programmatic ads in newspapers and such. They have no idea on which websites they will end up, and it’s likely that no one is truly happy with the way the system is set up right now. Publishers moving to paywalls further proves that the current ad system is broken, Jon says. 10 to 15 years ago, almost all content was freely available on the web, with ads that you weren’t necessarily afraid of. This has changed today, and paywalls are a symptom that shows that targeted ads are worse, less efficient, and bring less revenue than the older approach.

Vivaldi wants to offer an escape from the targeting-based internet

Vivaldi doesn’t believe in this attention-based model, Jon explains. The browser wants to actively offer alternatives to such efforts that attempt to lock you in to a service as long as possible. The browser offers a built-in RSS feed reader that you can curate yourself and that is strictly chronological by nature, and other services like Vivaldi Mail and Calendar can either be used with Vivaldi accounts, or you can hook into them with your own existing IMAP services.

Vivaldi also doesn’t believe in collecting user data, and is actively helping its users block trackers. The browser has a built-in ad blocker, even if Jon isn’t too happy about it — he would have preferred to stick with a tracking blocker, which would be an incentive for websites and social media to create privacy-minding ads instead, but Vivaldi users were asking for the inclusion. This is also one of the things that Jon says sets Vivaldi apart from the competition. He says the browser can be thought of as a product built by and for friends, and thus, compromises have to be made.

In contrast to ad blocker AdBlock Plus, or Vivaldi’s competing browser, Brave, the company doesn’t want to take matters into its own hands, though. AdBlock Plus has an “acceptable ads” program built into its extension by default, which allows partner websites to add unobtrusive ads on their websites, with all the usual tracking enabled. Brave, on the other hand, blocks all advertising and tracking by default, but you can optionally opt in to receive ads in your desktop or phone notifications. This earns you tokens in Brave’s cryptocurrency, which you can either use for your own gain or distribute to the websites you’ve visited as an alternative payment for blocking their ads.

Both of these approaches are opt-in for content creators, though, meaning that if publishers don’t agree with the terms set by these custom systems created by companies that effectively block their main revenue stream, they don’t get a dime anymore.

Vivaldi is bringing the fight for a better internet straight to the regulators

What Jon wants to do instead is advocate to regulators (he doesn’t want to call what he does lobbying), and when we met, he was en-route to Brussels to talk to EU representatives. He envisions a world where tracking-based advertising is banned, with publishers instead going back to the way advertising worked before the internet, as you know them from newspapers, magazines, or TV. Rather than having ads be based on users’ interests, they would be more programmatic and based on broader target audiences, or the content they’re paired with.

The benefit with this approach is that there isn’t necessarily less money in it for publishers than in tracking-based advertising. Jon says that advertisers have advertising budgets, and when they can’t use this money for tracking-based ads because these are banned, they would instead use them for content-targeted ads. If you ask us, this is similar to how advertising works on television already, with a rough target audience in mind for certain programming. And if you’re aware of Super Bowl ad prices, you can clearly see that there is enough money in this form of advertising (though of course, the Super Bowl is one of the most viewed TV events annually, so that might not be the best example).

Google’s Privacy Sandbox isn’t a viable alternative

On the surface, Google may have something similar in mind with its upcoming Privacy Sandbox that tracks users locally only, and then organizes them by shared interests, making them less trackable as individuals. But as Jon told our sister site XDA, who also spoke to him during MWC 2023, this still doesn’t remove the tracking issue — it just relocates it from servers to the browser.

Vivaldi can’t single-handedly change the way the internet is set up today, but the company can do its part. Its user-centric, privacy-minding approach to a web browser can provide you with an idea of what the internet could be like without tracking, and that’s more than what can be said for many competitors.

Vivaldi Browser: Smart & Swift Vivaldi Technologies COMMUNICATION Price: Free 4.2 Download

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