Seeing ads and then being tracked online has become the new normal when it comes to browsing the internet. A new service aims to shake up this web-surfing model, but not for free.
Scroll launched on Tuesday and touts web browsing that's "twice as fast" with no ads and "80% fewer trackers." The service costs $4.99 a month and has partnered with websites like USA Today, BuzzFeed, Vox and Business Insider. Scroll subscribers can have an ad-free, almost tracker-free experience on these sites, which receive a cut of users' subscription fees.
Subscribers log in to Scroll on whatever device they use for browsing, whether it's a mobile phone or desktop computer. Once logged in, partner sites will no longer show ads and will use fewer trackers.
Those interested in Scroll can sign up on the website for a 30-day free trial and then continue the service with a 50% discount for six months after.
Scroll is an example of entrepreneurs trying to reset expectations for a web that's littered with distractions and privacy invasions.
A few years ago, ad blockers became a popular option in browsers because people didn't like the distraction of ads. But now, there's a growing realization that online ads often pose privacy problems, too, as they track your online behavior. And that pop-up urging you to subscribe to a newsletter? Sharing your email address gives a company another way to track you.
Advertisers, website publishers and data brokers harvest personal data in part so they can target ads toward what they think are your personal interest, which is why you might see ads for a product following you around the web after you visit its website. But particularly after Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, regulators have joined privacy advocates in pushing for less online tracking.
Scroll plans to add more publishers, including Daily Beast soon, but doesn't plan to raise its price as more partners arrive, the company said in a statement. "Our standard price of $4.99, and the share that goes to publishers, was designed to ensure that a full network of media sites would make more money from a Scroll member than from advertising," Scroll said. Ideally, publishers should get 40% more revenue from Scroll than from ads.
Profiting from privacy
And Scroll isn't the only company trying to benefit from the privacy push., led by former Firefox leader Brendan Eich, blocks ads and ad trackers by default while building its own ad system designed to protect privacy and pay Brave, Brave users and eventually publishers￼.
On Tuesday, Eich congratulated Scroll on Twitter, saying the two companies are effectively allies. Scroll CEO Tony Haile agreed. (Scroll doesn't work on Brave or on Apple's Safari, but Scroll offers an extension for Safari.)
Part of Brave's challenge is attracting advertisers and, soon, publishing partners, too. Scroll has a similar partnership obstacle since cooperating news sites must add Scroll's website software. That can be complicated, particularly with elements like custom video players, but "we've had partners get it up in a matter of hours," Scroll said in a statement.
The company also uses "Google Analytics and other similar services" for its own website.
Scroll's partnerships impose some limits on news publishers' ability to collect and share advertising-related browsing data. "Our agreements prohibit participating sites from disclosing your PII [personally identifiable information] to unaffiliated third parties, such as for marketing purposes or online advertising."
Originally published Jan. 29, 9:15 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:12 p.m. and 3:22 p.m. PT: Adds more background and detail about Scroll and online privacy and comment from the company.