An Unnecessary Fight: Wired & Condé Nast vs. Customers
by Doc Searls Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Irony alert:::: 

Wired won't let me see Uh Oh: Google Expands Its Ad Tracking. But, Yay: It’s Opt-In, because I'm running tracking protection. Specifically, the EFF's Privacy Badger. Currently it's on all my browsers.

Wired incorrectly identifies that protection as ad blocking, interrupting my view with a pop-over that says, 

Here’s The Thing With Ad Blockers.
We get it: Ads aren’t what you’re here for. But ads help us keep the lights on.
So, add us to your ad blocker’s whitelist or pay $1 per week for an ad-free version of WIRED. Either way, you are supporting our journalism. We’d really appreciate it.

(I have a copy of the image here.)

More irony: I'm fine with seeing ads, and have no problem with ads that aren't based on tracking me — and in fact would like it if Wired just gave me those. Which, by the way, is what we get from every print publication on Earth, including Wired, and has worked fine for advertisers since forever. Better than tracking, in fact.  (So sez Don Marti, who has studied the hell out of all this.)

According to Privacy Badger, Wired is running seventeen trackers, of which a minority are blocked: amazon.adsystem, optimizely, outbrain, condenastdigital, graph.facebook, mookie1,, rubiconproject and turn. Others are green-lit through.

So let's experiment here...

Okay, I just green-lit condenastdigital's trackers (there are two), since I figure (though I don't really know) that these might be Wired's parent's way of knowing if an ad gets seen or not. In any case, I'm hoping they're something analytic and not about surveillance for the sake of retargeting (aka stalking) — or some other practice I hate. 

Didn't work.

Hmm::: now Privacy Badger identifies 21 trackers.

Okay, I just turned off blocking for all of the other blocked trackers. Let's see what happens now.

Bzzzzt: fail. Wired still thinks I'm running an ad blocker. Sigh.

Here's what's extra icky about this: I subscribe to the print edition of Wired. That should give me a pass, wouldn't you think? It does with other magazines, such as Condé Nast's The New Yorker.  But I only see a "Sign Up" button and a link to "Subscribe." The former takes me to the $1/week place, while the latter takes me to . 

But there's no way to log in, at least not that I can see.

So I'll go to

Nothing there either. Just a "Subscribe" link (6 months for $5), but no log-in.

Ah! I just discovered a itty bitty tiny "log in" link below the text in the pop-over. So I successfully logged in there, where it takes me to a page called Billing, with a form where I can enter my credit card, above this text:

By clicking Purchase, I agree that every 4 weeks my card will be charged $3.99 (or the then-current rate) for my ad-free subscription to I may contact Customer Care (1-800-825-5388) to cancel at any time.

Nothing about maintaining the subscription I have, or making it work for online as well.

So I'll call the Customer Care number above (which can't be much about care, since it's only about canceling, it says).

Shit: it starts with "a quick 3 question survey" that isn't, since I've lost count of the questions.

Yuck: it's an ad. "As a reward for completing our survey...."  OMG. 

I'll start over.

Total fail. The ad is pure spam, a fucking roach motel: you can't get out. Why does Condé Nast have this? Unfuckingbelievable. Or worse, believable. Worse than that, it sounds exactly like a phishing expedition. Pity the poor fool just trying to "cancel at any time."

Okay, let's go to the print magazine for help. I have a pile of those here at my elbow.

There, in ittybitty type at the bottom of the masthead page, I find a different customer service number: 1-800-GO-WIRED. 

I've dialed that, and have gone through a long automated call center gauntlet that includes authenticating with the account number on my mailing label.

Now I'm on hold. "Thank you for your patience. Please continue to hold" it just said, for the Nth time...

While I've been waiting, I've also logged in to Nothing useful there, at least for my current purposes, though it does show my subscriptions to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair as well.

At last the phone got answered. After giving up on solving my problem (presumably because she can't), the agent sent me to "digital support."

And here is what I just learned from the digital support agent: having a subscription to Wired the print magazine entitles me to nothing online. That's interesting news. Not only because there is no way to tell that's the case without going through the hell I just endured, but because The New Yorker print subscription includes digital access, and Vanity Fair, doesn't appear to be restrict access to their online stuff at all.

So: what could I do?

"You can always turn off your ad blocker," the digital support agent said.

"I'm not running an ad blocker," I replied.

"Then you'll have to pay for a digital subscription."

I asked her to pass along my unhappiness to whoever might care. She said she'd do that. Forgive me for having no faith in that.

So:::: Earth to Wired and Condé Nast: please stop giving your customers so much freaking trouble. 

Better yet, work with us on this.

The invitation still stands.