Mass Network: turning online advertising on its head

Tuesday 06 September 2016

A new blockchain project aims to disrupt one of the most simultaneously loathed and popular features of the web.

We’ve all been there. You’re browsing the web, looking for a particular product. Maybe you even end up buying it. Then the next time you visit Facebook, there it is in the sidebar. It doesn’t matter that such adverts are useless because, having bought the product in question, it’s the one thing you’re certain not to buy again any time soon. It’s there anyway.

Times Square

Ads left, right and centre: this isn't so far off many web users' experience of the information superhighway

Such a common event serves to illustrate both just how aggressive and how ineffective online advertising can be. Adverts are targeted specifically to you by a process of data mining. Tracking software logs which sites you’ve been on, what your behaviour has been, and much more. It’s a highly sophisticated - and highly invasive - practice, carried out by advertisers in the interests of presenting you with adverts that generate maximum revenue for them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Disrupting the status quo

The accepted model is that webhosts offer space to advertisers, and display these ‘targeted’ ads to their visitors. Those visitors are effectively left out of the process. Their job in this model is to act as willing servants: to give up their personal data without payment and often without consent, and then to click on the adverts with which they are presented to generate money for the companies and websites. There has long been this tacit agreement between users and webhosts that the ‘free’ content and services they enjoy are paid for with personal data, but the sheer extent of this practice means most consumers are now highly concerned about their privacy. More than 90 percent of Americans feel they’ve lost control over how their personal information is collected and used by companies, particularly when it comes to advertising. 

Needless to say, many web users are catching onto the whole enterprise and opting out in one way or another. ‘Ad blindness’ is particularly a problem with the sought-after digital native demographic. These younger web users may ignore ads altogether, dismissing them on principle or learning to filter them out unconsciously. This leads to more garish and invasive ads to capture their attention, albeit briefly. Then there are the ad blockers that are going mainstream. These prevent adverts from being displayed altogether. In 2015 they cost publishers an estimated $22 billion. Some sites have reacted by blocking the blockers - preventing visitors from accessing their content unless they turn their ad blockers off. It’s a real problem, because many sites can only offer free content due to the revenues they receive from adverts. But the system as it currently stands is badly flawed.

Mass: a new approach

The Mass Network project aims to bring a very crypto and free market solution to this problem. There is a need for advertising, but adverts are delivered to the wrong people. Personal data is valuable to companies, but those who own it aren’t paid for giving it up. The solution is for advertisers to pay web users for their data, by delivering adverts that they consent to view and providing only that data that they have given permission to be collected.

Mass is crowdfunding their project with an ongoing ICO, which will run until 1 December. Their board has a few notable personalities on it, including Charlie Shrem and Mycelium’s Alexander Kuzmin. Mass will develop ad-blocking software that will work in tandem with a blockchain wallet. Advertisers will then pay users who use the Mass-enabled browser; they will be sure of gaining viewers who are genuinely interested in viewing their ads, whilst the viewers will be able to tailor the personal data they submit.

Economically, the Mass Coin is pretty straightforward. There is fixed supply (one trillion, of which 700 billion will be distributed to ICO investors). Since advertisers will need to buy these to pay for viewers, their demand will drive price. Any meaningful degree of adoption will entail a significant price rise. It’s a neat solution, and one that couldn’t work without blockchain and the micropayments capability it offers.

For more information and to participate in the ICO, visit


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