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Adblockers are a 'modern-day protection racket'

Who's watching you right now?

John Whittingdale, Tory MP and Government Culture Secretary has spoken out about adblocking software saying they are 'modern-day protection racket' and that they present a threat to the continued existence of the newspaper and music industries.  That’s a pretty big claim, but is it true?

First, what do we mean by adblockers?  Simply, they are computer programs that run on your computer and prevent websites loading adverts when they load the rest of the webpage.  I would also argue that programs such as Ghostery also fall into the category of adblockers because they can block the tracking software that advertisers use to monitor users web browsing activity and tailor adverts based on that activity.  That’s why if you search for a particular pram you might suddenly notice you start seeing adverts for that pram.

In his speech to the Oxford Media Convention, Mr Whittingdale likened the use of adblockers to music copyright piracy, presumably because adblocking means that users can obtain content without seeing adverts and thus preventing website owners gathering income from the advertisers.

For me Mr Whittingdale’s view misses some important points.  First, if adblocking is the equivalent of stealing content then surely adding irrelevant, numerous and often quite large (in terms of file size) adverts must be the equivalent of stealing the users’ data allowance.  I just visited the Independent newspaper’s website, which attempted to load 9 adverts plus 26 trackers – in fairness the Indy used to be much worse and they are the reason I first installed Adblocker.  Too many adverts on a page isn’t a new phenomenon, as far back as January 2012 Googlewas devising ways of penalising websites that show too many adverts following complaintsfrom users
Who's looking at your personal data right now?

I briefly mentioned that many advertisers use trackers to monitor users’ activities.  This is one of the most troubling aspects of online advertising.  These trackers can monitor all aspects of a person’s internet use from the sites you visit and what you search for online to who you are, where in the world you are what language you speak and information about your computer.  They don’t do this for fun, they report this information back to the people who created the tracking software.  You may well think that this is potentially a huge breach of your privacy… and you’d be correct.  Think of it like this – how would you react to a man with a clipboard following you everywhere you go, writing it down and reporting all your daily activities to be recorded in perpetuity?  That is what internet advertisers are doing to you.

Lots of people object to having websites automatically play video adverts, clutter their screen and eat up their data allowances with adverts.  Many people also object to having everything they do online monitored, not because they are doing anything wrong but because their banking information, medical history, sexual preferences, etc are none of anybody else’s business.

So, in short when advertisers complain about users blocking their content they have only themselves to blame.

On a side issue, it’s curious that a Conservative government should be trying to influence the market by restricting consumer choice to prop up failing business models – not a very conservative position to take you might think.


  1. The other issue with adverts is that the advert networks can get compromised and used to spread malware - e.g. see this recent entry


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