The happiest day of my Internetting life was the day I discovered adblockers.
For the uninitiated, an adblocker is a program you install in your browser that stops ads from showing on websites while you browse. All ads. Everywhere.
It was hell. And worse than hell, it was all full of malware. Well, okay, maybe not all of it, but getting stuck with malware due to some crappy ad from some shady adserver was a relatively common event.
Then I installed Adblock, and life changed. Suddenly browsing the web was this quiet, peaceful, clean, quick experience. Malware was practically a thing of the past. I wouldn’t go back at gunpoint.
There’s a downside to adblockers, though, and it’s that the Internet runs on ad revenue. Every ad you block is money out of the pockets of websites you might actually like and support, and those sites might fold without it.
Adblockers are part of the reason why paywalls are coming back to news sites. Well, that and the fact that Internet advertising never paid the bills anywhere in the first place.
So, I’m waxing poetic about adblockers because Facebook announced today that they had discovered the secret to blocking adblockers and sometime today, their mighty codewizards would wave their magic wands and adblockers would stop working on Facebook. It’s almost 6pm PST and I’m still not seeing ads on Facebook, but I suppose it’s only a matter of time.
Reactions to this news are mixed. Most everyday users think it’s BS. Publishers think it’s the second coming. I’m of the “this is BS!” variety, myself, but I’m also not sweating it too much because the adblockers will figure out a workaround in no time.
Here’s the thing: we’re being sold to constantly. Our attention spans are sold as a commodity by the social platforms we use, constantly. Our information is gathered, anonymized (we hope), and sold, constantly. And most of us are really goddamn sick of it. Adblockers, and their cousins, tracking blockers (think Disconnect, Ghostery and Privacy Badger), help us stop the constant selling. Taking those options away from people will only piss them off.
Yeah, I know, if you don’t want Facebook, Twitter, et al, selling your information, you shouldn’t use their sites, blahblahblah. Well, that’s not really a viable option for most of us. If you want to connect with people, you practically have to be on some platform or another.
I’m willing to submit to a certain amount of selling my information, sure, but I also like to have the tools at my disposal to limit and control those sales. It’s my information, after all. I should get some say in how it’s used.
Anyway, back to the point. Those of us who use adblockers will be clinging to them, fiercely and fervently, until you pry them from the icy grips of our dead claws. Except that’s hurting businesses we like on the Internet.
The obvious solution here is to make sure you whitelist sites you support, which I do. But most people don’t. So what do we do? Sites need money. We want our privacy and a non-annoying web experience. What’s the answer here?
I think part of the answer is government regulations on privacy. We should think about regulating what kinds of information can be collected and how, how it can be stored, how it’s anonymized, how it’s sold and used, etc.
We should enforce the Do Not Track setting in browsers somehow.
We should think about negotiating some kind of advertising/adblocking truce (which sounds silly). You people agree to show me safe, non-intrusive ads, and I’ll agree to allow you to show them to me. I don’t know how we’d go about doing that. AdblockPlus was trying to work something like that out, but advertising companies basically told them to get bent.
Companies and creators need to consider better options for generating revenue. Subscription models similar to Netflix, perhaps. Patreon. Services like YouTube Red.
This all boils down to the same problems we keep seeing on the Internet. Piracy, adblocking, the problems newspapers are having with paying for themselves – it’s all the same thing.
Mostly, we, as Internet users, want to support the sites and creators we enjoy. We want to give you money. But companies go out of their way to make it difficult. We want to give you money and love and support, but you’re making it so ridiculously hard.
Don’t take the tools we use to protect ourselves away, folks. Give us better options to support you, instead.