The Core Dump

Cyber is hard

[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 08 May 2016]

It’s a content blocker, not an ad blocker

The problem isn’t ads. The problem is being stalked like an animal across the internet.

I don’t use ad blockers. I think it’s a fair trade: You give me content and I see your ads.

I do, however, use content blockers.

The difference is not sophistry or comic book guy pedantry—an ad blocker blocks ads while a content blocker stops your browser from downloading many different kinds of data. This especially includes trackers, the little pieces of software that follow you around the web, cataloging your every move.

This means content blockers also block ads, but that is because the advertising networks track you across the web.

Does that mean they know specifically who you are? Name, rank, and serial number? Probably not. But we can’t know for sure, because the industry isn’t saying. What we do know is that when you visit a site that participates in an ad network—which is most commercial sites—the ad network uses the information it has on you to create an auction where different advertisers bid on the privilege to show an ad to you, or at least the demographic you’ve been lumped into. The auction takes milliseconds and then the ad starts to load.

What this means in plain English is that when you go to a site, your information is sold and aggregated. So it’s not a matter of if you trust the site itself, but if you trust the companies the site is selling you to. Companies you don’t know and can’t know without manually inspecting the source of the site.

Perhaps I’m over-sensitive, but the feeling of having my browsing habits sold to the highest bidder whenever I visit a site gives me the creeps. Content blockers are the weapon we have against this.

It’s not the ads themselves. You giving me content in exchange for exposing me to ads is fine, good, even. You giving me content in exchanging for selling my information to who-knows-who is simply not okay.

It’s also an amazing state for the media industry to find itself: They have outsourced the very thing that brings them revenue. This does not seem particularly bright, to put it mildly.

The solution is simple in principle but difficult and expensive to implement: Host your own ads. Accept that the internet is here to stay and that you need to own your own publishing and revenue stack. Accept that if you are a publisher today you are partly a technology company.

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