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The War Against Ad-Blockers

Posted by on December 8, 2014.

Phys.org are currently running a story titled “Internet giants wage war on pop-up ad blockers” in which they raise moral panic about the woes of the advertising industry being crippled by Ad-Blockers.

Depending on the website, the percentage of viewers equipped with ad-blocking software ranges from 10 to 60 percent
they claim with further citations that “20 to 40 per cent” of advertising revenues are being lost as a result of consumers making a choice to use software which protects their privacy.
I visited Phys.org with an ad-blocker enabled and they place a banner at the top of the page telling me that they have detected it and provide me with a link explaining the impact where they state that the advertising helps support the site by paying for bandwidth etc., which is all well and good.  But then at the bottom of the same page they have this:

User Privacy

Many users are concerned about advertising privacy and 3rd-party tracking. Most web browsers are set by default to protect your privacy unless you opt for tracking yourself. For example, Internet Explorer automatically enables its “Do Not Track” option and Google Chrome blocks any 3rd-party cookies by default. All browsers have clear settings regarding your privacy that allow you to view ads without compromising your identity. In the event that your browser is set to allow tracking, Phys.org’s policy is to partner with a select few trusted advertising agencies that use only anonymous data to improve the quality and relevance of displayed ads.

Let me break down the problems with this statement.

Most web browsers are set by default to protect your privacy unless you opt for tracking yourself.
No, they are not, in fact almost all popular web browser are configured to do the opposite by default.
Internet Explorer automatically enables its “Do Not Track” option
While this is partially true (actually it is an install time option) it is ignored by the advertising industry because they claim the setting is not an explicit user choice:
The DAA does not require companies to honor DNT signals fixed by the browser manufacturers and set by them in browsers,” the statement said. “Specifically, it is not a DAA Principle or in any way a requirement under the DAA Program to honor a DNT signal that is automatically set in IE10 or any other browser. The Council of Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association will not sanction or penalize companies or otherwise enforce with respect to DNT signals set on IE10 or other browsers.
Now the next one is an outright lie and I find it impossible to believe that Phys.org aren’t deliberately misleading their readers with this one:
Google Chrome blocks any 3rd-party cookies by default
No, it absolutely does not.  Here is a screenshot of the settings window from a default Google Chrome installation (installed today as I was writing this article):chrome defaultAs can be clearly seen from the image, Google Chrome’s default is to allow third party cookies, furthermore, it is set to allow all sites to run javascript and plugins by default as well as allowing local storage to be used by default.  Google Chrome has perhaps some of the weakest privacy settings by default of all web browsers – why do Phys.Org try to mislead their readers with such blatantly false information?
All browsers have clear settings regarding your privacy that allow you to view ads without compromising your identity.
No they don’t – browser settings for privacy are at best opaque and often actually quite misleading.  Again if we use the Google Chrome default settings above we see it is titled “Cookies” but in fact it doesn’t just govern cookies it governs the use of local storage as well – which is quite different to cookies and is often used as a means to circumvent cookie blocking.
In the event that your browser is set to allow tracking, Phys.org’s policy is to partner with a select few trusted advertising agencies that use only anonymous data to improve the quality and relevance of displayed ads.
Another lie, I disabled my ad-blocker to check this and immediately the page filled up with trackers such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter and other social media trackers and that is still with my DNS based ad-blocking running – scanning the article with a server based tool to detect trackers reveals the following:
  • Scorecard Research
  • Tribal Fusion
  • Red Sheriff (imrworldwide.com)
  • Doubleclick
  • Googleapis
  • jwpsrv.com (possibly tracking)
  • Google Syndication
  • Exponential

So much for Phys.org’s promises.

Here is my message to the advertising “giants” and publishers.  If you want people to stop using ad-blockers, respect their choices – do not track people without consent.  If you want to show adverts do so without tracking and profiling – serve contextual advertising instead of behavioural.  You see, people understand that web sites might need to include advertising to fund their free content but what they don’t like is being tracked and profiled with absolutely zero control.  The problem was created by the very people who are trying to fight it – if you want to fix it, stop tracking.

Finally, my comment to Phys.org – stop misleading your readers.


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Submitted in: Alexander Hanff, Expert Views, News_privacy | Tags: , , , , ,