Ads are a problem on the Internet. And while I trust that all of my supporters have seen my frequent calls for them to use Ghostery, Adblock, and NoScript to restore their browsing experience to something that they control, ads aren’t going anywhere. Just because we aren’t seeing them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, so let’s clear the air now, in light of a mobile carrier working on a platform that will block ads from being delivered to mobile devices, something that this guy decided to spout ignorance about:
Don’t click that unless you’re using AdBlock. This guy makes it a point to make it known that he has the right to sell you as a commodity if you click his article, otherwise you’re stealing from him. I’ll provide you with the important bits so that you don’t have to be bought and sold by advertisers. I keep saying that. Let’s explain it.
Why Advertising Is Bullshit
There are these invisible things all over the Internet called “trackers.” When I say that they’re “all over the Internet,” that is precisely what I mean. Just about every website that you visit uses at least one tracker, and the average seems to be somewhere around a dozen. However, I’ve seen some go past one hundred:
What do these trackers do? Well… they track you. They pay attention to what you click on, what seems to interest you, and they store that information. You can see what an advantage this is. One such tracker is Google AdSense. Just think of the benefit this offers to advertisers! Every website that uses Google AdSense collects data on you. Did you click a football article there? Did you click a clothes shopping article there? Did you click an article asking how to remove stains from a football jersey? AdSense has logged all of that, and it is using that information to determine what kind of ads to serve you. So when you see that ad for a brand new football jersey (Stainproof!) you’ll know why.
These trackers are everywhere, and there are literally thousands of them. Some are more innocuous. Google Analytics is one such tracker. It’s used by webmasters such as myself to find out who is visiting their website. It’s all anonymous data, and it doesn’t buy or sell you. It just tells me that x% of people visiting my podcast are between 20 and 35, y% are female, z% are white, w% are from the United States. Analytics generally aren’t bad, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I use Analytics. Beyond that, I don’t have any control over WordPress Analytics, because it can’t be disabled on a WordPress blog hosted at WordPress.com.
Advertising trackers are a different thing, though. Google AdSense and the thousands of others are constantly looking over your shoulder and spying on you, keeping track of what you’re interested in. Why did you think Google was giving away Chrome for free? Chrome is probably their most profitable industry, and Google Search is damned useful. They want you logged into your Google account. They know everything you search, every website you go to, every interest you have, and they’re the ones running AdWords and AdSense.
AdWords is a Google Search feature, and I’ve used it in the past. It basically is one of the “paid ads” you see if you search for something on Google. It does not involve trackers. If you search for “anarchist blog,” for example, Google Adwords would have shown you the ad for my blog at the top. This is a very different thing from spying on you, storing that information, and selling it to advertisers.
The key thing to note is that the trackers and advertisers are not the same people, more often than not. Kelloggs wants to advertise, Spalding wants to advertise, Game of Thrones wants to advertise. These three products and manufacturers don’t run trackers. So what do they do? They turn to the trackers and say “We need to run ads.” The trackers reply, “Well, we’re in use on this percentage of websites, so we are able to refine the interests of the people we track very nicely.”
It’s all about how successfully the trackers can get the right ads to the right people. It doesn’t do Kelloggs any good at all to have their ads served to people who only eat organic, after all, and the trackers are there to prevent that from happening. It sounds great, but look more closely. What, exactly, are the trackers offering? What are they using as leverage? What are they selling?
They are using you as leverage. They are buying and selling you. They are spying on you. It is as though Kelloggs has hired Private Investigators all over the country to go out and spy on everyone, that way they know exactly to whom to deliver their flyers. Does that sound like something you would approve of? Would you approve of having a P.I. staring in through your window with binoculars, jotting down in his notebook, “Oh, she likes Frosted Flakes, does she…? But not Cheerios…? Very interesting…”
But they’re invisible, and that’s what makes them a problem. The websites using these trackers–they’re not telling you about it, because they don’t have to. It’s completely invisible. They are server-side PHP scripts; they don’t use your bandwidth, and they don’t hog your system resources. They can be blocked, however, and no addon is better for that than Ghostery 5.4.x. Don’t get 6.0+; it sucks.
Stop these trackers from spying on you without your knowledge or consent. Did we ever consent to these trackers? No. We had no idea they were there. The average person still doesn’t. The average person has literally no idea that almost every webpage they visit is loaded with these things that are keeping track of their behavior and interests, storing that info in a server somewhere, and selling it.
And then use AdBlock Plus on top of it, so that you don’t have to see the ads, either. It’s a two-pronged attack. Ghostery stops the trackers. AdBlock Plus stops the ads themselves. I honestly don’t remember the last time that I saw an ad on the Internet. My browsing experience is phenomenal. No ads, no annoying popups. I also use NoScript, but it’s unrelated to this area of anonymity and privacy. There’s no need to get into every single addon and extension that I use.
Anyway, so the website decides to run ads to pay for its bandwidth and stuff, but why would an advertiser want to run ads there? Kelloggs doesn’t have time to visit every single website to check to see if it could serve its ads there and be fruitful. Ever wonder why you received a Chess.com ad on a tvtropes article? Now you know–the trackers determine what ad you see. Kellogs says “We want our ad to appear to interested people,” and the tracker uses its network of websites to make that happen.
So that’s why this entire system is bullshit. Let’s move on to the article, and look at some particularly wrong things.
Obviously, I write for a website that doesn’t charge people a fee to read each article.
I respectfully disagree. You charged them. You just did so invisibly. People absolutely paid to read your articles; they just didn’t pay you directly. They agreed (unknowingly) to allow you to sell them to advertisers. They absolutely paid.
They believe that it is the responsibility of the advertiser to shoulder the cost of transmitting the advertisement, and not the end-user that views it.
This is actually a fantastic point, and not something I’d ever considered before, because I use Sprint and have unlimited data, a plan that I will be grandfather’d with until the day I die, because there is no way they’re getting me to give it up. Honestly I typically use about 120 GB of mobile data each month. Anyway.
Considering that a great deal of ads are videos, they can use up quite a lot of bandwidth. Virtually all of them use some sort of scripting and images to catch people’s attention; if they didn’t, then “Allow non-intrusive advertising” would never have become a thing with Adblock Plus. Don’t pretend, dude. Ads are obnoxious. They’re somewhat less obnoxious today than they were a decade ago, but the reason for that is because the average bandwidth has increased, not because the ads are any less flashy.
Ads on Youtube default to 1080p and cannot be lowered. You have no choice but to watch the add in 1080p@60Hz. That takes up quite a lot of bandwidth. Of course, Adblock Plus blocks Youtube ads, as well, so it’s a non-issue for my readers (right? :D). While ads on other sites that take video form may not be so obnoxiously HD, they always Auto-Play, and they always download. Considering that mobile data is at a premium with most carriers, visiting 50 websites, all of which have a video ad, can easily consume 100+ megabytes of data.
Yet another way that the end-user is paying for the advertising and the website.
So Three states that the customer shouldn’t have to pay for the data used to download the ad, and this is one reason that they are blocking nearly all of them (the only exceptions are certain types of ads on social media). This makes absolutely no sense, when you understand how data is tracked and paid for by both ISPs and hosting providers, as explained above.
The author threw out his own explanation for how all this works, but trust me when I tell you that a) I have no vested interest in the matter and am impartial; b) I am correct; c) he is incorrect; and d) he somehow thinks that the data being downloaded to the end-user’s phone doesn’t constitute usage of the end-user’s mobile data, despite the fact that… you know… it obviously does. Everything that gets downloaded to a mobile phone uses up a portion of its mobile data, including the website itself, including all of the background stuff, and including the ads. The ad could not be served to the end-user if it did not download to their device. The very fact that the ad is served proves that it used the user’s data. And since users typically have mobile bandwidth caps and pay very high monthly charges for mobile data, these ads can be quite expensive for the end-user, especially those 1080@60 Youtube ads.
What really doesn’t make sense is that Three seems to think that ads and websites are two separate entities.
I suggest you look into how ads, trackers, and websites actually work.
If you choose to browse a website without the ads, you are quite literally taking money from the website’s owners. Site owners must pay for the bandwidth that you use to browse their sites, and if you’ve blocked their only source of income, they’re losing money every time you click on a page.
That’s the last of the things I’m going to quote, because it’s such utter bullshit that there’s no point in continuing. He’s blatantly wrong in several ways, and this is simply the most egregious. So let me explain to this dude how all of this came about.
In the early days of the Internet, websites were static webpages made by creative people who simply wanted to share their content. There were no ads. It was just a free exchange of ideas. Some portions of this early Internet remains: seanbaby.com is a terrific example. These were the days of Guestbooks, Geocities, and all that. It was literally just a place for people to go to share their stuff. No one was even thinking about getting paid for it. It was simply about sharing.
Youtube followed the same arc. When YouTube began, it was simply a place for creative people to go and share things that they made and wanted to share. No one was thinking about getting paid for it. It was solely about making and sharing content.
Then people realized that it could be monetized without end-users even noticing. This was done with advertising (and, later, trackers). Remember the early ads? It didn’t matter what your interests were. They were more like television ads–indiscriminate in who they appeared to. When I was 21 and watching Youtube, I was served ads for Bounty laundry detergent and shit. It was tremendously ineffective, and the monetization rate was very low–it simply wasn’t an effective way to advertise. Thus came in trackers.
However, some people who developed large followings because of their creativity and good videos suddenly had a lot of leverage–their subscribers–and quickly found that could be turned into revenue, especially with the new targeted advertising brought about by trackers. Again, this happened to the Internet as a whole, as well. Small channels and websites fell into obscurity as a few titans came forward. It didn’t matter that the large channels and websites didn’t intend to crush the small ones; it simply happened, because they couldn’t keep up. It’s the tendency of all things–growth was proportional. JonTron will never come close to PewDiePie, Angry Joe will never come close to the Angry Video Game Nerd. Just as Facebook, Yahoo, and Google dominated–
Speaking of Facebook and Google, you’ll notice they don’t run trackers. They don’t need to. First of all, most people willingly fill out their profile and tell Facebook’s hidden trackers everything about them that there is to know. Facebook’s trackers are built literally into the website itself, and the same is true for Google search.
Then something changed.
Suddenly the perspective had shifted.
It was no longer about making and sharing content and hopefully making enough money to thrive and prosper. It was about making money. Suddenly, we owed them this money. It was a classic bait and switch. “Here’s some free content,” they said. “Oh, but we’re going to do this so we can get paid,” they said a few years later. Then, a few years later, “You owe us this money! Or you’re stealing from us!”
Forgetting, it seems, that the entire reason all of this came about was that people simply wanted to make and share stuff. If SlashGear has a problem paying for their upkeep and bandwidth, then they should implement an optional Subscriber system, or turn to Patreon. Be upfront with your supporters, SlashGear. Don’t buy and sell them behind their back, saying, “But you’ve enjoyed all this free content! You didn’t realize it? When you read our article, you signed a contract in blood that you thereby owed us!”
You don’t get to serve up free content and then accuse people of stealing it.
I want you to think about that, SlashGear. First, you said you give people free content. Then you accused people of stealing it. Now, I ask you, which is the case? Because they can’t both be true. It’s impossible to steal that which is free. You can’t have it both ways. You’re either providing free content, or you’re not; if it’s free, then it can’t be stolen.
But it was never free, not if it was supported by ads. The readers paid. They just weren’t aware of how much they were paying. In fact, you stole from them.
The death of ads will not be the death of the Internet. It wouldn’t be the death of Youtube, either, despite the content creators out there asking their subscribers to disable adblock and turn themselves into commodities. Quite the opposite: the Internet existed long before Internet users were bought and sold as commodities, and it will continue to exist long after they’ve taken back their right to privacy that you stole from them without so much as a warning.