Thoughts on Ads

- 965 words -

Up until recently, only three things were certain: death, taxes, and internet advertising as we know it. Now, one of those three things might undergo a fundamental shift.

Apple’s recent release of iOS 9 brought with it the ability for users to download special apps called “content blockers”, whose main purpose are to block ads. Examples include Peace, Purify, and Crystal, all of which have reached the top-paid apps in the App Store within the first couple of days since iOS 9’s arrival.

In other words, it’s a big deal. Bigger than I would’ve imagined, at least. My main concern lies with the reaction of ad-dependent publications and blogs - my eye is on The Verge in particular. In a nutshell, they’re not taking it well and they’ve posted articles and tweets trying to redirect the issue elsewhere - it mostly involves blaming the system in which things currently operate, despite the fact that it’s largely a matter of choice.

But unlike what they’d like you to believe, the problem is actually a very human, user-centric issue. People just don’t like ads. People hate ads. People want nothing to do with ads. It also happens to be our prerogative to block ads if we please. So, logically, that’s what we choose to do.

This is the fundamental issue, but what fanned the flames are an amalgam of things, particular two big things.

Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, iOS devices with iOS 9 installed and 64-bit processors can now download ad-blocking apps. I probably made that sound quite specific, but in reality, that’s a lot of devices. As I mentioned earlier, these apps have gained tremendous popularity, and their presence on App Store charts will only make it more popular. I wouldn’t be surprised if a million Apple devices had them already by Week 1. Pretty straightforward.

Secondly, and this is what I’m most concerned with: It’s not just the ads themselves that are bad. It’s not just the fact that they obscure whole webpages (such is the case on mobile), or they're repetitive, or they’re generally uninteresting, or they don’t really respect the user’s intellect in any way. It’s the fact that they non-consensually invade our privacy by learning about the way we use the web.

Content blockers don’t only block ads, but also their associated trackers. Trackers work in the form of code that downloads itself and executes on your device. They can track you even when you’re browsing other websites, and learn about your behaviour on those websites. Their sole purpose is to gather personal data which is then used to determine the ads shown to you across the web.

The disgusting thing is that it’s been like this for years and years, and for some reason, we’re only finding out about this now.

Besides being an invasion of privacy, it’s not good on your devices either. The downloading of trackers can drain battery power, increase cellular data usage, download malware, and slow down the loading of websites. At this point, you should probably be wondering why you don’t have an ad-blocker if you don’t have one installed in your web browser already.

It’s sad that this is the business model of many, many publications and platforms across the entire web. It’d go as far as saying this basically funds the web as we know it. Look no further than Google.

Such publications are coming out to refute and claim there’s nothing that can be done, when in fact, as I mentioned earlier, it was all and still is a matter of choice. They chose non-consensual tracking of every person who visits their websites. And because there’s a lot of money on the table, it’s basically the easy way out.

Before I come off sounding like an activist, I should disclose that I make no money off this site - in fact, I’m losing money. I don’t have any experience with advertising and I don’t plan to advertise on this site in the foreseeable future. But, hypothetically, if I should ever come across the choice to advertise on this or any site, these would be the basic principles I’d adhere to...

  • Ads should be relevant to my readers. How should I find out what’s relevant without duplicitous user-tracking? Well, I blog about design, tech, music, and travel for the most part, so I’ll go out on a limb and guess that’s what readers are here for.
  • Ads should respect readers. A little human decency, common sense, and respect for my readers’ intellect should do me good.
  • If ads fail, find a different business model. If ever making more money becomes a necessity, more of the ads as we regularly see them just isn’t the way to go. With tracking or otherwise. A couple of popular alternatives include sponsorships, subscriptions to exclusive content, and paywalls, among other methods.

And I’m aware this applies mostly for independent or small publications that staff few people and have comparatively minuscule overhead. On the other hand, I’m also aware that it turns down the opportunity of earning a lot more.

I feel like the right choice should be predicated upon not how much money is involved, but who is affected by the consequences, particularly readers and users of websites.

People nowadays are wired to think that when they come to a website to read an article, view a slideshow of pictures, or have a laugh at a video, what they put in and get out of it exclusively involves the content in question. The least that could be done is to make money - particularly, the transaction of money for the exchange of something of equal value - a conscious, informed, and respectful decision. Whatever’s being done now is neither of those things.