A generation of ad blockers

‘A generation of ad blockers’ is what youngsters were called by American Journalism Review. Most of the times, it is assumed people use ad blockers because advertisements are annoying. While that might true, the real danger of advertisements is your privacy. In the meanwhile websites are losing revenue.

2016-02-15 15-31-20 Ekran görüntüsü
İstanbul
By Laurens  Bammens*

It will not be surprising to anyone that when looking for something on Google, an ad for the same thing might pop up later on Facebook. That means Google stores your search next to your IP address on their servers. That same IP address gets registered again when accessing Facebook and in a matter of seconds, you get linked.

Actually, it probably happens more brutally than that. When logged into your Google account, your searches will just be stored next to your name. Chances are you use that same account to log into Facebook. Providing personalised ads for you becomes as easy as ordering bread at the bakery.

At this point, you could question why you should care. You might be nobody of interest and you might actually enjoy getting personalised advertisements. What if you do become a person of interest? Many innocent people wrote articles or blog posts or posted videos that made them internet famous. Regardless of the content, it might put you on someone’s radar.

Maybe you are just looking for information. In most free Western countries, looking for information is considered a right. There are those countries where looking for specific information can get you in trouble. Imagine being in a country where your sexuality is illegal.

Data chip cookies

While that information cannot just be plucked from one of Google’s servers, it can be stored through cookies. Those are nothing more than little blocks of information stored locally on everyone’s hard drive. They are the reason why one can log into Facebook or any other website without typing a password first. They are right there for the taking, and a hacker can get them very easily.

You can disable cookies in your browser, which is not a bad idea. You will need cookies to log into anything, but you can let your browser forget those once you close the browser window. So when you are not browsing the internet, there are no cookies stored on your device.

In the case of search engines, there is an alternative to Google. Search engine DuckDuckGo basically does everything what Google does. Except it only stores very limited personal information. It does safe what you search for, but it does not safe any kind of unique identifier like an IP address. You could search for something, open a new DuckDuckGo tab and you could be someone totally different for all they know. You do not have to take my word for it, check out their privacy policy: https://duckduck go.com/privacy.

Another big advantage of DuckDuckGo is no sponsored search results. On Google, one often has sponsored search results on the first two rows. They can easily be spotted, since it will say ‘sponsored’, but they do tend to load a second or so later than the rest of the results. This can consequence in accidental ad clicking which will then follow you around on other web pages. The search results on DuckDuckGo are however, not as good as the one Google provides.

Ad blockers can ruin profits

So what about free content? The majority of the internet is both congratulated and infamous for being free of charge. More and more people have been using ad blockers, but ads are usually the biggest source of revenue for websites. Media moguls have spoken out against ad blockers and certainly smaller websites are victim to it.

On Youtube, many content creators have resolved the issue by having a sponsor in the beginning or at the end of the video. Of course, one is able to skip that, but many viewers do not really mind. It is a way to keep advertisements running.

Integrated sponsors

Youtube is one thing, but then there is everything else. The majority of the internet consists of information and news websites. Some news websites like the Washington Post have actually blocked those who use an ad blocker. According to them, good journalism should not be free. They vouch for your privacy and politely ask to turn off your ad blocker. While they can vouch for one’s privacy all they want, there is no way they can be sure none of your personal information is stored. After all, advertisements are provided by third parties. Third parties that only want to make money.

For news websites, it is not so easy to include a sponsor at the beginning of the article. Advertisements can never stand in the way of actual information. In journalism, one’s reputation is everything. It can be ruined by mixing ads with journalism, and it does defeat the purpose of providing information.

So news websites and broadcasters will have to find a new way to make revenue. Asking someone to turn off their ad blocker is just as ridiculous as to force someone to become vegetarian. Freedom and liberty has since the Snowden-files transformed into privacy. One’s right to privacy is arguably more important than one’s right to make revenue.

**Laurens Bammens, PXL Journalism student and he is Dağ Medya Intern during the 15 February – 3 June 2016

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