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Apple’s recently-announced support for adblockers on iOS 9 provoked dramatic debate between those who were celebrating the news, and those who were angry over what they see as the company undermining the primary business model for online publishing and journalism.
While both sides of the debate have good points to make, one thing is non-negotiable: users must have the right and ability to install software that blocks content they don’t want on their computers, tablets or phones—whether that is ads, trackers, or anythingelse. In fact, we actually make such software ourselves: our Privacy Badger add-on for Firefox and Chrome, though it isn’t specifically designed to block ads, winds up blocking a lot of them when they attempt to spy on people’s browsing without consent.
Most ads on the Internet are also tracking beacons; every time you see one it records what your were reading or doing when you saw it. For sheer scale, scope, and sophistication, the online advertising industry runs a surveillance operation that is very nearly a match for the NSA’s dragnet programs. (In fact the NSA often finds it convenient to piggyback on advertisers’ efforts.) And Privacy Badger makes no apologies for blocking ads when that’s what’s necessary to keep users’ reading habits private in the face of surveillance by ad companies.
But we also believe the Web needs a diverse set of revenue sources, and advertising is an important option that should be open to publishers who want to use it. So rather than blocking ads outright, EFF’s aim has been to incentivize better behavior by advertising companies. To that end we launched our Do Not Track Policy last month, along with a coalition that includes many tracker- and ad-blockers that will as a default unblock ads that respect the policy.
This initiative has been gaining momentum. Today, we are pleased to announce a first online advertising company, Adzerk, is joining. Adzerk provides ad serving infrastructure to Reddit, BitTorrent, and a number of other high profile sites. They will be offering the ability for any publisher using their platform to serve ads that respect Do Not Track requests. If publishers choose to deploy such ads, they will not be blocked by default by Adblock, Disconnect, Privacy Badger or other coalition members.
Blocking interfaces in browsers and operating systems are not only necessary for user freedom, security, and privacy, but they are actually beginning to produce genuine improvements in the practices of the advertising industry. Apple should be congratulated for helping to make this happen, and those who are fearful about the future of the advertising-funded Web should join us, Adzerk, and other companies in helping to ensure that there are fewer reasons for users to need to block ads in the first place.