Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

On Content Blockers

A lot has been said about this, and I’d rather not delve too deeply into its intricacies, but Eric Meyer’s thoughts generally reflect my own:

The ads that are at risk now are the ones delivered via bloated, badly managed, security-risk mechanisms. In other words: what’s at risk here is terrible web development.

Granted, the development of these ads was so terrible that it made the entire mobile web ecosystem appear far more broken that it actually is, and prompted multiple attempts to rein it in. Now we have content blockers, which are basically the nuclear option: if you aren’t going to even attempt to respect your customers, they’re happy to torch your entire infrastructure.

I don’t want to deprive any publication of its means to pay its writers and creators behind-the-scenes, and I also have reasonable expectations as to what that entails. But when I open a webpage, I am never provided enough information to make a cognizant decision about what I should be opted into. I have not agreed to be served five or ten megabytes of advertising and tracking riding alongside a few-hundred kilobyte article, nor have I agreed to be tracked site-to-site by whatever analytics scripts the site is running. I have not agreed to this largely because I haven’t been provided enough information to agree to this.

Yet, most every website I’ve been to opts me into all of these things without adequately warning me in advance. This should not be an assumption, and the fact that it is — and that the information is almost always buried deep in legalese in the site’s privacy policy — reflects poorly on those who created and deploy this technology, yours truly included.

The act-first-ask-later tactics of analytics scripts are probably unsurprising to anyone who has ever picked up a White Pages directory. If someone went around to every house and asked whether it would be okay to publish their name, address, and phone number in a publicly-available directory that can also be accessed online, most people would reasonably decline. Likewise, if you were presented with a popup the first time you visited a site asking if it would be okay to serve you many megabytes of ads and track you within the site and across the web, most people would probably decline.1

I’m not against ads; I’m against the current state of assumption that all of this is okay.

  1. The EU decision that websites based there had to inform visitors of cookie use doesn’t really count. Nobody knows what a cookie is, and there was no requirement to disclose what kind of cookies would be used or how they would be deployed. ↩︎