People gather round. There is a conspiracy going on, a frightening cartel of shadowy entities are plotting to steal away from us our savings, our information, even our lives. These figures got into power through deceit and treachery and use fear and manipulation of the gutter press to remain in charge of our lives. There can be no arguing with them, no bartering and no escape from their machinations as they continue to try and exercise absolute power over our lives. I am, of course, talking about no less than adblockers.
Strange to think, it’s true but according to our Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, media companies are currently being held to ransom by these evil creatures who are preventing unscrupulous companies pushing their dodgy wares on to us. Clearly this is ground breaking stuff and in no way reflects Mr Whittingdale’s current position, namely sat in the pocket of big media companies. Adblockers have become big business in recent months ever since Apple finally allowed people to do what PC owners have been doing for the last few years and preventing obtrusive adverts from ruining our browsing experience. How many of us realised that we were in fact in the clutches of an evil, anti-business cartel determined to ruin our lives and the opportunity to waste our money on products we didn’t need?
Whittingdale, who will be referred to as Witless for the remainder of this article, believes that adblockers constitute a modern day ‘protection racket’ preventing decent, hardworking companies from raking in money by shielding users from third party adverts. Clearly Witless must be onto something because only the other night, I received a virtual visit from two heavy set gentlemen who took a look around my browser then sent me an email stating, “Nice lot of programs you’ve got running here. It would be a shame if any of them were to suddenly stop working…”
That is, of course, not true. I’m not running Windows 10 after all. What is also not true is this supposed protection racket that Witless is blathering on about demonstrates once again that the people who should know the most about the current state of the web clearly know the least about it. Next he’ll be trying to legalise bulk spying on the populace or banning encryption or something equally preposterous…
As much as I despise the advertising industry, there is a legitimate place for it and there are thousands of websites that rely on the income from online adverts to help keep them afloat. From the humble blogger to the biggest multimedia companies, advertising is essential to keeping the internet a sustainable environment and if everyone in the world suddenly started blocking ads, there would be a real, financial effect. But lots of people don’t use adblockers and other browser add-ons because we’re horribly vindictive people who hate advertisers (well, you might not be) but because we were forced into it.
At the dawn of the internet we had banner ads and they were ok. Sure they were stupid, annoying and worthless but show me an advert that isn’t. It was possible to ignore them and carry on reading, our experience not marred in the slightest by their existence. But then some smart arse developed the pop-up and by the late 90s, browsing the internet became a game of Whack-a-Mole trying to keep the bloody things from appearing. Before browsers came with their own facility to block pop-ups, we’d be harassed by two dozen of the godforsaken things that got in the way of the web page and did nothing other than raise one’s blood pressure and breed seething resentment towards whatever product they were pushing. Chain pop-ups were a special breed of hell, two opening for every one that you managed to close. It made navigating around some websites like trying to defeat the Hydra.
Technology rose to the challenge and slowly but surely, pop-ups started to disappear only to be replaced by pages that automatically redirected you elsewhere or opened a dozen tabs up, draining your bandwidth and slowing your browser to a crawl. Some websites could use all of the above for which I hope their creators suffer an eternity of slow internet connections. As time progressed and internet speeds got faster and faster, gifs and videos became the norm to the point where Facebook has invested millions in self-playing videos injected directly into your News Feed. The idea that you could quietly browse a web page without being bombarded by dozens of stupid adverts seems to be an alien concept for media developers and as their adverts have become more sophisticated, so have the methods for getting their shit out of our faces. It doesn’t help that a lot of adverts one runs into on the web are now laser-targeted at us thanks to a decade or two of Google and other agencies hoovering up our browsing habits and selling them on to advertisers. In recent years, web adverts have even been used to download malware onto peoples’ computers, becoming another way for viruses and other nasty programs to spread. That adblockers have suddenly become popular is no surprise. We didn’t adopt them because we want to ruin someone’s business model, we installed them because we didn’t want to get pounded over the head by advertising messages every second of the day or infected with stuff that could harm our computers. In short, we were forced to take action.
The knock on effect of this is clearly now being felt as it’s suddenly stopped being an issue about consumer choice and is now a serious threat to the income of big businesses hence why they’ve now wheeled out Witless to spout out nonsense about protection rackets. The beauty of the internet is that it is very easy to innovate and come up with methods to get round even the most intrusive of interventions. This week the government wheeled out it’s 300 page diatribe about how to legitimise spying on the nation, the Investigatory Powers Bill, otherwise known as The Snoopers’ Charter or All Your Data Are Belong To Us. As senior politicians began pretending that they even understood what an internet connection record was, computer engineers across the land were howling with laughter thanks to most of the provisions in the bill being easily circumvented with only a few mouse clicks and completely neutered with a decent Virtual Private Network (VPN).
If you’re concerned about people spying on your internet browsing habits, as I suspect plenty of people are, you can guarantee that you’ll see people adopting a VPN as the next piece of essential internet kit alongside Anti-Virus and a Firewall and other browser add-ons. This will likely continue until the government finally catches up and realises that the bad guys had been avoiding all of their carefully crafted laws years before they even dreamt them up, the only people being caught in the net being your average internet user who gets their collar felt because they described a local show as being ‘a bomb’.
So, barring some miracle, when the bill becomes law, you can confidently expect another non-entity politician lecturing people on the evils of VPNs because only terrorists use them. Or, if by some infernal machination, Witless is still in power, it’ll be because VPNs are run by a secret cartel of people who kick homeless, disabled puppies and talk loudly at the cinema. People who are no worse than those mentioned at the beginning of the article, the type of people with whom Witless is intimately acquainted with.