UK minister calls ad block a ‘protection racket’

Do you use AdBlock? What about Adblock Plus? uBlock? Disconnect? Well, UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale thinks you’re killing-the-industry-damn-you-all-to-hell. Speaking to the Oxford Media Convention Whittingdale compared ad block companies to a “modern day protection racket”.

Whittingdale rightly identifies a culture where consumers don’t want to pay with cash, so they pay with their personal information. Ad blockers then nullify this currency substitute. Because our personal data is only worth something if the owner of it (not you, silly) can then try to sell something to you based on your niche gif and Buzzfeed quiz habit.

“The newspaper, music, film and games industry are all having to adapt to a world in which consumers are no longer as willing to pay as their parents were. In almost every case, advertising revenue now plays an essential part in their new business models.” (Whittingdale)

A growing number of people, me especially, fucking hate adverts because we hate what capitalism has become, John. Rather than allowing ourselves to be bombarded with inane shite we’re choosing to put our money where our mouth is. Subscriptions John, Netflix John, micro-subscriptions John. For the most part, adverts need to fucking die, because adverts feed a creepy eco-system of predictive analytics and social mapping.

Adblock conducted a survey with a section about the role of Adblock Plus (but substitute this with your favoured blocker) on the web.

Ad block survey results

Those surveyed don’t click on ads, but would be willing to donate money to support websites







“[Ad block software] is depriving many websites and platforms of legitimate revenue. It is having an impact across the value chain, and it presents a challenge that has to be overcome. Because – quite simply – if people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist. And that’s as true for the latest piece of journalism as it is for the new album from Muse.” (Whittingdale).

Adblock Plus understands the advertising business model and has introduced a set of guidelines it calls the “Acceptable Ads initiative”. This feature is enabled by default, thus putting pressure on advertisers to produce better adverts. To be acceptable adverts must not disrupt natural reading flow i.e. they shouldn’t be slap bang in the middle of content; adverts have to be distinguishable from content; individual adverts must be reasonable in size. There is a host of other specific do’s, some of the do not’s include: excessive or non-user initiated hover effects, animated adverts, auto-playing sound, overlay ads and rich media ads that hog your bandwidth.

At the end of 2015, George Monbiot wrote an article in the Guardian about the media’s response to an unfolding “eco-apocalypse“. The disaster in question was 5,000km of Indonesian rainforest burning to the ground. Demand supplied the burning because multinationals like fat margins on their investments. Cheap cash crops will be bought regardless of the wider social or environmental impact. In Monbiot’s article, he listed several companies who were considered ‘laggards’ at divesting from dodgy palm oil including Unilever, who happen to have a financial relationship with the Guardian.

An editorial decision was made to remove Unilever from the list of naughty companies. The rather ridiculous reasons can be read here. But a few weeks after the original article was published Unilever were added back onto the list.  Advertising partners cannot be allowed to have influence over editorial content. Paying for media with money is not going to die out as Whittingdale states, there will always be people who not only understand that content doesn’t appear out of nowhere and good media might cost more.

Advertising is not the perfect business model for media. People are starting to realise that selling yourself (your data) is not a wise thing to do. Limiting one’s digital footprint is a smart move, hell, if we want to get really crazy how about Facebook’s billion users demand some sort of financial recompense from those billions they make Mark and co every year?