It was back in the late 1990s when I first got started with ad blocking. I don’t remember if it was the “punch the monkey” adverts, or the pop-unders for weird security systems that tipped me over the edge. All I knew was my computer was slowing down and I thought animated ads were the culprit.
I found a USENET post which explained how to modify my totally-legitimate copy of Windows 98 to block ads. In those days, it was easy. Open
C:\Windows\hosts with a normal text editor, add the site you want blocked, reboot. Done.
I never looked back.
The first thing I did on every computer I got was to block adverts. I thought I was just doing it to speed my computer up, I didn’t realise I was inoculating myself against political propaganda.
I got a TiVo shortly after that – and all TV advertising became dead to me. Aside from unavoidable billboards and the occasional magazine, I just don’t see advertising any more. I’m not sure why any sane person would want to.
Even when I worked in the mobile ad industry, I blocked ads. Everyone did. The first thing that the IT helpdesk said to people who complained that they couldn’t log into their work email was “yeah mate, you need to turn your ad-blocker off…”
I’ve been blocking Facebook adverts since before it was fashionable. As a result, I’m bemused by the claims that my information has been microtargetted and used to manipulate me.
I thought it was common knowledge that you could set your Facebook preferences to block creepy use of your data for advertising purposes. Even if you didn’t want to block adverts, why wouldn’t you do that?
Perhaps Facebook themselves have been subtly manipulating what stories they choose to show me. Perhaps my friends are activated Manchurian Candidates swamping me with fake news. Or perhaps I just block the obviously dodgy news sources and unfriend anyone daft enough to share them.
Perhaps we need a word to describe the people who willingly watch adverts? The technology to block them is simple to use, and information about blocking is widely disseminated.
People who watch adverts are like anti-vaxxers – blissfully unaware of the benefits of herd-immunity.