Recently we have received a letter from an intellectual property protecting organization asking whether we have any data to identify advertisers who place ads on the websites with pirated content, mainly torrent trackers. We replied that even if we really wanted we couldn’t provide such information as we didn’t have it. Although, even if we had it we wouldn’t transfer any data to no one, no matter who’s asking. In this article, we wrote every reason why not.
Technical reasons for not providing advertisers’ data
We don’t see it. To provide information about advertisers, we must follow user’s movements in the web which we don’t do. For the high-quality ad blocking AdLock uses 5-step filtration and we have already described in greater details how adblock works. Though, what we haven’t mentioned was that traffic is analyzed inside the application. While developing AdLock, we faced a dilemma: we want our app to be efficient and light as a feather, or we want it to be fast, and secure like Azkaban (well, hello there Potterheads). And at the end security bet efficiency by a large margin.
The majority of ad-blocking applications, among them Blokada and AdGuard, might send requests to the server while working, for example, to block advertising domain in the DNS query. Hosting some of the ad blocker’s functionality on the server helps to make application energy- and space-saving. Though, such savings might be costly. By interference in the connection between an app and a server, online intruders can get access to the user’s private and financial information, login details, and cookies. Thus, ad-blocker indirectly causes data leakage. The only way to prevent this is to apply ad-blocking rules inside ad-blocker.
AdLock might not be thrifty according to smartphone or PC statistics, but it offsets statistics by providing a high level of privacy. Another advantage is the speed of ad-blocking. From the chain web browser->ad-blocker->ad-blocker server->ad-blocker->web browser we deleted two links of communication between ad-blocker and a server making ad-blocking in such a way faster.
The reason why we wouldn’t provide advertisers’ data
In a sense, we wouldn’t do it out of solidarity. We understand why defenders of intellectual property requested us, an ad blocker. The majority of advertising platforms don’t share data that can identify advertisers. For example, Google the largest provider of online ads, in its Advertising Policies guarantees privacy to both users and advertisers.
So copyright organizations believe that since we are blocking advertising content, we may have insider access to the data of the owner of that content (which we have not). However, notwithstanding that we are allegedly on the other side of the tracks and stand against the advertising, we do not stand against the advertisers and their rights. We would never jeopardize someone’s privacy, even if we could.
The great question is why an organization that cares about intellectual property so much couldn’t care less about privacy and confidentiality.
Why copyright organizations want advertisers’ data?
The most obvious reason is money. Such organizations protect the money of both intellectual property owners and the brands that buy advertising from ad-platforms. In 2013 an interesting case took place. A former member of the Longpigs, Crispin Hunt, was googling his tunes when on the first page of the search results he found several torrent trackers offering to download his music for free. All the torrent trackers featured advertisements of the famous brands, among which were BT, Tesco, and even MI6, right next to the link to Hunt’s songs.
At first, Hunt sent polite letters to companies asking them to remove their advertisements and stop funding the pirate projects, to which he received classic formal replies. Then Hunt began to act with greater determination and started sending invoices to the brands for using his pieces of music in advertising without permission, as well as for unauthorized downloading of almost two million copies of his composition. The first chain letter, along with a £127,663.68 bill, flew to BT and had an immediate effect. The representatives of the company promptly contacted their agency, that buys advertising spots for them, with a request to blacklist the pirate website. As a result, in recent years various copyright holders adopted “follow-the-money” approach with a view to cut-off funding to pirate sites.
In 2015 the largest advertising media company GroupM promised to ban all advertisements on pirate sites. The initiative was packed as protecting internet users from fraud advertising and protecting brands from ads placements on suspicious websites. One after another, huge brands blacklisted websites with pirated content, and there even was created a so-called campaign “name and shame” to put a spotlight on companies which still have had adverts on illegal websites.
While companies have been doing spring cleaning, Google stood by quietly and pretended to have seen nothing. Up until June 2018, Google’s search engine displayed torrent trackers, only occasionally banning some of them, acting out cooperation with copyright holders. But even now, although Google down-ranked 65000 pirate websites in search results, you can easily find a favorite torrent tracker. Anyhow, pirate websites didn’t lose that much either of traffic or revenue.
Turned out, brands’ protest against advertising on pirate sites made room for ads of online casinos and adult games. As a rule, such ads are unacceptable for any self-respected advertising platform as various online advertising associations consider them to be inappropriate. However, from a legal point of view, such advertising is not prohibited, and it has found its place, since, again legally, you can place advertising on any website you want, notably on a website that can be simply indexed in Google.
Brands lose the audience, pirate websites earn revenue, copyright holders earn nothing
Unable to put pressure on Google demanding to remove from Google search entire pirate sites, copyright protectors try to forbid placing ads on them. But so far to no avail. Despite the repressive approach concerning any kinds of violators, Google is still against overbroad censorship which is a silver lining. Of course, stealing can’t be good it is still one of the biggest problems on the Internet, which is unlikely to be resolved in the approaching future. And assuredly, it cannot be resolved by violating the rights of others, even if those rights belong to not the most reliable advertisers. I will stop myself here to make a brief remark to ensure you AdLock didn’t start to defense the advertisers. We defense, as the matter of principle, the observance of the rights of all network users. As an advertiser is free to place an advertisement, so a consumer is free not to watch it.